Some days feel harder to get going than others. The big mission feels a bit too big for today. I need something else, something smaller: An Easy Win.
What are my easy wins?
One is a blog post. I never allow myself to take more than 20 minutes before I hit publish, and there is some pretty instant feedback as readers start to register on the wordpress statistics. A blog post doesn’t change the world, but each one helps me clarify my thinking and become more articulate in expressing myself.
An even lazier win is to check my latest view statistics on youtube. This probably shouldn’t be counted in the category of win, but it makes me feel like my work matters (100,000 views per month… makes me feel very important for a minute).
Another easy win is to call a friend and listen, and thank them for their work. This always leads to me feeling better and having energy to get back onto something important.
What are your easy wins?
Do you have a list of easy wins? Some days you need a little kick to get you started on the day and a simple list of easy wins can make the difference between a day spent playing playstation and a day spent making tomorrow slightly better. Some easy wins we can achieve are:
Go for a 15 minute walk around the block (health)
Phone a friend: listen and help someone (build a relationship)
Make a short video explaining a project to practice your communication (growth, mastery)
Practice the piano (mastery)
Review your bucket list and set a date for an adventure (vision)
Write a positive recommendation for someone that has helped you on linkedin (relationship)
Watch a TED talk (growth)
What are your easy wins? Any good ones will go onto my own list! thanks 😉
I have sat through many presentations over the last 3 years listening to experts telling company leaders how they can make their company an engaging workplace; how they can increase employee engagement.
Is it really the employer’s responsibility?
Engagement is a Choice
Surely a basic requirement when you accept a job is that you engage and commit to doing it well?
Apathy is a practiced habit. You don’t start life as a child expert in curiosity-less disengagement. You practiced.
Your Apathy is Nobody Else’s Fault
Why should the fault be directed to your manager or to company HR?
It is not their fault.
It is not anyone’s fault that you are not engaged.
It is you.
It is you who is apathetic.
It is you who has to commit.
It is you who has to engage.
It is you who has to become responsible for your life as an adult.
Practice Apathy at Work, Become Apathetic in Everything
Show me someone who is apathetic and disengaged at work, and I will show you that he is apathetic and disengaged at home, with friends and a superb cynic of anyone who makes an effort. When we practice apathy, we get better at it in all areas of our life: work, family, hobbies, friends, studies, spirituality, community.
Here’s a short guide to putting the practice of engagement and responsibility into your life:
Engaged Life 101: How to be actively engaged in life.
Intention: Start every day by stating your intention for the day. As soon as you wake, write down the sentence “Today, my day is about _________” (today, I wrote self-compassion… yesterday I wrote listening better)
Read: Next, read something inspiring. (ie, not the newspaper, not your email) Here’s my list of great books: Personal Leadership Library
Think & Write: Decide on your Most Important Action for today. Write it down. Do 10 minutes action to move this Most Important Action forward. At the end of exactly 10 minutes of focussed attention, stop and go have your breakfast.
Now, you can let the day happen… but you have already taken personal ownership and responsibility for your day… good practice for the rest of the day.
The Dean of EO Leadership Academy, and highly successful businessman and person, Warren Rustand first taught me this process. He calls it the 1-10-10-10 start to the day. 1 minute intention, 10 minute read, 10 minute write then 10 minute think. Ideally followed by 29 minutes of physical exercise and then you’ve given yourself the best possible first 60 minutes of the day.
It is imagination that makes humans unique in nature.
Genetically we differ 2% from chimpanzees and 3% from worms. It is not our genes that have us living in penthouses and connecting on facebook.
Our difference is the human cortex, the layer of brain that is most highly developed in humans. The cortex is where we begin to live intentionally. We have a choice. We don’t have to just respond to the world, but can begin to imagine a better world and thus plan and act accordingly.
The unique gift of humanity is reason, the ability to solve problems in the mind.
What is the Purpose of Human Life?
