We all want to become a better version of ourselves, one day. We all have a picture of the future in our heads, where we accomplish things that are beyond our ability now. And yet most of the times we fail. We do not become persons from our cherished dreams. And then we devalue these dreams as something not worth the struggle.

I've been through this multiple times in my life before I decided to dig a little bit deeper and find out, what causes this pattern of struggle and disappointment, and what can I do to prevent it from happening.

Let's leave the question about why do we even want to be better at some things for another discussion and concentrate on the second part — executing the change that will get you to the place you want.

Let's take the goal that is familiar: to improve the physique, to get the six pack visible and to get rid of those love handles. Day after day you feel small unsatisfaction with yourself because the image of you with a six-pack in your imagination differs from reality. And it piles up. One day you reach the tipping point of our frustration and decide to finally take some action towards the goal. You decide to do curls starting from Monday. And you do. And you feel empowered after each curl session because it was hard and because you're now taking active steps towards your dream. The dream is closer with each step, and you should see the results soon. And after a week or two of hard work, there is still no result. You're no longer empowered as the goal seem to be as far away as it was and you did all this hard work for nothing. You start skipping the days and finally abandon the curl sessions altogether. You're back to where you started.

What went wrong here?

We underestimate the amount of effort that we need to put towards the result we want. We overestimate the level of stress we can tolerate without tangible rewards. And when we start feeling that things don't turn out the way we expected, we give up. One can argue that if you didn't get the results you wanted, you just didn't push hard enough. And, naturally, the recipe for success is just to push harder. Unfortunately, this is not true for the majority of us. The harder you push, the more stress you induce, and that stress needs to have the corresponding level of rewards, which is not possible in the majority of the situations we find ourselves in. So what do you do? You cannot push harder, because you will inevitably fail. You cannot give up, because this is a failure as well. Counterintuitively, the answer is to stop pushing as hard and accept the fact, that the result you strive for will come a little bit later than you first predicted, but this is much better than no result at all.

As discussed earlier, in order to continue doing things we need the corresponding level of rewards for our actions. Since now we accepted the fact, that rewards might come a little later, we need something to sustain our will to perform actions with something else. The answer is to make them habitual, like flossing the teeth or saying hello to the neighbour in the morning. These are the types of actions we do because we've been doing them for ages. When it is time to take such action we never question ourselves whether this particular action will get us closer to something, we just do it. Habitual actions are responses to external and internal triggers that require little to no conscious effort. And this is precisely what we need — to remove conscious effort from the equation when we do actions that do not yield immediate rewards.

In the next post I'll focus on the technique we can utilize to make the action habitual — and to increase your chances to succeed.