Life Lab: The Difficulties of Deliberate Inaction

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What’s the Situation?

A couple of weeks back, I was looking for a way to kick-start my morning. I am by no stretch of the imagination a morning person, but alas have not yet reached a point in my career where I can choose my own hours. As such, I regularly find myself in the now-familiar slog I call my morning routine.

To shake things up, I had decided to make my bed each morning as the first thing I did when I got up. This was a strategy I had read about and wanted to validate one way or another in my own life.

I expected that it would increase my Emotional Mana through the inputs of Self-Management and Self-Valuation. Setting and completing a task – albeit a simple one – is Self-Management in action. And doing something we set out to do generally makes us feel better about ourselves overall, a nice added boost to Self-Valuation.

It worked! Sort of…

You see, I saw a tangible increase in my energy, but not the one I expected. Instead of experiencing a boost to my Emotional Mana, I got a boost to my Mental Fortitude.

Now, not being one who can leave things well enough alone, I had to know more. Was the impact due to making my bed or merely the replacement of a bad habit with a good one?

Prior to this little experiment, I would start off each morning (after hitting snooze a couple of times) by picking up my phone and browsing through emails and Facebook until I felt awake enough to actually get out of bed. On good days, this took just a few minutes. On bad days, it took ten, fifteen, or even twenty minutes. As a result, the rest of my morning ended up being rushed. More than once I was almost late to work.

Given this previous behavior, it makes sense that applying a deliberate Structure to my morning would have a tangible impact on my Mental Fortitude. By doing something productive instead of something relatively mindless, I started my day off with a clear head and increased focus or acuity.

Clearly, making my bed worked for me! But was it the bed making or the non-social media/email activity that made the difference?

What’s the Strategy?

I decided to redo to my bed-making test and remove, well, the bed-making component. I set myself the following criteria to follow:

  • I will NOT make my bed each morning before leaving for work
  • I will instead REFRAIN from all social media and/or email until after breakfast

As a result of this, I expected to see:

  • The SAME boost in Mental Fortitude and Structure that I experienced last week

What Happened?

Here’s where I get to tell you how badly I failed. Oh, the first day went reasonably well. I remembered my new rule to NOT look at my phone until breakfast.

Day 2 went similarly well. Hooray for me!

Then Day 3. Day 3, I looked at my phone. But it was only for a second, I swear! Then I remembered what I was supposed to be doing and put it away. But it was the first crack in the dam.

Day 4, I completely forgot (well, until I’d already responded to three emails).

Day 5, my entire plan was out the window.

Day 6+7: No data recorded. Experiment abandoned.

Results Analysis

My big issue was that I wasn’t asking myself to DO anything. I was asking myself to stop doing something.

It is a well-known fact that when trying to correct a bad behavior, it is easier to focus on a new/different/correct behavior.

While my goal was admirable, I didn’t really give myself a structure for success. Even if the bed-making wasn’t really important to me, it was a specific thing that I could do to direct my morning action.

So, I’ve decided to go back to making my bed as the first thing I do in the morning. It might not be the best action, but it is a better action. And that’s a step closer to a better me!

See you at the finish line!

-The Jack of Spades

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