The Essential Life

Two Habits That Will Change Your "Luck" Forever

Lucky Dice

Have you ever had one of those days that seemed to start off on the wrong foot? The day turns into a cascading waterfall of one unfortunate event after another. In the end, the best one can hope for is to get through the day, hoping that sleep will reset the clock.

I've definitely been there. Something as simple as waking up late has become a catalyst for a series of aggravating events the rest of the day.

From Misfortune to Fortune

For the longest time, the question I would ask was myself was,"Does misfortune create more misfortune?" It was hard for me to believe the answer could be "yes," but example after example both in my life and in the lives of others seemed to persuade me otherwise. The truth is that neither lucky or unlucky people exist--only people. In fact some of the most successful people in history began their rise to success through a life of disadvantage. Richard Branson's childhood is a perfect example marked by poor academic performance due to his dyslexia.

Living a life of disadvantage conditioned Branson to see obstacles as opportunities. In fact, Branson's Virgin Airlines arose from the ashes of an "unlucky" circumstance. His flight was canceled to Puerto Rico, and instead of following protocol, he purchased a chartered flight, divided the cost by the number of seats, and sold them at $39 a seat to the stranded passengers. The seed was planted for what now is known as Virgin Airlines.

What is unlucky for some, is lucky for the rest. The "luck ones" are lucky insofar as they view obstacles as opportunities, and in the midst of the opportunity, they detach from the emotional baggage of the misfortune.

Obstacles as Opportunities

At the heart of seeing obstacles as opportunities is our mindset. When our response to setbacks is, "Of course this would happen to me," we enter into the world of self-fulfilling prophecy. In only seven words, we strip any potential of growth that lie hidden in the obstacle, forcing ourselves to take on only the negative consequences of the obstacle, filtering out the opportunities. What if Richard Branson entered into self-pity rather than seizing the moment as an opportunity for a creative solution? He just might still be stranded in the airport today. How many of us never even get onto the tarmac of opportunities because of our self-defeating attitude?

Ruminating your "Luck" Away

Research on happiness and luck have exploded over the past two decades, and the result has been encouraging for many people who suffer from less than ideal emotional states. For instance, only until recently, the social and psychological sciences largely believed the brain could not be rewired. If trauma occurred as a child, the physiological and chemical effects of that trauma were assumed to be largely a permanent reality. Now, recent research has shown that the brain is much more malleable than originally perceived, and that rewiring is a real possibility. In other words, we have much more control over our own happiness than we once thought. Great news!

The same holds for "lucky" and "unlucky" people. Being lucky is much more in our control than originally perceived. For instance, a study examined key differences between unhappy and happy people. One of the most striking differences they discovered was that unlucky people ruminated on their negative experience, whereas happy people quickly detached themselves from the negative emotional state. In fact, they forced naturally happy people to think negatively about their negative experience and the result was happy people quickly turning into unhappy people.

The lesson is that when we ruminate on our negative experiences, we ruminate our "luck" away. With a simple change in perspective, we can easily become those "lucky people" we envy so much. After all, their luck largely comes from their ability to filter out the negative emotion, focusing, rather, on a question like, "What is the opportunity for me in this circumstance?"

The next time you're faced with the temptation to obsess on the unfortunate circumstance in your life, immediately stop what you are doing, and create mental space between the event itself and your response.

Examples of "mental space" activities may include:

  • Journal about three things you are thankful for today
  • Meditate and/or pray
  • Exercise for at least fifteen minutes.
  • Listen to calming instrumental music

Do NOT:

  • Watch TV
  • Check social media
  • Play video games
  • Eat (unless you are legitimately starving)
  • Listen to agitating music
  • Drink alcohol, smoke, or engage in any other artificially calming substances.

When you have created the adequate mental space, get out your journal and begin writing the answer to the question, "What is the opportunity for me in this circumstance?" Do not stop until you have been inspired on some level about the possibility of an opportunity awaiting you. Now, determine what is the "next step" to making this opportunity a reality.

Do not be afraid! If what you determined takes more than one step, turn it into a project in your task management system, outline as many steps as possible, and flag this project as a priority. Make daily progress!

Time to leave the gate and get on that tarmac! Good luck ... that is, if you believe in that stuff.

