January 2005 Insight Newsletter

Now Put New Ideas Into Action

In the last newsletter I wrote that non-routine events like holiday conversations and free thinking time can stimulate creative ideas. While some new ideas occur naturally, we can increase the number of useful ones by consciously staying open to ideas that pop up when events we’re not used to occur.

The holiday season with non-routine experiences is undoubtedly the origin for many creative New Year’s resolutions, for instance. The next challenge is putting those new ideas into action. We know all too well the tendency is to try hard initially only to find ourselves slipping back into old routines.

1. Creative Ideas Stick Best When We Know Ourselves

We’ve built our existing base of habits over many years. Most have a useful purpose. A great new idea may eventually make things even better, but first it runs up against reasoning and patterns we’ve developed over a long time. There’s nothing born into people who are good at implementing new ideas. They simply know and pay attention to their own habits more than most.

To succeed in turning a great new idea into a great new habit, we have to keep in mind several things. First, it helps to remember that what we’re trying to develop is actually a new habit. For any behavior to become regular and be done well it must become habit. This can be a sizeable challenge. It takes trial and error – and about 20 or 30 repetitions – before we can count on it becoming comfortable and more or less automatic. By then, we like the new behavior and it’s fitted into our schedule somewhere, It’s become part of us. In some small way it changes our personality. We become “a person who always does that [whatever the new activity is].”

Second, we have to realize we will certainly stumble through some discomfort and confusion while building the new habit, but, third, it will eventually become easier if we persist in finding ways to persist will be necessary.

Fourth, all the hurdles will not be the kind we expect, but we need to recognize they must be overcome or we won’t succeed. The thinking time to do this is almost certainly the biggest hurdle. Give yourself that time. It doesn’t all happen at once.

Let’s take the common example of a New Year’s resolution to work out at a gym. Of course we know we should have a doctor’s OK to try anything aggressive (that can be a hurdle – who wants to see their doctor). We expect a few tired muscles or aches and pains. We decide to go gently at first – good plan. We mentally commit to 3 early mornings per week, let’s say, to force fit this into our schedule because we know it’s good for us.

So far so good – we’ve thought about a few barriers. Perhaps we sometimes travel and that could disrupt the new plan, but that’s rare. For the first few weeks it won’t interfere, so by then it should be habit. But the first day we remember we’ve been the office’s dependable coffee-maker first thing each morning. Now we face letting others down. We’ll have to explain, perhaps apologize or line up someone else.

Then we aren’t sure about carrying our gear to and from the gym and office. Does it stay in a bag or locker all day? Will that be OK? How will we change our commute? Use the car rather than train or bus or walk? You get the idea.

This just scratches the surface. Many habits have formed around our schedules and many will be disrupted. It requires conscious effort to adjust each one. They’re so automatic we barely think of them until we run into conflicts. Then it may seem easier to follow the old routine. Soon we may believe “it just isn’t in us” to stick to a new plan.

Although people run into this sort of drag from existing habits all the time, many don’t anticipate or recognize it when it happens. They blame themselves for not being committed or having enough “will power.” This catch-all phrase would be better forgotten. The real challenge is to build an overall habit of regularly anticipating and finding ways around the dozens of seemingly minor roadblocks that will always challenge us when starting any new approach. The better we know ourselves, the easier it is to anticipate what we’ll face.

Of course, when considering a new idea or resolution, thinking about all the disruption we’ll have to go through may make the idea less attractive. But we’ll weigh the plan more realistically. We’ll be ready for the chore of solving any “little” hurdles along the way and we’ll be closer to being prepared to sustain new behavior. We can’t anticipate everything nor should we try. But we’ll save a lot of time knowing generally that we could face multiple small hurdles before we decide to try or not. We’ll find ourselves much more prepared for the ideas we choose to try.

This extra thinking precedes action for most successful people. While it’s true that some fearless or foolish souls just jump right in and try to barge through all the hurdles, that’s most often not the best way. Above all you’re likely to run into conflicting commitments to other people and have to find ways around those or risk upsetting good relationships you’ve worked hard to build. The key with implementing new ideas isn’t to destroy everything to get going instantly. It’s to move forward in a way that assures you will keep going, build support steadily for yourself and others and keep what’s good among your existing habits.

Preparing our thinking to ensure we persist pays off! It gives value to knowing yourself so you’ll know what to prepare for. Don’t waste time trying new ideas without this, but don’t let the fact that we’re often not instantly successful make you hesitate to try.

2. More On Creativity
New Year’s must bring out interest in creativity in lots of places. Fast Company ran a great article on myths surrounding this topic in December: here. Among the myths they dispel: that you have to be an especially creative person to have good ideas and that money, pressure, fear or intense competition motivate creativity well – not so. Though it’s true that “necessity is the mother of invention” this doesn’t mean it’s the only ingredient or that the need has to be so great it scares you into action. They go on to say that it’s a myth that downsizing creates good opportunities for everyone to become more creative in getting the same work done with less. In fact, it’s highly disruptive. The study they cite is pretty convincing. They followed with a January newsletter pointing to half a dozen articles on similar subjects including this one which reinforces many similar ideas: for article click here.

3. Other Groups Have An Interest, Too
On a similar theme, on the evening of February 8 I’ll co-facilitating with consultant, Dr. Joanna Beyers, a session called “Contradictions and Competing Demands: Resolution Strategies” This interactive event for the non-profit group, ACCORD, pulls together facilitators and trainers from several non-profit associations, so it should be a sharing of creative thinking among individuals who face competing demands and contradictions routinely in what they do. We’ll likely be polling the group for common challenges they face and need resolutions to. You can see their invitation or get more information here.