This is why you can never get away with anything

 Photo by  Andrew Neel  on  Unsplash

Photo by Andrew Neel on Unsplash

Shortcuts.

We all love them.

A shortcut is when you allow yourself not to do your best. It's that "eh, screw it" moment. It's not making that extra call today, not working out today, not calling your friend today, not eating well today, not giving your all - today.

The focus here is on the today because that's the key to the shortcut logic.

It's in our nature to conserve energy, but it's also in our nature to be goal-directed and to be value driven.

We live at a nexus of opposing forces.

Who we want to be - a person who does things and expends huge amounts of energy in the process and Who our body wants us to be today - a creature comforts loving, home dwelling, binge eating, reality TV watching, inertial human. In the short term - today - our body wants us to move less, eat more, protect ourselves from the elements and be obsessed with the social lives of other people. Also, our body likes us playing and watching hunting games - like most video games and team sports and, of course, nurturing a healthy obsession with sex.

Why? Because, metabolically, those were the things that maximised our chances of survival and reproduction in ancestral environments. You wanted to be the person with the most food, the warmest hut, the least physical work to do, the best connections and knowledge about hierarchies in the village, a great hunter and have all the mates.

Our bodies are still out in the savannah, foraging for crickets and bitter roots, it's just a more bountiful harvest at McDonald's.


How do shortcuts work?

You have Goals - What I want to achieve and you have Values - Who I am.

You know what you need to do to achieve your goals: work on X project, write Y amount of words/day, eat this not that, move Z minutes a day, etc.

You also know how you need to act to live up to your values:

I am kind - I act with kindness to everyone around me. I am effective - I take effective actions that have tangible results. I am strong - I take responsibility under pressure.

But, in the sneaky world of the shortcut, today, something is in the way.

This temporary something could be anything: the weather, feeling ill, taking a "day off", vacation time or even "just not feeling like it".

But today is always the exception. What this allows you to do is give yourself permission to not be who you want to be, just today.

This is a sleight of hand, obviously, because there is nothing outside of one continuous today. The past is a memory, the future is a hope or an anxiety. Your brain is playing word games with you.

Treat yo’ self

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A lot of people talk about self-care nowadays and "Treat Yo' Self" has become synonymous with spending money, eating junk food, and overall just means you should be taking a bubble bath instead of doing hard things.

This is counterproductive.

A lot of people are working long hours, that's true, and we do a lot of unpaid and unproductive intellectual labour just staring at social media all day. That leaves us frazzled and exhausted at the end of the day.

But that's more of a mismanagement of time than a carte blanche to ignore the needs of future you. The truth is not many of us are toiling in the fields or crawling through mine shafts.

You can comfortably skip your sheet mask to get some work done on your dreams.


Why your vote matters

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The fact that you've done one thing shittily or skipped a workout is not the problem. Once doesn't really matter. That's a correct intuition on the part of your brain. One meal won't make you fat, one workout won't make you fit.

Cutting corners is a problem because of what you've communicated to yourself. You've had to rationalise why in this case, today, it's fine to not do your best. And these rationalisations add up.

Your identity might feel pretty solid sometimes, but it is in flux. Every day you cast votes for the kind of person you want to be.

Once you allow today to be the exception, there is no reason why you shouldn’t do the same tomorrow when it inevitably becomes another today.

This will create a pattern: You start new plans with enthusiasm and do all the work when your motivation is high. Then, as your motivation starts to naturally fade, your todays start piling up.

You then get a fair-weather attitude to your commitments. You do them when you feel like it. But you feel like it less and less and then one day you silently quit.

Your todays have become the norm and you've let yourself slip into old habits. Yet again, you've proven to yourself that you're "just not the kind of person" to accomplish your goals. Does this sound familiar?


How identity rules your life

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I've been trapped in the same excitement - motivation drop - shortcuts - back to normal cycle for most of my life. But in recent years I've started to understand the power of identity. I was undermining myself because I didn't understand how this secret votes cycle worked.

You act like who you are and you are like who you act.

I was constantly allowing myself to cast votes against the person I wanted to be on account of today. This secretly strengthened "the old me", and with every depressing cycle, my old identity became a more menacing beast that began to look immortal.

All of this started with the shortcuts.

And that's where you can break it.

You are constantly checking in with your sense of self about the kind of person you are. You are not static. You might be called a being, but you're more of a becoming.

But you also have the need for internal consistency. Your story about yourself needs to make sense. So, when you temporarily abandon your principles because "it doesn't matter", that becomes part of your story. You are suddenly the kind of person that will bend their values to circumstance.

How you do anything is how you do everything.

This might sound esoteric, and it's probably just confirmation bias, but I know I can't get away with things because I never do. When I'm cutting corners I always have little Jiminy Cricket inspired voice telling me: Do this well or it will bite you in the ass.

I don't do it well.

Invariably, my ass suffers a mauling.

Why you need to play the long game

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So what's the fix?

You now see through the trickery.

You'll have off days, of course, but make those the exception, not the rule.

If you're honest with yourself, most of your days shouldn't be off days. Listen to the soothing voice of Jiminy Cricket and do. it. well.

One day doesn't matter, that's true, but all days do matter.

Doing what you've committed to do on days when you don't feel like it is one extra vote cast for a badass who won't compromise on her principles when the going gets tough. Slowly, it will become easier as you inhabit your new badass life and the past moves from destiny to memory.

Playing the long game means understanding that the system you’re building to reach your goals is the goal.

That showing up is better than excelling a few times and giving up. That life is a series of days where you have to show up for both your values and your goals.

Alexandra KaschutaComment