It’s December. The time of year when everyone starts talking and thinking about goals for the upcoming year. “My 2018 goals are…..” Resolutions, goals, commitments…call them what you will, I don’t see what all the hype is about.
What’s the deal?
Why set goals? Why make changes? Isn’t life already good enough?
To combat the craziness of all these people and their goal-setting, I’ve designed a perfect strategy to help you avoid achieving your goals for 2018. Put the below tips into practice and I guarantee that 2018 will be a year of unmatched complacency and ambivalence!
1. Don’t establish any goals
Why would you even bother? Setting goals takes time and energy that could be better spent eating Christmas cookies and binging on your favorite holiday movies. If you want to take this a step further, consider putting in place some anti-goals to aim for.
Anti-goals are the opposite of goals. To identify them easily, ask yourself this: What would my worst possible day look like? If you’re reading this, it’s probably things like being productive, changing your life for the better, or mastering new skills. Once you’ve established those things, you can then create some specific habits in your life that will make sure you never get anywhere close to them.
2. fill up your day with busy work
Achieving goals requires being strategic. To make sure you don’t accidentally slip into strategy-mode, do everything you can to fill your days with tasks that take a lot of time but don’t produce much value. What’s the least important thing you can do today? Put it at the top of your to-do list.
3. forget about how you’re wired
So what if you’ve got certain periods of the day when you’re more productive? It’s not important if you’ve got unique skills or abilities you can use to make an impact. Do your best to make sure that you stay far away from anything that even looks like reflection or a self-assessment.
4. Be as vague as possible
You’ll often hear goal-setters talk about things like SMART goals and being “specific.” That’s insane. You can’t predict the future! Why would you ever try to set a specific goal that says, “Six months from now, I’m going to be _______ (fill in the blank).”
Maybe Miss Cleo could do this, but us average folks? No way. It’s better to avoid it completely to minimize any risk or uncertainty.
5. Wait for the perfect time
This is closely tied to the last point. You can’t predict the perfect time for something to get done, so your best option is to keep waiting until that time comes. It might be tomorrow, or it might be ten years from now. Either way, you’ll know it when you see it.
6. Only think about the big picture
Sometimes goal-setters like to break things down into “bite-size” chunks. Why would you do that? It’s mental to take one goal and turn it into 100 smaller goals. What’s easier, one goal or one hundred? And do you realize what that does to your to-do list? There’s no way you could ever accomplish all those things!
It’s way better to only consider the big picture. Focus on the fact that you only have one thing to do and you’ll be way more motivated to complete it.
7. Indulge your desire for immediate gratification
There are a lot of smart people out there, like the people who invented Netflix, Grubhub and the microwave Talk about geniuses! Once upon a time, you had to wait to get what you wanted. You were forced to wait until next week to watch the next episode of your newest show. You had to cook (which can take hours!). If you wanted to avoid cooking, it meant leaving your house to go eat at your favorite restaurant.
Thank God those days are behind us. On-demand is the way of the future! Never tell yourself no and you’re sure to enjoy life more than the next guy.
8. Keep everything in your head
Some people advocate for things like lists. Richard Branson carries a notebook everywhere he goes so that he can write down business ideas, suggestions and important reminders.
That seems foolish. What if you lose your notebook? Then you’re really screwed. You relied on that thing so that you wouldn’t have to remember stuff, and now it’s gone. And even if you use an app, what if your phone breaks? What if the internet crashes? You’re toast.
Keep it all in your head. Trust yourself. You don’t need to write things down.
9. Avoid failure at all costs
No one likes a loser. If you fail at something, everyone is going to think you’re a big joke and your reputation will be totally shot. Don’t take risks. Play it safe!
10. don’t make a big deal out of success
Success is like a virus. It’s contagious. If you happen to slip into it and achieve something by mistake (which shouldn’t happen, thanks to this guide!), minimize it. Keep it quiet! The more you talk about it and celebrate it, the more likely you’re going to make the same mistake again.
11. Just be quiet
God forbid, but imagine with me for a second: Something pops in your head that resembles a goal. What do you do? How can you shut that thing down for good?
The best way to quickly kill an idea like that is to keep quiet. Don’t share it with anyone. They might encourage you. And definitely don’t publicize it widely – you don’t want to risk creating any sort of momentum or accountability.
Simply keep quiet and turn on the next episode of Stranger Things. That’s the ticket.
12. don’t go changing
Despite your best efforts, sometimes it’s hard to be totally immune to the seductive messages of the goal-setters. As a final suggestion, make sure you never, ever change. Maintain the same approach you’ve always taken to your life. It’s gotten you this far, right?
That’ll show ’em.
Summary (Or how to actually achieve your 2018 Goals)
Hopefully you’ve recognized that this article is intended to be tongue in cheek. In no way, shape or form do I recommend you follow the above suggestions. Instead, consider these:
Make time to set clear goals that will get you where you want to go
Be specific and try to anticipate challenges ahead of time
Be proactive and create opportunities for yourself. Default to action.
Break big goals down into smaller goals
Do the work and be disciplined
Write things down
Take calculated risks when the reward justifies it
Celebrate your wins
Publicize your goals
Build new habits that will help you succeed (whatever that means for you)
If your hope is for a productive year and to accomplish all sorts of 2018 goals, then these tips will put you on the road to success. I’ll be publishing more on these specific items in the weeks to come, so consider signing up for my weekly email with my best content for more!
