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Author: Ravi Raman

How To Overcome Procrastination Without Willpower (or two cups of coffee)

Procrastination is a first world problem. In ancient times there was no such thing. If you were a hungry bushman roaming the Kalahari, your options were to find food or starve. Raining? Quick, build a shelter. Cold? Better scrounge up some kindling and get that fire started. Procrastination only arises in a luxurious circumstance where immediate needs are met.

We can have a book brewing inside of us, lying dormant and waiting – endlessly waiting – for the perfect moment to spring forth onto paper. Health goals. Charity work. Asking for a more significant leadership role at work. All these things sit by the wayside, as the newest episode of America’s Got Talent or CNN’s endless political chatter takes precedence. We blame procrastination and our supposed lack of will, but this belies the truth.

I’m not saying we should all retreat to caves and give up our creature comforts. I am saying that it’s important to understand the nature of procrastination, and what we can do to deal with it in a world where more (not less) creature comforts are the norm. Our society is careening forward towards more prosperity and abundance. This is a good thing. However, it creates a problem…

We have too many options

Procrastination thrives in a world of plenty and choice.

When there is no choice, we move to action automatically. Procrastination also grows when you cast your thoughts into the future. It’s in the future that all the reasons why something isn’t needed (or how it will fail) manifest. It’s in the future that you see a plethora of options, obviating the need for completing the one meaningful project that should be the focus of your attention right now.

What can we possibly do about this?

The good news is, defeating procrastination has nothing to do with summoning courage or mustering the last crumbs of your precious willpower. It is precisely the opposite. You prevail by doing less not doing more. Relax into your work, don’t power through it. In this blog post I’ll explore a few ways that you can change your relationship to your work, and in doing so, break up the logjam of procrastination.

Showing up is way more than half the battle

“It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.”

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

A while ago I had a new roof put on my home. The weather was windy and cold. Snow was in the air. I was worried the crew might not show. Lucky for me, they did.

Right on time, a few guys showed up, along with the contractor overseeing everything. They got straight to work. Steady and light on their feet, they worked all day, taking a few short breaks. With a job well done, they called it quits for the day. No doubt some of the crew didn’t feel like roofing that day. Did they give up? Not a chance. They still showed up and did the work.

What are you procrastinating about? Come on, there must be something? What if you had no option but to get to work? What if you approached your work with the same mindset as my roofing crew?

As my own boss, I know how important it is to do the work I know I need to do, regardless of my feelings about it. Perhaps this is what you need to do as well. Show up and get to work, irrespective of how you feel. In doing so, you will notice that Buddha was right, your thoughts and feelings can’t be trusted. Your worst fears or concerns never come to pass as it plays out in your mind. Put in the time, even if it means twirling your thumbs in front of a blank sheet of paper (or empty Word.docx).

Showing up is way more than half the battle. It’s more like 80% of it!

Your expectations are killing your progress

“My expectations were reduced to zero when I was 21. Everything since then has been a bonus.”

– Stephen Hawking

Your expectations get in the way of starting in the first place.

Take, for example, this blog post. I started with a topic, “procrastination” that I was inspired to write about. It’s a common topic amongst my coaching clients. Even the most high performing tech leaders I work with suffer from it. It is an important topic to write about. I also have some interesting thoughts about it (at least they are interesting to me!).

The irony of this, however, was that up until a few minutes ago, I was procrastinating about writing about procrastination! I was hung up on the right talking points. After stewing on the outline for about ten minutes, I decided just to start writing and see what would happen. Within minutes, I began to get a more definite sense for what to say and how.

To overcome procrastination, I had to ignore my expectations about this blog post being high quality and ready for public consumption. Instead, I had to just get the words out of my mind and onto paper. I had to do the work, and eradicate any expectation of a desirable outcome. Once done, pressure dropped and my supposed writers block turned into a torrent of words.

The gift of thought

The capacity to think, plan and envision is a powerful gift. Potentially, a gift unique to humans (though we don’t know for sure). However, future thoughts aren’t real. They are an illusion. We have a special-effects factory in our mind more powerful than Marvel Studios. You can spend all day lost in the rapture of thought, just as you can spend all day watching TV. This isn’t inherently problematic until it becomes, well, a problem. If you are procrastinating, it’s definitely a problem!

It’s doubly problematic when you begin to understand that your mind has evolved to dwell on the negative more often than the positive. This is a feature not a bug. It’s kept you alive. It also explains why your expectations about how something is going to be received by the world gets in the way of anything happening at all. Chances are your expectations are biased to the negative.

If procrastination is an issue, remember that the present moment is where you have the most significant leverage over your predicament. It’s here and now that you can make a simple choice just to do the work. Your expectations and rumination don’t matter. They will only get you stuck. Even positive thinking is a trap. We can just as easily get caught in the warm glow of our happy expectations, and still avoid the work to be done.

Curiosity can cure your fidgety, procrastinating mind

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”

– Albert Einstein

Boredom and procrastination are close cousins. The good news is that the world can be infinitely engaging and interesting if you would only give it a chance to captivate your attention.

Here’s a fun experiment: Have you ever eaten an apple (or any whole food) with your eye’s closed? It’s a fun way to explore the power of your senses. The simplest of foods burst with flavor and aliveness! The same is true with walking around blindfolded (don’t do this alone!) or spending a day in silence. Closing off any sense organ allows one to tap into the fuller potential of others.

Likewise, curiosity is an antidote to boredom (and procrastination). It throws you headfirst into the present moment. Think of anything that you have been really curious about. Notice how interested and engaged you were about that thing. Your level of interest and engagement tend to rise and fall together. More curiosity leads to more engagement. Next thing you know time has flown by. Working on your project isn’t a struggle, it just flows along.

Very young children don’t procrastinate because they have an insatiable curiosity that trumps their likes and dislikes. They try things without fear of judgment or getting too caught up with expectations (that is, until they develop an ego).

Being curious might just be the gateway to overcoming your procrastinating tendencies. What if you were incredibly curious about your work, regardless of the outcome? What would it take for you to 10x your curiosity?

Defeating procrastination

You don’t need to be the Incredible Hulk to smash procrastination.

Quite the opposite, overcoming the boredom and confusion that leads to procrastination is about doing less, not more. Let go of endless thought and planning about the future. Let go of expectations about how things will work out (or not work out!).

Allow curiosity to flow in naturally as your senses tune into the present moment. Then, do the work and see what happens.

There are countless best selling novels, thriving business ideas, and adventures waiting to be had in the hearts and minds of each of you. It’s about time you were unleashed to work on your dreams. With so much possibility ahead of you, how can procrastination possibly stand in your way?

Call for Comments

How do you overcome procrastination?

Let me know in the comments below!

One Key To Effortless Communication

The nature of communication is that we show up to experience, and respond to what happens. Sometimes, it appears as if a conversation isn’t going smoothly. Anxiety can crop up if a big boss is present. Concern can show up if HR is in the room. There are many not-so-helpful emotions that can arise in any situation where communication is happening.

At its core, what really is communication anyway? In a business context, it is the expression of a point of view. The point doesn’t need to be big or even very pointy. It can be a statement of fact. It can be an opinion. When communication feels awkward, before trying to fix anything, it’s first vital to identify where the awkwardness is coming from.

Awkward feelings never originate from circumstances.

They seem like they do. However, if you really look at what is going on, it can be observed that your experience can only emerge from the quality of your thoughts, stories, and impressions about a circumstance. Any circumstance by itself is benign. So the best place to start is to understand that this is how experience works. It always starts as an internal experience and then gets projected out onto the scenery.

To test this out, just notice a situation where you feel nervous communicating in front of an audience. Next see how, if this is a group setting, that not everyone else in the room is nervous, even if they are also speaking in front of the same crowd. You might not know how nervous they are for sure, but you can get a general sense. Taking this even further, do you think your bosses spouse is nervous communicating to them? Are their kids nervous speaking up around them? How about their close friends? How about their dog?

The source of nervousness.

With a bit of observation, you can see that the source of nervousness in communication always originates from the subject (the communicator), not the object (the audience). This is always the case. If it weren’t the case, everyone coming into the vicinity of the object of nervousness would get nervous! This never happens. Everyone has different reactions to the same circumstances. This makes sense since we all have divergent thinking at any point in time. Since we now know where the disturbance is coming from, what is there to do about it?

Most self-help teachers will offer a variety of techniques to cope with such a situation. At the grossest level, you might learn how to speak with clarity, poise, and confidence through speech coaching. A more nuanced trainer might go deeper, and help you work on your body posture and positioning, as some believe that however the body is positioned, the mind follows. Strong and confident body = a strong and confident mind.

