So we need to talk about limits. I continually find it fascinating how frequently we say “I can’t.” Now sometimes there actually are genuine limitations for whatever it is we want to get done but they are incredibly rare.
The reasons we come up with for not doing something we want to do are really just obstacles. And obstacles, while they can at times be legitimately challenging, are still just obstacles.
Being in the entrepreneurial space one of the most frequent “I’d love to but I can’t” statements is creating a startup. It’s often the same pattern. Someone will approach me with an idea they’re really excited about and my eyes light up as they usually do whenever someone is sharing something they’re enthusiastic about.
I then start talking about implementation plans at which point their facial expression has a big WHOA look on it. And then the inevitable comes, “that would be great but I…CAN’T do that right now because I have no (insert excuse: money, time, resources, energy).” There’s always a reason NOT to do something. There’s never a good time to start a business or personal venture as some new issue will always arise.
However, the people who actually turn their business into a reality and stick with it are the ones who recognize the myriad of crushing obstacles and issues and then walk boldly through them.
The key is to decide how much you want to start a business or whatever it is (and be honest with yourself). It could be opening a non-profit, completing a triathlon, opening an art studio etc. In any of these examples, if you WANT IT bad enough then you’ll do what’s necessary to get it done.
I say we stop setting limits on ourselves, stop saying “I can’t,” and instead FIND A WAY to make it happen.
Have a Great Reason to Get Up Everyday
“He who has a ‘why’ to live for can bear almost any ‘how’” –Friedrich Nietzsche
When people often feel that something is missing in their lives they freak out. They don’t know why they feel the way they do and try a million ways to rectify the situation. They might study happiness or take up yoga or join a volleyball team, which are all great things, but none of them really get at the core of the matter. Often times, the feeling of emptiness comes from lacking a WHY.
It is essential to have your own personally defined purpose because it will motivate you to get up in the morning and have something to go after. The serene sense of satisfaction that we call ‘fulfillment’ is the result of doing so. The specific path you take doesn’t necessarily have to be massive in scope. Your why “to live for” could be raising a family, or a business you’re passionate about or helping bring clean drinking water to impoverished areas—whatever it is, it must be significant to you.
The best part about having a strong why is that if it really matters to you then you will make it happen. Time and time again we see that when really pressed, our commitment to our goal will trump all obstacles. If breaking a sports title, for example, is what you genuinely live for then all your challenges and setbacks will fall aside in the face of your burning desire. Now, of course, that doesn’t mean it will make things easier. There will be setbacks and times when you want to pull your hair out but that comes with anything worth doing. The important thing is that those obstacles will not stop you from achieving your objective and the result will allow you to live a truly fulfilled life.
Highest Waterfall Ride in a Kayak
I thought this was pretty sick. Tyler Bradt rode 189 feet down the Palouse waterfall in a kayak creating a new world record. The Palouse falls are taller than Niagara falls and he shattered the previous record of 127 feet.
Well done sir, well done.
Why Emotions Are Great
Emotions are more powerful than logic
Reframe your emotions to be positive instead of negative
Think about how great you will FEEL AFTER you do it
We’ve all heard the saying “just the facts ma’am” which is, in a lot of ways, indicative of our culture’s approach to emotions. We think that emotions are something we have to keep in check. When solving a problem we frequently say to ourselves “don’t let emotions cloud your judgment” or “let’s think of the most logical way to handle this.” Well I think “logic” has gotten way too much credit. The reality is that we are emotional creatures and that is what really moves us.
With regard to our purchasing decisions, the saying “we buy on emotion first, and justify with logic later” is often very true. We may tell ourselves that what we bought was a necessity and made a lot of sense, but usually we just really want whatever it is and rationalize after. Similarly, think about how we frequently allow ourselves to slip up but avoid at all costs letting a mistake hurt someone else. For example, if you miss the bus, you’ll probably be pretty bummed. Alternatively, if you miss the bus and as a consequence, your friend would have to wait an extra hour for you, then you would likely do everything humanly possible to be on time. In this way, feeling awful for letting someone down has a major impact on our actions. So instead of fighting an uphill battle let’s embrace the fact that we are driven by emotions and find ways to harness them in a more constructive way.
