Priority, Not Priorities

Photo by Spencer Selover on Pexels.com

I recently checked out the audiobook version of Essentialism by Greg McKeown and while I am not yet finished, there has already been much to think about. The book itself is a proposal for a better life, a self-help book of sorts but with practical application. It is not about giving you another set of rules to follow for success, romance, or finance but rather a way of decluttering your life and tailoring it to your needs, wants and interests.

In our society, we are constantly inundated with expectations that, for the most part, are not our own. We are expected to go to another board meeting despite the high chance that it will have nothing to do with us. We are expected to go to random social events because, well, the more people there the better they probably look. We don’t want to hurt peoples feelings, so we sacrifice our own. For what? To keep good social standing? So that we have that many more people at our funeral? Why are we so caught up doing the things we don’t want to be doing? This is the thesis of McKeown’s book: what is it that is of highest importance to you? And if you are not already doing it, then why not?

Early on in the book, McKeown talks about the word ‘priorities’ and why this is a corruption of the word ‘priority’. The word ‘priority’ was introduced around the 14th century and meant the most important point or goal taking place above all else. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that we pluralized this word.[1] As many of us have come to find out, we are not effective at multitasking. The human brain is not meant to take on several tasks at once, should this happen, you are doing several tasks at various degrees of effort.[2] It is said that we only have so much cognitive bandwidth and to divide this among multiple tasks means that none of the tasks will be done to our maximum capacity and efficiency. The more you divide, the less cognitive bandwidth you have to put into a separate task. Take me for example, I am currently writing this article while watching my ten month old play with toys. I simply can not do both at the same time, so I am constantly jumping between the activity of writing and watching my child. The result? Probably the formation of sentences that aren’t as clear as they could be had I only been writing this (I appreciate your understanding).

You are probably saying to yourself, well that’s great but we live in a world that is meant to multitask. Very true, which is why we need to give ourselves a long hard look and examine what needs to stay and what needs to go. We must identify our priority not our priorities. What is essential? What is the number 1 focus and let’s just stop there. Imagine your brain as a computer, on any given moment you might have several applications open: listening to music, three different social media apps, two different emails, four different word documents, whatever randomness you are searching on the internet and, just for a cherry on top, the latest “free-to-play” game that’s out.[3] All these different activities result in your computer running slowly. Your brain is no different. When you have multiple things on the go, you simply cannot think or focus clearly. While you might not be able to close all your applications down and just run one (I know I can’t stop watching my daughter), you can close down most of the other ones. With particular emphasis on the ones you don’t need.

This returns to my original point, there is so much unnecessary distraction in our lives. I say this because I used to be a willing victim of it all. I had all the social media accounts and all the time eating games out there. My life was one big distraction. I couldn’t focus on anything because I had something else burning in the back of my brain. I couldn’t enjoy the moment because there was another moment to think about or enjoy. While I am in no sense a master of the practice of essentialism, it is something that I want to incorporate and something that I truly believe will benefit you as well. So look at your life and ask yourself, what windows can I start closing down? Do I need this? Is this a good use of my time? Because time is the ultimate resource and it is not renewable. How you choose to spend your time is what makes you a free person. So choose wisely. Cut the distraction out of your life and I promise you, you will feel happier and more fulfilled.

There is a reason why people lose faith in politicians and leaders in general. Their goals are too vast, too numerous. They lack singular focus. They lack priority in favor of priorities. This is usually done to appease as many people as possible and ‘win them over’ but the results are often that everyone becomes equally dissatisfied (unless they are superheroes and able to achieve everything they promise). Perhaps this happens to you? You make so many promises but end up disappointing someone or worse yet, you spread yourself out so thin you don’t have time for you and you can’t give anything your full potential if you are not at 100 percent to begin with.

So ask yourself, right now, what is your top priority? What is the first thing you need to do today before you do anything else? Once you complete that, then you move onto your next objective. Give this one thing your most attention, effort and presence instead of completing multiple goals at once. If you can achieve this, then you are on your way to being an essentialist.

-R.G.


[1] McKeown, Greg. Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (2014).

[2] See Salvucci, Dario D. & Taatgen, Niels A. The Multitasking Mind (2011) for further information and research on why the human brain can only effectively do one task well at a time.

