Why is it that each time we face a new, difficult task we need to work on, suddenly even a mediocre Netflix series or our former neighbor's Facebook profile becomes so intriguing we can't resist to check it out?
For many of us, this reaction has become the automatic response to a new task. Even though we know that doing the work will do good to our business, when we're about to get started, some greater power seems to take over control.
Why does it happen and how can we fight it? Can we turn that pull towards distraction off for good?
This is what we're aiming to help you with in the newest episode of the ActiveGrowth podcast. Listen in!
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Shane Melaugh: Hello and welcome to episode 10 of the Active Growth podcast. This is our fourth episode in our series that we call Your Job is to Ship. This series is all about making you more productive and more effective, but it's more specific than that. This isn't just about generally being productive. This is about being productive and effective at one very specific thing, which is shipping. Shipping is finishing your project, finishing the thing you're working on, dragging it across the finish line, and getting it out there into the world. This is a fundamentally important entrepreneurial skill, and it's what causes many entrepreneurs to fail on a small scale as well as on a large scale.
In the previous episodes, we've already provided you with many tools and specific practical action steps that you can take to become much better at shipping. Today, we need to get a little bit up close and personal, because there is one factor that can still get in your way in a big way, which is even if you know what to do, even if you know the tools, you might just find yourself not being able to do it. It's like you're blocked from doing it, and you probably feel bad about it if that happens. If you're procrastinating, if you're not working in a focused and effective way, you probably feel bad about it. You want to get better, but you don't know how. There's this human factor, and this is what we're talking about in today's episode.
Among other things, in this episode, you will discover how understanding how the brain works can help you find better ways to deal with procrastination. We talked about how the larger part of your brain would actually rather stay in bed or eat a cookie than be an entrepreneur, and what you can do about it, and also see why motivation isn't a solution to your problem, and either is discipline. You will see that actually, you already know most of the "secrets" to getting yourself to do things consistently and successfully. It's just that you probably never applied them on purpose and consciously, and as always, we are focused on keeping this as practical and actionable as possible, so we're going to give you specific steps that you can take and examples that you can apply to your own business to become really, really good at shipping.
Go to activegrowth.com/10 to get the show notes for this episode, which includes an updated now four-part course that is a reference guide to all of the action steps that we talk about in this series. If you want to have an easy way to figure out exactly which strategies to apply, and how to apply them without having to scrub through a whole bunch of podcast episodes, go to activegrowth.com/10. You can sign up for the course that goes along with this absolutely for free. With that said, let's start the episode.
I am Shane Melaugh.
Hanne Vervaeck: I am Hanne Vervaeck.
Shane Melaugh: We've spent the last three episodes of this podcast talking about many things that keep entrepreneurs from shipping, shipping new products, shipping books, shipping content courses, new features, and so on. Let's talk about all this stuff that keeps us back, that makes us procrastinate, and it kind of begs the question, "Why is all this necessary?" We're going to tell spend another episode talking about this and about another aspect of this, but why? Why do we need to? Because why can't we just follow Nike's advice and just do it? This is in fact a thinking mistake that we tend to make, right? If you start as an entrepreneur or you start a project or whatever, you see all this work that needs to be done, and you basically tell yourself, "Yeah, I'm just gonna do it." Unfortunately, this doesn't work.
Up to this point in the podcast and in the course that goes along with this podcast, we have provided you with 11 tools and strategies and steps that you can apply to become much better at shipping, but you might find yourself in the position where you know that you have this problem, and you know what to do to fix it, one or several of those 11 things, but you still kind of can't do it, so why don't we just get on with it? In short, the reason we can't just do it is because we're human, and our brains aren't really made to do things as abstract and as long term as building a business. It's kind of a battle against your natural programming doing things like entrepreneurial work. In this episode, we're going to take a deeper look at motivation, discipline, and will power, and give you with ways that you can hack your brain, that you can shortcut your way pass the stuff inside you that prevents you from just doing it.
Hanne Vervaeck: Because up until now, we gave you the tools to make sure that you can focus and that you can focus on the right tasks, and that you know what your goal is, but now, how can you actually get going on those goals and those tasks? How can you just get started with them? That's what we're going to talk about.
Shane Melaugh: Procrastination and any kind of problem where we can't shape something, we can't finish what we work on, it feels like something that we should be able to fix with will power. It feels like something where you should just be able to stop being lazy, and just do it, but applying will power is not a fix that works. You really got to stop thinking of that as a solution. You got to stop thinking, "Oh, I'm just too lazy or feeling bad about it." Because first of all, will power is in many ways a limited resource, so the general idea is that if you have to force yourself with will power to do this work, to get yourself to do stuff, then first of all, you're going to run out of will power. Probably, maybe you can do the work during the day, but then in the afternoon, you kind of break down and you binged on chocolate ice cream or something, because you don't have any will power left to resist the chocolate ice cream, right?
But also in the longer term, you can maybe do that for a few days, but at some point, you're just run out of will power. It's just not a sustainable way to keep doing things. By the way, this idea that will power is a limited resource is an entirely uncontroversial, but it is clear, and we'll link to some sources about this, but it is clear that at least in some cases, this applies. If you have to force yourself to do something, you will have less power. You will have less will power left for other things, and it's just not a sustainable way to do it. In fact, you can look at your own life for evidence of this, because I'm sure that you have tried to apply will power. You've tried to apply this fix of just try harder, and it hasn't worked so far.
