A Dysfunctional Alarm Clock


This post will bring awareness to unnecessary alarms in your life. You can easily minimize these alarms to improve the qualify of your life.

Imagine you go to bed one night and your alarm clock goes off sporadically during the night. The first time it goes off you reset it, the second time you unplug it, and the third time you remove the backup battery. An hour later the alarm on your mobile phone starts the same pattern.

It isn’t hard to imagine having a challenging day after a night of multiple alarms. If this were to happen to you, you would no doubt get to the root of the problem and remedy the situation so that it wouldn’t continue to happen.

You may have this kind of thing happening in your waking life, and not even realize it. Your unconscious, like an alarm clock is a great tool to alert you to some action you need to take. If you are driving and another car unexpectedly comes into your path, your brain is effective in getting you to naturally take action without conscious thought. It acts in many ways as an alarm clock.

In this post we will discuss other kinds of alarms that you should be aware of. Just like your night of sporadic alarms, they can have a negative impact on your day.

Technology

What is your response when you hear text or email notifications coming from your phone? Do you immediately feel compelled to answer or at least look at them? The pattern created in your brain from responding to constant alerts will naturally cause you to be much more distracted during the day. It will also keep you from developing a healthy natural rhythm to your day, which goes a long way for overall mental health.

How you remedy this in your life is up to you, but one way to do that is to silence all email, text, and possibly even phone call alerts. Instead of hearing the alerts you can check them in the morning, at lunch, mid-afternoon, and at the end of the day. The key, regardless of how often you check them is to put them into a natural rhythm, that you control and can follow daily.

Overloaded calendars and task lists

One of the biggest reasons that tasks lists aren’t ideal is that we put too many things on them at once. With the best of intentions you start your day by making a list of tasks you have to accomplish that day. If you are like me that list gets pretty full, pretty quick.

The act of putting those tasks on paper fills your unconscious mind with a list of things that you are telling it you need to do. Your unconscious will serve you by setting frequent natural alarms that will distract you from what you are currently doing. This will naturally create extra anxiety in your life.

It is important that you learn to focus on one task at a time. I will provide a suggestion here, but once you realize what is going on you can come up with a solution that works for you.

I employ a tactic I call “What’s Next”. In the early evening after my work day, I review and add appointments to my calendar, then I make a list of what will need to be done the next day in order of priority. I put only the first task in plain view for the following morning. In the morning I do that one task until it is done, or I have a hard stop or blocker. I then consciously say “What’s Next?” The bottom line, however you achieve it is to only look at and deal with your tasks one at a time, and do everything in your power to finish that one task before you move on. When you are done consciously ask, “What’s Next?”

Mindlessness

Attention isn’t the problem for most us, it is putting and keeping our attention where we want it. With all the distractions we have in modern life it is easy to become mindless, and let your brain react to your external environment. This challenge is a little more nefarious than the others. It can be hard to recognize when something is chomping at our attention, when we are struggling to pay attention to something else.

It is important to set aside some time periodically throughout your day to relax, take a deep breath, and simply notice the thoughts occurring on in your mind. Mindfulness is much more than a sitting meditation practice. It is simply taking time to relax, focus on your breath, and notice what your mind is doing. If you can effectively do this, it will by far be the best thing you can do for your day.

In Summary we would be well served to control what comes to our attention throughout our day, but in order to control them, we need to be aware of them. This week just take a few minutes a few times per day to just take a deep breath and notice what is going on in your mind without reacting to it. Get Curious about it, and ask yourself questions around the source of it. If you watch your life carefully and listen to it as if it has something to tell you, solutions will often present themselves.

Taking Responsibility, an Aha Moment


Good evening readers. I am sharing this quick post tonight because these moments can be rare. I seriously had one of those Aha moments tonight. I have been a advocate for taking personal responsibility for your own life for a long time. This is one of those moments where i realized I should say “I am learning” rather than “I have learned.” I say this, because sometimes you think you have learned something and then you discover you are still learning. Tonight I was testing out a journal exercise for a short course I am putting together, and I was thinking through personal responsibility as part of the exercise. All this time my mouth was saying “I take personal responsibility”, but I discovered there were still two situations in my life where I thought others might be to blame. It wasn’t that I was being a hypocrite on purpose, I just didn’t realize how unconscious we can be. This exercise was asking the student to take an honest look at the areas in their life where they do take personal responsibility, and areas where they don’t. When I started writing my brain was almost arrogantly saying, “I got this one, but if I am going to ask someone else to do it then I have to”. It was both humbling, and liberating to eat those thoughts.

I was reminded that we often look at personal responsibility as something we have to grin and bear. In truth, when you take responsibility it gives you a greater sense of control. You can’t control what other people do. What you can control is what you do, which can also lead to greater level of satisfaction in your life. So tonight I learned a lesson, and got validation that the course material I am putting together is effective. At least this section.

Listening Over Telling


One of the most important skills for all of us is being a good listener. You can’t listen to someone and really understand them, while you are thinking about the next thing you want to say. If we don’t naturally connect with people this is most often the reason why.

By listening closely and seeking to understand someone, you are telling the person that they are important. You are telling them without words. People instinctively know when you are not listening. Books have been written entirely on this topic. Instead of writing a long post about the benefits of being a good listener, I invite you to take part in an experiment. Commit today to spend the next seven days deeply listening and trying to understand those people you come in contact with. This exercise is a game changer for many people. This is something that I naturally struggle with, and one of the greatest discoveries that came as a result of preparing to become a helping professional.

Please comment on this post to share your outcome. You can also leave me a personal note here.

