The challenge is not that we do not know what to do in order to improve our lives. The ultimate challenge is that we do not know how to make ourselves do what we know we should be doing.
- You wanna lose weight? You know what to do.
- You wanna be fit and healthy long term? You know what you should be doing.
- You wanna be more interesting when you meet people? You know what to do.
- Wanna know more about any particular subject or gain a new skill? You know what you have to do.
- You don’t know what to do at all about what you want? You still know what to do in order to know what to do.
Many people are not making progress in their lives not because they don’t know what to do but because they don’t know how to make themselves do what they know they should be doing to make progress and get the results they daydream about.
Many people can’t make themselves:
- Drink enough water
- Go to bed when they know its best for them to turn off their devices and get the rest they need
- Eat the food they know is healthy and good for them even when it is right there in front of them.
- Get out of bed at the time they know is best to get out of bed and do something towards their dreams and aspirations.
- Exercise to sustain the fitness, health and beauty they want.
- Learn about new things or acquire a skill they know they want to have.
Jordan Peterson said and it stuck with me that
“You know what you’re like. You won’t do what you’re told. And you won’t do what you tell yourself to do. It’s like you’re a bad employee and a worse boss. You don’t know what you want to do. And when you tell yourself what to do, you don’t do it anyway. You should fire yourself and find someone else to be”
The humor and truth in that statement makes it unforgettable, ludicrous and chilling to me at the same time.
If someone else was sleeping for me and they couldn’t go to bed at the optimal time for my body to get the rest I need to be my best self, I’m sure I would fire them.
If it was someone else’s job to drink the water my body needs to be healthy now and in the long term and they were consistently not hitting the daily minimum requirement, I’ll destroy them.
But then I am the boss and the employee. I suck at telling myself what I should do and even when I manage and tell myself what I should do (the right thing to do), I don’t do it anyway.
Here’s what I find to be crazy. What I know I should be doing is always in the back of my mind. And I am always pushing it aside or pushing it for later.
But that’s not the worst part. The worst part is, while I am not doing what I should be doing, I am actively doing what I know I shouldn’t be doing. How pathetic. I wish I could fire myself for real and hire a new self to be.
But this is an existential crisis. It is not just my problem. It’s a human problem. We are definitely incredibly powerful and gifted beyond measure. But we are also pathetically weak and miserable in our inclinations.
Our propensity is not to choose the higher road, the best thing for ourselves. We like to think that that’s what we do. That we do what is good for us. But that’s not really true. We are good at doing what’s good for us now, in the moment. But we suck at making decisions that are good for us in 5, 10 years.
It takes effort to stop doing the wrong thing. It takes it takes effort to stop ourselves from spiraling into self-destructive habits. Without the application of effort, the default direction is down. To fall is free. that’s why it’s call free fall. But to rise, to do what is right, to focus on growth in the daily choices we make is extremely difficult. That’s why few reach the top by honest means.
There’s a strong and constant gravitational pull on our lives and our success; constantly pulling us down from attaining a desirable status in life. And even if we manage to get somewhere, we have to work even harder to remain there. We have to keep running just to remain on the same spot. Otherwise, we fall behind and fast. Like the say, if you overtake others and then sit in the middle of the road, you’ll get run over.
I love the Nike tag line “Just Do It.” But I know how tough it is to Just Do It especially consistently over time. Most can manage it for a day, a week, perhaps a month. But that’s about it.
Here’s another thing I found. Even the Olympic champion who takes the gold medal tells you that the biggest struggle was getting themselves to do the work that they knew they had to do to win, everyday, year in and year out.
So if all of us have the same struggle, how do those who manage to “Just Do It”, do it? What are their mental models? How do they put their minds in the place that they are consistently doing what they know they should be doing but that they, just like everyone else, aren’t excited to do or don’t even want to do.
“I’m not gonna lie. I hate, hate practice. But I know that if I want to get to that point, I’m going to do whatever it takes to be the best” — Joseph Schooling, 2016 Olympic gold medalist, 100m butterfly swimming contest.
Intellectually, there’s very little that these winners know that we don’t know or can’t access. The canyon between us and them is the work that they put in even when they hate it. They have transcended just knowing to living out knowledge.