Question: When was the last time you said to yourself, "Of course this would happen to me." Look back at that circumstance now with the question, "What was the opportunity in that circumstance?" What changes when you ask this question?

Failing Greatly: How to Fail Upward, and Look Great Doing It

I was meeting with a student over coffee last summer when he proposed an interesting question: “If you could go back and tell your 18-year-old self something, what would you tell him?” “Great question,” I responded with no immediate response. Generously giving me a few minutes of silence to think about it, I came up with three things I would tell my 18-year-old self, nearly 20 years later: 1) Surround yourself with a group of great guys, meet with them regularly for support, and never stop this habit. 2) When dating, do NOT radically change your routine, but be steadfast in incorporating your new found love in your routine, and find time to saturate yourself in her routine. 3) Fail often and fail greatly! Surprisingly, with over a year separating my encounter with that student, I’m still satisfied with my answer. Of the three life lessons, the third has convicted me the most, and it is the one I would like to explain in greater detail.

Leaning Into Failure

To be honest, the first two answers came relatively quickly. The last one did not come until the end of our meeting together—almost as an afterthought. Looking back over my life, I see that it was my fear of failure that prevented me from building strong and committed male friendships, and it was my fear of failure that swept me off my feet in dating to the point where I would forego every previous passion and responsibility in the name of romance. The reason why I was so accommodating, easily to get a long with, and altogether malleable was because I did not want to lose the things I had. What I was telling myself was, “You do not deserve the things you currently have. Don’t screw this up by inserting yourself into the picture.” Of course I was going to avoid any chance of failure, because that would mean I inserted myself in the picture. How seductive this line of reasoning was. The end result? A conflation of two words: me and failure.

If only I could grab my 18-year-old self by the shoulders, shake him, and say, “Lean into failure! Realize that failure is the raw material of a life well lived. Anything else is a sham, a lie, and a pathway to regret. The quickest way to lose your life, is not to risk losing at life. Be courageous, be steadfast, and do NOT be afraid to be yourself.”

Thomas Edison Quote

Rehabilitating Failure

  • For failure to become attractive (or at least worthy of risking), it must be rehabilitated. Currently, our culture perceives failure as a manifestation of our true potential: failure means we have no potential, and that we are a fake. I believe this perception comes from a recent type of entertainment I would like to call “social voyeurism.” This is where we watch the successes and failures of people from afar, finding entertainment in someone else's drama. In essence, this is what reality TV is about. The problem is that we are perceiving an overly simplistic picture of the individuals on screen, and this provokes us to make insensible conclusions. We wrap these shallow perceptions with tag lines like, "What a loser," or “Once a failure, always a failure,” or “He/she was made for success.” Moments later, we begin comparing ourselves to the shallow images on screen, and thus the prison sentence begins. Such a sentencing enshrines a static and impermeable image of ourselves, ensuring our real possibilities are safely protected behind bars. We end up creating a self-fulfilling prophecy by molding ourselves into a much more limited human being than what we could have been.

  • Failure is the raw material of success. Without failure, we are blinded to the path of self-fulfillment. The more we can lean into failure, the more we will learn, the more we learn, the better equipped we are to make better decisions, and the better decisions we make, the closer we come to self-fulfillment. To be clear, failure is not the goal. Rather, our goal is to succeed with the understanding that failure is a critical component to success. Here are three ways we can better lean into failure, making our setbacks the linchpin to success.

Prepare to Fail (and Succeed)

  • What would it look like for your plans to achieve unprecedented overnight success? What would it look like for your plans to become a complete failure? There is no reason to be caught off guard by successes or failures. Make plans for both ahead of time. It isn’t unheard of for unexpected successes to become failures due to a lack of planning.
  • Reduce your opportunity costs as much as possible. In other words, start small. By starting small, you provide the opportunity for quicker course corrections. Learn from the many businesses who spent years working on the next big product, spending hundreds of millions of dollars only to hear crickets on release day. By then, it is simply too late. Start small, test the waters, and allow for quick iterations of feedback along the way (i.e.. friends, family, co-workers, test markets, etc.).
  • Create a tripwire to prevent unrecoverable loss. The last thing you want is for your failure to follow you for years-on-end. Rather than blindingly pushing ahead, set predetermined check points along the way. For instance, instead of going tens of thousands of dollars into student loan debt, you may decide not to entertain anymore than twenty five hundred dollars of debt per year. You decide that the financial remainder will be paid through scholarships, grants, and working a part time job. If the loan amount reaches twenty five hundred before the academic year ends, you immediately stop to evaluate the options available (i.e. look for a higher paying job, more grants, or scholarships, taking a semester off to build up a little nest egg, or evaluate the opportunity cost of taking on more debt).

