A few years ago I had dinner with a bunch of friends at a local restaurant. It was arranged by a good friend of mine who lives overseas and was back in town on business. I was excited to see him again and catch up around a good meal, but from the moment I arrived, and pretty much for the entire evening, he gave me the cold shoulder.
I was confused and a bit hurt. What had I done wrong? I wondered. I know I haven’t been great at keeping in touch, and I know he’s been going through a tough time, but is he so hurt as to not speak to me?
When I got home I told my wife what had happened. I admitted to her that I hadn’t been a good friend, and that night made a conscious decision to be more intentional with our friendship. Then the next day, my friend called me up to see if we could meet for coffee. He wanted to chat.
Oh, here we go. Now he’s gonna let me have it. And I probably deserve it.
He told me that he was really struggling with another friend of his who was also at the dinner, and that he just needed my advice.
Sorry, what? You’re not mad at me? And last night wasn’t about me at all?
In fact, my friend went on to tell me just how much he appreciated our friendship and the effort I had put in to stay connected.
I had completely misread the entire situation, and made something that had nothing to do with me all about me.
My capacity for self-centredness knows no bounds, apparently.
The whole thing made me wonder what other false narratives I was inventing in my head. How many people have I been offended by when I actually just misunderstood them?
Since then, I’ve been careful to follow up on every story I tell myself about somebody else or about someone’s attitude towards me. And it’s been remarkable. I’d say up to 90% of the time, I’ve got the wrong story floating around in my brain.
Unwarranted insecurity. Unfounded suspicion. Unnecessary negativity.
Imagine how much of this negativity floats around in our brains because we’ve made up a story in our mind, convinced the narrative is true.
It’s not all about you, Batman.
I am a runner. Haven’t always been, but I am now.
And there is something about running, far more than aerobic breathing and oxygenated muscles, that I find freeing. There is an almost mediative dimension to it: the uninterrupted quiet, the metronomic repetitiveness, the sensual immersion in the environment, the zen-like emptying of the mind – not having to do or say anything. Just running.
And yet despite my love for running, I still find it incredibly difficult to motivate myself to do it. When that alarm begins to beep on the outskirts of my warm duvet, I immediately commence a wrestling match with myself…
“I’m tired. I went to bed late last night. I’ll run tomorrow. I deserve a break. I’m sure it’s raining outside.”
All the excuses I can muster come marching through my mind in defiant procession. And then when I do give in, I always regret it later. “I should have run this morning!”
So now I have a system that works every time. A little trick I play on my brain.
I tell myself, when the beeping and the wrestling begins, “I won’t go for a run. All I’ll do is get out of bed and put on my running shoes. That’s easy. I can do that. Then after that I can take them off and get back into bed and go back to sleep. Simple.”
Except it’s never happened. I’ve never gotten back into bed.
Because the reality is once I have my shoes on, I automatically put my running clothes on, and then once I’m dressed it’s like, “Well, I’m already up now, I might as well go running.”
And then I run. And I love it.
There is actually brain research that proves why this works. And the fundamental principle is that when we decide to make one small change, it can actually make a huge difference. Neuroscientists call it a “keystone habit” – a habit that has the potential and capacity to change many other habits in its wake.
When you change one thing, it changes everything.
I think sometimes we get so overwhelmed by all the things we want to do and change and improve that we become paralysed. It’s all too much. And we don’t always know where or how to start. So whether you’re trying to eat better, read more or connect with your kids – instead of striving to overhaul your whole life and change everything you eat/do/think, rather focus on one small next step – like drinking an extra glass of water a day, or having one family meal a week. You’ll be amazed at where it might lead.
It doesn’t even have to be a great next step, just a doable one. Like putting on your running shoes.
And my guess is, if you put on your shoes, you may just find yourself running.
And you’ll love it.
Have you ever started something and not finished it?
Well, you’re not alone. We all have a tendency to start out with great intentions but then not follow through. Starting things is simple in fact. It’s progress that is hard. Think of all those books you couldn’t wait to read, but never actually finished; the projects you giddily started that petered to stagnation; the ideas that never moved into actual conception.
Of course, not everything is meant to be finished, but many of us have a boatload of projects, books, emails, and to-dos that have been relegated to a kind of purgatory of incompletion.
My blog is one such example. I started out with a bang back in 2010 and never missed a week without putting out an article for nearly three years. I even wrote a blog post congratulating myself on how consistent I was.
