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Posts Tagged ‘Goal Setting’

Making the ups and downs public

June 27th, 2013 4 comments

picstitchThis is a follow-up post to the first one where I had made my well-being declaration public.  You can read that post here.

First, in short, I’ve had some ups and downs.  It’s actually really good to provide a report, because it re-presences me to what I’m up to.

This post is more of a check-in, so it’ll be a little point-form.

First the downs:

  • The last time I weighed myself, I had gained back 5 pounds, so I was back at 181 lbs.  Frustrating.  I was pretty sure that I would have lost even more.  There’s a never-ending amount of delicious calories, and I’m constantly tempted by them.
  • I have been struggling to stick to two drinks a day.  Here’s my context – I don’t trust myself to behave.  So, to manage that, I impose really rigid guidelines.  Then, I struggle within the guidelines.  Sometimes, I want to have two drinks at lunch with one group of friends, and sometimes, two drinks at dinner with another group.  This is an ongoing battle, and I’m not sure how to resolve it.
  • I’m on and off tracking my calories, and usually use this when I’m unsure of how much I’ve eaten in a given day, relative to my exercise and activity.

And the ups:

  • I’ve stopped working as a lawyer, and am fully devoted to my coaching practice.  This means that I have, theoretically, a little more time to focus on my well-being and the other things I want in life.  As a result, Bay and I often get up early in the morning and either go for a jog or a bike ride.  Starting my day with exercise makes a huge difference and keeps me motivated.
  • In celebration of my first new client since my career transition, I bought myself a membership at the Y.  The full-time from leaving my door to returning to my door takes me an hour, if I jog on the way there (which is a great warm-up).  So, I’ve now started lifting weights, in line with my commitment.  It’s possible that some of the weight gain I’ve seen is as a result of putting on more muscle mass, though I’m not entirely convinced of this fact.  All the same, I am making progress in this area.
  • I’ve stayed off of bread, and it’s gotten easier as time has gone on.  We often have a loaf sitting in the fridge, but I no longer use bread or granola as a 6000 calorie desert/snack.  I eat a lot more salads than I used to.

Some things that I notice or can distinguish:

  • When I keep our fridge stocked with baby carrots, apples, berries and yogurt, I eat healthier.
  • Having something sweet around that I can have one of, like a cookie, might actually cut down on the amount of sweets I eat.  I’ve noticed that without cookies or another healthier snack, I’m inclined to serve myself a bowl of ice cream.  Hmmm.
  • If I don’t make specific time for exercise, I won’t do it regularly.
  • Regularly checking in makes a huge difference.  Even just writing this post has reminded me of my commitment and declaration, and realigned me with my goal.

In service of what I’ve distinguished and what’s next, I am going to update again in one month (with a reminder now set in my system), and track my calories for the next week, without making any other deliberate changes to my diet to see how aligned I am.

Here’s what’s next:

  • Re-align with my goals and why I’m doing this.  Actually, I’ll do that right now.
    • I’ve never been able to achieve this goal before.  It will be a huge sense of accomplishment to have nailed it.  I’ll also be proud and healthy.
    • Another big one – living in integrity.  I truly believe in youth through health, and living in alignment with that will benefit me not just physically, but also mentally.
  • Slow the process down.  When I get into the kind of place where I want to binge, there’s not a lot of time between the impulse and the reaction.  Slowing down and really getting present to what I want in that moment, and where the impulse is coming from is the path forward.

Anyone else want to play this game with me?  Leave a comment with your declaration, and check back in in one months time.  I’m all for playing on a team and supporting each other!

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Reaching a goal and making a declaration public

May 20th, 2013 2 comments

IMG_1580I don’t often write about my own projects unless I feel safe doing so.  So, for example, I will write about a goal to make more money, or get a promotion, because I hold that those goals are ones that anyone would align with (can you see my own context here?).

However, goals like losing weight, or creating a particular physique?  I hold that people will judge me for announcing goals like that.  What you might not be able to see is that that is just an indication that I judge myself and other people for holding goals like that – and then I project it onto everyone around me.

(Fun exercise: notice your stories about how other people are judging you, and then notice that those are actually your own judgments projected outward.  It works every time).

So, here’s my declaration that is scary.  By December 31st, 2013, the end of this year, I will be cut.  What does that mean?  A few things – six-pack abs, and arms that are tight in the sleeves of my t-shirts.  It also means minimal fat around my stomach (that kind of goes with the abs), and a weight goal.

For most of my adult life, I’ve hovered around 185 lbs.  In general, it didn’t matter what I ate, what I did, what I drank, I’d kind of just sit at this weight.  Sometimes I would try to reduce my weight, and drop down to 180, but then inevitably bounce back up.  Of course the body fluctuates upwards and downwards around this point, but that was kind of my default weight.

It wasn’t until last year that I got the idea that I wanted to try creating something different.  I went about it the same way I usually do.  At first I developed some strategies, and then I put them into place.  I was counting calories, I was exercising reasonably regularly.  But then, when I didn’t achieve short-term success, I would give up.  Or I would decide that I didn’t really want to meet my goal that much anyhow.

This year, I took on something different, and really designed my project.  What was I doing this for?  It wouldn’t be easy (otherwise I’d already have achieved it).  Also, what would need to be different in order to actually make this happen?  In the past, I’ve given up once my resistance shows up – the initial euphoria of commitment wears off, and then, hey, I don’t really want to switch from beer to water right now, do I?

I’ve also had a goal to cut down on my drinking.  I probably came out of the womb with this goal.  It’s been a long time anyhow.  I’ve tried in the past and failed.  What would need to be different?

Here are the things I identified I needed to do, and why:

  • No more than two drinks a day.

I read at one point an article that said men should drink no more than four drinks a day, and fourteen drinks in a week in order to avoid increasing their risk of cancer (and even then, that’s probably on the generous side).  So I tried this.  But I discovered that four drinks is just way too close to my inhibition threshold.  At the end of the fourth drink, it is just a tiptoe away from a fifth drink and once I’ve done that, the sixth, seventh and eighth drinks follow rapidly.  No, two drinks left me a good deal farther away from my inhibition threshold, and would be a worthy practice to try out.

  • No more bread.

I sure love bread.  I loved it so much that I would eat a baguette a day for a while.  That’s a lot of bread!  I would also eat bread with pasta (doesn’t seem so weird when you’re at a restaurant, but it’s pretty ridiculous when you consider how many carbs and calories you’re eating).  Bread is a massive source of calories.  If I really wanted to drop some weight, I would need to cut out some of the big ways that I cheat.  Bread was the obvious one.

  • Really get clear on my caloric intake

In the past I’ve tracked calories, but just guessed at a lot of stuff.  Do you know how much granola half a cup is?  I do – if you pinch your thumb and forefinger together, it’s about the amount of granola that would fit between them.  Seriously, I was amazed at how little granola that actually is, and then amazed again when I learned that alone contains 250 calories.  Granola is horrible for you!  No wonder it tastes so delicious.

The process of measuring out how much 1/2 a cup was allowed me to gain an understanding of what I was actually eating.  With that knowledge, instead of having 2 cups of granola (and I bet you it was more than that) and milk for breakfast, I would have raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, low-fat yogurt, and a very small sprinkle of granola.  So long 1000 calories.  Hello 200 calories.

IMG_1859

(NOT in-line with my commitment.)

Sometimes it’s really hard.  Two drinks is not a lot, and during a day when I meet up with friends for lunch, and then other friends for dinner, I really want to have more to drink.  But then, some people never drink, and others only occasionally.  So what was really going on here?  What was it that I was missing – what way of being did drinking provide me?

Noticing this kind of resistance coming up in me, and simply being with it, with curiosity and acceptance, helped a great deal.  It created a space where it was okay to have a want, without actually acting on it.  It allowed for something new.

This week at my parents, I weighed myself, and saw that I’d gotten down to 176 lbs.  Only one lb to go.  I couldn’t believe it – I had never gotten to this point before.

So from, what’s next is:

  • Raise my caloric intake to maintain this weight.
  • Continue with a limit of two drinks a day.
  • Begin lifting weights again so as to build the muscle mass I want.

That’s what I have to share.  It’s a little vulnerable, because you might think that I’m vain for having goals like this, but that’s my interpretation, not yours.  Here’s to breaking that up.

About support…

April 8th, 2013 No comments

So here’s the thing.  I learned pretty early on that support sucks.

