Why don’t we do the things we know are good for us? This is one of the most common questions I hear on a daily basis.
There are valid reasons for this. Many are connected with the way we are hard-wired and how our brains have evolved. Furthermore, because we have two different parts to the mind, this adds a tricky hurdle standing in the way of our success. Even though most people know what they need to do, the following statement is many people’s response to the above question:
‘I know what I should do I just don’t know why I don’t do it.’ Click To Tweet
‘I know what I should do I just don’t know why I don’t do it.’
Does that sound familiar? If so, then I am guessing you are probably still trying to find the answer to the first question? Most people know what actions they need to take, yet don’t do them consistently and sabotage their best-laid plans.
- Why is there such a gap between knowing what we need to do and doing it?
- Why is it easy to hit the snooze button on the alarm rather than bounding out of bed and going to the gym?
- How come it’s easier to select chocolate cake over an apple?
- To binge on Netflix instead of studying?
- Or, waste valuable time on social media instead of completing a project?
So, why don’t we do the things we know are good for us?
The short answer is that we are humans and we have emotions. We are fundamentally driven towards pleasure and away from pain. Exactly why you tend to gravitate towards the chocolate or the easy task rather than eating an apple or completing your project.
We seek meaning to life and the experiences we have. We try incredibly hard to make sense of everything that happens in our lives, We therefore overthink and often, overcomplicate things. This leads to ruminating over the matter and turning it into a mental monster which keeps us stuck.
The longer answer is more tricky and the solution found by digging deeper into our minds. First, we have to understand a) that you have two parts to your mind and b) because of this they operate very differently. Your conscious mind is volitional. It’s where you set goals, analyse and make logical decisions. Beneath this, and way more powerful is your subconscious mind, the storehouse of everything you have ever experienced. Your memories, beliefs, values, unresolved emotions and most importantly, the domain of your habits. Aligning both parts of your mind is critical to creating a Mindset for Success to achieve your goals.
Imagine your conscious mind is called Steady and your subconscious mind Speedy, because it is a million times more powerful than Steady. This analogy helps us understand why there is a gap between doing the things we know we should do and not doing them because Speedy is just too fast!
Speedy is where your habits reside, and your habits, repeated behaviours, are outside your conscious control
Your subconscious mind, Speedy, is responsible for about 95% of your behaviours, and many of these are now habits. Habits are formed to save you energy and time. You run at least 45% of your day on auto-pilot, by habit. Some research attests to the fact that we operate up to 95% of our day by habit. This is why we react to events often illogically rather than carefully responding to events to get better outcomes. Furthermore, our habits include our thoughts. With around 50,000 to 70,000 thoughts a day it isn’t hard to see why most of them have becomes habits so we fall back into the same old ones are yesterday! Speedy takes over again.
Speedy is around a million times more powerful than Steady and is one reason we don’t do the things we know are good for us.
Because Speedy is faster than steady, anytime Steady fatigues or has too much to think about or do, Speedy jumps in and takes over. And of course, because we prefer pleasure to pain, Speedy simply runs an old habit that is more pleasurable right now, regardless of whether it helps you get nearer to your goals or not. It does what it thinks you want! Instant pleasure or gratification. Chocolate now is more appealing than weight loss later. Netflix bingeing is so much more pleasurable than completing an assignment. Immediate pleasure exerts a stronger influence than concern for long-term health
Is it any wonder you find yourself operating from an unwanted behaviour when you tire or if something feels hard?
Speedy’s job is to keep you safe at all costs. When you pursue your goals or tackle a new challenge, you have to confront the prospect of change. This requires stepping out of your comfort zone, into the unknown. Furthermore, this signals danger to Speedy. As a result, a chemical is released which you generally interpret as doubt or fear. Consequently, you then give yourself reasons and excuses why not to proceed at this moment. You talk yourself out of changing, and even though it may not really be comfortable here, in terms of safety it is.
How do we do the things we know are good for us?
The key is for you, consciously (Steady) to carefully and intentionally give Speedy crystal clear instructions. Take charge of fast and furious Speedy, so it does what Steady really wants. As a small child, this takes kindness, persistence and consistency.
