Advertising
Advertising

Sharpen Your GTD Chops by Teaching Others

Sharpen Your GTD Chops by Teaching Others
Knife

For all of my high-minded pimping of this GTD stuff, I have to admit that I’m still very new to it. The fact is, I only read the book for the first time about 5 months ago and here I am spouting off like I wrote it. Having said all that, I do feel that I’ve got a pretty thorough understanding of how the system should work. Why is that? Well, being the zealot I am for certain things, I wasn’t halfway through the book before I started preaching the truths it contained to friends and family. And, as most folks who have any sort of instructional role in life will tell you, teaching something almost always leads to a clearer, deeper understanding of the subject on the part of the teacher.

Advertising

So many of you might be thinking to yourself “Sir! I’ve only just read the book! I’m not even consistent with my weekly review!”. Let me tell you a little story that might help assuage your timidity a bit:

Advertising

My father was a lawyer. And judging by his hourly rate, a pretty good one (though I don’t know from good lawyers, personally). He used to always tell me stories about when he was a student in law school, and there’s one that’s always stuck out in my mind. Apparently it’s fairly common for upper-level law students (or recent graduates) to teach certain introductory courses to other law students, which is what he did. Now, most of the material he would teach he’d either never learned or had learned many years before and mostly forgotten. So to remedy this, he’d read one chapter ahead of the students he was teaching! The beauty of it is that, as far as I know, they never knew the difference.

Advertising

This isn’t to say that anybody can teach anything if they’re simply good at communicating things in a way that people understand, but possessing that capability certainly helps. Besides, anybody who’s telling others the beauty of GTD will probably begin most of their sentences with “Well, this is explained pretty thoroughly in the book, but…”. No, the real value for you as a teacher of GTD is the “for-instances” you’ll get from your “pupils”. Like, a friend might give you an idea of his and ask you to translate it into a GTD “project” (2 or more physical actions with a well-defined outcome). This has happened to me many, many times. And most of the time, the answer is fairly obvious – but sometimes it isn’t. You’ll actually have to apply what you know about GTD to a foreign situation. And it’s things like that which will give you a clearer understanding of the core principles.

Advertising

Please understand that I’m not suggesting everybody put down the GTD book and go stand on a street corner with a cardboard sign that reads “Will Manage Projects for Food”. But I don’t believe there’s anything wrong with suggesting GTD to friends and family, or offering to help them out if they have questions about the process. The more experience you have with creating projects and defining outcomes (even if you’re not going to be the one doing the actual work), the better off you’ll be when trying to figure out how to turn that IRS audit notice and Aunt Matilda’s tea invitation into functional projects with executable next actions.

Clearly, the book is the unequivocal authority on GTD, but the knowledge and experience you gain by helping others out will go a long way in augmenting what you learned from the book.

Brett Kelly is a husband, father, computer programmer and coffee snob living in Southern California. Visit his blog, The Cranking Widgets Blog (or subscribe) for more of his wordy insight into GTD and practical productivity tips.

More by this author

Trapeze Artists, A Japanese Sedan and Achieving GTD Nirvana What You Should Know Before Starting GTD Sharpen Your GTD Chops by Teaching Others The Macaroni and Cheese Project

Trending in Featured

1 The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain) 2 How to Stay Motivated and Reach Your Big Goals in Life 3 How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques 4 How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators 5 50 Businesses You Can Start In Your Spare Time

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

Advertising

Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

Advertising

One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

Advertising

But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

Advertising

It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

More About Goals Setting

Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next