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Push and Pull

“Pull the string and it will follow wherever you wish. Push it, and it will go nowhere at all.” — Dwight D. Eisenhower

Motivation is a pull. It is something that is internal that fuels you, that drives you.” — Julie Gurner, Dr. Julie Gurner (Part 1): Caring Deeply, Challenging Directly [The Knowledge Project Ep. #169]

Lately I’ve been pushing myself to finish a few projects that have been mocking me for not completing them. Mountains to hike, work projects to finish, customers to meet with. I find in each case that the self talk isn’t supportive encouragement but sternly disciplinarian: “Do it already!” instead of “Isn’t this a great time to finish?” And shockingly, I find the mountains aren’t being hiked, the projects are stalled, and certain customers aren’t getting the face time they need. The push isn’t working all that well.

I used to go to the dentist anticipating the lecture about flossing more. One day I decided to add it to my habit tracker as a box to fill in each day of every month, and thus forever. I’ve found that I haven’t missed a day since then, and my dentist is a lot happier with me as a result. Is this a push, not missing a day, or a pull? I think the latter. I’m drawn to streaks, and make it a point to mark as many days as possible before missing one. Flossing is an easy habit, writing is more time-consuming, yet I write this blog every day no matter what. Some days it may be a small post, and on some particularly challenging days it may likely be a post not fully fleshed out yet, but damn it there’s a blog post sitting here every day. When I miss the morning it calls to me every moment until I finish it. That’s a pull.

Eisenhower was a great leader because he believed in leading from the front. You pull your team up and over obstacles and challenges, you don’t get great long term results when you push them. Lead by example. The old adage “do as I say, not as I do” rings true because we all quickly see the fallacy of trying to follow someone pushing from behind. It’s the same with bosses and coaches as it is with generals. Show you’re invested and we’ll follow you anywhere.

Another old adage, “follow your passion”, is often dismissed as unrealistic in a world where the bills need to be paid and there are only so many passion jobs to go around. Yet it rings true. We do our best work when we’re drawn to it. We go through the motions when we feel it a chore. Flossing was a chore until it became a game of never breaking the streak. Writing was an unfulfilled dream until it became a daily mission. You probably have a few things that pull you equally hard, saying, “This is the way.”

It’s not in our best interest to be frivolous with all that attracts us—there are habits and behaviors that clearly shouldn’t be followed at all. But the underlying draw ought to be examined. Why are we drawn this way? What is the root positive within this pull that will help in my development? Put another way, is this a good habit worth following, or a bad habit that feels good in the moment? Choose wisely and check the right boxes. Forget the push; seek the pull.

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