Last month I set a one-year goal for myself: to write at least 30 minutes per day on at least five days per week. It doesn't matter what I write, the point is to develop a writer's mindset and routine.
I originally hoped the output of that goal would be a complete first draft of a book idea. But I've noticed in the mornings as I sit at my desk that I can't always force myself into writing book content specifically. Sometimes I'll stare at the screen waiting for the words to arrive and they simply don't. I find more success when I then let go of that big book goal and do some creative brainstorming or blogging instead. At this point I know when I sit down if it's going to be a "book day" or if I'll be heeding the call of my imagination.
Noticing this behavior got me thinking about how we tackle projects and goals- and the quality of our output if we are feeling forced/obligated vs. feeling inspired/ready. I know that if I'm forcing myself to work on a specific project and being met with resistance, my output tends to feel rather bland- or forced. Or, I get fidgety and don't enjoy the process.
According to change expert James Prochaska, we must move through 5 steps when making and sustaining a behavior change or working toward an intended goal:
1. Pre-contemplation - A stage of resistance or non-readiness to change. We aren't even considering changing at this stage.
2. Contemplation - The concept of change is on a conscious level. We start to question/envision the possibility of changing a behavior.
3. Preparation - A time of self-evaluation and mental readiness. Psyching yourself up for success. Getting the pieces laid out in order to start solving the puzzle.
4. Action - As it suggests, this is when the intended change takes place.
5. Maintenance - When the change process has met with success and you work at preventing relapse.
6. Termination - The new behavior is successfully incorporated and the person is no longer concerned about relapse.
Prochaska points out that the contemplation and mental preparation are absolutely essential for change to take place and meet with lasting success. A large part of that contemplation process is understanding how you will work through resistance. Are you truly ready to take action and get your goal underway? Or does your mind still need to do some processing work? The contemplation and preparation stages of changing a behavior are often overlooked because we are generally impulsive creatures. When we want to try something we jump right in without setting ourselves up for success with a well-thought plan.
We do this kind of mental preparation all the time without even realizing we're going through these stages. In my writing example, there comes a point when I decide if an action, like writing my book, is going to happen today or if I need to let it go for a while. I have a backup plan if I'm met with resistance so that I don't fall short of my long term goal of daily writing: if I'm not going to write book content, then I can choose from several other writing exercises. I try not to get discouraged that my book isn't getting written. Instead, I set my intention to working on it when I'm feeling more inspired and then let go of any immediate expectation. I maintain a certain trust in myself that the inspiration will return. And that trust enables me to let go of any notion that I'm failing at my goal.
Do you ever give yourself permission to let go of something if it's giving you resistance, and come back to it later when you're better prepared? Do you trust that your intention will come back or do you worry it will turn into procrastination? In this article for the blog Pick The Brain, I write about how to compete a project/goal when you're falling into that rut of procrastination and resistence.
Whenever I write about this topic of resistance, I can't help but think of Ronco marketing guru Ron Popeil telling the audience of his rotisserie infomercial to "Set it and forget it!" As strange is it may seem, his expression really simplifies my point: Set your intention and forget it for a short while. Let it develop and trust that it will come back to you when it gathers momentum. If you force it, you may be met with resistance and the disappointment that you've failed to reach your goal. That's not to say we should just give up every time we're met with the slightest resistence! We need to challenge ourselves to mucle through some frustrations- that helps us build a strong habit. Yet we also need to know when to step away so our frustrations don't force us over the edge of giving up completely.
Brad Waters did indeed complete his goal of writing (nearly) every weekday for a year. The result was an ebook on everyday mindfulness that is used in a university wellness course. Brad is a career & life strategy coach and writer based in Chicago. You can sign up for his newsletter or download his ebooks at howaboutcake.com
Copyright © Brad Waters, howaboutcake.com, 2013