Tag Archives: habits

Five More Things

James Altucher is an interesting guy.  That’s a pretty understated way to describe someone who is a serial entrepreneur, author of a number of books, creator of many podcasts and who now lives a nomadic existence with no home of his own and all of his possessions carried with him 24/7.

He had a post recently where he talked about the people Walt Disney surrounded himself with that enabled him to be successful.  While Altucher does not fully buy into the “five people you surround yourself with notion” (something I wrote about recently with my “Those Five People” post), he did provide what I found to be a very solid infographic about this topic. While the people in your life do have an effect on who you are quite a bit, they aren’t the sole influence in your life.  As I wrote previously, you don’t always have complete or immediate control over those 5 people you spend all of that time with, save for very radical life changes.  However, the things he points out in his 5×5 rule is to clearly highlight the other areas you do have control over and their key impact on you:

I like this tweak since it’s a more accurate reflection that accounts for things well beyond people… and while the people piece is hugely important, it’s good to keep front of mind all the other factors which we each have the free will to effect upon ourselves each day.
And if you are reading this and chose to make this a small slice of your content for the day?  Well, then I appreciate the heck out of you and hope I earn that every time these posts come out.  I think all of you total more than five, but I can assure you that you’re a big piece of my positive influence every day and I’m hugely grateful for that.

 

Disconnect To Reconnect

As the sun shines and the wind blows on this chilly Sunday in Connecticut, I stand at the cusp of Day 5 of Lent and my social media diet. This diet is comprised of no Facebook, Instagram or Twitter for the 40 days of Lent…and I will confess that list clearly does not include Snapchat since I find it silly, fun and not nearly the level of distraction that those other apps prove to be. It’s my social media diet, damn it and I will do it how I wanna.

This isn’t my first ever foray into doing this kind of social media clear out for Lent since I also did this with just Facebook several years back. Not surprisingly, the first few days are the most interesting and the most telling.

It’s funny to begin to truly notice how often when a moment of delay, boredom or small time gap in my days occurs, I reach for my phone for instant distraction before even realizing I’m doing it. It’s only as the phone effortlessly slides into my hand from my pocket and I get read to click the Facebook app do I then realize… ohhhhh, right. I deleted that sucker on Fat Tuesday.

Or the moments where I have a thought that pops into my head, whether an observation about the day or something utterly silly to share for a mild guffaw…and I remember that I won’t be doing that.

And even more importantly than the idea of I won’t be doing that, I begin to think “Huh…why do I feel the need to always do that?”

By virtue of writing this blog post for others to read, I clearly am not against the sharing of thoughts and ideas to the world at large. Heck, that’s something I enjoy doing quite a bit…but the reasons behind all of this do matter. Am I doing it because I have something to say, regardless of whether there is a defined response? Or is there a desire to have someone validate my ideas? Like most things, it’s probably a combination thereof.

The time away from these social media platforms is spurring me to reconnect, live and in-person, with my family and friends to a great extent. If for no other reason, this alone makes it worth it. Sure, I could have done this while keeping up my steady stream of inane babble on Facebook about Lord only knows what, but there is something impactful about combining the time away from one with the concerted effort to be more connected with the people I care about. This has been lunches, dinners, phone calls and any a number of ways of being with important people and truly present in those moments without a temptation to check what else is going on out there.

And as the photo suggest, I’ve also found a lot more time to read and catch up on news straight from sources and without the argumentative precursors that have become the norm in my Facebook feed the last year.

I encourage anyone else thinking about this to try it (and this article from the always excellent Eric Barker at Barking Up The Wrong Tree has research-backed ideas). The hardest pull is a combination of fear-of-missing-out (the weird acronym of FOMO that prompts an eyeroll from me every time) or thinking you will lose touch with people. You won’t – you just adapt to a different way of connecting. (But the irony of the fact that when I post this blog it will automatically post to my Facebook page is not lost on me.)

And perhaps the greatest thing I am noticing in this period of time? That maybe… just maybe…when Lent comes to a close for 2017…that I will stop, look around and realize the fear-of-missing-out was just a fear…and I should have been far more concerned of missing out on the important things right in front of me…not on my phone screen.

Small Change. Consistent Change. Larger Results.

I remember it just sitting there and staring at me.  That pile of clutter on my kitchen counter that probably sat there for a few weeks.  It wasn’t literally staring at me or else this would be the start to one of the stranger horror stories to date, where an unsorted collection of mail, notebooks, charger cords and random nonsense achieved a sentient state and was sizing me up.  Not good times.

