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Lessons from the 4-day win experiment

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Pamela Slim

I promised to report back today on the success of my 4-day win, which I shared earlier this week in Death to procrastination:  Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving.  I encouraged readers to share their own goals and we got some specific examples from Mike, Andy, Latarsha, Rosalind, Billionaire Strategies, Glenda, Kizla, Jan Marie and Judy (see comments on the original post).

My 4-day win involved working on a book proposal, a task I have tried to accomplish in the past (without success, and with great consternation).  My specific goals and rewards are in this worksheet (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win
Here are three lessons I learned from the experience:

  1. It makes a HUGE difference to set a small, feasible goal each day.
    I have a classic case of what Martha describes as “monkey brain,” skittering from one bright shiny object to the next when I have loads of work to do.  But with a very small, specific task to accomplish each day, I had no problem getting the work done.  I didn’t feel pressured or rebellious and actually accomplished much more than my daily goal.  My thoughts flowed, and I didn’t exhibit usual signs of stress like a pounding heart, tight throat or pressure at my temples.
  2. A daily reward really works.
    I have had a lot of writing projects lately, and have been wanting to work on a very personal post about immigration, using photos of a farming family I stayed with in Mexico over 20 years ago. All the photos were in slide format, and I recently had them scanned into digital photographs.  Even though I was dying to look at the photos, I made myself wait until I accomplished my daily task.  The anticipation really built up and heightened the enjoyment of the reward.  Opening up each photo, I actually got tears in my eyes from connecting to such an important part of my past. It was a wonderful emotion to associate with my book proposal.
  3. When you accomplish small wins, you can stop and relax instead of living in a constant state of stress and dread.  I have been an “all or nothing” kind of gal for some important projects in the past, either whittling away hours and hours on small, insignificant tasks to avoid a big project or pounding away at the keyboard for hours on end up to the last second of a deadline.  I noticed it is much more stressful to avoid a task rather than to do a small portion of it.  When I accomplished my daily goal, I was able to step away from work and truly relax, which energized me for the next day.

The 4-day win really worked for me.  I am excited about incorporating it into my life and sharing it with my clients.

Alright Mike, Andy, Latarsha, Rosalind, Billionaire Strategies, Glenda, Kizla, Jan Marie and Judy, how did it work for you?

Death to procrastination: Use the 4-day win to get your goals moving

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It has been 15 days since dawn of the New Year and you may be like me:  running around like a rabbit on a 5-shot latte, skittering between the computer keyboard, stacks of books and piles of paper. At this point in the calendar, one of two things usually happens:

  1. You power through your goals and objectives, meeting timelines like a well-oiled Swiss train, confident that this year, like last, you will keep your word and complete all your resolutions
  2. You look at the piles on your desk, pinch the roll of fat at your waist, stare at the blank page on your computer screen and say:  “LOSER!  Once again, you have proven that you have less initiative than a slug in a salt factory.  Now go shove some cookies in your mouth, PRONTO!”

By making your goals broad and far-reaching, you guarantee that they will be immediately sabotaged by your inner meanie.

What’s the alternative?

Instead of beating yourself up, try a 4-day win, which hails from Martha’s book of the same name. The focus of the book is losing weight, but the tool can be applied to any goal or project.

What is a 4-day win?

A 4-day win is a simple method for breaking large, overwhelming goals into comfortable, bite-sized pieces that are accomplished over a four-day period and anchored with rewards to encourage positive behavior.

Once you complete a 4-day win, you take your buzz of accomplishment and create another one.  And another, stringing them together until they become your finished book, or hot body or whatever else you are trying to manifest.

(It reminds me of one of my favorite cartoons which shows a frantic man in the shower with suds on his head screaming “Honey, get me out of here!  The label says ‘Lather, rinse, repeat!’”)

Why four days?

According to Martha:

“When I started exploiting this little bit of psychological numeracy in my coaching, I found that people who had trouble starting a week-long program of change jumped right in if I asked them to sustain a new behavior for just 4 days.  I also discovered that after the 4 days, the inertia that had been keeping them locked into a pattern of action-or inaction-had changed and was now actually pushing them forward.  Even though I specified that they were free to step making a change after the 4-day period, they often said they’d rather continue, because they’d already blasted through the initial resistance and were starting to see positive change.  This happened with so many clients that I started to call it “the 4-day win.”

