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BalanceMinimalismProductivityTools and Systems

The Now page and saying No

October 14, 2016 — by Matt

When you aren’t working toward something specific, it’s really hard to figure out what to do with your days, nights, and free time. Things float into your purview – some random event invite, a new Netflix show, some other lukewarm opportunity – and you just say yes; not because you’re really interested, or because it excites you, but because “why not”. You’re not in control of your own attention and energy.

I’m guilty of this. You probably are too.

That’s why I like this Derek Sivers’ “hell yeah or no” concept.

I also like the concept of a “now” page. It outlines the most important things you’re spending your time on. That way, when some opportunity comes up that doesn’t make you say “hell yeah!”, you can point to your “now” page and say “no thanks! I’m working on these things right now.”

I’ll have my now page soon, explaining why I’m saying no to all you beautiful people, and why I’ve been gone from this site for so long.

BalanceProductivityTools and Systems

Consistency

March 15, 2016 — by Matt

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Get ready for a bombshell…

There is no one secret to success.

Shocker, I know.

And even though we all intuitively know this, it still feels good to believe that there’s only one small change between our current situation and a slingshot to blissful achievement.

I’ve come to learn that it doesn’t work like that. There are, however, a few not-so-secret tenants you’ll often hear. You know the usual suspects – perseverance, focus, networking, execution, luck, a really eye-catching business card, strategic eyebrow waggling – and each (most) of them can certainly help contribute to success.

One of the most important is consistency. And for me (and I suspect many others), it’s importance is often overlooked.

Why is consistency important?

Consistency is incredibly important for making progress. The likelihood of one meeting, one business proposal, one article submission, or one afternoon of working on your passion translating to some big success is very slim. The likelihood of repeated, concerted effort producing small, consistent progress that adds up, however, is very high.

Consistency is also like practice – by building a consistent habit, we’re likely to learn more and improve faster. James Clear, one of my favorite writers on the topic of building habits, penned this article which includes a few great examples of how consistent effort increases your chances of reaching your targets.

Finally, doing something consistently can define you. If you want to be a writer, sit down and write… a lot. If you fancy yourself a musician, you had better be making music consistently. And it doesn’t just apply to productive habits. You might not want to admit it, but if you smoke every day, guess what – you’re a smoker. Batman said it in a really gravely voice – “It’s what you do that defines you” – but he wasn’t the first to realize that consistent habit makes you who you are. The ancient Greeks had it figured out ages ago.

We-Repeatedly-Do-Excellence
Consistency in fonts, apparently, not as important.

Our problem with consistency

Yes, staying consistent in our habits is super important and beneficial. But that shit is also HARD. Like, really hard.

First, starting a new habit is always difficult. Doing one thing once is really easy – doing it repeatedly isn’t.

Consistency also requires an acceptance of both failure and of non-perfect work. Doing something over and over is likely to produce varying results – if you write a new blog post every week, for example, you’re likely to have some duds. That’s OK – and in fact will make you better at your craft through repetition, learning, and adjustment. But we’re so petrified of failure that we forgo consistent output in favor of “perfectionism” – a codeword that often means being too scared to finish something, share it, and move onto the next thing.

perfectionism meme

Finally, consistency take patience. We all want instant results. It’s the reason why people go so hard on their new year’s resolutions and then give them up in frustration a few weeks later. Meaningful change happens in small doses over time. Most people either simply don’t have the patience, or they set their expectations for instant results so high that the frustration of not meeting them makes them give up.

fuck this

There is no such thing as “overnight success”

The fact is that we love overnight success stories, but in almost every case it’s a myth. This article includes some great examples, but one of my favorite examples concerns the cast of the FX show “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”.

charlie day

If you follow the show, you’ve probably heard the story that the main cast of the show decided to write their own pilot, filmed it for $200, and then successfully pitched it to FX. It sounds so easy, anyone could do it – and in a bubble, it seems like an overnight success off of a single idea.

But all the members of the cast had been grinding for YEARS – working on their writing and acting, going to audition after audition, facing rejection and failure. It was their consistency, coupled with opportunity and a belief in themselves, that set the stage for their eventual success.


This is a long video, but just watch the last 45 seconds for some real gold. Charlie Day speaks to Rob McElhenney’s near-constant failure – failure that, without perseverance and consistency, might have caused him to quit before getting his big opportunity.

