This blog post is based on a couple of passages that I have copied and pasted from the book “The Cicero Trilogy” by Robert Harris.

2 weeks ago I found myself watching the Impeachment trial of US President Donald Trump from my hotel room in California, while reading about an Impeachment trial over 2,000 years ago in Rome. It was fascinating to see the parallels and feel that the US impeachment process was not a signal of a broken, polarised political system… but part of the system of democracy that we have inherited from the Greeks and then the Roman Republic.

6 Quotes from The Cicero Trilogy

‘It is perseverance,’ he used to say, ‘and not genius that takes a man to the top. Rome is full of unrecognised geniuses. Only perseverance enables you to move forward in the world.’

I learnt this the hard way as an entrepreneur. In my first business, we sold insurance. I had 4 partners. We agreed that we would each aim to sell 4 policies per week to keep ourselves involved in the business. The first week is not too hard. The second week I could still do it selling to friends… but the fourth, fifth… and consecutive weeks… only systematic persistence in making the phone calls day after day allowed me to sustain the sales over the long term. My business today is about meaningful conversations… If I have meaningful conversations with inspiring leaders day after day… our business grows. If I stop having conversations…. sooner or later, the business wilts and starts to die.

‘To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child. For what is the worth of human life, unless it is woven into the life of our ancestors by the records of history?’

Those who are unaware of history are doomed to repeat it. We are not the first humans to have faced the challenges in front of us. There is a wealth of past experience. I need to let go of my ego and open myself up to this wealth of human experience. It is not the answer for me, but it will give me the perspectives I need to take a better decision. I cannot just copy the past, or other people’s answers… but I am much better placed for life if I have these perspectives.

it was his belief that a great performer, however experienced, must always be frightened before going on stage – ‘the nerves should be as taut as bowstrings if the arrows are to fly’

I say to myself, the day I am not nervous before class or a speech is the day I have stopped caring… and I should stop. I so often wish the nerves would go away. I suffer worries and anxiety before every class and every speech… As much as I would like to not feel these emotions, they are demonstration that I care about the audience and the material and it is important to me to do the work well.

‘The art of life is to deal with problems as they arise, rather than destroy one’s spirit by worrying about them too far in advance.

Easier said than done… I have a vivid imagination and it is very good at creating multimedia future visions of failure and disaster and betrayal and deception… I work to channel my imagination towards productive questions: “How can I…?” is a better form of question to my mind than “Why?” – it pushes my imagination to be resourceful and responsible.

Cicero’s first law of rhetoric, that a speech must always contain at least one surprise.

If you just share generic obvious statements… it is a waste of your and your audience’s time. If we all know something, and we are not yet taking action… then sharing this thing we all know again will not lead to action. There must be a surprise. There are many forms of surprise… but a great speech should lead to the audience seeing something with new eyes, taking new meaning from an old experience, or changing their perception of an aspect of life.

‘We have so much – our arts and learning, laws, treasure, slaves, the beauty of Italy, dominion over the entire earth – and yet why is it that some ineradicable impulse of the human mind always impels us to foul our own nest?’

The german language has the word “schadenfreude“. The experience of joy or pleasure in witnessing another person’s misfortune. It is often harder for us to enjoy another’s successes than it is for us to experience a small inner joy at the setbacks another must face. I wish I could switch it off… in me and in all around me… in humanity as a whole. The ego, or sense of independent self, in each of us needs so much “to be right”, to win, to be “better” and we are willing often to cause pain to ourselves to cause pain to another.

If we are to achieve peace outside ourselves, we must achieve peace within. This is to know myself. To laugh at and accept my flaws, to be grateful for my strengths and to take life as an infinite rather than a finite game.

My thoughts so far from Cicero’s life.

PS I’m only half way through the story.

