Five things that will spoil your recipe for success (and a happy life)

There are about as many definitions of success as there are recipes for Bolognaise Sauce. Everyone has one, and everyone believes theirs is the original one.

But regardless of what your Bolognaise Sauce of Success recipe tastes like, there are some fundamentals that – if ignored, will sabotage the dish. Like the pasta recipe, I have no doubt that there are a thousand more, but here are my top 5, all equally important.

  • Never ever bite back. It does not matter what people do to you – it only ever matters what you do. Retaliation and revenge do not make a better world, the instant that you engage in it you create for someone else the same terrible experience that you just have had. It propagates. You want to make everyone’s experience of you a good one. You can never reverse what has happened, but you can do your part ot ensure noone else ever has to experience that from you. You will not instantly become wealthy, (in time you may!) but it will definitely make you more attractive. Compassion has a radiance that is unmatched by anything else.
  • Never take more than you give. Ok – wait a minute – isn’t that back to front? No it is not. I am not suggesting that you live above your means. I am suggesting that you should not haggle about opportunities to help others. When you offer a service give more value than what people pay you for. Genuine and meaningful value, not token stuff. Share your knowledge freely. Let’s face it – most people will have forgotten your grand idea the moment they leave the conversation. But they will walk away with trust and perhaps also inspiration. Always, always, always give more than you get.
  • Never forget to stop talking. Regardless what you have to say, it ceases to be interesting to others the instant that they can no longer contribute and share their thoughts. Besides, you learn only when you are listening. Shut up. Listen deeply – be open to learning. There are no exceptions. It took me a long time to learn and master this!
  • Never pretend to be who you are not. The real meaning of “Fake it till you make it” is not that you pretend to be someone else, but that you embody the successful version of yourself. You are unique. Become acquainted with your uniqueness, get comfortable with it, wear yourself with authenticity and  pride. Being genuine means being truthful (neither deprecating nor arrogant) to yourself, about yourself. Authenticity increases your self-confidence and makes you trustworthy to others.
  • Never berate, undervalue or underestimate yourself. This is a tough one and probably the one I personally have struggled with the most. It means that you know what is great about yourself, and that you never stop improving it. There will be moments – sometimes very long ones – where we doubt ourselves, our capacity, our wisdom, our expertise, so we downgrade. By no means should you cease to be  critical of yourself, but know your benchmark. You will need to look outside of yourself to define it. We all have a yardstick of excellence – if in doubt refer to it. Don’t guess!.-  Value yourself. When you know what you have to offer, you are in your strength, and will continue to be of service as long as you remain humble.

Each of these deserve a post all of their own, and over the coming months I will revisit these in more detail.

If you can think of something that you have experienced that is part of your Bolognaise Sauce of Success recipe, please send me a note – i’d love to hear from you.

The most dangerous assumption ever.

Assumptions are an inevitable necessity. We can never know everything that we need to know in order to do something. Most assumptions are useful , but there is one assumption that can destroy everything in an instant, and we are all guilty of making it, frequently.

It is the assumption that things won’t change.

“That is obvious” I hear you thinking. But without knowing anything about you I guarantee that you have many foundational aspects of your life pinned on this assumption.

How can you know?

Ask yourself this…

  • Have you ever felt that in your career you have “arrived” at the job that you wanted, a satisfactory level of remuneration or recognition that you can can be reasonably content with? Or at the very least, it is ok?.
  • Do you feel that you have found the right life companion and that you can feel settled in your relationships?
  • Do you have a good circle of friends whom you feel a grounded connection with?
  • Do you feel that you know “enough” to deal with most of what life is likely to put in front of you?

In corporate cultures that assumption is often whitewashed with strategic plans and grand projections, but in reality we all have a natural desire for continuity. We are biologically hard-wired for this. It is easy to spot (and see the consequences) when it happens at that large public scale: governments operating in complete disengagement from real shifts and changes that are selfevident to their constituents, or corporations that suddenly find themselves in rapid decline due to “unforeseen” events. The path of history -is and will continue to be- littered with both.

It is less evident on a personal level, as we are immersed in that assumption, and quite literally can’t often see it from where we are standing.

If you have answered “yes” to any of the above questions, then you too hare making decisions about your future on this assumption. Hold on to your hat, something is coming your way that you were not expecting. It’s bigger than you expect, sooner than you think.

