It seems that humans (and probably all animals) like to get into a rut. We like to do the same thing again and again until we have a well-worn path. Until we become that well-worn path.
I’m sure there are very good evolutionary reasons for this. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
But what about if it is broke? We usually don’t fix that either.
Anthony Robbins argues that we are much more motivated by avoidance of pain than we are by a wish to achieve goals or realise our potential. Hence, behaviour change only really happens when the pain of not changing outweighs the pain of making the change.
He argues, therefore, that if you want to achieve your goals, you have to clearly understand the relative pain you’re in right now because you haven’t achieved them. Compared with having a million bucks, your current financial situation is painful. Compared with peak fitness, the current state of your physiology is painful.
So even though you have to work really hard and take some risks, that’s less painful than doing nothing.
This tendency to avoid change is a good one to notice in yourself. And it’s also useful to have strategies for dealing with it. Here are some ideas:
- Focus on the pain. I already mentioned the whole thing about getting leverage on yourself by getting very clear about the relative pain you’re in by not changing course. Personally I use this one sparingly. Generally, my goal is to feel good in the present moment. So focusing on pain doesn’t really do it for me. But I can see the logic. And feeling good in the present moment has to be done with awareness. Otherwise it would no doubt only be a matter of time before I discovered the instant pleasures of the crack pipe.
- Develop self-discipline. I’m not really into this one either, to be honest. But for a lot of people, having that kind of military attitude towards yourself seems to work. I have a friend who gets up at 6.15am and goes to the gym every morning before cycling to work (no matter what the weather) several miles each way. He usually undertakes some kind of professional development after work too. I once asked him if he likes getting up so early. He said he hates it, but when he’s having a shower after the gym, he feels amazing. A humble bow in his direction.
- Develop your ‘want power’. This is my favourite. Instead of ‘will power’, which always seems to run out just before you’ve achieved your goal, try cultivating want power. You do this by bringing to mind, as often as possible, what you’re trying to achieve, why you want to achieve it, and how amazing it will be when you’ve achieved it. Getting yourself stoked up like this means you naturally and (relatively) effortlessly do what needs to be done to get where you want to get. So you’re excited and positive in the present, as well as moving in the right direction. Like Anthony Robbins says, this isn’t as strong a motivator as avoidance of pain, so you need to really lay it on heavy. But this reaps amazing rewards in my experience. Some people use a vision board to help with this approach.
- Get used to making decisions and taking action. These are habits. If you want to get yourself in a rut, these two are good ruts to get into. You get into them by doing them again and again until it becomes second nature. This way, you have the momentum you need to get out of other, unhelpful ruts when you need to. You don’t sit on the couch contemplating, eating biscuits (cookies) and watching TV. It’s natural for you to make the decision and take the required action. Job done.
- Cultivate mindfulness. Before any of the above becomes possible, you need to know what you’re doing, what you’re trying to do, what needs to happen between now and when you achieve your goal in order for you to achieve success. All that takes awareness. A cloudy mind won’t allow you to see any of this. So cultivate some mindfulness and you’re halfway there. You’ll find that there are layers of awareness and as your mindfulness develops, your goals tend to change. But that’s OK. Knowing when to keep going and when to change course is all part of the ride.
Please make a one-off donation if you benefit from this blog. There's a 'donate' button at the top right of every post on My Buddhist Life. Thanks!