Episode #25 – Making Change Stick

David Allen discusses the power and practical usage of focus and vision. Learn the keys to creating and maintaining successful habit change by utilizing visioning, goal setting, and clarifying positive outcomes.


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ANDREW MASON: You’re listening to Getting Things Done, the official podcast of the David Allen Company, with a special webinar with David Allen talking about the Power of Focus.

Welcome everyone to Getting Things Done, GTD for shorthand. My name is Andrew James Mason, and this podcast is all about helping you on your journey, practicing the art of stress-free productivity.

I say today’s episode is special for two reasons: one) it’s a longer than usual episode that features David Allen doing a deep dive into the Power of Focus; two) we hope that much like episode three, The Guided Mindsweep or episode seven, The Weekly Review, that this episode is one that you’ll revisit again and again through the lens of your own system.

This webinar first showed up on GTD Connect, which is an incredible members only destination, where members get access to hours of exclusive content and special resources to take their GTD game to the next level. If that interests you, you can check it out by heading to GettingThingsDone.com/podcast and clicking on GTD Connect. And do hang out until the end of this episode. We have a fantastic coupon code for you to use at GTD Connect as well.

And now, without further ado, here’s David Allen, talking about The Power of Focus.

DAVID ALLEN: Howdy everyone. Delighted to be here, delighted to be talking about one of my absolutely favorite topics. It’s actually a part of The Getting Things Done process that I considered many, many years ago, when I began to develop the whole idea of a set of best practices about personal productivity. Given my experience, it would be remiss if I did not focus on focus – how powerful focus is and what I’ve learned about that. In a sense all Getting Things Done is about is about focus. I mean all these tools whether they’re lists or mind maps or you know a project list, or the weekly review, any and all of that really has nothing more to do than essentially creating forms that let us put our minds, put our thoughts and put our attention in a specific direction. You know, I’m the bright bauble baby of all time. I guess maybe that’s why I keep this stuff, because I can get out of control faster than anybody. I can let my focus trail off into whatever the brightest thing is in front of me and that may not be the thing to focus on – more than anyone.

So early on, I realized I needed blinders. So this whole topic is one that, in a way I don’t address it like on the front end for most people, because most people’s issues have a lot to do with how do I even just clear the deck so I can focus, and I think for that reason, you know, Getting Things Done – the whole GTD process, I think made its mark because we came up with a way that people could clear the decks and get focused to begin with, but it really wasn’t so much about the clearing the deck tips and tricks, though those are cool in and of themselves, but it was really about what that then allowed us to do. In the sense, one of the critical things that we needed to do in terms of managing ourselves is sort of be responsible for where we put our attention and the things that we created, the open-loops, the incompletions, all that stuff that kind of grabs and yanks our attention away from perhaps being present or being fully available to what we’re doing, and what are the best practices of that. And that’s a ton of what the Getting Things Done process has achieved a lot of success with because there are not many other things out there that really can do that.

But that’s really only half the equation. The other half of the equation is: Okay, now where do you put your focus? And what does that mean?

Well let me back up a little bit and just give you folks a sense of a lot of how I got into this and my experience with working with focus models, because essentially I was learning a lot of that somewhat simultaneously with also my management consulting and just some of the personal productivity aspects, the more concrete and tactical aspects, systems and lists and all that kind of stuff, but almost simultaneously back in 1980, ’81, ’82, I began exploring these things. I ran across some people and again some mentors in this particular area who turned me onto the power of visioning and essentially what happens when you have an image in your mind and how that effects what we’re doing.

You know, I like to sort of frame this as making change stick. You could call this a lot of different things, but I think that’s one of the practical aspects of understanding imagery that hits a pain point for most of us. You know, virtually everybody I know has probably got a habit that you’d love to change, you haven’t been able to change yet. We got out and try to – with all the best intentions and go try to change our behaviors about anything, whether that’s exercising more or making more money or being more consistent with anything that we say, “Well I understand conceptually and intellectually that’s a good thing to do but somehow I keep sliding back to the old groove, the old habit, the old things.”

So if you wanted to say, “Yeah, there’s a new set of behaviors I want to move into and I want to make that stick. Well I mean, fast forward here, Getting Things Done, one of the biggest issues most people is well gee how come I don’t stick with this? How come I have to keep coming back to this? Yeah, I started to do the weekly review, I did a few and then I fell off. Yeah, I sat down and got stuff out of my head but you know, I’m still keeping things in my head.”

So even those kinds of simple behaviors will have a direct application of this material in terms of how do I make those kinds of changes? But making that change stick so that, yeah I want to do something different and how do I make that happen? I think there’s a bigger topic that that fits within which is how do I just create the results I want?

And you know, come on – I didn’t make this stuff up. This is old as dirt in terms of various people, in a million different ways have described and had their own particular unique spin about how they express the power of what you hold in your mind, that’s gonna tend to effect things.

So I’m gonna spend a few minutes here and I want to talk about: Where would you use this? What are the kind of changes that we might want to make? I want to describe, from my experience anyway, how focus and vision work. What are the practical sort of understanding, if you will the mechanics? I mean, to me this is not something that’s sort of nah nah noo noo, things you just have to light incense and believe and hope works. I mean you have to have enough faith that it might work to try it out, but this is literally like any kind of a scientific thing. You could just test it out and see if it works or if it doesn’t work. As a matter of fact, on that point, I happen to like the healthy skeptics because the healthy skeptics would say, “Well gee, that sounds pretty far out, let me go test it out and prove David wrong, or prove that information wrong.” Uh, the healthy skeptics actually get involved and involvement is actually the master key here. You don’t actually have to believe that imagery works, but you do have to be involved with it.

