“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”
- Albert Schweitzer

Why bother doing things you hate in order to be healthy and happy?

Shubha says This always puzzled me.

There’s the “old school” method of health and wellness, which is the “grind it out” philosophy.

According to this philosophy, everyone should be given the exact same formula for their health and weight loss, and then if they fail, it’s because they weren’t disciplined or focused enough.

But I always thought this was a bit hilarious.

I mean, most of the things I had been successful at in my life, I was successful because I enjoyed them, and thus doing them gave me energy, rather than took it away.

I tried thinking back in my life to a time where I was successful because of pure grit, something without any real purpose or internal driver.

I couldn’t find one.

I decided to sit down in my local inspiration spot and tried to figure out, in the rare situations where I was really exceptional in life, what I did to get there.

I went to my local (and favourite) coffee shop, and wrote:

Things I have been doing for at least a decade:

– Reading about a book or two every month

– Lifting weights

– Meditating (on and off)

And then I sat back and thought really hard.

Did I force myself to do any of these things?

That one was a loud and clear no.

It was pretty obvious: we do more stuff we enjoy, and I loved reading, I loved the feeling of energy after lifting weights, and I loved the calm that meditation gave me.

That’s why I kept doing them.

I had done hundreds of other hobbies and activities, but they all fell by the wayside because they had other reasons that just didn’t drive me.

Sometimes I wanted to be good at a skill because I thought it was cool, and sometimes I did things because I wanted to be “successful” and look successful.

And sometimes I wanted to do something just because I was bored.

Inevitably, none of those reasons kept my fire burning.

So why are these health gurus, fitness experts or dietitians telling us to just suck it up and force ourselves to plow through the same old grind to get healthy?

It didn’t make any sense.

So we thought about one thing in particular: how to create healthy habits that stick.

Creating healthy habits (especially eating habits) that stick is often the toughest part about getting healthy.

The biggest barrier to us sticking to the healthy habits we know are going to change our life is simple: we hate doing them.

Think about it.

For those of us that hate running, or hate the treadmill, running on a treadmill makes us want to die. And the thought of it makes us want to throw up, right?

Over time we tend to form this unconscious inner association: treadmill = hell.

Running = slow, painful death.

Running + Treadmill = ridiculously painful death, repeated every day.

That’s not even the problem.

The problem is this: as we engage in this emotional, mental behavior day after day, the association grows even stronger.

Treadmill. Death. Pain.

“I hate it. Please no. Stop. Don’t want to do this for ten years.”

And over time, the association with these kinds of things becomes almost unconscious and automatic—you can’t even get yourself to step in the same room as anyone in the gym.

So why would you bother doing it?

I mean it makes sense; we don’t like doing things resulting in pain (e.g. getting injured or burning our hands), and want to do more of the stuff that feels good (eating, sleeping, hanging out with friends, etc.).

But for the person trying to get healthy, this represents a unique problem…

How on earth can you get healthier if you hate the very behaviors you have to do each day to get healthier!?

Here’s how, first, read about this very interesting study done way back in the 1920’s.

Those of us who struggle to stick with habits often create negative conditioning associated with virtually all the habits we need to engage in to get healthy (walking, eating different foods, going to bed earlier).

Here’s how to create a powerful positive conditioning so that you actually look forward to engaging in these habits so you can attain all your goals.

Let’s take a look at how this stuff works with some examples.

Take a good hard look at the above process.

Now see this example: Do You Hate Treadmills?

Treadmill  “I hate this”  (Done repeatedly, for months)  “I don’t want to ever do this, so I won’t. The idea of treadmills makes me want to die.”

Resulting association: Treadmills = misery. Exercise = misery. The gym = misery. Getting healthier = misery.

another example would be: Eating Bland Healthy Food

What about eating healthy food?

We constantly hear from people that they hate the monotony of eating boring, tasteless, flavorless health food meals.

First of all, healthy food doesn’t have to be bland and flavorless, but that’s a topic for another day.

But let’s take a look at how the conditioning pattern forms.

Healthy Food  “This is so boring and tasteless.”  (Done repeatedly, for months)  “I hate healthy food because it’s so tasteless, and I don’t even want to try anymore.”

Resulting association: Getting healthy is agonizing because I have to eat crappy, tasteless food.

Example 3: going for a walk

Walking  “This 60 minute walk takes so long.” (Done repeatedly, for months) “Walking isn’t worth it because it takes so much time out of my day.”

Resulting association
  Health or weight loss is time intensive, and I can’t afford that time right now.

So whenever we get frustrated or fail to stick with the habits we said we’d engage in, we just get that emotional conditioning cropping up saying…

“I hate this… this stuff takes so much time. How am I supposed to be able to find time to do this? I have all this other stuff to do…”

Obviously, this doesn’t help us get to where we want to be. So here’s what to do instead.

The solution is that we need to build a positive snowball

A positive snowball is a positive psychology term for building positive associations with whatever it is we’re trying to do, so that we actually want to do it and look forward to it.

We see this with anything—our jobs, our spouses, or our health.

If you have a job that’s constantly stressful, or you have annoying coworkers or a mean boss, after a few months or years you wake up and you are already dreading showing up, right?

