We think we need self-control

 

We think we need self-control.
Keep our desires in check. Count calories and abstain from things that are not good for us.

We have to force ourselves not to fall for temptation and we believe that people that succeed, that doesn’t gain weight, that excersize regularly, finish all their projects and live a seamless life, somehow, they have character traits we don’t have, they are more disciplined or have stronger will power.

But what if this is plain wrong? What if it is the other way around.

What if it is the fact of trying to control ourselves, forcing ourselves to abstain. Dragging ourselves to the gym even though we hate it or diet just to avoid anxiety and in the same time creating new anxiety. To force ourselves to eat “healthy” food that taste like cardboard, just because it is good for us. What if it is this behaviour that causes us to fail?

What if it is the force and fake discipline that we put ourselves under that makes us fall for temptation every time. What if our body and psyche responds to this slavery by creating a desire for sugar or pleasures that turn into bad habits, make us crave the wrong food or to avoid food altogether?
Maybe it is this force that kills our lust and joy for life and to cope with that, we crave all these things?

But, we dare not take a chance. We are so scared that if we let go there will be no end to our indulgence.
Because we have learnt from birth, that if we want results, we have to put in a lot of effort. And we use this strategy in everything we do.

What if our lives will automatically regulate itself if we just stop putting our nose where it doesn’t belong?

That must be too good to be true.

 

I will wait there

 

When the going gets tough, our real friends make themselves known.
Those who stay, to weather the storm.

I have been hurt, I have hurt others.

I hold nothing against anyone, but neither do I hold myself guilty.
I will not promise to act differently in the future, just as I won’t hold on to the past.
I could promise you to never do it again, to think it through one more time.
I could promise you gold and lush forests.

But.

When we finally get there, I have absolutely no idea how I will act.
I have no idea what will actually happen.
So, if you are looking for promises and guarantees, security or someone to blame. You will find hundreds to join. Thousands looking for an ally in the cursing of an unfair world.

But, it won’t be me.

But, should you change your mind.
Then out beyond ideas of right and wrong doing, there is a field.

I will meet you there.*

 

 

 

*Last two lines by Sufi poet Jalal al-Din Rumi ca. 1250 A.D.

A glowing heart

 

A heart is supposed to glow

Burn like life depended on it.
Despite a world that throws sand on it to put it out, the glowing is there beneath it.
Silend and discreet it keeps on burning.
To always be alive.

It’s easy to to believe in a dead heart as we grow older. With permanent jobs, routines. Family and set opinions.
We have it all figured out. We’re done. And then, we stop to think. We resist change and loose our interest in life.

Our curiosity slowly dies, we stop exploring new things. We no longer look upon the world with the eyes of a child, with the awe of how how incredible life really is. We forget, get used to it. Take it for granted.

But beneath that pile of sand, it keeps on burning. It never stops. It only becomes a bit harder to dig down to that glowing heart.
It is possible to live our entire life on top of this pile of sand. Or, we can acknowledge that longing for a sense of awe again.

Start digging. Because a heart is supposed to glow.
It is possible, to burn throughout life. It is possible to find that sense of curiosity, interest and glow in that pile of sand.

It is worth it.

Creativity

 

Creativity is something that has been an interest of mine for a long time.
It was one of the things that I wanted to explore during my trip, even though I never really had a plan of what to do or not.

These days, creativity is a very popular subject. Brothers Teo and Fredrik Hären has made tons of money writing and speaking about it and one of their books was recently listed as one of the 100 most important books in business. That shows how something like creativity, traditionally not a very popular subject in most businesses, except among a few individuals, has suddenly become very popular.

We easily associate creaitivty with certain proffessions. Designers, science, product development, musicians, artists and so on. It has not been as common to talk about service, industry or office work as being creative.
Earlier in history, creativity has been a luxury and interest of the few, but for most people, it has rather been avoided. Peasants in feodal europe or the factory worker were not supposed to think too much, that only caused problems. Today, we still suffer from that kind of thinking, while at the same time, people in all types of businesses are expected to be more responsible, initiative-taking individuals that also solve problems in a creative way.

For me, creativity is not something that only matters for the few. For me it is about living. Every human being is creative, it is just as natural to us as breathing. No one is more or less creative, but are born with a full capacity.
What then happens is that we are molded and conditioned through years of upbringning, school and life in a society where creativity is not only discouraged, but also punished.
The ones who we normally refer to as being creative, is people who for some reason has remained unblocked or who for some reason has begun to unlearn that which holds us back.

The last few years, I have come to realize that creativity is both important and fun, and that there is a point in challenging our ideas and ways of thinking. To try new things and explore all aspects of life. Wether my life actually gets better, I don’t know, that’s not the point, the point is that I find it enjoyable.

Change

What is it really, that creates change?

In my last post, I wrote about changing habits. But if it was that easy, wouldn’t we all have changed our bad habits a long time ago?
I think what I wrote to be good advice. It sounds reasonable and attracts us. But the question is if that is the case because it is the whole truth or because it means we can procrastrinate a little bit more? We can set up a plan. Step by step. Steps are easy to like.

But, when do we actually decide? When is the point of decision? When have we had enough?

Our reactions is a mix of our biology, prior experiences in relationship to the current situation. But we had no control on where we were born or in what environment. Who had I been if I was born in China? Would I have had the same view on life? The same values or opinions?
We may say we chose a certain education, a direction in life or that we chose to go to a certain country. But why did we chose that? Did we choose it because of prior experiences? People we met, or books we’ve read? And why did we meet just those people? Why did we read those books? Two people can be in the same spot at the same time, meet the same person or read the same book, yet still have a completely different experience. Why is that?
Every situation is unique. Despite them being apparently the same.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that who I think I am, is more a coincidence than something within my control. All my prior decisions or actions is based on prior decisions and actions, which are based on prior experiences, based on prior decisions and actions.
At the end of that line, who am I? Is there something here making decisions at all? Is there free will? Or are we just like a river. A blob of water following the law of least resistance on it’s way to merge with the ocean?

According to Benjamin Libet, he proves through his research on human conciousness and free will that our brain has already made decisions prior to us becoming aware of it. That processes in our brain has already chosen a direction up to seven seconds before we think we make the decision.
We can choose (or can we?) to not believe in this, quesiton the validity of his methods. But in any case, it brings up questions about something that almost everyone of us takes for granted.

So, if we decide to change our habits. From where does that decision come? How was it made, did we have any control over it? Or is it just something that happened?
And if it just happened, is it then important to write about it? Talk about it? Does it matter wether I write this or not? Or, maybe, by writing this, someone reads it and in that moment, something is triggered in that person. A change is created beyond the control of a someone writing it or reading it.

If this is so, it’s easy to think that nothing no longer matters. There is no point in living or doing anything. But asking yourself that question brings you, immediately back to motivation. Are we motivated because we want to do something, or because life is self-motivating? Maybe I’m writing this, not because I want to or having decided to do so, but just because I do. The law of causality is no longer working. First there is an event happening, then, after there is an explanation saying that we wanted to or that we made a decision. Our experience of control and autonomy is a fabrication, an illusion.

The logical next step is that we really have no control at all. It is not possible to act in any other way than we do. Nothing can be undone and we can be no other than we are. It may sound depressing, but it also bring a huge sense of freedom. Suddenly, all concepts of guilt or shame disappear, thoughts that are based on the idea that we could have acted in any other way than we did. Suddenly our worry disappear that we might not act in the future the way we want to or hope for. Suddenly our pride of past actions and achievements becomes meaningless. The constant focus on what has been or what will be.
Our experience is no longer about things outside of our control and instead on the here and now, being in every situation as it is.

Maybe it is not at all about changing habits in small steps. Figuring out how to create change or make decisions. Maybe it is rather so that we stop worrying about it, live each second fully and suddenly change happens by itself.

How to change bad habits

Habits are strong forces.

Everyone who has bad habits knows that. And don’t we all have bad habits?

But maybe, habits seem to be strong forces because we don’t know how they work, and instead spend our time fighting these habits. Wasting our energy, trying to change them, because we don’t understand how we got them or how to change them. I’m no expert on the subject, but I have found new good habits that are easy to stick too. And because of this, I have started to think about them. Among other things, I’m reading the blog Zenhabits.net, where Leo Babauta is writing about creating new, good habits. Check it out if you want some inspiration.?I believe that if we can understand how we got here, how habits work, we can use these same strategies to create good habits instead of remaining stuck in the bad ones.

