Two Brief Thoughts on Doing vs. Not Doing

This, I learned from someone who used to work as an ER doctor.

Don’t just do something.  Just stand there, until you know what to do.

I think the lesson there is not to do anything for the sake of doing something.  Many of us feel that inaction = unproductive = sin.  But if you don’t know what to do, it’s best to just wait until you have an idea.

But once you do have something to do, then this bit seems to be the best practice: doing something poorly is better than doing nothing.

It seems that we always go the opposite way.  When we shouldn’t be doing anything, we do, and when we have something to do, we don’t — for fear of doing it wrong or poorly.

This is when you have to gather your courage and just do it. Particularly when you fear doing it poorly.  Because that fear is an indicator that you care about what you’re doing, and doing it well.  If you are afraid of doing something, it’s likely that it’s something you should do.

Give yourself permission to do poorly.  The best way to learn is always through doing.  Doing poorly is better than doing nothing.

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How to Make Yourself a “Rootable” Existence

I was recently discussing strategies with my indie filmmaking collaborators and the idea of this post came from that discussion.

It really doesn’t matter what your endeavor is — if you have things you must accomplish in your life, you’ll maximize your chance by surrounding yourself with people who root for you.  In fact, your chance of success is directly related to the number of people who are rooting for you. There is very little one can do in life alone, and the bigger your ambitions are, the truer the above statement is.  You need to make yourself someone other people will to get behind and cheer on.  Obviously, gaining fans isn’t and shouldn’t be your end goal — but there are a few concepts you ought to be aware of, so that you can go about your pursuit in a way that you are building a community of support while you’re going at it.

Now, that’s not to say that you have to come up with hooky marketing campaign or employ special winking technique to make others fall in love with you.  Rather, it’s about discovering, and then presenting, the very most Authentic You to the people you encounter, so that you can surround yourself with like-minded people and get the support needed to help carry you forward.

I’m not saying it’s easy or quick, but below let me outline the keys to make yourself a “rootable” presence.

1. Define an Authentic and Sustainable Objective (Aim for Impact, Not Gain)

This topic can fill several books so I won’t go into details, but people respond to authenticity and consistency.  You’ll need to discover a worthy goal that is true to your heart, one you can see yourself pursuing for a long time, through thick and thin.

One criteria to keep in mind is to aim for impact, not gain.  By that, what I mean is to aim your objective on accomplishing something, not on acquiring status/reward/money.  All goals are, ultimately, about seeking fulfillment of one’s desires, even when they are about making a difference in other people’s lives.  But I firmly believe that if you dig deeply enough, sooner or later you realize that a truly profound sense of fulfillment comes from making an impact rather than personal gain.

To use myself as an example, my personal ambition is to make music.  And while this may sound corny and trite, I can’t say it any other way — I love music because it means a great deal to me, and I make music with the hope that it touches other people’s lives.  I want to make money with it, mainly to make that activity sustainable, and to use the resources money brings in to make better music.  But money is simply a tool for that purpose — not an end goal.

2. Give the Pursuit Everything You Got

You can’t expect others to support you if you’re not giving your pursuit everything you got yourself.  You have to think hard, get creative, and keep pursuing your aspiration through thick and thin.  In particular, pay attention to things that other people shy away from, because of hard work, difficulty, endurance, and nerve it takes.  Those are the places you need to go.  We won’t call it an accomplishment if it was easy, right?  All worthy goals are worthy because of the challenges they pose.  Don’t play small — embrace a dream that’s bigger than you, and throw everything you have at it.  Believe that you can rise to the occasion and grow big enough to match your goal.

3. Don’t Leave Your Conscience

While you’re pursuing your ambition, though, you still have to make ends meet with your conscience and ethics.  A pursuit is so absorbing, sometimes, that it’s easy to put other values on the shelf.

For example, if you find out that if an organization like Amnesty International or Doctors Without Borders turn out to be a major polluter of environment, how would you feel about them?  They may say, “well, it’s not our mission to care for our environment.  People come first. We focus solely on our mission and achieve them anyway necessary, even if that means we leave pollutants in the environment where we engage in an urgent operation.”

Hmmm, I don’t know about you, but my enthusiasm for supporting such an organization goes down a few notches.

The same thing applies to people.  The people I root for, I have to be able to see that they have conscience and integrity.  Environment, for example, may not be their mission.  But it can’t be totally out of the picture either, because that shows shortsightedness and lack of integrity.

4. Broadcast Your Pursuit

And here’s a big one — in order for you to build support behind you, you have to let people know about your pursuit. And it can’t be a cursory “by the way, I’m want to be a painter” — a one-time, Twitter-sized statement.  You need to constantly broadcast it.  Not to the extent that it comes across as obnoxious or attention-seeking, but you have to make it an integral part of your personal branding, perhaps even like a trademark — so that people know you as The Pursuer of Your Dreams.  Jack is a singer, Sarah writes novels, and so on.   Blogging regularly about your pursuit is perhaps one of the ideal ways to broadcast it.