All that notwithstanding, let’s not only spell out the challenge. It is not doom for the us the weaker majority. What can we do to improve on our doing by a little bit? Here are a few things I have found work and they are all about positioning
#1: Have Crystal Clarity
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, said that most people think that they lack motivation when what they really lack is clarity. I found that to be very true. In 2020, I bought my first bicycle and set a goal for cycling. It stated: “I cycle for at least 12Km, setting out no later than 7am in the morning, for at least 5 days in a week, without fail, whether I feel like it or not, whether it rains or not.” The goal is clear on what, when, frequency, and target metric (distance of 12Km). Depending on the goal, the target metric could be time, count e.g how many push ups, or number of pages I read daily. Another thing I would recommend to add is the condition under which you would give or not give yourself a pass. Will you do it when you don’t feel like it, if it rains…? It should be premeditated. And you should have this all in writing.
#2: Keep Your Eyes on the Prize
Keep your mind on the prize — where will doing what you need to do take you and I mean the long term. And where will not doing it take you in the long term. Few people are excited about the work, but most people are excited about the dream house. Those who get to live their dream, simply convince themselves that the work is inevitable and do it anyways. It’s great if they love the process but for the champions, it’s not necessary. Schooling, the Olympic champion, hates to practice but he “loves to compete and win”. To compete and win, he has to practice. So he does it anyways. He keeps his mind glued on the reason why the work is necessary.
#3: Condition your Environment
Put yourself in a situation that encourages or even compels your action. Wanna learn public speaking, join a public speaking club. Take up roles that put you in front of people during small gatherings, events, etc. Wanna exercise, join a group of people who already have an active community of enthusiast that exercise regularly on schedule, not random plans. It’s best to join people who are already doing it rather than try to create a community of people who will start doing it. Always, be convinced that your initiative and that of others works better than just yours alone. If yours tends to be weak, the stronger should be that of the people you lean on.
#4: Leverage Public Accountability
If you struggle with being accountable to yourself to the point that you easily quit on your goals, and most of us do, you need public accountability. Public here doesn’t mean on social media. You just need a one or a handful of people who genuinely care about your success. Talk about what you want to do to a few people who truly care about you. This leverages a very powerful psychological inclination that we all have. The need to be congruent. Don’t make your tiny commitments only mentally to yourself. Write and share the written goal with someone who you know you would like to see you win. This could even be with someone who doesn’t believe in you or may be doesn’t want to see you win. Some people are strongly motivated to do something just to prove a point. Find out what works best for you. How bad do you wanna win?
#5: Focus on the Next Step
Most dreams are complex and hard to imagine the best way to get to them. Write down the best plan you can come up with. It has to be an action plan. What do you wanna do? When? Where? But know that when it comes to your dreams, the things you need to do will be revealed as your progress. The most important thing to always make sure is that you know the smallest next step you can take. Like they say, to drive from one place to another in the night, no matter how far, all you need to see is the next few meters ahead, even if you don’t know the road. That’s your dreams. You don’t really know where you are going or what the road looks like. But if you focus on the next step to take, you will navigate a very complex trajectory. The problem is that most people want to see the entire way and know that if they get on it, they will arrive the destination before they even get started.
#6: Get Started
There’s nothing more important than taking the first step in any journey. So take the step. If you had started and stopped, start again. You should always do this as long as your dream remains.
#7: When You Fall, Get Back Up
When you start working on yourself, you’re going to feel powerful, in charge and in sync with your soul and core. It is an amazing place to be. But here is an inevitable truth. You’re going to fall off that beautiful ride. You’re going to screw something up and you’re going to feel terrible. The temptation to completely quit will be very high when this happens. But remember, the difference between those who succeed and those who fail is having the courage to get back on again and ride on.
When you fall off the wagon of your dreams, do not beat yourself up. Dust yourself off and get back on again. — Darren Hardy, Author of The Compound Effect
Making the self do what it knows it should be doing is our perpetual challenge. Understand this and commit to finding and doing whatever works for you. This is an experimental and exploratory approach to life. Use it. Best of luck in your journey.