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We know a lot so instead of hunting down something new today let’s remember one truth that we find uplifting but haven’t thought about for a while.
We can find this by going through old notebooks, looking at our Twitter favourites or our older Facebook posts.
Throughout the day we have different guides. Sometimes we don’t even know we are following them yet we do. Here are a few things which guide your behaviour at any given moment:
- the need for speed
- energy saving minimalist
- need to belong
- need to be left alone
Let’s pause and check whether the guide we chose has anything to do with the destination we hope to get to.
There’s a lot of talk about good and bad thoughts. I try to avoid that and talk about helpful or constructive thoughts instead. Yet how do we know how helpful a thought is right now. Let’s imagine a ladder.
At the bottom are thoughts which occur naturally often as an automatic response but are neither helpful for you nor others.
Next are thoughts which many would consider negative but you can get at least some short-term reward out of them. Hater comments, as annoying as they are to the rest of the world, make the hater feel superior. From the perspective of the hater this is arguably better than feeling depressed.
You can build in as many intermediate steps as you like.
The top spot of the latter are thoughts that are in complete alignment with your most cherished values which also uplift those around you.
We might not have the energy to jump to the very top of the ladder every day. However it’s also helpful to define the lowest of the low levels that we are willing to go.
Sometimes the most helpful thought we can muster is to imagine to flip off anyone who talks to us. The childish satisfaction we get out of that might be enough to help us climb one more step on the ladder.
So where on the ladder of helpful thinking are you?
In my family we get old. So for the next 80 years I will keep writing and editors will reject me. People will reject me who are not even born yet. But like in a big cosmic tennis match, for every rejection I get, I will send out another piece of work.
-Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Big Magic and Eat, Pray, Love
That’s the spirit. Not for everything. Not all the time. But for the few things in life we cannot not do.
Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.-Leonardo da Vinci
Do you have one activity you can do exactly as long as it is fun and then walk away from guiltfree? You might be able to leave it for weeks or months at a time but still enjoy it when you return.
The mindset of more is better is so deeply ingrained in us that it might be hard to abandon even mundane things for a while. While it’s definitely helpful to do some things regularly over a long period of time we might deprive ourselves of the very benefits we are trying to get, if we don’t have a way of controlling our ‘more is better mindset’.
A habit is automated behaviour. We do it without thinking. Habits help us save energy and reach our goals by being consistent.
Mindfulness is the ability to focus on the present and return our attention again and again to this very moment. It calms us down and improves the quality of experience because we are not distracted from life when it unfolds.
They seem like opposites but they are not. We can decide to mindfully brush our teeth, even though brushing our teeth is a habit. We can establish a habit of mindfulness meditation every day. Or we can decide to engage in mindless habits if we would rather multi-task.
However it’s important to understand that we have a choice. If we forget that we are just subject to random decisions our brain makes for us instead of the other way round.
While good work takes effort at least at some time, the equation that lots of effort equals good work is false. We know that from ourselves: trying too hard usually doesn’t produce the results we are proud of. In order to help each other stop acting as if busywork leads to great work we need to examine how we react when others display professional effortlessness. While we are fascinated by Federer’s ease many feel bummed out when the electrician is able to immediately solve the problem: ‘hey, that guy didn’t work hard enough. He gets all this money for five minutes of work. That’s not fair.’ Actually he gets the money for the years of work he had to put in before, so he could solve this kind of problem in five instead of 45 minutes.
So let’s not confuse those who do their job really well and therefore seem fairly relaxed with people who haven’t worked enough.
Today I want to stop and appreciate the mysteries of absorbing information and experiences. Despite all the psychology I have studied in the last eight years it’s still beautifully mysterious how information can be taken in by reading, speaking and listening and then almost like a digestive process it gets sorted into things we immediately eliminate, some we consciously remember and other parts disappear into hidden crevices in the brain only to reappear precisely at the moment when we need it.
A lot of us fear procrastination. This makes us take certain measures like ‘I will only get up from this desk once I have completed the assignment’. Logically we then deny ourselves certain things like getting a glass of water or going to the loo. We fear that if we give in to any of these ideas before we know what’s happening we will be scrubbing the house done.
However because our mind can only then think about whatever it is we are trying not to do we lose: we neither get the assignment done nor do we get the coffee. Let’s not let the fear of procrastination keep us from the things we need to do. Sometimes we’re better off just to get that coffee and move on.