On my soccer team, I was our sweeper.  I was good at it, because I was really fast, and I could deal with almost anyone that came into my zone.  The sweeper’s role is to act as the last defendant before the goalie.  Because the goalie has such a large area of net to cover, the sweeper really needs to take away any ability of the opposing forward to get within range to score a goal.

I took all of that and made it into an incredible amount of pressure.  Because the goalie had such a massive area to defend, it was really on me to stop the opposing team.  And if I didn’t, and the opposing team scored, it was really symbolic of a failure on my part.

The concept of team eventually grew to mean added pressure, without any benefit.  It wasn’t like the forwards or the mid-fielders were there to stop people once they’d reached me.  It was me against the world.

And, because of how I’d created it, it wasn’t like the goalie was really allowed to share in my loss either.  He didn’t stop the goal, but how could he – he had such a huge net to deal with.

I had two other defenders on my team as well, but they weren’t the sweeper.  Sure, they could hamper the other team, but they didn’t really have the responsibility that I did.  They weren’t sweeping!  That was my job.  My duty.

No.  Any failure for the team in the form of a goal being scored against us represented a failure of myself.

This was the point when I created team as burden.

At home, we had chores.

After dinner, my brother and I either had to do dishes, or clear the table.  Obviously clearing the table was the better job, because it was faster, and you were done before the guy that got stuck doing dishes.

Although after-dinner chores were miles better than having to bring in firewood (you either had to wear uncomfortable gloves or risk getting painful splinters), they still sucked.  In general, they were something to deal with and put behind you as soon as possible.

Now and then, I would feel charitable and want to make my parents really impressed with who I was.  I would volunteer to help out with the dishes, even though it wasn’t my job.  You may not be able to appreciate the magnanimity of this action, but suffice to say that it was only one peg below the sum total of Robin Hood’s life.  I was being generous.

The shitty thing was that instead of being thankful, I had the flaws in my dishwashing technique pointed out.

Back came the dishes.

“Hey, it’s great that you’re helping, but you still need to do a good job”.

And, although there was what appeared to be gratitude and thanks in that statement, it was irrelevant, because it was magically erased by the power of the word “but” (the only word that can make people forget things better than “sorry”).

That was when I created supporting other people to mean that you could expect a lack of gratitude and more work than you signed up for.

Getting supported on things like homework really just meant more work too.  I knew that if I asked for help with my homework, it would really mean having to do my work differently than I wanted to, or that I would have to do it “better”.  It was simpler just to do it myself.

Did you ever have to do group projects at school?

I did too.  They inevitably meant that I was the one that cared the most about our grades, and that if I didn’t bust my ass, I would be the one losing out (since no one else seemed to care).

So it was here that I created asking or being supported simply meant that I would be no better off and would likely have to do more work to support the people that were supposed to be supporting me.

Here’s the deal:

This is no longer supporting me.

In fact, it is completely bankrupt.

I am taking on things in my life that are far beyond what I have taken on before.  I cannot make good on the commitments that I am up to without support.  I can go on believing my old stories about support, and in fact, if I want to, it won’t be hard for me to find evidence that proves that I’m correct.

I won’t need to look hard to find proof that in asking for support, I’m actually creating more work for myself.  I’ve honed my vision to see exactly that.  It’s predictable and it’s what I’ve been seeking evidence for ever since I first got helped with my homework.

I don’t want to do that anymore.  I want to create something new.

Last month, I posted a link to these Fluevog shoes on Facebook, and I asked for support in helping me get them.

composite

All I needed was to have two people observing our group of participants at Accomplishment Coaching.  It’s kind of weird, because this is a huge opportunity to see some people really working through some serious stuff.  It’s pretty inspiring.

And while I got some positive feedback, and a few likes on Facebook, I didn’t actually get a lot of support beyond that.

And it’s okay, because it’s okay that support doesn’t show up the way I want it to.

But now I’m asking for more support.  I’m asking that you actually share my link, and that you make a little more effort than simply clicking that “like” button.

I’m not asking for money – just that you think of someone you know that might be interested, and pass this along to them.

Here’s what I’m playing for this time:

  1. an entirely new way of looking at support;
  2. being and providing support for the growth of my wife and her team;
  3. a huge breakthrough for me around being supported;
  4. getting supported in a career that is way outside what is comfortable for me; and, most importantly
  5. these shoes, which are much better than the crappy black ones that I didn’t get because I didn’t meet my goal:

IMG_2214

 

So, my request is simple:

  • check in and see if you know anyone living in Seattle, and put them in touch with me via e-mail;
  • if you’ve been considering heading down to Seattle (these beautiful shoes were purchased there at Nordstrom Rack on the cheap), let me know and maybe we can coordinate; and
  • pass this post along to anyone you know that is either struggling with some of their own stuff, interested in creating a change in their life, or have mentioned coaching as a career at some point.

Asking for support this way is embarrassing for me.  I create stories that it means I’m inferior, or not good enough to the task.  I create stories that it’s going to be more trouble than it’s worth, and that people will judge me for it.  I have interpretations that you will think that it’s pathetic that I’ve chosen a career path that actually embraces asking for support, instead of taking it all on myself.

And that’s fine too.  It’s okay that I have these stories.

I’m just up to something bigger.  I promise that every time you see me wearing these shoes, you will smile knowing that you were part of the team that created them.

The Transformation – Part 2 of 12 (February)

February 11th, 2012 No comments

Alright.  This post is part 2 of 12 in my series about the current set of training that I am undergoing in my career as a life and career coach.  If you want to get caught up, part 1 is available here.

I went over to Vancouver on Friday night, at the end of the school week.  I’d just finished up a phone interview with GenoLogics in which it seemed they were looking for someone more technical than my skillset currently provided for.  Not a particularly empowering experience.  But that was okay, because I was excited about this weekend’s training.

I packed my stuff, kissed Bay goodbye, and headed out to the ferry.  I finished up part 1 of this series on the ferry ride over, drove in to town, and walked up to Quizno’s to get dinner.  I ended the night chatting with some friends and then got to bed.  Getting up at 4:30AM means getting to bed early too.

Then I hit a snag…

Omens

I woke up at 4:30, tired, but excited about the coming two days.  In fact, I was practically buzzing with energy – my passion was sitting close to the surface.  I walked out of the bedroom and marched with authority to the shower.  My thoughts went like this:

“Man, I am so excited.  Let’s plan the morning out.  Eat breakfast, get in the car, drive with good music down the quiet roads to the border…”

“F*CK!!” (sorry if the language is offensive.  It’s authentic to how I felt)

I had forgotten my passport.

I HAD FORGOTTEN MY PASSPORT!

I had forgotten my passport..

What would you do in a situation like this?  Here’s what I did.

At first I checked to make sure this was the case.  I already knew it was.  I could remember exactly the process I used to pack.  I had absolutely neglected to put my passport in my bag (it hadn’t even occurred to me).

Okay, first things first – I still had to shower, no matter what.  As I got ready to do that, I gave myself five minutes to be angry, sad, furious, whatever with myself.  Beat myself up if I wanted, regret that I was going to miss some of my training, whatever.

Then I committed to shifting.  This was what was.  To speak in more abstract terms, this is what the universe has presented me with.  What was I going to do with it?

When something happens, it happens.  There’s nothing we can do to change it, only to be fluid in the moment.  We can’t control the universe, only be present to what we’re given.  So how was I going to be fluid?

As I dressed for the day, I went through my options in my head:

  1. Catch the ferry back, drive home, get my passport, drive back, catch the ferry, drive down to Seattle.  Arrive at around 4PM.
  2. Catch the ferry back, get Bay to meet me at the Clipper, and potentially catch it down to Seattle.  Get a hotel room for another night.  Possibly not even an option.
  3. Catch the ferry back, get Bay to meet me at the floatplane terminal, and catch a floatplane down to Seattle.  Get a hotel room for another night.  Arrive at around 11:30AM.

Option #1 was simply far too late.  Option #2 was not an actual option as the Clipper sucks to catch from Victoria (awkward hours).  That left option #3.

At this point, I had two choices: Be disempowered by the decision, or empowered.  Was I going to be a victim, at effect with what had happened, or would I be a leader, at cause to what had happened?

I chose to lead.  I looked at the positives.  I had ridden the floatplanes before – they were beautiful.  I’d be able to take some really great pictures (which I did).  And it would give me a chance to stay over in Seattle another night and hang out with my team for longer.  And at least I wasn’t spending four hours driving.

