24 ridiculously simple things anyone can start today that will make this year extraordinary!.

Happy new Year 2015! 

As the smoke from the fireworks has dispersed, the ink on your New-Years-resolutions has dried, and you have already written off at least 8 items as unachievable, I would like to suggest a completely different way of launching into the new year. Remove yourself from those highly desirable, highly improbably and ultimately pesky resolutions. Instead start by reading this list of 24 ridiculously simple things which – if done, will transform your life.

But there is a catch. So read on…

  1. Eat leafy greens every day. Have a side salad (dress with olive oil and vinegar, not the bottled dressing stuff), put them in your sandwich, steam or stir-fry them into your dinner, or sautee them for your poached egg breakfast…
  2. Use butter and ghee instead of margarine and processed solidified oil-based spreads. Avoid anything that simply has the term vegetable oils on the label – its most likely palm oil.
  3. Have more sex. Be more physically affectionate in general. Hug your family members and close friends as often as possible. Physical contact is one of the most powerful “anti-depressants”.
  4. Stop criticising others. When you think of something you’d like to comment on, find something about that person that you can compliment them on instead. Say that instead.
  5. Smile at strangers, perhaps even go all out and say “Hi”. You will be an angel in their day.
  6. Stop drinking carbonated drinks, and instead drink more pure water and green teas – hot or cold but without the sugar. Stop doing all other things while you drink it. Don’t just guzzle it or let it go cold/warm, give yourself time to savour it.
  7. Only eat premium chocolates. Cocoa is a natural stimulant. It makes you feel happy and alert. Generally better quality chocolate has less sugar and more cocoa content, but like all things, don’t go overboard.
  8. Use stairs instead of lifts or escalators wherever you can.
  9. Cut down your TV time… or keep it turned off altogether. If that is too much then start by making a select list of programs to watch and turn off at the end – (don’t channel surf). You will have more time for items 3, 10, 16 and 17! Above all, don’t eat dinner or fall asleep in front of the TV.
  10. …and read good books instead.  To help you get started here is INC.’s list of 7 most thought-provoking books form 2014. If you also want to pay the benefit of this forward, read to your kids every day. Not only will  you quickly become their biggest hero and friend, you are helping their young brains develop in ways that will benefit them for the rest of their lives.
  11. Draw out a time-line for your future: go back 3 years (it may look frighteningly similar to today), go forward 5 years, then stop doing anything that does not help you with or is not a part of your 5 year plan. You will almost certainly find that you have less time than you thought you had, and that you absolutely can’t put it off to start sometime later! Do this soon!
  12. Work less hours. This will reveal many things, such as whether you are prioritizing effectively, delegating tasks when you should, taking on more than you can handle, simply doing busy stuff for the sake of it, or not being honest (with yourself) about your capacity to deliver. Putting a time limit on your work is the single best productivity hack bar none.
  13. Don’t take work home. Few other practices have the capacity to rapidly become as damaging a habit as this, wreaking havoc with your health, your family relationships, your self-esteem and your mojo. If this is expected in your job, then perhaps it is time to reconsider carefully if it is part of your long term plan as you mapped out in item 11.
  14. Only answer your mobile phone when you really need to. Keep work calls to work hours. Avoid taking calls when you are in a conversation (with only  a few exceptions) – it is the equivalent of saying to your friend that they what they are saying is not important enough to you. And the reverse applies, respect your colleagues personal time outside of work. If you want to go the extra mile, leave your mobile phone off for a day each week.
  15. Delete all social media apps from your smartphone. You will miss nothing, and live more. If you rely on social media feeds such as twitter, prune your “following” list to the ones that really matter, and allocate set time-slots to check it using hash-tag searches. For the ultimate selective info hack check out Tim Ferris’s post on using RSS feeds here.
  16. Meet new linked-in connections in person, – if geographically possible. Don’t do it to sell yourself to them, but to get to know them as people, not as an online profile. A huge virtual contact list is not a network.
  17. Learn something new that you have always wanted to learn. It may be a language, a musical instrument, an artistic or a technical skill, public speaking, rock-climbing…. Pick just one thing, and stick to it for the entire year.  30 minutes for 5 days each week will put you above average by the end of the year – Seriously! And if you are into meta-learning – check out Tim-Ferris’ website for all sorts of super-fast learning hacks – they work!.
  18. Drink less, drink better. Limit alcoholic drinks to one or two days per week, and for truly special occasions. And have nice stuff. Alcohol (together with sugary foods) are the one of the biggest contributors to weight gain that is never spoken about.
  19. Do something you absolutely love to do for at least 15 minutes every day (or longer if that is appropriate). I don’t mean zoning out on the x-box or watching an entire season box set of Glee, but actively engage in a constructive activity. It may be something that you have chosen to learn in item 17.
  20. Devote some time to help in your community once a month. It can be part of a formal activity, or just simply picking up litter you may find when walking at your local park. Your local council website is a good place to find out what you can get involved with.
  21. Don’t eat lunch at your work desk. Stop, go outside if you can, find a park or a place where you can be removed from your work environment.  Perhaps you may even start a group of people who go an sit somewhere together at lunch (and don’t talk about work!). You will return to work refreshed and more productive.
  22. Talk less, listen more. We learn little while speaking (except when we are practicing a new language).
  23. Be on time, even a little early. Few things show respect to others as much as the simple gesture of not leaving people waiting, and it also shows that you are a master of your time. This can be a real challenge and it is a difficult habit to master, but it pays big dividends.
  24. Meditate every day. Research in this area has already uncovered a profound benefits, but if this is a stretch for you, then just find a place and time each day when you can be by yourself in a quiet place. It can be a simple as sitting quietly in a park for 5 or so minutes, listening to the wind or birds, before eating your lunch, or perhaps after dinner.
Ok. You go this far, but seroiusly 24 things to change? Hard enough to stick to one or two!

