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We often spend a lot of time thinking about what we should do to reach our goals but we often forget the conditions, which can set us up for failure or success.
- Which time of the day do certain tasks come easier to you than others?
- What happened before particularly productive sessions?
- When was your last meal?
Skills and willpower are important but understanding the conditions which enable you to succeed is vital.
I just use my muscles as a conversation piece, like someone walking a cheetah down 42nd Street.
It’s hard to contradict Einstein but I’m going to try: if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results were correct nobody would ever learn to ride a bike, snowboard or play the piano. Because at the beginning you just have to try and try again regardless of the outcome.
Apparently 40% of US employees feel like they are too busy to take a vacation. I am sure they see themselves as hard-working and responsible. If you are too stressed to take a vacation, go to the loo or get the sleep you need it’s not a reason to be proud. It can only mean three things:
1. Your boss (and his managers) is really bad at math. He doesn’t understand how much people are needed to do the work. This is not a terribly hard problem to figure out so if he can’t take care of that maybe you need a new boss.
2. You are not productive enough.
3. Your sense of self-importance is through the roof. Relax. The world was doing fine before you came along. The same is probably true for your company. It’s one of these illusions which go away once you challenge it.
Seasonal spikes occur of course. But if you can’t find a few weeks in a whole year something is definitely wrong.
We are often encouraged to fight ourselves to attain some sort of success: sleep less, work more, work-out more, do something that scares you every day and God knows what else. I am not saying that these things are not sometimes necessary to succeed but there is an alternative to being in constant combat mode with yourself. Things can flow. Most children don’t need to be encouraged to play, they do it naturally.
Sure we can’t wait for everything to flow all the time, we have deadlines and other commitments. But simply knowing that there is a space where we don’t have to fight ourselves (or others) helps. We might not always find it but we might see the right exit if we keep an eye on it.
The allure of new is nothing new. But today let’s go and find something to complete instead of something to start.
Today is voting Sunday in my corner of the world and when it comes to politics people can spend a lot of energy debating a question which is the wrong one to ask. The newspaper comment sections are brimming with discussions of whether taxing a large inheritance is just or not. Obviously the ones who have more than the two million think it’s unjust whereas the ones who don’t have it, think it’s fair.
However the question is not whether taxing large inheritances is just or not. The reason the government wants to do this is because we can’t pay for people’s retirement anymore. So the question is actually ‘is taxing large inheritances a way to solve that problem and if so is it more just than the alternative, which is to increase VAT for everyone’.
Now this is not a political blog so what got my attention is how often we spend lots of energy passionately debating something, often with ourselves, which in the end is simply the wrong question. Wrong questions to me are questions which are designed to stir up endless rumination or debate and negative feelings without the chance of coming to some kind of resolution or moving forward. ‘Am I good enough?’ or ‘do I deserve this?’ are such questions, but there are of course many others.
The more you like yourself, the less you are like anyone else, which makes you unique.-Walt Disney
Science might say that we can learn our strengths by taking strengths assessments but if you don’t like yourself, it will be hard to believe and appreciate the results you get. Walt Disney implies that to find your unique strengths you have to like and eventually love yourself.
Stuff like ‘the path is the goal’ and ‘it’s more about process than outcome’ are true but as humans we are prone to get discouraged if we don’t see results. Therefore doing something for one single reason is a risky strategy – if we don’t get what we want we deem the effort useless. I like to think of several outcomes. If I would write daily just to get more people to my website I would have stopped months ago. But it turns out that I am training myself to keep a habit, writing out thoughts which might one day be put together in a book or some other format and that those who read regularly claim makes them think. So how can you pursue activities that lead to multiple good outcomes so you get the feedback to keep going, even if one or two objectives don’t work out?
Have you ever been to a place many times and then someone takes you on a tour and you discover all kinds of exits and other doors you have never seen before? Our brain does a lot of filtering without us even knowing. Usually it’s a good thing because it means we don’t have to think about unimportant things. However sometimes we don’t see options to move forward, realities which conflict with what we believe in or promising alternatives. If you don’t see how something could turn out well think of all the times you were astounded to find an extra door or corner you had never seen before. Just because you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it’s not possible or doesn’t exist. But instead of reinforcing your brain’s filtering encourage your brain to find the alternatives by saying something like ‘I wonder what the best solution for all of us would look like’.
