You can achieve anything you want, as long as you want it ENOUGH
I’ve been quoted as saying (more than once) that you can achieve anything you want as long as you want it enough. It’s a sentiment I still abide by. But of course, when we turn to motivation, there needs to be a practical application to take you towards your desired goal. And that can often be the difficult part.
For example, I would tell you over the years that I would give anything to be able to lose weight. I believed that statement intrinsically. I would defend it to the max if challenged. But actually, if you analyse that statement, it’s not true. If it was, I wouldn’t currently be morbidly obese. Losing weight in itself is not difficult. Irrespective of which school of science you approach it with. I know essentially what it required. So, it could be argued that I didn’t want it enough.
I’ve been pondering these thoughts (and many others) over the last few months. I’ve questioned every aspect of my life and tried to gather thoughts and goals into some semblance of order. I’ve been significantly conflicted and unsure of the road ahead at times. Unable to prioritise or make sense of options. And while going through this process have analysed, written goals (and rewritten) and discussed and read anything I could in order to help.
In the last few weeks, I’ve sat down several times in front of this blog to write up these thoughts and conclusions but to no avail. The words have just not come. But rather than force them, I’ve accepted it, gone away to do more soul searching and had faith than when I was ready it would come.
And then yesterday, in an e-mail from the Do Lectures ‘Chicken Shed Chronicles’ I clicked through to an article on motivation by a chap called James Clear. It was the last piece of the jigsaw, the light bulb moment, but before I move on in other blog posts about what it means to me personally. I wanted to share the synopsis of what I saw in the article and how it fits into my values. (You can read the whole article and more here).
What is motivation?
The first light bulb was the definition of what motivation actually is. Clear cites ‘a general willingness to do something’ as the recognised definition. But then he goes on to add ‘At some point, the pain of NOT doing something becomes greater than the pain of doing it’. I recognised that sentiment immediately. When I worked for St Thomas’s Hospital there were certain jobs I hated doing. Mostly admin related. I used to save them all up until the worry of not doing the jobs (some of them were time oriented – like booking training rooms – that had consequences if I did not do them in a timely manner) was so much, I would schedule in a ‘shit day’. ie a day to sort out all the shit I’d been putting off. Once that was completed, it felt fabulous and I would wonder why I couldn’t have done it sooner. But then would repeat the pattern again and again.
He describes this point as a ‘mental threshold’, ie it’s easier to change than to stay the same. Often relevant to weight loss. The impetus (normally health related) is triggered if the option of not doing something may result in premature death or prolonged symptoms (for example being diagnosed with diabetes).
He puts this another way. Every choice has a price and the price of achieving the goal has to be cheaper than the price of not taking action.
Here it’s worth noting that having a deadline helps.
The hardest part is getting out the door
Another light bulb moment was his comment that often, motivation comes once a behaviour has already started. Success breeds success. Or, according to the laws of Newton, a moving body is more likely to keep moving. So, just reading about stuff is not enough to motivate, even if the subject is rousing.
It needs action.
It sounds obvious but think about how many times you have entered an event hoping it would stir you off the couch only to fail to even get to the start line.
The hardest part of motivation is that bit at the start of the journey (I used the J word – shoot me now) . Friction is the most difficult bit to overcome. Once the shoes are on and you’re out the door the whole thing gets a darned sight easier.
Consistency is King
The trick of course is to be able to get the shoes on and out the door consistently. And here, Clear states that automation is the key. If you remove the decision process, you remove the option to say No.
Schedule tasks until they become automatic. Reduce the amount of decisions you have to make around the action. Provide a mindless way to initiate a behaviour.
So, every morning you get up 20 minutes earlier than you need to, put your running kit on and go out of the door until it becomes automatic. Before long, you’ll achieve your training goals and won’t even think about doing them.
It’s worth stating here that Clear focuses only on positive reinforcement. But I think there is scope to recognise negative behaviours here that already have an automatic trigger. Eating toast does it for me. The more toast I eat, the more I crave. I’ve spent many times standing by the toaster eating one batch while the next one ‘cooks’. (I KNOW I’m not the only one who’s ever done that!) Solution? Don’t eat toast so you don’t trigger the reaction.
Make it easy
The key to starting a behaviour is to make it easy. Putting on a pair of shoes is easy. Opening and closing a door is easy. But if you set your goal too high it becomes too hard. My favourite trick is to say ‘I’m training for an Ironman so I SHOULD be doing 10 miles in the morning’ knowing full well that at the moment 10 miles is beyond me. The result is that I talk myself out of it because it is too hard. The solution, I’m going to put my shoes on and go out for five minutes. I will stay out longer (because that’s what you do) but, just that one simple thought makes the whole task appear so much easier.
Movement is Key
Irrespective of whether your goal is mental or physical, movement is key. Poor mental health is linked to a lack of movement. But make sure your movement is linked to your goal. Walk to clear the mind and solve a problem. Start your writing by getting up and getting a glass of water before sitting down. Feeling unmotivated, put on your favourite tune and dance around the living room to refresh your thoughts.
Repeat the Pattern
Whatever you do, you must repeat the patterns above for it to become learned behaviour. We are creatures of habit after all. A few years ago I went on a week long training course to learn about teaching tools. We were encouraged to walk rather than sit when in ‘discussion groups’ but the trainer emphasised that time management was key in the classroom and we were to end our discussion and return to the classroom when a specific song was played. Like Pavlov’s dog, we learned the behaviour very quickly – music is a very powerful learning and motivation tool – and even now when I hear the song over 15 years later – I still remember the need to get back to the classroom in a timely fashion.
How to keep the motivation going
So, in essence, the above details how to get motivation started, but how then do we keep it going? Clear presents the ‘Goldilocks Rule’. The goal needs to be not too easy nor too hard. So, challenging but achievable with the possibility you may fail but the likelihood you will not. In here, progress needs to be measureable and needs to be measured consistently.
The mind is a very clever thing and when things start to get challenging will offer suggested alternatives. ‘This is too hard, I’m tired and want to stop now’. It’s worth remembering that these are just suggestions and you are not obliged to accept them as commands. Pause for a moment and wait for more positive suggestions. ‘How will I feel if I accomplish the task?’
YOU HAVE THE POWER TO CHOOSE.
We face these decisions on a daily basis and it’s not an exaggeration to say that how we deal with them formulates who we are. There are many, many times over the last couple of years when I picked a path that appeared to be much more difficult but ultimately more rewarding. It lead to me being temporarily homeless, I had to deal with mental illness and physical ill health. But now that I’m almost through it, I can reflect on the lessons learned and the person I have become. It was worth the struggle.
Our favourite pirate quote, HTFU (Harden the F up)
And finally in this part, I quote Clear directly… “This moment when you don’t feel like doing the work? This is not a moment to be thrown away. This is not a dress rehearsal. This moment is your life as much as any other moment. Spend it in a way that will make you proud.”