How to Do What’s Good For You (Especially When You Don’t Feel Like It)

How do you do what you know you should when you don’t feel like it and aren’t motivated?

Making good decisions when you feel good is easy. But making good decisions when you don’t feel it, like eating healthy food when you just want to drown yourself in a river of ice cream, feels hard. That’s why we need something stronger than our fickle friend motivation to do what we know we should especially when we don’t want to.

Motivation today stands for a feeling that fuels change. We talk about having it, and needing it, and losing it when we find ourselves back where we started.

“I just don’t have the motivation to go to the gym.” Or,

“I just need more motivation to eat healthy.” And,

“I’m not motivated like you.”

When it comes to changing your life, relying on motivation is like continually dating the fixer-upper because “He is such a great guy!” Honey, it’s never gonna work. Neither of you are truly happy. And it sucks even more because you know what could be, but isn’t.

So instead of relying on the unreliable, how can you create healthy positive change, like losing weight, during times when you don’t feel like it?

I thought you would never ask.

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The role of your environment in your daily choices

The places in which you spend the most time often go unnoticed as the strongest predictor of your choices and habits. Like decorating your house to produce (i.e., trigger) a feeling of home-y-ness, everything in your environment triggers behaviors that make up your day.

Like sticky notes for your brain.

Brushing your teeth and driving your car are automatic behaviors that you don’t need to think about how to do to do. Could you imagine waking up like this,”Okay, put one leg on the floor, squeeze your ab muscles to move into an upright sitting position, now put the other leg on the floor, push against the floor with your legs while holding your abs tight to move into a standing position, put one foot forward, now bring the other foot forward, now the other…” on your way to go pee? You’d drench the floor before you arrived.

Shoot me now, please.

Instead, we learn how to get up, how to go to the bathroom (it’s called potty training for a reason), and how to get dressed, and then store those automatic behaviors in a part of our brain that does not require our attention. We call these automatic behaviors habits and they feel easy because you don’t need to think about them to do them. This frees up space in your brain to think of your schedule, your kids, and your next vacation.

More on habits next time, but suffice to say, losing weight or creating change in your life is more a question of how quickly and easily can you make the new behavior automatic. While habits feel easy, new behaviors feel hard to do since you need to think about how to do them every time you do them… until the magical day when they become automatic.

 

I caught up with a couple of friends a few weeks ago who have always been unhappy with their bodies and their weight. They were either always on a diet or always talking about being on a diet.

  • FRIEND 1: “It’s so easy to be active. I run a couple times a week and I’m outside every weekend doing something with someone. I feel so much better about my body,” she said.
  • FRIEND 2: “Fifty pounds just came right off. I go to the gym 2-3 times a week, stopped eating fried foods and cokes, and started eating healthy. Kale is my favorite food now! Can you believe it?!”

Both recently moved to places where a healthy lifestyle is the norm. Lots of outdoor activities, healthier choices in the grocery stores, and active people everywhere.

An environment in which the status quo is to live healthy automatically triggered an increase in their activity levels and healthier eating and, as a result, they feel better about themselves – no rigid diet, exercise regimen, or motivation required.

Should you sell your house and move to Denver or Albuquerque?

Yes.

But in the meantime, you can design your own surroundings to make new behaviors happen automatically too.

Yesterday I shared how I structured my environment to do what I needed – healthy eating – during a stressful time in my marriage when healthy was the last thing on mind. Today, I’ll share exactly how to design your environment to ensure you do what you need especially when you don’t want to.

This process takes a few minutes of upfront work, but the return on time investment in terms of ease, flow, and results pays back 100 fold. It’s much easier to just say you’ll get off the couch and go to the gym tomorrow, but that’s your status quo trying to keep you stuck.

Environment Design 1.0

First we’ll go through the steps, and then you’ll learn the important guiding questions to ask yourself as you design your environment. Here’s the formula:

Pick + Anchor + Remove

  1. Pick one behavior you’d like to implement in the next week.
  2. Anchor it to something you already do.
  3. Remove all obstacles to following-through.

