I am sitting at the top of a mountain as I write this post. It may not be Kilimanjaro or anything, but it’s definitely bigger than a hill and it was a solid 40 minutes of hard work to get up here. Sitting here, it strikes me that now might be the perfect time to talk about motivation (and lack thereof). I have been using a phrase a lot lately with my self, with my patients, and with friends. In fact, it’s become something of a mantra for me…
Today, I did not want to come do this hike. I mean… I did yesterday and I suppose that in my brain I still wanted to come today. However, when I woke up, nearly every molecule of my being was screaming to just stay home, drink coffee, and play video games all morning. You know what… I did it anyway and I am so glad that I did.
Our thoughts and emotions often influence the way we act. If you think of failing and embarrassing yourself in front of class when you raise your hand, you’re probably going to be more likely to keep your hand down or avoid class altogether. It’s a normal process, but sometimes we let this link get out of hand to the point that our actions, thoughts, and emotions seem to become one. They are inextricably tied and we feel as though they have to be in line with one another. This is called fusion.
In reality, we can think or feel any way and that can be completely independent of that actions that we take.
(Read that two or three times for good measure)
I can hug someone when I’m mad at them. I can think that a class is stupid and pointless, but still try super hard to get a good grade. I can smile while doing something sad and I can frown while doing something happy. The point I’m making is that it is possible to pull the actions apart from the feelings or thoughts that would normally influence them. This process of letting them coexist, but not completely govern each other is called defusion. Today, I proved to myself that defusing my thoughts and actions can help me live up to the goals that I had set in the past when I was feeling more motivated.
Doing it anyway is not always easy. Today it was really hard. Luckily there are some things that can help a bit. One of them is called the “five minute rule.” Now you can modify that to make more sense for you. Maybe yours will be more like the “one hour rule,” “two blocks rule,” “or one try rule.” In this approach, you give yourself the option of bailing out after five minutes of trying. If after that point you really can’t handle it, then you should go ahead and stop for now and try again later. However, you will often find that once you get going it’s not as bad as you thought. The accomplishment of getting started and the realization that the situation isn’t quite so terrible can give you that extra push to keep you moving in the right direction. Just in the same way that you can negatively “snowball” with motivation, you can positively “snowball” as well. Just as negativity builds upon negativity, decreases motivation, and increases guilt in a negative cycle, positive change builds upon itself and does just the opposite.
When I first started my hike, I had to use the five minute rule. I told myself that after going up to the first or second landing on the mountain, I would give myself the option of heading back home. Now, I had many different thoughts as I was hiking up. I had happy thoughts, sad thoughts, confusing thoughts, worrying thoughts… and that’s okay. Instead of fighting off my distracting thoughts, I tried to be more mindful. I practiced noticing them, giving them a moment of attention, and then focusing my attention back on the task at hand. I became intensely curious about the physical sensations of the hike. I felt the wind on my face, the sun gently stinging my skin, the crunch of rock and sand under my feet, I heard the sound of people running by, and the tiny snippets of conversation as people carried on with their own lives.
You can do the same. Practice being here and being now. Become curious, but nonjudgmental about your own experience. Next thing you know, you will be at the top of your own mountain. Your thoughts and your feelings will always be there, but sometimes you can just notice them and do it anyway.