You’ve conditioned yourself to hate it.

You can feel that pit in your stomach first thing in the morning, even though work is a few hours away.

The same can unfortunately happen in a marriage or relationship. You can begin arguing so much or hating each other enough that most of your interactions end up negative.

And then one day, one of the spouses doesn’t want to get out of the car and go into the house because he/she has been conditioned to constantly associate the partner with stress and anxiety.

This can go on to be generalized, where seeing the actual house as they drive home starts the anxiety process.

Whereas you might have had a positive (wahoo!) or neutral (okay, let’s go in) attitude, now you actively dread it.

So how do you change it?

The whole point is this: changing the conditioning in our mind is critical to being successful at staying healthy.

This is what we mean when we keep saying that health and habits are primarily a psychological battle.

Bottom line: we want to look forward to the habits that make us successful, right? If we do, we’ll do them more.

So here’s how to maintain that positive association.

First: STOP engaging in behaviors that constantly leave you feeling negative and unhappy afterwards

If a sixty-minute walk conditions you to hate walking, take ten-minute walks, or do something else.

If you hate going to the gym, stop going to the gym as long, or find another activity you like (Zumba? danching? gardening?).

So the first thing is to pick health habits that are at least somewhat enjoyable.

This might seem like a strange strategy, and you might be thinking, “Okay, what if I don’t like anything?”

We’ll take about this shortly.

But the bottom line here is a life lesson as much as it is a health lesson.

Things we actively enjoy doing give us energy, and we tend to do more of them.

Things we don’t enjoy doing require energy, and we tend to avoid doing them.

This is the foundation behind that whole “find your passion” thing. When you enjoy work, it’s easy to show up every day. You actually want to show up each day.

At the very least, find those things that make you think, “Hmm, this isn’t too bad!”

Limitless motivation is just as much a matter of choosing the right things to work on, as it is about showing up each day.

Second: Slice and Dice

Just go smaller.

One of the biggest barriers to many of us sticking with health goals is the feeling that “I’m just going to fail again anyway, so why bother?”

If this sounds like you, by far the most important thing is to set easy goals (not ambitious ones) to accumulate little wins that’ll keep you inspired and motivated.

This sounds paradoxical, right? On one side, I always encourage people to dream big and visualize huge, insane goals that you have no clue how you are going to reach.

However, if you’re constantly trying out huge goals that you always end up failing at… you’re creating more of a negative association.

You’re conditioning yourself to know that you will fail each time you try a goal, so why bother trying?

But if you pick an easily achieved goal, you still get that dopamine high of having achieved a goal.

So even if you only walk for sixty seconds, from a long term perspective you’re better off having that “high” that builds self-esteem, rather than setting a big goal that you obviously didn’t get close to achieving.

Third: Make a “Swap”

Let’s say you’re with your spouse, and a certain activity always generates feelings of unhappiness and resentment for you; maybe your husband never cooks or helps around the home, but when you go out to bowl or have drinks with friends, there’s some aspect of his behavior that you really love.

In this case, to swap the conditioning (“my husband is lazy and boring”), start doing more activities together where he breaks that conditioning.

Start doing the activities where he’s interesting, lively, and fun.

If his chatty, exciting self comes out when you’re at dinner parties, go to more of them and the conditioning will gradually change.

With your weight, swap out everything that makes you beat yourself up.

No more punishing yourself for caving on the sweets.

No more punishing yourself for lack of exercise, walking, or cooking.

No more guilt for missing the weight watchers check in or some kind of group activity.

Walk the dog, and tell yourself you did an awesome job exercising afterwards. Use rewards rather than punishments.

Drink one less coffee per day, and give yourself a pat on the back.

The result of all this? A positive snowball

Dr. Ramsays This is the same principle I have used to exercise 4x a week for almost three decades now.

I’ve conditioned myself to emotionally understand that I feel insanely good afterwards, no matter how terrible or tired I feel before. I look forward to it—and never force myself to go.

I don’t have to convince myself, because I know I’m going to feel great.

There’s no internal dialogue, debate cropping up—I just go, and feel awesome afterwards.

As a result, this is easily a habit I’ll maintain for life (unless something changes), because it’s something I look forward to.

You can do the same thing with virtually any habit or pursuit in life, but you have to condition yourself or get over negative conditioning.

These three things, avoiding activities you actively hate, making it easy to achieve smaller goals, and removing anything that causes you to beat yourself up serve one purpose.

The point is not the habit itself; it’s maintaining an enjoyable state of mind and positive association.

The entire reason for this serves the single purpose of maintaining positive conditioning, actually having you enjoy and look forward to the process.

That’s it.

Flat out, there are no techniques, tactics, and secret practices learned from Himalayan sadhus that are more effective than simply doing something you enjoy.

So it’s just as important to not only cultivate habits you look forward to but also to make sure to control the story so that a negative one doesn’t begin forming.

Otherwise, you’re associating all the most important habits (for your success and health) with the hammer being struck behind your head.

This is building off that slow and steady approach: go smaller, simplify, do less, and do more things you actually enjoy.

Otherwise, you just won’t do them.