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Reverse psychology


Andrew O'Brien

The silly season has been and gone. I hope Santa found you all, and that you got to spend some quality time with family and friends. Now, we’re all back at it. Chained to the desk like we never left and, for some of those who made them, doing our darndest to stop the wheels coming off another year’s worth of resolutions.
Anyone who makes a New Year’s resolution has a motivation to fulfil them, just as people are motivated to lose weight, write a book, learn an instrument or run a marathon. But plenty of us never get there, despite having the motivation.
There are tips aplenty online and in the paper at this time of year about how to stay motivated and keep your resolutions. Hey, I’m pretty sure I wrote a piece about it last year – and maybe the year before that, if truth be told! All the tips seem worthwhile; join a group, set a goal, reward yourself when you achieve something. But here’s the thing, all of those tips revolve around motivation, and motivation is fickle at best.
How many of us have had the dream to learn to fly a plane and maybe even googled where you can get flying lessons (Knock, I checked), and thought ‘I’ll do that someday’ but never did? We had the motivation, but never took action.
A course I’m working on at the moment advocates reversing those two words. Instead of relying on motivation to bring action, it suggests using action to kickstart motivation. It seems somewhat counter-intuitive at first, but makes sense when you think about it.
It seems Nike’s famous advertising slogan of ‘Just Do It’ may be more insightful than we realised. As a species we are inherently lazy; most of our evolutionary history involved a calorie deficit, making us loathe to waste energy unnecessarily. Now that food is abundant, we don’t ‘need’ to move, and thus we have no real motivation to do so. This reasoning applies to many fields – why bother learning the piano when you can just download and listen to Mozart’s piano concertos?
Arthur Lydiard, the great Kiwi running coach who is credited with starting the recreational running boom, used to advise his runners that if they didn’t feel like doing a session, they should just head out the door and run for ten minutes. Usually by the end of those ten minutes, the motivation to continue had kicked in and they were more willing to continue. If not, the athlete could turn around and run home, and at least they’d done a 20 minute run.
It’s not just sports people who benefit from this approach. The Japanese writer Haruki Murakami likens being a novelist to running marathons. He states that he doesn’t wait for inspiration, but rather sits at his desk and makes himself write, believing that hard work will provide the impetus for creativity.
Thomas Edison, the inventor of the lightbulb, is reputed to have said that ‘success is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration’. You can have the idea, be it creative or scientific, but without turning up and putting in the work, you’ll get nowhere.
What has this to do with the people of Mayo? Think of the first day back at work after Christmas. I’m willing to bet that at least some of you weren’t all that excited by the thought, but there are bills to be paid, so off you went. I’m also willing to bet that by mid-morning, you were back into the swing of things and it wasn’t all that bad.
I imagine there’s also a few folks who were working on their rehab before Christmas, who made New Year’s resolutions, set goals for January or just train for the love of it and may be finding it tough to get motivated this week. Maybe it’s time to forget the motivation and take some action. Even five minutes will make a difference.
To make a mess of Nike’s slogan, you gotta do what you gotta do, so just do it.

Andrew O’Brien is a chartered physiotherapist and the owner of Wannarun Physiotherapy and Running Clinic at Westport Leisure Park. He can be contacted on 083 1593200 or at