Mind the process phases

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Before getting to any event you want in life, you must first invest into the process. The process is what leads you to a certain event you want in life (getting rich, getting in shape, getting a dream job etc.) and it has specific phases. Most people are simply too impatient and disrespectful of the whole process (and the phases even more so) to ever come to the final event, the outcome they really desire.

Because it’s not easy. A process means you have to get educated, have a strategy, it takes smart and hard work, you have to fail, you have to overcome setbacks and obstacles, you have to put in effort each day, but you only see results after years of hard work.

It’s really not easy at all, but it also makes sense. Life owes you nothing, and if you really want something, you have to fight for it. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Life rewards those who master its game, and mastering the game of life means respecting the process.

Not only do you have to respect the process, you also have to consider its different phases. You have to go step-by-step and patiently focus on different things in different phases. You cannot skip or jump over some of the phases.

The point of every process phase is to be more focused on the right thing. The point is to not overwhelm yourself. The point of the phases is to not bite off more than you can chew. By considering the phases, you first set strong foundations and then build your thing step by step, strong and still. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s not smart to skip the phases of the process, but sometimes you definitely have to go back one or even more phases. Sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. It’s how the process work.

There are five phases in the process:

  • Empathy or the search mode (in lean start-up, this is called customer discovery)
  • Stickiness or finding your fit (in lean start-up, this is called retention)
  • Virality or becoming an evangelist (in lean start-up, this is called referral)
  • Revenue or reaping the first rewards and making a plan (in lean start-up, this is called a business model)
  • Scale or the execution mode (in lean start-up, this is called explosive growth)

Now let’s look at every phase of the process in more detail and with an example.

Empathy or the search mode

The first phase is the empathy phase or, as we know it in the Agile and Lean life, the search mode. The most important thing in this phase is to have an open mind as well as to be very gentle and tolerant towards yourself and others. Your most important skill in this phase is empathy.

You’re starting something new, you don’t know the territory, you only have assumptions. The last thing you need are S.M.A.R.T. goals pushing you to do something, even though you don’t know if it’s right for you. What you need is to be excited over experiencing new things in life, you have to feel the adrenaline and energy because you’re trying something new; and you have to start experimenting and testing.

You also have to be very tolerant toward yourself. You need to be aware that you’re going to fail. Some experiments are not going to work. But if you do it right, then you aren’t failing. You’re learning. It’s called validated learning. You try many different things, until you find the right one.

In this phase, it’s also very important to get educated. You need to read as many books as possible. You have to talk to as many people who already did what you want to do. With analytical thinking, you have to decide what you’ll try and how you’ll measure it. Then as an adventurer, you start discovering new things in life.

After performing an experiment, you have to make a data-based decision about what you will:

  • Stop doing
  • Start doing
  • Continue doing

An experiment can usually take from 7 to 30 days and strongly depends on what you’re testing. But that should be enough time to get feedback from yourself (body, emotions, mind) and from your environment (if there’s any outside interaction in the experiment).

Let’s look at an example.

You want to get in shape. The bottom line of getting in shape is quite simple. You need to exercise and change your eating habits (what you eat, how much you eat). The most popular way of going on a diet is to read a book or an article about a “miracle diet”, doing it for a month or so, going for a run a couple of times and that’s it. At the end, you’re disappointed that the revolutionary diet doesn’t work.

You certainly don’t want to force yourself into exercising and you definitely don’t want to go on a short-term miracle diet. You want to do a sport you’ll love, a sport you can’t wait to do, and instead of going on a diet, you want to introduce a new long-term eating lifestyle that won’t cause any cravings.

So instead of finding a “miracle diet”, you do your research – about your body type, different proven diets that work in the long-term etc. You visit a few specialists (allergy tests etc.), read a few interviews, you start researching what could work for you. If necessary, you also consult a doctor or a nutritionist if you have any medical conditions. Then you start introducing new foods into your life, crossing out others, and measuring how you feel. On the other hand, you make a list of sports you want to try and a list of sports you assume you’ll enjoy the most. Going for a run is the easiest and most convenient way; but maybe you’ll enjoy biking or swimming or hiking more. You need to find a sport you really enjoy.

