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How Massive Action Can Cause Epic Failure

How Massive Action Can Cause Epic Failure
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    There comes a point where you just become dissatisfied with something in your life.

    Maybe it’s that growing spare tire that hangs over your belt. Maybe it’s that cluttered desk that’s quickly becoming a quagmire of misplaced objects. Or maybe it’s the fact that you’re spending another Friday night at home alone.

    Everyone has their own goals in life.

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    Usually when we start to work toward a goal, we try to make some sort of dramatic and sweeping change.

    We’ll vow to exercise every day and to adhere to an extreme diet. We might spend an entire weekend de-cluttering everything. Or we might decide to go to a social event and make a point to have a conversation with every person there.

    Radical and sweeping changes make us feel like we are making progress toward something. We feel like we’re shaking things up and changing our lives for the better overnight.

    However, they rarely last.

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    Why Massive Action Sets the Stage for Failure

    We all have a certain inertia that helped us originally get to this dissatisfying point in our lives. A collection of habits and beliefs accumulate and result in that extra weight, the messy house, or the lack of friends.

    Doing something big and dramatic might make you feel better — and it might get you a bit of instant gratification. But rarely does this massive action overcome the inertia.

    Slowly the diet becomes filled with “just the occasional” trip to the drive-thru. The organization system becomes sidelined because you “just don’t have enough time” to file those papers right now. Or the bold steps to make more friends become bogged down because you’re “having a bad day” and can’t be bothered to make small talk.

    Before you know it, you’re right back to where you started. And you’re probably kicking yourself as well, thinking that you just don’t have what it takes.

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    So if huge dramatic efforts don’t always help make lasting change, what is an alternative?

    Take the Smallest Action

    This idea is popularly known as Kaizen, a Japanese term that advocates continuous improvement through very small changes.

    Small actions may also be less intimidating than committing to a huge heroic effort that often leaves you less productive. They meet with less internal resistance because they are so easy and painless. Small actions don’t conjure up feelings of dread at the thought of giving up your favorite guilty pleasures or condemning yourself to perpetually doing something makes you uncomfortable.

    So, you might throw out one bite of an unhealthy meal before eating it to lose weight. You might take one misplaced object on your desk each day and put it where it belongs. Or you might make eye contact with one stranger every day.

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    How Smaller Actions Have a Bigger Impact

    These steps may not seem like they would make much of an impact, but they can start to dissolve the habits and beliefs that got you into trouble in the first place. You can start to practice better portion control by not eating on everything on your plate. You can begin to make organization a habit by doing a small amount of cleaning every day. Or you can get used to interacting with people in a small way to overcome the initial resistance.

    And gently changing the beliefs and habits that got you into trouble in the first place is going to have a much bigger impact than trying to push against them and blast through them.

    I’ve used small actions to help me reach goals in the past, and what I’ve discovered is that they can erode initial resistance and help to change habits and beliefs in a way that massive actions sometimes cannot.

    If you’ve failed at reaching your goals by taking large actions, only to find procrastination, fear, or self-sabotage creeping in then maybe you should consider taking small actions instead.

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    What’s one small action you could take today?

    (Photo credit: Fun 3D Image via Shutterstock)

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    How Massive Action Can Cause Epic Failure

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    Last Updated on July 21, 2021

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

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)
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    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.”[1]

    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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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    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 6 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.

    More on Building Habits

    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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