2,300 years ago in the Greek city-state of Athens, Aristotle asked himself “what is the purpose of human life?” Aristotle defined the purpose of an object as being that which it can uniquely do.
A human is alive – but plants are also alive – so that cannot be human purpose.
A human feels – but animals also feel – so that cannot be human purpose.
The unique gift of humanity is reason, the ability to solve problems in the mind: to imagine solutions before putting them into practice.
Aristotle concludes the Nicomachean Ethics with a discussion of the highest form of happiness: a life of intellectual contemplation. Reasoned imagination is the highest virtue.
Leadership Requires Imagination
A leader must see a future that is not yet here. The clearer you can see and touch and feel this potential future the more compellingly you can communicate it to others. The more you practice your imagination, the better you will get. How can you practice your imagination?
How can you develop your imagination? Here are some ways:
Spend time bored.
Read fiction. Write a new ending to a classic book. Make a hero into a villain, and a hero into a villain. Write yourself into the book.
Throw photos on the floor and then explain the connection between them.
Watch TV in another language and explain to a friend what is happening.
List 10 small improvements you could make to the seat you are sitting on.
Tell bedtime stories to your children… let them create the characters as you go.
Develop 2×2 matrix on an area of interest… and develop scenarios for changing positions.
Go to an ethnic restaurant and order something you have never had before.
Go to a railroad station or airport and take the first train or plane to depart.
Imagine a world without oil, cars, telephones, internet… fill in the blank…
“Only 3 things happen naturally in organisations: friction, confusion and underperformance. Everything else requires leadership” Peter Drucker
Mediocrity is effortless.
Excellence requires effort. Excellence requires a culture of excellence. In the absence of cultures of excellence I will find an excuse to let myself slip from my best.
Do you surround yourself with cultures of excellence?
“Great leaders create culture by design, while average leaders allow culture to evolve by default.” Mike Myatt
Are you clear on your values and purpose? If not, you are bouncing from one opportunity to the next. You take today’s good opportunity to lay bricks rather than building the great cathedral of your life. The clue to the existence of a clear personal culture is that you say “No” to most things. You are not bouncing from one interesting distraction to another interesting interruption.
The ability to start things is a good step towards a positive personal culture. The ability to finish things is the goal. Are you better at starting things than you are at finishing things? (I am. It takes real effort for me to declare a project finished.)
I have my own explicit written personal culture. I first wrote it down 7 years ago as I emerged from a very difficult time in my life:
I have a much updated version that I keep with me today. I don’t share it publicly, but have often shown it to those who have shared their own personal mission, vision and values with me. You can find my email if it is important to you.
“A family culture happens whether you’re consciously creating it or not. It’s up to you and your wife to determine whether that culture is of your choosing. If you want a positive family culture, you must commit yourself to years of constant planning and teaching. A culture isn’t something that’s created overnight; it requires daily investment.” Brett McKay
The family culture is the first culture we experience. Your earliest experience of co-existing with others was in your childhood family. If your parents were clear about their values; the behaviours that express those values, the non-acceptable behaviours; and the rituals that keep these values visible: then you had a great start. If your parents did not work to jointly define and live this family culture, you still had a culture… but with unclear and unsatisfying results.
There are 3 pillars of group culture: Values, Norms and Rituals.
Values – Each family’s set of values will be different and shaped by different education, religion and country values. Some families see competition as positive, some see it as negative. Some see position as giving rights (“You’ll do it because I am your father!”), some see dignity and agreements giving rights (“You’ll do it because we value kindness.”)
Norms – explicit and implicit rules of engagement. For example, how do we resolve conflicts? Shouting and passive-agressive stand-offs? Calm discussion and seeking to understand the other? How do we share chores? Does one person work while others sit watching? or does everybody find a way to help when clearing the table after a meal?
Rituals – routines, sanctions and celebrations. Family meals – are they in front of TV when each individual is hungry, or does everyone gather and share? Weekends, mornings, nights… what are the regular routines? Rites of Passage – what way do you celebrate the passing of the seasons, the reaching of an individual goal, the birthdays, the local and religious festivals? There are 3 levels of ritual: Daily, Weekly and Life Changing.
