Getting back to my blog…
I have really missed sitting at my desk on the weekends to write these blogs.
There is a story about Warren Buffet and his pilot, where the pilot asked Warren for some tips on achieving success. Warren asked the pilot to write 25 things that he wanted to accomplish in his life, and the pilot happily jotted down on paper everything that felt important to him. Then Buffet said, now highlight the top 5 things. That was a much harder task – why only five? The next thing Warren said was at the core of the lesson he wanted his pilot to learn – he told his pilot that in order to be successful he would need to pay attention that the other 20 things on his list did not distract him from accomplishing the top five.
This is how my blog went on hold. I figured that I had one important personal writing project that needed my focus, and that this blog was a distraction from my accomplishing this project. But, Warren’s advice is only a small fraction of a much larger topic on what it truly takes to accomplish anything in life – the answer Warren gave the pilot was about avoiding distractions, even when the distractions are dressed up as important tasks. I truly believe in what he said and agree that focus is the most valuable skill we can learn in a time when distractions abound, and when everything seems urgent and important. But accomplishing important things in life is a lot more than just setting great goals.
When I stopped writing my blog I did not right away address some equally important questions. For example, when exactly did I write my blogs in the past, and was that time now going to be the best time to write for my other project? Was that time actually working for me previously, and was it sufficient time for what I wanted to accomplish? Would my motivation for writing blogs work for this project? In terms of identity, did I work on developing a sense of self that strongly identifies with being a writer, not a blogger? To get that project going I had to also work on my habits, rituals and identity.
In the last 2 years alone I read 5 books on habits (Good and Bad Habits, The Power of Habits, Tiny Habits, Atomic Habits, and Rewire). I love the science of human behavior and habit formation is so core to coaching that I am usually drawn to anything on this subject. But, at the end of the day all the latest books on the science of habits tell us essentially the same thing: whether good or bad, habits evolve and shape into place with three steps – 1. prompts (or triggers), 2. routine (actions and behaviors), and 3. reward (what we get when we perform this habit, whether short or long term). The science of habit is well known and is central to some of the biggest businesses that now consume our time (and money). You hear a ping on your phone (prompt), you look at the screen and then you proceed to spend 20 extra minutes on all the other apps that have the red dots showing there is something there for you to spend your precious time looking into (routine). The routine gets set in place because the prompt is enticing and the routine is very easy to follow. The reward, may be a few likes on social-media or a an email response in your inbox, and an experience of having accomplished something. These rewards are often short term but overtime we develop an addiction or craving and these routines become embedded in our day to day. We also know, without having to read about it, that breaking a routine that’s bad for us or starting one that’s good for us is also hard.
Tony Robbins is famous for having said that he only needed to spend a day with someone, watching their normal daily routine, to tell you what their entire life would be like. In fact, our lives are a series of habits linked together to create hours, days, weeks, months, years. We become aware of the power of habits when we decide it is time to cut something off or imprint something new, but most of the time, habits are playing the musics of our lives in the background. Years of doing the same will amount to the lives we create, with all of its beauty and all of its sorrows (of course, external circumstances shape our experiences too, but the habits we have in place will ultimately dictate how we respond to these circumstances, or heal and recover. So, all in all, we are the architects of our lives.)
So, it goes without saying that while Buffet is right, we need to have a way to prioritize and focus on what matters most, the most important thing is in fact having a system in place to create habits that will lead us to those goals. As James Clear says in Atomic Habits, “You do not raise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your system.” My system was precarious in early 2021 because I assumed that my old blog writing habits was enough for a project that is significantly more rigorous and intense. It wasn’t until July of 2020 after many false starts that I implemented and focused on a system to get my new priority goal moving. And, getting my system implemented was not nearly as easy as setting the goal.
