We all know the importance of setting goals and working to improve ourselves physically, emotionally, spiritually as individuals and families. We know for the most part what it will take to accomplish these goals and have written a list of actions to achieve them repeatedly. Then why did we spend yesterday doing the same things we did last Saturday? Shane Anchor shares this in his book “The Happiness Advantage.”
As Cathy sits tethered to her desk on Tuesday, she daydreams about the upcoming Saturday and all its possibilities. She wants to go biking on the trail by her house, join in a pickup soccer game at the local park, and see that Matisse exhibit at the museum. She might even dive into that pile of books she has been wanting to read. Like all of us, Cathy has a number of hobbies and activities that engage her interests and strengths, energize her days, and make her happy. And yet, when her free Saturday actually does roll around, where does she end up? Conspicuously not on her bike or at the soccer field, and certainly not at that art exhibit everybody was raving about—it’s 20 minutes away! Her remote control, on the other hand, is within very easy reach, and Bravo happens to be airing a Top Chef marathon. Four hours later, Cathy has sunk deeper and deeper into the couch, unable to shake a listless sense of disappointment. She had better plans for the afternoon, and she wonders what happened to them.
What happened to Cathy was something that happens to all of us at one time or another. Inactivity is simply the easiest option. Unfortunately, we don’t enjoy it nearly as much as we think we do. In general, Americans actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work. If that sounds ridiculous, consider this: For the most part, our jobs require us to use our skills, engage our minds, and pursue our goals—all things that have been shown to contribute to happiness. Of course, leisure activities can do this too, but because they’re not required of us—because there is no “leisure boss” leaning over our shoulder on Sunday mornings telling us we’d better be at the art museum by 9 A.M. sharp —we often find it difficult to muster the energy necessary to kick-start them. So we follow the path of least resistance, and that path inevitably leads us to the couch and the television. And because we are “mere bundles of habit,” the more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.
Unfortunately, though these types of “passive leisure,” like watching TV and trolling around on Facebook, might be easier and more convenient than biking or looking at art or playing soccer, they don’t offer the same rewards. Studies show that these activities are enjoyable and engaging for only about 30 minutes, then they start sapping our energy, creating what psychologists call “psychic entropy”—that listless, apathetic feeling Cathy experienced.
On the other hand, “active leisure” like hobbies, games, and sports enhance our concentration, engagement, motivation, and sense of enjoyment. Studies have found that American teenagers are two and half times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby than when watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport. And yet here’s the paradox: These same teenagers spend four times as many hours watching TV as they do engaging in sports or hobbies. So what gives? Or, as psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it more eloquently, “Why would we spend four times more time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?”
The answer is that we are drawn—powerfully, magnetically—to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort—getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on. Csikszentmihalyi calls this “activation energy.” In physics, activation energy is the initial spark needed to catalyze a reaction. The same energy, both physical and mental, is needed of people to overcome inertia and kick-start a positive habit. Otherwise, human nature takes us down the path of least resistance time and time again.
Knowing that it is natural for us to choose the path of least resistance helps us to know we can both overcome it and not feel bad when we find we are off the path. Often when we are not reaching the expectations we set we can beat ourselves up and cause us to feel even worse than we do for not making any progress. The interesting part is you can read ten books on goal setting and they will focus on different parts of the process. Why is it that there is not one way to accomplish what we seek? Based on studying several of these books I believe the problem is the authors focus on what has helped them get through the process. BY emphasizing one area’s importance over the other they motivate readers to take action in certain areas. This in my opinion is what 80% of people fail at reaching their goals.
We need to define our big goals, the visions and purpose for why we are doing things and then set up the small goals or action steps that we can track. Some books tell you to be realistic and others says to set goals higher than you think you can reach. Which way is right? What if I told you they are both right and actually same the same thing?
We must have a purpose and large vision that motivates us to take action, then we have to have a path to accomplish this vision in small steps so we can both see and feel progress. The challenge for most is we never take action on the things we can control and do now because the path to the bigger vision is unclear. If we cannot see ourselves accomplishing a remarkable success then why do the little things daily to achieve. It would be easier to watch a T.V. marathon and eat Blue Bell than to go work out for thirty minutes and prepare a nutritious meal.
MOSIAH 3:19 For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.
As I have stated many times everything is a choice, even not making a choice is a choice. If we are not going to make the choices to control our day the universe will. The seconds will still click away regardless how you choose to use them. If you want something more or different in your life you need to do something more with your time.
Oddly enough, there is nothing written in this post you did not already know. The question is, which path are you going to choose today?