I’m on a Sunday hike with Florian and his son Alvaro. We’re on our way toward the restaurant for lunch, when we find the river is overflowing and the foot bridge is under fast flowing water… What do we do?
Are you waiting for permission? For the important things in life, there is nobody who can give you the permission that you need.
There comes a moment when you must commit even though you lack clarity.
“If you knew how to achieve it and could guarantee success: it is a task, not a dream” Alden Mills
This week’s video is about Steven Covey’s 7th Habit of Highly Effective People: Sharpen the Saw.
Life is a marathon, not a sprint.
Burning yourself out is no service to anyone. Running your car without changing the oil will destroy the engine. Running at 100% all day and all night will destroy your own personal engine.
Feeling good doesn’t just happen.
Living a life in balance means taking the necessary time to renew yourself. You know what to do, but do you make the time for renewal?
Sharpen the Saw means taking care of the greatest asset you have: you. Here are some examples of activities:
Physical: Beneficial eating, exercising, and resting
Social: Making social and meaningful connections with others
Mental: Learning, reading, writing, and teaching
Spiritual: Spending time in nature, meditation, music, art
As you renew yourself in each of the four areas, you create growth and change in your life. Without this renewal, the body becomes weak, the mind mechanical, the emotions raw, the spirit insensitive, and the person selfish. Not a good life.
First understand the do-or-die importance of focus.
“If you don’t learn to focus, you will have a shallow and unrewarding life without any meaningful achievements.” Derek Sivers
That is worth repeating.
“A shallow and unrewarding life.”
You Need to Learn to Focus
So make it a priority.
Yes it’s hard. The world is designed to distract you. Facebook is a research laboratory focussed on human distraction. They invest billions and are excellent at their work. When facebook slip up, hard on their tails come Apple, apps, youtube, caffeine, bored friends, problematic neighbours and general office bullshit.
Apps are designed to be as addictive as possible.
Assume you are dealing with crack cocaine. If you can see it, you will use it. If you can hear it, you will use it. Willpower is not going to get you through this.
There are many reasons why we delay work. I think the most insidious is that I have a belief that the person I will be in future will be better than the person who I am today. I have a consistent inner belief that I will be smarter, better, faster in the future. The work that is hard today will somehow become easier for the better future me. But, what if’s not? I will only be better in future if I do the hard work of pushing through distractions today.
Who is Good at Focus?
I have spent a lot of time interviewing high performance athletes. My goal was to understand their motivations, how they train, how they prepare mentally, and how they face anxiety. These successful athletes have an ability to focus on the one next step and, in the words of Nike, Just do it!
Josef Ajram, one of Spain’s top endurance athletes, tells himself “I will run another 15 minutes. Come on. Anyone can run another 15 minutes.” In Josef Ajram’s words, he has completed the Marathon de Sables – 243km across the Sahara desert in 6 days – by only ever allowing himself to think about the next 15 minutes.
How to Learn Focus?
Use The Pomodoro* Method.
Here are my simplified instructions for following the Pomodoro method.
Pick a specific project you would like to work on. For example “Write a blog post on focus”.
Set a timer for 20 minutes
Work only on this project until the timer stops. Stop completely no matter where you are when you hear the timer. Mid sentence is excellent (it makes it easier to re-start this work later).
Count how many timers you can complete in a day. I bet you will not complete one single complete timer the first day you begin this habit. I didn’t.
*Any interruption*, you must reset the timer to 20 minutes.
If you need a drink of water, go get the water, then reset the timer.
If you need the bathroom, go, then reset the timer.
If you must check wikipedia to find out a fact, check wikipedia, then reset the timer. (better… resist the need to check facts now, and use a future timer to work on the project “research focus and collect sources”)
If you must respond to a phone alert, respond, reset the timer.
I think you get the idea. Only by working on 1, and only 1 project for the full 20 minutes = you get to count it as 1 timer.
* You can find the original Pomodoro Method described here: Pomodoro Method.
Do you plan your days, or do your days run as a reaction to what pops up? In Washington DC, one of our EO leaders at the EO Leadership Academy was Christoph Magnussen – here in this he shares a tip we learnt about how to take control of your day.
This is a lesson that was shared with the group by Warren Rustand. Warren Rustand was a White House scholar back in the 1970s and spent 4 years as the appointments secretary to President Gerald Ford. This meant that for 4 years, he controlled how President Ford spent his time.
My friends live their lives in one of two contrasting ways:
Guided by a Long term Vision for their Lives
Take Opportunities as they come
In the short term, the opportunists made great early progress. I have one friend who changed job every 1-2 years in the investment banking industry. Each job change achieved an increase of 30-50% in salary. Problem: he is now stuck and has no serious chances of moving up to the really senior ranks.
Another friend in investment banking has stuck it out in the same bank for 14 years. He didn’t take each opportunistic head-hunter call looking to get him to switch jobs. His salary languished behind our opportunistic friend. Today he is moving into the senior ranks of the bank and has enormous political support to take job choices that improve his work-life balance.