Anyhoo, I was definitely looking at it with a touch of frustration because I really do hate when things get all out of sorts if I have complete control over them.  Given that we’ve established that the clutter was not some kind of fairy tale monster, I definitely should have been wrangling it.

Yet, I had not.

The clutter on the counter was actually symptomatic of something larger that had been nagging away in the back of my brain – that I had let a bunch of things go for any of a number of reasons.  The reasons all seem good in the moment (I’m just too busy right now, I have a lot going on, I’m tired at the end of the day, etc.), but which total up to a neat little stack of excuses.

So why had this happened?  And why had I gotten bad at taking time to meditate?  Or to read more consistently?  Or to do more writing?  Or get to bed at a decent hour?  Or, or, or…

The answer was actually pretty simple – When I would inevitably hit that point of shouting unto the heavens “Damn it! This will ALL get fixed!” while shaking my clenched fists of fury, that’s what I would try to do.  Fix ALL of it.  At once.  Not one or two things.  Oh gosh no.  In that moment I was sick and tired of being sick and tired, so I was gonna get cracking on changes, my friends.  Ohhhh, the changes I would undertake.

It was only when I was recently reading the excellent book “Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength” by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney did the folly of my efforts become so apparent.  The question was never being an undisciplined slob or somehow being weak in my principles.  It was really that I wasn’t giving myself a chance to succeed because I wanted everything fixed at once, instead of taking a more methodical approach.  One of the interesting pieces of that book is how clearly it lays out how to build and what easily erodes willpower.

Seeking to spread your finite willpower thinly across a multitude of worthwhile improvements results in not achieving any of them.  And getting frustrated for the umpteenth time. And repeating a mind-numbing cycle… again.

How did I finally address all of this? (Notice I did not say fix, since that clearly implies it is all good from here on out and y’all know that ain’t the case).

Step One: Make The List

I made a short list of 4 things and called it my “Willpower Development List”.  Very official, I know.  It’s as follows:

  1. Straighten up my house in the moment. No waiting around.
  2. Pray/meditate daily.
  3. Read/write every day.
  4. Get to bed by 10PM.

Step Two: Assign Each Goal a Month

I picked a month for each step and to focus on getting good at that task.  So, I started with straightening up for August.  Each day I would see to be REALLY good at keeping my house super tidy.  Nice and simple.  Then in September, I added the prayer/meditation as a 2nd task of the day, after already developing the good habit of straightening up the house.  Then in October, the reading and writing.

Step Three: Automate

Because everything that needs to be done in this world can now only be accomplished with a super snappy app, I found the Streaks – Daily Habit Tracker app for my phone which would remind me every day about the tasks (there are a variety of apps like this out there for whatever phone OS y’all are rocking).  The goal would be to string together longer and longer streaks of completing everything.  I’m not always perfect, but I am WAY better.  And if I find myself not being consistent in the habits I’ve developed, I will not add something new until I have the first group down solid.

Step Four: The Bigger Lesson

All of this is a pretty simple approach, but one where I began to see momentum and ended the feeling that I was an undisciplined goober with little prospect of success in sight.

It also made me feel more keenly a larger point: that my inability to effect the changes I wanted was not a failing of personal character as much as it was the use of a flawed method.  I urge everyone to keep that in mind in their own lives.  Human beings are capable of soaring achievements that continue to take my breath away on a regular basis, but we also all bear an innate ability to personalize our shortcomings as hard-wired genetic limitations.  We’re supremely gifted as beating ourselves up for seemingly everything we do not do well.  Just remember that maybe… just maybe… that getting a perspective check may be all you need to shift the view.

And that’s better than any habit streak I know.

The Plank in My Eye

I think I’m like many people who can be a total ace at passing out advice that I then do a less-than-ideal job of following for myself.  I don’t think there is anything remarkable about that in myself or in others – it’s just far easier to cast the penetrating light of truth upon a situation removed from myself than it is to see that same case in me.