And that’s the other salient point – consistency is often difficult because it feels like we’re putting in tons of work but going nowhere. Even months after starting this blog, I don’t feel like I’m making any progress. But staying consistent not only keeps us moving forward, it also keeps us in a position to take advantage of opportunities that arise. If we’re consistently working on our passions, when something great does present itself, we’re ready to tackle it.

Here’s my plan

Consistency isn’t easy – so it’s best tackled one task or habit at a time. I’m going to start by getting more consistent about posting here.

If you’ve followed this blog, you may have noticed I post on a wildly inconsistent schedule. I’ve posted on every day of the week for no rhyme or reason. Sometimes I post twice a week, sometimes I completely miss a week. Sometimes I’m scrambling to finish an article, sometimes I have a couple backlogged. It’s a crapshoot.

So my habit, publicly stated here, is to post a new article on this blog every Tuesday – without fail. Here’s why I’m choosing this habit:

  • It’s public and I’ll be held accountable. If it doesn’t happen, you all will notice – and I hope you’ll call me out.
  • It’s results-oriented. It requires I actually produce something, so it’s very easy to judge success or failure. Just saying “write every day” could mean writing one word, or writing garbage, while making the habit a posting schedule means the work has to be meaningful.
  • It’s a keystone habit. Following this habit will force me to follow other habits – like writing consistently and managing my time well enough to ensure the writing gets done.

So look for an article every Tuesday (with the option for a “bonus” article on Fridays as I see fit). And if you don’t see one you can send a swarm of highly trained assassin sparrows to peck my eyes out.

What are you working on?

What’s the one habit you’re going to work on to build consistency? Let us know in the comments!

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Non-Goals for 2016

February 8, 2016 — by Matt

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I wrote down a bunch of my goals for 2016 a couple of weeks ago, mostly in the creativity realm (but in some other areas as well). And I tried to make them SMART goals – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Results-Focused, and Time-Bound.

Sometimes, though, I have more general stuff I just want to keep in mind. Yeah, “exercise more” isn’t a great goal because there’s no results defined, t’s tough to measure success, and it could be interpreted so loosely that it loses its meaning. But when I was writing my goals I also wrote down some things I would try to do in 2016 that any SMART goal purist would scoff at.

These things aren’t specific and at the end of the year I probably won’t be able to tell you that I “achieved” them. They’re more like themes. And just because it isn’t measurable or quantifiable doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

Here are some non-goals for 2016. And I think they are themes that all of us could benefit from keeping in mind.

Break some rules

Break the Rules non-goals

I analyze, I plan, I get lost in details. I organize, I set boundaries and rules for myself in the hope that I’ll stay focused. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. But I’ve realized that sometimes making and trying to enforce my own rules is in itself consuming my attention. Sometimes, setting rules for yourself and following them is just masturbatory. If I can admit that I don’t know everything and like everyone else, I’m just trying to figure it all out, then I need to admit that maybe the rules I’m setting are bullshit too.

Look, some rules and guidelines are important. Some are powerful tools to say no to the things that leech your energy and to ignore things that don’t honor your vision. But some are just rules, and you don’t know if they’re important or if you’re just wasting your time trying to follow them until you break them. So I’m going to break some rules, especially my own.

Be present

Everyone and their mother wants to be more present, you’ll see it proclaimed across a million blogs and social media posts by everyone until it starts to lose its meaning. And it’s the ultimate example of a shitty goal – how can you prove you’re doing better? How can you measure your progress? I’m not even sure myself. But I still think it’s important to do.

I don’t know HOW to do it, but I do know some things that help. Meditating. Taking deep breaths. Putting down my phone and looking around. Doing one thing at a time. So even though I can’t measure my success, I’ll try to be more present in 2016.

Have boundaries

boundaries non-goals

I realized very recently that I might have an issue with boundaries. I take on other peoples’ problems as my own often because in some weird way I feel like if I don’t work to help other people in their time of need, I’m being a bad friend/boyfriend/brother/son/whatever. I’m like a personal-life micromanager.

That’s stupid. All I’m doing it providing a crutch for others, setting a bad precedent, and eventually resenting others because I feel like I’m always helping them instead of working on my own shit even though really, they didn’t ask me to. Boundaries will help my peace of mind and my relationships across the board.

Have more fun

I put a lot of pressure on myself. Often the result of this is that I keep myself from having fun because I tell myself I have to work. Just as often, the result of that is that the pressure of telling myself I have to work causes my to self-sabotage and procrastinate. If you haven’t caught the theme of this an other articles yet, I’m very in my own head.

