Saturday, December 02, 2006

How to Make Things Easy

It's a funny thing, the brain.  It's designed to repeat whatever you've already done, and prefer it that way, even if you're doing things the hard way!

Every two weeks, when I do my workshops, I tend to struggle with the same pattern. As the deadline approaches for finishing my handouts, I stress out and worry about not getting it done.  Then, I remember the rule I teach in my workshops...

If it feels bad, you're doing it wrong!

When you feel bad about something, there are really only three possibilities:

  1. You have some physical problem, i.e. low energy or some kind of pain,
  2. You are experiencing an involuntary emotion due to an imprint experience, or
  3. Your feeling is a simple reflection of your opinion about what you're currently thinking

If it's #2, then it's easy to correct with the feeling-elimination technique that I teach.  But #3 can only be corrected by changing how you think about whatever is bothering you.

Not what you think, but how you think it.

For example, when I would think about the unfinished handouts, I would be thinking, "The handout's not done yet and I'm running out of time."  So of course, I would feel stressed about it.  Then, when I realize what I'm doing, I stop and think about it differently.

Instead of thinking about the handout not being done, or thinking about doing it, I think about having a successful workshop.  I think about having an informative handout that will help pull the information together for the people attending.  I think about how good it will feel to have the handout finished and ready to be downloaded.

And then I'm not stressed any more...  and invariably I'll go and knock out the handout in a couple hours work.

It's almost TOO simple!

Because once you realize that it's YOU that's making things hard, you can just stop fighting yourself.  You can think about the situation in a useful way, and change how you feel about it.  Pretty much instantly.

Of course, this assumes you've already gotten rid of your "Type 2" feelings: fear, anxiety, sadness, anger, hopelessness, panic, and so on.  These feelings tend to make rational thinking impossible, because the moment you get near the subject matter, your brain starts to "lock up" on you.  So, for those situations, you can use the feeling-elimination technique I teach in my workshops.

Sometime later this month, I'll be releasing The Procrastination Cure on CD, and a big part of the course is about eliminating these "type 2" feelings.  In addition to the recording of my Banish Unwanted Feelings workshop, it also includes over 4 hours of new material that's all about how procrastination works, how to identify which feelings are causing your procrastination, and how to replace procrastination with positive motivation.  (Plus a whole bunch of audience interaction in which I help people tackle various motivation problems and questions.)

And, at the moment, I'm on a fairly tight schedule to get it released.  Material to edit, CD's to duplicate, supplies to purchase, shopping cart to set up, yadda yadda yadda.  And I've been really stressing about it the last few days, until it dawned on me...

I was thinking it into being hard!

Consider this: you can think something is easy, or you can think it's hard.  If you haven't done it before, you don't really know which it is, so how can you think it's more "right" to think it will be hard?  And even if you have done it before, then it's not really hard, is it?  You survived, right?  Maybe you didn't like doing whatever it was, but you're not going to die if you do it again, are you?

So, during the next few weeks I'll be doing a lot of work.  But at any one moment, I'll only be doing one thing!  And many of the things (like going to a store to get some supplies) aren't particularly hard at all.  And the ones that I perceive as hard, only seem that way because I haven't done them before, or at least not very many times.  And I reflect that uncertainty in my mind as a sense of difficulty and danger.

And the second part of what's happening, is that on an almost subliminal level, I'm thinking that "I won't remember all this stuff and I'll get distracted and do the wrong things and have to pull an all-nighter at some point to make my deadlines."  So, I'm actually imagining not only "there's lots to do and it's hard", but also, "I'm going to do really badly!"

So, consider this: what are you thinking you will do badly at?  What are you thinking will be difficult?  What are you thinking about the absence of?  Are you thinking of something you want, or are you thinking of something you lack?  Thinking about not having something you want, makes you feel bad.  Thinking about getting something you want, makes you feel good, and actually helps you get it, by providing something I like to call...

Motivation!

But feeling bad about what you don't have, just makes you feel bad!  It's like somebody standing over your shoulder and constantly telling you, "Hey, your life sucks!"  Gee, thanks so much for telling me, Mr. Feelbad.  I never would have known that without you!

