Posts Tagged ‘Lifehacking’

The 52-week guide to becoming an entrepreneur – Weeks 9 & 10

August 17th, 2013 No comments

photo-4This is the ninth and tenth post in my epic journey of going from lawyer to entrepreneur.  You can read the previous entry here, and next week’s entry here.

It’s fitting that this post condenses two weeks into one, because that’s entirely reflective of the way I’ve been doing things these past two weeks.

Here’s the skinny: My schedule is a disaster.  If you came and looked at it, you would likely conclude that it is highly organized, and that I am highly busy.  Both of these are correct.

In fact, my schedule is packed to the gills with things, and every time someone makes a new request, I’m a yes to try to fit it in.  And miraculously, I do!  You need support?  I’ve got your back.  Somehow.  Oh shit… who’s got mine?

No one can get my back, because getting supported require even MORE precious time, and goddamnit, I just want to sit and play video games for fifteen minutes rather than spend one more second doing something.

I realized this week that I’ve got a duality inside me.  On one hand, there is a highly-professional, extremely efficient genius.  He’s dressed very sharply, he’s appropriate, he’s articulate.  On the other hand, there is a funky, stanky, awesome dancer, who is hilarious, great to party with, and reckless.  Ne’er the tween shall meet.

I have a story that the partier is dangerous to me.  He is unhealthy, destructive, and he gets me in trouble.  I fool myself into believing that if I apply enough control (and the professional is exquisite at doing that), I can manage that aspect of my personality.  The thing is, no amount of control is going to be able to kill that side of me.  And so, like a blade of grass, my awesome party side breaks through the concrete.

Both these parts of me are fine, but I have not yet figured out how to integrate all of me.  What I realize is that my clients – those highly efficient professionals that are actually brilliant and have a wild side as well?  This is the same thing they are struggling with!

I’ve been trying to “solve” this problem with my old paradigm, but the more I grow, the more that paradigm bankrupts itself.  Here’s an example of me trying to solve it with the same old paradigm – see if you can see the humour in it:

  • I get frustrated because I drank too much the week before
  • I notice that my rigidly controlled allotment of drinks leaves no room for spontaneous partying
  • I create a new “drink allowance”, this time with the option of having a “free day” once a week.

I’m still using control to try and manage things!  Partying inside of control is still control!  

I’m starting to drop balls, and things aren’t as easy to handle as they were before, because I’m up to bigger things.  Somewhere, somehow, I’ve got a breakdown coming my way.  Things cannot continue going as they have.

The really scary thing is that it might mean getting fired.  If I really want to create my life, my practice, and my career the way I want it, I have to be willing to die before going in to battle.  I have to be willing to lean into the breakdown, instead of avoiding it.

Or maybe I’ll just rearrange my schedule one last time and that will fix everything…


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…


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..

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!


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!

The Transformation – Part 1 of 12 (January)

February 3rd, 2012 No comments

This post is a month overdue.  As part of my career choice, I have started a one year long coach training program in Seattle through a group called Accomplishment Coaching.  As part of my ongoing attempt to connect and share, it only dawned on me tonight that this would be a great thing to blog about.

I’m currently on the ferry over to Vancouver, preparing to drive down to Seattle tomorrow morning to attend the second weekend of training.  I’ll blog about that process on my way home.  Tonight I’ll be writing about last month’s session, and how it went.

The Background

I’ll start by setting the context.  Almost a year ago now, I began taking on clients and attended some training through Erickson Coaching Federation.  Although I was not able, at the time, to attend the entire course, I drew a good deal from the intensive four days of training, and it set me on the ground and provided me with a lot of tools to use in my practice.

However, as I’ve grown as a coach and worked with a larger and more diverse group of clients, I’ve noticed situations where a critical moment or breakthrough was close for the client, but I did not have the tools and approaches to guide them through that (this is a big part of what you are hiring me to do – guide and empower you to achieve your critical breakthroughs with grace and efficiency).

It became clear to me that I was ready for more training, and I was eager to start as soon as possible.  Initially I planned to return to Erickson and complete my training there.  However, in the meantime, I needed to do something.  I began networking and met with a coach, Halle, here in Victoria.  She had attended training through Accomplishment Coaching, and it immediately became clear in our first conversation that she had access to insight that I wanted (and wanted to be able to provide to my clients).

Halle didn’t just talk about how to clear up exactly what the client wanted, but also described understanding what lay beneath that, and the process of shifting people’s assumptions and foundations – their context.  Sure, completing that project at work that’s been sitting on your desk for a year feels great, but what if what you actually want, but have not yet been clear on (or able to admit), is to shift to a whole new position (or career even)?