I want to have more fun this year. Not like in my mid-twenties, where every weekend was fun only and I got nothing done – but a good balance of fun and hard work. And taking time to relax, have some fun, and take the pressure off can only help my mindset and productivity when I do sit down to write, or make music, or whatever. I’m still young. There’s lots of fun shit to do out there. Let’s make a few bad decisions.

Say ‘No’ more

I worked on this a lot in 2015 but I sometimes still struggle with it. I often over-commit to things – someone comes to me with an idea or a project and in the moment it sounds great, so I say yes. But then I realize I’m adding it to the end of an already-too-long to-do list, I get overwhelmed, and nothing gets done. And a lot of time, this new thing is much less important than the things already on my list.

A shorter to-do list makes for less self-inflicted pressure and is more likely to get done. In fact, we can really only have one priority at a time. I love Derek Sivers’ “Hell Yeah or No” (and Mark Manson’s more vulgar “Fuck Yes or No“) philosophy for just this reason, and I’ll be employing this concept to be very selective with the new stuff I take on in 2016.

Say ‘Yes’ more

yesman non-goals

This one seems like the complete opposite of the last one. It is and it isn’t. I need to say no to stuff I don’t care about to make room for the stuff I do. but I also want to keep myself open to new opportunities and adventures. Sometimes just saying yes results in meeting some awesome people, creating some epic memories, and finding some new interests. This balance will be tough to figure out, I’m sure of it. But if an opportunity presents itself that doesn’t obviously fly in the face of my goals or my identity, I want to at least consider a “yes”, let go, and let the winds take me.

Speak my mind

I’m a conflict avoider by nature. So I sometimes bite my tongue or stifle my true thoughts because I don’t want to hurt others or start a fight. But that only hurts me and hurts others. And by its very nature I do it more often with those I care about most, because those are the people I’m most concerned about upsetting.

In all honesty, I’ve gotten a lot better at this, but I have some work to do. So in 2016 I’ll try to care less about coming across as a nice guy and just speak my mind. It might cause some fights or conflicts with other people, but they’ll either resolve and the relationship will grow stronger with the honesty, or they won’t resolve and we can both move on.


There are probably more things I’ll figure out as the year goes on, and maybe I’ll even figure out some strategies to make these part of my personal pillars. Oh! And I just stumbled upon a no-goal concept from one of my favorite blogs here. Check it out for another perspective.

Do you have anything you’re trying to focus on this year that doesn’t necessarily fit into traditional goals? Share them in the comments below, and let’s help each other make these achievement-oriented for 2016!

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My 2016 Goals (and the Impermanence of Plans)

January 13, 2016 — by Matt

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None of us know what’s in store for us.

I mean, we’re only two weeks into 2016 and I’ve already been hit with surprises that affect the goals I wrote down for this year a few weeks ago. I’ve had some wake-up calls about some of my approaches and some of my behavior. I’m even more sure not that I don’t really know anything – I’m just figuring it all out. We all are.

But of course the lack of knowledge shouldn’t stop us from taking action, trying things, and to some extent, leaping without looking. We try, we fail, we learn, we adjust, and we try again. It’s all we can do.

So when I was reviewing my 2016 goals prior to to writing this article, I thought it important to make clear both to you all and to especially to myself) that our plans our impermanent. We don’t know everything going into a year, or a new opportunity, or a new project, or an adventure. We should go in with a plan, with some goals in mind. But we should be aware that unexpected things happen – both good and bad. And to adhere to our original plans instead of adjusting course when these unexpected things occur is lunacy.

With all that said, I still believe in goals. They’re still important to have. And I still believe that working in a specific direction is infinitely better than working without aiming toward something bigger. I just know that being dogmatic and inflexible in those goals can be equally harmful. So I will work toward my short-term 2016 goals with an eye to make sure that larger, more important goals like smiling, and having fun, and experiencing love and connecting with people, don’t take a back seat. (In fact my next article will be my “non-goals” for 2016. More on that later).

My 2016 Goals

These aren’t the end-all and be-all of what I want to do in 2016. They’re not all-encompassing. They’re simply the things that I’d like to shoot for in the few areas I was thinking about when I took the time to think about them. I’m including them here for some sense of accountability and to keep myself and others energized in following their passion.

One other note – these are my personal goals. I’m a part of some groups that have separate group goals that I’m not including here. I also won’t go into too much detail on why each one is important to me as I expect to write more about many of these as the year goes on.

