I made a deal with myself which I started regretting almost immediately. Back in May, as the days started to dwindle away I thought about giving myself some sort of task or objective to complete in June. I have often found that setting myself small challenges helps me to achieve things I would otherwise have pondered over for too long. Things which I might have a tendency to give up. Sometimes what I set out to achieve takes a sharp diversion and ends up propelling me in a direction I hadn’t expected, but still I get the benefit of moving somewhere. Inertia is a powerful thing, but this time I wondered if I had bitten off more than I was able to chew.
A while ago I decided to go a month without eating any sugar. This is tougher than it might sound because a quick scan of the supermarket shelves will show you that sugar is in pretty much everything. So I discounted another eating challenge and instead set myself the target of writing a minimum of one thousand words every day in the month of June.
I know something about habits. I know how they are formed and I know how they are broken. I know that some are easier to shift than others and I know that our emotions are a significant help or hindrance to the changes we want to achieve. But what on earth happens between the point at which we get excited about a thought in our head and then have to put it into practice? Why do we seem hell bent in turning what felt like a great idea into another on the long list of worthy and lofty ambitions which deflate like a cheap football kicked into a thorn bush?
Setting the bar too high.
This is a common problem driven from an ignorance about our own capability and about realistic timescales. Intellectually when we want to make a change we tell ourselves that if we make big dramatic changes the pain will last for less time and we’ll reach our destination much more quickly, but it doesn’t work. We are naturally resistant to change and anything which feels uncomfortable and too challenging will make us want to give up as soon as we have started.
Too little genuine motivation.
We all need motivation to get moving but it is easy to embark on a new project short of sufficient fuel in the tank. We hit upon an idea for change but we don’t complete the work needed on the motivation behind it. Why do you want to find a new job? Why do you want a new relationship? Why do you want to lose 10kg? At the surface level of consciousness the answers are probably simple but it is what lies underneath that is of most interest and most value. If you don’t have a clear vision of how change will positively impact you the change you desire will become a whole lot harder to achieve.
Fear of failure.
When we change things we are often fixing something which is causing us some sort of pain and there might be a little voice inside which suggests we can’t make the change, that the vision of creating something different is fanciful and beyond our reach. If we go ahead and try anyway but falter and fail our worst fear about ourselves is proven. The pain of failure can feel as if it would be worse than not trying at all, and if you don’t believe me, ask any relapsed alcoholic.
Fear of success.
Last week I was speaking with a client who has suffered with depression for some years. Her family, although well meaning, constantly ask her how she is, remind her of times when she was different and excitedly point out days when she appears to be “brighter”. The impact on her can be summed up in a single word, “pressure”. She feels such a pressure to get better it has the opposite impact and makes her want to stop trying. She is suffering from a fear of success. At some deeper level she uses her depression as a protector, because if she is depressed she doesn’t have to feel the pressure of getting better and then sustaining it. She fears having a brighter day or week because of the expectation from others and from herself of sustaining it, because that feels much to hard to achieve.
Lack of self acceptance.
We only make positive change when we think we are worth it. Any change which is resisted despite the knowledge that it will make our lives better is a form of self sabotage and we only sabotage things we have low regard for. If you keep getting in your own way there is a problem with your self esteem. Chances are that you see your value on a scale which can rise and fall, but this scale does not exist. You are here, you are no more or less valuable than anybody else. Imagine feeling like that and accepting that concept, and then think how easy it would be to accept yourself and all of your imperfections.
In over twenty five years in the corporate world I experienced more than my fair share of “business speak” and most of it left me cold, but one phrase which has always stuck with me is “When everything is important, nothing is important”. Our insistence upon doing everything is the very tactic which renders our effort disastrously diluted. While we are capable of a lot we can only do a limited number of things well, so if you find you are achieving less than you set out to achieve it might be that you are insufficiently rigorous in sorting the important from the unimportant.
Modelling (not that sort).
I have learned that when I want to do something differently or to a higher standard it is useful to seek out people who I admire, who already do it well. When I wanted a more effective and powerful serve in tennis I watched professionals and tried to work out what I could take from them and apply to my own game. When I want to write more or with greater influence I read other people who inspire me. None of this is done because I want to copy styles or content but because immersing ourselves in what other people do well helps us to identify what we need to alter in our own work and what it might take to achieve a higher standard.
Several months have passed since I wrote the first draft of this piece, but this week I have been so busy that I couldn’t find time to write a blog, so I went back and looked at all the writing I did in June. There is another benefit to holding yourself to account, sometimes it gets you out of a hole you didn’t see coming.