Talk is cheap. You are what you do. The point of today's reflection is to help you take effective action. In the previous three posts in this series I've helped you clarify your strengths, then define your direction, and then your purpose, as well as create a basic map of what they look like as measurable actions. Today I offer two powerful techniques you can use every day to make those actions work.
There's too much "insight" in this world and not enough action. I want us to change. That's why I shifted from pure counselling to blending it with coaching. In face-to-face encounters I can arouse all sorts of inspiration, but for efficiency in this reflection let's aim at one particularly powerful kind: pain. Cast your mind back to the meditations in the previous two blog posts:
Imagine that on your deathbed you realise that you never did do the things that matter.
Now imagine that when your grandchildren ask about you, there’s nothing to tell.
Really try to imagine that, to let the feeling of it hit home, that you're going to live an empty life without purpose.
Well, you've got decades left in which to make things different, but only if you take action and change. The ancient Greek soldier Antilochus wrote that “We don’t rise to the occasion, rather we fall to the level of our training.” This week I will set out two techniques you can use as the cornerstone of your training. These two are called “acting as if” and “if/then.”
Acting As If
The essence of the first technique - acting as if - is that when you act as if you have a certain quality, and you keep acting that way, you start to possess it. You start to think, feel, and act in terms of it.
A powerful way of acting as if is imitation. If somebody possesses the qualities you want, you can act like them in order to more quickly and easily embody those qualities. This is a kind of method acting, and again, it works. This is why people have heroes. This is not about giving up who you are, but becoming who you most want to be and using whatever means gets you there.
The Acting As If technique can be broken down into steps:
1. Select a quality you wish to possess or improve, whether it is something abstract - "calm under fire" - or in the form of somebody you wish to imitate - "calm under fire like my uncle."
2. Select a situation where you want to exercise it. That situation will also become a trigger to remind you to practice. "Rather than being stressed and showing it, I want to be more calm in challenging situation at work."
3. Use your imagination to get a clear and detailed picture of what it looks like to exercise that quality in that situation. This is where imitation of a person really helps. "I remember the way my uncle would answer calls from rude people, and how he'd laugh and joke with them as if they were a good friend, rather than reacting in turn."
4. Now act. Behave as planned in those situations. Use stressful situations like gym equipment to train yourself to cultivate the qualities you are seeking. "Every time I start to feel stressed at work, I will start to act like my uncle. I will pull that quirky face he pulled, then respond with a smile and even friendly laughter to the person in front of me."
This acting as if technique is incredibly powerful. I train clients to use it in many contexts and for many goals, whether they are trying to become stronger, or when they are focusing on a particular goal in one of my coaching programs such as dating better or developing charisma. The great thing about this technique is that not only is it highly effective but it can be a lot of fun.
If / Then
The genius of behaviourism as a science is that it maps the mechanisms in us - the triggers, the cues, the automatic behaviours - and so gives us knowledge that can be honed into techniques which we can use to shape ourselves.
The core of the if/then technique is to use the situations that trigger you negatively, as triggers for that change. In essence you are hacking your psychology.
We can set it out this way:
I've just taken you through an example of this by discussing an uncle that somebody might act as if they were. Translating that into an IF/THEN approach, IF the computer system is down at work, THEN I will smile and be friendly. Whereas before now I'd be triggered into stressed anger and rudeness. This is stimulus and response: I use the same stimulus - malfunctioning computers - but graft on a different response: friendly behaviours rather than stressed ones.
It helps to understand the deeper emotions and meanings that make the stimulus lead to the old response, that make the context lead to the old behaviour. For example you may have an unconscious if/then pattern such as, "if the computer system is malfunctioning, then I imagine the problems it might create that day, including a bunch of catastrophes and stresses, and so I easily get stressed and snap at people." You can change these deeper emotions and meanings too, for example: responding to this situation with a smile represents the new me, shows I am becoming who I want to be, reflects the fact that I can handle these situations without catastrophe, or that I can handle catastrophes with grace and strength. Shift from a threat interpretation to a challenge interpretation, making the event into an opportunity to succeed at being your best and an occasion to celebrate that.
This is an example of how your challenges can become your greatest blessings, based on your attitude and action. You can use adversity to train yourself to become the better person you want to be. You can use every day events to exercise your mind and heart and hands, changing into the person you want to be.
I've shared two techniques which can become daily practices, transforming you into the person you want to become by acting as if you are that person already, and transforming negative triggers into positive ones. You can use these to create the habits you defined in previous reflections. That is, you can take your goals for your direction and purpose and act as if you already embody them, and use the events of each day to practice that embodiment, so that you do indeed become them. In time you embody the qualities and actions which are your direction and purpose.