I’ve been writing on the theme of how to reach goals. In my work helping clients reach theirs, I’ve come to realize that what we think we want isn’t really what we want. Instead, what we really want is how the thing we think we want will make us feel.
Get it? I really can’t make it any plainer than that, but I’ll try.
Let’s assume for a moment that we do know what we want. Let’s further assume that we even know what we need to do to get it. Now I know this doesn’t apply to you, but hypothetically in this example, let’s say we just can’t seem to consistently do (or stop doing) those things that will get us what we want. We just can’t seem to stay with the program.
Why not? How hard can it be?
The secret keeping most people from their goals is this: your goal isn’t really your goal.
You Can’t Reach A Goal That Isn’t Your Actual Goal
Let’s examine a real life example.
The evidence is irrefutable. When you change out of your pandemic sweat pants and into your old jeans, they just don’t seem to button up. You decide you want to fit into some of the clothes you wore before quarantine.
You set that as your goal, and come up with a way to reach it. You are going to eat and exercise in a way that will allow you to get into your old clothes.
Here is the problem: what you want isn’t to lose weight. What you want is the feeling you believe weight loss will bring you:
- You will feel better about yourself
- You will feel more attractive
- You will have more energy
But you carry on, placing “fitting into my old clothes” as your primary goal. You do some research, and believe you’ve cracked the ancient code and lifted the veil of secrecy that has prevented the hidden magical answer to weight loss from being revealed to the world.
You tell yourself you simply need to consume less and do more. Simple. Easy.
Henceforth you resolve to:
- Walk over to your neighbour’s for coffee instead of driving
- Walk up the stairs instead of using the elevator whenever possible
- Vacuum your carpet instead of using that robot crawler thing you got for Christmas
- Give up ice cream, in favour of apples
You’re feeling good about yourself and the commitment you have made.
This time you’re really gonna do it. This is going to be sooooo rewarding.
Meanwhile you have plans to meet your friends for dinner at the new neighbourhood bistro tomorrow evening. You’re going to stick to your new eating parameters, while you watch them packing their arteries with awful French onion soup, yucky Chateau Briand and disgusting chocolate covered cheesecake smothered in raspberry sauce.
So off you go to meet your friends, but something terrible happens.
You savour every bite of the French onion soup.
You devour every morsel of Chateau Briand.
You capture every last crumb of cheese cake.
Statistics show us that this happens all the time. In fact, research indicates that about 80% of people who lose weight will not be able maintain the necessary behaviours to keep it off.
But you weren’t supposed to be part of that majority. You were so prepared. You were so determined. What happened?
It’s really simple. Keep reading if you want to know.
But, be warned. This is not for the faint hearted.
Your Real Goal Isn’t Weight Loss
Here’s what happened.
Weight loss isn’t your real goal. Your goal is feeling good. And in the moment, the shortest path to feeling good was to eat that delicious meal with your friends.
You see, we only, ever do one thing. We only do what is important to us in the moment.
“In the moment” means right now, and right now, the present, is all we have to live in.
It’s possible, probably even, that losing that weight would also make us feel good. But that will take place in the future, and the future hasn’t gotten here yet. But dinner is on the table now.
The Only Motivation We Really Have
Our motivation to do what we do is always tied to one of two things: to gain pleasure or to avoid pain.
It’s painful to nibble on some carb-free gluten-free plate of lettuce when all our friends are indulging in one of life’s true pleasures: delicious food. Our weight loss meal may bring us pleasure at some point in the future, but right now in the present, the thought of eating that junk while our friends dine on the good stuff only serves to cause pain. Immediate pain.
As humans we tend to work harder, and faster, to make pain -particularly immediate pain – go away than we will to gain pleasure – especially if the pleasure will only arrive at some point in the future.
So how do we make the immediate pain go away? By digging in to the delicious meal with our friends.
Immediate pleasure is often short lived. If the immediate pleasure is counter to some of our stated goals, the good feeling we get from it is often followed by the pain of guilt, anger, despair and even self-hate.Rael Kalley (click here to tweet)
The Problem with Pleasure/Pain Motivation
Doing what feels good in the moment is not a problem, in and of itself.
The problem is this.
Immediate pleasure is often short lived. If the immediate pleasure is counter to some of our stated goals, the good feeling we get from it is often followed by the pain of guilt, anger, despair and even self-hate.
And yet, astonishingly, even this pain is not enough to stop us from repeating this cycle over and over again.
Because our goal isn’t weight loss, it’s feeling good.
And we only ever do what’s important to us in the moment. We are hardwired to take the shortest path to feeling good.
But there is hope, a way to resolve this continuous cycle of pain we so frequently visit upon ourselves.
It is not enough to know what our goals are, or even to know the deeper goal that is what achieving our stated goals will do for us.
We must know why we want what achieving our goals will do for us.
And our reason why has to be important. Enormously important.
More important than French onion soup, Chateau Briand and chocolate covered cheesecake smothered in raspberry sauce.
So if your goal is to fit into your old clothes, and the underlying goal is to feel better about yourself, you need to know why that is.
Step one: Get so clear about it that you can feel exactly how you’ll feel when you achieve this goal. Imagine you have achieved it. Now, write down why this achievement is so important to you.
“Because it shows me I’m worthy of sacrifice.”
“Because it will allow me to prove myself.”
“Because it will improve my relationship with my family.”
These underlying reasons are far more impactful than wanting to fit into your clothes, or even wanting to feel good about yourself.
Step two: remind yourself of your “why” when you’re placed in a situation that would allow you to achieve your underlying goal in a more expedient way. For example, eating a big meal with friends allows you to achieve your goal of feeling good about yourself faster than getting back into your old clothes. So you remind yourself of the why of your goal: I’m doing this because I’m worthy of sacrifice. It’s an act of self-love over defeat.
You may not be successful in making the deliberate, difficult choices 100% of the time. But you are much more likely to be successful than when you lack a deep, meaningful reason for making those difficult choices.
Till we read again.