I am a self-help books junkie. I have been reading self-help books even before they became mainstream. Which make me a kind of authority on them.
I not only read them but dutifully adopt the idea that speaks to me. That should make me one hell of a self-helped-super-achiever.
But that is not the case.
I am ‘as usual’, ‘forever’, a work in progress.
The moment I adopt a good habit, after painstakingly repeating it day in and day out, I get out of it in a jiffy.
Last year, I have been very regular with the gym. All through the winter months, I was going to the gym six days a week. Then I went away for a week during the Christmas and New Year break and haven’t gone back to the gym since then.
Why is that it is so difficult to build a good habit and so easy to get out of it.
Nine months was a long time to solidify a habit. Don’t they say it only takes 21 days to build a habit? Then how come mine came crashing down within one week. I can pick up my gym bag and go to the gym any day. But I don’t.
I have all kinds of excuses.
It is too hot. Who goes to the gym when the daily temperature is forty-one degrees? I will start once I come back from my next trip. A few missed weeks won’t hurt.
This is where everyone’s problem lies. We can sit there and cook up excuses rather than get up and just do it.
Even though we are fully aware that once started we will not only accomplish the task but also feel good about it. The simple act of ‘doing’ will take us out of misery.
And it is not just about the gym. It applies to everything else we want to do but do not do it. What is it that stops us from taking action when every rational thought in us tells us to do it?
The answer came to me from the latest self-help book, ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F*ck’ by Mark Mason.
Most of us commit to action only if we feel a certain level of motivation. And we feel motivation only when we feel enough emotional inspiration. We assume that these steps occur in a sort of chain reaction, like this:
Emotional inspiration → Motivation → Desirable action
If you want to accomplish something but don’t feel motivated or inspired, then you assume you’re just screwed. There’s nothing you can do about it. It’s not until a major emotional life event occurs that you can generate enough motivation to actually get off the couch and do something.
The thing about motivation is that it’s not only a three-part chain but an endless loop:
Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Inspiration → Motivation → Action → Etc.
Your actions create further emotional reactions and inspirations and move on to motivate your future actions. Taking advantage of this knowledge, we can actually reorient our mindset in the following way:
Action → Inspiration → Motivation
If you lack the motivation to make an important change in your life, do something — anything, really — and then harness the reaction to that action as a way to begin motivating yourself.”
Mark calls it “do something” principle.
The author Tim Ferris relates a story he once heard about a novelist who had written over 70 novels. Someone asked the novelist how he was able to write so consistently and remain inspired and motivated. He replied, “Two hundred crappy words per day, that’s it.” The idea was that if he forced himself to write two hundred crappy words, more often than not the act of writing would inspire him; and before he knew it, he’d have thousands of words down on the page.
Two hundred steps were all I needed to start a lunchtime walk. Tomorrow it will be 200 steps on the treadmill and I will be back to the routine. I don’t feel like a failure anymore.
If we follow the “do something” principle, failure feels unimportant. When the standard of success becomes merely acting — when any result is regarded as progress and important, when inspiration is seen as a reward rather than a prerequisite — we propel ourselves ahead. We feel free to fail, and that failure moves us forward.