Fail Greatly

  • With a plan in place, lean into the risk of failure. Rest with confidence that the plan you have in place will keep you from undo harm. Remember, when and if failure occurs, you have just brought yourself one giant step closer to success.

Fail Upward

  • Those who fail upward are the ones who continuously see setbacks as opportunities for growth. They lean into the learning experiences from failure.
  • Do not take failure personally, and remember that those who you admire most have failed there way to admiration status.
  • Unearth the veins of gold hidden in failure by growing from it. With serious analysis in place, determine whether it is time to pivot or persevere. If the majority of information points to moving forward, then persevere. Michael Jordan is a hallmark example of perseverance. Not making varsity as a sophomore in high school, rather than quitting altogether, Jordan persevered to become the greatest NBA player in history. On the other hand, the creators of the widely popular communication tool Slack is an example of pivoting. Initially trying to achieve financial stardom through the creation of a video game called Glitch, they created their own internal communication tool to help them collaborate better. The video game was a complete failure, but what they ended up unintentionally creating was a new one billion dollar business through their communication tool, Slack. Talk about a successful pivot!

Rinse and Repeat

Don’t stop now. Keep going and don’t quit. Realize the gift of failure, plan accordingly, lean into setbacks, and when and if you fail, fail upward! See you on the cover of Forbes.

Facing Our Greatest Fear For the Sake of Happiness

We have come a long way in this series. We have addressed the energy drains in our life, removed the unnecessary responsibilities, addressed the mental games that prevent us from taking risks, and created some outstanding goals for ourselves to keep us aligned on what is most important in our lives.

One caveat remains: in the end, we are our own greatest adversary. Excluding rare and unfortunate circumstances, we must realize that the buck stops with us when it comes to the life we choose to live. We may want to blame it on our parents, spouse, friends, community, or government, but in the end, the decision to thrive and not just survive life is solely ours. The great news is that not only can we be our own greatest adversary, we can also be our own greatest advocate. This requires us to face those demons in our closet that prevent us from taking risks. We spoke about this briefly earlier when we addressed the mindsets that can either propel or prevent us from living the life we have dreamed of living. Another large obstacle getting in the way of living the essential life is our fear of mortality.

Embracing Our Mortality

We either busy ourselves with mundane tasks or plug ourselves into some device to prevent thinking about things we do not want to consider. With the time being consumed by these two activities, we rationalize in our mind that we do not have time to take risks as we are already too busy (think about the self administered shock study in the previous blog). We end up choosing the comfort of the safe harbor which keeps us in survival mode rather than entering the stormy seas of fulfillment which propels us toward risk. Risk always reminds us, in one way or another, of our mortality and of our disappointment with of the life we have lived up to this point in the face of our mortality.

Not only might we choose the safe and unfulfilling life over that which forces us to consider our mortality, we will often make poor decisions in the attempt to keep from awakening consciousness of the reality of our mortality. The result is psychological and emotional suicide.

Fearing our mortality is a poor excuse for not living a full life. It in fact ushers the very death sentence we set out to escape, but through a different (and much more visceral) way than originally feared. By embracing our mortality (not in some kind of morbid way) in a way that helps us understand that life is a gift and this gift has been granted to us with a purpose (see my blog on the Ordered Life for more insight), it frees us from the burden of feeling like we must control every element of our lives for the sake of survival. By realigning our focus on life as a gift that is meant to be shared, we then have purpose. With purpose comes meaning, and with meaning we have the foundation for a fulfilling life.

Now is the time to begin living a life that focuses only on that which is essential, stripping away as many mundane responsibilities as possible, making room for the creative genius you are and for the experiences that await you with family and friends. Good luck and don’t hesitate to contact me for any reason as I’m here to help!

