We all have desires, things we wish to accomplish, or skills we want to learn in the future. In reality, most people don’t accomplish what they desire for themselves, and many times, this causes us to have negative feelings because we are not getting what we really want. There is a saying that we more often regret those things that we don’t do than those that we do. We can all relate to disappointment and sadness because we didn’t do a particular action: we didn’t call that person, we didn’t apply for that job, or we didn’t go to the gym today even though we promised ourselves.
The issue is that we don’t feel like doing that thing. Maybe I feel OK speaking in public, but writing a speech, and practicing it, nah, I don’t have time. And sometimes we may realize the exact steps we need to take in order to accomplish what we want. Like umm, I do a google search and see a list of steps, and say to myself, umm If I follow these exact steps, I can be the next millionaire. It can be about creating a vision for ourselves. For example the desire to become a great guitarist or a great dancer, and we know the steps, like OK, I have to do this kind of stretching 3 times a week, go to the dance class four times a week, watching dancing videos everyday and get to know all the amazing moves, go to the club consistently and practice these moves, and so on. But yeah we often can’t just seem to do what we really want.
There is the element of fear that constitutes a barrier in many situations, but let’s leave that for later. The other important element is the level of discomfort and the lack of immediate reward that we experience while doing these activities, which is a big part, so we just avoid doing them. OK, I decided to go to my lab and start working on my project at 8 AM. So I go there, and jump to my computer, and then 20 minutes pass, and I am still scrolling through crap on Facebook. OK, we can blame it on social media, or we can just take responsibility and set rules for ourselves, right? On the other hand, there are activities that don’t require any mental effort. Like when I was young and had gotten my first computer, I used to wake up early in the morning and wait for my mom to leave to work so that I can start playing video games as soon as I can. I could not waste any time. I still remember waiting for the clicking sound of the door key, so that I reassured myself that the coast was clear, and then jump on my computer and start my gaming marathon. So why is there discomfort in doing the important tasks? We understood through science that our brains are wired, they are made, to prevent us from experiencing any discomfort, because, for our ancestors, discomfort meant danger and a threat to their life. But in our modern life, we see that discomfort is really necessary for us to grow and stretch ourselves and achieve the success we want.
Now how do we go about doing the uncomfortable when we know it is essential for our growth and happiness. Yes, we can rely on the willpower and why power for motivation at first, but life happens, and someday when the alarm rings: “ahh let’s just press the snooze button again, I can skip the gym today, it is OK”. Persons who studied successful people concluded one thing that sets them apart: the power of habit. Healthy habits are such a powerful thing, and can radically transform lives. They can be the small things in our day, like what is the first thing we do when we wake up, do we hit the snooze button and fall back asleep or we just jump out of bed and start our day with energy. They can be the things we do before bed, the way we spend our free time, and so on.
To understand the power of habits, let’s take an example of two members of a Toastmasters club: the first one practices and applies for taking roles whenever they feel like it, and the other just has a rule: he allocates a specific time every week for practicing his roles no matter what, like every Saturday from 8 to 10 AM. Of these two people, who do you think is more likely to improve and grow his skills and achieve results faster? it is not the first. And the powerful thing about habits is that they become easier to follow once they have been done for a long time. Like when they asked Michael Jordan how can he push himself to train so much, he said that it is just how he is, it is just how he has been for a long time, it became part of his identity.
But now how do we go about building these healthy habits in the first place? We know the beginning is the hardest part because our brains are used to repeating the same pattern for a long time, so it can be really hard to change. One technique that I will talk about today, is the 5 seconds rule. This idea is presented by Mel Robbins, an American TV host, in a book called “the 5 seconds rule”. She talks about her struggle and her difficulty in finding motivation for waking up early every day to take care of her kids. She says motivation is never there when you really need it, because motivation exists when you are comfortable doing the activity, and I agree with her. One day, she was watching a countdown for a rocket launch on TV, which inspired her idea. The idea may appear to be silly at first, but it is a powerful brain hack to make us do the uncomfortable actions, like jumping out of bed, or making that call, or start concentrating on our work. By counting backward from 5 to 1 before doing the thing, we disrupt the habit loop running in our brain, and allow our cerebral cortex to take control and override the automatic behavior and set us into action. And what is powerful is that we can train our brain to adopt this new habit. Once it has been done repeatedly, it can become automatic in the future.
I personally used it last week and it was really effective for me to avoid procrastination and jump into action. I encourage everyone to try this method at least once and see if it makes a difference. After all, The most important thing we can do is try. Maybe just like a rocket, we can take control and launch ourselves fast into that successful life that we deeply desire.