Writing

  • Publish at least 50 articles in 2016. This is about one week with a little fudge room, and potentially more if I meet my next goal.
  • Get published in at least three other online publications. I love writing here but in order to get a larger audience and get more feedback on my content, I want to expand my reach a bit.

Music

  • Release one instrumental/rework/remix project. The barriers to this should just be my own willpower and abandoning my perfectionism, as they don’t require coordinating any other artists. The one I’m working on now is pretty exciting too!
  • Get at least 5 beat placements. I’ve stopped sending artists beats in the last few years but I love working with artists and hearing what they come up with. I’ll ramp this back up this year.
  • DJ at least 6 events. I’m keeping the definition of “event” fairly loose right now.
  • Get a song played on Beat Haus radio. One of my favorite internet radio shows, I’d like to produce something of high enough quality to be featured on one of their episodes.
  • Record at least one complete song in a studio. I love the convenience of recording at home, but miss being in the studio. I’ll return there this year.
  • Get at least one paid DJ gig. Although I already technically have my first one lined up, it’s a group event and I won’t be paid directly.
  • Release at least 5 DJ mixes. I released 3 in 2015, and with the events I’ll be DJing, this should be a piece of cake.
  • Make some money from production. I don’t care if it’s $10, I’d like to experiment with charging for my production services.

Art and Other Creative Endeavors

  • Complete one video project. I love working in video even though I’m not particular skilled, and I have tons of ideas. I’ll make sure to bring at least one of them to life this year.
  • Complete at least three paintings.
  • Sell one painting. Are you seeing a theme here? I’d like to start making some money from my creative passions – mostly to prove to myself that I can.
  • Build a creative portfolio/CV site. It’s time to stop thinking of my creative pursuits as a “hobby” and start identifying myself as my ideal version of myself.

Financial

Note that I have some additional financial goals here but for whatever reason I’m not yet comfortable sharing the details on the internet. Here are the ones I am comfortable sharing.

  • Eliminate credit card debt.I made a great dent in this in 2015 and expect 2016 to land the knockout punch.
  • Sell my car. This will not only be a big win for my wallet, but also for my peace of mind.
  • Increase my savings safety net. I won’t put my specific figure here, but this is a big thrust in 2016 for me. I’ll write more about the systems I’ll use to help meet this goal.

Startup

I’d like to take a deeper dive into the world of startup and determine my appetite for it. These goals are a bit fluffier right now because I don’t know what to expect – but I’ll refine them as I learn more.

  • Attend at least 5 startup networking sessions. This will help me determine what I need to know or if this is even an avenue I want to pursue.
  • Detailed write-ups of top 3 ideas. This is my “just show up” step to get the ball rolling.
  • Run my ideas past a focus group. This is my “ask for help” step.

Travel

  • Travel to at least 5 countries. This one is pretty simple, but will force me to travel more this year. That said, I’ll try to prioritize meaningful travel to a few places rather than frantic, touristy travel to many.

Health, Wellbeing, and Growth

  • Make meditation a habit. Meditate at least twice per week in 2016.
  • Make exercise a habit (again). Go to the gym twice a week (to start). Adjust this to include other activities as the year goes on and the weather improves.
  • Attend one class or seminar on something that interests you. My post-collegiate education has been mostly self-directed, but I’d attend a class on something in which I’m interested.
  • Improve your handwriting. It’s abysmal. Like, the worst. I’m not sure what the actual target is here but it’s something I want to work on, so I’m including it.

Is that it?

Of course not. There are areas of my life that are equally or more important than what is listed above – my happiness, my relationships with my friends, family, and significant other, seeking adventure, exploring, deep connections, peace and presence, and so much more. In my next article I’ll talk about these larger concepts, and how making them a bigger part of my identity in 2016 could trump some of these more specific goals – or, how it might make them easier to accomplish.

So although there are bigger things at play and I, like you, have no idea how the year will shake out, this is my starting point for 2016 in these very specific areas. If some monumental shift occurs in a month or two, I won’t hesitate to adjust or abandon any goals that no longer make sense. That doesn’t mean these goals aren’t important to establish. It just means they’re directional, aiming toward them as I barrel through 2016, until the target is hit, it becomes less important, or a (truly) more important target presents itself.