So here is my challenge:

Pick two.

Just two that you will commit to doing throughout January.
You will have good days and not so good ones, you may falter here or there. Keep going!.
Oh, and don’t be clever and try 3, in February you get to choose two more and so on.

Hit like if you are up for the challenge, and post in the comments to declare yourself in the game. And since it is always easier to do this with someone else, share this and get a friend to participate along with you. No prizes for keeping it up, you will find that the results in 12 months wil be worth far more amazing and personal than any prize I could offer!

Rule-change! Whose game are you playing?

While playing snakes and ladders with one of our sons, he proceeded to define a set of game rules that were not striclty part of the game. So we played the game with that modified set of rules. Children master the art of imagination. Rarely do they participate in a game where they do not have a say in the rules. It is their game, and they make the rules.

As adults we become more strategic about this. We deliberately allow ourselves to comply with overarching sets of rules in business or personal life that generally position us favourably. But in doing so we also forego something, and the cost of this is not always obvious or immediately apparent. Ever so quietly compliance creates a mindset and culture of perpetuating, and eventually even protecting the status quo. Last week I explored this subject in my post “The most dangerous assumption ever”.

What we forego is a degree of control. Specifically, we forego that level of control which allows new possible outcomes to emerge.

As a design professional I was trained to question pretty well everything, but even that is no safeguard. After a while we become accustomed to challenging ourselves with the same questions.

So how we reclaim that imaginative rule inventing capacity that we had at age 5?

Begin by observing…

What is the underlying “game” in a particular transaction, interaction or relationship?

When we understand the game, the rules will gradually become apparent. And when we know them, we can literally begin to mess around with them, create new possibilities, and have fun doing it!

  • What are the rules that you have sub-conciously agreed to play by?
  • What other moves would be possible if you ignored those rules?
  • What happens if you took the rule and reversed it, or made it the opposite?
  • How are the rules impeding of helping your intentions?
  • And finally, what is possible you take a rule from another game and apply it here?

 

Cultivate this this skill, and in time you will inevitably find yourself ahead of the game…

You have too many options!

We live in a time where we take so many privileges for granted.

When we need anything, whether it is food, knowledge, technology or a simple creature comfort, it takes a laughable effort to source it, get it verified and get access to it. We can study anything we want, connect with almost anyone in the world, go anywhere, publish a book, sell anything, create an app…

I believe that this access to everything we ever wanted makes it that much harder to figure out what we really want, our main calling. I am not suggesting that you should only have one, I am certain however that if the question was sprung at you, you would probably be lost for any answer.

Lets go back just over 200 years ago, to the late 1700’s. Today when we may listen to “The Magic Flute” in awe at such work, forgetting that in many respects that the pursuit of a passion was also largely influenced by what was available to Mozart. His father was a music teacher and composer, and he learned what was effectively his family’s trade. Mozart’s only luck is that his options were limited, and aligned with his profound passion for music.

We however have options.

We have the options to choose career paths that may mean little to us, but that we embrace willingly under the illusion that it will provide somehow. Ironically we rarely see runaway success in someone who is pursuing a life of something that they didn’t really want. Sure, you may do well financially, but it never leads to happiness and fulfillment.