Changing the underlying context creates powerful shifts in people that are lasting and deeply meaningful.  Even though I didn’t understand the process or approach, I knew as soon as I heard it described that this was the kind of coach I wanted to be for my clients.  Someone who can generate powerful change and empower them to thrive.

The lead-up

The decision to attend Accomplishment Coaching was challenging for both Bay and I.  I understood what I wanted to do, but we needed to figure out a way to make it work financially, and within the set of stuff that we each had on our plates.  Going to Seattle is a lot more complicated than simply taking a ferry over to Vancouver!

After much planning and deliberation, we concluded that we could make it work, and committed to the decision.  Halle also played a large role in supporting me reaching this decision without pushing me into it.

With the decision made and committed to, it was simply a matter of waiting until I headed down.


I got up at 4:30AM (!) and drove down to Seattle from Vancouver.  That is ludicrously early, but once you’ve committed to it, it’s quite a nice peaceful drive, and there’s something special about being awake and doing something in both the late hours of the night and the early hours of the morning.

When I arrived at our class, I smiled and said hello to all of the people milling about in the lobby.  A consecutive group runs on the same weekend, but began in June, rather than January like us.  I introduced myself to a group and started chatting with them.

I must admit that I was approaching this weekend with some arrogance.  I had already undertaken training, had paying clients, and was actively coaching and doing introductory sessions with anyone that was interested.  I felt like I already knew a lot of what was going to happen.  Put differently, I think I may have lost sight of the reason that I signed up for this program (or at least the significance and impact that this approach to coaching can have).

We went through some basic stuff to start off, and then took turns getting to know each other individually on a fairly fundamental level.  Ultimately the aim was to see someone for who they truly were, without any of themselves getting in the way.  Not only that, but how were we each getting in the way of ourselves?

Does some of this raise your scientific hackles?  It did for me too.  But that’s okay.  I believe in this, and I’m hoping that by reading about my own journey, you will soften and be able to see beyond that automatic reaction.

My turn

At this point, you’re probably wondering the same thing that I was wondering: What was I doing to get in my own way?  I spent a lot of time on growth and improving myself.  What was I doing that was to my own detriment?  What would everyone see in me?

It’s kind of funny: sitting their watching the other volunteers go through this process (often involving plenty of tears), you end up strategizing.  “Well, what if they say this?  Well I’ve already done that, and I think I’m okay with it, so I’m okay”, etc.  Talking with the rest of my team afterwards, we realized we were all doing this.

I put up my hand and got up to go next.  What the heck was it going to be?

The answer?

My inability to expose vulnerability.  Let me say it again in big letters:

My inability to expose vulnerability


When you read this, it will just look like I’ve used a larger font.  It may impact on you a little bit better that way, but otherwise, it’s just larger letters.  But when you’re confronted with your own mechanisms, it is astounding how deeply it resonates with you.

First and foremost, because you are generally terrible at identifying and seeing it.  We construct these mechanisms at a very early age.  It’s how we protect our ego from harm, and get through the world.  It’s the means by which we avoid being hurt.  Not physically hurt, but emotionally and spiritually.

Second, because it’s been a part of you for so long, hearing it stated clearly for you resonates on an incredibly deep level.  Of COURSE that’s what I do.  It’s been that way ever since I moved schools and didn’t know anyone.  I saw kids in junior high school exposed and vulnerable, and getting made fun of as a result.  If I was able to lock that out, people couldn’t get at me.  I could be brilliant, creative and funny, but only when I was able to have control over the situation.  If I lost control, it would become possible for vulnerability to be exposed, and then who knows how much I could be hurt.

Once you’re triggered, you kind of just sit there thinking about all of the places where this contraption has been present.

  • Awkward pause in the conversation?  Break eye contact.
  • Walking to the bus and there are two acquaintances I know from school but am not really friends with them?  Adjust walking speed so that I don’t have to talk to them.
  • Want to chat with someone but don’t know them too well?  Talk to them over e-mail or IM
  • Worried about not fitting in?  Wear headphones and be engrossed in whatever I’m doing.  I can even convince myself that I’m not upset no one ever sits beside me at school.

Cleaning up the mess

As an ontological coach, what I am trained to do is see people for who they truly are, in their purest state of being.  No self-defence mechanism firing, no concern about judgment, no fears, no suffering, etc.  What are the set of qualities that you bring to the table when you are able to be yourself, unfettered and unhindered?  And how can we bring that more to the forefront while working on the projects that you identify as being important?

I ended with new resolve to work on myself.  This was a huge moment of awareness and I did not want it to slip away.  I went for a beer with some teammates and we chatted about our own stuff.

