Discipline

“In reading the lives of great men, I found that the first victory was over themselves. Self-discipline with all of them came first”

Harry S Truman

When exploring the multitude of factors which have the power to influence or contribute to our happiness and success, there is one which reigns supreme. Discipline. Mastery over the self, and a certain level of control over our emotions and impulses, can bring serious benefits to all areas of our lives from our health and fitness to our relationships with others, our professional lives and everything in-between.

There have been a number of studies over the years which have explored the power and benefits of discipline in depth, and if there is one common theme, it is that those who practice self-discipline are often happier as a result. Better yet is the fact that discipline is a learned behaviour. It is not something that you are born with, but rather it’s within reach for all of us. So, if you want to become more disciplined, it is entirely possible as long as you put the effort and hard work in. And hard work it most certainly is. In order to become disciplined, you must master the self. This means becoming more aware of who you are, what motivates you, your hopes and fears and your vision for the future. Furthermore, you become more acutely aware of your emotions and what triggers them, leading you to becoming more effective at controlling them as well as your impulses. This culminates in a person developing a sense of balance and becoming more able to make better informed and more rational decisions, which are not governed by impulse and emotion. Your decision-making process becomes proactive and guides you towards your goals as you spend less time and energy simply reacting to the world around you.

Becoming more disciplined requires constant practice and reflection, but the results are more than worth the hard work and effort required. Alongside the increased self-awareness and impulse control, as you work on becoming more disciplined, you will find bad habits being broken and replaced with healthier, more productive ones.

When it comes to the “how” of becoming more disciplined, there is no singular, winning formula. This stands to reason, as we are all unique and on our own individual journeys towards our vision of success. There are, however, a few proven and popular methods, and i’ll end with my top 4;

  • Expressing gratitude. We live in an age of consumerism and are relentlessly bombarded with messages about things that we need to buy in order to be happy. The result is that we spend a ridiculous amount of time and energy focusing on what we lack, and how important it is for our future happiness to have it. Essentially, we are allowing our impulses and actions to be manipulated by clever marketers and salespeople. If you want to become more disciplined, you need to take control here. This starts with a shift towards appreciation and gratitude. Focus, instead, should be switched to what you already have and are grateful for.
  • Eating healthier foods, sleeping well and exercising regularly. Fighting temptation and cravings in order to lead a healthier lifestyle will build a healthy mind as well as a healthy body. As the saying goes, “Mens sana in corpore sano” or “a healthy mind in a healthy body”.
  • Organisation. This is one area which you can practice at work, as well as at home, in order to become more disciplined. In becoming more organised, you become better able to prioritise tasks and manage your time effectively, as well as your emotions and energy levels.
  • Resilience. Discipline is also about willpower and mental strength, and the one area where this guaranteed to be regularly tested is in our response to setbacks. As you develop the ability persevere through hard times, you will find yourself becoming more disciplined. This, in turn, will help you to develop the strength to bounce back from challenges and get yourself back on the path towards your goals.

 

 

 

 

Ego

Recently, we looked at the beauty of humility, but today I would like to discuss its arch-nemesis, the ego. The word “ego” comes from the Latin, meaning “I”, and unless it is kept in check, it is a powerful force that has the potential to undo much of your good work.

Ego often gets confused with confidence but it is important to understand that these are 2 very different concepts. Confidence is a belief, and faith, in your skills and abilities. It is something that, when we work on it, can improve our lives and open the door to opportunities. Ego, on the other hand is about self-interest. When the ego takes over, we crave the validation and approval of others in order to justify what we do and how we do it. Ego is a very destructive force.

The problem with ego is that it doesn’t like feedback. Ego assumes that you already know everything and have nothing to learn. To the ego it is a sign of weakness to admit that you don’t have all the answers. In turn, the egotistical overestimate their abilities, skills and knowledge and miss opportunities. In opening yourself up to feedback from others, you also open the door to potential opportunities for learning, growth and progress. The ego, however, makes sure that this particular door remains locked, bolted and boarded up.

As we become more self-aware, some are taking it to the extremes and becoming self-obsessed and self-centered. If this is not addressed, it can wreak habit our our personal lives and relationships as well as our professional lives and businesses. There is a balance between humility and confidence, which we should strive to find. In order to keep the ego in check and stop it from taking over, I have found the following very effective;

  • Allow yourself extra time before making decisions or taking action. Wherever possible, stop and think first. In this way, you are more likely to be calmer and more focused as you take your next step.
  • Practice gratitude. Be thankful for what you have achieved and experienced so far. Celebrate your successes and achievements, but also acknowledge others who have helped and supported you on your journey so far.
  • Take responsibility and ownership. Just as you celebrate your successes, take responsibility for setbacks and failures too. Rather than complain, or ignore it altogether, focus on how you will recover and bounce back. Share your experiences, negative as well as positive, so that others may be inspired and learn too.

Life itself is a journey of learning, discovery and development, so admitting that we don’t have all the answers just makes us human, and humble. More likeable too.

 

Humility

It is becoming increasingly popular for people, in social media as in real life, to want to show the world the trappings of their success. These are essentially the designer clothes, jewellery and cars which give the outward appearance of wealth and achievement. The original meaning of the word trappings was the bridle and saddle decoration which riders would put on their horses to show how powerful and privileged they were. In modern terms, however, trappings has come to mean  peacocking and showing off. In short, people are tying their sense of self-esteem and self-worth to material goods and this needs to stop.

We need to stop feeding the narcissism and over-the-top self confidence of these people and deny them the attention which they crave. Of course, everyone should be able to celebrate their successes, but as with all good things it should be done in moderation. Instead we should be glorifying those who achieve greatly yet remain humble. The humble achievers. These humble achievers are not just found in the business arena, but in all areas. These are the people who have discovered their motivation and inspiration, determined their goals and set out on a journey to achieve them. They share their journey with others , so that they might in turn learn from them and be encouraged to define their own goals and embark on their own pursuit of them.

