It starts with a conscious effort
Whether you’re trying to learn to ride a bike, improve your memory, or be a better listener to those around you, it all starts with a conscious effort.
It doesn’t have to be a big one.
At first you will have to purposefully instruct your brain to perform the task, and mentally remind yourself to repeat this task the next time, and the next time after that.
Sounds like a lot of work, I know.
I was trying to teach someone to swim the other day, and it made me realise just how many things a new swimmer would have to consciously try to perform at the same time in order for them to stay afloat and stay alive.
- Paddle with right hand
- Kick with left leg
- Paddle with left hand
- Kick with right leg
- Push air out of lungs
- Move head to breathe
- Take in fresh air
- Move head back underwater
- Paddle with right hand
- Rinse and repeat
Looks like a lot of work, I know.
And as anyone who has attempted to swim can attest to, there are a million other tiny details involved that our brain magically deals with at once.
Now for your seasoned swimmers out there, I imagine you don’t have to go through these motions each and every time in your head when you swim, right?
Why is that?
Because your conscious effort has paid off!
That’s the good news: it won’t always be a conscious effort.
It gets easier
The first few times will be a struggle.
Depending on the task at hand, it may be a big struggle, or a slightly easier struggle, but it will still be a struggle for you on some level. That is your brain and body coping with learning (or relearning) something new.
Let’s go back to our swimming example.
Those first few times in the pool will suck – you’ll be thrashing around and feeling uncomfortable and end up drinking waaay too much of that pool water. Not much fun.
But if you can get past that, if you can concentrate your efforts to putting your body and mind through the motions, then gradually you’ll find it gets easier.
As you consciously divert energy and thought into this new thing, you pick it up and get better at it.
Gradually your efforts will pay off. You will begin to see results!
You can kind of swim!
Obviously, the more effort we put into something, the more results we would wish to see.
Same goes with our conscious effort!
If you spend days thrashing around in the pool, but don’t see results, of course you’ll become discouraged and give up on the whole ordeal. Simply getting in and out of the swimming pool is a chore in itself!
However, if you are persistent and put in enough conscious effort to training your body and mind to do the strokes, then at some point you’ll be able to move in the water. Maybe even sort of swim!
And if you keep at it, it will become second nature. You won’t even have to think about it anymore!
At that point, you will have put in sufficient effort to get the results you desire!
This is also true for learning new things. You can learn to get better at learning!
The key is practice
Unfortunately, as much as we all hate to hear this: you gotta practice.
Unfortunately, we are wired that way.
Habits and skills all start with a conscious effort. Infants have to spend time learning to breathe and control their bowels and walk, and I imagine this is no small effort on their part. We just don’t remember it because our brain was too busy freaking out.
Some people just make it look easier. Or harder.
In most ways, conscious effort directly translates to practice. You just have to get your brain or your body used to thinking or doing something a certain way. Do it over and over again consciously until you get used to it.
Then it will stop being conscious and come naturally.
That’s how habits are formed.
That’s how skills are learned.
That’s how people succeed.
It’s all well and good thinking to yourself: “I should really learn to swim”, but until you take that first step and make a real effort to getting down to it, it’s only going to keep happening in your dreams.
This works with mental activities as well. If you want to “be wittier” or “be able to remember people’s names better”, you can. Do not shortchange your powerful mind – you can do it!
It’s all a matter of training your brain to respond faster and more cleverly, or consciously thinking of ways to tie a person’s face or traits with their name.
There is this quote I read:
Death comes whether we think about it or not.
Life, however, is a conscious effort. Be conscious of living.
I’m not sure who said it. I may or may not have made it up, but that doesn’t make the ring of truth any less jarring.
Getting through life is about consciously putting in effort to adapt and improve in whatever way we choose (or sometimes our environment chooses for us).
We either improve and succeed, or stay the same and continue life with the status quo, which is fine for a lot of people. But is it fine for you?
It all starts with a conscious effort.
You’re worth the effort.