[3] Don’t get me started on “free-to-play” games.

Goal Reorienting: Achieving Success Through Consistency

May 3, 2020

Last Sunday I wrote about the need to reintroduce some routine and structure into my life. The current circumstances of COVID-19 has made it far too easy for me to formulate excuses to not have a rigid schedule. I can’t go to the gym because it is closed. I can’t get up early because I could wake everyone. I can’t go to be early because I have to watch one more episode on Netflix. As I write them out, I see the truth for what it is, my own laziness and my quickness to blame my situation on external factors. Yes, excuses. The reality is that I am the one who needs to adapt. So I decided to challenge myself in going to be every night at a reasonable time and getting up at 5am to start a specific morning routine.

That was last week and as promised, I thought I would share how it went. My goal is not to bore you with the details so I will try and be as succinct as possible. The purpose is for me to be honest with you so I can be more honest with myself. That night after writing the article, we had some friends over. I stayed up to late. Had too much wine. Ate too much food. So as you can imagine, when the alarm went off at 4:55AM, I hit the snooze button faster than cowboy in a wild west shootout. Off to a great start.

“Whoa, mind blown! I never knew it was that easy!”

I eventually did find the “strength” to get out of bed quarter after six. Rather than beat myself up, I acknowledged that this was an improvement from any single day the previous week. Improvement. Success. Getting better. But not where I want to be. Now the interesting thing about my relationship with goals, is that one failure often times makes me want to quit. Maybe you are the same way. Now I could get in-depth into the psychology of this (or what I think the psychology is) but allow me to be brief: for me I associate failure with shame (I could write an entire article on the reasons why). Maybe you do too? Historically, when I can’t make a goal or deadline, I collapse and give up. Rather than regroup, restructure and try again, I just throw in the towel. But that methodology is shit and I’m tired of appealing to it. So instead of beating myself up and giving up, which I was previously a master at, I decided to learn from what went wrong.   

I re-evaluated last night and looked simply at what happened without adding any emotions to it. Okay, so I had some friends over. Stayed up too late and drank wine. Clearly, I need to shut things down earlier. That’s it. No further judgements or shameful statements against myself or my decision making. Because this is what traditionally has derailed me from further pursuit of my goals. I believe that there is an inner critic in us all that keeps us from doing what we want to do. Because whenever we fail at pursuing that passion or valuable goal, the inner critic is in their glory. You suck. You knew you couldn’t do it, why did you even try? You can lie and convince them but you’re the same damn loser to me. You get the idea. The inner critic is a Bonafide prick! How do you shut it off? You just get right back to that goal. You make adjustments. So what did I do? Went to bed earlier.

Common excuses for accepting mediocrity.

The following morning? You may have guessed it. Didn’t get up at 4:55AM. Again, shoot the snooze button from the hip. I get the bullseye every time. But this time, I rolled out of bed at quarter past 5. And yes, I literally had to roll myself out of bed. While not the time I was aiming for, I saw it as another victory. I was encouraging myself. I went downstairs and did a morning routine. The only difference was that the timing was staggered by fifteen minutes. Victory. Rather than beating myself up, I kept identifying the positive and that pushed me forward. I want to clarify that acknowledging these successes is not to be confused with participation awards. You know, the ones were you go out and everyone gets a reward just for showing up. To hell with that, I still had a goal and I was going to achieve it. I just wasn’t going to succumb to the negative voices in my head.

So, that night I went to bed at a reasonable time. This allowed me to get up at 4:55 the following morning and crush my routine. I didn’t fall out of bed. I go up with purpose. Had a coffee and started reading. Then did a workout. It was the victory I had wanted. I was able to redirect myself onto the path of success and not give up on the goal because I failed the first day starting it. I call this Goal Reorienting. Imagine one day that you are lost in the woods while going for a hike. You would (hopefully) not just give up finding a way out. What you might do is stop aimlessly walking and recompose yourself by taking a breathe and thinking about where you came from and where you want to go. You would look for landmarks that would help bring you back onto the path from where you came from and eventually get yourself out of the precarious position you are in. Goal Reorienting is like this, only instead of getting lost in the woods you fail to hit your goal. The recomposing yourself is similar but rather than looking for landmarks, you look for the successes that are getting you closer to your goal. Lets say you wanted to lose ten pounds but you only lost 5, well, that’s a pretty spectacular landmark that means you are getting closer to your destination. This helped me stay on the path and carve out my first success with my goal. It felt good, but it was only one day.