The humble achievers are those who choose to document their journey and process, with all its ups and downs, rather than the end result. They are as open about the hard work and challenges which they face on a daily basis on their journey towards their goals, as they are about the fact that they do not know everything and occasionally make mistakes. They are not driven by fame or social status, but rather their “why” and their purpose.

Here are a few more traits which the humble tend to have in common;

  • They engage with others and listen to their opinions
  • They accept that they have limitations and are open about them
  • They are considerate of others and their needs
  • They are open about their mistakes, taking responsibility for them and sharing what they have learned.
  • They reflect on what they have learned, how far they have come and how far they have yet to go. They are driven to keep learning, growing and developing.

I’ll leave you with quote from Laszlo Bock, Head of People Operations at Google;

“Without humility, you are unable to learn,”

What is your driving force?!

You may have heard of it referred to as your “why” and if you want to lead a successful and fulfilled life it is important that you know exactly what it is. Everybody has goals and dreams but it is your “why” or reason for being that has the power to set high-achievers apart from the crowd.

Your why is your purpose. It’s your reason for being. It’s a cause that you believe in deeply, to your core. Furthermore it’s a source of inspiration and motivation which will help you to rebound strongly from setbacks and problems and keep you going when times get tough. When you know why you are doing what you do, and find yourself on your chosen path, there is less likelihood of becoming disheartened and quitting when faced with adversity. On the other hand, it also keeps you grounded, humble and focused when you do start to make real progress.

There is a catch, though. I can’t tell you what your why is. Nobody can. For every individual it will, of course, differ. Only you can figure that out for yourself through honest reflection. There are, however, some questions which anybody can benefit from asking themselves;

  • What does success look like to you? Before you embark on your journey, you must know what it is the you are aiming for. If you don’t know where you are headed or what you are aiming for, you can’t possibly know when you are making progress. What does the end result look like? What do you want to achieve through your journey? Are you driven to bring about social change? Are you looking to start a business? Are you looking to strengthen your personal relationships?
  • What issues are you passionate about? What motivates or inspires you? What keeps you up at night, occupying your thoughts? What is the burning question that you want to answer, or change that you want to bring about?
  • If money were no object, what would you do? Put aside the pay check for a moment and the bills which need paying. If your finances were comfortable and you were in complete control of your destiny, how would you spend your time? What would you focus on?

Your why is your mission. Use the 3 questions above as prompts to help you find your own. It gives you strength in testing times and keeps you humble and focused when things go well. Find it and you will discover strength and ability which you may not have realised that you possess. Coupled with a deep belief in what you are doing, and a dogged determination to succeed, you will soon find yourself on a journey through life which is as fulfilling and meaningful as it is successful.

Hope

We need hope. Hope is not just a wishy-washy self-help concept without substance, but rather it is a powerful force for good.

Hope is more than just an optimistic view that everything will turn out for the best. It is a deeply held belief that you have the will, skills and tools with which to overcome any hurdles as you work towards your goals.

With hope, people become more resilient in the face of challenges, setbacks and temporary defeats. To a certain extent, it can also help people to combat anxiety and negative self-talk.

This is supported by modern research, which is increasingly finding that hope offers much more than just comfort during difficult times.

Hope means having a strong expectation that, in general, things will turn out right in life, despite setbacks and frustrations.

The power of hope is nothing new, and was first introduced in Ancient Greece , through the legend of Pandora’s box. 

When Prometheus stole fire from the gods, Zeus took vengeance by presenting Pandora, along with a sealed box, to Prometheus’ brother Epimetheus for marriage. Despite being warned never to open it, Pandora opens the box which contained  death and many other evils which were released into the world. She hastens to close the container, but the whole contents had escaped except for one thing that lay at the bottom. One thing which could remedy all of the ills which had been unleashed on the world – Elpi, or hope as we know it.
Hope has long been viewed as an antidote to the world’s ills, but I would like to leave  you with one of the best definitions I have found which is also much more recent.

Albert Bandar,  the eminent Stamford psychologist states that;

“People’s beliefs about their abilities have a profound effect on those abilities. Ability is not a fixed property, there is a huge variability in how you perform. People who have a sense of self-efficacy bounce back from failures. They approach things in terms of how to handle them rather than worrying about what can go wrong. 

Why are we so averse to certain traits in others?

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves”  ~ Carl Jung

I recently read this quote from Carl Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, and wanted to share my reflections and what we can potentially learn from it.

Essentially, Carl Jung believed that, when we reflect on that which irritates us in other people, we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves, which leads to an increased self-awareness. This can only be a good thing as we continue on our journeys towards our goals. Achieving your goals is a wonderful feeling, but the most important part of the process is the journey itself, in which you learn who you really are, your strengths and weaknesses and your likes and dislikes. The more self-aware we become, the more we will learn and grow as we strive towards our goals.

Being naturally social creatures, we come to understand ourselves best through our relationships and interactions with other people. Therefore, it stands to reason that, whether consciously or not, we surround ourselves with people whose characteristics and behaviours are a match for our own.

That said, it is often the case that certain characteristics in someone’s personality trigger a negative reaction us, and we often find ourselves at a loss as to why we experience such an aversion to these traits.

Why does this happen?! Is our subconscious sending us a message?!

It can be argued that we experience an aversion to certain traits in others because we see things within others which we recognise within ourselves and are not happy about. In this instance, there is a message being sent, that we need to take some time for reflection. We can only be triggered by something we know, understand and have experienced ourselves, whether we admit it to ourselves or not.

The traits which we tend to dislike in others are the ones which we dislike in ourselves and may be suppressing. We then tend to judge these characteristics harshly in others, but when we stand in judgement of others, we inadvertently expose our true selves.

