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The 5As of Actualization

First we make our habits, then our habits make us. Charles C. Noble
One of the most efective ways to actualize your own potential and oals is to form
habits and routines that make the actualization !almost" automatic. #e see
re$ections of this observation in the works of %ristotle and &ao 'zu from millennia
ao on throuh the works of contemporary thinkers such as (tephen Covey and the
)alai &ama. %t a certain point, habits allow you to reach the optimal state of
achievin without tryin to achieve.
'he lead *uote sums up thins nicely, thouh, in that habit+buildin can be an
active process, too. ,uch like choosin to be around people who help us $ourish,
choosin and habituatin the actions that help us $ourish is larely within our
control.
(ince we can choose, do, track, and evaluate the habits and routines that help us
actualize ourselves and our oals, there-s a process with discrete but related steps.
.ere are the /%s of %ctualization0
%im
%wareness
%ction
%ccountability
%ssessment
&et-s take a look at these a little more in depth.
Aim
'he sayin 1if you don-t know where you-re oin, any path will take you there2 3ts
in nicely here. 4efore you can start buildin supportive habits and routines, you
have to know what types of actualization you-re wantin to support.
Our bodies and minds are automatic habit+buildin systems whether or not you
actively try to build habits or not, you will. For instance, you miht not intentionally
train yourself to remember the path to your kitchen, but every time you walk to the
kitchen, you-re reinforcin a neurophysical pathway that-s been formed. .abits are
nothin but reinforced neurophysical pathways.
%s you can probably tell, a pathway isn-t inherently ood or bad. % ood deal of
your unconscious habits are probably not supportin your rowth, thouh, because
we-re wired to remain safe and secure rather than to be continually rowin and
chanin. Once your system 3nds somethin that works, it encodes that pattern as
somethin to keep reardless of whether your desires chane. 'his is how we et
canoes.
'his step in the process, then, makes your routine+buildin an intentional activity
that supports your oals. Furthermore, most new routines have to displace an
already+formed one, so the initial parts of the process will be harder than later parts.
'he more you-re able to keep 35ed on the end in mind, the easier it-ll be to notice
counterproductive habits and routines that you-re havin to work throuh or 3t
aainst. #hich brins us to6
Awareness
.ave you ever set a oal one day and forot it the ne5t day7 ,aybe you typed it
into that spify new productivity app only to have it buried in other screens. %s 8 9ust
mentioned, if you-re oin to make a o of habit+chanin, you need to be aware of
the fact that you-re doin it or old habits will win.
For instance, a lot of us buy ym memberships with ood intentions, but we don-t
do the small thins that-ll help them scafold that new routine. % small thin could
be as simple as puttin workout clothes in front of the cofeepot so that they-re seen
the 3rst thin in the mornin. (ure, maybe there-s not enouh time to workout
today, but at least there-s a chance that that small act will open up the awareness
and idea that workin out is important.
Or maybe you want to start readin more rather than watchin ':. ;ather than
keepin your books in another room, why not stand the book up in front of the ': so
that, to watch the ':, you have to remove the book7 'hat small action disrupts the
old routine while brinin the intention to your awareness. 8t additionally makes the
action concrete, makin it more likely that you-ll complete it.
% very similar techni*ue that you can do is place lists of oals in the places you
can-t miss them. 8-ve often recommended that clients place a list on their bathroom
mirrors, near their computers, and on their refrierators. 'here-s a sneaky thin
oin on here, because it-s not 9ust that you see those oals more often, but you
often see them when you-re primed for encodin thins. 8f you-re brushin your
teeth before bed and see your !hopefully small" list of oals, then you-ll be more
likely to process and interate those oals while you-re sleepin. &ikewise, if you-re
seein those oals 3rst thin in the mornin as you-re ettin water or preparin
cofee, you-re more likely to interate those oals into your day.
#hile 8 don-t have a lot of hard 3eld data on it, 8 think the tanibility of lists and
trier items like shoes and books are better awareness items than diital lists. 8
also think handwritin your oals encodes them better than typin iven the
deliberateness of handwritin con9oined with the fact that you-re less likely to write
a lot by hand. !'his is why 8 focus most of my ;<) on planner desins whose
primary focus is printin and writin as opposed to web apps or 3llable forms."
