“Why do I do this?” my client moaned. “ I know I’ll feel worse –but I just can’t make myself.”
He was referring to yet another time when he flopped onto his couch and surfed TV instead of taking an easy brief walk around his neighborhood.
We had been talking about this tendency for a while. It showed up when he tried to get more movement into his life, when he thought about a night out with some friends, when he wanted to improve what he ate. In each instance, he was clear that he would feel better, be happier and more satisfied with his life, and feel physically better, yet day after day, week after week he fought with himself to do anything differently.
My client is not alone – in fact you may also recognize these struggles. We know that our bodies will feel a little better; that our moods can lift and we can feel more engaged and enjoy our lives if we do a few things differently, yet it is so hard to do!
Why is this?
Researchers are finding that our desire for the short-term gain (relaxing on the couch) outweighs the difficulty of investing in a long-term gain that we don’t experience in the moment. (https://digest.bps.org.uk/2017/02/09/we-know-what-will-make-us-happy-why-do-we-watch-tv-instead/)
We are biological creatures who want the cookie we can see first.
To change this, we have to outwit our biology.
Create ways to ease the transition.
Once we walk in the door and sit down, it is much harder to get ourselves up and out.
Once we get home from a long day, chopping vegetables is not so appealing as a quick pizza or ordering out.
Each positive activity that requires planning and initiative to do, requires us to put out more energy on the front end. So think about how to make the transition easier.
My client realized that if he put his walking shoes, and the podcast he wanted to listen to in his car, he was more likely to walk before he went into the house. Another client kept her swimsuit and towel in a bag at her desk so she had easy access during her lunch hour. Little ways to make the transition easier. Chopping veggies in the morning while coffee brews, or buying them already chopped so all she had to do was cook them, made another client’s transition easier.
Yet another client made dates with friends to do the more challenging things. The socialization made all the difference.
Imagine your future self.
There are was to help yourself detach from the present moment (I want a cookie) and see the longer term (I’m happier without so much sugar).
Regular mediation or a guided visualization help calm the instant gratification circuits. You can begin to “detach” and see where you want to be.
Some people create pictures of their “future self” or have visual reminders of the results they want to have in their lives. This helps them physically see that the “cost” of doing this activity that takes more effort, is worth it to them.
It is less about “self discipline” and more about connecting with something that is important and meaningful to you. Seeing yourself feeling a little more limber, a little less stiff because you chose to go swimming once a week is a way to help yourself minimize the cost of the effort it takes to actually go to the pool.
Try this in just one area where you would like to see the payoff from some effortful activity.
Ease the transition and practice “seeing” the benefits.
As always, I wish you well in this adventure!