Towards the end of nearly every seminar I lead, someone says a version of the following: “Okay, this all makes sense. I can see that this is the way that I should be working. But I’ll need a lot of discipline to keep it up”.
I think there are two opinions expressed in that last sentence. One – explicit – that they’ll need discipline, and another – implicit – that they don’t have that discipline. Their opinion may be informed by their history. They perhaps have some prior experience (with dieting or exercise or learning a new language) that has them thinking that they don’t do so well with things that require consistent application, so – no matter how much sense the GTD® methodology makes – they feel they won’t succeed with it long-term.
I think that the key to their success – or lack thereof – is in how they are thinking about the challenge of implementing a new behaviour. I’ve noticed that when people talk about needing more “discipline”, what they generally mean is that they struggle to get themselves to do things that they really don’t want to do. If that is the case, then I’m pretty sure they are right, they won’t manage to do that thing.
I know from my own experience that once I tell myself that I need more discipline to do something I’ve basically set myself up in opposition to myself. There is a conscious part of me saying “yes, you should do this, it will be good for you”. Great.
Unfortunately, there is another – subconscious, and much more powerful – part saying ”Yes, and broccoli is good for you too, but ice cream is waaaaaaaay more fun!” In my experience, over time, the second voice always wins. I can manage to get myself to do something that requires ‘discipline’ for a day, a week, sometimes even a month, but eventually, I’ll be found with my face down in a super-size tub of Haagen Dazs. Every time.
So I don’t think that approach to discipline works all that well. Not when it involves trying to get myself to do things that I know will be good for me, but that I don’t really want to do.
What does work, and has always worked, is getting very clear on the benefits of why I’m doing that thing. Not clear as in, “broccoli is good for me, and–apparently–great for my intestines”, but clear as in “I love the experience of living in a body that is able to run, jump and play because I eat more broccoli than brownies”.
With GTD, I think I got lucky; this happened the first time I skimmed the book on a plane to New York. The idea of working with a “mind like water” – more productively, with less stress – was so clear and attractive to me that I can honestly say I’ve never had to force myself to do what is suggested to get there. That is not to say that I haven’t worked at it, or that sometimes I haven’t worked quite hard at it. It just has never felt like trying to get myself to do something that I didn’t want to do. The goal was so clear, and so attractive, what it ‘cost’ in effort to get there was a price worth paying. There is a world of difference between thinking, “I have to process my inbox because it will be good for me”, and thinking, “I can’t wait to clear out my inbox so I can get back to that sense of relaxed control that works so much better than everything else I’ve experienced.”
After 17 years of working with the methodology, that last thought is what has driven every single enhancement to how I work. From the first hesitant – and somewhat backwards – implementation of the book, through my first, second and third seminars and on to getting coached and learning to teach the methodology, everything has been about getting more of the relaxed productivity that was promised when I first skimmed the book at 35,000 feet.
Haagen Dazs still calls more loudly than a salad on any given day, but – in that domain at least – there is still more to learn.