The Stop-Start Technique For Effective Change

“Continuous effort – not strength or intelligence – is the key to unlocking our potential.”
Winston Churchill, British Prime Minister

In today’s economy, just about everything is changing. And some of it needs to change. But I’ve never advocated change for change’s sake. It’s got to be thoughtful, intelligent change.

It can’t be like the change one new CEO tried to bring about. Thinking it was time for a shakeup, the new CEO was determined to rid the company of all slackers. As he toured the facilities, the CEO noticed one guy leaning against a wall, doing nothing. He also noticed the room was full of workers; so he thought this might be a good time to let them all know that he meant business!

The new CEO walked up to the guy leaning against the wall and asked, “How much money do you make a week?” A little surprised, the young fellow looked at him and replied, “I make $300 a week. Why?”

The CEO then handed the guy $1,200 in cash and screamed, “Here’s four weeks’ pay. Now GET OUT and don’t come back.” Feeling pretty good about himself, the CEO looked around the room and asked, “Does anyone want to tell me what that goof-off did around here?”

From across the room a voice replied, “Yeah, he’s the man who delivers pizzas from Domino’s.”

Well obviously, that CEO brought about change, but it wasn’t very productive change. And the same thing could be said about a lot of people. They need to make changes in their personal or professional lives, but they don’t make much progress. They either get stuck in old, self-defeating patterns …. or they don’t know how to move beyond those patterns … or both.

So let me give you a little technique that will help you make amazingly effective change. I call it the “Stop-Start Technique.” You simply get clear about what you’re going to STOP doing and what you’re going to START doing in your life. Here’s what I suggest.

=> 1. List your self-defeating behaviors.

Maybe you’re too passive at work so no one ever notices your contributions. Maybe you’re too indecisive about your future so you never seem to get anywhere. Or maybe you eat too much or spend too much. Whatever the behaviors, if you want to become a more effective person, you’ve got to identify all the behaviors that are holding you back. List the patterns you’d like to break before they break you.

You can’t move ahead without taking a look at where you’re coming from. As American historian Daniel Boorstin put it, “Trying to plan for the future without a sense for the past is like trying to plant cut flowers.”

And then …

=> 2. Create a “STOP” list that covers the behaviors you need to stop … and are going to stop.

Once you’ve identified your self-defeating behaviors, it’s time to DECIDE what you’re going to STOP doing. Decisions lead to action, and action leads to effectiveness.

Unfortunately, a lot of people want to skip this step. They want to jump ahead to their “START” list and just focus on all the things they’re going to do to make their lives better. But that seldom works.

As I teach in my “Journey To The Extraordinary” experience, if you’re willing to do all kinds of new START behaviors but not willing to STOP your old self-defeating behaviors, you’re not going to make much progress. Or as author Earnie Larsen says so well, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”

I think of one manager, for example, who wanted to move up in his company, and he had a great “START” list to help him accomplish that very goal. He attended seminars, sought out professional development, volunteered for various company projects, and always went the extra mile at work. Everyone in his company saw him as very competent. But he was repeatedly turned down for promotions, nonetheless.

The problem was … he never made a “STOP” list. He never worked on stopping those behaviors that were getting in the way of his promotability.

When I challenged him on that, he quickly admitted there were several things he needed to stop doing if he was to be seen as leadership material. He needed to stop doubting himself. He always second-guessed his decisions and would use “mush” language at staff meetings, such words and phrases as “I’m not sure … Just maybe … I don’t know … We’ll see … and … It might work.” His indecisiveness needed to stop if others were to see him as a leader who had vision and could make decisions.

I think of another fellow whose goal was to live a sober, self-respecting life that brought him a true peace of mind. He also had a great “START” list of going to AA meetings, getting a sponsor, and listening to CDs. But he wasn’t making a lot of progress. When I asked him what he needs to stop doing, he admitted he had a problem with marital fidelity. Until he got that right, he wasn’t going to make a lot of progress on his goals of self-respect and peace of mind.

So go ahead and make your “STOP” list. Write down those things you’ve got to stop doing in your life or in your career if you want to be a happier, more successful individual.

And as you do that, make sure you focus on what YOU have to stop … not what somebody else has got to stop. As sales trainer Jeffrey Gitomer says, “Obstacles can’t stop you. Problems can’t stop you. Most of all, other people can’t stop you. Only you can stop you.”

=> 3. Put the “slippery people” on your “STOP” list.

In addition to listing your self-defeating behaviors, you also need to list the “slippery people” in your life. List the people who reinforce your bad habits or who encourage you to stay in your self-defeating behaviors. You’ve got to be aware of them, avoid them, or reduce your contact with them. As the old saying goes, “What you rub up against rubs off.” If you continually rub up against people with the same destructive patterns as you, it’s going to rub off.

So who are the slippery people … for you? If, for example, you tend to be negative, or if you tend to be a worrier, and you want to get rid of those behaviors, then a slippery person for you would be someone who’s a negative worry wart.

If you tend to be passive, if you give your rights away, if you have difficulty standing up for yourself, then the most slippery people in the world for you would be other passive people. The more time you spend talking to them, the more convinced you are that you have no power. And you wonder why nothing ever seems to get better?