Generally speaking, more authentic and transparent you are in your broadcasts, the better.  Don’t inflate yourself up to be more than what you are, nor diminish yourself or your dream to be smaller than they are.  Tell it mostly like it is, including your vulnerabilities and fears — to an extent.  If you feel like you’re constantly sharing fears and defeatist thoughts, draw a line — such sharing is important once in a while, but it can quickly degrade into attention-seeking, self-defeating pleas.  If you are constantly saying “I can’t do it.  It’s too hard” — outside of some mentor/coach figures, most people cannot get behind you.  Focus on progress and small victories.  And sharing your lessons with those who are not quite as far along as you are. Celebrate each tiny baby steps you take, or even just some time put into your pursuit.  Show that you are giving your all, and that you are diligent and creative.  Don’t lie or boast, but even if you feel insecure (and you will, if your pursuit is really worthy and challenging), find a piece of confidence inside and focus on that.  You don’t have to be perfect, and yes, once in a while you should let down your guard and share setbacks, discouragements and vulnerabilities.  That shows that you are being real.   Perhaps you can think of it as a 90/10 ratio of positive/negative broadcasts.   If you are 100% positive it seems a bit inauthentic, but if half of your messages are taken up by insecurities, that really doesn’t inspire confidence.

Conclusion

I’ll be the first one to admit that I need people to root for me in my pursuit of dreams.  We all do, perhaps more desperately than we realize.

And we should get that support, we deserve to.  A worthy pursuit is challenging by definition.

Keep in mind, that there are best practices for building that support network.  Not a surface-level set of tricks and gimmicks.  By distilling your pursuit to its most essential and then allowing yourself to be seen authentically, you are inviting others to get behind you.

We all have dreams and we are all for people achieving them.  The more people realize their dreams, the better place the world will be.

So go for it!  Let everyone know what you’re doing.  Perhaps help will come from places that you didn’t expect.  It’s always good to have people who are rooting for you.

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Get Used to Winning: The Art of Setting Underachieving Goals

One of the best lessons I got from the book “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki was this:

Set goals that are so easy to achieve, it takes no effort at all.

Though “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” is a book primarily about money, Kiyosaki was referring to exercising — you know, the Going-to-the-Gym kind — when he talked about that.  Don’t set some ambitious goals.  Just set your sight on something that’s so easy, so effortless, that it’s really impossible for you to not achieve it.

That’s how you can build up the Habit of Winning.

The Burden of Ambitious Goals

I am an ambitious person and thus I used to set ambitious goals.  Sometimes I achieved them, other times I failed.  It was always a strain, a stretch to meet the high standards I set for myself.

Sure, it’s great when I set and then accomplish my ambitious goal.  But the times when I failed — I’d beat myself up about it.  I felt like a failure, I’d punish myself and made myself know that I lost.

What a stressful way to live, that was.  And it was all self-inflicted wounds.

Tiny Battles Are Easier to Win

Kiyosaki’s example was about exercising.  Say, you set yourself a goal about jogging 5 miles everyday.  Well — I don’t know how long it takes you to jog 5 miles, especially when you have never routinely run before.  1 hour?  More?  Carving out that time everyday — that’s a commitment.

More power to you, if you can do it, for sure.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t do it — for some of us, we absolutely must face the stress and fear of failure to get our butt up and do something.

But for others, why don’t we set more humble goals?  How about one that is so easy to achieve, it takes no effort at all?

Like putting your running shoes on?

So you set your goal, to changing and putting your running shoes on.  Everyday.  How easy is that?  If you did nothing else, you still accomplished your goal.  You are a winner.  You can check off that item for the day.

Though, it’s a shame to change and put shoes on for nothing.  Sure, you can allow yourself to take a walk around the block.  But no need to get more ambitious.  In fact, my suggestion is not to do much more at the beginning.  The important thing is to win more often.

After a week of putting shoes on and changing, perhaps you can go for a leisurely jog around the neighborhood.  But don’t set your goal higher — if you just do the first part, you still win.  You can always settle back down to just a walk around the block, or even less, if you have to.  As long as you change and put shoes on, you are not failing.

Can you do that?

Over the past couple of years, I used this very approach to set great routines into my life.  I went from never exercising to now exercising the majority of weekdays.  I get up at 5am most mornings.  I practice my guitar most workdays.

I say “most” because I never set a goal to do these things every anything.  My actual goal, the ones I write down, is to do it once or twice a week.  And my goals are not to practice my guitar for 2 hours.  If I pick it up and do exercises for 15 minutes, that’s good enough.  Actually, the first goal I set was just to pick up the guitar.  How easy is that?

Even on those weeks with low batting average, I’m still winning.  I have  no problem picking it back up the next week.  There’s an unlapsing continuity.

The Habit of Winning Builds

I’m sure all of us feel positive about crossing off an item from our to-do list.  Sometimes we write items down, the ones we just did, just so we can experience the joy of crossing them off.

