My last blog post was actually only a teaser as I did not finish it with giving you any real solutions. In fact, this has raised a few reactions from readers (check out Procrastination is not about TIME management).
I didn't want to bring up the issue around mental barriers and focused solely on how you can switch your brain into the productive by setting goals, being focused and taking action. But of course this is not enough to sustain a change of behaviour.
There is an unimaginable number of mental barriers and all sorts of reasons that keep us wanting to hold onto the one singe habit that we all hate: not changing the way we do things. If it is getting so emotionally heavy for us and for your entourage, then WHY is it that we keep refusing change?
Once we have fallen in the failure cycle, unless we change the way we do things, we will keep falling in this same cycle, just like an endless loop. In this context, it is easy to predict our future with 90% accuracy. Just look at the past 5 years or even 10 years of your life, contemplate on all the different failures you've gone through, be it in your relationships, career, life goals... the likelihood of you repeating these same patterns is extremely high. Human beings are pattern-seeking beings, and it turns out we have developed a cognitive capability to recreate memories based on emotions that we feel in different situations. These emotions can be fear, anger but also love, pleasure (Bergado et al., 2011; Maren et al., 2013) and most importantly, they were enforced to repeat patterns that were significant to humans' survival and reproduction.
But enough about failure, Mark P. Mattson (author and neuro-scientist) wrote in his study Superior pattern processing is the essence of the evolved human brain (2014): "the human brain is capable of using stored information to generate novel images, sounds, and other patterns in the processes of imagination and invention". If there is one thing that humans are true masters of, it is bringing about novelty, and we know it. Nevertheless, In the same way of repeating our failures, we keep showing up to the same successes and so working on the goals that we have already achieved. As mentioned Dr. Grace Lordan (behavioural scientist) we need this "safety blanket" that makes us feel good about ourselves, thus we keep exploring what we already know.
In a podcast on Changing Habits & Reaching Goals (2021), Dr. Lordan brought our attention to the fact that patterned success is linked to self-esteem. It is soothing to people's ego to do what they know they're good at. So this is when they stop pushing themselves, and this is why they will not change certain things as facing the unknown will make them feel self-conscious, weak, disappointed. When people live in a small town, they go to the same places, the same bars, the same restaurants, see the same people and they feel at ease. They feel popular and empowered to be recognized, to have a significance. Therefore they'd rather stay in that safe haven than move to a bigger city where no-one knows them and lose all sense of direction.
Reaching change is hard as it requires getting out of our comfort zone. On top of that, it requires discipline, consistency and baby steps. And if you think that it is impossible to change the way you do things, it is most probably because you underestimate the probability of your trial being a success. When I talk to my friend who is a lawyer, absolutely passionate about his job, always eager to do overtime, neglecting his own time to be available at all costs. My only question is, how can this be sustainable?
Even when he recognizes himself to be a procrastinator, sometimes frustrated for being unable to control unforeseen elements that interrupt him in his daily tasks such as new requests from co-workers, new favours from friends, family issues to handle last minute, events to attend... the idea of changing this to get a more structured life is inconceivable. How so? Because planning and having a structure will take away his flexibility.
What happens is that most people go through life, and more often than not, during their prime time between 25 and 35 y.o, in the auto-pilot mode, and they take in anything that is thrown at them without taking control of the gear. And they duck when they need to talk about this elephant in the room. But as a Coach what I have witnessed is that people can be in control. They are all able to control their time, and the outcome of all the efforts they put in their journey depends on how strong their will power is. Of course, I said it myself, procrastination is not about time management, it is about the mental barriers. With this said, fear of losing flexibility is also one of the constraints that people tend to tie to the notion of structuring and planning.
"If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail" - Benjamin Franklin
If they change their habit of not making proper time and just keep overlapping things time and time again, they feel that they don't have the flexibility to actually do things last minute. However the idea of planning out their day, attributing the right amount of time to work, friends and extra curricular activities will only help them maintain their flexibility without feeling frustrated. As long as people set intentions for their day and have the will power to stick to it, they can avoid the frustration of having a slow start of the day, or an unproductive afternoon, or the feeling of wasting time.
So to overcome fears and disappointments, people need to create new habits, break the old patterns and adopt the new ones. In this process, people are going to learn to control their time and to forge their patience. They need to learn taking time for their novelty and work on consistency. People can race towards any goals, but breaking habits takes repetitions.
"It takes 20 years to become an overnight success" - Eddie Cantor
So if people want to keep doing what they are good at to feel at ease with themselves, they need to find in those tasks, what brings them satisfaction, what results are brought to them at the end, and how they can relate that to the new task.
When learning a new habit, the first trigger is to do one small thing per day, but we've got to do it everyday. And it takes on average 20 repetitions until a new action becomes a habit. This is when I like to say that success is a numbers' game. if you increase the number of times you do something, you will increase the chances of being successful at it. Let's say it's a rule of probabilities.
I used to work as a Recruitment Consultant, if you are familiar with this type of job, it is mainly sales. I started thinking that I was not a volume or sales oriented person. I was right, I am not. My paycheck did not allow me to live comfortable in Geneva, I was making way les than any of my friends, and about 60% less than in my previous job. So my goal was to have placed my first candidate after my 3 months probation. I remember how manager was trying to show me sympathy while telling that was not achievable, that their best consultant made his first deal after 8 months and it was exceptional. But little did they know, I wanted to crack the code, and understand what would make people excel in this job. Most people would start with a one year training during which they are not supposed to be calling clients, but only screening CV's. I was thrown in the cold water from week 2. So I thought, let's pretend I already had all the training and had already spent 1 year screening CV's, now if I am supposed to be good at generating leads and making numbers, how can I do that while enjoying the human side of this job?
There was no secret spell for this. The equation was:
create genuine bond with clients + call as many as possible per week = generate more leads.
I joined the company in November, hating cold calls, disliking sales and not understanding how it works. In February, I had made 3 deals, and a fourth one in March. I made more calls in 3 months than their best consultant in a year. I set strictly 2-3 hours per day to make calls, one after another. I made a list of who responded and who didn't, to call them back later that day or during the week. No matter how much I hated it to begin with, the dialing, the call, the speech, everything became more and more automatic, intuitive, and didn't seem like such a burden anymore.
I successfully reached my goal simply by repetitively doing the same thing everyday at the same time until it was a habit, a non-thinker.
Nonetheless, there was one thing that got me through it all. The purpose of putting myself through that pain of making calls. If you want to break your habits and build new ones, yes you need planning, yes you need logical thoughts, and yes you need to know what your purpose is.
So how about we tackle this in our next discussion: What is your purpose?
And why do we have to go all in or all out?