15. The Habit of Implementation

Best knowledge, tools, and equipment are worth nothing if you don't implement them. That is why in this episode, we will talk about how to put significant new ideas into practice with 5 simple steps: capturing, selecting, planning, using, and evaluating.

Episode Transcript

15. The Habit of Implementation

Intro

Most of us feel the need to improve our lives. We buy books and attend meetings and trainings, hoping it will help us solve our problems. Every new idea, gadget, or app brings hope that it will be different this time. But it rarely is. So we go and hunt for more. We behave like hamsters. We stuff our cheeks with as much stuff as possible, and then we go on the running wheel, expecting to make progress. But at the end of the day, we are still in the same place - more sweaty and out of breath.

Of course, this gloomy loop is not the inevitable fate of man. We can change that relatively quickly by focusing less on gathering stuff and more on using it with purpose. Let’s talk about the habit of… implementation.   

About podcast

Hi! My name is Andrzej and welcome to The Helpful Habits. In this podcast we will learn how to employ good habits that will do the hard work for us. How to change our lives for the better not by taking massive leaps, but with the help of small, easy-to-implement steps.

This podcast is brought to you by The Land of Habits - the educational board game with which you will develop new habits and skills. Check it out on landofhabits.com.

Why is it so essential?

Please imagine that you become convinced that regular exercise is the Holy Grail of a healthy and happy life. With this habit, you will have an abundance of energy, physical and mental strength. But you want to do it right. Before you start, you want to create a perfect training plan and gather the best possible equipment. You read books about exercising and watch numerous Youtube videos. Your apartment no longer feels like home - more like a cluttered gym with a bed and kitchen. You invested a lot of time, energy, and money, but it didn't get you any positive value. Your life is worse, not better.

Knowledge, tools, and equipment are worth nothing if you don't implement them. That is why in this episode, we will talk about how to put significant new ideas into practice with 5 simple steps: capturing, selecting, planning, using, and evaluating. 

Capture the idea

When we read or hear an idea that strongly resonates with us, we often assume it will stay in our minds forever. It is so brilliant! It is so valuable! How on Earth could I forget it? As it turns out - very easily! We can forget anything. Most vivid dreams, the wedding anniversary or even our kid in a friend's apartment when we came with a quick visit.

It is risky business to rely solely on our fragile memory. Because of that, the first step in the habit of implementation is capturing the ideas in a safe place that is easy to access. For me, it is the Evernote app, but any other that stores your thoughts in a cloud and has good filtering options will do the trick. Digital notes have huge advantages over manual ones. Your dog won't eat them. You won't lose them under piles of paper. You can access them anywhere in the world with an internet connection. You don't even need your computer or phone - you can log in on any device. But the best advantage for me, after not losing the note, is the search function. By clicking on the magnifying glass icon and typing 1 short word, I can find exactly what I need in a matter of seconds. Flipping through the pages of a paper notebook will not only make it much more time-consuming but also will punish you with the feeling of frustration and wasted time. 

Ok. So far, we know why capturing ideas is essential and why we should store them digitally. Now let’s describe the sole act of capturing. 

For many years I read books with a pen in my hand. It helped me with fast reading. But its primary function was to underline great lines and make short notes of the book margins. The problem with that solution is the need to do extra work. Firstly I make physical notes in the book, and then I transcribe them into digital form in Evernote. Other troubles I encountered with this capture strategy were that the pen was not always working or was successfully hiding from me. Sometimes there wasn’t enough space in the book to write down everything I wanted. That is why I switched to reading with my phone at my side instead of reading with the pen in hand. Whenever I find a lump of gold, a remarkable insight, I make a note directly in the Evernote app instead of highlighting it in a paper book or my ebook reader. My notes are this way already in the proper place - which saves me time. I don’t need to struggle to read my handwriting, and I can instantly find what I need by clicking on the ‘search’ bar.

If you read on your computer (blog and newsletter posts), it is even more straightforward. You can simply copy-paste exciting ideas to the app with your notes.

Let’s sum this up with a habit-forming sentence: AFTER I read helpful insight, I’ll IMMEDIATELY write it down in a digital form in my favorite app. THANK TO THAT, I am glad that this treasure will stay with me forever.

The same rule, with a couple of modifications, can apply when you are listening to a podcast or audiobook. Today I was paying attention to The Tim Ferriss Show. Not 100% of the attention because I was cooking at the same time. Whenever Tim or his guest said something particularly interesting to me, I tapped on the pause button and wrote it down. Then I resumed listening and cooking. 

The most complex challenge is consuming audio content while doing a physically demanding activity like running or driving. In those cases, I limit the capturing process to recording the specific time of a show or book. I click on the ‘clip’ or ‘bookmark’ icon or make a screenshot. This way, I can go back to it at a more suitable moment. Listen to this thought one more time and write it down. 

Selecting most useful pieces

Writing down the key ideas is a great foundation. But our work is far from over. After finishing a book chapter or a podcast episode it is very tempting just to go to the next one. I consider it to be the most common and most dangerous mistake in the process of implementation. 