I believe habits is not things of the past, something we got stuck with, but something we unconsciously reinforce right now, in the tiny decisions being made all the time without our conscious awareness. If we want to change something, we need to do it in equally small steps. One change at a time, one now at a time, letting it take time. You don’t go from nothing to running a marathon tomorrow. You start today, by going for a short run. You might have a long term goal of running a marathon in a year, but the important thing is wether you go for that run now or not. If you never do that run now, if you never begin, you will always remain where you are.
Usually there is an effort involved in the beginning, but as we get over the first horizon, it becomes a habit that work in the same direction as we do, and after a while, it is equally inconceivable to stop running as it was to start a couple of months back.?
That is how we got stuck in bad habits in the first place, and that is how we must get out of them.

If we want to start exercising, it is stupid to start doing it five times a week at top speed, usually all that leads to us quitting, giving it up altogether. The reason most people stop dieting is that it is too much of a difference, usually involving things we don’t even like. To stick to it we must rely solely on our will power, but as we go on we start hating what we do and no one has the will power to keep up for very long, something that we hate.
We fail. And having failed, we will sit there feeling sorry for ourselves, cursing our lack of character and discipline, thinking there is a difference between us and others who do succeed.

But it is not our character or lack of discipline that make us fail. Our failure is in our ignorance, not understanding habits, thinking we can force ourselves into something we dislike.
Our failure is built in from the beginning. We are doomed. We could just as well not have started it in the first place and saved our energy.

I have three principles that I stick to when trying to change my habits. If one of them is not there, I know it won’t work. These are:

Long-term

If I intend to change a habit, I only do it if I am willing to keep doing it for the rest of my life, otherwise, there is no use trying. If I am not willing to pay $150/mo for a personal trainer or punish myself in the gym, then I’ll just have to find some other kind of exercise. If I’m not willing to eat fruit every day for the rest of my life, I’ll have to find some other type of food that I’m willing to stick to. I do not believe in special diets that you stick to for a few months to loose weight if you are not intending to keep that same diet. You might loose weight, but it won’t teach you good habits, and when you stop, you go back to your old habits and start gaining weight again.

Small changes

Start small. Don’t change your entire diet, but just add some healthy things you enjoy eating. Start by exercising once a week , or walking for fifteen minutes a day, then add a little bit as you go. When you start something, there is always resistance. Running for ten kilometers, five times a week, will meet a lot of resistance if you have never run before, your mind will tell you to stop, that you have better things to do, not enough time etc., and soon you’ll start hating it and stop.
I started doing Yoga once a week in December and after about two months, suddenly all my resistance just dropped away and I couldn’t wait to do it again. I couldn’t do more than four times a week though, because after three days in a row, I had a hard time getting out of bed, because of sore muscles.?
But in about two months time, I no longer needed to motivate myself, or use will-power. I’m not doing Yoga anymore, now it is my Yoga doing me.

Focus on the positive

If we focus on loosing weight, it is something negative, it means a sacrifice, giving up the something we enjoy (eating). Sacrifice will create a lot of resistance, because no one wants to give up something they enjoy. When people go on a diet and they can’t eat this or that, it creates a huge internal battle. You have to force yourself to abstain from something that you desire. It is a battle of wills that you will loose.
If we instead focus on eating healthy food that we enjoy, or do things we enjoy doing that does not involve eating, we focus on the positive, the benefits of change. Instead of a sacrifice, we just do something we enjoy doing. It will probably still be an effort in the beginning, until we have passed the first obstacles, but the resistance will be easier to handle.
I found out that I usually got cravings for food or sugar when I was bored or felt lonely. Today, I’m neither bored nor lonely and my bad eating habits seem to have disappeared like a miracle. I have no rules that I’m not allowed to eat something, I’m not trying to abstain or go against my desires, things just seem to work on their own accord.

I’m not writing this because I’m an expert about changing habits, it is still very much an on-going process, but at the moment, how we seem to work regarding this fascinates me a lot. So I thought it could be interesting to share a few ideas I have around this.

