A quick reality check for your 2016 plans – 3 ways to seize control while there’s still time left

"So, Bookface, how are your plans for this year?" "Well, I filled my quota of cat pictures back in January..."Time for a quick reality-check. It’s now over a third of the way through 2016 – have your plans for this year materialised yet, or have you already told yourself “well, maybe next year…”

If that’s you, it’s time to be proactive and to begin designing your future.

Now, Woody Allen wasn’t far wrong when he said “If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans.”

In other words, not all designs work out as planned, so I’ve provided some guidelines that successful people use implicitly and which you can begin to use explicitly.

These are:

While following these systems doesn’t guarantee success, they will definitely show you what is workable and give you ways to get started on your hopes and dreams instead of waiting and hoping.

That’s it. Be proactive – do something definite and do it today…

How to Kill Procrastination

Question: What plans do you have for yourself that you’ve just been pushing into the future?

You probably know the type of plans I mean – the good stuff that seems to be always a few months out of reach.

If that’s you, congratulations – you’re just in time to prevent some regrets.

Think about this: do you really want to be in this exact same position this time next year? How would that feel?

You might tell yourself that a year can seem like a long time. One thing I do know is that time passes quickly when we idle away the moments. Procrastination – the failure to move into action – is not a modern problem either.

“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” – Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519)

Listen to da Vinci. Information is not enough. Intention is not enough. There’s something fundamentally different about action which greatly outstrips mere knowledge or willingness.

Some of you might think that da Vinci sat around all day figuring things out. Far from it. He accomplished an immense amount in his lifetime.

So what causes procrastination and how do we solve it? How can you learn to move into action more of the time?

Where people fail to act:

  • Being unaware of choices
    There are certain things we’re culturally conditioned to decide and most of them aren’t really that important when you look at the bigger picture.There are other decisions that are invisible to all but the top 0.1%, the ‘great achievers’ of our age.These are the things that you ‘can’t’ or ‘aren’t supposed to’ decide.For example, you could just decide that this is going to be the year in which your life becomes transformed – the year your dreams and plans become a glorious reality.When you consider that, what did you tell yourself? Many people think “but I can’t just do that!” then reason away their future with faulty ideas about luck, random forces or what they think they deserve.
  • Being ‘all talk’
    There’s an old saying – “talk is cheap”. It’s a sad fact that talk doesn’t necessarily transform into action.The paradox is that when you get into action, you have something to talk about.
  • Being purely theoretical
    Pure theory involves plenty of supposition and no experimentation. It’s a world-view that only builds on existing assumptions. The only testing is for plausibility (i.e. does this match what I know?). As you can probably imagine, it’s possible to build towering edifices of theory on top of faulty assumptions.Good theory is intimately linked with action – and thus learning occurs. Books aren’t great for learning unless you test the knowledge presented there. Otherwise, the only exercise is one of memory.“Life is so unlike theory.” – Anthony Trollope
  • Being too clever
    If you’ve ever seen a doorstop with built in alarm clock radio, you’ll know that it’s possible to be a bit too clever. Unfortunately, this apparent exaggeration is not far from the truth in many cases. Complexity is not a virtue. To me, the truly clever people are those who can make a seemingly complex idea easy to understand. I’m not talking about ‘dumbing down’ ideas. I’m talking about good communication and the elegance of simplicity. Wallowing in apparent complexity is a great way of avoiding action.“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” – Leonardo da Vinci
  • Being a perfectionist
    The act of perfecting something can take a long time. The standard of ‘perfection’ is, by definition, extremely hard to achieve. And often unnecessary. To wait for perfection is sometimes to wait forever. Sometimes good is good enough. Then you can act. Remember the saying “perfect spoils good”.
  • Anticipating failure
    Many people fail to act because their experience tells them that it just hurts too much to fail. This is a double whammy. Firstly, the focus is on pain and failure and you will tend to get what you focus on. Second, there is the barrier of ‘being safe’Isn’t it safe to begin living your dreams? The (often faulty) assumption of safety is that it’s safest to stick with what you’ve got and do nothing new.In many cases, ‘safe’ is like sitting in a car which is rolling towards a cliff. Everything is perfectly okay until that inevitable moment…

Decision is very often the process of cutting away all lesser options. Here’s how:

Exercise for moving into action:

