The Law of Sequencing

A universal law that I have been noticing and applying lately in my life is what I like to call “sequencing”.

Sequencing AKA the order in which you do things, plays a very big role in the results that you get in life, whether it be at work, in relationships, or in your own personal goal setting.

It’s not only what you do, but the order that you do it in. Small changes in sequencing can lead to big differences in results.

It’s the age old “crawl>walk>run” – You can’t do one before the other, they have to move in a specific order.

Or how we use a “warmup” when we exercise. Start slow and get the body moving so that you don’t injure yourself by jumping in at full speed.

Another analogy I like is “slow down to speed up” from the book “7 habits of highly effective people. He talks about how if you want to chop down a tree in an hour, spend the first 50 minutes sharpening the axe.

Most of us dive right into chopping down the tree instead of doing the pre-work to ensure the axe cuts through the tree like butter. We don’t sequence activities properly and thus try to cut down the trees of life with a blunt axe. The sequence of events makes all the results you achieve.

The example that really got me started on this path though was Vipassana Meditation. In a 10 day Vipassana retreat you spend the first three days solely focused on the in/out of your breath. You do this to calm down the mind to a point where you are more sensitive to the feelings going on in your body. Then from days 4-10 you focus on the feelings of the body – at first part by part and then the feelings of the body as a whole.

Why do we go through this process? If you tried to jump in and feel the body immediately, it wouldn’t work. You need to concentrate the mind FIRST for the rest of the technique to work. If you skip the breath part, the rest of it won’t have the same effect. The breath is the gateway to the body, and without the breath first, we can’t properly enter into the body.

This analogy always stuck with me. The order in which you do certain activities will have an affect on if the technique works at all.

Over the last few years since starting Vipassana, I’ve started to see examples of the law of sequencing all around me, in other areas of my life. Here’s what it means to me.

Applying to life –

My favorite example of the law of sequencing comes from bodybuilding.

Imagine you are training in the gym lifting weights, and It’s back and biceps day.

If you do your biceps exercises first, you won’t be able to properly hit your back because your biceps are already tired.

On the other hand if you do biceps after back, you will be able to properly hit both muscle groups. Your biceps will probably be fatigued from the back exercises, but not completely drained, allowing you to continue your workout successfully. 

Now extrapolate that to an entire year of training – the guy who hit his biceps before back every training session will have completely different results from the person who did it the other way around.

Can you get results training like this? Absolutely! But will these results be OPTIMAL? Absolutely not.

If you’re hitting your biceps before back every time, it doesn’t matter how much you’re hitting the gym, you’re working against yourself all the same. You might get results in your biceps, but you’re sacrificing the rest of your body as a result. 

Moreover, these results can also be dangerous because they can  be misleading. They can lead us to believe the effort we’re putting in is working, but blind us from seeing a better, more effective, way.

It’s the quintessential “work smarter not harder”

Just because it gives results doesn’t mean it’s the best way to be doing it. You could find another way that requires less effort with more results.

That’s where I believe sequencing comes into play. Consciously, deliberately, experimenting with the ORDER in which we do activities and measuring the effect that it has to determine which route is the most effective.

At work

Let’s take work as an example. When you start your day, do you answer your emails first? Slack messages? Take phone calls/meetings? Tackle your biggest problems? Or does your day vary every day?

The order in which you do these activities will greatly impact your day and how much you’re able to get done.

Maybe you like to get all of your phone calls and meetings out of the way first, but then that leaves you tired afterwards and you don’t have the necessary energy to handle the rest of your day.

Or maybe by answering emails you never make the phone calls you needed to make, and work continues to pile on.

Try to pay attention how changing around the order of activities can help you get through things faster.

Tim Ferriss calls this the “Lead Domino” – “What activity, if done before the others, will make the others easier to accomplish or irrelevant?

Everyone is different and has different systems that will work best for them and their specific job role. BUT, by experimenting with the order in which you sequence your day at work, you can find the best recipe for YOU that keeps energy levels high and results coming through.

Relationships

Take relationships as an example as well – how many of us have had a super intense lust/love filled relationship that starts off like fireworks but then the intensity can’t be maintained? It’s the equivalent of hitting your biceps before back – you’ll get burned out too quickly.

Or a relationship where people aren’t transparent about what they want early on enough – leaving one person wanting a relationship and the other simply wanting to see where things go.

