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Forcing Mechanisms

On a basic level, we can all recognize pretty easily how we should be spending our time, money, and energy.  Fixing a salad trumps the drive thru at McDonald’s.  A 401K contribution is a wiser investment than a boat.  And date night with your wife is a better idea than hitting the strip club with the boys.  

The point is that in most cases we understand what’s best for us.  I do, and so do you. As a result, we make the best of intentions. Yet despite those intentions, we often lack the wisdom and/or discipline to actually do the thing that we can recognize is more important.  Often I do this unintentionally – without even thinking about it.  

My health, for example, is important to me.  So I exercise 5 mornings a week… Usually.

And I don’t eat processed food…  Except when I’m in a time crunch… Or I get really stressed out.

My wife and I realize that daily connection and affirmation is important in our marriage: we spend so much of our days communicating with our children, our customers, our employees and associates.  It’s easy not to take time for each other. So we do a daily affirmation and connection every night before bed… Unless the boys can’t get to sleep… Or we’re tired… Or one of us is reading a really good book.

With all the time, money, and energy I invest in my racing, it’s silly not to commit to a consistent practice regimen.  So I practice for 30 minutes, twice a week… Sometimes.

See a trend here?  I’ve got well developed principles and good intentions.  But I don’t always follow through. I know it’s important.  I’ve earmarked my goals. But life gets in the way.

That’s where forcing mechanisms come in.  Not familiar with the term? Don’t worry, I wasn’t either until my buddy Ben starting telling me about some of his several months back.  In simple terms, a forcing mechanism is something that we set up to essentially force us to do the things that we intend to do, you know, intentionally.  Forcing mechanisms make it painful to get off course; or at least the best one’s do.

One example from my buddy…  Establishing (and following through on) regular date nights with his wife was important for he and her and their marriage.  So they scheduled date nights for every Thursday. They blocked off their calendar. And that worked… occasionally. Often, they’d find some excuse not to spend their evening together: life would happen, and something would, in the moment, seem more important or insurmountable.  So date night got postponed a week… Then another. What he did next was brilliant.

Ben called a sitter and booked her for Thursday night, from 6:00 to 10:00.  He made it a recurring appointment… for a month. And he paid her… In advance.  Now, Ben and his wife still have the option to cancel their sitter if something comes up.  And things still come up. But now, there’s pain associated with that cancellation. Not only do they miss out on their date night, they PAY the sitter for NOT working: they’re at home with their kids while they pay the sitter to do whatever it is she does on her night off!  Ben implemented this over a year ago. He and his wife have missed one date night since.

I liked the concept so much that I use it in my own life.  My oldest son started Kindergarten last fall. About a month in, I began to feel distant from him.  My wife knew what was going on at school, and I felt out of the loop. I hadn’t worked to make our schedules align so that we could connect regularly.  So I made a point of adding “Intentional conversations with Gary” to my weekly and monthly goals. I wrote it down and stared at it every day. I even made a checklist.  And that worked… for a few days. Then life got in the way.

One morning, my wife had an appointment, so I took Gary to school.  I work from home, so this is something that I could easily fit into my regular schedule; although the thought of doing so had never really crossed my mind.  To be honest, I was sort of bothered by the fact that I had to interrupt my work day to do it (I’m a creature of habit… Don’t judge). But a funny thing happened on that 10 minute drive to school.  We TALKED. We had no choice – we were alone in a car together!  

So I told my wife that she could sleep in: I’d fix Gary breakfast and take him to school.  And that ride, every day, is our time. We’ve made a habit of each of us sharing one thing that we’re grateful for every morning.  It’s our time; and little by little I find out what’s going on at school. I know who he hangs out with. I learn about his fears and anxieties, his wins and his struggles.  That’s how I check the “Intentional conversations with Gary” box 5 days a week. I force myself to drive him to school. It has multiple positive consequences: I feel closer to my son, he gets some Daddy time that I know he covets, and my wife appreciates an hour of peace in the morning.  Win, win, win!

What are some intentions in your own life that you don’t always follow through on? What forcing mechanisms can you develop to help stay on course?

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