Madison Avenue, by the way, uses every single thing I’m gonna talk about. As a matter of fact, I’ve had a number of ad executives go through some of my seminars, especially when I do a whole seminar on this. And I’ve had people come up and say, “Oh my gosh, I am in the ad business, I did not realize this is actually what we are doing.” They don’t want you to believe the ad, they just want you to see yourself in it. And to that extent, there is a very success factor in terms of how we use focus and just imagining myself there, I don’t even half to believe that the process works and something will start to happen.

So anyway, I’ll describe a little more detail in terms of from my experience how to understand the mechanics of how and why that imagery in our mind effects perception performance and then we’ll talk about just all the ways I’ve uncovered and discovered, mainly just reminders to all of you about the things that we do that help us focus or refocus in more conscious and directed ways. So a lot of the tools and tricks about how do I use that from affirmations, visualizations stuff and just looking at lists, any and all of that works and I’ll try to frame all that stuff together. And I will admit to all of you, I am fellow student on this, much like everything else that I teach too. I know I fall off the wagon regularly. And I constantly challenge myself – I think somebody’s estimated me at 50,000 images or thoughts a day and heaven knows how they count it, but that’s a lot of pictures in your mind and it’s also something you actually have control of. You may not think you do, but you actually have a choice about what to be thinking or focusing on at any point in time.

So once you sort of catch the power of this methodology – this is not lightweight stuff, because the owness on us once we know this works, I mean how many images could we all be holding right now? How well you want to digest your food tonight, how well you want to sleep, how do you want to feel when you wake up in the morning, how would you like your family to experience the evening tonight? How would you like this week to go? By the end of the week what would you like to feel and experience? What would you like to have accomplished?

Oh my gosh! Is there an unending, infinite amount of things we could be sitting here and just doing very practical work with ourselves by being able to craft and hold images for success in any of these areas, assuming this stuff works?

So let’s talk about how this works and some of the aspects of it and as I’m going through all of this, I’d like you to be thinking about and maybe making notes if you haven’t already about all the various aspects of your life, if truly I had the magic wand or the genie walked and knocked on your door and said, “By the way, you have now the power to envision and what is it that you would like to change or create?” I mean heavens – where would you start or where would you end that list? But I would suggest that I have used this and I have to say over the last 25+ years that I’ve been working with this material, I have used it in all of these areas.

Let’s talk about some of the areas you might use this in, your body, your health, your energy, any of that stuff – all that physical things. Most people I know what to lose weight, want to gain weight, want to have more energy in some way shape or form, so that’s a huge area that one can apply certainly this stuff in.

Career? Where you’d like to be – what you’d like to be doing; the whole idea of being creative, your creativity, unlocking that.

Family, family experiences. I’ve had people actually create affirmations about just having the perfect mate or having the kind of family or family style that they wanted to.

Finances is obviously a typical one people use, ‘cause money is just a good marker out there in terms of our own self image and what we think we’re worth and deserve and so forth – all that good stuff. You know, I’ve used this a ton, just in terms of being able to create a little bit more abundance and freedom and wealth in my life.

Speaking of fun, how about more fun? Lifestyle, relationships – how much good you can do in terms of being of service, your spiritual life, if any of those things are important to you. Obviously those are key areas, oftentimes people want to go create more stuff then.

And the types of results too of changing habits, changing standards, new goals, more motivation, more sense of innovation, just more things in your life – nothing wrong with that. More – different kinds of experiences we might want to have, the qualities of life.

So any and all of that would be, you know all the kinds of things that we could apply that to. So I just challenge everybody – all of you to say, “Okay, do I have my lists of all the possible things I could be creating an image about assuming this stuff really worked and there was some magic to it?”

So, you know one way to think about that is what would you like to have or have true in your life? So when I do seminars, I’ll just have people take time to brainstorm that, so right now you just might want to reflect for a moment. Maybe you jot down one or two or three or four things. What are – if you truly had the magic wand, what would you like to have out of any of all of that stuff that I named or anything else? It’s a nice thing, you know, as you’re reflecting on that, to actually have some concrete stuff, even as simple as it might be – like me play par golf. What an idea – what an idea! Yeah Par golf.

Having a fabulous bonsai collection, you know – that I’m feeling fabulous about with my bonsai plants alive and well and healthy as opposed to dead and last year I killed most of them, but you know – doesn’t have to be the most strategic thing in your life. As a matter of fact I picked something kind of fun and interesting and maybe something strategic too, but it’s a good thing for you to have some specific stuff, so as I continue on with mostly reminders about things you probably already or have heard from other places, but if this does give you any kind of an impetus to locate some of those or identify some of those, to apply some of these techniques to, then obviously the more usefulness you’ll get out of this.

Let me talk about, from my experience how this stuff really works and you know, one of the things I discovered was that if you really want to have change happen and have that change stick, and by the way, when I say change and making change stick, every one of us listening to this has gone and changed things but the change didn’t stick. You know, we went and we started doing new things, we joined the gym, we started working out regularly and then we fell away. So I’m not talking about just making change, that change kind of happens by itself, but making it stick or another way of dealing with change is when the change is thrust on you. Your company downsized or got sold to somebody else, your job just got seriously changed and you stepped down and you feel very uncomfortable. How do I rapidly get comfortable with the new situation? So any and all of that is grist for this mill.

