Holding Back to Leap Forward

It’s fun to imagine achieving big, ambitious, goals.  Such images stoke the flames of passion and motivation.  Realistic?  That’s not nearly as fun or inspiring.  As Tim Ferriss says in The Four-Hour Work Week: “Having an unusually large goal is an adrenaline infusion that provides the endurance to overcome the inevitable trials and tribulations that go along with any goal. Realistic goals, restricted to the average ambition level, are uninspiring and will only fuel you through the first or second problem, at which point you throw in the towel.”  The concept of realistic has both objective and subjective components.  The objective part deals with plausibility and probability.  The subjective component –the one I speak to here—is emotional and relative.  When it comes to determining realistic, one size doesn’t fit all.  One person’s realistic is another person’s exciting ambition, and yet another’s walk in the park.

Having big goals is exciting and motivating.  I have created, embraced, and gotten all fired up about such goals.  And that’s a good thing.  However, there is a challenge I keep encountering that has become a pattern and has actually repeatedly foiled my attempts at achieving my big goals.  The challenge is that I get fired up about an unrealistic goal and then set out on an unrealistic path to get there.  Unlike the goals themselves, unrealistic paths sabotage efforts.  This has been borne out in my experience.  For example, I have perennially set out to lose around 20 pounds, which seems like a big goal to me.  I create a strict (unrealistic) plan that requires lots of planning and a will of iron.  If I can somehow manage to adhere to the plan perfectly, I am bound to reach my goal.  But there’s the rub.  Rigorous research has yielded compelling and plentiful evidence that will power is a finite resource that fatigues much like a muscle does with use.  On a perfect day, when everything goes my way perfectly, I can adhere to my oh-so-noble, stringent plan.  However, as demands on my time and emotional, physical, and mental resources mount, my plan goes by the way side.  So I crash not too far into my grandiose plan — indeed, a perfect example of the perfect’s being the enemy of the good.  Each time this pattern happens, my own credibility with myself erodes a little more.  I know that putting together a more modest realistic plan that makes use of what I know about habit formation would make success more likely – a plan that slowly and steadily builds momentum.  It would take longer than following the stringent plan.  But since my efforts on the stringent plan always end up falling short, longer is better than never.  This is where the whole idea of kaizen (or continuous gradual improvement) comes into play.  As Darren Hardy writes in The Compound Effect,   small, smart choices consistently applied over time create huge results.

How do I apply kaizen to my goal of losing 20 pounds?  I would gradually add one tactic to my strategy at a time, not adding another one until the each preceding one is well established and easy.

It could look something like this:

  • Slow down eating (chewing 20 – 30 times per bite)
  • Refrain from eating at desk, in front of TV, or while driving
  • Log food intake, without measuring or tracking calories and/or carbohydrates
  • Plan and abide by menus with targeted carb counts
  • Plan and abide by menus with targeted carb and calorie counts
  • Gradually add more activity and adjust food intake as needed.

I encourage you to conceive a big, exciting and ‘unrealistic’ goal and then devise an incremental, gradual path to achieve it.

Honoring Time

What does it say about us when we schedule meetings adjacently such that attendees must arrive late and/or leave early? What does it say about the value of those first and/or last 5 to 10 minutes?  It could say that those minutes aren’t all that valuable — it’s okay to miss them, after all.  It could also mean that the attendance of all those invited to the meeting is not important.  If that is the case, why were invitees invited in the first place?  If my attending isn’t that valuable, why should I bother attending at all?  So what’s the big deal about 5 or 10 minutes?  Multiply that 5 to 10 minutes by the number of attendees (use 5 for the purpose of this illustration) and you get 25 to 50 minutes, which aren’t nominal chunks of time.  I don’t know about you, but I can get quite a bit done in those timeframes. 
Even if we could be on time (or more on time) for adjacent meetings (as in the case where those meetings are in the same room), it wouldn’t be a good idea schedule them without a time buffer.    Having no breaks between those two meetings means that we neither have time to at least begin to digest information from the previous one nor to prepare for the next. In school classes begin at the top of the hour and end in 50 minutes, leaving time to get to the next class, use the restroom, etc.  Classes that last longer than 50 minutes tend to have a scheduled break.  Plays, concerts, and the like have intermissions so that audience members don’t have to miss anything.  Why should meetings be any different?  Studies consistently show that we can focus for no more than 90 minutes at a time at best.  Assuming that all of the meeting (the content from the start to finish) is of value, all attendees should be fully present and attentive the entire time.  Limiting the length of the meeting makes this attentive presence possible.  Therefore, maximizing the value of a meeting dictates that attendees arrive on time, are prepared (mentally and otherwise), and do not leave until it is over.
My proposal: the default meeting length should be 45 minutes and should always start at the top of the hour, always leaving at least 15 minutes as a buffer.  People are more likely to be able to engage and concentrate for a 45-minute timeframe.  And a 15-minute buffer gives people time to get to or prepare for what’s next and to wrap up loose ends of the one just completed.  Having meetings start at the top of the hour helps with logistics and facilitates scheduling a groups of people.   If a meeting requires more time to meet its objectives, consecutive meetings can be scheduled.  Attendees can pick up where they left off after a nice 15-minute renewal break.  Let’s start respecting and protecting our time and that of others.
For more recommended practices for effective meetings, see my earlier post.  Creating and Conducting Purpose-Driven Meetings

Don a Persona for Greater Access

I’m a singer and love to perform, but have always struggled with stage fright.  Not unusual, I know.  Some folks say that anxiety makes for a better performance.  I couldn’t disagree more.  Preparation makes for good performance; and preparation coupled with a presence that is centered, energized, empowered, and relaxed makes for the best singing and a great performance.  So how does one get her proverbial butterflies to fly in formation?

One of the most incredible pianists I have worked with told me about the use of personas to overcome stage fright.  I have heard similar advice, but not the suggestion of developing a persona.  The advice I had heard that sounds something like this: if you want to do X, but are afraid, think of someone you admire and imagine how they would deal with the fear in that situation.  Hmm…as good and interesting as that sounds, for some reason it never worked for me, not for addressing emotional challenges anyway.

The idea of creating a persona intrigued me.  I really like reaching into myself, stirring up the juices of imagination, and creating.  Certainly well worth a try, creating a persona for my own use would be fun.  I began by asking myself about the qualities this persona should possess.  What I came up with is that she should be powerful, yet vulnerable; confident, but not condescending, completely and unapologetically at home in her own skin; fearless, but not foolhardy. Most of all she should courageously lead with and share her heart.  Ladies and gentlemen (drum roll), I present Angelique de la Force!  Because I “gave birth” to her, she is a part of me, an abiding and intimate ally. I can step into her; I can “be” her.  It’s really remarkable to me that this works.  Distinguishing Angelique as somehow separate from me, when she is in reality a part of me, has given access to more of myself.  Joy possesses all of Angelique’s traits, but they are somehow not as distilled or concentrated as they are in Angelique.  Angelique is not burdened by some of Joy’s other qualities, qualities that are positive and useful, but qualities whose presence tamp down those that are so prominent in Angelique. On stage I am Angelique.

I wonder how many other personas I could bring to life to aid in other aspects of my life.  How about you?