So how do we get clear on our calling? Here are two things you can do:

  • Look out for what you naturally gravitate towards doing. What are those little indulgences, the activities that we allow ourselves to be distracted by when we are meant to be doing the work? There you will find clues to your real passions, and there will be more than one. That’s Ok. They may change over time. That is also Ok.
  • Start to cull your options. Begin closing doors of what is possible and available for you if it is not aligned with your calling.

Ok, now that you have entertained that thought, you may discover that the only door left open is small, shabby, downright unappealing. Of course it is, you have neglected it for so long. But it is there, and it is the only door that can take you where you really wanted to go in the first place.

In six weeks you will probably be making some grandiose New Year’s Resolutions, I suggest you make it really simple for yourself. Just have one: to cease going in the wrong direction. It only happened because we have too many options.

The Magic of Change

Every morning shortly after sunrise we walk through a nearby park. It has a creek running through the middle, and every day we delight in something new. At the moment, eastern water-dragons (a l large dinosaur-like lizard) sun themselves on the banks. Only a few weeks ago we were picking some deliciously fresh bright red sun-warmed Brazilian Cherries from the tree. It has finished fruiting and now the huge mango trees are packed with hundreds of thumb-sized baby mangoes. Another tree has just dropped hundreds of fist-sized husks that have popped open into five-pointed stars. One year we collected those and painted them gold as decorations for Christmas gifts.

We have done this walk almost every morning for many years, and it is never the same. Herons, Cormorants, fish, snakes, addictive mulberry bushes… Dry, hot, wet, foggy, stormy…

We, even when we are reluctant to acknowledge it, are immersed in a state of constant change. Far beyond the seasons, which serve more as a reminder of time passed, we are also internally undergoing change. Everything that we are exposed to, by choice or otherwise, leaves a permanent mark upon which the next experience stands.

We have a culturally ingrained tendency to create stasis, to establish a “home base” that is certain and reliable. In doing so we have become scared, even unable to cope with change. Entire industries have flourished that serve no other purpose than to teach people how to deal with change. Global markets seek to create such stability too in order to operate with predictability.

As your day begins, you have two choices.

You can continue to strive towards stasis, and with it most likely experience some sort of disruption, and overall probably not much will be new. You can be fairly sure what you will get.

Or you can look for change. Not in a random way, instead look for a trend, a movement, a flow that is aligned with what you believe. Immerse yourself there, it is the only thing that has the potential to take you to amazing new places.

Before you know it, you will be in those magical transient moments that make our lives memorable.

** If you have enjoyed reading this you may also like some of my other posts, and register to join the conversation. Someone you know will be grateful to you for sharing this with them on your favourite social network. **

There is no fact without that feeling…

Expertise not sticking? Losing the argument, even with all your facts unambiguously right?

We see start-ups with innovative feature-loaded and superior products eclipsed by a more expensive, clumsy and less featured competitors.

We see electoral campaigns fought on truths, half-truths and blatant misinformation, and rarely does the person with the credentials, the integrity and the visionary leadership win.

We see a poorly prepared candidate with lesser credentials and experience beat a well prepared, highly experienced and better suited one to the position.

We see magnificent artworks that are true masterpieces loose awards to peculiar and not-quite-the-real-thing experiments.

We see solid and verified science effectively challenged with flawed arguments, fabricated evidence and flamboyant generalisations.

Why is that?

Its all about “the feeling”. Literally and figuratively.

We have evolved to be emotional beings first, and rational being second. In evolutionary terms, our rational part of the brain is a very recent addition, hence its name “neo-cortex” or literally “new layer”. If you had to wait to find out by evidence that some wild animal was going to devour you, your odds for survival were not so good. If instead you were fearful and watchful, and managed to escape the the grumpy hyenas, your chances were far better.

Emotion takes a higher priority in our minds than facts. This is true for all of us, no exceptions.

If you want your audience to engage with a fact, make them feel it, imagine it. Emotion is the bridge, the barge that takes a fact across the lake and to the shores of their mind. There, once landed, it can become theirs, relevant and meaningful, engaging. Without this emotional connection there is no message, no fact or truth that is powerful and compelling enough to ever get across. It will silently drown just metres from your shore.

For my pragmatic and scientific readers, I know that doing this will be really difficult, as it goes against the very factual foundation of scientific thought. Yet no-one can argue that emotion has lent power to politics and religion since time immemorial. And it will continue to do so. Every great speech, every successful advertising campaign, every powerful brand engages through emotion, not fact.

