How Do We Keep Going, When We Are Programmed to Stop

We spend a lot of time asking how to get started. How to begin action. To make something happen. Build a business. Get a new job. Change our lives.

We don’t really ask how do we keep going?

There is this idea that if you want it bad enough – you’ll keep going.

There is this thought that with enough determination and grit – you’ll keep going.

We believe that if you are really ambitious, then you’ll make it happen and be successful.

To be successful you must have discipline and without it you’ll always be right wherever you are.

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So, when we fail to keep going we run backwards and look at our goals, our ambitions, our grit and try to solve for one of those things, the next time we go and take a stab at something. Once we’ve overcome our concern over the last failure, the energy to do something builds within us, and then off to the race, we make another huge push.

And still, at some point our momentum wanes, we run into a road block and we come to a crashing and abrupt stop. Then we hit ourselves over the head with the gnarly hammer of discipline and failure, whacking over and over again. Before our skulls are completely bashed in, we add in a bit of self-flagellation by lashing our backs as a gentle reminder of our inadequacies. And all of these lessons stick with us.

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Enduring our own self prescribed pain we ask why we are not strong enough, disciplined enough, why we don’t have enough willpower to over come and to keep going.

It turns out, we’ve been missing the point. All of those words are nice. Ambition. Determination. Grit. Discipline. Willpower.

And, if you either naturally or through experience have developed them over other strengths then you are in a pretty good place for starting and continuing. On their own, they are not a automatic recipe for success. But you do have a pretty good head start on those that don’t.

What we are learning is that we’ve been missing the point all along. We’ve been conditioned to do exactly as we are doing. There is a very natural response that has developed and we find ourselves on one side of the equation.

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We operate out of habits. As much as 40-45% of our day is spent automatically doing things. One thing leads to another, that leads to another. This mechanism is there to protect us. They are formed through a series of responses to either real or perceived pain or pleasure. Alive is the goal. Safe is the name of the game.

Doing something new can be painful. It is unknown. The outcome is not clear. You can’t be certain that you will have the desired outcome. We are operating out of fear. And the chasm between our desired reality or outcome, and where we are at begins to seem insurmountable.

The safe land is what you’ve always done. This isn’t a conscious choice but a natural response to protect you.

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There are lots of tips and tricks to get you started. But if you are relying on sheer force of will and the energy and drive to keep moving forward – then you have a monstrous mountain in front of you. Made all the worse by stories of others who have pushed through and made it happen. Those 1% of people that make things happen through seemingly superhuman feats or ones that we feel have just been dealt a good hand. Combined with the stories of all who fail and our own painful beats we and life give us when we fail at something new, it can seem that we are destined to fail.

We need to hack the system we have so that with the least amount of energy, with the least amount of willpower, we are able to keep our forward momentum.

In order to do that first we have to get good at hacking our habits.

One of the major issues with habits and why we fail with these very difficult changes we are trying to make in our lives, is that we are trying to eat the whole buffet in one bite. Breaking things down into their component pieces, into manageable bites is the best way to go. It seems so logical, and yet we do not do this.

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Breaking things down into manageable snacks not only makes it easier to digest, it also allows us to build up positive rewards along the way. This way, we are not working for some large goal that we have to delay all gratification for until some seemingly super distant future.

The good news is that willpower can be increased. Grit can be increased. It turns out that our ability to practice these things through adjusting our habits make the biggest difference.

It turns out those who have the best self control and willpower, don’t actually use it. They structure their lives in ways that circumvent the need to put their self control to the test. 

You don’t have to love the activity. Maybe you don’t like exercising. One step would be to make it not be about the activity. Make it be about the result. You want to be able to get up with out feeling winded. Now, work on loving the process. How do you change and adjust your habit so that you get up and get moving? What is your reward for getting up and getting moving? And no, it probably shouldn’t reward your one mile walk with a Boston Cream doughnut.

Love the process. Love the result. Give yourself little rewards. Enjoy the little successes. Those little successes will mount up and magnify as you progress. Fall in love with that progress.

Need a bit more on habits, check out this video The Power of Habit : Charles Duhigg @ TedxTeachersCollege

For a great read on grit and perseverance check out Angela Duckworth book, Grit : The Power of Passion and Perseverance

And now for some shameless self promotion, check out my LinkedIn article Relentless Action – Never Give Up, Never Surrender

And while you are reading, here is something I’m listening to Fearless Motivation  – Never Give Up. This is from composer Walter Bergmann and you can follow him on his YouTube channel.

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