This is the third article in the series entitled, “Patterns for Success”. In the past two entries I have discussed how understanding and utilizing an effective pattern for your own personal development and growth is crucial. In my own development the same, three-step pattern has continued to surface. The three steps are ideas, implementation and review. Ideas form the seeds of our own growth. Implementation takes these tiny seeds and turns them into mighty trees.
Patterns for Success
As I have hammered in on you in the past two articles, it is your ability to implement your ideas, not the quality of the ideas themselves, that will ultimately determine the growth and improvement you experience. A great idea isn’t worth anything unless you can put it into action. Understanding the principles of how to implement ideas, along with some noticeable constraints the implementation process has can allow you to act upon those ideas with maximum effectiveness.
The first idea you must understand if you want to be successful at implementing ideas is that your capacity for implementation is far, far less than most people imagine. Successfully implementing ideas is a very time and energy consuming process and it is impossible to act upon more than just a few ideas at any one time. This is why careful selection of ideas is important. Since you can only successfully implement a handful of the thousands of ideas you have at your disposal, you can’t choose hastily.
There are two resources which you must tap, primarily, in order to implement ideas. These are focus and discipline. Focus is the resource of directing your conscious thoughts towards an idea and actions. Discipline is the resource you have for being able to move through pain or discomfort. Most people readily understand that discipline is often required in the pursuit of an idea, but frequently neglect the importance of focus. Focus is a precious resource and it is far easier to squander than discipline.
Whenever you are implementing a new idea, be it a habit, a goal or a skill you need to focus on the actions that create it. Focus is the primary resource you use in directing your actions. I have learned this lesson the hard way. I failed quite a few of my habit conditioning efforts simply because I didn’t place enough focus in their realization. Even if an idea isn’t painful and doesn’t require any discipline, all ideas require some level of focus. Seeing as focus is the major limiting factor in the quantity of ideas you can implement, it is very important to understand how it is used.
Unlike money, energy or time, squandering focus doesn’t give any feedback. We all know what it is like to feel tired, busy or poor, but diverted focus won’t give you an emotional connection. Diverted focus only makes itself apparent when suddenly the idea we are trying to implement slips through our fingers or we forget about a goal we had set. Because diverted focus never produces any noticeable, negative response until it is too late, we must be careful in its usage.
The properties of focus are why I would suggest limiting your personal development implementation to less then you feel is possible. Spending your focus on just a few ideas rather than on many will ensure that a few good ideas become reality rather than dozens of ideas that fizzle out. It may seem bizarre to try and focus on doing less than you feel is possible, but this technique has allowed me to lock in place a lot of personal growth fairly rapidly. Instead of taking two steps forward and one step back, all of my energy is put in one direction while minimizing setbacks.
Just as focusing on fewer ideas can mean a better quality of implementation, being thorough in the implementation of an idea ensures a greater chance that your ideas will last. In our rapid pace world most people don’t feel they have time to thoroughly explore one idea before moving to the next. Instead of full understanding they just want the gist of it. Instead of a solution they want a quick fix. Instead of hard work they just want to use fast and easy scheme.
If we are going to continue with our botany analogy for personal development, if your ideas are seeds, then implementation is actually growing the tree. Most people don’t want to wait for the tree to grow, so they rush to plant a new seed soon after the first one has barely sprouted. Unfortunately a strong wind can easily uproot the young sapling and completely reset the progress. By thoroughly tending to the tree until it has strong enough roots to support itself, the idea can take hold and last.
Being thorough means not to pursue any idea with a half volition. Pursue every idea you encounter with all your resources. Don’t just stop tending and focusing on the idea because you feel it is successfully implemented. Overkill your implementation a little. When I am conditioning a new habit I often feel like the habit is pretty well installed when I still have some more time. At this time I must call upon my patience to continue to focus on the habit for a little longer to ensure it takes hold.
When you read a book from an experienced author, such as Tony Robbins or Brian Tracy, it can almost be overwhelming to try and absorb even a fraction of the ideas they throw at you. As a result you may like some of the ideas they present but instead of focusing on just one or two for at least a month you try and focus on several just in the next day. Months go by and you haven’t implemented any noticeable changes.
Be focused and thorough with your implementation. Once you establish an idea into your behavior consistently for a long time it no longer requires any effort or discipline to run. Habits when implemented thoroughly last far longer. Goals when pursued thoroughly can accomplish far more. Practice when trained regularly lead to mastery. Don’t let your personal development efforts be squandered because you were unable to focus.
Isn’t this process of personal development very slow? No, it’s just the opposite. In the short term it may seem like focusing specifically on just one idea for at least a month would be counterproductive and incredibly slow, but in the long term these small trees grow into a forest. Because each tree gets firmly rooted before you plant another one, you have very few setbacks. If you pursued just one new habit a month, you could change twelve in a year. This means you could have a year where you quit smoking, adopted a new diet, began waking up early each morning, gave up television, started exercising regularly, began reading a book per week, trained in speed reading, began listening to audio programs daily, started drinking twelve glasses of water a day, began journaling your life, spent more time strengthening your relationships and began starting your day with morning runs. Most people wouldn’t do that much personal development in a decade or two, never mind a year. Thoroughly pursuing and focusing on ideas can produce amazing results.
Growth Increases Focus Capacity
Another factor that is important in your implementation is simply that the amount you have already grown greatly strengthens your capacity for focus and discipline. The more ideas you have implemented the greater your ability to implement new ideas. I believe that the reason this acceleration of growth occurs for two major reasons. The first is simply that as you develop better skills in general areas of growth (e.g. discipline, courage, goal-setting, etc.) you become more proficient at specific areas of growth. Changing habits for me has become fairly easy for me simply because I am so used to the process. The second reason is because as you really start enjoying the experience of personal development you will be willing to push through a bit of initial difficulty because you know that the growth you experience will be worthwhile.
