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A Simple Framework For Achieving The Things That Matter In Life

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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. :)

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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 October 21, 2021

How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

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How to Create Your Own Ritual to Conquer Time Wasters and Laziness

Life is wasted in the in-between times. The time between when your alarm first rings and when you finally decide to get out of bed. The time between when you sit at your desk and when productive work begins. The time between making a decision and doing something about it.

Slowly, your day is whittled away from all the unused in-between moments. Eventually, time wasters, laziness, and procrastination get the better of you.

The solution to reclaim these lost middle moments is by creating rituals. Every culture on earth uses rituals to transfer information and encode behaviors that are deemed important. Personal rituals can help you build a better pattern for handling everything from how you wake up to how you work.

Unfortunately, when most people see rituals, they see pointless superstitions. Indeed, many rituals are based on a primitive understanding of the world. But by building personal rituals, you get to encode the behaviors you feel are important and cut out the wasted middle moments.

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Program Your Own Algorithms

Another way of viewing rituals is by seeing them as computer algorithms. An algorithm is a set of instructions that is repeated to get a result.

Some algorithms are highly efficient, sorting or searching millions of pieces of data in a few seconds. Other algorithms are bulky and awkward, taking hours to do the same task.

By forming rituals, you are building algorithms for your behavior. Take the delayed and painful pattern of waking up, debating whether to sleep in for another two minutes, hitting the snooze button, repeat until almost late for work. This could be reprogrammed to get out of bed immediately, without debating your decision.

How to Form a Ritual

I’ve set up personal rituals for myself for handling e-mail, waking up each morning, writing articles, and reading books. Far from making me inflexible, these rituals give me a useful default pattern that works best 99% of the time. Whenever my current ritual won’t work, I’m always free to stop using it.

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Forming a ritual isn’t too difficult, and the same principles for changing habits apply:

  1. Write out your sequence of behavior. I suggest starting with a simple ritual of only 3-4 steps maximum. Wait until you’ve established a ritual before you try to add new steps.
  2. Commit to following your ritual for thirty days. This step will take the idea and condition it into your nervous system as a habit.
  3. Define a clear trigger. When does your ritual start? A ritual to wake up is easy—the sound of your alarm clock will work. As for what triggers you to go to the gym, read a book or answer e-mail—you’ll have to decide.
  4. Tweak the Pattern. Your algorithm probably won’t be perfectly efficient the first time. Making a few tweaks after the first 30-day trial can make your ritual more useful.

Ways to Use a Ritual

Based on the above ideas, here are some ways you could implement your own rituals:

1. Waking Up

Set up a morning ritual for when you wake up and the next few things you do immediately afterward. To combat the grogginess after immediately waking up, my solution is to do a few pushups right after getting out of bed. After that, I sneak in ninety minutes of reading before getting ready for morning classes.

2. Web Usage

How often do you answer e-mail, look at Google Reader, or check Facebook each day? I found by taking all my daily internet needs and compressing them into one, highly-efficient ritual, I was able to cut off 75% of my web time without losing any communication.

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3. Reading

How much time do you get to read books? If your library isn’t as large as you’d like, you might want to consider the rituals you use for reading. Programming a few steps to trigger yourself to read instead of watching television or during a break in your day can chew through dozens of books each year.

4. Friendliness

Rituals can also help with communication. Set up a ritual of starting a conversation when you have opportunities to meet people.

5. Working

One of the hardest barriers when overcoming procrastination is building up a concentrated flow. Building those steps into a ritual can allow you to quickly start working or continue working after an interruption.

6. Going to the gym

If exercising is a struggle, encoding a ritual can remove a lot of the difficulty. Set up a quick ritual for going to exercise right after work or when you wake up.

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7. Exercise

Even within your workouts, you can have rituals. Spacing the time between runs or reps with a certain number of breaths can remove the guesswork. Forming a ritual of doing certain exercises in a particular order can save time.

8. Sleeping

Form a calming ritual in the last 30-60 minutes of your day before you go to bed. This will help slow yourself down and make falling asleep much easier. Especially if you plan to get up full of energy in the morning, it will help if you remove insomnia.

8. Weekly Reviews

The weekly review is a big part of the GTD system. By making a simple ritual checklist for my weekly review, I can get the most out of this exercise in less time. Originally, I did holistic reviews where I wrote my thoughts on the week and progress as a whole. Now, I narrow my focus toward specific plans, ideas, and measurements.

Final Thoughts

We all want to be productive. But time wasters, procrastination, and laziness sometimes get the better of us. If you’re facing such difficulties, don’t be afraid to make use of these rituals to help you conquer them.

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Featured photo credit: RODOLFO BARRETO via unsplash.com

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