“We are not the problem. Our approach to change is. It’s a design flaw – not a personal flaw.” BJ Fogg
When we fail to create a habit, we blame ourselves for being lazy and unmotivated. It seems reasonable. If we were highly motivated, we’d do what we had planned to do? True, but motivation is an ineffective habit-forming strategy for two reasons. First, it depends on our emotional state, which is hard to regulate. Habits require consistency. The second reason motivation is a terrible strategy for developing habits is that it decreases over time.
We don’t build motivation through repetition; we dilute it. We are less excited to do something for the hundredth time than we are the first time. It is hard to sustain motivation for any length of time, especially if the behavior doesn’t provide instant gratification, which good habits rarely do. If you are like me, motivation is the exception, not the rule.
We will discuss how to make good habits more rewarding later, but for now, let’s assume that most good habits aren’t going to produce the same instantaneous delight that a piece of cheesecake will. Even our desire to eat cake will decrease if we eat the entire cake. Based on the widely accepted economic theory of diminishing marginal utility, you’ll enjoy your first piece much more than your last. The more often we do something, the less motivated we’ll be to do it.
I am not against motivation. I am opposed to the notion that motivation is a prerequisite. That type of thinking is a trap. Boredom is the biggest obstacle to excellence. The repetition and time required to build exceptional skills make the activity less enjoyable. Artists like Pablo Picasso didn’t wait for inspiration. He said, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Steven King says, “Your job is to make sure the muse knows where you’re going to be every day from nine ’til noon or seven ’til three. If he does know, I assure you that sooner or later, he’ll start showing up.”
If MOTIVATION is such an ineffective approach, why is it so popular in the self-help space? A lot of ineffective strategies persist due to survivorship bias. Survivorship bias is the logical error of concentrating on the successful people and ignoring those that weren’t. Only a tiny minority of people can push through the difficult initiation phase using motivation as their starting strategy; consequently, few people succeed. The voice of those that succeeded drowns out the voices of those that failed.
A great example is Gary Vaynerchuk, or Gary Vee, as he is known to his fans. He works extremely hard and says that the bigger your ambition, the harder you will need to work. He advocates hard work, perseverance, and patients. As an entrepreneur, these are essential qualities, but very few people can muster enough motivation, willpower, and discipline to execute through brute force. He says, “motivation is simple, you either have it, or you can watch it.”
Gary’s brand of self-help might lead some people to believe they aren’t successful because they lack motivation. While I agree with his assertion that BIG DREAMS require huge commitments, I don’t think most people can begin their journey with massive daily obligations. They might work up to it after building some momentum, but it’s a recipe for disaster when starting out.
When it comes to adopting new habits, the best advice is to avoid the BIG Mistake most people make – that is, beginning BIG. Start small, establish the habit, and then build on it. Very few people can power through the initiation phase, starting with a big commitment – using sheer determination. In this scenario, the Rider is trying to overcome the two-ton Elephant’s resistance through brute force. Unless you are exceptionally motivated or disciplined, you will eventually fail. When this happens, you’ll blame yourself when you should be blaming your ineffective strategy.
We want an approach that will work for everyone. Even if you are exceptionally motivated or are a titan of willpower, shrinking the initial commitment won’t prevent you from doing more. It is a starting line – not a finish line.
There is nothing wrong with motivation, but it’s a poor starting strategy. Willpower is a lot more reliable, and unlike motivation, it is strengthened through repetition, not diluted by it. Our willpower is strongest in the morning and depletes with use. That’s why it’s best to schedule our most demanding tasks early in the day.
Motivation is like a bonus check, it’s great when you get one, but you shouldn’t rely on it to pay the rent. If you want to start each day more motivated, I recommend you take Tony Robins’ advice and begin each day with a priming session. He advocates you begin each day with movement, incantations, and mindful breathing.
Our physiology and psychology are inseparably linked. These two aspects of our being work in a push-pull relationship. For example, we can improve our confidence by striking a Superman posture or reduce our self-confidence by slouching. If I asked you to act depressed, I bet the first thing you would do would be to look down and hunch your shoulders. Either can shift the other, but you’ll discover it is easier to shift your psychology through your physiology than the reverse.
I learned early in life that exercise improves my mood and focus. My father, who was always struggling with his weight, liked to go running a few times a week. I was at that age when you loved spending time with your parents, so I would tag along. I enjoy pushing myself, and I began to crave the feel-good effects of it. It often lifted me out of a bad mood. It also helped improve my mental focus, and my grades reflected it. I wouldn’t learn until much later that neuroplasticity was possible and that exercise was the spark that helps create new neurons.
Have you noticed that how your day begins tends to carry over into the rest of your day? Did you know that you can influence the spirit of your day during the first few minutes? During those first 20-minutes, your mind is transitioning from the low 47 cycles per second (Hz) your brain operates during light sleep to the higher, 1230 Hz that is your normal waking state of consciousness. During this transition, your subconscious mind is most impressionable.
Here is a simple habit that can dramatically increase your percentage of good days. It will also improve your attitude in general. Take advantage of this opportunity – put on some wireless headphones and listen to something inspiring while performing your early morning routine. It doesn’t require any additional time, so there is no reason not to give it a chance. Some of my favorite motivational mentors are Jim Rohn, Brian Tracy, Gary Vee, Eric Thomas, Tony Robbins, Darren Hardy, and Robin Sharma.
I start each day with some exercise, journaling, and learning. Usually, it’s a short Tabata workout, followed by journaling and audiobooks during my one-hour bus commute. I’ll listen to a great book several times. Repetition isn’t just good for conditioning habits. Repetition is the mother of learning.
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