Next up, once we have our goals set out and we have a clear path, how do we keep on this narrow path without the distractions of the hundreds of mundane responsibilities that do need our attention. We are now venturing into the organized life…next Wednesday.

What is one thing you might be holding onto that is outside of your control (i.e. fear of failure, fear of success, fear of disease, happiness of your child, etc.) and what is one thing you can do today to let go of that thing, realigning your energy to what is in your control (i.e. living a more disciplined life at work, exercising and eating right, determining how to teach your child what it means to be trustworthy, honest and faithful)?

Keeping Your "I" On The Prize: How To Follow Your Heart

Often times we are too busy to be aware of the stirring of our own hearts directing us toward a particular course of action which will provide us joy. Being free of the "energy drains" and unnecessary commitments in our lives, we now have the best opportunity to understand what is moving us toward a particular direction. Then and only then are we able to take concrete steps toward achieving that which we desire. This action is the process by which we establish goals for ourselves.

Why do some of our greatest ideas come at unexpected times, like when we are in the middle of the shower or trying to fall asleep? Truthfully, these are not unexpected times at all but rather the very environment the brain needs to be creative.

When we are hard at work on something, we try to maintain diligent focus on the task at hand. During these time, our brain activates the attention filter which automatically filters all unimportant data for the sake of efficiency. While this is good for process oriented tasks, it is terrible for creativity. It is the day dreaming mode that disengages the attention filter, allowing the brain to see some of the most seemingly disparate ideas, creatively bringing them together in new ways. This is why many of our greatest ideas come under strange circumstances.

The Pursuit of Creativity Through Solitude

The pursuit of the essential life is about mining the world within so we can most fruitfully and joyfully engage the world “without.” To do so, we need to create a proper environment so the world we have seen, heard, tasted, touched and smelled may become the raw material for new creative endeavors.

If we are out to embrace engaging and inspiring goals for ourselves, we must make adequate room for intentional times of solitude. We need regular times of reflection to observe how well we have utilized the past days, weeks or months for the important things in our lives. Understanding these circumstances, that created for a less than ideal engagement, provides concrete resolutions to prevent such lapses next time. I highly recommend weekly thirty minute reviews along with one full day retreat per six months to do a larger self-inventory review with the intention of providing a framework for the next six months.

One caution about these times of solitude: disengage from everything you possibly can during this time. This means no smart phones, social media, online access, books or anything else. If you have the opportunity to break from a time of solitude, chances are you will take it. Don’t believe me? A study was done to determine how much enjoyment people received from being left alone with nothing to do. In these 11 studies, participants were asked to sit in an unadorned room from 6 to 15 minutes with nothing but their thoughts to entertain them. Unsurprisingly, when interviewed after the time of “self-reflection” it was a nearly unanimous opinion that the participants preferred doing something rather than sitting doing nothing.

One particular modification of this study, however, had some alarming results though. When given the choice to sit alone with only one’s thoughts or have the option to self-administer electrical shocks, the majority of the participants ended up choosing the electrical shock over being left alone. So, let’s re-address that self-confidence of which we spoke earlier about having your smart phone right next to you “just for emergencies” but vowing never to use it. I’m pretty sure it is much more appealing than self-administered shocks. So, put it away!

Now that we have set the time apart to review our life in both small and larger increments, it is time to engage the world of goal making. As Zig Zigler famously said, “If you aim at nothing, you will hit it every time.” If we do not want our lives to amount to “nothing,” then we need to stop aiming at “nothing.”

So, what are your goals for the next week, month, and year? Don’t know where to begin? Here are four steps to create incredible, inspiring goals:

Brain Storm

Let’s pretend that you received a phone call from an attorney who represents your long lost uncle. He informs you that your uncle has passed away and has left to you ten million dollars. You hang up the phone in pure shock and excitement. Moments later, you receive yet another phone call, but this time it is from your doctor. That test you had done came back positive and unfortunately the news isn’t good; you have only ten years to live. How would you realign your life? What would you do? Spend a few hours thinking and journaling about all the things you would do. This can quickly become the raw material for some great goals in your own life.

