It’s one of the best feelings in the world: You’re motivated, excited, blasting into an amazing future that you built yourself. Success builds into success and the virtuous spiral sends you into the stratosphere. You are the king of your domain, and your domain is whatever you cast your steely gaze upon. You know why lions roar.
Oh, you’re not there yet?
Motivation is a lot harder to come by before things are going well. You can get excited about a new idea, a new fitness program, whatever sparks your mind… for a while. Inertia sucks the most out of your efforts when you’re just getting going. If you’ve ever pushed anything you’ll know that once it’s begun moving, once the inertia and friction have been at all overcome, things become almost magically easier.
It’s exactly the same with your mind, your motivation, your self-discipline. Only the inertia (and friction) tends to try to bring you to a halt again once you’ve made your initial push. And this time there’s less of the excitement animating your efforts to keep going.
This is probably not news to you, unless you’ve been in motion toward your goals for so long that you’ve forgotten what it’s like to start. If so, hey, good for you. Remind yourself once in a while so you have patience and don’t get too high-handed with those just building their first momentum, and to remind yourself just how far you’ve come.
Odds are, though, you not only remember but have experienced it recently. It’s horrible. It’s the thing that knocks far too many into a life of mediocrity. It’s failure predicting and then producing itself. Then it gets to torture you about it for the rest of your life.
So what are my options?
The easiest way to defeat inertia is to be launched into successful action by circumstances aligning with your talents. It’s a lot easier to keep going once you’re in motion and can look back at evidence that you can and have done well. This situation is also kind of rare and depends on things you can’t depend on. Odds are against wandering into success. Grab it if it comes by, but don’t wait for it.
The most effective way to get moving and never stop is to restructure your essential philosophy to see the world for what it really offers, and build from that a mindset that naturally moves you forward. Changing your mindset is crucial to changing your circumstances. Supporting it with the right mental framework, the right foundation, will allow you to maintain it indefinitely and without cognitive dissonance. Admittedly, this takes a while. We’ll discuss this in depth in later articles and with very specific actions to make it work for you. For now, though, we need something to get us moving now.
The fastest way to start doing what needs to be done and get you past the annoying mental blocks that keep you in your place is to set up little motivations and behaviors that directly subvert or dodge them. We’re not talking about good habits, which are necessary, but the things that will allow you to develop those habits in the first place.
Have you ever tried to “get in the habit of” one thing or another, only to give up for no visible reason? You might try again and again, and eventually give up entirely, deciding you don’t have the self-discipline, mental capacity, or basic worth as a human to manage it. Though it is true that self-discipline is vastly important – one of the key parts of the Jovian philosophy – there is a reason one of the biggest hurdles to developing it is the lack of self-discipline, itself. It’s a catch-22. It’s also not exactly true.
Imagine that the problems you want to get rid of, whether bad behaviors to kill or missing good behaviors, are creatures living in your head. We’ll talk about this more some other time, because it’s very nearly a literal truth, but for now consider what such a parasite would do to preserve itself: it would find ways to derail your desired good habits. There are endless ways it can do so, but they all look like a lack of willpower. Yes, of course straight willpower can overcome it – that’s why self-discipline is part of the core, here. But these things in you have done everything they could to make sure you have as little of it as possible. You have to develop it as you develop the better behavior.
Flip The Helplessness Script
If you listen to people who have trouble controlling their actions, you will hear some very odd things. They will express a feeling of helplessness and often say phrases like, “and then I find myself…” It’s like they’re outside their own body. It sounds bizarre and pathetic. It is, of course, but it is also real. They really have allowed themselves to be run by their self-destructive mental scripts, slaves to their own whims and most surface-level feelings. What is happening inside is a knowledge of what they should be doing (or not doing) getting set aside by a wheedling little child rejecting it with an obnoxious, “But I don’t wannoooooo!” And for lack of any idea that they’re actually in charge of their own actions, they go along with the child.
This is the sort of thing that needs to be killed with fire. If you find yourself with that sort of business going on between your ears, I will do my level best to help you get free. The change in your life will be immeasurable.
You can actually make use of it, though, in a reversed sort of way, and eventually remove the effects of that inner whiner. See, that “outside their own body” effect can be used against the behavior that spawned it, and it’s even handy for those who have never experienced it. You act exactly as though the resistance was a real brat in front of you. No, I don’t mean smacking it silly or using chloroform. I mean, you let it have its whine in your head and, without giving explanation to yourself or considering anything at all, do what you know needs doing. It says it doesn’t want to go to the gym, as your hands and feet get your shoes on. It warns that you’ll be tired and achy as you get in the car. It tries to get you to stop early but you just move on to the next lift, not even a word spoken internally to yourself. The mental parasite will throw everything it can at you, and you, without negotiation or even recognition, simply do it.
