That’s the routine every competing rally crew goes through at the start of a racing section. And once the driver releases the clutch and mashes the accelerator to the floor, our world goes from calm and quiet to action and commitment.
I’ve been thinking about that starting sequence as a metaphor for things like New Year’s resolutions (or Tuesday afternoon’s decision to get this article written, or to change the oil in my wife’s car). Somehow I’m just not as compelled to stay on task with these more mundane projects as I am to stay alive in a rally car at 97 miles per hour on a one-lane gravel road lined with trees that aren’t going to move when struck.
In a rally, I decide that we’ll start the racing section at the top of the next minute. Once launched, my co-driver and I are fully engaged, pushing the car and our reactions repeatedly to the edge of physics. Unless some catastrophic event occurs, we will stay totally on task until we cross the racing section finish line. All hands on deck. Committed. After all, the difference between a successful cornering maneuver and instant failure is just a matter of the friction between the car’s tires and the road surface.
In my office, somehow it’s not the same. I decide that I’ll sit at my desk and frame out this article. I’m easily distracted. It was really important when I made the decision to do it. But right now, I need to call an associate…or I find myself picking up a book…or I want to go for lunch. Any number of diversions can lead me astray.
If I lost focus like this while racing, I simply wouldn’t last very long. Yet somehow I tolerate it day to day in my life. Then the article doesn’t get finished when I wanted it finished. The oil doesn’t get changed. I don’t lose the 10 pounds I put on over the holidays.
And I don’t feel good about it. Does that ever happen to you? You make a decision to blah, blah, blah. And then, fully aware that you put a deadline on the commitment, you wander off track and don’t find the finish line.
How does that make you feel? Some folks I know can be pretty cavalier about it. Yet for my quality of life to be where I want it to be, carrying through on this laundry list of decisions I make is essential. Write the article. Change the oil. Lose the weight. Find the finish line.
Why am I so successful in the one arena, and so challenged in others?
I suspect if they’d had the designation when I was very young, I would have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). They have drugs for that now.
But for an easily distracted guy, I can stay amazingly on task if I flip the right switch. One type of rally I’ve navigated for (the Great American Race, a coast-to-coast accuracy event for antique cars) required us to stay on time, to the second, for up to 14 hours a day for two weeks. Not only could I do that—I was good at it. So how is it that I can’t get around to changing the oil in my wife’s car?
I think it’s the game. And, like most people, I like winning the games I play. I’ve been playing rally games for almost 50 years. I think like a rallyist. I toy with questions like “Given my speed and the traffic ahead and the weather, when will I arrive at my destination?” Then I’ll make a bet with myself. I always win.
And that makes me feel great. I feel fantastic when we’ve successfully finished a rally stage. That feeling is a reward for doing my job. It’s how we train animals—when they do what we want them to do, we give them a treat to condition the behavior.
So why can’t I do it for all tasks that fall victim to my ADD? I think I do. It’s just a different reward.
When I fail to meet my deadlines (repeatedly), I get really self-critical. I beat myself up. I play two roles: First I’m the kid who didn’t pick up his toys. And then I’m the dad who gets upset about it.
Ready for this? Beating myself up is my reward. There’s such a comfort zone around repeatedly living up to my own expectations of getting distracted that I do it over and over again just to allow my short-lived pity party.
I’ve recently decided that I don’t like that feeling—that it no longer serves the pursuit of that quality of life I spoke about earlier. And there’s a solution: I can change my view of these mundane tasks from task to game. And I like winning games.
Last month, my video suggested that while sometimes it seems like artificial starting points are necessary (New Year’s, for example), any point in time can serve as a launch point for a promise I’ve made myself.
Three…two…one…GO! Just uttering those words and using them as a cue for an upcoming task is helping me cross finish lines on a daily basis.
What patterns are you tied up in that you beat yourself up over? Is that serving your picture?
When will I change the oil?
When will I lose the weight?
When will I finish this article?