Nothing to Do and That’s OK With Me

I’m finishing up the first month of my sabbatical and I’ve intentionally not set any big goals or projects in front of me. The last thing I want to do is treat this break from work like I treat my work! So for the past month I’ve mostly chilled out.

I did spend 10 days on Kauai, but even that was very spontaneous and every day just unfolded as it needed to. Not much in the way of planning went into that trip. I had a permit for a few nights of camping and figured out the rest as the days rolled by.
Fast forward a month, and this morning my brain was sorta freaking out, feeling like it didn’t have a focus, I was rudderless and life was passing me by. I just went back to bed and that fixed things up really quickly! Amazing what a cure sleep can be.
Nowadays I’m quite content doing yard work, riding my bike around town fetching groceries, cleaning the house, reading (a lot) and going for the occasional run or hike. I’ve also starting learning more about how to properly use the fancy digital camera I bought last year. I now know that the “intelligent auto” setting is decent but far from suitable for many shots I aspire to take.
I’ve been surprised how my mind/body has been anxious at the prospect of not having a big project on the horizon, meetings to attend or a big to-do list, but I suppose that is the experience I needed to have this past month and I’ve learned to accept that.

How to Finish What You Start

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A lone Bison in the dead of winter, solely focused on finding food. Yellowstone National Park. By Ravi Raman.

Once you have set a goal and motivated yourself to get started, following through and finishing it is the next stumbling block. I have a friend who at one time had a list of almost 100 goals written down that he carried on a piece of paper with him in his wallet at all times. He felt they were all worthwhile and stressed about having to make progress on all of them.

Sound crazy? How many of those goals do you think he accomplished? Setting goals can be the easy part, making initial progress and then actually achieving something meaningful is far more difficult.

Another example can be found at your local gym. In January it was probably packed with people working towards their new years resolutions. Now look around, you will see far fewer people.

Finishing what you start can be a lot easier when you are really clear on why you are going after a goal to begin with. During your goal setting process, write a page (by hand ideally) about how your life will be different once the goal is achieved. Re-read this every week.

You can also perform a trick I like to do. Take your goal page, put it in an self addressed envelope and give it to a friend. Have them mail it to you in a few weeks. Write your goal page as a letter to yourself. Better yet, make a few copies and have a few friends mail it back to you at different intervals.

Doing this also makes you realize that having a ton of goals can be counter-productive and an overall distraction. The same thing applies to daily to-do lists and tactical things you need to get done. Focus on the one big thing and everything else will fall in order.

It helps to have just a few goals, but make sure they are really meaningful (which usually means they are challenging ones). It will be easier to focus and the payoff will be worth it. Instead of 100 or even 10 or 5 goals, start with just one big one!

Harvard Business Review has some other good ideas for staying committed and following through on your goals.

Getting Momentum on Your Goals

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Big planes take a lot of energy to get up in the air over short distances, relative to what takes to move fast at cruising altitude with a tailwind.

Gaining ground on your goals is very similar. Getting started can take a huge amount of effort. Even more effort can be needed to make initial and measurable progress against the goal. It’s easier to do if you remember that it will not always be that hard once you have gained the initial momentum.

There are lots of ways to help out with the initial stages of progress against a goal. The most effective one I’ve found is to seek out a community of like minded people working toward the same, or at least similar, goals.

If your goal is to do a triathlon, join your local tri club (or hire a coach). If your goal is to travel to new places, join a travel group on Meetup.com. If you want to make a job transition, seek out a mentor who is at a place in their career that reflects where you would like to be.

How to Transform Your Life

Transforming your life does not require massive action or big goals. It requires steady and methodical progress.

If you have set big and lofty goals for the new year, that is ok. Just remember that it is the daily actions that will slowly but inevitably create the big change you are looking for.

Just like interest in a bank account, the small things compound per time. Losing just an ounce a day of body weight will completely remake your physique over the course of a year. Saving an extra $100 a week will amount to big long term savings over the course of a few decades (invested well, it could pay for a child’s college education!). Meditating for just 10 minutes a day can dramatically improve your ability to focus on everything else you do and give you emotional calm and poise when dealing with other people.

Instead of fretting over having to radically shift your daily routine, focus on the small things you can do consistently. Those are the things that will make all the difference. The hard part is focusing on the long term impact of your decisions, and not getting caught up on the need to see massive shorter term progress. Most people will give up on the early part of the curve in the diagram below. Sticking with it is key!

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Setting Goals

The presence of a goal is more important than the substance of that goal.

