Doing anything that’s not normal is difficult. You have to move past your automatic patterns and rely on conscious action to move forward. We’re wired to rely on our subconscious, so this is legitimately difficult. That’s why people eat crappy food, watch crappy TV, and stay in crappy relationships.
Today my motorcycle got impounded (for a mixup over $14), which meant that I had to go all over town dealing with this stuff without the benefit of a motorcycle. So I sat at a lot of bus stations. I saw a guy smoking, and just thought: how is this possible? Doesn’t he realize how terrible that cigarette is for him; that he’s perpetuating this bad habit; and that it’s sort of obnoxious to be blowing smoke around all these people waiting for a bus?
I thought all that, and then I realized that there’s nothing strange about what he’s doing, at least from his perspective. None of my friend smoke, and most of the places I go don’t have a lot of smokers. The idea of smoking seems totally outrageous to me. But he’s been smoking for who-knows-how-long, probably hangs out with a bunch of smokers, and might go to places where smoking is totally normal.
It would be extremely difficult for him to stop smoking. Equally, though, it would be really difficult for me to start smoking. For each of us, the task we would face would not be normal, and thus it would be hard.
Why did he start smoking? Probably because it was pretty normal. Maybe his parents smoked, or his brother smoked, or his friend smoked. Or maybe when you’re a rebellious teenager, trying something new and bad is pretty normal. It was for me, too– I just climbed radio towers instead of smoking cigarettes.
I haven’t been working as effectively recently as I’d like to be. I still work seven days a week, and still work most of the day, but social engagements and interesting distractions have crept in. I think back to very recently, where I worked incredibly hard, like at a nine out of ten for a year and a half, and I try to identify what has changed.
My calibration has changed. What I consider to be normal is different now, primarily because I traveled for a few months, which recalibrated me to not working all the time. The frustrating part isn’t that I’m not working as much now, it’s that it’s so much harder than it used to be. I remember just a few months ago working 14 hours some days, feeling energized and psyched about it. Distractions came, but went very quickly. Now I’m getting maybe seven hours of work per day in, but it feels like it takes a lot more effort.
When you find yourself in a situation like this, you have the option of just powering through or actually recalibrating yourself. There’s no answer that’s right all of the time, but for long term habits or lifestyle choices, it’s often much better to recalibrate.
To recalibrate, you have to think about what it will take for your desired behavior to feel normal. If you’re a smoker, you probably need a period of time where you aren’t around other smokers, and you probably need to replace the act of smoking with something else, so that there isn’t an unnatural void.
I remember how I made hard work normal before, and I’m going to replicate that process. I’ll log how much time I spend on each project (blogging, SETT, email, etc) every day. I’ll make a todo list every day. I’ll rate the quality of my work. Each of these things reinforces the new normal that I want to achieve: that working very hard all day is just an average day.
Pushing through can work in the short term. If you need to work really hard for a week before a project ships, it’s probably not worth the time to slowly recalibrate, especially if you don’t need to be working that hard afterwards. For campaigns whose durations can be measured in months, years, or your lifetime, think about recalibrating.