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The Power of the Annual Review

December 29, 2015 — by Matt

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“It’s so difficult, isn’t it? To see what’s going on when you’re in the absolute middle of something? It’s only with hindsight we can see things for what they are.”
My day job is in computer software. At the end of a 2-week sprint (working period), right before we release a new version of our app, we hold a Retrospective. It’s a meeting with the whole team, and its purpose is to look back at the last 2 weeks and identify what went well, what didn’t, and what we can do better next time.
It can get lousy with complaints and gripes, but it can be cathartic to release frustration about the process or the roadblocks that were hit. It can also be very satisfying – at the end of a sprint, when everyone’s tired and stressed from trying to meet deadlines, identifying and celebrating the team’s victories is a nice reminder that some real good work was done. And finally, it’s prescriptive; if done right, the grievances from the start of the exercise turn into guidelines for how to improve next time.
This same concept can be used for our personal journeys – either for individual projects or for life in general. And what better time to conduct a retrospective than at the end of the year?

 

The Annual Review

The annual review is not a new idea – lots of people do it – but it’s not something I’ve ever formally done. I was turned onto the concept of a personal annual review a few years ago by an article by Chris Guillebeau. He explained and espoused the benefits of the annual review better than I ever could – so check out his first post on the subject here. (His 2015 multi-post annual review is also a good example of how deep you can get with the exercise, and I found it particularly inspiring).
Each part has value, but it will differ for each person. For example, I never have any trouble reminding myself of the ways I (think I) fucked up, or missed opportunities, or didn’t work hard enough. But I don’t take enough tie to recognizes what I did get done, the barriers I did surmount, and all my victories. So for me, that part is one of the most important.
The last part, the “what can I do better” section, is equally important. No matter your stance on “New Years Resolutions” (I’m not the biggest fan in their most traditional sense) I think that if something (even a time of year) inspires you to make some changes for the better and build toward a life of fulfillment and happiness, then it’s useful – as long as the follow-through is there. And that’s the goal with this exercise; doing it is important, but what you do after going through the exercise is what really matters.

 

My Annual Review

I’ll be doing my very first year in review exercise this week. I’m excited for what I’ll discover and how the lessons of 2016 will impact my plan for 2016. I might even share it here. If you’re writing a year in review yourself, let me know – I’d love to share ideas, lessons, and get stronger as a community!

BalanceExperimentationExplorationTools and Systems

Moderation vs. Abstinence

December 18, 2015 — by Matt

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I like giving stuff up.

No, not “giving up on stuff” but “giving stuff up” for a while. Going without. Sacrificing.

I’m not totally sure why, but I have some theories. I think I like knowing that I don’t need a thing to get by. That I’m not dependent on it. That if I didn’t have it for a while I’d be just fine and I shouldn’t be scared of going without it. I also believe that sacrifice is a muscle you need to work out just like anything else. Going through life without having to sacrifice anything can make you soft and less willing to sacrifice when it really matters – like giving up your superficial comforts for a while to put your goals first. And finally, on a deeper level, I think I like giving stuff up because it makes me feel in control.

So when I gave up alcohol for the month of October, I felt great afterward – not just because I had challenged myself and won, but because it honestly hadn’t been too difficult.

But then I started to think – why hadn’t it been that hard? Was “giving something up” not the real challenge? Were some of my “sacrifice experiments” just me trading one extreme for another. After a friend brought up a similar concept in conversation, I wondered if abstinence wasn’t the real challenge I thought it would be. Maybe the real challenge was learning moderation.

Struggles with Moderation

“Everything in moderation except whiskey, and sometimes too much whiskey is just enough.” – Mark Twain

I’ve never been good with moderation.

Sometimes this has been a gift. If I’m excited about a new idea, I tend to go all out in pursuing it. Getting a new song idea might lead to pulling an all-nighter with no regard for the clock or work the next morning. It’s extreme – but I get my ideas out, and I make progress. (On the other hand I sometimes burn so hot on a new project initially that I fizzle out and give up on it, so there’s still a place where moderation should probably come into play).

Sometime’s it’s a curse. If I get home exhausted after a long day, I might put on an episode of a TV show on Netflix to wind down before I write or work on music. But one episode is just a taste, and 7 episodes later I’m way past my window to get a good night’s sleep and haven’t gotten anything creative done. And I had more than a few nights out in my 20s where once I got a few drinks in me, moderation went out the window.

In a way, binge watching Netflix, getting addicted to a game or a drug, or becoming a “workaholic” is not much different than completely giving something up. Yeah, the results of one extreme are often much more positive than the results of the other – but they both hold so much weight.

I know for me, a little moderation would go a long way. If I could watch one episode of TV, work on music for an hour, and go to bed at a reasonable time, I might get more done. I might be happier. I might be less frazzled, anxious, or stressed because I’m more balanced.

