So what were you last time? This is a common slogan of people aching to make a change.
It’s impossible to know how many times so many of us have said this in our lifetime, but it seems to be a mechanism to convince oneself that they truly want something, usually something intended to improve the quality of their life. The classic health focus, for example: “I’m going to get in shape… I’m serious this time!!” Unfortunately, my friend, that doesn’t sound like much of a plan. It sounds more like a desire for the results without a love for the journey. Some destination of success to which one can arrive, look around, and then pleasingly admire their new self. If you’re serious this time, and last time you sounded serious but did not utter your new catchphrase, am I to believe that you’re only serious from here forward once you explicitly state that you are? What if you fail to execute your plan? Were you not as serious as you thought?
This intense seriousness is typically reassured by a grandiose plan. How will they get in shape, you wonder? By going zero to sixty in no time flat. Something like “no man, I’m serious. I’m going to get up early every day and do a hundred push-ups and a thirty minute run before work!” I will admit, that’s an achievable amount of exercise, and it would leave you feeling pretty damned fantastic once you grind it out. But this “plan” is devoid of any balance.
Let’s look at the situation: for the past year and a half, for the majority of your workdays, you snooze your alarm three times after it sounds, you get up with just enough time to have a shower and get dressed before you head off to work only to clock in the door with less than ninety seconds to spare. And some days you choose lying in bed longer over getting in the shower. All this is due to staying up too late the night before. Consistently.
If you do stick to your word and follow your new plan it will take a while before it becomes routine enough that it’s your norm. You’ll wake up that first day a very different person from the one that made the plan. You don’t even like getting up at your normal time, let alone earlier. And now you’re getting up to move around. A lot.
It’s like quitting smoking, drinking, eating junk food, and watching TV all at once. That’s a bad idea that guarantees failure. Too many of your regular mechanisms ripped out at once will have the machine come tumbling down on itself. And our habits make up one heavy machine. Don’t make massive changes if you’re not self-aware enough to be able to keep moving forward with it.
If you got up two minutes early and did ten push-ups every day for a week, you would be far more likely to hit your goal and I promise that you would notice the change. Then next week you can add five more push ups. Or five jumping jacks. Or a walk to the corner and back. You want to get in shape and that takes time. Don’t rush it or you’ll ruin it for yourself.
The more useful truth of this is that it’s not motivation that gets the job done. If this really is your plan then over the long run you’re going to be lacking that motivation more times than you have it. Speaking from a lot of personal experience I can tell you that an unmotivated mind does not understand this, and it speaks in a very persuasive voice that leads you to drop your plans and inevitably feel bad about yourself later on. Doing this saps even more motivation because you feel like a failure. Motivation is the prize you get for doing the work regardless of how you feel when the time comes to do it. Motivation is the result, not the engine that drives you there.
Let’s take a look at the words “I’m serious.” What you’re really saying is that you’re more determined than the last time to avoid failure. There’s a reason I state this as failure avoidance and it’s important, it’s in the words “this time.” It’s a confession that this is not your first time taking a run at this objective and that the past efforts have ended in a less than desirable fashion. Last time you didn’t do what you set out to do, but this time will be different!
I have heard this spoken with such conviction many times, and many of those times were from my own mind. It’s a statement charged with, and invented by, emotion. An undeniably passionate feeling that I’m ready to move mountains.
The bright side in these situations is this: if you’re looking to make a change, any change, it’s going to take a lot of discipline and self understanding. You can’t wait until you understand yourself enough for it to be effortless, the understanding will grow as you make a plan and stick with it. You’ll see barriers that you didn’t know were there and you will watch yourself step right past them. By no means is it easy, but it’s very simple. Make a plan, execute it, go to sleep, wake up, do it again. And again. Until it’s not a chore any more, it’s just another part of you that you don’t have to think about. The bright side is that you will be a better, stronger version of yourself no matter what obstacle you decide to conquer.
And be easy on yourself as you struggle and fumble to get to a higher ground. After all:
“It’s only those who do nothing that make no mistakes.” -Joseph Conrad