And if you know anyone you think would really benefit from this, please spread the word!
Every leader has to have it to thrive, and here’s how you can earn more of it.
Do you remember getting your first paycheck? I mean real paycheck – when you’re making a decent hourly wage and working a lot of hours.
I worked for an auto electric store throughout high school and college. Hours varied, but on average I probably worked fifteen hours a week. That meant enough money for gas, insurance and a little fun, but not a whole lot more to spend on luxuries.
I still remember the first time I worked forty hours.
It was summer break and every Friday was payday at this job (why don’t we do that more?). I went from working fifteen hours to forty hours, and when I opened up that next paycheck I felt like Warren Buffet.
“What do people do with all this money?!? I’m rich!”
Was I a little naive? Maybe.
But do you remember getting your first real paycheck?
I’m willing to bet you experienced the same exact thing.
It takes hard work to make money, so once we start making more of it we really appreciate it. On top of the work required, we all know how important money is for our lives.
Without money, you can’t eat. You can’t pay rent. You can’t care for your family.
Because of these two things — the difficulty in obtaining it and its relative importance — money is something we place significant value on. This drives us to do things like:
Consider how to obtain more of it
Put in the hard, sometimes tedious, work needed to earn it
Budget it the best we can
Consider the best way to get a return on our investments
We do all of this because we value money.
If you’re a leader, I’m here to argue that trust is the currency of leadership.
If you need money to live well, you need trust to lead well. *Tweet This*
The value of trust
Why is trust so important to leadership?
First, like money, we all know from personal experience that trust is a hard thing to earn.
“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” —Warren Buffet
Because of our past experience in this messy world, most of us don’t start off from a position of trust. Trust has to be built. It’s got to be earned over time.
Trust takes work.
On top of that, just like money, trust is incredibly valuable. This might be more true now than ever before, as studies have shown that trust is becoming scarce in our society.
High levels of trust make your team far more likely to enjoy their jobs and stick around
If these things are all true, why don’t we give earning trust at least as much of our attention as we give earning money?
There’s onebig reason why. If your team struggles to trust each other, it’s almost certainly because you’re making this fatal mistake.
It’s particularly easy to slip into when you’re new to leadership, but if left uncontested it could easily persist throughout your entire career:
The problem is that you assume trust will come naturally.
It’s an easy assumption to make. When you start a new job or become part of a new team trust just seems to magically happen, right? It’s a byproduct of being in the trenches together.
True. But that’s exactly why it’s so dangerous.
The most subtle lies are half-truths, and this one’s a real doozy.
When you’re just “one of the team”, trust may happen organically.
When you become a leader, the entire game changes.
As a leader, you’re responsible for the welfare of your people. You hold their careers — their futures — in your hands. This reality completely changes the dynamic between you and your people.
The game-changing question
If trust doesn’t happen naturally then the question is this: How can you create and cultivate trust?
I’ve been a part of organizations where the employees would only trust the leader as far as they could throw him (and believe me, they would have loved the chance to try).
I’ve also been part of organizations where the team would have done anything in their power to help the leader out. Work late? Skip lunch? Reinvent the wheel? Whatever you need — because of our mutual trust and concern for one another.
If you want to be a leader who inspires the latter, you’re now at a crossroads. What are you going to do differently? Below are five key actions you can begin taking today to cultivate trust:
Photo by Lachlan Donald on Unsplash
Put in the time
Trust springs out of relationship, and relationships take time.
A friend of mine puts it this way:
“If you want quality time, you’ve got to start with quantity time.”
If you desire trusting relationships with the people you lead, it’s not going to happen overnight. We’ve all had bad bosses and been burned in the past. Hopefully you’re not that bad boss (even if you are, you can change), but we all start at square one with our teams.
Make time and space to develop genuine relationships with your team. Ask open-ended questions. Get to know their hopes, fears and dreams. Listen well (put away your phone!).
Show them you actually care about them as human beings, not just as resources to managed (Jonathan Raymond and Refound have great resources on this).
A common tendency for new leaders is to pretend that they are mistakeproof.
Nothing will undermine your credibility and your team’s trust quicker than this.
It’s humbling to walk into a conference room full of people and say, “It’s my fault. I made some bad assumptions. I didn’t account for ____ and now it’s set the project back.”
When I was just getting started with a new leadership position in college, a mentor at the time encouraged me with this:
“Don’t be afraid to let people see the cracks in your life. That’s where you’ll be able to truly connect with them.”
If you want people to trust you, you have to open yourself up to them. You have to lead in vulnerability and transparency. You have to say things like, “I don’t know” and, “I’m sorry.”
Every business has a brand — and so does every leader.
Every member of your team is trying to figure out who you are (your brand) and how to predict your next move (how it’s going to affect them). Each action you take sends a message to your team.
When your actions are inconsistent, the message is, “He can’t be trusted.”
Even worse, the way this is interpreted by your team may be, “Because he can’t be trusted, I’m unsafe.”
If that’s what your team is hearing, you’ll never be able to empower them. They will never be comfortable taking risks or innovating for fear ofyou and how you will react.
Another important aspect of consistent leadership is following through. If you promise something to your team, keep your promise. It’s a critical way you reinforce the message that you are trustworthy — whether you simply promised to take them out for a beer or you promised to deal with a performance issue.
Involve people in decisions that directly affect them
Everyone wants to feel like they have a stake in their own futures.
