Four Personal Philosophies that Help Me Stay Sane, Motivated, and Hopeful
Has 2020 made you feel overwhelmed, discouraged, or even hopeless at times?
Have you found motivation especially difficult to hold onto this year?
Boy oh boy, are you not alone...
We recently did a survey of our clients and readers to better understand their biggest challenges (brought on by 2020) when it comes to health goals.
Overwhelmingly, the answers spoke of struggles with motivation, consistency, and discipline.
"My food cravings are my downfall."
"Staying faithful to a program is my problem."
"Consistent, proper nutrition is so hard."
"I'm frustrated that I can't get done half of what I used to get done in a day."
"I totally lost my mojo. I still work out, but no where near what I was doing."
"Finding the time and motivation have been the biggest challenges."
"I struggle with motivation to move my body and put myself first."
"I'm tired of not being able to eat healthily consistently, and/or exercise regularly. I know I am the problem, and that is what is frustrating."
"I am afraid at failing at consistency again. I have a goal in mind and I know how to execute it, but adding one more thing to my schedule or getting up even earlier is extremely terrifying."
Can you relate?
THE MOTIVATION BLACK HOLE OF 2020
Just to help you feel like you're not crazy...here's what we've all been up against.
How do you set realistic expectations when the goal posts keep getting moved?
How do you lead yourself, your family, and your team when you have no idea what the world will look like, where you'll be allowed to go, or what you'll be able to do?
How do you make plans when most who govern us give us no milestones for progress, no brighter day on the horizon...and instead promise a "dark winter"?
Sheesh, no wonder it's hard to stay motivated!
With so much uncertainty, how do you go about finding your rhythm again?
FINDING (AND KEEPING) YOUR MOTIVATION
Below are four areas of focus to reclaim that precious feeling of life moving forward again.
#1: Pick your battles carefully and strategically
There isn't a shortage of causes worthy of our attention these days, but since it's impossible to lend our life force to all of them, we have to choose.
That means we have to get strategic.
To me, getting strategic goes beyond asking, "What am I passionate about," or "Where am I qualified to help" and more toward what I perceive to be a higher-level question:
A question I've wrestled a lot with during this "pandemic" is "Am I doing enough?" Will I (or my kids) look back on what I did in 2020 and be proud, or disappointed?
When I look at the battles I could fight, I've learned to also look at the battles (responsibilities) that would get less of my attention if I take on a new "fight."
Then, I do my best to carefully weigh the trade-offs.
Will giving time to worthy causes slowly eat away the required time for something more important?
For example: Will I be okay that I gave less time to my wife, kids, clients, and health?
To me, I've found the battles for my family and my clients to be the battles I'm most called to fight at this stage of life.
When my kids are older, and I have less responsibilities on the home front (and perhaps I have other people working for me), I know I'll be able to put my full effort behind other causes, but today is not that day.
For other people their life has led up to fighting the battles of this cultural moment...and for them, it's go time.
I believe there will be a time coming when all I've learned and accomplished will have prepared me for a future fight, but for now with me being a family man and entrepreneur, I'm come to peace with focusing almost exclusively on the home front, and the work front.
Fortunately, the work I do in the health arena allows me some level of emotional satisfaction to fight one of the relevant cultural battles of our time--doing my best to be a fair, level-headed voice for health freedom.
Where I can't donate time to organizations or conversations, I try to donate money to worthy battles I don't have time for.
For you the battles you fight might be something different, but the question I'll ask you is where can you more carefully weigh the trade offs, and strategically invest your time?
#2: Protect your mindshare
This one is closely tied into #1 above.
While I could be watching more news, writing more, posting more, engaging in other people's posts, etc., I tend not to.
It's so easy to get sucked into an unhealthy level of engagement.
And that's where the strategy piece comes in.
What I realized is it's not just the time those activities take, it's the mindshare they overflow into that becomes the problem. While reading someone else's post may only take five-minutes, it might end up as a five-hour open loop in my head.
That open loop robs me of being focused and present at other important responsibilities.
It's not that I don't engage in media, difficult conversations, or thoughtful posts. It's that I have to pair protecting my mindshare, with strategically picking my battles.