While doing your research, you’ll also discover that there are some general things you should stop doing, continue doing and start doing. For example, if you want your diet to succeed, you must definitely limit the amount of junk food and refined carbohydrates (sugar) you eat. On the other hand, you should start eating more vegetables and some fruit. In the middle, there is room for testing and experimenting – you have to see whether the high protein, the high fat (healthy fats) or maybe the vegetarian diet is best for you.

Your output in this phase should be research, like reading 10 of the best books from the field, talking to at least 10 people and making a list of different things you’re going to try. In the search mode, you should also find your why. It should be a very strong why. In fact, you should start by asking yourself why!

For example, in our case, the “whys” could be to:

  • Have more energy
  • Look better in a mirror (if that is the strongest why, you should buy yourself a big mirror :) )
  • Get more attention from the opposite sex
  • Live longer

Stickiness or finding your fit

The second phase is stickiness. You find something you like. You see the first results and you get early wins. You’re getting the first positive feedback from your body, emotions, mind or even external environment. You’ve found something you want to stick to. It’s called a fit. Nice.

Now your focus should be on making a system that will help you stick to your new habits. Because as you know, motivation lasts only while you’re on your way to the fridge. You have to systematically think and try to reinforce your positive behaviour, build an adequate positive environment and a bulletproof system.

You have to take the time to think how you’re going to stick to your new thing. Your enthusiasm will help you, but it’s usually not enough. You need internal and external aids – new habit reinforcers.

Here is a good visualisation of habit formation that you can help yourself with:

Habit 3R

Source: The Power of Habit, James Clear

Here are some ideas for what you can do to increase the probability of stickiness:

  • Connecting your new habits with old habits (doing something right after you wake up or before you go to sleep; these are the so-called morning and evening habits)
  • Exchanging your old habits for new ones (every time you want to eat a cookie, you eat a carrot or every time someone turns on the TV, you go read a book)
  • Introducing reminders and visual aids into your life (sticky notes, screensavers, goal board etc.)
  • Leveraging technology (applications, gadgets etc.)
  • Joining a new community (coaches, groups, friends with the same values etc.)
  • Getting rid of some things/people and introducing new things/people into your life
  • Rewarding yourself for positive behaviour and getting punished (not like in 50 Shades of Grey) for bad behaviour (for example giving your spouse $20 every time you lose your temper)
  • Surrounding yourself with research materials (books, bookmarks, magazines etc.)

Now let’s get back to our example. You found foods that make your body happy. You educated yourself on which foods are the worst for you. You found a sport you like. Now you have to build a system that’ll help you stick to new habits. You simply stop buying foods with empty calories. You put fruit and vegetables in visible places in your home. You always have a bottle of water with you. You set a hot athlete as your wallpaper background. You put a picture of a hot athlete on your fridge. You get a personal coach who will help you get through the stickiness phase of the first two months. You spend at least 30 minutes a day reading about healthy living. You join and participate in online and offline groups, and so on.

The biggest mistake you can make in this phase is sticking to something that doesn’t work for you. I was on a fruitarian diet for one year and I did a lot of damage to my body. So again: you have to be careful, you have to be smart and you have to listen to your body; except when you crave empty calories. The Agile and Lean Life is about having a smart strategy with constant and fast feedback you take into account.

The second biggest mistake you can make in this phase is giving up. Improvement and change aren’t a linear line, they’re full of ups and downs. Sometimes you’ll slip up, sometimes your discipline muscle will just stop working. Nothing unusual. In a situation like that, you have to give yourself a break for a few days and then start over. Every day is a new beginning, you can always start over.

The output of this phase should be a new reward system for yourself and visual changes in your environment. While the aim in the phase before the goal was to find the best fit for you, the goal of this phase is to reinforce your new desired behaviour and stick to it. No goals yet, just thinking about what you should do to reinforce your new habit.

Virality or becoming an evangelist

Now you know your endgame. You’ve found the perfect fit after testing and experimenting with several things in the search mode. You have inner and outer elements that help you stick to your new habits, like a new personal reward system, habit triggers, regular reminders, and so on. Okay, but that’s still not enough to really get to the result you want.

The third phase is called virality or becoming an evangelist. That simply means shifting your identity. You have to fall in love with what you do. You have to see yourself as a new person. An athlete. An investor. The perfect husband. An entrepreneur. Father of the year. A good man. Whatever.