Whenever possible (and it’s probably possible more than you think if you have the courage), involve your team in decisions that will directly affect them:
Getting new office furniture? Let them vote on what they like best.
Dealing with a poor performer? Don’t just dictate your expectations for their improvement. Ask them what they think success looks like. Come to an agreement on what needs to change and when that change needs to happen by.
Starting a new initiative? Don’t assume that your perspective is accurate. More often than not, your team probably knows better than you do. Get them engaged in the decision-making process.
You can’t always please everyone. But you can engage them in the process and, even if you can’t accommodate their opinions, you can help them understand why, helping to cultivate increased trust in your relationship.
Have their backs
Ever watched The West Wing? If you haven’t, you should.
In Season 4, there’s an episode where Sam (a senior speechwriter) has to cover for a colleague (Josh) who is stuck out of town. Sam’s now responsible to “staff the president” for the day, meaning it’s his job to advise the president and help to bring context to each meeting. He’s totally out of his element.
Partially through the day, Sam calls Josh:
Yeah. Let me ask you something. He was saying that Commerce didn't have enough input on the stump speech and I started to say that it was my fault and the President kind of ran me over.
Yeah, he doesn't like the appearance that his staff is covering for him.
It genuinely wasn't his fault.
Nothing's not his fault in the Oval Office.
Want to inspire trust in your people? Lead like that.
If you’re the leader, it’s your fault when something goes wrong. You’ve got to take the hit for your team, regardless of what happened. If someone made a mistake, they will learn from it and they will love you for not throwing them under the bus.
Put your reputation on the line, not your team members.
And remember: when things go well, your team gets the credit, not you.
Call to Action
Don’t believe the lie that trust will happen naturally. Begin practicing each of these things today to build credibility and trust as a leader.
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How this ancient personality typing system has transformed my life and can transform yours too.
That’s what I thought when I first heard someone mention the Enneagram.
The Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system. Despite my gut reaction that it sounded weird, over the last year I’ve come to realize the incredible power of the Enneagram.
No other tool has been more helpful on my journey to grow in self-awareness and in care and empathy for other people.
Consider this to be a primer on the Enneagram, a case study on how it changed my life, and an invitation for you to explore it yourself.
For the newcomers out there, let’s start with what the Enneagram is and where it came from.
As mentioned above, the Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system. It distinguishes between nine different types of people. Its name comes from Greek: Ennea– (“nine”) and -gram (“type”).
Don’t just write it off as yet another personality test. The Enneagram is different from the Myers-Briggs, DiSC or any of the other popular personality tests I’ve ever seen. It attempts to get down into explaining what motivates you rather than simply explaining your actions or preferences.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful to finally understand why you act the way you act? Now you can.
The origins of the Enneagram are a bit convoluted. It has ancient roots, tracing all the way back to the Desert Fathers (~200 CE). The first known appearance in print was a Franciscan friar in 1305, and in the last sixty years it has evolved significantly through the influence of modern psychology.
While it’s probably impossible to say how much of our type is due to nature versus nature, each of us has a dominant type. Our type is something that cements itself when we’re young, typically as a coping strategy or protective mechanism to ensure our needs for love, connection and belonging are met.
As I’ve explored the Enneagram I’ve been amazed at how holistic it is. I tend to have a skeptical approach to new things, but the further I investigate the Enneagram, the more I find it just makes sense. It explains so much and speaks to so many of the questions I’ve always had about myself and the world.
7 Lessons Learned from the Enneagram
I’m going to use myself as a case study to highlight the valuable lessons I’ve learned from engaging with the Enneagram. Let me preface it by saying this: No five minute primer can fully explain the wisdom found in the Enneagram. You have to make the time to explore it for yourself to reap the benefits.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, but I hope it will whet your appetite and encourage you to take the next steps on your own journey to self-awareness and a more kind and compassionate life.
According to the Enneagram, I’m a three. Threes are known as “The Performer” (which I cringe at) or “The Achiever” (slightly better).
Threes are the most image conscious type on the Enneagram. They are success-oriented and productivity-driven. Threes are motivated by a need to be (or at least appear to be) successful and to avoid failure. The primary emotion that Threes deal with is shame.
That barely scrapes the surface, but let’s get to the tangible stuff. Here are seven ways that the Enneagram has changed the way I see and live:
It’s helped me see my motivation and understand my behavior. I’ve always been a person who wants to do things well; a people-pleaser to a fault. I’m good at adapting to different situations and conversations (to succeed or to make a good impression on others), but that’s also left me confused about who I am at times. I’m a pro shape-shifter, but the dark side of this is that I sometime struggle to maintain a clear picture of who I am and what I value/desire/need. Prior to encountering the Enneagram I didn’t have the words to put these feelings into a way that I could understand and share with people who love me.
It’s helped me understand why I feel and act differently when I’m stressed versus healthy. Without going too deep, an aspect of the Enneagram is that when you’re under stress you take on the negative characteristics of another type. For me, that’s a Nine, and those characteristics are things like extreme apathy and disengagement. With this new self-awareness, I’m now able to step back when those apathetic feelings begin to surface and correct course before I derail.
It’s given me a greater empathy for others. Oddly enough, not everyone sees the world the same way I do nor struggles with the same things I do (who would’ve thunk?) Of course we all “know” this, but the Enneagram made it far more tangible. It forced me to consider what motivates other people. What are they afraid of? What hurts have they experienced that they are trying to protect themselves from?
