“The truth is we all make habitual, self-limiting choices. It’s as natural as a sunset and as fundamental as gravity. It’s how our brains are wired, which is why motivation is crap.” – David Goggins
Do the same goals seem to repeat themselves on your vision board, new year’s resolution list and annual birthday reflection session? Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why? What is holding you back from making progress? You may have put it down to a lack of willpower or motivation or some other self-defeating story that you now believe as fact.
You know the movie, you start the year with high hopes of achieving grand goals like fitness, no sugar, studying or adopting a new habit but two weeks into it, you seem to fall off the wagon. You have convinced yourself it’s too hard or it only works for other people and not you.
A new lens
“The optimist sees the donut, the pessimist sees the hole.” ― Oscar Wilde
The reason you gave up was because you felt frustrated that despite your best efforts, you still weren’t seeing a tangible result. The missing ingredient is the glue that holds it all together…it’s trust.
Trust is not a tangible resource, it even sounds a bit esoteric perhaps? Willpower and motivation makes sense to you but trust?
The way out of this pattern is to trust the process of creating daily doses of action which I call micro wins. If you want to run a marathon, doing a ten minute walk around the block is the micro win. Reading one page of a book is a micro win.
When you can trust the process of creating these daily wins and still persevere despite seeing a result – that’s when the magic happens. Eventually you will start to see the rewards of a stronger body, being less emotionally reactive and having greater concentration or fill in the blank of your goal.
The barrier to micro wins
“Don’t give up what you want most, for what you want now.” Anonymous
We are a culture of instant gratification junkies and everything we want is a click away. When it comes to learning a new skill or developing a new habit, you want to stream the learning curve or instantly download your new body which of course is not reality. Once you are aware of your frustration and can identify when you are giving up too soon, you can start to persevere.
How do you generate the energy to persevere through this phase of doing without immediate results? I have three thoughts on how to close this gap:
Let go of perfection
“Practice doesn’t make perfect. Practice reduces the imperfection.”― Toba Beta
When you do something for the first time, you need to accept the fact that are going to be average. When you can make peace with allowing yourself not to be the best on your first attempt, you are giving yourself permission to persevere through the awkwardness.
The world rewards productivity, not perfection and it’s a myth you are telling yourself that you cant possibly hand in the assignment or attempt a new skill because you want to make sure it’s perfect first. You cannot perfect anything until it’s created.
The solution – chunk it down. Don’t work on the presentation, work on the first slide. If you want to start a blog to develop your personal brand or publish articles on LinkedIn, just write the first paragraph. Do not convince yourself you need a course or you have to study writing in order to give yourself permission to begin. Just write it and infuse your authentic voice into it.
If perfection has held you back from taking serious action, then replace it with progress. Every time you write a blog, make sure it’s better than the previous one. When you start exercising, do one more sit up than you did in the previous session. If you can improve 1% a day, think about the person you will become in one month and one year!
It really is allowing yourself space to be a beginner and laugh at yourself on the journey to progress. I started mountain biking last year and I was terrified. I would dread the drive to my riding lesson because it was unnatural to me but I had to remind myself, I am not meant to be proficient yet. I am not supposed to know how to work the gears, brakes and understand the intricacy of the technique. I was comfortable to ask the stupid questions and feel inadequate.
The reason it is so powerful is because when you persevere and you see your progress, it boosts your confidence to a whole new level. You cannot get there if you have destructive self-talk on route to progress. You need to recognise your starting point to measure improvement and celebrate the milestones along the way. Don’t judge success on the end product alone, that’s why you give up on the journey.
Move past the fear
“If you’re trapped in a cage, you don’t want to start being grateful for the protection of the bars. You need to be grateful that there are gaps in between them so you can see what’s on the other side.”― Beth Kempton
The second way to close the gap between doing the task in question and seeing the outcome is by acknowledging your fear. We are hard wired for protection but there aren’t any sabre tooth tigers anymore, our fear is related to failure, not being perfect and even success.
When you start a new habit or you want to learn a new skill, you will naturally be hesitant. We like the known even when it isn’t always best for us. That’s why you know people who still smoke despite knowing it’s destructive side effects.
