When I was teenager, I really loved Henry Rollins. One of my favorite Rollins Band songs is titled, “Do it.” Here are some of the lyrics:
Don’t think about it – Do it
Don’t talk about it – Do it
Do it, do it
Don’t lie about it – Do it
Do it, do it
Talk about your sick man, so good you got to do it, do it
D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-do it, do it
Do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it, do it
Elegant, no? The sad thing is that I didn’t just “do it” when I was a teenager, and I have struggled to “D-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-d-do it” as an adult. I am very good about doing all the things that Henry says not to do, though. Talking about it, lying about it, and thinking about it come naturally because they require very little motivation and effort. Oh, and making excuses. I’m awesome at that. At the end of the day, though, what I usually notice is that things get done when I just do them. There is freedom in action. Yet, I often fall into the same “think, talk, lie, avoid” trap.
Most of the people in my life (clients and otherwise), have a similar problem. This tendency to avoid doing what is difficult, especially when it is very important, is a giant source of suffering, maybe THE source of most of our problems. Why is that? Unfortunately, pain of some sort (physical or psychological) is the price we pay to do things that matter to us. Take exercise for example. Exercise doesn’t usually feel good when we are doing it, but it makes us feel great afterwards and makes us healthy. Having a hard conversation can be stressful, but conversations like that are often necessary if we want to have genuine, fulfilling relationships. The wiser parts of ourselves perceive these truths intuitively, but our minds don’t like it when we move toward pain (even if it is 100% imaginary.).
Part of the problem is that we are explicitly and implicitly taught some unhelpful things about the “necessary” requirements for taking action. Specifically, we learn to believe that we have to experience the feeling of “being motivated” before anything can happen. Not sure if you have this assumption operating in the background? See any of these statements ring true for you?
I don’t want to do it. Maybe I’ll do it later.
I’m too anxious to do it.
I’m too depressed to do it.
I’m not ready to do it.
If I do it now, I will make mistakes and that means I failed.
….therefore I can’t do it before I want to/am not anxious/am not depressed/am not x. Then we try to figure out how to “get motivated” and time keeps moving forward.
What if you didn’t need to be motivated before you could take action? What if that is a big lie that we are told so often that we believe it? What if you actually can’t feel motivated until after you take action? What if making mistakes is actually part of being successful?
Chew on that for a while. In later blog posts, I’ll be talking about techniques like behavioral activation for depression, exposure for anxiety, and the role of values and commitment in recovery from adversity. These techniques are all about “doing it,” and they are at the heart of many cognitive-behavioral treatments.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are intended to be educational and entertaining. Reading this blog or attempting to apply any of the information therein does NOT mean that you have entered a therapeutic relationship with Dr. Andy. If you are currently experiencing a psychiatric emergency, please call 1-800-273-TALK, 911, or go to your nearest emergency room.