Have you ever set countless New Year resolutions you haven’t stuck to?
You promise you’ll start exercising after the New Year, and for the first few weeks of January you do.
You wear your new gym kit; feel great, post some pictures online.
The month of February begins; your new gym kit gets lost in the back of your closet, crumpled up and thought about, once every couple of weeks.
How many times have you highlighted a bad habit about yourself- something you’ve wanted to change? Smoking, excessive drinking, eating junk food, not leaving assignments until the last minute…
How many of you are still doing this bad habit you tried to change?
You order takeout, but feel guilty afterwards.
You cut down on cigarettes, but chain smoke when you’re out drinking a pint.
You always curse yourself the night before an assignment due, wishing you’d left yourself more time to complete it!
Before lent comes around you’re eating as much chocolate as possible, justifying it’s because you’re about to take a break from it.
After the first week- or the second if you’re lucky- someone offers you a bit of chocolate, and…
OOPS… You completely forgot it was lent right?
Oh well, there’s always next year!
Feeling lazy and procrastinating daily tasks can be so frustrating!
We know we want to change, we understand why we want to change, but no matter how much we tell ourselves we’ll start tomorrow, we don’t!
I read a book written on hope, by Mark Manson- he spoke about self-control not being a problem with disciplining ourselves, but instead, it’s an ’emotional problem’.
Procrastination, and laziness are both EMOTIONAL PROBLEMS!
What does that mean exactly? “It means you can’t change your behaviour intellectually,” says Manson.
How does he know this? Well think about it…
We’ve tried. Over, and over again.
We’ve set ourselves New year’s resolutions we haven’t stuck too. Taken part in dry January but cheated. Promised we won’t leave assignments until the very last minute, but still do. And no matter how much we tell ourselves to go to the gym, we never do.
Why is this so shit?
Well, because we feel lazy, and that makes us hate ourselves. This hate we feel can evolve quickly into depression and anxiety- we’re not deserving of a good life if we have little self-motivation. Influencers make it so goddamn easy to carry out tasks we find so difficult.
“Make the decision to get up in the morning and get into shape…. It’s that easy!” They say.
I hate that.
It’s THAT easy?
… For them, maybe.
Not so much!
Maybe it’s easy in the first few days.
Maybe in January we think, ‘wow, why didn’t I start going to the gym sooner? This is easy and I feel amazing!’
But then one day we don’t go to the gym. And one month later, we haven’t ever returned.
Why is that?
What’s it all about?
Are we scared of failure?
Or did we just bite off more than we could chew?
The thinking brain VS. The feeling brain
When making decisions there’s two parts of our brain that help us decide on what to choose.
This is the conscious, viberal- The Thinking Brain.
And the automatic, emotional visceral- The Feeling Brain.
The Thinking side of your brain is the one that knows your bad habits need cutting; aware of the detrimental effects smoking has on your health.
Whereas your Emotional side of the brain, is the one who has to feel like making these changes are going to benefit them.
Although the Thinking Brain knows leaving their assignment until the last minute will cause excess stress, and probably decrease the chances of you getting a first, the Feeling Brain ultimately has to make the decision to start the assignment sooner, and funnily enough it has to feel like doing it.
Let’s look at your brain by telling a story about the Thinking Friend, and the Feeling Friend at the pub.
The Thinking Friend and the Feeling Friend are getting tipsy, the evening is getting on a bit, and they have a 9AM seminar in the morning.
The Thinking Friend decides they should probably go after this drink, it will be better for them in the morning.
The Feeling Friend however, is ready to get the shots in, head to the club, and have a good night!
The Thinking Friend, although ‘accurate and impartial’, requires a lot of effort to convince the Feeling Friend that it’s not a good idea.
From their experience they know they won’t win this battle, so instead they have to negotiate some terms and conditions.
‘If we go out I want to be home by one,’ the Thinking Friend says.
The Feeling Friend agrees, before going to the bar and ordering six tequila’s.
Although the Thinking Friend may think they’re in control, they’re not.
When it gets to 1AM, and it’s time to go, the Feeling Friend says, ‘who cares? We’re having too much fun right!’
The Feeling Friend is stubborn you see, and hates being told what to do. The more the Thinking Friend tries to persuade them to leave, the more the Feeling Friend will make the Thinking Friend feel like shit.
The best the Thinking Friend can do now is keep reminding of how late it’s getting, or if they’re clever, could convince them to leave before the takeaway closes.
Whereas the Thinking Friend is more rational, and understands why they shouldn’t do certain things…Such as staying out late, drinking, the night before a 9AM seminar. The Feeling Friend is selfish.
The first mistake the Thinking Friend did was compromise and allow them to go out in the first place!
The more the Thinking Friend gives, the more the Feeling Friend takes!
“The rider can gently steer and pull the elephant in any direction but ultimately the elephant is going to where it wants to go.” – Jonathon Haidt
The next morning the Feeling Friend doesn’t feel like going to the 9AM seminar. They’re too tired, and feel too crap to go in.
The Thinking Friend understands this was always going to happen, and that it’s their own fault. They need to get up and go because if they don’t, they might miss something important!
It’s important that the Thinking Friend is considerate to how The Feeling Friend is feeling. Therefore they should at least go in now they’re awake, and if after a couple of hours, they still feel like leaving, they can!
If the Thinking Friend approaches the situation aggressively by threatening no more nights out, then the Feeling Friend will accept this as justification to stay in bed.
- Let’s be real though, the Feeling friend will be going out.
The Feeling Friend needs to feel like they’re getting something good out of the situation.
The more the Thinking Friend falls into the vicious cycle of allowing the Feeling Friend to make every decision, the more the Feeling Friend will begin to take control, and manipulate everything they do.
