Planning to plan to fail: The true keys to success

04_Planning to Plan to Fail

I have a pretty consistent history of being inconsistent with exercise.

I’ll start some sort of workout and a couple days, weeks or months later I’m back hitting the snooze button on my physical fitness.

Mastering the plan of planning to master

Before you start offering to send me your workout plans, know that my lack of consistency doesn’t have anything to do with not being able to make a plan.

I’m amazing at making plans.

When I was a kid I would create elaborate schedules and details about whatever activity, event or things I was trying to do.  I was basically creating spreadsheets before I knew what spreadsheets were.

By the time personal computers came around I was already proficient in doing all the stuff they were supposed to do to make life easier.  Back in my 20’s I could schedule — down to the last detail — my training programs.  Computers just added fuel to my organizational fire.

If there had been a black belt for making exercise plans, I’d have been training the guy who wanted to get it.

The Disconnect: A history of failed attempts

So, if my plans were so awesome, why wasn’t I successful?

In my 20’s I thought the problem was related to a lack of having the right process.  I researched a lot of different plans for different things, always trying to figure out another method.  From ancient practices of Indian Dervishes to modern sports science, I was always looking for a better way to do what I wanted to do.

However, always trying new things wasn’t really the answer, because it didn’t help with my core issue: a lack of consistency.  The thing is, ALL of those methods would have worked if I had just given them each the time necessary to have a result.

But I didn’t.  So they didn’t.

In my 30’s I started focusing on making more elaborate plans.  After all, if the methods were working for others, then I just needed to make sure I had organized my schedule so precisely that they HAD to work.  (I still hadn’t figured out that consistency thing yet.)  So, I would create these super detailed plans, even hybridizing some of the various methods I had learned before to create some new “super method” that would be the answer to my dreams.

Again, the same problem.

No matter how detailed and organized and logical a plan is, if you don’t follow it, nothing will ever change.  duh.

It looks awesome on paper, but it wasn’t practical because I didn’t take into account the fact that life almost never works out the way you want it to.  There is always a wrench thrown in to make things interesting.

The lesson?

Keep it stupid, simple

In my 40’s I realized that complexity wasn’t the answer.  I focused on going down to the core simple truths. Instead of figuring out the secrets of ultra running, I just focused on what it takes to walk.  Instead of fine-tuning a weight training regimen worthy of an Olympic trainer, I just focused on 5 core strength training exercises.

And it worked!  At first.

The simpler my plans, the easier they were to keep.  I started a simple walking plan and within a couple months I was able to walk 8 straight hours covering 30 miles.  I started a simple nutrition plan (Tim Ferriss’s Slow Carb, if your interested) and was able to lose a good amount of wait and normalize my blood sugar levels.

But I still wasn’t consistent.  And in the end, that is what killed my progress and made me back step.

But then in 2014 I was introduced to a video by this guy named Darren Hardy, where he gave a presentation on the habits of super achievers.  It really hit home for me.  I won’t give you the entire play by play because you can watch it for yourself.  (I’ll embed it or post a link at the bottom of this post.)

I was also influenced by a few other thought leaders such as Leo Baubata from Zen Habits, James Clear, a writer on habit and performance related topics, and others.

I took from each of these teachers and distilled their information down to a few core lessons.

The essential few

I came to realize that it really just boils down to a few essential things that can help create successful results.  Three things, in fact.

  1. Start very very small
  2. Be very very consistent
  3. Don’t stop.

Contrary to my earlier attempts to complicate my plans, the reality is that success is simple.

The hard part is following through.

But then I realized: if taking action is the hard part, then the real key to success is to make taking action as easy and simple as possible.

Makes sense, right?  The easier it is to do the thing that causes success, the more likely you are to have success.

My current plan

So, my current plan is this: stop making plans.

That isn’t to say I don’t have a “mission” with my life.  Or that I’m not trying to accomplish anything.

I definitely have goals.  And I have ideas on how to accomplish those goals.

But, as Bruce Lee said, it is like a finger pointing at the moon.  If you focus your attention on the finger then you miss all that heavenly glory.

(The plan is the finger, in case you didn’t get the metaphor.)

And instead of figuring out the best possible finger I can use to point out the direction, I’m instead going to focus on the process of slowly flying up towards the moon.

The destination is the focus, not the path.

And in order to walk that path, whatever path you choose, you just need to put one foot in front of the other.

Here is that Darren Hardy video I mentioned earlier.  Enjoy!


