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Michael Gardon

  • Writer's pictureMichael Gardon

The Best Plan Is The One You Can Stick With - The Break Issue 16

Updated: Mar 19

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Adherence Is The Key To Change

Why do most people (including me) fail to stick with a change or even start something new?

I try to make changes every single day of my life. It’s a constant fight.

I mostly fail.

But I sometimes succeed.

I’m convinced that the biggest reason for the failure is that we tend to follow this path:

- We think we need knowledge.

- We read experts.

- They overcomplicate things.

- We get overwhelmed.

- We quit.

In reality, we don’t need a 50 step plan, when the most important thing we can accomplish to make a change is to just start.

We’ll figure the rest out as we go. We’ll learn along the way.

So to get going, we need things simple. We need friction removed. We need an easy path to follow along until things start clicking.

Enter Heuristics

This is where my favorite Jedi mind trick comes in - Heuristics.

Heuristics are mental shortcuts used in problem solving and decision making, which enable a person to discover or learn something for themselves.

Heuristics are simplified frameworks that serve as a “rule of thumb” to help make decisions. This is all we need to be confident that we are “directionally correct” on our new change journey.

Heuristics are approximately right. Heuristics are not “optimizations”. They are simple rules to set you on the right path, form a new habit or just get you going.

Heuristics are momentum starters.

A great book on making things simple is Simple Rules.

Forget The Experts

I’m convinced that one downside of the information age is that information is so plentiful that it leads us down rabbit holes we don’t need to be in. We analyze, overthink and plan instead of just start.

The conundrum is that “experts” need to show you they are an expert. They do that by making you think something is more complicated than it needs to be. There’s this perverse incentive to sound smart, and break things down into more parts than are necessary.

The best experts approach issues as a coach would - trying to make things as simple as possible so their team can execute without thinking.

Heuristics To Make Change Dead Simple

So here are my four favorite heuristics I’ve used to make big changes feel easy.

On plans: “The best plan is one you can adhere to”

So this was a trick. The title of this issue is the best plan is one you can adhere to, which is actually my favorite heuristic for building habits, sticking with projects, and most importantly - being patient.

Building a 100 page slide deck on strategy plans for the next 12 months may get you promoted in a job, but that type of thinking does nothing in the real world.

Have you ever had so much motivation for a new year’s resolution that you plan everything out only to get overwhelmed with how much data you need to monitor, or how many different variables there are to you achieving your end goal?

Don’t fall into that trap.

Instead, ask yourself:

How easy will this be for me to stick to?

Do I want this for internal or external reasons?

What can I remove to make this plan as simple as possible?

Any new habit needs an easy plan or you will fail.

Famously Jerry Seinfeld was asked about how to be a better standup comedian. Instead of complicating everything and getting bogged down in the minutia of every possible optimization, Seinfeld cut to the heart of what was essential to the skill of stand up and built a simple plan: don’t break the chain.

He said the way to be a better comic was to create better jokes and the way to create better jokes was to write every day.

He told me to get a big wall calendar that has a whole year on one page and hang it on a prominent wall. The next step was to get a big red magic marker. He said for each day that I do my task of writing, I get to put a big red X over that day.

“After a few days you’ll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job is to not break the chain.”

Optimize for resilience not efficiency

The world is uncertain and changing. The resilient structure is more robust to change (and can even benefit from it) than the efficient structure.

Here’s an example:

Kodak built a very efficient business for the production and delivery of film. Every decision in that company was made based on optimizing the efficiency of film sales. Kodak could have diverted some capital into building out their digital film technology (yes, they had this) as a hedge on an unknown future.

Instead, Kodak executives didn’t do this because the rational ROI calculation didn’t make sense. It “wasn’t an efficient use of capital.” Well a few years later, the entire film market collapsed because of digital camera technology and Kodak, this once hyper-efficient example of business exceptionalism, went bankrupt.

In an environment of great uncertainty, you need a strong foundation and options in case your view of the world changes. This is how you stay on your feet and not get knocked out of the game of life.

Resilience is:

  • Having a safety net

  • Building redundancies

  • Diversifying income streams

  • Having an escape plan

  • Training a strong mind and strong body

Efficiency thinking tends to be short term, easily disrupted by change or being wrong. Resilient thinking is inherently long term and robust.

When faced with two paths, choose resilience.

On diet: Eat as much as you want of anything you can pick, pluck or kill

This heuristic changed how I eat. I’ve tried lots of diets with no luck. They are way too complicated for me. I’m also very active, so I always had problems going hungry, having low energy or just not having enough options.

But I read Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma which is a great read and really illuminated my thoughts on eating. My problem was eating enough healthy food. In his work with the Stanford football team, he made a rule for those big boys to get enough food.

“Eat as much as you want of anything you can pick, pluck or kill.”

This ensured the team could get a variety of foods including fruits, vegetables, beans and animal protein, but skipped the processed foods, sugars and refined grains.

Game changer for me to remember when I’m out and need fuel.

On writing (and listening): More periods. Less commas.

You ever noticed someone that just keeps talking and has no idea when to pause in a conversation? It’s so off-putting and difficult to be around. That was me several years ago. I figured out that I was doing this, and came up with an easy phrase to remind me to change. “More periods. Less commas.” So simple, but it reminded me to concentrate on making statements, tying them off, not rambling on and to pause.

An unexpected bonus from this simple trick is that my listening skills have drastically improved. I haven’t tracked this, but my minutes talking to minutes listening has probably decreased by 80%. This makes me more empathetic, increases trust and has generally improved my relationships with most people.

Following this heuristic has made me a better writer as well (although I still have a long way to go cuz I write how I talk 😂)

See you again next week.

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What’s happening on the pod?

Are you CAGED? Do you dream about being UNCAGED? I met my buddy Matt Doan networking online. We're both trying to help the same people take control of their work-lives to live more intentionally. Matt was completely broken by work, and almost lost it all. He figured out how to take back control and now teaches overwhelmed workaholics how to live UNCAGED. Check out the whole conversation.

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