The Good Patterns

This weekend I received a great little book – The War of Art – given to me by friend, Dave Jobe, CEO of Karmadillo.  Dave works with professional service businesses – law firms, architecture firms, consultants, etc. – to help them grow their business through permission-based marketing and thought leadership strategies.  Good stuff.

The War of Art is all about how to really get past the reasons why you aren’t living up to your creative promise.  If you’ve lain in bed at 2am and said to yourself, “Tomorrow, I’m going to start that new exercise program/write my first book/complete that application for school/etc.,”  only to experience tomorrow as a facsimile of all of the days before it, then The War of Art is for you.   Pick it up.  It’s a strong, quick read.

As I read The War of Art, I thought of Covey’s distinction between doing the important and the urgent.   You will recall that we should spend more and more time doing the important so that there is less and less time for the urgent and, indeed, there becomes less and less of the urgent to do.  But this little book has me thinking a bit differently about how we spend our time, especially as effective leaders.

Here is what I mean:  We all have habits that take up the bulk of our time.  Do we surf the web for hours on end?  Answer email when it announces itself?  Read for an hour each day?  Drink too much coffee?  Exercise three days per week?  In fact, I would venture a guess that if we analyzed it, the vast majority of our awake time would be spent on behaviors and activities we would call habitual.  Most all humans find routines and stick with them.  It’s one important reason why change of any kind is so desperately difficult for most of us.

When we add up all of our habits or routines we get what I call patterns.   Patterns are important because they describe not only a collection of habits but also how those activities make us feel about ourselves, our worth, and our capacity to live our lives to the fullest extent possible.  If our collection of habits makes us feel good about ourselves, we become more effective and self determined.  But when our patterns are more destructive – say alcoholism or even lethargy – we move away from effectiveness.  In other words, the patterns we adopt either make us better and closer to our best possible selves, or they tear us down, making us feel worse about ourselves and our capacity to change.

For each person, of course, there are different patterns that matter.  But after reading The War of Art, I’m going to list 3 characteristics of activities or behaviors that when combined will create dynamic “Good Patterns” for you:

  1. The behavior or activity is difficult to start.  Most anything that is good for you or stretches you is difficult to begin.   Think exercise, eating well, starting your book, etc.
  2. You “zone out” or “can’t believe how times flies” when you are doing the behavior or activity.  You find that you get engrossed in the work.
  3. You feel good afterward.  No matter how much of the behavior or activity you accomplish, even if it is just a little bit, afterward you feel better about yourself.

I recall the guy who went to the marriage therapist and said, “Doc, I’m leaving my wife, I no longer love her.”  And the doctor said, “Go home and love your wife.”  And the guy said, “No, doc you aren’t listening to me, I just said I don’t love her anymore.”  Stonefaced, the doctor stated simply again, “Go home and love her.”  Frustrated, the guy said, “Doc, really, I just said, I don’t love her anymore, what do you want me to do?”

And the doctor said, “Go home and do the things you used to do when you felt in love with her.  Buy her flowers, compliment her, listen to her, respond to her with a smile. . . behave like you love her.  You are thinking of love only as a feeling, I’m talking about love the behavior.  We can choose to behave certain ways even when we don’t feel like it.  And more importantly, you wrongly believe that behavior only flows from feelings.  But I will tell you that if you act in love with your wife, if you behave in the ways like you used to, her behavior toward you will change and your feelings will be stirred.”

Find the activities and behaviors that fit the 3 characteristics above and do them over and over and over again – even when you don’t feel like it.  If you do, dynamic Good Patterns will be created and your effectiveness will soar.

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