The more intense the emotion, the deeper the connection, and the more profound and lasting the conviction. Unfortunately, once the bridge is built, it does not really matter if what crosses is true or not, but it must always be consistent with the expectation, it must always rise upon the emotion. So do the right thing, always always be truthful. Be truthful in the feeling you convey. Be truthful with the facts that ride upon it.

Be felt if you want to be heard.

 

The future is NOT now!

“Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world.”

This week I had conversations that are so eloquently captured in this quote attributed to Arthur Schopenhauer. The conversations contrasted two very different mindsets.

One of these mindsets will take us forward. The other will not.

Let me begin with the latter one. These proponents suggested that the changes required to transform our energy industries could not possibly happen, as there was too much invested in the current framework. Statistics were quoted, physics and maths used to substantiate impossibility. Thus they also felt that further investment in the present technologies – although problematic – was appropriate. Whatever the outcomes, the expectations were being molded, shrunk, and sliced to fit into the present circumstances.

On a different subject, the other proponents were seeking to solve a series of design problems. The tone of this conversation was very different. There were few disagreements, as most of the discussion was founded on speculation. Even a rebuttal would be speculation. There were few facts in this conversation, and many “What ifs”. The present circumstances were only relevant as a starting point. There was not even the slightest indication that these circumstances were part of the final picture. In fact, it was understood that they could not, and must not, be part of the final picture.

When I think back the transformations that have taken place in the world since my childhood,

I know that even in my wildest imagination I can not conceive what my children’s world will look like to them in three or four decades.

In my most absurd moment of creative extravagance, I know that the very best I can come up with pales in comparison to what they will experience. I only ever felt this daunted when reading Asimov’s Foundation books, and pondering on the whole idea of imagining a world not one or two generations ahead, but thousands of years. 

We have nothing to be afraid of dreaming up some faraway goalposts for us to aim at from the present. The future is not now, we can not base our decisions for tomorrow only on what is possible today. Sure, common sense applies, but infuse it with some uncommon sense. We need to imagine what we want, not what we have, or even what is possible.

We can only dream. But we place that dream into one absolute certainty: Tomorrow something will be possible that was not possible today.

 

Practice makes you… Worse?!

Shakuhachi and Japanese Sheet Music
Shakuhachi and Japanese Sheet Music

We have all heard it – “practice makes perfect”. But does it?

A few years ago I decided to start playing a wonderful musical instrument called Shakuhachi – often also called Japanese Bamboo or Zen Flute. I found a teacher and started an amazing journey of learning far beyond what I had imagined. Since then I have learned so much more than just playing this beautiful instrument, I have learned about non-western composition, reading music in a completely foreign language and format, improved my pitch recognition, learned more about Zen, and refined my practice skills.

The most important factor enabling me to progress quickly was rigurous practice guided by a master. You are probably thinking that I stood barefoot in the snow for an hour every day for six years practicing just one single note, but I can not claim anything remotely this epic. By rigurous practice I mean that in spite of my clumsiness, my teacher always made sure that I was conscious of practicing the technique correctly. This was, is, and will always be challenging.

For everything we do there is a way of doing it that is easier, or comes more natural. We automatically tend to do this. So if we are not attentive, informed and willing to do it the right instead of the obvious way, we will simply become masters at doing things wrong.

So it is with everything that we do, the way we practice our life and business. We are all blessed with some of the worlds greatest instructors: from spiritual scriptures to more recent books from the likes of Emmerson, Napoleon Hill (one of my personal favourites), Lao-Tsu and Eckhart Tolle. The list is almost endless, but the lessons are remarkably consistent and simple. And it is not surprising that the people who put such advice to practice consistently out-succeed those who don’t.

Unless you can truthfully look yourself in the eyes (tip – use a mirror!) and can claim that without a shadow of doubt you have attained all the success that you have always aspired and imagined, then you must instead ask yourself what are you practicing? Have you become very good at doing the in-effective, the average or the easy? Have you refined skills of techniques that are known to yield poor results? Who is guiding you?

For the majority of the time, our practice makes us worse, and we all have been busy perfecting our mistakes. On top of this, history shows us that without some form of external accountability buddy, mentor or coach, we will continue to do so!.

