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A Simple Framework For Achieving The Things That Matter In Life

A Simple Framework For Achieving The Things That Matter In Life

We’ve all read numerous posts about achieving success, goal setting, visualising our wins — and usually in 7 steps or less! To be fair, there are some snippets of wisdom in a lot of them. It always seems that at some point, there’s a key part of the process that eludes the reader. The fluffy bit, the bit that really needs understanding, some careful explanation, or practical demonstrations.

This article isn’t a how to become a millionaire in 6 weeks or 5 ways to chisel your abs in 20 minutes a day. Getting what you want takes hard work. Realise this early — there are no two ways about it, it’s just that some of us need a framework to help us make things more predictable, tangible, and manageable.

The basic premise:

  1. Intent – Decide on the goal.
  2. Learn – Learn everything.
  3. Practice – Try and try again.
  4. Forgive – You will mess it up. It’s OK.

Who’d have thought it was that simple, right? We could leave it right there and I’m sure you’d figure it out, but let’s get under the hood a little and look at some practical examples of this in practice.

Me and my Rubik’s Cube

I’m starting with something tangible and personal to me. A few years ago, we had a very talented university student working for us on his sandwich year to get some real-life coding experience. He’s super smart and he could do a Rubik’s Cube in less than 20 seconds. It blew my mind. Most of us spend our childhood in awe of anybody that could do more than two sides of the cube and here in front of me was a real person doing it in almost the blink of an eye. It occurred to me that I too could do this… somehow.

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Set the intent: “I’m going to be able to do the Rubik’s Cube.” No parameters, just a binary decision — “I will complete the cube.”

The following weekend, I searched the web for everything to do with solving the cube, finding numerous tutorials and videos. It turns out that there are certain “algorithms” that simplify the solving process. Settling on a series of videos by a particular guy, I watched them over and over.

After a while, boredom and frustration kicked in and the escape questions started to materialize: “what am I doing?”, “isn’t there something better to be doing?”, but I’d restate my intent. I forgave myself for the distraction, proceeded to get my shit together, and started on making notes.

With my brand new Rubik’s Cube, the practice began — making more notes, pausing Youtube, practicing moves. You get the idea. Within a few hours, I’d competed my first cube. I was elated. Following a “recipe” is one thing, but knowing the previously impossible was now possible was mega. High on knowledge, I needed to be able to do this without my notes or a recipe. This was where the hard work came in and, frankly, the forgiveness.

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A whole day later, Sunday evening, I’d nailed it. I could do the cube in under 5 minutes without any prompting, notes, or Youtube. There were multiple times in the run up to this that I’d felt like giving up, frustrated with myself, frustrated that I’d never get this day back — you know how it feels. This is where the forgiveness part really kicks in. It’s easy to recognize in oneself when you feel like this. The hard part is to know what to do. Forgive yourself. Literally just say it to yourself “Yeh, I messed that up. Don’t stress, I forgive me, it’s part of the process.” I’d have a break for a few minutes, a giggle that I’d just had a word with myself, and get back on with it. I’m pretty sure that forgiveness is the first step to patience.

Summary:

  1. Intent – Complete the Rubik’s Cube.
  2. Learn – Find and learn from people that have already mastered the cube.
  3. Practice – Memorise the techniques. Try over and over again the things that you’ve learnt.
  4. Forgive – Mistakes are fine, have a word with yourself.

In this particular case, I stopped practicing once I knew that I could do it in under 5 minutes. Which means that now I would be hard pressed without a refresher (more learning, practicing, and lots of forgiveness) to complete a cube. I’m happy with that.

So this is a nice tangible example, but how would this framework work on something bigger, something way less tangible, something that we can all empathize with?

Making Happy

Wooah… that’s a big jump. Solving a Rubik’s Cube is one thing but happiness is a whole different matter. How can a framework as simple as this possibly scale to something as intangible and huge as general happiness?