Or maybe not. I mean, is being “extreme” always bad? Most of us live and work in this limbo state, not straying too far from our comfort zone. Aren’t trips into the edges, jaunts into the extremes, and journeys into the Danger Zone necessary to test your boundaries and make big changes?

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I have no answer, no lesson. I don’t know that there is one place on that spectrum between complete abstinence and complete abandon that’s “healthier” than any other. I think both “going extreme” and “practicing moderation” have their place in life. Always doing one or the other isn’t “the way”, but there are no rules as to when each makes sense either. I guess we just try to find what works for us in different situations. The alcoholic might decide that their best approach to alcohol is extreme – give it up forever, for good. The writer may find that when brainstorming, locking themselves in a cabin for days (extreme) works – but when refining their first draft, an hour a day (moderation) delivers the best results.

It’s up to us to find where we are at our best for each situation, because when we do, we set ourselves up for greatness.

What do you think? Do you struggle with moderation, or do you struggle to make big changes? If you’ve recently found the place on that spectrum that works for you in even the smallest area of your life, I’d love you to share it. I have a feeling we are all trying to find that balance.

ExplorationTools and Systems

Weekend Reads: Articles that Challenge my Thinking

November 20, 2015 — by Matt

“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” – Albert Einstein

Anyone who tells you they’ve figured it all out is lying or delusional. Even if we get some aspects of life, love, ambition, passion, or whatever “figured out” to the level we’re happy and energetic, it’s still in our best interests to always be exploring other approaches.

Just like everyone else, I’m trying to figure everything out. I try things, I do experiments, I read the stories of others, I find things that work or don’t work for me and I adjust. So when I stumble across an approach that flies completely in the face of my own assumptions or preconceptions, I’m elated. I get to explore another alternative! There’s the potential to find something in there that works for me!

Even if I don’t end up agreeing with or adopting any part of the advice or approach, seeing an issue from another angle is always beneficial. But more often than not, as long as I can keep an open mind, I’m likely to find something of value in there.

The following two articles really challenged my ideas on two topics about which I’ve recently posted – the value of writing every day, and defining the type of person you want to be.

Maybe there’s a better thing to write down each day?

One Research-Backed Way to Effectively Manage Your Stressful and Busy Schedule – by James Clear

A few weeks ago I wrote about how writing down on positive occurrence each day helped break me out of a funk and reframe my thinking toward positivity. I then wrote about how being challenged on that approach made me reconsider whether there were other equally effective methods more making a habit of positive thinking.

Well, leave it up to one of my favorite bloggers James Clear to challenge my thinking yet again and use a research-backed approach to take the idea further. In this article James highlights a study in which students tied their own personal values to their daily journal entries and saw a marked improvement in health, attitude, and energy.

It makes a ton of sense. Just like you’ll make a more emotional connection with your goals by focusing on the type of person you want to be (an idea that was, admittedly, heavily influenced by James’ writing), tying your underlying values to your journaling should make those journals more impactful in the long run. My approach changes your mood for the day or week; James’ sets the stage for fundamental changes in your attitude and approach.

Do you really need to “find” your passion?

Screw Finding Your Passion by Mark Manson

A friend sent me this article. She said she thought I’d enjoy it and that it fit into the themes about which I was writing. Boy, was she right.

I love so much about this article. Without spoiling it, the article posits that most of us trying to find “our passion” are really overcomplicating it. We know what we enjoy doing and what we’d spend our time doing if we had no commitments or expenses. So… is there much more to it than that? I’m trying to figure it out myself, so I’m not sure – but I loved the approach Mark Manson took in his post.

More than just challenging my thinking, this article challenged my approach to this blog. This article does what I originally wanted to do with this blog – pointing out how adult complacency can hamstring our growth and how sometimes a more child-like approach will identify what’s important to us faster. I did it in my intro article but looking back, I haven’t highlighted that concept a whole lot – and I think it’s a compelling one. So I’ll make more of an effort to take that angle in future articles.


 

Got any article that have shook up your opinions or thinking lately? Post them in the comments below!

CreativityTools and Systems

Is writing down your thoughts actually important?

October 26, 2015 — by Matt

A few weeks ago I published an article about a bad week I had, and how the simple habit of writing down one good thing that happened during the day had completely changed my attitude and set me up to tackle the rest of my week with renewed vigor.