It was a hard choice when I was young. I worked for Accenture for 9 years. Every year I watched peers leave to join competitors for 30-50% increases in salary. I had offers and I thought about leaving. In the end, I valued flexibility over salary and used my network in Accenture to live in London, Chicago and Sydney.
Kissinger’s Major Criticism of US Foreign Policy: 100% Opportunist
Kissinger’s criticisms of the Kennedy and LBJ presidencies was that they were pragmatic opportunists, but there was no overall vision of what they stood for. The Soviet Union (at the time) stood for fairness, and the US argument was that its economic policies would make citizens wealthier.
It was a lost argument.
People were not inspired to fight in order to improve their economic situation. This was not a psychologically motivating appeal.
Kissinger identified freedom as the value that the US most espoused. He felt that the foreign policy decisions should be taken in the framework of whether the individual decisions improved individual freedom – not on a case by case basis.
Opportunism leads to a Dead End
Those who know why they are fighting will win over those who don’t.
The Vietnam war was militarily un-winnable, and Ho Chi Minh was always a step ahead of what the US were interested in negotiating. He understood that the US would always be short term and opportunistic. He was fighting for a cause, the US had got themselves into Vietnam bit by bit by bit and then found themselves stuck fighting for a cause that didn’t exist.
I’m no history or politics expert, but I would suggest that the US role in the world from the end of the Vietnam war up until 2000 was largely positive. The recent decade has seen the US fall back into an Opportunistic foreign policy – George Bush’s photo opportunity driven foreign policy was the start of a collapse in Visionary and values driven US foreign policy. Trump is here because the political consensus had gradually become what is politically easy, not what is right. The increasing polarization of the US political system makes it hard to establish a long term vision.
Only a life led towards a vision based on your own set of values can lead to work you love in the second half of your career. A life led entirely on the basis of opportunism will inevitably take you towards a dead end (or Trump).
How do you Establish a Framework for your Life?
Kissinger began by identifying the most important value that he believed represented the US culture: Freedom.
What is your single most important value?
Is your life showing this? Is the majority of your time going to your most important value? Are you spending your money on your most important value? Are you building friendships and mentors that support your most important value?
You need a coach or a mentor to help you work out your vision, framework and how to take the tough decisions to orient your life around this vision. I have never seen someone do it alone.
“You can take my life, but you cannot take my freedom” William Wallace (through the mouth of Mel Gibson)
Freedom sounds like good stuff. Generations have fought and died to allow us the individual freedom that we enjoy today.
Freedom is not the freedom from something, it is the freedom to choose to do or not to do something. Freedom comes with a price: you are responsible for your choices.
Freedom is a burden.
Freedom is not fun. Freedom is a challenge for individual human beings to handle. Few accept complete responsibility. Existential psychotherapists say that people will go to extreme mental contortions to avoid seeing two truths: we die and we alone are responsible for our life.
Andy Warhol said that if he could hire anyone, it would be a “boss”. Someone who would tell him what to do each day. It is tiring to have to personally decide what is important and what to work on each day. Much easier to outsource the challenge to a boss, or a political party, or a guru.
It takes courage to live with the responsibilities inherent in freedom. We have the power to shape our lives, and we have the capacity to take action to create and to destroy. We are responsible for our lives.
Gandhi said that all rights come with corresponding responsibilities. All rights can only be earned by carrying out the required duties. The right to be free comes with the duty of full responsibility for your actions.
Edit 14/12/2016: Added this wonderful animation of this post by @Saminsights
A post shared by 👁🗨 Insightout (@in.sight.out) on
The Source of Passion in our Life
I’ve been meeting a lot of CEO coaches over the last 6 weeks in order to develop my business Vistage Spain. I am interested in meeting all of the people that CEOs can turn to when they need clearer vision, greater commitment and significant change.
Who are the top leadership coaches in Spain? Who should be on the list?
I had a wonderful coffee and discussion with Rabieh Adih, executive coach and founder of Shine Coaching, today.
We discussed passion. What it is, where it comes from, how it dies, how it is brought back…
My personal position is that passion and meaning can only come from within an individual human being. It can only come when that person knows that they have given more than has been demanded. It is only this Chosen Sacrifice that can result in a feeling of meaningfulness in a life. If you give only the bare minimum, if you treat everything as a transaction… you will kill passion and find your way to apathy. It is only by choosing to give more than is necessary that you use your freedom in a meaningful way.
“It all starts with Love” Raul Cristian Aguirre
My friend and entrepreneur Raul Cristian Aguirre wrote recently in the Entrepreneurs’ Organisation Octane magazine. His message “It all starts with love”.
Now, I’m the first to hate hippy slogans and idealism, but Raul’s message is not about Love in the US Romantic Comedy sense. He speaks of another meaning.
We often confuse love with liking or love with lust or love with enjoying being in someone’s company. These are not love. They can help you get to love. Love is not a response. Love is action. Love is giving when not being asked to give. Love is to give without waiting for anything in return. Love is Chosen Sacrifice.