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We all have times in our lives when we feel low, or that things could be better than they are. Sometimes, we see snapshots of other people’s amazing lives on Instagram and wish that our lives were that good. It happens. The problem is that being happy is subjective, so trying to learn how to be happy is difficult. You can’t just search for “how to be happy” without ending up with a lot of personal opinion or ambiguous generalizations.

The thing with happiness is that it’s so personal it’s hard to know what it means, so if we reframe this to improve our current happiness rather than to just “be happy,” we have a (relative) starting point. A key difference, and a tangible one at that. So step one is complete — the intent is to become happier. Finding evidence of how people have made themselves happier is much easier (all of a sudden those aspirational Instagram and Facebook posts become a little more useful).

Now that we’ve set the intent, it’s time to learn as much as possible from people that appear to have happier lives. What do these people do? What don’t they do? Where do they live? How do they live their lives?

For me, this meant reading books, autobiographies, watching documentaries, reading blog posts, and talking to people, asking them questions about their lives and what makes them happy. I’d inadvertently stumbled on one of the things that I would start to practice: communicate and listen more.

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You will start to find patterns that happier people tend to practice in their lives and you can narrow these down into a small list and start practicing. Trying not to veer off into a full-blown happiness post (as frankly, these things are personal). I’ll list a few of the things that I found and decided to work on:

  • Exercise
  • Family time
  • Meditation

As it turns out, we’ve just created a list of intent. To be happier, I intend to learn about and practice exercising and mediation and create more family time. OMG — a self-referential list of meta-intentions that will help us with the larger intention (be happier) that actually seems kind of tangible. The only problem is now that we’ve created this list, we have to figure out how to execute these sub intentions — what?

It’s pretty easy as it goes. For each one, we can apply the same model: What’s the intent? What do I need to learn? What can I practice? Don’t worry if I mess it up and move on.

Pulling out exercise as a sub intention:

  1. Intent – Exercise.
  2. Learn – I researched various things and tried them — climbing, boxing, etc.
  3. Practice – I settled on boxing and a local gym.
  4. Forgive – It was hard, but every time I wanted to give up, I knew it was early days and forgave myself for feeling that way. Or I’d chosen the “wrong exercise” — that’s OK, find another.

In my case, after a few weeks I’m practicing all kinds of new things. I can feel the improvement and I’m feeling happier already. Learning from my Rubik’s Cube experience, I made the conscious decision to continue to learn and practice so that I didn’t lose momentum. More than a few times I’ve missed the gym or worked late and missed dinner with the kids. I’ve forgiven myself, knowing that it’s just a blip and that, as part of the tangible results that I’ve been creating for myself, being flawless or perfect was not one of my intentions. :)

A quick summary:

  1. Intent – Be happier.
  2. Learn – Who are the happier people and what do they do?
  3. Practice – How can I actually practice what I’ve learnt?
  4. Forgive – I’m not perfect — get over it.

Go and do

There’s isn’t really anything that we can’t do once we decide. It’s just that sometimes we need some scaffolding to hold our ideas together. Hopefully this little system will help you as much as it’s helped me, I’d love to hear what you’ve achieved. It’s not a perfect system, and it will surely evolve into something better, but it’s a start. And a start is a good thing.

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via hd.unsplash.com

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Last Updated on December 2, 2019

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

How to Develop Mental Toughness And Stay Strong

Are you the kind of person who wants to achieve massive success in your life? Do you have the mental toughness to make that happen?

I think we can all agree that no matter your ambitions, achieving success can be difficult; and over time, the daily grind can take a toll on your physical, mental, and emotional energy.

Achievers and high performers from all walks of life face ups and downs along the path to success—they face failure, burnout, discouragement, fatigue, self-limiting beliefs, stress, and so much more.

How do some people continually strive towards their personal goals year after year while others give up on them? How do those people stay strong and persevere when there is so much stacked against them?