Then I fell of the wagon.
Oh the shame…
So how did I pull myself together and climb back on the bike? Well, here are three things that helped me, that hopefully can help you too.
1. Find a Reason
“I’ve found a reason for me, to change who I used to be. A reason to start over new, and the reason is ______” – Hooberstank.
We all need a reason – a “vision” you might say – to get and keep moving. A vision is a picture of a preferred future that inspires action, and in my opinion nothing gets us and keeps us motivated like a compelling vision.
For me, I had lost my “why” for blogging (I found it again so stay tuned), and because of that – there was no reason to push through the inevitable barriers I would have to face (not enough time, too many distractions etc etc). So whether its wanting to exercise more, stop smoking, or write a book – get a vision as to WHY you want to achieve those things. What will achieving your vision feel like? What difference will it make to you or to the world? Then write your vision down. Stick it somewhere as a reminder. Then…
2. Make a plan
Vision without action is merely a dream. If we are to see our visions realised, we must have a plan, and work the plan! If your vision requires multiple smaller steps (most do), then map out a progression plan. Break it down into smaller bit-size chunks. If it requires time out of your day or week or month (which it most certainly will), then SCHEDULE IT. Actually take out your diary or calendar or whatever you use, and carve out time every day or every week to ensure you do something. If you need help in doing this, check this out.
3. Give yourself permission to do crappy work.
A bad plan put into action is far better than a perfect plan un-acted upon. A lazy workout at the gym is better than no workout at all. Similarly, when it comes to writing or blogging or preparing a presentation, give yourself permission to write bad content. Almost every first draft is awful, but know that you have taken a huge step forward in the process. Just start something now and get going.
And you’ll find that if you give yourself permission, you’ll actually end up doing some pretty good work in the end.
4. Keep going…
The law of inertia tells us a body in motion stays in motion. And the same goes for projects, creative ideas, daily tasks, half-written emails, and that thing you stopped working on to read this article. So, minimise distractions, and if you fall off the horse, don’t get discouraged or throw it all away – just pick yourself up and keep going. Momentum builds momentum.
“When it comes to work and life, most of us know what it feels like to be out of balance. But do we know what it feels like to be in balance? It’s not a trick question — even if it seems so at first.” – Michael Hyatt
A few years ago I watched a documentary about slacklining that blew my mind. Then I had the oppourtunity to try it myself, and it was even harder than it looked! In order to stay on the line, I had to make constant adjustments, my legs wobbling and arms waving, straining and struggling to keep from falling. Even when I got the hang of it and could stay on the line a long time, there was never a moment where I wasn’t making little corrections to stay upright.
It didn’t feel like balance, but it was.
That’s how life is: Sometimes when we’re doing exactly what is required to keep our balance, we feel the most unbalanced.
That’s because we’ve believed the lie that “the balanced life” is fun, fast and easy, rather than difficult, necessary and rewarding. But don’t be discouraged. Here are three paradigm shifts from Michael Hyatt that we can all make that will help us to adjust our perspective around living a “balanced life”.
1. Balance is not the same as rest.
If we think that attaining balance means finally getting a much-needed break, then we’re missing something important. It’s not about rest, though it does include it. Balance is about distributing demands so we can stay on track. And sometimes that takes a lot of work. If that’s where you’re at right now, don’t be discouraged. It’s just part of the challenge.
2. Balance is dynamic.
“Life is like riding a bicycle,” Albert Einstein said. “In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving.” We’ve all experienced this. The slower you go, the more trouble it is to keep your bike up. Momentum helps us stay on course. It’s the same for all the corrections and adjustments we make along the way. Balance requires tweaking our schedule, task lists, and more. If you have it right one week, it still requires attention the next.
3. Balance is intentional.
Our bodies are programmed to stay upright, but it takes a bit more focus when it comes to the complex responsibilities and relationships that make up our lives. We have to make purposeful decisions and actions if we want balance. It’s not accidental. Those decisions and actions will look different for each of us, but they’re essential for all of us just the same.
Balance isn’t easy, fast, or always fun. It requires constant movement, constant attention. But at the end of the day – for the sake of your work, your family, your kids, and yourself – it’s something worth fighting for!
This article appeared in the Harvard Business Review and is deeply poignant in our distracted and fragmented world.
Suppose each time you ran low on an item in your kitchen – olive oil, bananas, napkins—your instinctive response was to drop everything and race to the store. How much time would you lose? How much money would you squander on gas? What would happen to your productivity?
