Let it Go

In life there are two types of pain that we, as humans, experience. The first is physical pain from something that ails our body. A stubbed toe, a sore throat, a headache, so on and so forth. Physical pain is a part of our reality, and to a large degree it is out of our control.

The second type of pain is emotional pain. It’s disappointment in a friendship. It’s frustration with a coworker. It’s emotional distance with a significant other. This type of pain is less definable and less acute than physical pain, but happens to be much more in our control. How so?

By detaching ourselves from outcomes.

Let me explain. Emotional pain is fairly straightforward when we examine it. In life, we mentally construct an attachment to an expected outcome, and we create pain for ourselves when that expected outcome doesn’t occur. There are big, weighty examples like attaching ourselves to the expectation that our spouse won’t cheat on us, or attaching ourselves to the expectation that a pregnancy will go smoothly. But then there are the more subtle examples that we experience each and every day, whether we realize or not. We expect our car to start when we turn the ignition. We expect our significant other to be kind to us. We expect our boss to be grateful for our hard work. We expect our GPS to give us accurate directions. The list goes on and on. These are the attachments that we create each and every day.

We are continuously creating emotional pain by allowing our contentedness to lie in the outcome of something out of our control. If we can get rid of this attachment to outcomes, we can eliminate most of the emotional pain in our lives.

Emotional pain from the big things in life – loss, grief, change – are okay in my book. This is the price we pay to also receive joy from those same things that created the pain. But the small things that we attach ourselves to provide us an enormous opportunity to improve our happiness by simply letting them go. We do this by:

  • Working hard in our jobs without expectation of reward from it
  • Loving deeply in our relationships without expectation of reciprocated love
  • Letting the little things be little things*
  • (*hint: pretty much everything is a little thing)

“Let it go” is often the advice applied to situations that disrupt our happiness. Though trite, it’s incredibly accurate and applicable advice. When we have emotional pain from something in our life it is because we have not decided to let our attachment to it go. We are holding on to the very thing that’s hurting us. When we are disappointed by an outcome it is not the external that feels the wrath of our disappointment. It’s us. By letting it go, by removing our attachment to outcomes, we take the control of our happiness back into our own hands. Let the big things be big things. But don’t let the little things continually mask themselves as larger than they are. By letting them go, we let our emotional pain go with it.

Three Feet

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. I’m releasing each chapter as I write it, as a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


 

Scaling the Rock

Imagine you’re scaling a several hundred foot vertical face in the desert overlooking Las Vegas. This is a skill you’ve been looking forward to learning and improving, as you know it will help you in your daily tactical missions. After the initial adrenaline of beginning a new climb passes, you begin to notice your palms are sweating and your heart is racing. Your excitement and adrenaline have shifted to fear and an inability to move. All you can think about is how long of a fall down it would be, and that you’re journey would be ending before ever really getting started. Every ounce of your being regrets every beginning this climb. As your mind wanders to all of the things that could possibly happen to you, from a strong gust of wind knocking you off the wall to a misplaced finger sending rocks and your body tumbling, everything within your control is blurred out of focus and all you can concentrate on is the external. Then out of nowhere your lean and muscular scraggly haired hippy instructor free climbs up to you, looks you in the face, and says….

“Focus on your three-foot world. Focus on the three feet within reach of you that you can control, and nothing else.”

And with that simple piece of advice, your attention shifts, your palms dry up, your breathing settles, and you’re back in the saddle of the climb. Well that’s exactly what happened to Mark Owen, a veteran Navy SEAL who was one of the first through the door on the mission that killed Osama Bin Laden. Many years prior to the Bin Laden mission, he was on a training trip in Las Vegas to improve his climbing skills, and those five words “Focus on your three-foot world” are what snapped him back into focus and allowed him to successfully complete the climb. I read that story in Mark’s book, No Hero, and it’s stuck with me for how appropriate the advice is as we navigate the path of creating a remarkable life. Intentionally creating a life of remarkabilty means that we depend upon ourselves to do it, and not external circumstances. We control what we can, and discard the rest. It’s not worth our mental energy to do otherwise. When we purely focus on the things within our control, we save ourselves the mental exhaustion of incessantly worrying over things we have no power to affect, and we become hyper aware of the things within our grasp to create change with. We can’t control our genetics, but we can control what we eat and how often we move. We can’t control our boss or our customers, but we can control the effort we put forth each day in our work. We can’t control the personalities and actions of others, but we can control how we respond to them. So what does this all look like in day-to-day application?