But I will suggest that in order to make permanent change there are two requirements, two things you need to have. You need to have enough information and you need to have enough inspiration. Those are two different things actually. Enough information, in other words, if you wanted to achieve some different result, there’s a part of you that says, “Yeah, I need to see how to.” If I have enough information, oh yeah, I see how I could do x, y, z. And the seeing how to gives me the sense – okay here’s the track, I can see myself there, I can see how to do it, because that’s the information we need.

A lot of people say, “I don’t see how to get time to.” And that’s a very subtle but a very common sort of belief system that people walk around with – called I don’t see how to have time or I don’t how to have the resources to. I don’t see how we could afford to. I don’t see how with fewer staff we could get from here to there. So that’s a big component that we said, well in order to make the change happen, there’s got to be some level of, yeah, I see the track, I see the path to get from here to there. Even if you have the information – hey by the way, here is how you could make a million dollars; follow step A, step B, step C. Here’s how you could lose 20 lbs, do A, B, C.

Sometimes we have the information but we don’t have enough #2 – inspiration. And inspiration doesn’t just mean I’d like to have it. It doesn’t even mean I really, really, really want to have it. What I mean by inspiration is: I have to have it. I cannot stand not having it.

Now every one of us listening to this right now has things that you could not stand tolerating. For instance, how long can you go without brushing your teeth? How long can you go without taking a shower? How long can you go – let’s just think about brushing your teeth and I’m sure all of us have been in certain situations where we couldn’t get to brushing our teeth over a certain period of time. But how long could you go before some part of you got so creepy, crawly, weird and said, “Wait a minute, I am feeling so yucky – I’ve got to go do something.” That’s what I mean by motivation. Because everybody listening to this probably brushes your teeth fairly regularly even though you don’t have time to do a lot of things that you tell yourself you should be doing, but you somehow find time to brush your teeth and the reason is, if you think about that, and I’ll describe a little bit more as we get into the comfort zone, is that you just have an internal standard that you just can’t stand having go on in anything different and that’s real motivation. It’s funny, I mean if you have to go motivate yourself you’re probably not. Real motivation occurs when you truly just have to do that behavior, you feel totally uncomfortable and out of sorts if you didn’t and so you have to get that done.

So there’s some people listening to this probably who would feel terrible if they couldn’t exercise a certain amount every so often and there’s a certain period of time that they may go but then they’ll just have to go out and do something, kind of no matter what it takes. Now of course, those standards can slip and we can talk about that as well, but that’s the second component, so I need to see how to and then I need to feel like – the emotional quality in our feelings are hugely tied to motivation and if you think about it, motivation and emotion are very similar words and there’s an awful lot about that. It’s kind of the motor that drives all of this juice, so if you think about advertising, they want to motivate you and you’ll see a lot of emotions involved in advertising for exactly those same reasons; a big, big tie-in to that.

So information and inspiration; so let me break those down and essentially let’s talk about focus and vision and how those things effect that. Now are there ways that we can see how to do stuff we don’t see how to do yet? Yes there are. And are there ways that we can get ourselves to feel differently about things in such a way that it will force us to have behavior that we really want to be engaged in? Yes there is.

One other thing just in terms of a preamble to all of this or as a way to consider this, we’ll be talking about pretending – pretending. Now pretending has a good bit of a negative connotation, you know, the great pretender, people out there being false, phony, fake, etcetera. But if you actually think about the source of the word pretending, if you break it down, pre the first part of the word, the etymology of that, basically pre means ahead of time, you know these are Latin derivative kinds of words. Pre means ahead of time. What is tend come from – second part of the word? The Latin verb tenere, which means to grasp or to hold. Well if you kind of put those together, it says to grasp a hold of something ahead of time. That is exactly what pretending is.

So it’s kind of how you get – well it actually is, not just kind of, it is exactly how you get out of the door, how you walk, how you talk, how you get dressed. You actually pretend. You tend to the picture ahead of time and then you go fulfill that picture. So that’s sort of how we get anything done, is we imagine what done looks like and then we get moving towards fulfilling that picture. So I just suggest a reframe in your mind, if you don’t have it that framed that way anyway, that when we talk about pretending, that is creating imagine that aren’t true, there’s a part of us that pushes up against that and says, “Wait a minute, that’s not true, that’s artificial.”

We say, “Well is it artificial to imagine yourself catching the ball before you catch the call or do you just want to wait and let it show up wherever it shows up.?


A real good idea is to imagine yourself catching the ball so that some part of you on very unconscious levels and very minute muscular you know – movement, actually matches up to meet the picture. So once you understand that, you’ll realize that pretending actually is just a mechanical process that says let me grab or craft or hold an image of something before I actually walk into it, because that actually facilitates what I’m walking into; allows it to happen.

Now, I always say that the line in between this and crazy is very thin. They are also pretending. The difference is is that you know what we would call crazy would be people who are assuming that their images in their head are physical reality and that would probably not be very healthy and not very functional. But if you understand the difference between the two, very conscious, very sane, very practical people actually are doing something that might look a little crazy, that says holding a picture before I know how on earth I’m gonna get from here to there, but I want to just hold that picture and watch some of these automatic things begin to change and move things in that direction.

So let’s talk about pretending and how that actually affects our ability to get information and how to get inspiration. Let’s talk about the information thing first. And those of you who’ve been in seminars of mine, heard me talk about the reticular system, the reticular formation I the brain, but basically, the bottom line to this is that we’ve discovered that what we tend to bring to a situation is unconscious conditioning, which we are often building because of our experience. In other words, there’s a part of us that’s got our software wired up in our head, which actually blinds us to information that we’re after.