Write down the slippery people in your life. Write down the ones you need to “STOP” seeing or “STOP” talking to.

Now you may be saying your slippery people are the ones you work with or live with. You can’t totally stay away from them. You can’t quit your job. And you can’t live in the street. True enough.

But there are two things you can do. One, you may find some ways to minimize your contact with the slippery people. You may choose to skip the co-worker gripe session that takes place after work at a nearby bar, or you may spend less time talking to your cousin on the phone who always is putting you down.

Two, you can prepare yourself before you interact with slippery people. If you know you’re going to be stuck with a difficult coworker at a conference or you’re going to be stuck sitting next to Arrogant Aunt Agnes at the family reunion, plan out how you’re going to deal with them. If you have a plan, they won’t be nearly as destructive or damaging to you and your goals.

=> 4. Put the “slippery” places on your “STOP” list.

If you’re trying to eliminate self-defeating behaviors, you’ve got to know WHERE you get defeated … most often … and most easily. Put those “slippery places” on your “STOP” list.

For example, if you have a problem with negativity, you may need to stay away from gloom-and-doom gripers. If you have a problem with food, you may need to stay away from ice cream shops. And if you have a problem with money, you may need to stay away from malls.

Identify those places where you tend to screw up and stay away from them. Stop going to those places. They’re too slippery for you.

=> 5. Put self-defeating thought patterns on your “STOP” list.

If you want to get better at anything … ANYTHING … you’ve also got to change the way you think. After all, “What you think about, you talk about. And what you talk about, you bring about.”

And some of the things you think about are NOT helpful. You need to confront yourself and stop thinking those thoughts.

For example, if you’re talking to someone who really seems to like you, you may think, “He just wants to get something from me. He just wants to sell me something. That’s the way all people are.”

You may have to stop that stinking thinking. You may have to tell yourself, “No, that’s not true of all people. Everybody is not trying to use me. And there are people who just like me and want to be helpful.”

So what are the thought patterns you need to put on your “STOP” list? For some of you it may be, “I’ll never get ahead … I’ll never have any money … or … I’ll never have a decent relationship.” Put those destructive thought patterns on your list and stop thinking them … or least confront those thoughts when they come to mind.

=> 6. Start your “START” list.

If you’re going to be more effective, you’ve also got to START some new behaviors. You need to take responsibility for becoming a better person or professional.

As novelist Louis L’Amour wrote, “Up to a point a man’s life is shaped by environment, heredity, and movements and changes in the world about him; then there comes a time when it lies within his grasp to shape the clay of his life into the sort of thing he wishes to be… Everyone has it within his power to say, ‘This I am today; that I shall be tomorrow.'”

Or as I like to say, “To get something you never had, you have to do something you never did.” So write down all the behaviors you need to START.

=> 7. Put the winners on your “START” list.

If you want to do better, be better, and have more, you’ve got to stick with the winners. And by winners, I don’t mean people who are better than you. I mean people who are not stuck in same self-defeating patterns that are holding you back. Stick with people who can help you break out of those patterns.

For example, if you’re a passive individual, you should be spending time with assertive people. The problem is … assertive people may scare you. They may not feel comfortable. You may want to be around other passive people who reinforce and confirm your old bad habits … even though they’re not good for you.

So write down the people who will be good for you, and START spending more time with them.

=> 8. Put new places on your “START” list.

In other words, once you’ve cut out the slippery places, where are you going to go? Instead of commiserating with your negative coworkers at the bar, you decide to go for a walk or spend an hour at the gym. Write down some new places you’re going to go … places that would be positive, healthy, and motivating.

=> 9. Put positive inputs on your “START” list.

Quite simply, there is no substitute for filling your mind with new and better thoughts. And a daily reading schedule and a daily listening schedule … of the right material … will break up and eliminate your old self-defeating thoughts and behaviors.

=> 10. Put a healthy body on your “START” list.

Your body is where you live. And if you don’t take care of your body, if you don’t feel good about your body, it will be very difficult to keep a healthy mind inside of it. So watch your nutrition, your exercise program, and anything else that goes into taking care of yourself. Put those things on your “START” list as well.

=> 11. Take persevering baby steps.

Once you’ve completed your “STOP” and “START” lists, they may look a bit overwhelming. You may wonder how you could ever do all those things. After all, your old bad habits are packed into your DNA, so you may think it’s not even possible to make all these changes. And so you don’t do anything.

Well, the good news is …you don’t have to make all these changes at once. Do what you’re ready to do. Baby step it. As author Edward S. Finkelstein notes, “Bigness comes from doing many small things well. Individually, they are not very dramatic transactions. Together though, they add up.”

It’s the combination of baby steps and persistence that brings about most victories in life. In “Life’s Little Instruction Book,” H. Jackson Brown observed, “In the confrontation between the stream and the rock, the stream always wins – not through strength but by perseverance.”

So get started on your lists. Keep on taking those baby steps. As an old Chinese philosopher said … the most important part of a 10,000 mile journey is the first step. And then the next one …and the next one … and so on … and so on.

Action:  Write out your “STOP” and “START” lists this week.