We wish to improve, but fail to deliver.
Research says that an adult person makes roughly 35.000 decisions a day.
Although I question the outcome of the research and wonder how the estimate of 35.000 decision is made up in the first place, it’s a relevant trend to underpin the point I want to make.
Making 35.000 conscious decisions is simply impossible, but, picking a specific situation, activity or interaction and deciding on whom you need to be, along with the first 3 choices that your best-self could make sounds fairly easy.
However, when it comes to change, growth or the pursuit of any other idea of success we are encouraged by the culture to work non-stop, hustle 24/7/365 and operate like machines. So we then build great lives (quite the opposite)!
This lifestyle has leapt us into unstoppable human doings. As a result, we’ve become too fixated on the outcome, rather than engaged in the process. We (desperately) wish to improve but fail to deliver.
As one of my favourite authors, James Clear, describes in his book Atomic Habits:
“We don’t rise to the level of our goals, we fall to the level of our systems”.
He’s referring to the outcome-oriented approach that is causing us to repeatedly bump into the same obstacles. Not only is it an ineffective approach, but chances are that it will slide you down the decision tree resulting in a vicious cycle of poor decisions along with the negative results and emotional experiences.
In the work I do with my clients I apply an identity-oriented approach, in which we shift the focus from what they want to achieve to whom they need to be and what they need to do in order to achieve their desired outcome.
This subtle shift allows them to focus on sculpting themselves into a more capable version and bringing that person into the present moment through the use of conscious transitions.
Conscious what? Rather than running through your day on default mode, you consciously pick specific moments to stop yourself and transit from one to another. To transition well, it’s of crucial importance to break your current state and to set a clear intention on whom you want to be and what your best-self would do in that specific moment.
This method is also known as WWBSD, What Would Best-Self Do.
To apply the WWBSD, you could either install certain triggers, such as your calendar notification before a meeting or your front gate when coming home after work, or plan specific situations, activities or interactions throughout the day.
‘My First 3 Rule’
The ‘My First 3’ Rule is a derivative from an intention implementation, which is a plan you make beforehand about when, where and how to act. It’s basically how you intend to implement a particular habit. In my coaching programs, I use the following format:
“When situation X arises, I will perform response Y”.
This may look rather simple, but, nowadays, too many people are trying to change their behaviour without figuring out what they really want to change.
They tell themselves “I’m going to be more disciplined”, “I’m going to live a healthier lifestyle” or “I’m going to improve my role as a valued team member”, but they never get clear on when, where and how to act. They leave their growth up to randomness and hope they will remember at the right time.
I’m sorry to say, but if that’s you, you might be waiting for the rest of your life to make any improvement. Hope is not a strategy!
The reason you should only focus on your first 3 moves in any specific moment is that it makes it repeatable and easy to do. In addition, these tiny improvements are the doorway to the next decisions you’re going to make, they literally shape the actions that you take for minutes or hours afterwards.
For example, think of when you last grabbed your phone to ‘only respond to one WhatsApp message’ and eventually found yourself spending twenty minutes scrolling up and down your Instagram timeline.
This obviously works both ways, but it’s you who gets to decide in which direction you navigate yourself. Below I’ve created three examples for you, to give you some inspiration to get started.
In the first example, you’ll see the ‘first 3’ of a person who aims to align his morning routine with his goal to become the best performing sales representative for the EU region of the company he’s working for.
To kickstart his morning and improve his discipline he integrates the following 3 actions, using [TIME, 6AM] as a trigger to remind himself of performing the following response.
- Rising & practising meditation for 10 min.
- Exercising for 20 min.
- Setting goals & prioritizing / planning must do tasks.
In the second example, you’re looking at the ‘first 3’ of a person who wants to improve her role and added value during her team meetings at work, by being more present, engaging in tougher topics, obtaining actionable insights and developing trusted relationships with her peers.
To optimise her role and impact during the team meeting she integrates the following 3 actions, using an [Event, Calendar notification] as a trigger to remind herself of performing the following response.
- Preparing role and added value for the upcoming meeting.
- Being 5 mins early to establish a connection with team members.
- Being radically open-minded by asking questions and practising active listening.
In the third example, you’ll see the ‘first 3’ of a person who aims to increase his performance and double his bonus by optimizing his productivity and developing a set of disciplined habits.
To gain clarity, optimise productivity and achieve extraordinary results he integrates the following 3 actions, using a [PLACE, Office desk] as a trigger to remind himself of performing the following response.
- Prioritizing tasks & scheduling 2 x 45 min productivity blocks.
- Working on only one task per productivity block, tough ones first.
- Turning off phone, social media & email notification during every productivity blocks.
When you find yourself at the start of improving your behaviour for any specific situation, activity or interaction, but can’t think of a way to act, then I suggest to mirror the 2 most influential people in your life by asking yourself;
What would they think, decide and do if they were you? And, if I were to approach my challenge as an even better role model, the things I would do are:
Once you’ve defined your first 3 actions, you no longer have to rely on willpower to get into the flow of consistent and progressive action. You just stick to your plan and, once you get comfortable, you add the next 3. And so on, and so forth.
To finish off, I’m leaving you with one more question:
If you could pick 1 situation, activity or interaction in your life that needs improvement, what are the first 3 things your best-self must do?
Decide today and start engaging in the process of improving your behaviour by redesigning the script of your perceived identity and the systems that support it. Changing the entire situations at once may seem impossible, however improving your first 3 actions is only a matter of discipline.
The absolute key to behavioural change is the rate at which you perform your new habits. You can keep talking, planning and waiting for the right time to act, but it’s the frequency that makes the difference, not time.
Do the work, you’ll be surprised!
If you have any questions in regards to this article, feel free to reach out to me.
Furthermore, I’m just a guy sharing his perspective based on my own experiences, along with the studies and work of believable professionals in the industry. I fully expect that I have made a mistake somewhere in this article, in referencing an idea or tool to the wrong person or not at all. I’ve no intention of taking false credits, so if there’s anything not aligned regarding referencing, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org