Do you ever catch yourself complaining about something you want but can’t have?
Perhaps it’s an activity you would love to try, your ideal body, a holiday you would like to go on, or a new car.
Why is it that you can’t do that activity?
Why is it that you can’t have that product or service?
Why is it that you can’t become the person you want to be?
List your reasons and hopefully by the end of this series you realise that you either don’t want the thing as much as you thought you did or you realise that you can actually have/do/be what you want.
If you find you have a task you “need” to complete but can’t dig up the motivation required to complete it, or if you continue procrastinating before starting an activity, then you might find it useful to analyse your desires. Do you want to do the activity? If not, why do you feel you need to do it?
Perhaps a teacher has set you an assessment to do, your boss has told you to work some extra hours, there’s a social event on that you don’t want to say ‘no’ to, or you have told yourself to go to the gym four days a week.
In either case, let me tell you that you don’t need to do anything. You have a choice. Look at the consequences of doing and not doing the action you are procrastinating on or dreading. Which outcome do you want more? That’s the action you want to take.
Let’s look at how this applies to some of the examples mentioned above.
Example: School Work
That assessment you’ve been set? You don’t need to do it if you don’t want to.
If you do complete it then perhaps you will get a good grade that contributes to your ability to complete secondary school or your university degree. You will probably learn something relevant to the subject which will make it easier to complete future work, could teach you useful skills that you can apply in other aspects of your life, and you might simply find interesting.
If you don’t complete the work then you might get a detention of sorts (secondary school) or lose a chunk of your overall grade (university). The assessment might be compulsory for completing the year at school or uni — do you want to fail the year? Do you even want to be at school or uni at all? Assess the reasons why you might or might not want to finish secondary school or uni, and how it helps you achieve your goals. If you aren’t sure what you really want in life, set some time aside to start thinking. Trust me, it’s worth it.
If you have set yourself the target of gym four days a week and you’re struggling to keep up the motivation to go, remind yourself of why you set the goal in the first place.
Your goal might be to lose weight, keep fit, build muscle or train for a certain event. Keep that reason in your mind. If you really want to lose the weight or build the muscle, and you’re convinced that the plan you set to achieve it is the best one you could be following, then you know that following that plan is the fastest way to get to where you want to be.
If you’re trying to lose fat then it’s probably easier to cut back on 300 calories per day than it is to burn 300 calories per day at the gym (depending on the current state of your diet), so make sure you spend a bit of time researching the best method of achieving your goal before spending your time and energy trying to get there. Just don’t get stuck in analysis paralysis.
If you can’t find the motivation and time to get that body-building physique or to look like the skinny model you saw in a magazine then consider whether you really want to achieve your goal. Nothing is free — trying to get the “perfect” body might not be worth that time and effort you need to spend to get it.
The words you use affect your attitude towards the task. Your attitude affects your effort. Your effort affects your results.
The core part of this reasoning is knowing what you want and never using words like ‘need’, ‘should’ or ‘can’t’ by themselves.
If you don’t know what you want then anything requiring effort that doesn’t offer an immediate and direct benefit will seem daunting and not worth your while. This is likely to lead to you missing out on many benefits that arise out of delayed gratification. A task like going to the gym is rarely a task done for the enjoyment you get out of exercise — it’s generally done for the consequences of working out, and this requires a longer view of time or acceptance of delayed gratification.
Saying “I need to go to the gym tomorrow” or “I should go to that event” or “I can’t eat that slice of cake” makes the action seem like a chore which makes it less motivating and uses up more of your limited willpower if you go ahead with it. Instead, I find it very useful to simply say “I want to go to the gym (implied: because I want to build bigger muscles)”.
If you do say one of the aforementioned words then use it in conjunction with your goal. For example, “I can’t eat that slice of cake if I want to stick to my calorie goal for the day (implied: because I want to lose weight)”. Phrasing the action in that way reminds you that you are choosing to do the action for a reason, and that you can choose to not do it if you don’t want to achieve the goal as much as you thought you did.