So, with my attitude shifted and my perspective framed in the positive, I headed back, met up with Bay and then flew down.  Bay was phenomenally supportive and I’m incredibly grateful for her support.  She met me at the floatplane terminal with my passport after having gotten only 4 hours of sleep.  What a woman!

The rest of the weekend

I arrived and excitedly greeted my team members.  It had been a month since we’d seen each other and it seemed like such a long time.  Going through a transformational process like this, and getting to see people you are working with in such a distinguished light really builds a strong bond.  We hugged, said hi, and then sat down.

I arrived just in time to leave for lunch.  We chose people to go for lunch with, based on who we currently were the least connected with.  The new girl chose me, since I had just arrived.  Fine with me!

At lunch, I felt awkward.  I was having a hard time getting a good conversation going, and when I feel like I can’t connect with someone, I start to babble like an idiot.  It’s not that I’m a bad conversationalist – in fact I’m great.  It’s just that I end up speaking a lot, in order to fill the silences.  The moments where conversation die down really start to terrify me.

One of the great things I learned this weekend was about my judgments.  More specifically, that they are about me, not the person I’m judging.  We often have a tendency to notice something, and judge the other person.  Everyone is their own person, doing their own thing.  They are responsible for their own actions and thoughts, and we can’t change them.

The judgment is actually an opportunity to learn something about yourself.  Where is that judgment coming from?  Why do you feel that way?  What is it about this person that is triggering you?

I spoke up and noted how I felt at lunch, and requested some coaching on it.  The team took turns working with me, and I was really surprised to find out that what lay underneath all of this was that when people don’t respond to me in a way that generally would indicate they like me (ie, by making conversation with me, laughing with me, holding eye contact, etc.), I start to feel deeply inadequate.

Wow!  This was a big realization, and it all flowed out from the starting point of noting how I felt when someone was really quiet and not connected with me.  (and I was judging her for that too, to be fair).

Judgments often provide us with an opportunity to discover a place where we have either over- or under-learned something.  If I judge someone for checking out a girl, that might be an indication that I’ve overlearned being polite.  Sure, it’s great to be respectful of people around you, but at some point, you need to engage with people.  There’s a difference between being lecherous and noticing someone attractive.

I judge people that are poorly put together and look like they don’t put effort into their appearance.  But what does that say about me?  Probably that I am overly concerned with appearance, and that I could learn a little bit about relaxing from this person.

When you first read this, you may be tempted to shout (mentally) “But it’s not about me, it’s about them!”  With time (less so, if you engage in coaching), we got to the bottom of it.  Take note and be present to the fact that you are the one being triggered.  That other person is simply being who they are.  The judgment comes from within you.  You are the one responsible for it.  Don’t offload that responsibility onto someone else.

Breakthroughs, breakdowns and commitment

One of the epiphanies that I had this weekend was related to the relationship between breakthroughs, breakdowns and commitment.

Breakthroughs are what we all want.  They’re the exciting (and scary) part of growth.  They’re the point where we experience our epiphany and move beyond the existing structures that we have in place to something new.  It feels great when you have that breakthrough moment.  You know that things will be different going forward.  Of course, you’ll eventually normalize this new place, and will then begin seeking the next breakthrough, but that’s okay – that’s what this game is all about.

Breakdowns must proceed breakthroughs.  You can’t have a breakthrough without one.  In order to achieve  new areas of growth, we need to push beyond where we are comfortable.  Doing so will naturally trigger our self-defences, and will require a moment of having them break down around us before we can fully immerse ourselves in that area of unknown and experience our growth.

Where does commitment fit into this?  Well, you can’t have a breakdown without having commitment.  If you are not committed to the change you are seeking, it will become easy to turn back when you are faced with a moment of breakdown.  Breakdowns are scary – they require you to remain outside of your comfort zone and just be.  To sit with that feeling of discomfort.  Without a commitment to back this up, we will naturally retreat back to what we know.

Here is one of the great powers of working with a coach.  Not only are you working on your stuff, and creating breakdowns and subsequent breakthroughs with great velocity, but you also have accountability and commitment built in to the process.  Coaching isn’t cheap, nor should it be.  It’s an investment in ourselves.  The price is a good thing, given the kind of work that we’re doing.  When you’re getting something for free, your commitment to its success is not going to be significant (if present at all).  When you are paying a decent amount of money to create the change you want, you’re going to be invested in and committed to it.

Further, you’re supported throughout that breakdown.  A coach stands for you, even when you are unable to stand yourself.  Your coach is there to hold the place for you that you have affirmed you are striving for.

Powerful change is challenging.  Most of us assume that we will simply be able to push through whatever barriers stand in our way when we want something enough.  In actuality, the kind of changes that we’re talking about are deep and fundamental, and get into the sticky areas where our context and self-defence mechanisms get in our own way.

The stuff that gets in the way of our growth and development at these points is the same stuff that always gets in our way (not enough time, not enough money, too many other things I have to do, my partner wouldn’t let me do that, my kids need me, etc.). These reasons genuinely seem real and valid to us, especially when we’re at the verge of major breakthroughs.

A coach’s job is to keep you open to the realm of possibility.  Sure, money is something that needs to be considered, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have options.  How might you make that money available?.  Your spouse won’t be okay with this change?  Why not?  Can you talk to them about it?  What’s really in the way?  You don’t have time to make these changes?  What kind of game are we playing for here?  This is what you’ve identified matters most – what is taking up your time that is more valuable than that?

Commitment becomes easiest to break when we’re on the verge of a breakdown – that’s when our self-defences are running highest.  That’s the point where it becomes easiest to turn away from the breakthrough we are aiming for and retreat back to what is comfortable.

Closing out the weekend

I can feel a shift starting to take place.  The process that I’m going through requires a fairly substantial change in my thinking.  Coming from a place of simply being present to who I am, rather than acting automatically and predictably, is a bit of a departure from what I’m used to.

As a kid I would even go as far as strategizing and planning out my conversations on the phone and in person.  As you can imagine, this didn’t leave a lot of room for simply being present and going with the flow.  Switching from this approach to one that is based around simply putting myself into the world, openly and authentically..  Well, it’s taking time and effort.

But as I said, I can feel a shift.  I’m starting to get this, and things are starting to click for me.  Little by little, and with the support of my coach, I’m beginning to step into my own role in this existence, and I’m alive with the possibility!

Interested?

That’s all for now, but I will certainly continue on with this series as the months go forward.

I am looking for clients.  Specifically I’m looking to work with brilliant polymaths aged mid-20s to late-30s.  That is to say, people that are successful in a variety of areas, and recognize that they can shine brightly.  These people are wondering “I’ve achieved success… why is it so boring?  Isn’t there something more?”, “I know I’m capable of brilliance – why haven’t I taken off yet?” or maybe even where all of their time has gone.

If this sounds like you, or you know someone that might be interested in talking with me, please let me know.  I want to work with you and your friends!

Thank you for your continued support and reading.  I have definitely embarked on a challenging and unique journey, and I can’t be successful without your help.  Take care of yourself and stay tuned!

Retreating from your vices – more self-experimentation

December 8th, 2011 2 comments

The fall term is starting to draw to a close.  That means that my work at the Law Centre downtown is starting to wind to a close and I’m closing out or transferring the remaining files that I have.  It also means that my time is starting to free up a little bit and I will be able to focus more on building my coaching business.

This term has involved a tremendous amount of time and effort building the foundation for what I will do once I graduate.  Identifying the business name, determining the target market, what is my niche, who are the people that I can best connect with, how should I market to and connect with those people, etc., etc.  Building the foundation can be frustrating, because you don’t see the fast results that typically signal progress to us.  It goes slowly, and it doesn’t provide the changes on the surface that we typically associate with success or transformation.  But that’s because it’s foundation.  It’s the groundwork upon which all of that good and more exciting stuff is built.  Without the foundation, your efforts will crumble without the support they require.

I’ve also been conducting more experiments on myself, and that’s what I’m writing about today.

Retreating from your vices.

What does this mean?  At first brush, it sounds pretty negative doesn’t it?  Rather than dealing with the problems you have, just run away from them!  That’s not what I mean though – I mean take a retreat from them.  Maybe even a vacation, if you prefer that terminology.

