Sounds like a late night infomercial doesn’t it?
“Lose all the weight you want, just sitting on the couch! Only 3 left at this price so buy now!”
The fact of the matter is that personal goals are typically identified by what we need to do. Lift weights three times a week, write 2,000 words every day, eat six servings of fruits and vegetables… But lately I’ve been thinking that the things I don’t do are equally as important to success as are the actions taken towards the goal. It certainly isn’t a radical idea but is more a shift of mindset. One that I’ve found helps me to positively re-frame the context of my actions (or inaction’s as the case may be).
What does this have to do with communication?
This post may seem unrelated to the theme of my work here, but I feel it is complementary and very relevant. Communication only consists of a few types: Verbal, Non-Verbal and Written. How you feel about yourself plays a major role in how you communicate non-verbally. If you are self conscious or insecure about some aspect of yourself this will be reflected in your body language. Body composition is the elephant in the room here and weight loss goals are the most common New Year’s Resolution, so achieving your goals in this area will dramatically benefit your “presence”.
This article is written with weight loss / body composition as the assumed goal you are working towards, but the idea applies to any personal goal you are undertaking; from writing a book, to kicking a drug habit.
So Much to Do, and So Much Time To Do It In
Diet and exercise. Caloric deficit. Simple keys to losing weight, yet so many people have a hard time unlocking the door.
I re-connected last week with an old friend. He met for lunch and he was on crutches. As his 40th birthday was approaching he decided to “get into shape”. So he started running every day. Then twice per day. This led to a hair line fracture in his tibia and now any progress made has ground to a halt.
If you work out (or write, or build cars…) for a full hour every day that comprises 4% of your day. A very reasonable number and an acceptable sacrifice when working towards your goals. Maybe doesn’t seem like it when you are up at 0500 putting on your running shoes though…
But if you consistently put in your 4% towards your goals then you will make progress towards them. However it is the remaining 96% of your time which ultimately determines your speed of progression.
What (Not) to do
You are now punching time towards your goals. Exercising for an hour every morning. Things are going great. Except then you go for burgers and beers that night. Soda and pizza the next. Or tucking in to the kids Halloween candy. ( I write this a week after Halloween…)
Every action you take in your daily life has only one of two results:
- Moves you towards your goal – Net Positive
- Moves you away from your goal – Net Negative
It doesn’t matter what end result you are after, there are positive actions and negative actions. And you already know what your Net Positive and Negative actions are. Your subconscious is very good at overriding your willpower so you choose to do the Negative action anyway, but you know in your gut that it is not helping you reach your potential.
It is like your life is one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. Everything is ticking along for a few pages on autopilot because you are working on whatever you are working on. Then you turn the page are encounter a CROSSROADS where a decision needs to be made. The majority of our decisions are made in a split second, almost subconsciously, but they are decisions none the less. So what do we do when confronted with a Net-Negative decision?
- Don’t check your email
- Don’t post to Facebook
- Don’t hit snooze then roll over
- Don’t crack that beer
- Don’t eat from boredom
The majority of the results we achieve are not due to the things that we do, but from the things that we don’t do. This due to the simple fact that we Don’t Do things the majority of the time. Our Net-Positive actions are the catalyst for change, and the force multiplier. But the change doesn’t take place in the gym. It takes place during the remaining 96% of the time.
Willpower at the Crossroads
This discussion wouldn’t be complete without a look at the idea of Diminishing Willpower, or Willpower as a Finite Resource. In a nutshell the idea is that for every decision we make throughout the day, a little bit of willpower is depleted. This occurs on a hormonal level and relates to the supply of glycogen available in our bodies. The tank only has so much gas so eventually a point is reached where the good intentions go out the window and the double cheeseburgers go down the hatch.
This is known by Psychologists as Decision Fatigue.
Avoiding these Net-Negative effects on willpower requires two methods:
- Reduce the number of crossroads
- Stockpile Net-Positives
If each choice you make depletes your willpower, thereby making subsequent choices more difficult, one obvious solution is to reduce the number of times you reach a crossroads. Reduce the number of choices you make in order to save your willpower reserve for the important ones. President Obama famously stated the following, in an interview with Vanity Fair magazine:
“You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits,” [Obama] said. “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”
Some ideas to help you reduce crossroads in you day:
- Put your phone on silent to avoid checking it after every notification.
- The Night Before routine – lay out your clothes, make your lunch, replace your slippers with running shoes beside your bed.
- Throw out the garbage and stock your kitchen with only Net-Positive foods. Enjoy treats away from your house as this makes it a conscious decision.
Reducing crossroads is effectively an exercise in lifestyle design. Mold your environment to support your goals.
Willpower is like a muscle. It requires exercise to grow in strength. There are many small things you can do, small wins, that will add up over time and help keep you on track to reach your goals:
- Make your bed first thing in the morning.
- Workout before breakfast.
- Meditate or write before bed.
It is easy to have your day run away on you (especially if you have kids!). By taking care of the important things first you will continue to make progress in the Net-Positive direction of your choosing. So take care of your most important personal goals when you first wake up. This builds willpower and confidence that you are moving in a positive direction. Save quieter, secondary goals for the evening. I suggest reading.
Seem like a lot to do for an article about doing nothing
The takeaway from all of this isn’t to do nothing by sitting on your ass. It is to make a conscious choice to not do Net-Negative actions and to give you tools to recognize and deal with each crossroad as you come to it. It is a zen inspired way of re-framing your daily experience to achieve your goals.
Actually doing nothing is harder than it seems so for those of you who need to do something when standing at that crossroads I will offer one last instruction:
Just take a great big beautiful breath, flood your body with oxygen, and give yourself the time to make the right decision – rather than going on autopilot.
Reaching your goals, or even the simple act of moving towards them in a positive direction, will give you a more positive outlook, both externally and towards yourself, and this will shine through to the whole world.
How do you reduce the crossroads in your day? What habits help you do the work towards meeting your goals?