The freak that is stopping you from having a great life!

Few people would ever reject the idea that that there is something odd, unconventional or unique about them. It is the pedestal upon which a sense of self-identity is built, and we go to great lengths to defend it, we believe in it, and we know it as our own, in all its weirdness and flaws.

But what if we have made our own pedestal too low?

Few people would ever reject the idea that that there is something odd, unconventional or unique about them. It is the pedestal upon which a sense of self-identity is built, and we go to great lengths to defend it, we believe in it, and we know it as our own, in all its weirdness and flaws.

But what if we have made our own pedestal too low?

What if we have made it just high enough so that we can indulge ourselves in our uniqueness, but low enough to prevent exposure to judgement?.

As teenagers go through their process of self discovery, for a brief time they are not afraid of making those pedestals as high as they can, but the onslaught of public -and often parental- opinion, the requirements to conform to ideals in order to allow career opportunities to flourish, media imagery and peer pressures generally mean that in most cases the level is rapidly reduced to a safe, comfortable height. It is lowered to the level at which you feel you are able to avoid any dangerous exposure, criticism and judgement.

But this comes with a huge price: we launch into life with every intention to remain ordinary.

Quite literally, we disappear into the vast ocean of average, where there is little judgement, criticism and opinion.

We hear story after story of regret from those around us who have abandoned their vision to instead live normal lives. We never hear regrets from those who dared to stand out.

Perhaps the music and entertainment industry is one place where the evidence of this is most visible, but it spans into every human endeavour.
Just imagine for a moment that in 1973 Paul, Gene, Ace and Peter stepped onto the stage without the makeup and outrageous costumes, the pyrotechnics. KISS found out very quickly in the late 90’s that the thing that made them special were their make-up, the outrageous costumes and the huge shows, not just the music. Not only do they love doing their thing 40 years on, today they are worth nearly half a billion dollars US.

Imagine Dr Spock without his unusual haircut, ears and dry logic. Imagine if Master Yoda spoke and looked like you or I, we would not buy into his mysticism, jedi wisdom and magnitude.

Imagine Ghandi without his ascetic lifestle and traditional garb. Imagine Jacques Custeau without his red beret, Sir David Attenborough without the raspy whispering narration, or Russell Brand without his irreverence.

But don’t mistake it for an appearance thing.

Its a being thing.

It’s how you are, how you do what you do.

You have a something inside you that you think of as freakish, odd, perhaps a little undesirable, and you are also completely attached to. Something that even though you have relinquished it publicly, it still defines your identity in some secret way. It is something that you will never relinquish within.

I encourage you to reclaim that inner outcast, to re-acquaint yourself with its weirdness, and to allow it once again to define you. Take that idea, possibly weakened by its time in exile, bathe it, feed it, and give it new clothes.

Allow it to speak, listen carefully to it, and side with it. Side with it in defiance of opinions, of criticism, of attacks no matter how vicious. Defend it with great self belief, not with malice or arrogance, and it will take you towards authenticity, towards integrity, towards living your life’s true purpose. Side with it as your pedestal rises above the average, and wear it with pride and dignity, it is your armour against mediocrity, it is your true self, it is you being someone’s hero.

Go on. You know you want to…!

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!

10 Ways to Win Back Your Mind.

This is the conclusion to this 4-part series on mindfulness. If you have missed any of the preceding posts, you can read them by clicking on the links at the end of this post.

So, now that you know that mindfulness is a powerfully good thing to practice, let’s get to it.

I have compiled a list of ten simple things that you can do starting at this very moment to begin developing a habit of mindfulness. Pick just one or two and DO IT at least once every day!

Like most things, these are simple enough, but few people will actually do them consistently.

I challenge you to be one of those few, and perhaps to share with me in a month or to me in a month or two if you have experienced any significant improvements in your life.

Before we dive right into mindfulness, I’d like to talk briefly about distractions. Many productivity gurus talk about removing distractions. Sure, it is helpful, but life is full of distractions that are outside of our control, so the only thing we can do about those is to learn to deliberately filter them out. If you can only focus when you are in a perfectly ordered and controlled environment, you have not mastered mindfulness, you have simply created a situation where distractions no longer exist, an environment in which mindlessness becomes difficult. But unfortunately the world in which we live is no such place. So we need to learn to master distractions, not avoid them. The first four items are all about mastering distractions and help you own your space. The rest actively engage a state of mindfulness.

