buck your own system

So there goes another weekend and here comes another week … people all over the city have pressed play and their weekly routines are underway again. Routines and habits give us security and efficiency. Here I am sitting in one of my favourite cafes Don Vincenzo, the familiarity allows my mind to focus on what I’m here for rather than the distraction of novelty.

But routine and habit have a dark side. They can rob us of so much that life offers us by narrowing our experience. We are told that our brains are like mounds of dirt … when water drips on top it creates tracks to run down, the more water runs through the tracks the more ingrained they become – and the more difficult it is to change directions. We end up doing things the same way, we end up thinking about things the same way, our lives become a long stretch of the same.

A few months ago I was listening to a radio interview about Alzheimer’s. The conversation gravitated to prevention, and one of the key elements was the exercising of our brains. Naturally a part of this is regular thinking activity, but the other dimension was about using parts of our brain that we aren’t accustomed to. Since hearing that interview I have been holding my toothbrush in my left hand while I clean my teeth, every time.

Not that I am worried about Alzheimer’s at this stage of life, but I am interested in living life to the full. Learning to develop strength beyond what comes naturally is part of this for me.

I am looking forward to attending a Summit later this week hosted by B4MD, Business for Millennium Development. Following blog action day last week I am curious to participate in a forum where business takes seriously the challenges associated with the reduction of extreme poverty. I expect I will be able to blog some reflections next week.

Meanwhile, try bucking your own system this week.

cause and effect

You don’t hear as much these days about New Years resolutions. Understandably. Most of the time they express wishful thinking about broad areas of life such as getting fitter or spending less time at work. I wonder though if the problem is not with the idea of New Years resolutions themselves, but in our apparent poor ability to turn the sentiment into reality. It is an impoverished world when we lose our desire to live better.

I recently heard Quentin Jones from Human Synergistics talk about their research into the foundations for high achievement management. Part of his analysis was that effective managers “believe in cause and effect.” To illustrate the point he described the opposite as believing in fate, chance or magic where there is little sense of control or influence over outcomes; we just keep living life as best we can and believe what will happen will happen. Contrary to this, effective managers know if that want ‘B’ then they have to do ‘A’ … and they do it.

Much of the future is determined by events out of our control, the suggestion is not that we can ‘achieve anything we want if we set our minds to it’ … my view is that this axiom denies the role that circumstances do play. What we are talking about here is the alignment of expressed desire and actual behaviour. There are two elements:

1. We appreciate the patterns of behaviour and activity that result in the desired outcome. For example, the salesperson knows that to close one deal, they need to make thirty prospect phonecalls, the IT manager knows that to reduce PC maintenance times they need to upgrade hardware every three years, or the father knows that if he wants to have a good relationship with his teenage kids he needs to eat dinner with his toddlers.

2. We then have to cultivate the disciplines that install the activities and behaviours. This is typically where it all comes unstuck. It is misguided to suggest our failure to achieve our goals springs entirely from the lack of desire. It regularly can be traced to our inability to develop break existing patterns of behaviour. There is extra ordinary comfort in staying with familiar activity and essentially ‘crossing our fingers’ hoping that we get a different outcome.

For example, we take it as a given that we have to have our email inboxes open all day, even when we acknowledge we need to be more focussed.  When we are familiar with avoiding difficult performance conversations, it is frightenly easy to continue to do so, effectively cultivating ongoing frustration, and there is significantly less resitance in getting up at 7am rather than 6am, even though we know the exercise we get in that hour generates more energy than the extra sleep.

So … lets not give up on New Years resolutions. More so, lets figure out what the activities are that will give us the most leverage toward our desired outcomes, and get whatever help we need to install them as daily habits.

If we keep doing what we’ve always done, we’ll get what we’ve always got.