“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” - John Lennon
How many times have we told ourselves in complete earnestness, “I’m
going to be more organized and productive from now on.”? Or that the
diet starts tomorrow? Or that we’re going to make a real effort to
Photo courtesy of James Jordan
Only to have that enthusiasm fizzle away, and all our best intentions come to nothing?
It’s the most common thing in the world (besides bacteria) — the
honest and fervent desire for self-improvement, followed by inaction or
giving in to temptations, followed by guilt or giving up. Bridget Jones
captured it best, writing her constant resolutions into her diary.
“Will definitely go to the gym this afternoon.” Only to be followed by
a binge of pastries followed by drinking and smoking.
We’re all Bridget Jones. It happens to the best of us. It’s inertia
at work, mixed with a bit of laziness as well as the very human trait
of giving in to desires despite all the good intentions in the world.
So how do we beat inertia and temptations? Four basic ways, really:
- Get moving, a bit at a time. Inertia is beat only
by movement. Once you get going, momentum builds up and inertia is no
longer a factor. So the key is to get started, and you do that not by
trying to go from 0 to 60 in 5 seconds, but by trying to go from 0 to
5mph in a day or two. That’s doable. It’s all about baby steps. Once
you get going, you’re golden.
- Be accountable. Laziness, the second culprit, is
beat by a bit of public pressure. We all get lazy from time to time
(or, to be more honest, all the time), and there’s nothing wrong with
that. But to beat laziness, we must apply a bit of pressure, in the
form of accountability. There’s nothing wrong with a little pressure,
as long is it’s not overdone. Pressure is a motivating thing,
especially when it’s positive. Positive pressure includes encouragement
from family or friends, an online forum, a help group in your
neighborhood, or the readers of your blog.
- Ignore failures — giving in to temptation is OK. We will always give in to temptation. Plan for it, accept it, move on. There’s no need to beat yourself up.
- Motivate yourself. Most importantly, you want to
really want it. It’s not enough to feel pressure to do something — you
have to really desire it. I mean, really desire it, not just think it’s
something you should do, or that you’ll be a better person for doing
it. If pressure gives you the push toward your goal, motivation gives
you the pull.
Given those strategies for beating the obstacles to making your
desires become reality … how do we implement them? How do we go from
theory to actual action steps? Easy. Seven simple steps, that you can
do today. Really. Do them today.
1. Make a date. Right now. All the good intentions
in the history of the universe mean nothing if you don’t actually get
started. And the only way to get started is to take action, right now.
Not tomorrow, not later today, not in an hour, not when you finish
reading this article. Right now! Look at your calendar, and make an
appointment to create your action plan, or to take the first action
(”Go walking at 5:30 p.m. today in the park,” for example). What’s the
first action you can take to make your desires a reality? Create a
healthier meal plan for tomorrow? Create a place for everything you use
at work, so your organizing system doesn’t fall apart in two day?
Decide what that is and make an appointment for it, right now. Second
part of this step: make that appointment the most important appointment
on your schedule, more important than a doctor’s appointment or a
meeting with your boss.
2. Set a small, achievable goal. Remember, inertia
is a powerful force. If you haven’t been exercising for a couple years,
it’s hard to get started. You’re used to the way things are, and even
if you want to change, it’s difficult. So don’t start out trying to
conquer the world. Just conquer something exceedingly small. It might
sound wimpy to say, “I’m going to walk for 10 minutes” or “I’m going to
do 10 pushups and 1 chinup”, but those are much more likely to beat
inertia than, “I’m going to exercise for 45 minutes today.” Be
realistic, and make it very very achievable. It’s the only way to beat
“Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.” - Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back
3. Commit thyself, big time. It’s this commitment
that will keep you going after you overcome inertia. Sometimes we get
filled up with enthusiasm, but then a few days later, that enthusiasm
wanes and we submit to our old buddy laziness. Now, I’m not
anti-laziness — just the opposite, I assure you — but we can’t let it
stop us from making our dreams come true. So instead, make a
commitment, publicly. State your small, achievable goal, and tell it to
as many people as you can. Call or email friends and family, tell all
your coworkers, join an online forum related to your goal and tell all
of them. Put it on your blog. However you do it, make sure people are
aware of your goal, and that there’s sufficient pressure to overcome
4. Baby steps, baby. Again, inertia is a very
strong force. I’ve said it before, but this is a very important step
here: the best way to change is through baby steps. One small step at a
time. Don’t try to bite off too much. How is this different from the
above step, setting a small and achievable goal? It’s the same concept,
but extended beyond the initial goal. It’s taking things one little
goal at a time, a bit at a time. For example, let’s say you want to run
a marathon, but currently your running regimen consists of running to
the bathroom during commercial breaks while you’re watching Lost.
So do you go out and start a marathon training plan? Nope. You start by
walking 10 minutes a day. Then, when that becomes a habit and too easy,
walk 15 minutes. Then 20, then 30. Then jog a minute, walk a couple
minutes, jog a minute, and so on, for those 30 minutes. Then jog 90
seconds, and so on, until you’re running for 30 minutes. Do these steps
a week or two at a time, so that all of a sudden, you’re running for 45
minutes every other day … and you barely noticed the progression.
That’s the way you get to a goal … small progressions that are barely
noticeable. Not by killing yourself the first day out.
“Seventy percent of success in life is showing up.” - Woody Allen
5. Hold thyself accountable. You’ve committed
yourself publicly … but it’s not enough to tell people your goal. You
have to make it clear that they must hold you accountable to reporting
to them your progress. Then report your progress to them regularly.
Daily is better than weekly. Reporting to them makes sure that you will
think twice about being lazy and forgoing your action plan.
6. Motivate yourself. We’ve already discussed
accountability and commitment, which are ways to put positive pressure
on yourself — a form of motivation. Those are great, but you also want
other types of motivation. You want to find ways to make your progress
feel great … either through rewards, or the positive way you feel about
your progress, or the positive way you feel when others see how well
you’re doing. Find a few different ways to motivate yourself — the more
the better. Incorporate these into your plan. Tell people about them.
Let them help push you along.
7. Just keep doing it, no matter what. You’ll
encounter obstacles, and falter and fall. Just get up and keep going.
You’ll face temptations and give in. That’s OK. Just keep going. You’ll
make mistakes and get discouraged. No matter … just keep going. Learn
from your mistakes, and … keep going. No matter what happens, keep
going. If you’re taking baby steps, you’re holding yourself
accountable, and you’re actually doing something, you’ll get there.
“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one” - Albert Einstein