A Mirage In the Desert


This post is meant to expand on and provide a “how to” for my last post.  Most of us who are working towards our life’s goals are thinking about a destination where life will be easy.  This is a place where we will have plenty of abundance to keep us happy and content.  Many successful people have traveled the road to their ultimate destination, only to find a new set of challenges, and another goal.  If we really pay attention, this is the story we tell ourselves.  We keep this destination in mind and we move forward.   Standard Oil billionaire John D. Rockefeller was asked, “How much money is enough?”  He answered, “Just a little bit more.”  He was teasing the fact that it will never be enough.  Someone who has achieved so much, realizes that the destination doesn’t exist, only a continued journey. 

That feeling of having given it everything you have, and getting to your goal is a great feeling.  If you talk to most people who have achieved a big goal like reaching a billion dollars in business, they report that initial deep satisfaction of having reached their destination.  Then they often report a huge let down once they settle into their new reality.  In their minds they had imagined a long term sense of satisfaction, only to be disappointed that it quickly faded.  If you want to achieve great things and avoid being fooled by a mirage in the desert read on.    

Goal Setting

The first step in a better way forward begins the same.  Write down your goals and visualize what your goals might mean for your life.  Only a small percentage of people write down their goals, and only a small percentage of people have great success.  That doesn’t mean that if you write out your goals, you will achieve great things.  What it does mean is that the chances of success without specific goals is thin.  It is important that you visualize what those goals will mean for your life as well as write them down. Once you have your goals written down, list the first ten or so things that you will need to do to achieve them. This is where your new path forward diverges from the traditional way of achieving goals. 

Shifting Your Focus

Take that list of ten next steps that you will need to take, and pick the one you are going to work on first.  You have already determined that this is something that you will need to do to reach your goal, so put everything else out of your mind, and just focus on the doing.  Most of the time when we are doing things, our mind is busy trying to distract us.  As I discussed in my last post it is distracting us with pictures of our goal, or by telling us we can’t achieve it.  As soon as you catch your focus going anywhere else, other than on what you are doing, gently push your focus back to what you are doing.  The purpose here is to derive your satisfaction from the doing.  Perform each task with equal parts trying to discover something interesting, and getting the task done.  Look at the task like it has something to tell you.  If you have never done this before, it might feel a little odd, but trust me it works.  

The Reason for Shifting Your Focus

Shifting your focus away from the destination does two things for you.  First it keeps the distractions that your mind will feed you at bay.  Just as important, it will add flexibility to your destination.  If you talk to someone who has grown a large company from scratch, more often than not, the business they created is much different that the business they set out to create. One you have the full picture of that original goal, that should become a second priority.  Your first priority should be on what you are doing right now.

Review

At the end of each week set aside a couple of hours to review what you have achieved.  Review the list of ten steps, and see what you have accomplished.  Then add anything new that needs to be done in the coming week.  Just like any other task along the way, focus on the doing and don’t let your focus move away from the task at hand.  This is a particularly good time to discover new things to guide you forward.  When you are done go back to the big goal, and see how certain parts of it may have changed or stayed the same.  This process of adjusting your goals as you go keeps your reality aligned with your goal.  It causes your goal to become the journey.  It will keep your expectations aligned with the process.

Continuous Improvement

As you perform each task, keeping yourself laser focused on just that task, and performing it as if it is the task itself that is the goal will greatly increase the quality of the work.  You will also start to notice inspiration coming from the doing rather than the achieving.  Continuous improvement will come naturally.  

If you have any questions about this post or are interested in life coaching you can drop me a note at www.brentpinkston.com/contact .  I also keep four fifteen minute spaces open on my calendar each month for free discussions about what you want to achieve via Google Meet.  These can be one on one, or group calls.

We Have Goal Achievement Backwards


Writing down and visualizing your goals is critical. It gives you a sense of where you want to go and you should review it daily, but there is something more. The big goals, once written down and internalized should become secondary goals. They are something in the back of your mind for you to aim at. Your primary goal should then become to focus one-hundred percent on what you are doing right now. Even when you achieve a big goal, it often looks very different than the vision you first had. A lot of things can change along the way. Be flexible with the specifics of your big goals, but review and visualize them daily.

Humans have three perceptions of time. They are past, present, and future. The only one of those three perceptions of time where we can actually do something, is in the present. As we begin to do things, thoughts rise in our mind. They may be painting pictures of the past or the future. Perhaps they are painting the future only to alert us of something else we have to get done. They are often telling us we aren’t good enough to get it done, or that we are wasting our time. Sometimes they remind us of how great it will be to get there. Either way we become distracted by our own thoughts. Once you have decided there is something specific to be done, let that be your only goal for the moment. If another thought occurs to you just gently go back to focusing in on what you are doing right now.

Try this out for the next several weeks, and you will not go back to your old distracted ways of working. Once you have decided something is worth doing, then do it. As you are working on it, and you catch yourself thinking about something else, just come back to what you are doing and focus intently on it. Don’t worry about whether the work you are doing is moving you towards your big goal right this moment. The act of focusing on just what you are doing, and quieting your mind while you are doing it will become so engrossing, that you will learn to get fulfillment out of what you are doing right now. Sometimes when I do something like write a routine email, I practice paying insanely close attention to every key stroke, and become engrossed in the thought I am trying to communicate. This is good practice for when I am working on something more complicated and proned to be derailed by distraction.

If you have a big goal, there are usually a lot of challenges along the way to achieving it so it is important to keep the benefits the goal will provide to our life. On the other hand, If you learn to get fulfillment out of every piece of work it becomes much less painful when things get hard. Admittedly, it also becomes much harder to focus, but that is where learning to focus your attention, and gently push thoughts back to the task at hand helps. If you have not read this post, it might be worthwhile for a bit more background on focusing.

When I talk with people on this topic for the first time, there are usually questions or challenges that arise. If you have questions you can drop me a note at brentpinkston.com/contact