The courage to lead

It’s easier to follow than it is to lead.

When things go wrong for a follower, they can blame the one they're following.

A leader, on the other hand, is required to think ahead, to plan and to risk falling short. A leader is responsible for the outcome. That's why many of us are happy to keep following.

We use those who have gone before us as a guru rather than a guide. We settle for trying to recreate our version of what what they've created rather than let them show us what’s possible when we have the courage to take a risk, with our own unique vision.

It’s time for you to stop doing what you’re told.

It’s time to try and do it your way.

Maybe you can teach us something.

We need you to lead us.

The day you changed your mind.

Just like the food we feed our bodies changes the way it functions, the thoughts we attach emotion to changes the way our mind functions. That’s an important lesson to learn in an age where so many people are anxious and feel helpless to fix it.

In a recent interview with Dave Rubin, Eckhart Tolle explains how our thoughts are like our heartbeat: happening to us, rather than as a result of conscious effort. This lesson allows us to reduce the emotional attachment we have to our thoughts. And it turns out that’s the most effective way to cut the circuit in unhelpful patterns of thought, which is a short circuit to greater joy.

Have you wrongly assumed that you are your thoughts?

Maybe it’s time to develop a fresh perspective. When you can observe them, rather than assume you are them then the anxiety that accompanies an attachment can’t help but disappear.

It may take some time to become a habit.

But it’s time worth taking.

You need Daily Disciplines

Discipline is the self-control program we use to invest in our future self.

It's the reason we go to bed early when we’d rather stay up late because we know that us of tomorrow will be thankful to us of last night. It's the reason we choose vegetables instead of hot-dogs because we know that our future arteries, will be thankful for our past decisions. But we only make these difficult decisions to sacrifice the pleasant today, for the benefit of tomorrow when we know what it is we value.

That’s why the first step in being a disciplined person is clarifying what areas of your life you care most about. The areas of your life that when it’s all said and done, you can look back at your decisions and know it was a life well-lived. While there are varying degrees of what's important in the lives of different individuals, there are a number of areas I believe (along with Zig Ziglar) that deserve all of our time and attention.

Here are the areas that deserve your daily discipline:

  • Mindset The training of the mind is often ignored in the midst of our busyness. But just like weeds can overtake the beauty of a garden, an unkempt mind can be difficult to maintain a calm focus. Simple activities like meditation, solitude and journalling are a great way of getting in touch with our internal world and taking practical steps towards improving them. With focused attention, we can change the way we see the world.

  • Body If our body is in pain, sick or constantly tired, each area of our lives will suffer. We’re not as effective at work, with our family or with ourselves when we’re feeling run down and out of shape. A simple training program that nurtures cardio, strength and flexibility is a great place to start. I enjoy the simplicity of Mark Sisson’s training plan. The studies of Blue Zones offer some great insight into how the oldest, healthiest people on the planet live.

  • Relationships “It’s not good for the man to be alone” - Genesis 2:18. With that said, it’s important we’re taking the time to invest in our friendships and relationships. Taking time to schedule a walk with your partner to talk about your week or scheduling a weekly phone call or coffee date with a good friend is an important investment. There’s a great book on this subject called ‘Social’.

  • Charity In an individualist culture, we’re often fooled into thinking that this life is all about us. This mindset is a short cut to being unfulfilled. We all understand on a deep level that there’s something empowering about giving time and energy to causes we believe in, but feel as though we don’t have time in our schedules to get it done. Think about some areas you’re passionate about that could do with your time and money towards. Structure time in your schedule to give to something beyond yourself.

  • Career This is how we structure our working hours. Here, we challenge ourselves to prioritise the important tasks over the urgent tasks. A tool to structure how we’re investing time into our calendar is Stephen Covey’s prioritisation time management matrix. If you’re interested in how you can clarify and prioritise the important tasks in your work calendar, you should also check out ‘Deep Work’ by Cal Newport.