Author, Brendon Burchard speaks about three types of fear that we experience – loss pain, process pain and outcome pain. Think back to a previous goal you wanted to achieve but you managed to talk yourself out of it, it was most likely due to one of these three types of fear. Let’s use the example of getting healthier and how you may have projected one of these fears onto yourself:
Loss pain – If you wanted to lose weight, perhaps you focused on the foods you would have to give up as a result of your new goal.
Process pain – this about thinking through the discomfort of what you would need to go through in order to start. Perhaps that meant getting new equipment or gear, your body being sore initially and it would mean waking up earlier to create time for the activity. The thought of the process and how it would cause more inconvenience was enough to derail you even starting.
Outcome pain – What if you went through all this effort and the result wasn’t what you wanted or expected? Think about if you had to start a business, get a new qualification or change jobs – the fear is that you would go through all the trauma of change but it wouldn’t be better than what you left behind.
These are all real concerns but it’s important to recognize that it isn’t really fear. It is a projection of a possible reality and you bring it back to the present and start living it.
What if you replaced the word fear with discomfort? It is always going to feel uncomfortable pursuing something new. It’s unpleasant to be a beginner and feel out of your depth.
Instead of focusing on what you could lose, what about expanding the possibility of what you can gain? What if you have more energy for the things that truly matter? What if you take the plunge and start that business and it’s better than you ever imagined it would be?
What’s your worst case scenario? You try something and it doesn’t work or you don’t enjoy it or you fail? Reframe failure and mistakes as feedback. Maybe you started a course and realized you don’t enjoy the actual material? You had a romantic version of what it would be like but in practice, it’s not what you really want. That’s fantastic! It means you are one step closer to knowing what you do want.
Think back to a previous failure – did it define you or educate you?
These are the kind of questions you need to ask yourself before you let the fear paralyze you to inaction. Seth Godin speaks about viewing feelings of fear as a compass. If something gives you that feeling of butterflies in your stomach, then move towards it. My late dad always used to say it’s fine to have butterflies, as long as they fly in formation.
It means you are moving away from your comfort zone and into your courage zone. If it was easy and didn’t challenge you, you would never have any feelings of unease. It’s all feedback you are on track and moving in the direction of growth.
Create the habit of starting
“The challenge is turns out, isn’t in perfecting your ability to know when to start and when to stand by. The challenge is getting into the habit of starting” – Seth Godin
The last step to making progress and moving into your courage zone is developing the habit of starting. Don’t get caught up in a false sense of action by analysis paralysis. If you want to further your education, don’t convince yourself that having a detailed spreadsheet of every possible course in this field categorized alphabetically and by price means you are making progress.
You need to plan and get the information to make an informed decision but make sure you take action. What’s the next step? Download the application form, create the first slide, take one mindful breath or do one squat. What is the smallest micro win you can achieve to begin the process?
It is the habit of starting that you need to get comfortable with. The way to start is simply to give yourself permission to start.
Give yourself permission to let go of the old version of yourself that isn’t serving you.
Give yourself permission to let go of destructive habits.
Give yourself permission to be a beginner and quite frankly, to suck.
Give yourself permission not to be perfect.
Give yourself permission to feel discomfort and do it anyway.
Give yourself permission to fail but learn from it.
Give yourself permission to stop playing it safe and move into your courage zone.
“Extraordinary people visualize not what is possible or probable, but rather what is impossible. And by visualizing the impossible, they begin to see it as possible” – Cherie Carter-Scott
What’s the way forward? Choose a goal that is going to truly fuel your soul and energize you from the inside out. Aim for daily progress one micro win at a time. In order to close the gap between action and results, trust the process and turn down the volume of the ‘should be’ mental chatter of the inner critic.
You know it too well – ‘you should be further by now, you should have more money, you should be fitter or you should have more clients by now’.
Recognize that this internal dialogue is just your fear personified, it isn’t the truth. Embrace the discomfort of something new and replace fear with these two simple words inspired by author David Goggins:
‘We are all our own worst haters and doubters because self-doubt is a natural reaction to any bold attempt to change your life for the better. You can’t stop it from blooming in your brain, but you can neutralize it, and all the other external chatter by asking:
It silences negativity. It’s a reminder that you don’t really know what you’re capable of until you put everything you’ve got on the line.’
Here’s to trusting the process,
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