Consider these scenarios…
Rise at first light. Put on sneakers. Go for a run in the quiet of the morning.
OR: Hit snooze. Scroll on your phone. Roll out of bed some time later.
Open your laptop. Spend 30 minutes on a project. Repeat each evening.
OR: Cram in the days before a deadline.
Eat dinner. Lounge on the couch. Watch three episodes of a series before bed.
OR: Eat dinner. Take a bath. Read before bed.
What we see are three scenarios that, over time, will amount to very different outcomes depending on whether we choose instant gratification or sustained effort.
Every single day we are posed with these commonplace decisions. What will I eat? What will I listen to on my commute? Will I move or stay sedentary? Do I go to bed now or in an hour?
If we think about the theory of marginal gains, whereby small improvements can lead to impactful results, then surely these mundane daily decisions have significant consequences?
Every decision is, ultimately, an investment (or detraction) from our future growth.
So why is it just so compelling to choose the frictionless, comfortable, gratifying option every time…
When Melbourne was submerged into lockdowns last year, many yoga studios transitioned to online classes. Prior to lockdown I looked forward to the classes at my local studio rain, hail or shine.
When things transitioned online and I was no longer surrounded by teachers and peers in a live class environment, I found my motivation waning. I abandoned classes mid-way through or found excuses not to attend.
The bottom line was that the presence of others influenced my motivation levels. I was compelled to focus on my form, use the ujjayi breath and persist no matter how difficult the flow.
The same could be said for many scenarios with a boss, coach, mentor, teacher or trainer. Their presence compels us to commit even when other, more gratifying options are at hand.
That could look like a personal trainer pushing you harder at the gym. Management KPIs that require sustained effort for a project. Or a coaching plan for the week ahead.
In all of these instances someone else is overlooking your actions, meaning motivations are heightened.
As we mentioned earlier, we are posed with small decisions everyday — the majority of which don’t have the attention of a coach or mentor figure. The onus is on us to take responsibility for our decisions and actions.
No matter how gratifying the alternative may be, choosing a challenge and investing in ourselves everyday is the only way we will learn, grow and reach our full potential.
To quote Albert Einstein, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Each day we are faced with the likes of social media, television, processed foods, smart devices, online shopping, internet, emails — each engineered for addiction, convenience and to consume our attention.
Even though we may know better, it’s difficult to exchange these habits for more positive, growth-focussed activities. What makes it even harder is the fact that action is often the precursor to motivation.
Meaning, it may take a few weeks of walking to work before you look forward to the activity and experience the benefits of increased physical fitness, endorphins, and mental clarity. Until then, there will certainly be mornings where it’s very enticing to jump on the tram and stream a podcast for the ride.
James Clear, author of Atomic Habits writes “motivation is often the result of action, not the cause of it”.
We must, in effect, become our own coach and weather this challenging phase with resolve until we reach the point of habit. It’s like stepping through a doorway from one room to another — from complacency and comfort to growth and enlightenment and achievement.
As James Clear paraphrases Steven Pressfield, “At some point, the pain of not doing it becomes greater than the pain of doing it.”
Transitioning from frictionless, unproductive habits to positive habits requires that you plan your new behaviours and goals - just as a coach or mentor may do with you.
After reading articles from James Clear and this piece on the daily routines of history’s most creative minds, one proven approach for building positive habits or rituals is planning a routine, and following it to a tee every day.
That plan could be rising at 6am and eating the frog (the hardest, most important task for the day before any other distraction). By following the same pattern everyday it eliminates the decision making element that often derails our efforts when more gratifying options are at hand. Instead of deliberating you simply do it.
Mason Currey describes this well in his article for The Guardian,
“When I get straight down to something really important early in the morning, before checking email, before interruptions from others, it beneficially alters the feel of the whole day: once interruptions do arise, they're never quite so problematic.”
So as your own coach which habit will you tackle first? What is your plan?
The benefit is that by creating and implementing a plan and adopting positive habits, we tend to eliminate the negative ones which hold us back from growth and achieving our full potential.
While simplicity is essential in any routine (overcomplication is a barrier to doing) it’s important to make sure a task is adequately challenging in order for it to resonate and become enjoyable.
Psychologist Gilbert Brim explains “One of the important sources of human happiness is working on tasks at a suitable level of difficulty, neither too hard nor too easy.”
This is called The Goldilocks Rule. James Clear writes
“The Goldilocks Rule states that humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current abilities. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right”
When a task is just right we are more likely to access a flow state and maintain our motivation.
Imagine your goal is to learn web development…
By using a website builder you can easily create a site, but you may become bored by the lack of custom coding or opportunities to learn. Too easy.
Conversely, you could attempt to build a site from scratch but may feel overwhelmed and dissuaded by the new programming languages. Too hard.
What if you instead enrolled in an online course that taught you the fundamentals incrementally? You could commit to one course module every day. Just right.
Everyday in life we face decisions, large and small, that influence the trajectory of our personal and professional lives. Do we choose to remain stagnant and take the easy route? Or do we become our own coaches and plan for change and positive habits?
Now is the time to invest in ourselves, for small improvements made today, tomorrow and the next day will amount to momentous change and growth.
Remember to plan your time, act as your own coach, and keep your plan simple and adequately challenging. Creating change and momentum isn’t rocket science, it takes resolve, hard work and commitment.
Eventually these actions will become habitual and, dare I say, even enjoyable as you reap the rewards of your efforts.