A great weakness has been festering in me for too long now: I am very bad at completing things. I have great intentions, great directions, great plans, great ideas, but almost none of them get implemented. What’s worse is that each failure (perceived or actual) reinforces the mindset that causes it.
Cause and Effect
I’ve also tried to convince myself that if I just ‘choose’ to improve, the deep-seated emotional cause will eventually fix itself.
I’ve put a lot of thought into this situation, and ideas and plans and directions and intentions, but so far, the implementation has been weak (no surprise, actually).
What occured to me fairly recently, though, is that it might help to make a concentrated effort to reinforce the positive effect instead of wallowing in the negative effect.
However, it’s difficult for me to acknowledge that I even have negative emotions or thoughts, because I’m such a strong believer in the power of positive thinking. Hmm… that’s an interesting phrase, from a physics point of view: the so-called “power of positive thinking” wouldn’t really be power (rate of work done over time) at all; it’s more like energy (the ability to do work).
So, in my case, perhaps the energy was always there, but there was nothing converting it into a force for accomplishing things! And therefore, the lack of applied effort has an effect of… well, nothing. I guess I need to be the cause of things happening in my life, if I want those positive effects!
I used to love swingsets. Nothing felt more marvellous than the floating feeling when swinging as high as the swing could go. Getting there was half the fun: I could use my own energy to reinforce the motion, causing me to swing higher and higher.
This is an example of resonance: the emphasizing of a periodic effect which can bring the effect to its maximum amplitude.
In my current situation, I could treat success as the periodic effect that I want to reinforce. By completing the things I intend to do, I would thereby pump energy into the swinging motion, ever-increasing the height of my swinging and the feelings of floaty fun!
If I stop pumping, air resistance and friction will eventually slow me down. If I drag my feet in the sand, I am slowed even more drastically. If I’m at a standstill, or idly twisting side to side, or flailing my legs hopelessly without even attempting to apply both of them to the same motion, my energy isn’t going towards enhancing the swing motion. I won’t achieve resonance this way!
No matter how I classify my “lack of completing things”, it’s not helping me get to my personal productivity maximum amplitude. The only thing that can get me there is applying the thing I want emphasized: the act of completing the stuff I intend to do.
I had heard of something along these lines before, and it went by the name of Implementation Intention. The information on this approach led me to try all sorts of ways of specifying what I will do, when, where, and even how.
The idea is sound, but I couldn’t get it to work for me. Maybe I was just flailing my legs about, trying to get moving without putting any actual thought or intuition into what I’m doing. After all, every system provides some kind of feedback, it just might be really small at first. This is where resonance comes into play: continuing to reinforce the small positive effects will soon result in big positive effects!
Of course, positive reinforcement is another well-known form of psychological conditioning, but it has more to do with providing some kind of reward stimulus to increase frequency of some desired behaviour. For my situation, though, I really wanted the success itself to be its own reward, but I didn’t know how to encourage it from myself… until I started thinking of it as a kind of resonance.
So, What Now?
I strongly suspect that awareness is the first step in increasing the frequency of my accomplishments, for a few very good reasons:
- If I am more aware of the effect of positive reinforcement, I will push myself to finish more things.
- If I am more aware of the negative effect of not finishing things, I will avoid doing that whenever possible.
- If I am more aware of how even the little things can add up (for better or for worse!), I will be able to derive encouragement from all the good little things. (I just have to be careful not to let myself get down about the bad little things that will surely still happen as I’m improving!)
I also know of a way to track my awareness: Joe’s Goals. I have been using this website off-and-on for awhile now, but today I archived everything (since I haven’t been tracking any of them lately), and I set up a beautifully simplistic new system:
- +1 point for starting a task or resuming one that has been previously started;
- +1 point for completing a task;
- -1 point if I postpone a task;
- +1 point if I cancel a task (because yes, cancelling is good because it is definitive!)
So, each time I start a new task (or resume one), I get a point. Then there are three choices: I either complete it, cancel it, or postpone it. Two of those choices are positive (yay, me!), and one is negative because it has a negative effect on my well-being. Obviously, sometimes tasks must be postponed for reasons beyond my control, but these still negatively affect my well-being and must be recorded as such!
The purpose of this system is to help me reduce the number of tasks that I postpone, and reinforce the positive behaviour of actually completing tasks. If I get better at selecting small chunks of projects that I can handle in one sitting, I’ll have more accomplishments and more success, which will beget even more accomplishments and success!
I’m not quite sure how to formulate this goal with a Specific and Measurable target (as is important for SMART goals: where S = Specific, M = Measurable, A = Attainable, R = Realistic, and T = Timely), but I might figure something out after I’ve been tracking it for awhile. Or, perhaps it will be like BubbleTimer (which I use to track whether my time is spent towards the things I want to do, or if I was just “frivoling”), in that the awareness itself makes me want to improve, just so I can track good news instead of bad!
Anyways, I’m starting my new self-reinforcing pattern of success today, with this blog post. I started it today, I’m finished it today, and I feel very good about it:
Thank you for reading, and if you have any comments or encouragement or advice or similar stores to share, please feel free to leave a comment below!