If you listened to last week's podcast episode, you'll remember my girl Gio's woeful complaints about her tendency to stop reaching for her goals once she got 80% of the way there.
In other words, if she were running a marathon, she'd get to mile 20 on the track, stop and say, "Good enough!" And head on home.
But the problem is, she doesn't genuinely feel like it's good enough. After she gets off the track, she beats herself up, feeling like a failure and wondering why on earth she couldn't just power through that last 20%.
So I turned to the internet to figure out why follow through seems to be so dang difficult for us humans, even when we know we'll be happier once we just DO the thing.
As it turns out, there's a word for this habit of acting against our better judgement, and it's called Akrasia. And this tree of a problem as many roots.
We may have fear of success, fear of failure, fear of hardship, fear of judgement. We may be holding ourselves back to make our loved ones feel more comfortable. We may not feel worthy of our goals and therefore sabotage them at will.
But if you really want a villain to blame, your focus should be on your reptilian, survival-focused brain.
See, it was extremely advantageous to our pre-modern ancestors to make decisions that benefited them immediately. Delaying gratification wasn't a handy tool when they were gathering just enough food to survive, or when they were being hunted by a lion.
So now we have a dilemma... our brain still seeks out that immediate reward, while the success we achieve in our modern lives hinges greatly on our ability to delay gratification.
For example, in our Paleolithic days, seeking out the instant gratification of a sweet mango whenever possible meant survival. Versus now, our ability to delay the gratification of eating every sweet treat that comes our way is essential for our health and waistline.
Back then, the instant gratification of 'being lazy' helped us conserve energy for when a buffalo charged our direction. But now being lazy just puts off that book we want to write for another year.
The question is, are we capable of overriding this mental programming so we can stay focused and engaged with our goals long enough to fully see them through?
Yes. We absolutely can. And here are 5 steps to get you started:
Want to quit sugar? Get every ounce of it OUT of your house. Want to start a running habit? Get outside and have your spouse bolt the door until you've done your 20 minute run. Want to save money? Leave your wallet at home. Want to write that book? Unplug your router so you can't be distracted by social media and emails.
Get the idea?
This taps into that instant gratification your brain craves. Maybe you wear your cutest running shoes (bonus: you're only allowed to wear them when you run).
Or you could really set the stage to sit down and work on your side hustle; brew some coffee or tea, set up a cozy nook in your favorite corner of your home, prepare a little healthy snack, and get to work in your little haven.
This ties into step 2 by making your brain perceive the process of achieving your goal as more enjoyable.
Instead of thinking to yourself how hard it's going to be to finish, instead of focusing on how exhausted you are, instead of generating all the reasons that it's ok to quit, shift your mindset.
Picture yourself gleefully sprinting through that finish line. Imagine the satisfaction of writing the final page of your book. Picture yourself happily making another healthy meal, and going to bed without the guilt and shame that you know will come if you give in to mowing down a pizza.
Again, it's all about tricking the brain into believing what you're doing is actually fun.
Studies have shown again and again that using this structured sentence makes you significantly more likely to be successful.
So every morning when you wake up, write out the most important thing you're going to do, where you're going to do it, and when.
Believe it or not, the praise you get when people hear about your goal, signals the same part of your brain that fires once you've achieved the goal.
So oftentimes we'll get that quick hit of endorphins from that upfront praise, and then we'll immediately stop actually working to earn it.
The only caveat to this is, you do want an accountability partner. But maybe instead of telling them, "I need accountability to write my book." Make it process focused, "I need accountability to write every day."
Or instead of, "I need accountability to lose 20 pounds." Say, "I need accountability to workout 4 times per week."
Emotional distress makes us even more prone to instant gratification because we crave to fix our melancholy. Like, right NOW.
When you're feeling joy, and gratitude, and energized every day, you don't need instant gratification to lift your spirits. They're already lifted.
The key is not to seek joy in the very things that will sabotage your goals. i.e. Don't try to make yourself happier by shopping, if your goal is to save money.
This last one is the creme de la creme. If you really want to see a difference in your ability to follow through, you have to get in the consistent habit of focusing on what you're working toward.
Journal about it, daydream about it, talk about it, borderline obsess over where you're going.
Keep yourself out of the pain-in-the-ass present, and keep yourself anchored in your ideal future.
To close things out, I want to share with you that yes, it is most definitely easier for some people to delay gratification and follow through than others.
If you were more neglected as a child, if you have a more spontaneous personality, and if you tend to be more of a rebel, it is harder to implement this new follow-through habit.
But you are not a slave to yourself. You are not a slave to your wiring. You are not a slave to your genes. Your brain is malleable and you can make these changes.
You just have to believe it's possible, do the work, and don't be too hard on yourself when you slip up.
You've got this.
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