The Three-Foot World of Our Health

The three-foot world of our health is one of the levers of control that elevates or deflates every other area of our lives. It has the power to amplify the positive effort and results we’re seeing as we pursue a remarkable life, or it has the ability to take the air and momentum of everything we’re trying to do. It is not just an option to pursue remarkable health as we pursue a remarkable life – it’s required. As Buddha put it “To keep the body in good health is a duty…otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.”

Over the years I’ve coached thousands of people, and studied all walks of life in health and fitness. What’s surprised me time and time again is that there is no single formula for vitality. There are many many ways to achieve the same thing, and since we’re all wired differently it makes sense that we all thrive with different inputs. So my goal here is not to tell you what workouts you should be doing, or what food you should be eating. Instead I want to highlight the things that I know work, regardless of what your lifestyle is and what fitness goals you have. These are the couple things that are within all of our three-foot world of control, and can be the foundation of a healthy life for each of us. Whether we’re paleo or vegan, a runner or a Crossfitter, a walker or a triathlete, the two levers we can control that positively impact our worlds are quality and quantity, both in regards to fitness and nutrition.

Quality refers to the nature of the food we’re putting in our bodies, and the intentionality behind the movement of our bodies. For our nutrition, this means eating whole, unprocessed ingredients as much as possible. It doesn’t matter what our personal beliefs are about food. We can all eat more veggies, eat fewer refined and processed foods, and focus our meals around this foundation. Nature is very good at providing us with the nutrition we need. By consuming more of what nature provides us, our bodies feel better, our minds operate smoother, and we give ourselves the best chance possible of leading a healthy lifestyle of vitality. More veggies + less processed foods = happier minds and bodies. Quality in our fitness means being intentional in what we’re doing. Just like vegans and paleo eaters can both lead healthy lifestyles, walkers and triathletes can also achieve healthy lifestyles through being intentional about their movement and goals. This means scheduling in time to workout each day, or several days per week. This means planning out ahead of time what we’re going to do, and sticking to it. This means intentionally moving through our workout with the purpose of improving, not just showing up. By improving the quality of what we’re doing, we by nature reduce the quantity that we need to do to show remarkable results.

Quantity refers to the amount of food we’re consuming and the amount of stress we’re putting our bodies under each day. In today’s western world, most of us plain and simple eat too much. We’ve built a culture of constantly eating, and have somehow bought into the idea that we need to be eating from the time we wake up until the time we go to bed. What’s ironic about this is that studies have shown time and time again that one of the ultimate keys to longevity is reducing our overall caloric intake. By doing this we give our digestive systems more time to rest, recover, and repair. We improve our blood sugar levels. We create a better mindset around food, using it as fuel instead of comfort. I personally achieve this through fasting each day, minimizing my window of eating each day to just eight hours. It’s the single best thing I’ve ever done for my health. Quantity in regards to our fitness means doing what’s required for improvement, and nothing less or more. By doing less, we’re obviously leading stagnant lives. By doing more, we can be overtraining our bodies and causing more stress than is necessary. There is no magic formula for what your body needs. We can only figure it out through trial and error. But once we’ve found what works for us, all that’s left to do is stick to it. When we combine quality movement through intentionality with the right quantity of movement, we’ve built a recipe for not just short term success, but long term success and vitality.

The Three-Foot World of Our Work

There is not a single path or profession on the planet that isn’t directly impacted by others. Even our picture of the most isolated professions possible, like the hermit genius novelist for example, is still significantly impacted by his editors, publishers, critics, and ultimately readers. For any and all of us, our work is immeasurably entangled with the actions of others. This is a critical point if we’re to understand how we control our own happiness and our own destiny in our work. For us to continually grow in our work, we must focus almost exclusively on the levers we can control and not worry about the rest.

To start, let’s explore the things we can control in our work. For simplicity and clarity, the main things we can control are our effort and focus. Effort is the more obvious of the two. We understand that each day we have a choice in how much effort we put toward something. We can work hard or hardly work. We can wake up early or sleep in. We can do the work or we can avoid the work. It becomes easy for us to blame a lack of work on external forces. We get interrupted by co-workers. We have to wait on someone else’s work before we can do ours. We are waiting on a client’s feedback. These are all external forces that can easily be morphed into excuses. Our work is our work. As much as we try to talk ourselves into it being impacted by people outside of ourselves, the truth is much simpler. We have the opportunity to wake up every single day and put pen to paper, phone to ear, and output to input. When we fully own that our work is in our control, we reframe our days and our priorities. The effort becomes the priority, not the external. And when the effort becomes the priority, we’re very good at finding ways to get it done.