So we’ve all had experiences that we’re – there’s things right in front of us, but we just don’t see and often times that’s simply because we just have a filter that’s going on in our minds about things that we don’t see. The rules that we run that then prevent us from seeing things are just rampant. They’re all over the place and this will thread through our whole discussion today, which is what are the belief systems and the rules and the patterns essentially that I’m running in my psyche that may actually be limiting me to be able to see how to get from here to there.

In other words, if you walk into a meeting, let’s get this real practical and an image in your mind is: Oh, it’s another one of these meetings. These are always a waste of time. I now have to deal with a bunch of jerks that don’t know what they’re doing.

Well I just said about five major belief systems right there. Now if I walk in with that image in my mind about this experience I’m gonna have: waste of time, bunch of jerks, don’t know what they’re doing – they don’t know anything, there’s a real good chance that I’m gonna notice different things in that room when I walk in, then if I walked into the same room, with the same people there, with an image in my mind of getting real on you know – what’s the purpose of the meeting, this being successfully handled in terms of me interfacing with these people appropriately and so by the end of this end, you know, I will feel like I’ve engaged with this in some maximum way.

Now I know that may sound a little silly because if you’re used to dealing with a bunch of jerks and these meetings are usually a waste of time, yes, our belief system then is based upon reality. It’s not like we just create all of these images out of nothing. They’re usually based upon the fact that yes, we have had a lot of experience that looks, sounds and feels like, this sort of looks like those things that they were before, therefore, I will assume that this is another one of those. And then we walk in and then don’t see anything successful, we see a bunch of jerks, we see how things are a waste of time and then we again walk into the self-fulfilling prophecy. In other words, our brain only allows up to perceive data that matches the belief system we walk in with. And there’s just tons and tons and tons of proofs and exercises and all kinds of things that can identify that and I image that many of you have run into that in many different ways. But if that’s true – you know, another way to think about your belief systems and this is always something I love to challenge people with – what if your friends talk to you like you talk to yourself. You know, ring – ring – ring – ring: “Hi David, you jerk, you didn’t do a totally perfect event. You made a mistake. Here you made a big … They’re still – they’re talking about you. Why did you even think you should do any of these? Goodbye!”

Now, you know we think that’d be a little silly if our friends called, if we even had friends that talk to us like that, but how many of us, if we could hear how we talk to ourselves about ourselves internally, what are our belief systems going on in there? And those are the kinds of things again to pay attention to as we go through all of this information, but those kinds of images, oftentimes they are based upon whatever history you’ve had or whatever habits we have about talking about ourselves, but those things will tend to then create these filters and we’re just not allowed to see it.

The interesting thing about this and this where we discovered the reticular activating system, something that’s based on a part of the brain called the reticular formation. The reticular formation was discovered apparently, I ran across this back in, I believe, May of 1959. It was a Scientific American article on the discovery of the reticular formation; fascinating article and apparently this was discovered in the brain because the neuroscientist or the brain scientist had a fascinating question. They said, “How come parents can sleep through loud music really fine, but the baby in another room cries a special cry and somebody hears it and wakes up? How does that happen?” That must mean that we’ve got some sort of radar scanning, you know, even when we’re unconscious and not only do we have radar scanning, but we’ve got software program tied to that radar that is something that our radar picks up even while we’re sleeping like a baby’s cry, matches something we programmed in our psyche that says: somehow that’s important or relevant or that has a meaning to us in terms of our own internal software, then it jangles a part of our psyche and wakes us up. In other words, we are unconsciously made conscious of information. And they actually found a neurophysical aspect of the brain that actually is tied to that, the reticular formation.

As a matter of fact, if they numb the reticular formation, apparently you just go unconscious. So this thing, this part of the brain seems to be the thing that when it’s activated we are aware of information. If it’s deactivated, we’re not. So even when you’re unconscious, you know, sounds of trucks driving by doesn’t activate your reticular formation, but the sound of the baby does, and then we wake up only to that relevant information.

So there seems to be this thing that is a pattern that they actually discovered that it’s actually tied to that part of the brain; it’s sort of the filter about what we have attention on. Apparently, a lot of the new research and ADD and ADHD attention deficit has a lot to do with this part of the brain; whatever we’re noticing at any point in time.

Now, we just said, well how do we have software programmed in there, how do we program that software?

Well, in a very simple way, there’s a part of our psyche that says, “Well this is relevant information.” If we make relevance, obviously baby cries have relevance to parents. If you think about your profession, whatever you do on a day-to-day basis out there regularly, you will probably tend to notice those kinds of things when you walk into a room. You know, computer people see computers on desks, they see – they probably notice all kinds of things that I don’t notice because they’re just in that world. That world has relevance to them. I’ll use an example like an optometrist walks into a room, they probably notice who’s wearing eyeglasses. You know, fashion designers walk in a room and they notice whether the person’s wearing in or out of date clothes and probably who made them. Building contractors walk in and notice how well rooms are constructed and put together; on and on and on.

So the relevance that we have will get us to notice information. Now you can create relevance just very simply by just changing your focus. If I ask all of you to just look around where you’re sitting right now for the color bright red, just look around where you are – wherever you – whatever environment you’re in, look around and see if you can find a little spot of red. If you can, see if you can find another spot of red. See how many spots of red, in your room, bright red that you can notice. I’m looking around to see one there, a thing, and there’s something in my computer that’s red, there’s a file folder that’s red, bright red in my in-box file. Okay now, if I said, “Okay now close your eyes and tell me where all the blue is in the room right now, where you are”, how would you do?