The genesis for this post began when I decided that I wanted to drink less coffee.  I’ve always loved coffee.  I like the flavour and the smell, but most of all, I love the buzz.  I don’t know what it is, but that sense of getting energized is something that I’ve always been drawn to.  Maybe it’s the fact that I’m naturally a person with a lot of energy and I love to accomplish a lot of things.  Perhaps the ability to “overclock” my personal CPU and get even more cycles out of myself (or at least, provide the illusion that I’m doing that) is especially enticing as a result of my nature.

However, for a long time, I’ve felt like my relationship with coffee had become unhealthy.  It’s not that I required coffee to get up and start my day.  I’ve never really allowed myself to make it a habit to that extent.  The problem, for me, was more one of self-control (a theme you will see revisited a couple times in this post).  When I would decide it was time for coffee, I wouldn’t just drink one cup – I’d have three or four.  It wasn’t enough to simply get a mild buzz, I wanted to be vibrating!

When we ended our orientation and began working proper at the law clinic, I made the decision to drop coffee for a month, and see what the result would be.

Why?  There’s a few reasons why.

First, I wanted to see if I could do it.  I was pretty sure that I could (it’s just coffee right?), but nevertheless, I knew that I would feel a sense of accomplishment simply from having the discipline to do this.

Second, I wanted to give myself some time to reflect on what kind of relationship I wanted to have with coffee.  I recognize that describing my coffee habit as a relationship might seem a little dramatic, but the shoe fits, so why not.  Did I really want to drink coffee every day?  What about every second day?  Did weekends count?  These were all questions that I was trying to resolve, but found it difficult to do when I was actively drinking coffee.  I would think half-heartedly about the fact that I wanted to consume less, but the next day at work when I wanted to really get some work done, suddenly there was a cup of coffee in my hand.

Vices are funny things that way.  Alcohol is a great example.  The morning after a heavy night of drinking, it’s easy to look in the mirror and swear that you don’t plan to do that ever again, but next weekend, when all your friends are drinking at the party… well, you know how it goes.

The Next Step

Halfway through “The Great Caffeine Withdrawal” (as I dubbed it), I enjoyed the process enough that I decided to add two more experiments into the mix: alcohol, and refined sugar products.

There’s a never ending amount of research suggesting that alcohol is consistently linked with cancer, and I really don’t want to set myself up with habits for the rest of my life that are going to detract from my longevity and quality of life.  Alcohol had become a crutch for me in a lot of ways too.  Most often it was a way to loosen up in social situations, and, oddly enough, I used it as a cure for boredom.  Nothing to do?  No problem, have a few beers and play video games.

As for refined sugar, my decision was to drop things like cookies, donuts, pastries, pie, cakes, pop and juice.  For the most part I’m pretty good when it comes to eating sweet treats, but, as always the case with me, the biggest issue is self-control.  Bay would buy a bunch of cookies for our cookie jar at home, and while I would initially begin eating one cookie a day, before long I would be shoving three in my face as soon as I got home.

The Common Thread

The common thread that runs through each of these things I chose to retreat from is one of self-control.  Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses.  I have fantastic discipline, but absolutely terrible self-control.  I can set up systems of rules, and when I do, I’m excellent at adhering to those rules.  But, if you just put a bag of cookies, a 12-pack of beer and a pot of coffee in front of me and said “consume until you feel you’ve had enough”, you’d come back to a few crumbs, 12 empty bottles and me bouncing off the walls.

By setting up a specific duration of time during which I wasn’t going to consume any coffee, sugar or alcohol, I created a simple rule that I could follow — I exercise my discipline, rather than my self-control.

The Results

The results were really interesting.  Let’s start with coffee first.

I allowed myself to continue drinking tea, because tea has never really been an issue.  Sure, I will easily drink an entire pot of tea in one sitting, but that doesn’t cause me any problems and it wasn’t making me unhappy.  The relationship with tea was not a problem.  Also, since I never drank coffee consistently in the morning, it was never an issue to get out of bed or get the day started.  I would come in to work, make a cup of tea, and begin the day.

One thing that I did notice was the signalling that coffee produced.  In the past, coffee had always been something I would go and buy (or make) when it was time for me to really get down to work.  If I had a complicated problem that I wanted to work on, or needed to push through a lot of work in a short amount of time, the cup of coffee was a little signal that it was time to get into that mode.

Sure, I could make another cup of tea, but it just wasn’t the same. In the end, this came down to a matter of reprogramming myself.  If coffee had been the way that I had signalled to myself that it was time to get things rolling, I would have to substitute in a new signal.

I chose to use some specific songs, and switched from green tea to black tea when it was time to knuckle down.  This wasn’t really that problematic, but it was an interesting part of my relationship with coffee that I had not been aware of prior to this point.

Sugar had similar results.  It’s not that I was dependent on sugary treats – I exercised good discipline when at the store simply by not buying them.  Without having them at home, I wasn’t compelled to shovel the cookie jar into my face, and there was no problem.

The thing about refined sugar products was that they had come to symbolize a reward.  I first noticed this returning to work after having the charges against one of my clients stayed (which means that the Crown, for one reason or another, drops their case against the client – they effectively walk away from the charge).  I got back in to work and paced around a bit.  I felt like going and getting a donut, or something else sweet to symbolize the moment of triumph.  But, without having that option, I just sat back down.  I could make more tea, but there’s nothing special about that – I make tea all the time.

Again, the solution here was to come up with new ways to signal that success.  Separate the signal from the product itself, and then reattach something new to that signal.

The results for alcohol were a little more drastic.  Much like refined sugar and coffee, alcohol had come to symbolize certain things for me.  It symbolized relaxation and also symbolized the end of the week.  In addition to that, it was also a big part of socializing.  If I was going to meet up with people, drinks would usually be involved.

One really funny thing that I noticed was that I would find myself thinking things like “Hmm, well, there’s a party going on that I could go to, but I’m not drinking, so do I really want to be there?”  After reflecting on this a bit, it struck me that this statement really said more about the party than anything else.  If I wasn’t interested in going unless I was going to be drinking, why would I even want to be at the party in the first place?

I noticed another funny thing while not drinking.  Most of us that drink recognize that awkward moment between the first time you get together with a group and the end of the first drink, where everyone is friendly, but the vibe hasn’t quite settled in.  People are still figuring out where they’re comfortable and what to talk about and are generally focused a little too much in their heads, rather than simply being present.

This moment always passes, typically after everyone has finished their first drink.  The funny thing I noticed was that the moment passed regardless of whether or not I was drinking.  It was simply a matter of time and sitting in the slight awkwardness of the moment.  I’m sure that many of you won’t find this surprising at all, but to me, it was a bit of a revelation.  The fact that this moment passed once people had gotten a little bit liquor’d up was one of those things that I’d always simply assumed and never had any data to suggest otherwise.

Again, I’ve found myself in situations where I miss liquor.  Going out for dinner with Bay and cheers-ing our relationship with a glass of water to her nice glass of champagne just didn’t feel right.  Sitting around home and drinking tea with my parents was okay, but I enjoy drinking beer with friends and family.

So is it all gone for good?

Definitely not!  Removing certain vices from my daily life for the course of thirty days does not mean that I never intend to have them in my life again.  What it does mean is that I’ve cleared myself out from them and can now be completely present to the kind of relationship I want to have with them going forward.

As an example, I mentioned above that refined sugary treats had come to symbolize a reward – a treat when things have gone well.  This is the kind of relationship that I would like to have with this vice.  Not something I simply eat because I’m bored of studying and want something to break up the tedium.  Not something that I eat as a matter of course every single time I come home from work.

Alcohol, as I mentioned, is also a great way (for me) to celebrate, and is something I really enjoy sharing with good friends and family.  But again, I don’t want to have a relationship with liquor where celebrating means I drink my way through 12 beers in a night.

What about coffee?  Is it making it’s way back into my life?  Well, that’s the actual casualty of this experiment.  I don’t really miss it.  I substituted black tea for the moments when I wanted to supercharge myself, and I also drink decaffeinated beans when I really want that delicious taste that I enjoy.  If I’m not missing any other aspect of it, is there really a reason to make it a part of my life?  I can’t think of one.

And that’s the beauty of this approach – you don’t need to do anything in particular when you’re done.  Maybe you will finish your 30-day retreat and come to the conclusion that you’re content with the relationship you have.  Maybe you’ll change your mind and want to strike out some new balance.  Either way, you will hopefully arrive at your conclusion more present to what it means, and with more purpose and awareness behind the decision.

What does this mean for you?