1. Set task timers.

That sounds more like a productivity hack, but what I mean by that is that you set a three, five, or maximum fifteen minute timer in order to do an activity, and during that time your goal is to not allow any other activity to interfere. You are just doing that one thing, nothing else. For a brief period of time (keep it short – match it to the task if possible) give yourself permission to ignore everything else – the phone, email, anything that is not part of your immediate activity. Don’t make it an hour long, just enough to do a meaningful chunk of what needs to be done. If you finish sooner, great. If you go over time, so what, go until you reach the natural stop. The key here is brevity, and trying throughout that time to maintain deliberate awareness about what you are doing, and stop yourself from drifting into autopilot (aka mindlessness!)

2. Turn off all social meadia, TV and news.

Harsh? These rarely contribute something useful to our lives, and they are the ultimate weapon of mindlessness. Set times of the day that are specifically devoted to attending to those if you can’t live without them. Think about this: advertising works. Advertisers know exactly why it works: the moment that the subject matter of your thoughts is determined by someone else, you have “lost” your mind – quite literally –  they own your decision-making process because your story-telling part of the brain has been handed a script. Perhaps somewhat Orwellian, but a fact worth trillions of dollars in sales. Claim some ownership back, give yourself a little space to have your own real experience.

3. Do ONE thing at a time until done.

Nothing fosters mindlessness more than multi-tasking. If you need to interrupt, then break one activity to do another and then come back to it. Science has consistently demonstrated that doing two or more things at once is inefficient and increases the rate of errors exponentially. Finish the coffee or the sandwich, taste it, experience it. Then you can return to checking your email. whatever it is, see, feel, touch, smell, taste, engage, allow yourself to be involved.

4. Turn off your phone when attending meetings.

The fact that our phones have become our forever-ready personal assistant does no mean that we need to have them participate in every one of your human interactions. Besides being a gesture of disrespect by showing that we downgrading the importance of the person or group we are engaging with, it is also very hard to stay attentive when your phone blinks, twinkles, buzzes and fuzzes or suddenly starts singing “I was made for lovin’ you baby…” in the middle of a conversation. Give the people you are with your full undivided attention. Let your heart, your ears and your eyes be absorbed by nothing else than them and their story. Try to feel what they feel. Mindfulness causes your brain to become more empathic. Use this to your advantage, you will become more respected for it.

5. Focus on the food when eating.

We have forgotten to eat properly. This is one of those fundamental biological things that keep us alive, yet we treat it as a mechanical and indulgent anchor for other activities. When you eat, smell the aromas, feel the textures on your tongue, look at the colours on your plate, think about the ingredients, how they nourish. We forget that food is our number one medicine. Chose your foods wisely, and enjoy them, regardless of how humble and simple they are. No two foods taste and smell the same. No two foods nourish us in the same way. And besides water, virtually every mouthful that you eat whether plant or animal comes from something that was once alive. Be grateful, recognise its sacredness, and eat it with the respect it deserves.

6. Break your routine.

This is a both easy and fun way of creating a mindfulness-inducing situation. Take the opportunity to experience the difference with all your senses. Here are some ideas: take a different route to work, or perhaps public transport. Try something adventurous in your lunch-box. Buy at a different store. Set your alarm clock for a different time and get up earlier. Try a different breakfast. Dare to have a cold shower. Go for a walk in the rain. Since you have turned off  off facebook and TV, you will suddenly find time to read a book. Or chat with your family. Take your dog for a walk, and walk in the opposite direction.

7. Journal – and write by hand!.

Handwriting is a mindful activity in its own right – and one that engages our brain far more intensely than typing the same words on a keyboard – so when it comes to mindfulness, typing it does not qualify. Besides the act of writing by hand, reflecting on your day’s experiences is intensely satisfying. Once you begin, it is likely that a page or more will flow effortlessly. Other days just readying past days’ entires can be equally fulfilling. I am very passionate about my papers, pencils and fountain pen inks, but whatever you choose to use, let it be personal and special, and give yourself time and a space to make this special. Just doing this regularly will gradually raise your awareness and presence in all your life experiences.

