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Creating the “future you”

Creating the “future you”

The goal of self-improvement is always to create a better future, whether you state that as your target or not. That’s why many of the approaches on offer make the link between behavior and results. They tell you to act in a certain way and imply that the results you want will surely follow.

There’s a problem with this way of thinking. No one can tell what events and challenges the future will bring, so deciding to behave in a certain way—in advance—limits your flexibility to respond. It also ignores the most potent sources of change: your values and your unexplored emotions.

It’s tempting to limit your thinking to behavior because it’s easily observable. There seems to be an obvious link between cause and effect. What you do or say produces a result and that creates the future, doesn’t it?

Not really. Our experience of the world is formed from more than external events. How we feel is important to our understanding of what is going on around us. So are the assumptions we make about the meaning of what we experience. What about where we place our attention? Or our automatic patterns of thinking? What we believe? All of these are part of our experience.

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Who are you?

Before you choose any approach to changing the way you act as a person, it’s a good idea to understand as much as you can about the mechanisms that make up that complex and continually varying creature that is you. These are also part of the material you must work with, even though you probably rarely think about them in any conscious way.

There’s the essential problem. You don’t think about them. You think about your skills, your capacities, your hopes, dreams, and fears, but you almost never direct your attention to the ways your mind and emotions come together to create all these. You’re so used to them—they’re so much a part of who you are—that you take them for granted. Yet they, together with chance, are what will decide your future; and all your other actions and plans will count for almost nothing if these essentials don’t co-operate.

It’s worth taking time out to stop and think about who you are, what you want from life, and whether the way you’re behaving today is the best way to get there. Take this time for yourself. You’re worth it. Consider your values—don’t just list them in your head and pass on, really think about them. Do you live up to them? If you don’t, quit blaming yourself—or anyone else—and try to work out why that should be. Maybe they aren’t truly your values? Maybe other values are more important to you?

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What really matters to you?

Don’t let yourself be confused between values as ideals and values as choices. These are distinct categories. One contains the values that people aspire to (and talk about). The other holds the values people live by (and don’t usually draw attention to). The two are rarely precisely the same.

The values people aspire to—let’s call them talk values—get most of the attention. They appear in lists of desirable qualities for life, leadership, and organizations. The values people use in everyday choices—I’ll call those action values—are rarely mentioned or explored, though they’re far more important.

How can you make your hopes come true?

In fact, most people are not even aware of the impact their action values have on everything they think, say, or do. Each time you face a choice, those values tell you what feels right. Since most people choose emotionally and justify their decision rationally afterwards, what they choose is largely determined by their action values, not by reason or logic.

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Many people read inspirational books, or listen to speakers explain the benefits of positive values, then give up when they can manage a few, halting actions based on the changed outlook. Gradually, they slip back into their old patterns, maybe emerging as a fresh book or conference gives them a little more motivation. Why did this happen? Because they were working mostly on their talk values. They didn’t integrate their learning into their daily action values, so any alterations in behavior stayed at the level of hopes and aspirations. Talk values count for little until they make it through to the level where they become habits.

If you want to change your life, you need to understand and work with making your aspirational, talk values and your everyday, action values line up. Try focusing on what you do, not just what you believe you should do. People’s actions better reveal their true values than any number of fine words. Only repeated actions stand any chance of changing your life.

Take all the time that you need and do it right. This is your future that you’re working on.

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Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order. He lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization

    , is now available at all good bookstores.

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    Last Updated on August 16, 2018

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system”.

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    The power of habit

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being six hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The wonderful thing about triggers (reminders)

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to make a reminder works for you

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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