Most people would agree that a happy life is a good life. Therefore, it seems like actively designing life to maximize happiness would be an excellent idea. Research, at first glance, appears to back up this point of view. However, the reality is different. In this blog post I go into what to do instead of striving for happiness, that research tells us actually works.
In my experience, without asking for it, people will throw their opinions around. Family members will tell you about the type of career you should have. Partners will tell you what clothes to wear. Friends will tell you where you should go on vacation or who you should date. Co-workers will give you career guidance.
Some people even go so far as to hire coaches to tell them what to do. I’m a coach myself, but I’m not in the advice giving business. I prefer to help clients discover answers on their own.
Moreover, the bigger the decision we face in life, the more we tend to turn to others to solve the problems for us. Seeking the advice of others seems like a smart thing to do when dealing with a critical situation. The problem is, nobody knows our life as well as we do. No one else has as much at stake. How then, can anyone possibly know what we should do?
The truth is that they can’t.
At best, giving and receiving advice is a way to gather knowledge. As the giver, it is a sure-fire way to stroke the ego. At worst, however, seeking the advice of others can lead you down the wrong path while shutting off the flow of your inner wisdom. When we tell others what to do, it constricts their innate intelligence and creativity. The same happens when we turn to others for the answers to our biggest problems.
However, what do we do when others come to us for guidance or when we are stuck in life? Should we expect people to figure everything out on their own? Of course not! However, you should handle these situations differently thank you think. By doing so, you will show others (and yourself) how to tap into the inner wisdom and capacity for problem-solving that we all hold as human beings.
Instead of doling out advice we should do this instead:
The morning is a special time. It’s a time when the world seems to be in slumber. When the demands of the day are not yet fully born. It’s a chance to begin life anew and fresh.
Research is starting to show what countless successful (and happy) people already know: that taking advantage of the morning hours is a stepping stone to having a great day. Our willpower is deplated as the day wears on. The morning is the best time to get important things done. When we are productive, we feel better about our accomplishments and our self-satisfaction rises.
There are a lot of articles out there talking about how important it is to wake up early. However, waking up is just the start to a morning routine. We need to pay close attention to how best to spend the time after we rise from bed.
Treat this article like a menu of ways to radically improve your morning routine and in turn, your entire day. I’ve tried them all for extended periods, and they work! However, you do not (and probably shouldn’t!) do everything on this list at the same time. That will be overwhelming and self-defeating. Instead, pick a few things to focus on. Over time, you can refine your approach based on what works best for you.
I made the unfortunate decision to glance at my LinkedIn feed in the middle of a recent Tuesday afternoon. It normally wouldn’t have been anything more than a slight distraction, an innocent way to take my mind off the meaningful creative work I was doing at the time.
What a mistake.
As I scanned my feed, full of work anniversaries, posts about managers looking to fill open positions and feel-good shares of how to “hack” your way to success at work, I stumbled upon a post by John (not his real name). John used to be a co-worker, about the same age and level of seniority as I. Instead of doing as I did and quiting my job to travel the world, and then moving into an entirely new field; John stayed put in the tech industry. We lost touch 6–7 years ago.
Glancing over John’s post, I clicked to see what his profile said about his career. I saw that he was no longer working for my alma mater (Microsoft). He had left while I was still working there, and in the course of the past few years had launched his career into the stratosphere, currently serving as founder/CEO of a fast-growing startup hell-bent on transforming an industry and flush with boatloads of VC cash. Not only that, I noticed that another colleague I had once worked with, was now in an exec-level position at the firm.
My innocent decision to check my social media account spiraled into a full-blown severe case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Even worse, I started to feel the more terrible afflictions of jealousy and regret. The later is not necessarily a bad thing depending on the circumstance. Regret, in metered doses, is an opportunity to learn from the past. This time, I OD’d.
Thoughts kept swirling around in my head. I couldn’t focus on my work. I constantly wondered “What would life have been life had I stayed at my job?” and “Should I go back to my old life?” and “Did I make a mistake by quitting my job to travel the world?” and “Am I giving up on a bigger opportunity to make a positive impact on the world?”.
After too many hours of being terrorized by these thoughts, I did what I usually do when I need to get out of my head; I went for a jog. After a few miles of cruising around the meandering paths in the fresh air under blue skies (one of the perks of living near Denver, CO!) I felt better.
Having space and distance from my problem helped me get over my emotional reaction. I realized that my negative emotions were the result of ignoring a few important realities. I’d like to share them with you in the hope that they will help you to overcome any similar situation you may face down the road.
With social media addiction on the rise, it seems that FOMO and regret are also on the uptick. By checking into these three truths, you can move away from jealousy and regret and move towards something bigger and innately unique within yourself. Above all, you will find access to greater peace and calm in your day, regardless what Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn throw at you.
If you had your choice, what sort of life would you live?
Would you live in a city and work hard to climb the corporate ladder? Would you live as an artist in a coastal enclave? Would you be semi-nomadic, making your way as a digital freelancer - a modern day tradesman of sorts?
We have, at least those of us living in a developed country, some degree of freedom about where we live, what we do and how we do it. We may not be able to have everything in our life that we wish for, but we can definitely come closer and closer over time.
Optimizing your life requires a set of decisions. Decisions about what you want. Decisions about what you don’t want. Decisions about trade-offs you are willing to make.
