Flamingos and Hard Work

Did you know that for a flamingo to eat, it needs to turn its head completely upside down?


When you see flamingos eating, it just looks wrong.  It can even make you feel uncomfortable. It's nothing like any other animal's idea of an enjoyable lunch.

But just because it looks or feels different, that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong.  I learned this myself when I realised I have my own flamingo-like reactions to exercising.

I understand the importance of exercising regularly but it’s difficult to convince myself of that every morning when the alarms goes off.  I could easily go for a quick jog in the park close to my house, but I don’t.  I wake up with good intentions, then switch off the alarm and get back to my dream. 

So I tried something different.   Now, I get up a bit earlier, start up my car and drive to a park further away.  This park is nicer, but it takes extra effort, and sacrificing of some sleep, to get there. 

I now go there nearly every day.

It’s because of the extra effort needed that I feel more satisfied from doing the exercise.  And because it’s more satisfying, I’m more likely to do it again.  That creates more motivation every morning and gets me out of bed.

There’s a study about rats who have learned the same trick about getting more satisfaction from working for their rewards.  One group of rats were given cocaine without having to do anything to earn it.  Another group had to press a lever to get the cocaine.  When they were tested later, the brain activity for the rats who had to work for their drugs showed the highest levels of dopamine.  (Check out Alex Korb’s book The Upward Spiral for more.)

I don’t think that means you need to seek out extra work for yourself.  There’s plenty of that already.  But you can look at what you’re doing now that’s not satisfying and decide how a bit of extra effort could create much more satisfying results.

And unlike the flamingo, you can keep eating your lunch the right way up.