The alarm rings at 3:50 am. You swing your hand over and press the snooze button without opening your eyes. Settling back into your warm and comfortable bed you notice how sweet it is to continue to sleep.
The alarm rings at 4:00 am and you repeat the process. This goes on until 5:30 am when you make the decision that this will be a non-workout day.
This is a worldwide problem. Why is that? I’m going to answer that question and give you a solution.
The problem is human nature. There exists an undeniable genetic code that translates into a compelling instinct:
All Human Performance is the Avoidance of Pain or the Seeking of Comfort.
This is the code of life. This is what motivates every human being. As a species we are very limited in our perceptual ability. We can see only certain frequencies of wavelengths of light, hear only a limited frequency distribution of sound, in fact, all of our senses have limitations. Since we have these limitations, evolution has genetically designed us to recognize the highest threats to our survival, the most potentially painful and dangerous experiences and to avoid them without thinking. This is called a cortical limbic loop.
We are predisposed to recognize our most dangerous and painful threats and then compelled to avoid them.
We don’t have an option here. This is an instinct that does not request our compliance, it compels it. We are avoidance machines!
We also have language. Humans are “meaning making machines”. We give meaning to everything that happens in our lives. It is rare that we accept things or events as just being. We are constantly flipping from the past to the future and having a dialogue about what we are experiencing.
Here’s how this works. You have a goal of weight loss. You intend to wake up at 3:50 am and exercise. You are motivated to do this. You’re committed. You set the alarm for 3:50 am and go to sleep with the greatest of intentions.
The alarm rings at 3:50 am. Your brain immediately goes through a search like a computer looking for any link to pain or any threat associated with the activity. Exercise is hard. You might be tired throughout the day unless you sleep in. It’s cold outside. You have found the links to pain.
Next, you are compelled to avoid. You can’t help it. The trigger has already occurred. Then language comes in and you have an internal dialogue that justifies your avoidance. You never consciously come into conflict. You rationalize and you don’t know that you’re doing it.
The purpose of rationalization is to protect you from feeling guilty for not doing what you said you would do. The method of rationalization is to justify your avoidance.
You start to think that you’re over training and an equally important part of physical fitness is rest. You pay attention to the pain you have in your back and you remember the last time you worked out through that type of pain your back went out and you lost several days of production. You count how many days you have already worked out this week and you justify that you can make it up tomorrow.
The solution lies in understanding how the brain works. This would involve an examination of the reticular activating system. The reticular formation as it is called is a bundle of densely packed nerve cells located in the central core of the brainstem. Roughly the size of a little finger, the reticular formation runs from the top of the spinal cord into the middle of the brain. This area of tightly packed nerve cells contains nearly 70% of the brain’s estimated 200 billion nerve cells-or a total of over 140 billion cells.
The reason for this tremendous concentration of brainpower is because the R.A.S. is your front line of defense and is an absolute protector of your survival. The R.A.S. instantly recognizes friend or foe and starts the necessary physiological and psychological response.
You already have a default program coding the R.A.S. That coding is the search and recognition of perceived danger and then the activation of what is referred to as the “survival mechanism” of avoidance and rationalization. This is an instinct, not an option. You will be compelled to avoid all that you perceive as painful, threatening or dangerous.
Reality is not an issue here. It doesn’t matter weather the threat is real or not. Your perception is your reality. Rejection from sales calls is not a real threat yet that perception keeps many sales people average as they avoid prospecting calls and then justify how busy they are. It’s the same process going on. Your brain does not differentiate between what is real or imagined. You are an avoidance machine, it’s an instinct.
There is good news. You can have an intervention. You can influence what the R.A.S. drives you to pay attention to. The solution lies in surrendering to avoidance. Surrender to the ways of human nature. Ride the horse the direction it is headed. The way that you do this is through Behavioral Contracting™.
Consider the following formula for excellence through a behavioral contract:
Specific Declarations + Accountability = Elite Performance
Specifically make a decision about what you want and why. Answer the question, “Why bother?” Next ask yourself, “What are the actions I need to take to reach this goal?” Follow that question with “What actions will I take over the next seven days?”
Now, you’re almost ready to influence the R.A.S. but there is another major part still missing. That would be accountability. Accountability has two parts. The first part is the check in, “Did you do what you said you would do?” This must come from another person outside of you.
The “check in” is not enough however. You must have the next part of accountability and this is the part that will influence what you pay attention to. The second part of accountability is an enforceable painful consequence for non-performance.
The consequence is the key. It must be more painful then the perceived pain embedded within the activity itself. For example, what is more painful, getting up early in the morning and exercising or paying $100.00 to another person if you don’t? As you’re lying in bed and the alarm rings at 3:50 am, your brain searches for the highest perceived level of pain. Instantly it notices your Seratonin level is high from sleeping throughout the night, it’s warm under the covers, exercise is hard, it would be so nice just to sleep in and roll over and hit the snooze button. However, the brain continues to search for the highest level of perceived pain and you make the association of how painful it would be to have to pay a fine of $100 for not getting up and you perceive that as the highest level of pain. Now, you are compelled to get up and do what you said you would do. You can’t help it. Human nature is making you avoid the highest level of pain. You are a perfect avoidance machine.
This is an undeniable intervention that will predispose you to find the opportunity to take the action that avoids the penalty. Use behavioral contracting and you will see immediate results. Apply this to one activity and watch yourself avoid your way to accomplishment. I’m only an e-mail away for accountability.