Mindweek Mini – Scheduling Update and Thoughts on Flow

Firstly I want to say a massive thank you to everyone who is following, reading and sharing the blog. It means a lot to have this support and I’ve really enjoyed hearing about some of the things I’ve helped inspire people to do. Please keep feedback and comments coming!

Today I want to let you know about some changes I’m making to the frequency and nature of the posts on here. The ‘Midweek Mini’ will be replaced by a couple of slightly longer and more detailed posts at the start and end of the week and the longer form posts will come every couple of weeks rather than weekly.

The thinking behind this is that it will allow me to cover more topics in reasonable detail and elaborate on the most interesting and helpful stuff with less time pressure to put out 2000+ words a week. We’ll see how we get on though!

The other topic I wanted to broach with you today is flow. I’m not talking about flow in the sense of what Biggie, Eminem and Jay Z can do with their mouths, I’m talking about a concept that has been around for thousands of years.

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Flow is described by the man who literally wrote the book on it, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as “A state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter”.

Those who have achieved a state of Flow report that it produces a feeling of intense concentration, effortlessness and control. They say they get immediate feedback on the task at hand with a reduced sense of time passing and any self-doubt or self-consciousness disappear. Sounds nice doesn’t it?

I’ve been aware of Flow in this sense for a while but keep hearing more and more about how it has helped sports stars, business people and artists get ‘in the zone’ and tap in to unrealised potential to maximise their performance.

As I’ve heard it talked about more and more, I’ve gotten more and more interested. The more I learn about it, the more interested I get. I’ll go in to more detail on this in my next post.

What to do when you Fall off the Horse (and you will).

Right, first things first, this post is late. It’s crashing through the front door at 3.30 in the morning when it promised it was only going out for “a couple of drinks with the work lot” and would be “back at 11 at the absolute latest I swear”.

Why is it late? Because I fell off the horse. No, I didn’t get smashed and come home in the early hours making shitty excuses like I lost track of time or my phone ran out of battery or they made me do shots, what am I supposed to do? Those bastards.

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I fell off the horse that I sat proudly atop when I started this blog. The one I’ve been carefully feeding and grooming and training for the past 2 years. That horse is my mission to constantly work to improve every aspect of myself.

Your horse could be a diet, an objective or outcome-based goal or a different attitude or outlook. Change and growth is not easy. Very few things worth doing in life are easy.

This isn’t the first time I’ve fallen off the horse and it won’t be the last. Chances are you’ll do the same thing a few times along the way too.

I’m going to share with you my 4 step plan for getting back on my horse, maybe there’s something there you can use if you have a shitty day, week, month or whatever to get back on track.

1. Allow yourself to fall off the horse

This is the most important thing, and it’s something I wasn’t always very good at. You’ve got to have some compassion for yourself and realise that you’re human and getting off track is just part of the journey.

If you can’t allow yourself the odd failure then you’ll end up allowing yourself to slump back in to inertia. Then self-doubt will creep in and strangle your ambition and you’ll end up going backwards.

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You’re better than that, as long as you want to be.

Chalk it up to experience (as they say) and resolve to get back on that horse as quickly as possible using the rest of the steps below.

2. Re-establish your mindset

So once you’ve made friends with yourself again you’ll want to re-establish your mindset. Remember the reasons why you started pursuing your goal or decided to try things a little differently. Write them down if that helps.

Compare the feelings you had before you decided to get back on the wagon (disappointment, frustration, fear) with the feelings you had when you were on it (excitement, enthusiasm, motivation). Decide which person you want to be and you’ll be ready.

3. Reinstate your routine

Just like when you first start out chasing ambition, don’t wait for motivation to poke its head out from behind a tree and blow you a kiss. Don’t let past behaviours or the opinions of others hold you back.

Maybe you used to get up and go for a run in the morning 3 times a week but haven’t done so for a month? There is no other option save just getting up and doing it again one morning. Your body will resist at first, sure. You’ll have to drag it kicking and screaming out the door the first few times, but it gets easier every time.