The habit I developed involved understanding my exact context and barriers, and it also involved incremental improvements overtime. I knew that I needed an hour every day to get my project moving, and I also knew that mornings were the best and most creative times for me to write. The challenge was that mornings had always felt out of my control – as a single mom I was highly dependent on the time my daughter gets out of bed to get my day started. So I had to implement a system that would allow me one hour of uninterrupted time before she woke-up. I started with a 6 am start, and found that that wasn’t enough time. I began setting my clock to 5:15 am (yeah, yeah, I know!!!! CRAZY) and added more prompts and cravings/rewards along the way – such as getting a programmable coffee maker and waking up to the yummy smell of coffee, ready to drink, making this ungodly hour in the morning more exciting. I know this will sound crazy, but I have come to look forward to my quiet mornings, with my coffee, my laptop and my creative juices flowing. I feel I have done something meaningful for me, even before saying good morning to my daughter whenever she wakes up.
To get my morning routine to stick, I had to change my night time routine as well. I have always been good about shutting off electronics and reading before bed, but I started using my iPhone bedtime app so that my phone goes into sleep mode at the same time every night. I also make a point to be in bed, head on my pillow before 10 pm. I looked into creating a series of enjoyable moments linked together, including the sound of my alarm, which I find quite pleasant, and even the password I type to get into my Mac. I have a mug I painted with my daughter, and feels truly magical and mine, and that I only use while writing, and I placed pretty fairy lights and nice candles on my dining table, that make that early morning hour truly special and even a sort of self-care, me time.
Creating enjoyable prompts, helped me establish a series of habits that turned into nighttime and morning time rituals. Rituals are so helpful on our way to accomplishing goals, that I have written about them often in my blogs. The science behind rituals is very simple, these ritualized routines cut down on the need for decision-making, and, therefore, the danger of defaulting to ‘business as usual’ and, the all time enemy of self-doubt. While I had not fully ritualized my morning, the voice in my head that doubted the value of what I was trying to do was definitely louder – it was the temptress luring me to go back to bed and get another hour of sleep. Rituals not only cut on the need for decision-making but they also begin to imprint into new ways of being. As the saying goes, ‘fake it until you make it,’ as I do something often enough I start to tell myself that this is the new me, the who I am. And, this, takes me to the last important step in accomplishing goals.
My favorite part of the Atomic Habits book was the first chapter because James Clear reminds us that as long as we do not see ourselves as the person who does whatever the new habit is, then we are going to constantly fight with an identity incoherence. If I am anything that conflicts with this new goal, and the habits that will get me there, then I am more likely to give them up. The flip side is also true, the more we see ourselves as a certain ‘type of person’ we reinforce that believe by doing more of what confirms this view of ourselves. I look at this from the lens of leadership as well, and I call it the Principle of Self-Knowledge. The angle is the same, but the lens is leadership – we cannot lead from a place that’s in conflict with whom we see ourselves. So for me rituals are about helping me imprint new ways of being – if my ritual is about getting up in the morning to write then I am a writer, and the more I do it the more I feel compelled to write.
So, why am I writing this blog now?
First I completed a big step towards my personal project, and am taking a break from that but feel excited to continue to write. it is 6 am on Monday and writing this feels great. I was not going to put writing on hold. Second, I believe that writing this blog brings me inspiration and allows me to give back to my community, so I will find a way that it gets embedded in my routine and will be a part of it, rather than a distraction away from my project. Finally, I could not truly go an end of the year moment without sharing a blog on visualizing and achieving goals – hehe, that would be so unlike my identity 😉
For your goals this year, get your systems in place. If you want to kick-start, read the book ‘Tiny Habits’ by BJ Fogg – a truly easy and tactical book on habits, and super straightforward. It will be a good reminder that instead of relying on motivation you should look to make your habits fun and easy, and tiny! Don’t go for the ‘I will mediate every day for 30 min,’ instead go for the ‘I will take two deep breaths everyday in the morning as I sit on my chair to work.’ Start small and celebrate each success!
I feel super inspired by all of these authors who have shared great wisdom on how we can use our conscious and unconscious minds to create better lives! I hope some of this will help you too.
Have an amazing end of the year, and yes, do set goals – aiming your sail in the right direction is key to get you started. But don’t end there, spend time creating the systems that will prompt new habits to shape in place to support you in your journey.
With love and gratitude,