April 15, 2017
The ‘habits’ movement and the apps and articles it has spawned are intriguing, but there’s more power in daily agreements that follow the basic rules below. I just don’t agree that a habit can be set in perpetual motion by a period of repetition. For 24 years or so, I’ve most often had a source of support in my life and I’ve kept some pretty long-term habits, but once the support is withdrawn, the habit is soon in trouble.
That’s why agreements are at the heart of the buddy process I use. And though I sometimes use the word habit, at heart I in fact mean an agreement. Think of an agreement as a habit you’ll be telling someone you’ve done the following morning.
For the most part, daily agreements don’t have to be a heavy lift, but a small step. It may well not be everything you need to do in order to achieve your goal. Its strength is in keeping you on the long-distance path, reminding you, refocusing you, demonstrating to a part of you that ‘yes we can’ and ‘yes we will’ get to this goal.
The basics of a good agreement are the following. It should be…
You have to remember these, so they must be simple.
You must be able to say ‘yes I did it’ without daily elaboration of the grade to which it was done. Make your agreement a very simple question, if you like. Something that you can easily answer with ‘yes I did’, or ‘no I didn’t’. For example, “sit quietly for ten minutes” is easily measurable. “Achieve inner calm” is not.
Make it a daily agreement. Do it every day. Don’t do alternate day agreements and avoid skipping weekends.
4. Fit for your worst day
A daily agreement is not about what you can get done in a day. I’ve no doubt that most of us could travel a long distance in a day if someone big and scary enough were on our tail. That’s not what an agreement is about. Think steps not leaps. Fit for your worst day means is this an agreement you could do when the in-laws are arriving tomorrow, the apartment needs a deep cleanse, it’s been a long week and the gang is due at seven because it’s your birthday.
Seriously, there are days like those, and since this is a long-distance race, not a sprint, your agreement should be doable when life has other ideas. It will.
This is the difficult part of making an agreement for many people. This is because a part of us is excited about something new, there someone who is interested, listening in some cases, as the agreement is set, and it looks good to say ‘I’m going to do six hours piano practice a day’ or ‘I’m going to run 10 miles a day’.
Don’t set agreements like that. It’s more worthwhile for you to set an agreement you can easily keep for six months, than one you fail at after a week. You may also say, ‘well, I’ll set an ambitious agreement and take a day off when I need one’. Don’t.
Make the agreement easy, but make keeping it holy. The easiest agreements to keep are daily agreements. Especially if a daily practice of this kind is new to you, stack the odds in your favour. It’s easy to get out of the habit and forget you ever had an agreement if you take breaks from it.
5. Underpromised (feel free to over-deliver)
I said earlier that your agreement may not be everything you’ll need to do to achieve a goal. Perhaps that makes no sense, or sounds like a bad plan. In my experience, much of the value of an agreement is staying on track and on purpose. For most of the time I’ve written this book, my agreement has been to write for 10 minutes a day. I don’t know (yet) if that’s enough commitment to write a great book, but I do know that I’m rather close to the end of the manuscript now. I also know that an agreement to write for two hours would have derailed the project. And being in this process has made it my life’s focus because of that, now as I rewrite this page, for 19 months of my life.
There’s another thing. I don’t have to stop after 10 minutes. Sometimes I look up and an hour has gone. And at a certain point I increased the agreement to 30 minutes and that’s okay too. But it was right for me to start with a promise I could keep. On the days I did more, I felt good about that, and that’s a factor too.
Doing your agreement should make a material difference to your progress towards your goal. It should matter. If your goal is to find a job, then look for a simple, uncontrovertibly useful thing to do to progress that goal. In the story in Part 2 of the book, Jonty called two people about work each day and then refilled his call list with new leads ready for the next day. It your agreement will make a difference to your goal, it will make a difference to you. If it’s something of a challenge to make those calls, or clean those dishes, then you’ll derive energy for your ongoing journey in proportion to your sense of having overcome the challenge. This is the tricky balance of setting an agreement. It’s great if it’s easy enough for your worst day, but also tough enough to make you proud in its accomplishment.
If you’re weighing up an agreement to sit quietly and mentally visualise a good sales outcome, versus an agreement to contact a brand new prospect every day, then make two agreements (they both sound pretty good to me).
7. Small in number
Don’t set a lot of agreements. It’s hard to remember them all. It’s likely to fail the ‘worst day’ test. Even if you can remember them or have a list, this process is about audience and that means that your buddy also needs to be able to easily recall what you are working on as well as their own agreement, and vice versa. If your agreements are so ingenious that they need to be written down, they’re probably too complicated or numerous to be agreements.
I’ve come to know my own level. As I write, here are my current agreements.
Pay conscious attention to a family member three times a day. 20 minutes work on my book/blog. 50 chin-ups or similar reps.
I tend to put an agreement on a period of probation when I start it. It has to pass a reality test, of being simple enough to remember, easy to make my mind up whether I’ve done it, and genuinely moving me towards the goal in mind.