“Shit, where was I again?”

Now, maybe I was too cocky because that night I did not go to bed at a reasonable time. But I made a commitment to get up at 4:55AM, which I accomplished. This goes back to the concept of Goal Reorientation. Yes, I strayed away from my path but I was able to correct myself at the nearest landmark (my wake up time). This was a success. And trust me, that night I had no troubles sleeping. I was back at it, even on the weekend! I also plan on continuing to pursue this routine- will I achieve it tomorrow? Not sure yet but I am aiming for it. That is the key to goal consistency.

The point is, if you do not want to accomplish something, aim for perfection. If you do want to achieve something, aim for and identify your progress. Once you get there, keep pursuing it. Achieving goals is all about consistency and your willingness to work for it. Not skill. Not luck. Ask yourself how bad do you want it? If you give up the first sign of difficulty then that can tell you one of two things: you either don’t really want it or you need to deal with that inner critic in your head who is keeping you down. Only you can figure this out and I challenge you to!

So how are you doing with your goals? Feel free to leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

As always, thanks for reading!

RG

Photo one taken from: https://images.ctfassets.net/oartd9t7ehdh/20NNQvcRlikMOCCQu8kIuE/90c6ec959e27be9b2803c54ceb898729/620×346-Setting-Realistic-Goals-Will-Help-You-Achieve-Them.jpg

Photo two taken from: https://www.dumblittleman.com/4-reasons-you-fail-to-achieve-your/

Your Choice/Getting Reps In

February 18, 2020

I started writing these articles or excerpts- whatever you would like to call them, as a way of positively relaxing, reflecting and growing. You see the old method I previously employed, that of getting all pent up during the week and then getting smashed up with my friends, is extremely counter-intuitive to being a successful new parent. Hangovers and screaming children are a fatal cocktail. I also realized that I didn’t want to follow some of the similar missteps of others by self-medicating with alcohol as a method of stress management. The interesting thing is that alcohol increases stress levels rather than inhibits them. Therefore, I needed to find something different and fast. My relationship with my partner and my child depended on it.

Throughout my twenties, I thought it was meaningful to lose yourself in parties and the drink. To forget your values and act like an absolute idiot to attain laughs, attention and even popularity. But that was all incredibly misplaced. While I made lots of great friends throughout my travels, many of whom are still in my life, quite a few of them have subsided and gone elsewhere. The reality is that this was all very much a mask to hide my true self. I am a hurt person. A lot has happened in my life that has negatively impacted me. A lot of it was my own fault. Some of it wasn’t. Regardless, I had an option: to change my values and my lifestyle or slowly destroy my life because of my unhealthy habits. The choice was mine and no one else.

 So, like any human with half a brain and a kernel of dignity, I chose to get better. To spend more time with my family and do more productive things. I chose to change. I had the humility to realize that the way I was living was not positive but rather destructive. I almost lost a great relationship and everything that came with it because I was too stubborn to get some help. Life is not easy. For anyone. And if it is easy, then who can you really relate to (it’s hard not relating to anyone)? We all experience pain and we will all at some point or another, if not already, experience immense loss. Loss and pain is part of existence. Death is what makes living real. Time is the only universal currency in all living things. Money doesn’t mean shit when you die, only what you did with the time that you were given does. So start using your time wisely. Which is precisely what I started doing: using my time wisely.

I started going to bed and getting up earlier. I spent more time with my family. I developed a bond with my baby daughter. I played less video games. I put my phone on silent and didn’t respond to people right away. I avoided group chats like the plague. I stopped caring what most people think (after all, if they didn’t respect my new way of life- why bother having them around?) I limited time spent around negative people and energy vampires. I drank less booze and ate much healthier. I mediated. I took cold showers. I journaled (kind of doing that right now). I drank more water. I went to the gym almost every morning. You get the idea: I changed my habits. I changed my life style.

