The obstacles we face in becoming the person we want seem endless and insurmountable at times. Murphy, of the famed Murphy’s Law, seems to keep track of our desire to improve in all aspects of our life and knows just when to strike to derail our progress. Very often the effects of these surgical strikes on our efforts is a drain on our motivation to pick ourselves up and carry on.
Citing two of my favorite authors, David Amerland and Dr. Marshall Goldsmith, we can focus on a couple of beliefs that provide a false sense of security in the pursuit of our desired change and some good news that will get us back on track after Murphy strikes.
In his book, “Triggers”, Dr. Goldsmith addresses fifteen of what he calls “belief triggers” that stop behavioral change essentially before it gets started. For our purposes, we will focus on two that I believe go hand-in-hand. The first is the belief that you have all the time in the world to achieve your desired change, and the second is that you will not be plagued by distractions or unexpected events. There is no hidden meaning behind these belief triggers, they are exactly what they appear to be: yet, they are root causes to our failures to become who and what we want to become.
The belief that we have an unlimited amount of time to achieve our goals is complimented by the fact we typically underestimate the time it will take to get anything meaningful done. Essentially, as described by Dr. Goldsmith, this belief triggers procrastination. Think the last 15 pounds we want to lose, the new language we want to learn, the new skill we want to master….how’s that been working out? The real pain we inflict on ourselves comes when we start, but quit. It begins the chorus of, “I’ll pick it back up tomorrow, or next week, or next month…” But why do we quit in the first place?
We quit because of the second belief trigger that says you will not be plagued by distractions or unexpected events. Dr. Goldsmith refers to the “high probability of low probability events”. Think your children getting sick, you or your spouse getting sick, a death or illness in the family, your pet breaking its leg, getting a flat tire, the overturned tractor trailer. The list goes on and on. The likelihood of any one of these specific events happening is low. The likelihood of something happening, however, is high. The problem isn’t that these things happen, it’s the negative effect we allow them to have on our desire to change for the better. For example, we are motivated to lose the last 15 pounds and we purchase a session with a nutritionist. On our way to the appointment there is a car accident that causes massive delays and we miss our appointment. We then refer to belief trigger one (all the time in the world) and decide we’ll look at our schedule for a good time to try again at a later, more convenient, date. Of course, a more convenient date does not exist and, poof, there goes our motivation to begin the process of self-improvement. In this case, losing the last 15 pounds through healthier diet.
While “suck it up!”, or “believe in yourself!” are sometimes the antidotes to the obstacles for our desire to improve, allow me to offer up a little science to convince you these banalities can begin to get you to where you want to be. In his book, “The Sniper Mind”, David Amerland goes deep into the mechanics of the brain as it relates to the amazing behaviors of Snipers and how we can all benefit from studying them. David cites a study of SERE school (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape) participants called “Behavioral predictors of acute stress symptoms during intense military training” and the study’s implication that a “fake it till you make it approach” works.
I’ve never particularly liked the phrase, “fake it till you make it” because it always implied to me an individual wasn’t committed to the task at hand and therefore faking it would not allow them to make it, whatever “it” happened to be. Thanks in no small part to “The Sniper Mind” I’ve since reversed my feelings on “fake it till you make it”. The reason I’ve reversed course on this is David’s explanation of neuroplasticity. As David explains, “Neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to reprogram itself through very specific, intentional mental and psychological exercises.” What we know about the brain is changing at an amazing pace. Research tells us that every time you learn a new skill you change your brain. Essentially, neuroplasticity tells us that our behaviors change our brains. Neuroplasticity provides us with good news and bad news as it relates to behavioral change. The good news: our brains can change as adults so, ergo, we can change our behaviors. The bad news: based on the science behind neuroplasticity we’ve pretty much run out of excuses to make the changes in ourselves we desire.
Let’s break this all down to its basic elements. We set a goal. We begin our dogged pursuit of achieving this goal and something unexpected happens that puts off our efforts for a short time. Instead of picking right back up where we left off, we postpone until the beginning of the new year. The new year comes and goes and we have forgotten about our goal we so earnestly began with the best intentions.
Now let’s throw the fix in and pick up after, “something unexpected happens that puts off our efforts for a short time.” The reality is we must summon the courage, humility, and discipline to pick back up where we left off. Hence, suck it up, believe in ourselves, and fake it till we make it. Now science shows us that as we continue to fake it, but still act, our brains begin to change and now our actions become part of us; a new skill, a new habit, a new behavior, a better us.
Everything you’ve read here is real. I’ve witnessed it personally from the many people I’ve coached on leadership. Please do not misunderstand, meaningful behavioral change is hard. The key is understanding the concepts of why we get derailed, why we fail to pick back up and carry on, and the fact that if we persevere and grind a little our brain will more than cooperate and allow us to achieve things we never thought possible.
Errol Doebler is the founder of Ice Cold Leader, a leadership consulting firm. After successful careers as a Navy SEAL Platoon Commander and FBI Special Agent, Errol founded Ice Cold Leader to realize his passion of empowering great leaders and better human beings. Errol provides executive coaching, keynote speaking, and corporate retreats to individuals and teams across the world.
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