Now, a reason for this is explained very elegantly by Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis. In this book, Jonathan Haidt introduces the model of the rider and the elephant. You can think of yourself and of your brain as a combination of a rider and an elephant. Your brain has ... it has like the old parts, the animal that like the reptilian and mammalian parts of the brain. Those are larger parts of the brain. You can think of those as the elephant. This part of your brain is wired for survival in the wild. It follows instinct. It's where fight or flight happens. Then on top of that part of the brain, there is this smaller part, your prefrontal cortex, where you do your rational thinking, your long-term planning and all that kind of stuff. That's the rider.
Now, the important thing about this model of the rider and elephant is to recognize that the elephant is much bigger and much stronger than the rider. If the rider and the elephant don't agree on something, which is often the case, the rider generally doesn't win, right? The rider can't pull the elephant in a different direction if the elephant doesn't want to go in that direction. This is for example how irrational fears work. Maybe you see a spider, and rationally, you can tell this is a tiny little creature that's not going to do you any harm, but your elephant is convinced that this is dangerous, and guess what happens. You're afraid. It doesn't matter whether you can rationalize or not. The rider can be sitting there going, "No, no, it's fine," but if the elephant is panicking, well, the elephant wins.
Hanne Vervaeck: I thought it was with mice and elephant.
Shane Melaugh: Or perhaps mice, yeah maybe mice.
Hanne Vervaeck: Or they are actually afraid of a mouse.
Shane Melaugh: My example is the wrong one.
Hanne Vervaeck: I think another example that many people can relate to this is public speaking. In the end, you know that as the rational part of you knows that it will help your business, that it is good, that nobody is going to kill you if you forget your text that people are rather nice when they are listening to you, but the animal part or so the elephant thinks that this is dangerous, because you are alone in front of a group, and so that's never been a good thing, right, like we're in ancient history or whatever being alone in front of a group, and so this is like this irrational fear that comes up. You can try to fight it, but it will still be the elephant. It's like, "No, I don't want to do this."
Shane Melaugh: That's one of the things that can happen is that you probably experience their sweaty palms. You're nervous, and basically, the elephant wants to retreat, or the elephant is just frozen in fear, right? That's when even though you're speaking on a topic you really know a lot about, you can't find your words, and you've basically forgotten everything you ever learned and stuff like that once you're standing on the stage. Another example of this dynamic is let's say you decide you're going to be an early riser from now on, and you have all these reasons. Maybe you read a book about all this productive people waking up early in the morning. You have all these rational reasons. You know, "Okay, I can get a headstart in the day. I can be productive. I can this, that and the other done. It's going to be so good for me."
You set the alarm for six in the morning, and then what happens the next day? The alarm goes off. You wake up, and now, the elephant is in charge, especially early in the morning, right? The elephant basically wakes up before the rider does, and all these future-oriented reasons makes you more productive and all that nevermind. The elephant is just there going, "Listen, the bed is nice and cozy. I feel sleepy. There's an immediate reward to be had by turning off this alarm, and just going back to bed."
Hanne Vervaeck: Snooze.
Shane Melaugh: Yeah, hit snooze, right? We've basically made the technology for the elephant. Again, who wins? It's basically, if you try to just apply will power, sooner or later, the elephant is going to win, and you're not going to get up early. When you think about this example of getting up early in the morning, you probably also know from your own experiences that there are actually ways to convince the elephant, but they're not the rational reasons. It's not, "Oh, I'm going to be so much more productive." For example, have you ever woken up really hungry, and then it's much easier to get up, right? Because the elephant decides that, "Okay, sleeping is nice, but eating is more important right now," and you get up, and you go get some food.
Remember the night before or the morning of a vacation trip as a kid. If you're really looking forward to this vacation, and you jump out of bed before the alarm even goes off, because there, there's an immediate reward waiting for you, and that's something the elephant understand, right? There's something really cool happening. I really want this to happen right now. I want this immediate reward, and this reward is greater than the reward of just staying in bed. In other words, generally emotionally driven instant gratification type of rewards, this kinds of reasons will get you out of bed, because they align the elephant with the rider, right? The elephant and the rider then both agree, "Yes, we should get up early."
Hanne Vervaeck: Still for different reasons though.
Shane Melaugh: Still for different reasons, yes, but this is generally how it works. You have to learn how to coax the elephant in the right direction. You can't just apply force.
Hanne Vervaeck: One of the ways that I actually use to trick my elephant, let's say, was for a video recording. One of the things that I discovered is that often, I would push back on recording a video, because I had to put on makeup. Now, you have to know that usually, I don't wear makeup, and putting on makeup just for making one video seems like a lot of effort. Well, when I go out in the evening, I actually like to put on makeup, so it's really ... it's not very rational not to want to do it. It's like one of those excuses, and its enough to procrastinate on making videos for me. What I did was actually, I started tricking myself with the reward of going out in the evening, basically, I would start recording videos on a Friday afternoon, because then, I would put on makeup, and I'm telling my elephant that wants to go out in the evening, so he was happy.
Of course, I would take that opportunity to film before going out, and so the chore of putting on makeup wasn't a problem anymore, because to go out, well, I like putting on makeup. Yeah, it was one of those ways to just trick yourself and align the elephant, and the rider to get something done.
Shane Melaugh: We'll talk more about ways in which you can do this, but what you can already notice here is that one of the things is that you set up a reward, and that sometimes, the elephant wants something different than the rider, but you can make sure that basically, they both get what they want and need.