  1. Identify: Where is your ‘theoretical’ knowledge?
    1. Imagine it’s true
      Close your eyes. Imagine and experience the actions that go with understanding that. What do you see, hear and feel?
    2. Imagine it’s not true
      Imagine and experience the actions that do with discovering that. What do you see, hear and feel this time?
  2. Integrate: Allow your unconscious mind to sort and combine all the information from both experiences.
  3. Action: What is the easiest way that you can test your theory in the Real World? Go now and do that before moving on.
  4. Fuzzy proposition: Few practical ‘facts’ are completely true or completely untrue. There are ‘degrees of truth’ to almost any statement based on the situation and circumstances. Based on your Real World experiences, decide where/when it’s true and where/when it’s not true.
  5. Learning: What did you learn from your ‘test actions’ that was not in (i) or (ii)? This is where learning expands through experiential knowledge.

NOTE:
It’s important to take any pain out of the learning process. Make it so experimentation feels neutral and successes feel good. Give yourself a little rewarding glow every time you do something surprisingly right or good or excellent.

It’s like being in the supermarket looking through oranges to find the best ones. Dented or unripe oranges don’t feel bad. It’s more of a neutral experience. The good ones feel different though, don’t they? Make your action steps feel like this and you’ll succeed more of the time.

Summary

This is how we kill procrastination.

The true test is in the testing – da Vinci knew this because he was an experimental sort. He was constantly modelling the world around him, testing and refining those models through action.

It’s time to take action now. Otherwise, all you can hope for is regret.

About Planning – An Update

It’s no secret that most of us spend too much time thinking before we move into action. When most of us think or talk about doing something, we call that activity ‘planning’.

I’ve written a lot about the virtues of planning correctly, so let’s look at the liabilities with certain types of plan.

  1. Your plan must not be set in stone
    An inflexible plan is blind to feedback. That’s a bit like driving at the speed limit on the motorway, despite the upcoming traffic jam. Disaster.
  2. Your plan must be more about your outcome than the means of achieving it
    Again, this is a statement of flexibility. If you’re thoroughly sold on a particular route, it can blind you to other – easier – ways of getting there.
  3. Your plan must embrace the possibility of failure and redesign
    Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we planned them. If your plan is outcome-based and principle-based, it’s easy to redesign into a working plan as you go along. Then you don’t need to stop for downtime and analysis – and this avoids the discouragement that often comes with stopping.

In short, the key is flexibility, flexbility, flexibility.

The principle to keep in mind is this – your plan must be adaptable to guarantee you will succeed.

So there’s really no need for so much thinking.

Set your outcome, gather relevant principles and start to evolve courses of action. Then start doing something and let the principles guide you as you keep your eyes on the outcome.

Act, adapt, achieve, succeed.

Overthinking – an antidote?

I’ve often said that the biggest stumbling block most people face is ‘too much thinking’.

Not just the ‘wrong sort’ of thinking – a definite imbalance between thought and activity.

Now, it’s fairly obvious when a person has not put enough thought into something.

The difficulty usually lies when we over-think a course of action and we justify that by labelling the wasted time as ‘planning’.

I’ve written a lot about the virtues of planning correctly, so let’s look at the liabilities with certain types of plan.

1. Your plan must not be set in stone

An inflexible plan is blind to feedback. That’s a bit like driving at the speed limit on the motorway, despite the upcoming traffic jam. Disaster.

2. Your plan must be more about your outcome than the means of achieving it

Again, this is a statement of flexibility. If you’re thoroughly sold on a particular route, it can blind you to other – easier – ways of getting there.

3. Your plan must embrace the possibility of failure and redesign.

Sometimes things just don’t work out the way we planned them. If your plan is outcome-based and principle-based, it’s easy to redesign into a working plan as you go along. Then you don’t need to stop for downtime and analysis – and this avoids the discouragement that often comes with stopping.

In short, the key is flexibility, flexbility, flexibility.

The principle to keep in mind is this – your plan must be adaptable to guarantee you will succeed.

So there’s really no need for so much thinking.

Set your outcome, gather relevant principles and start to evolve courses of action. Then start doing something and let the principles guide you as you keep your eyes on the outcome.

Act, adapt, achieve, succeed.

Reverse-Engineering Your Future

There are many ways of creating new methods and strategies for doing things well. One form of innovation is to take a powerful strategy from one area and apply it usefully in a completely different one. In that spirit, I have borrowed a concept from the field of engineering and will present you with several ways in which it can be used to plan and create a better future.