These elements exist whether you chose them consciously or not. There are no accidental cultures of excellence and meaningful community.
Resource: The Art of Manliness blog on Creating Family Culture:
The country in which you live will have a major impact upon your implicit sense of what is right and what is wrong, the right way to behave and the right way to treat others. Geert Hofstede told us that there are 6 major areas of difference between national cultures: it is worth knowing these 6 and where your own country is on each of these 6 in order to appreciate yourself and those who come from other national cultures.
Anything worthwhile should take a long time. The myth of overnight success is just that… a myth. Acorns take time to become great oaks. Nothing that comes easily will feel worthwhile, but I chase the quick fixes and the rapid results. There is no other path than committing to the hard labour of the path. A mountain climber uses his own strength to reach the summit, he knows that a helicopter and a parachute does not count.
I find myself so often searching for a few more facebook likes, rather than writing and rewriting chapters that put my ideas into an improved form. I need to remind myself that hard work on what matters is both rewarding in and of itself, and the only real path to somewhere worthwhile.
Self-discipline is the foundational habit that makes all other good habits possible.
What is self discipline?
It is the ability to do a chosen action even when you don’t feel like it.
Anyone can do the action when they feel like it. It is the ability to do it when you don’t feel like it that really marks the difference between having a large positive impact in the world or just dribbling away all your days.
All habits are developed by repetition. If you repeat something bad for you, it will become a habit. If you repeat something good for you, it will become a habit.
Resolve to stick through the important tasks that you chose to start. As you repeatedly finish what you start, it will become more and more natural to you. Blogging was hard for me at the beginning, but now I know I will publish within 20 minutes of starting a post (I am coming up to 500 posts out there on this blog and other online resources such as forbes, lifehack, IESE, Active Garage, slideshare, venturebeat, venture village)
Three Step Guide for Better Productive Days
Here is a morning guide for being intentionally productive:
Write down the top 5 most important tasks
Pick the #1 most important task.
Work on it until it is done. (THE HARD BIT!)
If you aren’t thinking of an important bigger picture, you will be distracted by easy interruptions. It is hard to stay the course when you don’t feel like it. Your life gets better when you get better. Your leadership gets better when your habits get better. Facebook, email, twitter are so instantly addictive that I will be distracted by them every day that I am not working on something that is of importance to me.
All important success comes from finishing projects. If you get better at finishing, you get better at life. Do the projects today that the “you” of tomorrow will be thankful for.
Start and complete a task every morning before anything else. Dandapani taught me to start by making my bed first thing in the morning. I start by reminding myself that I finish what I start (and making the bed is not so difficult).
“Don’t let success go to your head and failure go to your heart”? Daphne Maxwell Reid, Aunt Viv on Fresh Prince.
Will shares his experience of failure:
“After Earth comes out, I get the box-office numbers on Monday and I was devastated for about twenty-four minutes, and then my phone rang and I found out my father had cancer. That put it in perspective—viciously. And I went right downstairs and got on the treadmill. And I was on the treadmill for about ninety minutes. And that Monday started the new phase of my life, a new concept: Only love is going to fill that hole. You can’t win enough, you can’t have enough money, you can’t succeed enough. There is not enough. The only thing that will ever satiate that existential thirst is love. And I just remember that day I made the shift from wanting to be a winner to wanting to have the most powerful, deep, and beautiful relationships I could possibly have.”
Will says that in his house they have this quote up on the wall:
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Pema Chödrön
Will summarises the meaning of these words for his family:
“We call it leaning into the sharp parts. Something hurts, lean in. You just lean into that point until it loses its power over you. There’s a certain amount of suffering that you have to be willing to sustain if you want to have a good life.”
Do you know what is the worst question that you can ask yourself?