  • Spiritual There’s no amount of money, sex or power that will satisfy our human desire for more. This discipline connects us to the big picture of humanity. This part of your life looks at questions like: Why are you here? What is your purpose? How you can help with the ongoing creation of the world?

  • Personal Maybe you want to learn the guitar or Spanish or Harmonica or how to cook. This is the part of our lives that is often referring to our ‘passion’. It’s the thing we want to do but do have the time to do yet. When your disciplines are in order, it will free up time for this part of your life.

How could these daily disciplines change the way you live?

Put your phone away

I just finished reading ‘Digital Minimalism’.

In it, Cal Newport explores how our constant use of technology is impacting our emotional and mental health. Since our twitch to constantly be connected has taken over the spare moments in our lives, we rarely experience moments of solitude (a disconnection from the ideas of other people) which is where emotional regulation takes place. As a result, we’re seeing Gen-Z (born between 1995 & 2010) who were raised and constantly connected to technology showing the highest levels of anxiety and lowest levels of resilience than any other generation.

Three points that struck me more than any other in this book:

  1. The ‘Like Button’ changed the way we use social media: Before the ‘Like Button’ was introduced to Facebook in 2009, it was a platform most of us used a couple of times a week to look at photos of our cousin's holiday or see what our high school friends were up to. The ‘like button’ changed each of our posts (photos, videos and status updates) to a shout for social approval. As ‘likes’ are measured in real time, we began to ‘check in’ more often to see the progress of our post. Now Gen-Z checks social media on average 100 times a day. As a result, we’ve lost the ability to be alone with our own thoughts, and it’s something we need to work on.

  2. We should create rules around the way we use our time online: We don’t need to be online as much as we think we do. Instead, we should create boundaries around how we use our online time. If you’re struggling with the constant twitch to be connected, maybe you should allocate time each afternoon to check your social media, visit the sites you’re interested in and then not touch it again until the following day. Or you could carry a notepad around and collect websites you’re interested in learning more about and then dedicate an hour or two on a Sunday to read through these websites.

  3. Use free time for high-quality leisure You’ll have a lot of spare time as a result of using your time more wisely. It’s in this space we can now commit to what Aristotle called ‘High-Quality Leisure’. This is time spend on things that add value to our lives - for some, it might be reading, learning a new language or playing the guitar. For others it might be spending time with those you love, cooking or working on the project you just don’t have time for.

It turns out that when we use our time well, we have a lot more time for the things that we really care about.

Digital Minimalism

Minimalism is not a competition where ‘the person with the least stuff wins’.

Minimalism teaches us that just because something is good, doesn’t make it helpful. It aims to remove the excess in order for us to focus on the essential. That’s easy enough to understand when it comes to our physical items.

But have you ever considered how you may benefit from minimising your digital world? In a world where smart phone users born between 1995 & 2009 (Gen Z) spend an average of 3.5 hours on their phones daily and the average adult checks their device 80 times a day, it would seem that we have fallen victim to the ‘more is better’ motto of screen time.

It's this that Cal Newport looks at in his excellent book ‘Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World’. He looks the relationship between screen use and mental health and teaches us how a plan and structure with the way we use our screens will maximise the value we get from the things we love, eliminate that which adds no value to our life and find a heap of new time in our day.

If your screen has ever left you feeling anxious or overwhelmed or out of time, take the time to read this book.

Emotion is the fuel to thoughts.

A car won’t run without fuel.

A thought won’t run without emotion.

Yet too many of us react emotionally to every thought that passes our mind. It creates a negative spiral if we’re unsure how to help it. The thought triggers an emotion, which fuels the thought, which fuels the emotion, which fuels the thought, which fuels the emotion….and on and on it goes until we catch ourselves on the kitchen floor in a full blown panic attack wondering what on earth is going on.

It’s this very process that causes anxiety and worry and OCD and stress.

