What to do at the Bottom

Being at the bottom is inevitable. The reality of being emotion-driven humans is that while we get to experience joy and happiness we also have to endure equal and opposite measures of pain and unhappiness. This is simply the price of admission for the human experience.

So if having bad days, rough weeks, and hard bottoms is guaranteed in our lives, what should we do when we’re there?

Just because hitting the bottom is inevitable, it doesn’t mean we have to hang out there for extended periods.  Whether you’re at the bottom from a significant loss or you’re simply at a point in your life where you need a change, there are intentional actions we can take that shorten our duration spent at the bottom. Here’s the ones I’ve used successfully in my life.

Gratitude Practice

It is nearly impossible to feel pain from what you don’t have when you genuinely appreciate what you do have. Oftentimes our bottom is driven not by circumstance, but by a lack of recognition of all the things we can be grateful for. I know as much as anyone how tough it can be to seek gratitude when all we want to do is the opposite. But if we can find the initial courage to seek gratitude, it can change our situation in an instant. All it takes is a few minutes of focused effort, and our mindset can be shifted entirely. Start small. Take an action you already do every day, like showering, and use that time to focus on things you’re grateful for. It is difficult to stay at the bottom when we show ourselves through a gratitude practice that we’re already on top.

Change Your Scenery

Our environment is critical to optimizing our happiness and success. If we are in a place that drains us, we’re putting ourselves at a handicap to dig ourselves out of the bottom. Sometimes, a change of scenery is the perfect recipe for changing our position in life. Whether that’s a trip to get out of town, or literally changing the place you call home, a change in scenery revives our senses, our spirit, and our hope. Changing our scenery is not running away from whatever ails us. It’s running to something completely new and invigorating, which can be just what we need to climb out of the bottom.

Get to Work

When we hit the bottom in our life, sometimes action is our biggest ally.  There is immense satisfaction in work, contribution, and achievement. Left to wallow in our own thoughts and boredom, we can find ourselves stuck at the bottom simply from a lack of activity and momentum. Whether this is literal work, like our job, or simply effort that gets us focused on a project or goal, working toward the achievement of something aligns our mind with action, and can help keep out the negativity that comes from being at the bottom.

Process Your Thoughts

Our thoughts need to find a way out of our head. Left to our own thoughts we can create incredibly unhealthy states between our ears. When we hit the bottom, we need an outlet to process and flesh out our thoughts. For me, this is writing. Putting pen to paper allows me to organize my thoughts and think logically through them. For some this might be another creative outlet like drawing or music. For some this might be a fitness pursuit that serves as an outlet of aggression. Whatever works for you, do it. As long as it’s helping you take the words floating between your ears, and process them in a way that makes them more coherent, it will help you get out of the bottom quicker. Our mindset can hold us down at the bottom. Processing our thoughts, much like the gratitude practice above, helps us shift our mindset to one that serves us.

I have been at the bottom many times. You have been at the bottom many times. We will both see the bottom countless more times in our future. By knowing this up front, we can put actions to work that will help minimize our time there. By leaning on gratitude, changing our scenery, getting to work, and processing our thoughts in a productive way, we make sure the bottom doesn’t become comfortable. We make sure that our home and place in the world is on top, smiling down on the path behind us. We’ll be down there again, but that destination is temporary. And we have the power to make sure of it.

 

Motivation: We’re Doing it Wrong

Motivation in its simplest form is the desire to do something. It’s the magnetic force that draws the tires to meet the proverbial road, and propel into action.

Oftentimes, we view (we being the collective you + me + society) motivation as an external force. We see it as something outside of ourselves that kicks us into gear to achieve whatever it is that we’ve set out to achieve. And this is precisely where and how we’re doing it wrong.

This is how most of us, most of the time, view motivation:

EXTERNAL MOTIVATION –> ACTION –> GOALS

But when we put the microscope to motivation, we will see that we have the equation backwards. Motivation comes from being in alignment with our goals, and knowing the actions to achieve them. Motivation, therefore is a lag measure (the result of something), not a lead measure (the cause of something). This is how motivation truly plays out in life:

GOALS –> ACTION –> INTRINSIC MOTIVATION

When we flip the script on motivation, it becomes a result of understanding what we’re trying to achieve and how to achieve it. The motivation is the output of our input. Because it is the output, it means that we can control the input and therefore control our level of motivation.

Where we’ve gotten confused is we’ve made motivation synonymous with inspiration, which are two very different things. Inspiration IS the external force that moves us to action. But inspiration is temporary and fleeting. We can use it in moments of lethargy or inaction, and I often do. As an example, if I’m having a morning where I’m struggling to get moving and attack my day, I will watch an Eric Thomas video to change my position or my attitude toward my day. This inspiration is the fleeting moment that I need to get me in gear. But this is NOT motivation. If I am regularly finding myself needing inspiration to get going, it’s an issue with motivation. It means that either

  1. I don’t have a clear vision of my goals OR
  2. I don’t have an understanding of how I’m going to achieve those goals.

Inspiration is a spark. Motivation is the fire. Inspiration is fleeting. Motivation is everlasting. Inspiration is an input. Motivation is an output.

If you’re finding yourself in a period of life where you feel directionless, unmotivated, or uninterested, don’t look for inspiration to fix the situation. Instead, evaluate your goals, map out a path to achieve them, and then watch as the motivation is the intrinsic result of being in alignment with where you want to go.

Then, and only then, are we truly motivated.

Dear World, I Quit

Dear world, here’s my resignation letter. I quit.

No, I don’t quit the act of living. Far from it actually. Instead, I quit the game of life. The game that lures us so enticingly to play. It’s the accomplishments game. It’s the advancement game. It’s the promotion game. It’s the wealth game. It’s the look at me game. It’s the more more more game. It’s the never enough game. It’s the social media highlight reel game. It’s the game that keeps the vast majority of us in the developed world wanting more and being grateful less. It’s the game that keeps us perpetually…unhappy.

This isn’t a two-weeks notice either. This is today, the end. You’ll have to find a replacement for tomorrow’s game. You’ll have plenty of options to choose from. I’ve played your game for too long, and it’s here that we part ways. Your way, continuing to lure restless hearts to pursue your empty promises. And my way, playing a new game entirely against myself. Two very different games that don’t mix. Like oil and water, we simply can’t play together any longer.

My new game is a game where I pursue improvement compared to myself and no one else. It’s a game where I dictate the levels, goals, and rules. It’s a game where I choose gratitude and happiness over ungratefulness and discontent. It’s a game where I put my phone down and pick my daughter up. It’s a game where I write more and worry less. It’s a game where I work with my head down but my chin up. It’s a game with a single contestant. Me.

As Howard Thurman so poetically stated,

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.

Steven Pressfield calls this turning pro.

James Altucher calls this choosing yourself.

Howard Thurman called this coming alive.

I call this quitting.

Quitting the game the world wants me to play, and instead truly living. Join me?

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.