Before I published the post I was telling my incredibly supportive girlfriend (who helped spark me to actually start this blog) about the concept of the article and how writing these thoughts down was important. After my too-lengthy explanation, she asked a question I hadn’t asked myself – “why is the writing important – can’t you just think about and reflect on the good things that happened in your day for the same effect?”

I started to launch into all the reasons why writing down your thoughts is so powerful, but then I stopped myself. Is writing inherently more powerful than other methods? I had assumed writing was better because it worked best for me. But is it really more impactful in cementing your goals or personal pillars than other methods? Why not meditate on them? Why not draw a picture?

So I decided to do some reading.

There are plenty of people out there who share my opinion on the power of writing. This article identifies writing as a tool to combat stress. This one claims it can “change your life”. And this article (which I’ve featured on the blog before) espouses the cognitive and creative benefits of writing.

I agreed with all of it. I mean, writing works for me, so of course I did. But that could just be a confirmation bias – seeking out and identifying with information in a way that confirms my own preconceptions and opinions.

I still believe writing really, truly works. Even without a purpose or a specific goal, free-writing can be incredibly therapeutic and I’d recommend to anyone to open a notebook or Evernote and start writing during times of stress, reflection, or indecisiveness. But promoting a one-size-fits-all solution in any scenario is at best arrogant and dismissive of individuality and at worst dangerous and overbearingly dogmatic.

What I realized while exploring my own relationship with writing was that the benefit was in the intent, not in the act itself. By purposefully sitting down, opening a notebook, and setting my mind to a task I was telling myself “this is important”. Taking action to write and going through the ritual itself made the writing meaningful rather than accidental, and I was more likely to write with depth and meaning. But that same concept can be applied to many types of reflection and introspection. Setting up a place to sit and think, putting on some soothing music for meditation, or opening your voice recorder to get something off your chest can be just as useful to really connecting with the thoughts, problems, conundrums, and even the gratitude that needs to be brought to the surface.

So is the actual writing part important? To me, yes – but it’s largely because that’s what works for me. My method is not the “best” method, and it might not even be the best method for me at any given time, so it’d be impossible for me to say it’s what everyone should be doing.

The writing itself isn’t the important part – the intent is. Whatever your preferred method – creative visualization, meditation, writing, or voice recording – as long as the intent is clear and you can take lessons from your practice, it’s effective.


Does writing work for you, or do you find other methods of getting your thoughts out more effective? Leave a comment below!

CreativityExplorationTools and Systems

One Positive Reminder Each Day

October 1, 2015 — by Matt

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Today I've just got a short story. It happened to me early this week, and made my whole week brighter. Hopefully, a habit like this can help motivate your week this week and into the future.

We all have bad days. Days that we can’t wait to end, days in which our frustration or despair boils over. Days that, by midday, we just want to dive into bed and sleep away the remainder. I was having one of those days on Tuesday.

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It wasn’t anything especially bad – no life-altering news, no super tense situations. Just a bubbling level of stress, small frustrating events, minor annoyances that compounded into a sour mood. I got home from work and begrudgingly made dinner, then got ready to sit in front of my computer, mindlessly surf the web, and finish it off with some Netflix. It was the perfect medicine – passive, not terribly self-sabotaging but also not super helpful or productive – and one I had taken many times before.

Before I started my time-wasting, I checked my daily habits in HabitRPG, a tool I use to track items I need to do every day. I’ve been wanting to start a daily journal habit, so rather than commit to a full page or a large commitment right away, I had recently added “Write down one good thing that happened to you today” as my “just show up” first step. Of course, the last thing you want to do when wallowing in a bad mood is try to look on the positive side, but it was on my list, so I opened up my Evernote and started typing. I started with something I had accomplished ahead of schedule at work and then… I just kept typing. Soon the day’s events were flowing out of me, stream-of-consciousness.
A difficult conversation I had initiated that I’d normally shy away from.
Progress I had made on a particularly difficult task.
Some new music I had discovered that I was looking forward to exploring.
A rare momentum of financial restraint where I didn’t buy an item I wanted, but didn’t truly need.

By the end of my now two-paragraph-long entry, I was smiling. Hey… today had been pretty good! In reality I had just shifted my focus away from the negative and focused on the positive – but it was enough. I now felt motivated and energized, and my plans of “netflix and chill” melted into “start writing a new song”.