If effort puts the work in motion, focus is what makes the work great. And just like effort, focus is entirely in our control. The most common malady in today’s work environment is trying to do too much at once. I think this stems from a desire to please a lot of people, all with different demands on our time. But when we try to please everyone and everything, our work becomes muddied regardless of the effort put forth. It’s like trying to move a giant boulder. You can apply pressure to multiple sides of the boulder but ultimately it won’t budge. If instead you combined all of that effort into a single focused area, the boulder begins to move and even better it becomes easier to move. This is our work. When our focus is everywhere, our progress is nowhere.

No effort + no focus = no progress.
No effort + focus = no progress.
Effort + no focus = minimal progress.
Effort + focus = remarkable growth.

The Three-Foot World of Our Relationships

In the three-foot world of relationships we stop trying to control the other person and instead focus on controlling ourselves. This is a tough pill for most of us to swallow, because we’re not entirely conscious of our incredible ability to control others, through our words and actions (or lack thereof). We say words to get a rise. We say words to shut someone up. We do things to get back at someone. We do things to get someone’s attention. Whether words or actions, spoken or unspoken, proactive or reactive, we are all guilty of trying to control others instead of simply controlling ourselves.

We can’t control other people’s words, but we can control how we respond to them.
We can’t control other people’s actions, but we can control our reactions.
We can’t control other people’s intentions, but we can control our own.

This is not isolated to significant others either. This is coworkers. This is bosses. This is family. This is friends. Our happiness in relationships is not dictated by others, but by us. We are giving away our power to others when we respond with reaction instead of intention. By focusing on our three-foot world of relationships, and not worrying about the rest, we retain our personal power, and in turn retain our sanity.

I know for myself, so much of the stress in life is introduced by things outside of my control, yet I let them disrupt my world anyway. The way of the Redwood does not worry about aspen down the road, or fret about the coming storm, or ponder why the other tree is taller. The Redwood just drinks in the water when it can, soaks in the sun as much as possible, and focuses on the one thing it wants to do – grow.

Intention & Framework

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. I’m releasing each chapter as I write it, as a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


 

Giving Intention Attention

There’s a few reverberating themes in my writing that are the foundation of a positive mindset and life well-lived. One of those themes is intention. As one definition states, intention is a mental state that represents a commitment to carrying out an action or actions in the future. Put even simpler, intention is awareness directed through an action. To live intentionally, we must first be aware of the world around us, and then intentionally set out to become the person we desire within it. Intention deserves so much page space, because it’s so utterly easy to live our lives unaware and without intention. More than any other point in history our attention is diverted this way and that, and when outside forces are vying for our attention they often succeed in acquiring it.

In his bestselling book The 4 Disciplines of Execution, author Chris McChesney describes the external forces that compete for our time and attention each day as the appropriately named “whirlwind”. He calls it the whirlwind because if we allow ourselves to get caught in it, it’s tough to get out. While his book is written for businesses as a guide to leadership and time management, it’s equally as applicable to our lives as a whole as well. When we don’t live our days with awareness and intention, time will continue to march no matter how we spend its hours, minutes, and seconds. The whirlwind of life will gladly suck us in without us even knowing it.

When it comes to our daily environment, the awareness and intention we bring to it has significant impact on our productivity and happiness. Much like a city can help or hamper our growth, the microlevel of that is the daily environment we create for ourselves within that city. This is another one of those truths that looks different for everyone, and as such cannot be taught in a book. We all operate at different speeds, thrive on different environments, and require different settings to optimize our daily setting. So to know what works best for you requires what I mentioned prior – awareness. When we give our environment awareness, it’s easy to recognize how we best operate, and what sort of daily environment we need to give ourselves the best chance possible for growth.

