When I was younger, I remember my mom saying, “Nothing that is worth having is easy.” At the time, I didn’t think much of this phrase, but now it makes more and more sense the older that I get.
For example, it’s easy to get lost doing something you enjoy. If you enjoy shopping, you could probably spend hours of your day shopping and would never lose focus. On the other hand, if you needed to study for a test to complete a certification for a job, you would likely find that it was not only hard to motivate yourself to study but that it was also hard to stay focused. Why is that?
The answer lies within the reward center of the brain. When we do something that we anticipate will be a good experience, even thinking of the activity will give us great pleasure. Dopamine, the pleasure hormone in the brain is responsible for this. We not only get a dopamine hit while we do a pleasurable activity, but we also get one right before, to motivate us to do the activity. This is why if you enjoy something, the thought of it will push you to do the activity.
The problem with this is that while it would be nice to never have to do something we don’t enjoy, we would also not even grow or get better or level up in life if we only took the easy way. Hard things like studying for a degree pay off. They might not be the most fun activities, but they benefit us. Another example is someone who is overweight. It might seem easier to continue to eat junk food and not work out (in the short term) and changing to healthier habits might seem difficult. But, without the change, your health will never change. See what I mean?
So, how do we trick our brains into thinking that hard things are fun or even enjoyable?
1. Change your mindset.
Your mindset has a lot to do with how you view certain tasks. For example, if you tell yourself
“I hate exercising and eating healthy,” you are telling your brain that these two activities are hard. Your brain will listen to what you tell it, and you will dread doing things like exercising or changing your diet. Instead of thinking negative, focus on the positive. Reframe it. Find a workout you like and tell yourself how much you enjoy it. And make it enjoyable. If you can make a hard task fun, you will WANT to do it. And your brain will produce dopamine to keep you motivated to do it.
2. Focus on the positive.
Even if you don’t necessarily LOVE doing something hard, you can reframe your mind. You might not want to study, but think of the positive: studying will help you accomplish your goal of getting your dream job, and you will be financially stable. Focus on your WHY. If you don’t know what yours is, ask yourself, what is pushing me towards change? You might think losing weight is hard, but deep down you want to feel your best. Focus on that, not what you are losing by eating better and exercising.
3. Set small goals.
Instead of saying, “I am going to have to finish four years of school to get my degree.” Break up your big goal into little ones. This makes the goal more manageable and it also allows you to celebrate your accomplishments, which will fuel your journey with even more dopamine.
4. Use the pleasure/pain principle.
If we view an activity as more painful than pleasurable, the odds are, that we are going to avoid it at all costs. And the same goes for bad habits. If you enjoy smoking because of the way nicotine makes you feel and that is all you are thinking about when trying to quit, it’s going to be hard. But, if you recall how bad smoking makes you feel and how much you don’t want it to destroy your health and appearance, it becomes much easier to quit smoking.