Do you have any ideas yourself how to make changes? Write in the comments…

More on motivation

 

A friend sent me a link to a youtube clip I have published earlier, in July when I was in Thailand.
It is about motivation and basically saying the same thing I wrote the other day about the subject.

What is it really that makes us motivated? What is important?

EBITA 10% (earnings before the deduction of interest, tax and amortization expenses). Is that a goal? Yes, it is. But it is not a goal that is relevant and important for most people in an organization. It is not a goal that suddenly creates motivation. It is rather a goal that shows the distance between the company board and the people set to do the work. A huge distance.
What kind of company would have that as a goal?

Not yours I hope.

Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us

 

Motivation

 

This friday we had a workshop at work discussing motivation. An open, constructive afternoon.
But often, we talk about subjects without actually going deep into them to see what they really are about.

Motivation has always been very interesting to me. Interesting enough to warrant a big part of my psychology studies to the subject. To ask questions such as what motivates people? How do you get motivated? And what works against our motivation?

But to ask what motivates us, is to miss the point of what motivation is.

We do not become motivated, we are motivated.
Motivation is our natural state. A person is never completely motionless, but always in some kind of motion. Therefore, we do not have to motivate ourselves, what we need is to get rid of the obstacles that is suffocating our natural motivation.
Sometimes you hear the expression that “people are lazy by nature”, but that is in fact a invalid statement. We are by nature energy conservative, our bodies and minds are constructed in such a way as to minimize energy consumption, but that is far from being the same thing as lazy. To be lazy is to avoid work or movement at all costs and that is something we learn early on in life.

Just think about a newborn. Have you ever seen a baby that is not curious to explore it’s surroundings?
Of course, that doesn’t mean that all people running from one activity to the next is necessarily more motivated than others or that people laying in the hammock reading is lazy. Motivated people cannot necessarily be seen on the outside.

The question we should ask ourselves is not how to motivate people, but rather how we create an environment where peoples natural motivation springs forward.
At the workshop, I used the concept of “get out of my way”, och it basically means to minimize bureaucracies, hierarchies and obstacles so that the individual feel they are as autonomous as possible and in a position to make decisions about their own lives and work. This is why self-employed people are almost always more productive than employees and why small companies are usually more effective and large companies.
Unfortunately, this is not always possible in all situations, in part because of the fact that we sometimes has to accept a certain level of bureaucracy and structure to be able to organize things but in part also because a lot of people more or less has lost the ability to be self-motivated. If there is no external pressure, they won’t do a thing and if you give them too much freedom, the develop anxieties and insecurity.
I notice in myself how much I have changed the last years only. Before I enjoyed routine work more, but now I find it to be a burden. I want more freedom and a greater possibility to choose what to do with my time.

Some of the things that showed up during our talk was our paycheck and the physical work environemnt. A lot of people think that money is always motivating, but money is not a factor of motivation, the important thing is how it is used. If you leave for work every day, getting the same paycheck every month, your motivation is hardly affected at all by money.
Maybe you would be motivated the first month, but after that, you take it for granted. Because you expect to get paid for your work. It is a prerequisite for showing up. On the other hand, you would be very demoralized if you suddenly didn’t get paid.
These factors are called hygiene factors. Things that would not affect your motivaiton positively, but would lower it considerably if it disappeared.

For money to be a factor of motivation, it has to be variable depending on effort put in. If you can increase your paycheck by putting in more effort the coming few hours, you might get motivated to do it, but the further off the reward is from the effort put in, the less it will affect your motivation. Therefore it is usually pretty much usuless to throw away billions in bonus programmes on last years result. It might be a nice benefit, but it doesn’t really change your motivation or your productivity.
Same with the physical work environment. It sure is nice to sit in a nice office, but it will most likely only affect your motivation when you are freezing your butt off.

The problem with most talks around motivation is that you usually focus on solving various problems instead of creating an ideal work environment, because it is more concrete, it is easier to act, to do something. But to create a positive environment you have to let go off control, coach your employees. Change the leadership. Things like that can seem dangerous, because we don’t know what results it will give and measuring the results is harder.