8. Make TEA, and drink it.

Japanese have refined the act of preparing and sharing tea into one of the most iconic acts of mindfulness in its tea ceremonies. But all rituals aside, there is a simple chemical reason for this: Tea (the kind derived from the Camellia Sinensis, not herbal teas and infusions like rosehip, camomile and rooibos) contains a powerful combination of caffeine, flavonoids and antioxidants. Think this: the best medicinal properties of coffee, chocolate and red wine in that cup. Clear alertness, calm contentedness and healthy antioxidants all at once!. But rather than just jingling a bag in a cup of hot water and then tossing it in the bin, then letting your cuppa slowly go cold while you are back at your desk, take the time out to brew it, pause all things and drink it with all your senses as you would invest your senses into a glass of Penfolds Grange or your favourite single malt.

9. Listen to music  – while doing nothing else.

Really listen, not just have muzak/radio/spotify playing in the background. You don’t have to be a music expert, simply listen, observe how it makes you feel. I recommend instrumental, classical or good meditation music, mainly because music with lyrics can be a distraction. Not only does the act of listening help in clearing the mind of distracting thoughts, listening to music also wires up new connections between your left and right brain. You get smarter while relaxing!

10. Meditate.

This merits a post in its own right. But here is the really simple version: sit quietly, get comfortable. Observe your breath – don’t force it, simply observe. Feel the air entering your lungs, then pausing, then the exhaling. By the time you do this for a few breaths you will have an avalanche of thoughts tumbling through your head. That is normal. The work is in not engaging those thoughts, but keeping your attention on your breathing. As soon as your mind begins to wander, pay attention to your breath again. Do this for five to ten minutes, preferably every day, and ideally not when you are tired or about to go to bed. Meditation should not send you to sleep, it invigorates the mind. In the beginning this will be hard, don’t be discouraged by the seeming difficulty of ignoring your inner voice, but with a little practice and after two or three weeks you will begin to maintain your attention on your breath for longer, and will also be able to re-focus a lot quicker as soon as the distracting thoughts make themselves known.
If you have made it to number 10, congratulations, you may even have experienced mindfulness while reading!

If you wish to know more or have a question about mindfulness practice and meditation please post it in the comments sections and I will do my best to help out.

I hope you have enjoyed reading these posts. Here are the links to the first three parts in case you missed them. Share them, and all the best as you go about reclaiming your mind!

The Burden of the “Also Ran”.

“I am not out to win any trophies, I am just happy to do well”

It seems like a fair enough statement, I have heard it and said it many times before. For most of my life I never realized how much this had actually affected -and cost me- in my outcomes.

Embedded in that statement is the self-image of a non-winner.
That is not the same as a looser, it is simply a separation from the winner that instantly implies not being one of them.

In doing so we have ruled out the possibility of winning, whatever that may mean in any given circumstance. It creates a mental club of exclusivity around winners, a club that you are not a member of. We inadvertently opted not to be a champion, and that is a two-fold problem.

The first problem is, we have a duty to be a champion.  Somewhere someone is looking to us in search of a champion, looking to us with the hope that we may be the one they are looking for. It could be your partner, your kids, someone in your family, a friend, a work colleague. Even when we don’t need the victory, it is often those around us who need them.

The second problem is that the easy goals, the low-hanging fruit, those things that are ours to loose, will elude us. We will just fall short, and because we were not aiming to win, we will not even notice that we didn’t. We were expecting not to win, so we don’t feel we are in the wrong place when we don’t win. This is an attitude that cripples us right from the start.

Pause and consider this for a moment: How many instances can you think of where an aspiration has simply never become real because you just ran for the sake of running?
…Can you estimate what that may have cost you?
…What opportunities were lost as a result?
…What other ones did you never even get a shot at?

You don’t need to win. True. But doing so on the basis of a self image that makes a possible victory impossible? That is a big price to pay.

You don’t need to win, there is absolutely no obligation. But you need to engage with every intention to win, just so that it does not cease to be a possibility. Will you win? That depends on many things, but unless you have a self-image that is capable of winning, you will miss out on a great deal of life experiences, and you deny yourself and others the power of your great accomplishments, and the inspiration that they become.

Not ready, set… Go!

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese proverb.

I am sure that I am not the only person who frequently hears the umpteen variants of “Now is not a good time for me to take this on”, and I am certain that you too could write a list of 100 instances where you have heard – or uttered it yourself just in these first five months of 2014.

We are rarely ready.

At least not when it comes to mastery of a skill, a subject, the delivery of a product or service, or any kind of commitment that requires – we think – serious and considered evaluation.

But ultimately that is irrelevant!

