You’re trying to alleviate temporary discomfort — but real commitment is very different
If you’re like most people, you’ve probably come up with — and subsequently given up on — far more goals than you’ve ever realized.
Your goals tend to be short-lived, and easy to forget.
Remember that inclusive Facebook group you were going to start? That side-business that seemed so viable? That nutrition plan? That workout regime?
It’s practically human nature to see a solution, recognize its potential to solve a problem in our lives, and then to give up on it once we’re past the peak of our discomfort. Most of your goals fail within 14 days — and you don’t even realize it’s happening.
If you were to keep a spreadsheet of every “big idea” you’ve ever had, you’d probably notice a roughly two-week falloff point. This is because we make goals when we’re in that peak state of dissatisfaction and we lose motivation when we return to our baseline of comfort. We initiate a goal (the first workout, the down payment, the first hours logged) to satiate our desire to feel as though the problem is solved. But it’s not.
Goals are conceived, executed, and abandoned through the following cycle:
- A problem emerges in your consciousness.
You realize, independent of external factors, that something isn’t quite right. Maybe you’re beginning to spend more than usual, and you don’t know why. Or maybe you feel sluggish, unhealthy, out of shape. Either way, you aren’t satisfied with how some part of your life is going. Typically, this would initiate action — but in this case, it doesn’t.
2. Your discomfort gradually increases.
The more you defer action, the more your discomfort intensifies. At this point, you’re still able to divert your attention for long enough as to temporarily pretend you don’t have a problem.
3. A trigger puts you into a state of peak discomfort.
Eventually, you experience a trigger moment that acts as the “tipping point” wherein the problem comes to the center of your awareness. You experience heightened emotion and an embodied response that makes your problem impossible to ignore.
4. You devise a plan of action to alleviate your discomfort.
From this place, you make a plan. You decide you’re committing to change because you cannot live like this any longer.
5. Eventually, you return to your baseline of tolerable discomfort.
After the emotions subside and you engage in your action plan for a little while, you begin to think the problem is solved because you’ve returned to moderate levels of discomfort. While you don’t feel completely better, you also don’t feel as bad as you did at the trigger point.
6. You turn to the poor habits that initially caused your problem to soothe your mild discomfort.
In the moment, this feels like the answer.
7. You become stuck.
You have two coexisting but competing desires: You want to override the behavior, and you want to use the behavior as a coping mechanism. You’re stuck because you need the behavior you claim not to want.
8. A trigger puts you into a peak state of discomfort. The cycle repeats.
I’ve found this process tends to take about two weeks to fully cycle through. And the more it happens — the longer the cycle continues — the more defeated we feel. To break out of it, we must go one layer deeper.
Here’s our first problem: We don’t know what we want.
The first reason we get stuck in this cycle and give up on our goals is that we’re pursuing things we do not fundamentally want. This is not always the case, but it very often is, especially when it comes to novel opportunities or big life changes that aren’t actually that desirable in the end.
We feel pressured by external forces and the fear of others’ perceptions to become something or someone more acceptable — but deep down, we don’t actually want that change. In fact, the more we sabotage our efforts to move forward, the more we need to start questioning whether or not we actually desire what we think we do.
Sometimes, the big goals we expend so much energy on are distractions — not permanent solutions.
It’s easier to make a huge commitment to getting into rock-hard shape than to acknowledge that we could stand to eat a bit healthier and take care of ourselves in a sustainable, loving way. One solution recognizes our everyday problems, the other ignores them in pursuit of something else entirely.
Likewise, it’s easier to have aspirations of making tons of money you’ll never really use than to acknowledge that you’ll have to manage it well no matter how much you make. It’s easier to dream up new side-gigs than to find a way to cope with day-to-day challenges that arise at any job, in any position.
Most people’s desires are more simplistic than they’d think.
To escape the cycle of sabotaging our progress, we first must get clear on what we really want, deep down. We must finally summon the courage to pursue it — and let go of the distractions.
Here’s our second problem: We don’t know how to get what we want.
Most people’s desires are more simplistic than they’d think. It’s the fear that they might not be able to accomplish them that drives them to greater and greater aspirations.
We fear failure because we don’t understanding what it takes to actually pursue a goal and stick with it — which is essentially a commitment to lifelong, permanent change. It makes sense that this is difficult to commit to, because there aren’t many things we’re willing to totally reinvent our existence for.
When we do decide what that might be, however, we need to enter with the attitude that this isn’t something we’re doing until we arrive at a certain point. Instead, it’s something we are doing every day, forevermore, until the end of our lives. This is the only way that change really happens. It’s about committing ourselves to never being finished, never reaching the final summit, not waiting until the day we can declare our mission complete.
In the end, achievement is about daily commitment and trusting the process — even (and especially) if you don’t see immediate results. That’s all it comes down to.
Achieving a new life isn’t easy. Being stuck isn’t, either. You get to choose your hard — and commit to it, for good.