“We’re so busy trying to make machines more human that we fail to see that humans are devolving into a machine-like state in the process.” -Coach Matt
Busy. It’s the new defacto standard any time someone asks, “how have you been?”. In the same way etiquette conditions us to reply with “I’m fine, thank you, and you?” when someone asks how we are, we’ve managed to generate a canned response that ensures everyone knows we have a lot on our plate, all the time. My favorite parody (or stark, sobering reality) on this topic can be found in Tim Kreider’s, “Lazy: a Manifesto” from his hilarious We Learn Nothing: Essays. The issue with this is the subtle expectation that in our personal lives, and especially in our careers, we are led to believe that our pot of daily tasks should be boiling to the brim in order to validate our sense of worth or to prove that we are “keeping up with” our peers. This is largely due to the fact that parts of our lives that were once compartmentalized (i.e. work and home life) are now innately incorporated into every moment of our day thanks to mobile devices and uninterrupted connectivity.
Since the Industrial Revolution, we have become obsessed with production. How can we get more work product out of each person or technological advancement? How can we do more with less? Under the “productivity” category in the Apple App Store, there are 5,795 applications. Is there an app to tell me which of those apps will make me the most productive? If apps aren’t your thing, the search term “time management” on Amazon yields 142,566 results in the books category alone. The irony of this is mind numbing. I digress. As a result of our obsessive pursuit for maximizing production, we’ve become a culture of chickens with our heads cut off constantly seeking ways to create more time in our day. In doing so, we are losing our humanity (and often our sanity). Tony Robbins captures this dilemma eloquently stating, “we are drowning in information, but starving for wisdom.”
The idea of achieving and/or acquiring more in less time (read: instant gratification) has permeated almost every area of our life, including our health. I remember only a year ago when fitness professionals were advertising their next “30-day challenge.” Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems this standard has gradually decreased to where we are now offered 21-day challenges or 7-day challenges. Instead of setting proper expectations around change, we are creating a false perception that with the right prescription, things can get done more quickly and with less effort than ever before.
When someone asks me the quickest way to lose five pounds, I often tell them to cut off their arm. I’m obviously being facetious, but the point of this honest and accurate response is to illustrate the pitfall in their approach. Real change takes time – there are no overnight successes, despite what popular media loves to tell us.
While incorporating a time element is a crucial component to goal-setting, the idea of trying to do everything at once and sustaining that model for a set period of time is rarely, if ever successful. Not unlike a smoker that tries to quit cold turkey, telling someone to drastically change their diet or lifestyle overnight and maintain that change for an arbitrary period of time without any gradual introduction to habit change is a recipe for failure. Sure, there will be certain individuals that begrudgingly make it through the challenge (especially in group settings where peer pressure and/or competition is present), but even the most dedicated individuals will “fall off the wagon” when restricted too heavily. In fact, studies show that when faced with life-threatening illnesses, the adherence rate for the simple habit of taking prescription medication on a daily basis hovers around 50%. In other words, when the doctor tells the patient, “if you don’t take this pill everyday, you will die”, patients still don’t take the pill or follow their prescriptions correctly. The reasons why vary, but an oversimplified explanation is that habit change is hard. So how can we expect to cut out and/or replace 50% of the food we eat overnight or go from one glass of water to eight glasses in a day and maintain this change without fail for 30 days, let alone a lifetime?
Fortunately, I’m lucky to be part of an online forum of coaches and like-minded individuals that spend our time discussing how to confront this issue and make it easier for clients to implement positive change in their lives in a way that makes sense for them. This has become a key driver behind why my group coaching programs require a minimum commitment of three months. The expectation is not that you will maintain 100% compliance over the course of the three month period, but rather that we will work together to implement change at a cadence that is approachable. This is grounded in a concept that has become foreign to many of us called monotasking. The idea here is not to do away with multitasking entirely (as in ignoring a crying child because you are in the middle of lunch), but to approach diet and lifestyle changes in a way that allows us to maximize our chances for success – one change at a time. In doing so, we isolate variables and determine how they impact us independent of everything else taking place in our lives, allowing for adjustment as we observe incremental outcomes.
I’ve also seen firsthand how monotasking leads to a transformation in the way an individual approaches diet and lifestyle. In the latest group program I administered at The Foundry (the CrossFit box where I coach), I found that changes in body fat percentage, weight, and girth (i.e. biceps, hips, waist, etc.) were limited from months one to two, but increased exponentially from months two to three as additional habits were gradually introduced to the group. Furthermore, I received an overwhelming amount of anecdotal feedback from the group about improvements in energy levels and recovery time with the majority of participants reporting that changes they had implemented in the preceding three months were now a part of their daily routine. I can think of nothing more rewarding as a coach than hearing this from a client versus hearing they reverted back to their old ways after trying a “X-day challenge.”
Just starting is often the hardest part and having a coach to guide you through the most simple changes can be helpful as you aim to make them sustainable beyond the life of your coaching relationship. Regardless of whether or not you are ready to work with a coach, I encourage you to approach your next goal through the lens of monotasking. If you’re looking for a good place to start, Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has a great book on the topic called, The Power of Less: The Fine Art of Limiting Yourself to the Essential…in Business and in Life. You didn’t need to read this blog post to realize you have too much on your plate. After all, we are all so busy! With that said, I hope you’ll walk away with a sense of calm at the thought of achieving your next goal, one step at a time.