One of the great ironies of being exposed to your own stuff is that you look at everyone else and think “Gee, I wish I had that issue, that would be so easy to address”.  Which makes perfect sense, because it’s not yours.  If it was, it would be much harder to deal with.  I suspect many of my teammates thought “Gee, just expose some vulnerability?  The key is just unlocking it from the inside?  That must be nice” – just like I was doing when I heard their contraptions brought forward.

Since then

Since completing this, I’ve been working weekly with my coach to move forward.  I’ve taken some really big steps.  First, let me share my own essence with you, so that you have an understanding of where I’m coming from.  I am:

  • Connection
  • Wit
  • Presence
  • Passion
  • Brilliance

(Sounds pretty cool right?).

As often as possible, I’ve been making an effort to act from this place of being, rather than doing what comes automatically out of my self-defence.  First day going back to school, I walked up to the bus stop and made an effort to smile to everyone I could.  And then I saw two people from second year at the bus stop.  I nodded to them and they nodded back – I had actually met one of them, Ben, before when I volunteered at the Fernwood Legal Aid Clinic, but I don’t think he recognized me.

I felt like, acting from a place of connection, I should be talking to them – connecting with them, dammit!  But those defences were firing strong.  So I didn’t.  Then our bus came, and we got on.  I followed them to the back, sat down beside them, and said “Ben right?”.  From there we just talked.

If this seems small and trivial to you, you probably don’t share the same anxieties and self-defences with me.  For me, this was a major victory, and incredibly empowering.  I was acting from a place of being, rather than doing something automatic (shut them out, put in the headphones, and believe that I was happy to be engaged with myself).

This month has been a consistent thread of events like this one I’ve just described.  It’s challenging, but recognizing that I am connection has been transformative.  I have what I need to not only act in accordance with my essence, but also to handle the potential of being hurt.  And let me tell you, acting in alignment with your essence is pretty damn empowering.

This should set the stage for what will happen over the coming year.  I’m excited to share it with you, and to continue to grow in this manner.  If reading this has inspired you, please, make the effort to connect yourself and get in touch with me or leave a comment.

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.


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.

Evolution abhors your comfort

November 6th, 2011 2 comments

I’ve just gotten back from spending some time today at a mingler with the folks putting on @TEDxVictoria.  This event promises to be an inspiring one, with a number of very interesting speakers attending.  I’m volunteering on the day of the event, and am looking forward to touching base and meeting a ton of new people.  I’ll be working the registration desk, so please stop by and say hi if you’re attending the event.

The theme for the event is “Cultivating Evolution”.  I had hoped to get my act together and submit a talk for the event, but had a number of other commitments that were more pressing and, to be fair, more important as well.

However, this theme is very near and dear to my heart.  Growth is an integral component of who I am, and it’s the reason my clients seek out my coaching services.  I help people find where and how they want to grow, and I enable and accelerate that growth.  Evolution, to my mind, means growth with purpose.

Does growth require a purpose?

No.  But, I believe that growth without any purpose is often cancerous.  It doesn’t lead in any particular direction and often results in imbalance, burn-out and resources being strained or devoted to the wrong things.

When house plants grow, they do so with the purpose of maximizing their exposure to sunlight.  Their purpose is to harness and utilize the available resources as efficiently as possible.  You’ll note that your plants often grow towards the source of sunlight in your home.  Growing in every direction without any purpose would be inefficient.  The plant would need to devote more energy to supporting the parts of itself that aren’t collecting sunlight.

Humans are the same way.  We need to ensure that our growth happens in a purposeful manner.  Optimally, we want to design our growth so that we move and grow in directions that are consistent with what matters most to us.  Growth that is in alignment with our values and our purpose will be growth that is maximally beneficial to ourselves.

Take a moment and think of someone in your network that has achieved great things, but is miserable.  Most of us know at least a few people that meet this description – many of us meet the description ourselves.  With the intense pressure put on young adults graduating from high school to enter university, get a degree and start working “in the real world”, there are ever greater numbers of people that have grown in ways that are simply irrelevant to their values and drive.  Aside from the intrinsic value gained from education itself, what good is an engineering degree if all you have ever wanted to be was a professional actor?

Where does comfort fit into this?

Let’s get back on track  — what does comfort have to do with evolution?

The answer is: Nothing.  Comfort is what will kill your evolution.

The thing is, growth doesn’t occur when we’re comfortable; it occurs when we are pushing outside of our comfort zone.  Comfort represents a number of things.  To name just a few:

  • Security
  • Safety
  • Inertia
  • The known
  • Being at peace with our surroundings

Most of these things are good.  Security and safety are important in our lives, and provide us with a sense of predictability and rationality in a world that doesn’t always behave that way.  Being at peace with our surroundings allows us to let our guard down, giving us the opportunity to rest.