It is only through daily acts of giving more than is asked that we live lives of passion.
These acts must be chosen. We must give freely. Thus, freedom is the burden… but it is the path to a life of passion.
The Freedom to Give More than is Asked by Life
Life places demands on you. You can pay the minimum price. There are a whole legion of workers in business that are the “Working Dead”, the “Quit and Stayed”… day after day after day they deliver the necessary minimum work. They achieve exalted states of Apathy. (In Harry Potter, these might be the “Dementors” creatures who feed off your fears).
You can use your freedom to choose to give more than the asking price.
I don’t mean that you pay €5 for tomorrows newspaper. I don’t mean that you pay €10 for your next bus journey.
The next email you write… take 10 seconds to make it 1% better than necessary.
The next person you pass in the hallway… take a few seconds to really look into their eyes when you ask “how’s your day?”
The next person you meet with… ask them about why they work, what is going well, what is not going so well.. and take interest in who they want to become.
Practice giving a tiny little extra in these small things.
This is where passion grows.
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
In a 1954 speech to the Second Assembly of the World Council of Churches, former U.S. President Eisenhower said: “I have two kinds of problems: the urgent and the important. The urgent are not important, and the important are never urgent.”
The image to the right shows a 2×2 matrix using the two axis of Important and Urgent. This gives us 4 types of task:
Urgent & Important
Urgent & Not Important
Important & Not Urgent
Not Urgent & Not Important
In an un-disciplined person, category 2 tends to be completed before category 3. In a disciplined person, category 3 is completed before touching category 2.
Success is rarely Urgent
Jim Rohn gives one of the most powerful definitions of success:
“Failure is a few bad decisions repeated every day. Success is a few simple good habits practiced every day” Jim Rohn
There is a saying “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”. Health success is an apple a day. Failure is a donut instead of an apple each day. You can say “what difference does 1 donut make?” You won’t notice the damage today, you won’t notice tomorrow… but over a year: a donut a day starts to extract a price.
The urgent is often the result of avoiding the important.
By the time the painkillers are needed, it is too late for the vitamins.
Vitamins are important.
Practice Saying “No”
If you wish to spend more of your life on the important things, and less on the urgent things, there is a tool…
Warren Buffett’s definition of integrity: “you say No to most things”. If you are not saying No to most things, you are dividing your life up into millions of little pieces that are being given to other people’s priorities.
Learn to say “No”…
…without the word “no”.
The most powerful ways to say “no” do not involve the actual word “no”.
Another is to raise the cost of your “Yes”: If someone wants to meet for coffee, I say “yeah sure, I am free on Friday at 7am at my office in Sabadell [25 mlles away]”. If the person still wants to meet then it must be important. 90% end up not following up. The few that do, will come prepared and have done their research. They know what they want from me. They know whether it is worth their time.
Celebrities and Politicians have entire staffs dedicated to restricting access. Bono, the singer of U2, has 25 people who review requests for his time, his money, his attention in order to allow only the important requests to reach Bono himself. Barrack Obama has a whole White House staff whose mission is to ensure that he only spends time and energy on important things, that only he can deal with.
If you don’t start developing methods of saying “no” now, it will only get harder as you become wealthier, wiser, more famous, more experienced and more resourceful.
What urgent task will you say “No” to today?
Some other great posts on Robert Glazer’s blog Friday Forward:
If I am not taking action, it is often because I do not truly believe that the action will achieve the end goal of pain avoidance, or deliver the gain.
The Pain Avoidance Driven Life
There are a set of things we do because we “have” to. These tend to be actions driven by pain avoidance.
It is not hard to get a sick person to take painkillers. They directly remove a current, real pain.
It is not hard to get a hungry person to eat. The food directly removes a current, real pain.
It is not hard to get a scuba diver to come to the surface when they run out of air.
It is not hard to get myself to sleep when I am tired.
It is not hard to get myself to go to the toilet when I need to pee.
I don’t need any boss or discipline to do these tasks because the environment will just ramp up the pain steadily until I have no choice but to take action.
An entirely pain-avoidance driven life will inevitably leave a growing feeling of overwhelm.
The Gain Driven Life
“The things that will bring you the greatest results in your life don’t have a deadline.” Steve McClatchy
Perhaps the greatest positive of gain driven action is that it is entirely discretionary. It is driven by choice. It is the tool by which I change my fate. It is the set of actions that define what type of human being I have chosen to be.
There is no need to take these actions.
In many cases, I live an internal fantasy life based on “I could do this, I could do that” that allows me to feel like I am the type of person I intend to be… but only in my own inner life. Not to the world. Not in any meaningful way.
Anybody could write a blog post.
Anybody could go for a walk.
Anybody could eat 10% less calories for lunch today.
…and the fact that I know that I could is often my own barrier to actually doing. I can maintain my inner image of myself as the highest potential version of me… without seeing that my daily actions are not reaching this potential.