Reality Check: Lessons from an Ice Cube

How’s your motivation? Are you full of get-up and go, with plans and actions to get to your goals? Or are you listless or discouraged, where “What’s the use” comes to mind?
Which state would you prefer? And if one is more effective than the other, do you have any control over which one you’re in?
I believe that having purpose and motivation, taking actions, and working your plan is more helpful than the other state. Of course, you may not agree. There certainly are times when it’s appropriate to sit back, withdraw and reassess. But for this column, I’m coming from the position that taking purposeful, motivated action is positive.
This leads to the question: If a motivated person truly is better off, then why isn’t everyone motivated? Even highly motivated people can get discouraged. Perhaps loss of motivation has to do with results. More precisely, it’s the lack of results that can be so demotivating.
For example, maybe you’ve been studying hard but your marks don’t reflect your hard work. Perhaps you’ve made a change in your diet, but you don’t see the hoped-for change in weight. Maybe you’ve started exercising, but you don’t feel any more energetic than before. It’s discouraging.
When positive feedback doesn’t appear reasonably soon after we take action, especially difficult action, it’s hard to keep doing the right thing.
James Clear, in his book Atomic Habits, describes how progress happens through the example of an ice cube. If you’ve been feeling discouraged because it seems like you’re not making progress despite all your efforts, then maybe this little story will help.
You probably remember that water freezes at 0C (or 32F for some of us.) Think back to winter, when we may have neglected to empty the birdbath. When the temperature was minus 10, the birdbath was full of ice, as expected. We get some nice days; the temperature goes up. Minus 9, minus 8; temperature keeps climbing but nothing happens. Minus 4, minus 3. Still ice in the bird bath, despite the temperature rise.
Then the temperature moves from minus 1 to 0, with a little more energy added. The ice begins to melt.
Even though it seems that only that last degree increase transformed the ice to water, in fact, the previous temperature rises are what brought about this critical threshold. Those earlier temperature increases were essential to reach the state where a little more effort made a visible difference.
As we make progress, we can spend a long time working consistently with no visible effect. But it doesn’t mean that no change is happening.
When we persistently act in a specific direction, we move in that direction, whether we can see the movement or not.
So, take heart! When you consistently choose veggies over chips, you’re making a difference. When you persist in doing your exercise routine, you’re making a difference. When you consistently get up half an hour early to study, practise, or meditate, you’re making a difference.
We don’t always know where the threshold is; when results will become visible. But like the ice cube or the bird bath, the transformation that you are working toward could come with the very next degree.
How do you stay motivated toward what’s important to you?

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