I know for myself that working from coffee shops is my most optimal environment when I need to crank out quality, or quantity for that matter, work loads. The combination of the music, the people, and the smell of the coffee gives me the perfect amount of focused energy to GSD (get sh*t done!) while still absorbing and appreciating my surroundings. Coffee shops are the perfect window into the soul of a city and community, and this window provides me creative energy as well as a motivation to simply get great work done. The opposite environment for me, the one I try to avoid, is my environment when working from home. The dog, the cat, and the couch are simply too powerful of distractions to motivate me into producing great work. It’s fine enough for some emailing, planning, and other mundane work, but when it comes to truly creating I need to leave my house to do so.

Daily Framework

When talking about creating our optimal environment, I like to think of our days as having a framework. Much like a house must first be framed before the walls any shiny finishings can be installed, our days must first be framed before we can install our habits and best work. Having a framework for our days makes it much easier for us to simply focus on getting our best work done. Why is framework so critical to having a positive daily environment, each and every day? Because framework eliminates decision fatigue. And when we eliminate decision fatigue, we can focus all of our energy toward that one thing we’re after – creating our best work.

To start, you may be asking yourself what exactly decision fatigue is. For the most part, it’s exactly what it sounds like – mental fatigue brought on by making too many decisions. It’s one of those invisible forces that has a presence in all of our lives, but often we don’t have the awareness to recognize it. One of the more famous examples of intentionally paring down on decision fatigue is Steve Jobs and his signature black turtleneck and jeans. Steve did not wear this somewhat ridiculous outfit virtually every single day of his working life to make a fashion statement. He wore it because it was one less decision he’d have to make during his day. And freeing up that mental space meant more room for making decisions where it mattered most – his creative work.

Framing our days is much like this Steve Jobs example, except on an even larger scale. When we have a framework for how we operate and structure each day, we allow ourselves ample amounts of mental space to get our best work done. If we wake up each morning without a plan in place, it means one of two things will happen. Either we will waste the first hour or more of our day simply figuring out what that day will look like, or we’ll allow ourselves to get sucked right into the whirlwind, never intentionally making the most of the day. Both of these are poor options, and an incredibly suboptimal environment for trying to produce our best work and stimulate growth. Implementing a daily framework eliminates these options. This daily framework should consist of two things – space and time constructs. Space constructs are what I was referring to earlier in my coffee shop example. It’s the space that allows us to produce our best work, and it’s different for everyone. What works for you, works for you, and that’s all that matters. We must first be aware of how our daily environment affects us, and then intentionally frame in an environment that supports our growth goals. But it starts with deciding what this space construct is, and intentionally implementing it into our days.

The second construct that makes up our daily framework is time. This means that every day we’re intentional about how we spend each hour and minute. In the GROWTH section of this book I’ll get more specific into the habits and tools we can use to optimize our time, but it starts with creating a framework of for our hours. This construct should include a starting time, a stopping time, and being fully present during those times. The starting time is critical because it’s a lot easier to hit the snooze button, read the paper a bit longer, or linger over our eggs a few more minutes when we don’t have a hard start time that shifts our mindset into creation mode. The stop time is critical because creating the best version of ourselves includes things outside of our work. A stop time allows us the freedom to shift from work and creation mode into whatever other mode we need most in our lives – family time, social hours, alone time in the gym, or anything else. Parkinson’s Law states that our work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion. Without a stop time in place, our work will naturally expand to fill the time we allot it. And the reverse is also true. Implementing a stop time each day kicks us into gear to complete whatever work we need to get done into the hard stop time we’ve allotted to it.

By having a framework for when we’re working, when we’re resting, and when we’re playing, we give ourselves the freedom to be fully present during those times. If we don’t have a stop time for our work, even if we step away to grab a drink with friends or spend time with our families, oftentimes our minds are still wrapped up in our work. We haven’t built in the mindset of leaving work at work, and being fully present in the moment we’re in. The same is true for our personal lives. If we drag those matters into our work time, it’s very difficult to produce at our best because our mind is elsewhere. Setting time and space constructs for our day does not eliminate this entirely, but it gives us a big advantage by not allowing our mindset to float freely between our various worlds.

The Freedom of Structure

When we think of the term “freedom” what do we think of? Lying on a beach? Being on a road trip? Running through a wide open field? Whatever we individually think of, it most likely ties back in some way to being unshackled. One of the many definitions of freedom is the state of not being imprisoned or enslaved. And so you and I, being rational human beings, paint the picture in our heads that freedom equates to not having something: a boss, a job we have to go to every day, bills, so on and so forth.

