Stop searching. You already have what you are looking for.
You are reading books, blogs, and how-to guides. Watching YouTube videos, & listening to podcasts looking for that one golden piece of information that is going to help you have more will power, more self-control, or just make you feel more content.
You are continuously looking for some new idea that will allow you to feel productive, happy, & satisfied, but you already have everything you need to be happy.
Why is it so much easier to continue looking for new information instead of using what we already have?
Maybe it is a by-product of the advertising of businesses telling us we always need more.
Maybe it is a good distraction.
Maybe, the root causes of our failure to apply our knowledge are painful emotions that are uncomfortable to deal with.
Let me give you an example.
My girlfriend Amanda and I were talking two nights ago about how she was beginning to think that it is impossible for her to make money writing.
When we got back from a 6 month trip to South America she felt like she could accomplish anything, but something has slowly been changing, the doors that once appeared open to her slowly seemed to be shutting.
She was feeling frustrated because she wrote a lot a few months ago but has slowly been losing her routine, not writing as much and feeling less and less productive. I can empathize with that feeling. As I started working after traveling, I’ve got caught up in stress that, in a wider perspective is not really that important, but it makes me tired, it makes me spend less time on side projects, and it makes me think that my goals are farther out of reach.
I knew that Amanda wanted empathy. She wanted me to understand that she knows how to fix the problem, and she feels sad because she’s not doing it. I knew that’s what she wanted, but I was tired. I tried to fix the problem. I wanted to set her up with a morning routine, complete with meditation, journaling, & a lack of distractions, that would make it easier for her to write, she would be writing more, and BOOM problem solved. Two points for Ryan.
I was trying to give her information to solve her problem. She already had the information; it was just the application of that information she was struggling with.
She was telling herself that becoming a professional writer was impossible or improbable as a coping mechanism to avoid feeling painful emotions. This is a cycle I have gone through myself many times as I have tried to make changes to my life, so I know it well. She was telling herself what she wanted was impossible because she was no longer putting a lot of effort into accomplishing what she wanted to accomplish. She wasn’t putting in a lot of effort because she felt guilty for not putting in a lot of effort. It looks a bit ridiculous in writing, but these loops of thought are a very common problem for people, causing us to start chasing our tails, running around in circles and going nowhere.
She began, at some point to feel guilty for not writing more. Guilt is an unpleasant emotion to feel, so the reflex is to repress it, ignore it and run away. When she thought about writing a bunch of guilt came along with it, so she thought less about writing. Over time, the lapses in routine become larger and larger, until one day you stop altogether. It is natural for most of us to make a reason for our lack of success that lies outside of ourselves. So we say things like it’s hard, or I can’t, instead of saying I won’t, or I don’t want to.
The key to stopping these self-destructive loops is to understand why we get into them in the first place.
Amanda started to feel guilty because she was not writing as much as she wanted to. I don’t know how much she wanted to be writing, but I think it was quite a bit. She expected herself to have time and energy to be writing even though she was working a full-time job, doing some other work on the side, eating healthy, maintaining a social life, and exercising almost every day. She believed like so many of us do that she could do it all; that she had to do it all because to admit that you can’t do it all is a failure.
She held unrealistic expectations of herself. A job takes lots of time and lots of energy, so she needed time to relax and restore her energy. Expecting to work on writing after working a job is like expecting a car to run on an empty tank of gas. Not accepting a human need to relax, leads to feeling guilty, lowering your view of yourself, thinking less of yourself leads to poorer results, which confirms your declining view of yourself, and on you go.
I use this example because it is so recent and clear in my mind. But almost the exact same thing has happened to me time and time again. I’ve wanted to eat healthy, exercise more, live happier, and lots of other things. I didn’t take the time to think about what I really expect from myself, I didn’t take the time to think about if those expectations were reasonable. I just found some new program or piece of information, like the Paleo diet, a kettlebell workout or studies about journaling every day. I found this new information and expected myself to apply it constantly for the rest of time.
When you are trying to change your behavior, you are trying to change a deeply ingrained habit. There is a Spanish proverb about how habits begin as cobwebs and turn into chains. The more you do something the stronger you are pulled to do that thing because your body has adapted to it. It is not realistic to expect yourself to break your eating or exercising habits just because one day you thought it was a good idea. It is going to take you months of making different decisions daily until those habits truly go away.
If you don’t define a reasonable expectation you will probably take on an extreme expectation of yourself.
If you hear about the benefits of eating a Paleo diet and decide to do it without thinking about the reasonable amount of failure you will probably expect yourself to eat paleo all the time. When you inevitably give into the pull of some delicious food, maybe a luxurious chocolate filled croissant like the one I had this afternoon you will be racked with guilt. The guilt of failing to live up to your expectations of yourself is going to lead to you thinking poorly of yourself (I’m weak, I can’t diet, etc.), which will lead you to give in more easily in the future until you eventually abandon the change you were trying to make all together.
It doesn’t matter what the new information you are trying to apply is, whether it is a Paleo diet, yoga, Crossfit, jogging, writing, or being more empathetic. If you expect yourself to change instantaneously, when you do encounter failure you will feel guilty, you will feel bad about yourself and you will fail.
We spend so much time distracting ourselves with the fanciest and most complex diets, programs, and information because we won’t accept that before we can make positive changes we need to feel positive about ourselves. To start feeling more positive about ourselves we need to accept our humanity.
We are not computers; we can’t upload a Paleo program and only eat grass fed meat and kale from now until death.
Chocolate covered croissants are spectacular and if you are tempted for long enough you are going to eat one and that’s perfectly okay. We are running around looking for new information because we are trying to convince ourselves that we don’t know enough right now to accomplish what we want. You know way more than enough to lose weight, you know way more than enough to get in shape, you aren’t doing it because you are afraid to admit you’re not perfect.
(The article originally appeared on Medium as written by Ryan Ferguson)