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Forget Self Discipline, Do This Instead (Part 3/3) 

 August 20, 2018

By  Stephen Hnilica

The last two posts have gotten a lot of attention, and reached over 30k people, with lots of good discussion in the comments. Let’s jump into it!

If You Missed It: A Quick Recap

In Part 1, you learned about the massive influence your environment, both physical environment (Think how loud your work environment is, or how distracting it is) and your mental environment (Your habits, mindset, etc), has over your thoughts, behaviors, and actions.

Water, thoughts, behavior… they all flow to the path of least resistance. As they flow, they erode the path, making it wider and easier to flow through.

This is how we build habits, form new identities, and create new beliefs. One trickle of effort at a time. And just like a stream of water with an infinite basin, over time a trickle becomes a stream, which will become a river of unstoppable momentum.

And that because our lives are so massively controlled by our environment, we should not set our goals to change our behaviors, but set our goals to change our environment. This is the path of least resistance.

In Part 2, you learned about your primary driving emotion (See Note In Part 2). If small efforts are the trickle that turns into a river, your primary driving emotions are the infinite basin from which your effort flows.

Here, in Part 3, we’re going to discover the 4 pillars of your mental environment that will allow you to create effort-less goals, and turn small efforts into a river of unstoppable momentum.

This post and the last two are a great starting point for this way of thinking. If you’d like to jump deeper into this, I’ll be hosting a free class on this method soon, You can get more info at the bottom of this post.

Just give me the 2 biggest questions you have about these ideas, and you’ll be good to go!

Now, onto the meat of this post.

Work Smarter To Work Harder: The Power Of Intelligent Action And Parkinson’s Law

Given you have 100 actions or tasks to make a change happen, 20 of those will get you 80% of the results you’re seeking. This is known as the 80/20 principle.

Extrapolate this tendency, and you’ll find that 4 will produce 64% of the results. And 1 action will provide more than 50% of your results.

Sounds far fetched?

If you look at companies like Green Works, the eco-friendly cleaner company, 1% of their customers account for 96% of their sales. To double their sales, they’d only need 1.1% more of the RIGHT customers.

It doesn’t just apply to business and money.

Pavel Tsatsouline has very interesting strategies to train world-class strong-men in the deadlift.

The 12 inch deadlift.

By lifting to the knees at 85% of 1 rep max, instead of the largest range of motion, in combination with other training, even novices are able to gain incredible deadlift prowess. Tim Ferris following this method added 120 lbs to his deadlift in 8 weeks of training.

This 1% is the action that will cause the remaining actions to fall into place, either by making them easier or rendering them unnecessary. Like a single flick of a domino, everything else down the line begins to fall into place.

These 1% actions are the small bits of effort we use to recraft our environments.

By focusing on the first 1%, then the next 1%, so on and so forth, there is no task that is insurmountable. By creating an environment where you are guided and pulled towards your goals, the need for willpower, and the need to “improve by force” is eliminated.

When I was 21, I walked across the USA. I knew a primary driver for this goal (Contribution to others in the form of charity). I wrapped myself in a new identity (philanthropist), formed new beliefs about my experience (mostly about how physical pain was good for me), and set a daily goal I felt I could comfortably achieve.

My goal wasn’t to walk 4600 miles as quickly as possible. My goal was to walk 20 miles every day I wasn’t in a big city. One day, I changed that goal.

I had never hiked than 20 miles in 1 day before. Instead, I made my goal to take the next step until my legs simply wouldn’t carry my weight any more.

Time flew by and it all seemed relatively effortless, even with my excessive 80 lbs backpack. 107000+ step and 53 miles later, my left leg buckled beneath me and I fell to the ground. I decided it was time to make camp. The next day, I did the remaining 24 miles to the next city.

There are 4 pillars of your mental environment you can shape with these 1% actions. Actions that will create that domino effect.

#1 – Habits: Change The Automatic Processes That Continually Shape Your Environment

The first pillar is habits that change the environment, mentally or physically, that you operate in. Hence the “Alarm Clock in Shoe” example.

For writing, I use an app called ColdTurkey. It basically turns my computer into a typewriter for a set period of time or a set number of words. I can’t access anything except a text document. My goal in writing isn’t to write for an hour every morning. My goal is to open Cold Turkey, and set a 25 minute session. Most of the time, I’ll write for 1-1.5 hour with nearly no effort.

To help establish my writing habit, I created a ritual that links other morning habits. Even now, I sit here on my birthday, drinking coffee after a meditation and writing out my thoughts.

Where did my motivation come from to “push” myself to get up and write? It was triggered by the intentions I set when I decided to start this habit, and by my desire to have coffee.

The biggest key to this step is to construct positive habits, and not focus on “stopping” bad habits. Done right, the bad habits will eliminate themselves.

#2 – Beliefs: Change The Context

In my work in the field of anxiety and depression, this first 1% is almost always overcoming a false belief, like “there is something wrong with me” or “I can’t handle this”.

Simon Sinek made the observation that every time a reporter asks a high performance athlete ‘are you nervous?’ before a big moment, categorically they respond the same way.

‘No, I’m excited.’

Biochemically, anxiety and excitement are nearly identical. The difference between anxiety and excitement is a little physiology and a belief that ‘this will make me stronger’ or, ‘I can do this’ or for myself, ‘this will not kill me’.

To make that 1% shift for anxiety, all it takes is a few minutes of a biofeedback based meditation every day.

Can you completely eliminate anxiety in 10 minutes a day? No, it gives you the opportunity to follow the path to excitement.