If you answered “no” then you have opened another contentious door: the necessity for change. Again, most people are naturally averse to change – so it is not surprising that most people will seek refuge in the assumption that things won’t change.

How we engage with change is a complex subject, but in its simplest form, you can either actively ride along with it, or ignore it as it will happen anyway. If you  assume its certainty, and plan with this recognition, you can ride along with change and make deliberate adjustments that put you in an advantage over those who choose to ignore it.

What assumptions are you making about your future? Are your decisions based on an assumption of no change, or do you openly invite and capitalise on it?

Full Steam Ahead: Why You Have Everything You Need.

The new project. Today’s to-do list. Launching a new business. Finding a soul-mate. Changing careers. Whatever it is you wish to start, accomplish, create, finish or do, you have all you need. Right now. There is absolutely nothing in the way for you be in motion, wether this is to get started, to advance it, to finish it, to ship it.

I must admit, this was a hard lesson for me to grasp.

We must never confuse aspiration with necessity.

Yet we do.

Aspiration tells us where we want to go. Evidently we are not there, so in order to get there, we must first begin the journey. And any journey begins at the point where the decision to undertake it is made.

Necessity is the absolute minimum that we need to commence that journey. If you are reading this, there are very few things for which you do not have that absolute minimum, and everything else is within reach.

Provided that you do one important thing: take one next step.

Invest even just one minute writing down a list of things that you need to do in order to proceed with your project. Inevitably there will be things on that list that are not immediately possible or viable. And then there are other things that are absolutely doable, sometimes right at that very moment. That is your next step. Take it. It is not more complicated than that.

We complicate it by overlaying the aspirational circumstances over the present moment, and label it necessity.

                       And then……. we are stuck!

Throughout life we accumulate a magnificent toolkit of expertise, experience, wisdom and skills. Yet we rarely look into that toolkit. In fact I bet you are not even sure what tools are in yours, and you may not even be sure as to what some of those mysterious items can do. But in that toolkit is something that makes the next step possible.

Write that little list. Discover what is in your toolkit. Use it. In it is everything you need to take the next step. And with every new step you take, new things will appear in your toolkit.

You will need them……..

Later.

                        The ones you need now you already have.

The hardest thing that most never have the courage to do.

Justice.

It seems that this is one of the pivots of civilisation.

The scales that balance everything, impartially.

It moderates activites, it ensures appropriate behaviour, it provides a framework where righteousness bestows impunity, and wrongdoing elicits punishment. It is  the foundation of what we generally consider to be fair.

Of course it has some limitations and weaknesses that are most evident around big-picture economic and political matters, where conflicts of interests propagate into all sorts of absurd and outright inhumane propositions that are nevertheless are still strictly compliant. But in general terms we accept this principle as a given, and in most stable countries we are able to enjoy its benefits. It becomes an embedded part of our culture and our behavior and we apply it broadly and liberally to our lives. We like to be fair. We like others to be fair to us.

It is a profound expectation. And just as we expect fairness, we also expect that unfairness in whatever from should bring with it consequences. It is the foundation for all things from the business of remuneration for our knowledge, work or wares, all the way to religion. 

It makes life, and human transactions easy. Clear-cut. Even. Fair.

I am good to you, I expect you to be good to me, and as long as we all abide by this I can continue being good to you (and everybody will – or at least should be happy). We beat our chests with pride when we uphold this idea.

Natural law however does not work on fairness. Things are not even. We are not all equally happy.

We defend a small idea on the basis of righteousness against an unfair or unjust opponent, even as we laying waste to all that surrounds us, and yet we feel courageous because we have remained just and fair, stood the proverbial higher ground.

But there is something that takes a far greater courage, and it pays in ways that fairness can never pay. It creates wealth and happiness, it creates sanctuary, it revives, it renews, it is above the higher ground, – and oddly enough, it costs nothing!.

Compassion.

You may sigh tediously as you read this heavy word. But the simple fact is, you are probably not brave enough to truly practice it.
You see, in order to give it, you need to repeal all ideas of fairness. You have to reject justice. You have to forfeit your advantage. You have to silence all judgement. You have to smash the scales. You have to become partial. Partial to the “other”, the recipient of your compassion. You have to listen instead of speaking.

And compassion creates things that fairness can not.

