How to build tailor-made habits
My browser is opened with only one tab, the notifications are off both on my computer and my phone. There is a cup of coffee on my left and my Bose noise-masking sleepbuds are on with a boardwalk sound.
I’m in the zone.
I know that this piece will take me approximately two to three hours to write, more or less, or at least that’s the time I will dedicate to it. It’s 8.47am.
Focus, on automatic
Whenever you are on an intense streak, practicing sport like climbing or karting for instance, not only concentration is required, but it naturally comes to you as your full mental bandwidth is dedicated to it. I’m taking those two activities as examples because they work for me, while I find myself thinking a lot when I’m running, cycling or swimming for instance. However, the activity that allows you to disconnect and solely focus on it might be a different one.
Think about one thing/activity that allows you to be naturally focused. It feels so good to remember the state of mind & body in which it puts you, it’s almost like a sane addiction.
You wish you could summon this aptitude for anything at anytime. Unfortunately, we’re prone to distraction. And our environment, whether it’s digital, social or corporate, doesn’t help us narrowing our attention.
The benefits of being in the zone
It’s unrealistic to believe that we can just decide to switch from being distracted to being absorbed. Some rare people can, but most of us can’t. However, the more we train ourselves into being in the zone, the more we develop our abilities:
- To better focus and operate. Just like any skill, the more you practice, the more naturally efficient you become. It allows you to perform automatically, more frequently, even though all the parameters aren’t in perfect conditions;
- To control our time and environment. The only way to find yourself in the zone is to find the time for it. Therefore, you are invited to take better control over your agenda. That’s when we realise that we are a lot more in control of our time and environment than believed;
- To develop habits and routines. As you manage to navigate through your agenda to block various slots dedicated to certain tasks or activities, you learn about the power of building habits and routines. As you discover their benefits, you enjoy developing them.
If you haven’t found this one thing that turns you automatically in focus mode, I invite you to try some activities that require intense concentration. That’s how you will know what feeling I am inviting you to run after :)
Picture a zone
If you’ve never done it before, it’s time for you to consciously picture a zone, in which you will achieve something meaningful, on a regular basis. Overtime, you will feel its compounded effects, which will allow you:
- To be more efficient at doing this one thing;
- To build zones for new things you’d like to focus on.
A zone is defined by its nature (what), its environment (where), its purpose (why), its participants (who), its means (how). the more parameters are required, the harder it is to build a zone as you need to make all the elements collude into one. And the additional complexity is that as all this parameters don’t pile up in perfect alignement, rarely, so you must accept that the environment will never be perfect.
Also, as you’re not entirely, always in control, depending on the parameters at your disposal, build a zone that fits within.
- What: A zone means that you will do only one thing, with minimal distraction from outside elements: Practicing sport, emptying your inbox, working on a presentation, reviewing something, reading a piece.
The what is a function of matter (which activity) and objectives (defined by how much time you want to pass on it or what you want to achieve before you move on)
- Where: A Feng shui set-up, a closed area, silence, nature… With a coffee, a bottle of water, a bowl of grains… In the morning, late during the night, after a productive time… We have our preferred time to act upon certain things. Define your ideal set-up, then try your best to define your minimal set-up as well. For me, the minimal set-up whenever I must do things with my computer is a comfortable seat, a table and my ear plugs.
The where is a function of location (where does it take place) and frame (when is a good time for you, what are the elements around you, how much time do you have in a given area)
- Why: I love this parameter as it allows us to define whether what we are doing is meaningful or not. I am now writing because it has been a while and I have been thinking about this principle of being in the zone for two weeks now. I am emptying my inbox to clear my duties. I am taking an hour to climb because it makes me feel good and clear my mind. Find the reasons why you’re doing something. It always feels better to do something as we understand its reason or purpose.
The why is a function of origin (the reason or purpose underlying what we are doing) and meaning (what does it make us feel, what is the goal of such action)
- Who: Team sport, meetings… some activities require or are better with multiple participants. It’s important to define the reasons why each participant must be present, their contribution to the action, and how to interact with them. Don’t let anyone in your zone without making sure you define the interactions between the participants. In a meeting for instance, what is the agenda/objective of this get together, what is the role of each person and what is expected from everyone post gathering.
The who is a function of people (who must be present) and responsibility (why are they here for)
- How: To perform within your zone, you might need a computer to work, a mat to exercice, a pre-action to perform the next one, all your notifications off. It’s hard to find yourself in a zone without the elements that are absolutely necessary to act upon. However, be careful not to make excuses as your set is incomplete, sometimes it’s possible to work around missing pieces in order to achieve something, partially or totally.
The how is a function of elements (what do you need) and role (what do you need those elements for, can you replace them or progress without them)
It might sound complex to align the functions of those parameters all together, but in reality it’s not. the goal of this framework is to make you understand what will allow you to perform efficiently more actions in due time, but also to do things that you believed where too hard to achieve, as one of the parameters can be used as a trigger to act.
Use parameters as triggers
A habit is something that is naturally anchored in your life. You might have as a good habit to clean your dishes after each meal, or the bad one to let them in the sink for some time. You might have the good habit to turn off the light every time you leave a room, or the the bad habit not to do it. One way to reverse a bad habits is to find a trigger that reminds you every single time that you haven’t act according to your new resolution (to reverse a bad habit, we must be willing to act upon it) and that makes you perform this task every single time as well. It could be your loved one (who), it could be an automatic reminder or a if-this-then-that recipe (how), it could be a new life principle (why).
A routine is something that isn’t naturally anchored in your life, but that you perform through a regular set of rules, or said differently… in the zone! What is required for me to work-out?
- What: work-out.
- Where: mostly at home, I don’t like to be surrounded by other people. When the kids aren’t around so preferably during the evening when they are asleep.
- Why: to stretch by body, to feel better (reason why I start with active workout and finish with yoga).
- Who: with my wife.
- How: usually with a motivational video on screen to give the pace.
For each of those parameters, I had to find what was the ideal setup. It took me a while to nail the who and how of this routine or zone, but it’s only because I knew what to look for that I ended up finding this ideal setup.
Now build one zone
Define one thing, starting with the what and why, that you would like to achieve better, on a more regular basis. Think about each of the parameters and build the zone that will allow you to maximise your chance to succeed.
Be careful about a couple of things:
- Do not set the bar too high at first, there are incredible compounded effects into building one zone after another, it’s unnecessary to put yourself under ridiculous pressure during those early days;
- Being in the zone means that you avoid distractions. Put your phone and computer in “do not disturb” mode, let people know that you don’t want to be distracted, work on your abilities to focus despite noise and distraction.
Finally, here are the more popular life hacks in regards with digital distraction: put your phone always on “do not disturb” mode, set your phone in b&w, mute conversations and disable notifications from social media apps (that you should put in a folder on your second of third screen)
It’s 11.39, so long :)