Even more subtle, a mindset coach or psychologist would examine the inner workings of the mind in depth. What do you believe? What is true? What is false? Such an inquiry is predicated on destroying limiting beliefs. All these methods can be useful. However, they all seem to miss the most obvious, powerful and subtle understanding of them all. I already mentioned this understanding. Do you remember it? It’s so simple it’s easy to overlook and forget.

Since your experience is generated from yourself and projected onto the world, it’s no more worth being fearful of it than it is to run out of a movie theater when you see an explosion on the big screen.

What it means to truly know something.

To see this point is genuinely profound. It must soak in beyond a cognitive understanding to a true knowing. When something is known (not just mentally agreed with) everything changes without effort.

So if you are hesitant in communication, the first place to look is not for a solution to the problem, but to the source of the problem. Be willing to see the source in total, without judgment. The mind, when it deeply witnesses its folly, can’t help but laugh and relax. In a deeply relaxed and present state, without much weighing on your mind, you can’t help but be an effective communicator.

Austin Belcak Shares His Best Strategies For Landing Your Dream Job [Podcast Ep. #18]

Austin Belcak joins me on this episode of the podcast to discuss unconventional methods for landing your dream job. Austin and I both believe that the current system for finding and landing jobs is broken (both for hiring managers and those seeking jobs). There is a lot of noise and not enough signal. Early sidetracks (or missteps) in one’s career or education also can be seemingly insurmountable barriers to overcome when trying to level-up in a career or make a radical change in vocation. What can we do about it?

Austin was forced to think creatively when it came to landing his job at Microsoft. With a 2.5 GPA and a modest amount of work experience, he discovered a variety of methods and strategies for finding ways to add real value to employers and convince decision-makers to bet on him.

Listen to this episode where we cover:

  • How Austin landed a great job at Microsoft, without a stellar GPA or prior career experience.
  • What motivated Austin to start a side business while working full-time.
  • The most viciously misleading advice most job seekers blindly follow.
  • How to start a career in a new field, with no connections.
  • Why applying to jobs online is ineffective, and what to do about it.
  • …and much more!

Free Bonus: Austin’s Best Job Search Strategies

As a special bonus to listeners of this podcast, Austin has pulled together a few freebies for you, including (1) a guidebook with 5 strategies his students have used to land job offers at Microsoft, Goldman Sachs and Facebook without applying online and (2) free access to his “Resume Revamp” course. Visit https://cultivatedculture.com/motivatedlife/ get your free stuff!

Connect with Austin Belcak here:

Website: https://cultivatedculture.com/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/abelcak
Medium: https://medium.com/@austin.belcak

Listen to the Podcast in your favorite app:

Apple iTunes

Google Play

Stitcher Radio

Frans Johansson On Seizing Opportunity In An Unpredictable World [Podcast Ep. #17]

Frans Johansson joins me on this episode of the Motivated Life podcast. Frans is a thought leader in the realms of innovation and diversity, a captivating keynote speaker and founder of The Medici Group, a consulting firm that helps organization harness the power of diversity-driven innovation. His two books, The Medici Effect and The Click Moment are groundbreaking in their profound yet straightforward messages about how to ride the powerful waves of randomness and serendipity while unlocking innovative potential.

This conversation is super relevant to anyone who is looking to innovate or disrupt when it comes to business evolution, career navigation or lifestyle design. The principles we dive into fly in the face of the conventional wisdom about what it takes to build a something remarkable in the world. You’ll find the ideas provocative, fascinating and immediately useful.

Listen to this episode where we cover:

  • The limits of hard work and “10,000-hour rule” based thinking.
  • How the human brain reacts to luck, randomness, and serendipity.
  • Why we should all learn to spot and take advantage of “Click Moments.”
  • The chance encounter that propelled Microsoft to success in the 1990s.
  • Pfizer’s serendipitous moment of insight, leading to a blockbuster drug.
  • What we all can do to seize opportunities in an unpredictable world.
  • …and much more!

Check out Frans Johansson’s books:

Connect with Frans here:

Website

LinkedIn

Twitter

Facebook

Listen to the Podcast in your favorite app:

Apple iTunes

Google Play

Stitcher Radio

Ditch Your Goals. Say Yes To Life Instead.

I’m writing this on New Year’s Eve. As the ball drops tonight, people will be enjoying their final moments of revelry before committing, or recommitting, to whatever goal or wild ambition strikes their fancy. Of late, my goals are more anti-goal than goal. The only thing I’m concerned with is living life in as fully engaged a manner as possible. I’m more concerned with how I’m being in the world than what I’m doing. This approach has worked out well for me, and more to the point, I like that this way of meeting life fully is more objectively valid (more on this later) than chasing a desire that I may not even care about when (and if) I reach a made-up finish line.

So for those who wish to eschew the rest of our ambitious societal norms and not get suckered into goal setting one-upsmanship, what are we to do? After all, it’s been said that “Without a goal, people perish” (I think Jesus said that, or perhaps it was Tony Robbins? 🙂 ). If there is even a hint of a chance of perishing, I would have a hard time, ethically, wishing anyone to abandon their goals and resolutions.

On the other hand, if I saw that for the vast majority of people caught on the hedonic treadmill of modern society, that goals were an obstacle to realizing one’s full potential, it would be incumbent upon me to point out the folly of our ways and do my best to offer an alternative. This is indeed what I believe. So here it goes with an attempt to accomplish these two things: point out the folly and offer an alternative to the treadmill of achievement.

What I’m Up Against

There’s a big chance this topic is a form of career suicide. I’m a coach after all. I’ve written blogs about Goal Setting and even given public talks on the subject. People hire coaches because they want to do stuff, achieve things, be unstoppable, create the impossible, etc. I’m also very good at achieving things. If you give me a BHAG (big, hairy, audacious goal), I’ll chase it down, wrestle it to the ground, and either claim victory or try again until I do.

The goal achievement at all cost mindset is reinforced by the billion-dollar personal development industry. What would happen if Tony Robbins told a stadium filled with thousands of salivating growth-seekers “the truth”:

“You really don’t need me to live a great life. Go home, go for a walk, eat a healthy meal, spend time with someone you care about and get a good nights sleep. Do that every day for the next week and see how good you feel. You will realize that you are all intrinsically OK, and that it’s your trying so hard that makes life difficult!”?

Unfortunately, the vast majority of self-help teaching is predicating on creating an intolerable level of pain and dissatisfaction with the present moment and lusting after the pleasures of an imagined future. Pain in the present and reward in the future are the two reagents in a powerful psycho-chemical reaction, sparking powerful motivation to change, pivot, jump, leap and scurry off into action.

The question is, is this fury of activity really necessary, and what is the cost it takes on people (and their families, businesses, etc.)? Even more interesting to ponder, is there a better way to get what we really want and not just gratify the ego?

Goals Gone Wild

Two years ago I created a big goal to double my business. It seemed doable, yet challenging, and very SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and timely). I created a spreadsheet with targets for income and various other success metrics that would serve as beacons out in the future, calling me forward towards continuous and never-ending improvement (CANI as Tony is fond of saying). It all seemed so buttoned up, so clear-cut. It was very motivating. Until it wasn’t.

After two months, I started to feel that something was wrong. I was spending a lot of time having conversations with prospects and trying hard to enroll people who were interested in working with me. I was working more hours than I would have liked, and spending far too much time on video calls. I saw that this path was heading towards a life I didn’t want. I also felt like my business was just fine as it was. I didn’t really need to grow it. I was totally happy and earning enough income to live comfortably. Why strive and be miserable? However, my goal was set. With such a die cast, what was I to do?

In a conversation with my coach, he simply pointed out that pursuing habits and goals can be motivating, but also handcuffs, chaining us to a life that was appropriate at one time, but woefully inadequate later on. I sat with this idea: were my goals serving me or was I serving my goals?

Then it hit me: Were my goals ever serving me?

I knew that I was not alone. Having coached over a hundred leaders and high performers over the past several years, I have seen how inconsequential the achievement (or not) of goals can be when it comes to living a great life and doing remarkably well at work. The marks of distinction in a career often come about through unplanned achievement and capitalization on opportunities. The happiness paradox is also well known, that we don’t know what makes us happy, and trying to pursue satisfaction only pushes it away.

Early in my coaching work, I learned that the greatest moments of achievement for my clients were often things unrelated to their singular goal and purpose for hiring me. The goal was simply a catalyst, a reagent that got them playing fully in life. Sometimes the goal was achieved and was as fulfilling as hoped, more commonly, the truly profound outcome of the coaching was something different altogether.

