Breaking the Mould

8 Reasons We Don’t Do Things We Should and How To Break the Mould

Our lives are full of things we “should” do but for a range of reasons we don’t do them. Whatever it is – exercise, healthy eating, saving money – most of the time we choose to take the easier road, the road well traveled.

While I’m certainly not immune to this, there are plenty of things I don’t do that I know I should, I feel that understand the why is the first step to making real progress.

1. Being Comfortable (and Lack of a Burning Desire)

It all starts with how we feel about our life. How we feel greatly affects our motivations. Most people are in some form of comfort, but it’s a negative comfort. It’s a comfort where you’re not making progress towards your dreams but you’re not in that much pain either.

Don’t be in this space.

I’ve been comfortable. I live in a great area, there’s food on the table and I have shelter, and it’s this very reason that a bunch of my income dried up over the past couple of years. I’d been making great progress, which was motivating but then de-motivational forces (mainly school) and my own lethargy brought me into a false form of comfort. And now I have to work my way back to where I was.

The best motivators are pain and progress.

When you are in a situation that genuinely hurts you find a solution. It’s not a matter of making excuses, you just do it. And likewise, when you’re making progress the same thing happens, although from a much more positive standpoint. You feel great and the momentum-based achievement keeps you doing the things you should be doing.


But pain will just hurt and progress will be non-existent unless you are inspired or have a burning desire to make a positive change in your life. I have a burning desire to be known as a writer, and as thus I write, I write some more, and then I finish all that writing off with some more writing.

On the other hand I know I should go for more walks, eat more fruit and veggies, and a whole bunch of other stuff. Why don’t I do it? I’m not in a bad enough situation to motivate myself – I’m comfortable – and a although a good walk makes me feel great I rarely feel inspired to go on one.

It’s difficult to transform a “should” into a “must” (as Tony Robbins would put it), but there are a few approaches:

  1. Wait till it gets so bad it hurts. This isn’t recommended because pain isn’t always the best motivator (there are exceptions remember) and it’s sort of silly to put yourself in a worse situation to get better.
  2. Commit to doing it once. Give it a go. Just once. For ages I knew I should start writing a blog like this, but I put it off. Then I started it, and I loved it. Give it a go.
  3. Understand the reason why. Understand why you should be doing something. Understand what you’re missing out on.

2. Distractions

Burning desires aren’t always obvious though. They get drowned out in a sea of distractions – trying to do or consume too much. Minimalism isn’t for everyone, and that’s fine, but at least understand and reaffirm the amazingness of having and doing less. And when I say “do less” I’m not talking about being idle, but cutting down on the quantity of activities you do, so each one can be done with deliberate focus.

Cut out everything in your life that doesn’t fulfill you, giving you room to get back to the basics and do the things that you know you should be doing.

3. Excuses

Excuses are the next hold up. For everyone reason you should do something there are 2 far fetched reasons, that you can easily convince yourself to be true, that you shouldn’t do it. And in my own experience the only effective and long lasting way to get rid of excuses is accountability.

Create a mastermind group or find a friend who has similar goals to remain accountable for your actions. Tynan has shared a twist on this system which is to give your accountability buddy the power to dare you to do something displeasing and vice versa.

4. Confusion

Although, excuses aren’t always just excuses, they may stem from confusion, and that’s a different problem entirely. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with all the things you should be doing and “being busy” is one of the most common, and easy to swallow ruses that few people will fault you on, even when it’s pure crap. And that’s dangerous.

To fight the overwhelm sit back with a pen and paper and write out a clear plan of what you should be doing. Break it down into numbers. If, for example, you know you should be running, write out how many minutes per day you should run, or how far, and how much of it is sprinting or jogging, or just walking.

Tasks appear monumental as a whole, but after breaking them down into bite-sized bits they amazingly fit quite well into your lifestyle even if the task itself hasn’t changed.

5. Misuse of Negativity

Tim Ferriss has discussed pessimism as a productivity system, but a constructive use of negativity goes beyond just productivity. According to The Law of Attraction focusing on negativity will bring that into your life. And to a certain extent I agree.

But negativity can be used constructively as long as you don’t dwell on it. The majority of the time you should focus on what inspires you and your burning desire, but whenever you feel particularly unmotivated, ask yourself “What will happen if I don’t do this?” See an unhealthy you if you don’t go for that run, or an unfulfilled you if you choose not to follow your passion.

6. Money Doesn’t Motivate

In the video below Dan Pink discusses how money is a weak motivator. Anything remotely creative or loosely defined task simply won’t be done better or faster if wads of cash are your driving force.

What does this mean?

Live for something greater than money. Money isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, but you need to find a goal or purpose that goes beyond financial success to be persistent, or even to do something well.

7. Lack of Ambition

Everyone has ideas about ambition but, at least in my experience, setting goals that are ambitious are more likely to be acted upon. Going back to that running example, there are countless stories about non-runners who sign up for a marathon months in advanced, and then magically in that time they go from a couch potato to a competitive runner.

