Change Is a Trick You Play on Yourself

I believe the biggest problem we have with reaching our goals is that we make them overwhelming, and when we don’t progress quickly enough, we give up.  I’ve found that the way to accomplish real change is to make the steps to the goal small.  Very small.  The hardest thing for most of us is getting started, so I’ve learned to trick myself by setting the bar so low that I won’t ever let myself off the hook.Mens Category 105kg

I had heard a story of a PhD student who had made himself a promise that he would write at least one sentence toward his thesis every day.  That was it–one sentence was all he required of himself. Even if he came home at three in the morning, exhausted, he still banged out at least one line. And he completed his PhD before every one of his classmates.

Why? Because he made the daily goal so embarrassingly small that he couldn’t not do it.  And what happened was he would write a sentence, and then maybe two, and sometimes even a page or more. But if he only did one, he was okay with that.  The key was he tricked himself into getting started.  So I tried this myself.  I had an idea for a novel that I wanted to write, but couldn’t get around to it, so I did the one-sentence goal.  I now have over 200 pages of a first draft, and I’ve only missed two days in the past 18 months.  I now do the same trick with exercise.  It works.

The trick has two basic components, and one bonus accelerator.  The two components are:

  1. Make the goal embarrassingly, unavoidably small;
  2. Do it every day.

So if you want to lose weight, don’t say I’m going to lose 20 pounds this year.  Say I’m going to eat two less bites of every meal. You’ll trick yourself into not cleaning your plate every time. And you’ll lose weight. Or say you want to exercise.  You could join a gym, promising yourself you’ll go three times a week for an hour.  You’ll go three a week. Then twice. Then once. Then finally you’ll keep paying the gym membership even though you don’t go at all, because if you quit paying then you’ll never go.  Instead, make the goal to do 20 sit-ups every day. Or push-ups. Or kettle bell swings. Every day, no matter what.  What will happen is you’ll get stronger.  And some days you’ll say, okay, maybe I’ll do another set.  Or run in place for five minutes.  And some days you might even work out for an hour.  Goal achieved.

Want to learn a language?  Start with one word a day. Piano? Ten minutes a day. Or five. Every day. The point is, a year goes by fast, and you could either be doing a little something or giving up.  So trick yourself.

In a previous blog, I introduced the principle of focusing on what you can change in your life and business, and ignoring the rest. So what could you change, as a member of a dental team? Here are some ideas:

  • Ask one patient a day for a referral
  • Compliment one of your co-workers
  • Suggest in-office whitening to one patient
  • Recommend implants to one patient
  • As the dentist, if you bought new technology like CEREC or a soft tissue laser, use it at least once every day.
  • Make one new patient welcome call (you’ll want to do more, I guarantee it!)
  • Present $500 more dentistry than you’re comfortable doing with one patient a day (you set the number that pushes you but doesn’t overwhelm you)
  • Write one thank you note

Here’s what happens: you inch toward your goal, and suddenly a year goes by and you’ve changed your behavior.

And now, the accelerator.

With this method, it’s very important not to beat yourself up if you miss your daily activity.  Just go on to the next day and do it.  But if you really want to succeed, don’t punish yourself for missing it, fine yourself. That’s right, assess a fine as a penalty.  One or two dollars, or more.  Make the stakes higher than you like.  And how do you pay the fine?  This is one of my favorite new discoveries:  With StickK, you set your goal, and if you don’t complete it, StickK whacks your credit card and donates the money to the charity of your choice.  Even better, make it a charity you would NEVER give money to. Are you a staunch Republican?  Miss your goal, give $10 to the Democratic National Committee.  Hate guns?  Give money to the NRA.  You’ll be amazed at what a motivator this is.

That’s it. Tiny daily goals.  Just like flossing, (or not flossing), the results accrue, little by little.  And you get there.  I welcome your suggestions on what you would do every day, and would love to hear about what worked for you.

(Much of this post was gleaned from conversations I’ve had with author Tim Ferriss, and also from reading his marvelous book, The Four Hour Body.)

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