What do you do if the biggest obstacle to success is your own mind?
— Defeat The Dadbod (@gettingdadfit) 22 February 2018
What do you do?
More often than not, the well meaning answer to this is to just “…do it anyway!” You are in control of what you do, and what you say, and you are responsible for the type of life you live. If you want change, you can do it. But can you, is it really that easy?
How many times have you seen a picture like this on social media? It makes change sound and seem so easy, doesn’t it? If there is someone toxic in your life, cut them out. If you’re not happy in your job, quit it. If you want to be a tree, go be it. You are in total control of everything you do, feel, and think, and you only have yourself to blame if you’re not living a wonderfully happy, rich, and fulfilled life. You want change? Make it happen.
While the people that post these have the best intentions of motivating you to take control and change your life, as well as encourage you to take that first step on a journey of a thousand steps, if you’re not able to ‘just do it’ it can have an inexplicably detrimental effect on your motivation and wellbeing. Cutting someone out of your life, quitting your job, and finding out how to be happy, are actually very complex matters that have real life implications and consequences. You constantly hear the stories from those who did ‘just do it’ and they are happier than ever, but what of those who tried and failed, or worse still those who tried and succeeded but are actually in a more miserable place now. Suddenly those bills are mounting up, everyone else they knew and thought were friends have cut them out of their lives for turning their back on one of their own. What about those people who have absolutely no idea how to be happy? You won’t hear from these people, because it’s generally only those who succeed and find happiness who shout the loudest. This creates a survivor bias; if they did it, so must you be able to.
While there are many external factors that can influence your motivation and ability to effect change, usually your biggest barrier to change is yourself. Your own mind, your own fears, and your own perceived limitations. This is why coaching is so important. Good coaches, be it a life coach, sports coach, or therapist, will help you to identify those fears and limitations and guide you to find your own solutions to overcome them.
I struggle with this myself and I’ve not been able to find a solution…yet.
Change is easy to propose, hard to implement, and especially hard to sustain – Andy Hargreaves
I don’t know whether it’s a fear of failure or a fear of success that holds me back. I think the latter as I tend to embrace failure; that’s my comfort zone. I get a warm embrace from failure, because I never need to know what success looks like. I blame all of my problems on the negative influences in my life, but I think my fear lies in the possibility that if those negative influences were removed, what if my life looked the same. What if there were no magical improvement and I don’t experience the joy and happiness that so many memes have promised me I would feel? Then the only thing left to blame would be me. So I sabotage myself. If I fail to achieve something I set out to achieve, I can blame circumstance, I can blame my work and my family, I can even blame failure itself, but what I need to learn is how to take ownership of each of these failings and realise that despite all of my constraints, I still have the power of choice.
For me it’s like I have a second person living in my brain who is terrified of success. This person believes that it’s much better to wallow in self pity and failure, because then my life can be someone or something else’s fault. This person does not want me succeed in anything I do and convinces me that it’s better to not even try rather than risk failing. When I make the decision to push harder in my career, this person convinces me that it’s a waste of time and not to bother. It fills my head with hypothetical situations that I would not be able to overcome, and scenarios where the obstacles are so great it wouldn’t be worth trying in the first place. So I choose the easy route and do nothing.
When I start to achieve my fitness and body composition goals, this person makes me focus on women belittling men over their bodies on TV or social media, it makes me focus on those adverts and films of topless muscular men on billboards, and it makes me feel ashamed of my own body; that it’s disgusting and unattractive and that it is impossible for me to achieve what those models have achieved. This person then sabotages any progress that I’ve made by convincing me to eat until I want to vomit because of the indulgence.
When I’m starting to be happy in my marriage, and I’m enjoying being a dad to my kids, this person convinces me that all of these other things that are going wrong in my life are somehow their fault. It convinces me that I should resent them for it, and ultimately leave them as my life would be so much happier without them. Then something, and I don’t know if it’s the person being afraid of what shade of green the grass would be without them, but something stops me and I don’t leave. I begin to see life with my family through rose tinted glasses and focus on the good times. But it’s a draining, and exhausting, rollercoaster ride of emotions.
I think the point of this is that I need to find a coach. Whether it’s a life coach or therapist, I need someone to show me how to silence this little person living in my brain. I need to realise that I do have a choice, and somehow I need to find the mental strength to talk louder than the other person. The problem is that until I can work out whether it’s fear of success or failure that is driving the little person, I won’t know how to defeat them.
Next time you feel like retweeting those motivating memes, remember that sometimes it’s not as easy as simply saying “go do it”. You need to understand your enemy, have a battle plan, and work out what effect you want to achieve in the end, because if I take that first step, I sure as hell want to know where I’m going.