• Dog looks out on bed under coverlet.

    Keep on going: How to overcome one’s weaker self.

    Anyone who wants to live a healthier life has to send the excuses packing and order some dynamism for lunch.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Procrastination and the guilty conscience.

Gravity pulls you into your pillow. The piece of cake smiles temptingly. Lots of exciting messages pop up on your phone. These all seem like perfect reasons not to go jogging today, not to give up sweets or not to work hard on your new project. It’s just a shame that all these pleasures are clouded by a surge of guilty conscience. Once again we can say: my weaker self got the better of me. As if there really is some kind of mythical creature which lurks somewhere between intent and action and rears its ugly head every time you are about to act according to your goals. Where do these goals come from anyway? And why does it frustrate us so much when we do not achieve them?

Man lies in bed with dogs.
Man is sitting in kitchen and looking at dog.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

The American psychologist Abraham Maslow became world famous for his theory of the hierarchy of needs. At the base we have basic physiological needs such as food, sleep and drink. We then move up step by step with our need for safety, a desire for social contact, recognition from others and self-actualisation. The latter represents our own self-esteem and the realisation of our own identity. It is the last two steps that most people in the western world struggle with the most. However, according to the American motivational trainer and author Mel Robbins, this latent dissatisfaction which plagues many people’s minds is basically no different than hunger or thirst. An inner signal intended to communicate to us that a need has not been fulfilled. To counteract this frustration, people come up with New Year’s resolutions, fitness goals, diet plans and many other measures intended to motivate themselves to finally become the person they want to be. Unfortunately, these mental homework assignments usually fall victim to our weaker self.

  • Dogs playing with stick held by a hand.

The invisible snooze button.

Mel Robbins uses a different metaphor for one’s weaker self: the invisible snooze button. The button on our alarm clock that we press when we decide to sleep a bit longer rather than go for that morning run. In her talk at the TEDx conference, she speaks about how people constantly succumb to the temptation of leaving everything as it is. Even though we so strongly desire to finally reorganize our life and take matters into our own hands.

Robbins’ tip in order to banish the snooze button for good? The next day, simply set your alarm half an hour earlier. When it rings, throw off the bed covers and just make yourself get up. Just because it feels better to sleep for a little longer does not mean that it helps us to lead a more satisfying life. Robbins aims to give a mental alternative to people looking to break out of their state of semi-satisfaction: the doer mode.

Man sits on bench patting dog by his side.

Make concrete plans.

Establishing new routines in order to get closer to your fitness ideal or simply work quicker and more focused is no easy matter. Rules of thumb like “it only takes 21 days to learn a new habit” generally turn out to be trivialities of laymen psychology. The effort required to establish a new routine will ultimately determine the time it takes us to integrate it into our lives. The decision to eat whole-wheat bread each morning rather than white bread will be easier to put in place than planning to go jogging for an hour every morning before breakfast. This is why at the beginning, realistic objectives are important for keeping one’s weaker self at bay. For continued success in the training of your weaker self, the social psychologist Peter Gollwitzer from the University of Konstanz recommends his so-called When-Then plans.

Outwitting your weaker self.

In these straightforward mini-plans, potential situations (when) are always combined with concrete actions (then). “When I get up in the morning, then first of all I will spend two minutes meditating before I reach for my smartphone. When I’m finished my meditation, then I’ll prepare myself a healthy breakfast.” It has been proven that this sentence construction and the objective hidden behind it are easier for the human psyche to accept than abstract objectives such as “eat more healthily” or “meditate regularly”. “The more concrete and detailed the formulation, the more effective the method,” assures Gollwitzer.

Man pats dog's paw.
Man looks at dog.

Without emotion, nothing happens.

Regardless of which method one chooses from the many guidebooks on the subject of one’s weaker self, no amount of motivation will work if there is no emotion or passion involved. It is only when emotional aspects also play a role that behavioural changes can be implemented in the long term. This inner search for our own ideals, aims and the corresponding emotions can’t be triggered by anyone but ourselves. And unfortunately we have to take our weaker self with us on this journey, albeit on a leash. After all, to say it in Robbins’ words: our weaker self can actually be outwitted using fairly basic means. But despite that, nobody said it would be easy.