I’ve been trying to figure out a simple way to share some of the things I learn and relearn while working on and researching various projects, and just living life.
Sometimes they feel like gems of insight, other times like diamonds in the rough, and other times, more like just a little “ah ha” that lights the way toward a better understanding of something.
I find that, over time, a lot of little insights can actually compound over time, or help crystalize an idea, or be the key to connecting the dots.
And maybe if an insight helps me, there might be something useful in there for you, too.
With that in mind, here is my first round of personal Insights for work and life…
I relearned the power of relearning. Things can be better the second time around, if the mind, body, and spirit are ready, willing, and able. At work, we characterize whether somebody is a “learn-it-all” or a “know-it-all.” As a friend likes to say, he likes to “unlearn it all.”
Lately, I’m challenging myself to enjoy the process of relearning, which means both slowing down to speed up, and also taking my learning much deeper into new nooks and crannies.
I relearned how effective focus really comes down to getting clear on priorities, turning the dial up on passion, and reducing distractions.
I relearned how so many great changes, start with a decision. It doesn’t matter whether that decision is to get in shape, or start a business, or wake up earlier, or eat better. It’s one thing to say I hope I wake up earlier. It’s another to say, I’ve decided I will wake up at 5:00 A.M. And then do whatever it takes to make that happen.
What’s interesting to me is that making a decision, can make a lot of things easier. Once I know what I want to do, and decide on it, then I can focus my attention on figuring out how to do it. I also find that making a decision creates a shift in how I feel. A simple decision rallies all of me to be all in. And when I’m all in, things get easier. That’s why I realize it’s not really a decision, until I feel this shift, so that I know all of me is on my side.
I relearned how to take time pressure off by resetting timeframes. For example, if something is due tomorrow, it feels very different than if it’s due next week. If I feel pressure is hurting more than helping, then I need to reset timeframes for things, or drop things, or change how I do things.
I also relearned the power of “catch the next train.” If I miss something, I can dwell on it. Or, I can refocus my attention on how to “catch the next train.” That’s way more empowering than ruminating over spilled milk. And, one way to improve here is to simply ask, “How” can I catch the next train?
I relearned that I don’t need the perfect strategy. But I do need a model of the end in mind. I need to find some example or some person that has the results I want to achieve, so I can learn from what works. I also need a good enough feedback loop so my deliberate learning gets me there.
If I have good feedback loops, and if I timebox my efforts, then I can test different strategies to find what works for me. A timebox is simply a “box” of time to try something. Maybe I try something for a 20-minute timebox. Maybe I try something for a week. Maybe I try it for a month. But the key is to experiment within a specific period of time, before changing strategies.
I relearned how to think about strategy in simple terms. I can think of strategy as what I will do, and sometimes more importantly, I can think of strategy as what I won’t do. I can also think of strategy in terms of “difference.” And I do know that one of the greatest ways to create value for others on this planet is to create value your unique way. Or, to put it in a catchy, slogan way: Give your best where you have your best to give…in the service of others. And all that means is play to your unique strengths, while adding value to other’s lives.
I relearned the power of compelling goals and how to reframe goals to be easier to create and enjoy. I reframed the term goal into a simple question: What are the changes I want, in work, and in life? Listing goals is tough. But answering the question, what changes do I want, is easy. And, asking what changes do I really want, that I’m willing to work for, is where the rubber meets the road.
I relearned the power of having measurable goals, by asking a simple question: How will I know if I’m trending towards or away my outcomes? How will I really know if I’m making the changes I want to see?
But then I remembered there is another side to it. I also need to know when enough is enough, or when I’m not pushing hard enough. I don’t have infinite time, or infinite effort. I need to know what good looks like for my goal, so that I know where to lean in and where I can slack, or devote my energy on another goal or area of my life.
I relearned the power of visualizing goals. Well, to be more precise, I relearned the power of visualizing vivid scenes of the future, of the changes that I want to make. Stephen Covey said we create things twice, first in our mind, then in the world, and it’s true. For example, if I visualize myself in super shape, with the ability to do effortless hand-stand push ups, that is a compelling scene that will pull me forward.
Because I can picture that scene, that is way more specific than saying I have a goal to be strong.
In fact, that picture is worth 1,000 words. While I can attempt to “document” that goal, it’s that scene in my mind of this future self that is really what I need to work backwards from. By doing rapid mental simulation, I can play out a lot of potential futures and choreograph my success, before locking on a path. Maybe I don’t like the lifestyle impact of what nailing a particular goal might create. Lastly, if I can picture something in my mind’s eye, I have a much better target that I can pursuit with clarity. Even if I may not have the exact measures or measurements right, at least I have an initial sense of which direction to head.
