Sometimes, life can feel especially busy and ‘cluttered’. Where it’s like climbing a mountainside and you’re never allowed more than a minute to stop on a ledge and try catching your breath, before you have to continue trekking up a peak you can’t see the end of…
For me, there was a period like this just over 5 years ago and (reading back now through my journal from that point in time) I realise I was close to completely burning out. Skip forward to mid December last year, and I touch down at Heathrow Airport to spend the Christmas and New Year holiday period with my family. On our trip back from the airport, I lamented how the previous 6 months of my life had more going on than that period 5 years earlier. In fact, right now was the first real time off I’d taken since April. Yet, I’d managed it notably better than I had done 5 years earlier…
How did I manage it this time?
Some of it came down to personal growth, absolutely- but it also came down to clarity. Having a better idea of what’s worth investing time/ energy into vs. what can be left out. Life as a whole now felt simpler somehow. As I hope you’ll soon see, there is beauty to be found in the simplicity…
As you may already know, at the start of each week I try thinking of at least one thing I learned (or maybe rediscovered) over the previous 7 days. I make a note of it, and then save it for reflection at a later date. At the start of each year, I go back over the previous 12 months and pick one key ‘Aha!’ moment from each month and expand on my thinking behind it: why was it a stand-out revelation or realisation for me? I’ve been doing this a few years now and if this is your first time, you can catch up on the previous articles I’ve written here
So here is the year that was 2021, starting with January:
If you want an interaction or a hangout to be enjoyable, first do what you can to make it enjoyable anyway. It starts with you!
Sometimes we can take the passive approach in an interaction, especially with somebody we haven’t met before or don’t know well. It can be a case of hanging back and going “No- you first” and waiting for the other person to take the lead and show us how engaging, entertaining or interesting they are. But maybe for this to happen, it could just be a case of the other person feeling comfortable in your presence. The pressure is off them to be especially engaging or entertaining, and they can relax in your presence. You don’t have to wow them with amazing stories or anecdotes, but if they know they can relax around you then they’ll go away with a positive impression of you, regardless. I realised that the responsibility for a positive interaction first starts with me- and that (regardless of how things turn out) I can go away knowing that I did what I could.
Burnouts vs. winners= the same amount of energy, just depends how you use it that makes the difference between the results you get
It might surprise you how much extra time/ energy you discover you have available when you become conscious of where you’re investing the limited time and energy you have. If what you’re investing these precious resources into is productive and helps to build yourself physically/ mentally/ emotionally/ spiritually- then you’re going to see that manifest in your life. If it’s aligned with your bigger goals, that’s a good sign you’re investing wisely. Likewise, if you’re investing time and energy into pursuits that are aimless and a waste- there’s a sign it’s time to recalibrate. Deviation usually equals stagnation. It’s not about how much you have available- it’s about what you invest with what you have.
It’s better to be bold and make things happen and fail sometimes along the way, than to go quietly. The latter have things happen to them, the former make things happen.
This follows on from what I realised in January. If you’re going to fail (and let’s face it, that part of life is inevitable!) then why not fail forward? You’ll have more losses and failures along the way, but the triumphs big or small begin to ad up over time- and that makes the difference. You also develop more of a sense of agency in your life rather than feeling as if you’re a victim of circumstances/ time/ luck.
The importance of frame: the more I can hold frame and focus on my expectations regardless of other people, the more power I have.
Situations don’t always go as planned, and neither do people always act as we’d expect them to. The clearer our principles and values, the easier it is to follow and stick to them. The better we are at sticking to our expectations and our values, the more energy we conserve and the easier it is for us to stay focused. This is why holding frame equals power.
If you do not rule self, you will be ruled by self.
While these days Phil Gould is better known as a commentator on Channel 9’s NRL coverage and a panellist on NRL-related programs on Fox, once upon a time he was a successful coach. Countless players have praised his ability to understand the player as an individual and get the best out of them. ‘Gus’ once related the story of a player with a year left to run on his contract at the club, but he wanted to retire a season early because he no longer felt the motivation to keep playing and wanted to move into coaching. He asked for Gus’s blessing to do so. Instead, Gus gave this player an ultimatum: play out the final year of his contract- and before getting into coaching, his first challenge was to motivate himself as a player during this last season. If he couldn’t motivate himself to do what it took to see out his final year as a player, how could he expect to motivate other players as a coach?
The key to leadership is (first and foremost) being able to lead ourselves. If we can’t discipline ourselves and do what’s necessary to achieve our goals (even when going the other way feels easier or more enjoyable) then ultimately it will be our own shortcomings and inherent weaknesses that will rule over our lives.
You can only live at the level of your last successful test
If you grew up playing video games (or if you’re still a gamer to this day) then you should be familiar with this idea straight away. Maybe that problem or that obstacle is about more than what you can see immediately? Maybe it’s about being skilled enough or experienced enough to handle whatever else comes after this particular situation passes? After all, it’s one thing to get your foot in the door- but another thing to be able to get both feet inside the door and then stay there.