Studies now show that mental strength is a critical key to success. If you haven’t read Angela Duckworth’s book Grit, you should. In it, she shows that “the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls ‘grit.’” In other words, mental toughness plays a significant role when it comes to achieving goals.

Sometimes, our goals wear us down and leave us feeling exhausted. Other times, our goals get difficult, and success seems impossible, so we lose hope, become discouraged, and want to quit.

At its core, mental toughness is simply the ability to stick to something when the going gets tough. People with high levels of mental toughness can push beyond these obstacles and forge a path towards success while those with lower levels of mental toughness may abandon their dreams.

Want to know the good news?

No matter who you are, what you’ve been told, or what you currently believe, you can develop the mental toughness you need to be successful.

All you need to do is learn to develop a positive mindset, focus on your why, and utilize the people around you for support.

1. Develop a Positive Mindset

If you’re going to increase your mental toughness, the first thing you have to do is focus on building a strong, positive mindset.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the average person has 60,000 thoughts per day. Of those, 95% of those thoughts repeat each day and, on average, 80% of repeated ideas are negative.[1]

That’s roughly 45,600 negative thoughts per day!

Carrying around these negative thoughts is like going on a hike in the mountains with a backpack full of rocks. The hike is hard enough on its own, but having extra junk weighing you down is a recipe for failure.

Sometimes, building mental toughness isn’t as much about building new strength as it is about saving your strength for the right tasks. Wouldn’t it be easier to dump the rocks out of the backpack instead of trying to get strong enough to carry the extra weight?

Absolutely!

But how can we learn to spot those 45,600 negative thoughts and get rid of them? How can we empty our metaphorical backpack?

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Well, it gets a whole lot easier if you know what you’re looking for. Some of the most prominent types of negative thoughts are self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, and dwelling.

Let Go of Self-Limiting Beliefs

It’s pretty hard to be mentally tough when you’re constantly beating yourself up. Self-limiting beliefs are any beliefs that hold you back in some way. Here are some examples:

“I’m not smart enough to…”

“I don’t have enough experience to…”

“I’ve tried that before, and it didn’t go well, so I must just be bad at…”

When we allow these self-limiting beliefs to flood our minds, negative self-talk runs rampant, and we crowd out our ability to think positively. We’re effectively working against ourselves.

If you want to keep your mind strong on your path to success, you have to overcome the self-limiting beliefs that are holding you back by realizing one key truth: self-limiting beliefs are thoughts, not facts.

When you recognize a self-limiting belief cropping up in your mind, quickly silence it by telling yourself that it’s not true and then back that up with some positive affirmations:

  • “I am smart enough; I may just need to do some more research first.”
  • “I may not have as much experience as someone else, but that’s not going to stop me from trying. I have enough experience to get started. I’ll figure the rest out on the way.”
  • “Just because I failed at this last time doesn’t mean I’m going to fail this time. My past does not dictate my future.”

Get Rid of the All-or-Nothing Thinking

Another form of negative thinking that could be preventing you from building mental toughness is all-or-nothing thinking.

All-or-nothing thinking is the concept of thinking in extremes. You are either a success or a failure. Your performance was totally good or totally awful. If you’re not perfect, then you’re a failure.

But this isn’t true!

If you’re trying to lose 30 pounds and only lost 28, isn’t that still better than not losing any weight at all? I’d say so!

If you allow all-or-nothing thinking to rule your mind, you’ll be on cloud nine when you succeed, but you’ll beat yourself up when you “fail.” Acknowledging the shades of gray in between will allow you to see success more often and it will help you celebrate your smaller wins.

When you recognize an all-or-nothing thought, remember to look for the positive in the situation. What did you gain by trying? What would you have missed out on had you not tried? Could you do better if you were to try again?

Ditch the Dwelling

Self-Limiting Beliefs and All-or-Nothing Thinking can lead to a bad case of dwelling on the negative. If you want to build some mental toughness and keep your mind strong, you have to ditch the dwelling.

Every day, bad things happen to each of us, and while there’s nothing we can do to prevent that, we can control how we react to these situations.

