Our minds are an incredible piece of kit, evolving over millions of years to help humans survive the challenges of the wilderness and climb to the top of the food chain. Our modern day environment is a little different, with food readily available and fewer life threatening situations, but our minds haven’t quite realised this and hold on to the “danger/famine could be around the corner” default.
It’s from a good place, just trying to help us survive as long as possible. Responding to changes in our state and pumping the brakes (commonly referred to as the Resistance or central governor) when we reach certain thresholds outside of our norm - mentally and physically - so we don’t lose too much energy or do anything too seemingly dangerous that could harm our chances of survival. As a safeguard, this Resistance to “too much” works well to keep us within safe and comfortable limits, holding on to precious energy and preventing us from trying anything too unfamiliar or scary.
TOO MUCH OF A GOOD THING
The problem though, is that these safe limits are not static. If we stay in this comfortable zone, far away from discomfort and challenging states, our thresholds will begin to close in on us - what would previously have been only slightly scary becomes increasingly unfamiliar, making it seem worse than it is in our mind and increasing the discomfort. Wanting to avoid the discomfort, we retreat to what is comfortable, a zone that has now reduced in size. If we do nothing, and opt for more comfortable choices/actions than uncomfortable ones, this shrink cycle will continue until we are so trapped in such a tiny prison that we’ll struggle with the smallest of challenges and tasks life throws at us.
Fortunately the solution lies within the problem if we look at it in a different way - that these safe limits are not static. They can shrink as a result of our decisions/actions, but they can also expand as a result of our decisions/actions. In order to open up the limits we need to push them back, fight against this Resistance influencing how much we decide to push ourselves and find out what lies in the land of discomfort.
The Resistance isn’t going to give up easy, it’s got a few tricks up its sleeve to get us to slow down and ease back into the comfort zone, where it’s safe and we can keep saving energy. The most powerful of which being our own thoughts and emotions - setting off the alarms telling us we’re burning more energy than usual and things are getting abnormally uncomfortable, and then watching as we allow panic and fear take root, sprouting more negative thoughts and self talk, until we abandon our current course of action and return to rest.
If we’re going to go beyond where we are now, we need to make a plan and attack these limits.
Let’s break it down.
Think - where are we going? What is the next step taking us closer to? What is the ideal destination? Work back from there to where you are now, breaking it down into the teeniest parts you can - small steps equal great distances. This doesn’t have to mean a thousand goals or how to push every possible limit 24/7 - all we need to get started is one general direction and the realisation that we can adapt and change course as we go.
Think about what you NEED to do and what you CAN do - not what you feel like doing, and not the “what ifs” or the countless reactions and consequences that may result.
By planning out easy to achieve steps - drafting a message, reading a how-to guide, or setting out what you need for the next day - we reduce the time between these actions, making it easier to stay on the path. Cutting down the amount of empty space between planning and action we can minimise the amount of overthinking we might do, a tool of the Resistance inside our heads. Overthinking is something we all do or have done at some point (maybe daily), and is when your thoughts are no longer meaningfully productive or helpful (worrying about and obsessing over a single negative possible/unlikely outcome, focusing on minute details more than the big steps). Eventually this leaves us in a state of “paralysis by analysis” - unwilling to take action as we’re too busy stuck inside our head, worrying about things that exist only in our mind and allowing them to pile up layer upon layer to entomb us. To break free of the thought prison and keep the walls from forming in the first place we need to take action.
We need to ATTACK.
Time for action - now the only thoughts we have should be how we’re moving forward from moment to moment, step by step closer to victory. Our view shrinks to the present second, as we make each move as assertively and meticulously as possible. Taking action and staying in the moment will help keep overthinking at bay, but this isn’t the only way the Resistance will try to stop us from moving forward.
Sooner or later our mind will instinctively try to hold us back as we burn through energy stores and fight through unpleasantness, craving comfort and an easy path - so we need to recognise it for what it is: a feeling. If we’re going to push through and grow we need to take charge and press on through difficult roads, ignoring any excuses and apprehension conjured up by the Resistance trying to get us to stop. Be aggressive, use the blunt force of will to drive doubt and negativity out of your mind and fill it with a second wind as you move onwards.
This is no time to be timid or ask your limbs to move “if it’s convenient”, this is the time to get in amongst the pain and embrace it, to forge ahead in spite of what your mind “feels like doing”. Eliminate these feelings with deeds, create new motivation through action. Thank these thoughts for their suggestion, but choose option B - that small voice that says take it up a notch. Put the pressure on and see what lies on the other side of discomfort.
To paraphrase Jocko Willink:
No backing off.
(really, go do the thing. You know what it is you need to do. Go do it).