Narrow your Options

As you begin to engage creatively with the scenario above, you may begin to see some common threads in your new life decisions. This may result in a number of different possible paths. Now, step out of the scenario and engage the 10-10-10 rule to narrow some of your options. For each idea that may come to mind both from the exercise above and any additional potential personal goals you have considered, examine each potential direction through this lens: how would you feel if you chose that path? How would you feel ten minutes from the moment you committed to that goal? How about ten months from now, and then ten years from now? Does the enthusiasm increase over time, decrease over time, or do you feel neutral? This will help prioritize your goals.

Playing it SMART

Now it is time to begin forming goals with some teeth. For instance, as you thought through the inheritance scenario, you may have realized that you really wanted to make these last ten years count, and more than anything you want to be as active as possible to keep up with every moment of your children’s lives. So, you form the goal to be as healthy as possible. Great goal; but it doesn’t have any teeth. As the goal stands, no way exists to verify or measure whether you are making good strides toward your goal, or whether you even met the goal. How do you measure “healthy as possible”? You can’t. To create a SMART goal, it must be Specific, Measurable, Appropriate, Realistic, and Timely (thus, the acronym SMART). The goal above is not specific enough nor does it specify a concrete action by which to reach your goal. The goal fails on the measurement scale without a way to measure success. As for appropriateness, there is not enough context to see whether it is an appropriate goal. A possible inappropriate goal would be someone who desires to summit Everest by next summer which is both specific and measurable. However, since he is a family man with many children to care for, it may not be appropriate. The last two indicators of a great goal are that a goal must be both realistic and timely. A realistic goal means, can it actually be done? For example, you decided to take up the sport of running for the first time, and with enthusiasm out pacing any realism, you decide to sign up for an ultra marathon for your first run, scheduled for six months from now. This is most likely not a realistic goal. Finally, while your goal may be specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic, it may not be timely. For instance, your goal is to launch a landing page on your website for your new business. It is currently January 1st and you have set the goal to launch your site on March 1st. All sounds good; the problem is that you are a CPA and this is the busiest season of the year. This is probably not the right time to set this goal and would be better suited for after April. Returning to the desire to be the healthiest you can be, a SMART goal would be to lose twenty pounds by that big Maui vacation on September 10th. You have a due date and have a way to concretely measure you progress along the way.

Organizing Your Goals

Now that you have your list of fun, inspiring and challenging personal and/or work goals, it is now time to group them according to roles or areas of responsibility. These could include health, family, marriage, recreation, career, work, community, spiritual life, education, relationships, etc. This is an important step that will make the final step much easier.

The One Thing

While it would be perfectly fine to stop at the organization stage and begin achieving as many goals as possible, it is not the most efficient way to begin. It can also be very overwhelming if you are looking at five or six areas of responsibility, each with many goals. The final level is to synthesize (if possible) and simplify. As you look at the goals for each area of responsibility, ask the question: “What is the one thing/goal that would make every other thing/goal in this area of responsibility either unnecessary or significantly less burdensome.” The answer may be a particular goal already in the list or a new one that synthesizes the others to some degree. For instance, I may be dealing with the threat of high cholesterol, dealing with being overweight, lacking energy to spend time with my children and feeling exceptionally stressed. Becoming healthy seems like a daunting task as there are so many fronts to fight. However, the one thing that might just make all these problems go away or significantly less stressful is to have a dedicated exercise regimen where I exercise five times a week by running for thirty minutes a day. Such an activity is proven to reduce stress, give more energy, helps in weight lose, and can lower cholesterol. What about the other stuff? Are we simply supposed to ignore all the other responsibilities of life that are outside our goals? Absolutely not! Our focus should always first be to tackle first our primary goals each day, but we should always reserve time to address our other responsibilities. To remain focused, split the remaining tasks responsibly into tasks that may be delegated to someone else, deferred to a later date, or set them aside if we find them ultimately unnecessary. If only it was as easy to create goals, with the disciplined life, and to fulfill those goals automatically. Unfortunately, a number of things can impede even our most motivated and inspired efforts. Next week, we will look at a surprisingly insidious fear that prevents many of us from following through with our goals and thus living a more essential life. See you next Wednesday!

What inspiring goals have you set out to accomplish this month and year?

