There aren’t many of us, male or female, who have not at some point made note of a bulging waist line and decided that it was time to do something about it. And most of us will have made some attempt at changing our diet for a period in the hope of fitting into those jeans we used to so love wearing.
But, how many of us can truly claim to have stayed with it and made a permanent change in our weight? I think the answer is not many! It’s just difficult sometimes to get into new habits and to see them through when there are just so many other things we’re also trying to achieve in life. And so we go back to old habits and have to make peace with the fact that, for now at least, that bulge ain’t gonna budge!
It occurred to me the one time though that perhaps I was thinking incorrectly about my weight … because I was thinking about my ‘weight’ … not about ‘what I was doing to create that weight’ and putting the focus there. And so it was that I started a process to read up about food and how it impacts our weight and, eventually, after a number of attempts, I found a diet that worked for me. And suddenly that middle-age spread started to disappear and, to cut a long story short, I managed to get back to a much lower body fat %, kind of like I was in my late 20’s before my metabolism took a nose dive!
And in the process of having ‘changed my diet’ … which by the way is a more fundamental way to look at this than ‘going on a diet’, which has a temporary flavour to it … I realised that there were some milestones along the way that helped me stay on the new diet. In fact what’s nice about changing diet and seeing the weight come off is how you are able to once again fit into clothes that have been sitting looking at you from the wardrobe these past couple of years and, once you can fit into that pair of much loved jeans, you really feel like you have accomplished something and this spurs you on to keep committed.
But, had I not reached that milestone and seen the visible difference it had made for me first hand, I very much doubt I would have stayed on the new diet. It turned out I needed a tangible difference to have been made in order to give me the courage or the energy to remain committed to continuing with the diet.
By staying committed I was able to make further gains and, over time, even that pair of jeans got put to one side as I realised they were now too big for me. So eventually I reached my target weight and a realisation hit me that from here on forward I was not going to see any more weight come off and was not going to be fitting into anything smaller ever again … so where would the commitment now come from to stay on the diet? Quite simply, I came to the realisation that I now had something to lose. And I didn’t want to lose it.
But How Does This Relate To GTD?
It struck me one day that the process I had been through on the diet was incredibly similar to how I had experienced GTD.
- It starts with acknowledgement of a problem:
- In the case of my weight I had reached a point where I said ‘enough is enough, things have to change’.
- With the extremely busy nature of my work life though I had also reached a point where I felt ‘enough is enough, things have to change’.
- In both cases, this gave me the desire to do something about the situation. And so I started to Google & read and endeavour to uncover an approach that would improve my situation.
- And then you need to decide how to approach resolving the problem:
- With my weight I selected a diet that made sense to me. What I didn’t initially realise though was that it wouldn’t necessarily make sense to those around me. In fact I found myself often explaining it to others and realising that they were confused as to why I felt the need to put so much effort into it. ‘You’re not really over weight’ was how one person put it to me. And they were right, compared to the average person my age, I was no more over weight than anybody else. But I had decided not to be average for my age, I wanted to be back to what is considered medically as a healthy weight. And I was determined I was going to find a way.
- And with my own level of personal productivity it turns out I was also no worse than the average person around me. We were all equally disorganised was how I came to view it! But I didn’t feel that I wanted to be at the group average on this, I felt that, just like my weight, it shouldn’t be determined by the average of people around me but from some external reference point. For weight that’s easy, you can select a healthy body fat % and work towards it. With being organised or feeling in control though there didn’t seem to be any external reference point.
- And then along came GTD and David Allen’s comments that by ‘getting everything off your mind’ and by ‘clarifying what all the new inputs in your life mean’ every day, you could have a ‘mind like water’ … ‘stress-free productivity’ he said … and just like the target body fat % I realised I now had something to aim for.
- And, funnily enough, I also found people telling me I was not that disorganised and I found myself explaining the principles to people with varying degrees of confusion on their mind.
