Archive | New Years

Turn Your Good Intentions into a Manifesto

Last week I gave a terrific class on how to troubleshoot “Rationally Connected Conversations.” I mentioned three mistakes to watch out for. Then yesterday in a conversation I made all three mistakes. Actually, I did catch mistake #1 at a certain point and remedy it. But it was only this morning that I realized I had also made mistakes #2 and #3.

Now, in fairness to me, in the class I had pointed out that one way you learn these skills is by making mistakes and taking a “do-over” after you figure that out. And I will, indeed, do a “do-over” of yesterday’s conversation.

But it remains that I had great intentions for how to handle a difficult conversation–and I forgot all about them in the actual situation.

This is not an isolated problem. It’s the essential problem of self-improvement. If you are trying to change ingrained habits, the most likely failure mode is that you will not notice the opportunity to act differently, or you will not remember any different action to take. Rather, your old, automatized responses will seem natural obvious.

Habits die hard.

A practice I use to help me with this problem is to write–and read every day–a manifesto. It’s a statement of my intentions–my self-improvement intentions–with reminders of the practices I am learning to make second nature.

Here’s a picture of my current manifesto sheet with a few pieces marked:

Manifesto

 

You can see it’s not long–about 500 words. It’s short enough I can read every day, which I do. You may notice it’s a little crumpled and marked up. That’s because it is a work in progress.

Let me go through the various items I’ve marked to give you an idea of what’s on it.

The first arrow points to my mission, which I’m happy to share:

My mission is to work out, for people who want to be rational egoists, the basic mental skills needed to live happily and productively, for oneself and with other people. Thinking skills–and the power of reason–are radically misunderstood and deeply needed. Emotional resilience is sorely lacking. To be meaningful, action needs to be integrated by a central purpose. Explaining these practices is my life’s calling.

I’ve sometimes started with my top goals, but since I clarified my mission about six months ago, that has been the lead.

The second arrow points to a paragraph which starts: “The one thing I can do such that by doing it, everything else will become easier or unnecessary is…”  This I got from Gary Keller’s book, “The One Thing.” I had something like this in previous manifestos, but when I read Keller’s book last spring, I adopted his language to help me focus on the fundamental change I am trying to make.

This is an example of using my manifesto to learn a new practice. It turns out it’s difficult to figure out your “one thing.” I originally thought that my “one thing” was my book, but that is not quite right. After reading the statement every day for six months, I could see that attitude was distorting my perspective.

I moved my book to the section marked “top goal,” and added this sentence: “I choose to prioritize the book, while recognizing there are other values–teaching, sales, personal development–that warrant some of my time.

I’m still working out what my “one thing” is. In the current manifesto, I have it as “to stay present.” This is an excellent intention, but it is not clear enough to actually help me in the trenches of everyday life. For example, it didn’t help me avoid making the three mistakes I told you about earlier. So, I’m sure my “one thing” will evolve. I  will mull on it briefly every day, and eventually I will figure out some advice that would be more helpful to me.

On the second page, you see an arrow labeled “Laundry List.” This is a series of practices and conclusions that I have decided to make second nature–but I still need to review them to remember them.

For example, some time ago I wrote about the 4-second rule, which I got from Peter Bregman. I have found it’s extremely helpful to remind myself that once I have a decision, I have 4 seconds to start acting–and I need to keep the action going for at least 20 seconds–or else the decision may just float away. This was a new idea to me when I first added it to my sheet some years ago. Now it is almost second nature to me, and I bet it will be dropped from the sheet in another six months, to make way for some new practice.

Finally, you can see the last arrow points to something added back, which is handwritten in red: “One para of AR at the start of every break.”

You may recognize that this was the topic of last week’s tip.

People often ask me how to remember all of the tactics I develop. The answer is, sometimes I don’t. While reading one of my old blog posts recently, I saw a mention about my reading a paragraph of Ayn Rand at the beginning of the break. I used to do that. That practice used to be listed on my manifesto. But I dropped it from my manifesto a while ago–and forgot about it!

It seemed like timely advice, so, I resurrected the method, tried it out, and thought more about it. I also thought about why it didn’t stick the last time. My best explanation is that I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of why it worked. Happily, I got much clearer on that while writing the last newsletter. This is what will go on the next typed version of the manifesto:

Start a break with 1 paragraph of AR to wake me up. I’ll see if I need rest, stimulation, recreation, or reflection.

I hope you can see that my manifesto is a living document. My intention in reading it is to hold my top values in mind–but forming values is not a passive process. I read what I wrote critically every day–and often find something that isn’t quite right, or is not relevant or needs to be added. About once a quarter I get bored by what I’ve written–it sounds stale–so I take an hour and rewrite the whole thing, in as inspirational way I can–reflecting my current top priorities.

I have been writing and reading my own manifesto for at least 8 years. Over that time, I have automatized many best practices and learned much about what works and doesn’t work for me. A manifesto is a simple part of a daily routine that can pay off hugely over time.

 

December 26, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Achieve Your Lifetime Goals by Thinking About Them Every Year

“Change your smoke detector batteries when you change the clocks to or from Daylight Savings Time. Otherwise you’ll forget.”

This little trick suggests a way to help you achieve some of the most important goals you’ll ever set: your lifetime goals.

