Thursday, April 16, 2015

Follow the Line, please!

How to Declutter Your Mind and Unleash Your Willpower by Using "Bright-Line" Rules | James Clear

James Clear is back with another great aid to keeping our lives under control.  This time he's borrowed from the US legal system to bring us a daily application for the Bright-Line Rule.

In law, the term refers to a strict guideline that is simple, has passed the test of being universally applicable, and can be followed by even the doltiest of us.  The example given in the article is the Miranda Warning.  It's so simple and ubiquitous (breathes there a viewer with soul so dead that never to himself has said, "Did I read there's a new police procedural show on cable?") that we all know it by heart. We know what it is.  We know the words. We know the application.  It brooks no silly frills or add-ons.  The only challenges to the Miranda Warning are from folks who did not receive it.

Taking the Bright-Line Test a step further, what we're really talking about is stating goals in the simplest, most concrete way, with the emphasis on concrete.  A rule that leaves space for interpretation isn't nearly bright enough.

Clear gives several examples to which we can all relate.  Many's the time I "tried" to make a change in my world and failed.  I tried to lose weight (over and over).  I tried to quit smoking (for two solid years).  I tried to take my ego and all the shoulds out of my interactions with my horses.

The evil word, if you haven't figured it out yet, is TRY.
Trick training is nothing but a series
of bright lines followed faultlessly to
their successful conclusion.

The minute you say you will try, you open the door for failure. Try means attempt.  It doesn't mean succeed.  And it also allows far too much leeway in the method used and the definitions of success and failure.  If you're only trying, at what point do you figure you're done?  What's the limit?

Another way to look at this is as a visualization exercise.

When younger teachers would complain that they'd tried everything, but they couldn't get their class under control, the answer was simple.  I told them to picture in their minds' eyes what an "in control" situation would look like.  In detail.  Right down to which students were sitting in which seats and what, exactly, they would do when the planned lesson ran ten minutes short because they were just that good (or bad) at the job.  Then, I said, for every minute of every class, work towards completing that picture.

The visualization creates the Bright Line, the rule or rubric that you're intending to complete.  It needs to be realistic and applicable to every situation within the sphere of the activities in which you're engaged.  It needs to be rock solid, carved in stone, immobile.  You should be able to describe it in a sentence or two that every one around you would understand.

That's a very bright line indeed.

I quite smoking when I stopped the vaguery of trying to quit and told myself "you are not a smoker".  That's as clear as a bell. No questions about what to do in any situation involving cigarettes.

I lost weight and kept it off when I set up an actual, concrete goal of finding out what the word "portion" meant and applying it.  The rule, "Thou Shalt Only Eat One Portion of Anything" was easy, simple, and applicable to every foodstuff on the planet.  Even brownies.  With ice cream.

The last bit about egos and shoulds and horses is an obvious problem.  We all tend to make negative rules.  "I won't yank on Fuzzbutt's mouth anymore" is a negative rule.  It leaves us open to a plethora of other behaviors, some of which are far worse than yanking.  Upgrading to a harsher bit, adding a flash noseband, jabbing his ribs every time he doesn't perform to our specifications all come to mind.

Think about this:  Put a child in a room with a table, a chair, and a pencil and paper.  Don't give any instructions.  Leave the room.  Watch the child.  Every five minutes, if the child hasn't picked up the pencil and written his name on the paper, enter the room and smack him with a rolled-up newspaper (for younger readers, ask your parents what a newspaper was) and leave again.  Don't tell the child what you want him to do, just punish him when he doesn't do it.
Adding a new puppy
to the family requires a
LOT of Bright Lines!

Are you starting to feel stressed just thinking about it?

When we make negative rules for ourselves and other living beings, we leave the behavioral description open to whatever the brain can think of to do.  That's a lot of stuff.  That's a lot of whacks with a newspaper.

By going with the Bright-Line Test concept, you make only positive rules.  Every one starts with "I will..." (or, in Educationese, "The Learner Will...") and follow that with a single command.  "I will stand at the mounting block while Zip dances around me for as long as it takes."  That's a positive.  That's a Bright Line.  Annoying as hell, but it's easy to follow on every occasion there's a mounting block and Zip involved.  Not a great plan, but a great example.

Go forth and draw Bright Lines!

Wait.  But what..?  Right!  What's the definition of success?  We skipped that part.  You have to decide what the end goal is and what constitutes reaching it, and it had better be very concrete, measurable, and as clear as the line that lead there.  My goal with Zip in the ludicrous scenario above is to bore him into stopping the dance.  I'll know I've reached it when at every opportunity for a month of rides, Zip stands still.  I'll know I've followed the line when at every opportunity for a month of rides I have not lapsed into coercion or bribery even once.  Done and done.

Your Lines await you!  Enjoy the process and the successes that are bound to follow.

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