I must confess, I have a tendency to labour something towards some futile level of perfection. However in many aspects of my life this obsession with perfecting ideas (and never launching them!) has cost me dearly. Sure, there are times – in particular with artistic creations – where refinement and being meticulous is important. But for most things that we undertake in life that we have a desire or a passion for we are already ahead of the pack in so many ways, it makes little or no difference. Being out there doing it is the only thing that matters.

I have learned that I will do OK, and you will probably do OK too.

What really stops us are never our technical or circumstantial hurdles.
It is our ATTITUDE.

When we commit to doing something that is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, daunting or downright scary, what is really going on is that we are willing to learn, to grow, to refine ourselves. We are raising OUR bar.

This willingness to learn is not time-locked, nor dependent on your current financial circumstances, how much time you have, how much disruption will result from it. That willingness to learn is the timeless key to the door of opportunity, and this key opens the door at any moment that you are prepared to receive the lesson.

You can wait until you have done all those things that you felt you needed to have sorted before commencing that next project. I guarantee that when that is done, you still won’t commit. Or you can launch into it, with its peculiarities, blunders and last minute-panic-patches, and be open to learn and course correct as you move forward. You can do it alone, or even better, do it with help (it will hurt a lot less that way!).

If you are willing to grow, then you are as ready now as you will ever be. If you are not open to learning, it does not matter how far you postpone it, you will never be ready enough to start.

Go write out the three most awesome things that you set out to do at the start of this year (and haven’t started yet), and put them into your calendar, starting now. Book yourself in to start. (remember you have already taken 5 months getting ready!).

Not ready? Set….. GO anyway!

Are you getting sucked in the cycle?

Economic cycle. Seasonal cycle. Property Cycle. Water Cycle.

There is a cycle for just about every bad situation out there, and because of it, it’s going to get better, right?

There are physical phenomena that are classified as cycles, such as the water cycle. But we can not simply assume that everything that has variations is a cycle.

Most things that we refer to as cycles are actually not cycles, they are generally fairly random variation that results from deliberate (and sometimes accidental) compensation in our activities. A genuine cycle is based on the constants of natural law.

The so called economic cycles and property cycles are perfect examples.

First of all, these are man-made phenomena. They are not founded on the same constants of natural law, in fact quite the opposite: they function in a unstable, and fairly fast (and randomly) evolving context. The only reason that situations have rectified is because of deliberate actions that have caused a trend to change. We can not assume that they will automatically change, there is no natural force such as gravity, evaporation and thermodynamics working on these.

This is bad news for experts who get paid to spruik cycles where there are none. But it is good for most other people. Because when there is not cycle determining what is about to happen tomorrow, we have a lot more control. We can deliberately influence the outcome. We write what happens next in the story.

False cycles rob us of hope. They rob us of hope that we can make a difference, that we have the capacity to effect change.

Don’t get sucked into the cycle. There is none. Turn of the news.

Instead go write your own next chapter just the way you want it…

Happy 30th! CPR for your NYR.

Congratulations!

Today your New Year’s Resolutions turns 30.

Hang on, what New Year’s Resolutions? Struggling to remember yours?

Perhaps some did not turn 30. Perhaps they tragically deceased sometime in the last 30 days, bullied out of existence by the relentlessness of every-day life. Erased from your schedule by other tasks that promoted themselves as more urgent. You know who those tasks are, the regular guys that owned your day last year.

All frivolity aside, this week is a good week to revisit your new year’s resolutions. You have travelled one twelfth of this year, and irrespective if your resolutions involved a one year time-frame or something longer-term, you may have experienced some victories, and certainly some defeats.

That is reassuring, and here is why:

  • If you have missed some gym sessions because some days 5 am was just not going to happen for you, be proud of all the other mornings that you did. Even if the 6-morning per week goal turned out to be only 3 mornings, but you managed to keep that up for the last four weeks.
  • If you fell short of your goal of adding ten new customers to your business, but you made those calls every day without fail, celebrate the fact that you have made progress.
  • If you started with 23 resolutions, and now you are only pursuing 5, but you have managed to keep yourself motivated on those fab five. Celebrate your uniqueness that you have managed to keep some alive. Most people don’t.

If you have some new years resolutions that have made it this far, irrespective of what condition they are in, you are on the right path.

Now is the time for clinical intervention, and in some cases CPR.

It is highly likely that the activity associated with your NYR is on the way to becoming a habit. You have already broken through the hardest part already and won many mental battles. From hereon forth the game is about persistence, and effort in the right places. So far it has been a solo journey. But if you want your NYR to survive February, you can not continue alone.

