Controlling our thoughts can be a difficult task at the best of times, especially negative ideations. Even more challenging is trying to stay on top of any associated feelings, which can impact our perception of the world around us, our judgement and rational decision making. Fortunately, we always retain some level of control over our behaviour, even if it is influenced by domineering thoughts and feelings. Reframing motivation through the lens of action over thought is a powerful way to reverse engineer behavioural change.
Within the context of motivation, many performance experts work from the top down. They consider starting at the ‘root’ of the issue as the best approach, often focusing on cognitive interventions such as self-awareness protocols and mindset shifting activities. These techniques aren’t wrong by any stretch, and can yield fantastic results in many people. However, as we know the brain is a complex machine, filled with an abundance of self-preserving mechanisms that may aid you well in the short term, but inhibit growth in the long term. Often these same mental structures prevent us from reaching our desired state due to the sheer power of our survival instincts, manifesting as ‘permanent stays’ in the comfort zone. Our best intentions are incompatible with a psychological system that prioritises inaction, fears change and avoids risk by default. Getting around these blocks in order to achieve your goals can take a great deal of effort, so why not attack the problem at its weakest point?
After all, there is a path to behaviour change that is far less guarded than a full-frontal cognitive assault.
Take Action Before You Feel Like It
I know what you are thinking, surely you aren’t suggesting something so obvious, so simplistic, so rational as to just take immediate action to improve one’s quality of life? Yeah, I am. Because it really can be that straight forward. No complex strategies, no ten-step process or special ritual to follow. All you have to do in order to begin making change is to take action.
Think back to how good you feel upon the completion of an arduous task, a grueling workout or that long overdue project that you finally got around to. That sense of accomplishment when you clean up your workspace, go for a walk or get to the bottom of your to-do list. Actually, when was the last time you felt bad after completing a mentally or physically challenging activity?
Typically, the barrier that most people face is waiting until they feel ‘good’ or ‘ready’ before undertaking a task. The same holds true for taking on risk or committing to a fitness schedule. If it requires consistency, then it can’t be done on a whim. Research anyone with a modicum of success and you’ll soon find that they toiled away, even on days they didn’t feel like it, long before they tasted the fruits of their labour. Success requires that you continue to show up, or even show up that first time, in spite of how you feel right now. Trust in the fact that you will feel even better when you are on the other side of your task.
You can’t think your way into the mood you seek… action is the only thing that can trigger that change state.Rich Roll
You Can’t Force Yourself To Think Differently
Mood follows action. I first heard these three words many years ago from ultra-endurance athlete Rich Roll, and his mantra stuck with me ever since. It sums up perfectly the grassroots approach toward behavioural change that is so simple in practice yet foreign to so many. Rich was a recent guest on The Tim Ferriss Show, where he further elaborated on his intonation, adding that ‘you can’t think your way into the mood you seek… action is the only thing that can trigger that change state‘. Again, instead of doing things the hard way (willing yourself into a perfect mental state before you commit to making a start), why not actually do the thing that will get you to a better mental state? And then keep on going. Develop healthy habits that support your personal growth, transforming into your ideal-self with every step taken.
Changing your behaviour doesn’t necessarily need to come at the expense of your own mental resolve, but it does require some effort and it won’t happen on its own. Taking action before you feel like it is what causes those negative yet comforting feelings to change, and will foster positive development in mood and behaviour.
Funny how going backwards is sometimes the best path forward.