Let’s consider an everyday situation. Unless you’re OCD, cleaning your home or apartment is usually a chore. We put off doing the dishes and vacuuming the floors and especially scrubbing the toilet. Now there are a couple ways to motivate yourself to do your chores. The first is simply telling yourself logically that it’s important and you have to do it. However, as we looked at earlier, our logic is not actually that powerful. After telling ourselves the reasons why we have to do them our negative emotions usually kick in such as “I’m too tired now” or “I’ll just do it tomorrow” and then we procrastinate.
We can, however, reframe our emotions by telling ourselves “Think about how great you will FEEL AFTER you do it.” Two things are happening here. First, you are focusing on the effects of doing the chore instead of the process, the former of which is usually much more compelling. Secondly, you are still using your emotions to motivate you but they are now reframed in a very positive way. You can consider how much you LOVE having a clean place, space to move, a sense of well-being etc. So in the future, anytime we start hesitating on a task we can use our new mantra and think about how great we will FEEL AFTER doing it! Give it a try!
One Thing at a Time
“If you chase two rabbits then you will lose them both” – Native American Saying
We all want to be supermen and accomplish multiple goals at one time, however, this is almost always a bad idea. When working on a specific area of change it is best to focus on a single area first and then work on accomplishing the next one after that. The reason for doing it this way is because when we try to take on more than one objective we start to spread ourselves thin. It’s already hard enough to concentrate on one goal so every time we add another goal simultaneously, we wind up dividing our time and attention making it that much harder. Additionally, we are then much more likely to become overwhelmed as a result of having to accomplish so many things on our plate.
Imagine if you were trying become healthier and you said, alright today’s the day when I completely turn my life around and dedicate myself to perfect health! Seems like a noble goal until you chart out exactly what that entails. Let’s say you need to cut back on drinking, stop smoking, exercise regularly, reduce your sugar intake, practice yoga, and eat less calories. Again, all good things but let’s consider day one. You first wake up and have half your normal calories so you’re hungry, then you go through a whole day of work without a cigarette so you’re irritable, then you exercise vigorously so you’re tired and then after all that you can’t even have a drink to relax so you’re really pissed. How long do you think you would be able to keep that up? Hint: not very long. Furthermore, this is a major reason why people wind up feeling “stuck.” It’s because they spend an enormous amount of time working very hard at a million different things and despite their best effort, they feel like they’re not moving anywhere.
Rest assure though, there is still hope! If you take it one thing at a time and pick one to start with you’ll have a much better shot of actually going somewhere. In this case, you can pick whichever one you think would feel the most meaningful to you but I would normally recommend exercise in this case because it’s considered a “landmark habit.” In the book, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, he discusses the concept of a landmark habit as one that causes a number of other habits to follow suit more easily after completing the first one. He doesn’t say exactly why it happens to be this way, but just that studies consistently show it to be the case. If I had to venture a guess, I would say that it’s because exercising helps you think clearer and it actually decreases some of your cravings for your different vices. Think about it: do you really want to rip shots of vodka and chain smoke after a great workout? Doubtful. Or at least I should hope not! In any event, by doing one thing at a time your chances of setting a goal and actually completing it are greatly increased. And the best part is that once you complete your first objective you will have tons of momentum to get going with your next one!
The 80/20 Rule of Change
In the past ten years, the Pareto Principle or 80/20 rule has been getting a lot of attention and for good reason. If you are not familiar with it already, it is the rule that 80% of your results can be attributed to 20% of your causes. This principle is frequently discussed in numerous disciplines as disparate as sociology to business to mathematics. I would like to discuss its implications regarding personal change because they are just as powerful.
