Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Getting What You Deserve

Sometimes, there's a lot to be said for making changes by just "going for it".  In the last couple of weeks, I've been changing an awful lot of outward things at the same time.  Things like:

  • Getting a newer, somewhat trendier haircut
  • Buying newer, somewhat trendier clothes
  • Waking up almost three hours earlier than usual
  • Getting 30 minutes of aerobic exercise each morning, each day getting a little farther in the same 30 minutes
  • Eating more regularly, and taking various supplements daily
  • Using a Daytimer to manage my schedule and keep my idea logs, instead of the random notepads I used before

And these are just the outward changes I'm making.

If you had asked me a month or two ago if this was the way to go about making lasting changes, I would have said "heck no."  My "willpower points" theory would have predicted it to be an utter flop, because doing so many different things during the same day should require...

Way too much willpower!

But a couple of weeks ago, I was doing a private session with someone, talking about the changes they wanted to make in their life (becoming an actor, specifically), and when he asked about the best way to make the change, I surprised myself by saying that there were two ways.

First, he could try to add new habits one at a time, with a few days in between.  This is what the "willpower points" theory predicts will work best.  However, I noted that he could also possibly just change his entire identity in one go, by putting himself in as different of an environment as possible.

You see, willpower, is really only necessary when trying to diverge from existing habits, that are cued by your context or environment.  If you are living and working as you always do, then your brain and body want to do what you always do, and redirecting those existing responses takes some effort.

However, you will notice that if you go away on a business trip or vacation, and you are not living or working in the same place, suddenly all sorts of location-specific habits are broken.  You can much more easily change to a new schedule, diet, activities, and so on, when you are in a new location.

So our brains are designed to take cues from our environment, even more than they are designed to take cues from us.  If the environment is different enough, we will then become open to...

New Behaviors, and New Choices

What has been interesting, though, about my own changes in the weeks since that conversation, is that I haven't changed my location as such.

Now, next week, I will be away at a workshop, and I had previously decided to use the trip as a way of changing my location, so I could establish a new identity and self-image for myself.  And, because the workshop will start fairly early most mornings, I have been trying to get used to the earlier rising times in advance.

But the interesting thing is how much just changing my sleep schedule has affected the other things.  Even though I'm sleeping the same number of hours, I feel like I have more time, and more productive time.  And, the difference in light and noise levels when I get up seems to lessen the pull towards checking my email and blogs as the first thing I do.

So in truth, I have not actually gone and tried to change absolutely everything about myself in one day; some of the new habits are more recent than others, and I may not get all the habits I want set up before I leave town.  But it's interesting how much of a difference it can make if you choose to make your first change something that will...

Alter the triggers for your other habits!

In my case, getting up early also supports my exercise habit, as I'm not rushed to do it before my work day begins -- and because I now need to clear my early-rising brain fog!    And having the early free time helped with getting the haircut and some of the clothes shopping.  I spent another morning's free time getting my Daytimer set back up.

And even before I started getting up early, I got a sunrise simulator lamp that wakes me up silently and less stressfully.  So, the best place to start on the actual change, is to find ways to make each one support the changes that follow.

Of course, the key to putting a set of changes like this together in the first place is to first have a clear vision of the end result.  Before I started all this, I decided what I want to look and feel like when I'm at the workshop, and how I want to hit the ground running when I return.

And most nights before going to sleep, I also spend a few minutes envisioning what I'm going to do when I first wake up, and with the rest of my early-morning free time.  I find that the moments right after waking up are the toughest, if you don't know exactly what you're going to do -- the temptation to just turn off the light and go back to sleep is very strong.  (It's also tempting to goof off and surf the 'net later in the morning, if I don't have a plan for what I'll use the time for.)

Finally, in addition to a clear vision and a changed environment, I found it was also important to boost my willpower.   And I found that by altering my brain's "map" of what I deserve in life, I could easily do things I used to regularly gripe and complain about...  but rarely did. 

But to do that, I had to reset some of my beliefs about...

Who I Am, And What I Deserve to Get!

I was surprised to discover, for example, that I didn't take care of my clothes or grooming that much, because on some level I felt I didn't deserve to have nice things.  It was an eye-opening exercise to go shopping for even modestly stylish clothes, and to contemplate the possibility of buying and wearing, say, a $40 shirt.

And this same mechanism of "deserving" has been at work undermining other areas of my life, such as my willingness to diet or exercise.

So, this month's Owners' Circle newsletter will be called "You Deserve Better".  It will be a guide to expanding your self-definition to include the things you don't yet believe are possible for you.  In fact, once you look closely at your self-definition, you may realize that there are things you want, that you didn't even know you wanted before.

That's because when we don't believe we can get something -- whether it's because we aren't capable, or aren't deserving -- we tend to put it out of our minds.  Then later, we say:

"Oh, I don't really want anything..."

And even if you use your shadow compass to get an idea of the direction to look for what you want, you may still find yourself saying (as I did until quite recently), "well, I suppose I want that, but it doesn't really interest me that much."

If, at this point, you ask yourself whether you are 1) able to get it, and 2) deserve to have it, you may be surprised to find that the real reason you "aren't that interested", is that you believe you're not going to get it, or don't deserve to.

And if you believe those things, then your ability to apply willpower to achieving your goals is going to be severely reduced.

And I should know: Dirt Simple, Inc. has been limping along most of this year, seriously underperforming its potential because I didn't feel I deserved to make as much money as I did in January.  In January, DSI earned more money than my self-image was comfortable with, and so I've been compensating by not doing everything I planned to do this year.

I've skipped doing extra workshops I planned to do, avoided putting up order pages for the dozen or so workshop recordings I could be selling, and I've started writing three new books this year, finishing no more than three or four chapters of any one of them.

Fortunately, I have found a little mental trick that immediately boosts your willpower by changing your emotional relationship... with yourself!  So that, instead of wondering whether you deserve the thing, or whether you want it enough to bother with the effort, you just think, "Oh, yeah...

"Let's go for it!"

Now at this point, I've already successfully applied the trick a few times as a one-off, but haven't tried to "install" it in my brain as a permanent or global change yet.  So I still have a bit more work to do before I can write it up for the newsletter.

However, this is actually a great opportunity for you if you're not a Circle member yet!  If you sign up as a Friend of the Circle right now, you'll not only get the current "Fear and Commitment" newsletter and "How To Succeed Without Trying" CD (details on both are at the end of this article) right away, but you'll also get the new "You Deserve Better" newsletter and CD as soon as it comes out -- for the price of just one month's membership.

You see, Circle memberships renew every 30 days, but the newsletters and CDs just go out as soon as I finish them.  So if you sign up between issues, it's like getting an extra month for free!  And, there's no long-term commitment, either.  You can cancel any time, and keep everything you've received up until that point.

So take a moment to consider this: if you've been putting off joining the Circle because you're concerned about the money, is it possible that you're just thinking the way I used to about buying a nice shirt for myself?  If you don't think you deserve it, everything is too expensive.