But what are we really imprisoned by in today’s society? It’s not our bosses. It’s not our jobs. It’s not our to-do list. It’s having no clue how to manage it all. We are inundated with information, distractions, responsibility, and stress more than ever before. We want to flee from it when it becomes overwhelming, but maybe it’s not that we need to take something away. Maybe we actually need to add something. Enter structure, and specifically enter a framework for operating our daily environments. In today’s hyper connected and hyper “busy” world, our definition of freedom needs to change. It is no longer the absence of something, but instead it’s the presence of something else – structure – that allows us to approach our life and days with a clear head. That is structure. And there is freedom in structure.

Roy Baumeister, a social psychologist at Florida State University says this about decision fatigue.

“Making decisions uses the very same willpower that you use to say no to doughnuts, drugs, or illicit sex. It’s the same willpower that you use to be polite, or to wait your turn, or to drag yourself out of bed, or to hold off going to the bathroom. Your ability to make the right investment or hiring decision may be reduced simply because you expended some of your willpower earlier when you held your tongue in response to someone’s offensive remark, or when you exerted yourself to get to the meeting on time.”

My prior description of decision fatigue wasn’t nearly as exciting as Roy’s, and I think his paints a more accurate picture of the truth surrounding the impact of structure, or lack of structure, in our lives. The real reason for setting up a framework and structure to our days is because it provides freedom. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s the truth. Decision fatigue removes our ability to make the best decision possible or put forth our best work. Over the past several years of managing teams, starting companies, and studying personal growth, I’ve learned this the hard way and I’ve realized there truly is nothing more freeing from this perpetual decision fatigue than structure.

Structure is precisely the thing that gives us room to operate freely. An airplane does not fly from one destination to another without any sense of navigational direction. Instead it has boundaries to operate from. The plane’s computer knows the boundaries that the plane can fly within, and these boundaries are what give the plane and the pilot the freedom to simply operate to the best of their ability. If the pilot didn’t have these boundaries or any navigational direction to operate from, that wouldn’t be freedom. It would be chaos. Our lives are no different. Structure and framework provide us the freedom to operate to the best of our own abilities. Most of that freedom lies in our mindset, having ample room to create because we’re not wasting energy on where we are or what we should be doing. We’ve built a framework that has already answered those questions, so all we have to do is the work itself.

Craft

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. I’m releasing each chapter as I write it, as a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

Want to receive each chapter for free? Sign up below as I release new chapters each week!


 

Understanding Passion

At 22 years old, my best friend in the world passed away in his sleep. We were set to move in together just one week later in Dallas. The most energetic, loving, and passionate person I ever had the joy of knowing had been ripped from my life and countless others’ lives. As deaths go when someone of this attitude and aptitude passes away, we decided to celebrate his life as much as we could. Part of this process involved remembering his life with one simple phrase.

“Live life with passion!”

It became the signature of his life, and a phrase that his friends and family will remember him by forever. He embodied the term, and everything that it represented – a thirst for life, a desire to grow, and a love for people. He did not pursue passion. He LIVED passion. And there is a big difference…

Passion, this somewhat elusive and undefinable word that is woven into our society, requires some debunking and refining before we can jump into how it relates to our craft. So it’s best if we get it out of the way upfront. Passion is very en vogue these days, and for good reason. The more and more our society becomes cursed by workaholism and connectedness, the more enticing the idea of turning our passions into our life’s work becomes. The wave junkie becoming a surf instructor. The homelessness activist starting a non-profit. The young backpacker becoming a travel blogger. At surface level this all sounds amazing, and seems like something worthy of pursuing. But what the passion equation leaves out is the most critical piece to our long-term happiness…

Work is still work. We must enjoy the process over the passion.

The thing about passions is that we’re used to digesting them in chunks. The surfer gets her weekend rides in. The activist serves at the shelter a few times per month. The backpacker snaps a few photos per day. The beauty of digesting things in chunks is that they’re easier to enjoy! Because at that point they aren’t work at all. They’re a hobby, and we don’t spend enough time in them to ever get sick of them. So what happens in our minds is we use the logic of “If I like doing it a little bit, then surely I’ll LOVE doing it all the time!” And this is where the passion equation falls short. No matter what our day to day work is, whether it’s something mundane or something we’re passionate about, at the end of the day it’s still work. The surf becomes work when you’re up at 5am in ice cold water day in and day out. The activism becomes work when people start to become numbers on a spreadsheet. The photography becomes work when the pictures become the focal point instead of the world they’re capturing. What starts out as a passion, quickly turns into a paycheck.