We all recognize the inefficiency of this approach. And yet surprisingly, we often work in ways that are equally wasteful.
The reason we keep a shopping list and try to keep supermarket trips to a minimum is that it’s easy to see the cost of driving to the store every time we crave a bag of potato chips. What is less obvious to us, however, is the cognitive price we pay each time we drop everything and switch activities to satisfy a mental craving.
Shifting our attention from one task to another, as we do when we’re monitoring email while trying to read a report or craft a presentation, disrupts our concentration and saps our focus. Each time we return to our initial task, we use up valuable cognitive resources reorienting ourselves. And all those transitional costs add up. Research shows that when we are deeply engrossed in an activity, even minor distractions can have a profound effect. According to a University of California-Irvine study, regaining our initial momentum following an interruption can take, on average, upwards of 20 minutes.
Multitasking, as many studies have shown, is a myth. A more accurate account of what happens when we tell ourselves we’re multitasking is that we’re rapidly switching between activities, degrading our clarity and depleting our mental energy. And the consequences can be surprisingly serious . An experiment conducted at the University of London found that we lose as many as 10 IQ points when we allow our work to be interrupted by seemingly benign distractions like emails and text messages.
The trouble, of course, is that multitasking is enjoyable. It’s fun to indulge your curiosity. Who knows what that next email, tweet or text message holds in store? Finding out provides immediate gratification. In contrast, resisting distraction and staying on-task requires discipline and mental effort.
And yet each time we shift our focus, it’s as if we’re taking a trip to the store. Creativity expert Todd Henry calls it a “task-shifting penalty.” We pay a mental tax that diminishes our ability to produce high-level work.
So what are we to do?
One tactic is to change our environment to move temptation further away: shut down your email program or silence your phone. It’s a lot easier to stay on task when you’re not continuously fending off mental cravings. This approach doesn’t require going off the grid for a full day. Even as little as 30 minutes can have a major impact on your productivity.
The alternative, which most of us consider the norm, is the cognitive equivalent of dieting in a pastry shop. We can all muster the willpower to resist the temptations, but doing so comes with considerable costs to our limited supply of willpower.
Another worthwhile approach is to cluster similar activities together, keeping ramp-up time to a minimum. Instead of scattering phone calls, meetings, administrative work, and emails throughout your day, try grouping related tasks so that there are fewer transitions. Read reports, memos and articles one after another. Schedule meetings back-to-back. Keep a list of administrative tasks and do them all in a single weekly session. If possible, try limiting email to 2 or 3 predetermined times—for example 8:30, 12:00 and 4:30—instead of responding to them the moment they arrive.
In some jobs, multitasking is unavoidable. Some of us truly do need to stay connected to our clients, colleagues, and managers. Here, it’s worth noting that limiting disruptions is not an all or nothing proposition. Even small changes can make a big difference.
Remember: it’s up to you to protect your cognitive resources. The more you do to minimize task-switching over the course of the day, the more mental bandwidth you’ll have for activities that actually matter.
This is a letter I wrote to my firstborn son, Will, a few months after his arrival. Seeing as yesterday was Father’s Day, I though I would post it on my blog to try and express the emotions and feelings a dad feels towards his children.
On Thursday the 21st of July 2011 your mom’s and my world was forever changed.
You came into this world wide-awake and ready for action, and that has not changed since! Your name, meaning “strong-willed warrior”, fits you so well, and already I see such a courageous, strong and fighting spirit in you! From the minute you breathed your first breath you have stolen my heart, and I want you to know that, even though I won’t always get it right, I will never stop loving you.
You are flesh of my flesh and bone of my bone, and I truly do love you with every fibre of my being.
And so, little Will, my hope for you is that you will be strong. That you will have the strength to do what is right, the strength to be unique, the strength to say sorry and to forgive. But most of all, precious Will, I pray that your love will be strong. Your love for God, for your family, for your friends, and for the hurting people in this world.
My hope is that you will grow into a man with a will of his own. That you won’t hide who you are, but you will become a young man with your own unique thoughts and opinions, curious about those who are different but unshaken by those who do not understand you. I pray that you will discover what you are passionate about, what you love, what excites you – and that you will have the determination and discipline to work hard.
Finally, my hope is that you will be a warrior. That you will learn that there are right ways to fight. We pray that you will know what is worth fighting for, and what is not. William, may you become a man who stands up with humility, who has a courageous heart, and who pursues God’s purpose for your life with faith and trust.
