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"Our lives are defined by opportunities. Even the ones we miss."
F.Scott Fitzgerald, 1922.
Every new year I promise myself that I will get in shape. My vision is toned and tight, tanned skin and an ability to lift my body weight effortlessly. I go to the gym, I do yoga, I eat well, drink heaps of water. For a few weeks I’m moving towards my goal and starting to feel and see results. My mood improves, I feel confident, capable and strong. And then… out of the blue, I start skipping classes as I meet my own destructive personality habits and inhibitors.
In her book, Write; 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. Karen E. Peterson suggests that this blockage is due to the struggle between the left and right hemispheres of the brain leading to an ultimate toddler tantrum show-down. While “the ‘just-do-it’ left hand side of the brain is logical, language-based, and adult-like, the ‘just-say-no’ right side of the brain is dominant for emotion, negative memories and sensory output.”
In the moment of deciding whether or not to go to the gym, I can logically understand that going will make me feel good because it will help me move towards my vision and goals, but in that moment, my right brain wants to feel less pressure, take the easy route and have a good time. Wine and cheese in front of the telly? Oh yes, Emily, you know me so well. Right-brain wins. I lose.
The Divided Self
“I am dragged along by a strange new force.
Desire and reason are pulling in different directions.
I see the right way and approve it, but follow the wrong.”
Ovid, 43 B.C. – 17 A.D
In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom, Jonathan Haidt explains what he calls “the divided self” quoting Roman poet Ovid to define the difference between logical and emotional thinking. Haidt goes further than left and right brain dualism, believing that the brain is divided by four parts; Mind vs. Body, and Left vs. Right, Old vs. New, Controlled vs. Automatic, thus likening the self as a “committee whose members have been thrown together to do a job, but who often find themselves working at cross-purposes [contributing] to our experiences of temptation, weakness and inner conflict.”
This idea of a divided self is not new; Plato split the body into soul and mind; Freud divided the mind into three parts; the ego, superego, and id. The common theme among philosophers is that our multi-dimensional personalities work best when working together, instead of in conflict which each other. So how do we get our divided selves working together to achieve the things we want?
Motivation and Drive
"We do things because they're interesting.
We do things because we like them, because they're inherently gratifying."
Daniel Pink, in his book, Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us, artfully surmises why we engage in some tasks, and not others. It’s interesting to note that motivation is often created after we start a new behaviour, not the other way around. Taking a single step towards achieving your goals and vision is a great start. By actively going to the gym, taking that initial action, I was on my way.
To maintain drive and momentum:
1. Set yourself realistic and achievable goals, but be kind to yourself if you don’t nail them on the first attempt. Be a personal coach, not a dictatorial punisher. Positive self-talk is really important – be kind and patient with yourself.
2. Scheduling is important. If I don’t have dedicated time that’s in my calendar, there’s a higher chance my inner toddler will want to sit on the floor and avoid it.
3. Procrastination is an avoidance mechanism which helps us find alternatives to fill in time and entertain ourselves. Procrastination is fine, so long as it has a time stamp and doesn’t interfere with your non-negotiable scheduling.
4. Give yourself mini-deadlines to review your achievements and acknowledge your loses.
5. It can take a while to develop a new habit, so don’t give up after a few weeks. The literature suggests it can take 10 – 16 weeks, so keep up the momentum.
6. Be aware that motivation may come and go. Ride the wave and stay connected with your desire. This will fuel your motivation when you’re feeling challenged.
7. Life doesn’t have to full of tasks, give yourself pockets of time to play or do nothing. You’ll feel less guilty taking time out if you’ve actively made the decision to keep periods of time free and open to fill at your will.
References and further reading:
De Botton, A (2001). The Consolations of Philosophy. Penguin Books: London, UK.
Fitzgerald, F.S (1922). The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Colliers Magazine: USA.
Haidt, J (2006). The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom. Basic Books: New York, USA.
Ovid, 43 B.C. – 17 A.D. (1989) Metamorphoses. Spring Publications: Dallas, Texas.
Peterson, K. E (2006). Write; 10 Days to Overcome Writer’s Block. Period. Adams Media: Avon, USA.
Pink, D. (2010) Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. RSA Animation [Online] Accessed 09/06/2014 from, http://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=SG&hl=en-GB&v=u6XAPnuFjJc
Emily Wills is the creative director of surface pattern design studio, SURFACE 1°22. In her various manifestations, she has worked as a fashion designer, illustrator, curator, arts educator and printed textile designer. Emily founded the SURFACE 1°22 Design School in Melbourne, offering hands-on workshops and short courses in surface and textile design. Find out more on the SURFACE 1°22 Design School Facebook or Instagram.