David Maister was a Harvard professor and one of the most lucid presenters and writers. He was also a fat smoker. He knew he should give up smoking, eat less and exercise more.
His pattern was our pattern. We try a little, succumb to temptation, give up. We repeat until totally frustrated and cynical.
He recognised what caused the problem – the rewards (and pleasure) are in the future; the disruption, discomfort and discipline needed to get there are immediate.
‘To reach our goals, we must first change our lifestyle, our daily habits, now. Then we have to have the courage to keep up the new habits and not yield to all the old familiar temptations. Then, and only then, do we get the benefits later.
As human beings, we are not good at such decisions. We start self-improvement programmes with good intentions, but if they don’t pay off immediately, or if a temptation to depart from the programme arises, we abandon our efforts completely—until the next time we pretend to be on the programme.’
That’s our pattern. Telling us what we should do clearly doesn’t work. What coaches need to do is help them find a strategy that they will commit to and incorporate into their daily routine. Dabbling is not acceptable, because it won’t work.
So a coaching approach that might help a fat smoker would be to ask: What exercise and diet might you enjoy and be prepared to build into your daily routine?
Encouragement is also an essential ingredient in the recipe. When starting to exercise, you can imagine how powerful it is to hear the words, ‘good work – you’re doing much better’. Diets can have goals of losing 50 lbs, which can seem impossible, or 1 lb a week, which seems more attainable.
As David points out: We all need to play mind games with ourselves when we struggle to build new achievements and habits into our lives. For example, “If I can just finish this first one, I’ll reward myself with a break. Let me just get this first one done!”).
Of course this article isn’t about fat smokers. We can all find ourselves having bad habits at work where the short term pain seems to outweigh the long term rewards. Coaches – take note!
Tips for Coaches 2 – Dealing with Hidden Commitments is also available. See https://tonyreiss.com/2016/05/04/tips-for-coaches-2-the-non-delegator/