Understanding Fulfillment

In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, esteem takes its place in the 4th slot on the pyramid, sitting atop physiological needs, safety needs, and belonging needs. What Maslow was saying, in essence, is that once our food and water needs are met, once we know our survival isn’t at risk, and once love and a social circle has a place in our life, the next most important fulfillment in our lives is esteem. Put another way, achievement is engrained in our being right up there with survival and community.

We are driven to achieve.

And thankfully so for our species. If not for our desire to achieve, we wouldn’t have agriculture, medical cures, life-saving technologies and countless other advancements that make today’s world what it is. Achievement is in our DNA, and if we grasp that we’re wired to achieve, we can start to understand where passion falls short.

If we accept that esteem, and by necessity achievement, are fulfilling to us as humans, then the next question to tackle is how we acquire them. Think about achievement. It is simply achieving a goal or being recognized for our work. In the former we literally achieve something we set out to do and in the latter we acquire the feeling of achievement through recognition and praise. So if achievement feels good and leads to esteem, it would make the most sense to do this as often as possible. How do we achieve things regularly?

We do things we’re good at.

Because when we do things we’re good at, we achieve things or acquire the praise of achievement more frequently. And when we achieve, we’re motivated to continue improving and achieving. Each success builds on itself, and we simply get better and better at what we’re good at. This increases our esteem and helps us acquire one of the most vital foundations of the human experience. And this is precisely why passion so often eludes us only to leave us unsatisfied. While we may care about things we’re passionate about, that doesn’t necessarily make us good at them. And if we aren’t good at them, it means we aren’t being fulfilled by achievement in them. Being a passionate surfer is very different from being a good surf instructor. Being a passionate activist is very different from being a good non-profit manager. And being a passionate traveler is very different from being a good travel blogger. When we mistake our passion for our career, oftentimes we minimize our ability to achieve because we’ve chosen something for the sake of enjoyment instead of the sake of fulfillment. In the world of happiness, fulfillment trumps passion every time. And fulfillment comes from achieving at things we’re good at.

Your Work Is Your Craft

I hate the word “job”. Okay, that’s not fair. Hate is a strong word. I think there are better options for us to use than the word job. Why? Because job has baggage attached to it. It could be good baggage or bad baggage, and that is likely determined by the emotions and beliefs we have attached to jobs in the past. We have the baggage of our own experience with working – a job that we hated, a job that we loved, a job that we wanted, etc. Then, we have the baggage of our friends and acquaintances’ experiences with jobs. And finally we have the baggage of our parents, and whatever their relationship was with jobs. An example? Someone who grew up with a mother or father as a successful entrepreneur will attach totally different meaning to the term “job” than someone who grew up with a parent who did manual labor for a living. So I want to move us beyond jobs when talking about our work, and instead talk about our craft. Is it semantics? Sure. But our words are everything, and the ones we choose to use matters.
I like to view our daily tasks, the things that we apply ourselves to day in and day out, as our craft. A craft, by nature, has hard work, appreciation, and attention to detail attached to it. It goes beyond some mundane job that we go to just for a paycheck, and it takes on a personal narrative. It attaches ourselves, our beings, to the work, and this fundamentally changes how we approach it. Maybe you don’t actually enjoy your day-to-day work. Maybe you’re looking for something new. But that doesn’t mean we aren’t still craftsmen and craftswomen in what we accomplish each day. We craft our attitudes. We craft our conversations with others. We craft our ability to stay positive. We craft our work ethic. We craft the purpose behind what we do. When we remove our craft from our daily tasks, it is minimized to a job. But none of us want a job. We want a craft and a purpose that we can apply ourselves to. It has nothing to do with whether or not we have a boss. It has nothing to do with whether we’re filing papers or selling widgets. It has nothing to do with the to-do list in front of us. It has everything to do with our approach to it. This is our craft. It’s shaped by our own two hands.

Have you ever had an experience where you observe someone in their work and you think to yourself “This person is fully engaged in their work. They are a true pro at what they do.” I have many times. I’ve seen this in bartenders and servers. I’ve seen this in sales reps. I’ve seen this in doctors. I’ve seen this in countless positions, regardless of what that particular “job” is. Time and time again what I’ve noticed is these people is not that they’re overtly passionate about their work, but that they are intentional craftsmen at their work. They pay attention to the details and focus on delivering superior work. They don’t rely on emotions like passion to drive them. Instead they rely on the innate satisfaction that comes from improving upon and perfecting their craft. This is what happens when our work becomes our craft. It is agnostic in regards to passion, but omnipresent in regards to fulfillment.

