You’ve made a decision! You are going to get fit, finally start that business you’ve been dreaming about, stop holding yourself back, or simply just have a better morning routine.
Do you ever feel like, you are trying so hard, you have your plans your aspirations, you make such an effort and it almost backfires? The harder you try the worse the outcome. You’re left defeated, depleted, and feeling like maybe this just isn’t for you.
You’ve tried so hard to change something about your life, and the new habits, the new behaviours just won’t stick. You end up feeling frustrated and a lot worse than before.
What most people don’t realise however is that we are up against so many different obstacles in life.
It can be really difficult to make progress, to make lasting change, especially when we don’t even realise what ‘opponents’ we are dealing with.
So what are some of these roadblocks, these often undetected demons?
We really don’t have to go far to find them. On of the biggest things holding us back is, non-other than our marvellous mind!
Should we want to optimise our life, make better choices and to move that so called needle, we have to understand how our brilliant mind works and that it actually has an agenda of its own. Our mind is truly terrific but at the same time, it’s also an energy saving machine. Call it lazy if you like. Our mind’s number one job is to keep us alive.
Even though we have evolved, and we are living in extremely modern environments, our mind hasn’t caught up yet. It’s continuously and constantly scanning for what could endanger our life. We need to be ready at any moment to escape, to potentially fight back, to protect ourselves from the predator. Even though the sabretooth tiger is no longer around the corner, our mind is still hyper vigilant.
Human beings are hardwired to avoid wasting energy. The brain is a vast network of connections that also requires an enormous amount of energy to keep it running. Energy is precious and it cannot be wasted. Many experts argue that evolution favours sluggish behaviour because it has provided our early ancestors with an advantage over other species in terms of survival. So next time you feel tired to go to the gym after a long day at work, when you find it so easy to talk yourself out of it, perhaps remind yourself that your mind doesn’t care about your aspirations for a six-pack, and at this point the only six pack that sounds like a good idea is the one you could drink sitting on the couch.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that you understand this or you just have very clear goals and you are extremely determined to go the gym regardless. Very good. However, did you know that even self-control is exhaustible?
There was a fascinating study done with 2 groups of students to better understand the nature of self-control.
They invited the first group of students to a room where they had two plates on a table. One of the plates, had some amazing, freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on it. The other plate had some radishes. The first group was told to resist the cookies and eat only the radishes. The second group however could ignore the radishes and eat all the cookies they wanted. At this point the students were told the experiment is complete and they will now participate in a slightly different study. The experiment was of course not yet over and was very much linked to what was about to happen next. The students were asked to sit at a desk and complete a puzzle. It was a very intricate puzzle, impossible to solve. The group that was allowed to eat the cookies and did not have to control themselves, spent an average of 19 minutes to try and solve the puzzle before they gave up. The other group that was asked to excercise self-control and not eat the delicious cookies spent an average of 8 minutes on the puzzle before throwing in the towel.
Self-control is exhaustible. In other words, change wears people out! Doing something you are not used to, having to monitor yourself and your behaviour, depletes our energy. Fear, anxiety, anger are also all energy depleting emotions. I’ll be honest, I used to think that I just need to not be lazy and work harder. I considered it a personality flaw, a weakness, but it turns out there are only a certain amount of decisions we can make in a day, and we do need to recharge. More importantly we need to prioritize our energy correctly.
Society, our social circle is another factor that usually throws a big old spanner into the works. People don’t like change. When you make any sort of progress and start to change, that makes people around feel uneasy. All of a sudden they don’t recognise you anymore, you behave differently, you make different choices and it becomes uncomfortable. In a way that can often shine a light on the shortcomings of those around us. Let’s say you decide to stop drinking. You still go out with your friends, but you make an effort to go for the non-alcoholic drinks or you just stick to fizzy water altogether. Some friends might embrace your decision, may ask why you came to this conclusion but there will be other who don’t. They’ll try to convince you to have just one, have it after some food and you’ll be fine, they might even make jokes about it. Some may ask, if you now think you’re somehow ‘better than the rest’? It can be difficult and we are hard wired to want to fit in, to want to be accepted and to belong. Obviously not for all, but for many of us being accepted by our friends and loved ones is incredibly important. So what do we do? We pick up the drink and have just one. I’m totally guilty of that. Not long ago I wasn’t even pressured but decided to have just one mulled wine. Surely it won’t make a difference, it won’t really matter. I did that, just to be part of the ‘fun’.😐
A lot of the time when people comment or question our new behaviour it’s not done in a malicious way at all, it’s just scary. Change is scary, uncertainty is scary and change usually involves a loss of some sort. They might be worried that they are losing the fun friend they had for years or that the relationship will change entirely.
It’s been shown that people despise uncertainty so much so that when given a 50% chance of being shocked by electricity or 100% chance of being shocked, they would prefer to pick the 100%. Not knowing what may happen can be debilitating.
The good news is, if you have the right friends and people around, if you have healthy relationships, they should understand and accept your choices, your journey. We are more than what we do on a Friday night out.
I won’t spend too much time on this next point, but the chaos of everyday life is also not to be underestimated. Truthfully, sometimes ‘life just happens’. There are unexpected events, things that are beyond our control and we are not always able to check everything off our to do list. In these situations, it’s important to remember that, if you do make a mistake, don’t give up, don’t bin off all the good you have done. Forgive yourself and get back on the horse. Keep going! Aim for progress, not perfection!
To make lasting and significant change, it’s important to evaluate where we are and eliminate the ego from the equation. I truly believe that no matter how successful, how old, how experienced we are, we have to stay humble and be willing to learn. There is always something to learn. Be willing to listen. Even if you are an expert in your filed you can still gain from listening to peers or mentors. The willingness to admit that perhaps we don’t have all the answers isn’t a loss of control, it’s not embarrassing to embrace learning something more, it’s actually empowering. Sometimes we may fear that if we don’t have the answer to something we could be perceived as incompetent or not smart enough, but being willing to listen and learn is much more admirable. Much like our mind, the ego has its own agenda, and it probably won’t align with what we want to achieve. Becoming aware of its presence and its meddling in our affairs is an important first step towards success.
There is obviously a 'plethora of enemies' when it come to reaching our goals but in the hopes of keeping your attention till the end, I will conclude with just one more. When we want to make a change in our lives, we want it NOW. We want quick fixes. It can be extremely hard to keep our focus on the big picture. Most projects, endeavours, creating lasting change in our lives require months, if not years to accomplish. It can be extremely frustrating to not see progress initially. The bottom line is you have to have a goal that you are incredibly excited about.
You have to parent & push yourself, because the reality is that no one is coming to save you, to make things better, to save the day. And guess what, motivations is also not going to appear if you just wait and just scroll a bit more. It’s not happening.
You have to start; you have to want it.
Having a clear plan, repetition, consistency when it gets hard and boring is key. You need to have a process to fall back on, and I’m sure you’ve heard it before, -what gets measured gets accomplished.
Life is hard, no one is saying that it isn’t and as we’ve seen there can be genuine reasons why we sometimes struggle to make progress but becoming aware is a fantastic starting point. Understanding why we behave the way we do and how we make our decisions is empowering. Having a great strategy, forgiving ourselves when we are less that perfect is key and powering through the days when we actually just want to toss everything overboard and chill on the couch is crucial. Aim for progress not perfection!