Saying No is Actually Saying Yes

The leader of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis, said in his most recent encyclical, “We are speaking of an attitude of the heart, one which approaches life with serene attentiveness, which is capable of being fully present to someone without thinking of what comes next, which accepts each moment as a gift from God to be lived to the full” (Laudato Si, paragraph 226).

Even if we somehow became psychological and emotional Akido black belts, who use the momentum and energy of the external world to gain advantage and preserve their own energy, we may still have the problem of overly committing to responsibilities. Rather than living a life Pope Francis beautifully articulates the notion of being fully present to someone. Rather, we instead treat many, if not most, of our encounters with other people as simple transitionary moments. We often times see the spontaneous or even planned times with friends, family and co-workers as “necessary evils” to maintain these relationships. But ultimately these engagements impede our ability to stay on point with our committed tasks. The result is that we are rarely fully present in the most important moments of our live; those moments in which we may encounter true happiness. To be clear, I don’t think anyone would call relationships “necessary evils” but practically speaking most of us act that way out of the felt pressures of many obligations and responsibilities.

To gain knowledge, add something everyday and to gain wisdom subtract something everyday.
— Essentialism by Greg McKeown

If we are going to live a more essential life, we must leave the undisciplined life of more for the disciplined life of less. The response “busy” to the question “how are you?” must no longer be considered a badge of honor, but rather a sign of a life well-wasted. However, just saying no to additional commitments may sound like a too easy solution, and to some degree, it is.

MOre Is Less...Much, Much Less

One of the cultural problems we face is the unprecedented level of options. I absolutely hate shopping for jeans anymore because it is simply too complicated. Do I want the skinny jeans (no way in hell), relaxed jeans (more like tourniquet jeans for me), boot cut or any other type of cut I’m unaware of or have no clue about? Making a choice about anything today is sheer exhaustion.

If that wasn’t bad enough, we do more for ourselves than we did even fifty years ago. Just a couple decades ago a travel agent would handle most of our travel needs for us. Now we handle it ourselves. There was a time when we went to the doctor for information about our condition, not to confirm our own self-diagnosis. The list could go on and on with responsibilities previously given to others and now handled solely by the consumer. Life is much more complicated than it was fifty years ago.

This is all the more reason to begin learning how to say no. If we are going to begin living an essential life, our no’s must be 2 to 4 times more than our yes’s. Again, this is not about shirking responsibility in the name of “essentialism,” but rather the call to live a more disciplined life for the sake of what is truly important (i.e. friends, family, relationships, dreams, etc.). Remember saying no is actually saying yes; saying yes to the need to give your full attention to matters of greater importance.

What can you say no to this week that you were anticipating saying yes to until you read this blog?

Congrats on freeing yourself from that undisciplined life of more! Next week we will pursue the disciplined life of less be defining the “less” in your life that is truly worthy of pursuit. Don’t know what it is yet? That’s totally okay because this is what I’m here for. Have an awesome week. See you next Wednesday!

The Greatest American Lie Ever Told That Keeps You From Happiness

I can’t tell you the number of times I would excuse myself from working out in the morning, swearing oaths that I would hit the gym after work. I’m sure you know what happened, every time: The postponement of exercise until the end of the day results in yet another day of no exercise — a widespread phenomenon. The problem is not that we ceaselessly have unforeseen higher priorities at 5pm. It is not so much a priority problem as it is a will power problem.

Generally speaking, each morning we awake with a finite supply of will power, and when that “bucket o’ will power” is gone, it becomes exceptionally difficult to make any decisions that do not provide immediate satisfaction or that do not offer us a path of least resistance. Myriad are the times I have explained this fact to clients and seen shock on their faces.

The Greatest American Life Ever Told Is...

One of the greatest American lies ever told to the public is that will power is a static reality that simply requires strength to maintain. Some of the most significant American disasters can be linked to the lack of concentration (will power) due to sleep deprivation (eg. Three Mile Island, The Challenger Explosion, The Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, American Airlines Flight 1420 Crash). The average adult needs between six and ten hours of sleep a night and that number is determined by nature, not nurture. Some adults are able to live with six hours quite well and others need ten. Science has shown that we do not have the capacity to change our number without sacrificing our mental and physical health. If we want to harness the greatest amount of will power for the things in our life that matter most, we need to take a strong look at the energy wasters in our lives and renounce them with something of religious zeal.

