It’s a pretty simple and common problem: practice means “more than once”, and that implies a repeated action. Life has it’s own gravity, though, and there are times when it really sucks (ha). One of the ways we try and make it less sucky is through comfort (think of it as inertia; a safe place you can stay). That leads to comfort food, binge watching, Amazon shopping sprees and endless Facebook scrolls.
There’s nothing wrong with comfort, any more than there’s anything wrong with inertia (without it, things would not ever stay in the same place, and that would make finding your car keys even more difficult than it already is).
Which means that you have this kind of Newtonian Physics of habit formation, where a practice at rest will stay at rest until acted upon by an outside force. And it has to be an outside force greater than the force of comfort/inertia – as expressed through the common aphorism: Change only happens when the discomfort of staying where you are becomes greater than the discomfort of moving.
How to Make Yourself Uncomfortable
It follows, then, that the real secret of motivation (hey, look, more physics, as the root of that word lies in the idea of movement) is about making yourself uncomfortable where you are. Again, our sayings reflect this benevolent sadism – “That coach really lit a fire under her team”. But while the cruel kindness of the educational system is well known, when we become grown-ass adults there is a solemn awakening: It’s up to us now.
The science of motivation is big business now; I’m not going to rehash things like “streaks” and “accountability buddies” – at least, not in the way they are usually parroted. No, these five suggestions are for those people who (like me) look at the streak of X’s on the calendar, measure it against the inertia/comfort I’m feeling that particular day, and say “Screw that X. It’s a silly game anyway.
- Mentor’s Guilt: Lots of methods use guilt for accountability, but there’s a special kind of guilt when you have someone who looks up to you checking in on your progress. Kids work for this, but it’s better if it’s an actual adult who you would dread getting that “disappointed” look from.
- The Un-Friendly Competition: We live in an age of causes we either support or hate, whether that’s punching Nazis or writing our Congresscritters about the horrible law they just passed. Tie your practice to that action; I don’t get to go to the anti-Nazi demonstration until I’ve done my yoga. I’m sure that’s what the Buddha would have done (well, maybe not. Still works).
- Here, Hold My Whine: I’ve written before about the idea of creating Tasks of Uncomfortable Growth for yourself and others. What you’re looking for here is a good story about how uncomfortable you were, about the obstacles you had in your way on your way to do it, about the triumph of the spirit as you broke through that last wall and did the damn TUG. It plays on the natural tendency of people to want to one-up each other (use this video as a good example) and has the side benefits of improving both your storytelling and your empathy skills.
- The Thief of Time: This one is remarkably cruel, and may require the assistance of a partner/friend, though you can always just use your alarm on your phone. The basic idea is this: why don’t you do your practice? Because you don’t have enough time, right? So we steal a little time each day you fail to do your habit: set the alarm for five minutes earlier. Yes, I realize you can fight this with a snooze button, but that would be with the knowledge that you would then have to hit the bar five minutes earlier the next day. At a certain point, it’s easier to get up and do the damn practice (and know that you’re gaining an extra five minutes of sleep back the next day).
- The “Oh, yeah?” Technique: This is a version that only works for a particular brand of malcontent – the kind who will go to absurd lengths to prove someone else wrong. I know it works, because it is literally the reason I made it through Marine Corps boot camp. Not because of love of country, or love of my bride-to-be; it was because my future father-in-law had told me I could never make it. There was no way I was going to let him be right about that. You can do the same (minus the father in law). Just find someone to tell you “I don’t think you can do that…” Maybe pick your least-favorite politician and create your own meme that says “You think you’re going to meditate? Sad!”
Yes, I do realize that the last one is basically stealing the Pick-Up Artist technique of “negging”. That’s ok; the real point of this post is to understand that while it’s great to learn about “the Tools of Titans”, when it comes to motivation, one size does not fit all. Find your own discomfort zone, and then leverage it to get yourself moving in the direction you want to go.
If you know a friend who could use some motivation, how about sending them the link to this article – and maybe even showing a little love with the links below.
Want some more direct help? I’ve provided mentoring and coaching to people to help them reach their goals, and I’d love to do the same for you. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s see what we can accomplish together!