- And so it occurred to me that, just like the diet, I needed to believe enough in it and just do it. And that takes determination because all of the popular opinion around you will work to help you eventually give up on your goal and to return to the point where everyone else is. And, as you return, the people who consider themselves as ‘normal’ or ‘average’ at something will welcome you back and jovially pat you on the back and ask ‘What was that all about? I see you saw the light eventually’.
- And then you need to achieve something that you don’t want to lose:
- With weight-loss it is simple to specify, you can give yourself a waist size of jeans that you want to fit into. You buy some new jeans that make you look and feel different and suddenly you are not interested in going back up in weight, it will feel like all of this was for nothing. No, now you’re there you need to make sure you stay there. And this helps with the ongoing discipline it takes to keep your weight under control.
- With GTD though it was a bit more fuzzy. A ‘mind like water’ or ‘feeling in control’. But I can tell you one thing. Even though it may sound like a fuzzy concept, when you reach it, you will know it. And you will NOT want to lose it.
And so, in implementing GTD I went through the above stages with enough commitment to see myself to a point of having achieved something that I did not want to lose. And, despite my initial fear that I was going to need something stronger than that to keep with it in the long run, I have found that that was in fact the only thing I needed. At the time of writing this post, the novelty of ‘feeling in control’ has not worn off and I am now some 5 years down the line with GTD.
Wait, There’s More!
But there is something else that you need to keep in mind when maintaining your commitment to something like GTD or a diet … and that is the ‘time duration of the feedback loop‘ and how this influences whether you stay with it or not in the long run:
- If you decide to depart from your choice of foods then you do not wake up the next morning suddenly a kg or couple of pounds heavier. You’ll wake up about the same weight as you were today. And so it becomes possible to shift away from your diet and return to your old behaviours, get used to liking the old foods all over again and, bit by bit, your weight climbs.
- With GTD though, the feedback is almost immediate. It’s like touching a hot stove plate. I immediately know that what I’m doing is not keeping me in control. I can feel that sense of control slip very quickly when I stop doing the GTD principles.
- So I quickly scan through my email inbox to see which email I should respond to first, instead of just handling them one by one … oops, control slips.
- Or I open an email, ponder it, close it and move onto the next one without having decided for myself what it means and whether I need to do anything about it. Oops, control slips.
- Or I stop processing my new inputs on a regular (worst case 24 hour) basis, oops, control slips.
- Or I decide to skip my weekly review … I can get away with it for the first 1-2 days but then, oops, control slips as I start wondering what I may have forgotten about. There are things not on cruise control suddenly and my brain knows it.
- Or I have ideas of things I need to do, like to call someone tomorrow about xyz and I simply don’t capture it on my list, allowing it to slip back into my subconscious to re-appear just after it should’ve been done. Control slips.
- Or I don’t do a review of each day’s To Do List up front to make sure that I tackle the most important tasks early on. Control slips. And so I could go on!
So, starting a new diet or starting out with GTD have a lot in common. You are trying to change your own behaviours and you are trying to create a new you. And you are trying to do it while people around you have different views of what success for you at those things might look like. And so it takes a fair amount of personal resolve to get started on such a process and even more to keep going through the dark moments that might appear.
The message is simply this … stay with it long enough to achieve a change that you don’t want to lose. Nothing is more powerful than having actually done something successfully, despite your own self-doubt and that of others.
Your diet has a huge influence on your weight and hence your general health and risk of getting certain diseases. It shouldn’t be seen as something that is ranked alongside all the other tasks you need to get done in a day. Its a fundamental one. Without your health you don’t really have a lot.
And doing something like GTD is similar, it should not be seen as something to rank there alongside all your other tasks, it is an enabler, a fundamental platform in much the same way as your health is. Everything you get done in a day and the decisions you make around them get facilitated by a process like GTD and, through its use, you will be much more effective at identifying the right things to work on, what you need to do about them and when … and that feeling of control and the resulting success at doing what’s important in your life is anything but fuzzy. And you won’t want to lose it. Believe me.
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