If you do an 80/20 analysis regarding the areas you want to grow in or improve on, you will likely notice that while there are great deal of causes, there are usually only one or two of them that are significant. To illustrate this point, let’s say that you want to start spending less money and saving more. There are a number of ways to tackle this problem such as opening a savings account, writing down a budget, reminding yourself with a notes and so forth. These are all good ideas but usually what happens is that when we spend a lot of time trying ten different tricks we wind up doing none of them. Often times there is one reason that accounts for 80% of spending and saving issues. One of the most common ones is spending with a credit card or debit card. Using cards is something very commonplace that we do constantly but since you don’t actually see the physical money being exchanged it becomes incredibly easy to abuse them.
One solution then is to withdraw actual cash once a week and only spending the money you have in your wallet for that duration. This one tweak is known to have dramatic effects. For some people, it’s helpful to take it a step further and simply have an automatic amount of their paycheck deposited directly into their savings account. This kind of forced savings method makes it significantly easier to save by reducing the temptation for spending everything in your checking account. The specific method will be different for everyone but by identifying your primary cause you will see vast improvements in your results.
This quote is SERIOUSLY AWESOME. It pretty much sums up the pitfalls of excessive striving for meaningless things. I…I have to stop typing. The Dali Lama got this one perfect.
Defying the Definition of Insanity
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results." –Albert Einstein
According to Einstein’s definition of insanity, a whole lot of us are totally insane. Now obviously this is not the actual definition of insanity (see the dictionary for that) but it is a pretty crazy of us. I think it’s easy to take his quote at face value without realizing its implications. If you really ask yourself how frequently you repeat the same behaviors and habits while hoping the end result will be different, I think the reality will surprise you. So why do we do it? Well, it’s too simplistic to say that we’re “irrational creatures” so let’s dig deeper. I believe the two main reasons are a lack of self-awareness (ie. we don’t even realize it) and that we try to fix the solution in the wrong areas.
This first point is interesting because people who are generally self-aware are equally as susceptible to this issue. The reason is because these “habit loops” are so ingrained, automatic and frequent, that often times it’s hard to step out and see ourselves from a third person perspective. In other words, if you constantly do something you stop even thinking about it. It becomes you therefore it goes unnoticed.
With regard to the second point, I believe we try to fix an issue in areas that negate the underlying behavior. Let’s look at an example. Suppose you wanted to wake up earlier. Now there are a number of behaviors associated with early rising such as going to sleep earlier, drinking less alcohol the night before, consuming less caffeine and so on. However, if we decide to wake up earlier we usually tell ourselves “just try harder!” or “set more alarms in the morning or “place your alarm across the room” etc. So here we are trying super hard with all these alarms in far away places and yet nothing seems to work. The reason is because we get so focused on taking actions in the morning that we forget some of the habitual behaviors that are interfering.
The question then is how do we become aware of these habit loops. It’s actually not all that hard but it does require some legitimate self-reflection. The best way to do that is to track the different patterns you engage in. So returning to our early rising example, if you see that Monday you stayed out late drinking with friends, Tuesday you were reading a book until late, Wednesday you went to bed early but didn’t actually fall asleep until late because you had too much caffeine then the pattern will start to emerge. After noticing this, it will probably become clear that these passive behaviors are actually very specific actions that you need to find a way to change. After correcting them we can all be a little less crazy.
“Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end.”- Steve Jobs
Simple does not mean simplistic. When someone is being simplistic they are oversimplifying something to the point where it loses its essential components. In terms of communicating ideas, the trick to excelling at true simplicity is to be able to convey an idea’s most basic form while still retaining its core. In the book Made To Stick, by Chip and Dan Heath there is an excellent discussion about how James Carville approached Bill Clinton and said “If you say three things, you don’t say anything.” From there he came up with the slogan “It’s the economy, stupid.” It was a wonderful line and the reason for its power was because it was clean, easily understood and in just a few words, communicated a tremendous amount of meaning. In this case, the meaning that was conveyed was that the incumbent president, George H.W. Bush, failed to handle the current recession and Clinton had a straightforward and effective way to fix it. From there, people then began identifying Clinton as the “economy guy” and the rest was history. The key is that by communicating a complex idea in a simple way and still retaining it’s core meaning, it was able to be incredibly memorable and potent.