When I was 19, I worked at McDonalds.  I made very little money, but it was enough to pay my rent, buy groceries and liquor, and go out to the bar with friends multiple times a week.  It was comfortable.  In fact, I could have stayed in that place for the next ten years without making any changes (and there were certainly some people that did just that).

But I demand growth from myself, and I think that you should too.  Evolution along our own values is something that we, as humans, intrinsically seek.  You may not even be aware of this drive, but you can feel it every time you experience a sense of discontent, or hear yourself saying “I feel like I’m better than this”.

There’s no growth in comfort

This is my key point.  Really juicy growth occurs when we are pushed out of our comfort zone and forced to adapt to circumstances that we have not previously encountered.

Our minds are rational.  It’s the way we’ve evolved to think.  We seek out patterns, we make predictable results based on those patterns, and then we assume that the same result will flow from that pattern the next time we encounter it.  When we’re exposed to new patterns or situations, the likes of which we have not before seen, we experience discomfort.  How do we know what result will come from this new situation?  We’ve lost our predictability; we’ve lost our rationality.

For the first ten years of my life as a dancer, I practiced my technique in front of a mirror, and it became very refined as a result.  But for those long years, I never felt like I was really progressing at the rate that I wanted to.  What had happened to the leaps and bounds that I’d been experiencing when I first started?  Simple — I was now only operating within my comfort zone.  When you allow yourself to remain in this realm, the best you can hope to do is refine what you already know.

Don’t get me wrong, refining our existing knowledge is its own form of growth and has its own value.  It’s just that it isn’t the same kind of growth, and it won’t generate those big rewards that you remember getting when you first started learning something new.

When I went to Vancouver and was put in a position where I had to dance in the middle of a circle of my friends, I was thrust right back in to that awkward, uncomfortable place.  And you know what?  My growth was incredible!  It felt discomforting and a little bit terrifying.  But those things are healthy.  They let us know that we’re doing something new.  We’re being exposed to something that is currently outside of our existing knowledge base.

If you want to grow, you need to be willing to expose yourself to something new

And so here’s the call of action to you, my readers.  Determine some areas in your life where you would like to see some growth.  Perhaps it’s meeting some new people.  Perhaps it’s quitting a habit that you’ve been carrying with you for quite some time.  Perhaps it’s pursuing a dream that you’ve let sit on the back burner for far too long.

Figure out where your first point of discomfort is with respect to this change you would like to make.  If you’re aim is to meet new people and become better at talking to strangers, perhaps that first point of discomfort comes merely from the thought of taking that action.

“What will I say after I say hello to them?”

“What if they just look at me strangely?”

“What if they don’t like me?”

These are all questions that represent that first point of discomfort.  See that point of discomfort for what it truly is: a milestone indicating an opportunity to grow.  Recognize that it doesn’t represent a failing on your part that you feel uncomfortable about it, and treat as a challenge, rather than a barrier.

Then, attack that point of discomfort.  Commit yourself to feeling uncomfortable for a period of four weeks, and then…

Dive head first.

Just do it.  It’s that simple.  The real meat of true growth is rarely about long planning sessions, strategy and identifying points of possible failure.  It ultimately comes down to your willingness to experience the discomfort associated with being in an unfamiliar situation.

Remind yourself, it gets easier every time, and that’s because you’re growing.  The first time you say “Hi” to a stranger will feel awkward and silly.  It’s outside of your comfort zone.  It’s not who you currently are.  But you’re doing it because you want to get better at it, right?  The second time you do it, it won’t feel quite as uncomfortable.  You’ve already done it once before, and you have an inkling of what to expect.  And so the cycle continues.

So what’s standing in your way?

We’ve all got complaints that go like this: “If only for X, I would be able to do Y”.

And make no mistake, X is entirely real to each of us, regardless of what it happens to be.  Maybe it’s money.  Maybe it’s the fact that you aren’t supported by your spouse.  Maybe it’s that you didn’t do something when you were younger, and so you don’t think you can achieve Y now.

But it doesn’t matter how real X is to you, because I have the real answer.

What’s predominantly standing in the way of your own growth isn’t X (or A, B or C either).  It’s fear.

Fear is what stops most of us from growing.  What do those fears look like?  Here are some:

  • Fear that we won’t be supported by our partner

This is something worth delving into a little more deeply, but if Y is something you truly want to achieve, why would your partner want to stand in the way of that?

(Probably because of their own fears).

  • Fear that you won’t be able to afford to do Y

There are always creative ways to achieve what you want.  Maybe you can’t do Y full-time until you’ve established yourself, but that’s not to say that you can’t start do a little bit of Y until you’ve made more of a name for yourself.

  • Fear that you don’t have the time to do Y

Is Y important to you?  Where are you spending your time?  Is everything that currently occupies your time more important than Y, or are there some things that could be dropped off to make more time for Y?