When challenges arise we get very different advice: accept things as they are or strive to change. But how do we know when to do what?
Acceptance does not mean we have to remain passive. Sometimes the very act of acceptance helps us to remove the barriers. We can accept the reality that is now but put the work in to change tomorrow.
If we feel unable to change anything holding on to either acceptance or hope, whatever comes easier can be really helpful. We don’t always have to worry about the other so much if we find peace in either.
Twitter explodes with glee when people do something wrong. While this is definitely not healthy for those being mocked it also shows that those doing the shaming are scanning the world for mistakes. That kind of negativity keeps people small because while they are scanning the world for things to criticize it means they are not creating anything they value themselves. Becoming a creator teaches you that messing up is normal and shouldn’t be laughed at but is part of the learning process. It doesn’t matter whether you create great meals, scrapbooks or even travel memories. Whenever you create something that is worthy of your efforts you scan the world for building materials and inspiration instead of negativity.
When you compare yourself to others you compare your insides to their outside.
We often hear the advice that we shouldn’t compare ourselves to others. While this is generally helpful for a peaceful mind it’s absolutely useful advice in the moment because in fact it makes us want to compare even more or feel guilty about it, both of which is not healthy at all. That’s why the helpful alternative is so useful: we should have the helpful alternatives up our sleeves so when we catch ourselves comparing, we can take this more constructive route.
We frequently encounter metaphors which help us to remember certain truths or lessons. For example the metaphor of sowing the seed, letting it rest in the earth for weeks or even months, caring for the plants and then harvesting reminds us that when we start doing things we usually don’t immediately reap the success of this particular action, but will have to give it some time, invest more work and then eventually we can reap the fruits of our labour before the cycle starts again.
Similarly when I get frustrated about not being able to do something quickly enough I can remind myself of the time and effort it takes to practice a new or even a rusty piece of music on the piano. There is no point in getting frustrated, when it doesn’t work it simply means my fingers need more practice.
So what can you do to ensure that the metaphors that work for you are safely in a place where you can remember them at crucial moments?
While I love seasons I am not a particular fan of how they pan out in my country: if we get a ‘light winter’ it’s 4 months but if we are unlucky, it’s also possible to have snow from October to May (or even June back in 2013). Even if we’re lucky and the weather is okay the long dark hours can get to us. To balance that out I love to make up personal traditions and try to actually stick to them every year in addition to established traditions. Here are a bunch of traditions I enjoy:
- Deep dive into the Zurich Film Festival
- making eggnog with a friend
- strolling through the Christmas market and drinking hot mulled wine
- yearly photo exhibition in the first week of January
What can you do, that you will look forward to every single year?
In sports, creative work or even when crunching spreadsheets a great session is usually characterized by ease: ease over how the body worked as one, ease with which the words flowed onto the page or the music into the instrument and ease on how easily those equations could be solved. If ease is one of the defining features of a successful session of almost anything shouldn’t we prioritize ease a bit more by giving it space to be part of our day?
I am not discounting the value of disciplined work. It is often lots of disciplined work that leads to ease however I wonder if we as a society in general got the balance right and I am going to go with ‘more often than not we don’t’.
In a workshop with Robert Biswas-Diener he kept bringing up the topic of rushing to closure. This is about trying to come to conclusions and move on without givings ourselves and our clients enough time and consideration. This is not only applicable to coaching but also to daily life. We make snap judgments all the time and base many on our actions on them. Today let’s remind ourselves to not rush to closure but instead let things unfold fully.
When we think things like ‘this day is going to suck.’ it’s easy to forget that our moods and energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. Sure the day might end up sucking anyway but by holding on to that thought we of course make it more likely. Let’s reframe instead: ‘this sucks now but I am no fortune-teller so let’s see what the rest of the day will bring.’
Our overall mood and energy level is not always directly related to how well we can perform a certain task such as playing tennis, solving Excel math or talking to a patient. Of course it’s generally helpful to be rested and feel energetic but whatever faculty we need to carry out the task can totally have a mind of its own. Just because I slept well doesn’t mean I can ace a negotiation. Just because I lack energy doesn’t mean I will do a bad job. This isn’t a license to chronically deprive yourself from things that are necessary for a healthy life like sleep, movement or good food. It just means that we shouldn’t mentally give up on something unless we have tried it.
Sometimes we discount the obvious because it’s obvious. Yet so often it’s not difficult or creative ideas that are the most helpful but the simple ones that come to us at the right moment.