Goals drive focus and a heightened sense of awareness. They provide a context for cause and effect between your actions and outcomes. They start the process of moving toward something worthwhile.

I’ve found that the presence of a goal will have collateral and positive impact on other parts of life. A goal to lose 10 pounds will inevitably help me focus on other things that are not health related – such as work or other creative tasks.

If you are spending a lot of time agonizing over your goals, don’t. It’s more important to pick something that is meaningful, but not perfect, than it is to not pick anything.

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Jim Collin’s Goal Setting Approach Visualized

Sketch of the three key questions from my blog post yesterday about Jim Collins goal setting approach.

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Do Something New

Why do the same old stuff this holiday weekend? Try something new..it might just be fun!

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Best New Year’s Resolution? A ‘Stop Doing’ List

Here is a great article by Jim Collins, the author of numerous books like “Good to Great” and “Great by Choice” (which I am currently reading). Jim has a legendary work ethic and capacity to focus. He goes so far as to use a stopwatch to monitor and log the time he spends on creative tasks (good!) vs other nonsense and consuming information. His goal is to spend half of his time every day being creative.

In a world where people are overly fixated on to-do lists, he sets goals by first focusing  on the things that aren’t worth doing as a means to help clarify the things that do matter.

The 20-10 assignment mentioned in the article got me thinking.

She then gave me what I came to call the 20-10 assignment. It goes like this: Suppose you woke up tomorrow and received two phone calls. The first phone call tells you that you have inherited $20 million, no strings attached. The second tells you that you have an incurable and terminal disease, and you have no more than 10 years to live. What would you do differently, and, in particular, what would you stop doing?

With clarity here you can move on to deciding what really matters. Here are three questions from article to help contemplate those things:

  1. What are you deeply passionate about?
  2. What are you are genetically encoded for — what activities do you feel just “made to do”?
  3. What makes economic sense — what can you make a living at?
Another pic from the Methow Valley, near Winthrop, WA.

Just Pick Something Aleady!

Over-thinking can at best tire you out and at worst can actually take the wind right out of your sails and stall any momentum you might have in moving toward a big goal.

I like walking through the mall every now and then, not to buy stuff but just to people-watch. There are people who are decisive while shopping – with clear direction and focus and other people who sort of stroll around and deliberate over everything – afraid that the gadget they really want might cost less somewhere else or that it might not have the most glowing reviews on amazon.

Those people who deliberate endlessly are probably scared to commit to things in other part of their life.

A big part of the art of achievement is to actually pick something…anything really.

It is less important that the thing is the ‘right thing’ than it is that the thing is meaningful to you and worth spending energy on. You can always change your mind later, but the first step is just to pick something – be it a home improvement project, a race, a project at work or that vacation you have been thinking about for years.

Just got home from the Lake Stevens Olympic Triathlon (1mi swim / 25mi bike / 6.2 mi run). Finished 2nd in my age group!

To The Moon

I saw part of this passage as a preface to a strategy document I was reading at work today. The bold part really speaks to me.

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. Its hazards are hostile to us all. Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation many never come again. But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas?

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

President John F. Kennedy, September 12, 1962, at Rice University, Houston, Texas

I get asked all the time why I enjoy endurance triathlon and trail runs and other big goals that test my limits to some degree. I do these things because it helps me really see what I am capable of. I also believe that excellence in one part of life does translate into other parts of life – even if the goal is ultimately not accomplished as planned. When I am focused in my training, it is easier to focus at work, focus on great nutrition and focus on building quality relationships with friends.

When I am moving towards a worthy goal, it takes the “slack” out of my life and helps me achieve and focus more in many other areas. The collateral benefits of setting and working towards big goals are huge.

A "buddha" in my apartment with a wounded knee. I can relate.

Don’t Be Busy

The most successful people I know don’t act like they are busy.

They actually are incredibly busy by most people’s standards, they just don’t come off that way.

When you talk with them you have their full attention. They listen to you. They walk in a quick but not hurried fashion. They speak clearly and briefly. They don’t talk about the things they have to do or how stressed they are. They get things done. They don’t waste time doing things that don’t matter. You never will hear them talk about how they don’t have enough time or have too much going on.

On the flip side, I know a lot of people, who achieved far less success, that always talk about how busy they are. How they don’t have time to exercise, plan a much needed vacation or take care of errands around the house. These people always seem to have a tough break and come up short of their big goals. They seem to be too busy to focus on what it important. They are a whirling tornado of activity but the results don’t match the hurried pace.