Again, most of these really amount to assuming that our current context, that is to say, what we are currently comfortable with, is the only possibility that there ever could be.  But there’s no validity to this assumption.  Although you’re probably quite comfortable with the way you’re spending time, if it’s stopping you from growing toward something that is truly important to you, maybe it’s time to experience some discomfort.

Embrace discomfort

Here’s your take-away point for today.  Take note of when you are experiencing discomfort, and rather than simply reacting to it, ask yourself why you are feeling that way.  What’s causing that sensation?  What is it that you are uncomfortable with?

Then, embrace it.  Recognize it as an opportunity for growth and let yourself sit with that uncomfortable feeling.

Let’s close it out

Here’s your summary for today:

  • Evolution is ultimately, in the personal sense, purposeful growth
  • While it is good to feel comfortable at times, true growth does not lie in feeling comfortable
  • In order to grow, you need to experience discomfort.  In fact, discomfort and growth are often mutually inclusive
  • Identify some areas in your life where you want to see some real growth, then find the first point of discomfort.  Once you’ve done that, attack that point head-on.  Dive in to the discomfort and let yourself sit with it.
  • Don’t simply react to discomfort.  Understand that it represents a challenge and an opportunity to grow, and treat it as such.

Help me out with a psychology question

September 1st, 2011 No comments

You can help me out with 10 seconds of your time.  I’ve been thinking about motivation and how we can best spur ourselves onward to action.  I’ve slowly absorbed the fact that I have a bit of an emotional aversion to the process of actually getting things done (hence the many systems that I set up and maintain to spur me forward).

To help me gain a better understanding of overcoming aversions like this one, use the poll below to answer this simple question:

Without knowing anything else, which of the three lists below makes you most inclined to start filling it out?

Each list has three slots.  List A already has the third slot filled, list B has the first slot filled and list C has the middle slot filled.


List A

List A

List B

List B

List C
List C









Which of the above 3 lists most makes you want to add items to it?

  • List B (50%, 14 Votes)
  • List A (29%, 8 Votes)
  • List C (21%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 28

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The results

I will share the results and what I think they mean after I’ve gotten enough answers.  Thanks for taking part in the experiment!

Where do we excel?

August 26th, 2011 No comments

The summer is drawing to a close, and I feel like I have a little bit of distance and time to reflect.  I took on a tremendous amount on this term.  I achieved many of my goals, but wound down the term feeling a little burnt out.  Since my goal for school was to actually get away with giving it less of my time and attention (while maintaining a GPA that I was happy with), I won’t focus any more on that.

[Update: I just got my grades and this goal was a success.  My GPA did not drop at all and I was able to devote much more time to other pursuits this summer.  Feels good to celebrate a success!]

While completing the term, I put a lot of effort into setting up my coaching practice, and I have been regularly coaching a number of clients throughout the summer.  We’ve had some great successes, and it’s been very inspiring to be a part of this process.  As part of my goal, I’ve been undergoing coaching myself, and this has been a surprising journey.

Exploring things like what motivates me, how I derive value, and what my strengths and weaknesses are has been confusing and enlightening.  Often both at the same time.  One astounding insight I had was the realization that I’m an intuitive person.  When I told my Mum, she said “Well, yah, wouldn’t you say that you’ve always been a very intuitive person?”.  It’s funny, the most significant discoveries we make about ourselves are often those that are already obvious to everyone else.  It’s taking me 32 years to come to this realization.  I’m fairly certain I would have come to it eventually as time bore on, but through coaching, this process was vastly more efficient and my growth was accelerated.

One of the assessments that I undertook as a result of this ongoing process was from a book titled “Strengths Finder 2.0″, by Tom Rath.  The book is pretty short, and is really just a compendium of the various strengths (as the author has chosen to categorize them).  The real meat of the process comes from filling out a test online and then see what strengths are fed back to you.  (Unlike the Myers-Briggs tests I did when I was in secondary school, this test had just shy of 200 questions, rather than 20).

Today, I’m sharing my own strengths, so that you can get a glimpse into what sort of things you can explore through coaching.  Imagine if you could move yourself in a direction where we you were working with all of your strengths, instead of weaknesses.  Wouldn’t everyone be better off in this situation?  By working with a coach, we can all move in the direction of where we are our greatest and most authentic selves.

Let’s look at my results:


The strategic theme enables you to sort through the clutter and find the best route.  It is not a skill that can be taught.  It is a distinct way of thinking, a special perspective on the world at large.  This perspective allows you to see patterns where others simply see complexity.  Mindful of these patterns, you play out alternative scenarios, always asking, “What if this happened?  Okay, well what if this happened?”.  This recurring question helps you see around the next corner.  There you can evaluate accurately the potential obstacles.  Guided by where you see each path leading, you start to make selections.  You discard the paths that lead nowhere.  You discard the paths that lead straight into resistance.  You discard the paths that lead into a fog of confusion.  You cull and make selections until you arrive at the chosen path — your strategy.  Armed with your strategy, you strike forward.  This is your Strategic theme at work: “What if?” Select. Strike.

