When September arrives, we all set new goals. Or we recycle those we have not yet managed to achieve. It is as if, in September, we feel new energy running through our veins, and that will push us to, this time, reach our goals.
But we all know what happens: September passes, the energy begins to circulate more slowly, and we do not know how the goals become blurred. Something has got the better of us, has calmed our impetus, and returned us to the placidity of our routines. What is it?
The answer is in your brain. To understand why, time after time, you fail in your attempt to achieve those ambitious goals you keep setting for yourself (write more, finish your novel, read more, or find a way to make your books known to readers), you have to understand how your brain works.
Let’s look at a simple explanation of why your brain works against you in reaching your goals and an even simpler solution to bypass it and achieve what you set out to do.
How exactly your brain works?
Your brain is a powerful and wonderful organ, but it evolved when human living conditions were very different. In the very, very distant past, human beings did not have food abundantly and quickly that most of us can get today. You had to hunt or walk miles to gather it. That’s why your brain became an expert at saving energy.
Don’t forget that the brain is the most energy-consuming organ. Although it accounts for only 2% of the average weight of an adult person, the brain consumes more than 20% of the energy we generate. The brain can consume about 350 calories in 24 hours, the equivalent of running for half an hour. An hour of intense intellectual work consumes about the same energy as an hour of intense physical work.
So your brain, to safeguard itself (and you), is an expert at saving that energy it needs in large quantities; which was not so easy to achieve in the past. Therefore, your brain always encourages you to perform that task or activity that will be less energy-consuming for you. And that is one of the reasons (not the only one) why it likes to keep you in your comfort zone.
Usually, doing different things, and incorporating new habits in our life; requires us to learn new things and think about how we will do them; which in the early stages necessarily involves a more significant expenditure of energy. Just what your brain wants to avoid.
In addition, those new habits we want to incorporate are usually more demanding activities (that’s why we always postpone the time to start them): reading requires more attention than sitting down to watch a series, and going to the gym costs much more than taking a nap, hanging out on Instagram is more accessible than learning a new language… Your brain knows that engaging in those activities will consume extra energy, discouraging you from doing them.
It’s not that you’re lazy. It’s that your brain hasn’t yet figured out that, at least in the West; most of us are fortunate enough to have sufficient accessible food and no longer need to save energy.
The importance of habits
Great, now you know that your brain works against you when you try to dedicate yourself to a new activity. But maybe you still don’t understand what that has to do with the fact that you, September after September (or January after January; it’s the same thing), set out to reach new goals that you can never reach.
For that, we have to talk about the relationship between habits and goals.
As our goals and objectives are set in the future, we forget the transforming power of daily routine. What you do daily brings you closer to or moves you away from your goals without realizing it. That is why it is so important to know how to set our goals and then develop a path of small actions that we can incorporate into our daily lives.
We said that what you do in your daily life -your habits- is vital to achieving your goals. Practices and dreams are interrelated. Without certain patterns, it is impossible to achieve specific goals.
For example, writing your novel in the next twelve months is a goal, but to achieve it; you will need the habit of writing for several hours every day. Reading fifty books a year is a goal. Carrying a book with you at all times or reading instead of watching YouTube videos are habits. Writing every day from five to six is a goal, but keeping that hour clear in your schedule every day is a habit.
So it’s about setting your goals and what you want to achieve. And then, think about what actions you must carry out daily (or with a specific frequency) to achieve them.
The problem is that we often find it hard to develop those good habits precisely because of our brain’s energy-saving mania. Your brain knows that it expends less energy if you passively watch YouTube videos than if you read. It knows that you will spend more energy restructuring your schedule to make room for writing than if you continue your routines. So, it surreptitiously encourages you to put it off for another day; another time and makes you opt for the more straightforward task that requires less effort. The job that, unfortunately, is not going to get you closer to your goals.
Fortunately, there is a way to bypass your brain, to get it to choose the activity; that is best for you to perform to get closer step by step and daily towards your goals—the twenty-second rule.
The twenty-second rule
The twenty-second rule was devised by Shawn Achor and is as simple to apply as it is effective in its results. He proposes that you make it as easy as possible to start that activity, that habit; that you know you must implement to achieve the goal you have set. At the same time, you should make it challenging to do that other activity that you know is preventing you from dedicating time to those good habits you want to implement.
For example, if you want to read more or create more good essay topics but know that you waste a lot of time looking at social networks, you could make it easier to read by having your book nearby when you sit on the couch for a while in the evenings to relax. And hinder that harmful habit of wasting time on networks by leaving your cell phone away from you; even in another room.
This way, your brain will find that the most straightforward task that involves the least energy is to reach out; reach for the book and start reading. Getting up and fetching your cell phone from another room is an energy expenditure you’ll want to avoid.
Simple, right? And incredibly effective.
Those twenty seconds you don’t waste looking for the book you left on the nightstand the day before and those twenty seconds it would take you to go get your cell phone make a difference. The difference is between developing a good habit that brings you closer every day to the goals you have set for yourself or continuing as before, regretting that time passes without achieving what you have proposed.
You just have to think about which tasks you should perform daily or frequently to meet your writing goals. And which are the ones you should avoid; those time thieves that often harm us so much without us even realizing it.
If, for example, you want to write every day, you can make it easier to get down to it by always having your writing place ready and, at the same time, putting twenty-second obstacles that prevent you from dedicating yourself to those tasks that require less effort: log out of Netflix and do not save the password, so that every time you want to watch a series you have to enter your user; unplug the TV and remove the batteries from the remote; turn off your cell phone (yes, it can be done).
I’m sure you’ve heard of the twenty-second rule before; but maybe you’ve never considered using it to further your writing career.
It’s time to change that!