What Is Your Craft?

Now that we’ve demystified what passion is and isn’t, and we’ve unpacked what building our craft should look like, let’s discover what our craft truly is. It starts with a very simple question.

What are we good at?

Notice I didn’t say “great” at. Notice I didn’t say “the best” at. I simply asked what we’re good at. This is our starting place for discovering our craft. Remember when we talked about the fixed mindset versus the growth mindset? The fixed mindset would jump to the conclusion that we already need to be great at something in order to turn it into our daily work. The growth mindset would jump to the conclusion of “give me something to start with and I’ll improve from there.” When it comes to finding and honing our craft, we must approach it with a growth mindset if we want to find fulfillment in our work.

To use continuity with our prior examples, just because the surfer is good at surfing doesn’t mean the surfer is good at teaching. Just because the activist is good at empathizing with the homeless, doesn’t mean that the activist is good at raising money for the annual budget. And just because the traveler is good at finding hidden destinations, doesn’t mean the traveler is good at writing about them. To find our craft, we must start with something we’re good at.

Oftentimes when we’re in the search for meaning in our lives, we overlook the things that we’re good at for fulfillment. I remember a conversation with a good friend in Costa Rica not too long ago, who is building a web-based business. He was on the ever elusive search for meaning in his work, and was avoiding at all costs what he was actually good at – designing websites and logos. Why? Because in his own words he wasn’t passionate about doing those things. So instead he was taking the high friction and high frustration path of building a business based on things he wasn’t good at. Through hours of incredible conversation with each other, unpacking and discovering what he was truly seeking, he decided that designing websites and logo was the perfect springboard to building the business he wanted to build. What was it he was truly seeking? Fulfillment. As the saying goes,

“Everyone is a genius. But if you judge a fish by his ability to climb a tree, he will live his whole life believing he is stupid.”

Much like the fish shouldn’t spend his days trying to climb a tree, so should we not spend our days fighting the uphill battle of passion and trying to find fulfillment without achievement. Our daily craft is a matter of mindset. When we view our work as a vessel for positively impacting ourselves and those we interact with, the actual tasks become a moot point. Instead it’s the energy we put behind the tasks that matters. We craft those tasks and those interactions, and by nature of treating this work as a craft we positively impact those in our wake. Passion can kick us into gear, but we must never mistake the passion for the work. A craftsman’s mindset is what creates great work, and great work is what creates fulfillment. By starting with things that we’re good at, we give ourselves room to grow, room to craft, and a regular occurrence of fulfillment through achievement and recognition. This is an optimal environment in which we can grow and improve daily. Think of it as the Maslow-approved approach to building a remarkable life. We are all geniuses, but if we don’t give ourselves a chance to swim, we too might find ourselves believing we’re stupid.

The Company We Keep

Below is a chapter release to my next book, Redwood. I’m releasing each chapter as I write it, as a part of my 2016 Writing Quest.

Redwood is a book on how we can optimize our environment and our habits to create remarkable lives. As John Steinbeck once wrote, from redwood trees come silence and awe. We have the power to create this same remarkability in our own lives.

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Who Are Our Five?

In a recent interview on the CreativeLive blog, Tim Ferriss was asked what the best advice he’s ever received was. His response?

“The best advice I’ve ever received is ‘you are the average of the 5 people you associate with most.’ I’ve actually heard this from more than one person, including bestselling authors, Drew Houston of Dropbox, and many others who are icons of Silicon Valley. It’s something I re-read every morning. It’s also said that ‘your network is your net worth.’ These two work well together.”

Tim Ferriss is one of the most celebrated authors and entrepreneurs of the 21st century, but this alone isn’t what makes his advice above interesting. What makes it interesting is that Tim’s life work has been studying the success of himself and others, and distilling that into the most actionable advice possible. He is an incredibly intentional writer, thinker, and modern-day philosopher. And whenever someone has produced the prolific amount of work that Tim has, it’s best to listen up when they have solitary pieces of advice that can create major impact in our lives.