To prevent this from happening, do these two things right now:

  • Review your practice of all activities that are not yielding the results you expected. Get ruthlessly honest with yourself. You can start this in your head – nobody else needs to know! But I recommend that you write a reminder note somewhere that you will see again.
  • Have the courage to ask for guidance. Find a trustworthy and credible teacher or master. Make a commitment to them so that they can help you.

Only the right practice can ever make you “perfect”.


** If you have enjoyed reading this you may also like some of my other posts, and register to join the conversation. Someone you know will be grateful to you for sharing this with them on your favourite social network. **

Practice makes you… Worse?!

We have all heard it – “practice makes perfect”. But does it?

A few years ago I decided to start playing a wonderful musical instrument called Shakuhachi – often also called Japanese Bamboo or Zen Flute. I found a teacher and started an amazing journey of learning far beyond what I had imagined. Since then I have learned so much more than just playing this beautiful instrument, I have learned about non-western composition, reading music in a completely foreign language and format, improved my pitch recognition, learned more about Zen, and refined my practice skills.

The most important factor enabling me to progress quickly was rigurous practice guided by a master. You are probably thinking that I stood barefoot in the snow for an hour every day for six years practicing just one single note, but I can not claim anything remotely this epic. By rigurous practice I mean that in spite of my clumsiness, my teacher always made sure that I was conscious of practicing the technique correctly. This was, is, and will always be challenging.

For everything we do there is a way of doing it that is easier, or comes more natural. We automatically tend to do this. So if we are not attentive, informed and willing to do it the right instead of the obvious way, we will simply become masters at doing things wrong.

So it is with everything that we do, the way we practice our life and business. We are all blessed with some of the worlds greatest instructors: from spiritual scriptures to more recent books from the likes of Emmerson, Napoleon Hill (one of my personal favourites), Lao-Tsu and Eckhart Tolle. The list is almost endless, but the lessons are remarkably consistent and simple. And it is not surprising that the people who put such advice to practice consistently out-succeed those who don’t.

Unless you can truthfully look yourself in the eyes (tip – use a mirror!) and can claim that without a shadow of doubt you have attained all the success that you have always aspired and imagined, then you must instead ask yourself what are you practicing? Have you become very good at doing the in-effective, the average or the easy? Have you refined skills of techniques that are known to yield poor results? Who is guiding you?

For the majority of the time, our practice makes us worse, and we all have been busy perfecting our mistakes. On top of this, history shows us that without some form of external accountability buddy, mentor or coach, we will continue to do so!.

To prevent this from happening, do these two things right now:

  • Review your practice of all activities that are not yielding the results you expected. Get ruthlessly honest with yourself. You can start this in your head – nobody else needs to know! But I recommend that you write a reminder note somewhere that you will see again.
  • Have the courage to ask for guidance. Find a trustworthy and credible teacher or master. Make a commitment to them so that they can help you.

Only the right practice can ever make you “perfect”.

** If you have enjoyed reading this you may also like some of my other posts, and register to join the conversation. Someone you know will be grateful to you for sharing this with them on your favourite social network. **

Start Pedaling – there is no such thing as balance!

For most of my life I have always sought to attain and live in a state of balance. For all my efforts, it still eludes me, and you may have found it elusive too.

 
Because there is no such thing as balance in its purest form. There is always change and movement.

 
The problem is that life is more like riding a bicycle: your level of control increases with your speed – (within reason of course, there is a range of optimal speeds!).
 
First of all, you need to move, you need to exert effort in order to advance.
And secondly, you need to have some idea where you are heading.
 
If either one of these is missing you will eventually succumb to gravity. This is not a matter of choice, it is only a matter of time.
 
In my two decades as a Architect, I have seen how entire associated industries have desperately attempted to stay in control while balancing in the same spot, at a terrible cost. While other industries have undergone profound transformations, we still do business like we did half a century ago. And unless we decide on a course, and begin pushing the pedals soon, there will be none left standing. It is only a matter of time.
 
And time is what we what we do no longer have much of. We must use our ability to solve complex problems, and solve our own problem quickly. We need to accept that we got it wrong, that we gave up pushing the pedals and are no longer moving forward.  We must now commit to rapid learning, and to a willingness to reinvent the profession completely. By that I do not mean we need to re-learn design, but instead to learn how to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world, to rediscover how our imagination can make a meaningful contribution.
 
Getting into motion will most likely hurt. There are no roads, not paradigms, no signposts, no case studies, no templates. It is our role to think up what is possible, what is desirable, and to bring that into being, for others to travel along safely. Standing still will almost certainly kill us.
 
Because when you are not moving, there is no such thing as balance.
 
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