I’ve had people hire me to find a better job and end up quitting their job at going on sabbatical (and being super happy about it!). I’ve had people hire me to get a promotion and they ended up not getting promoted, but losing a bunch of weight (and feeling amazing) while the promotion lay out of reach (and being very happy about it!). I’ve even had people achieve their goal (say, a promotion to management or a wonderful new job) but feel unfulfilled. This last type of outcome is what I’m least proud of.

Yes, there are plenty of cases where people hire me to achieve goals, do so, and are happy and satisfied about the outcome. However, when you see how the sausage is made, it’s hard to see it any other way: When you know that true satisfaction and happiness are what people ultimately are after, and that these elements are not predicated on achievement of a goal, it completely shifts the nature of how you operate as a coach. After all, the role of a coach is to support people in living a fully satisfied and successful life. Goals can help, but they are more often used as a crutch, avoidance mechanism or distraction.

The real power behind your life’s work isn’t your pursuit of a manufactured goal. It’s something altogether different. I’ll go into that next.

The Antidote

There is something you can do, beyond setting loftier goals and willing yourself to rise to the occasion. It doesn’t take any leaps of faith to adopt this new approach, because like it or not, it’s how your life has been working anyway. After all, how many of the grandest moments and poignant achievements of your life were the product of a well-executed strategy – all laid out and conquered in 6, 17 or N-steps?

Instead, I’d like to offer a counter-punch to the goal-seeking and habit-building hobgoblins. Three counter-punches in fact!

1. Saying YES to life

The opposite of goal seeking is to fully embrace the present state of life. This is a simple thing to do, as there is never nothing going on. There is always something to say “yes” to. By “yes” I mean a metaphorical yes, though in some cases it might be warranted for the words to spill from your mouth (e.g. if someone asks for your help).

The wonderful thing about saying yes to life; you save a tremendous amount of energy without having to fabricate a goal, muster willpower and figure out what to do about it. Instead, you simply connect to what seems like the most appropriate thing to do right now, as life is unfolding, and say yes to that – as emphatically and joyfully as you can.

Saying yes to life implies the surrender of the personal ego – full of its likes, dislikes, attractions, aversions, and whims. Does your boss need you to get that report done today instead of tomorrow? Just do it. A friend asks to borrow your lawnmower? Sure no problem. Feel inspired to run a marathon in 6-months? Great, you can do that too. Just start with whatever needs to happen now to make that happen. Feel exhausted and need to take a nap at 2 in the afternoon? That’s cool, go for it.

Note that saying yes to life doesn’t mean you always say yes…it means you say yes to what the deepest part of yourself is saying at the moment. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of what to say yes to, but if you just start along the path, you can’t help but figure it out. Your mind thrives on the direct feedback life is designed to provide.

Perhaps the greatest example of what life can be like when surrendered fully is accounted for by Michael Singer in his wonderful book, The Surrender Experiment. Even better, try it out for yourself for a weekend (or a week) and see what happens.

2. Be fully engaged

Who is better off, someone who is haphazardly pursuing a stretch goal or someone with no goal but is fully engaged in whatever life (and work and family and etc.) is showing up with? That’s an easy comparison, so let’s make it trickier. Who is better off, someone who is completely engaged in pursuing a stretch goal or someone who is fully engaged in life as it is (with no explicit goal)?

I’m convinced that the latter approach is superior. In fact, the more audacious the goal is, the less likely it is that someone pursuing it with gusto will actually achieve it and be pleased with the outcome. There is a simple explanation for this, that the best things in life cannot be planned, for they are more due to luck, serendipity and randomness than they are the outcome of any brute force work ethic toward a singular aim. This is a rabbit hole worth exploring, and I’ll be writing more about it in future blog posts.

Being fully engaged simply means asking yourself the question: “Was I fully engaged in my life today?” and being willing to honestly sit with the answer that arises.

3. Explore, don’t achieve

Let’s contrast two humans, identical twins with similar life experience. Both are currently managers at a fast-moving tech firm. Let’s call them Emma the Explorer and Arun the Achiever. Both really want to be outstanding in their careers. Arun is hell-bent on being a VP of Engineering and hacking his mind to be in a peak state all the time. He recently took a Strengthsfinder survey is going to unleash his strengths on his company to achieve his goal 🙂 (can you tell I’m not a fan of these cookie-cutter assessments?).

Emma, however, just wants to try things, learn a lot and make progress by being her best on a day to day basis. Emma has no specific method or technique for achieving her goal.

Who will get further in their career in 5 years?

I’ll put my money on Emma, all of it.

In their little known but groundbreaking book, “Why Greatness Cannot Be Planned,” the authors share insights from their work as Artificial Intelligence research scientists. Their ideas, born from computer simulations and drawing support from close examination of great outcomes in various fields, have a startling implication to those looking to achieve anything truly great. The stepping stones to success are never clear at the outset. Therefore, the best strategies are always those that (1) take on the mindset of an explorer who is willing to try novel solutions and (2) is focused on the next logical step as opposed to a fixation on achieving a distant goal.

It’s an idea worth exploring!

What It’s Like To Be Goal-Less

The highest states of performance are a byproduct of serving the present moment to the utmost. Flow states are often characterized by this condition: heightened awareness and full engagement with, the now. Focusing on a goal takes away energy when the point is to be engaged in the now, doing something that matters now even if the thing that matters now is a preparatory step for something being planned in the future. Yes, even planning can be done in the now. However, the more you get the drift of doing what is needed now, the less planning seems to be required.

Following the stepping stones of life, those next steps (often it is only one) that are visible from your current perch, is a much more effortless journey than trying to force a path through the untamed wilds of your expectations, en route to a made-up future. The question then becomes, what will happen if you follow the signals life is offering, as opposed to your own plans?

There are all kinds of sayings that might give you pause before you give up your goals. You know, the whole “without a vision, people perish” thing I mentioned earlier. There’s also this quote you may have heard – that I’m butchering – “if you aren’t following your own plan, you’ll become part of someone else’s.”

The problem is, neither appears true. Quite the opposite, the most outstanding things I’ve achieved in life only make sense in hindsight. Setting and working hard to achieve a pre-defined goal only served in getting me moving and engaged in the world, whereas my shining accomplishments always would come about through uncertain means. To know that I don’t need a Sword of Damocles – masquerading as a goal – hanging over my head to achieve greatness in life is a huge burden lifted off my shoulders. Even better, to see that even in spite of myself, I can achieve wonderful things adds humor to the mix.

Conclusion

If you’ve read this far you probably fit into one of two camps:

1.

You are feeling some relief at the idea of not having to get on yet another hamster-wheel as you start the new year. Instead, you can do a gut-check for what feels really great to pursue right now. Be present, do what occurs to you to do and let the future take care of itself.

2.

Or, if you haven’t abandoned this article by now, are shaking your heads in disbelief tinged with confusion. If my life is not working the way I want it to work, how can I change it without setting goals? What should I do now? Where will this kind of life lead me?

Let me suggest that your life will carry on just fine, and without the mental noise of feeling the need to be somewhere you aren’t, a deeper and more truer signal will inevitably shine forth. You might even be inspired to follow a calling (in your career) or have a profound vision for the future (for your business) or feel truly inspired to create a shift in your home-life. In all these cases, the next step is always the same, engage at the moment, with whatever action is relevant now.

Time spent dreaming of a far-off goal is time not spent engaging with the reality of the present, connecting with the people currently in your life who warrant your attention, and actively sowing the seeds for the future (whatever that future will be) through your present-moment focused action.

Now I am off to the gym. I have no goal to pursue, but I am inspired to try a few new exercises and lift some heavy objects off the floor.

What do you think? Are goals helpful or harmful (or a bit of both)? Please let me know in the comments below!

My 2018 Year In Review

A new year is almost upon us. With 2018 coming to a close, it’s time to reflect on what the year brought. Writing an annual review is something I’ve done for many years. In 2016 and 2017 I made them public. In the past, I would reflect on my audacious goals and accomplishments vs. failures. However, after waking up to the fact that the best results in life cannot be planned, I’ve embraced a different tone to my reviews in 2017 and this year. Instead of goal achievement (or lack thereof), I’ll instead focus on what happened, what I’ve learned, and what (if anything) I’m inspired to do next.

If you are curious about my radical shift in focus, read the first portion of my 2017 annual review. In a nutshell, it has occurred to me that the best things in my life, the real game-changers, were not planned (nor could they be planned!). I could either continue to run my life the way I had in prior years – ambitiously goal driven – or fully embrace the reality of how life actually works. The later is much more enjoyable (and fruitful) way of being.

