As is usual about this time of the year, folks start setting their sights on the New Year and what they want to do once the Christmas turkey has settled in their bellies and the loll of the holidays have ended. I’ve started to wargame next year in my head. There’s a bunch of stuff I want to get done. And to get it done, I know I need to focus, something which I can be notoriously bad at doing. I am like a crow or a raven in that instance, shiny new things catch my eye and I abandon whatever I was doing to go see what this shiny new thing is. That’s good for experiencing loads of things, but not necessarily good for finishing the stuff I start. So for me, the buzz words for 2012 are FOCUS and in terms of attitude, DETERMINATION. And the sub-text for 2012 is MSH (Make Shit Happen).
Robin Sharma, of The Surfer, the Saint, and Ceo fame, recently shared a list 17 tips to increase your productivity. I won’t list all 17 here, but just give you the top 5 I want to action in my day to day routine.
1. Turn off all technology for 60 minutes a day and focus on doing your most important work.
2. Don’t check your email first thing in the morning.
3. Schedule every day of your week every Sunday morning. A plan relieves you of the torment of choice (said novelist Saul Bellow). It restores focus and provides energy.
4. Drink a liter of water early every morning. We wake up dehydrated. The most precious asset of an entrepreneur isn’t time – it’s energy. Water restores it.
Does it matter what type of watch you wear? Does it matter what brand of shoes you wear? Does it matter what kind of car you drive? I met a man today whose system of judging a person’s worth as a human being was based on the size of his bank balance and he didn’t mind letting me know how much he made a year, and how much was in his bank balance, and what type of car he drove. And this was only 2 minutes after we met. I have to add, he did apologise for his shoes. Apparently he didn’t have on his expensive shoes because he just need something comfortable on for this occasion. Why this guy felt compelled to disclose this information to me, I don’t know.
A female in the group, turned to me and said: “I bet YOU drive a flash car.” She couldn’t have been more wrong as any of my friends will tell.
I tend to agree with Tyler Durden: “You’re not your job. You’re not how much money you have in the bank. You’re not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet. You’re not your fucking khakis.”
And anyone who does think they are those things is a first rate clown in my book. A rich clown, mind you, but a clown nonetheless. It just seems plain silly to tie your identity up in transient material things. And it’s all transient when you think about it properly.
There’s nothing wrong with owning stuff as long as you don’t let the stuff own you.
I have on my list to explore happiness. What is it? And how do we get it. I had an opportunity to hear Jairek Robbins speak in London. In his presentation he cites a book called Authentic Happiness by Dr. Martin Seligman, who is a leading researching in the field of Positive Psychology. Watch Brian Johnson’s Philosopher’s Note video to get a quick 10 minute summary of the book.
I wanted to know my signature strengths, so I registered on Dr. Seligman’s website and took the Survey of Character Strengths.
My signature strengths are:
1. Curiosity and interest in the world.
2. Social intelligence.
3. Love of learning.
4. Capacity to love and be loved.
5. Forgiveness and mercy.
According Dr Seligman the road to happiness begins with structuring your life such that you play to your signature strengths. I wasn’t at all surprised by my top 3 signature strengths, #4 I could understand, but #5 I was shocked to find as one of my signature strengths. I guess I don’t see that I go around meting out a whole lot of forgiveness and mercy.
I had a good think about how to these strengths manifest themselves in my life now and how I could develop a simple mission statement that encompasses the essence of my top three strengths. I came up with this:
“I love finding out about stuff and sharing it with other people.”
That’s about a simple as it gets for me. I love it. Just identifying my signature strengths has already cleared some of the fog.
The Signature Strengths
Seligman identified 24 character strengths. These he distilled from the six key virtues he uncovered from researching the classic wisdom literature both Eastern and Western. The six virtues are:
Here’s how Seligman’s 24 character strengths fit within the core virtues:
1. Wisdom and Knowledge – cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge
* Creativity [originality, ingenuity]: Thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it
* Curiosity [interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience]: Taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering
* Open-mindedness [judgment, critical thinking]: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly
* Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows
* Perspective [wisdom]: Being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people
2. Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
* Bravery [valor]: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it
* Persistence [perseverance, industriousness]: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks
* Integrity [authenticity, honesty]: Speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions
* Vitality [zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy]: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
3. Humanity – interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
* Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
* Kindness [generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, "niceness"]: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
* Social intelligence [emotional intelligence, personal intelligence]: Being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
4. Justice – civic strengths that underlie healthy community life
* Citizenship [social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork]: Working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share
* Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance.
* Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the time maintain time good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen.
5. Temperance – strengths that protect against excess
* Forgiveness and mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful
* Humility/Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not regarding oneself as more special than one is
* Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
* Self-regulation [self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
6. Transcendence – strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
* Appreciation of beauty and excellence [awe, wonder, elevation]: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience
* Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks
* Hope [optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation]: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
* Humor [playfulness]: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes
* Spirituality [religiousness, faith, purpose]: Having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort
How this plays itself out for me is that most of us are unaware of the past experiences that control or influence our present behavior. Our innate tendency is to act habitually. This is a useful trait to make our lives more efficient, but it can have negative effects if the particular habit we have formed limits us. Some habits we develop all on our own. Others habits we pick up from our parents, teachers, priests, or other persons or sources of influence. Habits can become so ingrained that we no longer question their origin, we just accept the act as being who we are, as our nature, much in the same way we don’t question our breathing. We just do it. Or walking, we had to learn how to walk, now we just do it. So to that extent, I do believe our past experiences determine who we are and what is possible for us now.
For example, for some of us who claim not to be good at maths, we perhaps got a few bad marks on our maths tests back in the early days of our education. Based on these few bad marks, we start telling ourselves that we are no good at maths. We habitually tell ourselves this until the statement becomes fact and that fact becomes a belief. Then we go into our next encounter with maths believing we are no good at maths, do poorly on at it, and take that as evidence to confirm that we are not good at maths.
If I adopt this belief that I am not good at maths early on in my life, then chances are I will make decisions about my future based on the “fact” that I am no good at maths and steer away from careers or projects that involve maths. From my past experiences I now say, “I am no good at maths.” How that limits what is possible for me now is I stay away from opportunities that would require lots of math. To the extent that I am unaware of this limiting belief born of past experiences, the more control it exerts over me.
Make a list of all the things you find yourself habitually saying, I am no good at that. Or I could never do that because…
Now think back to what experiences you’ve had in the past that has led you to adopt that belief. No examine how that belief defines who you are and limits the possibilities available to you.
When our experiences become restricting “truths” they are, as Jack Elias, the noted hypnotherapist states, “no longer models over which we have power as creators; rather they have power over us as our ‘definers’.”