The people with whom we interact are showing us who we really are, and are presenting  an opportunity to learn, reflect and grow. Every person we come into contact with is showing up at the perfect time in our lives to draw attention to something we need to reflect on within ourselves and learn from.

Rather than focusing on the negative feelings which the traits of another might stir within you, look for an opportunity to reflect, learn and grow.

 

Stop and smell the roses

Stop and smell the roses. For anyone unfamiliar with this idiom, it means taking time out of your day to notice, appreciate and enjoy the beauty of life. It involves a shift in your focus from all things work or business-related to the small things that often go unnoticed, such as the sights and sounds of nature as you cut through the park on the way to the office. It means developing a childlike curiosity which can help you to view the world from a different perspective, through new eyes. Furthermore, it can help you to rediscover how much life has to offer, and how much you appreciate it.

While smelling the roses may appear to run counter to the “Carpe Diem” philosophy recommended overwhelmingly in business literature, it can actually compliment it. We live increasingly busy lives, and are constantly reminded to “seize the day” and take action if we want to lead a successful and fulfilled life. While this is excellent advice and we should take action in the direction of our goals, there must be some moderation. We are so used to hearing that we need to work harder, devoting more time and effort to outwork the competition, that we often feel guilty when we do try and unwind. How often do we find ourselves reaching for a laptop, Ipad or smartphone to check our emails for something we may have missed while trying to relax?! This “always on” culture, worn by some as a badge of honour, can lead to stress burnout, loss of focus and drive and also damage our personal relationships.

This is where slowing down comes in. Smelling the roses, and taking some time out for yourself, can help to reduce stress and make us more appreciative of what we have. It also brings a sense of calm and relaxation. This can help to recharge our batteries so that we return to our professional lives and goals re-energised, motivated and with a renewed focus.

There is no need to pick one approach or the other in this case as they work so well together. Naturally, taking action in the direction of our goals will lead to a more fulfilling life, but there needs to be moderation and time out to appreciate everything which we have already and which life has to offer. Life is not about rushing from one goal to the next, but the journey itself and the process which helps us to reach our goals and become successful. There are so many wonderful experiences and valuable lessons which we will encounter on our journey, and this is why we sometimes need to slow down and take that break to savour them. It would be shame to miss out because we are in too much of a hurry.

 

Procrastination; Friend or Foe?

Procrastination has long had a bad reputation, with those who engage in this practice traditionally dismissed as being lazy, disorganised timewasters. The internet however, is awash with vlogs, blog articles and TED talks which aim to show procrastination in a positive light. Which brings us to the question; does procrastination deserve a second chance?

Procrastination, as I have discovered through personal experience, has the potential to be a very positive practice. At its best, it affords you the opportunity to complete small tasks which you may have been putting off. Stress levels can also be reduced, as you switch your focus temporarily from something challenging to something more enjoyable or relaxing. Following this, you might find yourself returning to the original problem or task refreshed and with a renewed  determination. This can in turn reduce wasted effort and increase focus and, ultimately, productivity. During this interlude and shift in focus and attention, you might find yourself learning something new or finding inspiration.

Furthermore, and this is my particularly true in my case, some people thrive under the pressure of a tight deadline which drives them to produce their best work. So, again, shifting your focus temporarily from the task in hand temporarily to something else could be a good thing if it serves to recharge your batteries and you subsequently return to the original task determined to succeed.

There are, however, an awful lot of if, buts, maybes, coulds, shoulds and woulds at play here. Procrastination’s ability to serve as a force of good or bad is really a question of potential. It has the potential to improve your life and make it easier, but it also has the potential to breed lazy, unmotivated, uninspired timewasting clockwatchers. The deciding factor? The individual.

As with anything else, it’s what you make of it. Procrastination can either be good or bad, positive or negative and it all depends on your attitude and behaviour. On the one hand, it can present an opportunity to reduce stress levels, get your creative juices flowing and provide a source of motivation and inspiration. On the other hand, though, it can breed laziness, disengagement and drain motivation.

If harnessed correctly, procrastination can be a powerful force for good on your journey towards success. It is, nonetheless your choice  as to where it leads, and if left untamed and allowed to run wild, it has the potential to seriously derail and undermine all of your efforts and good work to-date.

Procrastination. Good or bad, it’s up to you what you make of it.

Can we please stop advising people to Give 110%?!

It’s everywhere, from sports coaching to books and articles on business, psychology and self-help. We are being bombarded with the advice that, if we want to achieve great things we need to give 110%. Which makes no sense.

This idea that you too can become a successful entrepreneur, sports star, actor or whatever else you want to be by giving 110, 120, or even 150% sounds simple, cool and catchy. Hence it is spreading like wildfire, but it’s time that we contain it and put it out.

Maybe I am just being pedantic, but we can only give 100% effort. That is our maximum, no more. Effort depends on so many factors that you might feel like you are giving your all today, but find that you can give a little more tomorrow. These factors can range from getting enough rest or food to the level of knowledge which you possess.

Let’s take running as an example. I might be able to manage 25 minutes at a steady pace on the treadmill today, but a week later find myself completing 45 minutes. In that time, I haven’t discovered a mystical energy reserve which allowed me to give 110%, but more likely the improvement came about as a result of my body adapting to the demands of my training and a possible improvement in my rest, recovery and nutrition.

The same can be said of progress made from one week to the next in business and other arenas. It is doubtful that your success is driven by 110% effort, but rather an increase in knowledge, understanding and experience.

If you are giving your all, that means that you are giving 100%. no more, no less. If you walk away from whatever you are engaged in and still have some energy left in the tank, then it is unlikely that you gave 100% in the first place, but rather around 80% which was the most you could give at that point in time. A good night’s rest, some further reading or adequate hydration and you might be able to return the next day and truly give 100% effort.

