Discipline (as Taught by Pippi)

A complaint I often hear from clients is that they “just aren’t getting things done”.  They set goals for themselves, and make plans to change their habits or begin new ones, but a time passes and they “just don’t.”  When asked why they haven’t done the things they set out to do, they give lots of reasons: 
I’ve just been so busy.
I had writers block and couldn’t find any inspiration.I’m just not motivated.
They state them as if they’re facts.  But really, they’re just giving me insight into their thoughts and feelings. When we think we’re busy, we feel overwhelmed.When we think can’t find inspiration, we feel uninspired.When we think we need motivation (and lack it), we feel uninspired. And therefore, we feel justified in not taking action.

Why goals & plans aren’t enough

So you’ve set a goal and made a plan.  You’re going to work out on your way home from work every day starting Monday.  You pack your gym bag, inform your family and put it in your planner.  And for sure when 5 o’clock Monday rolls around, you won’t feel like going to the gym.  Your brain will tell you it’s been a long day.  You can just go for a long walk when you get home instead.  Or start tomorrow.  After all, you have weights and a treadmill at home.  Maybe before work would be better.  The problem is that you really want the results that come from working out at the gym every day, and your brain is just trying to avoid discomfort now.  Tomorrow morning when you’re laying in bed thinking of heading to the basement, your brain will try to avoid comfort now.  Because that’s what our brains do.

How to do things when you don’t feel  like doing them

There are two ways to outsmart your brain when it tries to talk you out of your plans.

The first is the best way because it lead to long term success.  I call it “hacking the F line.”  In the model I use with clients, (see image below) I show them that our feelings drive our actions.  This means if we can figure out how to get the feeling that would drive the desired action, we’re more likely to take action.  In the above example, I’d need to feel “committed” (this is the “F” line) in order to drive the action of going to the gym at 5 p.m.  What thought could I think to generate the feeling of committed?  Maybe: “If I do this 5 days a week for 3 months I will see a change in how I feel!”  (There’s an endless number of thoughts that could generate a feeling.  Each person needs to find a thought that works for them.)  When I lean on this new thought throughout my day,  the odds of me heading to the gym at 5p.m. increase substantially.

The second way to do something you don’t feel like doing is rather obvious, but valid.  Acknowledge the mind chatter and do it anyway.  Tell your brain “I hear you.  You don’t feel like doing this.  But we’re going to do it anyway because I want (insert goal and your reason why you want it.)” 

Clients often tell me that they’ll take an action when they feel inspired.  I challenge them that they’ll feel inspired when they take action.  This can be confusing because it appears that we’re doing things out of order (Remember the model? Actions don’t create feelings. Feelings drive actions.)  Bear with me! This is a little complicated, but so helpful in hijacking that lower brain. 

Let me explain it this way:  When your brain tries to avoid action in order to avoid discomfort it’s in essence trying to avoid a feeling.  But that’s because it’s doing something new and the subconscious thought is that “something’s wrong-this isn’t how we do things.”  

Imagine watching a horror movie.  Something scary happens and your brain says “We’re going to die!”  It speeds your heart rate and you hold your breath.  But if you saw that movie every day, your brain would eventually have new thoughts “This is the part where the guy jumps out.  Blah blah blah…now this person gets attacked.”  It no longer sees the scenes as a threat.  Taking action when you don’t feel like it changes your thoughts in the same way.  After a few weeks of driving to the gym, your brain stops saying “Let’s go home” and instead starts running through workout plans.

Keeping your word to yourself One of my favorite books as a girl was Pippi Longstocking.  For those unlucky souls who’ve never met her, she was all of my favorite things: tenacious, determined, and hilarious without meaning to be.  Early in the story, when the neighbor kids come over to meet her, they’re shocked to learn she’s an orphan who lives alone (with her pet monkey that is, but I digress).  They can’t imagine living without parents to tell them what to do, and ask her who tells her when to go to bed at night. “I tell myself,” said Pippi. “First I tell myself in a nice friendly way; and then, if I don’t mind, I tell myself again more sharply; and if I still don’t mind, then I’m in for a spanking–see?”

As a kid, I thought discipline and punishment were the same.  I was raised with a list on the refrigerator -divided into two columns.  On the left was a list of rules, and on the right the punishment for breaking each.  I did as I was told to avoid two things: the consequence of breaking the rule, and/or the feeling of disappointing my parents.  As we grow, we shift into choosing to do (or not do) things because of what we want rather than what we want to avoid.  I don’t eat ice cream weekly because I want a healthy body.  I sit down at my computer to write (even when I don’t feel like it) because I want to build my coaching business by offering value to others.   So whether you hack your F-line or or discipline through, you’re sure to start seeing your success stack on top of one another when you take action…especially when you don’t feel like it!


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