Keep showing up

Has it ever happened to you that, when setting a new goal or establishing a new habit, you start off very enthusiastically and then lose traction as time goes by? This is completely normal: the initial motivation gives us that energy boost, in order to get us started, but once that moment has passed, how do we keep the momentum?

Well, with discipline.

I´m aware that the word discipline may spark some uncomfortable feelings, because of associations with harshness, rigidity, and even a certain level of suffering (no pain, no gain, etc.). But it doesn´t need to be that way: we don´t need to force things too much, or beat ourselves up, or suffer. All we have to do is disregards some of the messages we receive from our brain.

Let me explain: imagine that, in a moment of euphoria and good intentions, you sign up for a membership at your local gym, and decide to go for training three days a week. You start strong, and attend training three times in the first week, but in the second week, one day you´re really tired coming back from work, and decide not to go, another day you feel lazy because it´s raining and you don´t go either, and by the time you realize, you´ve lost momentum and it´s more and more difficult to get motivated to go to your training.

What´s happening is that your habit is not well established yet, so your brain still needs to spend extra energy in order to trigger that particular behaviour. And, given that your brain´s goal is to keep you alive (IMPORTANT: your brain doesn´t care about your happiness, it only wants you to survive), and that saving energy is very convenient for that, then it starts rationalizing and giving you reasons to stay safely at home

Our brain doesn´t understand a thing about long term goals, it´s only interested in keeping us alive in the here and now; that´s why very often the things we instinctively want are not necessarily the best for our long term health and wellness. Another typical example is nutrition: our brain craves sugars, salts and fats in order to guarantee our energy supply, but we know that, once the risk of starving to death is minimized, a more varied diet is a much healthier option for us.

That´s why I suggest paying a bit less attention to our own brains, and using a bit more discipline, which is nothing other than the will to keep moving forward with the task even if we don´t feel like it at that moment. In the words of Woody Allen, 80% of success is showing up. Why? Because we all find it difficult to stay consistent, and that includes artists and elite sports people as well, but it is only through consistency that success is achieved.

So how can we be disciplined and consistent without having to resort to willpower alone? Here are a few tricks that can help:

  • Make it easy to perform the task: for example, if you want to start running every morning, prepare your running gear the night before, and leave it ready next to your bed, so that it´s easier to get dressed and go. If you want to eat more fruit and less sweets, have fresh fruit easily accessible at home, maybe already cut up and prepared.
  • Make it difficult not to perform the task add consequences so that you feel a bit bad if you don´t do it, like for example, agree to go running with someone else (if you fail to go, they´ll be on their own), or even make a public commitment, so that you feel embarrassed if you have to admit you didn´t do it. Or, you can also add obstacles to the behaviour you want to eliminate: for example, don´t keep sweets at home, that way if you want to eat them, you have to go out to buy them first.
  • Set out to do the bare minimum: if you don´t feel like going out for a run, think about running just for five minutes; if you want to eat healthy, think about only swapping your breakfast roll for a piece of fruit. The majority of the effort is in the first step you take to get started, and then everything is a lot easier after that, so figure out the smallest step you can take in the direction you want to go, and at a minimum, take that step. You will probably end up doing a lot more than that (or if you don´t, that´s also fine, give yourself permission to only do the minimum),

And then there´s my favourite trick, the one I use every week to write in this blog: not to give ourselves another option. It doesn´t matter whether I feel like it or not, whether I´m at home or travelling, whether it´s late afternoon or midnight. Sunday is the day I write a post, so I write a post, and that´s it. It´s not negotiable. I don´t allow myself to discuss it in my head, because if I did, most days I would end up finding reasons (that is, excuses) to avoid sitting down to write.

If you look at it that way, the mere existence of this post is proof that these strategies work 🙂

What about you? What tricks do you use to keep consistently working towards your goals?

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