Tips to cultivate something resembling consistency when its not in your nature
Have you ever taken the DOPE (Dove, Owl, Peacock, Eagle) test? It’s one of these quick-and-dirty personality tests that uses birds to represent different workstyles. In broad strokes: doves are peaceful and conflict averse, owls are fact-driven and analytical, peacocks are colorful social butterflies, and eagles are dominating and not afraid to fight for what they want.
If I had to describe myself as one of these, I wouldn’t. I think my work style is more “stray cat who won’t be tamed but knows there’s food here, so I’ll begrudgingly stick around and rub my head against your leg.”
The stray cat is ragged, but noble. Unlikely to be groomed for best-in-show, but tough and resilient. Capricious, but loyal to those who are kind.
The downsides? I’m scattered with an easily distractable mind. If I write something down, there’s no guarantee that I’m going to keep track of the notebook I wrote it down in. (Over the pandemic, I have unearthed no fewer than ten different notebooks, each with only three or four pages used.)
Discipline is not an inherent gift of the stray cat. Consistency, repetition, forcing ourselves into structure, these are things at which we do not naturally succeed. We chase after big new ideas with gusto, only to start chasing a new one half way through.
But as much as I like to range, I do enjoy a steady paycheck and knowing where my next meal is coming from. And so, over the years, I’ve learned to adapt.
To my fellow cats, and others who struggle with the disciplinary arts, I humbly offer these hard-won lessons to help build some semblance of consistency and long-term-ism into your own life, as well as begrudgingly adapting to structure, especially when times get tough:
1. Let go of (or limit) “From Now On’s” (FNO’s)
The Problem: I have a tendency to think that whatever I’m feeling right now is how I’ve always felt and always will. In the context of work, if I become seized with a new chase (a big new idea, a different way of doing something), I will give myself over to it utterly and completely, even if that means dismantling what I’ve done before to make it a reality. More than once, I turned around to behold my work only to realize that what I had before was better – but I can’t go back because it’s been scrapped for parts.
I have (in the past) approached communications planning for an entire year with wholly unrealistic and unbelievable expectations. January 1st? It’s a New Year, New Me, baby. From Now On, I’m going to produce two videos per week, post three pieces of social content every day and clear out my inbox by 2 p.m. Oh, this website design is trash, so let’s just delete it and start from scratch. While we’re at it, let’s say I’m going to get up at 6 a.m. on the dot, drink coffee, go for a three-mile walk, journal and then write a comprehensive to-do-list.
That plan is so outrageously ambitious I can’t help but fail.
The Stray Cat Solution: I’ve become wary of attempting to motivate myself into discipline by announcing to the world how everything is going to be totally different From Now On (FNO). FNO’s will really wreck and demotivate us if they aren’t instantly successful or end up being too ambitious to fly.
Now, I focus on one small, hyper-focused FNO at a time, and to cut my ambition by half to start. If I say I’m going to blog every day, my brain reminds me to just make that twice a week to start with and see where it gets me.
Remember, cats, we might be developing consistency muscles that are (to start with) weak and puny. When we’re flexing hard on that first step, then we cab challenge ourselves with an incrementally larger goal.
2. Batch it!
The problem: For those who prefer exploring the unknown rather than honing in on specifics, batching is magic. If I know that my Achille’s heel is repetition over the long term, then I should probably stop long-terming myself into failure, right?
There’s literally nothing I want to do every day for the rest of my life at a specific time besides eat. If you told me I had to, say, write a Facebook post at 10 a.m. every day, I’d be off the wagon by Thursday. But what I CAN do is drink a cup of coffee, get hyped up, write THIRTY Facebook posts in an hour and schedule them to go out.
The Stray Cat Solution: Batching is a way to give ourselves over the moment in a way that we stray cats really enjoy — sitting and enjoy something fully for a while before moving on. Batching is efficient, scales with volume (to a certain point) and, frankly, in a digital age, many, many things can be batched and scheduled in one sitting. Batching also gives us the time to change direction if and when we inevitably change our minds.
3. Don’t hiss at strangers, spend more time around civilization.
The problem: Stray cats can be finicky. We are cozy with some people, not necessary groups. We don’t necessarily want a collar – we wanna roam. Sometimes we just need time to react suspiciously to others trying to force us into be too social or box us in to what we perceive as unnecessary structure.
The Stray Cat Solution: There’s a lot about having some level of structure and organization in our lives that can be rewarding and beneficial (as long as it doesn’t violate any essential boundaries). We need to let other people dictate the agenda from time to time, and go along for the ride. We build allies this way, people who have gifts that compliment ours or who can help us out by taking care of some of the procedural or routine things we shy away from. Also, we will probably run into some other cats this way and start a little club, which makes us a force to be reckoned with. And that’s good, because one stray cat is hardly a menace, but a yard full? I’ve seen that movie Sleepwalkers, it’s scary.
4. We will fail. Get back on the horse.
The Problem: I think maybe what keeps some of us cats stray is secretly chasing perfection – it will either be perfect or nothing at all. I’ll be ready to launch my big new project when the entire table is perfectly set. I’ll be ready to change my health when I have less stress and enough money to order weird boxes of food from the internet. I’ll be ready to settle down as soon as I find the perfect family with two litterboxes, no dogs and who only serves Fancy Feast.
The Stray Cat Solution: One of my biggest lessons from 2020 is “It starts where it starts,” which has re-shaped how I look at failure. What really cemented this for me was finally getting a healthy workout routine that has lasted more than a month. (Five months and couting, 40 pounds lost so far, purrrr.)
There is a great trainer in my area who I like, mostly because he curses a lot and tells me it’s okay if I eat pizza sometimes. (After Thanksgiving, he told me I could give my meal plan a rest through the end of the year because “Christmas is big boy season.”)
I was complaining early on about how hard the journey was going to be, and how I wished I had started at a younger age. He said to me, “Stop moaning! It starts where it starts.”
This was a breakthrough after a lifetime of failed FNO’s about my health. It gave me permission to let go of what had come before and focus on what was right in front of me. It also meant that when I hit a setback, I let it go quickly and just start over from where I am that minute.
Perfect is the enemy of good and, most importantly, progress. Everything worth doing is achieved by incremental steps towards a tipping point. Find small things to focus on and keep plugging away. You don’t know when, you don’t know how — but if you keep plugging away at it, even if it appears inconsistent to those more discplined than you, one day? BAM! The scale will flop and you’ll have a breakthrough.
5. BONUS TIP: Put your to-do list in the cloud.
Listen, I know that notebook is pretty/cool/has a sweet leather cover. I know you bought it with the best of intentions to keep and organized to-do list for each and every day of your life.
But come on. You’re going to lose it. It’s going to slide under your car seat down to where all of the used Redbull cans live. You know it, I know it.
Put your to-do list in the cloud. Use an email app or whatever.
To all my fellow cats, keep being weird and wild. I hope my experience here helps you see how special and wonderful you are, and how we can achieve some level of discipline on our own terms. If you have any hacks in this area, I’d be delighted to hear them.
Communications and Special Projects Manager
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation
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