The opposite of goal-driven isn’t lazy. It also doesn’t imply that I wander aimlessly around with no clue about what to do. Instead, it means that my primary aspiration is to meet each moment as thoroughly as I can, with whatever the moment requires of me. If I am inspired to chase a long-term goal, then I will. Turns out though, that this rarely happens. Instead, I find myself looking backward at the steps I’ve taken, and the path traveled, amazed at the accomplishments but bewildered by exactly how they happened!

As a backdrop to my year in review, I reflect on the major aspects of my life. I’m still a fan of the wheel of life as a framework for thinking about what goes into a full life. It’s a handy way to avoid fixation and promote a more comprehensive view of what matters. I use this tool with my coaching clients (occasionally), and the categories below represent aspects of life that matter to me.

Health

I cast aside any specific goals this year for health. Instead, I just wanted my physical body to not get in the way of fully engaging in life. I suppose you can call this a goal, but it emerged naturally during the spring as allergy season went into full swing. After a few major allergy attacks (that knocked me out for a couple days at a time) and a visit to a doctor who said “there’s nothing we can do about it,” I resigned to just dealing with it and not letting it get int the way of my life as much as possible.

Then, I had one of the worst attacks in memory, and we (my wife and I) had to abandon a camping trip and return home days ahead of schedule. As I laid on my couch in a catatonic state (Benedryl will do that); I had an idea!

I’ve experimented with dietary changes to fix my allergies in the past, but nothing had worked. Gluten-free. Allergen-free. Nothing worked. However, I hadn’t tried not eating at all. I don’t know what motivated me to try this, but I decided that I wouldn’t eat for the next day and see how I felt. Within 24 hours, I felt better. This led me down a rabbit hole, researching intermittent fasting and the work of Dr. Jason Fung. There are a lot of benefits to be had with fasting. However, nothing I read turned up anything about fasting and improvement with seasonal allergies. However, I decided to experiment with it anyway. I had a firm sense that it might work.

Since not eating is a terrible strategy for managing a health issue, I experimented with eating one meal a day. Immediately, I noticed a tremendous relief of my symptoms. I kept this up for several more weeks. During this time, I didn’t have a single allergy attack (I usually get a couple every month), and more surprisingly, my chronically runny nose and frequent sneezing stopped cold.

Throughout the summer, I eased my diet to a couple meals a day (lunch and dinner), occasionally switching to one meal a day if I felt my allergies acting up. The result has been nothing short of miraculous. I’m not claiming to be cured, but after 20+ years of suffering from this problem, it’s nice to know that a random dietary experiment is yielding promising results.

Beyond this, I’ve noticed a few things happening over the past few months positively impacting my health. I’ve been running consistently, going to the gym and meditating for more extended periods. I also switched to decaf coffee, which has had a surprisingly positive impact on my overall well-being. All these shifts have been wonderfully positive, and willpower-free. I’m finding a natural motivation to break specific routines and build new ones. It’s not stretch to say that all these supposed “habits” have spontaneously arisen out of nowhere. I wouldn’t even call them habits, any more than sleeping is a habit. I do them because it just feels good and right to do them.

Learning
After years of competitive sports and goal-oriented health achievement, I’m seeing a more enjoyable and profound rate of progress by casting aside my fixed goals and engaging with what life brings to me, be that bad (major allergy issues) or good (an insight to try fasting as a cure). I am very curious about what would happen if other people did the same. What would happen if people stopped chasing a fabricated health goal and instead really listened to what was happening in their body, and acted on the natural inner knowing of what to do next about it?

Family

This year included plenty of time with family. No mega-family-reunion type stuff…but a few trips across the country to connect with my parents (on the east coast), in-laws (in Minnesota) and siblings (east coast and California). We also had family members fly through Denver (spur-of-the-moment) for chance meetings. These rendezvous were serendipitous and great, sticking to the theme of “unplanning” my life. I’ve also been more actively video-chatting, using WhatsApp Video and Marco Polo (group video messaging). Both are nice ways to stay in touch with people far away.

Learning
Only a couple of the family meetups this year took much planning. The rest either happened randomly or by taking advantage of spur-of-the-moment deals for last-minute flights. The big lesson of the year regarding family was to make use of the technology to have more video chats. I backed off on passive Facebook shares (basically going off the platform when it comes to “news feed sharing”) and instead focused on real conversations. I’m not a #DeleteFacebook zealot, though I’ve come to see it as a woefully inadequate tool for fostering meaningful connection.

Career

This year I continued my practice of setting up a waitlist for my coaching business when I hit a sufficient number of clients. This helped me stay sane and devote all my energy and attention to the people I am working with, as opposed to feeling like I have to drum up new business constantly. I also started focusing more on working with people who are looking for an executive / transformational coach as opposed to tactical job-search oriented coaching. While I still do the latter, the former is really what I enjoy and what creates lasting and powerful results for people. This shift in focus resulted in a slight dip in my business income for a few months, though over time an increase in referrals made up for the gap.

I invested a lot in coaching skill and training year (as I always tend to!), spending the first half of the year working and coaching with a group of talented coaches from all over the world. I’m amazed when I meet people who aren’t investing any time/money/energy on becoming more skilled in some aspect of their life. I’ve created a personal growth “budget” for myself (since I was 20) and I’ve never regretted spending the money.

Yes, there is such a thing as too much focus on personal growth and not enough focus on living life. Ultimately, the most important thing is to be fully engaged in living well. It’s also true that learning and mastering skills can be incredibly rewarding and fun. So finding the right balance is critical. Unfortunately, most people I encounter are completely ignoring the most important investment they can make, which is in themselves.

Learning
After four full years in business and thousands of hours of paid coaching work, I realize just how much I have to learn when it comes to being an outstanding coach. How I coach dramatically changed this year, in no small part motivated by my direct experience of the limitations of goal-driven/empowerment-based coaching styles. There is infinite depth in any field of work, and coaching for personal growth is no different.

Wealth

What is wealth? Is it a bank balance or is it a feeling?

I’m convinced that it is the latter.

This year a few things happened that positively impacted my feeling of wealth. On a lark, for a full month, my wife and I operated in “austerity mode,” cooking all our meals and not buying anything beyond the essentials for our home. This experiment helped us reconnect with our joy of cooking, find all kind of cool stuff we had packed away in boxes and inspired a spontaneous wave of sales of old goods on eBay. All this left us feeling genuinely wealthy. After all, if the definition of wealth is that you have enough money to afford the things and experiences you desire, we hit that nail on the head! One way to be wealthy is to make a lot of money, but the other (much more attainable) method is just to learn to love what you have.

Unlike last year, this year featured a cryptocurrency crash as opposed to boom. I’m lucky to have sold a bunch of my holdings last year, but unlucky to have reinvested much of those gains early in 2018. I’m now in full HODL mode. 🙂

I also deviated from my personal rule of never buying an individual stock. I’ve written at length about my investment strategy and the perils of trying to pick stocks. That said, I broke my rule upon seeing Facebook crash recently and snapped up some shares. This was a greed-driven move on my part (as I’m not even a fan of the Facebook service!). Within a few weeks, I regretted my choice and unloaded the shares at a 10% loss. Small price to pay for a valuable lesson: When it comes to investing, Gordon Gecko was wrong, greed isn’t good!

On the business side of things, it’s also nice to know that in spite of having no specific income goal for my business, I did just fine. My business continues to move along at a healthy pace, as referrals have picked up significantly this year, in addition to a few former clients coming back for another round of coaching.

Learning
Wealth is not about getting what you don’t have. It’s about being grateful for and content with your current state of affairs. I don’t think there is any way around this understanding. If you cannot be entirely at peace with your current level of wealth (and the things and experiences you currently have) then you never will be.

The paradox here is, when you are content with what you have, you are better able to be of service to others without a hidden agenda. In turn, it’s being of service and offering real value to others that is the bedrock of building wealth over the long-term. In other words, it’s by not trying to create wealth that it becomes possible to build real wealth over the long term! Think about that for a minute.

Also, my experience with cryptocurrency has taught me the value in banking “gains” and protecting against downside risk in any investment by never investing more (in a risky venture) than you are willing to lose, which is what I did. My experience with buying Facebook stock, breaking my own cardinal rule of never buying individual company shares, reminded me about just how powerful a motivator greed can be.

Home

This is the second year in our home here in Colorado. It’s great having a stable living situation and getting to know our wonderful neighbors makes it even better. We even are in the process of getting solar panels installed! Slowly but surely we have been modestly decorating and settling into the house. The more we get to know all the nooks and crannies of our neighborhood, the more we like it.