Sometimes we have no idea how long it will take to see a change. It might be anything from days to years. If all we focus on is the outcome chances are we won’t stick with the new behaviours long enough to see results. We need to feel a sense of progress or at least movement of some kind. Pride actually helps us to feel good about doing the behaviour in itself, regardless of the results and motivates us, to keep going.
The world, especially the business world, creates a lot of problems because people confuse expenses with investments. Expenses are meant to be cut to the minimum. Investments need to be taken care of and grown.
Sleep is an investment not an expense.
People are investments too.
What have you tried to optimize and reduce which actually should be taken care of and grown.
Rainy days really do make us appreciate nice weather and waiting for a week for our favourite show heightens the enjoyment instead of watching seven episodes in one evening. What aspects of your life might be seen as a nuisance but actually help you appreciate something more. Identify these things and be grateful.
Knowing what we like or want is not always that easy. One way to think about this is whether you like the outcome, or the process and the outcome.
For example lots of people love the idea of being a published writer but don’t like writing itself. If you only like the outcome but hate the majority of the process you will never stop looking for new motivational hacks to fuel you. Chances are it will always be an uphill battle.
If however you enjoy the process or at least most parts of it fairly often then finding motivation will only cross your mind on difficult days but not all the time.
Remember that we all spend way more time engaged in processes than reaping benefits. So forget the outcomes for a second and think about the processes that give you joy.
Faith is often associated with religion and looked at as some kind of opiate for those not strong enough to face reality. Actually life is full of uncertainty and problems we can’t solve by thinking or worrying about them. Having the ability to believe in something you can not see or otherwise verify is the basis for feeling optimistic about the future. It doesn’t insure you against all the bad things that could happen. Optimists get hurt as well. But at least the good times are not ruined by constant questioning. The neutral times are not made worse. And during the bad times you can create a space to feel hopeful again.
In movies, books and plays we suspend our belief in pursuit of a different understanding. We know that the actor on stage is not really smoking a cigarette but we are willing to believe she is so the story can move along. We understand that sometimes by believing something we know is not true we can discover something else that is. Isn’t it fascinating that on a stage every character can pretend they are doing something which they are not actually doing, yet how the characters react and the moral of the story are exactly the same as real people in real situations?
Moving from a pessimistic to a more optimistic or from a fixed to a growth mindset is often a challenge for people because it requires a suspension in belief, something that we willingly grant the entertainment industry but not real life. Yes reality is not a movie, book or play (although some say it actually is): but pretending it is can lead to insight and change which are still 100% real.
If you want to implement a habit your success is much more likely if you link it to an existing habit. The less decision making you do the better, meaning that if you just do something before or after brushing your teeth, eating or during the commercial breaks it’s a no-brainer and therefore you are more likely to succeed.
We are sometimes not ready to do something even if we know it would be good for us. The more guilty we feel about it the further we push this good thing away from us. Slogans like ‘just do it’ are not always helpful. In fact if we are resistant for a good reason ‘just doing it’ might strengthen our resistance towards it. If you are the kind of person who never feels ready to do anything please ignore this post. But if like me you sometimes just need to do things in your own time, don’t let guilt or good advice bring you down. You are okay the way you are. And maybe, just maybe you will wake up one day and actually want to do whatever you have been resisting for long.
Most problems have more than three possible solutions. Because we don’t learn this as kids we often go with one or two options. The problem is that if the options available are things we haven’t mastered in the past, it’s easy and even likely to undermine our belief in ourselves. I don’t know about you but my brain might say something like this:
I often describe positive psychology and strengths as a lens through which we can gain a different perspective on our life. By looking at ourselves and others and paying attention to strengths, things to appreciate and be grateful for and opportunities to express our empathy and compassion we change our experience in the world.
However we don’t always have the resources to do this. And in those moments it’s important to take a step back from wanting to be better. Yes overall it’s healthier to be optimistic and appreciative. But nothing horrible happens if we can’t be like that every day. We should take our day off guilt free. Otherwise guilt gets associated with all the great stuff we want to do and become.