• Getting right in body, mind, and soul means adopting the attitudes and mindsets that make a self-disciplined life possible. Firstly, make a plan to reduce, remove, and avoid temptations. If you are proactive and pre-empt them, they have less impact on your life.
• One of the biggest and most damaging myths is that we can only take action when the time is right or when we feel like it. The truth is that we can act even if we don’t have the motivation! Just start, and you’ll find that it’s the other way around: taking action inspires you.
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In the last chapter, we looked at ways to lay the all-important foundations of a self-disciplined life, including healthy habits with sleep, exercise and diet. In this chapter, we’ll turn our attention to the impact that our attitude, our moods, and our thought processes have on our ability to self-regulate and take control of our lives. So many of us know what we should be doing and want to do it, yet we falter time and again when tempted or distracted by things in our environment.
You need self-discipline. But this doesn’t mean bravely wrestling it out and pitching your willpower up against very tempting prospects. To be honest, this rarely works, and even if it does, your willpower will eventually deplete, whereas there’s no end to the number of temptations and distractions out there, ready to derail your progress. No, if we hope to reduce the effect of these temptations on our lives, we need to be smart about it. We need to manage, pre-empt, or flat-out avoid those moments where we are vulnerable to throwing our resolve out the window.
Self-control is often easiest when abiding by the old saying, “out of sight, out of mind.” Removing all temptations and distractions from your environment is essential. Set up systems that remove the necessity of willpower in the first place, in other words, make doing the bad things tough, and make doing the good things easy—or even automatic.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
Step 1: Be honest. When you’re fired up with a new goal you might not be inclined to think of potential setbacks, but you control them best when you are fully aware of what they are, where they come from, when and how. The idea is to make sure that you have a solid strategy before you are staring at the temptation in the moment. When you set a goal, identify your potential temptations and triggers to quit. Be honest with yourself about how enticing they’ll be!
Step 2: Avoid. You don’t have to do anything about temptation if you are never actually faced with it, right? So just avoid. Alternatively, fight distractions with more distraction—if you have a mad craving for sugar one day, just make sure you’re entertaining yourself for the next ten minutes and putting yourself far out of the reach of any tempting treats. Then, even if you succumb to the craving and decide to go for it—you physically cannot. Your resolve will return, and the craving will pass. Make sure you’re distracting yourself until then. If you can’t avoid the temptation, then reduce and mitigate it. If you can’t avoid going to that restaurant, at least plan ahead and commit to ordering the best thing off the menu before you even arrive, and turn down the dessert menu.
Step 3: Visualize. Plan ahead how you will respond to inevitable temptations by rehearsing what you’ll do. Literally close your eyes and play out the scene in your mind. Picture yourself in vivid detail turning away from the temptation. Then, importantly, imagine yourself feeling really good afterward, confident and encouraged that you were able to push through. Visualizing this way helps cancel out a big reason we so often fail—we forget about the future and the long-term consequences of our choices. Remind yourself of why you’re doing what you’re doing, and really feel that the temporary pleasure doesn’t compare to the sense of satisfaction you’ll feel from achieving your goal.
The great thing about temptation is that it’s fleeting. Bad habit, physical craving, and plain old boredom can feel super powerful in the moment, but they really aren’t. Resisting them means losing out on that moment of pleasure. But if you can do it, you gain so much more. You gain momentum (next time, resisting will be easier), confidence and pride in yourself, encouragement, and the knowledge that you have just taken one more crucial step toward the thing you really want: your goal.
Don’t Wait for it to “Feel Right”
Well, resisting temptation is a valuable skillset. But sometimes, what threatens to derail the best laid plan is nothing—by that I mean simply procrastinating or avoiding what you need to do. Getting into a disciplined, proactive state of mind means looking frankly at the beliefs and assumptions that are keeping us stuck and encouraging us to be less than we could be.
If procrastination and avoidance are something you battle with, then what may be to blame is the unconscious belief that you can only take action when you’re feeling inspired and motivated to do so. And unless you’re ultra-energized and enthusiastic, then you have to wait for a better time to start. The truth is, motivation is not necessary. To achieve your goals, you need only keep on taking daily action toward them. That’s it. Some days you’ll feel jazzed up and ready to go, some days you won’t. But discipline means showing up and doing the work regardless of the fleeting ebbs and flows of enthusiasm.
Another way to think of it is that action causes enthusiasm, rather than the other way around. If you take action, you inspire and motivate yourself, not to mention feel encouraged and proud of yourself. Keep procrastinating, though, and your self-esteem will only plummet further, and it’ll start to feel harder and harder to get going again.
Nothing bad will happen to you if you do things you’re uncomfortable with, or things that don’t exactly light your world on fire. Seriously, it won’t hurt you. Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, explains that habit behaviors are traced to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is associated with emotions, patterns, and memories. Decisions, on the other hand, are made in the prefrontal cortex, a completely different area.
When a behavior becomes habit, we stop using our decision-making skills and instead function on autopilot. Therefore, breaking a bad habit and building a new habit not only requires us to make active decisions, it will feel wrong. Your brain will resist the change in favor of what it has been programmed to do. The solution? Embrace the wrong. Acknowledge that it will take a while for your new regime to feel right or good or natural. Keep chugging along. It will happen. Don’t assume that fear or listlessness or inertia mean that you’re on the wrong path—most likely, the opposite is true!
It can be a relief to know that ending procrastination has nothing to do with willpower or laziness. It can be managed with a few simple behavioral tricks.
How to Use This in Your Life Immediately
One surefire tip? Just start. Tell yourself all that matters is doing five minutes, or even one minute. You don’t have to like it, just get started. Don’t plan or overthink, just begin. Then notice once you’ve started that it’s not so bad! Stop telling yourself to wait for the right moment, and stop saying “I don’t have the time.” You do. And the right time is now.
If your energy is genuinely low and you’re procrastinating because you doubt your ability to do the task well, then work on managing your energy levels—not the task itself. Break it down and schedule small chunks for your peak energy times in the day. Do an easier task first to get the ball rolling, if you must. It may sound counterproductive, but have a break. Make it a real break, not just a stressful exercise in avoidance where you’re just thinking about the upcoming task.
If procrastination is more serious or chronic, however, your job is to dig deep and find out why you’re procrastinating. Fear of failure? Fear of success? Working on a goal you don’t actually care about? Other people’s expectations? Perfectionism? Once you’ve identified the thoughts and beliefs behind your procrastination, you can take a more targeted approach to fixing it.
Show notes and/or episode transcripts are available at https://bit.ly/self-growth-home
Peter Hollins is a bestselling author, human psychology researcher, and a dedicated student of the human condition.
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