Setting Yourself up for Simplicity Success

Setting Yourself up for Simplicity Success
Flickr: Angie Torres

My friend Josh and his brother Zak are in the throws of a very intense self-inflicted Steps for Smoking Challenge.

Josh is traveling by foot 1,000 miles in 100 days.

Zak quit smoking for 100 days.

I know a lot of people who embark on such challenges. But Josh and Zak are going to succeed. Why? Because they went about setting up the parameters meticulously. They blog about their challenge to help raise accountability. Friends and family are watching and getting inspired to act, too. They put money on it to up the skin-in-the-game. They are each donating $100 to the American Lung Association if they both fail or succeed. If one fails and the other succeeds, the “loser” donates the “winner’s” share. Also, if they both succeed, they are taking a celebration trip together.

Josh loves a challenge. When he decided to challenge his brother, he thought 500 miles sounded challenging, so he doubled it to 1,000. That’s Josh for you. There’s no doubt he’s going to finish. Realizing his goal was doing something and Zak’s goal was not doing something, he recommended a few added active rules for Zak. Zak will take 28 Zumba classes while sporting a ridiculous neon outfit, put every penny he saves on cigarettes into a reward jar, and complete five tests wherein he gets timed blowing up fifteen balloons– posted to youtube of course. These additions help motivate Zak and make the quitting more about his health than about the quitting.

Cool challenge right? For both men, their hope is that 100 days is long enough to challenge their default setting and habits. And at the end, they will both be stronger and healthier. The parameters are key because they have turned it into a fun, public game with all kinds of stakes. How do I set myself up for success via the parameters I set before I attempt to embody a new, healthier habit?

For the forty days of Lent I decided to consume less sugar, caffeine and alcohol. Not only have I stopped buying these three things so they aren’t lying around tempting me, I have replaced them with lovely alternatives like decaffeinated coffee and tea and seltzer water that don’t make me feel like I am left wanting. I also started using my phone only to make and receive calls and texts. I noticed picking up my phone way too often during the day like it was a morphine drip. Since glancing at my phone has become a bit of a subconscious habit, it would take some effort to break. I turned off all of my notifications, my email notifications most importantly. I started wearing my watch again so I didn’t use my phone to check the time. And I leave my phone in the next room—out of sight out of mind– to facilitate the change. Thirdly, I started a gratitude journal to make sure I was not only taking things away, but also adding goodness to my daily practice. I keep my gratitude journal between my keyboard and my monitor so when I go to start work I have a visual reminder to take a few moments of reflection to start my workday.

Susan and I often dream of being simplicity coaches. We laugh about being hired to go into people’s homes to conduct interventions that include ransacking closets and cupboards to support people’s successful attempts at change. What we do before the challenge begins matters a lot. We have to want to change enough to see the blind spots, admit our weaknesses, and anticipate our pitfalls before they happen.

These small acts like putting on my watch or buying decaffeinated tea aren’t so small after all. They are intermediate steps between declaring the challenge and living the challenge that make the challenge not so challenging after all. If I’m ready for a change, it will happen if I’m savvy about setting myself up for success.