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Getting to the future

Here’s #4 on the Top 10 Mistakes in Behavior Change list: trying to stop old behaviors instead of creating new ones.

And Fogg’s solution? Focus on action, not avoidance.

This cries for more detail.

Action can be a form of avoidance, so action isn’t enough. It has to be action that moves us toward what we want. And that means KNOWING what we want. Then we can structure the environment and our calendars to support us. Most of us get to the future one step at a time, not paying much attention to where we’re going. But we have a choice.

Here’s a simple example. I love to travel for fun, but haven’t taken a serious trip in years. So I’m thinking of going to Europe for a few weeks next spring. I also love to eat and drink well on vacation, but don’t want to gain 10 pounds. What to do? Create a trip that puts the focus on what I want rather than what I don’t want.

So I’m looking at bicycle tours with my son. We both like being outdoors and physically active, and we both love good food and drink. Creating an itinerary that includes lots of calorie-burning exercise means I won’t have to fret about weight watching. And since I’m not a serious cyclist, setting a goal 7 or 8 months out allows me time to get in shape. It also gives me lots of time to savor the anticipation [and cover the cost].

Several months ago, my client Jackie felt like she was languishing in her VP role. But she was reluctant to say or do anything, given the belt-tightening climate in her company. As we talked, she told me about a pattern of leaving positions as a way to avoid “confronting” her bosses when she was unhappy. The result? A lot of guilt and self blame for not having done more with her career and talent.

So we began imagining activities that she thought would engage her, tap her talents, and pull her in new and exciting directions. Each week, she scheduled 3 of these on her calendar and protected the time. She also started reframing her unhappiness into positive actions and requests. Within 6 weeks, she had a direction that was exciting and energizing. Within another month, she found new opportunities arising.

By redirecting her focus from negative to positive and mindfully structuring her time to include activities that energized her, she started turning her potential into  progress on some meaningful goals. Her VP job didn’t change. She did.

So take a step back and look at your own life or career. At the end of each week, have you made progress on important goals? Have you put your long-term priorities on the calendar and protected that time? Or are you like most people, launching into each new week with great intentions and little focus, and as the months [and years] slip by, feeling like you’ve had little impact on or even lost sight of what matters most?

It’s not about willpower or self discipline. It’s about wanting something deeply and actively setting up your world to support it. Want to get in shape? Join a gym, hire a good trainer, schedule 2-3 hours a week on the calendar, and protect that time no matter what.

Want to be more effective at work? Set two or three 6- to 12-month goals, write them down [trust me: this sounds insignificant but it has a big impact], and share them with your colleagues, your admin, your direct reports. Schedule 1 to 2 activities on your calendar each day that will move you toward those goals. Then protect that time no matter what.