So ditch Mr. Feelbad, and start living your life the way it was meant to be.  As I tell my clients, use your feelings to guide your thoughts!  If it feels bad, you need to start thinking about it differently.

Now, some people might wonder why it is that, if I'm such a big hotshot self-improvement workshop giver person, why am I not all instantly perfect and not having these kinds of problems?  And the answer is simple, but it's not the kind of answer that sells products -- which is why you'll rarely hear this kind of information from anybody else.

The simple truth is this: what you know, and what you do, are two different things.  We have two different kinds of memory (sometimes called "declarative" and "procedural"), and they don't really interact.  We can "learn" a lot of things through language: reading about them, hearing about them, etc.  But this isn't really learning!  It's just storing a bunch of data in a data bank.  And if having a bunch of stored data made you a better person, then...

The Internet would be the perfect human!

So, it's not your "declarative" or knowing memory that makes a difference.  We all know tons of things that we should be doing, but don't actually do.

It's our "procedural" or doing memory that actually determines how we live our lives.  This kind of memory is absolutely unaffected by what we "know".  It just automatically repeats whatever we've done before, or have seen other people do!

So, by default, people don't change.  We don't do any better or worse than the people we're exposed to.  We don't change just because we "know" we should.  Instead, we change when our environment changes in a consistent way, or...  on that rare occasion where we make a deliberate effort to train ourselves into new behaviors.

And that way that you train, is to either do something over and over, or to imagine it over and over.  For me, for example, I've done the feeling-elimination technique so many times that it's not only automatic, but often the feeling I intend to eliminate disappears before I can intentionally apply the technique!  (Unfortunately, it's not because the feeling is "cured" in that case; it's just that the very thought of applying the technique tends to put me in a more resourceful state, temporarily knocking out the feeling that was bothering me.)

Anyway, the point is that what you do, you'll do more of.  So as I practice changing my thinking, I get better and better at recognizing when I'm stressing myself needlessly, and I'm getting faster at changing my thoughts once I do recognize them.

So, if you were thinking that the techniques I teach would somehow make it possible to make all problems disappear forever by waving Harry Potter's magic wand and shouting, "Procrastinus expelius!", I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.  Because there is...

No Such Thing As Magic?

Or is there?  Truth be told, when I look back and consider where I was a little over a year ago and what I went through before embarking on any kind of personal project, stressing for a couple days before a major undertaking doesn't seem too bad at all.  And really, the only difficult part is remembering I don't have to make things difficult!  (You might say the hardest part of magic is remembering that you have a magic wand!)

And the remembering is difficult, because new ideas and techniques are initially just declarative ("knowing") memories.  We "know" them, in the sense that we can easily recognize when somebody else should be doing them.  We just don't remember to do them!

And that's why coaching is so incredibly important:  It doesn't matter how good you are at "learning" techniques.  You simply aren't going to remember to use them, without some kind of a backup system!  And coaching is an ideal backup system, because it's social.  And our brains are designed to be social learners, in the monkey-see, monkey-do sense.  When we are repeatedly exposed to other people doing a thing, and the thinking behind that thing, we become more likely to do it ourselves.

Of course, I first had to get over my ego: "I'm smart, I'll figure it out.  I know all this stuff already."  And as soon as you think that, you've already failed.  Head to the back of the class, put on the dunce cap, and grin like an idiot, 'cause you are one.  This isn't about "you", it's about "yourself".  (And if you don't know the difference between the two, you might want to re-read The Multiple Self!)

And "Yourself" -- the other 90% of you besides your ego -- learns only by 1) real doing, 2) imagined doing, and 3) social contact with other people who are doing.  So, if you want to "change yourself", you have to expose yourself to one or more of the above, or better yet, all three.  It's just that simple!

--PJE

P.S. If you're nodding right now and saying to yourself, "Yep, he's so right about that," please take a moment to note the irony, and then spend a few minutes thinking about how you can apply this new understanding to your actual real life.  Procedurally.  As opposed to just thinking about it.  Or, if that's too hard, you can always order my book instead.  That way, you'll at least feel like you're doing something, and when it arrives and you read it, it might remind you to do something then!