It’s taught me to listen more and to make time for people. This is related to the above point. What’s on the surface doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s going on in someone’s heart. My friends, family and coworkers deserve to be heard and loved as they are. My team at work aren’t assets to be managed; they are brilliant, real people with stories, struggles and hopes of their own.
It’s helped me understand and care for my wife. My wife is a Six on the Enneagram. Sixes are wonderful people and friends. They are supremely loyal and trustworthy. They are often driven by fear and want to feel secure and stable above all else. The Enneagram helped me to see the difference between how I view the world and how my wife views the world (big eye-opener!). It’s given me far more empathy for her and helped me know how to understand and communicate well with her. If you’re married or in a relationship, don’t miss out on this opportunity!
It’s given me a picture of who I can be. One of the things I love about the Enneagram is that it is hope-filled. It not only helped me see my tendencies — positive and negative — it also helped me see who I can be as I mature and grow in self-awareness.
It’s given me practices to help me get there. While I’m a long way from where I want to be, I now know my areas of struggle and have some tools that can help me overcome them. For me, this includes things like contemplative prayer, keeping a journal and making time to rest. All of these practices help me learn how to to just be and not do — a critical lesson for someone like me.
Beginning the Journey Yourself
Let me be crystal clear: You cannot rush this. There’s no hack and there’s no shortcut to mature self-awareness and genuine concern for others.
The journey to self-awareness is a long one. It’s filled with moments of joy followed by moments of disappointment. And it is well, well worth it.
Whatever your journey has looked like so far, the Enneagram is a great next step. Making the time and space to explore the Enneagram will help you better understand yourself and others. It will make you a more compassionate person and a better friend and companion. Lastly, it will help you to overcome barriers you’ve been putting in your way without even realizing it.
For specific recommendations, consider starting with:
In closing, consider these words from philosopher and author Eckhart Tolle:
“As far as inner transformation is concerned there is nothing you can do about it. You cannot transform yourself, and you certainly cannot transform your partner or anybody else. All you can do is create space for transformation to happen, for grace and love to enter.”
Take your next step towards inner transformation today. May it be a rewarding one!
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I was eavesdropping yesterday. (Don’t judge me, it happens)…
I was on the train and standing near a couple of people. They were both total strangers to me, but it was apparent that they knew each other.
During the obligatory exchanging of pleasantries he asked her, “What’s up? What’s new?”
“Oh, ya know…Same shit, different year.”
Why do we do this to ourselves?!?
We act as if it’s standard. Just par for the course.
“Just waiting for the weekend.”
“Another day living the dream.” (said dripping with sarcasm)
This private conversation I was secretly a part of continued. They discussed weekend plans. Upcoming vacations. How much faster life was moving than it used to.
The older we get the faster life seems to go. Life — our most precious resource — flies by like the city outside the train windows.
Even though we know this is true, we still spend five days of every week looking forward to the two day weekend.
We spend fifty weeks of every year dreaming of our two weeks of vacation.
We spend forty years of our lives working hard at jobs we don’t like.
We spend the great majority of our lives wishing our lives were dramatically different.
We do this, call it normal, and slowly settle in to a state of bitter cynicism about life.
The Golden Age of Opportunity
We live in an unprecedented age of opportunity.
Want an example? Check out the Side Hustle School podcast by Chris Guillebeau. It’s a short (<10 minutes) daily podcast highlighting individuals who have started creative side hustles outside of their day jobs.
In the last few months I’ve heard stories of:
Someone who generated $300,000 in sales this year by selling bounce houses
A graphic designer who makes $25,000 a year selling funny magnets to shame bad drivers
This guy who makes $500 a month selling beard grooming supplies (men have had beards literally forever. And now, with a little hustle and a little ingenuity, this guy changed his life).
The opportunities that lie in front of us aren’t solely tied to business and making money.
If you want to learn a language, you can literally talk to someone on the other side of world who speaks that language through platforms like Italki and the Polyglot Club.
You can learn web development for $25/month at Treehouse and have a new career within months.
Or you could literally buy a tiny house online and have it delivered within 12 weeks.
With all of these opportunities — and millions more — what’s holding you back? Why are so many of us jaded and distressed.
I think maybe it’s Black Friday.
The Paradox of Choice
In his 2005 TED talk(remember when people would present at TED in shorts and a t-shirt?) Barry Schwartz lays out one of the central paradoxes in the Western world. In summary:
We believe key to maximizing our welfare is maximizing individual freedom. The way to maximize freedom is to maximize choice.
Because of this cultural belief the number of choices we are presented with has multiplied dramatically throughout the year
While this increase in choices has brought some good, it has also brought two chief problems: analysis paralysis and decreased satisfaction after making a choice.
We have so many choices that we are both afraid to make them and far more likely to regret having made them.
Nothing epitomizes this overload of choices more than Black Friday. Last year 137 million people went shopping on Black Friday weekend. Over the past few years Black Friday has encroached more and more into Thanksgiving Day (oh, the irony).
We’re presented with millions of sales on billions of products. They tell us that they will make us (or our loved ones) happy. And we’re expected to buy them and love them.
Should we lower the bar?
Schwartz goes on to say that:
The reason that everything was better back when everything was worse is that when everything was worse it was actually possible for people to have experiences that were a pleasant surprise. Nowadays…with perfection the expectation, the best you can ever hope for is that stuff is as good as you expect it to be. You will never be pleasantly surprised….the secret to happiness is low expectations.”
