taking action

Burden of the Good Kid

My daughter is a very well-behaved child and that worries me.

I was too, for that matter. So was my wife. Generally speaking, we didn’t get in trouble. We followed the rules. We aggravated our parents from time to time, but that was about the extent of our rebellion.

We heard, over and over again, “you’re so well-behaved.”

“You’re so polite.”

“What a good kid you are.”

These affirmations aren’t the result of doing something special, but because you did nothing special. Nothing remarkable. You were no bother. And that’s the entire point.

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Swimming in It (Part 2): Mind Like Water

The previous post was about silencing your critic with action; to flow freely in the context of the moment, rather than the imagined future context that your inner critic is protecting you from.

 

This post reveals a powerful reason why getting everything out of your head (letting your ideas, thoughts, feelings, preoccupations… flow onto paper) is more than just an inner critic judo move. It cultivates a ready mind.

 

I’ve never heard anyone put this better than David Allen, creator of Getting Things Done:

In karate, there is an image that’s used to define the position of perfect readiness: “mind like water.” Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn’t overreact or underreact.

Anything that causes you to overreact or underreact can control you, and often does. Responding inappropriately to your email, your staff, your projects, your unread magazines, your thoughts about what you need to do, your children, or your boss will lead to less effective results than you’d like. Most people give either more or less attention to things than they deserve, simply because they don’t operate with a “mind like water.”

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Swimming in It (Part 1): Let It Flow

I listened to three podcasts while at the gym. I came back and discussed them with my wife. Weighted down with juicy fruit ripe for the picking, my head was swimming.

 

It’s going to be easy to write in the morning, I thought. That’s what I thought.

 

In the space between a creative spark and a public proof of work are layers of evaluation and editing. There’s vague, imagined possibility, and then there’s concrete, specific actuality. To say that translating thinking into doing can be a challenge is a gross understatement.

 

We look at all the doing around us– the podcasts, articles and books, products, projects, all the accomplishments of others– and we perceive a kind of instant perfection. The standard is too high. And false.

 

How can my idea possibly compete with any of that? It’s not good enough.

 

I put myself in the context of completion, but I needed a context of creative flow.

 

Let It Flow

When your head is swimming, or your inner critic edits your ideas and actions before they can actualize, just let the little things flow.

 

So I wrote what popped into my head:
-Notes from the podcasts
-Chores to do
-Ideas for six new posts
-Work tasks
-A new post in 10 minutes (a la this post)

 

Then I made breakfast, did some chores, came back later and started this series. The first post didn’t survive. It wasn’t good enough. But it was good enough to get me going. All I had to do was stop thinking about it; I let it flow.

 

 

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Do you want to make the change or keep the belief? (Part 1)

Let’s say you want to be a runner. You want the health benefits that come with it: losing weight, looking good at the beach, lowering your blood pressure, having more energy, thinking more clearly, etc.

But you don’t start. Or you do start every now and then, but never follow through on a consistent basis. Why not? You say you want to be a runner! Do you? Then why don’t you run?!

The last time I took a run seriously was a half marathon in 2013. (Nearly five years ago.) Prior to that, I had quit running around 2006, while in the best running shape of my life. I told myself I didn’t feel like it anymore.

I’m sick of running.
I don’t really need to run. Not yet, anyway.
I don’t have time for it.
The weather is too cold/windy/wet/hot/sunny.
I’m not the kind of person to obsess about it.
I’ve never been a “great” athlete.
I’ll get around to it some time.

Notice that none of those beliefs are consistent with the change I want to make. In fact, you could argue that for a long time, my beliefs were more important to me than making the change.

So I kept them. Until they didn’t serve me anymore.

Now I have a new set of beliefs.

I enjoy exerting myself.
I feel smarter and have more clarity when I workout.
It’s a fun way to spend time with my family.
Working out gives me time to listen to podcasts and audiobooks.
I can workout any way I choose (bike, run, walk, nordic ski, lift, HIIT, shovel snow…)
Being active is part of who I am.
I like the way it makes me look and the confidence it gives me.
Soreness feels like accomplishment.

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Who are You Becoming Today?

It’s a simple question.

 

You’re becoming someone a little more every day. Who is it? If we are the sum of our actions, the things we do create who we are. So what’s the story of your actions?

 

Who are you becoming? Write it in your task list. Let it guide you one choice at a time.

 

Forget about what you did. Most of all, forget about what you didn’t do. Ugh. So noisy. And not helpful. You don’t want to fight those emotional battles.

 

The choices you make define who you are: the outputs (the actions you took), not the outcomes (the results of those actions– and the emotions that follow those results!) Every now and then, you do have control over outcomes, but less often than you think. What you always have is control of your choices– how you choose to engage with and react to the world.

 

It’s not wrong to want to achieve some great and noble good (or to get rich or famous for some reason or other). In the end, however, outcomes depend on many factors, most of which are outside your control.

 

You are not your circumstances. You are your choices.

 

When I experience overwhelm, encounter a roadblock, or (let’s be honest) angry with myself for my lack of follow-through on important work, the only way out is to make a choice; take an action. Let your actions speak to you.

