Playing to Win

Last weekend I sat down at my computer to learn to use a bookkeeping program I bought in February. I had put off this alteration in my accounting methods for months because finances flummox me even more than change itself.

Then there’s my learning style. When I try to grasp something new in an area that is not one of my strengths, I need to devote an entire day to the task, without distractions. Last weekend was my first opportunity to do so. What followed was a learning experience in more ways than one.

For starters, I reflected that I typically use two tricks of the mind to tackle daunting change: (1) I constantly tell myself how good I’ll feel afterward; and (2) I turn the whole thing into a game.

Mastering bookkeeping software doesn’t top my list of fun activities. What I do like is to learn. Even more, I thoroughly enjoy triumphing over difficulties. So the game that I envisioned had these elements:

· You begin at a starting point.

· There is an end goal, and if you reach it, you win the game.

· Obstacles stand between you and the goal, and the “play” consists in overcoming those obstacles.

I wanted to track my finances and taxes easily and accurately—a desirable goal. Facing me, however, were the following obstacles:

· My lack of training in accounting.

· My fear that I had no “head” for managing money and that I was therefore too stupid to learn to use the software.

During the first half of the game, the software kicked my butt. At half-time I gave myself a pep talk in the locker room (my kitchen). “Quitters never win and winners never quit,” came to mind, along with, “Win this one for the Gipper.”

Thus inspired, I saw the light in the second half. Concepts that earlier had me totally confused began to make sense. I overcame obstacle after obstacle and put up more and more points on the scoreboard.

You should have seen my awed look when the balance on the computer screen finally agreed with my bank statement. I had won! I danced my version of every touchdown jig I have ever seen…the Funky Chicken…the Washing Machine…if I had had a football, I would have spiked it!

Understanding and capitalizing on your learning style is key to dealing successfully with change. When taking on a challenge it is much easier to use learning tools that are “comfortable old friends” than to try to adopt new methods under pressure.

What are your learning tools? It’s a truism that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. So start there. Identify and apply what has worked for you before, and the odds are that you’ll win again.

Consider the last time you mastered a new skill and what aided you. Was it the environment? (Some people need absolute quiet; others think best when there is activity around them.) When did things take a turn toward success, and what brought you to that point? Was it something you heard, something you read, or something you told yourself? What jogged your mind and made things finally click into place?

Most important, what about the experience can you repeat in the future? Write down those elements and tuck your notes in a “Change Management” folder. You’ll inevitably need to refer to them again and again as you go through life.

When you turn difficult tasks into games you can win, you have successfully changed your life by changing your focus!

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