Even if we have created a truly dependable and good structure, we might still trip and fall back into old habits of working despite of having developed new methods we were determined to follow. When we are faced with too many tasks at once, when we have too many emails to process before the end of the day, and as we are heading to yet another meeting, out of breath and stressed, we feel tempted to skip a step in the structure we have set for ourselves since it takes less time or appears easier since we are more used to our old ways.
We neglect writing something we have to do down because we assume that we will remember it later anyway; we fail to later remember having promised someone that we would find an individual solution to a task (since we did not make note of it — it felt so obvious right after the meeting); we mark a few emails with red flags and tell ourselves that is it just temporary, in spite of knowing that we ought to immediately create to-do-tasks out of them instead.
Biting your own tail
But soon enough we will be painfully reminded of why we had determined to work according to the new and improved method. We forget to make a call we promised to make, we make a mistake in the confirmation sent to the client, and suddenly there is a whole informal to-do-list comprised of red flagged emails parallell to the actual list, and we accidentally prioritize an email marked with a red flag instead of choosing what to do from the to-do-list and hence missing tasks that were actually much more important and urgent.
Is there a way to motivate ourselves to do that small, extra effort needed to establish and stick to the structure habit we are not yet accustomed to? There is research suggesting that there is.
In a somewhat recent study made at the University of New Hampshire, the researchers Biondolillo and Pillemer found that the person who recollects the positive experience of having done something they wish to do more of (the study concerned physical exercise), will in the end do more of the activity in question. The participants were divided into two groups and asked to answer questions regarding their regular exercising habits and their ambitions concerning physical exercise in the near future. The first group was also encouraged to describe either a positive or negative memory of an experience they’d had while exercising which they believed would motivate them to exercise more. The second group were not asked to recollect a previous experience, but were only asked to answer the other questions.
When the participants were asked how much exercise they had done eight days later, the people who had reminded themselves of a positive experience they’d had when exercising, had in fact exercised significantly more than the rest. The researchers concluded that reminding yourself of a positive, motivating memory will have a significant positive influence on how much you perform the activity in question after recalling your previous success.
Worth its while
We can assume that the same reasoning applies to our structure. Because in a way, our habits regarding structure resemble those of physical exercise. We are aware of that we deep down want to follow the routine or methods we believe will enable the accomplishment of our goal, for instance work out or abide by some structural habit or not yet completely comfortable working method, but somehow it tends to be so much easier to act according to old habits or remain seated at home in the sofa, rather than go for a run in the wintery darkness.
If you want to benefit from the New Hampshire researchers’ findings, try this:
- Describe a situation in which you acted in an exemplary way when it comes to the structure you wish to uphold and maintain. The more specific, vividly descriptive and concrete you are when recounting the situation, the more it will help you to remain on course. It need not be elaborate. I have for example simply written a few lines starting with ”This is what happened:…”
- Decide in which situations you want to remind yourself of the situation you just described. It could for instance be part of a daily morning routine and a good way to start the day.
- Think of a way to remind yourself of the situation without having to remember it. Perhaps you follow my lead and add reading your description of that one time when you really acted the way you wanted to, to your morning routine.
- If you feel motivated to do so, try this for a week or two, and then reflect on if and how this method makes you apply yourself to any new habits of structure that you have set for yourself. Did it have a positive effect on your behavior and choices? Could this be relevant to any more areas of your life? Or perhaps it did not influence you at all? Could you then limit your scope and just focus on one particular structure trap you tend to fall into?
Making what you desire into the norm
If the results of Biondolillo’s and Pillemer’s study are valid in the context of structure as well, you will find it easier to establish any habits you wish to abide by if you remind yourself frequently of a previous occasion when you successfully managed to work according to your set routine, habit or method. You will experience feeling successful in terms of doing what you determined you would more frequently, and eventually you no longer have to recollect that happy memory to motivate your actions — the new habit will simply become your new way of working.
What do you recommend?
How do you maintain the good structure when you in the midst of intense periods risk falling back into old tracks and let go of your new habits? Leave a comment below!