This is called the self-serving bias; ‘a little bit self-centred.’
Ronson refers to it being like your dad, telling your mum the things she wants to hear in order to keep her happy. But if they are going to sustain any kind of healthy relationship, then honest communication with each other is key.
Giving into what the Feeling Brain wants, will develop a tendency to justify its needs.
For example, my mum justifies every evening having a large glass of gin, because she feels like she’s earned it, after a long day at work. Then she’ll justify having another, and another. Until she feels too tired and crashes out- this has fallen into a habit, and her Thinking Brain has been overrun by her Feeling Brain.
After a full day in Uni, you may feel like going to the pub with your friends, but have you earned it? Or do you just feel like it?
Now the Thinking Brain has been switched on.
“Yes I went to all my lecturers.” (Self- serving bias).
Now begin bargaining with your Feeling Brain…
“How about you make some dinner; do an hour of work whilst you’ve still got the information fresh in your head, AND THEN go out to the pub?”….
The Feeling Brain will listen, and take it all on board.
It will either decide to open its laptop up to do some work, or it will switch something onto Netflix.
The point is, the Thinking Brain is communicating with the feeling brain, and so it doesn’t start taking control!
How do we get our Feeling Brain to listen to our Thinking Brain?
In order to live a satisfactory life you need to have good communication with both the Thinking Brain, and the Feeling Brain.
The Thinking Brain essentially has to bargain with the Feeling Brain, to make it think it’s getting something good out of the situation.
“The quicker you get this assignment done, the more time you’ll have to socialise with your friends, with no stress or guilt.”
“You have all evening and no plans, try and do some work and time will pass quicker, Netflix is going nowhere!”
The more the Thinking Brain gently eases the Feeling Brain into it, just by having a conversation, the more you’re likely going to start!
The same with exercise.
You have to train your Thinking Brain to communicate with your Feeling Brain, the way you would train a puppy how to sit, and lie-down.
If you stop training the puppy after the first time it sits down for you, it won’t continue doing it, as it wouldn’t have registered what you wanted it to do.
Just by telling yourself you’re going to make changes in the new year, doesn’t mean you’re going to stick to them!
The more you train your brain; speak to it and get it to listen, so you understand how it feels, the more you can achieve!
When missing a day of exercise instead of saying, “oh well I’ll do it tomorrow.” You need to communicate with your brain to understand why it feels like missing it.
It might respond by saying;
“I’m too tired today.”
“I don’t like the idea of doing three whole sets…”
To which your Thinking Brain is then able to step in and negotiate.
“Ok, how about instead of doing 3 whole sets today, which takes 45 minutes, we’ll just do one heavy intense set instead?”
“… Or something lighter just for 20 minutes?”
I used to motivate myself with cigarettes.
“When you’ve written 1000 words you’re allowed to have one.”
I use to do this with everything;
“You can’t have a cig until you’ve had a shower.”
“Make some dinner, and then have a cig.”
But I don’t smoke now, so motivation has to come differently.
I’ve found, even on days I don’t leave the house, getting into the shower and making my bed, two fundamental things that help me stay busy throughout my day.
I have discovered if I get out of bed, sit downstairs with a coffee, and don’t communicate to myself about doing these two simple tasks, then I am more likely to jump straight back into bed because I haven’t got any plans!
Exercising came from being signed up for the Bath Half.
However, even after I knew I was running the half I wasn’t motivated to start running, like I’d first assumed.
I’d only achieved one ten minute run, two months prior to the race… and I got a stitch!
I began to feel anxious and frustrated with myself.
I knew I needed to run, but when I had the opportunity to go out, I didn’t ever feel like it!
My motivation came from thinking about the race.
How are you going to feel being last? How are you going to feel with spectators watching you walk throughout the entire thing? How are you going to feel when your little brother laps you?
It probably wasn’t the most strategic of motivations. But it helped.
The more my Thinking Brain communicated with my Feeling Brain, the more I allowed myself to start running!
After my first 5K I felt amazing. And then I kept on telling myself how amazing it felt, and I needed to keep running if I wanted to sustain thirteen miles without having a heart-attack.
Seven miles into the Half I was still keeping up with my little brother. At one point I wanted to walk, which he accepted. – After two minutes of catching my breath, he told me if I didn’t start running he was going to leave me behind.
I guess it was that dreaded feeling of walking it alone that then motivated me to keep going for the next six miles, because my stitch was stifling!
I’d be lying if I said I’d gone running since. Although I always walk my dog in running gear, and do tend to do the odd sprint every now and again.
However, i’m aware running around my hometown isn’t always the nicest, which is why I never feel like doing it.
I get anxiety from the thought of someone I know seeing me.
Whilst I do chores in the house, and sort my life back on track, exercise has fallen to the back of my mind, which I’m fully conscious of!
Before I finish my day, I always ask myself how I feel about a little home work-out… Sometimes I will, other times I won’t!
As I’m going to be flying out to Australia soon, I question how good it will feel to rock some abs in a bikini…. Or try to lose a bit of weight off my second chin!
These are the things that keep boring, daily, home workouts going for me. And although it may not be a lot, it’s a small difference.
The more I communicate with my Feeling Brain, the more I seem to be achieving day-to-day.
If I feel like I need to go back to bed, I question it. But if my Feeling Brain is being stubborn, or I am feeling tired, then I allow it for a couple of hours.
I do what I need in order to feel better; before telling myself I need to continue with tasks.
We need to learn how to communicate better with our brain, by being considerate of how we feel, and what tasks we need to carry-out.
The more progress we start to make short-term; the more it will benefit us in the long-term.
I hope at some point down the line, I won’t ever feel I need a couple of hours back in bed. But until then, I will be kind to my needs, and understand refuelling my energy is what helps me to succeed.