Here is how to get started.
- AWARENESS. The first step is to become more aware of what you are habitually thinking and saying to yourself. As you become a master spy on your thoughts, what you uncover may surprise you. Words, thoughts and language patterns that may not be in alignment with your goals. If you hear that inner voice, that imposter, do not fight or argue with it. It originates in Speedy which is already powerful, so all you do is give Speedy even more power. You are fighting a losing battle. It’s like a mini minor trying to race a Porsche on a freeway. An impossible contest.
CLARITY. Decide exactly what you want, instead of what you have now. If you aren’t crystal clear about what you want, you can’t possibly give Speedy clear instructions. And then even if you do, unless you do this consistently and patiently, Speedy will simply run from old habitual patterns and programs. Remember Speedy does what it thinks you want. Consequently, as you haven’t programmed Speedy correctly yet, it doesn’t know what you really want.
CLEARLY WRITE OUT WHAT YOU WANT. Write your goals and desires out, then make a plan. Even a simple dot point plan is fine. This gives you a focus for your mind and a target for your brain. When you use specific and measurable goals that include numbers or measurements they are easier to monitor. Similarly, if you want to get fit, make a crystal clear picture internally of how you want to look. Then find some pictures that help and connect with them daily. Your imagination is powerful and your mind cannot distinguish between what is real or imagined.
TAKE SMALL INCREMENTAL STEPS. Decide on one or two behaviours that will help you move towards your goals. Make them small so you don’t allow your past patterns or inner saboteurs to pull you off course. Furthermore, if they feel easy, that is even better. You are a creature of habit, so build new ones slowly. Behaviours repeated consistently eventually become new habits. More importantly, habits are the domain of Speedy. You will eventually program Speedy with helpful habits and set yourself up for success to do the things you know you should.
Helpful habits are the backbone of who you become, your identity.
5. DO WHAT YOU INTEND. Schedule your new behaviours in your diary and commit to carrying them out. Consistency is king. Otherwise, you aren’t giving Speedy clear instructions. When you don’t do the things you know are good for you, you give Speedy mixed messages and guess who takes over?
6. SET INTENTIONS. The energy of the mind is attention. Where you put your focus energy flows. Set clear intentions every day to ensure you are steering your focus in the right direction. If you don’t Speedy will take over. It will run from its memories and habits, falling back to one which may not be in the best interest of your goals.
7. TICK OFF YOUR WINS. Acknowledge and tick off your wins every day. Your brain will send you a shot of serotonin, a feel-good chemical. When you feel good you are more motivated to keep going.
Slow but sure wins the race. Remember the story of the hare and the tortoise?
In this classic fable, the hare is very confident of winning, so he stops during the race and falls asleep. The tortoise continues to move very slowly but without stopping and finally, she wins the race. The lesson of the story is that you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly. This is exactly the same as your success. Slowly and carefully program Speedy with clear instructions by sticking to doing small things consistently. This is the way to build new habits. New habits programmed into Speedy so your subconscious mind will co-operate. This is the way to combat that eternal question, why don’t we do the things we know are good for us.
Creating helpful habits means when you fatigue and fall back into habit mode your chances of doing the things you want to do increases
The key is to create helpful, successful habits so when you tire, Speedy now operates from these new habits so you are heading purposefully towards your destination. Slow but sure wins the race. When you align both parts of your mind, you have the captain, Steady, taking charge and the crew, Speedy, following orders. As a result, the journey is smoother and the destination reached. Even more important, you no longer have to agonise over the question,
‘Why don’t we do the things we know are good for us.’
Above all, you have a strategy for steering your ship in the right direction and ensuring Speedy and Steady work together to win your chosen race. Next, you need to know how to avoid distraction so you can take your success to the next level.
- Curious how Mindset Coaching can help you achieve your results? Ready to nail your goals this year? Schedule a call on my online calendar. Reach out and let’s talk to see how, together, we can get your superpowers back so you can achieve the success and life balance you desire.