Don’t forget this age-old truth: If nothing changes, nothing changes. Change is a requirement of growth and development. Unfortunately, change is hard. It causes discomfort. We are all creatures of habit and any time we alter our routine it makes us uncomfortable. This is unavoidable. So, we need to change how we view discomfort. We need to embrace it. Becoming comfortable with uncomfortable is among the most important skills you can develop. It’s the difference maker.
Data suggests that a staggering 70 percent (!) of the workday is unproductive. Don’t believe me? If someone stopped you at any point during the day and asked what you were doing, it’s far more likely that you were wasting time rather than making the most of it. Sure, some of it is meetings we don’t want to be in, or conversations we got dragged into, but so much is within our control. We too often relinquish control of how we spend our time and energy, blaming our situation, superiors, colleagues, underlings, clients: everyone but ourselves.
Entrepreneur and CEO coach Jerry Colonna asks perhaps the most important question when it comes to stagnation: “How are you complicit in creating the conditions of your life that you say you don’t want?” It really is the ultimate question. What can you control or change in your life that you are choosing not to? This is the first step to taking control.
Everyone is given certain conditions and limitations, but focusing on those parameters does you little good. We tend to overemphasize those because it allows us to pretend that our situations are not our faults. But the only way to boost yourself through a period of stagnation is to focus on your role in the matter. Recognize how you are stuck. Take agency in where you are. Control the controllables.
Let’s start with our habits and routines. If we don’t like where we are, the best place to start is with those things we do all the time, sometimes without even thinking. Studies have found that nearly half of our day is routine, a whopping figure when you think about it. We don’t so much do our routines as our routines do us.
When it comes down to it, we are our habits. It takes anywhere from 21 to 66 days to instill a new habit, depending on its difficulty. But there is no habit you have that can’t be wiped out if you truly want to. And there’s no new habit that you couldn’t instill if you put in the time and discipline.
I recently saw a post on social media about a guy who gets up at 4:30 a.m. every day to run before work. He shared the fact that his colleague was impressed, telling him, “Wow, I wish I had that motivation.”
His response: “Motivation? This has nothing to do with motivation. It has to do with discipline. I’m not motivated to get out of bed before dawn more than the next person. I’ve strengthened this muscle called discipline.” He trusts the systems in place. There’s plenty of times you need that autopilot take over. We can’t be motivated every second and rarely at 4:30 a.m. That’s why routines are important. No one is always in the mood.
My friend and colleague James Clear, entrepreneur and author of Atomic Habits, told me that you’re either driving your habits or being driven by them: there is no third option. “People are building habits all the time,” he said. “Whether they’re thinking about it or not.” Clear runs a place called the Habits Academy. Its tagline? “Professionals are the architects of their habits. Amateurs are the victims of their habits.”
This is why Clear preaches the power of systems—which is a framework to build, improve, and execute your habits. Think of it as the scaffolding around the building. It’s connected, unified, and purposeful. Systems are also constantly updating, which make them more useful than goals. Clear points out another issue with goals: they are finite. You achieve them and then what? You need something in place that is always growing. This is where systems come in; they look more like a lifestyle, expanding as you evolve into the person you want to be.
The best way to get a habit to stick, Clear teaches, is by creating an identity that helps shape the desired behavior. “It’s one thing to say I’m the type of person who wants this,” he writes. “It’s something very different to say I’m the type of person who is this…You might start a habit because of motivation, but the only reason you’ll stick with one is that it becomes part of your identity.” It’s the difference between telling yourself you’re going to start exercising or you’re going to become someone who exercises. Are you going to stop smoking or become a non-smoker?
I remember one time when I was in playing basketball in middle school, I kept complaining about how slippery the court was, using it as an excuse for my poor play. Thankfully, my coach put me in check. “Yes, I’m aware the floor is not ideal,” he said. “But the other 9 players are dealing with it too. They’re making adjustments and you’re making excuses. It’s a lot less slippery on the bench.” The lesson landed.
Today, I loathe complaining and work hard to avoid people who do it consistently. That doesn’t mean I never do it. I’m human and fallible, but I am aware and focused on expunging complaining as much as I can from my life.
The reason is that complaining is just another way of saying, “My problems aren’t my fault.” It takes accountability off of yourself, which is unacceptable. And whether something is or isn’t your fault is irrelevant. What does that matter? Any time and energy spent assigning blame eats in to what you should be doing: looking for the solution.
Most people complain about their job—their boss, their colleagues, their customers—but at the end of the day, we are in charge of ourselves. In her book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, social worker and clinical psychologist Amy Morin discusses the ways that we need to awaken to our power. In work and in our personal lives we are too often “giving away our power,” whether that’s through blame, complaining, being overrun by our emotions, or by not taking responsibility for our circumstances.
One way we can take our power back is by reframing our language and how we think about our situation. Morin, who suffered the devastating back-to-back losses of her mother and her husband in her twenties, had to learn early on not to allow her negative feelings to dictate her life. After taking the necessary time to grieve, she made a choice to re-enter life stronger. But stronger didn’t mean blocking out her pain or ignoring her losses. As she put it, “I had to experience the pain while proactively helping myself heal.” Morin teaches that mental strength is not about “suppressing our emotions.” It’s about allowing all of our feelings in so that we can understand what they are telling us.
Strength has too often been mistaking for a coldness or a hardness and Morin aims to upend that entire way of thinking. In our interview, she told me that instead of seeing mental strength as an issue of toughness, we should begin to see it as a means to “take positive action when taking [on] a challenge…thinking realistically and knowing you can manage your emotions.” Mental strength means stepping forward, even into the unknown, with the kind of attitude and perspective that maximizes your success. It may look risky but I’d argue that staying miserable where you is an even bigger risk. We only go around once.
If you are stagnating, bored, or unfocused, it could also be that “your environment opposes your goal,” organizational psychologist Benjamin Hardy writes. Your environment is not neutral. It can either be a motor or a hurdle, depending on how intentional you are about it.
Change your physical environment: switch up the items around you (e.g.: throw out junk food, keep your phone out of your bedroom at night, etc.)
Change your mental environment: alter what you feed your mind and what you choose to watch/read/listen to.
Change your emotional environment: use proven techniques for improving mood/perspective (e.g.: meditation, exercises, cold shower, etc.)
Change your relational environment: protect your inner circle or personal ‘board of directors.’
Sustain Your Game teaches you how to bring your A game to every area of your life. With advice from top CEOs, journalists, social scientists, and more, you’ll learn the framework for how to beat stress, stagnation, and burnout. Sustain Your Game will help you be the best in your arena, wherever that may be.
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