How do you construct a 4-day win?

Step 1: Pick a goal

Look at your to-do list and pick a juicy goal such as:

  • Write a book proposal
  • Create a website
  • Lose 10 pounds
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family

From this goal, choose a task that you would like to accomplish in one day.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal → write the first two pages
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients

Step 2: Play halvsies until your goal is ridiculously easy to attain

We start out with what we think are realistic goals, but most of the time they are not, otherwise, we wouldn’t struggle to complete them.  So take your goal from Step 1 and halve it until you know with confidence that you can actually get it done.  Example:

  • Write a book proposal→ write the first two pages→write one paragraph
  • Create a website → design the layout of the home page→choose three colors for your design
  • Lose 10 pounds→exercise for 30 minutes→do 10 squats
  • Cook more nutritious meals for your family → cook a meal using all organic ingredients→add an organic carrot stick to your plate of Kentucky Fried Chicken

Keep playing “halvsies” until the goal feels just South of totally realistic, and just North of so easy it is insulting.

Step 3: Identify a reward

For each daily accomplishment, choose a small reward that will make you happy. Something like:

  • Play 20 minutes of Spider Solitaire, uninterrupted by toddlers or a nagging wife (my husband’s favorite)
  • Read the new issue of People magazine in the bathtub (my favorite)
  • Eat one piece of really good chocolate

Step 4:  Identify a 4-day reward

Think of an additional, slightly larger reward if you manage to keep your ridiculously easy goal for 4 days.  Depending on your budget and taste, this could be something like:

  • A pedicure with an extra decal on your big toe
  • A nice dinner at your favorite restaurant
  • A hike on your favorite trail on Sunday, regardless of how many piles of laundry are sitting on the washing machine

Step 5:  Make sure the action and reward are linked

Martha says:

“If you meet your ridiculously easy daily goals, you absolutely must give yourself the reward. Same with your 4-day goal.  You must also resist any temptation to give yourself the reward if you don’t meet your goals.  If you do all this and you still don’t take any action, reduce the task, increase the reward, or do both, until you start moving.”

Finally …

Fill out a sheet of paper with your own four day win just like the picture of mine here (click to enlarge):
Pams_4day_win

Post it in at least three places:  Your bathroom mirror, your refrigerator door and your workspace.  Check off each day you manage to complete your ridiculously easy goals.

I am seriously going to do my 4-day win
.

If you are motivated by public accountability, write yours here in the comments.  Five days from now (January 20) I will post about how I did on mine and encourage you to do the same.

Final thoughts on the number 4

I couldn’t help but share some additional information on the significance of the number 4, courtesy of my distracted mind combined with Google:

The number 4 in the Tarot :

“Four is the number of manifestation and material reality. There are four elements, four sides of a square, four cardinal directions of a compass, four seasons, four winds, etc. It is a number of order, structure, power, and earthly dominion. Four is the number of the prototypical complete family: a father, a mother, a son, and a daughter.”

The number 4 in Numerology :

“In the Jewish religion, the number four is significant because of the Tetragrammaton, the four-letter name of God which is so holy it is never spoken. In Chinese numerology (as well as that of other Oriental languages), the word “four” is a homonym of the Chinese word for “death”. As thus, some hospitals do not have a 4th floor.

So perhaps “death to procrastination” is more than a dramatic headline after all!

-Pam


Pamela Slim is a Martha Beck certified coach and author of Escape from Cubicle Nation

Big Dreams: Setting & Achieving Wildly Improbably Goals

Woman ClimbingI was 13, doing my homework in front of my family’s broken-down television, when I felt strangely compelled to look up at the screen. It showed an athlete running around an indoor track. I heard myself say out loud, “That’s where I’m going to college.” A split second later the TV narrator’s voice came on: “Here at Harvard University’s athletic center…” My heart stopped. Not in my most fevered dreams had I ever considered applying to an Ivy League school. Such behavior would be unusual, if not downright bizarre, for a girl from my deeply conservative Utah town. Besides, going to Harvard required several thousand times more brains, talent, and money than I would ever have. On the other hand, I felt the truth of my own strange words in the marrow of my bones. Okay, I thought nervously, maybe going to Harvard isn’t utterly unthinkable. Maybe it’s just barely, barely possible. Right there, in front of the TV, I surrendered to the first of what I would one day call my Wildly Improbable Goals (WIGs, for short). 

