Ok, I’ll admit it, I stole this idea from Tim Ferris after listening to one of his podcasts. People are constantly complaining that they don’t have enough time at work anymore, that their boss expects them to do more with less, and they can’t seem to disconnect from everything. One of the best things you can do to make your work and your life both more successful and happy is to make a “not to do” list. Our working lives are so full, it’s time we pared down what we do to the absolute essentials and cut away those time and energy burglars that constantly sap us dry. Now, being that I don’t do your job, I have no idea what these things are for you, so I’m going to give you my not to do list, and hopefully that will help you to work out what yours is. Continue reading “My “Not to Do” List”
So many people believe routine to be associated with boredom. It just makes life so…routine. Popular media tells us the same thing. Look at Entourage or Sex and the City – the characters all live very spontaneous lives. They get invited out to a party at the last minute, so of course they go and the whole thing is a fabulous affair. They are part of some grand social scene where things don’t ever end before midnight and they end up at a café or high priced restaurant at some point everyday, despite the fact that one of them is a high powered lawyer, one is a high powered publicist and the other works a job where she shouldn’t have enough money to pay for any of it.
The opposite of that? Family sitcoms, where the husband and wife go to bed at 9pm in their long, flannelette pyjamas, kiss each other goodnight and roll over to opposite sides of the bed. No wonder everyone thinks having any kind of routine in life must suck. What if I told you, however, that most of the really successful people in the world – be they athletes or CEOs, all have some kind of routine that they adhere to pretty strictly? See, what people don’t really realise is that if your life were to be compared to a house, a good routine is the solid foundation on which that house is built. One of our most basic routines as human beings is that when the sun comes up, we wake up. When the sun goes down, we sleep. It’s funny how many people think even that is boring, despite it being part of our DNA.
So why is routine important? Well, as I said, it’s a foundation. If you don’t have any discernable routine, if you get up at a different time each day, do everything differently from one day to the next, your brain is never able to make that real jump to doing anything serious. Likewise if we’re talking about athletic endeavours, when you’re in a routine your body knows every day when it is supposed to get ready to work for you. Living a life without a routine is like trying to work at a desk that has stuff just strewn all over it, it’s messy, it’s disorganized and it’s very hard to get your bearings.
The other great thing about having a routine is that you are actually able to prioritise things. People that don’t have a routine, they are often the ones that are always saying they are “crazy busy”, but ironically they never really seem to get anywhere or gain traction in what they are doing. When you have a routine, that’s when you are actually able to make sure you can do thing things that you really want and need to do, rather than being a slave to all of the things you are constantly forgetting. If you know when you have a free hour every day, you can plan to get things done in that hour. If you don’t have a routine, you’re going to find yourself fitting into other people’s routines, leaving you with no time.
Some of the most successful people I know have very strict routines, and they don’t allow other people to break it unless there is a very good reason. They go to bed early, they get up early. They have their meals made ahead of time. They eat much the same thing each day. They work out at the same time each day. These people are productive, healthy, fit and happy. They don’t find their lives boring and mundane, and could care less that other people do.
Not too long ago, I discovered what it was like to be out of a routine. I was out of regular 8-4 full time work for 6 months, and noticed several changes. Eating and working out were less than optimal – my body was used to working out at a certain time each day and I felt tired and off when it became different. Productivity and sleep was also affected because my only routine was that I had no routine. Late to bed one night, early to bed the next, different wake up time each day. I felt like the walking dead a lot of the time, and I put on a couple of extra kilos as a result of the change.
Once I returned to regular full time work, my sleeping patterns stabilised and I would feel tired at the same time each night and wake up the same time each morning. I lost the couple of extra kilos I put on just by eating normally again. I felt much more satisfied, happy and positive about life.
