I had the opportunity to sponsor a professional bodybuilder in recovery for a while, and this is one of the gems of wisdom that he taught me. I used to fall into the trap of analyzing my motives for doing something, particularly some bit of self-care that I was considering. At the end of this analysis, if my motives weren’t correct (whatever the hell that means), I would decide that I couldn’t/shouldn’t do it and I would do something else instead.
But, the fact is that the weights don’t care why you lift them, only that you lift them. If you do the work, you’ll get the results. A couple of stories from my personal experience about this:
I’ve talked before about mirror affirmations and the value I’ve personally received from them. What I didn’t go into so much detail about was what led me to start doing them. My sponsor had been suggesting the idea to me for a couple of years before I finally decided to do it. But, did I think it was going to work for me? No, I did not. Did I see the wisdom in the idea and how I could benefit from it? No, I did not. Did I in fact believe that anyone could possibly benefit from such a thing? No, I did not.
What I believed was that if I started doing it, and told my sponsor that I was doing it, he would stop bothering me about it. That’s it. That was the sum total of my motivation for starting mirror affirmations—to get my sponsor to shut up about it.
I don’t know what the correct motivation might have been for doing mirror affirmations—a desire to improve my relationship with myself, maybe? A firm belief in the value of self love, maybe—but I’m pretty sure that the reason I had wasn’t it. However, I did the work anyway. And, I got the results—in my case, profoundly life-changing transformative results. The “weights” didn’t care why I was lifting them.1
Another example: during my first year in college, I didn’t believe in prayer, but people kept telling me that there was value in it. I was an engineering major, and many of the assignments we got involved making the computer do some particular thing.
I remember being stuck on an assignment that I had no idea how to do. It was around 7-8 in the evening, the assignment was due at 8 the next morning, I had no idea how to make it work, and I figured that even if I did have an idea, making it work would take more time than I had left. Completely out of ideas, I said some sort of awkward prayer about how I really could use some help with the assignment. I got up, went to the bathroom, grabbed a snack, sat back down at the computer, and then I had an idea. I started typing it out, and within an hour or so the assignment was done.
I didn’t believe that the prayer would help (and I still don’t believe that it was divine intervention), but I tried the suggestion and it worked, in spite of the fact that I didn’t believe in either the suggestion or the belief system underlying it.
At various points throughout my journey, I have done things for all the following “bad” reasons, and probably more that I’m not remembering:
- So that someone would shut up and stop bothering me about it;
- So that I could prove someone wrong about their opinion of me;
- So that I could prove someone wrong about whether or not the work could actually work;
- So that I could impress someone;
- So that I could rebel against what I thought was someone’s control of me;
- So that I could avoid disappointing someone;
- Because I had completely run out of ideas of what else to do.
In all of those cases, when I did the work, I got the results, regardless of my reasons.
Now, would it be better to do the right thing for the right reason? Sure, probably. But, in my experience, the far far far more important thing is to do the right thing, for whatever reason will get me to actually do it. If I’ve identified that doing something would help me, it doesn’t matter in the slightest why I do it—what’s important is that I do it.
Nike very much has it right in their advertising slogan. Just do it. If you do the work, for whatever reason, you’ll get the results.
- Yes, if you come to the work with such a bad attitude that you’re not taking the work seriously (or, to push the weightlifting analogy even further, using good form while you lift), you may not get good results. I’m assuming here that you’re actually doing the work correctly. ↩