My biggest take-away:

  • Trust your intuitive insights as often as possible.  Even though you might not be able to explain them rationally, your intuitions are created by a brain that instinctively anticipates and projects.  Have confidence in these perceptions.
Other thoughts:
  • This really lands home deeply with me.  I can remember planning out social interactions and phone calls as a kid, thinking through what I would say if they said X.  That was a bit extreme, and a coping mechanism that I’ve had to learn to overcome in order to remain present in an actual conversation, but it is illustrative of the way my brain works.


You love to learn.  The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning.  The process, more than the content or the result, is especially exciting for you.  You are energized by the steady and deliberate journey from ignorance to competence.  The thrill of the first few facts, the early efforts to recite or practice what you have learned, the growing confidence of a skill mastered — this is the process that entices you.  Your excitement leads you to engage in adult learning experiences — yoga or piano lesson or graduate classes.  It enables you to thrive in dynamic work environments where you are asked to take on short project assignments are are expected to learn a lot about the new subject matter in a short period of time and then move on to the next one.  This Learner theme does not necessarily mean that you seek to become the subject matter expert, or that you are striving for the respect that accompanies a professional or academic credential.  The outcome of the learning is less significant than the “getting there”.

My biggest take-away(s):

  • Refine how you learn.  For example, you might learn best by teaching; if so, seek out opportunities to present to others.  You might learn best through quiet reflection; if so, find this quiet time.
  • Be a catalyst for change.  Others might be intimidated by new rules, new skills, or new circumstances.  Your willingness to soak up this newness can calm their fears and spur them to action.  Take this responsibility seriously.
Other thoughts:
  • Mmmm, knowledge.  Nothing surprising here.  I know that I love challenge and growth.  It’s pleasing to see that teaching is listed as a way of learning.  Teaching has always been my favourite way to learn.  If you’re looking for evidence, help yourself to a meaty serving of this blog’s archives.


Relator describes your attitude toward your relationships.  In simple terms, the Relator theme pulls you toward people you already know.  You do not necessarily shy away from meeting new people — in fact, you may have other themes that cause you to enjoy the thrill of turning strangers into friends — but you do derive a great deal of pleasure and strength from being around your close friends.  You are comfortable with intimacy.  Once the initial connection has been made, you deliberately encourage a deepening of the relationship.  You want to understand their feelings, their goals, their fears, and their dreams; and you want them to understand yours.  You know that this kind of closeness implies a certain amount of risk — you might be taken advantage of — but you are willing to accept that risk.  For you a relationship has value only if it is genuine.  And the only way to know that is to entrust yourself to the other person.  The more you share with each other, the more you risk together.  The more you risk together, the more each of you proves your caring is genuine.  These are your steps toward real friendship, and you take them willingly.

My biggest take-away:

  • You might tend to withhold the most engaging aspects of your personality until you have sensed openness from another person.  Remember, building relationships is not a one-way street.  Proactively “put yourself out there.”  Others will quickly see you for the genuine individual you are, and you will create many more opportunities to cultivate strong, long-lasting connections
Other thoughts:
  • I keep reading “Realtor” when I see Relator.  I’ve never really considered my own social dynamics from this perspective.  I’m getting better at meeting new people, but it’s definitely true that I like to dive deep and learn about people rather than being a social butterfly.


You like to explain, to describe, to host, to speak in public, and to write.  This is your Communicator theme at work.  Ideas are a dry beginning.  Events are static.  You feel a need to bring them to life, to energize them, to make them exciting and vivid.  And so you turn events into stories and practice telling them.  You take the dry idea and enliven it with images and examples and metaphors.  You believe that most people have a very short attention span.  They are bombarded by information, but very little of it survives.  You want your information — whether an idea, an event, a product’s features and benefits, a discovery, or a lesson — to survive.  You want to divert their attention toward you and then capture it, lock it in.  This is what drives your hunt for the perfect phrase.  This is what draws you toward dramatic words and powerful word combinations.  This is why people like to listen to you.  Your word pictures pique their interest, sharpen their world, and inspire them to act.