Learning
Leaving Seattle four years ago I really did wonder if any other place would feel like home in the same way. As the years tick by, Colorado is starting to feel much more like home. I didn’t have to do anything to create this shift. Time did the work for me!

Fun

We had a ton of fun this year. Much of it had to do with exploring the area we live in. We visited a bunch of mountain towns, went to new hiking trails, and spent a lot of time paddle boarding at one of the lakes near our home. Travel (particularly to Minnesota and LA) was super fun. Movies and the occasional comedy show at home rounded things out.

Learning
Traveling afar is excellent (as I learned after taking a gap year in 2014), but homemaking can be just as fun. Exploring local hiking trails or sitting on the couch and reading are equally enjoyable ways of passing the time. I used to think that if I wasn’t traveling to a new and exotic locale every year I was wasting my vacation time. Now, I don’t distinguish between exploring a local park and a new country. Exploring is exploring, wherever I am.

Contribution

Contribution is about giving back to society, and it showed up in unexpected ways this year. In past years, my contribution was primarily about donating money to worthy causes. However, since leaving my old job and the cushy salary, bonuses and stock grants that came with it; I’ve had to reassess things. In recent years I haven’t done much that I would classify as “giving.” This year, I made a shift.

While I don’t have tons of cash to give away, I do have something much more valuable, my skill as a coach. I was asked to join the board of the International Coach Federation in Colorado for 2019, and I’ve also offered pro-bono coaching sessions to plenty of individuals who don’t have the resources to hire me but have a significant need.

Learning
Money is great to give if you have it, but I do think that giving one’s time and skill can make an even more significant impact on the world. I feel really good about my level of contribution this year, and it had nothing to do with writing checks. On the flip side, even in past years where I donated a lot of money, I often felt a bit unsettled about it, since I didn’t actually engage by offering my time or skill to the organizations I supported.

Conclusion

There is one big thing missing in this annual review, and that is how life felt this year. As opposed to past years, my level of stress massively declined, and my overall level of engagement in life (at all levels) rose sharply. I found myself spending less time thinking about things and more time doing stuff. Life seemed a lot less effortful and far more insightful and fun. Even when I was not busy doing things, I often felt a level of contentment that is unsurpassed in prior years.

What was the cause? Was it a deep sense of relief born from the surrender of my personal goals and wants? Was it a greater willingness to play fully in life as it was showing up without judgment? Was it a greater awareness of a key principle of life – that it always provides what is needed in the moment?

I think so.

2018 lacked goals, and yet, so many outstanding things still happened.

As I look forward to 2019, I’m not setting goals, resolutions or trying to 10X any part of life or business. Instead, I’m going to continue the path I’ve been on the past few years. It’s all about meeting life as it is, wholly embracing the world and knowing that the same creative force that is moving the universe forward is within me and worth riding, not resisting.

How was 2018 for you? What happened? What did you learn?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Andy Scantland On Being Your Best At Work [Podcast Ep. #16]

Andy Scantland, Executive and Leadership Coach, joins me to discuss how to elevate your performance and be your best at work. Andy has coached leaders in the technology, hospitality, communications, financial, education, and development industries. His goal is to drive improved organizational effectiveness through individual and team performance improvement, increased engagement, and values-driven leadership.

Listen to the podcast as we discuss:
Why Andy left a promising career to pursue coaching full-time
How to be your best at work by leveraging your strengths
The single biggest factor for improving team performance
…and much more!

Connect with Andy and his coaching practice at Upside Partners.

Embracing Uncertainty When Every Part Of You Wants Certitude

“Freedom from the known is the essence of intelligence.”

– J. Krishnamurti

How much of your life is a quest for certainty?

Most people are driven by a deep-rooted striving for the reliable, predictable and certain. What if, instead, life was all about expanding your capacity to embrace uncertainty instead of striving for predictability?

This seems like a much better way of living. Life is inherently uncertain. Don’t believe me? Try to predict what you will be thinking in the next 10 minutes or what you will be doing at this time next week!

So much of what happens only makes sense in the rear view mirror.

    • Sitting at the computer terminal at the Lakeside School, how much did Paul and Bill really know about where their hobby would lead
    • Following a chance encounter at Stanford, what did Sergey and Larry expect about their futures? Did they have a SMART Goal??? 🙂
    • Dropping out of college to explore the nature of conscious (i.e., to travel, meditate and take a lot of psychedelics…), did Sam ever imagine the possibility of packing auditoriums around the world, becoming an intellectual rock-star of sorts?

As you look at the current state of your career and life, how much could you have predicted, even just a few years ago? Probably not much.

Why then, are we (and most humans I know) so fixated on being precise about outcomes?

Expectations vs reality

I’m continually amazed and sometimes startled, at the gap between expectations and reality. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, sometimes different and occasionally the same (rarely, but occasionally) – fixation on outcomes, goals, and future-states is a curious natural mode of the mind.

I say ”curious” because we strive for certainty in the future (“certainty” is a cornerstone of human needs psychology), but the world is inherently uncertain. We all can dream and envision. Yet, we all know that our vision is nothing compared to reality.

The same idea applies to work and life. I spent my entire career building visions and plans for new technology products. Yet, even in the midst of helping large teams of engineers rally around a common goal, I knew that the real purpose of any vision or plan was as much to get people working and collaborating together from a common intent, as it was actually to deliver every feature included in the plan.

It’s not that the plans didn’t matter, it’s that the purpose of planning was different than most people thought!

The only thing I could predict about my planning efforts was that things would not go as planned! I also knew that if smart people were working well together, great things would happen.

As a Professional Coach, I now see how fixation on outcomes (without understanding the uncertain nature of the world) is a significant source of stress and can cause us to overlook the innate creative capacity of the mind.

So much cool stuff comes from the “unknown.” As any leader in a growth company will tell you, innovation is the most valuable thing a company does. Innovation is born from uncertainty. A great book, The Click Moment, goes into this theme in detail from a business and innovation standpoint.

Why fight it the uncertain nature of the world? To me, it seems much better to move along with how life actually works than to pretend we can be its master and commander. More importantly, how can we be more comfortable with uncertainty?

The method-less way

To explore this question I recently turned to an interesting book, one of J. Krishnamurti’s works (transcribed from his talks by an editor), Freedom from the Known. Reading J.K. is both frustrating and enlightening. He shoots straight to the heart of what causes psychological suffering – painting a picture of the issues and a promise of how life can be different (and dare I say “better”) with a richer understanding of how the mind (and our reality) works.

Yet, Krishnamurti offers no tools, techniques or methods; emphasizing the utter futility of trying to pierce the veil of thought with more illusory thinking. Not unlike the challenge of understanding the mind as illustrated by Alan Watts (here’s me paraphrasing): “..we are faced with the predicament of trying to pull ourselves up with our own bootstraps. In doing so, we are more likely to end up on our fanny than anything else…”

For someone, such as myself, so interested in understanding the mind and how to cultivate a more productive relationship with it, this is both frustrating, but also fascinating. Not unlike a movie with a cliff-hanger, it creates a sense of interest and curiosity that wouldn’t be present without such an instruction-less finality.

Just like a child tossed into a pool without a life jacket will be more likely to learn how to stay afloat and swim properly….

Without a clear how-to guide for controlling and transcending the mind, we are left with the only thing we ever really have, the results of direct and personal experience at the moment. Without a tool to apply or new habit to build, the mind naturally turns inward, looking and searching for a deeper insight or truth.

I see the incredible value of such an open exploration.

What can we do about it?

However, there are a couple things we can “do.”

First, we can make a choice. We can decide that understanding the truth about how the mind works is of crucial importance no matter what the goal – be that living a great life or being outstanding at work.

Second, we can allow the process to happen naturally and organically. A starting point is to turn our attention away from external life hacks, how-to-guides and trademarked methods for self-discovery; and turn our attention inward, to what we see about the nature of the mind, and what lurks beyond it.

We can start looking for what is really true and what is not. We can yearn more for what we learn from our experience than what a pundit has to say about his or her own experience.

Through experience, we can start to understand that we all live in a world of our thoughts, not the world as it is. We can know this to be a fact, and with this deep understanding, start playing in the world (creating, building, enjoying…and yes – even setting goals!) with a sense of freedom and “okay-ness” that isn’t possible when we approach life from a “goal-achievement-at-all-costs” mindset or in following someone else’s strategy for living and working.

Conclusion

So many of the amazing things I’ve experienced in life were only predictable in hindsight. I’m glad life seems to work well that way, and that something is calling the shots beyond my own thoughts, plans, and schemes.