The power of this is hard to overestimate, when it comes to prying loose your ability to get things moving.
Get A Hero; Get A Villain
You’re going to need to have motivations, both when you start and as you go along. Obviously. You have some reason to be improving yourself, or you wouldn’t be doing it. The thing is, having only 1 motivation isn’t always enough. Sometimes the noble cause for which you labor is going to sound stupid, boring, or just really not enough to drag yourself to whatever needs to be done. Sometimes you’re just in a bad mood and don’t want to do the Right Thing. Sometimes the reward on the other side of your goal isn’t as interesting as completely ignoring the goal. When your main incentive isn’t helping, it helps to have something more low-minded to work with. Something people would look at as shallow, or questionable, or whatever. Something the bad mood will see as a good idea, to exactly the same effect, which is getting you to do what your most rational self knows needs to be done.
I call them hero and villain motives, but they don’t need to have that sort of moral judgement about them for them to work. Never hurts, though…
It’s easy to find different, even competing motivations, when you look honestly at it. People like to think they’re doing things for virtuous, long-term reasons like heart health, financial independence, helping their community, improving their house, etc. And they are, at some level. But if “healthy heart” sounds like a damned boring reason to hit the gym, thinking about the reaction of the hotties to your new and improved body could do the trick. Or looking better (and with a harder punch) than that smarmy sociopath who hit on your wife last year. Same regimen: your body will improve either way, and won’t if you don’t go. This is the time to ponder the idea of living well being the best revenge. This is the time to fantasize spending the new resources on your whims. This is the time to think of thumbing your nose at the ones who said you weren’t good enough. It’s the villainous side that will get you through the times when the hero makes you roll your eyes. That nobler goal will come along no matter how you get there, so long as you get there. And odds are you’ll be in a better mood by then.
Just For Now
If you’re breaking promises to yourself, flip the script on that, too. Maybe you want something you know you shouldn’t eat. Tell yourself you’ll get to it later. When it’s later, tell yourself the same thing again.
You don’t want to do the writing for your book, or the code for your site. Eh, just do some. Get some ideas down. Maybe work through and clarify a bit. You can always stop and come back later. And maybe you’ll find it’s flowing well enough to do a bit more. Then a bit more.
That new language’s vocabulary is not going to stick in your head. You know it. No problem: just go over it anyway, two or three times. You already know language is best studied in many smaller blocks of time than in one huge cramming session. Tell yourself that doing it now is really the lazy way, and after you’re done you can ignore it until tomorrow.
The thing is to slide through the defenses of the unwanted behavior so that it doesn’t object when you go and do something productive. Use the metaphor of the camel’s nose in the tent to your own advantage.
This also applies to screwing up, by the way. Someone trying to eat well has a muffin at the morning staff meeting. “Oh well, might as well have the pizza for lunch,” he concludes.
That muffin, that mistake, was only for then. You can’t undo it, exactly, but you can halt the problem where it was. Lunch time is a new meal. This time you’ll do the right thing. The meeting is in the past.
The way I find that is most effective in clobbering any chance of improving myself is analysis paralysis. There’s a certain guilty relief in telling yourself that you’re just not quite ready yet. Not ready for starting that business, for doing free weights, for anything. Truth is, at a certain point you’re just spinning your wheels trying to be certain of the parts you’ll never be certain of. When that happens, it’s time to take action. Pretty much any action. You’ll come back to thinking about it later – and really, you’ll never stop.
We’ll discuss this in different ways here, because the pattern comes along in a variety of areas in your life. In fact, I think in the next article we should go into the upward spiral of learning and doing, and why it is the only way to really get anywhere.
Tiny Steps, Growing
About 2500 years ago, Lao-Tzu wrote, “A journey of a thousand li begins with a single step.” So often, discouragement comes when after a few of these steps you realize you haven’t gone very far.
For the first steps, you won’t. And that’s fine. Maintaining motivation isn’t as simple as Just Do It, at least in the early stages. The psychology is more complex than you just being a lazy, worthless slug who can’t hold it together. There are plenty of asshats who will tell you crap like that. Don’t be one of them. You can learn to hold it together. You must. Insist on improvement; forgive yourself, but do not allow a repeat of mistakes. You won’t do it perfectly. I know this because you’re human. But you must return to the right track immediately. The good news is that getting back on track is very satisfying.
There will be times when you leap ahead, and times when you pretty much fly.
The beginning, and especially the part right after the beginning, is almost never those times.
But as you get your stride, you will move with more speed and better determination, and in a more certain direction. What, you think Usain Bolt went from crawling as a baby directly to sprinting? Besides, no one said you ever had to sprint. You need to just move in a good direction and with the understanding that nothing happens in a straight line and perfect acceleration. By moving at all you’ll be ahead of most of humanity, and more importantly, ahead of where and who you were.