Is there a goal you want to accomplish, but just cannot find the time to start it? It might be something trivial like, to reduce the amount of TV watching, or time spent browsing the Internet. It might be, to become an early riser, or to quit drinking alcohol, or to start a home business. Whatever it is, what is keeping you where you are instead of reaching your desired destination?
I have several such targets in my life that I often think about, but rarely take action on. Each time I’m reminded of one of them, I would guiltily say, “I really should do [blah]”, and then forget about it until the next time guilt creeps back into my head.
One such target I have is to exercise. I’ve been talking about wanting to get in shape for about two years now. I even setup an arbitrary goal of doing a triathlonto get me excited. I did start to go running shortly after setting the goal, which lasted for about a week, before I became distracted with another target.
I like to think of myself as a pretty disciplined and motivated person – I mean, I write about this stuff! But, something about this particular target has been very psychologically challenging for me to take consistent action on. And I want to understand it.
Overcoming the mental blocks and actually taking action towards this outcome has been my focus over the past few weeks. I am proud to announce that I have been doing 5-mile walk-runs, every other day, successfully for fourteen days now.
I’m confident that since I have kept it up for two weeks, then surely, I can keep it up for a month. And if I can consistently do it for a month, I will have habituated the activity into my daily rhythm and be able to keep it up indefinitely.
The point of this article isn’t about running, but rather, extracting lessons from achieving a goal, and applying them to other areas of our lives.
Analysis of ‘Why It Didn’t Work’
Looking back over past failed attempts at this target, I realized that I didn’t have enough reasons to keep myself motivated, thus I wasn’t fully committed to making the change. Here are some observations:
1. Excuse: “I don’t have enough time”
I used to assume that it I was working too much and simply did not have the time. Well, I’ve come to learn that “I don’t have the time” is the biggest lie we can tell ourselves to justify for the lack of action towards activities that can (sometimes) significantly improve the quality of our lives. If we added all the time we spend on unimportant and not urgent things – like web browsing or TV watching – we would have the time, easily. We do have the time!
I used to tell myself, “When I leave my day job, I will have much more time to pursue the things on my lists, which I don’t have time for now.” Things like exercising.
You’d think, now that I’m in a position to create my own schedule (or lack thereof), surely, I should have enough free time to exercise. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I still don’t have enough time. It’s become obvious that without a measurable target and a reasonable plan, life has a way of magically inserting random (often unimportant) activities to fill up our day. The same items on my list while I had a day job are still on the list.
We don’t have time for things, until we create time for these things. If something is important enough to us, we will find the time, regardless of how busy we are. End of story.
It’s a matter of finding the compelling reasons why something is important to us – enough of a nudge to drive us to lasting change.
2. Focus on Pain
The more I focused on the uncomfortable factors associated with exercise, the less motivated I became, and the more excuses I made to skip workouts – before I stopped completely.
Here are my favorite excuses to justify not exercising:
- It’s hard! I can’t breathe.
- My leg hurts
- It’s cold outside
- It’s raining (I do live in Seattle, after all)
- It’s late, if I go jogging, I won’t have enough time to do X.
3. Lacked Motives to Action
Although I kept telling myself that I should go jogging, I wasn’t fully clear on why I wanted it. I wasn’t overweight, and didn’t have an explicit incentive to get active. I didn’t have the motives to justify the necessary action for a vaguely defined goal.
Did you know that we will do more to avoid pain than we will to gain pleasure? In this case, the affects of not doing it, was not painful enough to drive me to get it done. In my mind, the pain of doing was greater than the pain of not doing.
4. Language, Focus & Priority
The goal was a should and not a must. “I should go jogging”, I would say , when it’s better to say, “I must go jogging, in order to gain the energy I need”. When something is a should, it is wishful thinking, and we don’t get it done. When something is a must, it becomes a priority that deserves our attention. Because the target was a should, I never gave it the focused attention necessary for it to become a reality.