Yes, you are human

If you are reading this blog, then like me, you probably aspire to great things. The idea of living an average life is something that holds no appeal.

Be kind to yourself though, because after all, you are human.

There may be days that couldn’t resist watching an hour of cat videos in the morning, vowed to focus on your one priority in the afternoon, and then blew the rest of the day chasing answers to random questions like, ‘how does cryptocurrency work?’

If you have a young child, you may be so tired that at times it feels like all you seem to do is think about when you can next go to sleep.

You might have been sharp (or blunt) with someone that you love that was totally uncalled for.

There may be days where your boss, your spouse, your children, and even your friends demand more of you than you want to give, and you’d rather just be alone for a week.

There may be days that you just want to throw out the whole idea of intermittent fasting, and just eat whatever you want, whenever you want.

These are all just different aspects of being human. Consider that they provide a contrast to the greatness inside of you.

Regroup, apologise, clean up the mess, reset, get focussed, and then move on.

Laughter is the best medicine

Taking ourselves seriously is a human trait that can be a double-edged sword.

If you don’t take what you are doing in your life seriously, then how are you going to get where you want to go? And yet, that in itself can make the effort joyless, oppressive and stressful.

I propose that you can be serious and focussed about your endeavours, but enjoy the journey a lot more by bringing in laughter, good humour, and by taking yourself a little less seriously.

As a child I was an avid reader of Readers Digest, but I could only read new editions when we visited my grandmother, who lived about 2 hours away. Upon finding that a new edition had arrived, I would immediately turn to the section ‘Laughter is the Best Medicine’,and it never failed in lifting my mood, even in the dark-clouded teenage years.

Although I don’t often read Readers Digest any more (I’m afraid of being bombarded by direct mail letters for the rest of my life if I subscribe), here are some tips for finding some joy in your day.

  • Hang out with a friend who makes you laugh.
  • Watch a Monty Python movie. I recommend ‘The Meaning of Life’.
  • Laugh with others frequently. If you grew up in a laugh-free household , following the lead of others and laughing when they do can help you develop your own sense of humour over time.
  • Wrestle with your kids.
  • Wrestle with your partner.
  • Listen to a comedy playlist on Spotify

This classic quote says it all:

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing. The minute it crops up, all our irritations and resentments slip away and a sunny spirit takes their place.

Mark Twain

Busy work

Some people think that being busy means they are being productive.

Don’t confuse one with the other. If what you are doing is not leading you to achieve whatever goals and dreams you have for your life, then you are just busy, not necessarily productive.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Some times life can feel like an unending series of tasks that need doing. Just know that if you have big plans for your life, then being productive is the only way you are going to get there.

What should you do next?

To-do lists are a fundamental time management tool that most of us use in one form or another. It’s an efficient way to ease cognitive load and ensure that the things that need to get done don’t fall through the cracks or get forgotten.

If your to-do list is growing faster than your ability to keep up, or you never quite know what you should really be working on next, then it’s time to apply a little more rigour to how you handle your priorities.

The fundamental key to taming your to-do list is to firstly work out what matters. The things that matter are those things that are key to achieving success in your life, whatever that means for you.

On your to-do list right now, there are the things that you could do, and of those there are the things that you should do. The latter are the things which directly feed into you getting where you want to go in life. Put another way, they are the things which are going to bring you close to achieving whatever dreams and goals you have.

In Richard Koch’s book The 80/20 Principle, he asserts that a minority of your inputs usually lead to a majority of your outputs or results. Similarly, your to-do list likely consists of items which 80% of the time will not lead you to where you want to go, and the other 20% will.

In The One Thing, Garry Keller takes this idea one step further and proposes that there is ultimately just one item on our to-do list that is the most important thing that you should be doing right now.

  • Start with your to-do list
  • Sort it by the items you could do and items you should do
  • now take the should do items and choose the most important one

This single task or priority is the most imperative item you need to work on right now. Once it is completed, then go through the exercise again.

If you take this approach will find that you will be doing a lot less ticking-off of items on your to-do list, which for some might be disconcerting. The fact is, not all things matter equally, so it stands to reason that the things that don’t matter as much are going to remain on your list, or eventually drop off altogether.

What matters is to do the most important thing, and see how your results multiply.

If your ability to focus could do with sharpening, then read how to get stuff done.

Are you pushing uphill or downhill?

In life we often encounter resistance, and the common advice is to push through it.  With whatever your pursuit is, if things get tough, then that’s a sign that you should keep pushing, right?

To answer that, I propose you take one step backwards, and ask yourself the same question that Seth Godin did when someone asked him about their new business:

He asked, “if you accomplish that, will you be seen by your audience as the best in the world, or will you be seen as doing your best?”

Being the best in the world doesn’t mean that you need to build a $1 billion company, or write a book that sells a million copies, or create a youtube channel with 5 million subscribers.  It means being the best in the world in your particular niche, and that ‘world’ might consist of just 1000 people.

So, if your goal is to be the best in the world, then yes, keep pushing uphill if you are meeting resistance, and eventually you’ll start pushing downhill.  If you are just doing your best and having a tough time of it, then maybe it’s time to find something else to do with your life.

Give yourself a gratitude reboot

The practice of expressing gratitude is one that my wife introduced me to after we first met, and it’s worth revisiting if you are finding yourself frustrated or out-of-sorts with your life.

Several studies have shown that expressing gratitude helps people feel more optimistic about their lives.  Likewise, those who expressed gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive towards that person but were also more comfortable discussing concerns about their relationship.

So, what if you feel like you have little to be grateful for?  Here are some ideas to give yourself a gratitude reboot.

  • Image if you died suddenly, but were given one last extra day here on Earth.  How would you feel about your family, your friends, your situation?  What would you be grateful for knowing it was your last day?
  • There are at least 1 billion people on this earth living in abject poverty, political oppression, and without the most basic of freedoms that most of you reading this take for granted.  I would argue that those 1 billion people would consider themselves very fortunate to live your life, even just for one day.
  • According to the latest UN research, more than 250 million children live in countries and areas affected by armed conflict.  Imagine if that was your living situation, where the basic safety and security of your children was not assured, and how does that compare to where you live?

Finally, say thank you.  That simple phrase has the power to transform your life and that of those around you.

A Harvard Business School study showed an astounding 50 per cent increase in the amount of help being offered by employees as a result of appreciation being shown by their managers.

So, thank you for reading this.  I hope it made a difference.

The nature of boredom

Have you ever considered what it would be like to spend a day without your smartphone, or Netflix, or Spotify, or any of the other myriad of sources of entertainment we have at our disposal 24 hours a day?

A whole day without these things may be unthinkable to some. How about an hour, or even just 5 minutes?

Today I challenge you to avoid finding something to distract or entertain you, and to just experience the passing of time.  We all seek to fill the gaps in our day with the latest news, the latest tweet, the latest Facebook post, the newest episode, the newest track.  

Perhaps, like Cathal Horan proposed, boredom is just our inability to deal with time.

And maybe, just maybe, learning to deal with the passing of time without experiencing boredom is one of the great learning experiences of human existence.