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Shaping the PathI talk to many clients who want to be doing what they’re not doing. As in, I want to exercise more, but…. or I have a book I want to write, but… or I want to change careers, but

There are many reasons why they’re not doing what they want to be doing. And I work with them on figuring out the “whys” of their choices so they can get unstuck and move forward.

But I also encourage them to shape their path.

Shaping the path is a concept I learned through Chip and Dan Heath’s book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, which I’ve written about before on this blog. The idea is that when we do things like tweaking our environment to set ourselves up for success, build habits to eliminate the problem of our thinking getting in the way of our action, and “rally the herd” by surrounding ourselves with people engaged in what we want to be doing, we make our change more likely…even inevitable.

People often ask me how I do what I want to be doing, in my case, make time for my exercise no matter how crazy my schedule gets, keep my writing projects moving forward, juggle my editorial consulting gigs, and be an advocate for my 7-year-old son. For me, shaping the path is the key, especially the element of building habits.

Case in point: last week my friend Marty emailed me to see if I was up for doing a long run — 6 miles or so — this week. She’s in training for a long race, and was looking to build in a little support to help her stay on track (she was rallying the herd).

Though I hadn’t run more than 3 miles yet as I was still building up post-concussion, I knew I wanted to get that long run in, especially because I’m signed up for an endurance race at the end of July. I also knew I wanted to catch up with Marty, and that running with her would make the miles fly by. So I quickly responded “Yes!” and we made a plan.

This morning, I threw on my running clothes before getting my son up for school, downed a Zone Bar, and drove to her place after school drop-off. I was glad to have the running plan in place — it was exactly what I needed to keep me accountable, ensure I got those miles in, and do what I ultimately knew I wanted to do — RUN.

I had shaped my path by “preloading the decision.” I had already made the choice to run, and had a bunch of “action triggers” to keep me moving towards that. For example, I’d set up the run so it would coincide with my son’s school drop off, so I knew I had to be properly dressed and fueled prior to that. Marty would be waiting for me at 8:45am, so I had to dash down to her place as soon as I left my son’s school.

It’s like I had scripted the scene in advance and then I didn’t have to do anything other than follow the plan.

By pre-loading my decision and shaping the path, I “protected my goals from tempting distractions [ie: the volunteer appreciation gathering at my son’s school featuring my favorite donuts], bad habits [bailing on the run because I was tired and it was drizzling], or competing goals [I really have a lot of work to do…would my time be better spent doing that?].”

We did our scenic 6-mile loop along the shores of Lake Washington, hills and all, and were grateful for the hour we spent together exercising and talking about kids, writing, and traveling. Shaping my path had worked beautifully.

What about you? Is there something in your life you want to do but you’re not doing? How can you shape your path to make the change you want to create inevitable?