Sleep is one of the most important areas where a lack of routine causes disruption. When you have a set routine where you go to bed roughly the same time each night, it’s easy to fall asleep. The pattern becomes ingrained in your body and mind, so you begin to feel tired at the same time each night. When you have no set time you go to bed, that’s when the chaos starts and you have trouble not only falling asleep, but sleeping properly. This is likewise for when you wake up. When you wake up at the same time each day, your body gets used to it. Your sleep gets lighter and lighter at the same time, and after a while when the alarm goes off, you almost expect it and get straight up. When you wake up at different times each day though, every time the alarm goes off it’s like a shock to your system. You stumble out of bed as though you’ve only just been born, trying to find your bearings.
Now, I’m not saying you need to have every part of your day planned out. Having a set wake up and bed time is, however, a pretty important first step if you want to feel your best every day. Take a look at your life and see if a little more routine can’t help you to start reaching your goals, whether they are to be more effective at work, get more things done each day or to help prioritise the important things in your life.
I wrote in my book School’s Over…Now What? that the concept of talent is bullshit, and went into how achievement in any field is based on hard work and smart skill development. What I didn’t go into in the book, which I will today, is the concept that anyone can come into a field and have some skill. You might be in a sport and you see a newcomer one night who is already good. They’re one of those people that just seem to “pick things up”, as though they just have this God given talent (there’s that word again).
This concept is bullshit as well. Why? Because these “newcomers” that seem to be so much better than all the other people that have been doing something for a year or two most likely have experience in a similar field. Judo training was a great example. You’d see a guy come along that had barely any athletic experience – maybe he was in his 30s already, he’d spent his adult life behind a desk and while he might have been kinda fit from running, he hadn’t spent any time in sports before. Every single inch of improvement was a struggle, and for years (if he stayed that long) he would look lanky, uncoordinated and out of his element.
Contrast this with a rugby player that comes along to his first lesson of judo. People marvel at how quickly he picks things up, how he’s confident and comfortable grappling with people. People say “wow he’s talented!” Well of course he’s going to pick it up quickly! He might be new to judo, but if he’s spent his entire childhood in a sport where he is in close contact with people, where he’s wrestling with people, where he has to be tough, of course he’s going to do great in judo. It doesn’t even have to be football, maybe he’s played a sport for years where agility was hugely important, so he’s light on his feet.
That same gangly person from before? Maybe he spent most of his time studying when he was at school. Maybe he and the rugby player take a computer programming class. The rugby player is discouraged because this guy seems to have a natural talent for it, he picks it up so much quicker. Well of course he’s going to pick it up quicker, he’s spent a large portion of his time growing up studying, and the other guy played football! This has nothing to do with some mystical talent bestowed by the gods.
This is why people appear to pick certain skills up quickly. It’s not because they’re more talented, it’s because they have previous experience in a related field. Someone with experience in mathematics will pick up physics or accounting quicker than someone with experience in literature. That same person with experience in literature will have a greater ability to pick up creative writing. So the next time you are on that course and you see people that are picking it up easier than you, don’t get discouraged! They’ve done their hard yards already, they’ve just done it in a different field that has crossover in this field.
The greatest determinant of where your ability in any field will top out is related to two factors and two factors only: time and effectiveness of practice. It has nothing to do with ‘talent’. Talent is bullshit.
One of my good friends wrote on Facebook just yesterday that it was the night sky that once made him feel small, but now it is the kidnapping of girls, a missing plane all but forgotten about, people being hung in the Middle East. It was a poignant post, and unfortunately all too true nowadays. He’s a great guy, and cares deeply about his fellow human, so this post is not directed in any way toward him.
No, this is directed to anyone that was outraged over the Nigerian girls being kidnapped. Those that are outraged the government didn’t do anything to find and stop Kony. Those who feel sorry when they see the World Vision ads. See, it’s so easy to have an emotion when things like these happen. It’s so easy to say “why the hell isn’t our government doing anything about it?” or “if I was rich, I’d give so much money to charity”.
