You can’t think, wish, or feel yourself into a new mindset.
Here’s a common trap: You tell yourself I’m reading, thinking, and talking about whatever it is I want to be doing, so I’m good. But reading, thinking, and talking about something isn’t the same thing as doing it. If you really want to change, you’ve got to start doing it.
I call this the knowing-doing gap.
Yes, some level of knowing, of conceptual understanding, is important. But just because you know something inside and out doesn’t mean it’s taken deep roots inside of you. That kind of depth and transformation tends only to follow action. Taking action isn’t easy, particularly if you are acting in a way that runs counter to your built up habit energies; cultural forces; workplace pressures; or family patterns. Sometimes taking action — even if you know it’s the right thing to do — can feel like a chore, especially at first. But there is no escaping the fact that skillful action is the pathway to productive change.
A consistent practice may take at least a little motivation to get going, but over time the equation is reversed. Dedicating yourself to the practice, no matter how you feel, is what builds motivation.
Cognitive behavioral therapy, which helps individuals through a range of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, places an immense focus on the “behavior” part of the equation. That’s because it’s hard, if not impossible, to control your thoughts and the subsequent feelings they generate. Longstanding research has found that the more you try to suppress a certain thought or feeling the stronger that thought or feeling becomes. And the inverse is also true: the more you try to will a certain thought or feeling into being, the less likely it will happen.
What you can control, however, is your behavior — that is, your actions. And this is important because mood follows action.
You don’t have to feel great, or even good for that matter, to act. Sure, a consistent practice may take at least a little motivation to get going, but over time the equation is reversed. Dedicating yourself to the practice, no matter how you feel, is what builds motivation. The practice is what makes you feel good and changes your mindset, not the other way around.
Practice. Practice. Practice.
Yes, you’ve got to know what you’re doing, and perhaps why you’re doing it too. But then you’ve got to do it.
Show up — even when you don’t want to — and act in service of your core values. That’s the only way you’ll become them.
Brad Stulberg researches and writes on sustainable excellence and wellbeing. He is bestselling author of the new book, The Practice of Groundedness: A Path to Success that Feeds—Not Crushes—Your Soul.