I believe that in order to be successful in your field of interest or expertise, there is a formula which could help;

1 – Identify what it is that you want to achieve, alongside the behaviours and skills which you want to develop.

2 – Set goals, both short and long-term, do your research and formulate a plan of action.

3 – Take action. Set up regular check-ins which will allow you to review your progress and identify any areas in which improvements can be made. Make tweaks as and when you feel appropriate.

4 – Be consistent. Keep putting in the work. Bounce back from setbacks, and as you reach each of your goals, tick them off and replace them with more challenging goals.

5 – Repeat.

Consistent, focused effort and hard work, mixed with passion and dedication is a formula which can drive you towards success, so please can we change the conversation and give more sensible advice?!

 

Gratitude

Gratitude is infectious, and easy to practice. Try it. Take 5 minutes out of your day to stop and reflect on 3 things which you have to be thankful for. Make a note of them, either mentally, electronically or with good old pen and paper. Now, as your focus shifts to these opportunities for which you are grateful, you will discover even more to be appreciative of. This, in turn, has the power to improve your mood and outlook, making your days feel brighter and more fulfilling. Motivation levels are thus topped up, focus is shifted back to your goals and your progress towards them, and the small, seemingly mundane daily tasks which all add up to propel you towards your goals become a lot more pleasant.

Practicing gratitude can have a positive impact in a multitude of ways, providing a healthy boost to our brains, bodies, relationships and everything in between. It’s a healthy human emotion, with therapeutic powers and physiological benefits which are endless. The more you express gratitude, the more opportunities you will attract for which to be grateful. This is supported by science, neuroscience to be exact, which has revealed that the expression of gratitude can play a role in the production of serotonin. Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter in the body, manufactured in the brain and intestines,  which is thought to regulate mood and social behaviour, as well as sleep, memory, digestion and sexual function.

In essence, as soon as you start to find reasons to be grateful, your mood lifts as your serotonin levels raise. This improves your mood and outlook further, opening your eyes to even more opportunities to express gratitude and improving your body language and behaviour in such a way as to potentially attract even more to be thankful for. This is known as a virtuous cycle, in which the initial benefit of expressing gratitude generates ever more opportunities to express gratitude, with our mood and behaviour improving to attract even more to be thankful for.

The relatively small step of finding 3 initial things for which to be grateful has the potential, over time, to play a huge role in guiding you on your journey towards success.

Resilience

We recently added optimism to the list of elements which can help us on our journey of self discovery and growth. But does it not sound a little too simplistic?! So far we have learned that we should adopt a growth mindset and an optimistic outlook before setting goals and taking action if we want to succeed. As for failure, which is inevitable in any undertaking, it should not be feared but rather welcomed as an opportunity to learn and grow. So, armed with all of the above, you should confidently go forth and be rewarded with the life of your dreams, right? The problem is that if it was as easy as that sounds, we would all be entrepreneurs, actors, singers or astronauts.

So, what is it that high achievers do or possess that allows them to achieve their goals and ambitions? This element goes by many names, such as resilience, perseverance, mental strength or persistence. There is also an excellent book on this subject by Angela Duckworth, which defines it as grit.

Resilience, or whichever definition you prefer, is a passion and perseverance for long-term goals but means different things to different people. For some it is a stamina, which gives the strength to rise from setbacks and finish what they started. For others, it is the knowledge that, as long as you keep learning and putting in the work, you will get back on the right track. In other words, it is a belief that failures and setbacks are just a bump on the road towards success. It is the drowning out of the negative comments and misgivings of naysayers, no matter how good their intentions, and having confidence and faith in your own ability.

Resilience is not something you are born with, which you either have or don’t. The good news is that it can be worked on and developed, and here are some of the ways which work for me when  things don’t go according to plan and failure pays a visit;

  • Replace negative thoughts with positive thoughts. This is where optimism, a positive outlook and perspective really help. Keep reminding yourself of your purpose and why you are doing this. What do you want to achieve? What skills and behaviours do you want to foster and develop? What kind of person do you want to become by the end of your journey? How is this done, though? ⇓⇓
  • Reflect. Remind yourself, ideally in a reflective journal,  of what you are grateful for, and the progress which you have made so  far. This will help steer you back towards a positive mindset. Once you have rediscovered your optimism, it’s time to look for reasons as to why a particular setback happened. This is healthier and more productive than making excuses and becoming disheartened.
  • Evaluate. With things back into perspective, your optimism returned and an awareness of what went wrong, it’s time to bring it all together with an honest evaluation. This is where you determine how you will be getting back on track and moving forward. What resources do you have available to you? Are there any gaps in your knowledge which you can address? Most importantly, though, you now have an opportunity to challenge yourself, venturing once more outside your comfort zone and pushing yourself to do something which you think you can’t.

Obviously, this list is by no means exhaustive and others may use methods and strategies which work just as well, if not better. If you are one of these people, I would love to hear about your experiences and what works for you.

Resilience means different things to different people, but at its core it’s the faith that setbacks are only temporary, and actually offer an opportunity to learn and grow. Furthermore, it is the confidence that you will soon be back on course, stronger and better informed.

Optimism

Recently, we have looked at how setting goals, feeding your mind with positive input and taking action can help you on your journey of self discovery and achievement . There is, however, something that has the power to throw a spanner in the works and halt your progress, and that is pessimism. Pessimism is an attitude in which a person has the tendency to see the worst aspect of things or believe that the worst will happen. Its opposite, optimism, is what we should be striving for, defined as hopefulness and confidence about the future.

Unfortunately, you can’t just push a button and suddenly become an optimist. It takes hard work, but there are steps which we can take.

As a starting point, we need to look at reducing the negativity in our lives. This can be done, to a certain extent, by turning off the news and choosing positive sources of information which can take you closer to your goals. Avoiding gossip, while being easier said than done, is another important step which can be taken. Instead of complaining when things don’t go your way, get in the habit of looking for a solution.