 

You might enjoy this deeper dive on the subject: Mood Follows Action

 

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“But I don’t know where to start!” (Part Deux)

My first post in this series was about overcoming overwhelm. To get started, you have to find a manageable bit– a finite habit or task that you can do on a daily basis. I recommend starting your day by writing. The goal is not to solve all the world’s problems– it’s to create momentum making a choice for you.

 

Be Selfish

Writing every day is the right kind of selfishness. It’s a creative and proactive task that uses different parts of your brain than those associated with reactive tasks. It’s also proven to reduce stress because it reduces ruminative thinking that makes you vulnerable to increased cortisol production, i.e., spinning in circles and feeling like shit. Both expressive writing and writing about life goals have been shown to work. Yea science!

 

Not one for writing? No problem. Make it a brainstorming session and be sure to jot down what you thought about. Some days, you may simply want to reflect on past notes, and that’s fine. Successful people spend time thinking every day. You can’t change the future without dedicating time and energy to it.

How else might you create time and space to think and focus more every day?

  • Run
  • Read
  • Meditate
  • Walk
  • Do Yoga

 

Whatever you do, do it first. Do it regularly. Be selfish about it. Be the type of person who takes control of your choices first thing, every day. That way, no matter what happens next, you started the day right.

 

 

 

 

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Drop and gimme 10.

Want to get in shape? Hit the floor with 10 pushups. Nothing is stopping you.
10 pushups a day = 3,650 pushups a year.

 

Or better: Spend 10 minutes a day walking. Park a couple blocks away. Get off the bus before your stop. Take the stairs. For all the days I don’t run (which is too often), squeezing in a walk break is surprisingly refreshing. Last week, a friend suggested we meet while walking and we strolled for a full hour. At 3 miles per hour, in 10 minutes you’ll add a half-mile walk into most daily routines.

 

Want a neater house? Start picking up after yourself throughout the day. No cleaning session needed. Moving one item from here to there (or throwing one out, or donating it) can quickly add up. Look around your house. Are there 3,650 things you’d like to move? Seems daunting, until you start to pick away at it. Don’t worry about finishing. Starting is your only concern. Average 10 items a day.

 

Want to start a business? Don’t hunt for a domain, or evaluate CRM tools, or start coding. Please, in the name of all that is holy, do NOT start coding. Validate your idea by asking potential customers about their needs and challenges. About how they solve your target issue today. Don’t build. Don’t organize. Don’t offer the solution. Find 10 people and start asking questions. If you aren’t testing your assumptions and validating your ideas first, you’re burning daylight.

 

Dependency-free action. It’s a beautiful thing. Now gimme 10.

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Eat that frog.

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”

This unappetizing aphorism is credited to Mark Twain, but it probably came from Nicolas Chamfort, a French aristocrat living in the 1700’s. Bryan Tracy, renowned motivational speaker, thought enough of the quote to write a book about it.

Despite conflicting interpretations of what the statement really means, or why it originated, I think the lesson in it matters. You have the choice to deal with things as you see fit.

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Creating Inevitable Outcomes

What if you knew you couldn’t fail? What would you try?

 

Launch a new company?

Learn to dance or sing?

Learn a new language, or how to code?

Lose some weight?

Run a marathon?

 

This sort of question has become popular, especially in the startup world where company cultures are positive, brash, optimistic and empowering. Who doesn’t wish they could plow forward without risk of failure? But we do fear failure, we can’t eliminate risk, and there’s the rub.

 

So let’s reframe that question:
What would you try if you knew that you couldn’t be embarrassed?

 

Feeling embarrassed or rejected is awful. It sticks with you. Which is why we stay in our comfort zones, don’t try new things or embark on ambitious plans. We choose the status quo over any amount of possible pain– imaginary pain, at that. So choose to change in private.

 

Start by practicing being the type of person your goal requires with very small steps. Every action counts. Every small change counts. Not your goals, your actions. Scared you can’t finish a marathon? That’s no reason not to be the type of person who walks or runs a little bit every day, if that’s your goal.

 

Schedule one priority that is important to you– not just on a list, but as time blocked out on your calendar. Make it inevitable that you will tackle that one small thing. Remove the dependencies. Remove the risk. Remove the chance of embarrassment. Do it now.

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“But I don’t know where to start!” (Part 1)

Overwhelm. It’s all too normal these days and for no good reason. Let’s put this little paradox of non-action in perspective.

 

150 years ago, homesteaders on the Great Plains with no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no weather forecasting, no simple means of communications, no crops, not even a house, undertook the seemingly insurmountable project of establishing farms and doing what needed to be done to survive. And they did.

 

You, living now in the future with all of human knowledge floating through the air, capable of being summoned instantaneously at the stroke of a finger or voice command, with prepared food and even chartered transport at your beck and call don’t feel enabled– you feel paralyzed. Your needs are met. You are vaccinated. You are not hungry. You do not fear the locusts. But you can’t get on with it because you “don’t know where to start.”

 

You have the luxury of paralysis. We all do.

 

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. What is necessary for you to do? You have ideas about what you should do, so you moralize and judge and fret. If it were a matter of survival, you’d figure it out; in the absence of such pressure, nothing happens.

 

Here’s an idea for a first step: start writing. Open a Google doc or an actual notebook and let your thoughts flow. No pressure. No moralizing. Not for anyone to see. Just you. Stop after 10 minutes and repeat daily or more often.

 

OK, go.

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