“You can’t free anybody else and you can’t serve anybody else unless you free yourself” 

Nelson Mandela

You are not an accident.  You are a singular piece in the giant jigsaw puzzle that is this world.  This jigsaw puzzle is not a 50 piece puzzle, nor a 250 piece puzzle…  it is a 7 billion piece puzzle.  I find it frustrating when my daughter and I put together a 50 piece puzzle and find that there are only 49 pieces.  We can’t finish the game.  The great puzzle needs your piece.  Whatever you are given, you need to pass it on with integrity, humility and generosity.

You are not a Cog in a Machine.  Photo: iansand
You are not a Cog in a Machine. Photo: iansand

The greatest anger is the anger at ourselves for not living up to what we know we are capable of.  Hell is not after death, hell is the moment before death when a human being looks back on all the wasted potential.

“What you can be, you must be” Abraham Maslow.

Honestly expressing yourself.

The greatest gift you can give to those around you is your own shining self belief and glorious sense of meaning in what you do.  If you don’t have it, only you can do the work to get it.  If you have it, only you can keep doing what it takes to keep it.

The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy.  Love is not easy.  Love is hard.  Doing the work that needs to get done, overcoming the devil in me that avoids the work is the course of love.  Allowing the resistance, the procrastination to win is the course of apathy.  Apathy leads to self-hate, which builds to resentment and then is shared with others in bitterness and cruelty.

The 3 Escuses

The Resistance

Stephen Pressfield speaks powerfully about the Resistance. It is a force within each of us that stops us from doing the work that really matters.

The 3 big voices of my personal resistance are:

  1. Comparison
  2. Pointlessness
  3. Fear

The Last 5% is the Hard Part

Starting is easy.  There are no prizes for starting the marathon.  You get the medal for finishing. Most people I know are good at starting.  Few people I know are good at finishing.

The closer you get to the end, the stronger the Resistance grows.

“An artist never finishes a work, he abandons it.”

Pablo Picasso

Here are a few of many ways I bring these voices into my life to procrastinate and avoid finishing important work.

  1. They won’t let me
  2. I am too young
  3. I am too old
  4. I am only one person
  5. I don’t know enough
  6. I am not a guru
  7. This could be embarrassing
  8. This will be embarrassing
  9. This is too touchy-feely
  10. I won’t get paid for this
  11. This isn’t business stuff
  12. I have to finish the things I have already started
  13. Seth Godin has already said it better than I can
  14. I’ll do it tomorrow/later/after this coffee
  15. Who am I to think I know something special about this?
  16. I’ve got plenty of time next week
  17. I’ve got plenty of time this year
  18. I’ll do it this summer
  19. I’ll do it after the summer
  20. I need to do a little bit more research
  21. Who’s going to read this anyway?
  22. [¡¡¡ insert your own excuse here 😉 !!!!]

That’s just 21…  I have many, many more…

4 Ways to Stop Self-Sabotaging Your Success

Rajesh Setty shared some wisdom with me last year. One thing out of many that I remember was this idea: the most valuable compliment you can hear from another person.

I had the privilege of reading a draft of Rajesh’s newest book over the last month and I have written a recommendation that hopefully will appear when the book comes out later this year. Here’s some of his books and manifestos available as pdfs https://rajeshsetty.com/resources/books/

What is the best compliment you can hear?

How to Become worthy of this Compliment?

  1. Be interested in them – help them get clarity on who they are and what they want, their strengths and passions
  2. Connect people – put people in contact with others that share common passions, experiences
  3. Let them help you – let them see that I have changed myself because of their impact on me

“The most valuable compliment is: I wish I had met you 10 years earlier”

Rajesh Setty

If you enjoyed reading this post, you will also like Listening with your Eyes and What is the best advice you have ever received?.

Original article posted at Forbes 20th January 2020 How to be Happier and More Productive in 2020.

I’ve spent the last 16 years working with CEOs and entrepreneurs to help them get clear on their purpose, get great people around them, execute their decisions and enjoy their life in the process. 

The fact that you are reading this indicates that you are purposeful. The challenge for leaders is how this effectiveness leads to an enhanced quality of life.