Which camp do you fit in?

Try not using “being busy” as an excuse for a good 30 days. Just pretend that you have all the time and energy in the world to do what you need to do. All you need to do is commit. Then, see what happens.

Setting Good Goals

Goals. Setting them too high just leads to let-down. Setting them too low leads to no motivation.

The art of setting good goals is to find that happy medium where the thing you are after is big enough to drive you forward but also achievable enough to be within reach. For me, I tend to skew a little towards the “too big” end of the spectrum on purpose. I am more driven to reach for something just out of reach!

Also goals often end up getting clouded by expectations of others or some form of competition. That’s another trap. If you want to run a 5K in under 22 minutes, but are running it with a friend who wants to go under 20 minutes, you might be tempted to make their goal your own. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Equally worse are goals predicated on the performance of others (e.g. the goal being to beat your friend in the 5K). That outcome is impossible to control and can lead to wacky approaches to race preparation. You might even be selling yourself short (maybe you are capable of an 18 minute 5k?)

I always make sure my goals are defined in my own terms, and wholly within my power (barring some big external factor like weather or equipment in the case of a race).

For Ironman CDA this Sunday. My goal is simple = to finish and enjoy the process.

I have zero care about time and am willing to be out there as long as it takes. I know that it will be painful (very painful at times) and know from experience that whenever things get really bad they usually become good (or at least bearable) shortly thereafter. The trick is not giving up when things get bad.

Assume you can

If you are trying something new, exciting and challenging – there are a couple mindsets you could begin with:

  1. Option 1: Assume you can’t do it.
  2. Option 2: Assume you can do it.

I prefer option 2 every time. You can enjoy the journey that way. If you don’t belief you can – who else will? Option 1 just sucks. If you don’t think you can, why try? You might as well assume success and then your brain will align its resources in a manner that supports your goal.

There is science backing this up. There is a portion of your brain whose purpose is to filter out the millions of bits of information you are taking in every day – to get rid of the things that aren’t necessary for your survival and success. It’s called the reticular activating system. It’s a goal seeker center of your brain. It sits at the base of your brain and literally is the gate-keeper between signals from the outside world and signals transmitted internally in your body. It works as a totally sub-conscious function. If you don’t think something is possible you’ll be missing out on those things that might be under your nose and helpful in your quest – but outside of your conscious awareness. Like those missing car keys that were in your pocket the whole time.

Know what you don't want

As you start setting your intentions and aspirations for the new year, don’t fret if you can’t pinpoint the exact things that you want to do, places you want to visit, people you want to meet or other experiences you want to have. Try as best you can to make your intention something that is empowering and motivating for you, and back it up with a few specific actions you can take to realize that intention in the world (e.g. goals).

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Then recognize that there are a lot of things going on out there in the world, and you might not be able to pinpoint the exact experiences you want to have and goals you want to achieve in the coming year…yet.

For me, I create a list of intentions for every new year, and a few goals that substantiate each one. For example, one intention I have this year is to Embody My True Personal Power and Vitality, and one goal in line with this is to compete in a off-road trail running race this year (distance isn’t important). That said, I don’t at this point have all my specific goals nailed down, and that is ok. I know that as the days move on I’ll have a clearer idea of the specific goals I want….goals that are lined up with my intentions for the year.

However, this year I am also going to try something new….I am going to spend a little (not a ton, but some) time doing is identifying a list of things I don’t want to experience this year! I am motivated to do this after reading this little quote by Steve Jobs:

Steve Jobs

“I’m as proud of what we don’t do as I am of what we do.”

It got me thinking. I think many people, especially those who are motivated to grow personally and professionally, often get oversubscribed with doing things…and this makes it tough to 1) really focus on the things that matter and 2) take advantage of ad-hoc fun experiences that pop up from time to time.

For example, just a few days ago, a friend asked me if I wanted to go to go snowshoeing for a few days….staying in a “Yurt” near Mt. Rainier. Apparently, someone in the group fell sick and a spot opened up. With 24 hours notice, I was able to take advantage of this since I hadn’t booked my weekend full of random stuff to do. It ended up being one of the most fun experiences I’ve had in a long time.

So after you’ve spent time setting your intentions and creating your vision board, think about a few things you are willing to cut-back on or totally cut-out. Do so and you might just end up creating the free time and space to really achieve those lofty goals, and have a ton of fun in the process.