My biggest take-away:

  • If you enjoy writing, consider publishing your work.  If you enjoy public speaking, make a presentation at a professional meeting or convention.  In either case, your Communicator talents will serve to assist you in finding just the right way to frame your ideas and state your purpose.  You delight in sharing your thoughts with others, so find the medium that best fits your voice and message.
  • Volunteer for opportunities to present.  You can become known as someone who helps people express their thoughts and ambitions in a captivating way.
Other thoughts:
  • Might be some more alternative career choices here…


Your world needs to be predictable.  It needs to be ordered and planned.  So you instinctively impose structure on your world.  You set up routines.  You focus on timelines and deadlines.  You break long-term projects into a series of specific short-term plans, and you work through each plan diligently.  You are not necessarily neat and clean, but you do need precision.  Faced with the inherent messiness of life, you want to feel in control.  The routines, the timelines, the structure, all of these help create this feeling of control.  Lacking this theme of Discipline, others may sometimes resent your need for order, but there need not be conflict.  You must understand that not everyone feels your urge for predictability; they have other ways of getting things done.  Likewise, you can help them understand and even appreciate your need for structure.  Your dislike of surprises, your impatience with errors, your routines, and your detail orientation don’t need to be misinterpreted as controlling behaviours that box people in.  Rather, these behaviours can be understood as your instinctive method for maintaining your progress and your productivity in the face of life’s many distractions.

My biggest take-away(s):

  • Others may confuse your Discipline talents with rigidity.  Help them understand that your discipline helps you pack more effectiveness into a day — often because you prioritize your time.  When working with others who are not as disciplined, ask them to clarify deadlines so you can adjust your workload to accommodate their requests.
  • Timelines motivate you.  When you have a task to complete, you like to know the deadline so you can plan your schedule accordingly.  Apply your Discipline talents by outlining the step-by-step plan you will use.  Others will appreciate your cues because they will help keep everyone “on task”.

Moving forward

I’m entering my third year of law school, and am currently trying to sort out exactly where I want to take the next phase of my life (along with Bay, of course).  Career choices are available to me, and the real conflict that is starting to emerge is one that I’m well familiar with: Doing what “should” be done, or what I want to do?  At the core of this conflict is the battle between doing what social pressure tells me to do and doing what I feel passionate about.

I know that my intuition is right, but now I have to figure out what that means, what the consequences of pursuing that path of action are, and how to explain what I feel to the other people that are affected by my decisions.  I’m unwilling to make changes in my life that would affect the people I love without them being onboard, so it’s really important to me that I’m able to understand what I want to do and why I want to do it.  Keep checking back and I promise I will provide updates.  This is a journey that we all undertake, so I hope that by sharing my own insights, we can all grow a little bit.

I have been seeking inspiration for a while – I want to keep writing, but none of the blog ideas I’ve stored are jumping out at me.  So help me out: post a comment or message me privately and suggest something for me to write about.  We both win – you get to hear a different perspective on something that’s on your mind, and I get to know that there are people out there that think about the same things I do.  And hey, we both get to learn!

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).


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.

Retreat to get ahead.

July 1st, 2011 1 comment

Ahhhh...A lot has happened since I last posted.  I included a link to one of my articles detailing my weekly review process over at GTD Times, and got over 100 daily visits across the span of about 5 days (without doubt a record for this humble site).

Unfortunately, that timing coincided with an assignment in one class and writing a take-home exam in my administrative law class.  As such, I effectively invited a bunch of people into my home and then fell into a coma for the duration of their visit.  Not the best way to increase traffic or treat people that are interested in what I have to say.

Administrative law was a challenging course, though only inasmuch as the subject matter was very dry, and it was a large-credit course condensed into half the time.  I was spending 8 hours a week in class, and additional time reading.  The challenge was to stay motivated and engaged throughout.  Nevertheless, things have started to settle down a little bit, and as I travel over to Vancouver for the weekend, I’m given the familiar gift of a dedicated 1.5 hours in which to put thoughts to keyboard.

Today I want to talk a little bit about the importance of retreating.  If you don’t need convincing and only want the strategy, you can skip to it here.


..from what?

From everything.

What I’m hoping to convince you is that there is value in having the self-discipline and awareness to take a step back from time to time and pull away from whatever you are currently focused on.



There are many good reasons to purposefully retreat from your current task or project.  First and foremost is the need to combat diminishing returns.  Although this is generally an economic theory, it is applicable to much of our daily lives.

Can you think of a time when you were banging your head against the metaphorical wall for hours, trying to solve a problem, only to go for a walk, return and immediately conceive of the solution?  These experiences are not uncommon, and are illustrative of the value of retreating.

When a problem is receiving all of our focus, we can develop mental tunnel vision.  Our mind’s become focused to the extent that we are unable to synthesize or incorporate any additional information from outside of our particular area of focus.  It is not until we step back that the blinders on our mind are removed and we are free to think of a solution in terms that exist outside of the confines of the box we were operating in.

Do you take breaks at work?

