If we know something is good for us, why is it that we often still don’t do it? And, why do we do things that we know we should not do, that are not in our best interest? I believe I know the answer and I have a simple remedy.
I recently published an article titled The 3-Day Happiness Adventure: A Simple Guide to Getting Happy Fast in which I detail a very specific and clear 3-day plan to dramatically increase the feelings of joy, gratitude and well-being we experience in our daily life. It appears to have been well-received with positive feedback. However, I was a little surprised by some of the comments and questions I received from readers:
“I bet this would really work!”
These comments surprised me because, while I suppose the article could be considered tips or reminders, it is actually a guide for taking action. It made me wonder how many people read it, thought that it made sense and would be a good thing to try, yet never actually gave it a shot.
Why don’t we do what we know we should do? And why do we often do what we know we should not do?
Here’s a hint: our actions are not governed by our knowledge.
Think about it and you will see that this is an obvious observation. If we were governed by what we know to be correct and good then nearly all smokers would quit, we’d never overeat and we wouldn’t maintain destructive relationships.
Then, what does govern our actions? Why do we do what we do? I bet you actually do know the answer, or at least it will be clear to you when you see it. But first…
I was also asked questions such as:
“How can I be happy when there are so many negative people around me?”
“I would like to do this, but what if I don’t succeed?”
“I’ve tried things like this before and it didn’t work.”
In regards to the first question, there will always be negative and pessimistic people around, no matter what. The goal is therefore to be happy and positive in spite of our surroundings. There are those who maintain positivity and happiness in the worst of circumstances (look at the comment on my Tiny Buddha post from the man from Afghanistan as a perfect example).
In response to the second comment here: trying almost guarantees success. If you try and it doesn’t work, then you have learned something. And the character and ability learned is the true measure of success. And from this higher position will be your future starting-point from which you will launch future achievements.
As far as the final comment, persistence is rewarded in life. It is only by much searching that we find hidden treasure. Try, try again. That is the recipe for success in anything in life.
You may have tried something before, but you are now a different person than you were at that time. Have you ever read a book a second time, after many years, and taken so much more from it than the first time? Just because something did not work before, doesn’t mean the time isn’t ripe to try again.
The past does not dictate how you will do this time around.
Why Do We What We Do
And this brings me to the answer to the question, “What governs our actions?” And the answer is simple, yet profound:
We are governed by our habits.
This is a conclusion that you cannot fail to come to if you closely study human behavior. The scientific findings of the day confirm this.
And the key to changing our behavior lies, therefore, not in more information or knowledge (though of course a certain amount is necessary) but in taking what we know and putting it into action with the intention of creating a new habit.
Telling a smoker they should quit accomplishes nothing. They know this. Yet, when the smoker begins to take some action to quit, no matter what it is, they have created momentum and headed off in the direction of freeing themselves from the habit. Persistence will ensure success. If one method is found not to work, seek to understand why and then try another approach until success comes.
If you have a relationship which is struggling, do something about it. Take some action you believe might help. Do something thoughtful for them. Sit down and write out a list of things you love about that person. Or practice being more patient with them.
If we wish to improve our physical health or appearance, it is only through effort and intelligent action that results will come.
“That’s all fine and dandy,” you may say, “but sometimes I just can’t get myself to take action!”
A Simple Way to Destroy Procrastination
I can appreciate and relate to that. And here is a simple little trick I use to get myself to take action when I am procrastinating or feeling lazy:
Sit down and write out everything that will happen if you don’t do this particular thing, if you continue to put it off. Write out how that would make you feel. Try to really build up a sense of dread for not taking action.
Then, write out all the wonderful things that could and will happen if you do take action now, and how you will feel to have accomplished and successfully completed this task.
After doing this for a few minutes, you should be very motivated to take action.
It’s All About How We Feel
In the end, we are motivated by how we feel. Think about it for a moment. The reason we do anything is because of how we think it will make us feel.
We get that job because we think it will make us feel a certain way. We date a specific person because of how we feel with them. We want to lay on the beach, listening to the waves with the sun beating down on us because of how it makes us feel. We give to those we love because it feels good, it feels right, it feels natural.
Feelings influence our habits, more so than anything else. And it is possible to control how we feel with simple practices like asking the right questions. Knowledge is good and necessary, but change will come from taking action.
So, if you know you should do something, but are not doing it, the reason is simple: the change seems more painful and less pleasurable than where you are right now.
Of course you would love to have the perfect weight, or stop a bad habit, but the work involved seems harder than if you do nothing so we tell ourselves, “Oh man, I’d have to do all that? Ah, forget it, I’m fine the way I am”.
The key is to tip the scales in your favor.
And one way to do so, is to try the exercise above. Connect negative feelings with your current situation that you want to change. Then, connect an abundance of positive feelings with the ideal you want to create. If you build up enough feeling, nothing will stop you from taking action.
Think of something that you have been putting off, but you know you should get done. Try the exercise above and you will soon be propelled to action and feeling great having accomplished the task and put it behind you.
Want More Happiness?
So, if you read the article about the 3-Day Happiness Adventure but didn’t do anything, why not actually give it a try? Make the decision and take action. If you know you should do it, but are procrastinating, try the simple exercise above.
The Happiness Adventure really does work and, after 3 days, you will already feel so much more happiness and gratitude that it will be significantly easier to begin to transform the other aspects of your life you wish to change.