Even the tiniest of these victories, they add up to your confidence and momentum.  It gets you going.  Now you have a bit more energy, a bit more desire to go check something else off.   Simply put, the Habit of Winning builds. It builds and enables you to accomplish goals that seemed unimaginable before.  But, again, don’t get too ambitious, too fast — always focus on easily winnable battles.  Set your goals low.  Just inches above the ground, just a single action away from inaction.  Once the Habit of Winning is squarely set, you can move your aim a little higher — after all, a bigger win does yield more boost — but keep your eye still set at easily attainable level.

If your goal is to run, just put on the shoes.  If your goal is to save, just put away a quarter, or a dollar, a day.  Allow yourself to do more, if you can, but don’t raise your goal easily.

Now I know why it’s better to practice my guitar 15 minutes 6 days a week, than to put in a single 90-minute session but not practice the rest of the days.  The former counts as six wins.  The latter is one.

Winning is fun, my friends.  I feel so much more comfortable in my own skin, now that I win constantly and don’t live with the fear of failure as much.  Oh, I still slip up, even the tiniest of my goals.  But my batting average is so high, I can’t help but keep up.

So, my tip for becoming an overachiever is to be an underachiever.  Set underachieving goals, so that you can get in the Habit of Winning.

And you, too, can be a winner!  🙂

Posted in Best Practices, Exercising, Good Habits, Bad Habits, Mission/Goal-Setting | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Enemy Uncovered: Resistance, According to Steven Pressfield in “The War of Art”

Now I understand why, and who I am fighting against.  Knowing the enemy is critical in a battle, and Steven Pressfield does a succinct job of identifying him.  This is a great book for anybody serous about their artistic/creative pursuit, be it painting, sculpture, writing, music, theater, photography, etc.   It’s short and easy-read.

The book is divided into three sections about:

  • Resistance: the inner force that attempts to block you from doing anything worthwhile
  • Professionalism: not a state of earning money, but rather, a particular mindset/habit/approach that is effective in making you create in the face of Resistance
  • Muse/Inspiration: what it is, and  how it will descend upon those who go about their creation Professionally

Below I’m going to discuss the first two sections mainly, because that’s where I learned the most.  The truths about inspiration, I already knew and I wasn’t concerned about — but it contains great insights for those who struggle with lack/scarcity of inspiration.

Resistance Defined

The key definition: it’s a negative energy whose aim is to stop you from doing any and all Good things.

“The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

Wow.  So that’s why it seems that all the mundane and unimportant things in my life seem to go so easily and smoothly, while all the important aspects all encounter roadblocks.  I’m far more successful as a web developer and blogger than as a guitarist and songwriter.  That means I have the potential to offer more as the latter.  (I realize that’s not what the above quote says, but I did get that message from the book)

Here are other characteristics of Resistance:

  • It’s a fear.  Of success, of failure.
  • The more important your aspiration is, the more you become afraid of failing, and it paralyzes you.
  • It will not go away, especially if you keep pursuing your artistic endeavor with the authentic intent of reaching mastery and excellence.  You learn to live with it, instead of seek to eradicate it.
  • Can be used as a compass.  The more afraid you are, the more important it is for you to go do it.
  • “Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance.”  Ouch.   “The Professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work.”
  • “The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident.  The real one is scared to death.”
  • Criticism is one symptom of resistance that not only harms yourself but others as well.
  • “Truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”
  • Procrastination is its most relied-upon weapon.
  • Rationalization is its most effective tactic.  Resistance makes sense, unfortunately.
  • Misery loves company. Those who are defeated by Resistance tend to congregate and prevent each other from beating it.  Avoid such company.
  • Strongest right before a finish line
  • Over-identifying with one’s craft is a vulnerability that is heavily exploited by Resistance.  Ouch.  I can recall a phase where I obsessed over calling myself a musician.  When you are too invested, then the fear of failure rears its ugly head and criticisms sting and cripple more.

Professionalism: The Habits to Rise Above Resistance

Once again, I want to reiterate that this Professionalism with capital P has nothing to do with earning money.  In fact, you may never earn any money from your art — Van Gogh’s break-through came after his death.  Rather, it describes a credo, a protocol for artists to achieve the triumphs that are their completed creations.  The more you create, the more you mature as a creator, maximizing your chance of creating something actually valuable.

The humbling lesson here is that Pressfield alludes to how it was years and years after he finally saw the success, even after he gained Professionalism and started creating regularly and earnestly.  The first books/screenplays he produced apparently had no market (and I’m assuming no artistic) value.  But they had to be done, so he could grow through the constant creation, eventually to produce books that turned into bestsellers (again, I’m assuming, it was because it was successfully artistically as well).