In terms of personal change, it’s natural to think that a complex problem requires a complex solution. It almost necessarily must seem this way because if we face something so challenging for many people, such as losing weight, it would behoove us to think that a simple answer is all that’s needed. However, the reality is that often times the elimination of variables and intricacies proves to be the most helpful. For example, using weight loss as an example, if you actually look at the fundamental cause of weight gain you will be able to target that issue more easily. It’s not the same for everyone, but there are usually only one or two key factors that are the main issue. For some people, it might be that when they eat home they eat responsibly but when they eat out they can’t resist the delicious menu so they give into temptation. In this case, they could simply decide to eat home for the majority of meals. For another, their vice might be excessively sugary foods or fried foods. Here they could decide to replace kit kat bars with peanuts or fried chicken with grilled chicken. In all these cases, there was no need to make a complicated diet plan with 30 different rules about how to eat and diet. The majority of the heavy lifting can be accomplished by making one simple lifestyle modification to get major results.
With regard to daily living, simplicity is important not only your actions but also your thoughts. Steve Jobs said “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.” I found this quote particularly potent because it emphasizes that simplifying is no easy matter and it involves your entire way thinking. In order to simplify, you need to focus on elimination. The key is to cut out all your superfluous ideas, issues and concerns to see what really matters. We are constantly bombarded with distractions and many of them only clutter our mind and make our priorities less clear. The process of simplification requires legitimate effort, but as Steve points out, it’s totally worth it in the end.
“It’s easier to act your way into a new way of thinking, than think your way into a new way of acting.” -Richard Pascale
I think there is a pretty common assumption that we all make which is that “thought precedes action.” This point sounds very reasonable. We observe and analyze a situation or course of action and then we take that action. Makes sense right? It should, except for the fact that we have some pretty wild imaginations. Think about approaching a stranger to strike up a friendly conversation. Let’s say you’re in a coffee shop and you see someone who you would like to chat with. Before doing so we might make the, dare I say, dreaded move of thinking. We might think “oh but I don’t want to interrupt them” or “they might think I’m bothering them” or worse. We go through all the possible reasons why this event could go sour because of our fear response. It could be approaching a girl or guy that you’re attracted to, making a cold call, public speaking, confronting a friend with a problem or any of the number of things that cause fear, apprehension and anxiety.
Now the conventional advice is to simply tell yourself to “think positively” or “just don’t worry about it.” So you tell yourself not to worry, but despite this you still FEEL worried, so you just tell yourself more harshly to stop feeling that way. This whole process only makes things worse and more of a big deal in your mind. Often times thinking your way into doing something difficult isn’t the best way. Time and time again I find that acting your way into thinking is incredibly effective and makes life much easier. Let’s say you have to make 20 difficult cold calls. When you think about this potentially daunting task it’s very overwhelming and we think about all the bad responses we might get from people. However, if you tell yourself to essentially withhold judgment until you just make one call, almost as an experiment, you will see first hand whether all those worst-case scenarios come true. After acting you will see that whatever you had to do wasn’t so bad and it will make the next action that much easier. With the case of cold calls, by the time you get to 5 calls you won’t even care anymore. The beauty of this is that you didn’t have to spend tons of time and angst trying to convince yourself to overcome your concern because after taking action you won’t FEEL your fear nearly as much. By physically conditioning yourself to feel differently, it will make future action much easier. For this reason, I think we should consider the new maxim “action precedes thought.”
A second way this principle can work is in terms of strategy in array of fields as diverse as business or comedy. In the book, Little Bets, by Peter Sims, he discusses how Chris Rock would often go to low level comedy clubs in New Jersey, completely unannounced, and then perform material. Now, the jokes and lines he would deliver were a complete experiment. He had no idea if they were funny or not, but instead of THINKING about whether they were comical he would test them on the audience to see whether they thought it was funny. If they laughed at the joke he would keep it and if it bombed he would toss it out. Later, he would take all the best jokes that he tested and those were the ones he would use for his sold out concert venues and HBO specials. In short, don’t think to do—do to figure out what you should be doing.