Let’s look at some visuals.

Example 1: Train 2x per week, by 9:30A

Gym by 9:30A

How my entry door looks the night before I go to the gym

Building my habit to go to the gym regularly took some time. I loved training, but leaving the house to go was the hardest part. After thinking it through, I put my gym clothes and bag right in front of the door.

To go to our kitchen, I must walk over the bag, so it reminds (i.e., triggers) me to get up from my work and either keep tripping, or just go to the gym.

If I don’t go to the gym, I need to pick that bag up and put it back in the closet… something I’m loathe to do since I already go it out.

  • Pick one: go to the gym
  • Anchor: open the door to go to the kitchen
  • Remove Obstacles: Placement of the bag by the door so I see it & I must walk over it to walk out the door, so I might as well go.

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  1. What’s the hardest part for you of doing the new behavior? Is it getting started? Remembering? What to buy? Seeing the healthy food in the fridge? Ask yourself what the most difficult step is and then notice what is different between the times you followed-through and the times you don’t.

 

Example 2: Drink green tea in the morning before coffee.

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I recently wanted to try drinking tea in the morning before coffee. My coffee making habit and set-up is STRONG, so I needed some incentives to “go through the trouble” of making tea.

Since I already heat up hot water for coffee in the morning, I had an anchor, something I already do (making hot water) to trigger making tea instead.

I’d tried this several times without success, so what finally sealed the deal to start the new behavior in motion was:

  1. Buying sexy tea.
  2. Buying a sexy tea-only thermos.

I have some old green tea that I haven’t drank for years and I had this feeling that I needed to use it up before I bought more. All this did was ensure I never drank tea. Finally, I got on Amazon and bought some sexy, exciting, beautiful tea and BOOM, I’m excited to drink it.

This wasn’t enough though. The next issue was using the same thermos as my coffee thermos. I usually rinse it out every day instead of fully soap and water it (Don’t judge, it’s just what I do) and the one time I drank tea in my coffee thermos, washed it with soap, and then put coffee in it… it tasted like green tea! YUCK. Talk about a negative experience.

My solution was to purchase a sexy tea-only mug with its own basket so that tea drinking was a sexy experience in itself.

  • Pick one: Drink tea in the morning
  • Anchor: Heat hot water
  • Remove Obstacles: Sexy supplies that make drinking tea glamorous, Placement in the spot where I make coffee

BOOM. BOOM. DONE. I’m a regular tea drinker.

KEY TAKEAWAYS:

  1. What would make this new behavior sexy, exciting, & easy to follow-through on? Instead of hating on our consumerist-novelty-attitude in western culture, use it to your benefit! Do you need beautiful workout clothes? Clear containers for your vegetables? Hiring a coach or trainer? Joining a class?
  2. What can you anchor your new behavior to? You already open the fridge in the morning, or open a drawer for a bar on your way out the door. Maybe you buy sexy new protein bars that you paid a bit more for, but are better for you and get the ball rolling… this is the key.
  3. Keep going if the first thing you try doesn’t work. This is a test. Life is an experiment. Document, tweak, and move on. Failure isn’t failure, just a learning experience of what not to do next time.

 

Example 3: Journal & reflect as my first activity in the morning.

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I like to start my mornings in quiet time, but I found it hard when my furniture was arranged in a certain way. In addition, any clutter distracted me.

In order to make quiet time peaceful, reflective, and productive I arranged every plant, book, and piece of furniture in a way that is pleasing to the eyes and creates a sense of peace when I walk into the room.

My journal is in easy reach as well as all of the books I’m reading. Every night, I put everything in its place for the following morning.

  • Pick one: peaceful quiet time in the morning.
  • Anchor: Drink coffee
  • Remove Obstacles: Arranged furniture, books, pillows, & herbs to create a sense of peace and beauty in the morning. Then, it’s easy to follow-through.

 

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  1. What kind of state are you in when you feel motivated & effortless follow-through on the behavior you’ve picked? Instead of forcing a behavior when you’re just not feeling it, instead trigger how you want to feel when performing this behavior is easy.