To those people, I’m going to ask a really simple question: what are you doing in your own life to make the world a better place? Do you say the above things, but treat service staff like shit when you go out to dinner? Are you outraged that 200 girls could be kidnapped, but you rush to judgement and call someone a bad mother because she is bottle feeding? Do you think it’s terrible that people are starving in the world, but when a friend or family member tells you about a business idea, you cut them down with a mean spirit because you don’t want them to succeed? Do you give up your seat on transport for an old person or a pregnant woman, or do you think “they don’t have anymore right to the seat than I do”.
If you are one of those people, I’m calling you out: you’re a hypocrite. You’re doing the exact opposite of what you think and expect others should do. So the next time you feel like getting on your high horse about some social issue, take a good look in the mirror and realize you are contributing to the misery on this planet when you could instead be helping to make it a better place.
There are so many things you can do every single day to try and make the world a better place. It’s easy to whine about anything and expect others to do something about it. Do you know what my brother in law did? He was on a holiday in the Philippines and was astounded at the level of poverty in certain areas there. Instead of just assuming he couldn’t do anything, he asked someone, “how can I help?” He went ahead and registered a charity here in Australia, while continuing to work a full time job. He’s over there right now, and he took 2 suitcases with him full of clothes and anything else he could pack to give to people. Charity and goodwill doesn’t have to be engineers making clean water wells or doctors without borders, it can be as simple as giving something to someone that needs it more.
Kurt is a shining example of the phrase “be the change you want to see”. I’m not suggesting everyone has to start their own charity to make a difference. All I’m saying is that you can make a small difference, a dozen times each day by looking out for your fellow human being. It stuns me that so many people can get outraged about something that happens on the other side of the world, but think nothing of treating the person serving their coffee with contempt because they are in a hurry to get to work. So I urge you, start thinking about everyone around you, and what small things you can do to make everyone else’s life better.
And just in case you missed it the first time, if you want to make the world a better place, be the change you want to see.
When most people think of fear, they think of being outright scared, like when you are on the side of a cliff, or watching a horror movie, or drowning. These are primal fears, fears that are innate to our species because they come from a threat to survival. I’m not talking about primal fear though, the kind of fear I’m going to talk about is a far more insidious, almost unnoticeable fear that keeps people down and makes them lead a life of regret. It is the fear of what other people think.
Think about something you have always wanted to do but never done. Maybe it was to take a writing class, maybe it was to be a photographer, or maybe it was to change careers. Maybe you wanted to start a band and do some gigs, or maybe you just wanted to ask someone out and never did. This describes so much of the population that it’s scary, and yet it is considered completely normal. People ask me all the time “how can you just do the stuff you do?” You see, I’ve never really been afraid in life. When I wanted to give judo a try, I took myself off to a class, I didn’t need to take along a friend. When my friends were planning a trip to Europe many years ago, I decided I wanted to go snowboarding in Canada, so I went there for 2 months on my own. When I wanted to try cold water therapy, I filled a bathtub with cold water (in the middle of winter) and hopped right in. When I wanted to write my first book, Stepping Out I just started writing. When it was ready, I published it online for the world to see.
The question I always have to ask when people don’t do the things in life is, what are you scared of? This is a rhetorical question, because I know the answer. I know exactly what you’re scared of – you’re scared of failure and what people will think. You’re scared people are going to laugh at you, you’re scared people are going to say “I told you so”, you’re scared that people are going to judge you. Let me tell you right now, most of those responses are your mind conjuring up silly scenarios, and ascribing the worst traits of humans onto the people you know. People don’t act like that, they are too caught up in their own lives to think about what you’re doing and whether you’re failing at it. They aren’t waiting for you to screw up so they can gloat. If you have people in your life that do act this way, you need to cut them out of your life like a surgeon cutting out a cancer, because that’s exactly what they are. You’ve got to start looking at things more positively.