Scwartz speaks truth, but he doesn’t offer us hope (at least not in this TED talk).
He’s a doctor who give the diagnosis, but offers you no treatment plan.
Our abundance of choice biases us toward paralysis and dissatisfaction. You’ve felt it every time you’ve set foot in a store or opened the Amazon app. Your anxiety about making the right choice. Your obsession with checking product reviews to make sure absolutely sure you’re purchasing the right product. It’s exhausting.
Do we have to live this way? Have we gone too far to turn back?
The lady on the train
She was a prime example of the effects of constant low expectations. Jaded. Cynical. Hopeless.
I don’t know her story. I’m not sure what type of struggles and challenges life has forced. I hope and pray that she’s more fulfilled in life than this one conversation made it seem.
But let me tell you: if this is all you want out of life, stop reading now. No need to continue. No need to change things.
But if you want something different — something better—let’s talk about how you can get there.
If you’re like me, just reading the line above may make you cringe a little. We have this inherent belief that, without exception, having more choices is always better. Why would we ever talk about limiting choice?
Because we’ve been lied to.
Too few choices is oppressive. Too many choices is torturous.
This isn’t new. We’ve known this for millenia:
Confucious (551 BCE):“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”
Socrates (469 BCE): “The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.”
How can we integrate this ancient wisdom into our modern lives, busting at the seams with opportunity as they are?
First and foremost, we must determine what’s important. When you’re in a relatively healthy place in your head and heart (not stressed or feeling desperate), consider these questions:
What do you value most?
What brings you real, lasting joy?
What is worth spending your life for?
What is worth your life?
Second, we must undergo a process of eliminating things which do not add value to our lives.
Does opening up your closet overwhelm you?
Are you afraid of entering your garage due to the mountains of clutter? How many boxes have you kept “just in case”?
More importantly: What joy do these all bring? How much satisfaction do you get from the things you own?
Third, as Socrates says, we have to develop the capacity to enjoy less.
We need to immunize ourselves to the lie that more is better. (Tweet this!)
l would suggest that you establish practices in your life to help with this. We are so quick to forget. We are all too easily influenced. What habits can you develop to practice contentment?
Call to Action
It’s Thanksgiving today.
On October 3, 1863, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national holiday with these words:
“The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.”
Today, let’s start with gratitude.
Let’s give thanks for our current situations. Those of us with breath in our lungs, food on our tables and people who love us are richly blessed. Let’s commit to not taking those things for granted and to expressing our gratitude to the people in our lives.
Let’s remember those who are not so fortunate. We’ve been so richly blessed; let us also find ways to be a blessing to those in need. Let’s be generous and open-handed. Let’s build bridges, not walls.
And let’s give thanks that we live in an age ripe with opportunity, where we have personal freedom to choose both what our lives look like and how we view view and interact with the world.
Imagine that tomorrow you were blindfolded and dropped into the middle of a vast wilderness.
Somewhere you’ve never been before.
A place that is completely untouched, with no hint of human presence.
You’ve got limited supplies and you can feel a chill in the air.
You know winter is coming soon, and you know you need to get out of there or risk freezing to death.
Wouldn’t you want a map and compass?
“The only constant around here is change.”
I’ve heard this mantra a lot.
It’s frequently used at my current job at a tech company. I also heard it at my previous job at a non-profit.
It seems like no matter where you go, you can’t escape change.
The pace of modern life is frantic and change is the new environment we live in. Change is everywhere. Change is often hard.
And change is always uncharted territory.
When you’re stuck in unfamiliar territory, a map and a compass are key tools for survival. Together, they allow you get your bearing and chart out the best course forward.
When you’re experiencing change, the same idea applies.
It’s vital to have a framework — a tool — that allows you to quickly recognize what’s going on, get your bearings, and figure out how to move ahead.
This is that framework.
Before we move on, take a moment right now to pause.
Right now, while you’re reading this.
Pause and think about the last three changes in your life.
Regardless of what type of changes you have faced recently, you can break all change down into two simple categories:
Reactive Change or Proactive Change
Recognizing and responding to this is the key to navigating successfully through change.
A reactive change is change that is thrust upon you from the outside. You could also call it involuntary or forced change.
It’s often unplanned or unexpected. It’s not in your control. And it very well may not be what you would have chosen.
But it’s here, and now you’re forced to deal with it.
Examples of reactive change include:
Spilling coffee on yourself before an interview
The death of a loved one
Your boss and mentor leaving the company
A good friend making the decision to move away
This really hit home in my own life recently. Earlier this year, my company went through an unexpected reorganization.
I’d been on vacation for a week and I returned on a Tuesday morning. We have a regularly scheduled managers’ meeting on Tuesdays, and afterwards I was asked to stay behind to touch base on a few things.
I didn’t think much of it. After having been out for a week, I figured there were just a couple updates I needed to be caught up on.
Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.
At the time I was managing seven people, and unfortunately the reorganization meant a position on my team was being eliminated.
An hour later, a member of my team would get called into a meeting with HR and given the news that they’d been let go.
Definitely not the Tuesday morning I’d been expecting.
Navigating Reactive Change
When faces with an unexpected and undesirable situation, many of us go into avoidance mode.
You sit around and waffle for months on end about whether you’re making the right decision. You spend countless hours watching Netflix to waste time and tune out.