%s powerful as %wareness is thouh, layin those neurophysical pathways re*uires
action.
Action
8n the initial staes of habit+buildin, doin the new thin is the challene that
keeps people from actualizin their new oal. 'hey want to do that new thin, but
somethin keeps them from doin it.
8n my e5perience, what keeps most people from doin the action re*uired is that
they overestimate their capabilities in the initial staes and make it too hard for
them to et started or sustain what they-ve started. 'he key to the initial staes of
habit+buildin is to make the barrier to entry to any action as low as possible.
;eturnin to the ym e5ample, rather than tryin to start out by oin / times a
week for an hour at a time, try to o three times a week for => minutes for the 3rst
few weeks. Once you et used to the process, increase the fre*uency and?or
duration, but it-s more important that you keep at it over time than it is that you-re
consistent in intensity over time.
'he second thin that keeps people from actin is that they-re 9ust not motivated to
achieve the oal. #hat fre*uently happens is that people make a oal because it-s
an e5ternal should rather than an internal desire, and the harder the oal is to
achieve, the less likely that that e5ternal should will have the motivational force to
et you there. Or maybe it-s one of the other @> types of demotivation that-s
keepin them from actin.
&astly, some of us have trouble convertin an intention into an action. #e set the
oal, we see the oal, but when it comes down to doin, we et lost. .ere-s where
the /Cs of completion can come in handy, as it helps you convert intentions into
completions.
8t-s true that action isn-t everythin, but without action, there is no actualization.
'hat said, thinkin, re$ectin, and meditatin can themselves be actions when done
intentionally and done in a way to support your own actualization. Obviously, if one
of your oals is to meditate, think, and re$ect more, then actualizin that oal
re*uires meditatin, thinkin, and re$ectin. 'he simplicity and obviousness of 1we
become by doin2 underscores the reality that so many of us behave as if the doin
part was optional.
Accountability
(ome of us have trouble with accountability because we associate the word with
punishment, scrutiny, and?or not meetin standards or areements. Aerhaps that-s
fair because the ma9ority of discussions of accountability arise when we-re not doin
what we-ve said we-d do.
'here-s a much more positive way to understand accountability, thouh0 we can see
accountability as a way to keep up with what we-re doin. #hat we need to
remember is that we-re much more likely to discount the thins we actually do and
place too much weiht on the thins we don-t do. %ccountability techni*ues, then,
can be *uite supportive because they provide some ob9ectivity to your self+
perceptions and at least provide some evidence to buttress aainst this neativity
bias.
'he other reason that accountability is so important is that it ives you the structure
for the information you need for assessment. Often times, thinkin about how you-ll
account for your actions ives you a lot of ood ideas about how fre*uently you
need to do those actions. For instance, let-s say that you-re tryin to build a habit of
waterin your $owers more. #hen you pro9ect into thinkin about accountability,
you miht see that waterin your $owers twice a week is what it would take to
actualize that oal. (upposin that you keep a monthly calendar on your fride, you
miht decide to place a blue # on every 'uesday and Friday. #hen 'uesday rolls
around, you look at the calendar, see the blue #, water the $owers, and then circle
or line throuh the # for that day.
'he e5ample here is illustrative of the fact that it-s often *uite easy to embed your
accountability system into your awareness system. 'he blue # makes you aware of
the oal, so you can act on it pretty easily. Circlin or linin throuh the # lets you
keep thins simple simple is ood. %wareness reinforces accountability and
accountability reinforces awareness.
Assessment
'his step in the process is where you evaluate what you-ve been doin. 'here are
really two ma9or *uestions to ask yourself at this stae0 @" %m 8 doin the thins
that are consistent with manifestin my oal7 and B" %re those actions actually
proressin me towards actualizin the oal7
8f you look at your checklist and you see that you-re not doin the actions that are
consistent with your oal, it-s a ood time to check in with your motivations 3rst,
your awareness techni*ues second, and your time allocations third. 'he reason you
want to o in that order is because if you don-t want to do it, it doesn-t matter
whether you-re aware of it or have time for it you won-t do it. 8f you want to do it
and keep forettin, then ettin some awareness techni*ues in may help. %nd,
lastly, if you truly don-t have time for it, you need to think about what-s actually
possible for you to do.