World's Toughest Rodeo
1/13/2012, Wells Fargo Arena

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Perhaps you’ve been dieting for months but had a blowout week or two? The office summer bash falling on the same week that Linda turns ‘Naughty 40’ AND your old drinking buddies are in town for the weekend? Yeah, you’re not getting through that lot without drinking enough to fill the Adriatic are you?

To be honest it’s probably done you some good blowing off steam like that, but once you start counting those calories and watching your booze intake again you’ll notice very quickly how much better you feel and why you’re glad you only see your old drinking buddies every 6 months now.

Or it could be that you’ve been doing really well managing stress, anxiety or anger issues but have let yourself regress to a point where you’re not in control of it any more. That’s fine too. You’re waging a titanic war and are bound to lose the odd battle here and there.

If this is the case, go back to basics with managing it and be honest with those closest to you so they can support you too. I’m not a mental health professional so I’m not going to go in to detail here but I do have to keep an eye on my anger and when I feel like I’m starting to lose control of it I focus on other things to try and direct that energy elsewhere.

For example – if I start getting angry at my kids, I try and focus on how much I love them and how amazing they are, so I start from there and any anger gets swallowed up by that love.

If I start to feel angry about stuff I feel I’m missing out on, I focus on feeling gratitude for what I have and the anger is dwarfed by that gratitude.

If I start to feel angry or frustrated about work, I focus on trying to make changes and helping those around me instead. If you’re in a job that’s making you angry and you don’t feel like there’s anything you can do to change things, then fucking quit and find another job.

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4. Shut the doors and windows

This is the final thing you need to do in order to get fully saddled up again. The phrase ‘shut the doors and windows’ comes from a great little book about selling called ‘The Wideboys Handbook’ that I read a few years back. Don’t let the title put you off, if you work in sales it’s definitely worth a look and you can probably pick it up for about a quid on Amazon now.

What I mean when I say ‘shut the doors and windows’ is that you should find a way to stop yourself falling off the horse in the same way again.

This may mean that you stop hanging out with certain people as much as you did before. It may mean you resolve to not keep junk food in the house. It may mean committing to developing a new behaviour to help train you out of old tendencies.

Do whatever you feel you need to do to minimise the risk of this happening again. This is a really positive step as it turns the whole episode in to a learning experience and can improve your chances of success dramatically in the long run.

So there it is, my 4 step plan for getting back on the horse. Again, this is almost certainly going to happen to you at some point if you’re pursuing a self-improvement type objective. It’s not the end of the world, you can jump back on and rejoin the rodeo in no time.

Now go ride ’em, cowboy!

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Flip the Script – Change the Game: Value-Orientation and the Fear of Failure

Why are some people able to go out there and make their dreams come true and others are stuck in dead end jobs, seemingly with no way out? Well, lots of reasons to be honest, the world is grossly unfair and generally quite shitty sometimes. People at the top are not always the nicest and the amount of potential that is wasted every day is probably enough to cure the worlds ills many times over.

One major problem that’s all too common involves fear of failure and people believing in how important it is that, if they do put themselves out there, they had better not make a hash of it or everyone will think they’re stupid and worthless. This post is going to try to de-construct that belief and hopefully help some of you that may be struggling with these types of thoughts.

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This is potentially going to be a tricky one for some of you. It involves a seismic shift in perspective and flies in the face of something that many of us are taught from a very young age. Before we fully submerge ourselves in this delta of discovery, let’s talk a little bit about scripting.

Scripting generally refers to a behaviour or series of behaviours that have been learned in response to certain situations or circumstances. There are many popular examples of behaviour scripting; the act of going shopping triggers a series of learned behaviours, as does doing to the doctors or meeting someone for the first time.

Scripts can be useful as they help our brain sleepwalk through routine activities like going shopping while we also plan exactly how we would survive if the zombie apocalypse broke out, right now, in the cereal aisle at Tesco (comment below with your top tip for surviving the zombie apocalypse! #engagement).

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Here I am referring to a very particular type of scripting, one that Professor Steve Peters describes in his excellent book, The Chimp Paradox. He talks about variation on scripting which he calls autopilots, meaning learned behaviours and beliefs that are deeply ingrained in our subconscious, the result of repetition many times.

