Back at the beginning of January, it had been about two months since I had last gone for a run or ridden a bike. I had spent the final months of 2015 more or less completely sedentary, recovering from an accident and eating my way through the holidays. I didn’t feel so great.
Maybe I didn’t look much different, but I felt different. I knew my body was going to have a hard time re-adjusting to the active lifestyle I had abandoned. Even though I was physically ready to get moving again, I knew it wasn’t going to be very much fun at first.
So, I put it off. In doing so, I dug myself deeper into the hole.
The games of mental tug-of-war had ensued. As I arrived home from work each evening, I was armed with a list of reasons why I should go out for a run. I was also armed with a list of excuses as to why I simply didn’t need to (it’s bad when the wind speed on the weather forecast is granted a significant amount of weight in your decision-making process).
I’d head straight for the couch, where the battle would heat up. If I let it play out long enough, it’d be too late to go for a run anyways. The decision would be made for me.
Running is a significant source of positivity for me. The sense of well-being that I have after a good run works wonders for my overall level of happiness and mental state. So why was I willing to put it off for so long?
I put it off because the things that fulfill me also require effort and discipline to achieve. I’ve found that I can better accomplish the things that fulfill me by re-framing the way I approach the decision making process around them.
Halt Internal Resistance
It is human nature to resist things that require effort and discipline, so it’s no wonder there is an ongoing struggle there. But another component is the paralysis of fear, self-doubt, and anxiety that can take hold when setting out to accomplish something that brings fulfillment.
With running, this can manifest in many ways: feeling anxious about how my body is going to feel, doubting my ability to reach a certain distance without huffing and puffing, and being afraid of what others are thinking when they pass me in droves on the trail.
These negative emotions can also manifest themselves in my other pursuits. It’s the biggest reason why I struggle to write as much as I would ideally like to. I’ll focus on how the topic isn’t interesting enough, or convince myself that I’m not adding any value through my writing, or focus on what others think of it.
I’ll spend so much time creating fake reasons why I shouldn’t write to begin with, that the mental exhaustion will lead me to just stop.
Sensing fulfillment resistance is the first step towards dealing with negative emotions and removing them as hurdles to ultimately doing what makes me happy.
Harnessing Forward Momentum
Negative emotions stop me from doing what I love, because I feel inadequate and focus too much on external factors that become excuses. Combined with my natural human instinct to put off tasks that require effort and energy, this creates an arduous uphill battle towards being productive.
In order to be more productive, it is important for me to harness momentum to move forward.
I like to think of momentum by framing it as a double bottom line. Positive momentum can create a win-win situation where getting things done makes me feel happier and healthier, and the positive energy is carried into other activities and engagements.
If I feel good for getting in a long run or finishing an article I have been working on for awhile, I am more positive and energetic at work or in my social interactions.
The effects of this can be exponential. My performance at work can open up doors to other career opportunities. Positive social interactions can open up doors for future interactions and all sorts of serendipity.
On the flip side, if I put off running, I’ll feel guilty and likely indulge in emotional eating or sulking. If I put off writing, I will spend time beating myself up for not getting it done, or negatively comparing myself to other writers that I perceive to be successful.
This will in turn set off a pattern of negative thinking. It can harm my performance at work or minimize my desire to socialize. I might not even get a chance to open the doors that a positive mindset and momentum could have put me in front of.
Reminding myself how all the pieces of my life are intertwined makes it much easier to frame decisions and push myself to do the things I know will make me feel good.
This is especially helpful when I sense fulfillment resistance setting in as I prepare to take on a task.
Three Ways to Achieve Forward Momentum
When I find myself struggling to move forward on completing a task that will only make me happier, the following tricks have helped me overcome the hurdles.
- Automate decisions by minimizing the element of choice. For me, overthinking things is the biggest obstacle to productivity. When I grant myself the opportunity to think about doing something I am putting off, chances are I will ultimately lose the battle. When I take away my own ability to sabotage myself, I can overcome this pitfall. If I need to go for a run, I will simply change into my running clothes and lace up my shoes (this works best when I really don’t feel like running). If I need to write, I will open the computer and start typing immediately while ignoring all possible distractions.
- Keep expectations reasonable. When I set expectations too high for myself, the daunting nature of the task at hand is enough to prevent me from starting on it. The first time I ran after my accident, I pushed myself too hard both with my pace and my distance. I didn’t want to run again after that experience. Going forward, I set the expectation with myself that pace and distance would have to be conservative if I wanted to make real progress. This shift in mindset has made the process much more enjoyable and sustainable.
- Keep the “why” in front. When I choose to forget the real reason I am doing something to begin with, I am much more likely to neglect it. In order to ensure that my motivation and desire remains intact, I consistently need to remind myself of the why. Why do I run? Why do I write? When the why remains in front mind, I start asking myself how I could not do something as opposed to how I can. How could I not run? How could I not write? When framed this way, the energy needed to do these things occurs naturally and is impossible to ignore.
When I reflect back on the days I felt my best, the pattern is so obvious that it is impossible to ignore. I feel my best when I am doing the things that matter to me and making them a priority.
But because the things that fulfill me require discipline to accomplish, many times it’s easy to put them off. This sets off a negative cycle, and this is how I can put myself into a rut.
When I find myself struggling to do the things that fulfill me, it’s because I am focusing on the effort and discipline aspect instead of focusing on my future state. When I find myself getting things done with a passionate energy, it’s because I’m focusing on how they will make exponential positive impacts on my life going forward.
This shift in how I approach my thought process has the ability to work wonders and directly dictate my level of success.
When did you feel your best? How did your decision making lead you to that state of mind?