Or a relationship where boundaries are never set, and then the person walks all over your boundaries and limitations and hurts you.

By talking through these things earlier rather than later (sequencing!) you can avoid the pitfalls that lead to breakups OR see the writing on the wall before you get hurt.

In love relationships sequencing is very important for the ways in which the relationship evolves – how much information to give away and how soon as to not scare the person away or violate trust. TMI too soon will scare the person off, while withholding information from someone for too long will violate trust. It’s a balancing act.

(Wish I could tell you the proper sequence here but love is an art I’m still yet to master!)

But let’s say you already have the basics in check, how can sequencing help you?  

Peak performance

Have you ever noticed that all of the best athletes in the world have a “pregame ritual”?

It’s not a coincidence – they are examples of the law of sequencing in action.

My favorite example of this is John Wooden and his routine with socks. He had a specific technique for making his players put on their socks and then tie their shoes – a literal checklist – before they ever went on the court.

Why did he do this? Carelessly putting on socks and shoes too quickly can lead to creases in the socks and air pockets in the shoes which lead to blisters which causes worse performance.

John wooden knew his sequencing – The order and attention you pay to activities can lead to a big difference in results. A simple thing like putting on your socks in a deliberate way before you think about the game not only prepares you for success physically, but mentally as well. 

Or what about Maria Sharapova who always puts on her left shoe first and never wears the same clothes in a match. Some would call that superstition, I would call it sequencing for preparation.

The activities we do BEFORE we start our primary activity literally prime the mind for the activity itself. Your brain can start to associate the activities together and it knows you’re going into performance mode – thus making you more likely to perform better.

The activity is less important than the fact that you consistently do something before you enter into the activity. By ordering it together the brain is prepped to perform.

This is backed by science too. “Flow” is a term coined to describe an “in the zone” effect where activities are effortless, you lose track of time, and perform at your highest level of potential.

In the book Rise of Superman, Steven Kotler explores the nuances of flow and discovers that rituals are a necessary pre-requisite for flow – AKA in order to reach a flow state, you must have a certain routine of activities that gets you there. Sequencing the right pre-game activities prime your mind for peak performance.

My experiences with sequencing

In my own personal experience, I’ve found that sequencing greatly affects my performance in a variety of areas of my life.

If I don’t meditate and exercise before getting into work, I’m an anxious scatterbrained mess.

From a creativity perspective I find that physical exercise gets my creative juices flowing like nothing else. 

From an exercise perspective I find that stretching first, then gradually building in intensity is the best way for me to avoid burnout and overtraining. I save the intensity for the very end so that I can finish on a bang. As a result I’m in the best shape of my life right now.

In relationships I believe in communication, transparency, and setting expectations, a sequence designed to keep everyone on the same page and avoid misaligned expectations.

You can see evidence of sequencing in nearly any aspect of life.

In nature we can see it in the transformation of a caterpillar to butterfly.

In storytelling we can see that there’s a sequence that grabs your attention, makes you fall in love with the characters, experience their drama, and then succeed/fail with them.

When cooking, certain ingredients need to be added before or after in order to influence the flavor and consistency of what you’re planning on eating.

Sequencing is everywhere you look, if you’re looking closely 😉

Sequence…or beware

In order to reach your greatest performance, in any area of life, you need to be consciously aware of the order you are doing activities. The before, during and after. The staging.

Whenever I have a problem in work, relationships, or exercising, it is always because I broke sequence.

If I’m In a bad mood at work, it’s usually because I didn’t wake up at the proper time and get in my necessary routine.

Hurt myself exercising? Jumped in too soon and pushed too hard too early.

Problems in relationships? Wasn’t transparent early on and it led to false expectations of the other person.

Without fail, I can attribute most of my greatest failures to simply breaking my routine and veering away from my designated sequence.

This is what has taught me the importance of sequencing – breaking the proper sequence has real penalties. Real consequences. If I put the cart before the horse and break sequence, it can have a serious impact on a part of my life.

Simply put, the order in which you sequence activities can have a dramatic effect on the results that you get. If you’re not getting the results you want, try to look at your existing sequence and see how you can make tweaks before, during, or after to get your desired outcome. 

If you want to get more done in less time with less stress – If you want to have better performance at work, healthier relationships, and better physical health – If you want a happier effortless life – start paying attention to the sequencing of activities in your life and watch the results flow in.

Now get out there and sequence for success!!!


Also published on Medium.

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