(ometimes we do thins that we think would support our momentum that turn out
not to. For instance, you miht try puttin the book you want to read in front of the
': and it still doesn-t help you read. 8f you try somethin a few times and it-s not
workin, it-s time to try somethin else. 'his step allows you to make those types of
determinations so that you don-t keep doin the same thins and ettin the same
results.
On the positive side, the assessment step helps you see that the thins that you-re
doin are makin a diference and it also ives you a chance to think about the
entire chain of actions to see what-s makin the diference. For instance, perhaps
you noticed that you had to both pack your workout clothes and drive by the ym in
the mornin for you to work out later in the day. Cou can then make sure to include
both supportive actions in your reimen until the intended action of oin to the
ym is routine.
'his step allows you to focus on proress rather than achievin the oal. 8t-s easy to
et frustrated when you-re not 1there2 yet, even thouh you-ve come a lon way
from where you started. 'he reality is that you-ll always be a work in proress, and
settin up your e5pectations so that you don-t et credit until you-re 13nished2
leads to a lot of frustration, disappointment, and self+abuse.
%ssessment and %im are very tihtly connected in that sometimes your
assessments will chane your aim. &et-s say you aim to write three blo posts a
week and end up writin 3ve for two weeks in a row because of the routines and
techni*ues you-re puttin in place. #hen you do an assessment, you can then
ad9ust your aim maybe you-ll want the oal to be 3ve a week, or maybe you now
see that 3ve is too many and you-re oin to try to keep to three, hiher+*uality
ones, so you look at what you-d need to chane to write those three rather than
3ve.
Or perhaps you aim too hih and see that you need to ad9ust your oals so that
they-re realistic for now. .owever, it doesn-t mean that you can-t be buildin toward
your hiher oalD you 9ust need to focus on smaller steps for now so you can build
your capability to tackle bier ones.
&astly, assessment will tell you whether you need to be actively buildin the
habit?routine or whether it-s now interated into what you do. 8f you-re at the point
to where you-re no loner havin to think about doin somethin because it-s a
natural part of your day, you can 9ust maintain the routine you currently have.
Aerhaps you-ll want to try somethin new, or maybe you-re 3ne e5actly where you
are. Either way, assessin your proress ives you the information you need to
know so that you alin your resources with your desired oal!s".
;emember, (tart (mall
8-m a hue fan of dreamin and thinkin bi, but time and time aain, actin small
is how you manifest those dreams and thouhts. 8t-s a lot easier to focus on one
habit for a month than it is to try to 1focus2 on 3ve, and it-s much more ratifyin to
make substantial proress on one than to creep on 3ve.
%ctualization is not 9ust about the e5ternal chanes 8 miht o as far as to say that
the e5ternal chanes are secondary. Even more important than the outer chanes
are the self+trust, +con3dence, and +appreciation that you-re buildin, and this is a
second reason why startin small is better. 'he more you achieve what you set out
to do, the more you trust in your own capabilities and resources, so you-re more
likely to try somethin new. 'he more you try but don-t achieve, the more you feed
the idea that you can-t do it, which saps your motivation and commitment to try
new thins. ;emember that some of those neurophysical pathways o out to our
bodies, but others are pathways in beliefs and valuesD the more you reinforce
counter+productive pathways, the harder they are to retrain. .ence (ocrates-
statement 1the soul, like the body, accepts by practice whatever habit one wishes it
to contact.2
8n an earlier post, 8 wrote that no productivity system can override your choices. 'he
key idea there is the same one that 8 want to brin up here0 havin a system,
process, or techni*ue won-t do the work for you. 8t can help you immensely, but at
the end of the day, if you-re not doin the thins that it takes to actualize your
oals, then these ideas are worth less than the amount of electricity it takes to
share them. Alease, start small, but start nonetheless.