We have all felt that rush when we wake up on the Monday morning of our new diet — that feeling of total confidence, excitement, and motivation to change our life and re-route all our bad habits to new, better ones. We feel like rock stars, going through the day passing up snacks and going for a second walk on the treadmill just because we feel like it. We cruise through day two and even day three. And then on day four…after a tough day at work, we skip the treadmill. On day five, we grab a scone with our morning coffee at Starbucks and throw our bagged lunch away and go out with our co-workers — and great misery-loves-company news! They all did the exact same thing. By the end of the week we’re back to our old habits and have come to the conclusion that, yet again, maybe we just weren’t motivated enough.
Motivation is a wonderful and powerful tool, but it’s never going to be enough to sustain real, lasting change. Why?
Because motivation only helps create the spark to start–it’s discipline that fuels the journey.
Motivation relies on an inside-out method of problem-solving. You wait for the right mood or emotional state to give you the courage to tackle your issues. The problem? Moods are unpredictable and inconsistent and emotional states are usually fleeting. Unlike motivation, discipline uses an outside-in method. You do the work despite your mood and inner turmoil, and as you get closer to your goal, your inner mood will change. You don’t wait until you’re stronger to begin lifting weights, you begin lifting weights to get stronger. Moving toward a discipline-approach helps those of us who procrastinate and who have kinda-sorta been known to make excuses. I was exhausted OK?!
I struggle with implementing this philosophy. You have no doubt noticed the weeks (and months) at a time where this blog that I love goes without an update. I used to think I needed to wait for the mood to strike me to write a post or create a new recipe. But, because of my depression, that mood may not come…for months. Early last summer, I started trying to do at least some work on the blog every day. And I didn’t always feel like it, but still I knew I had enough energy to push through and get something done. I was trying to cultivate discipline while my motivation was low. For all of us, beginning the work is hard — sometimes excruciating — but once you begin to see results you get a sense of accomplishment. It isn’t a cure-all for low mood or motivation but it’s a whole lot better than the oppressive gravity of shame and guilt.
Do what you need to get done, every day. Don’t feel like doing it? Do it anyway. Don’t think you can do it? Try anyway. Work those muscles required to accomplish your goals even when you don’t feel like it, and over time, it becomes easier. Big changes are hard and scary and you’re programmed to avoid things that are hard and scary. But eventually, you (and I) are going to have to do the work, so start now.