The Initial Feeling
Running late for events and meetings was never fun. I’m a guy who can get quite anxious in those situations.
I find my level of stress depends on what mode of transport I have at hand. Walking or cycling is always easier on my stress levels, probably because I can always move that little faster, and be a little less late, if I want to.
While driving though, 20 min late triggers a higher stress alert in me. I can’t do anything to speed up if I am stuck in traffic or I’m near the speed limit. Living in inner city Sydney, being stuck in traffic happens alot.
So how can I feel more relaxed when I’m driving and 20 min late to where I need to be?
After doing BJ Fogg’s workshop last year, one day I realised the answer was seeing that there is Plenty of Time.
The Existing Behaviour
So before we get to that answer, let me briefly make clear what my problem was, as a behaviour.
Trigger (or cue):
When I was driving and running late, I would feel anxious.
I would glance at the time, on my car’s clock, in the centre of my dashboard.
Feeling after the behaviour:
In my immediate anxious state, this indulgent glance made me feel good for a split second, before I actually registered what the time was. But then I realised I was late. So, that blip of a good feeling was always replaced by a stronger, reinforced, sense of stress. Not good!
Side note: don’t get me wrong here. I was not having panic attacks or hyperventilating. I was just anxious. Some deep breathing always helped, and are always recommended… but there was another way to relax that required far less of a jedi sense of presence and breath.
So back to the behaviour: Every time after my behaviour was triggered, there was a clear cause of my heightened stress. This was my judgement about the time my car clock showed me, and how late that made me feel I was.
I wanted to change that feeling of stress I that I reinforced in myself. To do this, I needed to do two things.
- Make it very hard to do the existing behaviour – see the time.
- Replace that behaviour with one that reinforces better feelings – in this case of being super relaxed.
What change to my behaviour would allow me to do these two things?
Enter the Plenty of Time Behaviour
The simplest solutions always seem to work best. I cut a strip of post-it note, wrote on it with black marker, and stuck it over my car clock:
The New Behaviour
The first few times, my new behaviour was like this:
When I am driving and running late, I felt anxious.
I glance at the space where I used to see my car clock and the time. I see Plenty of Time…
Improved Feeling after the Behaviour:
which makes me laugh, forgetting in that moment that I had used this behavioural trick on myself! Immediately, I realise the absurdity of feeling rushed when I’m stuck in traffic. This calms me down a lot.
Win! The Plenty of Time behaviour made me feel so much better then the “Judge my Lateness” behaviour.
The best part is this has helped me to feel better about running late in general. Like in my last post on creating a new daily cardio behaviour, the feeling you experience after the behaviour (being more relaxed) actually reinforces and motivates you to do the new behaviour. With no more than a post-it note worth of effort on my behalf.
Behavioural scientists call what I just outlined: training an incompatible behaviour. I first learned about this while reading Karen Pryor’s excellent Don’t Shoot the Dog, recommended by BJ Fogg before his workshop.
More recently, I came across it again in Charles Duhigg’s awesome book The Power of
Habit. He uses a similar approach for changing habits.
I will be look at more behaviours in life and work through the simple lenses offered by these frameworks in the coming weeks.
Oh, and I should mention I used the same principle when I looked at my phone to check the time. That usually made me feel anxious! But with a little tweaking, my iPhone screen looked like this —->
Until next post!