Graham Jones: One of the things that we need to do is find out what rewards we like, what kinds of things do we enjoy doing that we feel good about. In the world of work for example, the traditional reward is to pay people. Then when they do more work or a better job, we pay them more money. Actually, all of the research says it quite clearly that financial reward is not a motivator for people at work. It's a motivator for a small number of people, largely, people working in manual tasks. Whereas anything that involves you thinking or being creative or having to be consultative, so anything where you're not doing repetitive manual tasks, then where you're using your brain effectively, then money doesn't motivate those people. When we look at entrepreneurs, money doesn't motivate them.
It might seem strange that they want to build a business that makes millions or billions. Actually, the money doesn't motivate them. The world is full of internet billionaires. When you ask them what really motivates them, what are they after, it's not the money that's important, so reward and money and rewarding ourselves with money is not what we need to do. We need to find out what rewards the people really like. If you're an entrepreneur, what is it that ticks your boxes, that floats your boat or whatever other analogy you want. What is it that makes you feel good? What is it that those brain chemicals get fired up by of many people in the world of being entrepreneurial? It could be very different things.
Shane Melaugh: That was the psychologist Graham Jones whom we also spoke to in the last episode. He also shows us that it's important to find the right rewards to get people motivated. I think this is one important thing. Like, even if you have this idea of, "I'm building a business, and it's going to give me financial freedom and so on," but it doesn't help you actually do the work, then, well, this is the reason, right? There's a lot of research that shows us that money itself is just not enough of a driver to get you to do things. It's also one of those things, the elephant just isn't that interested in money, like, money is too abstract of a concept to get your elephant on board. The basic idea is we have the elephant who is impulsive, and we're looking for the right rewards for that elephant to align him with the rider's goals, and to take action.
Now, you might think that this is all about motivation, but I think that is a dangerous word to use, and also, as we said last time, if we start talking about motivation here, is that a conflict with the whole, "This is not a motivational podcast rant we did last time?" I think, the way I see it is that this isn't about motivation. It's certainly not motivation in the sense of, "I need to feel motivated to do this before I can start," because I think that's how motivation is often framed, and it basically becomes an excuse, right? You say, "I want to do this, but I don't feel motivated, so I have to feel motivated first. Otherwise, I'm not gonna do this." But this is simply not a solution. What can we do instead? How can we find a solution here that works and that is reliable?
We find a clue for how to do this in the book The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. As the tile says, this book is about habits, about how to form them, how to break them, and so on. Any real habit according to this book must have three components. It has a trigger. It has an action, and it has a reward. Now, you have many habits in your life that you've already solidly established probably mostly without even trying. Let's say you're working. You're working away, and you faced a difficult problem or a difficult task, and maybe the next thing you have to do is you have to write some copy for a sales page. You go, "Uh, that's unpleasant. That's a lot of pleasure, that's a difficult. It's an obstacle." That's the trigger, this feeling of, "The next thing I should do is difficult."
That's your trigger, and now, you follow a habit. Maybe your habit is you open up a new tab in your browser, and you check your favorite new site. You check your Facebook feed. Maybe you check Reddit, keeping up with what's going on in the internet. Maybe your habit is to get up and refill your cup of coffee. Maybe you check your phone, and send a quick message or reply to a message or two. Whatever it is that you do, it is something that relieves the pressure that you were facing from this difficult task in front of you. It's something that basically distracts you from that difficulty, and gives you an excuse to do something else, and to focus your mind on something else. It's most likely a simple thing that gives you a small but rewarding feeling.
It's not like a massive endorphin rush, but checking Facebook some interesting news. It is just a small reward. Another example of such a reward is let's say the taste of coffee, right? If you get up, and you have some coffee, that also feels good. Those are the three components, right? You have the trigger, "Oh, oh, is this difficult?" You have the habit. You open a tab. Grab your phone. Get a cup of coffee. Do you have the reward, which is this mild distraction and entertainment, and the release of pressure? Now, the mistake that we make when we try to change habit is that we only look at the action part, and we try to force a change in the action part, but we don't do anything about the trigger and the reward. If you don't do anything about the trigger and the reward, then again, we have the will power problem, right?
You're triggered into trying to follow your habit. You know your habit is bad for you, and the rider goes, "Okay, I must not do this," but the elephant goes, "Oh, I like the taste of coffee," and the elephant wins.
Hanne Vervaeck: What's a better way then to change those habits, and to not fall into those negative habits? Well, it's actually like Shane said, we have to start by looking at the triggers. At what point does this actually happen? Once you understand the concept of triggers, you will actually be able to find new triggers to then attach good habits to. The easiest and the most reliable triggers are the time-based triggers, and the triggers that you already have and that you're already doing every day. For example, in the morning, you wake up. That's a trigger. That could be the trigger to get your morning ritual in place, and maybe you get up, and the first thing you do is meditate for example. That would be a good trigger to attach that habit of meditation to. The thing is you already have a lot of things that you're doing during your day, where you can attach habits to.
This might be the first cup of coffee that you have in the morning, or a cup of tea, because we've been talking a lot about coffee. It could be immediately after your breakfast, or after lunch, or maybe you're commuting to work or brushing your teeth, because that's also one that most people just do without thinking. This is actually once you decide on the habit or on the task that you want to do, then you can find the right trigger for that task. Now, at one point, I had to study French verbs, which is absolutely not something that I liked to do, but the thing was we had an exam every week actually that we're checking, and if you didn't have 8 out of 10 on that exam, you had to take it over again the next day. I can tell you that French verbs, this is one of those things that I studied a lot to make sure that I get the 8 out of 10.
The best way to do that is repetition, and so the best way to make sure that I got repetition was by putting my French verbs next to the toilet. Actually, this might sound weird, but the trigger was going to the toilet, and the habit was studying my French verbs. Just by doing these two things always together made it very easy to study those verbs.