It is a powerful question If you intend to avoid living a life that is fulfilling at all the levels: safety, risk, connection, significance, growth and contribution.
What big goals do you have for yourself? (You do have them, whether you have taken the time to write them out or not.) What is the next step? The step that takes you from where you are today towards where you need to be for your goal to become realised.
Now, when you look at that step, there is a question that is guaranteed to kill the chance of you achieving the goal.
It is guaranteed to stop you taking action.
It might be fitness action, it might be relationships action, it might be learning reaction, it might be better eating action… but this question is guaranteed to stop you.
The Kill-Joy Question
It is a simple question, it seems a reasonable question to ask oneself.
I hear it all the time.
It gets into every nook and cranny of our lives, it seeps in to every effort.
I use it too often myself.
The Small Life Question
What is the question?
“Do I feel like doing this?”
Each day is an opportunity to make an incremental difference in how your journey in life pans out in the long-term.
Every day that you do “what you feel like doing” is a day that doesn’t build you a better platform for tomorrow, nor does it give a sense of a day used for fulfilment today.
Do I feel like writing now? No.
Do I feel like going for a run before lunch? No.
Do I feel like calling my accountant and getting our accounts closed before year end? No. (Definitely no).
Do I feel like making a detailed plan for 2015? No.
Even the things that make me happy, are things that I don’t feel like doing just before I start.
PS You probably already know this, but this is an important reminder to myself this morning…
Ed Stafford walked the length of the Amazon, from the source to the sea. It took him 860 days. 860 days hiking in remote jungle, hacking his way through mosquito-ridden rain forest. I would have given up in the first week. After 3 or 4 days sleeping in the mud, I’d have given up. Why did Ed keep on going? There was a deeper purpose for Ed.
If you have a tiny vision, then any obstacle will stop you. If you have a deeply compelling vision of what you intend to achieve, no obstacle will stop you. Your resourcefulness will open new paths over, through, around and past the obstacle. Ed must have a deeply meaningful sense of what walking the Amazon would mean to his life.
Exercise: Imagine standing on top of a very tall building. There is another building about 10 meters away. There is a wooden plank laid between the two buildings. What would have to be on top of the other building for you to risk your life to make the crossing?
Your habits aren’t serving you
Practice doesn’t differentiate good or bad habits. Practice distraction: become a master. I have returned from the summer with a tendency to check facebook several times during the day. This habit stops me from pushing into the hard stuff. As soon as I face a tough decision, my habit of facebook checking rears it’s ugly head. I have practiced this habit over the last 3 months – it will take me at least a month to get back to the discipline of writing 500 words at a sitting, to take 10 minutes each morning to silently reflect on the day that is ahead. I have been practicing poor habits. I now need to practice better habits, and accept the frustration and annoyance of regularly falling back onto the poor habits. I want to practice concentration.
Exercise: Identify one poor habit and create an "if-then" rule for dealing with it. If I feel the urge to check facebook I will immediately write 100 words of content. If I feel the urge to go to the kitchen for a snack, I will get a large glass of water.
You haven’t invested in improving yourself
My first corporate job was with Accenture. They spend at least 2% of revenues on training and development every year. This meant that I did an average of 12 full days of training every year. In my first few years as an entrepreneur, do you know how much time and money I spent on professional training? None. I did not invest in myself. In the last 6 years I have committed to at least 10 days of professional training each year.
How much training and development have you done in the last year? How much have you paid to get great teachers? Have you reached out to mentors?
Exercise: Pick an area for development for 2015. Identify 3 books you will read, 3 wise mentors you can reach out to and 1 professional training course that you can commit to attend during 2015.
Improve your Communication: If you’ve adopted some good habits BUT feel like you need more accountability and guidance check out my online communications coaching program here: http://cono.rs/practicespeak
If you want to be thin, eat your meals with skinny people. If you want to be fit, spend your time with fit people.
If I want inspiration I have some great friends that get the best out of me: Florian, Eka, Mathieu, Brian, Stefan, David, Raul, Al, Adrian. A phone call, and I have the desire and discipline to be the best version of Conor.