Once you have started to minimise the negativity in your life, it’s time to think about how you can become an optimist;

  1. Practice gratitude – By practicing gratitude, we are reminded of the positives which we have in our lives, and it helps to put situations into perspective. You can practice gratitude by simply making a list of 3 things, every evening, of which you are grateful for. Over this time, this can be developed into a gratitude journal.
  2. Become better informed – Read books or journals, listen to podcasts or audiobooks, watch vlogs and youtube videos or seek networking opportunities. This will help increase your knowledge on a particular subject, potentially taking you closer to your goals if you use that knowledge.
  3. Take action – Identify one area in which you want to improve or which may be troubling you. Next, identify what you can do to make progress or solve the issue. Now make a plan to do 1 thing every day which will take you closer to your goal. In doing this, though, don’t forget to celebrate your successes.

 

In short, achievement and personal development occur when you foster the right attitude, namely one of positivity.

You are what you read

If there is one thing that many leaders and successful people have in common, it is a thirst for knowledge. Not all, but the majority of these people see their development as a life-long, continuous process and are constantly seeking to learn and grow before taking action. Others, however, prefer to skip the first part and just learn through experience, which is also a powerful teacher. That said, taking action without a good understanding of what you want to achieve is as reckless as it is bold. There is a fine balance between learning and making plans, and taking action which leads to learning experiences. You need a knowledge base, plans and goals but this all amounts to nothing if you don’t act upon them. As I have stated previously, we should be wary of spending too much time and attention on making plans, and be prepared to take action and learn from the experiences.

All day every day, we are bombarded with information, and demands are placed on our attention, but those who have an appetite for knowledge and learning are very deliberate in what they choose to focus on. Rather than reaching for the tv remote or a newspaper, they read a book, magazine or a blog article on a topic which interests them. Rather than binge-watch the latest drama series on Netflix, they will more likely be found watching TED talks, documentaries or Youtube videos on a topic related to their goals and development. The internet has created an explosion in resources, available in an instant and accessible from anywhere, that can help us on our journeys of self discovery and achievement. The greatest challenge, however,  lies in separating the wheat from the chaff. That is to say, we need to be careful in choosing which resources we will be devoting our time and attention to, focusing on feeding our minds with positive input which is of good quality. After all, that which we choose to feed our minds, in turn influences our thoughts, mindset, attitude, decisions and actions. Therefore, it stands to reason that if you have goals which you are striving towards and you want to become successful in a particular area, that you select good quality sources of information which could help you on your journey of learning and development.

Education does not end when your time in the classroom does. We are naturally curious, and as such should be using that curiosity, and our free time, to constantly learn and push ourselves to become, and achieve, more. Read a book or magazine article written by a great philosopher, influential person or thought leader, watch a documentary or take advantage of the internet or your local library. Good quality resources offer the opportunity to expand your mind and help you grow.

Social media also has a role to play. Humans are social beings, so it helps to associate with influential people who are leaders in their particular field, while also networking with other like-minded people with whom to share and discuss ideas. LinkedIn is just one of many platforms which, if used wisely, has much to offer in this area.

In short, we should be more careful and deliberate when choosing what we pay attention to and how we spend our time. Great progress requires great effort and sacrifice after all.

Goals are not just something you see in sports

Goals are not just something a football player might score, but a valuable tool to guide us on our journey towards success, self-discovery and achievement. Without goals, there is a danger that we might find ourselves just drifting through life lacking purpose, direction and focus while falling far short of our potential. The real benefit of having goals and striving to achieve them, however, is not in the goal itself but in what we learn along the way and how we develop and grow on this journey.

“People with goals succeed because they know where they are going. It’s as simple as that.”

Earl Nightingale

In short, goals give us the power to take control of the direction of our lives, force us to learn and grow and provide a tool to measure success and achievement.

There are 2 different types of goals, long-term and short-term and both are essential. Long-term goals are sometimes referred to as BHAGs (Big, Hairy and Audacious Goals) and should be challenging yet achievable. Your long-term goal is your overall vision of success. However, your long-term goal comes at the end of a journey of hard work, consistent effort, self-discovery and achievement. Along this journey, there are a number of sign-posts and checkpoints. These are your short-term goals. Short-term goals are the stepping stones which lead you towards your long-term goals, so it is essential that they are related to one another.

Before you start thinking about potential goals, define what success will look like to you. Carefully consider what it is that you want to achieve long-term and how you will do this through smaller short-term goals. Be honest and realistic about the resources available to you, and try to identify the behaviours and skills which you will need to develop in order to achieve your overarching goal.

A goal must be important to you, and be related to your priorities. There must be value in achieving your goals, as this helps to increase motivation and commitment, provide a sense of urgency and get you back on track after a setback. Essentially, you should be taking each short-term goal in turn and considering why it is important to you, what value it offers and how it will help you get closer to achieving your long-term goal.

“Your goals are the road maps that guide you and show you what is possible for your life.”

Les Brown

Business literature, journals and the internet are full of recommendations as to the many different ways in which goals can be set. One of the most popular and highly recommended is the process of setting SMART goals, and it is on this process which we will be focusing. An effective way to create short-term goals is by making them SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound).

Specific. There should be clarity in the definition of your goal. Goals are like signposts on the road to success, guiding you on a journey of self-discovery and achievement.

Measurable.  Be precise when determining how success will be measured (ie. generate ‘x’ amount of sales by ‘y’ date). With a way to measure your progress towards your goals, it becomes easier to identify and celebrate your successes while also identifying any areas for improvement.

Achievable.  As good as it may be to have a goal which stretches you and takes you out of your comfort zone, you must be realistic and honest with yourself about whether it can be done. Too challenging, and it could negatively affect your confidence and halt your progress.