When you want to try something, think of the most negative thing that could happen as a result. Let’s take my example and say you want to go and try a judo class. Whats the worst thing that could happen? The people there are unfriendly to the point you feel weird for even showing up. The instructor is an asshole. One of the black belts beats the crap out of you. Ask yourself the likelihood of that actually happening – if you think it’s high, you’ve really got some problems. The odds of that happening are so low it’s almost impossible. Now let’s look at the flipside – you turn up, and everyone is welcoming. The people are really nice and helpful, and the coach is friendly and greets you warmly. This is the more likely outcome, no? In this case, would you not agree that there is nothing to fear, and you should just go and give it a shot? You don’t need to take someone with you for support, you aren’t 10 years old. This is the reality in anything you’re scared of doing – the outcome is more likely to be the exact opposite of what you think it will be, and there is no reason at all to be scared.
In that video on my homepage, Eric Thomas says it so well: “You don’t have to personally be perfect, are you hearing me? There are those of you right now, you should’ve cut a CD, you should’ve wrote a book, you should’ve got in school and got that degree, you should’ve started your own business, there’s so many things YOU should’ve done, YOU should’ve done but you didn’t do it because you’re scared. You say “scared of what E? I ain’t scared”. You are scared! You are scared, you’re scared of failure, you’re scared to make a mistake, you’re scared that you’re not perfect. And I’m telling you today that you ain’t gotta be perfect. You don’t have to be perfect to get what you want, to do what you want, to have what you want, to be what you want. YOU DON’T HAVE TO BE PERFECT, IT’S A LIE!”
I’m going to give you a little exercise to try. It doesn’t take any resources or time, it just takes some willpower from you to conquer your fear. The next time you have a shower, you’re going to finish it off with turning the hot completely off for 20 seconds and braving the cold. I can already tell, there will be those of you that will just think I’m batshit insane. All I can ask is, what are you afraid of? It’s not going to kill you, it’s just going to be cold. Yeah, it’s going to be uncomfortable, are you really that scared of a little discomfort? I’m sure there are plenty of you that are. The reality is though, if you can’t even overcome such a small fear of discomfort for twenty short seconds of your life, you are going to be a slave to the most negative emotion out there for the rest of your life. If that’s something you’re comfortable with, living in fear and never trying anything, I suspect you wouldn’t even be reading this. I know you’re stronger than to pike at such a small challenge.
So when you’re at the end of that nice warm shower, turn the cold up, and turn the hot off. Don’t shy away from it, keep your head right there under the shower head and let the cold water cascade over you. Get it over your whole body. Count to twenty slowly, don’t rush it and cheat. One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand. Feel the water, feel the discomfort, and when that twenty seconds is over, feel the satisfaction that you have faced a fear, however small, and you have overcome it. You’ll realise as you’re drying yourself off that it wasn’t that bad at all, that it was actually pretty invigorating, and that you didn’t have anything to be scared of. Now, apply this to the rest of your life. Start with the small things, and then when you conquer those, face the big things.
Welcome to the other side of fear, enjoy your stay.
I was at the gym tonight training when I took the above photo. Immediately a few of the guys started hollering “selfie!” and the like, and one of the older guys came over chuckling, and asked why I was taking pictures of myself. I told him I was writing an article on rituals, and he looked at me curiously before asking what a picture had to do with it. I said to him, “don’t you notice I always wear the exact same outfit, down to my socks, on my heavy squat day? Do you think that’s random or some kind of accident?” The dawn of realisation washed across his face and he smiled that knowing smile of recognition.
The first thing that happens on heavy squat day is I get changed before I leave the office – I don’t wait until I get to the gym. I wear the exact same outfit each time – a retina burning orange singlet with a picture of Gohan going super Saiyan on it, my black shorts, my knee pads, my best fitting pair of socks and my bright red weightlifting shoes. There is a reason for each piece of clothing – the bright orange singlet lights the fire in my brain. I don’t want to wear some pale, calming pastel on my torso when I’m squatting, I want something that is bright and jarring. The picture of a super Saiyan is for inspiration. The compression shorts keep everything tight. The black shorts are the perfect fit for squatting, with no bunching or anything. The knee pads keep my knees warm and lubricated. When I drive to the gym, I have the heat on in my car, motivational speeches blaring through my earphones. At the exact same spot on the way, I start to down my large can of energy drink and visualise what I’ll be doing. By the time I pull into the gym car park, the caffeine and sugar is kicking in, and I’m almost tingling with anticipation. I get out of the car, take my glasses off and put on my black baseball cap, and the transformation is complete. That black cap going on, it’s like in Iron Man when he is fully suited up, and his mask snaps shut – you know it’s on.