As stated in his quote, Tim certainly isn’t the first person to come to the conclusion that we’re the average of the five people we spend the most time with. As best as I can tell the advice originated from Jim Rohn, one of the greatest motivational speakers and personal development coaches in history. So why do so many influential people, Tim and Jim included, tout this advice as critical to our success?

The Mindset We Keep

The mindset of the successful is oftentimes very different than the mindset of the unsuccessful. This is obviously somewhat of a generalization, but I have found this to be the case time and time again in my own life. There are many factors that lead to an individual’s success, but one of the most common threads is a mindset of growth and positive beliefs about the future. In a nutshell, they believe that they can improve their position in life through growth and they believe that their future looks brighter than their past. Mindset is not something that stays isolated to ourselves. It bleeds over into the lives of those that we’re regularly around. And this is precisely why surrounding ourselves with people that have mindsets of growth and positive beliefs directly impacts our own mindset whether we realize it or not. I have a true story that illustrates the impact this can have, both for better or for worse.

Not long after I had graduated from college I was living in Dallas and working part-time at a high end gym. There was an obese woman (literal, not just figurative) that worked out several times per week with her personal trainer at this gym. After months and months of casually observing her coming in and working out with her trainer, I noticed her progress wasn’t budging much. I was pretty good friends with her trainer so I decided to ask him what was holding her up. His response shocked me, and has clearly stayed with me until nearly a decade later.

“She actually doesn’t want to lose weight. That’s her words, not mine. She said all of her best friends are also overweight, and she feels like if she lost weight she would isolate herself from them. So she just works out to feel better, but has no desire to lose any of the weight.”

That response left me dumbfounded, but it also clearly illustrated how much the company we keep can elevate or deflate us, whether we know it or not. If the five people this woman spent the most time with were highly motivated and healthy individuals this would have likely dramatically affected her desire to improve her own position in life. Mindset is infectious and we need to be intentional about the mindset of the people we surround ourselves with day in and day out. If their mindsets are ones of growth and positive beliefs, it makes it that much easier for ours to be as well. If their mindsets are ones of status quo and negative or neutral beliefs, it is as if we’re trying to move forward in quicksand – trying to step forward but not making much progress.

The Habits We Keep

In tangent with mindset being infectious, the habits of those we spend the most time with are also infectious. Think about the most practical application of this. If the five people you spend the most time with are more likely to be found at a bar on a Wednesday night than in the gym on a Wednesday night, where do you think you’re most likely to be found? If your closest friends are swapping stories about The Bachelor instead of a new book they’re reading, what do you think your recreational activities are more likely to consist of? Humans are intrinsically drawn to be included in a group. Part of that desire and drive to be included involves doing the things that lead to inclusion. If doing a specific activity, or creating and keeping a specific habit, creates inclusion into a group of people then we are by our very nature incredibly motivated to participate. It satisfies one of the most basic needs of being a human – feeling a part of a community.

The mindset of those around us shapes our own mindset. The habits of those around us shapes our own habits. We can either accept this reality and use it to our advantage, or we can brush it off as something we can overcome. If we choose the latter we are most surely going to face an uphill battle of creating a reality in our own life that is separate from the reality of those around us. While it may sound simple enough on paper, it is incredibly difficult to do in practice.

Being Intentional About Our Five

Some of us might read this as “ditch your friends if they aren’t serving your highest self.” But this isn’t the case. It’s a question of quantity more so than quality. We all have friends and family that will be a significant part of our lives forever, regardless of whether or not that benefits our own personal development. And that’s how it should be to be honest. There’s value in those relationships as well. But this topic is a question of quantity. Who do you spend the most time with? Do the hobbies you share together, the habits you create together, and the conversations you have together drive you toward a better version of yourself? If the answer is no, it’s simply a signal that you have a massive opportunity to increase the caliber of close relationships in your life. This sort of evaluation helps you figure out if you’re on a path toward improvement or stuck in that same quicksand from above. When the majority of our social or working hours are spent with people that don’t elevate us, we’re participating in the habitual stunting of our own growth. To change it, start with intention – an intention to give yourself the best possible chance at success. Is there room to add new positive influences in your life? Is there room to elevate the mindset and habits of those around you, in turn elevating your own mindset and habits?

Put in the simplest way possible…write down the five people you spend the most time with. Choose the most average person out of those five people. Is that who you want to be like? If the answer is no, it’s time to evaluate the company we keep.