This is part 2 of a 3 part series on what we say, what we do and what we think. Today we’re getting out of our heads into the world of actions.
In 2011 I was spending a huge amount of time on computer gaming. I don’t think I am exaggerating when I say I was addicted to gaming. If you have heard of Call of Duty well I played all of them. It was mainly the online gaming that I loved the most. It was fantastic. Amazing graphics, immersive, immediate gratification, fun, escape. I know, you’re going to say everyone needs an outlet and some time for fun but let me give you a little more background. I was playing Call of Duty at least 5 hours a day on the weekends and for at least 2 hours every night. This went on for at least 2 years… Oh yeah. I had a problem. But that’s when I it happened. I wasn’t even conscious of the ignition point at the time but looking back at the time it all started with reading a book.
What we do when we are alone
We do many things in our lives. Many of the things we do in private, when alone, are the most important of all. But then so are the things we do with others. This is what makes us human. Community. Nowadays everyone seems obsessed by doing more. They do that, they do this and then post what they do on Facebook. What we do is important but there can be problems can’t there?
We can do things that are not important, damaging in fact. We can do things that waste time, hurt others and have fun. What people do is more far important than what they say they will do don’t you think? We are really the sum of our actions. So why don’t we just start behaving in ways that bring us what we want? Maybe you do already and of course you’d be right. We get out of bed, we make breakfast when we’re hungry, we go to a job to make money there’s a lot that we do that’s not so bad either. What’s wrong with that? Nothing of course. Except for one thing. Most of the things we are doing unconsciously, automatically, by habit. Habits are useful but can be very destructive if we form habits that are not in our interests.
In Charles Duhig’s book the Power of Habit he defines three primary elements in any habit. The cue, the routine and the reward. For example, when I had a gaming addiction the cue was as simple as sitting in front of the TV screen. I wasn’t interested in passively watching mindless shows so I warmed up the Playstation and there goes another 2 or 3 hours of precious life. And that’s the second element of a habit, routine. Once triggered I would then carry out my routine and then enjoy the rewards. Computer game manufacturers have this down to an science. There have been books written about how to make games addictive and these are the rewards. The investment, the slow building of reputation amongst the community of other gamers, the point scoring, the teamwork, the victories, the bling and the lust for revenge.
We do things for some type of reward. We are built this way. Don’t think you can fight it. Unless you are a robot even a buddhist monk is seeking a reward of enlightenment or transcendence of some sort. But you can control your routines, your rewards and cues can’t you. This brings me back to that book I read and the big question. How do we change what people do? Well let’s start with ourselves.
Changing what we do by being proactive
In 2008 I read Stephen R. Covey’s book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. And I know what you’re thinking. 2008 is 3 years before my gaming addiction in 2011! That doesn’t sound right. But it is and for a reason I’ll get to that reason in the next section. The first habit in Covey’s book is about being proactive. Taking action. Doing something. Realising that your response to any situation or circumstances is your own choice is the first step to becoming proactive.
In fact life can be described using a simple formula. Stimulus and response. Between any stimulus and response we, as humans, have the freedom to choose our response. This is the greatest power we possess as people and you will see this truth in much of the personal development literature from William James, to Victor Frankl, Stephen Covey and beyond. Choice is a decision that we make. When we realise that our choices are in our control we are speeding down the road of making enormous change in our lives. Surely there’s more to it than just deciding and you’re right. It can’t be that simple can it? But why do the solutions to our problems have to be complex. They usually are just an unwillingness to decide and commit.
Let’s get back to our actions. Let’s say we want to lose some weight so we start exercising once or twice a week and trying a new diet. It’s hard but your start to see results after the first week so you keep going. You’re feeling great. Being proactive really works! But then your progress starts to slow down and even plateau. You know what’s happening don’t you? You’re getting discouraged. The results you were expecting are not coming as quickly as you would like. And this is where we need to dive into some of traps and mistakes people make when attempting to change behaviours of others or your own.
Falling over and getting back up
When attempting a big personal change there is a common mistake and you probably know what it is don’t you? It’s impatience. It’s wanting that reward quickly. We can’t wait two months or two years we want the reward now, at least by the end of the week. But you remember how I pointed out the three year gap between reading Covey’s book for the first time in 2008 and making a decision to overcome my gaming addiction around 2011. You see I read the book over again several times. I read other books too. The changes I needed to make took time. It didn’t just happen once I finished the book the first time through.
When we do something we are generally seeking some type of reward. If we don’t see progress we feel frustrated, get mad and the stop. This is the biggest mistake. The reason is that change takes time. It takes going over the same things again and again. Each time learning a little more. But because of the long time frames involved we stumble, get distracted, lose focus and lose our way. So instead of seeking a reward that may take years of work and may never come in the way we imagine it we need a better way of thinking.
Our minds are built for instant gratification so do tiny things that give you quick wins. This might be unpacking the dishwasher. Writing one paragraph of your book. Making one more phone call to your prospect list. Focusing on what is in front of you and committing to activities that are aligned with your long term goal is the key. Instead of seeking the results of our actions now, seek the internal reward of mindful, deliberate practice of your craft. Tiny daily practices, repeated again and again are the simple path to changing behaviour. So we’ve talked about what we do and why we do it and even how we might change what we do. Let’s see how to get a little more strategic about what we do.
Getting your brain working for you not against you
Actions and doing things are great. We are bombarded with the “just hustle, just do it” entrepreneurial soapbox culture we live in. But did you stop to think about how you can actually change someone’s actions? Even your own? We touched on it briefly here and discovered the importance of choice. But what if we don’t know what is good for us? What if our customers are lying to themselves and others about what they will do and then do something else? Well this requires a discussion about the way we think. Before action comes thought. But we haven’t really talked much about thinking have we? It’s quite a big subject so I cover this in Part 3 of this 3 part series.