Updated: Jun 1, 2020
Have you ever said to yourself…
“things will be different this time”
…and then they weren’t?
The outcome was the same – you didn’t get that project you wanted, you didn’t save for that trip like you said you would, and you didn’t stick to your diet.
Don’t be so hard on yourself. The bright side is that things can actually be different in just a few easy steps. Let me show you how…
As humans, we are creatures of habit. When we wake up in the morning, we have similar (if not the exact same) habits and patterns. We listen to the same music day-after-day. We eat the same meals. We say the same things. Even more, we tend to have the same thoughts. So, it’s no surprise that when we want things to be different, it feels difficult – if not impossible – to change our lives.
Why is that?
The answer is that our brains are designed to process information, filter million bits of data, and make (nearly immediate) decisions. As our brain processes information, it determines whether a particular behavior should become a short or long-term habit – at which point, it creates automation. Our brain automates tasks and delegates assignments to various parts of our body to make things happen (i.e., goal attainment) and to keep things going (habit formation). This feature of our brain is incredible it automates habits and behaviors so efficiently that sometimes we may not even realize why we behave a certain way or do the things that we do on a daily basis. Our brain automates tasks because it wants to reserve brain power for us to focus on other critical tasks, but this is where some people run into problems. Your brain is relying on you to tell it where and what you want it to focus on (i.e., critical tasks), the average person tells it to focus on “junk brain food” like entertainment.
How do I change things?
If you are serious and committed to doing things differently – you’re in luck. There’s a simple process you can follow to tell your brain what you want it to automate (i.e., change) and what you want it to focus on. I am a firm believer that we can change our circumstances by adjusting our mindsets and behaviors. The process I outline below is inspired by Behaviorism and Operant Conditioning.
In the next sections, I will provide you with simple recommendations on getting the most out of your outcomes using this process.
1. Establish clarity (tell your brain exactly what you want it to do)
2. Follow the path of least resistance (set yourself up for success)
3. Take action (even if they seem like tiny moments)
4. Adjust and repeat with reinforcement
Step 1: Establish Clarity – It starts with being clear on what you want to accomplish and the instructions you give your brain. Your brain wants to help you, but it needs to know what and how you want its help. Clarity brings purpose and purpose drives actions and actions lead to results.
Example: You want to drop a few pounds, so you say to your brain - “I want to lose weight.” This statement is vague, and your brain is not clear what you want it to do or how you need help.
Try this: Tell your brain something like this “Let’s run on the treadmill for 10 minutes on Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 4:50 PM.” Now, your brain knows exactly what to do with these instructions. They are specific and clear. More importantly, you are telling it to focus on the process (i.e., running for 10 minutes) not the outcome (i.e., losing weight).
Step 2: Follow the path of least resistance – This is where you manipulate your environment to increase your chances of success. By manipulating your environment, you are creating a path of least resistance, where you facilitate goal attainment.
Example: Let’s say you are working on a project but keep getting distracted and lose focus easily. You find yourself trying to multitask and respond to emails/texts that end up taking you on an unplanned course.
Try this: If you are on a laptop, go find a new place to sit somewhere you don’t normally go to. Now, turn-off your email program and close your web browser. Make sure to turn off your phone for at least 1 hour. The plan is to remove anything that is not part of your chartered course (i.e., project execution). You will quickly find yourself making strong progress.
Step 3: Take Action – The average person wants to make huge leaps when it comes to goal attainment. But this mindset often leads to disappointments coupled with a negative belief in one’s ability to perform and execute the task at hand. This is why it is extremely important to take things slow. It is okay to want to do big things and see huge results, but you must remind yourself that consistent success is better than occasional success. It is better to be known as someone who is reliably successful as opposed to someone who “has their moments on occasion.”
Example: Let’s say that you are working on writing that book you have always wanted to check-off your bucket list. Most people see this as a daunting task – I mean writing a book requires countless hours of preparation, creating outlines, drafts, having the perfect title, writing the perfect line each and every time. If you ask me, this is a huge amount of pressure. It’s no wonder aspiring authors never actually get the project off the ground.
Try this: Break the massive task into tiny moments. Tell your brain “today, we are just working on writing 2 pages.” This is specific and attainable. It is important to keep moving forward even if it feels like tiny moments. To put things in perspective, by writing 2 pages a day (consistently) you will have 10 pages by the end of a 5-day week. This easily translates into 1 solid chapter. By doing this over 10 weeks you will have the 1st draft of your 10-chapter book. If 2 pages feels like much, take it down to 1 page, if that’s too much then write ½ a page. What matters most is that you start and keep going.
Step 4: Adjust and Repeat with Reinforcement – There are two common reasons the brain creates habits (automation): (1) it finds them critical and necessary to longevity; (2) it gets immediate pleasure by performing them. Knowing this allows you to hack your brain for optimal performance. In this situation you give your brain a treat.
Example: This time, I will give you a personal example. Getting up at 4:00 AM and writing is not an easy task for me. But it is something I am committed to. This morning when writing this piece, I made a deal with myself (something I do often with my brain). To give you perspective, I love cookies, so as I was making coffee and getting ready to write, I made the following deal.
“I will have 3 cookies with my coffee. One to get me started. The second when I finish writing this piece. The final one when I hit the publish button.”
If you are reading this – I ate three cookies :)
The bottom line is to reward (or punish) your brain with something it likes or craves. After all, it is helping you attain your desired outcomes.
Takeaway Thoughts: The process of conditioning (i.e., making reward/punishment deals with your brain) is extremely effective and it can have serious consequences when used improperly. So, I caution you to be very mindful and strategic of what you give yourself as a reward or punishment. It is easy to unintentionally create or replace one bad habit with another (possibly even worse) habit. Remember, the goal is to improve the quality of your life, health, wealth, and relationships.
Thank you for reading. Send me a private message if there is a topic you want me to cover.