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Don't let results get in the way of progress

By Randy Hall

It’s that time of year again when people begin looking for a fresh start, a new approach and a slightly better version of ourselves. We use turning the calendar over as an opportunity to reinvent, reimagine, and recommit to something new and improved. We resolve to be better, do better, accomplish more and achieve new goals. 

It’s a noble set of thoughts. As the year changes, I change. And then we do the very thing that begins a real change in any human. We make a choice. A choice to eat healthier, get in better shape, save more money, build a business, be a nicer person, or even to finally become a better leader for others. 

All sustained human change begins with choice. I am going to...I think I should…I want a different way of…I’d like to try…from now on I will…

Last week I wrote about the 3 steps to human behavior change, and you can read that post here. I wanted to go a little deeper into the aspect of choice this week and connect the change process to it in a little more detail. 

There is a great deal of power in a choice, no matter what size it is. “I want to walk for 30 minutes every day” can start someone down the path of a completely different future for their health. “I want to start my own business” can alter the future completely for individuals, families and even generations. “I should be more organized” could create a ripple effect that causes a more successful year, a less stressful life and even a more profitable future. “I want to build a better relationship with my partner” can mean a completely different future for couples and families. You get the picture. 

In our brains we connect our executive functions and emotional functions in a way that doesn’t happen often when we make a choice like this. We get a flood of motivation in our brains as well as a clearer mental picture of our life with a different future. We connect our wants and desires, with a logical reasoned decision to move in some different path or direction. It’s a powerful combination that helps us take steps that form new possibilities, get out of a rut, no matter how long we have been it, and even change who we are and how we think.

We have created a spark, maybe even a small fire in our minds and hearts. And then more often, than not, we go back to our old habits and patterns amazingly fast and our little fire burns out.

It’s incredibly easy to get lost between the enormous possibilities of our newly imagined future and the tiny daily steps that get us moving toward that future. We are often lousy at translating our big new idea or change into some set of consistent actions that we take to create momentum that can start to build and soon feed the cycle with progress. As we change, we work through the cycle of effort - progress - momentum - results.  

Effort is the part that requires all that motivation we created in our brain. We need that to get started, get moving, take a new step or get out of our rut. The challenge, for us as humans, is that we think the cycle goes effort - results, instead of effort - progress - momentum - results. And we also underestimate how long we have to do the effort thing before we see progress or start to create momentum. Our definition of success is getting results and when they seem too far away or too tough to reach, we do the most human thing ever. We doubt our ability to get there, we undermine our possibilities with thoughts about what if we don’t and why aren’t we good enough, or strong enough or disciplined enough. 

Once we make a choice, set a goal, create that spark, our best approach is to now focus all of our effort and energy on progress, not results. Can I take one step, do one thing, change one behavior one time. We have to now picture the progress as our goal, not the goal itself and transition our thinking to tiny little steps that often feel insignificant but make all the difference.

It’s like putting a puzzle together. You see the pretty picture on the front of the box, and you need to keep that picture in mind as you do your work so that it serves as a guide and a destination. But after you dump all the pieces out, you have to ignore the picture and just get the little pieces all flipped over and find the edges so you can begin to make progress. As you see the puzzle start to take shape, momentum begins to feed our belief that we can finish the puzzle because we can see that we have made progress toward the goal. But to actually get there, our most important step becomes finding that one next piece that goes in that certain spot. Our definition of success momentarily shifts to just finding that next piece. 

Make big bold choices this year. Create new incredible possibilities in your mind about how your life could look, how your future could look, and the difference you could make for yourself and others. Envision that beautiful picture on the front of the box.  And then, throw all of your effort and energy into just getting started, one piece at a time.  Now you have to envision progress. That one walk you take, that one meal you fix, that one hour you spend planning or organizing, that one person you have a conversation with, that one paragraph of your new book. Glance at the box to make sure you are on the right track but keep the little, tiny pieces squarely in your focus. That’s where progress happens, that’s where momentum begins to take shape, that’s how you bring something to life that first existed only as a choice, idea, and possibility.  

Create your picture, dump your pieces out and then just flip them over and find the edges. And then help someone else start their better life as well. 

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