So often we start out a plan knowing exactly why we are doing it. Dedicated to tireless persistence until we reach the desired goal. Then reality sets in and soon we are right back to the usual routine we so vehemently swore off.
What happened? How do we so quickly return to the way of life we were so determined to leave behind? Are we destined for failure? Did we just not muster up enough will to carry it out this time? If we just try harder will we succeed? What is the honest answer if we ask ourselves, “Do I still want what I wanted when I started?”
If we wanted it so bad, why did we stop trying?
I have already covered the topics of trying to change everything at once and how to set realistic expectations, but how do we keep wanting what we want? Like all the time? I mean, even when that other thing we want to do so badly is right there in front of us and we know we shouldn’t….but we do?
Then we have to start all over. The never-ending cycle. Is the conflict we bring into our lives through complete restriction so great that we are shooting ourselves in the foot?
Could it be that we should allow ourselves to do the thing we are telling ourselves not to do?
This is where the concept of adding action into our life rather than removing it is so crucial. I will expound upon that further in the future, but for this post I am going to stick to wanting what we want.
The old adage of the carrot in front of the donkey is a good one, but what about when the donkey gets the carrot because eventually it’s either a carrot that is not attainable or the reward that must be received in order to remain enticing. Then, once the donkey gets the carrot, we’ll need another, and we better hope the donkey wasn’t satisfied enough by the first that they still are inspired to perform.
Hmm. What sort of carrot won’t become unappealing?
What could keep you always wanting just one more….a candy carrot perhaps? Yeah! It’s not just a nutritious snack, actually it’s not nutritious at all, but that sensation on the taste buds just leaves you wanting one more taste.
This is the method of inspiration which has lead the video game industry to become one of the largest industries in the international market. What do you really get out of your time spent playing games? Why will individuals spend countless hours invested in the virtual experience of action? Those little numbers at the upper left-hand corner of the screen move easily in one direction, measuring your progress. If you put in the time, they will be there keeping track of how much progress you have made. Even in the video game, the score is typically not an important element to whether or not you win or lose. Their true importance is just to let you know you’re trying and give you that little push to try harder when you have a difficult time. It keeps you invested and guides you towards elements of greater value. Every so often it even gives you a reward such as an extra life or a special medallion and lets you know you are excellent at what you are doing. There is no question the numbers don’t lie.
Research into the neurologic structures which give us biological influence over our continued motivation are understood, and we can use them to our advantage!
Tools, such as calendars with stars, are used for children, grades for students, percentage of conversions for sales, etc. While all of these measures are information derived from the relevant actions of the individuals performance, they in and of themselves are not a measure of success. They inspire continued performance. Without this motivation, the end goal would be a carrot that just took too long to be received and eventually become a torment rather than a potential reward.
We must set up quantifiable measures, and while the actions they are measuring must be relevant to the end goal, the measurements themselves can be completely arbitrary. A great example is the pedometers which are so popular for calculating how many steps you take in a day. People live by these things, feeling their value being validated in a triumphant manner by exclaiming the number of steps they have taken over the past days or weeks. While over time, and in the context of overall physical activity, this number can begin to form a important relationship to fitness and health goals, it rarely is traced in that sensitive a manner. How quickly, what time of day, up hills or stairs, whether they were lifting or carrying objects, what the person had to eat before or after, and how much they had been walking for the weeks, months, and years previous to using the pedometer are all crucial pieces of information needed to have any ability to derive any real meaning from the number of steps.
To keep track of all these factors would require a tremendous effort on the part of the person using it. Still, even without the information which makes it a measure of effect, just producing the number on the pedometer is motivating. This arbitrary number is often much more motivating than some of the more important variables.
Why? Because those step numbers just keep moving up. They don’t lie, they aren’t confusing, and it is really simple to control them.
We are built for this sort of motivation.
The ability to derive satisfaction out of arbitrary mindless representation of progress is a key aspect of our mental function. This function is important to the survival of our societies, so let’s not discount how valuable it is, nor should we distract ourselves from the need to bring it into the context which allows real progress to be made.
We need to know what we truly want and how to get there, we need to know it is attainable, and most importantly we need to remain motivated long enough to reach our destination. Wanting what we want isn’t enough to follow through. We also need short term motivation to keep our eyes on the goal.