The Coach's Corner

Don’t jump the gun!

The Coach’s Corner Newsletter #48

Being competitive has its upsides: you train, you respect your craft, you show up, you want to excel and do very, very well. You want to win.

And by virtue of being at the starting line on nearly everything you work on, being competitive means there’s a fairly strong chance you do something before the ideal time. You might jump the gun.

According to The Idioms, this phrase has its origins in track and field races dating to the early 1900s, referring to athletes who started the race before the gun was fired.

With the heightened sense of urgency we’re subjected to in our professions, at home or on social media, it’s no wonder we rush to judgment so quickly. And when we do, we often have to pull back, offer a mea culpa and collect more information so that we can put together a proposal with all of the required details.

The problem surfaces when you want to get out ahead of the ‘issue’ and take charge. Sure, there are moments when you’re in the right place at the right time. “Better lucky than good,” comes to mind. But the flipside is that you may be presenting a plan that’s not ready for prime time, all because you haven’t vetted it fully.

So how can you stay ahead of the game and enter when the time is right? James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, says this dilemma can be addressed by paying less attention to our goal of winning the game, and giving more attention to how we build systems so that we stay in the game.



Don’t jump the gun!

Julie opened our coaching session with a strategy that she wanted to run by me.

So a senior manager went out of maternity leave earlier this year and made it clear when she left that if it was mandatory to return to the office in any way, shape or form, she would not be coming back to her role.

I listened as she explained that since that time, everyone’s been notified they have to be in the office three days a week.

I’m considering how to go to bat for her, because she’s a very valuable member of our team and I don’t want to lose her.

I wondered whose responsibility it is to inquire about the logistics of this back to work order?

Hers, but I want to pave the way and see if I can get an exception for her now so that when it’s time for her to return there are no roadblocks.

We sat in silence.

What’s coming up for you?

I asked.

It’s dawning on me that I don’t know whether my intervention would make a difference in this situation, since she hasn’t told me of her plans to return at all.

As she nodded her head, I wondered,

What might you consider instead?

Immediately, Julie sounded more certain.

I don’t want to jump the gun! It’s time to set up a meeting with her and understand how this leave is going for her and what plans she has for her return. Then my time will be used well – and not be wasted.



Resisting the urge to act too soon

Julie came to her own realization that she needed more information from her senior manager before preemptively reaching out to leadership.

When I jump the gun, it’s often because I have a goal in mind that I believe I can reach without having to complete all the elements that are necessary. The system I typically use simply takes more time than I like, so I take a shortcut. Rarely does that improve my results.

In his book Atomic Habits, James Clear writes about the distinction between goals and systems.

Goals are good for setting a direction, but systems are best for making progress. A handful of problems arise when you spend too much time thinking about your goals and not enough time designing your systems.

He outlines four problems you’ll encounter when your attention centers around your goals:

Problem #1: Winners and losers have the same goals.

Every Olympian wants to win a gold medal. Every candidate wants to get the job. And if successful and unsuccessful people share the same goals, then the goal cannot be what differentiates the winners from the losers. The goal had always been there. It was only when they implemented a system of continuous small improvements that they achieved a different outcome.

Problem #2: Achieving a goal is only a momentary change.

Achieving a goal only changes your life for the moment. We think we need to change our results, but the results are not the problem. What we really need to change are the systems that cause those results. When you solve problems at the results level, you only solve them temporarily. In order to improve for good, you need to solve problems at the systems level.

Problem #3: Goals restrict your happiness.

The implicit assumption behind any goal is this: “Once I reach my goal, then I’ll be happy.” The problem with a goals-first mentality is that you’re continually putting happiness off until the next milestone. A systems-first mentality provides the antidote. When you fall in love with the process rather than the product, you don’t have to wait to give yourself permission to be happy. You can be satisfied anytime your system is running.

Problem #4: Goals are at odds with long-term progress.

The purpose of setting goals is to win the game. The purpose of building systems is to continue playing the game. True long-term thinking is goal-less thinking. It’s not about any single accomplishment. It is about the cycle of endless refinement and continuous improvement. Ultimately, it is your commitment to the process that will determine your progress.

My takeaway

I so often come full circle when I return to the power of systems, routines and habits.

You know that feeling when you’re on the precipice of taking an action that’s premature? And you even have the gut feeling that you’re ignoring the steady course of action that works for you? But this time, you tell yourself it’s different and you ignore your own steps. You jump the gun.

That’s when I realize my goal of being first, or skimming my research or being a weekend warrior means more to me than relying on what I know works. Vetting the facts, verifying the data, or training well are all part of a series of actions that work far better for me than when I’m trying to force a positive outcome. And those systems, routines and habits continue to serve me day in and day out.

Goals can provide direction and even push you forward in the short-term, but eventually a well-designed system will always win.

James Clear

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