Shane Melaugh: If you're a bit geeky, another way to think about this is that it's an if this and that. It's like programming, right, so if go to toilet, then study French verbs. The important thing is that your trigger, the if, you want to attach that to something that you're already doing and that's already happening. Everything that Hanne just said are such things. These things happen anyway, so you can use them to hang your actions on. Another thing that I want to quickly mention here is that you can then stack these habits on top of each other, so if you take the trigger of getting up in the morning, that probably already triggers some habits, right? The first thing you do is you go to the bathroom. Maybe you take a shower. You brush your teeth. You already have a sequence of events, where like one triggers the next, and you can just attach a few more.
After the last thing you do, then you could say, "Okay, now I do my meditation," and then the next trigger is, "Once I'm done with my meditation, I do the next thing, right?" You can actually create little chains where one trigger will chain a bunch of actions. Now, the actions, we're not going to talk a lot about the actions, because the actions are basically everything we talked about in the previous episode. It's the stuff you want to be doing. It's doing the work that moves you towards shipping. Those are all the actions. You attach them to triggers, and then the third part is rewards. To solidify these habits, you need to reward yourself somehow. Now, the most straightforward and simplest approach is to essentially condition yourselves like a Pavlovian dog by simply giving yourself a reward such as literally give yourself a cookie basically for doing the thing that you need to do.
It's definitely possible. It's probably not healthy if you reward yourself with a cookie after everything you do, but I just want to mention this. That's definitely an option, right. You can say, "Okay, when I do this hard work, so something triggers this. Like, after lunch, I do one hour of concentrated work on the hardest thing that I have to do right now. And when I've done that, I eat my favorite cookie." That is literally a way in which you can condition yourself, and in which you can solidify the habit of doing the hard work. However, it is better if you can find a more internally-focused rewards, because if you speak to "highly motivated" and highly effective people, they tend to be internally motivated. They tend to not need a cookie for doing hard work.
That is also something you can build, so if that's not you right now, that's something you can build over time with these habits. Now, we've already talked about this or approached this when we talked about SMART goals and setting and measuring your personal KPIs. The idea is you set a clear goal. You remind yourself of why this is an important goal, and then you focus on the process, and you measure the process. This is important. Some form of measuring is important, because that becomes a reward. This is something that can work, because the rider has this idea of, "I want to build my business." You've broken it down into SMART goals. Let's say, "If I write this blog post, and I publish this blog post, that's one small step towards my ultimate goal."
Even though the elephant can't relate to this ultimate goal, what the elephant can feel is that the rewarding feeling of accomplishment, where you're like, "I've written my blog post. I've hit publish. That feels good." That's something the elephant gets. This is the best kind of ... You basically can cultivate that kind of internal, where you find your work, the steps you take towards your goals themselves become rewarding, but it's important that you pay attention to them. That's where the personal KPI stuff comes in, because if you're just working away, but you never gave yourself a clear signal of, "Now, I'm doing what maters. Now, I'm moving towards my goal," and that can be whatever. Maybe you make a check mark on the calendar to say, "I've completed this goal today." Maybe you literally have like a spreadsheet, where you track certain things like we talked about last time, right?
Like, we talked about, "How many blog posts did I publish this week? How many AB test did I start and so on?" And tracking your progress, and seeing this progress, seeing those numbers go up, that is a simple small reward. Just like the rewards we talked about before, like reaching for your phone and checking Facebook isn't a huge reward. It's not as rewarding as eating a cookie, but it doesn't need to be. Subtle rewards also work.
Hanne Vervaeck: Okay, food is always the ultimate reward. Let's be clear about that, but there is this adrenaline rush or like that little excitement that you get by hitting that publish button after having worked on a blog post, or when you are working on your online course, and you finished that chapter, and you're going to actually look at your to-do list, and put that cross on your to-do list, and be like, "Yes, I've done this." Instead of just glancing over that, instead of just ignoring those little seconds, you can actually concentrate on that so that it takes up more importance in your daily life, right, so that you actually train yourself to accept those little rewards as real rewards, as looking at your Facebook is a real reward.
Shane Melaugh: Another way to think of this is that the worst thing you can do is not pay attention to it, and just, let's say, chaotically work on things without clear goals and without measuring. If you're just being pulled around by the tides, and you're always putting out fires and directionless work, this is the work kind of work, because it doesn't feel productive, and it doesn't give you that feeling of reward. Now, to break this down a bit differently, something you can focus on is make sure that the work you do or that as much as possible of the work you do is work on things that are important to you, things that matter to you. A personal mission, making some kind of a change in the world, that's a huge motivator for a lot of entrepreneurs. You want to do work that is clearly linked to that outcome, right, where you feel like, "The stuff I'm doing is important for this greater goal or for my personal mission that I care about."
Another version of this, it doesn't necessarily have to be, "I want to make the world a better place." It can just be the work links to something that matters to you. Maybe growing your business is important to you. Maybe being able to quit your job is important to you. Maybe having financial freedom or location independence or something is important to you. As long as in your mind you pay attention and say, "The steps I'm taking are moving me towards this goal," that will help you. Another thing you can do, and you hopefully can find a way to work in your areas of expertise. Do work that you're good at and that you enjoy, because then you can get into a flow state. You can get into the state where the work becomes its own reward. You do things that you're good at, and you get better at them.
That becomes its own reward, and it really perpetuates your progress and your success, which is by the way another reason why I emphasized building skills so much, because building your skills and doing things that you get increasingly better is actually massively rewarding, and the great thing not just for your entrepreneurial success but also just for your life quality. We've talked about triggers, actions, and rewards. This is, like I said, to me, the way I think about this, this is not about motivation, because if you do this, if you do what we just talked about, what you get as a result is actually discipline. People from the outside, if you watch someone, and you're like, "Wow, this person is really disciplined," what they're really doing is they have strongly established habits that keep them moving towards their goals.
That is what discipline is for the most part, because sure, there's an aspect of discipline, which is sometimes you get up in the morning, and even if you have well-established habits and stuff, you still really feel like staying in bed, and then you kind of grate your teeth, and do it anyway. That is an aspect of discipline, but like we talked about in the beginning, if you have to do that every single day, it's just not going to last. Real discipline is neither feeling a great rush of motivation to do things all the time, nor is it all the time like being almost crushed under the burden of the work you have to do but doing it anyway. Neither of those things are real discipline. Real discipline is strongly established habits that you keep following. This has a lot to dow it, like we said, setting up these subtle rewards that your elephant can relate to and that your elephant ends up going after.
Hanne Vervaeck: I think, one of the easiest and relatable examples of this would be going to the gym. For me in any case, it's one of those things that I probable started out more as an external reward, where I was like, "Okay, I'm going to lose weight or whatever, and I'm going to feel better, and maybe after going to the gym, I'm allowed to watch television or ..." but over time, the rewards of just feeling the rush after having worked out became the real reward, which then makes it so much easier to establish that as a habit, because you don't need the external reward anymore. For me, I think, that's the key to discipline. It's having this internal reward system that's so big that it doesn't even feel as if it's something that you have to do an effort for, right, where it's just like, "Yeah, I know that after going to the gym, I will feel amazing, and even during. I really like it."
It's not an effort anymore to go there, where other people will look at that, and say like, "Oh wow, that's really disciplined to go three times a week to the gym."
Shane Melaugh: Exactly, and what's really happening is that if you've done it for a while, you actually miss it if you can't go to the gym. You actually have this ... Basically, your elephant starts to say, "Hey, we should go tot the gym," and that makes it way, way easier.
Hanne Vervaeck: Exactly.
Shane Melaugh: So we've laid a foundation to help you understand habits and discipline. Before we just talk about the practical steps you can take, well, this is the foundation, but just to summarize and give you an example, the first practical thing you need to do and you need to work on is to create a habit.
Hanne Vervaeck: In the free eCourse that is accompanying these series of podcasts, we gave you the example, the SMART goal of saying, "I will reach out to three bloggers per day, and write one content piece per week for my guest posting strategy. The goal is to get an off-guest post published so that my traffic doubles in the next six months. This SMART goal can become a habit, because in order to write one article a week, you will need to create a writing habit. One of the ways that we can think about this or one of the triggers that could be good for this writing habit is saying, "Well, in the morning when I pour my coffee, the first thing that I will do is open a Google Docs document, and nothing else," not your Gmail, not your Facebook. No internet, no phone, nothing else, only the Google Docs document, and you will start writing for a short period of time.
In this case, you could for example try starting with only 30 minutes, and then you have only two options. You can either write and work on that goal, and so write your content piece, the one content piece a week that you set out to write, or you can sit in front of a screen, and be bored. In the end, it will be much better to write than just to sit there and be bored. You cannot allow yourself to do anything else, right? Only for those 30 minutes, you do only that. Then the moment that you're finished with the 30 minutes, you might have a calendar on your wall, and put a red cross on today on your calendar to visually mark that you actually did the 30 minutes of writing. This can be your reward, or maybe after those 30 minutes of writing, you're like, "Okay, now, I'm allowed to scroll my Facebook," because you haven't don't it before.
The thing is if the trigger is, "I'll get up in the morning. I get my coffee, and then the very first thing I'm doing immediately is those 30 minutes of writing," then you make sure that you actually built this habit. There are a few important things here in this example, because we're not saying that we're going to write the whole article at once. We're making it really, really small, just 30 minutes of writing. This is a method that actually has a name, but first, I want to ask you to close your eyes for a second. I know it's weird, and if you're driving, please don't do it, but if you're in the situation where you can close your eyes, please do so. Imagine that you are standing on the top of a building, so you're standing on an apartment building, and you're looking over. On the other side of the street, you see another apartment building.
You're like 10-stories high, right, so if you look over the edge of the building, then it's really deep, and you can fall really hard. Now, there is this blank from one building to the other building. Somebody tells you to walk over it. What will you do? Probably, if you are imagining this scene, the first thing that you do is like, "That guy who told me to walk over it is crazy. I will never do this." You turn around. You walk away. Now, the thing is if you put that plank on the street in between the two buildings, and somebody asks you to walk over it, you will have no problem doing that even though that the task is exactly the same. The plank didn't change. It's still the same width. It's still just walking straight, but the fact that it's only the floor instead of 10-storage high up in there makes such a big difference.
The same is actually true with your habits. The technique that I'm talking about here is called lowering the diving board. The idea is to make it so simple that you're actually not afraid of doing it anymore. One of the examples here is it might be really frightening to tell yourself that you have to write a full article today, whereas if you tell, "I have to do 30 minutes of writing," it becomes much easier, and so you won't be blocked by that fear.
Shane Melaugh: This technique of lowering the diving board reminds me of something I read that Terry Crews I think talked about in an interview. Terry Crews is an actor who is very, very fit, and he was asked about his gym habits. His advice to people who want to get fit was, "Just go to the gym. Make a habit of going to the gym. And you can just go there. You don't have to work out. You don't have to work out. Just go there. Maybe read a magazine. Maybe chat with staff, but just go there every day." This is an example of lowering the diving board, right, because you don't feel like, "Oh my god, I have to go to the gym. And then I'm going to have to lift all these heavy weights, and I'm going to be sweating. And I'm going to be in pain. And I have to do like the ideal most hardcore routine that I can possibly do, so I can get maximum gains."
No, just go to the gym. Make a habit of being at the gym. Then maybe you can start up by saying, "Okay, I'm going to do one exercise," and just do that one exercise. You're not going to be sweating and in pain, and grunting or whatever. You just slowly get used to it, right? I thought this was a very interesting example of it. This is an interesting example of lowering the diving board. Basically, you take the pressure off, right? You make it just much, much easier for yourself, which again is a way to coax the elephant. The elephant is afraid of being judged by other people at the gym, is afraid of all the hard work you have to do and so on, but if you just say, "Listen, I'm just going to go there. We're just going to be there, and we're going to sit there and maybe talk to someone." That's not scary, and the elephant can be coaxed into doing that.
Another related technique lowering the diving board is if you want to clean up or tidy up your apartment or your house, and you tell yourself, "I'm just going to clean up for three minutes," and then you can get started, because if you look at the entire place, and you're like, "Oh my god, it's a mess, and I have to do this. And I have to vacuum here. And it's too much. I don't want to start," and so you go watch TV instead, but if you tell yourself, "I'm just going to do three minutes, three minutes of tidying up," no problem.
Hanne Vervaeck: Or just like one drawer, right? If you have to clear out your closet, and instead of having to clear out a whole closet, it's like, "I'm just going to do one drawer."
Shane Melaugh: One of the funny things about this is that you can trick yourself, and then actually doing more, because once you've done that one drawer, or once you've done the three minutes, you're like, "Well, I'm in the middle of this now. I might as well do the other drawer. I might as well continue." It's much easier to keep going than it is to start. Another example that you talked about Hanne is you have the habit of reading 10 minutes a day, right?
Hanne Vervaeck: Yup. It works very well, because it's one of those things where it's on my daily habits list, and it's actually for me a trigger just before going to bed, so my Kindle is next to my bed, and I will say to myself, "Okay, I'm just going to read 10 minutes," but then in the end, it's rightly only 10 minutes, but still, it doesn't feel as if I have to read an hour or two hours or 10 hours a day. It's just 10 minutes. I can always find 10 minutes to do that.
Shane Melaugh: Then I'm guessing more often than that, you'll actually end up reading longer than 10 minutes, right?
Hanne Vervaeck: Yes.
Shane Melaugh: The way this idea of lowering the diving board applies more broadly to being an entrepreneur is the typical scenario as an entrepreneur is that there are a thousand things that you should be doing for your business, and you can't possibly get them all done in one week, let alone in one day. Basically, you put it off. You procrastinate in your work for as long as possible. At some point during the day, you're like, "I really have to start doing something now," and you start working on something. You kind of just pick something, maybe the greatest emergency right now. You start putting out fires. You kind of start working in panicked mode, and at some point, you ran out of steam, or you ran out of time. At some point, you're too exhausted to keep working, or you just ran out of time. The day is over.
That's how you spend your days, right? You're always chasing after this massive pile of work, and you can't really see any way to get through it. Instead, what you should do and to use this technique of lowering the diving board is to pick one thing and plan to work on that for one hour. Today, pick one thing, where you're like, "This is important for my business. I'm going to work on this for one hour." Yes of course, you're capable of doing more than one thing in one day, and you're capable of working for more than one hour, but this is what lowering the diving board is about. Instead of going, "Okay, I'm going to do this for four hours, and then this for one hour, and then I'm also going to take care of that, and then the other," and it's this overwhelming amount of work that you're going to feel like starting. It's going to be intimidating to start.
If you tell yourself, "I'm going to do one thing for one hour," that's all. If you simply do that, it is much easier to start, and you'll also make much more progress than you think, because this small task of working on one thing for one hour is one that you won't push away. You won't push that away for half the day before you actually get started. Even if you only work one hour of focused time every day, and the rest, you're still running around like the headless entrepreneurial chicken doing the panicked mode work that you always do, you will still make much, much more progress.
Hanne Vervaeck: Yeah. Here, I think the key is if you start grouping it with the habits, because then if just every day, you're doing that one little tiny thing, it becomes so important. That's where the reading 10 minutes a day comes in too. It's like, reading 10 minutes a day doesn't sound like that much. Even though som days, I will read more than 10 minutes a day, it's still ... There are days where I only read 10 minutes a day, but the number of books that I can read by telling myself to only read 10 minutes a day is pretty impressive, and makes many people wonder like, "How do you have time to do that on top of your work, and on top of everything else that you're doing?" I think that's very important to understand that even though small things have this compound effect, that actually adds up a lot.
Shane Melaugh: An example of from many years ago actually, but one of the things I did in my mini self-experiments on how to become more productive was for a period, this was during a period where I was doing the full-on workaholic stuff, the full-on workaholic thing, working basically from morning to evening every day. I decided that for 10 days, I was going to limit myself to working only four hours per day. This is first for the workaholic impulse, it's like, "Oh my god, how can I possibly get anything done in only four hours a day?" The thing is that first of all, it makes your work day less intimidating, because I'll work for four hours, no problem, right? It also gives you more focus to do this, so basically, it forces you, it forces you to pick priorities and work on them with focus if you know you only have four hours to do them.
It ends helping you prevent burnout, because if you just keep going full steam ahead workaholic mode, then you're going to ran out of steam. You're going to basically run into some kind of burnout. The net result is that the time it takes you to recover from thaw, you're going to lose any kind of advantage you might have gained by all the hours you put in, whereas if you can have a limited amount of work time and high focus, you can actually get a lot more done. The idea here is just that you set a goal of just taking one step forward, and you break that goal down. You make that step smaller and smaller if you have to until it's totally un-intimidating and it's easy for you to start. You should be able to get to the point where the goal you set for yourself is basically so small and so easy that you can start it effortlessly.
Then once you start, it's easier to keep going beyond what you planned, but you don't have to. Don't tell yourself, "Oh, I'm going to tell myself I'm going to work for an hour, but I'm actually going to work 16 hours." That's not going to work, right? You really have to keep your own word, and if you want to stop after you reached your tiny goal, you have to allow yourself to stop.
Hanne Vervaeck: For me, one of those examples that I think might be pretty recognizable for other entrepreneurs is the sales page, because writing a sales page is one of those intimidating tasks. If you tell yourself, "Today, I'm going to write the full sales page," that's a pretty big task. That's probably one that you want to procrastinate on, or for me in any case, that's one that I would procrastinate on.
Shane Melaugh: Oh yeah, that's my favorite thing to procrastinate on as well, the sales page.
Hanne Vervaeck: Exactly, those are fun to procrastinate on, right?
Shane Melaugh: Exactly.
Hanne Vervaeck: The stakes are so much higher than for a blog post too, so it makes sense. It's something that's kind of scary, good to procrastinate on. What I try to do is say, "Okay, I'm going to write on the sales page for one hour." Very first thing in the day, write for one hour on the sales page. Then again, more often than not, you get into the flow, and you're able to write more, and you're able to get a whole junk of work done, but sometimes, it's just that one hour. That's still much better than the whole, "Let's do it tomorrow the sales page, or maybe the day after."
Shane Melaugh: It's better than saying to yourself, "Oh my god, I have to do the sales page today. I'm going to work all day in the sales page." Again, that's a great way to trigger panic and to trigger procrastination.
Hanne Vervaeck: There was one last thing that you told and likely said it's important to understand you don't have to do more. It's exactly what you were saying. It's not we're going to try to trick our self into staring and then doing more. This also is important for the reward, because you will give yourself that reward even if you're not continuing doing it. For my example of the 10 minutes reading, I'm allowed to go to my little cross on the, "Yes, I did this today for my daily task after 10 minutes." It's that 10 minutes that gives the reward. It's not if I continue doing it for three hours after that that gives the reward. I think that's an important point to have [inaudible 00:47:57].
Shane Melaugh: Now, on the topic of the rider and the elephant, there's one more thing I want to touch on. That is designing your environment, because just your surrounding, the environment you're in has a great influence on the elephant. Sometimes, you need to redesign your environment, or you need to be deliberate about how you choose your environment to get the elephant on board with something, but it's also by being deliberate about you design your environment, you can make it a lot easier to get the elephant to play along. An example of this is to have a clearly defined and separate work area. As an example, if you have a table, and maybe let's say you have a laptop. You put your laptop on the table. You sit at that table. That's where you do your work.
It's important that you don't sit at the same table with the same laptop, and watch YouTube videos or play video games even if it's the same laptop. It's much better to basically pick up the laptop, go over to the couch, sit down on the couch, and then watch your YouTube video, because then there's like this clear separation between, "When I'm sitting at the table, I'm working. When I'm sitting on the couch, I'm playing," but you don't mix the two.
Hanne Vervaeck: I think it's one of those mistakes that many entrepreneurs so long work from home make, where it's like, "Oh, but I can actually just work in my bed," but then it's also in the evening, you are watching YouTube videos with your laptop on your lap in your bed. The separation becomes so blurred that also your mind doesn't know if you're in work mode or in distraction mode.
Shane Melaugh: This is one of the easiest things to fix, right, because you can just have the chair that you work from, or you can have the coffee shop that you work from or something like that. Another thing you can do that's related to this is you can basically put on your work clothes to work, so even if you work from home, you can be like, "Okay, I'm not going to sit there in my underpants and work, because that's kind of ... You know, I sit there in my underpants when I'm having breakfast, and I'm checking Facebook. That's like I'm in leisure mode, right? So I'm going to put on whatever, and you can maybe have this specific these pants and this t-shirt or something, and then I'm in work mode."
This simple ritual of saying, "Okay, I've had my breakfast. I've done this, and now, I'm going to go put on pants. Put on a shirt, and then I'm going to start working. This simple ritual of putting on the clothes can also help you then get into work mode. At the same time, you can also then end that ritual, where you can say, "Okay, now I'm done with work, taking off my work clothes, and maybe I'm lounging around in my underpants again or whatever," whatever you prefer, but again, that's just such a simple thing you can do that actually can make a profound difference to how easy it is to get going and to stay focused.
Hanne Vervaeck: Well, putting on your clothes then basically becomes the trigger to work, right?
Shane Melaugh: Exactly. Now another thing that I think can't be over stated to help you work well is to create a distraction-free environment. For me, it's absolutely basic productivity is to turn off all notifications. You want to have at least several hours a day where you are absolutely distraction free. That means your phone is not allowed to make any kind of sounds or vibrations, or anything. Your desktop is not allowed to display any kind of ... It's not allowed to ding at you, or show notifications sliding in or anything like that. This is something that ... I think everybody knows this, but I think most people don't take this seriously enough, so I just want to emphasize this.
This makes a huge difference, and for me, it's literally zero notifications. My phone is never allowed to make any kind of sound ever. It's always me deciding whether I want to see if someone's contacted me or something is going on. If you think that, "Oh my god, what about ... People have to reach me. People have to get answers." Try it out. The world doesn't end if you don't jump on every possible notification. I think that's very, very important. This also can help you design the right environment. If you have your Facebook tab open, and your phone is chirping at you, and all that, and you're trying to work, then you're just creating all this noise that you have to try and ignore while you're doing your work. It's much easier to say, "Part of my environment is going to be no distractions, and I'm going to take that seriously and really make sure that I have this distraction-free, calm environment to work in."
Finally, also on that note, it can be helpful to inform other people about your distraction-free time. If you work from home, and you live with other people, you can have a simple rule like, "You know, if my door is closed, or if I have a sticky note on my door or something, don't interrupt me, or even like if I'm wearing my red t-shirt, don't interrupt me," or something like that. This can also be for co-workers and so on, where you tell people, "Look, you can reach me during these hours, and during these other hours, I'm not available. I'm doing distraction-free work."
Hanne Vervaeck: Basically, what we are talking about here in the environment goes back to the very first thing we talked about, about will power, because you will not have the will power to not look at your phone if you hear that you have a notification. That's normal. Those notifications are there to trigger you to watch. I have a laptop open right now, which I probably shouldn't while recording this podcast, because it has a red dot on it. The only thing that I want to do is click on that tab to see what's happening, and to know people what people are talking about, and why they need my attention. It's about will power. Don't think that you will have the will power not to look. It's impossible. Rather, set up your environment to help you instead of working against you.
Shane Melaugh: That concludes the content part of episode 10 of the Active Growth podcast. You can go to activegrowth.com/10 to get the show notes, which includes a course that walks you through the exact steps you can take to become extremely good at shipping, and to work with more focus and more effectiveness. It also includes all the links to books and resources that we mentioned during this episode. You can go there to leave a comment and join the discussion with other listeners. We'd really like for you to leave us a comment. There are two questions I have that would really help us make this podcast better for you. The first one is, "How do you feel about longer episodes like we've had?" This episode and the last one, both fairly long episodes. Is that good for you? Do you like this, or would you prefer that we break it down into smaller bits? Would you prefer having shorter episodes, or do you maybe even think we can go on for longer?
Let us know how you're experiencing these episodes, and what you'd prefer. The second question is, "Out of everything we've talked about, what have you applied so far? What have you been able to implement in your life, and what has worked and what hasn't?" This kind of feedback is super important for us, because these podcasts exist only to be useful for you. We're not here to just be some distracting noise in your ear while you do something else. The only purpose of this podcast is to have a positive effect in your life and on your business, so the kind of feedback that tells us, "Is this working for you? Are you using what we're giving you here? And is it making a difference?" This is a really important feedback for us, because based on this, we can try and improve the podcast. We can cover topics in a different way. We can create different resources.
Maybe we stop doing a podcast, and start doing something else if it doesn't work for anyone, but it's really, really important for us to hear from you what is working, what isn't, and how can we make this more effective for you. For all that, please go to activegrowth.com/10, and let us know your thoughts. Finally, you might have noticed that on this podcast, we don't have any ads. We don't have any sponsors. We don't have any distraction. We just have content. We also don't have long, rambling intros. Personally, I really don't like that. When a podcast starts, and there is first rumble, rumble, rumble, and then there is like several minutes of sponsored by this, go buy that, mattresses, underwear, whatever. By the time the actual content starts, you've kind of already given up on it.
We are very deliberately not doing that. I'd also like to know. Do you appreciate that? Do you like that? Is it worth a review? Is it worth a comment or maybe a social share? Because if you appreciate the way we do things, it would really help us if you can just help spread the word, maybe recommend this podcast to a friend, maybe leave a review, but also, again, it's all about getting that feedback from you if you tell us really, it doesn't matter or whatever you prefer a different kind of format. We need to get this feedback. We need to know whether this is good for you or not, because like I said, our ambition here is to make this podcast as useful as possible. To get in touch with us, you can go to activegrowth.com/10. You can leave a comment by writing. You can also leave a comment by speaking if you have a microphone, or just speaking into your phone. You can leave us a voice message.
Thank you very much for listening, and I hope you'll tune in next time as well.
Our companion course for this podcast series has been updated! You can now find the fourth lesson that includes all the action steps mentioned in the episode and some more helpful information on forming habits.
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In This Episode You'll Discover:
- How understanding how your brain works can help you deal with procrastination
- Why it is that you're rather stay in bed when you know you should work
- Why it's not your fault: our brain wasn't programmed to build a business
- Motivating yourself with money can be completely useless
- How to hack your brain to be more disciplined and motivated even when you don't feel like it
- What you need to know about willpower
- How working only 4 hours a day can be more effective than hustling until the sun goes down
- Why most people struggle with keeping their new habits
- How you can create new habits without hating them
- Why motivation is ofter overrated and what is more important for shipping than motivation
- How changing your working environment can have a huge effect on your work ethic
- Book: The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
- Book: The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt - more than just a book about happiness. This is a recommended read for anyone interested in personal development.
- The hypothesis of willpower as a limited resource: you can find countless blogs and media outlets that write about this, but here's an interesting article with a more nuanced view than you usually get.
- Check out our guest expert Graham Jones's website for more content on internet psychology.
- Want to become a habit building machine? Then check out this resource, which is probably the most comprehensive guide to habits you can find anywhere, for free.
How Do You Keep Your Habits?
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