For the least ideal scenarios, minimise them to thumbnail size images, change them to black and white and give them the washout effect. For our most ideal scenarios, blow them up in bold colour and make them vivid and noisy and tangible as possible.
Back in July, I re-listened to the 10 part Tony Robbins series ‘Time Of Your Life’. This is something I do every few years, and the beauty is that every time I do there’s something else that especially stands out unlike before. Because there’s a difference between hearing something and actually listening to something. So while there were quite a few notes I took this time around, it’s the above one I’ve made the most conscious effort towards in the time since last July.
Basically, the mind can only be drawn towards what we think of, not away from it. There is (or at least there used to be) a mural on an underpass in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley that read ‘The more I think of it, the bigger it gets’. This applies whether we’re thinking of an ideal situation, or a situation that’s less than ideal. So think carefully! The above note is how you manage this. If you’re thinking about something you don’t want or a situation that gives you a negative reaction (and you know what those are) then handle it with care. Just skim it. Make it small, fuzzy, black and white, like an underexposed photo. Instead, spend far more time devoting your mental and emotional energy to the things you want, the things that cause you to have a positive reaction: and make them big, bold, bright. Try to bring them into all 5 of your senses. Not only do you feel better and more focused, but because of that homing device known as the human brain, you subconsciously begin seeking it out. So get clear on what you’re thinking of!
Our vision becomes much clearer and our passion much easier to identify when we find the 20% we enjoy doing that’s going to bring in 80% of the results.
This is yet another perspective I got on the 80/20 principle. If you can find that 20% you enjoy doing the most that delivers 80% of the results you want, there’s just 20% left to be covered- which you can probably delegate elsewhere. This is how you make life simpler and also more fulfilling. You’re also spending your time and energy more wisely.
Sometimes you don’t really appreciate what you’ve learned or how far you’ve progressed until you’re tested
I wish, writing these words now, I could remember the particular instance that gave me this realisation. I even went back through my journal to see if I’d noted it down anywhere- but alas, I hadn’t. Thankfully, I remember the principle. Where I spoke back in June about living at the level of your last successful test, this is the realisation that comes after the test. Sometimes it isn’t until we’ve got past it that we have the full perspective and it sinks in just how much we’ve really progressed, how much we’ve learned, how much stronger we are now.
The comeback route (separation) is backtracking- temporarily- in order to take a clearer and more accurate shot at the ultimate goal, like in basketball when shooting for a 3-pointer.
Basically, there are times when we can feel a bit ‘separated’ from the world or like an outcast. It looks like other people are enjoying their lives, enjoying all kinds of successes and meanwhile you’re just…doing the same old. You can wonder if you’re doing the right thing, or maybe you’ve gone off-path? But sometimes in order to be driven towards our goals and to achieve them, we have to move away from certain people or situations that felt ‘comfortable’ to us. The separation can (in fact) be preparation for our purpose. You watch in basketball when a player goes deep into the paint- they’re surrounded by opponents, but those other players get in the way of them taking a shot. And if they do take a shot, they get just 2 points for it. Yet when that player backs away from the others, they can stand on the 3 point line and take an unimpeded shot with more time and accuracy and they score an extra point. The same principle applies in life sometimes. Maybe you’re going through a period right now where you feel a bit separated and it’s uncomfortable? I’ve been here myself on at least one occasion in life. But rather than isolation for the worse, it could simply be setting yourself apart to be set up for a more accurate shot at something greater…
Being clear on our “why” makes our execution of the “how” much better.
Whether I am strategising the next year or my life or strategising a writing project for a client, the first thing I want clarity on is: Why are we even doing this? Because it’s not until I’ve got a clear answer that I can then draw on the ‘how’ (or the process involved) and do so with relative simplicity. Doing this in your own life/ business with any important goal and getting a clear answer then makes your execution of the process much better- more efficient, higher standards, better quality, better results and often done in less time.
It’s worth stopping to smell the roses.
I was reminded of this literally while out for a walk one sunny afternoon at the very beginning of summer. There was a small public park with a rose bed, roses of different colours and varieties all in bloom. So I took a break from my walk to stop and smell the perfume from those different roses. Then I continued on my trek. In life, it’s well worth taking a break every now and then- not necessarily a holiday, but just appreciating the sometimes unexpected good things along the way. It’s what ads that colour to our lives and stops us from realising too late that we missed so many small mercies, so many good things.
In 2021 I got really clear on the basics- removing the clutter and getting back to the framework of what truly matters in order to see worthwhile progress. That was my focus for the year. There is beauty in the simplicity. If there’s anything I can encourage you to do in 2022 (besides following the realisations I’ve had) it’s that you get real clarity. Clarity on what you want to achieve, clarity on why you want to achieve it, clarity on what’s the 20% you enjoy doing most that’s going to get you 80% of the way.
The beauty lies in the simplicity…