Think of  something in your life for which you’re not particularly happy about the relationship you have with it.  It might be drinking, it might be overtime work, it might be exercise (maybe you hate jogging 4 days a week but you do it because you feel you have to).  Identify what it is, and isolate it.  Then, remove that thing’s presence from your life for the next 30 days – take a retreat from it.

More important than anything else here is that you commit to those 30 days.  Commit yourself to remove that thing from your life for those 30 days, and refuse to allow yourself to break this commitment.  When you find yourself missing that thing, or getting frustrated because you can’t have it, reflect on why that is.  Why are you missing it right now?  What does it mean?  Is this a reward system at play?  Is it a thing you use to relax?  (And is that the relationship you want to have with this thing?  Maybe you don’t want to need this thing in order to relax…)

Isn’t this just a cleanse?

It depends what you mean when you use the word “cleanse”.  For most of the people I see posting on Facebook, a cleanse is a ridiculous diet that does not have any scientific merit and is meant to “supercharge your health”, or at least clear out all of your toxins.  (Something that our biology has had millions of years worth of evolution to do far better than lemon juice, honey and cayenne pepper ever will).

Further, I don’t see how you could possibly intelligently reflect on the relationship you have with something when making such a drastic change to your overall diet.  Removing coffee from your system is one thing.  Removing all solid foods is quite another.  Your system will be in such a state of shock that it will be a challenge to focus on anything other than how much you want to feel some texture between your molars.

Summary

Here’s the summary for those of you that want all of the sex and none of the foreplay:

  • Temporarily retreating from your vices can be a great way to gain better control of them
  • Removing the influence of a vice in your life will put you in a better position to understand how it affects you, and what kind of relationship you have with it (and remember, vices aren’t just something you consume – they can include things like work!)
  • Use moments of desire as an opportunity for reflection, rather than regret or frustration
  • Taking a retreat from something in your life does not mean it has to be permanent
  • The goal in an exercise like this is to end up more present and conscious of the decisions that you are making.  If you can achieve that, you’ve scored a victory for yourself and your self-awareness.

And the winner is…

September 7th, 2011 No comments
List B

List B

List B!  First of all, thank you to everyone that took the 10 seconds required to vote in my psychology experiment.

I have to admit, I was surprised that I didn’t see more votes.  I guess it’s harder to get people to participate actively than I thought it would be.  That or my analytics are vastly over-reporting the number of people visiting this blog.

So, what was this all about anyhow?  Read on to find out.

Creating momentum

A lot of effective coaching is helping a client generate and maintain effective momentum.  Many of us can start thinking about something we are passionate about, but very quickly have limiting thoughts take over our mental space.

“Well, I can’t possibly do that because it would mean I’ve have to quit my job” or “There’s no way I could do that, my parents would never let me”.  Even if those thoughts are true, they’re irrelevant when we’re trying to figure out what it is that we are passionate about.  If you’re passionate about something, it’s worth exploring that freely.  Maybe you can’t do it immediately.  Maybe you would have to quit your job if you were to chase after it right away, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value in simply understanding that you are passionate about it.

I call this dissipating our momentum.  It’s a challenge to part the fog that sits in our head and getting the brain moving in a direction you want takes time.  When we let limiting thoughts get in the way of pursuing how we really feel, we stall the process.

Don’t get me wrong – limiting thoughts have their time and place.  Once you’ve identified what you want to do, the next step is determining how you can actually achieve it.  This is the point where it’s okay to see your limiting thoughts (provided that you don’t accept them as immovable barriers that will forever stand in your way).  When trying to determine how to move in the direction you’ve identified is correct for you, it is important to see what will stand in your way, and then to think creatively about how you can move forward.

So, what does all of this have to do with lists?

Just start moving

The key to all of this is that the hardest part is often just getting your brain going.  I’ve worked with many clients that knew where they wanted to go, but simply could not get the ball rolling.  We identify a goal that they want to pursue, but when it comes time to try to figure out some steps to actually start moving in that direction, they draw a blank.

One of the things that I’m good at is determining next steps.  It’s one of the reasons GTD methodology has been such a good fit for me, and one of the reasons I was a natural at project management.  My brain naturally breaks projects down into small, bite-sized increments.  However, coaching should never be about the coach — it’s about the client.  I’m fine offering a few suggestions, but the best suggestions ultimately need to come from the client.  After all, you possess everything that you need in order to resolve your problems.  That’s the true beauty of coaching.

During my training, we used a technique referred to as the “chinese menu” (why that is the actual name I do not know).  The idea behind this approach is that it is okay to offer a few suggestions, but it is important to provide a number of other entries or blank lines for the client to write in their own suggestions.  Imagine two scenarios:

  •  In the first scenario, I have one suggestion for you.  I write it on an otherwise blank piece of paper, and then ask you to come up with some other suggestions that might work.  When your mind stares at that single items on an otherwise blank piece of paper, all you can envision is that one item.
  • In the second scenario, I also have one suggestion for you.  However, I write 4 numerals down, and draw a horizontal line across the paper from each of those numbers.  On the first line, I put my own suggestion.  When you look at this piece of paper, your mind is naturally going to try to think of at least three other suggestions that will get you toward your goal.

In reality, the number of lines I draw is actually irrelevant.  The real goal here is to generate momentum.  Once your mind has accepted that it needs to come up with some answers, the gears will start to turn and the ideas will start to flow out.  It’s amazing how many solutions come out of your head once you actually get the ball rolling (my client’s routinely surprise themselves by the number of solutions that they generate on their own).

So… again, what does this have to do with lists?  Well, my experiment was to try and determine:

What kind of layout will best generate momentum?

That was the ultimate aim of my experiment.  If I was to create empty slots alongside my own suggestion, ready to be filled out, which configuration would best start the momentum that we want to get a client on their way?

The results were a little surprising.  I figured that List C would be the best to fill out.  Why?

Well, I figured that List C was simply begging to have a single item put into the first slot.  There’s already an item in the second slot, and that makes my own mind absolutely desperate to fill in that first slot.  Once the first slot is filled in, there is only one other item to fill out in the third slot and you’ve got three solutions.  The momentum is rolling!

In reality, only 2 people (out of 20 total) voted for List C.  I didn’t vote, but that would have been my vote as well.  List A received 5 total votes, and List B received 13 votes – 65% of the total votes!

List B clearly trounced the other options.  Another thing worth noting is that after filling out the first slot of either List B or List C, the resulting list is exactly the same.  So what matters most is which list generates the most initial momentum to get you working.

Thanks to your responses, I now have some valuable information!  From now on, I know that when I have a suggestion to offer my clients, the best way to create a “chinese menu” is to put my suggestion first.  The other benefit (that I can think of) to this approach is that the rest of the list remains open-ended.  If I draw enough lines, the client isn’t working to “complete” a list – they simply have one suggestions that gets them started and can then go as long as they are able to.

Thank you!

A big thank you to everyone that participated in this experiment.  There’s another favour that I would like to ask you – please help me out by passing along this site to anyone that you think may be interested.  It’s challenging to write on a consistent basis, especially while attempting to develop both a law career and a professional coaching career simultaneously.  With your help, I can generate more readers, and nothing provides more momentum than knowing that what I’m writing about matters to people.

Thanks for your continued support!

The near future…

Finally, a brief update on my own journey.  As mentioned, I’m actively trying to develop both a career as a legal professional and as a professional coach.  It’s very challenging trying to balance both of these pursuits, but challenge has always been what drives me, and time management is an area in which I excel.

This fall, I will be working a clinical term at UVic’s legal aid clinic, the Law Centre.  There I will be assuming conduct of client files and representing clients in court.  I anticipate being much busier this term than I was during my summer school term, but I am nevertheless excited for the coming four months.  Stay tuned!

Productivity as a vice

July 28th, 2011 9 comments

Vancouver on Canada DayFor a long time, my writing has been heavily focused on productivity.  I love being productive, and it provides me with a sense of purpose and of balance.  When I’ve accomplished things during the day, I feel like I’ve actually made the world a better place through my own industry.

In the first part of my life as an adult, I spent a lot of time learning how to maximize my productivity.  This, in effect, was a way for me to get as much as I could out of life.  The logic went that the more I can do, the more enriching my life is.

However, in recent years, that focus has started to shift.  It’s not that I no longer value productivity — it’s that I value something else above it: balance.

We can spend so much of our time focused on productivity that we lose sight of the present.  If we are no longer able to appreciate the moment at hand, what’s the point?  Without an ability to appreciate what’s going on around us, it doesn’t matter how much we accomplish.  Everyone else may gain from my productivity, but how fulfilling can I really say my own life has been if I’ve been unable to enjoy it?