How to be happier and more purposeful in 2020 and beyond

Author and Harvard professor David Maister says “success is enjoying your life. If you don’t enjoy what you do, the company of the people you do it with, and the impact you are making in the world… it cannot be considered success.”

A happy life is not the absence of pain. In achieving anything of significance: pain is guaranteed, but misery is optional. Anyone who has climbed Everest has been through a lot of pain. All significant achievements of meaning require the willing acceptance of the pain necessary to make the journey, to do the work, to learn the skills. 

7 mindsets that connect a purposeful life to a happy life

  1. Think about what you can achieve in 10 years, not in a week. We so underestimate what we can achieve in a decade, and we so overestimate what we can achieve in a day or a week. Shift your focus to what you can achieve over the next decade. Where can your health, your relationships, your financial wellbeing, your skill mastery be in a decade? It is far more inspiring to see a decade of achievement than a weeks worth of tasks.
  2. Think in terms of who you will become (character), not what you will have (possessions.) I have been running leadership retreats for many years now. As we come to the end of any year, one of the questions that I ask leaders to reflect and share during the retreat is “what three words represent who you will become in 2020?” It forces thinking about how I will be, rather than what I will accomplish. My three words for 2020 are Generous, Focused and Kind. What three words would you choose?
  3. Think in terms of process goals, not results goals. I spent over a decade leading sales organisations… and we are taught not to let sales people share results, but activity. A results goal could be to grow my business by 20%. A process goal is to make two more calls per day. A results goal is to lose 10 kilograms. A process goal is to leave two bites unfinished on every plate.
  4. Think about changes in your environment, not your willpower. If you want to eat less chocolate, don’t have it in your home. If you want to do more exercise, put your sports gear on as soon as you wake up. If want to use Facebook less, delete the app. High performers don’t have greater willpower, they remove the distractions from their life.
  5. Don’t negotiate with your excuses. As soon as you decide to take any action, your mind will come up with reasons why not to do it. Don’t engage in this discussion. Your excuses have access to all of your intelligence and they will win. 
  6. Fix the little things, and the big things can take care of themselves. Over the last 3 years I’ve had a habit of noting down each afternoon my “love/hate” list. I note everything that has added to my enjoyment of life on the left, and everthing (and everyone) who has detracted from my life on the right. It is often small things that detract. I have acted to remove anything that consistently appears in my “hate” list from my environment. 
  7. Think why, who, how… not what, when, how…. In every Vistage CEO decision coaching process, the first question we ask is “why is this important to you?” And we will stay with this question until we truly understand why… before we move to who can help and how to execute. Start with why. Do what is important, not what is convenient.

There are 3 primary drivers of results in life:

  1. Your luck (randomness)
  2. Your strategy (choices)
  3. Your actions (habits)

Nice tweet from James Clear, the author of the book Atomic Habits.

There is a fourth driver of Results

4. how I respond to what happens

I am reading Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life at the moment. I love the depth and the conviction that comes across from Jordan’s writing (and his youtube videos).

One of the things that really stuck with me from the early chapters was Jordan’s sense that Heaven and Hell are here with us on earth… and that our response to the events of our life can allow them to truly become Hell.

He shared a story of an old man dying of cancer in a hospital. This is tragic. What makes it hell is what is happening between the adult children of the man in the hospital room as he lies dying. There is a bitterness between them and an anger about how the inheritance will be split. The response of these adult children is to make life worse for each other.

Life is Tragic. Humans can make it Hell.

Old man dying is a tragic part of life.

His children fighting over the inheritance is how to turn tragedy into hell.

There is no situation so bad that we cannot make it worse with our own reaction to it. Do we learn from the event, or do we allow it to push us into an emotional state where we make life worse for others because of our own feelings of hurt and anger and desire for revenge.

What makes for a meaningful human life? Who and what are the most important for you? Leo Tolstoy addresses these questions in his 1886 short story The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

The Book by Tolstoy

This is a book that I give away often. It is a short book, just over 50 pages long. It can be read from start to finish in a couple of hours.