The next step is about rapid learning as we begin to fine-tune. After all, you want to establish a habit that gives the results that you are after. You need to establish a reliable reference point. If you are on a budget, read. Not obscure or populist blogs, but books. Books by respected authors and experts. If your budget is more flexible, participate in a relevant group program. If you want a result fast, get good one-on-one coaching.

Don’t let your NYR die of loneliness! Whichever you choose to do now, make sure you have your medic, your accountability buddy, your personal trainer standing by checking your pulse and correcting your moves, and you will have a fabulous 60th!

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.

Why you need to know the sound of one hand clapping.

To help the student zen monks attain enlightenment, the teacher gives each a riddle that can not be solved with conventional thinking. These riddle takes the form of thought-provoking and paradoxical anecdotes called Kōan. The famous expression “sound of one hand clapping” originated from such an anecdote and embodies the essence of the Kōan.

The Kōan is the key that gives you access to a different paradigm.

Virtually everyone is at some point stuck in a certain paradigm, it becomes our invisible fence. As we get older this fence naturally becomes more definite, taller, impenetrable. And there are absolute tell-tale signs that your thinking is trapped in a particular paradigm, like:

  • New situations that emerge present themselves as unsolvable problems.
  • Or, the only possible options are not really viable, practical or even realistic.
  • You experience an ongoing state of mental or emotional roadblock.
  • You can not see any obvious obstacles, but you may be aware of life as a constant, even repetitive and predictable experience, you are or feel stuck.

To every single one of us, one of two things are certain to occur:

  • an external change of circumstances may force you to shift the fences,

or…

  • you go out and deliberately move the fence yourself. In fact I suggest you knock it down.

 

But where is that fence? How can you find it? How can you even know it’s is there?

Back to our Kōan, to the sound of one hand clapping.

Find your Koan. Not in the true sense of the word, but find someone who can disrupt your thinking, Ask them questions, and then listen… Listen deeply, with the intent to discover the perceptions, the filters that they have that are different to yours, and rather than trying to understand them, imagine what your world would look like if you applied these perceptions and filters.

How does it differ from your version? What can you learn from that? What new possibilities appear? What can you apply?

Not only is this a fun and insightful thing to practice, it will unlock ideas in your head and you will experience some shifts. Even if these are subtle they cause transformations that yield powerful results.

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Why you must change the rules to advance.

Several years ago I was in a very unpleasant situation that had become a protracted problem with no practical end in sight. I was extremely frustrated, and stood to loose significant assets. I could see no way forward, I was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

On afternoon, as I was reviewing the situation with one of my closest friends who has a penchant for disruptive suggestions, he of course put forward the unthinkable proposition. 

I was furious, but he was right, and somehow I knew it.

First I collated all the reasons why that option was absolutely not viable. But little by little I stumbled over small gaps in my arguments, Instead of refuting the original proposition, I had inadvertently begun looking for ways around some of these secondary obstacles. Before I knew it I was making plans and soon the entire situation was resolved. What was more important was that I did so at complete peace with myself, and in absolute control of the process!

My friend’s precise words ring in my head to this day: “Have you thought about walking away from it all?”

The proposition itself is not that radical, but it forced me to rethink my priorities at the time. It forced me to challenge all the values that I had held on to during the conflict. Once I had literally freed myself from some of these constraints, a whole new set of possible solutions appeared.

When you are stuck or your options are so limited you can’t make progress, stop yourself and be that disruptive friend to yourself.

Ask “what is the most ridiculous, unimaginable proposition that you absolutely don’t want to consider ever under any circumstance?”

But wait, before you try to figure that out, ask why. Why is that proposition so unimaginably ridiculous?

I am certain you will discover at least one priority, one value that is not serving you, that is hindering you. I am not suggesting that you let go of ethical principles and integrity. Look for things like desire to own, control or influence situations, of gaining upper hand, of monetary gains. Look for things that you can afford to loose (even if it hurts!) but that will leave your integrity intact.

When you make the choice to omit that criteria from your problem-solving process, you will discover a vast menu of possible new ways forward.

Sure, there may be some pain, some loss, but like in my situation, the benefits far outweighed the temporary loses. And the whole process came with an unexpected benefit: it made me mentally stronger and gave me an incredible sense of achievement. It was not the result I was after, it was not even a result I had imagined. It was far better than anything I had thought possible. All because someone suggested I walk away from it all.

What is possible for you if you change the rules?

** 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. **