I’ve been reflecting on 12 months spent searching for greater meaning, significance and purpose in my life.
There have been lightbulb moments when I’ve had a realisation or encountered an idea that struck a chord. There have also been the gradual gains from repeated and regular daily actions; the baby-steps, the small changes and habits that I’ve adopted and which have had a massive compounding impact in my life.
Big results don’t only come from big things it would seem. They come when you’re driven by the right motivation that is threaded through all that you do.
Knowing your ‘why’
“People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it” – Simon Sinek
If you only scratch the surface of personal development theory, you’ll appreciate the importance of being clear on your why. For organisations, having clarity on their why differentiates those with a cult-like customer-base (such as Apple) from those who battle to win-over customers on price, or product features (virtually every other computer company).
Why beats what every time.
For us humans, our why underpins our goals, our actions and our beliefs, whether consciously or subconsciously. It shapes what we do and determines what we expect in return. If you can’t explain why you want to achieve something, then you’ll struggle to convince others, or yourself that you are worthy of it. Without the conviction, you may also lack resilience and confidence when times get tough.
“He who has a strong enough why can bear almost any how” – Friedrich Nietzsche
I encountered this quote in one of many books I’ve scoured for inspiration this past year, when Viktor Frankl used it in “Man’s search for meaning”. Within a harrowing but inspirational account of his life in Nazi Concentration camps, the context of the quote is obvious; if you believe in and commit to your why, then you become resilient and resistant to pretty much any hardship or challenge as you pursue your goals (in his case, staying alive).
Achieving absolute clarity over my why has been an enormous part of the last 12 months. It has enabled the how and the what of my journey; my process. I want to share three small parts of that process with you now.
“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise” – Benjamin Franklin
Few will dispute the many positive effects of getting out of bed and starting our day early, even if many believe it’s not for them. It boosts our energy levels, our positivity and our peace-of-mind to know that we’re up and about, taking on the world and going after it rather than hiding beneath the blankets. The early bird does indeed get the worm.
For the past year I’ve consistently, habitually and willingly risen at 5am with the intention of tackling tasks requiring clarity of thought, refreshed senses and creativity. I don’t spend my power-hour getting a head start on Facebook or purging my spam folder. I use the time constructively and reserve it for writing, creative-thinking and planning. This sets me up for a day centred in productivity and achievement and I feel good about myself.
It’s not about the relentless hustle and grind and I don’t believe that sleep is for wimps. I ensure that I’m in bed in good time to get 7 or 8 hours sleep. I’ve found the time for adequate rest and an early start by cutting the detritus and the dead-wood from my life. I don’t need to be up-to-date with the latest boxset on Netflix and the world doesn’t need another person sharing pictures of their dinner, kids or pets on Instagram. If there are opportunities to socialise, to enjoy time with my wife and kids or the chance to call a friend then I do so. Then I make sure I get to bed at a reasonable time.
I’m ever-conscious of the preciousness of time. I’d rather use it positively and constructively than let it pass me by. My priority now is to make sure I’m rested, primed and ready for the activities that will make a difference in pursuit of my why rather than wasting it on the things that won’t.
A key to successfully starting your day early is to actually DO something immediately following the alarm, not just debate whether to ignore it. My first step each day is journaling.
The Five-Minute Journal is a product that taught me the skill and the discipline of journaling.
For a couple of minutes each morning I contemplate and capture three things I’m grateful for, and three further things I intend to do to make the coming day a great one. I return to it in the evening for the balance of the 5 minutes to reflect on the events of the day.
Whether you favour this approach, or less structured ‘stream of consciousness’ writing such as morning pages I can attest to the enormous power of focusing the mind on what’s most important, and then getting it down on paper.
It’s like turning on the taps of your mind and releasing the pent-up pressure, the negativity and discord. It encourages positivity and optimism to the fore.
Journaling at the end of the day helps me to promote a clear, calm and grateful mind before settling down to sleep. The next morning it focuses my attention on what matters, and primes me for the new day. With clarity and focus, my why seems clear and achievable.
The final component of my morning routine for the last 12-months has been daily meditation. In that time, I have clocked up over 2000 ‘mindful-minutes’ according to the Headspace App which guides me through the process.
In an effect that I cannot explain, any residual sleepiness from my early start is completely removed by 10 minutes of guided meditation. By the end of the routine I feel clear of mind, energised of body and single-mindedly focused for my power-hour.
Meditation helps me to recognise and note unhelpful thoughts rather than letting them dominate my mind and my mood. Breathing consciously and recognising tension or discomfort in the body promotes presence. It’s like a forced (but gentle) reboot of the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual beings before the rigours of the day begin.
There’s no judgment in meditation, but I recognise good-days and bad-days; in the good I feel lifted to a higher spiritual plane by the process. In the bad, I may reach the end of the session having spent the entire time with my mind wandering aimlessly and unchallenged. Regardless of quality, the process is comforting, and it frees me from worries and stresses that might have carried over from the previous day. With time I’m confident I’ll become more proficient and reap further benefits from it.
My why is embedded in the practice, recited in my meditative mantra “to be the best, clearest thinking and calmest version of myself for the benefit of me and those I love”. This serves as a useful daily reminder of my large-scale why and my small-scale daily actions that will help me achieve it.
My journey began at the tail-end of 2016, with no clear purpose, merely some vague and nebulous hopes. I suspect at times that many contemplate that there’s more to life. Each individual will consider the lengths and efforts they may go to in their journey.
My journey, my why is about seeking to live the the best life I can as the best possible version of myself that I can be, for my own benefit and for those that I love. You’ll note from my meditative mantra that a search for calm and clarity of mind are stated explicitly, which also says a lot about where I started from and what’s important to me.
Twelve months into this journey I understand that greatness doesn’t come about from a single decision or action. It comes from being clear on your why and having this threaded through all aspects of your life. I’ve shared three small ways that I employ this philosophy in my life, and I challenge that you can do the same; one step, one choice and one action at a time.
“Greatness is a lot of small things done well, day after day”