Decades later I have a couple of Harvard diplomas stuck in a closet, and a happy expectation that sometime soon another WIG is going to pop, unbidden, into my consciousness. I’ve watched this happen repeatedly, not only to me but to loved ones and clients. I suspect it may have happened to you, too. Perhaps it was just a flicker of thought that transported you for a moment, before you dismissed it as nonsense. Maybe it’s a dream that simply will not let go of you, no matter how often you tell yourself not to hope for anything so big, so unlikely. Or it may be an ambition you’ve already embraced, even though everyone else thinks you need serious medication. In any case, learning to invite and accept your own WIG can awaken you to a kind of ubiquitous, benevolent magic, a river of enchantment that perpetually flows toward your destiny.

Time travel 
I might as well admit what I believe about these minor prophecies I call WIGs. I suspect they’re not so much mental constructs as literal glimpses of the future. I stand behind Albert Einstein’s comment that “people like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.” Physics tells us that time can be stretched or compressed like Silly Putty, and I am just woo-woo enough to believe that we humans might sometimes sense truths that are ordinarily veiled by our assumptions or self-imposed rules.

Prescience—knowing about events that haven’t yet occurred—is not altogether foreign to behavioral science. In one study, experimenters showed test subjects a series of images, including both pleasant pictures and violent or otherwise emotional ones. The researchers were not surprised to find that the subjects’ blood pressure and heart rate increased in response to the upsetting images. They had not anticipated, however, that this reaction would occur seconds before the subjects saw the violent pictures—a result that has been replicated in other studies but never satisfactorily explained.

What occurs infinitesimally in laboratory experiments takes on huge dimensions in the lives of some extraordinary people. Joan of Arc had goals so wildly improbable that she was burned as a witch for achieving them. A young Winston Churchill once said to a friend, “I tell you I shall be in command of the defenses of London… In the high position I shall occupy, it will fall to me to save the Capital and save the Empire.” Do such people accomplish great things because they dreamed near impossible dreams, or were their dreams previews of what they were destined to achieve? I’m open to either explanation. To me, one seems as mysterious as the other. Whether our WIGs are the cause or effect of our actions, they have a peculiar power to lift us beyond what we thought to be our limitations.

Wild Kingdom 
At this point, I hope you’re wondering how you can set your own Wildly Improbable Goals. The problem is, you can’t. WIGs are to normal thoughts what Siberian tigers are to house cats, and your “right mind” doesn’t have the hunting skills to find them. Fortunately, your WIGs can find you. The knowledge of your destiny may stalk you for years, undetected except for occasional moments of longing or hope that glint like eyeshine in your darkest hours. Then when you least expect it, a WIG will leap out of nowhere and overwhelm you in one breathtaking burst. I’ve had the privilege of watching many clients recognize WIGs. It’s thrilling to see people who thought they were directionless realize they’re about to run for office or buy a house or publish a novel or have a baby. If these moments were broadcast on cable—the Wildly Improbable Discovery Channel—I’d watch it all day long.

Speaking of having babies, that process is somewhat similar to the procedure for inviting WIGs into your life. You can’t force a WIG to happen, but you can create conditions that will either prevent it or invite it. One precondition is absolutely necessary: You must befriend, protect, and nurture your own spirit. This means paying attention to your real needs, treating yourself not just fairly but kindly, and standing up for yourself even if that displeases people around you. Just as a run-down body may be unable to conceive a healthy new life, a run-down soul can’t support the healthy development of the life you were meant to have. 

Helping it Happen 
Once you’ve met the basic condition of self-care, there are several strategies you might use to lure your WIGs out of hiding. One is to take a pencil in your dominant hand (right for right- handers, left for lefties) and write down a few pointed questions, such as “What are you feeling?” “What do you need?” and “What do you want?” As soon as you’ve finished writing a question, switch the pencil to your other hand and write whatever words bubble up. You may be surprised. When your problem-solving mind is fully engaged, trying to master the task of writing with the “wrong” hand, hidden aspects of the self often surface. I’ve seen people encounter full-fledged WIGs in the shaky words written by their own nondominant hand. 