It creates real trust.
      With trust comes sanctuary.
           With sanctuary comes healing.
                 With health comes inspiration.
                      With inspiration all things become possible.

Just pause for a moment an imagine what richness is possible when people are good to one another for no other reason than the belief that it is the right thing to do. I hope that with that thought you will find the courage to be compassionate where you could have been just, or fair, or right.

Our world is broken. Broken by too much fairness and justice. It can only be repaired with compassion.

Someone you meet today will need your compassion above all else, and will be grateful to you for it in ways that you can not imagine. Give it.

Shhhhhhh…..! No NEWS please.

Since becoming a parent I have noticed that I am more aware of the information that surrounds our space, particularly at home. We hear not just for ourselves, but also on behalf of our children, filtering and observing what meanings and interpretations are attributed to that information, or what effect it may have on their essentially fairly “new” brains.

We enjoy having mostly classical music on, but when the news comes on, I now temporarily mute the radio. This may appear extreme, so here is why we do it.

The first reason is that almost any news source provides a very warped experience of reality. The percentage of the population that actually experiences extreme events such as murder, accidental tragedies etc is a very small share of the population. The great majority of people aspire to live a normal and enjoyable life, be kind and compassionate to others and are mainly concerned about taking care of themselves and those close to them. Being offered a totality of news that is based almost exclusively around tragic events implies that nothing positive is occurring. In reality a lot more positive things are occurring every day than negative ones, we rarely hear about them.

The second reason is a phenomenon called “Normalisation”. It is a process that most often applied to deliberately “toughen up” people, in order to desensitize them to certain stimuli. When applied deliberately it can help prepare you for a specific situation. However through social media channels and news we are also exposed to “normalisation” unintentionally. This is a whole big subject on its own and merits exploring in separate post.

My main reason however is that news create mental noise.

Lots of it. In fact it creates the most noxious kind of noise.

Engaging noise.
Seductive noise.
Fearful noise.

A relentless noise that takes something very powerful away.

It takes away silence and fires up our inner conversation. It gives that voice a subject matter, mostly irrelevant to our own life (as most “news” is) and allows it to shout it over the top of our own intentions.

It takes away your presence of mind, and completely prevents you from being in a state of mindfulness.

It takes away your focus with futile preoccupation, and will forcibly wedge itself like a roadblock in between you and your goals, without fail.  

It takes away clarity, and muddles it with questions and foreign opinions.

It takes away creativity, by filling your blank page with assumptions and conclusions

I challenge to turn off the news. Radio, TV, www…. Allow yourself to be ignorant of the so called important events for a while (of course you can source your information elsewhere – from a deliberate and reliable source, and stick to what is actually relevant for you).

I can promise you that your days will become more productive, more purposeful, more accomplished, more fulfilling, and you will be aware of a lot more good around you. In fact you may be more inclined to cause some good around you too!.

 

Multiply your effectiveness with potency.

A few mornings ago, as I was starting my warm-up laps in the swimming pool, I felt I could have done with a few extra hours of sleep.

My arms were turning, my legs were kicking, my gaze was absently following the blue line on the pool floor. A few hundred metres into it and the thought that I had a solid three-quarters of an hour still ahead of me was well and truly deflating me. I was not “present”.

When you are submerged, you hear nothing but your own thoughts, and the repetitive muffled gurgling sounds of your body moving through the water. It is meditative in a way, and because of this I soon had dismantled my lethargic thoughts with the mental exploration of effectiveness versus potency.

The word Potency is defined as the capacity to influence, and it is most often used in heard in relation to medicine, biology and physics.

Often we are time-locked in our activities, we can not opt-out sooner, we can not avoid a particular process. When we are in this situation the only variable we can adjust is the intensity, the presence, the potency. A small increase in potency often can create a significant increase in results.

The time will pass..

You will arrive at the other end as you drift through the activity, the time will still pass.

You will arrive at the other end as you move through the activity with intention, the time will still pass.

When the time has passed, will you simply arrive, or will you arrive with a payload?. 

What is the best that you can get out of a given activity? In my case I promptly decided to “engage” with my training session, to be fully “present”. I did not do a personal best that day, but a simple almost insignificant shift in thinking, a marginal increase in effort turned an hour of uncommitted motion into a worthwhile training session.