And if you open your eyes and look around and say, “Okay, there’s blue – there’s blue …” usually there’s more blue than red in most rooms, when I do that exercise, but there was the blue when you had red on your mind?

Well interestingly enough, the reticular formation is not something you decide to turn on or off. It is on all the time. You have no choice. You’re in it right now. All you just did right then is you followed my little directions and said, “Okay, let me focus on red.” What shows up? Red. Well interestingly enough, if you think this back and at least work – you know, stick with me here, my working hypothesis says, look you focused on red in your mind. The unconscious part of you said, “You want red – watch this!” And there was an unconscious part of you that saw the red first and then you focused your conscious attention on it. So if that’s true and you say, “Well okay, where was the blue when you had red on your mind?” Well it was all around you but you didn’t notice it. So you could probably create all kinds of little exercises for yourself right now. What would you like to notice around your room right now? What would you like to notice about yourself right now? There’s all kinds of information around you. We’re flooded with information, all the time. As a matter of fact, you’d go crazy if you didn’t have a functioning reticular formation because there’d be no filter of any of this.

I read somewhere that they found a child who had an abnormality of this filter. The child couldn’t really learn anything because they couldn’t focus. You know, they were as distracted by whatever the highest volume of light and sound inputs because they couldn’t monitor any of that, couldn’t filter any of that. It was just all one big broadband blue.

So the good news is that we have this filter. The bad news is that we have this filter. Meaning if there’s information we want but our filter is not allowing us to get it, we could be staring right at it and we just won’t see it.

So assuming that’s true, if we notice what’s relevant, relevant has to do with focus, whatever we tend to focus on. If you focus on red in your mind, you just made red relevant, then we’ll tend to start to notice that information.

Now if you’re like me, you know the last piece of this is the important one, say, “How do I get to notice things automatically, so I don’t have to go work at it?”

Ah, that’s where you start to build in what we call identification. If you start to identify with stuff. In other words you build a deep seated image that some part of you just says, “I am a parent and my kids safety is so important to me”, and you can’t help that, that’s when you’ll hear your babies cry when you’re asleep and it will wake you up.

In other words, you’re building in a deeper sense of focus that you don’t even have to monitor anymore, it’s gone into the subconscious.

Every one of you listening to this probably has some identification, but some may be sport or activity or hobby, I’m a tennis player, I’m a sailor, I’m a golfer, I’m a gardener, whatever. And whatever that particular identification is has automatically created this sort of unconscious filtering process inside of you and you just walk out and gardeners see gardens three miles away; tennis players see tennis courts three miles away and you’ll see all kinds of things around you that will be very evident to you without even working at it.

Now assuming all that’s true, what are the So-whats? about all that? Well there are a couple of conclusions that I came to that I have yet to disprove. One is that you don’t need one ounce more of creativity or intelligence than you were born with. The issue is where are you pointing it? In other words, this thing words negatively as well as positively. If you focus, “Gee life is hard, I never have time to … there’s no way I can.”

You’re brain says, “Oh you want things filtered to produce that? Watch this!” And it really doesn’t care, you know, it’s fascinating no matter what you focus on, that part of your brain tends to deliver. It doesn’t have any kind of moral or ethical or strategic filter. It just says, “You want it – here.” You’re looking at it, “Here let me give you some more.” And people don’t have any problem. If you say, “Life is really hard and very depressing,” is there any lack of depressing information to fill up your brain? I don’t think so. Is there any lack of positive uplifting information to fill up your brain? Well I don’t think so either. The problem is is that most people out there have not – most of the adults that I know and actually studies that I’ve read, the typical adult does 77% negative self-talk. So most people are talking and telling themselves and imaging to themselves in very negative pictures. But there’s all kinds of data out there to fill up that stuff.

But one of the great examples of that, I was giving a seminar with all this material in Australia a couple years ago and I had a guy who trains all the Australian cyclists, you know out on the road racing cyclists and he said, “Oh, no kidding.” They have a problem in Australia training their cyclists because they train on a lot of country roads and there are a lot of rustic wooden bridges they go over and the bridges are made of these big wooden planks, but the planks don’t go sideways, they go lengthwise and if you can imagine those thin little bicycle tires and wheels and these long planks with lots of spaces in between them, they were losing cyclists regularly, you know. They’d go down the planks. They found that the one technique that they could come up with that would keep the cyclists from doing that would be keep the cyclists before they even got to the bridge to start imaging and holding a picture in their mind of being already across the bridge and staying focused on that. And if the cyclists could do that, somehow the unconscious part of them would just line their bike up and they’d stay on the planks instead of within them and he said it worked really great ‘til the cyclist gets halfway across the bridge and says, “What a great technique because I’d hate to be in one of these cracks.” So down they’d go. So as soon as you focus on them.

I’ve had experiences like that myself where when I was training the martial arts, I used to train on a beach, a nice rocky beach at night where there are no lights. I would be running barefoot and I would just imagine running along the sand, you know, and having nice safe feet and somehow it worked. But as soon as I let the thought pop into my mind, go “Boy, it’d really hurt if I stepped on one of these rocks.” Ugh, within 10 to 15 seconds I would step on one – sure enough.

So I’ve had just tons of experience and I’m sure many of you had, sort of like your brain doesn’t really care whatever you’re focused on, it will tend to deliver that.

The other big a-ha about this for me, and this was just, you know, I guess if there’s one thing to just kind of burn into your brain about – from any of this information, is – you won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it. You won’t see how to do it until you see yourself doing it.