Maybe you heard the phrase ‘seminar junky’. It refers to people that go from one motivational event into another. They are addicted to the rush they feel during the meeting with charismatic speaker and the hope of change. But instead of applying the techniques they learned and changing their life for real, they go to the next event. Nothing changes in their life, except they have less savings. Depending on our level of empathy we can laugh at them or feel sorry for them. But we are not that much different, when after finishing a book or listening to a podcast episode we go to the next one. 

What we should do instead is to decide which of the tips I got are the most valuable for me. Which of them relate best to my current situation?

Selecting the most useful pieces is essential. Without it it is alarmingly easy to succumb to decision paralysis, brilliantly described in Barry Schwartz's The Paradox of Choice. The more options we have, the harder it becomes to choose any of them. That is why we should develop a habit: AFTER I finish (book chapter, podcast episode, training session etc.), I’ll IMMEDIATELY select from 1 to 3 key insights I want to implement. THANKS TO THAT I’ll enjoy the clarity about what I need to do next.    

Implementation Intentions

Once you've decided what you want to use, it's time to plan when and how you're going to use it. One of the best methods to do it, known to me, is the Implementation Intention. It is a simple but very effective plan. You can write it down as a sentence: I will DO … at TIME .. at LOCATION. For example, I will buy a bulb today at 5:00 pm (after work) in the store next to my office. 

I will do push-ups at 7:00 am sharp (or after brushing my teeth in the morning) in my living room. 

As you can see, Implementation Intention can be used for single activities (buying a bulb) or regular practice (doing push-ups). You can determine the time by setting a specific hour or planning a sequence of actions (after X, then Y). I strongly prefer the latter. Too often, something unexpected happened that ruined my schedule to do a particular activity at a specific hour. I was forced to take care of a sudden emergency. But if I plan to do Y after X, regardless of what time it is, it is easier to keep.

You can learn much more about Implementation Intention by reading research done by Peter Gollwitzer. But at this moment, this simple instruction will be enough.

AFTER I select the most practical insight, I'll IMMEDIATELY create an Implementation Intention (a plan for when and where I will use it). THANKS TO THAT I'll feel progress and hope that everything is going in the right direction. 

Time to think

Implementation Intention is excellent for simple activities in which you know precisely what to do and how to do it. Many things in life aren't that evident. Sometimes you get excellent advice, but it needs some tweaking if it's going to work for you. Because of that, we need regular time to think things through. I encourage you to look at your calendar and designate a particular time each week for a meeting with yourself. It would be best if it always took place on the same day, at the same time. For example, Saturday from 1 to 2 pm. You can create one event in the calendar and then set it to repeat weekly. I call these meetings auto-coaching sessions. I split myself into two entities: the coach and the coachee. The coach asks questions and provides structure. Coachee in trying to find the best possible answers and solutions. It never ceases to amaze me how helpful talking with myself can be. Just one hour gives me a much clearer mind.

Try it for yourself by creating a habit: AFTER I see a notification on my phone that invites me to meet with myself, I'll IMMEDIATELY go to the designated space, turn off all distractors and start the auto-coaching session. THANKS TO THAT I'll be glad that I know what to do next.

Time to act

Thinking and planning is a necessary but not ultimate step in applying changes. Finally, we need to do work: Create a new website, send messages to potential clients, declutter our apartment, etc. For most of us, this change we want to apply isn’t a part of our regular job but a side project. Because of that, we need to find time to do it. Occasionally we can use time after work - the evenings or weekends. But if your life is similar to mine, these spaces are already taken. If that is the case, I encourage you to visit the 12th episode of my podcast - The Habit of Elimination. In part called Review of commitments and Replacing activities, I showed how to regain time we can allocate to a new cause.

Regardless of the strategy you will use to find time, you need to be specific about when you will act to apply a new change. Book your time for it in a calendar before urgent tasks will claim it. I recommend the following habit: AFTER I specify what exactly I need to do to implement a new insight, I’ll IMMEDIATELY open my calendar and reserve time slots (specific days and hours) for this side project. THANKS TO THAT I’ll be glad the desired change is about to happen.

Evaluating

Contrary to what you may expect, performing the tasks isn’t the final step in the implementation process. It often turns out that despite the perfect execution of the plan, we fail to achieve the desired results. Most of the time, the solution to this problem isn’t to do more things that didn’t work the first time. We should consider modifying our strategy, looking for the root of the problem, or using a different approach.

Even if the side project was successful, it is still a great practice to think over each stage. To what do I owe its favorable outcome? What can I do better or differently next time? What are the key lessons from working on it? You can make any learning experience much more fruitful by answering these questions. You can do it by developing the following habit: AFTER I do the final task in the side project, I’ll IMMEDIATELY start an evaluating session. THANKS TO THAT I’ll be happy that I took full advantage of this experience.

Final Words

A piece of something is better than a lot of nothing. Applied solutions, even imperfectly, will grant you much more value than a perfect plan resting in your notes. Think about the 5 steps of implementation I described in this episode: capturing, selecting, planning, using, and evaluating. In which of them can you make swift and substantial progress? How exactly can you improve it? Think it through and decide to make the best use of this episode.

Thank you for listening. I wish you 2023 reasons to smile in this New Year. May the power of habits be with you and till next time!