Another way to say this is choose your inputs carefully.
You can't control your thoughts, but you can control (for the most part) your inputs--the media, conversations, and downtime activities you engage in that will inevitably become what you think about.
To me, strategically protecting my inputs (hello unsubscribe, and goodbye push notifications), and selectively engaging, has been a big win for my sanity, productivity, and feelings of hope.
SIDE NOTE: If you think the media you engage in doesn't impact you, check out the great new documentary The Social Dilemma, and you might think differently.
#3: Go to work on yourself
The ancient Greek phrase "Know Thyself" may never have been more poignant.
Here's something you already know...
You can't change other people.
You can only change yourself.
While the world (and perhaps those you know) may be continuing to melt down, you don't have to.
How can I say that so confidently?
Because what you can always do is go to work on improving yourself--your skills, your knowledge, your perspective, your emotional intelligence, your empathy, your health, etc.
Why is that so important?
Because working on yourself is a sure-fire way to latch on to a feeling of progress. Without a feeling of progress, things get ugly. With it, motivation kicks in and your life becomes an upward spiral.
So how do you kindle the flames of motivation to meet this basic human need?
How do you find the areas for repeatable, small improvements that re-establish the feeling of life moving forward again?
For me, that means I regularly ask the questions like:
Where am I the bottleneck?
Where might I be contributing to the problem here?
What do I not understand about myself that, if I did, would make this so much easier?
What avoidance pattern do I tend to fall into when I don't want to do something?
What narratives do I tell myself that may not be true?
How would I advise a friend in the same situation as me?
What specialized knowledge have I not learned that would open new possibilities?
What skills and virtues will help me be the relevant and sought after in the future?
With the time and resources I have, where can I learn or practice something that will undoubtedly make my life better in the future?
Why do I ask questions like that?
I do so because the answers, however simple, force me to look for something I can do, something I can control, and that feeling of agency over my life is motivating.
Furthermore, if I've strategically protected my inputs, my mind and schedule have more time for progress and personal development.
Here's the important point: Motivation isn't something external bestowed on you by circumstance. It's something you generate internally by seeing a vision of what could be and taking steps that will inevitably lead to that vision.
So, where you can go to work on yourself, and when will you start?
How about now?
#4: Find a Tribe of Fair, Level-Headed, Introspective People
We humans can't, not be in relationships.
Similar to our biological imperative to need a sense of progress, we also have a biological imperative to be in relationships.
We need the security of knowing we belong somewhere.
It's part of what makes us human.
My admonition to you is to get selective with who you spend your time with--to, as best you can, raise the caliber of the people who influence you the most.
In confusing times like this, my top three qualities are fairness, level-headedness, and introspection--I have less time for dogmatic people on any end of the spectrum.
THE UNIQUE CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME
I'll admit, plugging into community is a challenge lately, but I don't think that's primarily because of "Zoom fatigue" or "social distancing."
Besides the awkwardness of not being able to read people's masked faces, I think the primary challenge is we've been forced to rapidly form opinions on topics (like lockdowns, face masks, coronaviruses, and others) that months ago we never even heard of.
We've had no open debate, and instead we get censorship, fake news, and fake science from politicians and industry.
Since open debate is missing we're left with the option to go on as we have been--to believe "the other people" (who think differently than us) are either paranoid "conspiracy theorists" or blind-sheep "conspiracy deniers."
No wonder we're divided.
So, why do we end up this way so easily?
I think it's mostly fair to say we all have a degree of skepticism about mainstream media, but there's a second, more powerful element at work keeping us unnecessarily divided.
That element is this: Facts rarely change our minds.
WHY FACTS DON'T CHANGE OUR MINDS
The short answer: Human nature.
Watching this last election sealed this understanding for me.
We humans are so predictably irrational--even with the dramatic events of 2020, we're still (apparently) as equally divided as ever.
If there was ever something that could have dramatically produced a unified, majority opinion, 2020 was it.
Instead, it seems we've only doubled down on our previously-held opinions--see the liberal/conservative response to the "pandemic" as Exhibit A.