Now there is so much implications and ramifications of that thought or that idea. You know, fast forward here to why the weekly review is so cool. I mean, the weekly review, if you’re sitting down there and actually looking at your 65 projects and you look at them on a list, each one of them, one at a time, I doubt if many people look at it and go, “Oh this is such a bad project. I don’t know how to do this. Oh – life is hard. Oh my goodness.” I doubt if most people, by the time they get themselves cranked up to a weekly review are doing that. As a matter of fact, usually when you’re sitting down and looking at a list of projects, especially if you start with the appropriate verb like finalize or implement or resolve or handle; even if you don’t have all the data about how to handle it and you’re imagining finished and done, guess what – you see how to get it down. Simply because of the mechanics of the brain in terms of how it works.

So another one of those great practical applications of this is by having an image of myself doing or having or being it, and then is when I begin to get the data about how to get there, not the other way around. Of course the problem is is most people – me included folks, we are all challenged with the opportunity in front of us in using this information, but how many of us are holding ourselves back from having images of ourselves having, doing or being things until people can show us how. Pardon the phrase but that’s bass-ackwards. You won’t see how until you see it done. And we’re constantly being stretched. My mentor Dean was leading our company the last couple of days through some nice strategic visioning in terms of our next goals and I could feel it rise up inside of me, “Yeah but I don’t see how to get there.” You know, picking some pretty big things and pretty awesome things to stretch into. Yet, even knowing how this works, so there seems to be a part of us, the angel at the gate here that, “No, no I want to see how first, before I allow myself to see the final picture.” Well it doesn’t work that way. Well we’re all challenged with the risk of a visionary if you will, how do I hold an image of success before I have the data about how to get there. But that’s the way the reticular system works and once you catch that you’ll say, “Wait a minute! That’s just mechanics and I now need to learn how to work those mechanics to my benefit.”

Now assuming that you kind of buy into, “Well okay – that’s how I get information.” By the way, if you want to see how to have time to do the weekly review – what does that mean? You need to see yourself doing the weekly review. That’s how you would start to see how to, but seeing yourself doing it has got to come first.

Now even if you see how to, then you’ve got the issue of the inspiration. How do I get myself sort of motivated enough – enough juice to make this a have to do. And this is where the concept of the comfort zone comes in and this is one of the most practical epiphanies that I came across. I didn’t make up the idea. Many people have talked about it in many different ways, but the comfort zone – what does that basically mean? When you think about that – a lot of people think about that – well that just means dad being too comfortable and you don’t stretch and don’t challenge yourself. And I suggest you kind of take the moralistic spin off of that and just look at this more as a mechanical thing. The comfort zone, I think it’s best described as in the analogy as the thermostat – automatic heating and air conditioning in a room. So you know, we’ve got an inner setting we want the temperature to be at a certain place, let’s say 70 degrees Fahrenheit. We put the dial there. And then there’s another dynamic inside that system, that’s actually registering current realities, telling us what the reality actually is and if those two things are matched up and it actually is 70 degrees in the room and we got the setting set at 70, and nothing happening. As a matter of fact, the system is actually designed to sort of be chilled. In other words, when the external reality matches where we’ve got our setting, the system is off. It’s on hum. It’s on cruise control. We’re onto other things.

When will the system turn on? It turns on when there’s a mismatched between our external reality and where we have the inner setting. And boy, that’s true about so many things.

Actually every single thing in our life that we’ve done with any kind of consistency – our nervous system starts to get used to the pattern. And believe it or not, as our nervous system starts to get used to this pattern, it creates kind of a set point there.

A good example I always use ‘cause I think it’s so graphic and everybody can probably relate to it – everybody that I know has a certain number of dirty cups and glasses that you’re okay with mounting up in your living room, until it gets to a certain point. At a certain point, in terms of numbers of dirty dishes, cups, glasses or whatever in your living room, you will tolerate until you have to do something about it. What’s that number? What’s yours? Some people the number is one. You put something down they take it up. And some people don’t even notice or see anything in the room until they can’t find a clean glass or cup and then they start to notice some lying all around because now their filter says, “I need something to drink out up – where is something?” and they’ll see it then.

Now are either of those people morally inferior or higher or lower on the food chain? I don’t think so. It’s just a neutral process, unless one of those people marries the other one. Then they got a real, real issue and as a matter of fact in my experience that’s where most of the real issues show up out there in relationships – either personally or professionally, it’s because of the mismatch of those kinds of inner settings or those kinds of standards that we weren’t aware of when we initially made our agreement. In other words, when you joined the company you weren’t aware of what that company was gonna tolerate in terms of behaviors. When you joined that person, you know, you weren’t aware of how many of what kind of clothes they’re gonna leave where for how long, or how they’re really gonna behave when they’re not trying to impress somebody. It’s like all those things you tend to show up or you tend to find out later on. And we’ve got comfort zones about all of those kinds of things.

So another good analogy or example of that is when you’re shooting a rocket towards a target, you’ve got programmed inside the rocket. Say, we want to go to the moon, but you know, the rocket wobbles. It gets off course, but it gets pulled back on course. The reason it makes it to the moon or wherever we’re shooting a rocket is because the engineers have built in, you know this feedback mechanism and this course correction mechanism that says, “Look if we’re off course, let’s shave it back up on course”, and then it goes off course again and it brings it back. And that’s the way the comfort zone really works for us. In other words, we can all probably tolerate one or two glasses plus or minus whatever our number is. We can all tolerate a certain amount of negativity in our environment and we’re still okay with that before we’d say, “Okay, wait a minute. I can’t work here. I’ve got to leave.”
We can all tolerate certain amounts.

