Why do so many people fall short of their goals, even when they actively prepare and plot out a course of action? The answer is surprisingly simple.
Our motivations are flawed.
Oh, we formulate our plans well enough. We envision the end results. We plan our steps out carefully. But there is one crucial element that we often forget. And that is our motivation. Or, more importantly, the fact that our individual motivations are based on words, and that these words have meanings.
This probably doesn’t surprise you. Of course words have meanings. There are entire dictionaries that prove that fact.
But I’m not talking about meanings in the literal sense. I’m talking about meanings in the personal sense. For many of us, words carry several layers of contextual meaning and association in addition to their literal meanings. And this little fact, hidden in plain sight, is often the thread that unravels many of our best-laid plans.
Still a bit confused?
Okay, let me use myself as an example. I have been grossly overweight for most of my adult life. I’m 6’1”, and at one point, I weighed close to 300 pounds. I was so disappointed in myself. But every time I formed a plan to lose weight, I would lose a few pounds…and then motivation would drop, and I would swell back up twice as fast.
It took me a few years to figure out what the problem was. I took a good look at my motivators, and realized that I was associating dieting and weight loss with willpower and self-discipline, so those were my sole sources of motivation. “If I really want it,” I told myself, “I’ll be disciplined. I’ll exercise my willpower and stay true to my diet.” The problem wasn’t that I had no willpower or discipline. The problem was the meanings that I associated with those words.
But aren’t willpower and discipline good things?
Yes and no. To me, ‘willpower’ implied a regimen of punishment and brutal self-denial. I couldn’t eat what I wanted. I had to exercise regularly, even when I didn’t want to. And ‘discipline’ wasn’t much better. On one level, yes, it means immaculate self-control. But it also means punishment. So in using these thoughts of willpower and discipline to fuel my weight loss, I was unknowingly turning my weight loss into an oppressive act that my mind naturally felt the urge to rebel against. I couldn’t stick with a diet or exercise regimen for more than a few weeks.
My mind would subconsciously fight back. I would start stressing. I would give in to the stress and eat. And then I would grow depressed over my failure.
This cycle did nothing but solidify the reputations of ‘willpower’ and ‘discipline’ as evil entities in my mind. And as long as that was happening, I couldn’t make any headway in my weight loss at all.
It all finally came to a head when I was trying to run laps around a local high school track one day. I just stopped, plopped down on the track, and buried my head in my hands. I just couldn’t do it anymore. I hated exercise. I hated eating right. What little intrinsic value that weight loss had held for me had been completely obliterated by a lack of hope.
So is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
Well, luckily for me, a friend of mine convinced me to give Parkour* a try a couple of weeks later. Strangely enough, I found that the more I studied the art, the more I enjoyed it. I loved the movements, and the philosophy behind them. I found myself getting excited to get out and practice every day. And as a result, I was sweating off two or three times as many calories as when I was actively trying to exercise.
I wasn’t associating my workouts with willpower. I wasn’t controlling my diet out of discipline. I was watching what I ate because I wanted to get stronger and better at what I did. In pursuing my passion, I had unknowingly changed the way that my mind interpreted my weight loss and exercise. I was no longer forcing myself to work. I was letting myself have fun.
The happy ending
After starting Parkour, I lost 90 pounds in a year, and I’ve stayed below 190 pounds for over two years now.
And all it took was a simple change in association.
Thank you for reading, my friends. Please enjoy and share, and may your lives be perpetually enriched.
If you’d like to read more of Tom Johnson’s work, please visit him at Playing to Lose, his motivational blog.
*Parkour is a movement philosophy which was developed in twentieth century France. It is a bit difficult to define parkour, since it integrates several disciplines; it could be said to be a sport, a hobby, and a philosophy. Essentially, parkour is about learning to navigate obstacles, and rethinking the use of one’s body and the use of public spaces.