We have become so focused on productivity.  We’re always looking for new ways to squeeze more efficiency out of our employees, ways to accomplish more during our commute, ways to do more things every day and tools to help us manage everything that we’ve chosen to taken on.  How often do we stop to ask if we’re doing what’s most important to us?

Productivity without balance is a vice, not a virtue.

If we don’t check ourselves and seek out balance by setting our own boundaries, how do we determine when enough is enough?

I know many people that are either unaware, unable or unwilling to set boundaries for themselves and allow the drive to be productive rule their day.  The result?  Their bodies set and create the boundaries for them when they won’t.  Stress, illness fatigue and burnout are all ways that our body provides an indication that we need to re-prioritize balance in our lives.

Tragically, our working culture has evolved to the point that you can often overhear people boasting about how late they’ve been staying at the office, as though it is a badge of honour.  It isn’t; it’s a sign of an unhealthy working culture.  Employers should be seeking to imbue in people an appreciation and respect for balance.  It means that they’ll get more out of their employees, hold better retention rates and have more satisfied workers.

Productivity without balance is a cancerous pursuit.  Without taking the time to check in with yourself and prioritize the other things in your life, your own industry will be coming from a less meaningful place.  Productivity that does not have a purpose behind it is like growth for the sake of growth.  This kind of unhealthy focus on productivity can develop its own vicious cycle.  The more out of balance you become, the easier it becomes to take on more stuff.  With a myopic focus on productivity, you lose an awareness of the other demands on your time.  Without a sense of balance, it becomes easier not to say no.

By making the effort to prioritize balance in your life, you will ensure that you remain productive in the greater sense.  Think about it – if you’re living your life out of balance, worn out and tired, who’s really gaining from your productivity?

By prioritizing balance, you maximize your productivity

By striking a balance in your life, you’ll actually ensure you are maximally productive by attending to all of your needs, rather than just a few.  These needs include things like:

  • Sleep
  • Nutrition
  • Fitness
  • Your relationship/Marriage
  • Friends
  • Family
  • Fun

The more out of balance you become, the greater your body and mind will subconsciously pull you back toward your centre.  Your ability to sustain productivity, when done at the expense of balance, will suffer from diminishing returns.

Many of us respond to this reduction in productivity by attempting to push ourselves harder, staving off the inexorable return to balance as long as possible.  We don’t realize that the longer we remain in a productive state, the longer we need to recharge our batteries.  This isn’t a failing on our part (though we often treat is as such) — it’s simply a fact of life.

Imagine yourself as an elastic band.  Our natural, balanced state is the when the elastic band is left at rest.  When we push ourselves to be productive, we are tugging the elastic band from two ends.  The longer we push ourselves to be productive, the greater this elastic band is stretched.  We can attempt to squeeze more productivity out of our heads, but this requires stretching the elastic band even further.  The longer we hold ourselves from a state of balance, the more effort it requires to stretch that band further.  Hold yourself to a state of productivity for too long and the band snaps.  Your body will eventually take over and forcefully undertake the return to balance.  If you’ve pushed yourself too hard, that will often be via crashing into sleep, illness, or worse (Eg, your head could explode).

Summary

Here’s what we’ve covered:

  • Productivity, when pursued to the detriment of balance, is not a virtue — it’s a vice
  • A tunnel-vision-like focus on productivity is cancerous and self-perpetuating
  • When you prioritize balance in your life, you actually maximize your ability to be productive
    • If you think you can actually get more accomplished by cutting back on the other important parts of your life, you’re only fooling yourself
Take care of yourself, and seek out balance.  The next time you consider taking on something new, ask yourself whether that coincides with what you need to do to stay balanced.

So.. what do you want?

July 19th, 2011 2 comments

Rockpath

It’s been a week since I completed the first of four intensive modules that lead to my accreditation as a professional coach.  In between completing law school, searching for articling positions to work once I graduate and developing an iPhone app with two other colleagues, I’ve been coaching clients that answered my initial call for volunteers.

Personal plug: Before going any further, if you’re interested in coaching, please get in touch with me via this page.  Onwards!

As always, the TLDR can be reached here.

 

 

Training

The coaching instruction was highly informative and very rewarding.  Although Erickson Coaching Federation (“ECF”) is an international school in many different countries, this is one of the few opportunities to take the training that they offer in an intensive format.  As a result, there were many would-be coaches present from the far reaches of our planet.  Turkey, Mexico, Germany, Sweden, Paris, and Bangladesh, to name a few.

Although spending eight hours each day focused on the material was draining, it was also exciting to learn in the context of this cultural melange.  While I have a natural intuition toward the kind of relationship that coaching requires, it was great to get a foundation and framework underneath that to guide that intuition.

One of the most significant pieces of wisdom I took away from the training was the question posed in the title of this post:

What do you want?

Think in positive terms, not negative

By this, I don’t mean that you should pretend the sky is blue when it’s pouring rain out.  What I’m referencing is the fact that our minds are excellent at visualizing the presence of something, but not the absence of it.

If someone tells you not to think about penguins dancing, it’s very difficult to construct an image that encompasses that concept.  As Marilyn Atkinson (the instructor for the intensive, and the president of ECF) indicated, you can do something like visualize penguins dancing with red circle and a cross through it, but how do you actually visualize the absence of penguins dancing?  Our minds simply aren’t geared in this way.

What our minds are good at doing is visualizing positive things.  We can visualize dancing penguins – and we can do it quite well.

Ironically, most of us spend a good deal of our time dwelling on the past and thinking about what we didn’t like about our day.  I’m not sure when or why we moved in this direction, but this mode of thought has become fairly ubiquitous.

Think back to the last time you went to a friend or family member for advice.  How much time did you spend complaining about your situation at work, how you don’t like the workload that you’re being given at work, how you’re not being given enough respect for your abilities, etc.

So I hear what you don’t want.  But what DO you want?

This is the fundamental question that we must start asking ourselves.  Okay – it’s clear that you don’t want to keep feeling like you’re being given too much workload at your job.  But what do you actually want?  What does that ideal result actually look like?

At first brush, this question might sound like a platitude, kind of like stating the answer in jeopardy but then simply having to rephrase it with “what is” at the start.  But this method of reversing the way we think generates profound results.  Think about something in your life that you’re not happy with.  Now try to imagine what your ideal result looks like.  Can you visualize it?  If not, that’s the first problem to overcome.  It’s easy to identify that you hate your job, but more challenging to identify what the job you want looks like.

In my perspective, a lot of coaching revolves around helping clients change their thinking from one of focusing on the negatives to focusing on the positives.

It doesn’t matter what you don’t want..

Seriously; it’s not about what we don’t want.  Thinking and focusing on that will only keep the imagery fresh in your mind (remember – the brain isn’t good at visualizing the absence of something).  What matters is what we do want.

Get in the habit of catching yourself when you hear these kinds of words in your mind:

  • I hate that…
  • I don’t like it when…
  • Why is it always…
  • It’s so dumb how…
  • It’s not fair that…
It’s not a bad thing to catch yourself thinking along these ways, as it alerts you to the fact that there is something you would like to change about your situation.
The key moment comes after you’ve become aware of these thoughts.  Acknowledge that there is something you want to change, and then shift your thinking to focus on what you do want.

It’s not that hard

It really isn’t!  But shifting your thinking in this subtle manner will have powerful and wonderful results.  It’s amazing how much more inspired you will feel when you shift your focus to visualizing what you do want, rather than what you don’t want.

Analogize your thinking (and life in general) to a road trip.  Imagine you had just left a city that you didn’t really enjoy.  Your thinking might be something along the lines of “Well, I don’t want to spend any more time there!”.  But this isn’t going to provide you much inspiration with respect to the rest of your trip.  Achieving this aim is as simple as sitting in your car 10 minutes outside of that city.

By shifting your thinking to something like, “Alright, I think I want to go to Disneyland next”, you create a positive image that can be visualized.  Your mind is then able to start thinking about the paths to achieve that positive goal and move in that direction.

So why do I even need you Adam?

Have I just given away all of the magic juice of coaching?  No.

The challenge is not in determining what, it’s in the how.  This solution-based mindset is one of the core principles behind coaching, but it’s not the only value that a good coach offers.  Applying principles like these can often be challenging – especially when life gets challenging, stressful or just plain busy.