It’s humbling because I had this arrogance in me that thought that once I started creating, then success would flock to me.  People will recognize my brilliance right away.  Boy, it’s embarrassing admitting that — but it’s true.  I do believe in my gifts, but I also have to accept that they are still underdeveloped — hence my success as a web developer and blogger first and not so with my guitar-playing and music.  The areas with less inherent potential are easier to develop.  The areas with greater obstacles indicate more hidden potential. (that’s my own conclusion, not Pressfield’s)

Other lessons learned here:

  • Pros are in it for the love of the craft.  Yes, they take money, but that’s not the reason they do it.  They do it because they love it so much they must spend their life doing it.
  • Successes, failures, criticisms — none of it goes to a Pro’s head.  A Pro does it for the love of creating.  How the outside world reacts to it is of less significance.  Praise and success is sure nice, but a Pro doesn’t let it blow up his head.
  • An Amateur overidentifies with his avocation.   He takes is so seriously it paralyzes them.  — ouch, ouch, ouch!
  • A Pro does not tolerate chaos.  His tools and environment are streamlined so it doesn’t get in the way of his work.
  • A Pro’s goal “is not victory but to handle himself, his insides, as sturdily and steadily as he can.”
  • A Professional does not show off.  He won’t draw attention, won’t try to justify his distinction by overephasizing his style or his skill.
  • A Pro shows up everyday, no matter what.  Is in for the long haul.  Aims to master his craft.  His work is judged by the Real World — not just friends and acquaintances.
  • A Pro doesn’t concern himself much with whether what he is creating has any value or not.  That shows more obsession with the outcome of his work, not the work itself.   Self-critique stays out of the door.  He just does his work.
  • “The Amateur believes he must first overcome his fear.”  The Pro acts while feeling the fear.  Don’t wait to be healed first.  Just do the work.

Permanent Additions to My Vocabulary

Mr. Pressfield did such a succinct job of conceptualizing the struggle and identifying the Resistance — that I know his words have already taken up residence in my vocabulary.   For me, the most helpful part was identifying the Resistance.  Using it as a compass really works — whenever I identify the Resistance, I make myself do it.  It’s not particularly a relaxing or leisurely way to live, in fact it’s down right rigorous — but I feel prouder about what I’m doing with my life.

I highly recommend this book.

Posted in Career and Your Calling, Dissecting Problems, Good Habits, Bad Habits, Know Yourself, Reviews | 1 Comment

Your Posture Is a Reflection of Your Success

Posture is a reflection of your level of success, or at least your energy level.  Bad posture is a symptom, a result that comes up to the surface, of a deeper issue.  Let me share how I am discovering this.

I’ve always had a bad posture.  My mother noticed it, and tried to correct it a number of times.  She got me braces, took me to a chiropractor, made me exercise.  But I wasn’t aware of the problem myself — about how insecure I appeared to others — so I resented and rebuffed her efforts.

As a grown-up, I was more aware of the issue, though still I wasn’t really aware of how that affected my appearance.  Sometimes I’d see myself in pictures and videos and I was unpleasantly surprised, but never took up any efforts to correct it.  I began to notice other people’s postures, too, though.  And let’s just say — it’s not often that I notice really good postures.

In the last couple of years I finally made exercising a regular part of my life.  (Swimming classes really paid off — thanks Mom!)  I expected it to boost my energy level immediately, because up till then I never routinely moved my body.  That didn’t happen right away, though I began to notice moments where I could hold my body upright without too much efforts.  Recently I’ve been working on my nutrition — turns out, I wasn’t really absorbing nutrients very well, even though I’ve always been a pretty good eater — and those moments are becoming more frequent.

When I stand tall, the impact is literally staggering.  Wow, I never realized I was so tall — and big!  It almost feels vulnerable, as the area around my stomach feels more open, exposed.  I am more used to slouching a little so that area feels protected.  It takes more energy to hold myself up this way.  But when I’m feeling energetic, my postures improves without my consciously trying.

This led me to another implication.  What I do during the day matters, even beyond exercising and eating well.  I’ve been working on cutting down dilly-dallying during transitions, when I’m switching from one task to another, as the cumulative effect of wasted time adds up to a sense of lethargy and feeling drained as they day wears on.  It’s still a work in-progress, but when I successfully go about my day without getting hang up in-between phases, I am able to maintain my energy level higher and longer.  When I come home from a long day of working, I still have good posture.

Posture is a reflection of your energy level. If you don’t have the energy in your body to support a good posture, then trying to correct posture really doesn’t fix the problem. It’s a symptom, a result of a deeper issue — fixing it and not addressing the root cause really doesn’t work.

Or the flip side is this.  Raise your energy level through exercising, eating, and above all, by going about your day in a focused, disciplined manner, and your posture will improve by itself.  Perhaps not always — you may really have structural issues — but that is what’s true for me.   And having a good posture adds to the positive cycle, as standing tall makes you feel big (literally!), tall and above all, confident.  Confidence has the power to uplift all areas of your life.

I am on my way.  A good posture is still not the default mode for me, but it soon will be at the current rate.  I’ll make my mother proud.

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Three Stages to Every Creative Process

It’s been my experience that there are three stages to every creative process.  Knowing what they are will help you go through them and make it to the end — the completion.

They are:

  1. Original Inspiration
  2. Mid-Creation Struggle
  3. Final Dash

I think the stages are pretty self-explanatory.  When you first conceive of the idea and start working on it, you are full of excitement and momentum.  Perhaps if the project is very small you can just work in one burst of creative energy and actually skip the middle stage.

