I recently found myself riding the popular mode of public transportation known affectionately as the Monday Morning Struggle Bus. I was tired and grouchy and just plain did not want to be at work. I didn’t want to be at my regular 9-5 and I didn’t want to work on my coaching business either. I just wanted to go full-on introvert hermit and hide under the covers all day. The problem was that I had made all these commitments – to myself and my clients. My day was full of tasks that I had planned to complete so that my week would stay on course. The constant reminders started popping upon my phone at 8:30 this morning and I knew that wouldn’t stop until 8:30pm tonight.
I told myself that if I could just muster up some motivation, I could get over this hump.
Now, where to find that motivation…. Facebook? A trip to Starbuck’s for a caffeine jolt? Maybe a hallway chat with my co-workers? Maybe if I procrastinate long enough, I will force myself to get to work in a frenzy of stress-induced mania!
My brain came up with all sorts of fun things I could do today instead of work. That’s when I realized that I had just caught my brain in serious reptile mode.
My brain knew I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated. It knew I didn’t want to work and it was politely offering me all sorts of ways to indulge myself and run away from those crappy feelings and dumb work projects. My brain got to work coming up with all sorts of ways to self-soothe. In my mind, I imagined some skeezy alter-ego standing on the corner in a dirty trench coat saying “hey, babe, you want to fly to the moon?” Dramatic, yes, but the basic premise is the same.
My brain was selling me a quick fix, promising it would make me feel better and help me avoid the discomfort I was currently feeling – the Monday morning blues.
I had thought “I really don’t want to do this” and my brain responded, “here are some things you can do that would be WAY more fun.” In addition, my brain went to work telling me all the reasons why it was okay to blow off all the things I had promised myself…you worked really hard all weekend, you deserve a break . . . this project isn’t worth worrying about, you can do it tomorrow . . . you work harder than everyone else, you deserve a few hours “off”. . .
That is what our brains do! We are so used to indulging ourselves and going out of our way to bury those negative feelings (buffering) or running away from them outright through avoidance or procrastination, that is what our brains automatically do in the face of discomfort. And now our brains are really good at it!
Once we allow our brains to run that route a few 100,000 times, it becomes a pro and offers us those “solutions” every time we face the same or a similar discomfort.
If you think “I really don’t want to go to the gym today,” your brain is going to get to work running that pattern and offering you all sorts of reasons why you really shouldn’t go to the gym: You really don’t have time today . . . your really should rest, the day was super stressful . . . you seem run down, you’re probably getting sick, better to rest . . . gosh, your knee seems a little tender, if you don’t rest it you will probably strain it . . . Trust me, the brain is a WWE Diva when it comes to this stuff because we have let it practice this song and dance our entire lives.
When you see your brain doing this, just know that it is operating as it should but that what it is telling you is not the truth.
These are not a facts; they are just thoughts your brain is really good at thinking. Your brain seeks to operate as efficiently as possible (e.g., running the same thought patterns) and the reptilian brain wants to keep you safe (avoid discomfort at all costs lest you be killed by lions!). When you get uncomfortable, your brain offers you these thoughts in an attempt to seek comfort and avoid pain. They are all attempts to keep you running the same route you have been running your whole life. This is guaranteed to keep you stuck.
You have to get savvy with your brain. You have to catch on to its tricks! The next time you catch your brain offering you a platter full of delightful excuses not to do something out of the norm or something you aren’t excited about (e.g., 5am gym classes), do the hard work and keep your promises to yourself. THOSE are brain patterns you want to become a habit but they never will if you don’t force your brain to practice the routes.
Recognize when your brain is doing this and see it for what it is – an old pattern. Then work on creating a new pattern.
This doesn’t mean you have to engage in a round of mental arm wrestling, arguing with each of these thoughts. What it means is that you can recognize when your brain is doing this and ignore all those thoughts and justifications your mind offers. Hello, brain, I see all these glorious excuses you are offering me, very adorable, but no thanks. Just clear your head and stick to the commitment. Period. By honoring commitments, you develop a new set of beliefs and patterns that your brain can channel. The next time you find your brain running an old pattern and explaining why you really shouldn’t go to the gym this morning, you might be able to think instead – Yes, I was tired last time I went to the gym at 5am and I still had a great workout and felt energized all day . . . or Going to that gym class always makes me feel so much less stressed out and I always have a better day than when I skip it.
Commitment is a skill and learning to honor your commitments takes practice and it takes foresight. Your brain will try and talk you out of it, guaranteed. Plan on it and know you must push through.
Only through commitment and practice will you build motivation.
Once you start building those patterns, you can literally achieve anything.
Get out there and use your discomfort as an opportunity to teach your brain some new dance moves. This is hard work but it is the work of a lifetime. Commit to yourself. Commit to better results than you have gotten thus far. Coach with me. I’m ready. Are you?