The pendulum swings. The latest fads. The flashing lights. The fix-it-quick schemes. It seems as though everyone has the answers to all the things, yet nothing seems to stick. Why is that?
In a recent blog I wrote, I described a way to identify what is important and what is urgent, by using a tool known as The Eisenhower Matrix. This tool helps anyone determine how to prioritize tasks and initiatives when seemingly everything has to get done. In a world of noise, though, sometimes we just need to focus on the focus. We need to lean into those things that are both urgent and important and let other things go. But once you decide what needs to get done, how do you actually stick with it?
Each year on January 1st, millions of us create lofty goals for our future. We draw up a list of resolutions, determined to eat healthier, to exercise more, to consume more books, and to eliminate our debt. Each year by January 15th, fewer than half of us are still focused on our plans and doing the work we set out to do just two weeks prior. As a matter of fact, only 9% of all people who make a resolution in January claim to be successful in maintaining it. This doesn’t even take into account the millions who don’t even create a goal. Less than one out of every ten goal-setters accomplish what they set out to do. These ambitious goal- setters, had the desire, they had the focus, they had the expectation of success, but something still prevented them from sticking with it. What is it? It is the same thing that causes many schools, districts, and systems to fail to follow through. It’s the same thing that causes educators to feel focused in August and to be floundering by November. It is the same thing that inspires systems to create new plans, new initiatives, and new curriculums every single year.
Several years ago, I made the claim ” A focused leader says ‘no’ to good ideas all the time”. I was blasted online by those who thought I was advocating that we need to squash innovation and creativity. That I was directing leaders to be controlling and restrictive. As it turns out, saying “no” to good ideas is actually a way to stay focused and committed to success.
BJ Fogg, a world renowned behavior scientist at Stanford University uses a simple formula to describe how behaviors happen. From his blog, he states:
Here’s the simplest way to explain it: “Behavior (B) happens when Motivation (M), Ability (A), and a Prompt (P) come together at the same moment.“
Let me explain using anti-examples.
Have you ever attended a back to school keynote where a speaker is brought in, given a microphone, asked to speak on a stage, and inspire and motivate the masses? He preaches for 90 minutes, sharing anecdotes from his youth, leaving each member of the audience laughing and crying. You are implored to remember why you do what you do. You are uplifted. You feel renewed and then you are dismissed to head back to your classroom or office where nothing has changed. Soon the students arrive and you enter into the same routine you have always endured, the words of the guest speaker, although powerful and motivating in the moment, now lost as you jump back into the daily grind.
Or how about that professional learning session where you are introduced to the latest curriculum resource purchased by your district. The resource claims to increase student learning gains, is adaptive, responsive, and allows for differentiated assessment. You receive 7 hours of detailed training and are equipped with all of the skills necessary to now deliver this complex tool. Three months later, as you continue to implement the new resource, you are no longer focused on the results or using it to change your craft. You are simply going through the motions and clicking all the buttons.
According to BJ Fogg, these two approaches are popular approaches to guided change and both, unfortunately, are also the reason why so much change fails. Sometimes we focus on motivation. Sometimes we focus on skills. Lasting change happens when we focus on motivation AND skill building. When can motivate while increasing ability, we have a greater chance of seeing success.
Action happens when ability matches motivation. When you are highly motivated, not as much ability is needed. When you have tremendous ability, not as much motivation is required. However, this is only two third of the equation. This is the B=MA. The P is where sustainable progress manifests itself. P=Prompts. A prompt is a reminder to stay focused. It is the cue to keep going. It is the nudge to move.
In my personal life, I made the decision to be a runner. Each morning I wake up, head outside, and run multiple miles around my neighborhood. It is a habit I created to assist in my healthy lifestyle. I have read countless marathon training plans, blogs by world-class athletes, and feel as though I have the ability to move one foot in front of the other. Each evening, before going to bed, I am motivated. I tell myself, tomorrow morning, you are going to run. You know it’s good for you. You know you can do it. However, when my alarm goes off at 5am, that same level of motivation is not always there. Similarly, the excuses creep in some days when I do wake up on time, but struggle to find some socks or a good pair of running shorts while fumbling through the dark. Those small struggles sometimes give me the excuse I need to just climb back into bed. This is where PROMPTS come in.
In response to these hurdles, I have now created protocols to keep me committed. At night, when the motivation is highest, I pull my clothes out and place them on the floor, eliminating the morning quest. Sometimes, when the night gets a little late and I know I will be extra tired in the morning, my phone is set with multiple alarms. Each alarm prompts me to get up and get moving. Sometimes, my phone, where my alarm clock is located, is even placed under my pile of running clothes, requiring me to pick up my shoes, socks, and shorts if I want to turn off the blaring chirps. These prompts are nags. They are reminders of what was determined as important. They are reminders of my focus. They are my reminders of my goals.
As BJ Fogg tells us, behaviors last if they are accompanied by motivation, ability, and prompts. The best leaders not only help select what is important and urgent, they are committed to seeing success through as a result of focused energy, skill building, and inspiration. Focused leaders do not nag, but they offer reminders and encouragement. They continue to amplify the same message over and over. The focused leader says no to those things that may distract from the larger goal. The focused leader is willing to say “stop” before they say “let’s adopt”. The focused leader is a great leader. A great leader is a leader that knows the way. They follow the MAP and success is sure to follow.
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