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Case in point.  This past season of coaching baseball, one of the things we implored of our kids was to be aggressive and not fear the consequences that would follow.  If they were going all out and made a mistake in the process, ehh… that’s fine.  More often than not, their aggressive on the baseball diamond would be rewarded with something good than a mistake.  Plus, we kept reminding them… this is baseball.  A game.  Something to have fun with and not something with the future of mankind perilously hanging in the balance.  I think we made a bit of progress on this with a lot of the boys and I hope it sticks with them.  If there is one HUGE thing I’ve noticed in youth sports, it’s that the kids who are either the most aggressive or the least concerned about making mistakes are the ones who do best (and also seem to have the most fun).

And God forbid it all be it about fun.  I know… that’s a pretty nutty thing to say about youth sports.  We’re supposed to be prepping every little Johnny and Jane to be Olympic-calibre athletes from the time they are 6 right? (I will now seek to turn down my sarcasm a shade).

Getting back to the notion of seeing the speck in your brother’s eye while missing the plank in your own.  Yeah… that’s right… I just went Biblical.

A few weeks back I was playing a game in my basketball league and I was absolutely awful.  I mean… just… wow… I was really bad.  My time on the court seemed to serve little purpose outside spelling a teammate who needed to rest for a bit.  I was tentative and second-guessing and awkward.  It was probably one of the worst basketball experiences I’ve had in my life, outside of some bad Nerf hoop experiences when super young.  You know those where you are just starting to learn to play, but have an older brother who just swats away every shot you put up with that puffy orange ball?  So yeah, besides that, my worst outing ever.

Then it hit me loud and clear and with no small amount of force: I was exactly like one of the 10 to 12 year olds I had just finished coaching who didn’t seem to get out of his shell and just be aggressive.  Boom – head shot.  I sat there as a coach and felt I was so wise with all my perspective on the value of being aggressive and how you not only play better, but have more fun… and yet I never saw it in myself.

I played again last night, freshly self-chastised for coaching one way and playing another, and guess what?  I played much better, was much more aggressive, had a blast and smiled throughout a lot of the game (even at some of the awful calls made by our fine officials).  Heck, we won too.

The lesson in all of this for me is simple and direct: If I have an insight for someone else… whether while coaching or with someone coming to me for advice… I need to immediately take an opportunity to then look at myself in that same vein because chances are, I will need it as well to some extent or another.  I hope to make this a habit and given the fact that my very job involves me giving guidance to people on a daily basis, I think I can get some mojo going on this point.

It’s time to get that plank out of my own eye and see things a little bit more clearly… at least when looking at myself.

Overcoming Our Intellect

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Greetings from 35,000ish feet.  I’m on my way back from Florida and despite the cramped conditions in coach here on Delta Flight 1580 from Atlanta to Hartford, I figured I would bust out my laptop and have at it.

 

As I wrote in my previous post, when I am out of my regular locale and on the road, I tend to find myself in a different (and oftentimes better) mindset than I had prior to my trip.  The effect of the change in my physical surroundings in the way my mind thinks is always noticeable.  What’s also noticeable is the fact that I probably don’t take advantage of this phenomenon often enough when I really need a kick in my creative behind.  It’s not like I need to hit up the beaches of Tahiti every time I need to reawaken my artistic muse, right?  I could just take a drive to someplace an hour or so away that I never go to and I should be able to reboot nicely.

But there it is again… that trend I often find myself slinking back into when my vigilance wanes… that trend of knowing things I like or things that do good for me, but then not actually taking much time to do them.  Habit is a funny beast, my friends, and it needs on your lack of awareness and any scrap of apathy that may fall off the table of your life.

Do you feel it as well?  That sense that you know the good for your life, want to pursue it and then find yourself on a proverbial (or maybe even literal) couch with 2 empty bags of pork rinds and a 3 liter jug of Mountain Dew carelessly tossed at your feet?

In that way, I find our species to be a peculiar one, where the gift of our vast intellect often works in direct opposition to what is best for us.  I mean, think about it for a second: how many other animals (outside of those damn cliff jumping lemmings) will engage in behavior that doesn’t serve it’s own good on this kind of scale?

We seem to do so because we can rationalize the bad choices and decisions with all kinds of fluffy excuses about why we didn’t hit the marks we really wanted.  Ain’t having the most advanced brain of any critter on the planet just grand sometimes?

But hey, I’m not one to get myself too mired in the negativity, but I do like to use this as a vehicle to keep myself honest and perhaps allow you to have that moment as well… because that’s what this blog is meant to be: an honest assessment of where I am, where I need to be and how I can help others in that exact same journey forward.  It’s not always going to be smooth and perfect, but every step of it is mine and that I really do like.