But the bigger and longer the project is, the tough middle period is also longer.  This is where most projects die, in that space between the Original Inspiration and the Final Dash.  You are no longer excited about your creation because you’ve lived with it long enough that its freshness has been drained.  But pieces aren’t put together enough yet to let you glimpse how it’ll really turn out — so it doesn’t give you assurance that the final output will be of any value.

Let me use my song recording process as an example.  When I originally come up with a song, I’m obviously beside myself excited.  It’s going to be a powerful song and I can’t wait to put it together.  So I enthusiastically get started recording, laying out the rhythmic foundations, sing, put embellishments and details, and finally mix it all together to create a recording.  But somewhere in that process, I lose the original enthusiasm.  It goes faster than you can spell Kill Inspiration — a tiny hiccup like a computer glitch, a sour note I sing (which is often) or having to do any part over — can kill momentum.  I start wondering if my song is any good.

From that point, I have to drag myself through without much hope or excitement — indeed, it feels like a hopeless endeavor, even though I’ve gone through it many times — until I get to a point where pieces are put together enough to the point where I can clearly envision the finished creation.  Once I reach this point, I regain faith in my creation and go about finishing it off in earnest.  The Final Stretch is usually the most productive period, not only because I’m dashing to the finish line but also because there’s usually myriads of details that need to be put in between the points from More-or-Less Put-Together to Completely Put-Together. (and it always takes longer than I think it will) At this point I’d be fighting burn-out, too, and am just ready to get to a point where I give up and just toss out whatever my creation ended up being right then.

Seth Godin talks about this in his insightful little book “The Dip.”  I wish I read that book a long time ago, or someone at least warned me about this.  It appears that my whole artistic career has been stuck in the Mid-Creation Struggle for years and years.  (though I may be transitioning to the Final Stretch now — phew!)  I’m writing this here so I can point to this post every time I mention Mid-Creation Struggle in my blogs (which is often) but so that you can be forewarned: the bigger, greater, and more important your project is, the longer and harder the Mid-Creation Struggle tends to be.

Don’t give up.

The very reason why it’s worth doing it is precisely because most other people find it too hard. You may not feel excited, in fact you’re probably downright discouraged and disillusioned, when you’re bogged down in the Mid-Creation Struggle.  But there will be a point, if you keep at it, where you’ll see the glimpse of the finish line.  I wouldn’t say it gets easier then, as most projects still require tons of work in the Final Dash period, but motivating yourself to keep going won’t be an issue then, at least.

As you gain more experience with the whole creation process, you’ll gain insights into how to tough out the Mid-Creation Struggle.  It won’t go away, but you’ll be more equipped to drag yourself through it.

What is your experience with the Mid-Creation Struggle, and how did you beat it?  Please share them below in comments.

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The Five Fundamentals to Chasing Dreams

As with everything else in life, there are best practices for chasing dreams — any dreams.

The key concept to keep in mind is this: in order for you to realize your dream, you have to first become a person who has the capacity to do so. Becoming worthy and capable is the requirement here, before your dreams can fully materialize.

So, fundamental character-building is essential.  Develop yourself first, and your ability to turn ideas into reality will increase.

Before I realized this, I used to pursue my dream with totally wrong focus: seeking shortcuts, exploiting other people, putting efforts only in places where I thought they’d have direct impact on Getting Somewhere.   But yet, my dream eluded me, and now I know the reason — I just didn’t have a capacity for it.

So these are the five essential areas I’m working on.  I believe that they really apply to anybody and everybody who has a dream and is working on realizing it.

1. Nurture and Train Your Body

Our body is the foundation of our being, and it’s a reflection of who we are.  How you treat it, then, is a reflection of how we treat ourselves.  Eating well, sleeping enough, and challenging it properly through exercising — all adds up to crafting a body that’s optimized for success.

I try to think of famous musicians and actors.  Do many of them look out of shape?  No, and I’m sure they put in considerable amount of effort to make their bodies good and presentable.

When Van Halen last went on tour, there was question in the air about if they could still deliver the goods.   Not only were there reports of relationship problems, but there were also health issues and long, long gaps between creative output.  These guys aren’t getting younger, can they still deliver?

When Eddie and co. showed up, though, you know what?  At the very least, they looked good.  Both Eddie and David Lee Roth showed off their tight, six-packed abs and masculine chests liberally.  They were rock stars and they showed up looking like they mean business.   And you know, it takes considerable effort to get in shape like that.

Getting in shape is a start of your success.  When you feel good about your body, you feel good about life.

For me, it’s been just over a year since I joined the local JCC and have made exercising an integral part of my life.  Swimming, resistance training and biking are my choices.  I was already a decent eater but I can improve upon that.  It’s been fun to keep showing up and seeing my body change over the months — though I still have ways to go before I’m totally Lean and Mean.

2. Align Your Tools and Surroundings

Imagine your life to be a suitcase.  It has a set capacity — you can’t put more in, unless you make room for it.  Obvious, right?

Yet, I find that we desire for things that we don’t have room for, or we forget to equip ourselves properly first.