This post shares a few steps that you can apply to design your optimal life. I’m not trying to tell you what you should do. Instead, I’m sharing the steps that I actually took in my own life over the past few years. I’ve moved closer to a lifestyle that is fulfilling and rewarding for both my wife and I (and our dog Duke).
I know that since these steps have worked for me, that they might work for many others.
It is my opinion that to maximize one’s potential, not just to achieve but to contribute, that goals are a vital tool.
Goals enable the mind and body to organize resources in a manner that create a favorable outcome. Goals are the north star by which we can build the habits and systems that lead to a brighter future. I’d go so far as to say that humans are designed to be goal-seeking animals, with important aspects of our brain and physiology “lighting up” when pursuing a worthy goal.
You might think, by the tone of the past few sentences, that I think goals, and their achievement, are all that matter when it comes to living a full and successful life. If you believe that, you are incorrect.
For a moment, I’d like you to paint a vivid picture in your mind’s eye. Imagine that you’ve just survived a grueling interview process for a fantastic job. Everyone loved you. You get the offer and accept!
After joining the new team, you take your time to ramp up and learn. Slowly but surely, the days tick by as you struggle to learn the ropes and pick your big project to focus on.
Fast forward a year into the future, and you feel like you are stuck. Your last project was completed, but your boss didn’t seem pleased with the outcome. You are working hard but having a tough time getting things done. You don’t have the allies you need to push decisions up and across various chains of command. You don’t feel like you are on the same page as your management team.
Fast forward two years, and you know the jig is up. This role hasn’t worked out. While you aren’t being told to leave, you can see the writing on the wall. Before the hammer can drop, you decide to resign to seek a new challenge. It’s a bitter ending to what seems like a sweet once-in-a-lifetime job opportunity.
This story, as sad as it may be to travel through in your mind’s eye, is all too real for many highly qualified and determined professionals.
This blog post is designed to help you be among those who succeed and not the many who fail.
80,000 hours. That is how long you can expect work over the course of your lifetime. I’m well on my way, approaching the 35,000-hour mark by now.
I’ve done my fair share of work. First in the accounting department of an airline (not awesome). Then at an investment bank (surprisingly boring). Finally, I spent about 14 years at Microsoft Corporation (great place to work). Now I’m an entrepreneur (ahhh…finally!).
Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about how work can impact life and vice versa. I’ve seen what helps me get ahead and what holds me back.
I’ve learned what to do. I’ve learned what not to do!
If I could turn back time, there are plenty of things I would have done differently. Here are 12 things I wish I knew when I first started working:
By early I am 5 AM early. In most locales and times of the year, this is before the sun rises. Here as I write this article, in January in Golden, Colorado, it’s pitch black at 5 AM. It’s also cold. When I wake this early, the first thing I do is turn up the heater!
For the past several years I’ve taken to waking up early. I’ve aspired to join the 5 AM club, but more often end up waking in the 6 AM range. No alarm clock needed. I’ve been going to sleep earlier than normal and moderating my caffeine use. The result is a natural 6 AM wake up.
For the past week, I’ve made it a primary goal to focus on waking at 5 AM instead. I tell myself that this is what I want to do, and make sure I’m in bed a little earlier than normal. The result has been that I’ve been getting up without any alarms at 5 AM or before! Here are my daily wake up times over the past week (January 29 - February 4):
This post is about what I’ve noticed in the past week of waking up at 5 AM. There are a lot of articles out there telling you that you should be an early riser. It is more useful to share my experience and let you decide for yourself.
As a kid, I loved cheat codes. With the flick of a few buttons, you could do the impossible. Run through walls. Stomp on the bad guys. Rescue the princess. Explore without worry from marauding bandits. These codes were passed around in school hallways on slips of paper (before the internet folks!). If you were lucky enough to browse a game magazine at the bookstore, you could swipe a few and have the most valued information of the day, at least according to your grade-school peers!
Game Developers would create these codes to test a game to make sure it worked. Of course, nothing stays secret forever. You might think that cheat codes would make games less fun to play, but it actually did the opposite. It made me more curious to start over and play the game for real!
I'm now decades away from being a "gamer." Instead, I've been spending my time researching and thinking about what it is that makes some people so effective at their work, and others mildly so. Sure, there might be asymmetries in innate talent across a population. Yet, there are enough successful people who succeed in spite of their challenges that it leads me to believe that there is more in our control than we think.
In video game parlance, "God Mode" enables capacities of invulnerability (you cannot get hurt) as well as invincibility (others get hurt by your touch). Is there such a concept that would apply to being superhuman at work? I think so. Invulnerability would take the form of not being disturbed by the actions of others. Invincibility would mean being able to produce high quality and valued work, consistently.
The drawback of God Mode as it appears in video games is that it is often fleeting. When it comes to a career, it can be unlocked in a manner that is far more lasting. In fact, it can grow stronger and stronger over time.
If God Mode in games is attributed to superhuman powers, in the real world, we can equate it to skill. More specifically, skills that are correctly applied to achieve concrete results. How do you deftly build up and use your skills? You do it through directed and consistent FOCUS. Bill Gates, Obama, you, me, a future tech mogul who is currently in grade-school; we all have the same time in the day. But, we all get different sorts of work done and create various levels of impact. The difference is not entirely about luck, it's about the cumulative focus we've applied to achieve something we care about.
Focus is ridiculously hard, particularly in a world that is conspiring to steal your attention. It is, however, something that can be trained, like a muscle. Done well, it will be as if you have a "cheat code" to standing out in your career.