Relevant.  There should be a clear link between your goals and the direction in which you want to steer your life. Your goals should be building blocks or signposts towards success

Time-Bound.  There must be a timeline in which you want to achieve your long-term goals, with deadlines for the short-term goals along the way. This helps to create a sense of urgency.

With your goals, both long and short-term set, the next step is to write them down. A goal becomes real when you put it before you in writing. I choose to write mine in a series of positive statements starting with “I will…” and ending with a deadline “by….”

Accountability can also be helpful and provide extra motivation. This is not for everyone, but your goals can be shared with trusted friends or family. Some people find that this is another helpful way to create a sense of urgency and keep you on track. Others, however, prefer their privacy and would rather work in silence.

Simply stating that you want something to happen is wishful thinking or dreaming. For it to become a reality, you need a clear understanding of what you want to achieve and why. Then comes the goal-setting process, before planning and taking action, celebrating victories and reflecting on what you’ve learned along the way.

Embracing failure

Embrace failure. This is the catchy message we are bombarded with through business books, articles and social media outlets. What does it actually mean, though?

Failure can mean different things to different people, as everyone has their own idea of what success and failure look like. The dictionary, however, offers 2 definitions of failure, as either “the nonperformance of an assigned or expected action” or “a falling short of one’s goals”. For the purpose of this post, we will be using the second definition.

Failure can come in many different forms, and when it does we need to take time to reflect upon it and put it into perspective. Failure itself can come in the guise of bad decision making, an inability to change or adapt to circumstances, poor planning or poor execution and everything in between.

The danger with failure is that it has the potential to lead to further failure, unless we learn from it and use it to inform the changes which will lead to future success. Failure itself has such a negative connotation that many choose to hide theirs rather than take ownership of them and embrace them. This is perpetuated by the misconception that in embracing failure you are admitting defeat or lowering your standards. This is very damaging to your progress , as when you adopt this thinking, you become oblivious to the fact that sometimes you need to go back to the beginning and start again, armed with new knowledge gained from this failure.

Failure makes us feel vulnerable, but when we accept that everyone fails and embrace it as a fact of life, it can benefit us in many ways, the following just a few of them;

  • Learning. Most of what we learn is through trial and error, with some of our best lessons being learned as a result of failure.
  • Inspiration. When we reflect on our failures, they can serve to inspire and motivate us to try again, armed with what we have learned from the experience.
  • Humility. Failure reminds us that we are not infallible, but human.
  • Lower aversion to risk. Having failed, learned from the experience and moved forward, you become less fearful of taking calculated risks.

When failure is embraced properly, you overcome the associated fear and disappointment. In doing this, you move from a negative mindset to a positive one in which failure is regarded as a learning experience.

Who doesn’t love a list?!

Lists are everywhere and form an integral part of our daily lives, whether they be shopping lists, to-do lists, done lists, short term goals, long term goals, bucket lists or favourite quotes among many others. Personally, I love them and the done list is one of my favourites, as it forms a reminder of everything which I have accomplished during that day, week or month. Lists can also be helpful, saving memory space in our overloaded brains as well as valuable time. A shopping list is a good example of this; you identify what you need, write it down, put that list in your pocket and off you go. These are, however, not the type of list which we will be looking at today.

There is a type of list upon which we are becoming overly reliant. This is, in my humble opinion, to our detriment. What type of list am I thinking of as I write this? The list of what successful people do, read, eat…

Don’t get me wrong, they can be very interesting and motivational, but that’s about it. The problem with these success lists, is that the evidence of success and achievement is deeply personal and specific to that individual. I can adopt all of Cristiano Ronaldo’s behaviours, training routine and eating habits but that won’t give me the same results and turn me into a star footballer.  There is also the matter of context; what works in professional sports will not always be transferrable to another domain, such as business. Another question is raised over the validity of the evidence. These lists are often based on generalisations and similarities, pointing at particular behaviours or traits that a groups of successful people share. There is often a lack of scientific support for these findings, which tend to be anecdotal. As mentioned before, they can also be rather specific to a particular context and bear little relevance to the situation in which you find yourself. Then we have the small matter of change. Times change. The world evolves and changes. Technology advances and changes at a rapid rate. These particular lists, however, do not always account for this. A quick google search on Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg  will bring up plenty of lists, many of which deal with their rise to eminence. What they do not take into account, though, are their circumstances and the climate in which they released their groundbreaking products. It is simply not possible to follow a list and launch another Apple or Facebook today, in the same way that Jobs or Zuckerberg did all those years ago.

The problem is that these success lists are comforting. In an age where everything is fast, from our food to our information, it’s encouraging to be offered a shortcut to success. The truth, though, is that there is no shortcut. If you want to be successful, you need to take action but be prepared to fail and then learn from your experiences. There are no substitutes for hard work and effort. Rather than focusing on what successful people do, focus on your strengths and abilities and stop trying to be someone else. As Oscar Wilde once said “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken,”

Thank you, as always for reading. If you agree, or disagree, with the above please feel free to leave a comment

Lights, Camera…ACTION!!

Having reflected on your current situation, and come to the realisation that change is necessary in order to grow, it is important to set appropriate goals. If possible, also identify the skills and behaviours which you will need to improve or develop.

From there; research. Whether reading, watching or listening to blogs, vlogs, books, audiobooks, podcasts or whichever medium you prefer, researching and gathering information is the logical next step. All the best plans and research, however, will come to nothing, unless you act upon them.

Knowledge is, of course, important, but it can only lead to meaningful change and progress if you act upon it.