But one of the hidden blessings in reactive change is that you have to deal with it.
It’s there, and you’re forced into action.
With the knowledge that change is coming, the question then becomes: How do you respond well in those times?
There are times when you can see change coming. These are “writing on the wall” moments. Open your eyes and look around. Try to raise your head above the day-to-day and look at the big picture. What changes might be coming your way?
One of the most difficult parts about navigating reactive change is the shock of the unexpected. When slammed with something you didn’t see coming, your body naturally goes into a state of shock.
Anticipating potential changes allows you to prepare yourself. It limits the shock caused by changes that are forced upon you from outside.
(Note: Getting too stuck on anticipating potential changes can also have detrimental effects like anxiety — but that’s a topic for another article. Anticipate when you can, but don’t become obsessed with what ifs).
Assess the Situation
Your body’s natural response to unexpected change — especially big change — is to go into “fight or flight” mode.
This reaction was first noted in the 1930s by stress researcher Walter Cannon. Cannon established that when an organism experiences shock or perceives an immediate threat, it automatically produces hormones like adrenaline that improve its odds of survival.
Evolutionary, this makes sense. If you’re walking through the forest and a bear steps out from behind a tree, you need to be able to react immediately.
However, this response isn’t always the most helpful in the modern age. It can be helpful, but it can also cause unnecessary problems.
When I heard that a member of my team was getting laid off, it wouldn’t have been very productive to curl up into the fetal position or to run away. It also probably wouldn’t have helped if I’d freaked out and flipped the table in the conference room.
How can you limit the effects of the fight or flight response to ensure you don’t do more harm then good?
Pause and take a deep breath.
When fight or flight mode kicks in and adrenaline begins coursing through your body, your heart immediately starts beating faster and your breathing shallows.
Pausing for a moment and taking a few deep breaths helps to counteract this reaction and puts your rational brain back in the driver’s seat.
Once you’re back in control, you can then assess what’s happening with a greater degree of objectivity. You can step back and look at the big picture. Ask yourself questions like:
What’s really happening here? Gather the data on what’s occurring. Don’t rely solely on your emotional response or how you feel about the change.
What are the implications of this change?
Is this worth fighting?
What good may come from this?
Take a deep breath. Assess the situation. Then move forward.
Trust Your Intuition
We’re all experts at doubting ourselves.
It’s a sad fact, but it’s true. Oftentimes it’s easier to discount our unique perspectives and experiences in the face of unexpected change than it is to trust our intuition and respond appropriately.
You may not like what’s occurring. You may not be able to influence the outcome.
But you have a unique perspective, and your voice has value.
What’s your inner guide telling you?
Whatever it is, don’t discount it or write it off.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” — Proverbs 12:15
Your perspective and your voice is valuable. At the same time, you also have blind spots.
This is why seeking counsel from trusted outsiders is so important. When you’re in stressful situations the odds that you are going to miss important details increases dramatically.
Who are looking to for advice when times get hard?
A few faithful advisers are critical for navigating reactive change well. Work on investing in those relationships now. Build them strong and healthy so that they are there when you need to avail yourself of them down the road.
Reactive change is inevitable. To meet it well, remember:
Anticipate when possible
Assess the situation
Trust your intution
Navigating Proactive Change
Reactive change is the type of change everyone really hates. Because it’s involuntary, most people don’t do well with it.
But to be frank, I think that navigating proactive change may actually be more difficult in today’s world.
What is proactive change?
Proactive change is change that you initiate.
Whereas reactive change is change that is forced upon you, proactive change is change that is birthed from within you.
Reactive change is involuntary — it happens, like it or not.
Proactive change is voluntary — it requires you making a choice to produce change in your life.
And therein lies the difficulty.
Take a moment and picture your ideal life. What’s different between your current situation and that dream? Can you put your finger on specific, concrete differences?
Even more importantly: What’s holding you back from getting there?
There are two major barriers that stand between you and the life you want: Confusion and Commitment.
If it’s helpful, you can think of these as a journey. Regardless of your story thus far, if you want to move forward into becoming a better human living a better life, you have to walk this path:
Confusion > Commitment > Change
Making the Choice to Change
Steven Pressfield summarizes the challenge well:
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
The first essential step in creating proactive change in your life is to engage in a process of clarification. You have to first identify what Pressfield calls, “the unlived life within.”
A word of caution: Engaging in this process has the potential to cause major disruption in your life.
Today, probably more than ever, we live in a fog of constant chaos and confusion. Between work and entertainment, we almost never have time to breathe.
If you want to produce meaningful change in your life, you have to get free of this.
You’ve got to make space to hear your inner thoughts. You’ve got to get back in touch with your heart. Consider these questions:
What are the dreams you had when you were a little kid — those dreams that got crushed and dismissed as you grew older?
When you were a little bit less cynical and jaded, who did you want to be?
What wrecks you? What tears at your heart strings? What makes you feel alive?
What makes you want to get up and fight?
This process of clarification may go quickly, or it may take some time. Much of that depends on how distracted you are in your normal day-to-day and how seriously you take this process.
It’s impossible to prescribe exact steps for this process as it’s a unique part of your journey, but I can suggest a few specific practices that might help:
Make space for quiet — no cell phone, no technology, no plans or agenda. Some people find it helpful to have a large uninterrupted block of quiet, like a silent retreat. Others prefer smaller doses of regular quiet. If you’re in this last group, consider making the suggestions below part of your morning routine.