When we dwell on our misfortunes, we waste massive amounts of energy that we could be using to achieve our goals. When this happens, we’re more likely to quit altogether.

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But that doesn’t mean you’re not mentally tough; it just means you’re misusing your energy.

The next time something bad happens, it’s important to allow yourself to feel the disappointment and frustration, but work on reducing the amount of time you dwell on the situation.

Easier said than done, right? Try these:

  1. Call a friend or mentor and talk it through with them. Get some outside perspective on your situation.
  2. Time block your dwelling by allowing yourself to dwell for no more than one hour.
  3. Then, tell yourself to move on, that you’re human, and you’re allowed to make mistakes or experience setbacks.
  4. If all else fails, find a good way to distract yourself until you can calm down and reexamine things with a clear mind.

The faster you can focus on the positives and move past the problem, the quicker you can get back to achieving success in your life.

Be Patient about the Process

No matter which negative thoughts tend to run around your mind, working to replace them with positive thoughts can take time.

Learning to spot self-limiting beliefs, all-or-nothing thinking, or dwelling is one thing, but learning to quiet those thoughts is another thing entirely.

If at first you don’t succeed, don’t fret. Instead, take a deep breath and try again. As you work towards improving your mindfulness and your mental toughness, remember that you’re going to get better with time.

To make things a little easier, it helps to connect with your purpose.

2. Connect with Your Purpose

One of the most critical elements to building mental toughness and keeping a strong and focused mind is having a strong ‘why’ for everything you want to do.

If you set out to achieve a huge goal that you don’t have a ‘why’ for, you’re going to find yourself distracted, discouraged, or disengaged as soon as you experience your first setback.

Think about the last time you were working on a goal or resolution and things weren’t going well, maybe you even wanted to quit. Perhaps you thought you didn’t have enough willpower. Maybe you told yourself that you didn’t have enough discipline.

Here’s the truth: you just didn’t have a strong enough why.

Simon Sinek has been spreading his message “Start with Why” across the globe.[2] In short, he says that:

“Your ‘why’ is the purpose, cause or belief that inspires you.”

One of the biggest drains on your mental energy is pursuing a goal or a task that you don’t have a ‘why’ for. This is when we tend to look for external motivation or question our willpower, but those aren’t the issues.

Often, we set goals because we like the idea of the goal, not the reality of the goal. Without connecting to our why, we can’t intrinsically motivate ourselves to achieve our most challenging goals.

Find Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation is our innate desire to do something and it comes when we work towards something that satisfies ourselves above all else—not our parents or our bosses or our teachers.

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Let’s say you think you want to quit smoking because you know it’s bad for you, but you really enjoy smoking. If you don’t truly want to quit smoking, it’s going to be nearly impossible, regardless of your willpower or mental toughness.

But if you want to quit smoking because you just had a baby, and you don’t want your baby growing up around smoke, then that ‘why’ is going to give you intrinsic motivation. Intrinsic motivation is far more powerful than sheer stubborn willpower, and it’s far easier to maintain over the long haul.

If you’re trying to develop mental toughness, connecting a why to everything you want to achieve will reduce the effort and energy it will take to achieve those things. Once you’ve found a strong why for all of your goals, you’ll find that you’ll have significantly more energy to pursue your more difficult challenges.

3. Find Strength in Unity

The final aspect of developing mental toughness is embracing the idea that you’re not in this alone. It’s a fact, anyone who’s ever achieved success in anything didn’t do so alone.

Bill Gates didn’t build Microsoft alone. Oprah didn’t build her network by herself. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the iPhone without a team. Michelle Obama didn’t implement the “Let’s Move” campaign on her own.

Behind all of these successful people were countless other people who were there offering support, mentorship, guidance, and encouragement.

If you want to develop unmatched mental toughness, you need to understand that you don’t have to go it alone. Even the toughest Navy Seals have a team backing them up.

