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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 June 18, 2019

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder That Works)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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From Making Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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