Moving the Ball Forward

I always spend a lot of time around the turn of the new year thinking about self-improvement.  This year is no different.

Last summer, at a charity fundraiser for a friend, I bought several sessions of personal coaching. Throughout the fall, I’ve been working with my coach, Lisa Lahey, using her methodology called “immunity to change.”  The basic idea is that, given an articulated personal goal you are trying to meet, you may also have a series of “hidden goals” that you don’t realize you’re working towards — and these hidden goals may be in conflict with your positive goals. The resistance inherent in this conflict is our immunity to change.

So,  the trick is to identify these hidden goals, then further identify what big assumptions (about yourself or your life)  are behind those hidden goals, and then do a series of experiments to test those assumptions.  Ideally to ultimately prove yourself wrong about the assumptions and vanquish the hidden, constraining goals.

For me, the big goal is to close more loops.  One of my worst tendencies is to leave things 80% done (just ask Cescalouse about my home improvement projects).  A big part of my job is to keep momentum going — to close loops and keep energy moving through whatever projects I’m working on.  I can’t become a bottleneck or a place where ideas stagnate and lose energy.

One of my hidden, competing goals is that I’m an urgency addict. I tend to procrastinate — ruminating on the size and severity of whatever I’m procrastinating from — until pressures build to such an extent that I am forced to power through in a burst of goal-line adrenaline.  I “get high” from powering through work on a deadline — and I feel the need to get high by a (presumably false) assumption that my stack of work is overwhelming and super human effort is required to get through it.  Unfortunately for me (according to the immunity to change framework), this pattern has been working for me — so the bad behavior is reinforced by a track record of getting things done despite myself.

This is bad for several reasons.  Most importantly: it burns energy needlessly (worrying about things rather than actually doing them), and it reduces collaborative leverage (the more out in front you are on something, the better chance to get external engagement).

So here’s what I’ve been doing to combat my immunity to change:

I am consciously shifting my thinking from “big to dos” (i.e., large items on my to do list which are scary and incite procrastination) to “moving the ball forward”.  Given any project on my plate, the new approach is “Ok, I’ll spend an hour and get as much done on {project X} as I can”, rather than “oh man, I really need to {item x}”.

Seems like a simple thing, but it actually has been surprisingly powerful.  Yesterday I cut my whole day into hour-long blocks, where I moved the ball forward on each of my big projects for an hour.  It worked.  Items that might have otherwise triggered stress and procrastination dissolve into “getting things done for an hour”.   Moving the ball forward for an hour is progress, no matter how you cut it.

In addition to (and perhaps more importantly than) reducing the “looming burden” of a large number of big independent tasks, taking this approach creates focus.  And focus is perhaps the most powerful tool we have (and often the most elusive).

This is just a start.  We will see if it sticks.  But I think it is useful and perhaps it can work for others as well.

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