Us human folk adapt to the goals we set. When we set a small goal there’s a lack of excitement. Sure, I could set a goal to walk down the street and back, but that’s boring. Make it a 10km jog or 400m sprint though and suddenly it’s something to work towards. There’s a chance of failure so it becomes a gamble.

What is tricky though is setting goals that aren’t too beyond you while remaining ambitious. I’d love to beat Usain Bolt in a 100m dash, and it’d be an ambitious goal, but it’s just not going to happen. Consistent failure to attain an ambitious goal will eventually leave you unmotivated and back in your old routine. Be ambitious in the sense that there’s a chance of failure, but you feel confident of eventual achievement.

8. Uncertainty

And then there’s the last, and perhaps most deadly reason we don’t do things we should do: uncertainty.

If you’re uncertain something will lead to the result you want or expect it can be difficult to commit to it. There’s a constant stream of doubt fuelling excuses and less of a desire to persist (which is one of the secrets of success). To overcome uncertainty model yourself after other people who have achieved what you desire. Read autobiographies and story-driven accounts to understand their mindset, the process they took and the challenges they faced.

David Turnbull is a Guest Blogger For PickTheBrain and is the founder of

Don’t Forget To Follow PickTheBrain on Twitter!

Related Articles:

Tips For Breaking Bad Habits and Cultivating Good Ones

7 Ways To Grow The Action Habit

16 Responses to 8 Reasons We Don’t Do Things We Should and How To Break the Mould

  1. Very good list and I especially like #5. I think the law of attraction only applies to repetitive thinking cycles. But certainly we should still acknowledge the fact that bad things may happen to us if we don’t do X, Y, or Z.

    Great guest post!

  2. Mariusz says:

    Thanks for your thoughts. Will spread the word in a sec :)

  3. Pingback: Mariusz (bonoseo) 's status on Thursday, 19-Nov-09 21:45:26 UTC -

  4. Great list David – you got it right in one you can say – Brocken laws of discipline and poor conditioning – lack of personal discipline is a sin to a great mind

  5. David Turnbull says:

    Thanks Steven. Glad you liked the post. :-)

  6. David Turnbull says:

    Thanks for sharing the article. Much appreciated.

  7. David Turnbull says:

    Will do Lloyd. Thanks for the link.

  8. Hey this was great. I have written an entire book about doing what we should. I wasn’t sure if anybody else has realized how important that idea is and how our subconscious mind guides us with the word “should”. Good to know that I am not alone.


  9. Pingback: EduLinks – 10 More Goodies « TheUniversityBlog

  10. Guy Farmer says:

    Thanks for the ideas David. It’s truly powerful when people interrupt the patterns that have held them back. The missing key is always what creates motivation. I’ve noticed that people become motivated to change their lives when they finally believe that they’re good enough to deserve the best life possible. It also helps to have constant support and accountability. Sometimes all it takes is that first small step that is different from the others.

  11. David says:

    Thank you for this post. I feel that if I can be extremely motivated, I can do anything. The problem is getting motivated and staying that way. This list helps to put things in perspective.

    I especially liked the chart with progress – comfort – pain. I definitely agree with this point. Success is a great motivator, and so is putting your back against the wall (pain). When your on the negative end, its do or die almost. Where when your on the positive end, its just like you said building upon that momentum.

  12. david says:

    so what do i do if i am so “comfortable” that i didn’t even read the whole list?


  13. Flamencodancer says:

    I like that. Thanks. It’s useful and practical.

    Could you write something similar on how to break  out of it when you’ve been stuck for years? I suspect that in this time of economic limitations, it’s becoming
    harder and harder for people to imagine (remember) a life in which they
    can do things they currently no longer can. I wouldn’t really describe
    it as a comfort zone, but the effect is similar.

    How do you create motivators? How do you create the experiences  you need, the reminders of what life can be like?

    One problem with being stuck in a limiting situation for a long time is that you forget how certain things feel (such as having money, and what it can enable you to do) and you become so totally used to having very limited possibilities that you completely forget there are things you can do that you currently can’t.

    You forget that there are products out there that would make a big positive difference to your life and there may even be many things out there that you don’t even know about because modern life has largely been passing you by for too long. How do you know you might really, say, enjoy an iPad, if things like coffee and bread became a challenge years ago? That idea. Your world, your view, has shrink to being able to have bread and coffee, and it becomes harder and harder to envision a life in which that isn’t the case.

    You become conditioned to your current conditions. You completely forget how great it is to travel, even to the next town, or go to a restaurant because you haven’t done it for years and you overlook solutions because you become too used to there being none or few available to you.

    Know what I mean? The fields of progress and pain have effectively disappeared, in such a situation.

    I don’t see a date with this post, but I notice that the comments are one to two years old. Things have deteriorated for many people since then, I suspect.

    Re 8, Certainty can be a great demotivator too. Uncertainty can be much a bigger motivator. It depends on how a person ticks and on specific situations.

  14. Flamencodancer says:

    In fact, entire generations are currently growing up like that, in several countries. No perspective for a future, for progress, no matter what these youngsters do, no matter how much or how little education they have.  They already know too much “pain” to still have much left they want to avoid.  How do you keep the flame in these youngsters burning?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *