Two months ago, I offered a streamlined test consulting service called "Get Your Next Project On Rails" -- and I got to see some tremendous results and growth from people who participated.
One of the women who participated has been very gracious in allowing me to publish her experience as a case study. She said I could share her experience in full, as long as her name and location are omitted. So we'll call her "Alice" for this case study; she can chime in if she wants to take credit for her achievements.
In this post, there's some nice actionable and universal lessons on behavior change and I'm grateful that Alice is letting us share this.
Alice bought on 15th January 2016. We had our first call on 19th January and explored two projects she wanted to work on.
She's a busy, hyper-driven, hyper-achievery type person who is finishing an advanced degree and working an important, leveraged job. When we estimated her minimum time commitments, she was already at a minimum of 55 hours per week between university and work. That doesn't include commuting and the generals of surviving and going through daily life.
The biggest thing she wanted to do was getting more energy and thriving via doing fitness habits regularly -- between her intense studies (it's a notoriously intense degree) and her work, she'd often get in an un-virtuous cycle of not working out, and thus having slightly lower energy, and thus not wanting to work out... sleep quality would suffer... downward busy-ness spiral would ensue.
She had been an athlete at various times in her life and wanted to recapture that -- her target was to start working out 6x/week which I would not recommend to someone who is untrained as a starting point, but which is a level she had performed at previously.
I always tell people after something like this to follow up and stay in touch -- to her credit, she did, and she was also kind enough to write up her lessons of why it came together and worked, and then gave permission to share it. Here's her own words and graphic --
ALICE ON WHAT WORKED FOR HER
to: Sebastian Marshall <email@example.com>
date: Mon, Mar 7, 2016 at 2:10 AM
subject: the color of glory :)
Behold . . . Pretty stellar! And it’s not just the sheet, my perspective has significantly changed.
I think what worked really well in the coaching was several things. First, your respectful insistence that I make small, rather than large and dramatic, adjustments to how my days were going. I think my work approach til now has been a collection of hail mary’s, sprints to the finish, and constant fear shots of worst-case-imagined scenarios in case the others weren’t enough. If I had to do something it was by adrenaline alone. To detach from that, it helped that you knew that and know it of others, and so acknowledged and painted the picture of ‘of what we do’ in the beginning. The other thing that worked was catching sentences in conversation that showed I was still in that mentality. Do we unconsciously ask permission of coaches during a conversation to stay with our old premises? If so, by you staying so on track so insistently, permission was denied over and over, and weirdly it gave me the room to change.
The theme seems to have been what you wrote "Emergencies or feats of incredible human endurance can’t be handled as a gigantic whole – there’s only one of you, and you can take only one action at a time. The way you navigate gigantic feats, or crises, is by reducing the whole to the single next action to do, doing that action, and then reducing it to the single next action to do.” To simplify my feedback, I learned to stop approaching projects as a gigantic whole.
During the coaching, how did I let go of the addiction of taking on challenges all at once? A person with my background (drama family) is too scared to trust the small task. I did have outside coincidental help during the six weeks which did some heavy lifting on the obstacle of daily terror. That help enabled me to actually implement what you were saying. With crazy results. All the tools and suggestions worked, especially the light sheets - do you know how hard it was to slow down and do those? But you assured me the process would have results. And it did.
Reading TSR at the same time brought it all together. I can’t imagine having the same outcomes without the articles.
ANALYSIS, REFLECTION, AND TECHNIQUES
First -- thank you, Alice. You're incredible.
What did we do and what can you learn from this?
I understand Alice's point of view because I'm somewhat similar -- I imagine a lot of our readers have this mixed curse/blessing where we can get into "everything or nothing" territory.
It's easy, if your goal is to work out 6 times in a week (!), to completely fall off the rails if you miss 3 days in a row. After all, if you're seeing the world in a binary format of whether you reach your goals or not, you've already lost the battle if you miss 3 days.
This is actually a large benefit on some types of work where perfection must be the standard, but can be devastating in areas with virtuous or unvirtuous cycles.
Alice and I put together a few techniques --
1. We put a mini-workout first thing in the day, so she's getting some movement no matter what. Basic stretching and strengthening.
2. We put together a simple Lights Spreadsheet -- you can see hers above -- which provides a number of benefits.
3. We started looking for increases in Adherence Rate and resetting if something goes wrong. EX: If a week busts out entirely (water pipes in apartment freeze and explode, illness, travel, whatever), then you just try to beat last week's number once you're healthy and stable again. So instead of trying to go from 0 back up to 6 right away, you start by simply ensuring you get back to 1 or 2, and going from there.
4. We started looking for correlations and cornerstones of what goes right and wrong: for instance, going to bed too late meant waking up late meant not enough time to work out. Too often, people feel like they failed due to willpower, when really, the problem is that the deck is stacked against them due to scheduling or other upstream factors. Getting to bed early enough the night before = waking up early = time to work out in the morning.
5. Thus, surprisingly, to work out enough means going to bed early. We worked on that by examining why late bedtimes happen. Can't sleep? In a click-click-click mode online? Looming deadline? We investigated literally case by case every time a night would go too late, and looked to find solutions and rules to sustain that.
All of this is meant to (1) increase adherence to the goal, (2) automatically restart without implosion when (not if) things go wrong for a while, (3) take the overwhelming largeness of it out and make it into smaller doable actionable pieces, (4) get awareness of the factors and design things so that they work, (5) automatically adjust difficulty to account for real life happening and stay broadly on track.
I dare say these principles are universal -- different people need structure in different areas for peak performance, but these are all solid universal rules you can apply to your own life.
Thanks for sharing with us, Alice.
Also, with the Time Reclamation Group Class starting next weekend, I've got a few special extras for people who completed the Project On Rails training. If you were in that, look for an email from me shortly.
And if you, dear reader, have questions about how this went or how it applies to you, feel free to ask in the comments.
Farmington Canyon, Utah, around 10 years ago.
One of the first semi-serious girlfriends I ever had - let's call her Alice - had a really wonderful family, and we all got along famously.
They were work-hard, play-hard, really good people. They were Catholic, and there's sort of a Catholic solidarity in Utah, especially out in the suburbs.
Utah is overwhelmingly of the Mormon religion, and most non-Mormons feel stifled by it.
Now, as I get older, I come to appreciate the Mormon religion more. They're big believers in family, self-discipline, good habits, service, hard work and lots of reflection. But some of the rules are rather stifling to non-Mormons - no drinking, no smoking, no caffeine, no R-rated movies. Also, they're incredibly warm and friendly people, but at least in Utah, there's an undercurrent of being wary about associating too closely with non-Mormons outside of trying to convert them.
If there ever was a day to drink 4 cups of coffee in one sitting, this was it.
Welcome to Jade’s world. Where living alone was like having a me party every day. Except you were lonely because you lived alone. Jade had stayed up all night before doing paperwork with her good old friend wine. Alcohol was the only thing that could keep her awake.
“Welcome to Sox News. Blah blah blah, terrible stuff, terrible stuff, terrible stuff, woe misery and misfortune,” said the television. Jade turned off the T.V. She was already depressed and didn’t need to hear anymore bad news. She knew the world was fucked up; so why did the media feel the need to harp on it?
Jade grabbed a cigarette and lit it. Like she fucking cared if her landlord didn’t want her smoking in her apartment. She worked for the CIA, didn’t she? The comforting sound of her lighter filled the silence. The phone rang and jade stumbled over to her cell, puffing out the sweet smoke. It was Ria.
“What,” jade mumbled.