Knowing is not enough, we must apply. Willing is not enough, we must do”

 –  Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

A simplified way to look at the process above could be something like this;

  • Determine which areas you would like to make changes in
  • Set your goals and identify the steps which will take you closer to them. This includes identifying and working on the key behaviours and skills which will help you on your journey.
  • Do the preparatory work; read, research, plan and gather resources which you feel you may need.
  • Take action
  • Document your journey, paying attention not only to successes but also the lessons learned along the way. This is essential as it offers a blueprint as to how to maintain your momentum or recover after a setback.

There is no such thing as the perfect plan, or the perfect time to act upon it, so don’t waste time hunting for it or waiting for inspiration to strike. Just act on the plan which you have. This can lead to gaining momentum, courage, experience, confidence and motivation. It is far easier to get started and keep going if you take baby steps. Experience is key, as it is an excellent teacher. If things don’t turn out as you would have liked, learn from the experience and try again.

Furthermore, y taking action, you embark on a voyage of discovery. What works for me is to break my goals down into small actions or steps and work on one or two each day.

Failure, or more precisely the fear of failure, is what stops a lot of great people in their tracks. It is, whether you like it or not, an inevitable by-product of taking action. Not everything will work out the way you envisaged. Don’t let this deter you from taking action towards your goals, though. When failure comes, embrace it like you would an old friend. Treat it as a learning experience. Reflect on it and see what you can learn from it in order to move forward wiser and better informed.

“The possibilities are endless once we decide to act and not react”

 – George Bernard Shaw

As always, thank you for reading. Please feel free to leave a comment or share. The next few posts will be looking at the dangers of lists and looking for shortcuts, and also embracing failure

Visualisation and the Law of Attraction

Now that we have touched on the brain and how we learn, it’s time to look closer at the mind and what it is capable of. When exploring the power and potential of the mind, it is inevitable that the Law of Attraction will be encountered, alongside the power and benefits of visualisation. Well, what are they?

The Law of Attraction is a universal law which states that everyone has the ability and potential to attract things into their life through their thoughts, intentions and actions. In short, you attract whatever is on your mind. You will hear this expressed in many different ways, among them;

  • As you think, so shall you become
  • You attract what you feel, fear and think about
  • What consumes your mind, controls your life

Essentially, you have the potential to become or attract whatever you focus on. As the second point above hints at, however, the mind has the potential to attract negativity as well as positivity.

Visualisation is a similar concept, in that you first decide what you want to become or have, then focus on how you are going to achieve it before picturing it clearly in your mind. This vision will then become a reality. In other words, if you can see it in your mind, you can hold it in your hand.

Does that not sound a little to easy or simplistic? Yet that is what endless self-help articles, books and programmes will tell us, and we love to hear it because we live in a time where hard work is shunned in favour of quick fixes. And hard work is definitely needed in order for visualisation or the Law of Attraction to actually produce positive results.

As we have seen, the Law of Attraction and Visualisation both work in a very similar way; you decide what you want, focus your mind on how it can be achieved or obtained and it will happen in due course.  There are 2 essential elements to their success, however which have been overlooked.

The first oversight is a person’s mental attitude. If you have the power to attract whatever you focus your mind on, then it stands to reason that there exists the potential to attract negativity into your life if your mind is filled with fears and insecurities. Therefore, optimism or a positive mental attitude is essential. After all, a negative mind cannot attract positive results. How does this work? Well, a positive mind leads to positive thoughts and positive behaviours which have the potential to attract positive results. Likewise, a negative mind affects our thoughts and behaviour negatively and can potentially lead to undesirable results. So, before anything can be visualised it is important to confront any fears and insecurities which could potentially derail the process.

The second oversight? Work. Yep, the dreaded W. As with anything else, having a positive mental attitude and visualising success is just the first step. You have to put the hard work in. It’s not enough to just believe and live as though you have already achieved your goal, but you also need to ACT. This is the final step and where a lot of people fall short. You do the initial work which leads to a more optimistic and positive outlook. From there, you decide what it is that you want and how you can get it. At this point, that which you are focusing on is merely a dream. It is only when you start to take action that your dream becomes a goal which can be achieved. Until then, it is merely wishful thinking.

In short, optimism plus a clear idea of what you want to achieve and the hard work needed to make happen is the recipe for success.

Thank you for reading. As always, please feel free to leave a comment or share your thoughts and experiences

The power of the mind

Having looked at several factors and strategies which can enhance our learning and development potential, it’s now time to look at the human brain and how we can harness the power within.

The adult brain weighs around 3 pounds and contains more than 60 different chemicals which affect our memory, learning and behaviour. Not only that, but it is also home to around 100 billion neurons, each one being capable of making thousands of connections. Returning momentarily to the subject of memory, it is interesting to note that we have 2 types or systems. These are spatial memory, which records our daily experiences and rote memory which deals with fact and skills.

This, however, is where the generalities and similarities end. Everyone is, after all, unique. All humans have the same set of systems, but we are all different based on our genes, our prior knowledge and our environments. It also stands to reason that the more we learn, the more unique we become. This is a notion which is becoming increasingly popular in a day and age where people strive to stand out from the crowd, and one method of achieving this for a growing number of people is by becoming life-long learners.

Brain-Based Learning is one popular theory on how we learn. While the research and focus of this theory primarily concerns formal education settings (namely how students learn and what approaches teachers can adopt in order to maximise their learning potential), there is much that is relevant for adults as life-long learners. This theory is more than just an exploration of teaching and learning, it explores the structure and function of the brain as well as the learning process and how that changes as we age, grow and mature socially, emotionally and cognitively.

That’s all well and good, but what does it mean for us?

Essentially, the brain is a muscle and, like the rest of our muscles, needs a challenge in order to grow. Naturally, there are a number of ways, and stimuli, with which to challenge our brains and enhance the learning process.

