“We don’t do the things we know we really should do in life because we don’t want the results or the ongoing self improvement bad enough.”
The above quote sums up what my fellow internet friend and superstar blogger Adrienne Smith said in a comment on my last published post about why we stink so much at sticking to good habits.
She argued that if we really want something bad enough, then we’ll do the hard work to get it, but if we don’t?
Her argument is short, simple, and straight up truthful — and I love everything about it.
I stand by everything I laid out in that post for how anyone can build a good habit the right way, but Adrienne’s comment brought up something I didn’t even consider touching on before diving right into all that.
And that something is the big, ugly thing no one ever likes to talk about because on the surface, it sounds like it all comes down a bunch of really fluffy, poofy positive psychology hogwash that’s better to be left in fantasy land.
I’m talking about mindset alignment.
How in the HECK do we make our minds genuinely want to do something when it just plain sucks?
So for example, on a logical level, it’s easy to understand that exercise is supposed to make you feel good every time that you do it.
But for a lot of people, it’s nearly unbearable.
These people’s minds are constantly being bombarded with messages like, “I hate sweating, I can’t breathe, my muscles are burning, my joints hurt so much, this isn’t even working, I have no time for this, I’m so tired, and I can’t bear the thought of having to keep this up for the rest of my life.”
Trust me, anyone who has ever tried to make a habit out of exercise has heard that voice inside their head saying something along those lines.
And so, having a purely logical understanding that “exercise is supposed to make me feel good” is about as useful as a fart in a jacuzzi.
Understanding something is not the same as being it.
Understanding without being is what prevents us from getting started in the first place.
It’s also what makes us fall of track after one day of trying.
And it’s even what makes us quit weeks after making some good progress but then succumbing to a rotten mindset.
But how do you turn understanding into being?
I knew there had to be an answer, because there are two types of people:
1.) people who know in their gut that they want something, but are experiencing subconscious blocks that make them think they don’t want it bad enough to work for it; and
2.) people who transcend to almost superhuman-like levels by convincing themselves they want it bad enough, somehow mysteriously turning what the rest of us perceive as painful and challenging and terrifying and uncertain into something that works for them rather than against them.
Those people in group number two have to just born with that kind of insane perseverance and resilience, right?
I used to think so, until I watched a brilliant TED talk by leading British therapist Marisa Peer who explained how to collaborate with your mind in the simplest and most enlightening way possible that my head almost exploded.
In her talk, she explains that our ability to effectively collaborate with our minds comes down to four key things:
1. Your mind always does exactly what it *thinks* is in your best interest, so no matter what, it will always do exactly what you tell it to do (subconsciously or consciously).
2. Your mind is hard-wired to move you toward pleasure and away from pain.
3. The way you feel about anything always comes down to just two things: the images you create in your head and the words you say to yourself.
4. Your mind clings to what’s familiar to you and flees from what’s unfamiliar.
So if you’ve got behaviours that you don’t want, then that means that any or all of the above are working against you.
And of course most of us have behaviours that we don’t want.
If you know that you need to fix one of your behaviours that would no doubt involve getting outside of your comfort zone and your mind’s natural and automatic thought is, “I hate the idea of doing that and it’s totally going to suck,” then it will do what’s in your best interest to protect you by convincing you to not do it.
Turn that around by saying, “I love the idea of doing that and it’s totally going to be awesome,” even though this statement is not yet true, and you’re on your way to reprogramming your mind.
This is not just positive thinking — this is what’s absolutely necessary to collaborate with your mind.
But thinking that sort of stuff is ridiculous, because it couldn’t be further from the truth, right?
Sure, but guess what?
The truth doesn’t even matter.
What’s extraordinarily eye-opening about how the mind really works is that it doesn’t even care about what’s currently true or not.
In her talk, Peer asks the audience to imagine holding a lemon in their hands and biting right into it.
If you do this exercise with full activation of your mind, your mouth will start to produce extra saliva in response to the sourness and tartness you’re imagining.
Which is amazing, because obviously there’s no lemon.
I encourage you try this for yourself.
You literally end up salivating to a thought, which is empirical proof of just how powerful your thoughts really are, regardless of what’s actually true.
Force your mind to think what you want it to think, no matter how untrue it seems at first.
And think as if you’ve already achieved what you want to become, even though you haven’t become it yet.
Now, you can say things like, “I love this,” and “I’m strong and fit,” yet still do it in an unconscious way that causes you to fall back into associating pain with these thoughts.
Everyone’s done that, right?
How often have you said, “I’m fine,” whenever someone asks how you are, only to promptly start thinking about how you’re really not fine right after saying it?