But it doesn’t need to.

Here’s the simple secret.

If you stop thinking the thought, the emotion attached will starve and die.

If you can’t stop the thought, refuse to attach emotion to the thought will lose its power.

The emotion is the fuel to the thoughts.

Starve the thoughts of this fuel and they will lose their power.

Busyness is the enemy of productivity

Busyness and productivity are two very different things.

Busyness is concerned with filling each moment of your day with something more. It wants you to check your emails...again, organise another pointless meeting and rush from task to task to give the impression you're doing something of value. Busyness is more concerned with how much you get done rather than the quality of what you're doing.

Productivity, on the other hand, is more concerned with quality. It’s happy for you to take a break when the work is done because it understands that rest is just as important as the work. Our culture thinks it’s in love with productivity, but it’s not…

We’re in love with busy.

We ignore our health because we’re busy.

We ignore our spouse because we’re busy.

We ignore our friends because we’re busy.

We ignore our passions because we’re busy.

There's nothing admirable about busyness.

Pursue quality.

Let go of the busy work.

Get productive.

A case to keep going

We quit too quickly.

We quit jobs.

We quit training.

We quit marriages.

We quit pursuing our dreams.

We quit developing our skills.

We decide that it’s best that we just move on.

Sometimes that's wisdom.

But too often it’s an inability for us to see that the trials we face serve as an opportunity for us to learn, adjust, refine and grow. In a culture of ‘all things should be easy,’ we take the obstacle as a sign that things are about to break and we should get out while we still can.

It’s too short-sighted.

Rather than adapting and improving, we give up, move on and spend the rest of our days reflecting on how things might have been if we had of kept on going. We forget that the best marriages have their trials, the best businessmen have their failure and the best comedians have bombed.

Are you being impatient?

Have you misunderstood your trial?

Are you sure you're on the wrong path?

Don't forget the old saying.

Overnight success stories take around ten years to write.

Is your brain healthy?

Being fat is not a sign that you can’t get fit.

It’s a sign that you’re on the wrong program.

Too many of us put up with less than average lifestyles because we’re afraid to admit that we’re partly responsible for the fact that things could be better. While ignoring a problem makes us feel better in the short term, it’s the best way of making sure things won’t improve in the long run. Admitting that your man-boobs aren’t healthy can inspire you to put down the doughnut and swap it with a barbell. When you acknowledge where you're falling short, you can take steps towards improving it. This makes sense when we’re speaking about our physical health…

But did you know your brain can be out of shape too?

Without focussed effort, it's possible for our brain to be so out of shape that it gets tired at the slightest hint of a challenge. You’ll know if this is you because you'll feel riddled with anxiety, stress or depression. You’ll feel overwhelmed and out of control and spend too much of your day in a panic. If this is you, it’s ok. We all go through moments like this in our lives. You can improve it. But just like a healthy body prevents the likelihood we’ll get sick, a healthy brain keeps us strong in times of difficulty. You just need to train it. But how do we train an out of shape brain?

Here are a few suggestions. But before you start implementing them, remember this. Improved health requires constant and consistent effort. Going to the gym once just makes you sore. Going to the gym a thousand times makes you a machine. So be patient as you begin. Over time, this will become easier.

You ready?

Change your focus: What you focus on you tend to see, so choose your focus carefully.

Change your language: The words you use have a big impact on how you perceive the situation. Stop talking about how you 'can't' or 'never' or 'always'. Use language that leaves you inspired rather than let down.

Change your story: If you can't change the situation you're in, change your story about the situation. Just because you can't find your dream job in your dream location, doesn't mean you won't. But in the meantime, write a new story about why you are where you are and how it will help you in the long term.

Change your strategy: If you keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result...stop it. It doesn't work.

Dear control freaks.

You’re not as in control as you think.

Just because you’re more stressed and anxious about the outcome, doesn’t make it any more likely that it will work out how you want it to. Your fear that you justify by calling yourself a control freak has no impact on the result. It just makes you uncomfortable as you do your work.