 

 

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How I got through a super-stressful year without gaining weight

Last year during our marital unbliss continuing to eat healthy and support my overall goals was important. I followed the exact same principles as above. Here’s how I did it:

  • Pick one: Eat healthy at home.
  • Anchor: Meal-time
  • Remove Obstacles: No other option… see below.

Make bad habits harder to do than new good habits.

1. Removed (ate) all junk food and bought no more.

I made a rule – no junk food in the house. If I’m out and eat it, great, but it doesn’t come in the house.

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  1. Remove known emotionally unhealthy food triggers from the places you spend the most time while you heal. Don’t keep it in the house. Period. This way, when you’re craving it late at night when you are trying not to bawl your brains out and think about how much your life sucks right now, instead of binging, you’ll be pissed that the food you want isn’t close at hand, but you won’t go through the trouble to get dressed, leave the house, and get it.

 

2. Fully embraced the moments when I did binge.

On the occasions that I did buy ice cream or cereal, I chose to buy it with the full knowledge that I’d probably eat it all, and I was completely okay with that.

As a result, this happened infrequently and when it did, I felt satisfied 🙂

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  1. When (notice I said when, not if) you do binge, decide full on that you’re going to do so, do it and enjoy it. And go on with your bad self without guilt. It’s okay to acknowledge that you are currently filling an emotional need with food, even if you know it’s not the best for you in the long run.

 

3. Kept no pre-made meals or mixes in the house.

Did I want to cook after a long day and then coming home to my home-life? NO. Duh. Who does?

But there was no other option. If I wanted to eat, I needed to cook something. And, like I mentioned before, getting started is the hardest part. Once I chop something, I’m taken away into cooking bliss.

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  1. Give yourself no other option than to do the thing you want to do. Yes, it will suck in the moment. But you’ll thank yourself afterward when you say, “Why did I work myself up over that? I love _____ (cooking, eating healthy, exercising).

 

4. Scheduled lots of friend-time, long walks, & was honest.

No one wants to talk about their problems and how they got to this place you never dreamed you’d be at. But you know where you really don’t want to be… going through a difficult divorce telling people, “I hid it really well, didn’t I?”

It’s okay, love, you aren’t alone. 🙂

Tell your besties what you’re going through. Get help. Just a board to bounce your ideas off of works wonders. You know in your heart what you need to do to begin healing, but getting it off your chest works WONDERS and gives you clarity in your journey.

Walking is a great de-stressor that also triggers your mind to move and make connections you wouldn’t make sitting at home.

KEY TAKEAWAY:

  1. What do you hide about yourself and your life from your closest friends? What’s that about? What are you scared of? Is what you’re scared of happening true? Try telling someone. Chances are, they’ve been there too.

 

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Spending the time to think through your behavior, anchor, and remove all obstacles ensures you follow-through on what’s good for you, especially when you don’t want to.

In the comments section below, share your one behavior, anchor, and what obstacles you’ll be removing this week. Can’t wait to read ’em!

4 Comments

  • Lori

    Reply Reply August 13, 2015

    This was amazing! So good, so honest, so practical, so motivating. Can’t even choose which behavior to address first. Gotta give it a bit more thought. I will choose.

    • gerilyn

      Reply Reply August 14, 2015

      I’m really glad you found it practical, Lori! 🙂

      Can’t wait to hear what you pick. Keep me posted!!!

  • Kay

    Reply Reply April 25, 2016

    I really love the part about the “binge acceptance.” I’ve always thought this was my little secret.

    When a binge isn’t a serious long term danger I’ve always found it easier to accept the occasional binge. If I want to binge watch a show or something, I’ll always force myself to watch a few more episode then I feel like watching. By the end of it I seem to like it a little bit less. That seems to keep me in line more often.

    I get the impression what you do 5% of the time usually isn’t all that important. It’s the other 95% of the time that defines your results. Not being perfect is okay!

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