Most People Operate Under A Will To Fail.
We know what we need to do. We all agree that watching less TV and eating better will in the long run make us feel better and healthier. And yet we constantly fail to do these things. Why? No good reason. It seemed a bit easier, but really it's not. We put just as much effort into failing as we would need to put into succeeding.
So I'm trying to combat that.
I'm saying 'No' to the will to fail, and shifting through my life to find all the areas where I don't do what I know I should.
Recently, through one of those googling chains where you look up something and follow that to something else, my brother introduced me to a website called 'Bulletproof Executive'. Now, I don't agree with everything he says, but his basic concept is very interesting. It's about how he tries everything he can to perform at his peak all of the time. Basically, he looks at how he can 'biohack' his life through diet, sleep, supplements, meditation techniques etc to make the most of his body and mind. He's spent $300,000 on finding out how to operate at a higher level of performance. Interesting, huh?
It also led me to a podcast where he interviews the author of 'The Rise Of The Superman'. Steven Kolter has dedicated the last number of years studying how people use Flow for all great achievements.
Anyone who has followed me for a while will know my love affair with Flow, from one of my earliest posts ever, On Creating Flow, through to more recent study into Happiness and Flow. So I was glad to see that I wasn't the only one obsessed with this concept.
One big challenge I got from listening to Steven is that he argues Flow is so important for achieving excellence, he does absolutely everything he can in order to maximise it in his life. This includes focusing only on activities that induce flow, and cutting out as much extraneous things he can. You can see why Bulletproof guy was interviewing him.
Maximising My Life:
Luckily this came at a time when I was already doing a bit of soul searching and life rearranging (it's nice how these things work together. It just shows that taking the first step can open up new thoughts and paths that you never would have seen if you hadn't started.)
I'm dedicated to writing. I love it, and know that it makes me a happier, better person. But it's still hard at time. So, even after writing and publishing my book on creating a lifestyle of writing (which still has a lot of awesome stuff: The Five Day Writer's Retreat, available now) I am still looking for ways to improve.
So here are the things I've done recently to maximise my life. Some are specific to me, but some you might be able to use yourself.
1. Lifestyle change. The move up to Brisbane in January has made a huge difference in my life. It's not something everyone can do, but for me it has given me the following advantages:
a) a full time income so I never need to worry about money or selling out my writing.
b) a living situation where I don't need to cook, do much cleaning, do any maintenance or even pay my own bills = more time/energy to write.
c) more sunlight (which has an amazing affect on mood, and was an important part of my decision to move.)
d) a job that doesn't drain my writing resources like my last one.
e) 11 weeks paid holidays a year (being paid for school holidays is awesome!).
f) plenty of inspiration in the 170 girls that I help to look after. They are forever surprising me with their antics and ideas.
2. I've given up refined sugar and flour. Today is Day 12. (Though I haven't been perfect, there's lots of hidden sugar and flour, and when your meals are cooked for you, you can't be too nosy). For a long time people had been telling me how much better they felt when they gave up sugar and refined flour. Most of the big popular diets at the moment - Paleo, Dukan, Lean and Clean, No Sugar Diet, Low Carb - appear to agree that definitely getting rid of sugar, and possibly getting rid of refined flour, is better for our bodies.
Yeah, yeah, I thought, but I can't give up my chocolate, or my toast.
But then my little sister did it for 30 days. And honestly, if she can do it, anyone can. (I don't want to say she has the will power of a gnat, but it's pretty close).
I have a few other things going on at the moment, so I can't say that I'm suddenly overwhelmed with energy, but I do seem to be struggling less to find words after a long day, and I definitely feel more in control. If giving up sugar and flour can make me need a bit less sleep (that's what my mother claims), can stop me getting as sick, and can help me think clearer, then I owe it to my writing to do it.
I've started with a 30 day covenant, but I'm looking at the no refined sugar as a lifestyle after this, and probably the no refined flour as well. (Once you start cooking without it, you know what you can do and you don't feel you're missing out. Made chocolate brownies last night with almond meal and honey, and they are delicious!)