This has become such a common trend in society that the subliminal message behind the word “fine” has basically turned it into the epitome of personal suffering when used to describe an individual’s current state of wellbeing.
You said that you’re fine, but then what are you thinking after that?
You have to link pleasure to everything that you tell your mind to think.
You can consciously direct a single thought, or maybe even two, but they won’t be all that effective in changing your behaviour if those thoughts start triggering additional thoughts and feelings of pain.
I honestly think this is such a big part of why the positive psychology movement can seem like such a joke sometimes.
People don’t know how to take it all the way by building a string of thoughts focused on only the perceived pleasurable experiences instead of the painful ones they’ve been focusing on all along.
It’s one thing to think, “I love this,” while automatically reverting back to an avalanche of painful perceptions after you think it, and a completely different thing to think, “I love this,” while choosing to push that avalanche of pain aside so you can build on that initial pleasurable thought.
And of course, since the only way to accomplish this is with the two things your mind responds to — words and images — you have to get really good at storytelling.
I used to think visualization exercises and affirmations were a load of bunk until I realized that they’re really all that we have to tell our own stories to ourselves.
If you visualize yourself doing something, your mind will respond to it.
If you use short, powerful statements to say what you are or what’s happening right now, your mind will respond to it.
Your mind doesn’t care what’s good or bad, right or wrong, helpful or unhelpful.
Remember the lemon example that was explained earlier?
What sorcery is that, honestly?!
Imaginative storytelling ain’t just for kids.
Life is pretty much just an imaginary story we create for ourselves anyway — it’s just that most of us are doing it unconsciously.
So, the last thing that Peer touches on in her talk is the battle between the familiar and the unfamiliar.
Our bodies are totally programmed to keep us clinging to what’s familiar, because it’s always worked for us and therefore our bodies/minds recognize that it’s safest to keep doing it.
The reason why you have trouble with change is that you associate sameness with the familiar.
Laziness, distraction, procrastination, self-doubt — it’s all familiar to you, so your mind is like, “hey, this is a GREAT survival strategy!”
On the other hand, the mind sees the unfamiliar as potentially dangerous territory.
If pushing yourself to do the hard work, living intentionally, trying new things, and acting confident is all unfamiliar to you (and to most of us, it is), then you’ve got it backwards.
Anyone who’s having a hard time making positive changes in their life has to make the familiar unfamiliar and the unfamiliar familiar.
Tell your mind that laziness, distraction, self-doubt and sameness is completely foreign to you.
Link pleasure to hard work, intentional living, uncertainty, and self-confidence — and then use your imaginative storytelling skills to convince yourself that these are the norm.
I’ve already started telling myself that publishing one blog post here every week is the norm, despite the fact that I’ve never made this commitment before and I juggle various writing assignments for several different clients throughout the week as a freelance writer.
Because here’s the thing about not pursuing something by saying, “I don’t want it bad enough.”
That’s a choice you’re letting your subconscious mind make.
You always have a choice — it’s just that you’re not conscious enough to make the one you know is right for you.
People will forever say that a particular mindset or behaviour chooses them, as long as they don’t have a good grip on the level of consciousness they bring to their lives.
And the truest statement of all is that most of us have absolutely no idea how unconscious we are.
I see this in myself most right after I have a really good, deep meditation session.
Self-awareness and conscious/intentional living is the newfound focus of this blog, so be sure to stick around if this is the type of personal development you’re interested in.
There’s chasing ideas of success in the outside world, and then there’s doing the really dirty inner work that’s needed to create the foundation of your perception of success.
So now I want to leave you with a short video that I think sums up this entire blog post in a hilariously inspiring way:
I’m not about to argue that visions of ponies and unicorns can’t help you bust through all those subconscious blocks so you can do what you really want.
- 30 glorious snippets of wisdom worth knowing by the time you’re 30 (or any age, really) - December 31, 2016
- The divided self: Why we care way too much about what other people think - August 14, 2016
- What everyone gets wrong about “being authentic” - July 3, 2016
- 7 eye-opening ways to forget about your goals so you can let happiness flow - June 20, 2016
- Why you won’t do all the things you want to do this summer - June 13, 2016
- 50 everyday things you can give up to make time for more important stuff - April 30, 2016
- How to go from waking up miserable to exhilarated every morning - April 18, 2016
- How to align your mind to get exactly what you want - April 3, 2016
- Why we’re so bad at sticking to good habits (and what to do about it) - March 19, 2016
- 6 useful tips for dealing with an all-around bad day - June 30, 2015