Another good example, if you think about money. Every one of us is used to a certain amount of money in a certain place at a certain time. Let’s say a certain checking account at a certain time of the month when you pay the same kinds of bills and as long as that money is within sort of – at that number or within some range of that number, you’re not emotionally driven or distracted. You say, “Okay, that’s kind of who I am – that’s where it is”, and you’re really on to other things.

By the way, you may not like how much money you have in your bank account every month that same time of the month, but if you’re used to that and you’re also used to not liking your money, believe it or not, you will not be emotionally distracted. As a matter of fact, as long as you’re feeling bad about your money and you have that amount in there, you’re – believe it or not, you’re in your comfort zone.

So this gets kind of strange ‘til you really kind of understand how it works, as you can feel very comfortable with feeling uncomfortable. In other words, you can have depression or anxiety or nervousness as part of your comfort zone.

Now let’s bring this around to GTD. You know, many of you’ve heard me say this that if the good fairy showed up and disappeared all your e-mails and they all just went away, in a very short order, every one of you’d have the same number that you have now, ‘cause it’s not really about the volume that you have, it’s how many e-mails will you tolerate stacking up in your in-basket before you feel like you have to do something about it? Some people have 30l, some people have 300, some people have 3,000. So it just depends on where that setting is. And if you have too few, you’ll let the thing mount up until it gets back to what you’re used to and if you have too many, you’ll be driven to move it back and the same is true with your money. You get too far below your comfort zone, you’ll automatically see how to save money, scrimp and get new income and if you have too much money, believe it or not you’ll actually see things that cost the amount that you’ve got, over what you’re used to and have to go spend it. You just watch.

So this thing is very powerful. It’s much more powerful than your willpower and it will tend to pull you down from more positive things than you’re used to and it’ll tend to lift you up for more negative things than you’re used to, or outside of your zone, in either direction in other words. You know, I could go on and on all day long about how many different examples of that that people have. That people say, “Gee David, what’s people’s biggest barrier to implementing GTD or getting the black belt?”

And my simple answer is the addiction to stress. And it’s not addiction like, “Gee I have to go have it or shoot it up or take some – or I have to take some drug to get back to stress.” No, it’s just that you’re willing enough, your nervous system is enough used to that kind of stress that you will not be distracted to change it or get rid of it.

See early on, one of the reasons I developed GTD was I developed early on a comfort zone about having a clear head, meaning wow – I’ve tasted that enough where that became my standard and then as I started to get involved in a much more professional world with a lot more of these things involved in it, it got me uncomfortable because it pulled me out of that place. So I was driven to go find out and feel like what I needed to do to get back into that state that I had at least tasted or at least raised the bar a little bit inside of myself that said, “Wait a minute – that clear space was a cool place to be. What do I need to do to get back to that?” So we kind of catch how that works. Again, it’s a very neutral process. It’s really very mechanical once you catch how it works and it makes it easier for people to work with that.

So, how would you apply all this? Assuming that all that stuff is true in terms of what I said, that your reticular system tends to deliver information for you that you will not see otherwise. It could be all around you, but until you’re imaging this outcome or what you want, you’re – this filter in your mind will not be configured to actually recognize the pattern when it’s around you.

And secondly, even if you saw how the pattern – if your comfort zone says, “Yeah, but having that result is not something I’m familiar with that’s outside of what I’m used to that’s norm for me”, it’ll create a very powerful emotional response that will tend to throw you back into whatever it was that you were used to.

Now if that’s true and you said, “Okay, how do I make a change that sticks so that I’m seeing how and feeling like …” You just need to understand, okay – how do I change that set point? How do I change that internal focus and identification?

Well again another working hypothesis here in terms of the tools and how they work is the basic principle that your nervous system can’t tell the difference between a well imagined thought and reality. So since all we’re dealing with here is your nervous system and your neurology and what we want to do is ingrain new patterns, if you assume then that by holding a picture in your mind that you’d start to reconfigure those neural patterns inside of yourself, well gee that’d be the laziest, fastest way to make the change. Let’s change all the set points and then we don’t have to worry about being motivated or seeing the stuff, we couldn’t help but – even if we tried, it would be right in front of us, so learning how to then pattern our nerve system.

And by the way, many of you I’m sure know this, but Olympic athletes – I think the last figure I saw, it was discovered that 70% visualization and 30% physical training and practice was about the maximum mix in terms of visualization versus physical practice to enhance or increase, fine tune high performance behaviors. So really, really, really good golfers will spend 70% of their time imaging hitting the ball and playing the course, just like skiers or pole vaulters or any of those folks. I mean, it’s just scientific stuff. I mean the East Germans got into this probably 75 years ago. So this is just a technology, but that’s not just for Olympic sports, it’s also true for the projects we want to finish, the kind of things that we want to get done, relax, control, being a GTD black belt, whatever that means. Okay – I need to just practice that picture. If I start holding that picture, my nervous system is going to start configuring itself in that direction.

Now, if you’re trying to use imagery – what’s the 70% imagery I need to start holding and how would I do that? Well good effective imagery is like good advertising. It just needs to be personal to you, it needs to be some positive picture. It needs to be in the present tense. It needs to be as clear as you can make it. It needs to be believable to you, so you need to sort of – you can’t give yourself a picture that’s totally out of it – out of the whack – ‘cause otherwise by holding that picture you’re sort of negatively program: oh I could never have that. So you need to give yourself enough – it’s got to be close enough. You need to sort of target your own internal market. I need to make sure that I’m giving myself a stretch picture but not one that blows me out of the water and the more emotions you can tie into these things, just like good advertising, the more these pictures are gonna work. So the tools you can use – and there are tons of tools you can use. There are tools all around us. I mean we’re in all the time and I’ve divided them into three areas: images, models and activities. It’s kind of a loose determination because they’re all the same kind of thing. They really all affirm pictures or give us a way to hold images in our mind and sort of reconfigure our neural patterns.