Here’s something you need to remember:

If you can’t change the outcome, your stress doesn’t help.

If you can change the outcome, then stress is unnecessary.

Do what you can and train yourself to not stress about what you can’t do.

It might take some time.

But it’s time worth taking.

Healing depression with lifestyle changes

Medication isn’t the only way to lift a depressed mood.

For some people who do have a chemical imbalance in their brain, it may be an incredible way to assist them. But it’s not the magic cure to all low moods. For many of us, we may be feeling flat just be due to lacking a sense of meaning, purpose and connection in our lives. Or maybe we’re grieving the loss of a loved one, or a relationship or an illness we’re suffering or a job we hate.

There’s a lot that can contribute to feeling flat.

And because we all feel crap from time to time, here are so helpful suggestions to assist you in recapturing the joy in your day to day life:

  1. Do meaningful work

  2. Develop a close group of friends

  3. Develop understanding of 'The Big Story'/God's plan for humanity. 

  4. Know your mission statement. 

  5. Spend time in nature

  6. Train your mind - Challenge faulty thinking using CBT. 

  7. Build close family relationships

  8. Know your values

  9. Believe in a hopeful future

  10. Move and eat naturally every day. 

  11. Give time and money to causes you believe in

  12. Read ‘The Lost Connections’.

Deep work or more work?

Productivity isn’t about doing more in less time.

You could be forgiven for thinking it was.

Our culture has told us that as long as we’re the hardest worker in the room, we’re a better chance of better results. Of course the problem with this theory is that we can work hard on the wrong things and completely waste our valuable time. If you truly want to be productive, consider eliminating the excess from your schedule. The stuff you do to make you feel as though you’re working when you’re not…

Checking your emails again

Checking LinkedIn again,

Checking Instagram again.

This will free up your time for deep work.

And deep work is better than more work.

Consider ignoring how our culture tells you to be productive.

You might get more important work done.

Perspective.

It’s the reason you’re seeing it the way you are.

Two people can see the same thing and leave with a very different understanding of what it means. Your understanding of the event has more of an impact on you than the event itself. With a slight adjustment in how you choose to see the event comes a massive opportunity for change.

Look at it from another angle.

You might see something you haven’t noticed before.

Trust your struggle

Trials are an essential part of our progress.

In a culture that has largely forgotten about the power of religious stories, we now see the trials in our lives as a hindrance rather than the early stages of something much bigger being built. Instead of acknowledging the events we’re finding hard to deal with, we hide behind the facade of ‘we’ve got it all together’.

We’ve settled for convincing others (and ourselves) that we’re ok, rather than letting the process of transformation take place. We struggle to find meaning in the chaos and can’t even imagine there is a way for us to escape.

But there is.

If you can see beyond the difficulty that lies immediately before you, you will notice an opportunity to grow. The discomfort you may be feeling is simply your character being stretched. This idea is beautifully covered in what Julian of Norwich said - “First there is the fall, and then there is the recovery from the fall. Both are the mercy of God”.

Don’t forget, before a muscle grows, it hurts. The same is true of your character.

You’re not unique in your struggle.

You won’t be unique in your success.

You need the latest iPhone…

A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.
— Bob Dylan

Buy a bigger house!

Update your phone!

Work hard now and enjoy your retirement!

Wear this cologne!

Wear these shoes!

Change your fashion, change your life!

These messages have swept a generation of millennials right off their feet. As we attempt to take the short cut to ‘destination success’ we sacrifice that which really bring us any joy at all. Things like family. community. relationships, health, contribution and faith are completely ignored. We know it, but we refuse to admit it.

We’ve lost our minds a little bit.

How long are we going to buy into this bullshit?

