Why You Should Forget the Goal and Love The Process (And The Pain!)

So I watched THE most amazing video today. Quite lengthy but well worth it. It’s all about dopamine. Now, I am a student of dopamine, as it recently came onto my radar during my regular research about why I do or don’t do things. Why can I work through the night tirelessly to produce great work, but don’t send that message I really need to, or pay that bill, or make that phone call?

Seemingly, dopamine is the key, and I have determined that I have a particularly low level, which means I don’t do ordinary very well. In fact, doing ‘normal’ can literally be both mentally and physically painful. Complex and fascinating I have all the energy in the world for, whereas basic skills can be a trial.

So I am a student of brainhacks, neuroscience and neurodivergent traits, many of which I wholeheartedly see as mine. I need structure and routine, but I hate some structure and routine. The mere thought of doing the same things day in day out sends me to sleep.

So I try to make the mundane magical, and the routine a ritual (Ritual sounds more exciting don’t you think?)

I really encourage you to watch the video (link below) and see it through. It is truly fascinating as well as practical. One of the main messages though, is worth raising here. He talks about the problem with goals (aka ‘rewards’). The theory being that undertaking a process to work towards a goal makes that process painful in the striving to get to said goal.

Now there is a theory that would argue that there is no ‘pain no gain.’ But we are hard wired to avoid pain so we don’t do the thing. In work and business, that could mean we don’t pick up the phone, a crucial part of building relationships, which is the lifeblood of any endeavour. Furthermore, based on my connections with others who struggle with the mundane as much as I do, picking up the phone is just one thing we won’t do. And we keep it on our to do list forever.

So how do we get beyond this? Making calls is a barrier for many so I’ve been thinking about what I do (and still need to work on) to make this a daily ritual. Andrew Huberman says that if we disengage from the goal, and do the ‘thing’, eventually we will raise our dopamine by only doing the thing, and we then feel good doing the ordinary stuff, without which we will never reach our goals anyway.

So here are my thoughts on ‘doing the thing’, whilst disregarding the goal (specifically in relation to making phone calls):

  1. Just get the file out. You just need to start. Make the first step an easy one. Pick up the file, open the email, pick up the phone. Aim for the first step in the process. Actually I have found that not picking up the phone and calling using my airpods is easier and more enjoyable.
  2. Name the person and purpose. If a person is involved in the task, name them. Don’t just schedule ‘make calls’ in your diary. Instead, schedule ‘call Wendy Johnson to arrange their annual review’
  3. Schedule the calls in batches. It can be really difficult to keep chopping and changing between tasks. It is for me anyway. I find it very disorienting to flit about from task type to task type. So I use ‘time blocking’ in my diary. Although I have several electronic diaries for different purposes I still bring it all together in a written paper diary. I found these brilliant erasable highlighters and I have allocated different colours for different tasks. Calls and virtual appointments are in purple as that is the company colour. Yellow is family and fun. Blue is work meetings, and green is work activities. By making an appoinment to make calls, I stop the task before at the allotted time, have a five minute break (I use the Pomodoro Technique), then will only make calls during that next 25 minute slot.
  4. Shut down distractions. Unless you are making calls on WhatsApp on your laptop, put your laptop lid down! Turn notifications off on your phone. Allow nothing to get in the way.
  5. Set a timer. As I say, I use the Pomodoro Technique. Broadly speaking, this means I work in 25 minute segments with a five minute break inbetween.
  6. Enjoy the friction. Note the discomfort, and acknowledge it (even welcome it). This is your opportunity to grow – fantastic! Resist the urge to take the pain away with a dopamine boost like a sweet treat, social media scrolling session, or yet another cup of coffee. Without friction (resistance), there is no traction, so you can’t propel forward.
  7. Do it again the next day
  8. Do it again the next day
  9. Do it again the next day
  10. Keep doing it until you feel good doing it

Let me know how you get on. Can you do this every day for a month? The results of those small, yet painful steps will be quite something.

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