You don’t have to do a lot to change your attitude about your day. Most situations are not inherently bad or good – they are whatever you project onto them. Writing just one sentence was enough for me to start thinking differently about my situation. In fact, I’ve found that writing in general, with no purpose other than to jot down your thoughts, is an amazing way to show yourself what you’re really thinking – and others have found the same. I’ve also used random yammering into my phone’s voice recorder to the same effect. You’ll be surprised where it takes you – it’s like self therapy.

So next time you’re having a bad day, force yourself to write down just one good thing that happened, or one thing you’re thankful for. It might just be enough to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

I’ll be posting more on writing in general, journaling specifically, and how I use HabitRPG to build habits in the near future! If you’ve used this successfully or have some other habit that helps turn your day around, leave a comment below!

Bucket ListCreativityProductivityTools and Systems

Focus on Just Showing Up

September 23, 2015 — by Matt

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"Eighty percent of success is showing up." - Woody Allen

When I first left home to attend college, I took full advantage of the new-found autonomy that living at home and the rigid schedules of high school had never offered. Classes were “optional”? I could roll out of bed when I pleased, sleep in if I felt the need, and it was up to me to manage my own schedule? Freedom had never tasted so good.

My newfound responsibility quickly came back to bite me when, after my first 2 semesters, my GPA put me in danger of losing my scholarship and I was placed on academic probation. Because my school was prohibitively expensive, losing my scholarship meant I could no longer attend that institution. I had been a good student with pretty minimal effort in high school. Why was I faltering now?

When I returned for my third semester I made a small yet fundamental change to my approach that made all the difference; I simply decided to go to class. I didn’t focus more on homework or spend more time in studying for exams. In fact there was one 8AM class I must have fallen asleep in every single day. But I went – to that class and all the others.

The result? I was able to eek my GPA above the danger zone that semester and after prioritizing my attendance the next few years, I graduated with honors.

Why is “Showing Up” so important?

“Showing up” is probably the most important step to reach any goal. Whether it’s going to class, or actually sitting down to write, or opening your development environment, or simply going somewhere that inspires you, “showing up” makes every subsequent step of the process easier.

This isn’t because “showing up” is all that’s necessary to succeed – far from it. But without showing up, everything else is a whole lot harder.

Here’s an example: You need to do some design work for a creative project you’re spearheading. “Showing up” might simply involve sitting down, powering on your computer and opening Photoshop. Or better yet, you could “show up” by taking a sketchbook, your laptop, headphones, and some inspiring music to a local coffee shop. Just opening Photoshop or traveling to a coffee shop doesn’t guarantee your work gets done. But by showing up, you’re setting yourself up to make progress.

The benefits of “showing up”

The benefits of focusing your energy on “showing up” are too many to count, but the ones that have helped me the most are as follows:

It’s an easy win.

We’re often best motivated when we feel like we’re already making progress; it’s why checking an item off our to-do list gets us so amped to tackle the next item. Showing up starts that momentum with an easy win and sets the stage for you to really get in the zone.

You can use your environment as natural motivation.

“Showing up” often involves going somewhere that’s more conducive to focusing on your goals. Even if your only aim is to take 3 steps into your gym and sign in, being in that environment will probably be enough to make actually working out a reality. Taking the effort to actually go to that drawing or photography meetup can be enough to spark your creative juices and dive into your art. Show up and use your environment to your advantage.

You’ll get information and experience you wouldn’t have otherwise.

One of my bucket list items was to do a stand-up comedy open mic night, a proposition which frankly terrified me. I went to the open mic three times before I actually stepped on stage and told some jokes, but in those first three nights I learned how the list worked, the types of jokes that worked, and got comfortable with the venue. Even showing up and doing nothing else was valuable, and without it I probably would never have checked that item off my list.

It gets you moving and avoids paralysis.

The biggest benefit to focusing on simply showing up is avoiding the “paralysis by analysis” so many of us go through when starting or continuing a project. You’re much less likely to get overwhelmed by the 50 steps required to finish the project when you can first focus all your energy on step 1 – just showing up. It keeps you present in the current moment and takes away a lot of our self-inflicted pressure to succeed.

So the next time you’re searching for motivation or unsure of how to proceed on a project or goal, figure out what it means to “show up” and just worry about doing that. Once you’ve showed up, the next steps become infinitely easier.

Want another take?

After I wrote this article I did a quick search to find some other takes on the importance of showing up – and found some great ones. Check them out here:

Step One is Showing Up” – via Scott H Young

The Single Biggest Thing You Can Do For Your Career: Show Up” – via Hanna Brooks Olsen


 

Leave a comment below with a time you just resolved to “show up” and how it helped you make progress!

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