How To Do Anything

I was talking a few weeks ago about the power of routines. I’ve had some good feedback. So I’m going a bit deeper this week.

I’m talking about taking something you don’t particularly like doing and doing it the same way, every day (or so), until it becomes a routine. This works because routines become automatic. “I’ve always done it this way”. Not so good if we’re talking 3 hours of TV every night. A bit better if we’re talking 20 minutes hard exercise before 730am.

It starts with willpower. The sheer will to begin to do something. Willpower is a great force but there are two things you need to be aware of. Firstly, willpower is in short supply. Don’t confuse its immediate power with consistency. Willpower is soon depleted. It is difficult to use willpower in the long term to achieve anything.  Secondly, using willpower, or indeed any power, is draining. There’s less left in the tank.

This is where routines come in. Leverage willpower by establishing routines. Like my morning routine I was talking about last time. A little power goes a long way because it kicks off a routine. The willpower required is tiny – it is the willpower required to get up as soon as the Blackberry alarm first snooze is over. That’s the will power. Not much. And the leverage is the routine – the main benefit of which is that I exercise and actually eat some breakfast.

This is the efficient and effective use of will power.

The 800-pound gorilla in the room is our old friend: fear. Fear – the enemy of will. Fear needs to be managed. Something Rory McIlroy clearly managed to do yesterday when he won the US Open golf by a mile. A significant improvement on his efforts a few weeks earlier in Atlanta when the gorilla ate him alive on the last day.

There’s no time here for a treatise on fear but try this – when you feel fear, recognise it, accept it for what it is (some ancient obsolete brain function designed to protect you from something that wanted to eat you over by the swamp), wonder about the poor caveman or woman that needed that protection, and then do what it is you want to do anyway, after checking for sabre-toothed tigers.

So can you really use will power, routine and fear management to do anything you want? Well I think you can. And that’s 90% of the battle, for me. I don’t accept I cannot do something. Sometimes I have been shown to be wrong but that’s not the point. It’s the attitude that matters. Going back to golf, the sports psychologists say you should look at every putt with an overwhelming certainty that it will sink AND to not mind if you miss. This seems internally inconsistent but it is actually management of the fear of failure by understanding that failure is not personal, merely a result you didn’t want.

So how do we put all this together –

1. Design the routine first. Maybe a morning routine. A high-payoff activity you hate doing, e.g. making 20 phone calls a day; speaking to a group. Whatever it is. Routine-ise it. What are you going to do? Where are you going to do it? When are you going to do it – time and frequency?

2. Then apply willpower. Use sparingly, as a catalyst, to begin the routine. Let’s say you want to do your routine every working day. It will take about three weeks for your routine to become so engrained that you won’t need to use any willpower at all after that. You have a new habit. We’re 80% robot. We can use this to our advantage by setting up routines.

3. From the start, manage any fear you have. Recognise it, accept it, but remain unchanged by it.

Worth a try? What’s the worst that can happen? Good luck.

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4 Responses to How To Do Anything

  1. Dave Verburg June 20, 2011 at 8:27 am #

    Timing is so important in life! After reading Marks excellent pearl of a couple of weeks ago regarding routine (a word I detest) and creating positive habits I had decided to stat a new ‘Lifestyle” instead, starting today. Well, lo and behold Marks Pearl drops into my inbox to keep me reminded of my commitment.
    I know it’s only day one but i’m on my way to a different lifestyle and it’s feeling great. Keep up the great pearls Mark!

    • Mark Nugent June 20, 2011 at 9:32 am #

      Good luck with it Dave and as we’ve discussed before – it’s all about continuous improvement, not perfection. You will win.

  2. Matt Chandler June 20, 2011 at 8:36 am #

    My routine now expects me to be reading this blog post at 09:34 every Monday morning…! Very timely on the golf side – well done to Rory. Insightful as always Mark – keep it up.

    • Mark Nugent June 20, 2011 at 9:35 am #

      That’s funny – you’ve just reminded me that writing the Pearls is a routine – used to be a chore, now, it’s just something I do. That’s 97 Pearls in the bag….maybe I should turn it into a book once I have 100…

      Do This Stuff Now! – vol 1
      100 Success Ideas for Life and Work


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