The 15 letter ‘P’ word and the only math I can get down with.

As I was sitting down to write this post I drew a blank. I wanted to write about how we stay motivated, then I wanted to write about a client success story, and then I debated about whether or not to write a review about a science paper on motivation.

Finally, I realized I was doing what a lot of us do when we feel like we have something looming over our heads.

I was procrastinating.

Ugh. The dreaded 15 letter ‘P’ word.

In a way, it’s funny (and ironic) because a lot of my coaching centers around tackling this problem, and here I was, battling myself and my own mind.

(We’re all human…right??)

It got me thinking about all the times I’ve experienced this and where I’ve seen it in others. Surprisingly, there’s one very common theme among us and something pretty much everyone goes through. It’s a theme of the ages, and occurs when we feel like we “should be doing something”.

Examples of what we feel like we should be doing (but often don’t):

  • Eating healthy or “clean”
  • Working out 4–5 days a week
  • Drink 8 glasses of water per day
  • Getting 8 hours of sleep

When it comes to work, people will spend time on Facebook (gotcha!) instead of completing the project, report, or anything that’s not as interesting as watching cats or our favorite personalities on the internet. Why do we do these things? Because of brains, specifically, chemicals in our brains. Without going into a giant tangent in neuroscience, I’ll simplify it.

What largely is at play behind the scenes of our actions are feel good chemicals called dopamine. In essence, we’re drawn to certain things over others depending on what releases more dopamine in our brains.

I.E.

  • Internet cats > a boring spreadsheet report
  • Messaging an FB buddy > sending emails
  • Shopping on Amazon > reading a dull report
  • Checking Instagram > listening to a boring meeting

Whether you like it or not we’re wired this way, and because we’re creatures of habit, this only becomes more reinforced over time.

But there’s some good news.

It’s called “taking an opposite action”. Meaning, if you don’t feel like doing it then do it anyways. Hence, doing the opposite of what you “feel”. This may seem obviously simple on paper…and it is. But first, here’s how it works without taking an opposite action:

  • I have a paper to write
  • I feel the sudden urge to check my phone for everything Internet for five minutes. I’ll give myself FIVE minutes.
  • Shit, 20 minutes went by I should probably get to writing.
  • Oh wait, I’m hungry. Yes, I should probably go grab something to eat because, well, hunger (and pizza!).
  • Damn! Now, it’s an hour later and I have to go to bed soon because I need to wake up early. It would be nice to get some extra sleep and I need it. I’ll DEFINITELY get to this first thing in the morning!

Here’s how it looks when taking an opposite action:

  • I have a paper to write
  • Ugh, I don’t want to but if I don’t do this now I know I’ll be stressed out.
  • I don’t like feeling stressed out so I’m turning off my phone and turning on some website blockers to knock this out now. Internet begone!
  • OK, I’m going to set a timer for an hour and get as much done as possible by the time the hour is up. I know it’s only an hour but this hour will make a difference, and in the end, I’ll feel good for at least putting in some work even though I don’t feel like it now.

Seems easy, right? Admittedly, the practice of taking an opposite action — which will help you achieve a goal (big or small) — when you feel like doing something else is the hard part. A big reason for this isn’t because we’re not motivated or lazy.

Other than brain chemicals, it simply comes down to our habits.

Or, more specifically, math.

The more we take an action + the more it’s repeated = the more it becomes a habit. Eventually, the more we do something the easier it becomes for our brain to process. Remember when learning a language, reading, picking up a new sport or skill was once really difficult and how much easier it got the more you did it? That’s the mechanics behind how this works.

If you want success — and I’m assuming you do — this is worth keeping in mind. Even though it might seem like taking the opposite action sucks in the moment. Or even if there’s a million things you would rather do. Remember, the more you subscribe to potentially self-sabotaging behaviors, the easier it becomes for your brain (and you) to do them again because of the compounding effect they have over time.

Conversely, while making small adjustments towards your goals, know these small positive actions matter way more than the big ones. It’s these small daily adjustments that compound over time that lead to big wins later down the road. Eventually, the results of successive positive actions starts rewiring the reward centers in the brain. I.E. the more you see yourself succeed despite obstacles, the better you feel because more dopamine is being released. This creates a new habit loop, and changes the way dopamine is released when faced with obstacles — we start to lean into obstacles rather than leaning out of them.

Therefore success, it can be said, is nothing more than the equal of small positive actions repeated daily.