My boy, your Mom and I are so excited to see what you do with your life. There will be so many things you will be able to do. But what will always matter more is who you are. Your character, your integrity, your love. These things are what really count.
There is a song that your mother and I have always loved, even before we knew you, but that captures our heart for you:
“You can leave, you can run, but ours will always be your home. If you have questions, we can talk through the night. And when you need it most I have a hundred reasons why I love you.”
Over the past few sundays our church has been running a series on family called “Fight Club”. Part one was all about fighting FOR your family, and part two was all about learning how to fight WITH your family – in a way that builds up instead of tearing down.
My wife, Jess, and I decided to tackle this one together, and shared some of our own struggles and points of conflict in our marriage, in the hope that our own vulnerability will give permission to others to be open and honest with their struggles as well. Our main point in the message was this:
Fight hard to keep your heart soft.
With three basic application points, which can be applied into any relationship:
1. Change your words, change your world.
2. Forget about fixing.
3. Pray for & pray with.
While being so vulnerable was not easy, we have been blown away by the response from so many people. People who too struggle with the same challenges and vices and insecurities. And so, having been asked by many to upload the talk, I have included a link to the talk here. May it bring healing and hope to others…
I recently read an article that convinced me that in the next five years a person will become a conglomerate of the people they hang out with. Perhaps you’ve heard this before?
You become over time the average of your five closest friends.
The article said that more important than food and exercise, more important than what we read or what we watch on television, our friends are the most influential force in determining the kind of people we will become. In other words, hang out with cynics and you’ll become a cynic. Hang out with cheaters and you’ll become one, too. On the other hand, hang out with people who are wise in relationships and you’ll soon find yourself a social ninja.
Friends love you at your worst and can help you be your best, but I think many of us don’t realise the importance of whom we choose to surround ourselves with and the impact that has on our lives.
Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future.
So what now? How do we handle our friendships in a way that will make the future brighter? Here are 3 basic ideas:
1. Take a Social Inventory
Recently I was thinking about this and I did an exercise which really has been quite significant for me. I took a large piece of paper and drew a circle in the middle. I put my name in the circle and then drew lines coming from the centre circle to create other circles in which I wrote the names of the people closest to me. Psychologists actually have a name for this – they call it the “social atom” – and claim it can help us determine our social health. Once I finished my social atom, I asked myself some tough questions:
- How many of these relationships can I realistically maintain?
- Which relationships are good for me, and which aren’t?
- Which relationships do I need to pursue for my own health and happiness?
- Which relationships do I feel God is nudging me to pursue?
I decided when spending my time, I would manage my relationships the same way I managed my diet or my finances – I’d start making smarter decisions.
Because the truth is relationships are all heading somewhere. They are alive and they are changing us. And if somebody doesn’t take the wheel and decide where the car is going and who’s in it, you’re risking your character and personality on “chance” that could cost you a meaningful life. When it comes to friendship, be intentional – don’t just wait for friends to fall into your lap. Pursue them. Surround yourself with friends who have the characteristics you’d like to develop in yourself. After all, your closest friends are who you’re becoming.
2. Be Present
Whether we like it or not, social media has redefined friendship. And more and more we have become obsessed with what people think of our online image. It’s not that Facebook or Twitter are bad things, it’s just that social media should always supplement relationships, not replace them.
So commit to developing your friendships face to face, not thumbs to thumbs.
Presence matters. There is power in physical presence. Comfort and compassion can only really be conveyed by physical presence. Of course, this is far more difficult and demanding, but it is also far more meaningful.
Being present means establishing a habit of availability to others – that is it is something we choose to do, and practice doing. So choose to be present.
3. Be Open
Being “open” can mean many things, but for me, in terms of approaching friendships, being open is about being vulnerable with those around you and telling people the truth behind what’s really going on in your life. Brené Brown, an expert on vulnerability, says that while “we may impress people with our strengths, we connect with people through our weaknesses.”
Being open means being brave enough to take off the mask and ask for help when you need it most.
A while ago I wrote a post about what I love (and don’t love) about CrossFit, and I took some serious heat for it. However, despite some of my reservations, I dived into the CrossFit world and recently competed in the 2014 “Open”. The Open is a global competition where everyone in the world is invited to compete in five workouts over five weeks, posting their scores online in real time. This year, almost 180,000 athletes competed in the Open! I was one of those, and here’s what I learnt:
1. Whatever your thoughts on CrossFit are, competing in the Open is a lot of fun.
2. I am a much more competitive person than I realised. And comparing your scores to others on the world stage is addictive.
