Only 9% of us will be able to stick with our new year resolutions.
Despite our best intentions, it seems that motivation melts away with winter.
Will you be one of the 9% of warriors who persist?
To aid you in your journey, I put together a mental model of habit formation that is aligned to my own personal experiences:
Read on as we go over the obstacles and milestones that we’ll encounter along the way.
1st stop: Motivation vs. Discipline
Let’s break it down:
- Motivation: (noun) The general desire to do something.
- Discipline: (verb) To train by instruction and exercise.
Motivation only exists as a noun. But discipline is a verb.
In other words, discipline is something you do, and choose to do; motivation is a thing that can come and go, which you cannot choose to do or control.
At the outset of taking on a big goal, motivation tends to be quite high. But then, when the first painful rough patch hits (and guaranteed, it will hit), motivation dwindles.
Newton's third law of physics states: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
You need the strong “force of motivation ⚡️ + discipline 💪” to combat the equally strong “force of pain 💢”.
Here’s the game plan:
- Let motivation inspire you, but don’t expect it to stick around.
- Focus on building disciplined habits instead. Get specific in what “discipline” will look like for your specific goal. Schedule it in your calendar.
- Stick it out for 2 months:
- It takes 21 days for a new habit to form.
- 66 days for that behavior to become automatic.
2nd Stop: Valley of Pain
As you embark on the first 66 days, you will inevitably traverse the “Valley of Pain”. (Don’t worry, no Softbank powerpoint unicorns in this newsletter 😉)
Pain is a good sign. A rite of passage on your way to the promise land.
What happens in the “Valley of Pain”?
- Fear & Resistance. A rule of thumb: The more scared you are of a work or a calling, the more sure you can be that you have to do it. The more important the accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more resistance you will experience facing it.
- Productivity tools and Research Masterbation. It feels really good to research the best products, tools, and tactics. And they are helpful to a certain extent. But ultimately it is taking away time from you actually doing the work. Begin. And figure it out along the way.
- Excuses. Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting. Whatever excuse you have brewing in the wings, squash it now.
- Thinking you have time. 1.8 million people lost their lives to COVID this past year. That’s about the entire population of Puerto Rico or Jamaica completely wiped off the face of the planet. What of their dreams? Their unrealized potential and talents? We owe it to those who have left us prematurely, to make the best use of our time today. Faced with our imminent extinction at any possible moment, how would you change your goals? How does your zest recalibrate?
- Telling other people. “Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it's not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work.” Sharing your goals tricks us into our ego being satisfied with others perceiving us that we’re x, ultimately before you deceive anyone else, you first have to lie to yourself.
Failure, pain, and fear is the price for being the Warrior in the arena:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again,
…who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” - Theodore Roosevelt
3rd Stop: Discipline is not enough, it has to feel good.
Here’s my secret for sticking with anything - whether it be consistently writing this newsletter for the past 9 months, meditating everyday, or writing in my gratitude journal daily for the past 3 years.
It has to feel good.
Discipline metabolizes a jolt of motivation so that it can get you over the “Valley of Pain” and into the realm of “Feeling Good”. Feeling good calcifies into habit.
Not feeling good after a while of doing the habit? Drop it. Life’s too short to do something you hate and suffer from everyday.
In one of my favorite Jack London quotes, he says:
“The ultimate word is I Like.
It lies beneath philosophy, and is twined about the heart of life. When philosophy has maundered ponderously for a month, telling the individual what he must do, the individual says, in an instant, “I Like,” and does something else, and philosophy goes glimmering.
It is I Like that makes the drunkard drink and the martyr wear a hair shirt; that makes one man a reveller and another man an anchorite; that makes one man pursue fame, another gold, another love, and another God.
Philosophy is very often a man’s way of explaining his own I LIKE.”
What London means is that people often come up with an explanation for why they do what they do after the fact, when really, they do what they do because they like it.
You’re not ultimately going to find success by white-knuckling your way through life. You’ll never stick with things you don’t, at some level, truly enjoy.
How’s it possible to like something you initially didn’t enjoy? Mood follows action. Mood follows action. Mood follows action.
Like I mentioned earlier - it’s hard, if not impossible, to control our thoughts but we can control our behaviors.
There are 2 modes of processing information in the nervous system:
- Top-down - think and decide and that information goes down the spinal cord to control our nervous system.
- Bottom-up - reflexive body experiences things and that information goes up the spinal cord to the brain.
We often rely on the former top-down approach to think ourselves into our goals. Instead, the bottom-up approach is a much more reliable passageway.
To achieve success in any long term pursuit, perhaps the most important attribute is simply showing up.
This is one of the key rallying cries of Stanford Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman: “Behavior first, thoughts, feelings & perceptions follow”
Sometimes when we are feeling down and unmotivated, the best thing we can do to change our mental state is to change our physical state.
If I’m down or in a rut, I force myself to move my body, even if only a little bit. This helps shift my perspective and resets my operating system—and more often than not, I’ll feel better.
The action of discipline is needed to traverse the “valley of pain”, leading us to the land of “feeling good”, thereby solidifying our habit.
Remember: Mood follows action. What we do, is what we are.
This principle is lightly reverberated in other fields as well:
- Exposure therapy for phobias and fears - where subjects are exposed to their fears, but refrain from engaging in their usual physical escape response. This rewires their brain in a way that eliminates the phobia.
- Existentialism Philosophy: where Jean-Paul Sarte famously argues that existence precedes essence. That it is solely action that defines our humanism - and not the personality, culture, or past experiences we were born into.
As Steven Pressfield says in the War of Art:
The important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying. Why is this so important? Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen.
A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose. This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don't.
When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insights accrete.
Remember: mood follows action.
4th Stop: Habit fuels identity, giving us the motivation to do it all over again
As our disciplined actions turn into habits with the the balm of dopamine, their summation become our identity.
As James Clear’s writes in his seminal book on habits:
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.
No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.
This brings about motivation to explore more ever-evolving iterations of ourselves. Our purpose for being.
Habits fuel identity in our quest of self-actualization - to not just shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.
- ⚡️Capitalize on fleeting motivation by developing discipline to traverse the “Valley of Pain”
- ☠️ In the “Valley of Pain”, learn to recognize its demons: fear, research, excuses, illusion of time, & external validation.
- ✨ Eventually, you’ll reach the land of “Feeling Good”, because mood follows disciplined action.
- 💪 Feeling good calcifies into habit. Habit becomes our identity. The fruits of self- actualization motivate us to start the process all over again.
I’ll leave you with one last word from Clear:
When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy.
You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.
To the collective warrior in each and every one of us — may we fall in love with the process, and know that happiness is accessible in every beautiful moment.
Yours into 2021,