Stimuli refers to what we feed the brain, and good quality information is essential brain food. The brain absorbs information with which it is directly involved, such as journal articles, books and podcasts, but it also pays attention to peripheral information. Essentially, learning involves focused attention and peripheral perception, so it helps to be mindful of what we spend our time reading or listening to as well as where we spend our time. Challenge your brain and keep it well-fed with information which can help your development and get you closer to your goals, while also being mindful of where you spend your time and what you choose to surround yourself with.

As for the ways in which learning can take place there are many, but we will be looking at one today; movement. The learning process engages the whole physiology and body, so movement is a critical consideration. After all, sitting still all the time can be incredibly boring, not to mention tiring and counterproductive. Research shows that physical movement can enhance our readiness for learning, as it increases the oxygen in the bloodstream and can help to improve concentration. This can be done through listening to audiobooks or podcasts while exercising, or going for a walk while reflecting on what you have just learned.  Get active, whatever form that may take, in order to increase your learning potential.

On a final note, I would like to look at whether there are specific conditions under which people learn best. And the short answer is no. Everybody is different, and therefore has their own strategy which works for them. Some need time and space for quiet reflection, away from outside interference. Others prefer a collaborative climate, whether in person or through social media and blogs, in which to share thoughts and ideas. And some just need to feel safe and supported. Whatever the method, learning will occur as long as the brain is not prohibited from fulfilling its normal processes.

Thank you for reading, and as always please feel free to share your own thoughts, reflections and experiences.

Why keep a journal?

Following on from the last post in which we explored Reflection, I would like to now discuss the benefits of keeping a journal.

Journaling is different things to different people, but for myself it is a record of my reflections. It is also a reminder of what has been accomplished and moments which I want to remember and revisit. Alongside this, it also serves as a record of everything which has been attempted unsuccessfully, and the lessons which have been learned from those particular experiences. As you journal about an event which you experienced, you relive it, and have an opportunity to process and analyse it. By keeping a journal and a log of my reflections, I have developed an increased awareness of my actions and behaviours. This in turn has helped me to form better habits. While forming a record of my achievements and milestones, it also highlights the associated thoughts, feelings and decisions made, while also documenting my journey of self-discovery. It is interesting to read old journal entries and reflect on how I have changed and grown, and how my decisions and actions have led me to where I find myself today.

Journaling, however, is more than just the act of keeping a record of your observations. For many people it offers a release from the stresses of daily life, and can help to reduce anxiety. Furthermore, it can also help in gaining perspective and focus as well as helping people to become better organised and more accountable for their decisions and actions. It can offer a way to harness your creativity, but perhaps most importantly, writing in a journal allows you to examine your thoughts and feelings more logically and critically.

How do you keep a journal?

Personally, as previously discussed, my journal is my personal story with a focus on my thoughts, feelings and decisions as well as my actions. It helps to reduce stress in my daily life as well as offering perspective and helping me to identify opportunities for growth and progress towards my goals which were not apparent at first glance.

Stream-of-consciousness writing is the approach I favour. This is the process of simply putting pen to paper and writing whatever comes to mind. I have found this to be very enlightening, revealing thoughts, feelings and worries which I was unaware of but were affecting my daily life. There is, however, a wealth of information online as to alternative approaches to journaling, with prompts and questions to help you get started.

There are a number of different formats too, when keeping a journal. My preferred method is pen and paper, or a leather-bound refillable journal and a good fountain pen to be exact. This is ideal for me, as I appreciate the privacy it offers as well as the control I have over my writing. I also have a notepad and pen with me at all times to capture any thoughts or reflections which may come to me in quiet moments.

Pen and paper is not for everyone though and there are a number of excellent apps and programmes available. I like Evernote for its ease of use, but there are plenty more to explore and find whichever works best for you. Blogging is another option. In this instance you forego the privacy of an app  or a paper journal, but you are able to share your experiences and thoughts with a much wider audience.

Having explored the topic of  reflection, and how journaling can be used as a tool, the next post will look at the importance of making space in your daily schedule for some quiet time.

As always, please feel free to share your thoughts and experiences. Would be interesting to learn about how you feel about keeping a journal and your preferred format.

 

Reflection

Having touched on the importance of the mindset, and the 2 different types as defined by Carol Dweck, this brings us to the next topic which i’d like to touch on; reflection.

We all have a desire to live a fulfilled and meaningful life, and dread reaching old age only to rue missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential. That is why we adopt a growth mindset, set ourselves goals and targets and set off on our journeys of self discovery and personal growth. This is where the importance of reflecting on our decisions and choices comes in.

Reflection allows us to analyse our thoughts and feelings, as well as choices made, decisions taken and opportunities missed. It helps us to identify what worked well, what didn’t, what we should be doing more of and what we should try to avoid. Contemplation is a great way to review what has been experienced and learned.

Moreover, it is a great way to monitor our goals and progress towards meeting them. Through reflection, we revisit our goals and are able to identify what progress is being made. This is a great way to identify strengths, weaknesses, successes and failures and identify the best way to move forward. And once a goal is completed, reflection helps to identify new challenges to be tackled in order to continue on the journey of growth.

Reflection, however is more than just the tracking of our progress towards our goals. It helps us to learn from our mistakes, but more importantly, it helps to increase our self awareness. Through the regular exploration of our thoughts and feelings, we learn what motivates us and makes us happy as well as identifying our fears and insecurities. It also sheds light on our decision-making processes, helping to identify why we made certain decisions and what we would do differently if faced with a similar situation in the future. This helps us to identify the person we want to be, and what steps we need to take to make that a reality.

Reflection is deeply personal and only you can decide what frequency and format works best for you. Myself, I reflect at the end of every day before bed and I do this in a journal. I recap my day and some of the areas I revisit are the decisions I made, the interactions I had and whether my actions took me closer towards my goals. I look at how productive my day was overall, and what further action I can take in the coming days.

I would love to hear from you about your views on reflection and whether it offers any benefits.  In the next post, we will be looking at journaling, what it is and what benefits it offers.