I’ll show you my bad example first: I’m a guitar player, yet my guitar equipment is not put together in a professional way.  I have some key tools missing, and my guitars are badly in need of tune-up.  Yes, putting things in order takes money, but if I say “I don’t have it” it’s really just an excuse.  I’ve given in to voices of Resistance, and that’s why my key pieces of equipment are not in shape.

I’m working on changing that.  (I’m saving money.  🙂 )

If you want to buy a house, get a better job or earn a raise so you have money to pay for it.  If you want to date, then drop other activities so you have time to meet new people and invest in that relationship.  If you want to lose weight, then throw away temptations, invest in exercise gear that’s fun to use/wear.  If you want to paint, start with making room for your easel, make sure it’s an easy place to get to.

Optimize, optimize, optimize.  Remove roadblocks and obstacles.  Streamline the process.  Make room.  Get proper equipment.

There’s always something you can do to increase the capacity for dream-realizing.

3. Meet New People Regularly

Your capacity for success is directly related to the number of people you know, and particularly, the number of people who know you and have faith in you.

You can be working on the world’s best invention — but if no one knows about it, how good is it?  Marketing and promotion is not just for professionals.  It’s essential to anybody’s success.

And the only way to increase the number of good relationships in your life is to meet new people.

I used to be really bad at this.  I just stayed in my comfort zone, went about the same routines everyday, hang out with people I already knew.  Then when I lose a job, for example, I don’t have any leads, don’t know any people in other businesses, don’t have any connections to tap into.

The time to network is when you don’t need to.

There are networking meetings, Meetup.com, Facebook groups, churches, library book clubs — if you look around, there are infinite opportunities for meeting new people.  It’s only laziness and lack of effort that can make a person not meet new people regularly, like the way I was.  There are no excuses.  People are everywhere, and you should be meeting new faces.

For me, I am making it my goal to become a regular at the networking meeting for alums of alma mater, St. Olaf College.  It’s a small liberal-arts school associated with Lutheran Church, an all-residential campus on a hill in a small town Minnesota.  It has a very distinct culture there, and meeting other Oles I find that there’s a good common ground, just because we all went there.   Oles tend to be thoughtful, ethical and very creative — lots of interesting people.  One member said this, and I agree: if given a choice, I’d rather work with a fellow Ole.  I’m going to be a familiar face at these meetings, because I can count on meeting new people there.

4. Assemble Collaborators

I used to think that DIY meant Do It by Yourself.  It was faster and easier, I thought, to just do it myself.  I know what I want, and I can do it.

Well, I’m blessed with a quick-learning brain and can learn to hack at things fairly fast.  But I have to be honest here.  I’m just a hack. I can’t be pro at everything.

Soon I realized that my over-reliance on my hackability was really holding myself back.  When I released my first album, I did virtually everything myself.  While it’s good to know that I can do it, the songs I’m writing now are bigger and more mature in scope, and — you know what?  I can’t do it justice.  I can’t sing in a way these songs deserve to be sung.  My recording skills aren’t up to par either, because the new songs demand more advanced techniques.

The bigger your dream is, the more collaborators you need.

But even if your aspiration is simply to lose weight, collaborators are still essential.  An exercise partner, for example, can be a great help in making sure you don’t fall off the track on the exercise trail.

Doing it alone makes things difficult.  Yes, it’s true that it’s not always easy to find like-minded collaborators.  But finding them is critical to our success.

To this end, I became active in an online co-op of authentic entrepreneurs.  And I’ve started spreading the word that I’m looking for a singer to collaborate with on my recordings.

I’ve done it alone for so long, and look how long it’s taken.  It’s time for that to change.

5. Blog Your Process

Internet is obviously a game-changer for humanity in so many ways, and while it has its downsides, it can be a powerful tool if you tap into the positive side.

Blogging is one emerging best practice for anyone chasing a dream.

When you blog, you’re broadcasting your message.  Blogs are made to be searched and scoured.  Unbeknownst to your, people are reading your blog.  And when you put yourself out there like that, like-minded people come forth.

The other day, I was assisting an indie filmmaker friend of mine for a seminar she taught.   It wasn’t my show, it wasn’t my crowd — I was a sidekick and I barely said anything all night.  But afterward, one of the participants came up to me and said that he looked up my web site because my name was on the program, and read my post about lessons I learned when I went to Japan the last time.  He liked it enough to remember it and mention it.

I say it again.  Your capacity of success is directly related to the number of people who know you and are rooting for you. And blogging is one of today’s ways for attracting that pool of supportive people.

Of course, you can’t just do it once every 3-4 months and call it blogging.  You have to do it regularly.  It takes time and diligence.  You need to learn how to write and use blogging tools/sites.

But it’s worth it.  Blogging your process, lessons learned, your trials and tribulations — your messages get broadcasted to the netherworlds of internet, and reach people you can’t reach otherwise.  It can help you meet new people or even start a relationship that eventually turns into collaborations or dating.

I’ve had my love/hate relationship with blogging, but I am re-committing myself to it.  I can no longer deny that it’s a practice that suits me — I do it well, it’s flexible, and it produces good results.  I just need to keep at it.