I relearned how a sound mind and strong body change everything. I like to think that where there’s a will there’s a way. But sometimes the body says no way. I remember how Viktor Frankl taught us, “He who has a Why to live for can bear almost any How.”
I relearned the power of an Agile Mindset as a way to embrace change. And I remember to flip the switch to think in Sprints (chunks of time) and stories (chunks of work) as a way to flow smaller chunks of value, while learning and adapting along the way.
I remember that I am the one that has to find my flow. Nobody can do it for me. Flow is a term coined by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Flow is when you are “in the zone.” It’s a state of energized focus. It’s when you are so immersed in a task or activity, that you lose your sense of time, and enjoy being fully engaged in the challenge before you.
The key is finding those tasks that are challenging enough to need all of you, but not so challenging that they wipe you out.
I relearned how if I can’t name it, I can’t frame it, and if I can’t boil my idea down into a headline worth reading, I won’t do it. That’s how Ideas die on the vine.
I relearned how the small can get in the way of the big, and how the urgent and easy can block the way of the important. The solution is to setup goals combined with habits with a focus on the small stuff in a way to accrue to the bigger, better stuff.
I relearned how priorities are the areas that are important, and how goals are the scenes of the future you want to bring to life. If I just keep that simple idea, then priorities and goals are a much better tool to work with.
I relearned the power of practicing gratitude. Tony Robbins fires up his day by starting with fulfillment. It’s how he combats fear. And gratitude is the single most proven practice for happiness. And it’s great to remember how things can always be worse, and you never really know what you’ve got till it’s gone.
I relearned that without goals within time frames (the day, the week, the month, the year), I don’t have enough scaffolding or structure to keep me on track. That’s how the important ends up at the mercy of the urgent and the easy. Compelling goals pull me forward while helping me make sacrifices and trade-offs in terms of time, energy, and attention.
I learned how to better structure my morning routine and why. Gratitude is a must. Write 3 things down you are grateful for. Meditation is a must. There are too many benefits and science that shows how it changes your brain. Physical exercise is a must. Again, the benefits are there, and it’s a great way to prime your day, get your head clear, and wake up your nervous system. A warm up routine for productivity is a must. I need to be more deliberate about doing a productivity warm-up routine, before I do Worst Things First (i.e. taking on my worst challenges for the day.). By doing a few simple tasks that I can easily accomplish, I can build momentum and improve my focus to be able to take on the tougher stuff.
I relearned a simple way to practice gratitude at night. Just write down 3 things that made me happy in my day. Happiness is a personal thing, and by writing down what makes me happy, I learn what lights me up. It’s like deliberate learning for happiness, and it’s instant impact.
One of the big surprises in the happiness arena is that by just by acknowledging and appreciating the highlights in your day, or the things that make you happy, you actually end up happier. It’s automatic. As Dr. David Burns says, you just need to “count what counts”.
The real power comes when you add gratitude as bookends to your day. Write 3 things down in the morning you are grateful for. And at night, write 3 things down that made you happy in your day. What a perfect way to add more joy, without a bunch of complex or convoluted things to learn.
I relearned the power of chunking things down. Too many big things can get stuck if I don’t hack them down to size. Finding ways to chunk up my work into smaller units of value will help me debottleneck some places where I get stuck.
I learned the power of the Awareness-Focus Loop for dealing with anxiety or procrastination . The Awareness-Focus Loop keeps us from burying things that bother us, or it helps us bubble up things that bother us, into the light, so we can deal with them, so they don’t turn into anxiety or depression or procrastination.
It works by helping you become aware of the anxiety, name the anxiety, and deal with the anxiety. Depression and procrastination can be the result of an unexamined anxiety. To build the Awareness-Focus Loop, a simple way is to practice the “I Am Aware” five-minute meditation. Using the phrase, “I am aware that…”, start identifying things that you are aware of.
As you practice your awareness, you become more aware of feelings and things that are sitting just below your conscious mind. As you bring things into awareness, it’s like turning the light on in the darkness, and can help you dissolve your unresolved issues, or at least build awareness of how the issues are affecting you.
I relearned how crucial it is to reshape your schedule to reflect your priorities. Along those lines, I relearned how my calendar trumps my To Do list. Just like how plans can be a list of things you’ll never do, a To-Do list can easily turn into a mini-list of things you won’t do. Unless you actually give those things time and space on your calendar.
I relearned how sometimes the time slots I have available aren’t big enough to tackle the bigger stuff. Some things are just not the same when you keep chunking them down.
I relearned how putting buffers and boundaries around my key activities can help make mental space.
I relearned that success is a numbers game. Get up to bat more often. To get out of a slump, don’t focus on the score. Focus one pitch at a time.