You probably don’t even realize how much you do it.
Every time I look in the mirror, my mind fixates on the imperfections instead of looking at positive attributes. It seems counter-productive, but it’s actually an ‘adaptive trait’ for people — it’s been built over years of evolution.
Think of it this way:
As humans evolved, those who paid more attention to negative or threatening stimuli around them were more likely to defend themselves, avoid risky situations, and survive to pass on their genes.
If you’re afraid of snakes or spiders, this evolutionary adaptation is likely to blame.
In psychology, it’s called attentional vigilance.
(And it’s part of a critical feedback loop with your emotional brain that helps you make decisions.)
The problem happens when we’re hyper-vigilant to these stimuli and can’t un-focus from them easily. We fixate on ‘bad’ features, ruminate on past experiences, and criticize imperfections without stepping back and looking at all of the amazing parts of ourselves.
Let’s dig deeper.
Here’s a personal example that tends to resonate with many people:
If I can’t lift ALL the weights when I go to the gym, I’ll feel weak. I’ll feel stringy. Even if I have a great workout, I go back to the mirror and see that NOTHING has changed. Here’s the thing that no one tells you:
It takes about 2 months before we start to even see results.
It’s the people who are in the gym in March that will achieve their goals. It’s the people who quit in February that make all the money for the gym.
Seth Godin refers to this ‘delay in measurable progress’ as The Dip. Read his book. It’s short. It’s an easy weekend read.
So how do we take this incapacitating challenge and turn it into measurable results?
Let me re-phrase that.
How do we stop trying to be perfect, so we can actually allow ourselves to start taking action?
Perfection is unattainable. The sooner we learn to live with that, the sooner we can start making positive changes.
Every marathon starts with one step.
Here are three ways to start being realistic about your goals and make impossibly huge dreams more reachable:
MAKE GOALS ACTIONABLE.
My goal was to lift all the weight and not be weak. That’s not reasonable, actionable, or definitive. You can’t really check the “not weak anymore” box off a checklist. Plus, it’s also not really what I care about. By digging deeper, I realized that I just want to look and feel confident in my own skin. That’s monumentally different.
“Bench press 225lbs,” or “Run a marathon in 3 hours,” can both be checked off a list. They’re achievable. They’re actionable.
SET SMALL, REACHABLE GOALS.
With a little trial and error, I now know which exercises will help me develop the look I want. I have a ballpark idea of what my heart rate should be to feel calm, and I now know better than to increase difficulty by more than 10% each week.
Be patient. This takes some time to figure out.
“Increase strength by 10%,” or “trim 1 inch from my waist” are both actionable, and reachable. If you can reach your goal once, it’ll be easier to confidently saddle-up again and go back for more.
CALIBRATE YOUR MINDSET.
I realized that I was going to have to be embarrassed being the weak guy at the gym — for a while. It’s been easier to take action every day after accepting that. That’s the grind. Accept where you are today because there is nothing you can do to change that. The sooner you accept that, the sooner you’ll be able to move to the next step: taking action.
I wrote down the reasons I wanted to achieve these goals and how long it might take to get there. I realized how hard it’s going to be — both physically and emotionally.
Here’s the most important thing I realized: it’s not going to take forever, but I also won’t see the light at the end of the tunnel for a while.
From this mindset I can take one of two roads: 1) I can spend a year or two working on this, and then I’m done, or 2) I can spend the rest of my life in the same state of misery.
Is it 2 years of hustle for a clear, picturable payoff? Or is it the rest of your life in the same place?
Choose which road you’ll take, and commit.
IT’S ONLY OVER IF YOU QUIT.
You should also write this on your forehead:
“A year from now, you’ll wish you’d started today.”
- Karen Lamb
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