By Leo Babauta
If you’ve been watching your urges and trying to delay acting on them … you might have run into some problems by now.
It’s not always easy to not follow your urges.
And the main reason is all in your head. The biggest obstacle most of us face is not physical addiction, but rationalizations that we make with our minds.
What you might be learning is that your mind (all of our minds, in fact) is an amazing rationalization machine. We’ve grown exceptionally good at rationalizing, our minds getting what they want, because it’s something we’ve been practicing daily since childhood.
It works like this: we get a craving for something (ice cream) and though we rationally know that we don’t need this ice cream, nor would it be good for our hearts … our minds start convincing us that we should do it. And because this rationalizing happens out of sight, we don’t even realize this is happening. It has a power over us that we don’t realize.
This happens too with exercise: the rationalizing part of our minds doesn’t like the discomfort of exercise, so it convinces us to skip the exercise.
The same thing happens with procrastination, with eating habits, with checking our phones and looking at distractions. Rationalizing has a hidden power over us.
The solution lies in shining a light on the rationalizations.
Shining a Magical Light
When rationalizations live in the unseen dark corners of our minds, they have a power over us like nothing else. We are powerless if they are hidden.
So when we bring them out to the light of day, they lose their power.
Here’s how it works: when you notice an urge, and tell yourself to delay … and then you ignore that command and start to do it, realize that the rationalizing process is going on. Pause, and notice what excuses you’re giving yourself.
Examine those excuses. Are they true? Or are they just bullshit reasons so your mind can get what it wants? The mind wants to give in to cravings (pleasure), or avoid discomfort (pain). It will lie to get its way.
Some of the lies include:
- Just this once won’t matter.
- It’s not good to make yourself suffer.
- It’s OK to give in for now.
- You’re not as strong/disciplined as those other guys.
- You shouldn’t do this, you’re weak.
- This isn’t really cheating.
- No one will know.
- You deserve a break.
- This doesn’t count.
- You deserve a reward.
And so on. You’ll notice that these seem to make sense, in the moment of weakness. They feel true. But they aren’t.
The truth is that it does matter. You made a promise to yourself and breaking it matters.
The truth is that it’s not OK to give in, because that erodes your trust in yourself.
The truth is that no one is perfect, but you are plenty strong.
The truth is that you deserve to succeed at this. Your reward will be in a successful habit change, in feeling good about yourself.
The truth is that you will know.
Shine a light on the rationalizations, and have an answer to them before you get to that moment of weakness. Think about it when you’re feeling strong.
ACTION STEPS: Spend the next few days watching your rationalizations, and writing them down in your journal. Come up with an answer to each of them. Shine a light on the rationalizations when they happen, and see if you can call “bullshit” on them.