If you answered no, you probably thought to yourself “I’m way too busy to take a break, I can’t afford the time”.  The fact is, you can’t afford not to take breaks.

Without taking time to retreat and reconnect with yourself, the efficiency with which you are able to apply yourself to your work will diminish over time.  This is not an uncommon process amongst law students.  A-type personalities have an aggressive bent and love throwing themselves at a task.  Failure in achieving that task within expectations is met with zeal and resentment, and a redoubling of effort.  Many a weary face have I seen turning in assignments in the morning, telling fables of seeing dragons at 5 in the morning, shortly before they awoke in a pile of drool in time to hand in their completed paper.

I’m using hyperbole here because it’s more fun, but you can probably relate to this state of mind.  Most of us would benefit from procrastinating less (also here) and taking more frequent breaks.


I can’t afford to!

Actually, you can’t afford not to.

This is a good statement to trigger your self-awareness and alert you that maybe you need to take a step back.  With unbelievably few exceptions, taking 15 minutes away from a task you are working on is not going to result in failure.

Retreating from your tasks and projects is important, but this philosophy should be applied not just to work, but to life in general.

For the first two years of classes, I’ve been a part of the co-op program.  This means that I take classes for four months, then work at a legal job for four months, and back again.  A lot of my friends planned their work so that they finished on a Friday, and then started school again on a Monday.  When I told them that I had two weeks off, they exclaimed disbelief: “You’re so lucky!”.

Luck has nothing to do with it.  You have to actively make time for your retreats.  No one else is going to do it for you (and the same applies for your breaks at work).  Are you thinking that you can’t afford the time off?  Why not?  The benefit you will gain from taking two weeks off to process your own thoughts and reconnect with yourself will far outweigh the material costs of missing out on the paycheque.


But I go on vacation..

Vacations are awesome.  For many people they are a form of retreat.  It takes them away from their context, frees their minds up to relax and focus on what they want to achieve when they get back home, and spend time with the person that they love.  For some people, this is all that they need, although I must admit that the people I know that take the most vacations are often the ones that are the most stressed out on a daily basis.  They should probably be retreating more on a daily basis, and less on a monthly or annual one.

When you go on a vacation, are you doing a lot of planning?  Are you stressed out at all about the cost, either during the vacation or when you get back home?  Do you go on vacation to let your mind sit idle for hours on a beach, or to be exposed to culture different from your own?  None of these are cause for judgment, simply different approaches to vacation.  I love being exposed to new cultures when I travel, and so this type of vacation really isn’t much of a retreat for me — it’s time I spend actively engaging and expanding my mind.


It’s about balance — remember?

Regardless of the approach you take, the bottom line is balance is a quality that we must seek to imbue in our lives on a continual basis.  This balance must be sought at the microscopic level (on an hourly or daily basis) and on a macroscopic level (annual vacations, etc.).  If you never make the time to be at peace with your thoughts, you’ll never have the time.


Some strategies

Okay, you’re convinced.  Here are some of my own strategies to help adopt the habit of retreating:

  • Remember the trigger phrase
    • If you catch yourself saying something like “I can’t afford to take a break right now”, it’s probably the time when you most need one.
  • Question your assertions
    • If you’re telling yourself that you can’t afford the time away from your task or away from work, question how accurate this is.  Why can’t you afford to take that break?  Will the benefit you gain from taking a break really be that detrimental in the long run?  Looking back, would you have more regret for not taking the break, or for having taken it?
  • Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t have the option of turning down the break
    • I always ask my wife this question when she refuses to take a sick day (in spite of being dreadfully snotty and sick).  What if she wasn’t given the option — would her entire project fail?  Would she get fired?  Would the world end?  Ask yourself what would happen if your power went out for 15 minutes and you couldn’t continue working during that period.  (If you’re thinking about how you really need to start saving your work more often, you’re missing the point).  The consequences of taking a break are not that bad.
  • Specifically schedule time in your work calendar for breaks.
    • Label them “appointment” or something sufficiently vague.  Doing this for 15 minute breaks may become onerous, but I know more than a few people that would benefit from booking time like this for a couple of hours during the day — if only to ensure that they have a few hours of undisturbed time.
  • Whenever your situation is undergoing change (new job, moving homes, etc.), give yourself more time than you think you need
    • Don’t assume that the weekend will be enough time — specifically leave a little bit of extra room between the end of one job and the start of the next one.  A few days off will not break your bank (and if it is, perhaps you should be focusing some attention on living within a tighter budget).  Taking the extra time will allow you to adjust and accept the change at a reasonable pace.
  • If you need more encouragement, think of all of the things you wish you had time to accomplish but never do
    • The simple act of contemplating what you might use the added time off for will help you focus on the value that retreating may provide, rather than just the costs

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.


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).