There are two main signs that indicate that your identity shift is happening. The first one is that you aren’t shy and reserved about your new habit or identity. For example, if someone asks you if you exercise, you don’t say “I try to, from time to time”, but you proudly answer that yes, you are an athlete.

The second sign is that you start encouraging other people to do the same. You become an evangelist of something.

In our example, that simply means that you proudly tell all the people in your life that you have a new diet that makes you feel great, that you regularly do sports, that you can see the first results and that it feels great. You’re like a talking billboard for the new thing in your life.

The output of this phase is an identity shift. There’s no way of going back anymore, unless something goes really wrong. You’ve reached the tipping point. Bravo.

Identity shift

Source: The Power of Habit, James Clear


Revenue or reaping real rewards

After a very long and demanding process, you start reaping real rewards. The hard work paid off. You found your fit, you have a new system and habits in place, and you’ve shifted your identity. The world sees you differently now and you see yourself differently as well.

You’re not at your endgame yet, but now you can set S.M.A.R.T. goals. You have enough knowledge, you have enough feedback, you have a new identity and you know the territory well enough to set measurable goals with a time frame. You have a good picture of how long it’ll take to achieve your endgame.

In our case, you’re becoming more and more satisfied with yourself. You see your body fat melting off. Your fitness performance is getting better and better. Your “whys” are getting fulfilled – you have a better self-image, you get more attention on the streets from the opposite sex, you have more energy, the sex is better and so on. Now you can clearly see how long and how much it will take to get a six-pack and to achieve your maximum performance. You start feeling good about yourself. You prepare a system for measuring your progress by writing down how many repetitions you can do or you start using different apps that measure different aspects of your performance.

One dangerous thing that can happen in this phase is scaling too fast. You can become too impatient and go into the execution mode too fast. You have to be sure that your foundations are strong, you have to curb your greed and follow the plan to improve step by step. If you try to scale too soon, you can hurt yourself, experience a setback and you’ll have to go back into the search mode to find a way around your new weaknesses.

Let me give you an example. You see the first real results of your diet and exercise. But now you want the results faster. You start to overdo everything. You go to extremes with your diet and you push your body too hard. Sooner or later, your body will force you to slow down. You will fall ill, you will injure yourself etc. That’s why you need to make a solid diet and exercising plan in this phase, even with an expert if necessary. You have to push yourself, but you also have to know where the limit is.

In this phase, the output is a solid and smart plan for how you’ll improve step by step and increase your yield on the investment you’ve made. You should stick to your plan and not overdo things or speed up too fast. If your discipline weakens, you shouldn’t try to catch up, but rather return to your plan the next day.

Scaling or the execution mode

We are at the last stop of the process, namely scaling and execution. You want to achieve your peak potential. Your best shape possible, your optimal portfolio. You want to become as unique and valuable person as possible in a relationship, outstanding in your occupation and so on.

You’ve found your fit, you’ve built a system to stick to new habits, you’ve made an identity shift and you’ve written down a plan. Now you have to stick to the plan with regular intervals, and still listen to your mind, body, emotions and environment. You never stop listening to feedback.

Sooner or later, you will change (get older for example), your environment will change and you may have to go back into the search mode. Next time, the process will be much easier, because you already have strong foundations, you already have knowledge, and you don’t have to go to the very beginning. But you should always stay agile and lean.

In our example, the final step is sticking to the execution plan. You have a new diet that works for you and you exercise regularly on a weekly basis. You have goals for improving your performance and you stick to the plan. On your Kanban board, you move your sticky notes from “to do” and “in process” to “done” every week. But you also regularly test and try new things, new superfoods, new exercises and so on. You constantly do linear improvements, but you also search for rapid ones. The process of improvement never ends and neither does the execution mode. The new diet and exercise are now a part of who you are and what you do in life, consistently and in regular intervals. It’s the new you after very long, hard work.

You need to have realistic expectations about how long the process takes. It’s usually at least a few years. But you have enough time. If you really want it badly enough, you will find a way, if not, you will find an excuse. The key is to really want it badly enough. That’s why you need a strong why.

So start with the why.

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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