Original Post on: https://www.fastcompany.com
By: David Hoffeld
Technically, we all have the same wide-open opportunity every morning: to set some goals for the day and strive to achieve them. In practice, though, that doesn’t always happen. You wake up late, scramble to get out of the door on time, and then plunge into whatever fresh crisis awaits you the second you sit down at your desk. There goes the day, right?
Not necessarily. By tapping into a few key principles of behavioral science, you may be able to set clearer intentions as soon as you get up in the morning–then actually follow through on them. And it all starts with asking yourself the same two questions every single day.
1. WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN FOR TODAY TO BE A SUCCESS?
Behavioral scientists understand that where we focus largely drives our behaviors. In other words, one way to guide yourself toward certain actions is simply to train your mind on the things that encourage them.
This first question prods you to focus on the specific future events that you’d like to occur. The point isn’t to arrive at an immediate answer–just to get you to consider potential answers. Perhaps it’s delivering a great presentation at work, finishing an important project, or convincing your manager to approve your vacation request for next month.
Obviously, just contemplating what a successful day might look like today doesn’t mean you’ll actually experience it. A lot of the time, what it takes to have a great workday is at least partly out of your control. For instance, if you need a client to tell you whether she wants to move forward with a deal, no amount of intentionality can guarantee she’ll get back to you in time with a “yes.”
While you can’t regulate what others will and won’t do, that doesn’t mean you’re helpless. We can very often influence how others behave by “nudging” them to act in a mutually beneficial way–but that’s impossible without focusing our own behaviors around the desired outcome first, and that’s where the second question comes in . . .
2. WHAT CAN I DO TO RAISE THE ODDS OF HAVING A SUCCESSFUL DAY?
Behavioral scientists have found evidence to suggest that this type of “interrogative self-talk” increases the likelihood that you’ll identify how to achieve what you want. Why? Because it focuses your mind on actions you can take to bring about specific outcomes. If the first question gets you to mull over what you want to occur, the second gets you to consider how you can personally help bring it about. The goal is move–mentally, anyhow–from “here’s what I want” to “this is how I can achieve it,” all before you officially start working each morning.
These two questions help crystalize how you want your day to unfold and what you can do to maximize your productivity in a strategic direction. This is incredibly important, because most of us don’t think this strategically about our workdays early enough, let alone start behaving in ways to bring about those desired outcomes. We simply fall into predictable routines, no matter what the day’s priorities might truly be. That frequently means wasted time and unfinished to-do lists.
So ask yourself these two questions while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning. Don’t worry if you don’t hit upon the answers right away. The goal is to get your brain in gear as early as possible, as intentionally as possible. This way, when you get to work, you can start behaving accordingly.