Your lifetime goals are the things you’d like to do, either in the next 3-5 years or just “sometime.” Write a book? Visit Hong Kong? Be on a TV show? The list may be long, as it includes both the fun things and the serious things you want to accomplish.

Perhaps you haven’t called these “lifetime goals,” and perhaps you’ve never tried to write them down. But you have them–everybody has them. They are the goals you daydream about in your spare time, and, if you never pursue them, they are the omissions you regret the most at the end of your life.

To make sure you accomplish them while you’re still on the planet, I recommend you follow a practice like the smoke alarm rule. Choose an annual event as a time to review your lifetime goals to see how you might achieve some of them in the upcoming 12 months.

The annual review solves two cognitive problems.

First, you need to bring your lifetime goals nearer to the top of your mind so that you can spot opportunities for achieving them. You need to make a new list, and review last year’s.

Over the course of a year, lifetime goals fade into the background where they rarely occur to you. So go through your list asking, “can I plan this into the upcoming year?” Even goals you can’t pursue this year will start percolating, and you will be much more likely to notice a new opportunity, if it arises later in the year.

Second, you may need to challenge old assumptions about how and when you can accomplish the goal. Those old assumptions may be subtly preventing you from seeing new possibilities.

The context changes. Old decisions go out of date. New opportunities arise.

Maybe you were waiting until you completed a training program (or your kids did) before starting a business. Did you (or they) finish? Maybe you were concerned about the political situation in Hong Kong or Egypt and were waiting for a better time to visit. Has the situation changed? Yearly is a good frequency to check.

If you don’t revisit your goals, you’ll be stuck operating on old “can’ts” and “won’ts” that are out of date. The things you wanted to do in your lifetime will be buried in forgetfulness.

So, pick a yearly event that works for you. Maybe your birthday is the ideal day. Perhaps the first day of school is the day you get down to the business of planning the year. Or maybe your summer getaway offers the reflection time you need.

Then, think about your goals every year at that time. Because you don’t want to forget to achieve your lifetime goals.

Note: There is a simple procedure for identifying lifetime goals in chapter 5 of Alan Lakein’s  book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life .” See my recommendation: http://thinkingdirections.com/articles6Lakein.htm

 

December 31, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

A Good Time to Take Stock

The new year is a time of rebirth. To begin on an inspiring note, I suggest you spend a little time taking stock of your achievements from the year that is ending. Make a record of your accomplishments–everything you did or said or bought or made happen that you’re proud of. This is not a journalistic account of the ups and downs of the year; it includes only the successes. They’re what matter most in the long run; they’re worth pausing to reflect on to give you fuel for the coming year.

This is similar to advice I relayed some time ago to record three good things at the end of each day. It is not a mindless  exercise in feel-good, rah rah positive thinking. Reviewing your actual achievements is much more profound than that. It reaffirms emotionally that these successes are good and important, and keeps that context activated.

There is an added benefit to reviewing the whole year. You get to see the brightest achievements all in one list–a list as long as you can make it. To make sure you remember the highlights, I recommend you review your calendar or some other record of your activities; it’s surprisingly easy to forget important achievements from months ago.

If it was a difficult year, you can see clearly all you accomplished in the face of adversity. If it was an unusually good year, you get to count up the amazing total of successes. When you see the year as a whole, you add to the sense of yourself as one who achieves something over time. As you do this over many years, you can reflect on long-term improvements that you see from year to year.

I think you will also find that reflecting on the successes of the previous year puts you in a good frame of mind to look to the
future. As you review, you will find some unfinished business. Seen in the context of all you did accomplish, it’s natural to treat these items as next year’s successes, rather than last year’s failures. I always find the process leaves me inspired to achieve more in the future, because I am building on the success of the past.

This reflection takes a little time, but the time has a payoff. Reviewing your achievements across the year gives you a sense of yourself, and helps you keep your life in perspective.

A productive and happy new year to you.

 

 

January 6, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

To Resolve or Not to Resolve

Do not make any New Year’s Resolutions this year.

At least, not unless you’re mentally ready for the commitment. How can you tell? Here are three tests:

Test 1:
Is your goal concrete and specific? A goal to do “more” with friends is vague. It would be better to plan to have two get-togethers a month.

Make sure you know exactly what success means, or you’ll likely drift into failure.

Test 2:
Have you worked out the steps you’ll take?  For example, if you are resolving to exercise three times a week, you need to know what time of day you’ll do it and what kind of exercise you’ll do. It often takes some experimenting to find out what is doable for you.

Make sure you have figured out doable steps to achieve your goal, so you can hit the ground running.

Test 3:
What will this new activity replace? Next year, you will still be allotted only 24 hours a day. To start a new activity you have to cut out an old one. What will be supplanted? TV time? Housecleaning? Sleep? Lunch with friends? Work?

Make sure your new activity edges out something less important, or you’ll decide to quit.

In short, make sure your resolution is clear, doable, and important before you commit to it.

If you’re not mentally ready to make your resolution on January 1,  I suggest starting a New Year’s Campaign to learn how to achieve that important goal: what concrete, specific form it will take, what doable steps will lead you to it, and what less important activity it will replace. You can always set a mid-year resolution once you know your goal is clear, doable, and important.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

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