Whenever I talk or think about self improvement I fill myself with so much energy and excitement for life, alas dear reader, that bright inner light slowly dwindles. I’m not consistent and I end up improving in some areas, and failing in others. Next, I usually spend an obsessive amount of time trying to think, write, and learn from those failures. That’s my pattern.
So, today, I’m writing my thoughts on how I can live a supercharged, ‘high on life’ lifestyle with constant improvement and avoid the potholes along the way (ending relationships, losing motivation, and wasting time).
What lessons have I already learned?
I wrote a code of conduct a year ago. The core principles were dress nicely, be in control at all times, and give everyone the respect they deserve, and guard / invest your time, it’s the most important thing I have.
This year gifted me with four exceptionally valuable lessons:
1) Minimize all noise and clutter in my life. This idea is embodied in the French phrase “mise en place”, which describes the set up process chefs use in their kitchens before dinner service. It’s a meticulous process of gathering and prepping all the requirements before hand, so when it’s time to cook, every pot is in it’s place, and every ingredient has been measured and is waiting in a bowl. I try to apply this to my life (my room, my workspace, and my decisions) as much as possible. I keep everything uncluttered and make most decisions before the deadline, in a low stress environment, instead of making split second, rushed decisions. Let’s take the example of choosing what to wear: I make the decision the night before, when I’m relaxing before bed, heck, I’ll even iron everything the night before too (super relaxing). Now, in the morning, when I’m slightly pressured, I’ve already made that decision. I plan my meals before I go shopping (X for dinner on monday, leftovers for lunch the next day) so there is no waffling on what to cook for dinner. You get the idea. I also regularly remove clutter, physical and mental. “If you can’t define it or act upon it, forget it”, that’s a nice gem by Tim Ferriss, and it helps me remove my mental clutter. Regular cleaning during short breaks helps me remove physical clutter.
2) Regularly check what assumptions I have, and more importantly, test those assumptions. I wear my rose colour glasses a lot. I strive to have a positive outlook on everything, and sometimes I get carried away. So, taking time to regularly asses my assumptions is important. Hands down, the most effective way I’ve found to start this inner discussion is to spend some time in an isolation / sensory deprivation tank. As a lesser alternative, I have conversations with myself. I find talking out load makes me more focused and less likely to have unrelated thoughts pop up.
3) I am the culmination of the 5 people I spend my time with. I wrote about this briefly here: http://nickbreen.ca/blog/the-most-important-concept-ive-ever-learned/. To summarize, when I surround myself with highly productive people, their highly productive tendencies rub off on me.
4) Everything must be done in moderation. The age old investment advice is to diversify your portfolio, I’ve adapted that idea and applied it to my happiness. I’ve been the most happy and least sad (which are two different measurements) when I diversify my sources of happiness and success. When I have multiple options to make myself happy, I don’t crash as hard if one of them stops. As a real life example, I recently stopped dating a girl. I felt pretty crappy because I depended on that relationship for a portion of my happiness, but, I compensated by spending more time on other activities (reading and doing yoga), which brought me back to my cheery self in record time! (yay, personal best: recovery from breakup).
Okay, so, we’ve taken a high level summary of my thoughts from the past few years. A lot of that was pretty high level, let’s dig a little deeper.
What tricks am I currently using to stay productive, focused, and start uncomfortable (but ultimately useful) tasks?
- I’ve found a pretty effective pattern to combat procrastination. If I’m in an awesome, successful state I can accomplish anything! I do something simple (make my bed & tidy my room or do the dishes) and pivot that small success to tackle a harder task.
- Similarly, I try to tackle the most uncomfortable task first. When I finish it (and realize it was so much fun!) I have the courage to do other stuff on my list!
- When I’m stuck on a problem, I find taking a step back, physically and figuratively, is the best thing to do.
- Have different types of work to do during the day. Let me be clear, I don’t mean multitasking, work on one thing at a time.
- Physical activity, healthy food, and a good nights sleep. I’ve found all of these keep me in balance.
- Long meals, isolation tanks, and bottles of wine or scotch & cigars with friends. Taking a step back from everyday life and talking about hugely ambitious dreams, aspirations, or the infinite wisdom of Calvin & Hobbs comics is so important for my happiness. A 3 hour conversation & meal with friends, or a comfortable, intimate house party have magical rejuvenating properties. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you leave near SF, send me an email (nick at nickbreen.ca) and you can come to my next one.
“There is magic in thinking big. But it is so easy to forget. When you hit some rough spots, there is danger that your thinking will shrink in size. And when it does, you lose.” ~ Dr David Schwartz
He makes a great point, so with that in mind, I’ll end this post with a safeguard routine and set of behaviours that I’m implementing. It’s setting me up to win.
- Constantly remove negativity from how I think, write, and talk. I can’t change my past, but I can take the lessons I’ve learnt from my past and spend energy on improving my future.
- I need to constantly surround myself by positive, successful, interesting people that remind me to evolve and improvement. I constantly compare myself to others, and if they are better, I improve myself to be at their level, wether it’s fitness, ambition, etc. To bring this down to a more tangible level, I must have one good conversation with someone every single day (easy wins are phoning my grandparents, they are lovely people). I must have one ‘long meal’ once every two weeks.
- Every month, read one book on improvement to have the idea of self improvement be at the forefront of my thoughts. Recommendations for my readers: The Magic of Thinking Big by Dr. David Schwartz, Crush It by Gary Vaynerchuk, Any of the Four Hour series by Tim Ferriss, Rework by Fried and DHH, and Never Eat Alone by Keith Ferrazzi
- Workout once a week and yoga once a week. Ideally I’d like to go more, but I’m starting with small, achievable goals.
- Reflect & meditate for 10 minutes a day (again, ideally I’d do more, but slow and steady). I really enjoy ‘figuring shit out’ during or immediately after I meditate. It’s a super relaxing, non judgemental, non emotional state. During this time I’ll check any assumptions I’m making and organize my life for moderation.
Now it’s your turn! Comment below or send me an email and share your ideas. I always get excited hearing from y’all!
Onward and upward.