Raise your hand if you’ve ever said something like this:
“I want to be great at cooking”
“I wish I was ripped”
“I’d love to play guitar”
“I’m going to learn spanish”
In fact, after years of saying that I wanted to learn to play guitar I finally bought one a few years ago. I found a service online that was like a virtual teacher and spent 30-60 minutes every afternoon practicing. When you’re not good at something, your enjoyment level is often found on a lower level. Low enjoyment can sometimes mean a low skill level. This was the case for me as I played guitar, but I kept at it knowing that I would improve with time. For about a month I kept at it and saw myself getting better every day. Unfortunately, I didn’t find my level of enjoyment rising. I just wasn't having fun.
After a few months of this, I quit. I told myself I loved the idea of being great at the guitar far more than I actually enjoyed playing John Mayer tabs. I learned something incredibly important that day.
We can and often do fall in love with the idea of something rather than the actual thing itself.
It’s important to ask yourself when faced with something new like learning the guitar, do I really want to put in the hard work to get results? Or do I just want to have it done for me?
In most cases, I think people often want things done for them rather than putting in the hard, sometimes sucky work of moving towards their desired results. That’s understandable! Who doesn’t want to be an expert at something? Or multiple things? I want to be able to play the guitar like a savant, but I just didn’t enjoy my experience even after seeing significant progress. Why put in all that hard work and effort if I never enjoy the process?
Here’s a better question, how do we determine what to pursue? How do we distinguish between the things we want to do? And the things we want to be able to say we’ve done? Just because we want to say we can play the guitar does not mean we want to put in the hard work.
Often when I’m in love with the idea of something, I hate it when it comes down to the gritty execution. Like shredding my fingers and building calluses while learning the guitar. I never fell in love with playing the guitar. I didn’t see it going anywhere and even when I could play a few songs well and should have been enjoying myself, I wasn’t. I loved the idea of the guitar far more than I actually liked playing (because I really hated it).
On the flip side I enjoy being able to converse in another language with people even when I can only muster a few, non-english words. I enjoy working out even when I can barely lift the weights. I enjoy dicing vegetables and burning my fingers (on accident) while preparing a pot of chili.
I played a ton of pick-up basketball in college and loved every minute of it. It’s worth noting, I know I am not great at basketball. My ball handling is sub-par, my outside shot is mediocre, and I’m not great at driving to the lane (I make open lay-ups less than 50% of the time). I am not good at playing basketball. But I love it anyway. Its’ great exercise, it builds community, and it’s fun. Even when I suck.
The difference between these things comes down to the process.
If I’m honest, I wanted to learn to play the guitar because I think guys who play the guitar are studs. I wanted to be seen as a stud so I wanted to learn to play guitar. I didn’t give a crap about actually playing the guitar. My motivation to play was based on external motivation. When you hit rough spots, it’s difficult to power through when you have zero intrinsic motivation.
When you enjoy what you’re doing, even the hard parts, and you have motivation from inside to spur you on, it’s a lot easier to succeed. Most people want to lose weight because they're worried what other people think about them. The people who succeed in losing weight or getting ripped are the ones who do it because they care about themselves, NOT because they care what other people think. They want to have a healthy future and they know the way to get there is to push themselves.
I’ve struggled with this many times and have plenty of friends who are fighting the same battle. I want to get fit, but we're only doing it because we’re so concerned with what others think.
“You wouldn't worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.” -Eleanor Roosevelt
What if we stopped worrying what other people think and instead focused on ourselves?
The next time you say, “I want to do x” or “I want to be x,” take a step back and consider the following:
- Why do I want to do this?
- Am I doing it because I think it will affect the way others view or think of me?
- What will I get out of this?
- What is my motivation to accomplish this?
- Am I motivated to use my free time to work towards this?
Your answers should guide you to a resolute decision. It’s okay to stop working towards something if you’re doing it for others and not yourself. In fact, if you’re doing it because of what other people think, you should abandon the idea or reframe it so your motivation comes from within yourself.
If you’re unsure, then your best bet is to give it a shot. Stick with the process for a while and then reevaluate and make a decision on whether or not to stick it out.
If you’re reframing the objective to gain some internal motivation or it’s something you know you should do and you know you won’t enjoy it for a while, then what are you going to do to create a process that you will enjoy until it becomes enjoyable?
Working out is the perfect example. We know it’s something we should do. We know the benefits (health, energy, happiness, etc). But we also know that working out, especially if you haven’t done it in a long time, can just plain suck. It’s hard. The immediate return is minimal. The progress is slow and deliberate.
It’s up to us to find and employ a process that gets us moving in the right direction. One that we can tolerate consistently.
I’ve spent the last 5 weeks running regularly for the first time in my life.
It has suuuuuuuucked.
The feeling of gasping for air is one of my least favorite physical sensations (suffocation is my worst nightmare). Yet, I’ve forced myself to consistently run for the last 5 weeks and it’s finally starting to pay off.
For the first time in my life, I can run for more than 1 mile at a time without stopping to walk. Breathing while running is getting easier and easier and my body is cramping less and less. I’m actually…starting to enjoy running. That’s not something I ever thought I would say, but it’s taken 5 weeks of hard work to get here. And I’m only a fraction of the way closer to my goal of running a half-marathon at a 7-8 minute/mile pace. 👀I have a long way to go, but each day the road gets a little shorter and a little easier.
What are a few things that you want to have done, but don't want to put in the work? What is one process to which you're willing to contribute hard work?