Talent and Skill

If you’ve watched this video from my last post, you probably picked up on this theme. It’s a clue into one of life’s great mysteries. Success depends on both talent and skill. They are similar but radically different at the same time. One is a gift you have been given. The other is completely up to you.

Incredible Talent + Years of Acquired Skill

Talent is something that you acquire due to your genes, upbringing, experiences as a child, etc. You have them or you don’t. Maybe your father took you out on the golf course since the age of 5, or enrolled you in swim lessons as a pre-schooler, or you had that piano sitting in your living room in the house you grew up in, maybe you happened to be very tall, maybe you have incredible hand-eye coordination, maybe you have a photographic memory, etc.

Skill is something you acquire by working hard day after day. The most talented person in the world will get schooled by a hard-worker if they don’t train hard and focus (as an example,  watch the movie “Tyson,” I just did and it is quite good). I think we all know examples of people who seemed to cruise through school without studying….only to hit a wall in college or in the workforce when skating buy doesn’t cut it. Without skill a talented person will have no way of illustrating their craft in the world – they will lack the physical and intellectual capability to live up to their potential.

Similarly, someone who lacks natural talent can overcome and excel through acquired skill. Look at Dean Karnazes, not a natural runner by body-type,  but boy can he run and run and run (for hundreds of miles at time)! Look at the numerous corporate leaders with learning disabilities (e.g. Billionaire Richard Branson has written about his dyslexia). Muggsy is another example, how someone who is 5′ 3″ can excel in the NBA is beyond me (and at that block 39 shots???!).

However, put the two together and you really have an explosive combo. What are you talented at? Are you willing to put the required effort in to really develop your skills in the area? How will your life, and the world, be different if you did so? Are you willing to do whatever it takes to cultivate your potential?

As the new year approaches, these questions are worth some thought.

Why Do New Year’s Resolutions Fail?

8bc72ed7It’s another year, and another time to reflect on the amazing things have been created over the past year, while also considering great new possibilities for the coming 12 months.

It’s also a time of year when gyms and health clubs are packed and hordes of people are crowding the organic produce sections at the local grocer in an attempt to clean up their diet, their bodies and their overall health. Yes, it’s that time of year – resolution time.

Even though history shows that the vast majority of resolutions set at the beginning of the year go unfulfilled – people still go through the process of setting them and then charging out to achieve them with reckless abandon.

I mention health specifically since it is the most common resolution people tend to make, but there are many more. Exercise more, eat better, make more money, work less, etc. However, despite the variety, there is a still a unifying thread under them all.

Each and every one of these resolutions (at least the vast majority) will go unfulfilled. Most will not make it past January 15th.

This has nothing to do with the capabilities or level of dedication that someone has to see a goal through. It just has everything to do wih the actual resolution itself. A poorly set goal is a waste of time  – plain and simple. The key here is the power and ultimate motivation (intent) behind the goal to begin with.

It is the intention, not the resolution or goal itself, that truly matters.

New Year’s Resolutions Cut Off Choice

When you resolve, you decide. That is to say, you close off all possibilities. If you are standing on a trail in the woods, and you come to a fork, you have a choice to make. You can go back (turn around) or go on one fork or the other. Taking a course of action essentially precludes the others. While in theory you could take one fork for a while and then turn back and take the other – this doesn’t happen in real life (as an aside – in real world studies of people who have gotten hopelessly lost in the wilderness, backtracking almost never happens, even when they have no idea where they are going!).

When you take a path, it is human nature to close off other possibilities. Our brains are wired so that we can filter out information that isn’t in line with our goal and identify information that is. The issue here is that while focusing in on a goal is a powerful skill, life is often far from clear cut, and when we commit to accomplishing some thing, we may miss out on noticing other things that could be even more aligned to our true needs and support our life in a more positive way.

For example, someone may make a resolution to jog every day for at least 30 minutes.This seems like an admirable goal at first, and frankly, exercising every day is a great thing for most of us to aspire to. However, suppose that what this person is really after is to have more energy in their life so they can come home from a busy day at work and still have the energy left to play with their kids.

Jogging is a nice goal, but consider how this resolution could actually close of other possibilities for to get exercise – opportunities that might involve other things besides jogging – and might actually preclude activities that could incorporate having fun with the kids while getting exercise at the same time (like playing ball, tennis, hiking with them, etc.).

In other words, resolutions restrict opportunities by focusing the human attention on a very specific goal, a goal that might not be directly aligned with the underlying motivating force for change.

