Maybe it seems like cheating. But it’s not. Maybe it feels like you’re getting away with something. But you’re not. Maybe you think you should be able to just do it (whatever it is). So you shouldn’t have to try to trick yourself. But you know that’s not how it actually works.
Every time you’ve ever successfully accomplished something, hasn’t it has been (at least in part) in spite of yourself? Hasn’t every new habit you’ve ever created required you to (at least in part) trick yourself into it?
Hacking. Planning. Manipulating. Orchestrating your environment into a supportive situation is mandatory.
You must set yourself up for success.
What does that mean in practice? It depends on what you are trying to do.
Last weekend, we planned to go for a long jog and then grab Acai Bowls at a local juicer-y for breakfast. And we did that. Only not all at once. You see, the run route I planned brought us back past our apartment on the way to breakfast. So we stopped. We had more coffee, we took showers, and then we got on our way to acquiring a perfect breakfast.
When I mentioned our morning to my sister she said, oh yea, I can never run past the house or it’s over.
We had gone three miles by the time we quit, so it wasn’t a total waste of a run. But the point is: I could have just as easily planned a route that didn’t have a convenient stop-off point. I could have set myself up for success.
Because it’s mandatory.
For the same reason we throw away all our junk food as the first step on any diet. Or pack our lunch the night before to keep ourselves out of the drive through between stressful meetings. Or wake up an hour earlier to take advantage of the quite and meditate.
Trying to force it. To use will power. To just do it. Never works.
Because we get tired. And hot. And hungry. Our house gets noisy. And we know that it will happen. Because it always does. We can predict what will get in our way. We can foresee what might derail our goals.
So we have to set ourselves up to successfully persevere past those problems.
We have to think through our run route and imagine what we will want to do when the apartment building becomes visible in the distance. And then choose to go another way. We don’t even have to use that much imagination. I’ve run that route before! I know exactly what it feels like to see the cool, air-conditioned windows in the distance.
I know the same is true for you. You can look at your schedule, your routine, and know exactly what you will feel like when the alarm goes off at 8 AM and the house is wild. Do you feel like meditating? Or when the alarm goes of at 7 AM and you could hear a pin drop. What about then?
If you have trouble imagining the obstacles that might arise, replay your path in your head and notice any time you think you should do something or that you just need to do something to keep moving forward. Should and Just are signals that you plan to rely on willpower. And you won’t always have a full supply of that. What if you could avoid the obstacle instead of having to overcome it?
You can! You can set yourself up for success.
Name your goal. Describe your plan. (Mentally) walk your path. What will you feel? What obstacles will arise? Then decide: how will you plan ahead, pre-stage, or change your environment to help keep you moving forward in spite of them? How will you set yourself up for success?
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Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath