A year into my gym membership and I visited the place less than 15 times. How do I know? Because I promised myself to get new running shoes as soon as I hit this number. Never happened.
Evidently, rewards don’t work.
If I don’t eat sweets for a week, I’ll buy myself a new dress. That’s all fine and dandy but try another week with this approach. Worked again? Great! Now try once more.
The chances are you’ll fail. Fall right on your face, just like I did with my promise of new snickers gig.
Reasons? The moment you create a reward, you give birth to its twin brother: punishment. And we all know how we react to punishment, right? We scream and run (no pun intended!).
So my “I’ll wear my comfy and cool new shoes if I go to the gym 15 times”
“I’ll end up wearing the nasty blister-producing old fuckers If I don’t”.
What does this communicate to my gym-hating brain? Marta, this ain’t choice. You have to WORK!
Yep, exactly what I don’t want to do in my spare time, do you?
In no time, from enthusiastic “hello gym habit” you move to “bye-bye any interest”.
I can stick all the lovely “should’s” and “have to’s” right up my ass.
There are expressions that have meaning and expressions that lack it. Unfortunately, “should” and “have to” belong to the latter group.
And yet, if only had I collected one quid for every “should” and “have to” I uttered in my pre-gym-going days… I’d save myself an impressive stash of coins.
What “should” really tells my brain is this: “Marta, you don’t want to, I know. Oh well, just force yourself then!”
But hey, that’s not all! “Force yourself” is equally vague.
Let’s think about it for a second.
I imagine forcing myself to go to the gym. Closing my eyes, getting the picture. Got it!
What I still miss in my masochistic vision is:
what am I actually choosing to do here?
when am I choosing to do this?
where do I choose to start?
Did you notice the unsubtle use of the key-verb “to choose”? Well done, you’ve just discovered the key to your “I should” type of procrastination habit!
The moment you choose to do something, the difficulty of the task loses its strength.
The example we’ve all been waiting for:
I choose to go to the gym – suddenly the chore is light, stripped of all the drudgery.
It even sounds like music to my ears!
The best bit? I don’t need to enjoy or love going to the gym. All I need to do is to prefer it to the consequences of not going.
Here’s how it happened to me:
I woke up one day with a great deal of pain in my back. I thought: “It’s a bit early to treat myself to a disability. I will need a healthy back for a bit longer”.
Bam! The penny dropped. I put on my gym clothes and went for my first workout in months.
I knew I hated the gym music, the sweating, the cold weather outside and the boring exercises. But it didn’t matter. I chose to consciously commit to my project.
The bad news? This trick won’t work if performed only once. If you’re like me, your personal “should’s” and “have to’s” will march back into your head at the first occasion for a blip.
How do you greet them? With good manners of course!
1 You make sure you notice their arrival.
Hey there “have to”, how’s it going?
2 You smile.
3 You make a decision to accept the way things are, not the way you think they should be.
My legs hurt (not “my legs shouldn’t hurt!”).
Developing muscles takes time (not “I should have some visible muscle by now!”).
4 Or let go of it.
It’s all your choice.
Does this really work for me?
I choose to go to the gym. I go more often and reach my goals quicker.
In the last 30 days I hit the gym, for a one-hour workout, 21 times.
Now, did I buy my new cool running shoes as a reward?
Have a guess.
/Want to explore the subject? Interesting reads:
For Best Results, Forget The Bonus by Alfie Kohn
Now Habit: A Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-free Play by Nail A. Fiore/