If you want to stay strong in your endeavors, you need to build a team of supporters who will step in and back you up when it counts.

Find a Mentor or Committee of Mentors

The benefits of having a great mentor are far too many to list, but to boil it down to the basics, a mentor is someone who will help show you the path to success.

A good mentor will help you discover your greatest strengths, spot and overcome your blind spots, and work through your weaknesses.

If you’re struggling to deal with your internal negativity or with finding your purpose, talk it through with a mentor. Sometimes we lose the forest for the trees, and a mentor can help us take a step back and see the bigger picture.

Here’s how to find the right mentor for yourself: How to Find a Mentor That Will Help You Succeed

Recruit Some Cheerleaders

If you want to stay strong, it never hurts to have a group of personal cheerleaders. Unlike mentors who are going to jump in and help you address your problems, a group of cheerleaders will help keep your spirits up.

Even if you have a strong ‘why’ and a positive mindset, it’s nearly impossible to maintain a positive attitude 100% of the time. It doesn’t make you weak to need some help from time to time. Having a group of people cheering you on will make all the difference in the world.

As you work towards your goals, tell a few close friends about what you’re doing, and when things get tough, tell them about it. And when they give you the pep talk you need, don’t resist their positivity or counter it with your self-limiting beliefs or your all-or-nothing attitude.

Allow their optimism to refill your energy and use that energy to press on.

Form an Accountability Group

Cheerleaders are great, but sometimes we need someone to give us the kick we need to keep going. You might have a strong ‘why’ for running a marathon or losing 30 pounds, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy; and trying to force yourself to follow through is a sure way to tax your mental energy.

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Why not save some of your mental energy by forming an accountability group?

Find a person or a few people who have similar goals, or at the very least, the need for an accountability partner. Then, form an agreement within the group to push each other every day.

Even if your goals aren’t the same, accountability partners are great for giving us the push we need when we need it most.

Regardless of which relationships you choose, sometimes we have to be able to work through things on our own. Mentors, cheerleaders, and accountability partners are a great way for us to combat our naturally negative mindsets, but occasionally we have to be able to pick ourselves back up.

4. Learn to Pick Yourself Back Up After Setbacks

Building a strong mindset and developing mental toughness isn’t easy! Anyone who’s ever achieved massive success knows that obstacles, setbacks, and failure are inevitable, and you’re no different.

As you work on your goals, you’re going to face many ups and downs, but this doesn’t mean that you don’t have mental toughness, willpower, or discipline.

We all struggle. We all fail. It’s what we decide to do after we fail that truly counts.

When you find yourself in a low spot, ask yourself these questions:

  • “Am I being too hard on myself?”
  • “Are negative thoughts such as Self-Limiting Beliefs or All-or-Nothing Thinking distorting my view?”
  • “What’s the positive side of this setback/obstacle/failure?”
  • “Why was this goal important to me? What was my purpose?”
  • “Is this goal still important to me? Do I still have a ‘why’?”
  • “Who can I ask for help? Who can mentor me or cheer me on? Who can help hold me accountable?”

Asking yourself these questions is a great way to check in on your mindset. When we get lost in negative thinking or lose connection to our purpose, it’s far too easy to become discouraged. When we feel discouraged, we start feeling weak, maybe even a little hopeless.

Also, this article provides some useful tips to help you get back on track: How to Deal with Failure and Pick Yourself Back Up

Tying it All Together

Are you still with me? I know I’ve thrown a lot at you, from developing a positive mindset and combatting your internal voice to connecting with purpose and building a committee of mentors. It’s a lot to take it!

But here’s the bottom line:

A crucial part of developing mental toughness is learning to recognize these tendencies and taking action to correct them early on. Developing mental toughness is not about eliminating weakness, but learning how to deal with it and overcome it.

No one is perfect, but when we focus on the right things, we can develop a mental toughness worthy of life’s biggest challenges.

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Featured photo credit: Zulmaury Saavedra via unsplash.com

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