Under images, you know, I have things like goals and affirmations and visualization, any of those kinds of things. Ideal scenario scripting, those work very, very powerfully. I’ve done many of those with companies and teams that I’ve worked with. So any kind of a goal by the way is an affirmation. If you hold – if you can imagine having that, you know, we set a big goal for our company yesterday and sort of – what would it be like? Wow! We need to imagine all the detail of what that would be – that’s an affirmation.

Affirmations themselves – very powerful tools, where you sit down and actually script your own self talk. You know, “Gee it’s easy for me to stand up and speak extemporaneously in front of large groups of people.”

I love the feeling of relaxed focused control and enhanced perspective I have regularly doing weekly reviews.

You know, those are just affirmations. All it is is kind of scripting a billboard for yourself so that when you read it, when you imagine it, all you’re doing is just reprogramming the pictures.

I’ve used affirmations for over 30 years and they’re very, very powerful tools. Most of my whole company, all of my books – all of my books were started by writing my reviews. It’s a powerful way to do affirmations, ‘cause it’s kind of a way to trick myself into very high picture view of what the book is and it’s success and you know, I got to kind of swallow hard to write, but with my self image says, “Oh yeah, but I know what the book’s about. Yeah go ahead.” But imagine that it was a fabulous book – what would people be saying and who would say it? So those are all just affirmational processes and visualization processes, scenario scripting – again there’s lots of versions of that. I’ve taken teams off site and we’ll sometime have the team write as a collaborate event to write the front page article in the Wall Street Journal that’s been written about how the teams project or the team itself – because it was so powerful and innovative and out of the box that they made it to the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

You know, these things sound hokey, they sound like wow you’re just pretending, but if you catch how this works, very, very powerful stuff like that has happened and I’m sure most of you listening to this, you know have done things and been involved in those kinds of activities.

Another powerful way to get images you know reinforced is modeling – seeing demonstrations of things. That’s why, me doing seminars, being around people who can model sort of nothing on your mind and showing you what it looks like. Wow, that makes is so much more believable. It makes it so much more real. It’s easier for you to see yourself doing it. So having coaches and having mentors – any all that stuff is great. That’s why people bring us in to do this because it’s just kind of nice to have somebody there who’s holding that focus for you and with you and also modeling what it’s like. Boy, you know, it’s just extremely powerful stuff. It is for me too.

And you know, there are versions of that too, just reading and listening to stuff and viewing things like audio and video and any kind of – you know those kinds of reinforcing kinds of tools and just plain old activities. If you start acting as if, you know there’s the old Mary Kay “Fake it ‘til you make it!” There’s some value to that. Dress for success. Sure! You know, now you wouldn’t want to dress too far out of something you didn’t think you could do, but the idea is – let me just kind of create an intention, start lining up my resources and kind of at least start moving in that direction. So the new and enhanced kind of personal expressions that could reflect your desired change are very good things to think about.

What kind of things, if I were a focused, organized, in control, high perspective person, how would I behave? How would I deal with this meeting? How would I spend this afternoon? Wonderful stuff. Those kind of as-if scenarios are not just for spread sheets. They’re also for as we think about ourselves, gee if I were that way. You know, if you have some sort of mentor out there, either a spiritual guide or a mentor or a business coach or somebody you really highly respect and you said, “Well how would they handle this situation? If I were them right now, what would I be doing?” Those are powerful things; great ways to sort of slip ourselves into enhanced filters, if you will, about how we’re engaging with our world or how we see our world.

And of course, just, you know, put your body on the line, so just paying money – sign up for Connect. I mean you guys have done that. Just investing, putting skin in the game – you know, as I say, it’s sort of trick yourself into physical involvement before your mind sort of does all the negative things to you and once you get in and once the pump is primed, oftentimes the energy starts to roll. It’s kind of like, “I don’t feel like exercising.” Yeah, put on your costume, go to class and watch what happens. You know, so you sort of throw yourself into it and you get engaged in the situation. So all of those are powerful tools; visualizing, imaging, ideal scenario creation, getting around people doing this, being involved and engaged with other people who are doing like kinds of behaviors or that are expressing the kind of behaviors you’re targeting or want to move to, as well as just yourself making commitments and starting acting as if and being involved with that.

ANDREW J. MASON: Well we do hope that that was a fruitful time for you and if you received value from that, be sure to check out GTD Connect, where there are hundreds of other webinars, chance discussions and resources that’ll help you along the way. Head over to GettingThingsDone.com/podcast and click on GTD Connect. Then use the coupon code podcast on checkout to receive a special discount when you decide to join.

Well that’s gonna do it for me, but until next time, I’m Andrew J. Mason asking you, now that you’ve listened to this episode, what’s your next action?

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  1. A very great THANK YOU …

    From time to time I used to do visioning and managed to move a bit. But, whenever my comfort zone blocked forward move, I was so harsh to myself, accusing that I’m a sily personality with no analatic thinking competence.

    Now, I see that it’s a solid and real mechanic grounding on scientific datas.

    I will be using my creavity since I born with it.

    Best regards,

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