It is not what we do on our best day that will truly make an impact on the quality of our lives, it is the habit we can stick to on our worst day that will make a lasting difference.
For the last 2 years, I have joined a strava monthly 100kms run challenge every month. I have achieved it every month except february 2022.
One important lesson I have taken from this 2 year journey: the day I really don’t feel like going out and running… but somehow I get out and run anyway… these runs make the biggest difference to my life.
Consistency… on the hard days
Once or twice a week I wake up and really do not feel like putting on my sports gear and running… I wake up tired and with low energy… and all I want to do is sit in a comfy seat with an extra coffee. These days a run really shifts my energy.
My friend Julio recently shared with me a story from his swim training. Some days the coach has them racing to have the quickest time overall. However, sometimes the coach has them swim 8 times 100 meters… and the winner is not the fastest overall… the winner is the one with the least variation between each of the 100 meter times. This training is to really encourage a focus on consistent swimming speed… not fast when you are fresh… and slowing as you tire.
This story reminded me of the importance of consistency.
On the Tim Ferriss podcast last week, I heard him speak with Neil Gaiman, the author. They spoke about habits. Neil said that the best writing is the same writing day over and over again; same place same time same process… no changes between one day and the next… an extreme focus on repeating the same day.
The other idea I loved was Neil Gaiman’s one writing rule for himself. When he is at his writing desk, he allows himself to do one of two things: write, or do nothing.
This rules allows his inner saboteur a choice… he doesn’t “have to” write.
Neil has learnt that the “do nothing” choice can be appealing in the short term… but it always becomes more and more boring… and writing begins to be more interesting than continued “doing nothing”.
How do you create consistency in the important habits of your life?
More, more, more… more projects, more goals, more connections… is the path to overwhelm.
Less, less, less… less projects, less goals, less connections… is the path to focus and renewal and energy.
I heard Mathew McConnachy in an interview yesterday. He said that back 10 years ago he was a movie actor, he had a production company, he had a music label and was promoting two artists… and he realized he was spread very thin… he was getting a C in everything. He shared a moment where he received a phone call from his team in the production company… and when he saw the caller id… he went “ugh” and he didn’t want to answer.
He immediately called his lawyer and said “I need to close these businesses down”.
I loved his metaphor that you can’t get As on everything in life. If you have no strategy for focus, for subtraction, you will spread yourself so thin that you guarantee that your best grade is a C+…. and there may be areas in your life where that is painful to you.
Learning to Subtract
There is so much out there on how to focus, how to have discipline, how to make progress…
There is a lot less help on how to Subtract:
Letting go of things.
Subtraction and the Mid Life Crisis
Here’s a recent video of mine where I speak to this challenge – and how the need to subtract becomes most acute in “mid life” from 35 to 55 years old. Before 35 you tend not to have enough skill, reputation, competence… you need to be open to almost all the opportunities that come your way. At 35 if you have developed competence and a positive reputation, you will start to be overwhelmed by opportunities. If you don’t learn a new skill – Subtraction – you will grow to become a bitter and frustrated old person.
“An artist never finishes a work, he abandons it.”
I thrive on interaction. This blog gives me a short term feedback as I write. I can hit publish after 15 to 20 minutes and immediately get responses.
I’ve consistently failed to write a book because I am addicted to the short term feedback of blog comments, of emails, of youtube videos… I’ve never been able to commit to the 3 year process of writing without “likes” and comments.
The question for me: is it still important to me to write a book?
This video is from Bilbao in front of the Guggenheim Museum. I was in Bilbao for the launch of Vistage in the region.
In my courses I often have participants who hate following standard processes. Sometimes this is a good thing. When you decide to break the rules, you better do your homework and preparation so that what you deliver is excellent. Too often, “creative” people break the rules of structure… but don’t do the necessary work to be excellent in delivery.
“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.
Your personal, family and business cultures were not built in a day, and cannot be changed in a day.
Changing for the better is not a project. It is what life is about.
The first step is to describe your personal culture. The next step is to create, jointly with your family members, a description of what family means to them.
Mediocrity is the easy path.
The smarter you are, the better your reasons for being mediocre.
An inspiring life requires hard thinking, hard discipline and hard patience. Do you have the patience? Do you have the discipline? Do you have the desire?
Better the poor man with dreams and desire, than the great man with no dreams and no desire.
“The significance of man is not in what he attains, but rather in what he longs to attain” Khalil Gibran, Sand and Foam
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