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The Excellence Experiment – Week 6 Update

"Temporary setbacks are overshadowed by persistence." - Quentin L. Cook

Just the Stats:

Writing for 1 hour: 31/36 days
Reading/studying for 1 hour: 25/36 days
Shopping and other personal care stuff 1 afternoon each weekend: 4/6


  • Up to 9 push-ups/day (from 3); Increased to 2 minutes/day of ab exercises
  • Running: Still at 3.0 miles/run (up from 2.5 miles) at 11.5 min/mile
  • Cardio-Weights class 3-4 x week

Doing something outside my comfort zone: 28/42 days

Challenges and Observations

In the spirit of total transparency and honesty, I have to admit that the last 3 weeks were not quite as consistent as I would have liked – as the stats show, there were a lot of days when I slipped and didn’t follow through with my new habits. But, I think this is a great opportunity to analyze what went wrong, because I think most of us run into similar patterns and obstacles when we try to change our lives and adopt new habits. We all have setbacks – the most important thing is learning how to tweak the plan and push through. So hopefully, we can all learn from my experiences.

The biggest obstacle “appeared” to be life – things got busy, I had a few big projects with deadlines that fell within this time period, I did some traveling (which always throws me off track, but was great for doing things outside my comfort zone!), the weather has been cold and gray, I got hooked on a few TV shows, and I got distracted by thinking about plans for my big move to LA.

But, notice I say “appeared”, because life is life and there are always going to be things that come up that compete with our goals for time and attention. Life happens to people who get extraordinary results, and it happens to people who don’t. There will never be a perfect time to make the changes we want to make. And on top of that, the pull of inertia wants to keep us in our comfortable ruts. Even with strategies like kaizen and microresolutions that minimize the perceived threat of change, doing things differently still takes us out of our comfort zone and requires some diligence and effort.

So what was really going on?

I happen to be rereading “The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results”, by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, and I was reminded of the difference between a “to-do” list and a “success” list. I started the year fully focused on my “success” list – I had put a lot of thought into which new habits would make the biggest impact on my life long term, and these were my “one things” for each of the categories of my life that I wanted to improve. These were the things that were important to get done each day even if I accomplished nothing else.

The problem was, after a few weeks, the “to-do” list started to clamor for attention. Some things were genuinely urgent and important, and needed attention. They weren’t necessarily more important than my “one things”, and they didn’t necessarily need to be done first thing each day, but they were squeaky wheels so I wound up tackling them first. And then, when they were done, I was out of energy to do my “one things”, and I fell into the familiar rut of escaping into the land of “not urgent, not important” – in other words, I crashed in front of the TV or played around on the computer.

This brings us to another thing that Keller and Papasan discuss in some depth: the idea, or myth, of willpower. Willpower, or self-control, is a limited but renewable resource, and it ebbs and flows throughout the day. It’s highest in the morning, and it gets depleted throughout the day by things like dealing with distractions, suppressing emotions and impulses, doing mentally draining or unenjoyable tasks, and resisting temptations. Willpower is like a rechargeable battery, and once it’s drained, it takes some time and rest to recharge before you can use it again.

Life is going to drain our reserves of willpower every day, that’s unavoidable. The secret is working with the natural rhythm of our willpower levels, and planning our activities around the natural highs and lows. For most of us, that means scheduling our most important or most challenging activities for early in the day.

It’s interesting, because I was most successful with my new hour-a-day writing habit when I made it the first thing I did thing when I started my workday (and when my willpower was the highest). But, when I started to work against my natural willpower cycles, by putting it off until I had done other work that required intense focus, the writing didn’t get done. My willpower was drained by that point, and I couldn’t resist the temptation of vegging out in front of the TV.

So, I’m going back to making my writing my first priority every day. And, I’m going to take a closer look at my “to-do” list, and do some prioritizing. My “success” list is going back to being the highest priority, and the other stuff is going to be carefully ranked in order of importance. Keller and Papasan talk about how we’ll never get everything on our “to-do” lists done, and that’s why it’s so important to identify the one, most important thing to get done. People who achieve extraordinary results know their “one thing” and get it done – and they’ve learned to live with the tension of letting other things slide. The key is making a conscious choice about what to do, and what to let slide, based on what will make the biggest contribution to getting the results we want.

For me, writing, reading, exercising, and pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone will have a big impact on creating the life I want. And things that take up time but don’t move me forward at all (and aren’t even on the “to-do” list), like checking out Facebook a gazillion times a day or binging on Netflix, will just have to get trimmed or cut out altogether. The stuff lower down on the “to-do” list will get done in order of importance, as time permits.

So if you come by for a visit, leave the white gloves at home – there will most likely be some dust. And we’ll probably be ordering take-out, because shopping and cooking are pretty low on my list…

What about you? Do you have a “success” list or a “to-do” list? Have you identified your “one thing” that will make the biggest impact on moving you closer to your goal(s)? If you have, is it a non-negotiable on your daily or weekly schedule?

And if you haven’t, or if you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say “one thing”, I highly recommend reading “The One Thing” by Keller and Papasan. It’s one of those life-changing classics that will make you rethink how you spend your time and set your priorities. It’s a must-read if you want to create extraordinary results in any area of your life.


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