The Power of Intention

It’s the “Why” that matters, not the “What.” If you have a goal to get six-pack abs, lose 20 pounds or clean up your diet – those resolutions are all about the “What.” They don’t consider the “Why.” This is why so many resolutions like this fail hopelessly.

The “Why’s” are the compelling reasons that will motivate you to get up early and stay up late in the pursuit of something that truly matters to you. In the case of losing weight, ask yourself “Why is this important to me?” Is it because it will allow you to live longer? Play with your kids without getting tired? Play sports at a higher level and more safely? For each of those “Why’s,” there is in turn another another set of reasons that are driving them. Continue down this path of asking why, and you’ll notice a series of deeper intentiuons that will bubble up.

These fundamental intentions are the driving forces that will be strong motivations for you over the long-term, when the going gets tough and the initial energy and zeal behind your goal fades away. They will serve as powerful landmarks that will open you up (and more specifically open up your sub-conscious mind) to people, places, things and experiences that are in line with your intention.

8 Steps to Connect With Your Intentions

Here are a few simple steps I take to come up with my intentions for the new year. I’ve done this for the past 4 years or so (modifying the process along the way) and it works incredibly well. Try it out even if you already have your goals all set for the new year, and see how it can help you to get even more clear on what your real intentions are for the year.

Brainstorm.

Begin by taking few blank sheets of paper. I recommend doing this by hand (not on the computer) to avoid distraction and allow for free-association. You can even put on background music if you like. It also is a good idea to do this with others (friends, family) for extra motivation and accountability. Take 10 minutes and just brainstorm all the different things, people, experiences you would like to come into your life. Don’t worry about the time-frame. Just brainstorm. Let your mind flow. Be sure to consider your health, wealth, relationships and career. Think broad. Your goals should be to keep writing without stopping.

Classify.

Take a moment and them write a 1, 3, 5, 10, or 20+ next to each item in your list based on the time frame for the item. For example, you might have “buying a house” as a 5 year goal, but “losing 20 pounds” as a 1 year goal.

Prioritize.

Now, circle your top 5 (you choose how many….3-5 is a good range to start) goals for 1 year, 3 years, 5 years and 10 years.

Cluster.

Re-write your circled goals on another sheet of paper, but instead of writing your goals in a list, you will do an affinity map. To do this, begin to write goals that are similar to each other close to each other. For example, if you have a goal to “lose 20 pounds” and another to “run a marathon” these might be close to each other because they are related to health and fitness. If you have sticky notes available, you can even write all of your circled goals on stickies and then arrange them into little clusters based on similarity. At the end of this step, you should see a few clusters begin to emerge.

Embody.

For each cluster, consider the person you would have to become to achieve those goals. This is where you begin to develop your intention. For me, I structure my intentions in the form of “I am…“. For a cluster of health-related goals – for example – I might write “I am a strong and lean physical powerhouse.” Putting the “I” at the beginning makes them personal, and using “I am” precludes that you are already that which you seek – your job is just to discover that and see it in yourself! Once you have discovered this intention, write it down as the title for the cluster.

Prioritize.

Look across the intentions you have created…all starting with “I am”….and if you have more than 5, circle the top 5 (ideally you would have 3-5 at most). These would be five things that – if you really embodied these intentions for the year – would completely transform your life and the lives of those around you.

Purpose.

Now – for each of these 3-5 intentions – write a short paragraph about why they matters. Think about the people you will impact for the better. Think about how your life will be better. Think about how you will feel when you embody the intention every day of your life.

Clarify.

Revisit the list of specific goals you have for each intention (look at the affinity map clusters you created) – and add any additional goals that might have come to mind for you. Take about 10-15 minutes to really flesh these out. You can also take this time to get more specific about goals you have already identified. For example, if your goals is to “lose weight,” perhaps you can get more specific and say “I will lose 10 pounds of fat while gaining 5 pounds of muscle in the next 3 months.”

There you have it! Post your intentions in a clearly visible place and reflect on them (and the goals that support them) every day.

Through following this simple process, you will used your brain’s natural desire to set and accomplish specific resolutions/goals to uncover the fundamental intentions that are driving your desires. You will also have a specific set of goals that map to each intention, giving you a clear place to start from and march toward.

However, unlike traditional resolutions, the intention – that is to say – the role that you have created for yourself (the “I am…..“) is what really matters.

Keep reading these intentions to yourself every day, and your brain will continue to serve you by being on the lookout for situations and experiences that can help you become the person you intent to become.

I’ve used this process to achieve big things in my my own life, I hope that it is useful to you. Please try it out and let me know how it goes in the comments!