We love to think we evaluate ideas based on merit, and that our personal perspective came to the only logical conclusion.
In reality, that hardly ever happens.
What's actually supersedes our ability to be rational, is our sense of who we believe we are (our identity) and our need for belonging.
We can't help it.
The reason facts don't change our minds is because it is too emotionally traumatic to change long-held beliefs and therefore disassociate with our "tribe" than it is to continue to live with something illogical.
Losing our tribe literally means losing a part of our identity, and sense of belonging, and that is something we will fiercely and irrationally fight to avoid.
Instead of asking tougher questions, or letting new, competing facts recalibrate our thinking, we continue to look for (or make up) narratives that allow us to believe the ways we always have.
Another way to say it, is we are all "conspiracy theorists" to some degree--i.e. those who think differently must be telling themselves one whopper of a story to not "see the light."
That reality may humanity's biggest achilles heel.
As far as I can tell, it takes either a complete reversal/betrayal by someone in our tribe, a special mind, or a well-timed, trustworthy, outside influence to open our minds enough to put crack in, or shake us out of, a long-held paradigm.
AN INTERESTING "CASE STUDY"
In the small town where I live, I recently went to my daughter's indoor, volleyball game.
The stadium had a few hundred people...and there were TWO people wearing a mask in the entire place--one was the referee, and the other operated the scoreboard.
It was fascinating to watch...as new people came inside, you'd see them look around the room, take their mask off, and find a seat.
We humans do what the tribe does.
It's a rare person who will go against the flow.
It's even more rare that they will lead others to go against the flow.
Mask or no mask, the question is, how can we become more of an objective thinker?
WHY LOOK FOR "FAIR, LEVEL-HEADED, AND INTROSPECTIVE" PEOPLE?
I chose those three adjectives because those are the kinds of people with empathy and depth of character, who have a portion of their mental bandwidth dedicated to questioning their own assumptions.
They are rare people.
But, because they are less rigid in their thinking, they aren't offended or defensive when their perspective ends up being the one that needs updating.
Thus, they typically remain unflappable.
Not surprisingly, and I would argue because their thinking is trained to be more flexible, they are also the people who tend to stay motivated, and find a way to make progress despite the whims of circumstance.
Who of us couldn't use more friends like that, or better serve humanity if we operated a bit more like that?
To me, the mark of someone fair, is genuine curiosity displayed with thoughtful questions.
I love interacting with people like that because I always learn something.
I may not agree with everything they say, but when I converse I leave a conversation feeling heard, and that I had my thinking sharpened.
The sooner we realize how little we know, how irrationally attached we are to our own ideas, and how to hold competing ideas in our minds and examine them, the better.
Being a person who operates that way is magnetic.
Go into a conversation looking to be fair, and expecting to learn something, and people will want to spend more time with you.
Your tribe will start to find you...and you'll find enrichment, motivation, and hope.
Now we're talking!
COMING FULL CIRCLE
Part of going to work on you (#3 above), is looking for errors in your own thinking.
If we all entered conversations expecting that might happen, how much sharper might we become?
I think we'd eventually start to enjoy life a lot more.
Here's the (potentially sad) reality of this cultural moment...maybe it's time to find new friends.
I put "potentially sad" in parenthesis because in the short term finding new friends implies some old ones may not come back, that our identity and sense of belonging might shift.
That can be disorienting and disheartening.
But...in the end...maybe that will be a good thing?
Maybe with the criteria of fair, level-headed, and introspective as your filter you'll discover a richness in your relationships that was never there before.
Maybe that was the waypoint you inevitably needed to go through to get where you want to go in life?
Who knows, you might even develop into a leader that future cultural moments, future important battles, will need YOU to fight fiercely.
None of us know what the future will look like, but if we strategically invest, protect our inputs, go to work on ourselves, and find a tribe of humble go-getters, we just might make this world a better place.
I'm up for the challenge.
How about you?
Here's to staying motivated...and focused on the battles that are most important.
Press on good people.
We got this,
PS. If you see a unique opportunity during these crazy times to finally get focused and get your health in order, check out our coaching program--it's a unique and customized mix of health coaching and personal development--guaranteed to change your life.