Until we understand that our joy will not be influenced long term by our shoes or boat or house or car, we’re going to be running around in circles. Start taking time to look at what the happiest people in the world are doing, and make changes to your lifestyle based on that. Because until you understand that no amount of money will satisfy that longing for more that you have…

You’ll never be content.

Creating a meaningful life

Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.
— Victor Frankl

Prescribing a pill, is easier than addressing the cause of the pain.

While a headache can be dulled with a tablet, it’s rarely the lack of a tablet that caused the problem. Maybe you’re dehydrated or stressed or maybe the noise level in the room you’re in is too loud. Though that sounds like common sense, for many of us when we’re feeling low, we run to a tablet. Tablets promise that we’ll not need to look at any areas of discontentment in our lives. We can just dull the pain and keep on moving.

So what do we do when we’re feeling low?

Before we assume it’s a tablet we require, we need to address the source of our pain. Maybe we’re grieving, or we feel lonely or we’ve just been through a relationship breakdown or the loss of a job. I’m not saying tablets don’t have their place, I’m just saying that should be our first point of call. Whist it’s sometimes a chemical imbalance in our brains which maybe causing the distress in our life at this time, it’s far more rare than we’ve been led to believe. If we were to start addressing the real cause of why we’re not ‘feeling ourselves’, pharmaceutical companies would lose a lot of money with their ‘quick fix cures’.

I wanted to offer a few suggestions about some practical ways to improve our health, by addressing some often overlooked areas of our lives. It’s a little more work than trusting a tablet to cure it all.

  • Create meaningful work Your day job might not lead you to feel a great deal of meaning in your life, but you don’t need to let that stop you from spending time on something that adds value to the life of others around you. Maybe you have a passion for art or writing or sports or photography and you haven’t taken any steps towards investing in those areas because you can’t earn any money through it. Rather than waiting until that work that brings you to life is earning you money, you should start taking small steps towards making it a part of your day. Creating meaningful work helps us add value to our community which in turn gives us a sense of purpose in our community. You could also start looking towards changing roles or jobs and doing something more in line with what lights you up. Don’t let familiarity and security of your ‘normal’ stop you from making a change.

  • Connect with other people It wasn’t too long ago that without community, we’d be dead. One of the reasons that humans were so successful in taking down big animals when we were still living in the wild, was because we learnt to work together. Being alone often meant being vulnerable so it seems that we’re almost wired to connect with other people. But in the hustle and bustle of ‘progression’ in our culture, we often forget about the value that comes with being connected with other people. Community is an essential part of human flourishing. It doesn’t have to be your neighbourhood. Maybe you can find it in your sports club, your work colleagues or your church. Community helps us expand our horizons from looking our just for ourselves, to looking at for those around us. It is valuable to not only us, but to those around us.

  • Monitor your thoughts If we ignore our physical health, we very quickly lose shape. If we ignore our thought life, naturally weeds will grow. Don’t trust every thought that you have. Instead, learn the benefits of cognitive behaviour therapy and the power that comes with challenging faulty thinking and replacing those thoughts with positive alternatives. At first it may not feel like you’re making progress, but over time, your program will start to alter your thinking habits which will lead to more powerful thoughts.

  • Look at where you’re discontent When an athlete is continually getting injured, it’s not just because they’re ‘genetically predisposed’ to injury. Whilst that may be one issue, it’s rarely the main problem. If they’re injured, it’s recommended that they take some time to look at their training load, the technique and whether they’re neglecting recovery. If you’re unhappy, it’s not just because your ‘brain is broken’. The discontent might just be saying that you need more people in your life, more connection, more purpose, better health. Maybe you need to lose some weight or quick drinking or join a social sports group. Don’t just assume you’re broken. It’s just an oil light reminding you that something has been neglected and needs to be topped up.

Whilst this list is not exhaustive, it’s certainly a great step in the right direction. If you’re after a more in depth look at how to improve the quality of our lives, I highly recommend you read ‘Lost Connections’ by Johann Hari.