Heck, I never would have predictive I’d be a Coach, even a few years ago!

As a Coach for leaders and professionals in the Tech Industry, I also see the tremendous value in having a thought partner to work with on this journey into the unknown. Specifically, working with a coach who is willing to allow the time and space for a client to sit with the “unknown” and allow the mind to generate insights naturally about how to live well and do great work.

If you are interested in exploring how coaching can help you in your journey forward, click here to learn more.

The Power of Simplicity as a Catalyst For Growth [Podcast Ep. #15]

Being simple isn’t easy, it’s often harder, at least in the beginning. The benefits, however, are worth the initial effort. In this podcast, I share a simple concept that might change how you think about your business, your health, your relationships and living your life in general. This idea is all about going way beyond Pareto’s “80/20 Rule” and seeing that in life, we can get MUCH MORE out of less.

 

Beyond The Pareto Principle: The Simple Way To Get Much More Out Of Life

I want to share a simple idea that might change how you think about your business, your health, your relationships and living your life in general.

This idea will be tricky to implement, but the results will speak for themselves. Not to set expectations too high 🙂, but I believe that the idea I’m going to share with you really does have something to it. It’s all about getting more out of less.

It’s not a new idea. Some people have referred to it as The Pareto Principle, aka the “80/20 rule.” It states that most of the outputs in life are generated from a minority of inputs. This is generalized to imply that 80% of the results tend to come from 20% of the activities.

When you think about simplification and productivity, what do you think about? Most people think about trimming the fat, reducing the slack and doing just as good, with less effort/activity/input.

Achieving such an outcome would be a great result, wouldn’t it?

For example, if you work 40 hours a week and you get a certain result, imagine if you worked 30 hours a week and got the same result, or even a slightly lesser result, but saved a bunch of effort. That would be a good thing, right?

What if you could do even better?

What if you could, by doing less work, not only achieve the same outcome but a much better one, by doing far less than you thought? That’s the idea I want to talk about today. The idea of getting more out of less. Pareto’s Principle taken to an extreme.

To help get your mind around this concept, I would like to share a few examples of how this idea plays out in life already, from the worlds of finance, business and nature. Through these examples you will see that this idea has a lot of truth to it. If you look closely at any aspect of life: less is more!

Be wealthier by trading less

Let’s start by looking at wealth and finance. The game of wealth building is really set up to reward people who can figure out how to get a better return on their money.

The best and brightest people are spending tremendous energy figuring out ways to make more money by actively trading, taking bigger risks and even going as far as building computer systems from the ground up to shave microseconds off trade times.

So, what do the wealth building games people are playing show us?

There have been numerous studies, looking at the performance differences between actively and passively managed funds. The verdict is clear. Passively managed funds have higher returns, despite the lack of effort that goes into managing them. In any given year, 83 to 95% of active money managers fail to beat their benchmarks in any given year.

Think of all that wasted effort and money!

The passive index funds, on the other hand, just invest in a pre-defined selection of stocks. Rebalancing happens periodically, and that’s it. Simple and effective!

Sure, investing in funds isn’t the only way to build wealth, but it provides a striking example of how less is more. It’s worth paying attention to.

It’s how I invest my money.

Grow a business faster by working less

Next, let’s look at the world of business.

I recently got paddleboards for my family. With the boards, we got a free book by the company founder, Stephan Aarstol, called The Five Hour Workday. The premise of the book is NOT that we should be lazy. The founder of the company is a savvy entrepreneur who knows how to work hard.

Taking out our paddleboards in Dillon, CO.

However, Stephan Aarstol saw a better way to get results in business, and it had nothing to do with working harder. It had everything to do with working smarter. He saw that when his team members were happy and living great lives, they were more creative, productive and insightful at work.

He performed an experiment and for three months, switched his entire company to a 5-hour workday, 5 days a week, for the same pay as working a full 40 hours week. In fact, he increased their pay, by offering his staff a cut of company profits.

What happened?

Optimists would think that the experiment would have resulted in a consistent level of business growth, despite the fewer hours worked. This would equate to getting the same outputs from fewer inputs. Not a bad result.

Doubters would think that result was a drop in business, though perhaps not as much as one would expect. This would equate to getting fewer outputs for far fewer inputs. Again, not a bad result if you really care about giving employees back time in their days. However, this isn’t sustainable for a growth-oriented business.

However, what happened was that the business absolutely took off. Employees were super happy. That part should be obvious. What wasn’t obvious, was that customers were also incredibly satisfied with their purchases and customer service.

Customers told their friends about their awesome paddleboards and the great company behind them. The business was booming, in spite of the fewer hours worked! This would equate to getting vastly more output from fewer inputs.

Over the years since the book was published, the company changed their work schedule again, going back to an 8-hour workday during the off-season, and sticking to a 5-hour work day during the peak summer months. This is a far cry from the 60-plus hour weeks that are common at other growth-oriented companies.

Why the change back to a 40-hour workweek?

According to Aarstol:

A weird thing happened—productivity was fine and we actually grew revenues—but the five-hour workday failed us in a completely unexpected way. People were feeling less connected to the company. When you’re working only 25 hours a week, other parts of your life become bigger and more important.

Especially in the startup world, people actually like going to work and feeling attached to or even consumed by their jobs. So now we’ve switched back to an eight-hour day for most of the year. We do five-hour days in the summer, during our busiest time of year, from June through September. The time pressure makes us figure out how to be more productive.

Tower Paddleboards is not the only company changing the world of work. Basecamp, an innovative software company (formerly called 37 Signals) is famous for railing on the “work hard to get ahead” mentality of tech companies, proudly adopting a flexible work schedule capped at 40 hours a week, with Friday’s off all summer long.

The lazy person’s guide to bountiful gardening

Are you into gardening or permaculture?

I don’t have a green thumb, but my mom does!

I grew up working in our large garden on my most weekends and evenings during the growing season. For some reason, I’ve never picked up the skill, but one thing I’ve learned is that micromanaging plants is a surefire way to kill them!

I recall a conversation several years ago with my mom, after attempting to grow a vegetable garden in the backyard of my newly purchased home. I was complaining that my kale, carrots, and potatoes wouldn’t grow. My succulents were wilting. What was my issue? My mom gave me some great advice, water them occasionally and don’t do anything else. Let them be.

It turns out there was a lot of wisdom in that tip. I was over-watering and stepping all over the raised beds. I was getting in the way of nature doing what it does best, grow stuff.

Can we grow more by doing less?

In the world of permaculture, there is a movement of people taking up lazy gardening. Lazy gardening is all about getting more out of less. By being smart about positioning plants as part of a natural ecosystem; less watering, fertilizing, mulching and weeding is needed for a garden to thrive.

Don’t believe me? Look at what this guy is able to grow in a relatively small vacant lot in the middle of an urban area in the UK.

Conclusion

I don’t have time to talk about all aspects of life and how the principle of getting more out of less can apply.

However, it’s clear that there is something powerful about allowing a few vital inputs to do their magic, and not smothering a good thing with a ton of extra activity that will just get in the way of life doing what it does best, GROW!

I hope this topic has inspired you to think way beyond Pareto’s Principle. You don’t need to settle for just getting most of the benefits from a few inputs. You can aspire to get far more out of the few things you put into a project.

I also hope that you are inspired to think about how you can simplify some aspects of your life, for the sake of allowing growth to occur in a more natural and abundant way.

Here are a few questions to guide your journey to simplifying your life and embracing a “getting more from less” attitude:

  1. What area of your life would benefit from more abundance with less effort?
  2. What are you doing right now in this area of your life? Think about the inputs/actions taking place. Even if you aren’t doing anything in this area, doing “nothing” is still something!
  3. What few activities/inputs seem to be producing good results?
  4. What few activities/inputs are worth focusing more time and energy on?
  5. What other activities/inputs are not fruitful and worth letting go of? 

Please leave a comment down below this post with your answer to Question #1!

Here’s Why Making A Radical Career Change Is So Darn Tough [Podcast Ep. #14]

In this episode, your host (Ravi Raman) shares his thoughts about why making a radical career change is so darn tough. Expanding on the ideas in this blog post, Ravi goes into what it’s like to “swim against the current” and make a career change later in life. He also describes three “safe havens” that tend to pull people back towards their old ways and old jobs. When we become aware of these safe havens – it can be easier to resist their pull.

Here’s Why Making A Radical Career Change Is So Darn Tough

Is there anything as hard as trying to navigate a radical career change?

