It’s humid. It’s hot. I’m hungry. I have work to do, emails to catch up on.
A trick that works for me
Because I put on the shorts I wear to row on the rowing machine and every time I wear them I row. They aren’t that comfortable for anything else, so there’s no point in putting them on except to row.
Changing out of them takes work and feels like defeat, so once I put them on, it’s easier to row than not.
As hard as rowing is, it’s easier to continue once started. The mental work of choosing is harder than the physical work of continuing, even if the physical work burns more calories.
I only need a trick to start. Once started I’ll keep going.
Putting on the shorts is a trick to start. It works.
Shouldn’t I just exercise because it’s healthy? Isn’t that all the motivation I should need?
Most books and articles talk about health benefits of exercise and diet, as if information motivates us.
You can talk logically about health all day, but knowing about it doesn’t start me exercising like my trick does.
Lofty goals that don’t work
Contrast my trick with a client who wrote me about trying to create a habit and his frustration that he can’t will himself to do it each time. I think he thinks that he should just want to meditate and not let distractions distract him.
I don’t think our minds work that way. Mine doesn’t. I get a lot done, but not because I have secret motivation beyond anyone else’s.
I think people look at Arnold Schwarzenegger in his Pumping Iron days and think he just liked working out more than other people, end of story. They think he succeeds by being different than everyone else.
I doubt it. I bet motivating to work out for him was as hard as for anyone else, and I bet he had tricks to get him into the gym, to start a set, and so on.
His success didn’t come from being superhuman. On the contrary, it’s meaningful because he is human.
Meanwhile, I think people who think he had extra motivation are excusing themselves for not doing what he did. The less human he is, in their minds, the less responsibility they have for not achieving what he did.
If only they created a few tricks for themselves.
A coaching client told me about a role model of hers, a successful leader who starts her days by drawing a smiley face on the shower wall. It brightens her day and motivates her each time. It doesn’t change the world, but it changes her approach to it.
Shouldn’t she just be happy? Articles and TED talks recount the value of being happy.
Talking about the value of an optimistic outlook doesn’t give you an optimistic outlook, no matter how lofty it sounds. It’s too abstract. For her, the smiley face does.
When my stepfather quit smoking he filled a jar with old used cigarette butts and water that smelled revolting even to a smoker. He smelled it when he wanted a cigarette, and it helped him quit.
Talking about emphysema and cancer doesn’t stop people from craving cigarettes, no matter how important. It’s too abstract.
The trick worked.
Will each trick work for everyone? No, but you only need yours to work for you. Trying them out doesn’t cost time or money anyway.
I’ll bet nearly all successful people base nearly all their successful habits in little tricks like that. These tricks aren’t the only thing they use, but they work.
When I look at the habits I consciously started, I find tricks at the root of nearly all of them. When I start my burpee sets, I don’t think about doing all 26. I think of starting one.
It’s a trick. Once I start the first, I finish the remaining 25 and a half. The physical work of 98% of the exercise is easier than the mental choice to start.
If I put my cleaning supplies in the middle of my floor before going to sleep, I’ll use them to clean in the morning when I see them.
If I put on my running shoes, I’ll go running.
Sadly, many successful people, even when they want to help people, talk about the lessons they learned on reaching success. Those lessons sound nice and may give some direction, but they often differ from what led to that success.
We want to reach their success, not just hear what it’s like. Lofty lessons don’t help as much as tricks.
How do you find your tricks?
In my experience, you find them through the discipline of doing the thing you want to do and finding what works. You’ll create them if you stick with the task long enough.
That’s a major reason I value self-imposed daily challenging healthy activities (sidchas). They lead you to create tricks that lead to success. Beyond success in a particular activity, they teach you to apply your success elsewhere.
You learn that anyone who succeeded probably motivated themselves similarly.
You use tricks
Look at hard things you do and you’ll find your tricks. Once you do, apply them elsewhere.
People view tricks as crutches or silly things they hide, suspecting other people don’t use them so they should graduate to “real” motivation.
You don’t lose your tricks, you just get so used to them you don’t think about them. Or you act like you don’t have them.
I say celebrate them.
You aren’t weak for not having superhuman willpower. You’re human.
Do what works.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get on the rowing machine and work out.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.