I share this book with students, friends, employees… anyone who is searching for a more meaningful approach to living their life.

Read: The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy

The Death of Ivan Ilych, published in 1886, is a short story by Leo Tolstoy, considered one of the masterpieces of his late fiction, written shortly after his religious conversion of the late 1870s.  The Death of Ivan Ilych tells the story of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia and his sufferings and death from a terminal illness.

If you have read the book, would love your reflections on the book in the comments below.

If you have not read the book, get a copy (amazon | free pdf) and find a couple of hours to read the story… then come back here and let us know your reflections.

3 Reflection Questions for The Death of Ivan Ilyich

  1. What are the specific factors that lead to Ivan’s life transformation?
  2. What purpose does Ivan discover for himself?
  3. What does Ivan’s transformation mean for you and your life?

The newspaper is full of other people’s problems. Do they bother you?

The world is full of people who don’t know what you expect from them. Does it bother you when they don’t do what you expect?

How can you have a good day when you give 8 billion people control over your state of mind?

It is an active choice to allow my state of mind to be affected by another’s action. I need to decide upon an ideal expected action. I need to compare their actual action to my imagined ideal. I need to allow myself to get angry, resentful, distressed and bothered about their failure to live up to my ideal.

I can change the whole world, or I can be very careful about how I set my expectations of other people.

Choose carefully what you allow to bother you.

Rule 6 “Set your house in perfect order before you criticise the world”

Jordan Peterson, 12 Rules for Life

If you allow everything to be a problem, you give yourself a powerful excuse to do nothing about the few things you can actually improve right now.

Further Resources on Becoming Intentional

As we are coming up to the end of 2019, here are a couple of resources to become more intentional about what matters to you in 2020:

Thanks to Dan Sullivan’s recent podcast for this idea… Why Irritation affects your success if you’re not paying attention to it.

These are my notes from reading the short article Strategy and the Fat Smoker by David Maister.

David Maister

As we come up to the season of new year’s resolutions, I took some time to reflect on what it takes to make change happen in our lives, and in our businesses.

David Maister is a former Harvard Business School professor, expert on the management of professional service firms. He is best known for writing “The Trusted Advisor” together with Charles Green.

The problem is that many change efforts are based on the assumption that all you have to do is to explain to people that their life could be better, be convincing that the goals are worth going for and show them how to do it. This is patently false. If this were true, there would be no drug addicts in the world, no alcoholics, no bad marriages: “Oh, I see, it’s not good for me? Ah, well then, I’ll stop, of course!” What nonsense!

David Maister, Strategy and the Fat Smoker

Why We Don’t Do What We Know We Need to Do

We don’t make most changes because the benefits come later, whereas the pain (of self discipline) comes immediately. This is not a good deal for the emotional, instinctual part of us as human beings.

For many of the important habit changes:

  • the benefits don’t come next week or next year… but in a couple of decades.
  • dabbling or trying a little gets you nothing… only full commitment over a long term gets the results.
  • Short term results are often detrimental to long term success… Short term extreme weight loss is always long term catastrophic.

Strategy is Fundamentally about Commitment

The necessary outcome of strategic planning is not analytical insight but resolve.

David Maister

The essential questions of strategy are these:

  • Which of our habits are we really prepared to change, permanently and forever?
  • Which lifestyle changes are we really prepared to make?
  • What issues are we really ready to tackle?

Strategy as Commitment

Any weight loss plan that is based upon a temporary change in diet is destined to fail. Any corporate or organisational change that is about a short term push is destined to fail.

All Strategic changes must be seen as a fundamental lifestyle commitment based on the type of person or organisation you want to be.

An aspirational vision that is not based on a willingness to suffer the short term pain to change is a dangerous waste of time, and a dangerous loss of credibility.

There is no business benefit in claiming to pursue a goal that everyone can tell you don’t have the guts to pursue.

David Maister

Only say you will do what you are really committed to doing.