That concept is ‘reverse engineering’. Normally when a person engineers something, they start with a purpose, a need or a problem and create something which embodies that purpose, satisfies that need or solves the problem.

Reverse engineering is essentially the opposite process. You start out with the finished product and go backwards, retracing the creative method to find out how it works.

This is what happens when a company like Sony produces a new gadget. A competitor buys one and takes a screwdriver to it, taking it apart in order to find out the principles behind how it works. Then they can produce their own version built on similar principles.

Suppose you were to apply this process to one of your current goals. Assume the goal is complete at some point in the future and reverse engineer the pathway to that successful accomplishment. Here are three ways of doing the ‘reverse engineering’ process.

1) The Magic Pill Scenario

I’m not sure where this method originates, though I often use it with coaching clients to get past a problem.

It involves a simple question and some imagination.

The question is this:

“If I were to give you a magic pill that meant you would wake up tomorrow with the problem completely solved, what would have changed?”

This enables them to start thinking about the problem as solvable. This also presupposes that there is a solution and that it’s possible for them to get past their current obstacle.

They are then free to discover for themselves what changes they need to make. All we have to do after that is agree on how to make those changes, set up resources and a timeframe.

Then they are completely free to move into action, knowing they are going in the right direction in an acceptable timeframe.

2) Timeline method

Imagine that your future is stretched out in front of you on a line, where days, weeks, months and years are arranged in order. One day follows another. This is a representation of your timeline – your inner sense of time. Your mind uses your timeline to plan and schedule. It’s a bit like a ‘mental diary’ or planner.

First, assume that at some point in time, you will reach your goal.

Then move forward along that timeline until you get to a point in your future where the goal is accomplished.

At this point, check that it happens in a way that you’re happy with. If it’s not okay, change it until you’re completely happy with it.

Now turn around and look back along the timeline, noticing all of the events that took place before your goal – those actions which allowed you to accomplish your goal.

Be aware of what you did each step of the way. Your mind will fill in the details as you go.

Now you know how you will get there and have a complete plan.

To make this even better, look at your new plan. Are there any distractions or unnecessary steps involved? Use your awareness of this to streamline the plan further until it is at its best.

Write down the plan and move in to action!

(For more about this method, refer to my NLP Primer on timelines)

3) The Chunkwise Method

Henry Ford once said: “Nothing is particularly hard if you divide it into small jobs”. He went on to prove his statement by working out all of the jobs involved in building a car and putting that knowledge to practical use. The result was the world’s first mass-produced car.

You can apply this process by breaking your goal down into a number of pieces, then subdividing those into smaller tasks. Then all you need to do to make that knowledge into a plan is to apply the three ‘power questions’.

I’ve detailed the full process below, using “creating a new ebook” as an example.

1 – Identify your goal
Example: creating a new ebook

2 – What are the major pieces needed or stages involved? (3-5 pieces)
Example: Research, Design, Writing the detailed text.

3 – what are the major pieces of each of those?
Example: Research – (Market research, Topic research)

4 – Apply three power questions to each piece :
Example: Topic research segment

A – How do you accomplish this piece?
Search internet, read relevant books, conduct studies in real world

B – How long will it take?
3 months

C – What order does this come in the bigger scheme?
After market research and before the design phase

Of course, you would go through all of the steps for each piece of every stage until you had a complete and comprehensive plan. Then you can decide if the time and effort involved are worth it. If not, you can work at ways of minimising the time taken in certain steps or do other steps in a more enjoyable or appealing way.

As a consequence of using the metaphor of reverse engineering, several strengths are revealed.

The process presupposes that the aim is possible and achievable, so we instantly bypass any doubts that could have stalled creative thoughts about a solution. If it’s really not possible, you’ll find out in the process.

You get to decide whether it’s worth it, which you can only assess fully if you know the full process involved in getting there. After all, it’s important to enjoy the journey as much as the final outcome.

You need to envision the outcome fully before you start, so you can adjust it and decide if you really want it that way. Needless to say, this saves a lot of time and effort.

Also bear in mind that none of these processes need to take very long – it’s all about finding a clear and acceptable path to your goal.

I hope these strategies are helpful in allowing you to decide on the great things you want in your future – and making them happen!