Like scripts, autopilots can be very beneficial. They can also be quite damaging if they’re based on the wrong principles. If left unchecked, the latter can drastically influence our thinking in not-so-fantastic ways.

The example Prof. Peters gives is one of a child presenting a piece of work to their parents and the parents giving them praise for it. This happens a lot in parent-child interactions. “What a lovely picture!”, “you’re very clever for making that!”, “I’m so proud of how well you’re doing with your interpretive dance lessons, Gwendolyn!”

What we, as parents, are teaching poor little Gwendolyn and her chums here is that if you do or make something, you get praise. Not such a bad thing right? Look at it from another angle though…

The only way to reliably get praise (and therefore feel valued) is by making or doing something praise-worthy.

If you stop and think about that for more than half a second, that’s not a healthy lesson for them at all. In fact it’s a pretty fucked up thing to teach your kids. But the more fucked up thing is that we ALL do it.

It doesn’t stop at the example above, how often does it happen in work? If you bust your ass getting a project in on a tight deadline, or come up with some magical new marketing gimmick that lands a bunch of new clients, that’s great isn’t it? The results you got were stellar, well done. Do it again.

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Advertising is an absolute bastard for this as well. Take jewellery, women are advertised sparkly things on the basis that if their partner really cares, he or she will buy them the sparkly thing. The sparkly thing denotes their value.

Another example, cars. Men, if you want to be cool and have a great life that involves hitting the beach with your hot wife then driving up a mountain and jumping off it then you need to be driving the new Range Rover Dickthrust!

Everything I’ve talked about above (apart from the zombies bit) places value externally to the individual. External value-orientation is the belief that what you produce, buy, or have, determines your value as an individual.

This. Is. Not. True.

I don’t think anyone should to go through life feeling like this. A piece of jewellery is an accessory (an often grossly overvalued one at that), a car gets you from A to B. Everything else is surface level and, in the grand scheme of things, meaningless.

You are enough without any of this. No amount of stuff will make you content if you define your value as a person in these terms. Marisa Peer tells a story about a Hollywood start that she worked with. She doesn’t name him, but feel free to throw some guesses out there.

So this guy came to her in quite a state. He’d cheated on his wives all his life (he was on number 3 or 4 by this point), had houses across the globe, all the cars and other shit you could ever wish for. And he was miserable.

Marisa saw very quickly that this guy had been searching for happiness and meaning in things all his life. She needed to make him see that he didn’t need it. So what did she do? She told him to take his wife’s lipstick and write “I AM ENOUGH” on every mirror in the house, so he’d read it whenever he saw himself. Over time the message sank in.

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The thing I want you to understand here is that you are not your stuff. Nor are you the work you produce. You are not your behaviours and you are not your failures. You are enough.

I could devote several posts on this blog to the genius that is Tyler Durden from Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club, but just one line is needed here;

“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You are not the contents of your wallet. You are not your fucking khakis”.

Tyler gets it. Tyler knows that living your life by the things you have, deriving your value as an individual based on whether you shop for groceries at Aldi or Waitrose, whether you did well in school or dropped out, whether you live in a big house or a shoebox, is the road to misery.

Let go of that and realise that you alone have the value and the potential. Just don’t go full Tyler and try and blow up half a city.

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“But what does this mean, being enough? If I’m enough then no can moan at me for sitting around all day playing COD or watching Jeremy Kyle (Jerry Springer – for any Americans reading) and eating my bodyweight in cookies, right? I have value just doing this so why get off my ass?”

OK let me stop you there – yes you have value just doing that but what a waste! All that potential just sitting there doing nothing! This is not an excuse for anybody to sit around doing nothing and feeling smug about it.

Remember when I said that you are not your behaviours or failures? That means you don’t have to be worried about failing. That means you can get off your ass and give something a go and it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t pan out because if you have a perception of value that’s internal – all that failure means is you need to tweak your methods a bit and try again. You learned something. Good fucking job! You’re now beating most of the rest of the population!

Don’t keep your potential to yourself. It’s meant to be used and shared with other people. No, you won’t get it right first time (probably), but if you see your value as internal, inextricably linked to you as a person, that really, really doesn’t matter. What matters is you try, without fear, and know that you will come out the other side in tact, whatever happens.