Conclusion

So there you have it, my friends — five fundamentals I’m working on to increase my capacity for success.  True, not all of them directly concern my dream of making music — but I’m convinced that working on these areas have deep, deep impacts on my pursuit.

If you have any other tips and best practices for pursuing dreams, feel free to share in the comment below.  Thanks!


Posted in Ari's Personal Stories, Best Practices, Good Habits, Bad Habits, Realizing Your Potential | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Seven Techniques for Minimizing Transition Time

I don’t know about you, but Transition Time is the invisible time sucker in my day.  It’s that time between projects/chores/tasks, when I’m switching gears.

I’m a person who thrives in The Zone.  Or the Flow state. When I’m immersed in projects, I get a lot done, I’m happy and engaged, and afterward I feel great.

So I try to create an environment where Hitting the Zone is easy and accessible.  But still, some days get chopped up into a multitude of smaller chores.  Those days I don’t do as well, because I have a hard time switching gears.  I developed bad habits of dilly-dallying in transition.  Most of the times it’s just a few minutes, but it can spiral down to 30 minutes or even hours.

This is an area of my life I’m trying to improve currently, as the demands on my time is greater than ever.  A legitimate break is one thing, distraction is quite another.  So here are a few techniques I’m incorporating into my days.

1. Create, then Walk Through a List.

I spend a few minutes at the beginning of the day, looking over what’s on my table.  I line them up in an order that makes sense, then envision going through them.  Am I accurate in predicting how much time it takes to getting it done?  Are there any assumptions or expectations that are unrealistic?   Once I’m in the moment it’s hard for me to put my head above water and re-assess, so I try to get as much of that done before I get going checking off items on the list.

Once I’m going, I try to shut off the voice that says “is this really the way I should be doing?  Maybe there’s a better way.”  Self-critique of my own productivity can actually stifle it.  Once I’m in the Check-Off mode, I just stay there, I’m not going to question the effectiveness.

2. Start with the Hardest/Stressful/Most Important Tasks.

When you tackle the hardest task first and get it done, then the elation/satisfaction of that accomplishment can spur you on to carry on and create more of that feeling.  You’ll feel less motivated to engage in distractions that take you out of your day, as your day is going great!

3. Or, Book the Most Urgent/Important Tasks Last.

But here’s the flip side — if you’re a person who responds better to pressure, perhaps you can intentionally schedule the most immediate, must-do tasks at the end.  So that you have to get to it after getting done other things.  This approach works well if you also have issues with getting non-urgent, Second Quadrant (Covey-ism here) tasks.  Tackle the Important but Not Urgent tasks first — then even when you’re done, you won’t have time to check-out for a few minutes because urgent chores are still ahead of you.

4. Schedule Actual Breaks and Make It Good.

Continuing with Covey-ism, if you keep running your car without refueling, you’ll run out of gas.  Be reasonable in terms of how long you can stay productive in a single stretch, and schedule a quality break, where you really turn off and refuel.

5. Pack Them Tight.

Here’s another eustress technique — get ambitious with your list, pack them just a tad more than you think you can handle.  Then challenge yourself to rise to the occasion.  Small tasks can be strung together to form a big Zone this way, because you keep your eyes on the whole day and not just individual tasks.

6. Form Bigger Chunks.

This is rather obvious, but look for commonalities among items on your list and group them together.  Perhaps they all need scissors, or take place in a single room?  If you’re working on a computer, perhaps there are tasks that rely on the same set of software?  Find themes and similarities and group them together.

7. Remove Distractions.

Finally, here’s one that’s been said many times before.  Turn off e-mail notifications that bleep and pop up windows. Disconnect from internet all-together, if able.  Shut off your phone, close the door, put music on (ones that aren’t so dramatic that it grabs your attention.  I find that instrumental music, even dance music, works well) so that it helps you shut out distracting noise.   I dim the light in my studio so that the computer screen is the only thing I can see.

I used to be the king of dilly-dallying, but I’m making great improvements with these techniques.  If I can do it, so can you!  Reduce the time between things, keep distractions at bay, so that you can come out at the end of the day feeling proud of how you spent your day.

As an aside, if you still have a problem with continuously getting distracted, being checked-out, just not being mindful — that’s a sign that says there are bigger issues you need to address.  Perhaps your job/role isn’t right for you?  Are you suffering from depression or anxiety?  Those bigger issues can’t be fixed by some menial techniques. If that’s you, take a step back, and re-evaluate the bigger picture.

Further reading: The Power of Less by Leo Babauta, The Four-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss

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How to Use Burn-Out to Steer Your Life in a Positive Direction

Burn-out is a major issue of mine, as it is to a lot of people.  It takes maturity and discipline to conduct your life in a way that it is devoid of burn-out.

But I’m learning that it’s not a rocket science, either.  As with most things it’s just the matter of learning how to recognize it and setting up good habits so that your life moves at the right pace for you.

Recognizing Burn-Out

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are some of the symptoms that point to a burn-out.

