I’m laughing as I write this because the irony in what I’ve been doing is too great to ignore. What is it, you ask, that is so ironic? You’ll find out soon enough. Just keep reading.
Anyone who knows me is well aware that not only am I a fitness fanatic, but I’m also a huge psychology geek. At any given time, I’ve got my nose stuck in the next great book on mindset and behavior change. This kind of stuff absolutely fascinates me, and I hope to perhaps one day return to school to become the world’s foremost experts in some little sub-niche of behavioral psychology. (You read that right: it’s not nutrition or biomechanics or physiology I’d go back to school for….)
I recently finished another gem that had me clutching its highlighted, ear-tattered pages tightly to my chest as I looked up to the sky and screamed, “PLEASE, SHAWN ACHOR, TRANSFER ALL OF YOUR KNOWLEDGE INTO MY BRAIN!” Well, not quite. But seriously. I was left impressed, enlightened, inspired – all of those words and more.
Imagine, if you will, you have some daunting task ahead of you that must be completed. Maybe it has a hard deadline; perhaps the deadline is self-imposed; or there’s even a chance that the due date for said task is a mere “eventually” or “sometime in the future.”
But the problem is that this task, this obligation, is not something you’re necessarily bouncing off your seat to get done. Or maybe it’s something you know that you would find inherent enjoyment in carrying out, but for some reason, taking that first step seems like such a burden. Examples? Cleaning your room: you know that once you start folding and hanging up the first few items of clothing, you’ll find yourself on a roll and you’ll be motivated to zip through the healing pile in one go. Getting your training session in: past experience tells you that you always feel better once you start pumping your muscles, but changing into your workout clothes, putting on your shoes, and driving to the gym feels like too much work. Writing an e-book: you have an idea of how long you want it to be and the different subtopics you’ll cover, but the thought of the sheer volume of words you’ll have to crank out intimidates you, and you shy away from touching the dang thing with a 10-foot pole.
All of these examples illustrated above, by the way, are simply tidbits from my life. They’re real, they happen frequently, and they scratch away at my sub-conscience as I make futile attempts to procrastinate by finding other “important” things to fill up my time.
Also. It doesn’t work.
The key to this beat-around-the-bush behavior is what psychologist Shawn Achor dubs the Zorro Circle in his book, The Happiness Advantage. The premise of this whole principle is realizing and accepting that your behavior – what you do – does matter and you do have control over how your life plays out. You are most certainly not a helpless, passive passenger to your own fate.
Once you adopt this mindset, you’ll find that your motivation is much greater and your performance is much improved. Whether it be in a work, family, social, or personal setting, choose to take responsibility for what happens and take proactive measures to do something about it.
If only it were this easy.
Recall that with each of us, we have our rational thinking portion of our brain (the part which makes us distinctly human) and we also have our emotional, knee-jerk reaction part. When we experience mounting job pressure, frustrations with coworkers, and the like, our emotional side begins to take over and we start to react to events and people – and not in a good way.
I’m not sure these guys handled their unemployment quite so well.
How to remedy this?
Articulate how you’re feeling. Put your emotions into words. “I feel _____ when _______________.” Here’s an example: I feel exasperated when I walk into my closet and I can’t see the floor.
Differentiate between which aspects you can and cannot control. Once you make this distinction, you’ll find that it’s pointless to worry and stress over things you really can’t do anything about.
Now this is a situation Milton could have very well controlled.
Avoid setting unrealistic expectations. In other words, try not to make drastic lifestyle changes all at once while you’re riding on the (temporary) highs of motivation. While it’s important to set lofty goals, attempting to accomplish everything in one big fell swoop will end poorly. (Crash dieting, anyone?)
Finally, the Zorro Circle dictates that you carve out a small domain. You can take it literally – by outlining a circle in your room that you’ll clean – or figuratively – decomposing an assignment into its constituent parts. If you’re sprinting up a big hill, don’t stare at the very top the whole time and obsess over how many feet you still have left to go; instead, focus on the 5 to 6 feet immediately in front of you.
I’ve found that at times, carving out even the tiniest of Zorro Circles helps. After all, at least I’m moving incrementally forward rather than standing still, right? If this means walking over to my closet and hanging up one jacket, then so be it. If you haven’t been to the gym in weeks and the thought of diving headfirst back into heavy weightlifting sessions is too much to bear, bust out a short bodyweight workout in your own living room for a few days. Or take it one step back and just go for a brisk walk around your neighborhood.
So the irony of this piece. I can’t tell you how much I wrestled with the assembly of this article. Here I was, having just finished a fantastic, eye-opening book by one of the world’s foremost experts on positive psychology, and I took it upon myself to share a tidbit of his findings with the world. But how do I adequately follow up on the heels of someone so accomplished and not butcher his thoughts? How do I put a fitness twist into the Zorro Circle so it becomes applicable to my readers?
I read through the 200+ pages of this book over a week ago, and for about 5 days straight, this article that I wanted to write about remained untouched. I was overwhelmed. The notion of articulating my own interpretation of this principle made me nervous, as the last thing I wanted to do was hack this idea to shreds.
Then it hit me that all I had to do in order to successfully write about the Zorro Circle was – umm, duh – apply the Zorro Circle to my own life. I realized that if I had a difficult article to write and all I could manage one day is one measly sentence, that would still be considered progress. Cha-ching!
So here I am on a Thursday afternoon, excitedly pounding out the last few bits of this piece. Achor, if you ever read this, I hope I’ve done your work justice. All I’m trying to do here is spread the good word and hopefully have a positive impact on just one person somewhere out there.
“How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”
(Also, on a completely unrelated note: the movie Office Space is one of my favorites.)