If you think more visually than verbally, you may want to try another exercise: time travel. Take a few quiet minutes, relax in a comfortable place, close your eyes, and imagine that the date has changed. It’s the same day of the same month, but the year is 2005, 2012, or 2020. Figure out how old you are in the year you’ve chosen. How old is your best friend? Your children? Your spouse? Let yourself inhabit this time. Now with your eyes still closed, simply describe your circumstances. Where are you? What are you wearing? What is the weather like? Now describe your life. What is most important to you on this date? What projects occupy you? Who hangs out with you? Try to simply observe rather than make things up. If no images appear, don’t worry. Your WIGs are still hiding, but you’ve called them and they are listening. They may show up after you’ve finished the exercise, when you’re brushing your teeth or making your bed. 

A third WIG-baiting exercise also involves time travel, but for this one you don’t project yourself into the future. Instead your future self comes back to visit you. Imagine meeting a wise, happy person who just happens to be your best self ten years from now. Ask this person for advice. If you’re facing a problem, ask your mentor how she got through it ten years back. Ask her what mistakes you’re making and how you might correct them. As with the previous exercise, you may initially get no answer. Nevertheless, your true self, that wise being who exists outside of time, has registered the questions. The answers will come.

When it Hits 
Being struck by a WIG is nothing like setting an ordinary goal. First of all, you’ll notice that it is not something you thought up; it seems to come from somewhere beyond thought. Second, you’ll feel an almost physical jolt of yearning, as though your heart is straining toward its destiny. Third, you’ll have the vertiginous sensation of your mind boggling. If you haven’t experienced this before, you’ll probably feel overwhelmed, the way I felt at 13, watching that runner circle the Harvard track. You won’t even be able to imagine the mess of work and luck necessary to make it happen. The very idea will seem impossible…almost. That “almost” will tickle the edges of your consciousness, tempting you to believe that somehow, someway, your dream may fall just inside the realm of probability. How can you be sure? You can’t. Fortunately, your first step is simple: Write down your WIG. In detail. Immediately, before you regain your sanity and lose your nerve. 

Experts say that simply writing down goals greatly increases your chance of actually achieving them. Perhaps it’s because the act of writing primes your brain to scan the environment, looking for opportunities that will take you toward your objectives. Many choices you make en route to realizing your WIG will be so inconspicuous that you won’t even notice them, but over time they’ll add up to huge changes in direction.

Once you’ve written your WIG, the real work begins. I’ve had many clients who, impressed by the strange electricity of their WIGs, assume that this intense feeling alone will magically create the desired reward. Yeah, right. I think the reason WIGs have so much mojo is that we need a huge reservoir of desire to keep us slogging through the hard work needed to realize them. Almost invariably, the effort necessary to achieve a WIG is not less than we expect but more. That said, the process of working toward a WIG does seem to land us in extraordinary territory. Creativity coach Julia Cameron comments that her clients reap the fruit of their labors only if they are willing to go out and “shake the trees,” but weirdly, the fruit that falls almost never comes from the tree the person is shaking.

This has been my experience as well. By the time I was 15, I’d developed a shortlist of WIGs that included three rather childish goals: I wanted to learn to ski, own a ten-speed bicycle, and visit Europe. Once programmed, my brain began noticing job opportunities and sporting-goods sales, and I slowly earned enough money to buy a bike and some used ski equipment. I was also working on selling enough French-club perfume to win a trip to Europe. I’d sold three whole ounces and had only a couple of gallons to go, when a Yugoslavian friend sent my family two round-trip tickets to Europe that he was too busy to use. Days later I was standing on European soil, dizzy with jet lag and euphoria.

That pattern—the recognition of a WIG, followed by enormous amounts of work, followed by a miracle—has happened to me so many times that it’s almost stopped surprising me. I see it strike my clients as well, when they prepare a safe space for their true selves, ask a few questions, and accept the answers. You already know your own WIGs, though you may not yet realize it. The part of you that is unhampered by illusion—the illusion of time, the illusion of powerlessness, the illusion of impossibility—is waiting for you to slow down and open up so that it can speak to your consciousness. In some unguarded moment, you will hear its wildly improbable words and know that they are guiding you home. 


Wildly Improbable Goals – WIGs – are a foundational concept for my life coach training program. First introduced in my book “Finding Your Own North Star”, all of my coaches are trained to help you set – and achieve – your own WIGs.