If you believe everything you read, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the key to positive change is helpful thinking. But the truth is, most of us tend to rely too much on our thoughts to keep motivated, to escape a bad relationship, or to kick a bad habit. We try to think our way into getting fit, losing weight, quitting smoking, or efficiently studying and working. In reality, we often need to act our way into change. That is, we need to look at our behaviours just as much as our thoughts.
Let’s look at some examples:
- Exercise – How often have you committed to exercising tomorrow or next week? You might go to bed determined to get up and go for a walk. You truly believe that you will exercise. What happens? The alarm goes off and you ask yourself: Do I feel like going for a walk? No …. maybe tomorrow. Thinking about exercising does not increase your motivation to exercise. Exercising increases your motivation to exercise. And to increase your chance of exercising, you need to make it easy – set realistic goals, get dressed into gym gear as soon as you wake up or straight after work, and make it affordable and easy to get to.
- Reducing dependence on alcohol and cigarettes – Once again, telling yourself that you will give up smoking on New Year’s Day or that you will not drink during the week (starting next Monday) is not enough. You need to set things up so that it is easier to actually make the behavioural changes. You need a plan that involves knowing what you’re going to do when the cravings hit, what you’re going to drink instead of alcohol, and what activities will help you stay away from alcohol or cigarettes.
- Getting over a broken heart – It’s so easy to ruminate when your heart is broken. Everything that happened during the break-up is analysed to death. But after a period of time, these thoughts will keep us stuck. Talking incessantly to our friends and family about the relationship will keep us stuck. And staying in contact with your ex (unless you have children together) will keep you stuck. To get over a broken heart, you need to stop all contact if possible, ask your friends not to give you any information about your ex, and try very hard to stay busy and meet new people by accepting any invitation that comes your way. You may not feel better for quite a while, but the pain will slowly decrease if you stop trying to think your way out of it.
- General procrastination – It’s nearly impossible to think your way out of procrastination. If you are putting off a task or a list of jobs, the only way to get the motivation to complete the task is to start something – anything. Start with the easiest thing or the quickest or the one that is relatively more enjoyable. Motivation usually kicks in half way through.