See, other people might go to the gym and do squats or “legs day” – when I go in on heavy squat day, I’m going to war. The above, that’s me putting on my armour, and getting in the mindset of battle because I’m going to have enough weight on my shoulders to crush 99% of the world’s population. When I walk into the gym there is no doubt, no retreat, no surrender. Look at the photos on my home page, there are a couple of me squatting at my first powerlifting comp. Look at my face in particular, the expression on it – total determination, completely in the zone. That, my friends, is the power of ritual.
The above is an example of a ritual, and how you can use the power of a ritual for success. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool, and when you train it correctly it can do great things for you. To give you an example, a few weeks ago, I was feeling really tired and unmotivated during one of my training sessions, so after my warmup I threw down a large can of energy drink. Because I would normally only do that on heavy squat day, it was like throwing a switch in my brain. I was instantly awake, alert, and massively psyched up, despite the fact caffeine doesn’t kick in for half an hour. My brain was so used to a big can of energy drink being used for a specific purpose, that when I used it at a different time, I got the same results without even seeking it – I was really just after a little pick me up.
Now, let’s apply the power of ritual to other pursuits. Let’s say you’re a university student – you always get to lectures late, you haven’t done the recommended reading and you have other things on your mind. The result? You don’t learn a whole hell of a lot. The opposite of that is, you arrive to the lecture early having already done the recommended reading, you’ve had your coffee and are in your seat thinking about the lecture before it starts. Your mind is alert and ready for what you are about to learn. Obviously you get much better result at the end of the lecture, because without even realising it, you have harnessed the power of a ritual. This is the same when you go to work in the morning – you get into the office at a certain time, you have your coffee, say good morning to everyone and when you sit down you think “ok, let’s get to it”. Even that is a ritual.
Those two examples – they are mundane, regular examples of rituals that just happen. What you want to do is hack the ritual. You want to start introducing stimuli of your choice that tells your brain it’s time to do what you want it to do. You can use music, food, drink, some kind of mantra you tell yourself, it can be absolutely anything. Start to do it consciously at first – when you put on that piece of clothing, when you walk in that door, when you listen to that piece of music, say something like “yeah, it’s on”. Deliberately force your brain to make that association. After a while it will do it on its own and you reap the rewards.
Speak to any world class sports person, and I guarantee that they have some form of ritual they go through before their event. I remember one Olympic gold medallist judo player from Japan whose name escapes me, his ritual was similar to a samurai going into battle. He would make sure everything about him was perfectly done – clothes, hair, smell, fingernails and so on, as if he was going to die on the battlefield and wanted to leave a perfect corpse.
Use this to your advantage. A great example of developing a ritual for success is a job interview. Don’t just do the question preparation, treat the entire day leading up to the interview as a ritual. As you suit up, don’t just go through the motions, snap your collar when you put it on. Flick your arms forward when you put on your jacket. Give your neck a crack from side to side. When you get out of your car, visualise it as though it’s a slow motion shot of some slick gangster in a movie. On the surface, it all seems so superficial and stupid. Your mind, however, doesn’t see it that way. When you make a ritual where you start acting confident and talking confident, all of a sudden you are confident.
That’s all it takes really. Go ahead and experiment with it – you’ll be blown away by how powerful it is.
“Tiger parenting”, for those that haven’t heard the term, refers to the Asian (also seen in India, Pakistan and Jewish cultures) style of parenting which forces children to devote more time to study and achievement than having fun. This is pretty much directly at odds with the more laissez faire Western approach that is more along the lines of “let kids be kids”. The first I heard of tiger parenting was in this article written by Amy Chua, a law professor at Yale. I eventually went on to read her book titled Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother which utterly fascinated me. I read this book before I had started thinking about expertise and how to build it and even then it resonated with me.
