Lately, my oldest son—who is three years old—has come up with a new favorite retort whenever I ask him to do something: "I'm not in the mood."
It’s hilarious because he’s a kid, but it reminds me of a decidedly less-cute catch phrase that I’ve heard plenty of adults use: "I'm going to quit. I just don't feel committed." But that’s not a real reason to quit something. That's just the grown-up equivalent of saying, "I'm not in the mood.”
If we quit every time we didn't feel committed, we'd still be putting off our fourth-grade math homework.
Why do we persist with so many things in life, but when it comes to our health and fitness, we want to give up the very moment we stop feeling motivated?
Most of the world's work is done by people who don't feel like it; most folks don’t really feel like getting out of bed in the morning. Thankfully, we are not our feelings. And we’re not exclusively our thoughts, either. We have both a short-term, irrational mind and a long-term, rational mind.
The next time you have a craving and feel like giving in—or the next time you’re given an opportunity to get closer to your goal and you just don’t feel "in the mood"—notice what you say to yourself.
In those tough moments, we often end up choosing what makes us the least uncomfortable in the moment, which in the long run, leads us to give up what we really want for what we mistakenly, temporarily think we want.
We wind up trading short-term discomfort for a deeper discomfort later on.
When we make that trade, we’re letting our short-term/irrational mind take over. Acknowledge that. Say hello to it. Even laugh at it—but realize we don't have to act on it.
One of the "secrets" to success is doing what makes us successful even when we don't feel like it. It's easy to be successful when we feel like it. For instance, go to any gym in early January, and you’ll see that everyone "feels" motivated and committed. Everyone is in the mood!
But what about when we don't feel like it? Go back to that same gym in early February. It's probably a ghost town. But you can still be the one showing up: The truth is, success happens when we're not in the mood to make a healthy choice but do anyway.
Success happens when we stick with something through the inevitable highs and lows, no matter how we feel.
This is why daily and personal accountability is so important. Feeling committed comes down to our actions. The key is to make our actions as realistic as possible.
For example, last night, I was watching TV and found myself craving ice cream. I was watching my Knicks get crushed again and was in the mood for something sweet to dull the pain. Yeah, I knew I was , not physically hungry, but there’s gotta be a balance between living for today and living for tomorrow, right?
There’s a demonstrated association between and weight gain. So if you’re going to eat while watching TV, it's helpful to decide up front what you'll snack on if you get a craving. This strategy is known as an "implementation intention." The key is deciding what we'll do in advance. I didn’t do that last night, but I did the second-best thing: I told myself I could get some ice cream if I still really wanted it after having some fruit.
This is what I call a micro-action.
Ask yourself, "What's the smallest possible action I can take right now?"
This is an effective way to get over a craving. It's also a very effective way to start feeling committed. Here are a few other ways micro-actions can be implemented:
- No desire to get going in the morning? Make your bed.
- No desire to eat breakfast? Drink a glass of water.
- No desire to do any work? Send a short work email.
- No desire to exercise? Walk for five minutes. Or even walk in place while watching TV.
- No desire to finish the day strong because you messed up your "perfect" eating? Focus on your next choice.
You get the point, right? These are all very doable, no matter how we feel. They’re not huge, daunting actions—and that’s why they’re so effective.
When I feel energized and focused, of course, it’s easier to eat well and exercise. When it feels easy... well, it’s easy! Of course, it doesn't always feel easy. Commitment starts when it doesn't feel easy. When we're not in the mood to do the right thing, that's when we need to focus on micro-actions.
The truth is: Our actions dictate our feelings. Too often, we let our feelings and mood dictate our actions instead. We feel tired, so we relax, which only perpetuates those lethargic feelings. We're in the mood to indulge, so we do—which just winds up making us feel bad.
Actions first: Then the feelings follow. Say to yourself, "I'm going to make a small, healthy choice and then see how I feel." You might not feel like making a healthy choice, but if you perform just one micro-action, you’ll be on your way to the attitude you want. Because once you do make that healthy choice, you wind up feeling good. And when you feel good, you feel committed.
Adam Gilbert is the founder of , an online program that solves the lack of consistency faced by chronic dieters. Sign up for his , and follow Adam on , , and .