Monday, April 30, 2012

Defining Your Next Step: A Process-Centered Approach To Life & Lifting

Russian: My dream is to give up drinking.
American: Well, why don't you just quit, today?
Russian: What, and live without a dream?
-From Pavel Tsatsouline, speaking at the Easy Strength Secrets Teleseminar

I enjoy reading self-help books and, once in a great while, they do actually inspire me to do something differently. Last year, in the hopes of ending procrastination and being wildly productive, I read a book called Getting Things Done by David Allen. One thing stuck with me and I have gotten markedly better at creating and maintaining inertia with my various goals and duties. The one lesson that stuck was the lesson of "The Next Step".

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

In the process of regaining control of your life and moving in the right direction toward finishing all the things you want to accomplish, a critical early step is to make a list of all the projects you wish to complete. Then, you must clearly define the very next step towards completing those projects. The very next step may be as simple as taking out the trash (if your goal is to clean up the house) or going for a 30 minute walk (if your goal is to get in shape).

Defining the "next step" is ingenious for two reasons; it stops you from overwhelming yourself from the git-go, and it prevents you from overcommitting to a path that may or may not (continue to) be appropriate for your goals. While your goal may be complex, often the very next thing that needs to be done is quite simple.

Notice that this is different (though not mutually exclusive) from the backward-planning that is so common today. Backward-planning works fine as long as everything is mapped out correctly and nothing unexpected occurs, but we usually experience at least a few bumps and switchbacks along the way. A sharp athlete or coach can make adjustments along the way, but stubborn ones might keep slogging away and end up performing flat when it counts or, even worse, get injured.

By narrowing focus to the very next thing you need to do to move forward, you are no longer distracted or discouraged by the long, arduous road ahead. When you finish that single step, you will be able to feel a sense of accomplishment AND you will be able to re-focus your efforts on the next most appropriate step.

Personal Examples with The Next Step (with the amount of time they will take to finish):
*Regularly Update My Blog -- finish and publish post about "The Next Step" (30 minutes)
*Rebuild Squat Mobility -- stretch and foam rolling (10 minutes)
*Rebuild Pressing Strength -- military press (40 minutes)
*Quality Time with Son -- finish reading "The Son of Neptune" to my son (30 minutes)
*Quality Time with Wife -- finish movie (30 minutes)
*Improve Sleep -- lights out by 11:30pm
*Hand Health/Strength -- extensor work (5 minutes)
*Catch Up on Grading Student Work -- grade quizzes and record scores (30 minutes)
*Prepare for Summer Trip -- buy souvenirs for friends, order (30 minutes)

Later, I will take a moment at the end of the day (or at the end of the week) to revisit goals and the re-establish the next "next step(s)". Over time, those projects that I never seem to find time to address will be reassessed and likely put on the back-burner for a while. Existing goals may be more clearly defined or modified as needed.


Kyle said...

A lot of people are in a hurry to get nowhere. I've mentioned elsewhere the guy who got a programme from me recently. After 4 years in the gym he had a 45kg bench press.

I said, "Start with the empty bar, do 4 sets of 5, if you complete all the reps, add 2.5kg next time."
"Only 2.5kg each session? That's very slow."
"Come twice a week, that is 20kg every 4 weeks. In 8 weeks you'll be benching 60kg for 4x5. So in two months you'll be lifting more than you've lifted after 4 years. Too slow?"

Will he stick with it? I suspect not. He's in a hurry to get nowhere. He'll put 10kg a side, press it a few times, and two months from now still be benching 45kg.

Boris said...

Experience and coaching are so important. A beginner (often) has no idea what the next step should be. They may see point A because that's where they are, but they have no perspective to gauge the distance to the second point. It's like watching someone play Frogger who repeatedly jumps straight forward into the path of cars - they don't realize it's necessary to sometimes move laterally and backwards to get to the lily pad.