It is, however, one small step that you can start taking on your own to change the way that you think and approach the problems in your life.

If you do give this a go and find success (or failure, for that matter), please post a comment and share your story.  After all, the more we share, the more we benefit.

To Summarize…

  • Try to be aware of the times when you are thinking with trigger words like:
    • I hate that…
    • I don’t like it when…
    • Why is it always…
    • It’s so dumb how…
    • It’s not fair that…
  • Shift your thinking from a focus on the negative (what you don’t want) to the positive (what you do want)
    • The simple exercise of identifying what it is that you actually want will inspire you and free your mind up to start thinking about how to actually get there
  • If you’re interested in some coaching, get in touch with me at aquiney@gmail.com

Are you chasing your passion or money?

June 3rd, 2011 5 comments

Join the Meatforce!It’s been a month since I’ve finished my workterm at the DoJ and returned to school at UVic.  This past Spring was four months filled with a tremendous amount of discovery, and with a little bit of distance between me and that time, I’ve had some time to really think about what my vision for the future looks like.

Law school, at least at UVic (and I suspect at most other universities), is tied with the MBA program for the most expensive degree offered.  As such, there is a tremendous amount of pressure on the students to put that degree to work for them upon graduation.  This pressure is reinforced by the fact that the faculty of law makes available many opportunities for students to get in touch with the large firms that are hiring articling students upon graduation.  These opportunities happen in the form of wine and cheese events, on campus interviews (affectionately named “OCI’s”), and open houses for prospective students at many of the large firms.

There are two main effects that fall out of this process.  One, they grant students a valuable opportunities to get in touch with the people that they want to work for.  Two, it creates an intense pull on students to “put their degree to work for them” by going to work for the firms that are advertising through these means.

Although UVic does a great job providing information to students regarding alternative career paths and getting in touch with smaller firms, the fact is that these opportunities are under-represented and under-funded.  This is simply a natural and unfortunate consequence of the capitalist model.  Those firms with the most money can afford the greatest amount of advertising, will be the best represented, and will be able to draw in the best students.

Okay…?

Why am I telling you about this, and what does it all mean?

Well, for one, it means that I and my colleagues are acutely aware of the pressure to start making money pretty soon after graduating.  More importantly, it means that I am all too familiar with how easy it can be to get caught up chasing after money, rather than your passions.

Permit me one last digression.

My undergraduate degree was in computer science.  It took me a while to get through this degree (I had no idea what I wanted to do for the first three years that I was in school, so was doing poorly in a business degree until I found computers).  When I entered the faculty around 2000, it was the height of the dot com boom and fallout.  The result was that many of my colleagues had entered the degree program because it seemed like a good general degree to have, and like it would allow them to make a lot of money.

When the tech bubble collapsed, those colleagues stayed in the degree, because they didn’t really know what else to do, and they had already spent two years learning the foundation.  What’s more, They were stuck in a bad position – they had entered a particular degree because they thought it would make them money.  When that no longer became a guarantee, they felt they had no choice but to stick it out and try to put their degree to work.

Fortunately for those people, the tech industry is here to stay, and while the money is not as good as it used to be, there is still a high demand for people that are able to work with computers.  Unfortunately, many of those same people are miserable.  They’re stuck in a career that is making them good money, but they’re doing something that they don’t enjoy.  These people chased after money, rather than their passion.

Ironically, I believe these people are actually worse off than they would be if they were not making good money.  Why?

Money clouds your vision

Money acts as a proxy in our society.  By itself, it does not actually provide you with anything. Money simply acts as a legal tender which allows you to exchange it for X dollars worth of product or service.  A twenty dollar bill is simply a convenient way to temporarily hold that much of value in a format that everyone has agreed upon.

Most importantly, money is not a proxy for hapiness.  While it may provide you with the means to affect the changes in your life that will allow you to realize your passions, it will not by itself create those passions.  (Is anyone really passionate about just having lots of money?  Maybe, but those people strike me as boring and unimaginative).

People, however, have an incredible propensity for deceiving themselves, and money provides a convenient way to distract us from the fact that we’re really not very happy.

Money does an incredible disservice when we allow it to become the metric for determining whether or not we are following our passion and/or happy.  We start using it to acquire other possessions (generally stuff that we don’t actually need), which gives us temporary gratification, but nothing longterm and substantive.  We start spending more money to chase that feeling of gratification, and now we need to make more money.  More clothing, nicer purses, better cars, bigger houses, etc.  The cycle is ongoing, and at no point does it lead to true happiness.

The longer you chase money, the harder it becomes to change your course

If you’re not following your passions, you’re going to need to take steps to move on to a path that actually does allow you to actualize yourself (or stay miserable), and doing so will often require taking a pay cut.  Moving from one field to another means leaving some of your established expertise behind and starting out again in a lower position.  If you’ve been using that money as a proxy for your happiness, you may have accumulated debt-loads that prevent you from starting back over.

How do you avoid falling into this pitfall?  Well, the first thing to do is to establish a habit of checking in with yourself and determining if you’re meeting your own goals and appropriately pursuing your vision.

Perhaps you don’t even know what your vision is – there are a lot of people that are unsure what their ideal future actually looks like, and only have vague notions of what a truly fulfilling job would look like.

Here’s an example to get you thinking: let’s say that the economy was exactly as it was, but whatever you do for a living paid $10,000 less across the board.  No matter where you found a replacement job, it would pay $10,000 less than it would normally.  Would you keep doing that work?  If not, how come?

Chasing money will leave you poor, chasing your passion will make you rich

The big caveat is that wealth won’t always come in the form of money.  (it’s like an episode of Tales from the Crypt - Oh the ironic endings!)

Ask yourself what you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve your passion.  Thinking this question through can really grant you some insight.  If there’s something material that you wouldn’t sacrifice (excluding things like food, water, oxygen, and, while not material, naturally your family), why is it that you would not be willing to sacrifice that?  Is your passion not worth pursuing?  Do you doubt that you really feel passionate about it?

This question serves as a litmus test for what matters to you in your life right now, and more germane to this discussion, it can help you determine what you are actually chasing.

If you are willing to sacrifice in order to achieve that which you are passionate about, no amount of money will be able to equate the wealth that will flow to you.

For what it’s worth, I also believe that when we are following our passion, we maximize what we have to offer the world.  My intuition tells me that you will, over time, find yourself paid in kind for that maximization.  Even if you aren’t, will that matter?  Perhaps your passion is teaching children, certainly an underpaid profession.  If that’s the case, wouldn’t you prefer to be doing something you are passionate about, than spending your life miserable, but with lots of  money?

Patience

As you can tell, nothing that I have written here provides an answer for short-term riches.  I’m not wary of getting rich quickly and easily – I think that doing so has a tendency to create a paucity in other aspects of our lives.  True value and wealth is achieved through the exercise of virtues like dedication, integrity, patience and, of course, passion.

Wrap-up

As always, here is the summary:

  • Money is a proxy for things; by itself, it does nothing
    • (It’s a cliche, but it’s still true – money won’t make you happy)
  • Money should be treated as a means, not as an end in itself.  If you’re pursuing a career solely because of the money, ask yourself why
  • Money will cloud your vision.  What are you passionate about, and are you pursuing that?
  • In order to achieve your passions, you must be willing to sacrifice.  If you’re not, ask yourself how passionate you are, both about what you are unwilling to sacrifice and that which you believe to be your passion
  • Be patient.  Follow your passion and know that the rest of life will fall into place

 

A new way of budgeting your time and productivity

May 10th, 2011 No comments

Time budgetSchool started proper again yesterday, and that means that the makeup of my days will change radically from that of the previous four months.  Although I’m writing today, the frequency of my posts will decrease drastically once work really gets underway.

I made the decision to take on a fair number of items this term, including:

  • Continue to be a good husband (yes, continue);
  • Continue to do well in school;
  • Devote a non-trivial amount of time to an application I’m working on with some colleagues; and
  • Teach weekly dance classes with my friend Jesse at a studio we’re renting in town

All of these items require substantial amounts of my time, and inconsistently to boot (meaning that I won’t get to choose when one of these items will need more attention – there will be peaks and troughs for all of them).  I believe that I’ve got the skills and ability to meet all four of these goals while maintaining my own sanity.  However, it will require planning to ensure that I’m ready when the storms start to strike.

This is a pretty short post, but if you’d like to jump to the summary, you can do so here.