Dis-empowering feelings are no longer something you are trapped in. Changing your beliefs empowers you in moments of weakness to create persistence and strength.

#3 – Identity: Create A New Pillar Of Your Mental Environment

When I was growing up, I had a friend’s dad who was in Alcoholics Anonymous (and helped others through rehab). He helped a lot of people, and changed many people’s lives, but if you asked him, he’d always say that he was an alcoholic, and always will be despite the fact that he hadn’t had a drink in almost 20 years.

This friend, picking up his father’s other bad habits, smoked like a chimney. When I began to change my life, my friend was inspired to join me in some changes.

Eventually he bought a nice racing style bicycle. Instead of driving everywhere, he began to bike. Like everything in his life, he became obsessive.

After a while he identified as a cyclist. As soon as that identity shift took place, he took all the actions to quit his bad habit because his identity as a smoker and cyclist were in conflict.

He also quit eating junk food, and a host of other things that were in conflict with his new identity.

By changing how he thought about himself, he changed the ‘pull’ he experienced towards his self destructive behavior and was being pulled towards a new behavior set, making it much easier to quit.

#4 – Self-efficacy: Show Yourself What You Are Truly Capable Of

Self-efficacy is about how capable you feel in doing something. The reason a “goal of least resistance” focus on a just 1% action is because it’s easy to do 1% (Or less than 1% if necessary). We can believe we can do 1% of a process. We know we can take 1 step.

I was having coffee with a startup founder in silicon valley. The cafe was full of entrepreneurs on their laptops, hard at work on their world-changing ideas. The man in front of me was different.

He was stuck.

He couldn’t bring himself to get to work on his idea. He’d been stuck for months.

I had asked him all of the usual questions. “What are you working on? Why does that matter? Who will you be serving? How will it help them? Why do you care about that? How much funding do you have?” etc.

I finally got down to the point, “So, it sounds like you’ve got everything you need and know what needs to be done and what to do to figure it out. It also seems really important to you. What’s keeping you from moving forward?”

“I’ve just been stuck for months, and nothing seems to come. I just can’t bring myself to do the mountain of work that needs to be done.”

I told him about my day of 107,000 single steps. “So, if you wanted to get moving on this project again, what would be the smallest, easiest step to take?”

He began listing out all of the different pieces and parts of his project.

“OK, in order to begin working on any of that, what is the very first action you need to take?”

“… get my computer out?”

“Good. You can do that pretty easily. What will be action #2?”

“Open my IDE (Integrated Development Environment) and load the project.”

“Great. After that?”

“Review my code for that section, and…”

“And write 1 line of code. That’s all I want you to focus on for today. Pick your bag up, go to that empty table, set it up, turn it on, load your project, and write 1 line of code that will move your project forward.”

4 hours later, as I was getting up to leave, he came over to me to thank me for getting him “unstuck”.

The problem wasn’t that he didn’t know how to move forward, he didn’t believe he could move forward.

Your self-efficacy is like a bar that gets raised or lowered based on what you’ve been able to do in the recent past.

Breaking things down until you can confidently handle every chunk reduces the self-efficacy you need to handle the task. And with each successfully completed task, your self-efficacy bar gets raised. The more that bar gets raised, the more you’ll be able to handle.

Mental Vs Physical Environment Changes

Another issue people bring up is lack of capacity to change your physical environment. They can’t move, or think I’m saying “To be a monk, move to a monastery”.

While that certainly helps, it’s not everything.

I wanted to start a PR firm, so I moved to NYC for 6 months to be surrounded by startups changing the world and people in the industry already.

Your environment is made up of more than your immediate physical surroundings. Your habits, beliefs, identity, and confidence all have a big part to play.

When I moved to NYC, I took all of that with me. It caused me to fail as an entrepreneur.

I ended up homeless with nothing but my backpack, with anxiety and depression leaving me too afraid and alienated to reach out to friends or family for help.

Changing your mental environment, and learning more about what drives you can lead to amazing results.

This system, of course, takes work and a bit of time and thought to install. When you do it’s amazing what happens.

Since my NYC experience, I’ve traveled to 23 countries while working with people to help build their businesses and giving talks on evidence-based excellence.

So, what happens when other people put all of this together?

I had a friend that was trying to quit smoking, for like the 23rd time.

We found the beliefs she what she got out of smoking, the habits and triggers she had that caused her to desire to smoke, the doubts she had about quitting, and finally, the conflicting identities she had in relation to smoking.

She felt compelled to smoke, but she was also a health enthusiast and had won awards for her writing in the field of health and fitness. She felt bad about the identity conflict.

We created a 4% shift.

Change 1 habit, 1 belief, 1 doubt, and 1 identity shift fueled by her primary driving emotion. She quit in a week.

The goal never involved resisting the urge to smoke, or that she stop, or that she throw out all of her cigarettes, or proclaim to all of her friends “I’m going to quit (but for real this time)”.

Her environment, with a few shifts in her thinking and habits, could no longer support the perceived rewards of smoking. Without the reward from smoking, her habitual triggers now fueled new, better habits, and reinforced her new belief and identity about who she was. She was pulled towards her new behaviors, and leaving her bad habit to rot into nothingness.

Next Steps And A Challenge

This has been an amazing journey, and and I’m grateful you’ve made it this far with me. I’ve had a lot of people asking me to delve more deeply into these pieces and parts.

And at the end of this, I’ve got a challenge for you:

Use your primary driving emotion to establish at least 1 positive habit, belief, identity, or boost your confidence.

Stephen Hnilica


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