The most common energy wasters include:

Sleep Deprivation

Research has shown that if we fall below six hours of sleep even for one night, our mental and physical energy is compromised. If that isn’t bad enough, just one night of a sub-six hour night takes weeks of six plus hour nights to recover from the loss of that one bad night. This contradicts the common perception that by sleeping more the next night, everything will be fine.

To obtain the energy we need to live life to it’s fullest, we must be grounded in routinely getting adequate sleep. Staying up late to “get more done” defeats the purpose it sets out to do. The first step to living an essential life is to regularly get adequate sleep.

Bad Habits

If will power is limited, habit formation can be our greatest advocate or greatest assassin. Can you imagine a life without habits? Every step we would make would require great focus, and every breath would have to be an activity of great concentration. In the end, we would have no energy left to do anything else but survive.

Thankfully, that is not the case. Cultivating good habits is foundational for in essential life in that it frees us to use our mind for “higher functioning” realities. Rather than allocating the majority of our energy toward getting ourselves to the gym or saying no to that doughnut (or second doughnut) we can use our reallocated energy toward being there for a friend in need, or developing a skill we have always wanted to develop but for which we’ve never had the energy. Ridding ourselves of the bad habits in our life is paramount. The good news is that it only takes one new good habit for groundbreaking improvement.

  • If you had to develop one good habit over the course of the next ninety-days, what would it be?

Mindset

One of the most insidious and toxic bad habits can be routed in our mindset. Mindset is the pigeonhole into which we place ourselves into when it comes to identity formation.

Dr. Carol Dweck, professor of Psychology at Stanford University, has spent decades researching achievement and success. In her study, she concludes there are two fundamental mindsets by which we approach any potential for achievement and success: fixed and growth. The growth mindset is grounded in the belief that adversity and failure are simply opportunities for self-growth. The fixed mindset, however, deems adversity and failure as a threat to one’s own identity. The result is often a life lived in an emotional (and even physical) bunker, fending off anything that may expose or reject one’s own image. This image is considered static so any failure would expose the constructed image as being false. Typically, the threat is too unbearable so any opportunity that includes risk would be quickly dismissed.

The energy drain from a fixed mindset mentality is obvious. Spending large amounts of one’s own life defending an identity is exhausting. This may come in the form of constant people-pleasing at the expense of self-expression, constantly worrying about everything that does not meet one’s own expectations, and never feeling truly satisfied with anything due to the continuous pressure to invest immense amounts of energy in chasing the illusory belief of the perfect thing, experience and/or relationship.

We can begin to change our mindset simply by shifting our vocabulary. Instead of calling someone smart, beautiful, or athletic which are fixed adjectives, we can choose more growth mindset words like telling someone they must work very hard for such great grades, or train night and day to be the athlete they are, or must take very good care of themselves by proper nutrition and a rigid workout regimen. These descriptors place the control of own’s own identity firmly within the person being identified.

  • How might you begin to look at yourself with a more growth minded perspective, freeing yourself from the mental drain of constantly trying to defend an ideal image of yourself that can never be lived out?

Social Circles

Our mindset does not come from a vacuum but is largely a consequence of our time with friends and family. We are a summation of who we hang out with, so who we choose as friends is very important for living an essential life. While we should avoid negative and critical people for our own well being, this is not an excuse to avoid helping people in need. A fundamental difference exists between someone in need of help and someone who is simply, unjustifiably critical and negative.

Part of living an essential life is being free to help those around you who need assistance. On the other hand, we ought to try to avoid engaging in a serious relationship with chronically critical and negative people less we get sucked into that life-draining vortex. Of course, relationships aren’t as black and white. Creating distance is much more difficult when it comes to family members. In these situations, we simply help those who are closest to us by offering encouragement while maintaining enough boundaries so that we do not become too emotionally involved and thus becoming responsible for the other’s emotions. We are always responsible to someone’s emotions but never responsible for someone’s emotions.

  • What is one thing you can do this month to surround yourself with better hard working, motivated, inspiring and joyful people?

Physical Clutter

So the saying goes, a cluttered desk is a cluttered mind. Research has shown that clutter increases levels of the stress hormone cortisol just be having the clutter within eyesight. Increased cortisol levels decrease the ability to concentrate thus reducing effectiveness in productivity.