A new way of looking at my available productivity

Because of these competing demands, it’s very important that I figure out the best way to maximize my productivity.  If I waste my opportunity to be productive, things will start to get backed up, and I’ll quickly find myself with too many things to do and not enough time to do them in.  Something will necessarily fall by the wayside (and if I’m being honest, I suspect it will be item #1 – it’s often easiest to let things slide with the person around which we’re the most comfortable).

Rather than try to plan everything down to the hour, I took a new approach to scheduling my productivity this term.  To start, here are my assumptions:

  • I can achieve what I’m setting out to do.

This is the most important assumption because it’s the starting point for everything else.  If I don’t believe this, then I should return to my list above and remove one of the items.  (If you don’t get this, ask yourself why you are planning to try and accomplish something that you don’t actually believe you are capable of achieving?)

  • I was apathetic the previous term and often felt myself wasting time playing video games instead of studying.

While I found the feeling of apathy generated stress, my grades did not suffer and I exceeded the standards I had set for myself.  This suggests to me that I had additional spare time that could be put to better uses.

  • I don’t want to spend any time this term feeling bored.

That is an indication to me that I currently have too much spare time.  Relaxing and just cooling out is one thing, but sitting around literally feeling bored is off the books.  If I find myself feeling this way, I should be looking to engage myself with a different pursuit.

  • I can be more efficient if I’m able to divide my time across multiple tasks.

Like most of us (all of us?), I experience diminishing returns the longer I spend working on any one particular task.  If I can divide my time across a number of tasks related to the different projects I’ve set out for myself above, I should be able to avoid the fall off that results from working on only one task for too long.

  • I have, roughly, between 3 and 5 good bouts of productivity in a day.

On really good days, I can get my process started first thing in the morning, and also find a second wind after the post-lunch tiredness.  On a bad day, I can’t seem to get the gears turning until 11AM, take a break for lunch, and only just manage to accomplish things by the time 5PM rolls around.

  • My bouts of productivity cannot easily be divided up into “clean” blocks of time.

Just like I don’t know what kind of day I will have until I find myself at the end of it (or mid-way through at least), I don’t know beforehand how long I will be able to stay in my flow for, nor how long it will take to read a particular set of readings.

Creating a workable system

So, with the above assumptions in mind, I set aside a couple of hours on the weekend to devise the system by which I would plan out my time and stay on track this term.  That system is based on the concept of productivity units (PUs from here on in).  PUs are what I call the blocks of productive work that I am talking about above in items 5 and 6.

Based on my assumption in #6, I don’t think that it’s a worthwhile exercise to try and map a PU to a specific amount of time.  In fact, it’s clear that I don’t usually think that’s possible.

Taking my range from item #5, I estimate that on any given day, I can probably accomplish about 4 PU worth of work in any given day, with no other demands on my time.

What does this actually mean?

So, what does it actually mean to accomplish one PU worth of work, if you can’t map the block reliably to an amount of time?

Here are some examples of what I would consider a PU worth of work:

  • Complete a set of readings for one of my classes
  • Spend some time writing out a few pages of a paper
  • Sit down and clear out my inbox, processing everything there and responding to any necessary e-mail
  • Spend some time working on my development team’s wiki, organizing everything and ensuring that all of our recent thoughts have been captured and stored somewhere for later reference
  • Attend one class

It is important to understand that these are the benchmarks I have drawn for myself.  Based on what you see above, you could probably estimate that one of my PUs probably roughly translates to 1 to 2 hours worth of work.  This is reasonable.  However, this will not always be the case, and there are times when it will take two PUs to finish a set of readings, or only half of my available energy to complete something.

The important part of my system is that it is adaptive, flexible, and dynamic, as these are all characteristics that I wish to imbue in the work that I do.  If my system does not embody the same traits that I myself wish to, there’s going to be conflict (which generally leads to the system being discarded and returning to old ways).

Your mileage may vary – you may find that you prefer to work in smaller chunks, but fit more of them into a day.  Whatever works for you is what you should do.  For me, this provides a clean and lightweight way in which I can rapidly estimate how much work I can accomplish each day.

This approach also provides me with a metric by which I can determine whether or not I should really be feeling upset that I’m not being maximally productive.  Let me explain.

I have no classes on Tuesday, which means that this is a wide-open day.  However, I have no shortage of work, and so ideally, I’d like to get 4 PUs in on Tuesday.  If I’ve finished one PUs worth of work, it’s currently 3PM, and I’m sitting on the couch playing video games, things probably aren’t going too well.  I should be kicking myself back into work.  But, if I find myself in the same situation, having completed 3 PUs worth of work, I’m actually doing pretty good.

Why is this distinction meaningful to draw – isn’t this pretty obvious and intuitive?

No – it isn’t.

These kind of separations are always obvious to us when we’re external to them, having them explained to us or reading about them on someone’s blog.  It’s easy to divide everything into bright clean lines when you don’t have anything at stake and you’re not in the middle of all of the chaos and demands placed on your time.  However, when you do find yourself in the middle of everything that’s when you will most need to be able to determine if the way you are feeling is due to something legitimate or simply a pressure external to yourself that actually doesn’t matter.

Thinking in these terms provides a quick “escape ladder” that can be used if I need to pull my head up from the mess and figure out if the way I’m feeling is really something that requires my concern.

The honest truth is that sometimes you’re going to feel guilty for taking some much needed time to recharge.  It doesn’t matter that that is the best thing you could do – your psychology will play games with you and tell you that you could not possibly take the time off from working on that paper!

Dividing my time up into these kind of chunks is a convenient way for me to check the way I’m feeling and determine if I really need to get the gears turning again, or can relax knowing that the break I’m taking is well-deserved (and will actually make me more efficient on the whole).

The view from my desk

Here’s the example that I’ve created, to provide you with some context.  My class schedule roughly looks like this:

  • Monday: 3 classes
  • Tuesday: 0 classes
  • Wednesday: 2 classes
  • Thursday: 1 class
  • Friday: 1 class

On Monday, I also run a dance jam down at Centenniel Square in Victoria, which eats up a decent chunk of time.  In short, I don’t have any additional PUs available for Monday.

Tuesday is wide open, and so I can aim for my maximal goal: 4 PUs.  The plan going forward will be to divide this time between reading/studying and the necessary time required for me to continue PMing the project I’m working on.  I have my time loosely divided in half between the two, but I can be flexible and if needed, I can devote all 4 separate PUs to studying (though I would rather not, as that will increase the diminishing returns that I experience).

Wednesday I have two classes, which means I have about 2 PUs remaining.  Likewise, Thursday and Friday each have one class, so I have 3 PUs for both of those days.  Just at a glance, this way of looking at my spare time gives me a rough idea of how much time I will have available to devote to the demands on my time.

If things get panicky or packed in tight, I may need to adjust my schedule, or attempt to squeeze an extra PU out of my day.  While this may be possible for brief bursts of time, I’m skeptical that that would be a sustainable practice.  Being productive for 10 of my 16 waking hours, on an extended basis, intuitively feels like I would be pushing the limits of my mental, emotional and physical health, not to mention my marriage.

Rehash

That’s all I’ve got for today.  In general, writing a blog post is probably about 1 or 2 PUs worth of work.  It requires writing (a task unto itself), then polishing and editing before publishing.  I’ve finished three sessions worth of reading, and completing this entry makes a total of four PUs.  That means that I can now devote the rest of my day to relaxing and pursuing hobbies that are less intensive, and ignore any guilt that may pop up from time to time trying to tell me I should actually be working harder.  Not only should I not be working harder, I’m not convinced that my yield would be worth the extra effort.

Here’s the summary of what we’ve covered:

  • To maximize your productivity, break your time up so that you can focus your energy on multiple things throughout the day;
  • Breaking your time up into productive units, or PUs, can provide a convenient way to get a loose handle on what you can realistically accomplish in any given day;
  • Your PUs may be different than mine, and that’s fine – do what works for you;
  • If you’re feeling lazy or like you should be doing more work, check in to see what you’ve accomplished in terms of your PUs, and ground the way you feel based on that.  Sometimes you need to kick your ass back into gear.  Sometimes, you need to relax.  Both of these things will be equally hard to accomplish at different times;
  • A system doesn’t need to schedule or track every last available minute you have for it to work for you; and
  • Check in with yourself from time to time to see if the way that you’re feeling is a reaction to your circumstances, or something external (eg, unrealistic societal pressure that you can or should be productive for every single minute that you’re at work).