The False Finish

Photo by Ernst Moeksis

This guest post is by Diego Cassina from Bumping Into Love. He talks about a “brain baiting” strategy similar to Mini Habits, but it’s also quite different. I thought it was worth sharing and hope you enjoy it!

Mickey Mouse is waving at me and all I really want to do is punch him in his round nose. 

They say this is the most magical marathon ever, but I couldn’t care less. I did not prepare for the Disney Half-Marathon. I am struggling with each mile and the Disney characters that are encouraging runners along the 13-mile route are not helping. So what does any person do when they are angered and frustrated? They distract themselves. 

I decide to look away from the motivational sidelines and look up to the point where the bend in the course meets the distant trees. Every moment of muscular pain is met with something to look forward to as I stare at that not-so-distant point. I quietly smile within. Why? Because, in that moment of pain and distraction, I found my strategy to finish the race. All I had to do was convince myself that that was where the race ended. It was a moving target, but it was a target I could see. “The finish line is just right there, it’s just right there, it’s just right there.” And guess what? I finished the race.

A few years later, I was trying to take on new habits and realized I couldn’t really dive into any ambitious task without burning out. So through trial-and-error, I learned to build consistency first (e.g. learn to read ten pages a day before you attempt to read a book). When I chose to build consistency prior to ambition, I stuck with the task. It worked! I didn’t burn out and I found out how to read a lot. But soon after it became a habit, I got bored. My evolutionary brain wanted to push a new frontier. We each have an innate desire for novelty and challenge, a need that pushes the human race forward. So how can I satisfy my ambition, maintain consistency, and not burn out? Answer: The False Finish.

The False Finish

I remembered that race and the placebo effect of pretending the finish line was in view. What if I could look at my ambitious goals the same way? Maybe the point where the course met the trees was not a physical distance, but a measure of time. What if I just created a false finish that lasted a week? I could keep all my baseline mini-habits, but “for just one week” I could push myself and try something, just one thing, a little harder.

At first I tried the false finish with waking up early. I told myself that “for just one week,” I would strategize how to wake up at 5 am every day, and guess what? I found the strategy. Was I particularly more productive? Nope. So I stuck it out for a week and came back to sleeping at my normal schedule.

Then I decided to try the false finish by going to the gym. I had been doing my pushups each day, but this week I wanted to amp it up and see if I could do pull-ups every day at the park a mile away and, you know what… throw some duo-lingo portuguese lessons in there too. “It is just one week. It is just one week.” I kept telling myself this and by the end of the week I had 7 days of the habit built and had hacked my brain to keep going. In full disclosure, I stopped doing pull-ups and joined a gym I attend 3x a week, but that only happened because I pushed myself “for just one week.” I also stuck with Portuguese and am much more fluent now. Bom dia meninas.

Now, why is it that this works? If you study human behavior, you’ll notice that there is a massive human need for freedom.

People aren’t so happy when they feel imprisonment. In fact, do you want to know why diets don’t usually work? Do you want to know why people give up on their goals? It’s because they haven’t given themselves any freedom to stray. In the words of musical artist Prince, “It means forever and that’s a mighty long time.” So let me ask you, “How do you create a victim?” You strip them of all their choice.

When we look up at that course that leads us to our goals and say, “This is never going to be done”– That’s when we actually quit. So what people need isn’t forever, what they need is choice. They need the option to drop their ambition back down should they want to in a week’s time.

And that’s exactly why I like to call this strategy, “The False Finish.” Because in a way, this strategy is using your brain’s natural placebo effect to convince you that it will be done in a week’s time. However, by the time that week is done, you will already have 7 days worth of momentum. Myelin is the material that forms around your neurocircuitry every time you build a habit. At the end of one week, you will have built myelin for 7 days. That is potentially enough momentum to sneak one past the goalie (your brain). After all, it’s “just one week.” 

The final hack is to sit down at the end of the week and balance your curiosity and awareness. Curiosity will have you wonder, “If I could do this for a week, I wonder if I could maintain this for another week.” Awareness will ground you and tell you, “Hey, the strategy you used this week was a bit difficult. Not yet, you have to build to that first.” In the end, whether you keep going or whether you consider it a mini-project to revisit, it’s okay. The choice is up to you (and that beautiful myelin of yours). If the finish line is just one week away, maybe we can make this marathon magical after all.

Diego Cassina is a life strategist fascinated by the connections between social attitudes and productivity. He believes if you love yourself fully, you can conquer any limitation, live the life of your dreams, and love at the highest level. To learn more, go to Bumping Into Love or say hi on facebook and twitter.

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