I’ve done something special…
I’ve wrestled with an alligator,
I’ve tussled with a whale;
I done handcuffed lightning,
Throw thunder in jail.
You know I’m bad!
Only last week I murdered a rock,
Injured a stone,
Hospitalised a brick,
I’m so mean I make medicine sick!
No doubt Ali did something special.
1974. George Foreman. Rumble in the Jungle.
Odds were stacked against Ali as he took on the undefeated world heavyweight champion. If he stood any chance against Foreman’s raw punching power and physical dominance, he’d have to rely on his speed, technical skills, and attempt to dance around Foreman.
But Ali didn’t dance.
Defying logic and reason, he leaned on the ropes and covered up, letting Foreman unload. Foreman was sapped of his energy, and Ali stunned the world—knocking him out in the 8th round.
Ali dubbed the unconventional, and now infamous strategy the Rope-a-Dope.
Whenever something is labelled unusual, unconventional, or unique, we immediately dismiss it as ineffective. But as Ali has shown, sometimes the most uncommon and unique strategies are the most effective.
Here are 3 unique strategies for productivity and smashing your goals.
1. The Internal Rolex.
Typically, it’s the clock on the wall that drives our lives. But it should be the clock inside our head—our biological clock.
This clock is made up of about 20,000 nerve cells in your hypothalamus. And it’s responsible for controlling our circadian rhythms, which in turn regulates bodily functions including sleep-wake cycle, digestive system, hormone release, body temperature, cortisol plasma levels.
How are you feeling this very moment?
Your circadian rhythm will determine your answer—your energy levels, your physical, mental, and emotional states. Of course, it’s all crucial for our productivity and motivation. Constant operation outside our circadian rhythms (international pilots are a classic example) creates fatigue.
Based on research, this diagram represents the average person’s circadian rhythm:
Average is the key word. Don’t take this chart as gospel, but as a guide. Because our gene activity is dependant upon exposure to light and dark periods, everyone will have different cycles—different locations and environments have varying degrees of light.
But there are some major markers, and these are the points where you want to schedule your most important work.
Here’s how to leverage your circadian rhythm and find your optimal work periods: Sleep at least 3 consecutive days without an alarm (abstain from caffeine). Note your average wake time.
Notice on the chart within a couple hours of waking—and melatonin secretion ceasing—we hit our highest level of alertness. Dr. Steve Kay, professor of biology at the University of Southern California affirms, “When it comes to doing cognitive work, most adults perform best in the late morning. Working memory, alertness, and concentration goes hand-in-hand with increased blood flow and rising body temperature around waking periods.
Not surprisingly, alertness slumps after lunch. The digestive process saps your energy, hence that feeling of sleepiness after a meal.
However, with one part of your brain taking a break, another lights ups. Dr. Mareike Wieth, professor of psychology at Albion College in Michigan tracked analytical and novel thinking during circadian peak and non-peak times. Surprisingly, he found novel thinking was best during non-peak times. Our fatigue causes our analytical faculties to take a break and let our creative self wander more freely and explore alternatives.
While there are no doubt benefits to morning training, Dr. Michael Smolensky, professor of biomedical engineering at the University of Texas says that muscle strength, eye-hand coordination, and joint flexibility peaks between 2pm and 6pm.
So, 3 major markers for scheduling and optimising your day: the morning analytic spike, a creative spike after lunch, and a physical spike in the afternoon.
Regardless of whether you’re a morning or an evening person, you’re going to have those three spikes starting with your wake-time. Condense and synchronise your respective work with those three peaks.
2. The Willpower Trinity.
Why is it we desperately want to lose weight, but we keep emptying the tub of ice-cream?
Our struggle with willpower is due to a conflict between our impulsive self—constantly pulling us away from goals, and our wiser self—pulling us toward our goals.
Kelly McGonigal is a psychologist at Stanford and leading researcher on willpower. She explains that the key to reaching our goals is understanding the three powers that make up our willpower: “I will” power, “I won’t” power, and “I want” power.
I won’t power is the ability to resist temptation. E.g. Saying “no” to a cigarette.
I will power is the ability to choose an alternate behaviour. E.g. Chewing some gum.
I want power is remembering the bigger vision of your end goal. E.g. Living long enough to see your grandchildren.
Our willpower is much like a muscle, it weakens as we use them. Typically, when we fail to reach our goals, it’s because we solely rely on “I won’t” power—there’s only a certain limit of times we can say no before we crumble. However, bringing in backup, and using the two other elements of our willpower will triple the likelihood of success.
Next time you’re faced with temptation to steer from your goals, think through all three powers of willpower: resist, replace, and remember.
3. Create Your own Obstacles.
To shoot yourself in the foot has never been something to boast about, however, it’s an effective strategy for getting things done. It seems counterintuitive, but setting obstacles in our own path can actually aid our success.
It’s the psychological phenomenon known as Loss Aversion. We’re more motivated to take action in light of loss rather than gain; a person will work harder to save losing $100 rather than to gain $100. The pain from loss outweighs the pleasure of gain.
It extends beyond economics, Lance Armstrong said, “I like to win, but more than anything, I can’t stand this idea of losing. Because to me, losing means death.”
Of course this can be leveraged to boost our levels of motivation and productivity. When the stakes are raised and we risk something to lose, we kick in our fight mechanisms and work that little bit harder.
Here are some self-imposed obstacles that will boost your productivity:
Setting shorter deadlines: Have you noticed how a 4-week project suddenly gets finished when realising there’s only 2 weeks until the deadline; and the agenda for a 3-hour meeting is magically covered when starting an hour late.
It’s called Parkinson’s Law—work shrinks or expands according to available time. If we give ourselves an hour to clean the house, we’ll use that whole hour. But if we’ve only got twenty minutes, we’ll hustle and still manage to get things done.
The key is to have the deadline coincide with another important event. So, the reason you’ve only got twenty minutes to clean the house is because you have friends coming over; You cut your meeting short because it’s on the eve of a long weekend. You don’t want to miss out on the upcoming event.
Monetary Stakes: As mentioned earlier, the risk of losing money is a great motivator. You can give money to a friend with the agreement they keep it if you don’t reach your goal, or give it back once you’ve accomplished them. But it has to be a considerable amount of money in order to create that feeling of significant loss.
A clever and novel website designed by Yale University economists is stickk.com. Not only do you place money on the line, but that money goes toward to a charity you hate if you fail to reach your goals. That added bitterness acts as motivation.
The higher the risk, the greater our response. Sometimes risk needs to be self-imposed.
Image Credit: Circadian Rhythms/foodforsleep.com