Thursday, October 09, 2008

The art of creating a "forcing system"

As all seven of you who read this blog know, I'm a big fan of success literature. It's my mental junk food. Whereas others tell me they like to read cat mysteries, or chick lit, or classic science fiction, when I relax I love to read (or more precisely, listen on audio to) some of the better podium-pounding success writers. Three of my favorites are The Success Principles by Jack Canfield (seven full listens so far), Loving What Is by Byron Katie (two reads, since I don't have it on audio, with more reads to come), and Goals! by Brian Tracy (at least eight listens). Here's a fun clip of Brian Tracy ("Your better life goals coach" -- gotta love it!) talking about thoughts.

The beauty of multiple reads or multiple listens is that you glean fresh kernels of insight each time. For example, I've listened to Goals! about twice a year for the past four years, but only now did I really hear what he has to say about a forcing system. Here's what he says on pages 97 and 100, in the chapter titled "Measure Your Progress."

"Your subconscious mind requires a 'forcing system' composed of deadlines that you have imposed on yourself for task accomplishment and goal attainment. Without a forcing system, it becomes easy for you to procrastinate and delay and to put off important tasks until much later, if you do them at all. . . . One of the most helpful actions you take in your own career is to set benchmarks and create scorecards, measures, and deadlines for every key task that you must complete on the way to one of your goals. In this way , you activate your subconscious forcing system. The forcing system will then motivate you and drive you, at an unconscious level, to start earlier, work harder, stay later, and get the job done."

Tracy doesn't spend a lot of time defining what a forcing system is exactly, but I immediately thought of several in the context of academia. Tenure review is the first and most obvious for book authors. Every faculty member at a university like this one must publish active scholarship in book form with a university press of appropriate stature (the measure of these factors being up to a committee of senior peers) in order to keep their jobs. It is even more desirable to get a second project under contract, although interest in this varies by department and discipline, and it cannot be considered a rule so much as a bit of an insurance policy, and some universities require two books. Tenure review is a classic "forcing system," and for the most part it works -- people publish. The bid for full professor is a milder forcing system, simply because there is no threat of losing one's job, but there is usually the lure of stature, pay, and improved retirement.

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully," quoted Boswell from Johnson, and quoth WAY too many people now (I almost apologize for using it because it is so hackneyed, but it fits!). If you have no forcing system in place to concentrate your mind wonderfully, try inventing one. I added book publication to the requirements for my job, so that I would have to publish in order to stay at Georgetown, and so far it seems to be working. My agented book is now at a university press awaiting the opinion of an editor I admire and whom I hand-selected. Would it have been there if I didn't have to publish? I certainly hope so, but I can't know that for certain.

The fantasy says that we should always be self-motivated and not need a cosmic parent to make us clean our rooms or do our homework. The reality is that most of us need accountability, and the stronger the better. A forcing system -- whether inherent in your profession or set up by you as a way of keeping honest -- is a fine way to do this.

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