Think back to a recent promise you made to someone, big or small. Did you keep it?
What about a recent promise you made to yourself – something you were going to do or not do.
Did you keep that promise?
Odds are you’re more likely to keep promises to others before you keep one to yourself. And that’s from research, not just popular psychology. There is a neural component to promise keeping and promise breaking. Research shows that when there is a broken promise (which includes to yourself), there is increased activity in your amygdala – that’s the emotional processing center of the brain.
When looking at promises related to productivity principles, things that you’re going to do, there is both art and actual science behind what motivates some actions over others. While there are a multitude of get-stuff-done ideas out there, the most effective playbook is the one you put together for yourself.
There isn’t one product, program, or process that works for all of us. But you can find some simple steps that, when done repeatedly, they can propel important progress in your personal life.
The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that consistency is a promise you keep to yourself. It’s not the grand efforts that make the largest impact. It’s the repetition of self-respect that drives real, tangible results.
This episode introduces the concept of a short-term productivity practice called the 7 Day Sprint. A sprint is a concerted, consistent effort made for a set amount of time. In this case, it’s three actions done every day for 7 days. That’s it. No fancy app or download required.
Seven days is a significant stretch of time to get past the usual derailers and excuses. As my business coach says: You can’t be a badass a few days of the week. And I found that to be true. And this sprint takes you from weekdays to weekend and from the idea of being merely a personal promise to daily actions to prioritize the promise you made.
Plus, you’ll feel like a badass when you spent a full week doing what you said you would do.
When layers of broken promises accumulate, your brain start to see this as evidence that your word isn’t to be trusted. Then you’re likely to develop adaptive behavior to counteract the idea of what goal you want to do with what your amygdala says is a pattern of historical broken promises. A sprint helps over-write those prior responses and offers fresh evidence to your brain.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1 – Select three specific actions you will take each day. Just three. I know there are some over-doers out there already wanting to scribble subcategories to each. Just three, it works. These are actions decided by you and for you. Yeah, I know, this is the uncomfortable part. In order for the self-promise piece to have meaning, this can’t be a running tally of your daily to-do’s. This isn’t about making breakfast for everyone else and then remembering to eat yourself.
This is specifically for the You Things that always seem to fall off the list, or only get halfway done – which is why they need to be simple. The key here is specificity, something measurable and achievable. This isn’t the time for those big stretch goals. That can come, and these three can be part of that, but they specifically need to be self-contained.
For example, if your overall goal is to get more exercise, pick an action that is within your control for the next seven days like doing 10 pushups vs. vowing to taking a specific class at a gym. You can do those pushups no matter where you are and at whatever time vs. being tied to someone else’s clock or schedule or even travel. Or how about taking time going back to eating breakfast yourself? Whatever it is, it’s something that, when done, makes your day better.
And for your first sprint, look for the things that can be done relatively quickly. Our schedule isn’t always our own and interruptions are a regular part of the day. So it’s far more probable that you can accomplish specific You-targeted actions that are achievable in a few minutes. A 30-minute meditation practice sounds amazing – and 3 minutes a day is a great place to start as you build consistency. Results come in all sizes. And in a sprint, you don’t grades for extra credit, you just get it done.
So set targets you can easily achieve – and even exceed. Simple steps taken each day.
Step 2 – Write these three actions somewhere visible, either physically or via technology. Make them the screen saver on your phone, post them on the refrigerator or your mirror. Whatever works for you. As long as they are visible to you at least once a day. This is visual stimulus that helps activate the brain to complete the contract you made with yourself about yourself. It’s further evidence of the actions being taken and the result that is being promised.
Step 3 – Record the successes each day. It can be check marks, it can be whatever you want to do. Back to the brain, taking this action to acknowledge the completion each day provides a dopamine release. That is a goal accomplishment, and your brain registers it as such. And when it does, you get the happy chemical release. It’s an actual mental note with the gift-with-purchase of brain chemistry. Then as it is repeated, the note gets promoted to being evidence and not just an observation. This is the foundation for productive micro habits. That brain-body connection is a key step to sustained success.
That’s the outline for the 7 Day Sprint: Pick three specific things, make them visible every day, and record the wins at least once day.
Three steps, three actions, seven days.
There is magic in starting to take action before you even believe in the results. Start doing and let the thinking catch up.
Another important output of this sprint is that mental momentum. We’ve talked about that in previous episodes and it’s important here because time multiplies whatever you feed it. Each day that you are repeating actions invites the next step to make that feel more accessible the next day.
What if we got good at keeping promises to ourselves? Start for seven days. The simple act of starting is the first promise. Carry on until you carry through. It’s one of the many ways that we can unlock our brain and one of the many ways we can also take good care.