Practice a form of meditation/contemplation/prayer — The exact form of this will vary depending on your background and beliefs. In contemplation, we learn how to not simply react to every fleeting thought. We train ourselves to observe our thoughts and feelings. To be, not to do.
Write — Call it a journal, call it a diary, call it something else. Whatever name you choose, putting your thoughts and feelings on paper forces you to put them into words. It also creates a record; something you can refer back to when you need encouragement or refocusing.
As you work through this process, reflect on these words from C.S. Lewis:
“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.”
The clarification process helps to remove the haze of confusion from your life. Once confusion begins to subside, the next challenge is that of making a commitment.
Peter Drucker famously said that, “ Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes; but no plans.”
When was the last time you made a big decision that radically altered your life? Try to recall the feelings and emotions whirling through your mind leading up to that decision.
How do I know what’s right?
What if I fail?
What if people think I’m crazy?
There are no sure bets in life, and this is why committing to anything can be terrifying.
My lovely wife and I have been married for nearly five years. When I think back to our initial friendship and then dating and engagement, I vividly remember the fears of commitment.
Moving from friendship to dating required taking a risk. I knew how I felt, but did she feel the same way? I had to put myself out there. I had to risk in order to change our relationship into one that was moving where I hoped it would go.
Ten months after we met, I knew she was the woman I wanted to marry and love for the rest of my life. After recognizing that to be true, I had to take action. We’d only been dating for five months…would she think I was insane? Was I moving too fast?
On our wedding day, we vowed to love and serve each other until the day we die. We did this without having any idea what the future held. There was no crystal ball. No five year plan, let alone a fifty year plan. Just a commitment to work at loving one another for the rest of our lives.
Taking these risks were the best decisions I’ve ever made.
The greatest rewards often come from taking the greatest risks.
You know what you want. In order to get there, you have to commit. You have to get some “skin in the game.”
You have to invest yourself in a way that makes it easier to move forward than to bail out.
There is an element of reverse psychology at play here.
The barrier to making a change or starting something new is high (due to some of the fears mentioned above).
The way to overcome that?
Make the barrier to not doing those things even higher.
A few way to do this:
Publically commit yourself to the change. In order to not let others down and to avoid eating your own words, you’ll be more likely to follow through.
Invest in the change. This may be financial, emotional, or time investment. Whichever it is, get yourself invested early on.
Chart your progress. Overnight successes rarely (if ever) happen overnight. By monitoring and celebrating progress toward your desired future state early, you generate more positive motivation and lower the barrier to proceeding.
Remember Juggernaut from X-Men? One of his powers was that he was virtually unstoppable once in motion. You need to get there.
Clarify your direction. Commit yourself to the journey. Then go be a juggernaut (but please don’t cause anyone real physical harm).
“A change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.” — Barack Obama
Change isn’t as big and scary as everyone makes it out to be.
There are only two types of change you will face in your life: reactive change and proactive change. Simply knowing this gives you an edge over those who fear change.
Treat these strategies like essential tools for survival. They are your map and compass for the journey of life.
You’ve got this.
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Don’t leave your friends unprepared for life’s changes!
I’ve felt an urge to write for months, but it’s taken a long time to actually pick up the (metaphorical) pen and start putting my thoughts down on paper. I’ve spent this time trying to decide why I had this urge to write. But even more than that, I’ve been busy attempting to talk myself out of it.
You have an idea. A dream. Something that gets you excited.
Your imagination kicks in. “What if I did…..(insert your dream here)?” “What would that look like?” “Where might it go?” “How would it change my life?”
These are life changing questions.
When you start asking them, you’ve arrived at what I call a precipice moment.
The Precipice Moment
I’m not a big winter sports guy (the Midwest is pretty flat), but I tried snowboarding when I was in college. There’s a ritual that occurs when you’re preparing to snowboard — you gear up, strap into your board, hop on the ski lift and wait to get to the top of the mountain. When you’re a first-time snowboarder, that ride up the mountain is filled with growing nervousness and excitement.
Once you arrive, you hop (or fall…) off the ski lift, head to the edge and get ready to hit the slope.
That’s the precipice moment.
That moment you’ve been working towards.
That moment you’ve been waiting for.
That moment that terrifies you.
Seeing the Possibilities
“Each man should frame life so that at some future hour fact and his dreaming meet.” — Victor Hugo
Your imagination is incredibly powerful.
Whether it’s your first time snowboarding or you’re dreaming up a new idea with the potential to change your life, your imagination is a key shaper of your future.
On the mountain that day, I’d been imagining what it would be like to hit the slope. I’d seen plenty of others do it, and man, did it look awesome. I was PUMPED.
My friends were with me, I had all the right gear, and I’d been successful on the bunny hill a couple times. The whole ride up the ski lift was filled with telling myself, “You’ve got this. You’re ready.”
All signs pointed to go, but it wasn’t until that specific precipice moment, standing at the top of the slope, that everything came to a head. All of the excitement, all of the desire, and all of the fear.
Maybe something has come to mind right now — an idea you’ve been toying with for a long time. You’ve gone to the mountaintop in your head.
You’ve been dreaming of asking her out.
You’re waiting for the right moment to have that conversation with your boss about working remotely.
You keep reading articles and watching videos about getting into shape.
In your head, you know what you want. You’ve got a clear picture of the benefits making this change would generate in your life.