3. I'm limiting TV. We all know that it's bad for us. That if we want to relax, reading is much, much better, not just for writers but anyone who wants to look after their brains. But we all still do it.
So, as I really believe it is not good for me, I now limit it to once a week. I don't have a TV in my room, and I don't watch anything on my laptop. Instead, I go over to my brother's house, and we watch all our favourite shows together. It is saving me hours every day, which I can put towards reading and other great creativity inducing pursuits.
4. Exercise. Sitting down all day is bad for your body. Sad but true. Exercising is good for your brain. Happy and true. So, if I want my body to be able to write and think clearly, I have to schedule in exercise. Again, we all know this, but sit in front of the TV instead anyway.
Therefore, I'm now going to a CrossFit gym and doing an intense workout 4-5 times a week. This particular style works for me, but I'm definitely not saying everyone should be a CrossFitter. I'm just saying you should be doing something. It is a will to fail that stops you from doing anything at all.
5. Sleep. This is another one we all joke about, knowing we should get more or better sleep. We've been told to turn off our computers an hour before we go to bed, and to stop drinking stimulants a couple of hours before that. But how often do we actually do this?
There's really no excuse not to build a good sleep hygiene routine if you want the best performance. So I'm seeing a specialist about getting some of my sleep issues worked out, and I've started implementing a better routine towards the end of my shift so I can get to sleep when I finish. This is starting to pay dividends, and once it's all worked out, might win me back hours of unproductive time (either sleeping badly or being only half awake).
6. Clearing Your Head. Everywhere you will see recommendations to relax, manage stress, meditate and focus on your breathing. We are made to take time out and clear our heads of ourselves. As a Christian, I believe we are meant to do this by focusing on God, through prayer and meditation. I've always kept a prayer journal where I discuss my issues with God, but now we're working on taking sometime in the morning to meditate, so I can get God's focus on things. It's hard to make myself stop what I'm doing, not rush into my day, and take a few moments breathing. But again, it's starting to pay dividends. I wait on the Lord until I feel a little push to get started with my day. Then I use that push to keep the momentum rolling.
The Simple Version:
Here are the steps I've put together which I think are the most important for me to implement (prioritisation, I like it)
1. Resist refined sugar and flour.
2. Go to the gym (4-5 times a week, I do need a bit of rest).
3. Write for at least 2 hours every day.
4. Meditate every morning.
The goals I'm achieving almost daily now were individually completely impossible for me to think of six months ago. If I managed even one of these done a day I would have been happy. It shows how all the little effects build together. The more little things you do right, the more energy and ability you have to do the rest right as well. Because I'm meditating, I'm in control and can eat better. Because I'm eating better, I am able to exercise more. Because I'm exercising more, I'm able to sit down and write. Because I'm writing more, I feel happy and satisfied that I'm achieving my goals. It's a matter of identifying the smallest things that will make the biggest difference and building up from there.
If I had to say just one thing to start you off on, which is tricky because they work together so much, I would say sleep. If you aren't getting enough or good sleep, get this fixed. Everything in life is easier when you aren't tired. Then move onto diet. Putting in good foods and getting rid of bad will have the next biggest effect. Then I'd tackle your thinking, and finally your exercise. They are all a bit of a feedback loop, each becoming easier as you get another one sorted. But the most important thing is to start.
(Disclaimer: there are certain times in your life when it is impossible to start a new system or routine. I've created a new start for myself by moving, but you might not have that opportunity. But there will be some little thing that you can do to start improving. Even if it's just having a 20 minute nap.)
My ROW 80 Goals:
Right now I'm 'behind' in my serial, as I thought each episode would be 12,000 words but I'm at 21,000 for the first one and think I need another few thousand to make it work. But I'm still going to work to get this first one done within the two weeks I set myself. So, by next Tuesday, you can expect to see the first episode of The Virtual Boyfriend available as an ebook.
What changes can you make now to optimise your life, and why haven't you made them?