Strengthening Your Follow-Through Muscle
Yesterday I had one of those days where I stayed in my pajamas all day long. This rarely happens in my world. But it happened yesterday. And I think what felt so good at the end of the day, aside from my husband pointing out that I was saving time by not having to change back into my pajamas before I went to bed, was that I gave myself the time to follow through on so many things that I felt were still outstanding on my list.
More specifically, outstanding on my planner since I don't really have lists anymore. So, let’s talk about the topic of follow-through and specifically strengthening your follow through muscle. When you go to the gym or you work out, you're strengthening your muscles, all sorts of muscles in your body – your biceps, your triceps, and your quads. But when are you actually strengthening those brain muscles, specifically that follow-through muscle?
You have a follow-through muscle. I looked up “follow-through” in the dictionary. Here is the definition when it is considered a verb: to continue an action or task to its conclusion, to complete it, to continue an action or a task to its conclusion.
The last time I used the word “task” was when we were talking about things to put on your calendar and how sometimes we don't tackle the big projects because we think of them as overwhelmingly big, instead of thinking of them as manageable, small, smaller tasks. Interestingly, follow-through has to do with completing or concluding a task.
So how exactly do we strengthen this follow through muscle?
I have adopted a concept from a coach, Brenda O'Malley, who talks about this, and she talks about it as it relates to weight loss. I'm going to talk about it as it relates to your work both personally and professionally. And in our work world and in our home world, we have plans. Many of us even have a daily planner. Related, this concept of strengthening your follow through muscle has a lot to do with your daily plan. And as it relates to your daily plan, it is really a skill of stating what you will do, when you will do it, and then doing it exactly as you set out on the following day.
If we talk about this as one-day-follow through, I think it’s just the bite-size piece that we need to get started on strengthening our follow-through muscle. So, let's talk about just one day, and follow-through. In order to strengthen the muscle, let’s refer to it like a weight-lifting set. Here's your set: If we were lifting weights, there are 10 reps or 10 pieces in this one-day-follow-through muscle strengthening exercise.
The first rep is you identifying WHY. Why do you want to follow through on whatever it is you set out to do? Because really your level of commitment will determine your results. So are you committed to completing the task? Are you committed to finishing the blog post? Are you committed to even emptying the dishwasher? Are you committed to making the phone call? What is your WHY? Why do you want to finish the blog, empty the dishwasher, or make the phone call? What are you going to get on the other side of it? So, figure out why you want to follow through with the task at hand.
The second step is to really get honest with yourself when it comes to your answer to this. Are you ready to commit to following through on it? Are you ready and willing to take action until it's completed? And we know that there will always be things that suddenly “come up.” So are you ready to commit, no matter how long it takes? Are you ready to commit even if it's hard? Are you ready to commit even when it’s uncomfortable? Are you ready to commit to completing the task and following through, even if you're having some doubt or it feels scary? And what about this: are you ready to commit and follow through even if you're tired or even if you’re wearing your “I’m too busy” name tag. So, you need to get honest with yourself.
The third rep is deciding. Deciding in advance what you're going to do based on your goals and what is important to you, not what is urgent to you. We’ve talked about looking at your to-do list and prioritizing based on what's important, not what is urgent. You need to decide intentionally that you are going to follow through because it is important.
Number four is expecting to feel like this is outside of your comfort zone. Expect that you are going to have to flex that other muscle, your courage muscle. Expect that you are going to feel discomfort and fear and doubt when you are committing to following-through. The reason you're going to feel the fear in the doubt is because you are stepping outside of your comfort zone in this moment of fear or discomfort. It doesn't mean you should stop. This simply means you're going to have to practice the courage muscle and work through all of this discomfort. This is kind of like resistance, which we’ve discussed before. Expect that there will be some resistance. When I work with my clients, no matter what we're working on, there is always some resistance. If there wasn't, they'd be doing it already. Number four is expecting the resistance.
The fifth rep is strategizing what the obstacles you will face will be and how you're going to overcome them. By this, I mean like thinking about what might get in the way, in advance. Let’s say that you need to make an important phone call. That's what you're planning on following through with, making the phone call. I want you to strategize on what obstacles might get in the way of you making the phone call. Examples would be “I'm not going to have enough quiet time by myself.” “I'm likely to get interrupted.” “I have too many other things going on tomorrow.” Strategize what's going to get in the way. Any of those things could get in the way. You need to strategize and think ahead about what those obstacles are and how you will overcome them.
The sixth rep: this gets into the actual tactical piece of this. I want you to set aside a few minutes each night to write down what exactly it is that you are going to follow-through with on the next day. This does not mean to have it in your head. This does not mean to just think about it. It means that you are writing it down on a piece of paper, in a notebook, in the notes section, on your phone, maybe even setting an alarm. Set aside a few minutes each night to write down what you're going to do the next day and get specific. This would be like “make the phone call and ask for the work” or “unload the dishwasher and put away the things that you need.”
Number seven in reps is honoring your commitment and doing it the very next day. Remember one-day follow-through. We're not talking about one month follow-through. We're talking about one day follow-through. This way, we're just going day by day. Number seven is where people waver or fall apart. They don't want to flex this, honoring the commitment muscle. All right. But you need to flex it in order to strengthen it. You need to flex the muscle in order to strengthen it. It doesn't get stronger without some flexing. So, honoring your commitment is like flexing your muscle, leading to strengthening it.
Number eight is the next day. So, by now you went to sleep, and you woke up. You're in the next day and you're going to follow through on exactly what you've written down and note that you are going to meet that resistance. But anything you do instead of the thing you wrote down is going to be driven by some sort of instant gratification or feel-good emotion. Meaning, if you are not doing it that very next day, the reason you're not doing it is because you wanted to feel something different. So if you don't follow through on the phone call, it's because you didn't want to feel uncomfortable. If you didn't follow through on completing the blog, it's because you didn't want to do something hard. You decided you'd rather feel like the day was an easy one. You must follow through on exactly what you wrote down.
Rep nine is at the end of the day. I want you to make a note wherever you're taking your notes about whether or not you followed through on your written plan and also when you're writing it down. “Yes, I followed through and no, I didn't write down any other observations.” Write down when you followed through. What was the exact time you said you were going to do it? What else did you have to do in order to follow through? Did you have to make sure your kids were occupied? Did you have to clear my calendar? What was the reason you didn't do it? Was that a reason that you considered when you were committing to doing it? Was it one of those obstacles we predicted? Was it not? This is the most important part! Do not beat yourself up because it's not helpful. If anything really feels challenging, simply make a note of it. And if you need help on the follow through, the first piece is recognizing that you need help on the follow through. My clients oftentimes come to me and this is the number one thing that they have recognized before we even start coaching together that they recognize they need help on this follow through.
So, think of this as a daily workout to flex your one-day-follow-through muscle. And it has ten reps. One is your WHY. Two is getting honest with yourself. Three is deciding in advance. Four is expecting that you're going to have to step out of your comfort zone. Five is strategizing what obstacles might get in the way. Six is setting aside time to write it down the night before. Seven is honoring your commitment. Eight is following through to the end. Nine is writing down whether you did it or not in your observations, and then ten is being kind to yourself and reflecting on whether or not you've followed through and strengthened your muscle or whether or not you did or didn't.
The more you use this one-day-follow muscle, the stronger it gets.
And the stronger it gets, the better you become at leveling up and creating the results you want at work and at home.
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