In addition to the mental fatigue of living amidst clutter, an unorganized home creates time wasting games like “hide and seek” with the First Aid Kit when you desperately need it. The average American household has 300,000 items and spends nearly a half year looking for those items over the course of a lifetime. I don’t know about you but I would rather be spending that half year sipping a Mai Tai in Maui.

If we are going to begin creating the proper framework for the pursuit of an essential life, we must rid ourselves of the physical clutter in our lives by both purging and processing our stuff, filing away the stuff we need so that it is easily accessible, thus freeing the mind from the stress of not knowing where “it” is. Perfection is not the goal here. Eighty percent organized is sufficient for freeing the mind of stress.

  • What is one thing you can do this week to free your mind by allowing it to rest in the assurance that the items in your home are easily accessible?

Join me next week as we tackle one of the most difficult words in the English vocabulary: No! Find out why saying no is so important for the essential life, and how saying yes to everything jeopardizes all that is important to you. See you next Wednesday!

I would love to hear from you all so please feel free to leave comments to the questions I propose. We are all in this together!

If You Are Too Busy to Read This Then You NEED To Read This

The Not Enough Cycle

The Not Enough Cycle

The lifestyle of the average American has changed dramatically over the past 100 years. Today, it is nearly unfathomable to think of life without a telephone let alone a smart phone, or life without central air or heat, no closet space, no in home toilets or bathtubs, the list could go on and on. Today, the average home contains 300,000 items and nearly 1/3 of households can fit only one car in their garage with the other space allocated to extra storage. Believe it or not, Americans spend more on shoes, jewelry, and watches then on education. We love our things and we always want more of them.

Having It All Is Having Nothing At All

The problem is that we somehow think that the accumulation of things will have no impact on our happiness and well being. Unfortunately, science has proven this assumption wrong. We live in a culture that believes in the lie that to be American is to “have it all.” In the pursuit of having it all, we wake up in the morning uttering with eyes still sealed shut, “I did not get enough sleep” and hit our pillow at the end of the day in disappointed fashion shamefully confessing that we did not get enough done. When we cross paths with friends and colleagues, we hurriedly ask how they are doing, and we are greeted with the equally hurried response, “busy.” Busy has become an emotion and a badge of honor. Who knows what would happen if we used some other adjective like, “well,” “great”, “loving all my free time.” I would assume glances of confusion and judgment would ensue. The irony of those judgmental glances would be the judgment that you are the one with no life when in fact your response is the foundation of a life well lived.

The busy life is incompatible with the creative life.

The Busy Life vs. The Creative Life

The essential life is about intentionally and forcefully pulling yourself out of the busy cycle and into the creative cycle as you cannot be both busy and creative simultaneously. Have you ever wondered why some of your best ideas come in the shower or while in bed sleeping? The mind is finally (and rarely) in a state of rest, and rest is the food for creativity. The essential life is a life focused on what matters most, responsibly delegating, deferring or dropping everything else.

Sometimes the very infrastructure of a building is so incompatible with the renovation needs that a complete demolition is warranted. Unfortunately, the American psychological infrastructure is fundamentally incompatible with the pursuit of an essential life so demolition is needed. We must take the time to take inventory of our current energy and time expenditures, being prepared to strip nearly all things that are not worth our energy or our time. When we have completed this difficult task, we are then ready to take the time to realign ourselves by determining what matters most through goal setting. Finally, to ensure we remain committed to the most important pursuits of our life, which often times are the most difficult, we must safeguard our firm commitments by facing the demons in our lives that prevent us from taking the proper risks which bring about our most gratifying achievements.

Over the course of the next four weeks, we are going to pave a new way of approaching life, by removing the old cracked road of energy drain, overloaded time-commitments, and the false beliefs about ourselves that keep us from personal fulfillment. We will then pave a much smoother and simpler road that provides clear direction and that is aligned with our passions and gifts.

So, join me next Wednesday (if you don’t want to miss out then make sure you join my newsletter below so you can get all this great content directly in your inbox) as I expose one of the most detrimental American lies about the human psyche, and the top five most energy draining activities in which we engage every day (and how to stop them) which resulted from this lie.