A reader asks, “I was wondering if you had any concrete ways to begin the process of overcoming laziness and recapturing motivation. I realize that I have been dealing with laziness. There is an underlying anxiety that keeps me from getting going. With time it has transformed into a hazy, non-living lifestyle where I manage to only do the bare minimum and am always late with my work. Talking with a professional probably could help me, but I also know that I have to take responsibility for my own life and decisions. So, if you have some useful tips on getting motivated and REALLY getting started, I would appreciate it.”
Do I have any tips? Yes, I do. For starters, stop TALKING, THINKING, or WRITING about your problem and start DOING something. I’m not trying to be glib, but trying to make a point. Mainly, the only way to get things done is to ACT.
“Yes, but,” you may be thinking, “how can I act when an underlying anxiety keeps me from starting?” Who said that anxiety, discomfort, or fear has to prevent you from starting? I don’t remember being told that I have to stop whatever I’m doing if it makes me feel uncomfortable. Again, I’m not trying to be smug, but trying to point out a common misconception. You see, many people are held back or are stuck in their tracks because they believe EVERYTHING SHOULD FEEL GOOD.
Such an idea reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of how life works. Like it or not, sometimes the weather is too cold, too hot, or too wet to feel comfortable. At other times, our tasks are too difficult or too challenging to be pleasurable. That’s the way life is. Accept it. Once you do so, you can go ahead and do whatever needs to be done, despite how it makes you feel. We don’t have to be ruled by our feelings. We can choose to let our reason guide us.
The heart of the problem is we have been programmed to seek pleasure and avoid pain. The purpose of our programming is to protect us. Primitive man ran from hungry predators to avoid the PAIN of being eaten alive. He also avoided the pain of fire and frostbite. Moreover, our ancient ancestors sought the PLEASURE of eating and sleeping in a warm cave. These are all good things as it protected the species.
But the problem is modern man often interprets the slightest discomfort as PAIN, thereby avoiding important responsibilities. To compensate for this problem, we have the power of reason. But if we wish to benefit from the power of our mind, we have to stop living on automatic pilot and get into the habit of thinking before we act.
Our reader and those who share her problem are standing at a crossroad. One path leads to pleasure, the other to ‘pain.’ For the sake of illustration, let’s say the boss comes to me and says, “I want this report ready by next Friday.” When I get home, I am standing at the crossroad. I can decide to start working on the report after dinner. Work on the report? Ugh! That takes concentration and effort. That’s not much fun. That sounds like PAIN. On the other hand, instead of working on the report, I can watch TV, play computer games, go out for ice-cream, or party all night with friends. Wow! That sounds like fun! Which path will I choose? That depends on whether I go with my feelings or follow the voice of reason.
Why do we so readily succumb to our feelings and neglect good judgment? Well, there is a bump or hill in each of the two paths. And it prevents us from seeing what is on the other side. So, as we stand at the crossroad, all we can see is the IMMEDIATE pleasure or pain that awaits us. In other words, we are shortsighted. However, if we were to look from a higher vantage point, we would discover that on the other side of the hill things are different. For what was previously pleasurable now becomes painful, and what was previously painful now becomes pleasurable. That is, the pleasure I yield to (watching TV, playing computer games, going out for ice-cream, or partying all night) leads to the PAIN of regret, shame, and lack of advancement. On the other hand, the pain I choose to push through (working on the report for my boss) leads to the PLEASURE and pride of accomplishment and the exhilaration of advancement in my company.
When you decide to go ahead and do what needs to be done despite your discomfort, you will experience the following benefits:
1. You grow stronger.
2. You will make the pleasant discovery that the task at hand wasn’t as hard as you had imagined it to be.
3. You will experience relief, a reduction of stress, and an increase in energy. Remember, when you neglect your responsibilities, it weighs heavily on your mind and drains your energy.
4. You will enjoy the positive results of your actions. That is, you will reap the rewards of taking action.
5. When repeated often enough, you will adopt a powerful habit that will lead you to success and happiness.
6. You will discover that the long-term pleasure that comes from doing what is right is far greater than that received by giving in to the temptation of immediate gratification. Conversely, you will find that the long-term pain caused by neglecting your responsibilities is far greater than the small amount of pain or effort necessary to do what is right.
If you wish to learn more about how we get stuck and how to get unstuck, I can recommend a good book. But first a word of warning. Those who do get stuck may turn to a self-help book or a counselor not to improve themselves, but to continue avoiding their responsibilities. By getting a good book or counselor, they get a new excuse to continue postponing their lives. “I’ll get back on track AFTER this book or my counselor straightens me out.” they muse to themselves. But the fact is they already have the tools to succeed. And those tools are: “A heart to resolve, a head to contrive, and a hand to execute.” (Edward Gibbon, 1737 ~ 1794)
Here’s the book I’m recommending, a definitive work on the subject:”SELF-DEFEATING BEHAVIORS, Free Yourself from the Habits, Compulsions, Feelings, and Attitudes that Hold You Back” by Milton R. Cudney, Ph.D. and Robert E. Hardy, Ed.D., HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
Another book to help transform your life is “COME TO YOUR SENSES, Demystifying the Mind-Body Connection” by Stanley H. Block, M.D. with Carolyn Bryant Block, Beyond Words Publishing, 2005. This book is concise, easy to understand, and highly practical. Here’s how Paige Grant describes the book, “I’ve taken so many courses and seminars on how to live a good life! I’ve even appeared as an expert on Oprah. If only I had worked with Dr. Stan Block first! His tools for creating a peaceful being are the simplest I’ve ever found. Since I worked with Dr. Block for less than two hours, I’ve found more happiness than I’ve ever had in my life.” (Paige Grant is a Seminar Manager for Joel D. Roberts and Associates in Los Angeles.)
Our reader’s request for a tip on how to get motivated enough to break the cycle of laziness is based on the fallacy that motivation precedes action. Actually, it is the other way round. That is, it is ACTION that creates motivation. First you act. Then you experience the six benefits mentioned above. And those benefits motivate you to do more. Well, then, it is clear the time to act is now. After all, if you don’t make things happen, things will happen to you. Here’s another point, we become what we do. So, we become a person of action by taking action.
And now a word to our reader. Push yourself. Start on something you should be doing. You don’t have to do a great deal at once, baby steps will do. But as you act, you will be amazed by the incredible power that lies dormant in you. Tap into it. Use it and discover the joy of productive living. By the way, I’m not just saying this for your sake, but for the world’s sake as well. You see, the world needs us, for “We are life’s way of getting things done.” (Pirke Avot, 4:2) Finally, I’ll end with this quotation from Anne Frank (1929 ~ 1945) “How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world?”