Now to be honest, I’m not a total fan. I believe her level of tiger parenting is excessive – however you cannot argue with her results. Similar results to, say, Judit Polgar and her sisters. The reason I am an advocate of tiger parenting (well, a lesser version of it) is because I was raised in the more Western method of parenting. I pretty much never studied, rarely did homework (and when I did it was half assed) and spent too much time at school talking in class. I was lucky enough that I could still get high enough grades to be in the top 20%. I barely even studied for my year 12 exams. Thinking about it now, it flabbergasts me – why the hell wouldn’t I study for my year 12 exams, especially since I wanted to go to university?
Of course my success at school ended when I hit university. I bombed out and I bombed out huge in my first year, because I didn’t know what a work ethic was when it came to study. Hell, I didn’t even know how to study. I eventually quit that degree, and made some really poor career choices which haunted me for the better part of a decade. I think back to my school days and wonder where I would have been if I was forced to study more (or at all), if I had taken school and my first degree seriously. I would probably have been an engineer rather than floundering about looking for a career that fit my “passion”. I actually found one of my old report cards recently at my parent’s house and when I read it I was stunned. I went to my parents and literally said “what the shit is this? How could you have let me get away with these marks when I could have done so much better?”
This is why parents owe it to their children to help them build that expertise while they are at school. I’m not talking about teaching them to do maths before they can walk, but once they are at school parents should take an active interest in their child’s academic development and foster their growth. This includes actually being present during their homework time, until they have proven to be trustworthy. That’s right. Guess what? Children and teenagers aren’t trustworthy when it comes to school work. At that age, they’d rather be out playing sport, messing around on Facebook or playing Call of Duty. I was exactly the same. I spent most of year 11 and 12 in internet chat rooms. Leaving them to their devices instead of monitoring them throws away their future. We are no longer in the age where you can just get any job out of school as long as you have a certificate, the world is more populated and ultra competitive.
Helping children build their expertise at school should go hand in hand with helping to shape their career. Most Western parents seem to have the attitude of “follow your passion and if you work hard you’ll make a living” (and so much the better if that includes a degree, any degree). Wrong. The world needs certain things from the people living in it – if you are telling your child who loves English literature to just work hard and they’ll find a career in it, odds are they’ll have a lot of student debt that they can’t pay off, because who the hell needs someone on the basis of their English literature knowledge? A teenager leaving school has no idea what the working world is like, let alone the job market. How can we leave our children to just figure it out for themselves? As I said, I wasted a decade of my working life not knowing what the hell to do, do you want the same for your child?
Parents also need to be realistic and throw away their preconceived notions about careers. So many parents, as I said before, want their kids to just get any degree rather than taking what they perceive to be a lower status job which would probably suit them much better. A university degree has become the great sucker deal of our time, because unless it is in something vocationally relevant like the STEM fields, teaching, finance etc it is a waste of money. Many people that do degrees would have been far better served getting into a company at a lower level and working their way up – they would have been earning money sooner, building their knowledge and expertise in that field and coming out ahead of where they’d be if they had done a Bachelor of Arts.
Most importantly, parents need to teach their children the value of hard work. Even if they don’t like school and never want to go further than year 12, the work ethic they build while at school will do them well once they are working. You can’t expect children and teenagers to want to study and have a good work ethic. I didn’t actually want to study until I did my masters degree – at that time I was 27 years old and mature enough to push myself and know what I was doing it for. Kids and teenagers don’t have that maturity at school, they don’t see the endgame and what it is all for. This is why it’s the parent’s responsibility to step in and make them study. Bottom line, if you want your children to really succeed, you have to actively mentor them throughout their childhood and teenage years. Teach them the value of hard work and persistence in subjects and pursuits they may not like at first. You might think you are forcing them to do things they don’t like, but your job as a parent is to make the best decisions for your child – not to be their friend.