“If you don’t design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s plan. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much.” Jim Rohn
If you had to design your ideal day from the moment you wake up to when you go to sleep – what does that look like? Some things to consider…
- You want to love the work you are doing and be intrinsically motivated
- You want to feel calm, energized and content
- You want to make a contribution
- You want to have fun and make money
- You want meaningful relationships
- You want to experience self-care guilt free
- You want to say no with confidence
Now that you have the picture in your mind of what you want, it is up to you to become the architect of your life and design your own curriculum. What are the key skills or habits you will need to get you to that place? Depending on your field and what shifts you are looking to make, it could be public speaking, communication & EQ skills, meditation, cycling, coding or video editing for example.
This is not only about acquiring career skills but equally about how you want to experience your days. 2020 has been the year of the great amplifier.
If you were always stressed, now your stress levels are through the roof. If you weren’t great at self-care, its most likely non-existent. If you always gave 100%, you are shooting lights out at 110% and if you tried to escape in between the cracks and not get noticed, you may have disappeared off the grid.
There is no clear path or visibility what the future will hold so you need to take responsibility and accountability for your development path. Don’t wait for something or someone to give you permission to pursue your growth, take charge of it. Now that you have a roadmap of where you want to go and how you want to experience your days, what can you act on today to make that vision a reality?
You can never predict the exact path of getting from A to B, but you can create the toolbox of what you will need for the journey. Here are 8 principles you can adopt today to start acquiring these skills:
Principle 1: Schedule and protect
“How we schedule our days is how we spend our lives” – Gretchen Rubin
The golden rule of time management – if it gets scheduled, it gets done. You can’t wake up hoping that the walk or reading time will magically fit into your day. Often, the reason you don’t follow through is not because you lack motivation, it’s because you lack clarity.
You need to create what James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, calls an implementation intention. This is about setting a clear date, time and location of where you will perform the task.
You also want to put the right task in focus at the right time. This means you need to be acutely aware of your energy levels throughout the day. If you are a morning person, then definitely schedule a more cognitive and active task early in the morning. If you are hitting a slump in the afternoon, then that is not the time to decide you are making progress on your blogging career. Something like admin or less intensive tasks would suit that slot or even better, schedule a break.
If you know you are a night owl and only go to bed at 11PM, then scheduling a new habit like exercise at 6AM is futile. Just because there is advice on creating a morning routine, doesn’t mean you need to torture yourself into an unrealistic goal. It will only decrease your motivation and ultimately, you’ll give up.
Schedule tasks, especially new skills you want to make progress on at the time of day where you can be your most creative and energetic.
The strategy of scheduling is also powerful against ‘tomorrow logic’. You always seem to think that the you of tomorrow will absolutely feel like going for the run or reading the course material despite the you of today not being in the mood. When the activity is scheduled, you have a much greater probability of committing to it.
You can even label the calendar entry something like – ‘Time to build future me’. Choose something that you can laugh at and remind you why you must be one step ahead of yourself.
The last reason why scheduling your new skill is so powerful is this – when you choose to block out time from 8AM to 9AM for writing, you are consciously choosing to say NO to everything else.
Once you give that time away, it’s gone. Your time is a gift, don’t take it for granted and spend that hour watching cat videos or scrolling the socials.
You also don’t want to give those precious minutes to someone who will willingly waste it on futile meetings. Block out your calendar with a label ‘Meeting with EXCO’. If someone does try book your diary, they won’t expect you to cancel the EXCO meeting. You are the Executive Committee – you are leading yourself.
Principle 2: Planning is key
“Your evening routine is about taking decisions out of your morning routine.” – Jim Kwik
We talk about having a disposable income where you make vigilant decisions on where that money goes. Similarly, you don’t have a lot of disposable time.
That means you need to be incredibly deliberate about what you choose to do with that time. Once you have made the decision on the type of skills and habits you are developing and the time is scheduled, it needs to unfold with precision.
You can’t show up to the slot and then figure out what you want to do. By the time you finally have what you need, the slot is over, and you have made zero progress.
Use your evening routine to take the decision making out of the morning (or whenever that slot appears in your calendar). This could mean leaving the specific clothes out or preparing your shake ingredients. It could mean having the book, specific link and exercise app ready so when you want to begin your session, you can just press play and begin.
Plan where you may sabotage yourself and make a contingency plan. If you have sat down to write or create something and you find yourself surfing the internet for ‘research’ purposes instead of doing the coding or writing, then have the self-awareness to realize it is a sophisticated form of procrastination. You don’t need a false sense of permission to do the task in question. Just start.
If you can relate to this, then plan ahead and close all notifications on your laptop and even disconnect from your internet connection. Take away the temptation so you don’t need to waste any more mental bandwidth.
Principle 3: Define identity and values
“Creators create. Action is identity. You become what you do. You don’t need permission from anybody to call yourself a writer, entrepreneur, or musician. You just need to write, build a business, or make music. You’ve got to do the verb to be the noun.” – Chase Jarvis
Behavior change is not about willpower or motivation, it is about identity change. You need to be willing to let go of the old version of yourself that is not serving your future goals and ambitions. You may have adopted a particular habit a few years ago which worked then but may be hampering you to achieve your new goals.
Covid has revealed that circumstances and priorities can change in an instant. Often you are on autopilot and just trying to get through the daily grind that you don’t stop and question what patterns and habits are working for you and more importantly, which ones are holding you back. Most of the time, you are trapped in a pattern you can’t even see or if you know about it, you have no idea how to change it.
In order to take make space for the new skills and habits, it often requires letting go old ones. It’s not about breaking bad habits but outgrowing them. Imagine your headphone cable or a necklace that always gets knotted and tangled. You need to unravel each knot slowly to make progress on it. It’s the same with our habits.
Start by identifying the trigger of what creates the entire habit loop. It could be a time of day, a feeling or location. Maybe you have told yourself you must crack open the bottle of wine because its Friday night even though you are so tired of waking up exhausted every Saturday and never have energy for the bike ride you planned.
Maybe you are in the habit of watching Netflix until midnight because your story is you cannot waste time and you need to maximize your evening. What if you went to bed at 21:30 and woke up earlier to create more space and time in your day instead of complaining you have no time for the stuff that matters to you?
Focus on who you want to become and how you want to experience your days. Make the tough decision to let go of the old to make space for who you need to be authentic to.
Principle 4: Decide the night before
“You’re more likely to act yourself into feeling, than feeling yourself into action’. – Jerome Bruner
- Are you showing up to yourself when that alarm rings or are you giving into the snooze button?
- Are you avoiding an activity because you don’t feel like it or because you have a fear you won’t be perfect or fail?
- Are you stalling on taking action because it never feels like it is the right time?
If you answered yes to any of these, then consider making the decision the night before. Make a very specific decision about something you want to do and don’t question it. When your mind starts to argue with you that you’re tired, it’s early, cold or you deserve a break, don’t fall for it! Just get up and act. If you’ve planned the task in the afternoon, hide the TV remote in advance.
You have one willpower battery for every decision throughout the day. Consider that every email in your inbox is another decision you must make. Don’t drain your precious battery on deciding if you are going to show up to yourself. Make the commitment and treat yourself with the same importance you would any other person you respect.
True confidence comes from keeping the promises you make to yourself. It is when you break the agreements with yourself that you dent your self-esteem. Aim for one micro win at a time. Do one push up, take one mindful breath, read one page, write one sentence. First get into the habit of doing the task in question and then worry about building on it.
Principle 5: Consistency
“Part of courage is simple consistency.” – Peggy Noonan
Consistency is the bridge between feeling like you don’t have enough time and making progress on your goals.
Going back to the concept of disposable time – you don’t have a lot to go around. Do you think you could carve out an additional 15 minutes a day if you checked the socials less and stopped hitting refresh on your inbox every half an hour? I think so too.
When you want to create progress on your new goal or skill, take those 15 minutes and schedule them into the calendar as a recurring daily event. Consistency compounds and those 15 minutes will go a long way if you use them wisely.
It’s not always about quantity of time spent on a task but quality. If you know you only have 15 minutes, you will put in all your effort. Also, that amount of time isn’t mentally taxing. If I told you to put aside 2 hours, I’ve already lost you because it feels like too much of a sacrifice. 15 minutes is palatable and if used correctly, can yield tremendous progress.