From the time we are barely walking, we are being groomed to land a fruitful career. School, internships and part-time jobs are all designed to prepare us for what we will one day call “our career.”

This doesn’t pose a problem unless you decide one day that your career is no longer the right one.

Swimming against the current

There is no built-in social structure to facilitate major changes in career direction. Doing so requires a willingness to go against the grain, to not buy into the concerns of family and friends, and the capacity to work through powerful emotions that seem to pull you back to the secure job you once knew.

The other day a coaching client reached out with this exact concern.

He hired me to make a transition towards a different kind of life.

His previous career was that of a corporate ladder-climber. He was wildly successful. However, he was burned out and hungry for a better experience of work and life.

The goal was to craft a job based on his skills and interests; a solopreneur lifestyle that yielded income, joy, and a clear sense contribution. A full lifestyle redesign.

This was his decision and came out through several long coaching conversations and the client’s introspection after having a few months away from work to decompress.

The problem

A few months into his lifestyle design project, he got cold feet.

He worried that he was pursuing the wrong goal, that what he really wanted was to get back on the corporate “fast-track.“ The solution seemed to be, “let me just figure out how to run along the corporate fast-track while enjoying it and not getting stressed.”

My response was:

“Just relax and don’t jump to conclusions. See how it feels when you are actively working on your new business and creating a new lifestyle. If you have recurring and deep-rooted insights that you should return to your previous career, by all means, listen to those signals.

On the other hand, you might discover that the impulse to throw out the baby (your dream) with the bathwater (your past experience and future expectations) is just that, an impulse.”

Not every impulse requires a response.

This impulse, to rush back to the safer confines of the familiar life, is a common experience for anyone who is seeking to design their ideal lifestyle and vocation. Such re-imagination is bound to kick up a lot of emotional muck, including a healthy dose of insecurity (along with fear, guilt and yes, even boredom).

What happens when you get insecure?

Whenever I get insecure, I want to get a solid grip on the familiar, the safe and the secure (duh!). Just like when I was a kid learning how to swim, I would lunge towards the life-preserver impulsively. Eventually, I learned to ignore this impulse and trust my arms and legs to keep me afloat.

When my client got insecure (and redesigning one’s life will tend to do that) he wanted to retreat to the safe confines of the career environment he knew all too well, even though that environment was full of stress and no longer fit his values.

It was an impulsive move and a natural one. We all want to be safe and safety can be found through any number of places.

Three common safe havens are:

  1. Financial security.
  2. Recognition.
  3. Familiar environments.

My client was feeling a tremendous impulse to run back to his previous career, as it fulfilled all three of these safe havens.

It’s worth exploring these safe havens, as they aren’t nearly as “safe” as you would think.

Financial Security

Money matters. Though the specific amount you require to be happy is probably far less than you think.

When you get insecure, you will become money conscious and price sensitive. If you are looking to transition your career, and start feeling anxious, the salary prospects (and certainty of income) of a familiar job can loom large.

A sure-thing corporate salary will start to feel much better than the uncertainty of a new venture.

You will find yourself being pulled back into the orbit of your past line of work.

Recognition

Recognition is just as important as money.

I learned this first hand as a manager in the high tech industry. While my team members all appreciated bonuses, I was amazed by the degree to which top performers cared even more about being sincerely recognized and valued for their work.

When we feel insecure, we gravitate towards environments where we feel appreciated and have confidence in our ability to perform.

This recognition can be found in the safe confines of a previous line of work.

Familiar Environments

Familiar environments are boring unless you are feeling nervous. Then, they become safe havens.

It’s in a familiar environment that you know the rules and how to play the game. It’s like having a home court advantage.

If you are feeling insecure about a career transition, you are going to feel like you should stick to familiar people, places and things. This can be a real monkey wrench for anyone trying to redesign their lifestyle.

What can we do about it?

Radically changing your career and lifestyle is hard. I’ve done it and still work through occasional (though increasingly rare) hunger pangs of a secure income, familiar environment and built-in recognition that comes from seeing the rungs I’ve climbed on the corporate ladder.

It’s also tough to figure out what you want, to look at the hazy mist of the future and plot a course into the unknown.

It’s even more challenging to make it happen.

The first step, however, is to strive for internal clarity.

Figure out your answer to the “what” questions. It’s a crucial starting point.

What do you want your life to be like? What career has meaning for you? What impact do you wish to make on the world? What learning curves are you excited to climb? Etc.

If you don’t know the answers. Relax, you are in good company.

All you can ever do is take your best guess based on how you feel in the moment.

Find a quiet environment and a calm inner space from which to explore your answers to these questions.

Then, as the mind is fickle and tends to forget, write down your answers so you can reference your thoughts the next time you feel nervous about how things are going for you.

Remind yourself of the life you are creating, why it matters to you and how you can serve the world as a result. Passion alone isn’t enough. We need a deeper purpose and meaning to our work and lives.

The good thing about insecurity is that while it’s the trigger for wanting to give up on a dream, it’s a fickle emotion that flees at the very moment you get busy working on something that matters to you.

So let’s get to work.

Gregg Levoy On Discovering And Following Your Passion For Work And Life [Podcast Ep. #13]

Gregg Levoy joins me to discuss the art of discovering and following one’s passion for life and work. Greg is a journalist, writer, and coach who has helped people all over the world to find their calling and design their work and lifestyle around it. In particular, we discuss the big ideas featured in his book, Vital Signs. This book is one of the few I give a “five out of five stars” rating. It’s a very entertaining and engaging look at the role of passion and purpose in life.

Listen to the podcast as we discuss:

  • What our obsession with Zombies tells us about the state of the American workforce!
  • What passion really is….and it’s connection to suffering.
  • Why it matters that we are fully engaged at work and in life.
  • Why Cal Newport is mistaken, following your passion is NOT terrible advice!
  • What to do if you feel stuck at work.

…and much more!

Check out Gregg’s Website for helpful links, articles, and videos on the art of discovering your calling and cultivating a meaningful and passionate life.

Get the book:
Vital Signs: Discovering and Sustaining Your Passion for Life

Listen with Apple iTunes

Listen with Google Play

Here’s An Easier Way To Solve Your Business And Career Problems

The nature of imagination and the creative insights that smuggle within its flow; is a mystery. Ideas seem to pop up out of the ether. Almost always, thoughts are utter nonsense. Sometimes, that needle pops out of the haystack, and an innocent idea has an “oh my God” quality to it. Lots of noise. Little signal. The good news is, we only need a tiny bit of signal to create breakthroughs and solve world-class problems, so long as we are paying attention.

Read more

How To Climb Learning Curves Quickly With Deliberate Learning

“We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

~ John Dewey, Education Reformer and Psychologist

It’s never been easier to learn. There are MOOCs, meetups, professional organizations and thousands of non-fiction books per month being published. Not to mention all the blogs and podcasts and YouTube videos coming online every day.

We are awash in information, and yet, it seems like we are getting further and further from understanding the things that really matter and digesting the content we are eating. We are sitting at an endless buffet of knowledge and getting heartburn in the process. If only they made Tums for knowledge overload! As a way to cope with the onslaught of new material, a common reaction is to stop consuming so much information, and instead, to move into action mode. Start doing stuff instead of just learning about stuff.

“Don’t consume, create! Don’t think, do!”

This makes common sense. If I want to get better at hammering a nail, I should hammer lots of nails. If I want to get better at writing, I should write a lot. If I want to be a better coach, I should get more coaching hours under my belt. If I want to improve my running ability, I should log those miles.

At work, learning by doing implies that the best way to learn is by identifying something you want to perform better at and selecting projects that employ the use of those skills. It all makes common sense. I do learn better when I am engaged in work, as opposed to just thinking about what is to be done.

The Missing Link

However, learning by doing overlooks a critical aspect of how we are built to learn. And yes, we are built to learn. We wouldn’t have gone from living in caves to flying around in metal tubes in the sky if we weren’t.

We learn reasonably well by doing something time and time again. We don’t, however, become excellent at a task through brute force repetition alone. If I hammer a thousand nails, I might get good at hammering, but I also might get good at shanking the metal and dinging the wood. If I run a thousand miles training for a marathon, I might improve my endurance, but I might just as well engrain an atrocious running form into my body.

Repetition, without reflection, will end badly.

Case Study: Wipro’s Experiment

I stumbled upon a research paper, “Making Experience Count: The Role of Reflection In Individual Learning” while plunging down a rabbit hole on the Internet. I was trying to understand how we learn most effectively. This paper illustrates just how vital reflection is to the learning process. It struck a chord, in part, because it hits on something so simple, but often overlooked, when it comes to how we learn at work (or in any other aspect of life for that matter). The authors contrast the effectiveness of Experiential Learning (learning by doing) with Deliberate Learning (learning by doing with built-in time for thinking and reflection on what’s being done).

