If you're anything like me, you have a lot of goals set but it sometimes feels like your actions are betraying your desires. For awhile, I thought this was just the way things were and it was out of my control - some days you've got the will-power other days you don't.
More recently, I've come to realize that, if you pay close attention, you'll become aware of very clear, even if tiny, barriers that stand between you and what you want. The process of eliminating them rightly restores control of your actions into your own power.
I was never very interested in exercise growing up. I played a little baseball, was in pretty average shape, but certainly no athlete. About a year and a half ago, I thought it was pretty lame to not be using my body more than I was and I wanted to become someone that enjoyed working out.
In the next split second, my mind ran through all the things that made it so difficult to start. Before I’d given it much conscious thought, I moved on to more comfortable things, like programming and reading blogs.
Wait a second, slow down, Brain!
What would happen if I just set aside a bit of time to think about what was specifically keeping me from getting out the door and into some form of exercise?
I reigned myself back in and started thinking meticulously and unabashedly about what was keeping me from exercising, one by one, taking steps to identify those barriers and ways I might solve them.
Barrier: It’s cold out, I hate running in the cold. Solution: Get a gym membership. Barrier: The gym is probably too expensive for me. Solution: Stop assuming and check it out. Oh, it's in my price range. Barrier: I don’t know what kind of exercise to do and want to experiment. Solution: At the gym experiment, try something new everyday. Barrier: I don’t always have a car available. Solution: Walk to the gym once and see if it would be manageable to do continuously. Barrier: The walk was nice, but way too cold. Solution: Order some long-johns, gloves and a lock to use to store them while working out. Barrier: I’m not used to the gym and afraid of looking stupid Solution: Go to the gym, embrace your inexperience, learn from others
What I realized was that most of my barriers had nothing to do with working out and much more with getting to a place where I could work out.
Seeing them separated out made them much easier to attack and once I’d eliminated all of the barriers, working out couldn't have been easier - it just flowed.
For months I worked out everyday, until realizing I was over-training. Who'da thought that would be my problem?!
Identifying barriers is great because it satisfies both our analytic and emotional minds.
On the one hand, it's about slowly processing each step of our resistance and analyzing the cause and effect associated with it. In this sense, we're carefully adding or subtracting and observing changes, like a chemist slowly titrating a solution, waiting for the sudden reaction.
On the other hand, isolating barriers involves a certain self-empathy - understanding not who we are now but who we're going to be in a future situation. You a day before going to the gym is a totally different beast from you moments before going.
Considering, "How will I feel, honestly, in X situation?" allows you to understand "Is this what’s keeping me from my goal?" and prepare emotionally, in advance.
Afterall, who wants to admit to themselves that part of what’s keeping themself from working out is looking stupid at the gym? Yet it was something I was feeling regardless of whether I acknowledged or not. Even in that case, where there is no clear thing that can be bought or done to remove the barrier, being fully-aware makes it possible to objectively push forward.
For months, a barrier for me writing-wise was that I couldn’t decide what software to write in. WordPress, TextMate, textfiles - so many options, what to pick?.
Can you believe that, though? Months!? It’s true. I’d be embarrassed except everybody has barriers like that for the things they wish they did (that’s why they only wish they did them).
Perhaps, that's the real discovery: the barriers themselves are usually extremely petty and surprisingly easy to surmount. The problem is not the barriers but that we allow our brains to skip right to "Ok, I won't do this", without carefully considering, "Why not?"
In fact, the more seemingly-stupid your barriers are, the longer you go without recognizing them. Your brain rationalizes, “a barrier that stupid couldn’t have been keeping me from doing what I want to do for so long. It must be something else. Let’s move onto something comfortable now and forget about this whole thing.”
No, it is that stupid thing. Acknowledge it. Fix it. Clear the barriers, take action, set strong precedents and bask in the build of momentum pulling you in the direction you want to go.
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