Change is a choice. A choice you make daily. It is not about being perfect. It is about doing your best. Every day. That is how you fall asleep quickly and soundly every night. Knowing you did your best. So that is what I decided to do: my best. I realized that when I was partying, drinking beers, eating garbage food and feeling terrible for the next two and a half days. I was not doing my best. It was evident. I need not ask anyone for a second opinion- the proof was in how I felt: like shit. Not only did I feel gross in terms of physical body- but I also felt like garbage inside my mind. My mental wellness was getting thrashed around like a headbanger at a Slayer concert and not in a good way. The irony is that I partook in these activities because I wasn’t feeling very good about myself but it was also through these activities that continued to make myself feel worse. The fact is that I simply was not doing a very good job of being a partner, a parent and a professional (my productivity at work was struggling too). I simply had no passion. No drive. I had a house. An education. A family. But something was missing.

A passion.

When I was eleven years old, I wrote a book. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t very good. The plot was the same consistency as a Michael Bay film and featured characters that didn’t really develop. I used my grade seven classmates because I really couldn’t come up with interesting characters and didn’t want to. I was more interested in telling an action packed story where me and my friends took on a demon infested island. I wrote this book in one day. I was so excited. I was having so much fun. I didn’t care about the quality of it. I just loved creating this juvenile adventure that was overflowing with gore yet lacking in philosophical exposition. I wrote it while laying in bed and when I finished, I could hardly sleep. I couldn’t wait to show it to my friends the next morning. When I got to school, I felt like I carried a treasure inside that Garfield notebook. Before I knew it, everyone was reading it. They loved it. It was such a great feeling for I had finally found something I was good at. I was terrible at sports, music or most anything that required a level of skill. But for the first time I was getting honest praise for something I accomplished.

For a long time, I forgot that feeling. Instead, I turned to a plethora of other hobbies. I reserved writing for when I would become ‘inspired’. But that never seemed to happen. I just kept putting it off. Occasionally, I would start a project but then get distracted by a friend, a girl, booze, or all of the above. I went through my undergrad and finished my masters. Believe me, the last thing I wanted to do during this time was write. But really, it probably should have been the first thing. You see, for me, writing is part of my self-care plan. When I actually do it, it really doesn’t require that much energy. Behavioral psychologists call this a flow state, when you do something that seems to escape the parameters of time and you get lost in the act of doing it. Finding something that puts you in this state can help in combating mental health disorders[1]. Writing helped do this for me, so why did I stop.

I probably stopped because I lacked consistency. I lacked having a plan. I lacked holding myself accountable. I lacked courage. I simply wasn’t getting any reps. I kept putting it off, thinking that tomorrow would bring the inspiration I needed. Well, you probably don’t need me to tell you that tomorrow never came. If you want to see change, you need to start right now. Not tomorrow. Not on New Years. Today. This very second. Now. So think of a goal. Maybe you want to get in better shape. Then stop reading this and do as many push-ups as you can do. Or do squats while you read it. Start right now. If you want to drink less booze, go buy a six pack of kombucha instead (it tastes like beer). Whatever it is that you want to change or get better at, you need to get repetitions in (I call them reps). The more daily reps you get in, the higher your chances of success. So make it something you can do relatively easily (ex. Mountaineering is not a good daily goal unless you live in Switzerland or a mountainous region; however, if you want to read more, then have books near you that you can pick up). Also, remember, you are not perfect. If you miss a day, shake it off, start again tomorrow. Do your best.

Remember, in the end, it is what we do with the time that we are given. Make the gift that is this time worth while and do what you want to do. Nobody else is going to do it for you. So go out there and get those reps!

(Semi)Pro-tip: If you want to see lasting change, make it a change that you can accomplish daily. For example: if you want to eat healthier, go to the store and buy some veggies! Then put them in your lunch and eat them. Feel good about eating them. Say: I just ate veggies. Go me! Or whatever mantra is going to make you feel good about your choice and insodoing is going to keep you making positive choices. It all comes down to you making a conscious choice. No one can make it for you. If you want change, you need to be that change.      

-RG


[1] Google it if you don’t believe me.