Category Archives: habits

Are you living a life of distraction?

Does this sound familiar? You are working on a project, music is playing. You make it a few minutes but social media chimes that a “friend” has posted something. You check it out. More than a few minutes later you get back to work. Before you accomplish too much, someone texts or IMs you. Your day continues with this constant interruption and it is finally to come home. On the drive home, you listen to an audible book, which is interrupted several times as you are texting to firm up your dinner plans….using appropriate hands free technology, of course. Eventually you get to exercise, popping in another audible book or watching TV the whole time.

I’m not criticizing. I understand completely. I counted my interruptions the other day. Just in my regular job, I averaged 150 incoming email a day. I also had 80 outgoing emails, thirty IM conversations, 15 texts and ten phone calls. This didn’t count the meetings I was in, the hallway conversations or anything related to my personal life. I was distracted.

Distractions can be a addictive. Every little ding, beep or post releases a little dopamine. Sitting quietly alone with your thought can becomes an odd feeling, like accidentally meeting a childhood friend you’ve lost contact with.

Turn off some of your notices. Cancel some of your email subscriptions. Let some texts sit unanswered. Turn off all electronics for a few minutes a day and just be alone with your thoughts. There are great things happening in your head. Be quiet and present once in a while to hear what your mind has to say.

Change starts with destruction

The process of intentional change is a simple four step process. First, you explore where you are. Second, you decide where you want to go. Third, you determine strategies and habits that lead you to your destination. Fourth, you implement.

It really is that simple. On paper. In real life there are obstacles, habits and fears. There are prices to be paid and sacrifices to be made. In real life, intentional change is not so easy.

There is an additional step, a prequel step, to take before making intentional change that will help make the rest of the steps easier: destruction.

You must first destroy those things that are holding you in place. Our lives are constructed to maintain the status quo; where we are. Our habits, our relationships and our schedules all reinforce maintaining what we currently do. To make intentional change, we need to destroy some of these bonds that hold us.

Turning stop goals into go goals

Whether in business, relationships or personal lives, there are two broad categories of goals around making change: stop and go.

Stop goals are simply that, things you want to stop doing. Stop blowing up in meetings. Stop over eating. Stop taking on too many tasks. Stop taking your relationship for granted. Stop procrastinating.

Go goals are about things you want to start doing. Start speaking up. Start eating better. Start being proactive.

The two goals use different parts of your mind. Stop goals are mainly about using willpower and must be constantly applied. Stop goals are usually about breaking existing habits. Go goals rely more on creativity and starting new habits.

Research has shown that people using go goals are more successful than people who are using stop goals. Also people are more likely to give up on stop goals because it is more obvious each time they fail while go goals are are more about successes.

So. What do you do with this information? How can this improve your life? When you create a goal, be sure to turn it into a positive goal. For example, don’t have a goal of not eating that triple bacon cheese burger. Instead have a goal of eating a salad. Don’t have a goal of showing up your coworker. Instead have a goal of getting the most out of the team. Don’t have a goal of stop being so negative. Instead have a goal of being more positive.

Discover vs Defend

I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.

One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.

How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.

So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.

Reinvent your life in four steps

Some times it takes the world slapping us in the back of the head (hopefully figuratively speaking) to realize what we are doing isn’t working anymore.  Who we’ve become isn’t who we want to be.  Losing a job, having spouse leave or just watching something amazing you’ve worked for fall apart can be scary.  It can also be an amazing period of self-realization.

So what do you do when you, the real you down deep in your psyche and not the “you” everyone else in your life sees, has become the square peg being shoved into the round hole of your life?  Realize it is less about reinventing yourself and more about reinventing your life.

1.) Do no harm – The first thing you need to do is to stop the damage, if there is any.  Sometimes we’ve been shoved so far into that round hole, damage is being done.  This could be over spending or pushing away loved ones or even just copious amounts of self-medication.  If you are doing anything that could cause lasting harm to yourself, your life or anyone else, work on that first.

2.) Make a little space – Life and habit conspire to keep us doing the same thing we’ve always done.  Change takes effort and effort takes time.  Odds are pretty good that your life is full.  Now it may not be full of what we want it to be full of but nature abhors a vacuum.  Decouple yourself from something.  Say no to a commitment and walk away.  Carve out a little time where you can work on you.

3.) Understand what you want/what you value – It is very difficult to find or create your own square hole if you don’t know what it looks like.  This can be a major step.  Talk to different people.  Read different books.  Keep a journal of things that excited you today.  Do the 20 in 20 exercise.  Make a list of things that you value and keep it handy when you are making decisions.

4.) Take action – Start small but start making changes today.  You don’t necessarily need to change cities or quit your job to start having a new life that fits you.  Remember, it is as important to stop doing things that aren’t right for you as it is to start doing things that bring meaning to your life. Progress not perfection.

What is your story about reinventing yourself?

20 in 20

I’m sure I’ve written about this tool, trick, hack before but it definitely is worth repeating. It is probably the most useful bit of homework that my clients enjoy. Well “enjoy” might not be the right word. Maybe “productive”.

Basically it is a free writing exercise with a few bounds. It can be used to push for creativity or for honesty. It can bring world peace. Ok, that might be a little hyperbole but it is a great tool that can help you push back limitations.

Go to a quiet place with few distractions. Put your cellphone on silent. Set a timer for twenty minutes. On a piece of paper (yes I recommend paper for this task) write across the top the problem you are trying to solve. Well it could be a problem or a challenge or an exploratory question. Then for the next twenty minutes write out as many responses as you can. Aim for twenty responses. To get twenty, you don’t have time to judge, edit or criticize your responses. Don’t put a lot of thought into any response because the clock is ticking. Remember you are not looking for quality responses, just a lot of them.

After the alarm rings, put the paper away without reading it. Let a day pass. Do things that allow your thoughts to flow. Really how many great ideas come to you in the shower or waking from a dream. Then go back to the paper. Read over your responses without editing or judging them. Set the timer for another twenty minutes. Try to add more responses or flesh out the responses you’ve already wrote down. At this point, you are adding, not editing. No criticism.

Let one more day pass. Go for a walk. Now reread all of your ideas. Circle anything that speaks to you. Pick the three best responses. Also pick the wildest response and the most “out there” response. Set your timer on last time. Now take those final five responses and add as much to them as you can. Include things you circled on responses that didn’t make the cut.

This is a great tool for “questions” like:

1.) What do I want to accomplish this year?

2.). Why do I hate my job?

3,) How could I get more customers?

4.) Why is my boss acting like a jerk?

5.) Why should I take this job?

6.) What would make me happy?

As you can see, it has a wide range of uses. It helps you tap into your subconscious and trap your underlying thoughts in writing.

“Just stop,” the most useless advice

Ever try to break a habit?  It isn’t as easy as simply not doing the habit.  It is incredibly difficult to “just stop” but why is that?  Habits are actually hardwired into our brains.  According to Ann Graybiel and Kyle Smith in Good Habits, Bad Habits explain how the brain builds a closed loop.  Simply choosing to NOT do the task is actually you working against your brain.  Even motivation isn’t that helpful.

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To stop doing a habit, it is important to understand the environmental triggers and create work arounds.  First, try to minimize triggers.  Second, start with the easier to eliminate habits first.  Third, build strategies to distract yourself.  Even making a habit 20 seconds harder to do can make a big difference.  Fourth, measure your actions and the results.  Fifth, be realistic.  It probably took you years to build a habit.  It will take time to eliminate it.  You will have setbacks.  That’s ok.  Just restart the process and keep moving forward.