The key to using focus is simply to recognize its impact. If you’ve tried implementing some ideas with fairly mediocre results, try focusing on just one or two of them. Deciding exactly how to split your focus is a competition between efficiency and effectiveness. Until you feel really comfortable with your pattern for personal development I would aim for effectiveness over efficiency.
Tools for Implementation
By now you understand that implementing ideas is a relatively slow process compared with generating them. Now I am going to discuss different methods and tools for improving your ability to implement ideas. Basic tools such as goal-setting, habit conditioning and directed practice can greatly lower the cost of implementing ideas as they come to you. Keep in mind that these implementation strategies are ideas in themselves. The nice thing about implementing implementation tools (wrap your head around that one) is that they can usually be practiced in conjunction with other ideas. Practicing goal setting can also be done by setting goals for another idea. Practicing 30-Day Trials is done by trying to change other habits.
Here are some of the primary tools I use for implementing new ideas:
Goals setting has to be one of the most important tools for implementing ideas. The basis behind goal setting is focus. As I previously mentioned, pursuing ideas requires you to be selective, make decisions and utilize focus. Focus is the primary attribute of any goal setting program. Goal setting is basically a simple procedure to isolate what areas you are going to focus on in advance so it is easier to streamline ideas.
If I set a goal to lose a certain amount of weight, then this allows me to cut off a huge amount of ideas that have nothing to do with health or losing weight. Goals make the process of selecting which ideas to pursue far easier. Think of a goal setting like a magnifying glass. It focuses the resources you already have and uses them in a directed manner. For more information on goal setting, read this.
There are many methods for conditioning your habits, but one of my personal favorites is the 30 Day Trial. The 30 Day Trial allows you to be thorough in the implementation of a new habit. Just as goal setting harnesses your focus, 30 Day Trials force you to be thorough. The 30 Day Trial is just a nice name for the tool, but the theory behind it can be used for more than just habits. If you feel that you need at least ninety days to implement an idea, make a 90 Day Trial.
Trial periods force you to be more thorough then you might otherwise be. With goal setting to harness your focus, trial periods force you to make sure that the tree you planted has firmly rooted before moving on. Habits tend to take 30 Days, but if your idea is more complicated you may need more time. Some really intensive habits may take less time, but I find 30 Days is a pretty good number to work with.
If goals create focus and trial periods ensure thoroughness, conscious practice streamlines the process of mastery. Conscious practice involves working on an idea over and over again until it becomes second nature to you. The four basic steps for conscious practice are:
- Determine the exact skill you need to master.
- Practice it constantly, over and over and over again.
- Get feedback immediately after each practice
- Set tiny goals and make minor adjustments to optimize constantly.
I briefly outlined the methods for conscious practice in my article Back To Basics. The best environment I’ve ever seen that utilizes conscious practice is Toastmasters. At Toastmasters you are there for a specific purpose, to improve your speaking ability (step one). You have many opportunities to speak in many different formats (step two). After you give any speech you are given feedback from an evaluator within minutes (step three). Finally each speaking project has very specific goals for improvement such as gestures, word usage or visual aids to optimize your progress (step four).
Conscious practice can be applied to any idea that requires skills to build. For example, if you wanted to become a faster reader, you could buy a book on speed reading. Speed reading is a perfect example of a skill that requires practice. You would first identify the specific skills of speed reading such as hand movements, comprehension and retention. Then you could practice for an hour every day consistently for a month or two. You could do regular testing to see what your reading speed and comprehension rate is. Finally you could set little goals to improve either your comprehension, retention or other skills. By utilizing the four steps of conscious practice you can greatly increase your rate of improvement then you could by just trying it haphazardly.
How Much Should You Do?
I think if you’ve read up to this point you might be wondering exactly how many of your ideas should try to implement at a time? I’ve discussed why many people fail to make progress is because they don’t focus on just a few ideas and they aren’t thorough in their implementation. My answer to the above question would really depend on how many personal development ideas you have already implemented. If you haven’t implemented many ideas successfully for the long-term then I would suggest giving just one idea virtually all your resources for a considerable while. Once you have implemented quite a few ideas permanently, you have a far better idea of your own capacity.
If you are new to personal development, or you simply haven’t been able to permanently affect the ideas you’ve been reading about, I suggest going extremely focused and thorough with one idea at a time. Set a goal for the idea you want to establish. Run a 30 Day Trial around that idea and utilize conscious practice to improve your skills. Only once you have really experience what it is like to permanently install a habit should you move to a new one. Even if there are many areas of your life that need work, successfully implementing just one idea can give you the foundation for all future progress.
If you are a long time or proficient personal development warrior then use your own judgement for your capacity. I have done a few double trials, two 30 Day Trials occurring simultaneously, usually two habits that have closely related areas or themes. Before I found doing two trials at once was too difficult to focus on and they were unsuccessful. I’m slowly raising the degree of ideas I am implementing in my own life.
Implementation is the essence of personal development. The ideas you have form the seeds and implementation grows them into mighty trees. By understanding the importance of focus and thoroughness in your own personal development efforts you won’t squander your precious resources by pursuing too many ideas at once. Implementation strategies in the form of goal setting, trial periods and conscious practice can allow you to act on your ideas more rapidly. Implement ideas to really form your pattern for success.
In the next article, review, I will talk about the final step in my pattern of success. Review is, perhaps, one of the most neglected steps in successful personal development. Although implementation can grow the trees, review really solidifies them in place. There are many practices for review and each of them allows you to add more stability and permanence to the ideas you already have found successful in your pattern for success.