Effectiveness means something works. Potency determines how great a result you will get from that work. When we are faced with an activity that perhaps is not avoidable, we can always increase our potency.

Either way you will pass the same point in time, but you will be heading in very different directions.

 

How to cross the chasm (and live to tell the tale)

The other side…

The world that we imagine, wish for, fantasize. If we could escape, that’s where we’d go.

  • It may be the sound of the sea, the splashing of the surf, a fluttering sail, the whirr of a fishing line.
  • It may be the smell of grass, the whack of the club on the ball and following its arc high across to the eighteenth hole.
  • It may be the crunch of snow beneath your skis.
  • It may be the voices and laughter of family and kids at a playground.
  • It may be the boarding call to your next destination.
  • It may be the completion of a humanitarian project.

You know there is “the other side”. You can see it from here. Others actually are there. You even know some of these “others”. The problem is you are not one of the “others”.

You are YOU.

The moment that we draw a comparison between ourselves and those who we believe to be on the other side, we assign a side to ourselves.

And inevitably it is the side we are on, not the other side. Its the side with the challenges, the side with the limitations, the side with the cash-flow problem, the side with the 9-to-5.

Drawing that comparison opens up a huge chasm.

This chasm is so wide, crossing it requires resources we do not have. And that is absolutely true!

This chasm is so deep, we can barely discern the fog down there that conceals unimaginable threats in its shadows (should we survive a fall).

This chasm is so overwhelming, that crossing it is lethal, a venture reserved exclusively for hero-like bravado, for the luckiest ones, the others.

This chasm is in your imagination.

You created it when you created “the others”.

The others on the other side did not see a chasm, they did not have a chasm, they simply walked. They did not consider themselves to be the others, they are who they are.

Closing that chasm requires a zen-like thinking: the dissolution of duality.

In order to dissolve it me must first recognise it.

When you acknowledge that you consider yourself as separate, you can deliberately cease to categorise yourself as separate. Of course you are special. But what differentiates all of us from another is our starting point. We all have this in common: From wherever it is that you are right now, whatever the circumstances, your resources, your time, you can go anywhere else. But in order to do that, you must close the chasm.
    Use the force, Luke.
        Un-imagine it.
            Whatever it takes. 

When there is no duality, there is no chasm. When there is no chasm, there is no fear. When there is no fear we can walk freely to wherever it is we wanted to go. And when you go wherever it is you want to go while being yourself, some will see you as the others. And from wherever it is you are looking, you will laugh and think “It’s just me, and if could do it, so can you”.

Of course this is easier said than done, but ultimately it is fear, not capability that keeps the chasm open. Only you can close it, and only you know if that what is on the other side is worth your effort.

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Timecounting 101: The True Price of Waiting.

15,000 Days.

That is the number of days most people spend in “working life” till retirement (assuming that you start a career in your early 20’s and retire in your early 60’s). Yes, that is not a typo: fifteen-thousand days. That’s it.

If you are not are reading this on your mobile device, go pick it up now, open the calculator app and type in your age. Multiply by 365. Read the result out aloud.
That’s roughly how many days you have already lived. 

When I did this a few years ago I found this exercise very unsettling.

  • The average life budget is somewhere around 27,000 days. Compare that to your number.
  • If you make it to 30,00 you are in very a small minority.
  • If you make it beyond that it won’t be by far, and you are an exception.

The problem with life is that we are not given a budget at birth. So, with a credit-card mentality, we spend liberally the most precious thing we have, as if there was time to do the meaningful stuff “later”. For a great part of the world’s people the precious available “now” is spent on totally worthless consumables: TV and “pulp” entertainment. Life is spent watching other people’s stories. Or it is spent in careers that fulfil other people’s expectations, not our own.

The problem is that “later” has a frightening price-tag. If your life right now is not the way you had intended, then the absolute worst thing you can do is stay on that track for another second!. It is quite simply put, your most expensive option, by far.

Why?