All of this may be true, but you’re still sitting there on the precipice.
Why haven’t you moved?
Don’t Make Yourself at Home on the Precipice
The truth is that the precipice is an exciting place to be. You’ve got a whole new world in front of you and the possibilities are endless. Who wouldn’t want to be in that spot?
During that snowboarding trip, I wish I could have bottled up the feeling I had before my first descent and taken it with me. It was thrilling. I was finally there. The precipice was awesome.
Yes, the precipice is a great place to be, but the precipice is not a great place to live.
And it’s easy to confuse the two.
You find something you like — like this feeling of excitement and anticipation— and you want more of it. But as humans, we’re all prone to overindulgence and sabotaging ourselves.
Put another way, as Benjamin P. Hardy says in this article, “We humans have a bad habit of talking ourselves out of greatness.”
Say you decide to camp out on the precipice because you like the view. For a while you enjoy it. Anything can happen! The sky’s the limit!
But what tends to happen after you’ve been there for a while?
Disillusionment — When you’re anticipating something great and it doesn’t appear, it’s natural to start losing hope. There’s an old proverb that says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…” and it’s true. Living in a place of constant dreaming and anticipation, but never taking any tangible steps to make those dreams a reality, causes your hope to begin to die out.
Cynicism — Cynicism and disillusionment are old friends. When you are disappointed and have lost hope, it’s a short jump to cynicism. Cynics are characterized by a distrust of others. It renders you unable to connect with people and to trust that their intentions may be good and upright.
Anger — Once you realize that your dreams aren’t coming to fruition you have to find someone to blame. This might mean getting angry at yourself: ”Why don’t you just try harder? Why are you so lazy? Why can’t you just take action?” It may also take the form of anger towards others. If someone else seems to be making progress toward their goals when you aren’t, you may blame your circumstances. Maybe it’s your parents’ fault. Maybe it’s your company’s fault for not recognizing what an asset you are. Whomever it is, someone must be the scapegoat.
There are plenty of other reactions to living on the precipice for too long, but these are three of the ones I’ve recognized in my own life and encountered in conversations with friends and coworkers. Each is subtle. They creep in slowly and build up over time.
The good news?
You don’t have to live with them.
Take the Leap
Does this describe you?
You want more for your life — more fulfillment, more free time, more money, more patience — whatever it may be
You’ve been dreaming and imagining how to get there
You’ve been struggling to make tangible progress towards what you desire
If that’s you, know that you’re not alone. Modern marvels like the internet have made the world so much smaller in the past few decades. There are so many options out there it can be paralyzing.
If you’re ready to get off the precipice and begin moving forward toward your dreams, below are three useful steps to get you started.
The precipice exists first and foremost in your mind. Yes, every decision you make will have tangible consequences in your life, but before anything actually happens you have to make the decision to move forward.
An easy way to overcome the temptation to delay is to take the battle out of your mind and bring it into the “real” world. Find someone you can trust — ideally someone who will be honest with you, but who also won’t default to discouraging you in the name of realism — and share your situation with them. Tell them what you’re feeling, what you desire, and what you’re considering.
Name the struggle. Name the hopes.
Remember, this person isn’t supposed to solve your problem or make the decision for you. Getting counsel and advice for big life decisions is great, but the first and primary reason you’re going to this person is to get outside of your head and put things into motion by talking about what you’ve been considering.
2.One Bite at a Time
You’ve heard it before, but I’m going to say it again: How do you eat an elephant?
One bite at a time.
One of the biggest reasons it’s difficult to act and move forward is because of the tendency we humans have to blow things out of proportion in our minds. Evolutionary it makes sense; caution and being risk-averse can be an aid to survival in some circumstances.
But if you let it, caution can suffocate you.
Fear likes to masquerade as caution. While you might never admit to being afraid, it can actually seem respectable to approach everything in your life with caution.
When you let caution/fear have its way, realistic goals become insurmountable challenges.
Self-transformation takes years, and that’s often daunting. But those years begin today, and taking small steps every day is the key to achieving that dream you’ve been stuck on for so long.
-Want to learn to play the harmonica? Don’t spend hours on YouTube watching the greatest harmonica players in the world. Start with buying a harmonica.
-Dreaming of getting into better shape? Stop searching for that magical workout plan that will be your silver bullet. Get out your tennis shoes and go for a walk today. Do it again tomorrow, and again the next day. Start moving forward. Build some momentum and go from there.
3.Celebrate Your Progress
Regardless of how much progress you’ve made on your goals, chances are there will always be someone further ahead. It can be so easy to let envy and discouragement settle in and kill your momentum.
How do you prevent envy and discouragement?
Celebrate your wins at every opportunity.
If you lost your first pound, congratulate yourself.That’s huge!
If you’ve managed to get yourself in check and are performing better at work as a result, great job! That’s a massive step forward in your journey to personal growth.
Learned to play your first song on your instrument of choice? Well done! Even Beethoven started with a first song.
These examples may or may not seem big, depending on where you’re at in your personal journey. But each of these seemingly small achievements is a very clear step forward on the path to growth. They mark an individual who has chosen not to live on the precipice. They are the signs of someone who has looked fear, laziness, and a million other excuses in the eye and said, “Enough! It’s time. I’ve got this!” and plunged forward into an uncharted future that they have the joy of shaping for themselves.
Are you ready to take the leap?
Note: This work was first published on Medium on 11/12/17 while this site was under construction.