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.
I have been writing this month for the Lifehack blog. They have published 4 of my blog posts so far. It’s challenging and helpful to get pushed to improve my ability to explain my ideas, work with editors and pitch story ideas 😉
6 Item Checklist for Running Impressive Meetings
Our first board meeting was chaos. There was a paper agenda, but I failed to keep people focussed on the agreed discussions. Each board member would throw their own opinion in for every small point. We spent almost 4 hours sucked into petty administrative details. It was tiring. Over the next 2 years, I learnt how to run meetings that get volunteers engaged, proud, active and delivering big results. What works for volunteers also works for corporates, universities and professional associations.
Richard Hamming’s 14 Lessons for Success (as a Scientist)
Before we dive into Richard’s wisdom, let me give my 20,000 mile high summary: If you want to live a life that matters, it is necessary to do something outstanding, otherwise it will all be taken away from you. This talk is not a talk about living a happy life, nor a helpful life. Richard himself says: “I am really trying to get you to think about doing significant things…”
Balance is an ideal. It doesn’t exist. When we are walking, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right. When we are running, we aren’t in balance. We fall to the left, we fall to the right. When we are cycling, we aren’t in balance… I think I’ve labored the point.
All natural forward progress by humans comes from imbalance.
Procrastination, Schmastination: 3 Power Tools to Get Things Done
My entire life can be divided into 3 phases.
Blissful Avoidance; Lucky, and Avoiding Responsibility; and Realisation
I know what an unproductive day looks like. I can recognise the features of a zero day. What’s the opposite? What is a productive day? What’s in a ‘Get Things Done’ day?
I often use an exercise called The Lifeline in my teaching. I found a good summary of the exercise here. In the exercise people reflect on the important positive and negative experiences of their life.
Something that has struck me after all these years of watching groups work on the exercise – it is the hard times in life and how we dealt with them that most inspires. We are inspired by the struggle more than the end point.
“Life is a series of experiences, each one of which makes us bigger, even though sometimes it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and grieves which we endure help us in our marching onward.” Henry Ford
I guess if an inspirational speaker came and gave a speech that went: “I had this idea to climb a big mountain, so I went there and I climbed it. It wasn’t too hard and the view from the top was lovely.” – it wouldn’t be too inspirational. It is what she had to overcome, the unexpected obstacles, the discovery of previously hidden strength – that I want.
This reminds me of rule number 6 from Kurt Vonnegut on rules for telling a story: “Be a Sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
“All life demands struggle. Those who have everything given to them become lazy, selfish, and insensitive to the real values of life. The very striving and hard work that we so constantly try to avoid is the major building block in the person we are today.” Pope Paul VI
The Opposite of Fragile
What is the opposite of fragile? I hear you saying “robust”, “strong”, “durable”, “flexible” or even “unbreakable”… but these words are not the opposite, they are the zero point on the line from breaks under pressure to grows under pressure.
A wine glass when dropped on the concrete floor will smash. It is fragile. A plastic glass when dropped on the concrete floor will not smash. It is “flexible and robust”. However, there are some systems that when dropped, they come back even stronger.
Nasim Taleb coined the term “Antifragile” for things that grow under stress. Evolution is a process by which species become stronger when stressed. When I go to the gym, I actually damage my muscles – but they grow stronger as they repair. A broken bone will heal stronger than the surrounding bone.
“When we long for life without difficulties, remind us that oaks grow strong in contrary winds and diamonds are made under pressure.” Peter Marshall
We humans are “antifragile”. We learn and grow faster in the struggle than in the garden.
No written word, no spoken plea
Can teach our youth what they should be
Nor all the books on all the shelves
Its what the teachers are themselves
Anonymous, quoted by John Wooden (at 4:12 in the video below)
What is True Success?
John Wooden’s simple answer: to know you did your best. It is not to win, it is not to accumulate material possessions, it is not to be famous, it is not to be better than another… it is to know you did what you could do. If his team won, but had not given their best he was disappointed If his team lost, but they each knew that they had given of their best – he was a happy coach.
John Wooden, affectionately known as Coach, led UCLA to record wins that are still unmatched in the world of basketball. Throughout his long life, he shared the values and life lessons he passed to his players, emphasizing a concept of success that’s about much more than winning.
In my interviews of people that have achieved, it seems that they all share this concept of success. Killian Jornet is a winner in ultra-running because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself. Miquel Suñer is a winner in open-water swimming because he doesn’t do it for anyone else, he does it to test himself.
In life we start where we are. I often wish I was somewhere else, was a year or two ahead in my career, was a little bit younger/stronger/taller, had a bit more hair these days… but I am not. It does not serve me. I can start where I am and take the best step that I can. Nothing more is asked.
I have read massive quantities of ancient myth in 2012. I have debated purpose with many people of many persuasions. I am moving towards clarity around an idea that a meaningful life is based up a chosen sacrifice.
Success and The Chosen Sacrifice
Kilian pays the price that ultra-running charges. He makes his chosen sacrifice. He is committed, there is no half-measures.
There is a little irish story about going “all-in”, committing 100%.
A man has had a pint or two of Guinness and needs the toilet. He makes his way to the back of the pub. He enters. Approaches a urinal. Begins his relief… and a €5 note falls from his pocket into the urinal.
Just at this moment another guy enters the toilet. He sees the €5 in the urinal, he sees the moment of indecision and he asks “You’ve got a problem. What are you going to do?”
The man quickly takes out a €50 note and throws it in on top of the €5 that is soaked in the urinal. He turns and says “there was no way I was getting piss on my hands for a €5, but for €55 I will do what it takes.”
What is your €50
The €50 is the chosen sacrifice. The €5 was life’s contribution. The €50 was his chosen sacrifice. The meaning in a life comes from choosing this sacrifice. Choosing to pay the full price willingly. Not by waiting to see if life charges the price.
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