6 Required Actions to Make Strategic Change Happen

If strategy is not about a To-Be future state, but about a set of disciplines that I or we as a team are willing to fully commit to, what is required for successful strategy?

What gets people on the program?

  1. It is a permanent change in Lifestyle – Stay away from temporary fixes
  2. You must change the scorecards – Measure what matters, incentivise what matters
  3. Leadership lead by example – You can’t expect others to change if you don’t change
  4. Principles over Tactics – make the changes because they are right in themselves, not because they lead to different results
  5. People must Volunteer – Each person must make a personal commitment
  6. People must get on or get off the Bus – Help those who are unable to make the personal commitment to find a place where they can be successful as they are today

Ideology is the Only Long-Term Strategic Differentiator

Is there a “way of doing things” that is particular to you or your organisation?

The most successful organisations have an ideology. There is a McKinsey way, a Goldman Sachs approach and a Bain philosophy, to take only three examples of firms with strong ideologies, clear strategies and the financial success to match.

At these firms, if you don’t subscribe to the ideology, you don’t stay and argue or act as a silent dissenter. You walk. Or, eventually, you’re asked to walk.

David Maister

I am now thinking about what is “the Conor way of doing things” and “what is the Vistage way of doing things”… some end of year reflection.

Be Trustworthy

As a leader, there are big disadvantages of saying things that you have not got the discipline to do. Be careful that your words are followed by actions.

As human beings, we accept the influence mostly, if not exclusively, of those we trust, and being trusted is mostly about true trustworthiness, not technique.

David Maister
Trust

Further Resources

It is a trade off.

Charlie Munger said in a recent interview: “if you take lots of heroin, you’ll be very happy over the next 3 weeks… but the long term impact is catastrophic”

How to balance short term enjoyment with long term fulfillment?

Reflection in this video is on this balance between habits for the long term vs rewarding action in the short term: “An apple a day keeps the doctor away”… but there is always a donut just next to the apple. (Go straight to 0:45 in the video to go direct to the key message).

What apples are you eating today?

How to live a fulfilling human life?

Abraham Maslow was the first psychologist to look specifically at what it takes to live a healthy, fulfilling human life. Prior to Maslow, psychology was focussed on dealing with mental illness and abnormality. Maslow suggested that to be happy, it is not sufficient to just remove sadness.

The 6 basic Human Emotional Needs

Maslow, Victor Frankl and Tony Robbins have developed the idea that there are 6 specific emotional needs that must be met in some way by each individual human being in order for life to have a sense of fulfillment.

These 6 needs must be met in a specific order… You can’t seek variety if you don’t have any safety; you can’t seek growth if you don’t have connection and significance.

  • 1. Safety & 2. Variety
  • 3. Connection & 4. Significance
  • 5. Contribution & 6. Growth

Video: The 6 Emotional Needs of Human Beings

Humanistic psychology

Maslow investigated the ingredients of positive mental health and developed Humanistic psychology. This approach to mental health is guided by the idea that we all possess the inner resources for growth and healing.

The basic principles behind humanistic psychology are simple:

  1. Here and Now is Everything – How you are right now is how you are in life; how you interact with me now shows how you interact with everyone.
  2. You are Responsible – To be mentally healthy, individuals must take personal responsibility for their actions.
  3. You are Worthy – Each person is worthy. I can take negative action, this never stops me being inherently worthy as a human being.
  4. You Need Growth – The ultimate goal of living is personal growth.

The Journey to Fulfilment

A Fulfilling Life or Transcendence is not a state that one attains, but a constant state of becoming. Self-Actualisation is a continual process of becoming rather than a perfect state one reaches of “happy ever after”.

No matter how learned or wise you become, if you stop the journey… you lose the sense of fulfilment. This is a journey, not a destination. This is life’s great pilgrimage.

You can’t copy someone else’s fulfilling life and expect personal fulfilment… your journey will be different than every other human being. If you find yourself following another’s footsteps… be careful.

If you liked this post, you will also like 17 Daily personal habits for a fulfilling life and The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People.