Out of Frustration, a Change is Born

Enough is enough

Lately, I have been self-sabotaging myself like it was a lost art.

Eating poorly.  Working lazily.  Exercising hardly.

From binge eating Jack-in-the-Box at 1:00 AM, to binge watching episodes of The Librarians while I’m working, to binge ignoring an increasing pile of homework, to binge bingeing other binges …

It has been frustrating, to say the least.

What is frustration, anyway?

But there are a few things I know about frustration:

  1. It is emotional leverage
  2. It is fuel for change
  3. It sucks

Ignore the third one.  It’s a given.

The first two are relevant because they mean that I can use this frustration to affect change and motivate action.

At least, that’s what I’ve always believed.

Guilt doesn’t work … for me.

But that is essentially like guilting yourself to be a better person.  And although guilt can be effective, it is also weak sauce when it comes to longevity.  It only lasts as long as you feel bad about what you’ve done, which in the case of doing things to keep your mind off of how you feel, isn’t very long.

Feeling guilty?  Okay, eat this jumbo bag of Pizza Rolls.  There … isn’t that better?  Now enjoy your newly distended abdomen and lack of mental focus.  Hey, didn’t you want to watch the 3rd season of Star Trek: The Next Generation again?  Go ahead.  I’ll keep you company.

So, if guilt doesn’t give me the leverage I so desperately need, what will?

Well, here’s the kicker: emotional leverage isn’t a viable long-term solution.  Emotions — like our occasional hopes that a good video game-based movie will ever get made — are fleeting.  They’re effective in the short-term, but anything longer than a fortnight is a crap shoot.

Be the change you want to be

I want to experience change.  True change.

And it isn’t like I haven’t tried.

But as Yoda said, there is no try.  I must do.

What must I do?  Well, I already know that too.  Because it isn’t a lack of knowledge that holds me back.  I’ve done the research.  I know the how to’s.

And it isn’t a lack of commitment that holds me back.  Because I’m committed to being a better person.  I know this because, if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be here writing this stuff down on the internet like a good procrastinator of positive actions.

When I was a young man in my late teens and twenties, it was considerably easier to motivate myself to take actions for self-improvement.  I wasn’t consistent, but it was easier for me to take action back then.  Perhaps my life had less distractions, or perhaps I used self-improvement as a distraction.

But now in my later years, making those changes seems to take a herculean effort.  Like I’m clearing out the stables in a single night after 47 years of letting things get out of order.  It is not insignificant.

Baby Steps and Tiny Habits

So, here’s the thing.  I even know the answer to this.

Because looking at the entire mountain and expecting to climb it at once isn’t how life works.  You look at the next hill and climb that.  Then the one after that and go there.

Or even better, you look at the next step to take.  Break the monumental tasks into small, bite-sized chunks and you turn a mountain of climbing into a dozen small hikes.

If you’ve been reading James Clear for as long as I have, you are no stranger to the science behind habit formation and personal development.

Baby steps.

Tiny habits.

Micro-blogging.  No, wait.  That’s something else.  But you get the idea … just make things small, easy and brain-dead simple.

And on top of that, just do one thing at a time.

Don’t try to improve your work, guitar skill, scholastic performance, culinary skills, Tai Chi mastery and all the other things.  Pick one.  Only one.  And focus on that.

That doesn’t mean you ignore the others.

But it does means you focus on the one.

The One (sans Keanu or Jet)

And when you look at the other areas of your life that still need improvement and refinement — from spirituality to physicality, to financial abundance, to skill development, to social fulfillment — use the frustration you feel that you aren’t putting in full effort on those to fuel your effort on “the one”.

Mastery doesn’t come from splitting your attention among everything you want to do.  That is a fool’s errand.  Only the joker in the deck tries to be all the other cards.  If you want to be king or queen of your domain, then be the best at that thing that you can.

So, as I was sitting in my car this evening, I came to the realization that it was time to determine my “one thing”.  Here, you can watch it:

And, right now, I’m picking a “one thing” that has the greatest impact on all the other things:

Physical vitality

Call it by other names if you like; health and wellness; fitness; endurance; weight loss — they all equate to the same thing: getting a rockin’ bod.

In my next blog post I’ll talk more about my specific plans and how this journey is going to unfold.  But, for now, know that this is the first step — the first tiny increment — in my path to a better me.

One small habit. Compounded over time.  Creating an effect on the rest of my life.

All sparked by frustration with where I’ve been, and causing a change in who I will become.