Motivating yourself on your off days just doesn’t work most of the time. It’s easy to make excuses and they can look something like this:
- Today isn’t the right day
- I don’t feel good
- I didn’t prepare well enough
- Tomorrow is better for this
- Yesterday was better for this
- I can’t do it
- This other thing is a better use of my time
- I’m just not the kind of person who do this every day
And they all end in “because…” and we fill in the blanks with whatever reason we’ve come up with that’s good enough for us to break our commitment. That’s what I began to see as the problem.
Conventional wisdom has us thinking that if we could just come up with the right reason to start a habit, we’d be able to stick to the habit without any trouble. The problem with that way of thinking is that it assumes we have control over our subconscious.
While consciously we may really want to succeed at something, many of us will not have an agreeable subconscious. We will sabotage ourselves continuously and think it’s some kind of character flaw, rather than understanding that deep down we have years of repressed issues telling us that we’re not deserving of the success we seek.
Ultimately, that stuff is just baggage we’ve collected over the years. In order to create new success for ourselves, we have to ignore that baggage and remember what life was like when we were too young to care what people thought of us. We didn’t go around asking for approval and validation. We just did things because that’s what we felt like doing. There wasn’t any second-guessing ourselves unless something was clearly dangerous to our own well-being. We just did things because that’s who we were.
That’s who we still are, too, underneath all the baggage. We still have that instinctive desire to do things that we enjoy. So how do we tap into this energy that’s buried so deep? The key is to abandon the idea that reason is to be our primary motivator. Instead of reason, we must choose to be led by our instinct.
Instinct is different from our feelings, because these can betray us as well. What we feel may only be caused by our self-sabotaging thoughts. In order to understand what our instinct is telling us, we need to clear our mind of thoughts, reasoning, self-talk, obsessing over our emotions, and anything else other than the subtle vibrations that fill our ears when absolute silence overtakes us mentally.
Once you are in this meditative state, you can decide what it is you’re going to do about this new habit. Any other state of mind will betray you as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Your emotional reactions, your own thoughts and self-talk will convince you that you are better off staying exactly the same with regard to your daily routine. But when you allow yourself this mental space of “nothingness,” you won’t feel, think, or chat with yourself about anything. All that is left is to remember what you planned to do, and to do it, without inviting any opinions or reactions about it.
For this reason, whenever I try to start a new habit, I dismiss any thoughts, opinions, feelings, reactions, etc., that I have about it. All that matters to me is “do I want what will happen if this becomes a habit for me?” If the answer is yes, like for example, that I would very much like to be physically healthy, then I will allow myself to disregard any opinions, thoughts, feelings, and self-talk about what it would take to get there.
One example of such a habit would be choosing a healthier diet. Every time I would have an opinion about my diet, or have a reaction to eating it, or have feelings about eating such food, or self-talk about why I don’t need to be eating this food, I would cast this chatter aside readily, because I don’t trust these voices. I only trust what I do when I am not experiencing this chatter. What I do when I’m not heeding my feelings, self-talk, thoughts, and reactions is what I believe I would authentically do. It is being my authentic self.
So my best advice to anyone trying to start a new habit is this:
When you are about to perform your daily action for this habit, or you are currently engaged in this habit, instead of remembering the reasons, feelings, reactions, or self-talk you cling to when thinking of this habit, just say the following words to yourself and do not elaborate on them mentally:
“This is what I do.”
“This,” of course, being in reference to the habit you are starting or continuing with. Without elaboration, you do not have any reasons to debate with. You do not have any emotions to obsess over. You do not have any self-talk to listen to. You do not have any reactions to experience. You just have the simple truth that this is part of your identity and always has been. Nothing else matters.
You have to go from trusting the voices you’ve listened to most of your life to trusting the process, and the human instinct. There will be good days and there will be bad days. But individual days don’t matter. All you have is the moment that is in front of you, and every moment and day averages out to produce an aggregate outcome. Be patient and wait for the aggregate to accumulate enough moments and days to take shape.
And if you find yourself asking why you’re even bothering with a habit, it’s just another way self-sabotage creeps in. You’ll know if you’re not doing something right, and you have to trust that you’ll receive a loud enough signal. It’s not your job to figure out what that signal looks like. Your body will tell you, your mind will tell you, or the world will tell you. You’ll know when it’s time to stop and take a break or even switch gears entirely. But you have to trust that it won’t be something you need to think about.
After enough time, you’ll start to see what you’ve always been capable of doing, but have avoided because of the voices you’ve listened to. You’ll stop trusting the voices--the thoughts, feelings, self-talk, and reactions--and you’ll start trusting your true self. Not the concept of you that you’ve made up, with your job, relationships, and possessions, but the you that’s left when all that stuff is gone. There’s a you that never stops being you, and that’s the one that sticks to habits, because it knows instinctively that it’s “what it does.”
I wish you the best of luck in finding your inner voice that does not speak. I wish you all the success in the world and most of all, I wish that at least one reader’s habit they’re trying to stick to is brushing their teeth 3 times a day, because damn, I’d probably make my girlfriend happier if I did that, and I’m sure there’s someone in your life that wished you’d do the same.