  1. It costs your time: You have one wallet, with an undisclosed limited amount of time in it. It is always less than you think. You must spend it, and can only spend it once.
  2. It costs you opportunities: while you wait to decide, someone else is taking the chance that you may have wished for.
  3. It costs you health: discontent and frustration deteriorate your health. The worse it gets the harder it is to recover and repair. Bad health also charges a hefty interest to your days credit, reducing the time you get.
  4. It costs you relationships: unhappy people propagate unhappiness, and the social cost of this is staggering. Time spent with bad company and mindless activities reduces the time available to spend with the people you care about most.
  5. It costs you money: For most, every dollar you earn is generated by “spending” your minutes. But while you can always multiply the dollars, you can NEVER multiply your minutes. It is a “spend once” commodity. There is no re-draw facility, no ATM where you can withdraw another 1000 days, no bank that can extend your limit. Real fulfilling success can not happen in this space.

I excel at procrastinating.

Most of us do, we are masters at it.

From small insignificant activities to big changes, we postpone with refined skill. We excuse ourselves with great eloquence: “just need to get a few things sorted, and then I will…”, or “now is not a good time…”.

But we know that later is always a WORSE time, as it is already reserved for a future activity, and we know those things will never get sorted UNTIL we make that change. It is easy to mask our lack of courage with justifications, but it does not stop the clock!.

Fortunately, we do not have to excuse ourselves, because we don’t have to embark on that daunting journey alone.  Most paths in life have been walked by someone before you, they are always willing to help, and have the tools you need.

Fortunately, no matter how many days you have used up, you can live amazingly, irrespective of how much is left in your time-wallet.

The important thing is not to postpone the decision to do so. Anyone can avoid paying the five great expenses of waiting.

One day – sooner than you think – you will draw your last time-penny out of your time wallet. Will you gasp with a knot in your throat and say “Wait…now is not the right time!” or will you look back, smile and say “Wow – what an awesome life I’ve had!”?

Today will be charged to your time credit. Spend it on “wait!” and it is wasted, spend it on “Awesome!” and you create a memorable legacy!.

[I enjoyed reading a book published early this year “20,00 Days and counting” by Robert D. Smith, which explores this subject in depth and is worthwhile and inspiring reading. I am however in no way affiliated with the author, there are many other books on this subject.] 

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“Stop, Look, Listen…” – for adults.

Last week we briefly explored how our brain prioritses through the reticular activating system, the importance of repetition, affirmation and the whole “Rah-rah”.

But that is only half the story, we need to know how to re-program it on the fly so that we can get a deliberate results instead of an accidental one.

What is your obsession?

Pause for a moment and think about this. What theme dominates your thinking?

  • Are you worried about not meeting a deadline?
  • Are you revisiting a proposal because perhaps it is not enough to secure the next client?
  • Are you anxiously expecting a bad phone call because your teenager is prone to cause trouble?
  • Do you anticipate a frosty arrival at home because you have been getting home so late your partner is already asleep – two months in a row?

This is where the fine line between success and default is drawn. Your reticular activator is scanning the environment for cues that provide validation to your process.

So then, what does “favourable” programming sound like?

Here are some examples of how to shortcut the process, and re-align our obsession:

  • You decide you will make that deadline – and begin pruning priorities in order to achieve that. Get the low hanging fruit into the basket fast.
  • You stop and evaluate your proposal from the clients perspective, and word it differently. Nothing else needs to change but the focus is on their real benefit.
  • You call your teenager, or leave a kind word on their snapchat feed without asking anything in return. Show you care, and mean it.
  • Think about your partner, and focus on the gratitude for the dinner waiting on the table needing no more than 2 minutes in the microwave. Leave a thank you note for the morning. Never take others for granted.

The circumstances in these situations have not changed. But our focus has, and it makes all the difference. It is easy to see how these absurdly simple shifts in our focus will have a very significant impact on our life.

We teach our kids: Stop, look and listen. And as adults we forget to do this ourselves!

Stop where we are going, just for a moment. Motion is there to take us towards our goal. If it does not, then stop.

Look at how you are perceiving the situation. Look for possible advantages you can tap into.

Listen to the validations that you are receiving. Are they helping you achieve your goal or are they signposts on the way to a disaster?

This simple mind process is often referred to as The Law of Attraction, only that we are not actually attracting anything. It should be called the Law of Focus, because we build our context based on the things that we deem important to our cause.  The “stuff” was always there. If that focus is on avoiding falling off a cliff, we are likely to forever hover along the edge. If however we are focused on getting to the top of the mountain, then at the very least we will end up on higher ground.
 

You go where your obsessions take you, so obsess about where you want to be taken.

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