Exercise: Write down the names of 5 people who inspire you to be the best version of yourself.
You don’t invest in yourself. The world is changing fast. You are either learning 1 hour per day, or you are depreciating your main asset – your own capacity to serve the world, your skills, your connections. Coursera, EdX, Udemy, NovoEd, Apple University – it is accessible and online; and a quick search will find you valuable institutions in your local area.
Exercise: Pick an area you would like to improve and do an online course. Languages - duolingo is a great app. Programming - code.org. History, philosophy, culture - Coursera.
You’re worried about your weaknesses
You will make mistakes. It is the human condition. Language learners cannot learn without many, many mistakes. I know people who have spent years learning a language, but will never open their mouth at fear of making a small mistake. They know that mistakes make them feel guilty. They hate the feeling of guilt. I hate the feeling of guilt. Making mistakes is the human condition. We were not born to be perfect. We are here to learn, to grow, to become better versions of ourselves.
Japanese artists used to start by making a mistake with their very first brush stroke. It had something to do with establishing that they were men, not gods, and that only gods could strive for perfection. I think it is a great way of starting. Once you have made an error, you no longer are staring at a blank sheet… and the next step is guaranteed to be better.
Exercise: Start each activity by deliberately making an error. I write a bad draft of a blog post first before going back and improving it. Go for draft quality first and get it complete, then go back and look to improve the quality.
You’re filling your time
I love being busy – it allows me to ignore the anxiety I have for areas of my life that are not going well. Tony Robbins talks about “safe problems”. Each of us has a safe problem – something that we almost enjoy explaining showing how difficult the problem is. You can tell when someone has a safe problem – they enjoy sharing it with you; and they hate when you try to help them solve it. They love this problem. They love this problem because this problem keeps them from having to deal with the bigger, deeper problem that is the real challenge in their life. If you take away their safe problem, it is like taking away a child’s teddy bear.
Exercise: Write a list of energy drain activities that you do. What are the activities that drain your energy, but do not provide a clear benefit? I ask myself "is this making me happy now or is this making my life better in the long run?" If the answer is not an easy yes, stop doing it. Do nothing instead.
You’re managing the wrong things
As a blogger I love seeing page views, facebook shares, retweets. I love watching the numbers. I love reviewing detailed statistics. However, none of this is helping me write good content. Good measures of that might be number of words written, or hours spent on re-writing content.
Exercise: Measure only what matters and helps and is under your own control. Number of words produced per day is something that I control and that matters. Number of page views or facebook friends is not something that I control.
You’re asking “do I feel like doing this?”
My emotions are ancient tools that helped with survival, but not with living a fulfilling human life. If I am scared, my whole body and attention is directed towards urgent action that can avoid being eaten. If I am angry, my whole body and attention is directed towards demonstrating that I am not to be messed with.
This morning I thought “I will go to the gym”… but almost immediately another thought came into my mind “I don’t feel like it.” I know that I will enjoy it once I am 20 minutes in, but very rarely do I “feel like” doing the important things for my health, wealth, wisdom and empathy for others. Great ultra athletes always have some form of “I will decide whether to keep running after 1 mile” for their training. They get out and get started each day, and after an
Exercise: when you find yourself asking "do I feel like doing this?" change it to "I will ask myself if I still feel like doing it after 20 minutes of action, then I will decide".
Living The Intentional Life
This final point is important. I spend a lot of my life working on how to live more intentionally, and how to teach others the benefits and practice of living more intentionally. This is the creation of rituals of practice in your life, and these 9 elements of being stuck tend to come from a loss of intentionality in the way you live your days.
Nobody ever climbed Everest by accident, only through intent and years of practice and influence.
Discover the habits of successful people as opposed to the habits of unsuccessful people in the infographic created by SuccessStory.com.
Habits of Successful People vs Unsuccessful People
How’s your daily habit checklist?
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