How to achieve what you put your mind to

Have you ever decided to take up a hobby, pursuit, exercise regime, diet, behaviour or whatever and after an initial period of enthusiasm lost interest, got bored or repeatedly managed to find excuses not to do it, to the point that you just gave up?

If the answer is YES then read on and discover:
  • why you may be self-sabotaging
  • how to use language to motivate yourself
  • a simple and effective way to get the behaviour you desire 
Listen to your 
internal dialogue
    If you've ever started something only to find that after the initial flurry of enthusiasm, you were running an internal dialogue with yourself as to why it would be better to do something less challenging instead, then you'll know exactly what I'm talking about. There can be no end to the excuses we come up with to avoid the discomfort of doing something that we know, in the long run, will do us a whole lot of good.
      It's a very common situation. How many exercise bikes sit unused in the spare room? How many novels lie unfinished? How many 'to do' lists are left undone? (There's often at least one item that moves from one list to the next - repeatedly avoided?) How many diets never make it beyond the first week? Gym memberships unused? Meditation practices begun with great enthusiasm only to peter out after a few weeks?

      Years ago I gave up an evening yoga class that I really enjoyed. Each week as the class came around I had a whole list of reasons why I wasn't going to go: my friend's not going / it's dark outside / it's cold outside / I'm too tired / I can't be bothered (yes at that point I couldn't even be bothered to come up with a good excuse!) / I can easily miss one week (yes I could and I did and I missed 'one' week for so long that I forgot that I had even gone to a yoga class in the first place). Very quickly 'I go to yoga' changed to 'I used to go to yoga' which is now 'I went to yoga years ago but I didn't keep it up'. Do I wish I had kept it up. Hell yes! Of course I do! But I didn't. The part of me that didn't like being told what to do and couldn't cope with the discomfort that came from making the effort to go, won the battle that was going on in my head.

      There's a part of us that self-sabotages

      Often when we want to do something to improve ourselves or our situation there can be a part of us that sabotages that desire for change; the lazy, procrastinating part that prefers to stick with the easy option of keeping things just as they are. The 'can't be bothered', 'I'll do it tomorrow' part that can always think of a reason not to do whatever it is that you planned to do in the name of self-development.

      Think of that part as a belligerent child who doesn't like being told what to do. If you tell someone to do something they don't want to do they are quite likely to exercise their desire for autonomy, dig their heals in and refuse, often with all the grim determination of a three year old or, worse still, a teenager! Children tend to live in the moment and so they are often unable to see the point of doing something just to reap the benefits in the future. That part of you that doesn't like being told what to do is behaving like a child, sabotaging your efforts because he/she doesn't like being told what to do and resisting simply because he/she can!

      The inflexible demands we make of ourselves can provoke a response that is equally inflexible. Recently, before an exam, I realised that I would do anything other than the studying that I SHOULD be doing. My house has never been so tidy! I could have earned an honorary degree in pottering such was the amount of time that I wasted. I kept telling myself that 'I HAD to study', 'I MUST study', 'I NEED to study' and of course the stubborn part of me that doesn't like being told what to do became quite determined that that was the last thing she was going to do. So each day 'must study' would go on my 'to do' list and each day 'must study' would be left undone.

      The truth is there is no law that says that I must study. The demand I was making was simply untrue. I didn't HAVE to study. I didn't NEED to study. True, if I didn't study I would undoubtedly fail my exam and I would be disappointed but the world wouldn't end because of that. So each time I told myself that I 'HAD' to study there was another part saying 'Really? I don't think so!' And before I knew it I would be off dusting the light bulbs again!

      Try changing your self-talk

      I realised that if I wanted to pass my exam I would need to take a new approach. There's a famous quote by W. L. Bateman that puts this very succinctly.

      'If you keep doing what you've always done, you'll keep on getting what you've always got.'
      And so I became curious. What would happen if I changed my attitude? Changed my self-talk? Changed the demand to a preference? So I did just that and something shifted. The whole quality of the inner dialogue changed. 

      When I began to tell myself that 'I would like to study', I want to study', 'I would prefer to study', 'I choose to study' a very strange thing happened. I studied. Studying became something that I wanted to do and in time I even began to enjoy it. It felt satisfying to be doing something productive. I no longer felt guilty, the way I had each time I had put off studying and it all felt very good.

      I began to think about how this applied to other times in my life. When I began the yoga class it was because I WANTED to go to yoga and so in the beginning it was no effort to go. It was my choice. I wasn't telling myself that I had to go so there was nothing for my belligerent part to argue about. But after a while I began telling myself that I HAD to go to yoga, I MUST go to yoga and so that part of me began to put up resistance and the internal battle began. I would come up with all sorts of reasons not go to yoga and then feel guilty and lazy and confused as to why I was sabotaging myself.

      Often when we want to make a change we create a demand. this can be most obvious when it comes to diet and exercise. If you ever tell yourself anything along the lines of: 'I MUST lose weight', 'I NEED to stop eating chocolate', 'I HAVE to work out to lose my pot-belly'. You are making a strong demand on yourself and so you're kind of scuppered before you even begin. Try changing those demands to preferences and see how much easier they are to accept: 'I choose to lose weight', 'I prefer not to eat chocolate', 'I would like to work out to lose my pot belly'.

      Change your focus

      Those statements are definitely more acceptable but you can even go a stage further. Rather than focusing on what you don't want try focusing on what you do want. This will give your unconscious mind a goal to move towards. We tend to get what we think about so it's better to think about what you DO want rather than what you don't. And using a phrase that applies in both the present and the future helps too.

      'I choose to be slim and healthy', 'I prefer to eat healthy and nutritious food', 'I like to work out so that I have a flat stomach'.

      Don't take my word for it though. Try it yourself and see what happens. Pick something that you have been struggling with and see if changing your self-talk helps you achieve what you want to achieve.

      Let me know how you get on - I would love to hear your comments. 


      1. Simply put facts. Please keep them coming. You are truly motivating. In order to avoid foods that are fattening and are bad for me - I tell myself that I will only eat what I feel is worthy of me. Thus to succumb to chocolate or other lowly things like chips and other such - they have to really be truly meriting and I will give them the same weightage as bitter gourd or other not so common veggies. Our body is our temple we should learn to worship it but boy do we abuse it.
        Well - If you think I am following this advise you are sadly mistaken. I give in to all temptations and my appetite rules me. Well not for long with reinforcements coming like these wonderful articles I will get back to what I firmly believe It is my mantra-" my body is my temple and any food should be worthy enough to merit being eaten by me. "

      2. Hi Anonymous, thank you for your kind words and support. And I do like your mantra!!

      3. Great advice! I truly believe our minds are powerful...I would write down daily affirmations but after reading this article I realize I'm choosing my words wrong...thank you so much and I look forward to reading more!

        I choose to be healthy and live a healthier lifestyle!