Doing stuff is certainly a brilliant strategy for getting things done (I have a remarkable grasp of the obvious don’t you think?). Believe me, I’d love to find a way to get the laundry done without actually doing the laundry, but the fact is that it doesn’t wash and iron itself. If you want to get “stuff” done there’s really no choice but to go and do “stuff”, right?
Right. But like most things there’s a catch.
That catch is your own brain
Tucked away in the central part of your brain is a little piece of grey matter called the basal ganglia, and it’s this little gizmo that plays the important role of encoding patterns of behaviour and activating pre-encoded, pre-stored patterns of behaviour. It’s these complex maps of behaviour packed into your brain that allow you to navigate through your life and do things; maps that fire when you hear a siren, maps that fire when you’re making an omelette, maps that fire when you’re meeting someone new and a gazillion other maps for a gazillion other circumstances.
Say hi to your basal ganglia and be nice, because you really need to be on good terms with it.
Current research shows that your basal ganglia can encode a new pattern of behaviour after just 3 iterations; meaning that if it spots a pattern in what you’re doing, how you’re doing it and how you’re thinking about it, it encodes a map that allows you to repeat that pattern at a later date without having to think about it.
This is huge.
Your fears are patterns stored by your basal ganglia. How you think about those fears are patterns that can be fired at the “right time”. How you think about your weaknesses are patterns; your thoughts when you’re trying something new are patterns; your expectations about what’s going to happen next are patterns; how you think about success and failure are patterns.
Think of your your basal ganglia like an all-knowing GPS navigation system – considering every element of the environment around you (traffic, weather, music, vision, lights, passengers, tiredness level – everything) and automatically plotting you a route it thinks will work best. It’ll even drive the damn car for you.
With your basal ganglia making all your navigational choices it’s easy to end up somewhere you had no intention of going. You’re just running on auto-pilot.
Nothing extraordinary can happen when you’re on auto-pilot.
I’ve noticed a growing number of people out there telling stories about how they push themselves near/up to/over the edge, hustle like crazy and are ferociously ticking things off their life list/bucket list/to-do list – and that you should really do the same.
And so here’s where I make my point clear.
If all you’re doing is doing, you’re not really doing anything.
Always moving can be as meaningless as staying still.
Hustling/doing/pushing in order to see ticks in boxes, to be able to say that you’ve done some stuff or to feel good about yourself is self-absorbed in the extreme. When your basal ganglia encodes those hustling behaviours your natural self-confidence turns to hubris, and your efforts become “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing“. Automatic hustling can even become damaging when it supports the thought that you’re no good unless you’re hustling, doing or pushing, or that you deserve a “good life” because you’ve been hustling, doing or pushing.
No. The more extraordinary change happens when you consistently and deliberately establish a meaningful context for what you do. Your actions don’t even need to be big, bold or world-changing; they just need to be purposefully aligned with what matters to you.
The action I take can be bold or gentle, but will always be congruous with my values. Code #38
These actions can be small, they can be subtle and they can be gentle; and they can speak louder and reach further than any big or bold action that isn’t threaded with heart and meaning.
So, what are you doing?
PS: The day after I wrote this article, I saw the video below, which speaks perfectly to my point here. As David McCullough says, “Make for yourselves please, for your sakes and for ours, extraordinary lives.”