Brendon Towle Coaching

Photo by Brendon Towle

How to Make The Work Easier? Keep Going.

I wrote before about sponsoring a professional body builder, and one of the profound things that he taught me being that the weights don’t care why you lift them. Another profound thing that he taught me was that it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been training: if you stop, you backslide.

This is a close cousin of an idea that I’ll write more about soon: it doesn’t matter what you know, it matters what you do. And, it usually doesn’t matter so much what you did last month or last year, it matters what you’re doing now.

As an example, I’ve been studying and practicing Japanese for over a decade now. I’ve gotten to the point where I can read most of the Japanese equivalent of CNN and discuss it with a native speaker; not always in natural-sounding Japanese, but almost always in something they can understand. I’m currently listening to a Japanese podcast about coaching, and on a typical day I have 70-80% comprehension; not even close to perfect, but enough to understand most of what’s going on.

But, I also know that over the past couple of years, my opportunities for practice have been less frequent than they were 4 years ago. As I’ve gotten busier, the amount of time I can spend studying and practicing has dropped, and I can tell that I’m losing proficiency; not a lot, but a bit. I know what I need to do to maintain that proficiency; I’ve done it before, I remember what it was, I can do it again. But, the fact that I know what to do and did it successfully before doesn’t matter; if I’m in that situation again now, I need to do it again now.

Now, I don’t want to suggest that the actions I took last month or last year have no value. Of course they do! But, the exercises I did last year won’t keep me in shape today. The meditation I did last year won’t keep me mindful today. The weight loss program I successfully executed last year won’t keep the weight off today. And, the Japanese studying I did last year won’t improve my performance from where it is today.

Of course, the work that I did last year makes it easier for me to restart those things today. Having the habits (or more precisely, the neural pathways) associated with those practices makes it easier to start them up again—because I’m not building new neural pathways, I’m just reusing old ones that I already built.

But, the neural pathways decay over time that they’re unused. The muscles atrophy if we don’t use them. Doesn’t matter if your training is physical or mental, if you stop, you start to backslide.

Now, I’m a recovering perfectionist, so I don’t want to suggest that any backsliding is a tragedy. And, both mental and physical muscles need periods of rest in order to fully develop and grow. But, if we stop practicing the things that help us, we stop getting the benefits.

Even knowing that, I still find myself sometimes in the position where I’ve stopped doing something that I know would benefit me, or that I know I would feel better if I was still doing. So, how can we find the motivation to keep going once we’ve stopped?

In my experience, there are a couple of exercises that can be really helpful in this regard. One of the classics in the motivation literature is to “Start with your Why.” In this case, it’s not about asking why things happened or why I am the way I am, but rather about my purpose. What’s the goal? What’s my endgame? What desirable change do I foresee in myself or the world around me if I continue to work hard down this path?

Once I’ve done that, another exercise that can really help is to ask myself about future regrets. If I imagine myself looking back on today from 5 years in the future, what action or inaction would I regret? What would I wish I had done instead?

In most cases, what I find is that when I have a well-defined purpose for the things that I’ve stopped doing, I would regret not continuing down the road towards that purpose.

With a renewed focus on my purpose, and clarity about how I would regret not taking action, then it’s time for a plan. When am I going to take this action? What barriers are there, internal or external, that might prevent me from taking action? How can I overcome those barriers? What targets do I have for how much I want to accomplish and by when? Answering all these questions (and making sure along the way that the goals are SMART goals) will set me up for success, and also increase my motivation by making it clear that the target is achievable.

Once I’ve done all those things, I almost always find that my motivation is way better than it was when I started. If you’re struggling with finding the motivation to start (or restart) a habit, maybe give the exercise a try yourself!

Comments are closed.

More Posts

How to Have No Regrets

When I read Brené Brown’s wonderful Atlas of the Heart, the idea of having no regrets is one of the few things that she wrote that I didn’t entirely agree with. It’s possible that we just disagree on exactly what the phrase “No Regrets” means, but I think it’s a worthwhile aspiration. First off, it’s Spoiler Alert™️ time: It’s not actually possible to have no regrets. If you read the words “No Regrets” as a

Read More »

Fake It Till You Make It

“Fake it until you make it” is an idea that has been a part of recovery lore for longer than I’ve been involved in recovery, and has gained some additional traction from various TED talks and research in the past few years. But, I worry that it’s not as simple as it’s made to seem, and I also worry that the phrasing is misleading. Let me talk about why, and then I’ll share an alternate

Read More »

What’s the Best Self-Care Routine?

People often ask, “What’s the best routine for exercise/meditation/affirmations/fill in the blank?” It’s a totally understandable question; we want to do the thing that’s going to have the most or best results. But, the answer is probably not what you expect. There’s a saying in the photography community about what camera is best that goes something like “The best camera is the one that you have with you.” It’s a bit flippant, but it’s also

Read More »

Friday Bonus Book Review: Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff

I’m going to start intermittently reviewing books that have been meaningful to me in my journey. I have been blessed to have some excellent teachers, some physically present in my life and some through their writing, and I want to acknowledge and share that. (I have some disclaimers about my reviews here, but basically they’re all unsolicited, I have no connection with the author, I get a small commission if you buy the book from

Read More »

Acknowledging Our Own Success

Acknowledging our own success (both to ourselves and to others) is something that’s very difficult for a lot of us. But, in my experience, it is crucial to developing any kind of self-confidence or realistic self-appraisal. Particularly, it’s important to acknowledge our own success in a way that is unqualified and doesn’t minimize it. Do any of these sound familiar to you? “I just did what anyone in my situation would do.” “I had a

Read More »

Like this?

Subscribe by email. One message every week or so, no ads and no spam ever. By subscribing, you agree to our Privacy Policy.