There are few things in life that make a person as miserable and ineffective as attempting to control that which is inherently uncontrollable.
Many people set goals, particularly at this time of year, but don’t focus on the behavior that leads to achieving those goals. You have far more control over your behavior than any outcome. And if you focus on your behavior, it’s possible that you’ll end up with an outcome that exceeds your expectations.
So let’s talk about how to change your behavior.
1. Make your Behavior Sustainable
When people first read about my habit of writing 1000 words a day, they get really excited. Then they try to sit down and write 1000 words and give up within a day or two. This is a bit like going go the gym and expecting to lift 100 lbs when you’ve never attempted to lift 25. You’re inevitably going to fail.
This is why I always recommend that people start small and build their way up. Write one shitty sentence. That’s it. If you can do that for enough days in a row, you’ll eventually find that you can write two sentences, then three sentences. Before you know it you’ll be writing a paragraph a day which will eventually turn into 1000 words.
Sustainable behavioral change is what ultimately leads to momentum.
2. Design the Right Environment
Most people depend on willpower to change their behavior. As a result, their new behaviors don’t stick. Our willpower is depleted throughout the day. This is why have you to design an environment that’s conducive to the person you want to become and find ways to eliminate decision fatigue from your life. There’s literally nothing that I’ve found to be as effective for changing behavior as changing environment.
Setup an office environment that inspires you: If you read my work you know that I’m a huge believer in the impact that physical environments have on our lives. If your space doesn’t inspire you, it’s not likely you’re going to create very inspiring work in that space.
Plan your days the night before. This not only increases your productivity, but it preserves your willpower because you’re not making decisions about what you will work on in the morning. It also allows you to allocate your cognitive function deep work and essential priorities.
Wear nicer clothes: I work from home a lot. On the days I lounge around in whatever I slept in, I’m not nearly as productive. When you dress better you feel different, and as a result, the desired behavior tends to follow.
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3. Focus on the Process
One of my favorite insights from Ryan Holiday’s book The Obstacle is The Way is focus on the process rather instead of the prize. The process is all about our behavior.
Many bloggers have aspirations of growing their audience to millions of readers.
Many writers have aspirations of getting a book deal with a major publisher.
But these things are often out of their control. What they do control however is how much they write and how often they write. When I started writing 1000 words a day, there was no way I could know that it would lead to a book deal. I did it because it was something completely in my control. I have no idea where or not people reading will resonate with what I write, how much traffic this article will get or how many times it will be shared. The only part of this I control is my behavior.
I have a new book coming out in August of this year. I’d love to sell more than 20,000 copies of this book. But I really can’t control how many copies it will sell. However, I can control the effort I put into marketing the book. For example, my friend Michael Bungay Stanier wrote in an in-depth article about how he sold 180,000 copies of his book. Many of the ideas were ones that I could easily take action on and within my control.
No matter what it is you’re trying to accomplish, whether it's writing a book, losing some weight or meet the love of your life, it’s ultimately the process that gets you to where you want to go.
4. Play the Infinite Game
I’ve said before that creative success or for that matter any kind of success is an infinite game. By gamifying our attempts to reach our goals, we not only experience incremental progress, but we tend not to get too attached to outcomes. When we’re attached to outcomes, we take everything so damn seriously, don’t have any fun, and paradoxically decrease the likelihood of getting what we want.
5. Self Compassion
When you’re trying to change any behavior you’re going to screw up. You’re going to say something stupid that you can’t take back. You’re going to eat the cake in the middle of your zero carb diet. You’re going to miss a writing day, skip the gym, etc, etc.
The important thing is that you don’t beat yourself about out it. Self Compassion is probably one of the most overlooked aspects of attempting to change our behavior, and we also tend to have less of when we fail to change things.
After 2 books and 100’s of articles, I still have days where I can’t put together a decent sentence to save my life.
After more than 700 interviews on the Unmistakable Creative, I still have the occasional dud that I either won’t publish or will ask the guest to rerecord.
But I don’t beat myself up over it because I know I’ll be back tomorrow and the day after.
What Do you Actually Control?
How other people respond to us, how they feel about us, or how they behave are not in our control. Yet we get so caught up attempting to alter these things. What we do control is our behavior, our perception, our attitude. Rather than attempting to alter these things for the benefit of other people, we should alter these things for the benefit of ourselves.
We should exercise because we feel good, not just because it makes us look good.
We should be creative every day because we get something out of, it not necessarily because we’ll get picked, or validated, by the gatekeepers, the publishers, the television executives, or record producers.
We should travel because we get something out of, not so we can show off our fabulous lives on Instagram to people sitting cubicles.
The illusion of control is an incredibly deceiving one. And once you stop buying into it, there’s a bizarre paradox that occurs. You experience freedom and move closer to your goals.
Reading is a good step forward in changing your life for the better, but meaningful behavior change requires being proactive. Join my newsletter to receive a weekly article like this one. You’ll also get immediate access to a swipe file, where you’ll get my best tips on honing your productivity & creativity, as well as a guide on finding the courage to carve your own path, rather than following someone else’s footsteps. Sign up here.