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Sunday, July 3, 2016

Failure, Success & New Year's Resolutions

     “I’ve missed more than nine thousand shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life.
     “And that is why I succeed.”                                                     – Michael Jordan

     When a person catalogues his/her screw-ups as specifically as Michael Jordan did, you’re generally looking at a case of really low self-esteem. “Oh, what a loser I am. Just look at my record.”
     Well, that’s hardly Michael Jordan. His record also includes leadership of six NBA Championship teams, each time earning the honor of Most Valuable Player. He also was the league’s MVP five times. He is a Hall of Famer. And don’t believe he doesn’t remember all that, too.
     Jordan had talent aplenty, but so do the most spectacular washouts you’ve ever seen or heard of. The difference is that Jordan never took failure as the final answer, and he acted from conviction that persistence in doing the hard work would pay off.
     And something else. His hard work started with establishing clear, demanding goals that he disciplined himself to stick with. The physical regimen was matched by an equally steady mental rigor.
     All of us who deal with personal productivity push versions of that same philosophy. And all of us run head-on into the New Year’s Resolution syndrome.

     Maybe half of us look to the turn of the year as an opportunity to shed the tattered remains of old hopes and launch shiny new ones. That’s the annual New Year’s Resolution ritual.
     To the extent that achievement in such matters can be determined with any certainty, researchers say one person who makes serious resolutions actually succeeds – out  of every dozen who do so.
     That indicates that maybe 4 percent of the American population makes real progress in deliberately upgrading their lives.
     Few people have the determination of a Michael Jordan, but millions of otherwise ordinary folks are doing something right, and benefiting from it. What is it?
     Motivation, that’s what.
     Those who actually make headway have solved the mystery of manipulating their own “want” systems. Our moment-to-moment decisions are driven by emotion, not logic or reason. We do what we want to do, not what we have decided we should do.
     Of course, in short bursts we can muscle our motivations by force of will, getting ourselves to do what we don’t want to do. Or fear can provide the push. But that is an exhausting effort, and it generally peters out quite soon.
     We don’t like to do what we don’t want to do.

     Some people, like Michael Jordan and other top athletes, politicians and performers, are driven by ambition and/or competition. Some are driven by religious fervor, or romantic love, or ideology. Common sense doesn’t do it, nor does logic. Those are control mechanisms, not motivators.
     So the challenge is to get ourselves to want what we want ourselves to want – and at an intensity level sufficient to overcome our devotion to what we are or have now.
     This is an important, seriously undervalued reality. We are deeply entwined in the behaviors and values we have assembled and adopted over the years of our lives. They comfort us, reward us in countless ways we don’t even know exist – until we try to change our behavior. That disturbs them, and they resist.
     Most of what we do, and most of what motivates our habituated actions, has long since been integrated into the unexamined pattern of our lives. It’s us, and we’re very comfortable with it. Some different way of doing things has to be very attractive if it is to draw us into change. If we are to then to stick with this new thing, we need really strong continuing reasons to do so.
     Some habit-change experts tell us you integrate a new behavior into your automated system once you’ve done it 21 times. Not so. You can default to your old self in that regard at any time. I’ve done that.
     If you want to stick with the new way, you have to be on the alert, consciously nurturing it, because it will be vulnerable for a long time. Besides paying attention, you must find desirable new reasons to continue with it. One way is to set success metrics, and track them, privately celebrating progress, however small.

     And you will backslide. Every slip and every fall is another opportunity to say, “To hell with it.” The draw of long association remains strong indefinitely, so there has to be a corresponding commitment to the change.
     Since emotion is the driver of decision, the person seeking to make permanent personal improvement must work to pump optimistic energy into the effort over time.
     As the saying goes: “Success is proceeding from one failure to another without loss of enthusiasm.”
     Michael Jordan might not describe his motivation that way – his was determination to disprove his critics and earn his titles. He won by competing with his own failures.
     “I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Getting Competent Is Conscious
    How about you? You’ve successfully changed your behavior. How did you do it? Please join in.

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