  • You don’t enjoy an activity that you used to enjoy.
  • You are more easily distracted.
  • You don’t feel proud of how you’re spending your time.
  • You’re not excited about your day when you wake up.
  • You over-indulge on distractions and addictions, such as eating, drinking, smoking, gaming, watching TV, etc.
  • You feel lethargic and unenergized.

Two Reasons Why You Get Burned Out

The reasons behind you getting burned out are really simple.

  1. The activity you’re engaged in is not right for you, and/or
  2. You are doing too much of it.

In fact, the two are related.  The worse fit the activity is, the more quickly you burn out.  But even if you’re doing something that gives you great pleasure and fulfillment, if you’re doing too much, you’re going to get burned out.

How to Determine the Cause of the Burn-Out

It’s really simple.  You take a break.  Go on a vacation, don’t think about it for a few days.  The more complete of a break you take, the quicker the recovery.  Change your surrounding, go to a place where it’s so far removed from your life that little reminds you of the activity you’re burned out about.

Then examine how you’re feeling about the activity.

If the cause is more of #1, then the desire to re-engage in that activity won’t resurface.  Good riddance!  You won’t miss it when you experience a life without it.

On the other hand, if it’s more of #2, the desire for it will return.  Great!  You just need to make adjustments so you don’t engage in it quite as long or deeply.

In reality, the distinction between the two reasons may not be so clear-cut.  Just keep in mind that there is an ideal distance to any relationships.  You can gauge how right/wrong you are with the activity by how quickly and strongly the desire for it returns.  You have to be honest with yourself.  If you really can’t muster up enthusiasm for it, then you’re too close to it, or perhaps you don’t need it at all.

Case Study: My Gigging in Bars

A number of years ago, when I first started pursuing music, I tried to get gigs wherever I could.  Coffeeshops and bars, just local hole-in-the-walls.  Booking was hard — most agents didn’t care and were hard to get hold of at best, down right rude sometimes.  And I didn’t have any audience to speak of, so the few people, if there were any, didn’t care.  Not that I can blame them.  I wasn’t that good either.

Sooner or later I burned out of doing this.  I just couldn’t keep going with this pursuit.  But when I stopped, I questioned whether I really should be doing music at all.  Maybe I’m just not doing the right thing.

Well, but soon the desire to play my guitar came back.  I love playing it, and writing songs.

The part that wasn’t right for me was these gigs.  I didn’t enjoy what I had to do to get them, and more importantly, I didn’t enjoy doing them.  I don’t go hang out at bars or coffeehouses often, so socially I wasn’t part of the crowd.  Plus, my music tends to have bigger scopes and more dramatic gestures in them, and playing them by myself in these tiny spaces just felt silly.

I’m obviously not saying that it’s the wrong career strategy for musicians.  But it wasn’t the right one for me.

It’s been years I played these gigs and I don’t miss them.  Don’t get me wrong, though, I still enjoy performing.  But gigging in places I didn’t fit caused me to burn out on music.

Conclusion

As you can see, I was able to separate the good part from the bad by taking a break and examining which part I still desired.  This approach can work on virtually anything you can get burned out on — jobs, hobbies, relationships.  If you feel that you’re getting burned out, stop, and see which part of it you still desire.

This way, you can use a burn-out to inspire a positive change in your life.  Keep at it, and sooner or later your life will be free of burn-outs.

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What Takes Time Doesn’t Mean It’s Difficult

Here’s a little lesson I learned that’s helped me approach things with more hope and brighter outlook.

What takes time doesn’t mean it’s difficult.

I used to think that getting better on my guitar is difficult.  Playing the guitar is still one of the most challenging, invigorating things I do, but at the very heart of it, it’s just a matter of time.  If I spend more time playing, I get better.  There are ways to make my progress more efficient, but there’s really no shortcut.  Time = progress.

Similarly, let’s say I want to train my body so I develop a six-pack instead of flabby tummy.  To make that happen, I put my time in at gym.  It takes time, and there ways to make the progress more efficient, but there’s no shortcut.  Time = progress.

So, if it requires time and diligence, does it mean it’s difficult?

Not really!  It’s really not a rocket science.  You put your time and effort in, you get results.  It’s very reliable.  You can count on it.

What makes it harder, though, is if you somehow start resenting the time and effort it takes, like I used to.  I used to want to see results faster, immediately.  Or I get bored with what I’m doing, because I was going about it solely focused on the end result, not on the process.  In the long run, it’s more effective if you develop a process that’s fun and rewarding on its own, even if less efficient.

Look around you, and see if you can identify other tasks and goals you label as “difficult.”   Is it, really, or does it just take time?

If it’s the latter, then all you need to do to make it easier is to accept that it takes time and efforts.   Or turn your view around — if you put in time and effort, then the result is guaranteed.  If you look at it that way, you start to realize that in fact these are the easiest and simplest things to pursue.  There are other areas of life where the equation isn’t that clear or simple.  But then, there are some where it is that simple.

What takes time doesn’t mean it’s difficult.  If you know that time and effort will for sure yield results — actually, that’s easy.

So go do it.



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