3. Rich Froning is not human.
4. “Thrusters” suck. (If you don’t know what a thruster is, don’t find out!)
5. I am so grateful for my years of gymnastics training. Gymnastics gives you an incredible base of fitness, flexibility, strength, balance and agility, which helps in just about all other sports, including CrossFit.
6. Something about Dave Castro (the guy who designs the Open workouts) is not right. And by not right, I mean evil.
7. Whether you are an elite athlete, or just getting back in shape, setting yourself a challenge (whether that’s running a race, or competing in the Open) will stretch you, motivate you, and build your confidence.
8. I am capable of far more than I think I am. We all are.
9. The Reebok/CrossFit marketing monster is pretty ferocious. And very very clever.
10. Gymnasts are not heavy lifters.
11. Pushing pasts your limits and surviving makes you stronger. It’s the only way to grow.
12. The “cult” of CrossFit is alive and well, and to be honest, doing the Open workouts with others cheering you on is a real community experience.
13. Talking extensively about CrossFit to your wife is not cool. They get over your hour-long-workout-debriefs apparently. I learnt this the hard way.
I read this at Cafe Bloom and it resonated with me. It explains succinctly why so many post-moderns and hipsters are attracted to all things ‘vintage’, and drawn to that which lies outside the ‘mainstream’.
The term ‘Africa Time’ has been used in jest for years to refer to (and rip off) the relaxed approach to time in Africa – one that prioritises RELATIONSHIP and EXPERIENCE over revenue and productivity. Funny though, how this tradition is becoming a trend the world over as more and more weary Westerners turn ‘back’ to values and wellbeing.
Slow food, Slow design. Slow living.
It usually takes excess to turn us off something. In this case, the overdose is mass-produced perfection and slick consumerism.
Airtight, airbrushed, air-conditioned.
Having traded communities and tradition for corporations and technology in the name of progress and profit, we are now questioning the cost of this exchange and investing again in sustainable wellbeing and meaningful fulfilment.
Wholesome, homemade and authentic are now the valued currencies.
Slow design embraces craft artefacts, vernacular design, and generations of traditional evolution. And this is not the domain of Auntie Bertha and her blue-rinse brigade, but rather of young hip women – and men – seeking traditional skills and a sense of cultural heritage and tradition.
This move aims to meet the real needs of people, space, communities, and the environment. The need for sustainability is giving greater value to timeless design that endures – to antiques, custom-made pieces and hand-carved furniture. Slow design privileges the hand of the maker and celebrates the idiosyncrasies of things IMPERFECT, AGEING and ORGANIC as an antidote to slick stylised perfection.
Slow design… it’s about time.
“My day seems foggy until I fill out this form. I’m still amazed at how much it clears my thinking.”
What if problems like writers block and procrastination were less about your shortcomings and more about how you structure your work day?
Over the past few months I have begun practicing a new habit, and it has made a world of difference. I procrastinate less, am more creative, use my time more wisely, and come away from the day feeling far more satisfied.
Everyday, as soon as I arrive at my desk or open my laptop to begin work, I start by filling in a short and simple form. The form, called the “Storyline Productivity Schedule”, was designed by Donald Miller and others and is available here for free. It asks a number a straight-forward questions, and forces you to prioritise key projects for that day. However, there is one question on the form that, for me, is the game-changer. Here it is:
“If I could live today over again I’d…”
While it may seem like an innocuous question, the idea behind it was first proposed by Dr. Viktor Frankl, a Vienese psychologist who worked with depressed and suicidal patients. Asking them to consider “what they’d do differently the first time around” was a mental trick that allowed them to assess what was really important and learn from their past mistakes even before they made them.
This is the secret-sauce! I’ve found that asking myself this simple but profound question keeps me from getting caught up in trivial problems and allows me to focus more on what really matters. Most people wake up worried about all the stuff they have to get done, but if you think about what you’d do differently – if you pretend you’re living today over again – you’ll find yourself realising most of the stuff you worry about isn’t worth it, and instead add more relational elements into your life.
Asking yourself what you’d do differently if you were living today over again is one of the keys to living a more meaningful life and assessing priorities. I really am amazed at how well it works. Go on, give it a try.