As I am writing this, I can think of dozens of other easier things to do than sitting down on my butt to write. The pull to do something that requires less focus is incredibly strong.
And sometimes these urges are very sneaky. For example, I could fool myself into feeling productive by downloading the newest productivity app. Clearly spending time exploring a new app will make me less productive than just doing the work.
The common thinking traps people fall into
To make progress on your big goals, your mind may trick you into believing that you need:
- more training
- more research
- more time
- better weather
- more inspiration
- more discipline
- more money
- fewer distractions
- you name it…
Well, let me break it to you: these are just excuses that keep you away from making progress…
You already know what needs to be done. You want to lose weight? You go exercise and eat more healthy. You want to change your job? You need to get clear on where you want to go, make a plan and then execute.
It’s simple right? We know all of these things already.
Yet, we don’t act. Why is that?
It’s simple, but persistent action is painful
Focused action is hard and the only way to gain traction in your work
It’s too easy to give up when you are not committed.
If you want to lose weight and decide day by day when you will exercise, you will fail, because decisions require energy and willpower. And on hard days, that’s not something we have in abundance.
We need to learn how to manage the discomfort by building systems
According to Oxford, a system is “a set of principles or procedures according to which something is done; an organized scheme or method.” Systems can be designed to remove barriers, like making a decision to act.
You could create a system for working out first thing every morning, for example. Block the time on your agenda. Decide where you are going to work out, which outfit you will wear, how long you will exercise and design a workout plan for each weekday. That’s a system.
Leave nothing up to chance
Regardless of how painful the first couple of minutes will be, commit to keeping at it – just do the work required without overanalyzing.
Once you get over the initial hurdle, it will get easier and become part of your identity. You will not need to decide to work out, you just do it – because that’s what you do.
Focus on the process – not the outcome
So in the losing weight example, if you focus on the outcome (losing weight) and don’t see quick results, you will be tempted to give up before you see any results.
Or if I write daily for my blog and measure my progress by the number of visitors, I will likely stop writing when the traffic doesn’t pick up as I desire.
So to keep going, I focus on the process of writing and not the outcome. The outcome is out of my control.
I am not saying that you should not care about the outcome at all. Of course, we want to periodically analyze where we stand. But when it comes to actually do the work, it does not help us to get distracted by things outside control.
What we do day in and day out – is whom we become
I am a fan of doing things daily, rather than on specific days. I have noticed that it’s much easier to keep up with habits when they are built into my daily routine.
Here are my daily workday habits:
- 20 min. yoga or 1h Crossfit in the morning
- making a list of the top 3-5 things I want to get done during that day
- 2h of deep work
- 5 min. journaling at the end of the day
Do I have days when I don’t manage to stick to my routine? Yes, definitely. But I don’t let that stop me from coming back to it the next day. It’s the bounce-back part of the system.
Success requires hard work, not as a once-off, but done consistently
Most people think discipline is an inborn trait. But that’s not true. Discipline is a skill that can be developed, like a muscle. The more we practice focused action as part of our systems, the stronger our discipline will become.
Systems help you develop mastery, patience, resilience, and grit. They are by far the most effective way that I know to achieve anything in life.
Get started today. Even with the tiniest step, you will move forward.