One of the experiments cited by the authors was a field study at Wipro, a large business-process outsourcing company. In the study, a group of customer support agents-in-training were assigned to one of two groups: (1) reflection or (2) practice. Both groups went through the same training program, with one key difference. The reflection cohort was instructed to spend the last 15 minutes of their days articulating the main lessons they learned during the day. The practice cohort didn’t reflect, and instead spent the final 15 minutes of their day continuing with other training activities.

At the conclusion of the training period, all trainees were given a knowledge assessment. The cohort that was given 15-minutes to reflect on their lessons learned each day scored 23% higher than the control group. Even more interesting, after graduating from the training program and put into customer service roles, the reflection cohort was found to demonstrate a 19% higher likelihood of getting a “top-rating” by customers.

I can’t think of an easier way to boost performance by a large margin!

Conclusion

One study doesn’t make a rule of law. However, this idea seems to have legs in other domains. As a coach, it is common knowledge that a powerful question to ask clients in concluding a coaching session is one that prompts reflection on insights gleaned and lessons learned.

Personally, I use journaling as a way to reflect on learning from day-to-day. My typical journal entry will include a brain-dump of (1) What happened today? (2) What did I learn? (3) What’s next (based on the lessons learned)?

Most of us work in fields where learning is vital to our relevance on the job. How can we maximize our potential and learning aptitude? It’s clear that learning by doing is only part of the picture. The consolidation and integration of whatever we learn is a vital part of the process. It doesn’t have to take a bunch of effort. 15-minutes seems to do the trick.

The aforementioned study sums things up well:

“Together, our results reveal deliberation to be a powerful mechanism behind learning, confirming the words of American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey” “We do not learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.”

The Truth About Getting More Out Of Less

What does it take to achieve more? For most of my life, I’ve lived with an underlying assumption that to produce more, I must do more. If I wish to make more money, I must work more. If I want to be better at a sport, I must practice more. If I want to improve the quality of my life, I must try more new things.

Turns out, I was wrong.

The confusing thing is that doing more of something does often produce more significant results. If I’m looking for a new job and speak with ten people I know, and learn about one new opportunity, I might get more opportunities by talking with another 10 or more people. If I lose a few pounds each month by walking 10,000 steps a day, I will probably increase my weight loss by walking 20,000 steps a day…for a while at least.

This fact, that effort tends to yield results – so more effort will lead to even more results – kept me from seeing an even more powerful way to get better results from less. We can take this notion further, and make a bolder claim – that doing less can yield even more results than doing more ever could.

Let me emphasize this again. You can not only achieve the same results with less effort, but you can also produce dramatically more than usual from less output. This seems to be the way the world works, not only in business but in all aspects of life – relationships, finances, health, careers and more.

It’s counter-intuitive but true. Nature agrees. Try micro-managing a potted plant and see how it dies right before your eyes. I’m speaking from experience! Little bits of a few key ingredients are all nature needs to thrive.

Vilfredo Pareto, an Italian polymath, did the groundbreaking research that led to what is now called, the Pareto Principle, and further popularized by the series of best-selling “80 / 20” books by Richard Koch – management consultant turned champion of the “getting more from less” movement.

The 80 / 20 principle states that 80% of the results are a function of 20% of the causes. Conversely, 20% of the results are a function of 80% of the causes. In other words, the highest value causes are 400% as effective as all the other stuff being done. This principle (or more extreme versions of it, like 90 / 10 or 99 /1) show up in almost every part of our world. A vast majority of outputs are a result of a few inputs.

If all you (or your team, your business, your family, etc.) did were focus on the 20% (or less) of high-value causes, you would have the lions share of the results with 80% (or more) of effort and time freed up. Further, if you decided to only “halve” the amount of time and effort spent in total, but focused on the high-value activities, you would more than double your results – with plenty of free time and energy to do other things….or just relax!

It gets even better – the free time and energy aren’t lost opportunities. We all know that creative thinking and problem-solving improve when we aren’t pushing our nose-to-the-grindstone. Insights are inevitable when you have more space and calm time in your days.

Where will those fresh insights and ideas lead you? It’s worth finding out.

Explore:
1. Which areas of focus – your work, business or lifestyle – would you love to get more results from less effort?
2. For a specific area of focus in your life, what few causes are creating the majority of your results?
3. What are you willing to do less of, for the sake of allowing more space for high-value activities to flourish?

Intuition Is The Military’s Secret Weapon. Shouldn’t It Be Yours?

Mark stopped abruptly. An innate warning commanded him to STOP. Moments later a bullet flew past his skull, so close, he felt the wind brush his hair. This commanding voice, of inner nature, had saved his life.

Mark is no ordinary man. He is Mark Divine, a 20-year veteran and former trainer of the Navy SEALs. His story of life-saving intuition is recounted in his Unbeatable Mind podcast. I was surprised to hear Mark’s sharing of the role intuitive and extrasensory training has had in the shaping of elite fighting forces.

I picture Navy SEALs and commandos as being driven by rationality, logic and strategic planning. The last thing I would expect to learn is that listening to gut feelings and intuition would have any meaningful role in their training. Mark shatters this assumption through his focus on awareness and intuition one of the “five mountains” of his SEALFit training method and in recounting how he was trained as a SEAL.

The military’s secret weapon

Mark Divine is not alone, Navy SEAL Mike Jaco has written a book on the topic called “Intuitive Warrior.” Jaco states, “By fine-tuning my intuition as a Navy SEAL, I was able to predict and avoid attacks to protect myself and my fellow soldiers.

These are not two isolated cases. In 2011, the Navy funded a $4 million and 4-year long study into intuition, and it’s military application, slyly referred to as a study in “sensemaking”. In a job where one wrong step could mean life or death, I can see how greater sense perception can be worth its weight in gold. More than $4 million worth of gold for sure.

This is all about cultivating a broader sense of awareness for what is really happening, both externally and internally, with regards to a human observer. When awareness is broad, more data is captured and bias is removed. With a broader and unbiased data set, intuition can flourish as it flows in the background of our consciousness, making sense of all the data and bubbling up insights and ideas to guide our way forward.

Intuition and sensemaking in daily life

If the armed forces see value in the cultivation of intuitive and sensemaking powers, what is the relevance for those of us who are business owners, students, athletes or merely looking to get along more effectively in life? Let’s explore this idea.

Business owners could benefit from the enhanced understanding of the viability of a deal or investment. Not to mention the massive improvements to the quality of overall decision making.

Students could benefit from a better sense of how to communicate ideas and cross-pollinate thoughts when writing papers, in exams or engaging in class.

Athletes could better tune into and engage with their bodies in motion, the environment and other players on the field.

Working professionals could benefit from massively improved communication, listening and collaboration skills. As leadership can be defined as one’s capacity to communicate and create an engaged following, there is perhaps no superior way to be a stronger leader than to strengthen one’s sensitivity to what’s going on around them.

Improving your intuitive capability

“Intuition is a skill I believe that can be developed. Every one of us has it to some degree, but a lot of times we ignore it, or we deny it,”

Mark Divine, Navy SEAL Veteran, SEALFit Founder.

Step 1: Improving intuitive capacity is no different from improving any other sense or skill. The first step is to become aware that we all can make sense of the world around us in a more profound way. Logic and reason are vital, but never paint the full picture of what is happening around us or within us.

Step 2: The next step is to broaden one’s awareness of surroundings. Mindfulness meditative practice is one way to do it. Mindfulness can be cultivated when moving as well as stationary. Tune into inner signals and outer surroundings. Start noticing smells, sights, sounds, and feelings as you move. Turn off your smartphone and tune into the real world.

Step 3: The last step is to “keep score” of your intuitive signals. That is to say, begin listening to the more profound intuitive sense you already have, and notice what it is telling you. Intuition communicates in ways that are often subtle and feeling oriented (though in the case of Mark Divine, when his life was on the line, his intuitive warning to STOP was clear and abrupt). Are you able to correctly interpret your intuitive signals? Where is it spot-on? Where does it leave you confused? Where is it dead wrong? Keeping a journal of the intuitive signs and insights noticed can help.

Conclusion

Logic and reason are powerful capacities. However, it’s also important to harness latent intuitive power for the sake of making better choices. Intuition is no longer limited to the realms of mystics and seekers. It’s equally relevant to all of us who are looking to make our way in the world with less struggle and more success.

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