‘If you have a why, you can bear almost any how.’ In all honesty, I can’t remember where I first read this particular quote, but I recently heard this phrase used again and it really resonated with me. What is it that separates those that stick, persevere and ultimately succeed from those that find themselves repeating the same unproductive patterns? It seems to me that the ‘why’ in the first case is simply so strong. So how do we develop this in individuals who undoubtedly want to improve the quality of their lives, but always seem to end up back where they started?
A few years ago I wrote an opinion piece titled ‘The Difficult Decision’. At the time it was a fairly straighforward call to arms trying to encourage people to make tougher decisions that ultimately would benefit them. A lot of the material was inspired by Charles Ploiquin’s now infamous ‘Myth of Discipline’  in which he argues that in truth there is no such thing as discipline and that those that we perceive as disciplined are, in reality, just well-versed in the art of making ‘loving decisions’ for themselves. The theory then runs that if your desire and goals are strong enough, discipline becomes irrelevent as discipline is born out of the conflict between immediate desires and long term goals (ie I want to lose weight but I want that slice of cake NOW!) When the desire for this long term goal completely outweighs any immediate desire, discipline disappears and long term loving decisions are made so that refuse the cake not with a heavy heart and inner – conflict but because you genuinely don’t want it anymore. Over time this conscious decision making process becomes completely unconscious so you’re no longer even technically making any decision at all.
Sound crazy? Well it certainly isn’t the norm on that I will agree, but the truth is that there are an awful lot of people out there who desire some form of physical change: whether it be more muscle, less fat, more energy, better health, better sleep, better movement or just to be pain free. So the ‘why’ is there and obvious. Many will go to a professional who will be able to give them the ‘how’ so in theory they’re all set. Yet very few actually make the lasting physical change they desire purely from this alone. The mistake often being that because it’s physical change that’s desired then changes to our physical routine are what’s required but often it’s our mental approach that falters.
Meet Jayne. Jayne is a 40 year old mother of two small children who also works full time. She’s stressed, recently put on weight, has pains in her lower back and neck, has little time and is constantly tired but never sleeping. She has come to me as she wants to lose weight, feel more energised, sleep better and be pain free.
I can give Jayne the ‘how’ all day long and if that’s all that’s required then marvellous! Rarely is this the case though. Jayne isn’t in this situation because she’s in the habit of making loving decisions for herself. More often than not she will have constantly put herself second, always be in a rush and grabbed whatever food is handy or available (picking off the kid’s plates is a big favourite with working moms I find!) So although it is physical changes she wants, it is behavioural changes that she needs. Learning to make loving decisions for herself is key for Jayne.
So what are these loving decisions then? Simply put, they’re ones that might cause you immediate discomfort, irritation or even (temporary) pain but will benefit you and your health in the long term. Usually, they are done when nobody else is looking, which kinda makes them more difficult too! When we are accountable only to ourselves is when we discover how important our ‘why’ truly is. Examples can range from the simple but annoying such as going to bed half an hour earlier to help improve energy levels. The truly difficult such as spending half an hour at the end of a long day to get food prepped for tomorrow (especially if The Chase is on!) And what some might deem the downright psychotic such as getting a workout in before work (trust me – plenty do it!) There is a beautiful paradox to making these loving but difficult decisions: they make life easier. You will move better, sleep better, eat better and feel better. And because you benefit, these loving but difficult decisions get easier and your ‘why’ ever larger and more obvious. You may have just wanted to reduce your pain or improve energy levels but odds are if you start making these types of decisions you’ll lose bodyfat too thus increasing motivation and making loving decisions the norm, not a chore.
If this all sounds rather ambitious there’s a method I use when the ‘why’ seems a million miles away and the temptation for an easy way out is nagging. You psychologically let yourself and delay the decision. Normally the ‘urge to splurge’ whether it be into a cake or just completely lose the plot is impulsive and rebellious. Telling yourself ‘ok, we’ll do that but first…’ delays the decision and also the impulse.
Let me explain. As mentioned in a previous blog, Saturday morning is Sprints and Throws practice for me. I love this session but not for the first 10 minutes – it’s 6am and it’s fricking cold out there! Nine times out of ten a voice will tell me ‘it’s cold’ ‘we can go tomorrow’ ‘we can train later’ etc etc. I’ve learned that arguing with this voice gets me nowhere; I WILL eventually snap – I, for one, simply cannot ‘out-discipline’ that side of me. So I agree with it. ‘I say; ok, you’re right, but I’m just gonna get the bag ready, get my hoody on and we’ll chat about it outside.’ As there’s very little intimidating about that and I have the option of coming back in my ‘inner chimp’ agrees to this. By the time I get outside I’ve put two discuses in a bag, along with a nerf grenade for javelin, two sets of boots, a tea towel and a litre of water. Along with taking about ten minutes to get the necessary layers of clothes on, both me and the monkey agree that we may as well start walking to warm up.
I thoroughly recommend this ‘agreement’ method by the way. Dr Steve Peters' famous ‘Chimp Paradox’ warns against the dangers of simply trying to outdiscipline our ‘inner chimps’ and notes that by simply acknowledging that their points and arguments are perfectly valid but that we’re going to do something much smaller that they agree to is a far more effective way to deal with the internal conflict that can arise when trying to make a difficult but loving decision. I thoroughly recommend reading his book by the way, he is as insightful as he is engaging and really does practice what he preaches.
Ultimately the art of making the loving decision is one that takes practice, patience and more than a degree of self – forgiveness as it does take time to get into the habit of doing, so slipping up now and then is inevitable. When you do, forgive yourself quickly and move on – we’re all human and we all make mistakes.
What I will say though is that the more loving decisions you make the more rewarding your life will become. Life becomes easier and making loving decisions becomes easier – enabling you to make more and more of them. And the more of them you make, the stronger and more capable you become, the more fulfilling your time is and, ultimately, the happier you will be.
I think that’s a big enough ‘why’ for most of us.
 ‘The Chimp Paradox’ by Dr Steve Peters (2012)