Becoming the CEO of You (aka Getting Out of Your Own Way)

We are a culture addicted to self-improvement. By 2022, it is estimated that the self-improvement industry will grow to $13.2 billion, increasing by 5.6% a year. This doesn’t include the fitness and wellness industry which is expected to be worth $4.2 trillion. Yes, I said trillion. Looking at the data, we are spending a lot of money on improving ourselves in every way possible.

When it comes to results, as a culture we fall short with research showing that 92% of us fail to achieve our goals. We aim to eat healthier, exercise more, make learning a priority, and an endless list of other improvement goals but all of them fall short. So why isn’t it working and what are we doing wrong?

We value instant gratification over long-term gains

For most of us, we aren’t great at valuing the long-term benefits higher than the short-term gains we experience. Numerous research studies have proven that when given a choice, even when the long-term benefit is articulated in detail, we will almost always choose the more immediate gratification. In the Stanford marshmallow test, kids were given the option of getting one marshmallow now or wait 15 minutes and get two marshmallows. The majority of kids chose the one marshmallow.

While we’d like to blame this on age, we, unfortunately, are no better as adults. In another study, adults were given the opportunity to earn ten dollars now or delay and earn more money later. Again, few chose the option that would gain them more money. This insight leads to the creation of a whole new field of economics called behavioral economics. Traditional economics would tell you that people make logical decisions based on reason. Research by Daniel Kahneman showed that rarely are we logical, but are rather making decisions based on a range of factors. When the Stanford marshmallow test was revisited, research published in Psychological Science showed that we are heavily influenced by our environment, income, socio-economic, and other factors.

“A general “law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical
exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the
same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding course
of action. In the economy of action, effort is a cost, and the acquisition of
skill is driven by the balance of benefits and costs. Laziness is built deep into our nature.” — Daniel Kahneman, Thinking Fast and Slow

We fail to make ourselves a priority

For many of us, our needs fall by the wayside as we focus on what is needed for work, by our family, and by our friends. If you aren’t willing to make yourself a priority there will be few, if any, that will do it for you. While sometimes it is as simple as saying, “I am making myself a priority”, it is often more involved. A focus on oneself carries a lot of baggage — guilt, self-worth, expectations, societal norms —that can further hamstring us when it comes to being able to make our goals a priority. What we don’t realize is that making ourselves a priority also helps us put others a priority as well.

We keep looking for the silver bullet

Choose a topic and you will find endless amounts of information, approaches, and best practices. This volume of information can be overwhelming and the response is to continue looking for the one “right” approach that will get us the results that we want in the shortest timeframe and with the fewest missteps. The reality is that for any given scenario, there isn’t going to be a solution that is 100% applicable to our situation.

Say you are trying to lose weight. While there are general guidelines — eat healthier, increase water intake, exercise more — there are a great number of other factors that we need to consider. These can include medical history, allergies, hormone imbalances, injuries, etc.

A better strategy would be to assume that any strategy will get us 80% to our goal and that 20% will require some degree of experimentation for our unique set of circumstances. This puts your focus on what you are trying to achieve rather than doing the unproductive chasing of the silver bullet strategy. It may feel productive, but it is false.

We focus in too many directions

This is a common problem for anyone who has ever made a new year’s resolution. You have a variety of goals you want to achieve and so you dive into them all. Right now. Full steam. Combined with everything else you were already doing this approach will inevitably backfire as we are going to experience the great over — overwhelmed, over-committed, and just over it all.

Our always-on culture doesn’t help. Being busy has become a badge of honor and we continue to find ways to fill every moment of our days, even when we are filling it in unfulfilling and sometimes detrimental ways — social media, endless streaming of shows and movies, etc.

We lack planning (or we plan too much)

This pitfall can come at us in a number of ways. When we don’t plan, we don’t give ourselves the ability to quickly identify barriers that we might encounter and how we might work around them. We end up a victim of our circumstances rather than owning our day.

When we plan too much, we give ourselves a false sense of productivity. Because we are thinking about our goal, we are then able to give ourselves the okay to check that item off of today’s to-do list. We become experts at the approach but fail at the execution.

The Solution: Become the CEO of You

One of the best strategies for addressing these roadblocks has been to adopt a mindset of being CEO of you. It sounds odd, I know, but hear me out. Many of the reasons that we don’t achieve our goals are because we assume that they are only going to impact ourselves. This makes it easier to deprioritize as the only person that we feel will be impacted is ourselves.

When you think of yourself as a business, you begin to shift your mindset away from just yourself and into a focus on how what you do will benefit others. This service-oriented mindset can in turn accelerate your personal development as you see what you are doing as a way to help others, bring more value, and have an impact.

By treating yourself as a business, you start thinking in terms of value, gain, return on investment, and other factors that you might not have considered otherwise. Now you can objectively think about the trade-offs of different options and behaviors rather than getting stuck in analysis paralysis and doing nothing at all.

What is best about this approach is it enables you to “step away from yourself”. The practice of becoming more self-aware also increases your decision-making ability and critical thinking skills. Rather than getting mired in the details, we are now thinking about ourselves more objectively and not getting caught in the minutiae of our thoughts.

Have you tried this approach? If so, how did it go?

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