Seth Godin on the Value of Streaks

Today, I couldn’t find the motivation to write.

I’ve been expecting this day would come for a while, in many ways it’s overdue! I’ve written every weekday since I started this blog and I know how valuable it is, I even wrote about it after two weeks of blogging, but knowing something is good for us, doesn’t necessarily mean we are always motivated enough to do it. This is why I’m up late writing this post, because keeping up the streak is important.

Seth Godin wrote a great post on his blog about keeping up the streak. In it he says:

  • Streaks are their own reward.
  • Streaks create internal pressure that keeps streaks going.
  • Streaks require commitment at first, but then the commitment turns into a practice, and the practice into a habit.

I’m sure nobody would notice if I didn’t post today, but I would. Breaking the streak would undermine the value of my commitment to myself and reduce the internal pressure that keeps me going. Once broken it would be so much easier to say to myself, “maybe I won’t write today” and this isn’t how lasting habits are built.

So, here’s to keeping up the streak. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I face this challenge but as the commitment to writing, turns into a regular practice and eventually a habit I believe it will become easier and easier to maintain. Thank you for reading and helping me stay true to my commitment.

How We Form Mental Models And Why You Should Care

I often hear people refer to others as having a different ‘mental model’. Normally this is short hand to say, they see the world differently to me, but I always wondered why this happens?

I decided to investigate and quickly realised that to understand this I first needed to consider how the brain works. This was a daunting challenge but with the help of the fantastic book, On Intelligence by Jeff Hawkins, I began to learn enough to be dangerous! Here’s a summary of what I discovered and why it’s important.

Contrary to popular opinion the brain doesn’t “compute’ answers like a machine, it retrieves answers from our associative memory. Our brain uses these stored memories to constantly make predictions about everything we see, hear and feel before or as it happens, with most of these predictions happening outside our awareness.

In essence, that means our view of the world today was actually formed though previous experiences that may have happened a long time ago. It also explains why we all have different mental models because we cannot all have had the same experiences.

Most of the time the way our brain works doesn’t impact our ability to understand each other. The world around us is fairly consistent and so we have built the same internal model of how it works. For example as a child you learned if you threw your toys, gravity would always pull them to the ground. Over the years we have all seen objects fall to the ground often enough and we have memories of these experiences that enable our brain to predict what will happen if we knock our coffee cup off the desk.

But what happens to our collective understanding with more nebulous concepts?

The fact is much of our world view is based on customs, culture and what we learned from those around us. These parts of our mental models are much less consistent and may be totally different for different people.

One of my favourite examples of this is how people from different cultures perceive space and objects differently. Studies have found that Asians attend more to the space between objects whereas Westerners attend more to the objects. This leads to surprising differences, like how in American cities the roads are named where as in Japanese cities the space between the roads are named.

In both my work and personal life I’ve encountered situations where two parties are saying the same thing, but have a different understanding of what each other really mean because their memories are different. It is what makes communication difficult and where the limitations of our ability to express our thoughts in words becomes most apparent.

If we are to gain collective understanding and build similar mental models I think we need to build shared experiences. Reading the same books, going on the same training or working together on the same projects help build similar memories to recall.

So before you dismiss someone for not seeing the world the same as you, consider how their past experiences may have influenced their view and how you can help them form new memories to get to collective understanding!

When Will We Learn to Embrace Mistakes?

I know how essential it is to make mistakes.

But equally, I know that my fear of failure holds me back. It prevents me from getting in the game, giving it a go and making enough mistakes to learn. I suspect if we are not making enough mistakes we are not daring enough, not pushing to search for something better.

But at the same time, we need to stop making the old mistakes again and again. Recently I realised how rarely I stop and reflect on what has happened before, considering what didn’t work previously before starting something new.

It’s scary to try something new that might fail, but it’s better to face our fear than retry something that already failed.

It’s time we all learn to embrace making the mistakes we need to succeed.

Out-think the Butterflies

We’re all familiar with the butterflies. That swooping sensation in your stomach that you feel when you’re worried about something. It’s just one of the many natural bodily responses that occur when we’re nervous, but what would happen if we could train our brains to recognise these feelings differently? Could we reframe the physical sensations we feel?

Well, emotional reappraisal can take many forms, but I have found the most effective way for me is to look back at past events which have caused me to feel nervous and ask myself questions from three different perspectives:

Positive – What was the best that could have happened?
Negative – What was the worst that could have happened?
Reality – What actually happened?

I’ve found that the outcomes at the extreme ends of the spectrum almost never occur. It’s extremely unlikely you will ruin your career though your first public speech and it’s equally unlikely it will send your career on a stratospheric rise. Normally the reality is much more balanced, however, our brain has an annoying habit of tricking us to believe that the most likely outcome is one of the more extreme, especially when we are outside our comfort zone.

Reflecting upon past events, experiences, or challenges, can strengthen your emotional reappraisal ability. To begin with it can be challenging, but with practice you may find yourself looking at these past events differently and finding the way you look at future events changing as well.

I have been practicing emotional reappraisal for pre-event nerves for over fifteen years and it’s still a continual practice. Without regular training your ability to reframe the physical sensation of nervousness will degrade. When I was an athlete I became pretty good at reframing the feeling of nervousness into the excitement of performing, but once I stopped competing I had to work harder to find the opportunity to train my brain. If you want to conquer the fear, you need to regularly put yourself in situations that allow you to train.

Finally, I’d like to leave you with a thought. Whenever you try to achieve anything where ‘success’ is not an inevitable outcome your amygdala will use all kinds of tricks to try to keep you safe. You can’t prevent this, nor should you, but you do have the power to reframe these signals as a sign you are on the cusp of an experience that may be new, exciting or educational. One that will enrich your life and may help you achieve what you dreamed.

In time you may even begin to crave the feeling of butterflies rather than fear their impending arrival….