Once you have mastered the habit of showing up to the 15-minute slot, you can then decide on when and if you are going to expand it. Chances are when you begin to see the progress and results from your effort, you will want to increase it. And if not, then at least you are making space for your personal development.
Principle 6: Dedicate the task to someone
“Lead a life of your own design, on your own terms. Not one that others or the environment have scripted for you.” Tony Robbins
Sometimes even your future self is not enough to catapult you into action. Maybe you are drained by the year’s challenges or your future self seems too far away to make an effort for. What about dedicating the activity/skill/habit to someone else?
My kids started riding bicycles last year and asked me if I could start riding with them. I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of mountain biking – mainly because I was terrified of hurting myself. I dedicated the hobby to them because I knew how amazing it would be when I could take them riding and spend quality time with them away from a screen.
I dreaded every lesson and eventually embraced the discomfort of being a beginner. I persevered week after week and I came to love it. I had no idea how much I would enjoy it and how it is a way to really discover who you are.
The gremlins of perfectionism, fear and self-doubt reared their ugly heads but my coach seemed to believe I could do all sorts of crazy steep hills so I proved to myself I could do it. Every lesson was an opportunity to make the choice between fear or courage and I built huge confidence and resilience which played out in other areas of my life.
We aren’t always going to push ourselves past the comfort zone into our courage zone so dedicate the task to someone who will motivate you to become an even better version of yourself than you could imagine.
Principle 7: What are your periphery activities?
“Don’t pursue happiness; pursue a lifestyle that gives happiness!” Dandapani
People often ask if 10 minutes of meditation a day will improve their stress levels. My answer is what are you doing for the other 23 hours and 50 minutes?
If you meditate in the morning but spend the rest of the day in panic mode, take no breaks, eat toxic foods and sleep 5 hours a night – then no. It will not make any difference to your stress levels.
It’s like exercising an hour in the morning and then eating pizza for lunch and dinner. Again, it isn’t going to yield the results you want.
- What are your periphery activities to enhance the good work you are doing?
- What periphery activities can you build into your day to advance your main goal?
Once your lifestyle supports your goal, you will no longer be the victim of your environment but the architect of it.
Principle 8: Time management = energy management + boundary management
“Design your life in such a way that you would never need a vacation from it.” Boruch Akbosh
The starting point of making any progress is having the required energy to do the task in question. I don’t just mean physical energy but mental and emotional bandwidth. Most days are spent feeling like an iPad with every single app open and by the afternoon, your battery is in the red.
Without appropriate means to replenish, recharge and reignite your energy, then it’s going to be very difficult to make any progress on your life and business goals. Time to pause, reflect and course correct:
- Are you prioritizing energy management and self-care for yourself?
- Have you told yourself the story that sleep is for weak people and you can push through on minimal sleep?
- Are you setting a quitting time after work to give yourself an opportunity to switch off mentally?
- Have you consciously built in time for reflection and stillness?
Just start by doing the things you know you should be doing – drink more water, ditch the sugary snacks, get 8 hours of sleep, take regular breaks during the day and stop checking emails after 9PM and on weekends.
There is no room for guilt here. Self-care is self-leadership. Reframe the internal dialogue from how can I take time off for myself to what will happen if I don’t?
‘We do not fear the unknown. We fear the loss of the known’ – Anthony De Mello, Awareness
As the chief architect of your life, you need to review the existing floor plan. Perhaps you need to knock down some walls to make space for the new design.
Your new project may involve breaking some existing habits, patterns and thoughts. In order to step into the new vision, it’s going to require discomfort because you like the known even if it’s not always best for you.
Ask yourself – if I really want to enjoy the new floor plan, am I willing to go through the discomfort of doing things differently?
The great part about accepting this role is that you can always change what isn’t working. You can always add in an extra room or another level if you outgrow your current design.
Choose one room you want to focus on, and each month create a skill, add your unique spin and feel free to let go of anything old that doesn’t contribute to the new design.
Here’s to curating the best version of you,
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