Have you ever had a hard time establishing a new habit or routine? As noted in my last blog, Discipline Rituals – What We Resist Persists, we derive a certain amount of comfort or safety doing what we’ve always done. That’s why it’s so difficult to change. Even the most powerful commitment to change is often counter balanced by an unconscious or subliminal commitment not to change. Exposing our fears to not changing is key number four in building effective rituals.
Let’s suppose you’re attempting to establish a commitment to work on your priorities without interruption. You plan to establish a time to work one hour every day on your top priority as we discussed in the Discipline Scheduling - Three Keys to Building Effective Rituals. Let’s also suppose you have a habit of constantly checking email. This habit can and will actually prevent you from achieving your newly intended ritual.
Why? Because we don’t recognize the equally or more powerful commitment we have not to change! We are counterbalanced by a powerful desire to maintain the status quo. It keeps the very thing we want to occur from happening. Often we are not even aware of our fear of the consequence if we are successful!
In order to achieve your primary commitment to invest more time focused single-mindedly on your most important priority, you must ask yourself what you are currently doing [or possibly not doing] that undermines this new commitment. In this case it would be checking email, but it could just as easily be, trying to do too many activities at the same time, or not deciding in advance what tasks on your plate are most likely to generate the greatest value.
You need to ask, “What’s my competing commitment?” You’re answer might range from, “Feeling on top of things,” Being in control,” Getting a lot of things done,” or even, “Avoiding really difficult work for as long as I can.”
The next step to confronting your fears in establishing a ritual is to ask yourself what the fear you have for what might happen if you actually followed through on your primary commitment and changed your behavior.
In this case your answers might be, “I’ll be overwhelmed by all the tasks that pile up while I’m not paying attention to them” [email checking] “People may make decisions without me” or “I won’t be there to speak to my clients” to “I won’t stay focused and I’ll feel like a failure.”
When we don’t recognize and bring to light the fears we have that are associated with change, we end up unconsciously sabotaging our own efforts to change and establish the new rituals we desired. Write down your fears. Assess whether they are truly realistic for the change you are making. Frequently they are not. When exposed we become aware of what’s been holding us back.
In Be Excellent at Anything they encourage people who are making a change to establish a new ritual to ask this simple question: “How can I design this ritual so I enjoy its intended benefits but also minimize the costs I fear it will prompt?”
We’ll look at the final key to establishing rituals, getting accountability, in our next blog.