Awareness Builds Momentum


Bringing awareness into your life is a process, it isn’t something that happens overnight.  It isn’t something that intense effort will bring you.  While awareness practices can be found in every religious tradition from Christianity to Zen Buddhism, the awareness I am talking about here is a practical approach for quieting the mind. This will allow you to sense your environment in a way that will help you grow awareness.  

One of the primary problems we face is that we are constantly reacting to things in our environment. We can’t help but to judge them on some level.  True awareness comes when you can learn to quiet your mind and not immediately add your own thoughts to everything that happens to you.  

The first step in achieving this is learning that we are separate from those autonomous reactions created by our brain and biology.  Notice the thoughts that come up when something happens in your environment.  We don’t choose to think these thoughts. They just arise naturally.  It is your ability to stand outside those thoughts that is awareness.  We rarely question those thoughts, even though they could be a result of past events that we wrongly judged.  If we can just experience our environment without adding our own thoughts we can add a level of insight.  This insight can cause exponential growth in our lives.  It is often like we are experiencing things for the first time, that we have experienced many times before.

This is an ongoing process for me.  I stumbled on this idea, in an effort to improve my attention.  I heard a Youtuber say something that really hit home for me.  “You can’t pay attention, because no one ever taught you how.”  I wish I had a nickel for every time someone told me to pay attention growing up, but never offered to show me how.  It is possible that I would be very wealthy.  

So how do you learn to pay attention?  The answer is pretty simple.  You start by  intentionally setting aside five or ten minutes a couple of times a day to practice paying attention.  Relax and take a few deep slow breaths, and focus on something happening around you.  It can be anything from the noises around you, to two or more people interacting.  You also commit to not adding your own thoughts to it, and watching it like it is the first time you have seen anything like it.  Two or three of these daily mindfulness breaks could help you to begin a significant growth journey. 

I am sharing this with you, because this is one of the things that turned the direction of my life around.  I was being held back by a lot of self critical thoughts that I just assumed were true.  Once I became aware of the thoughts that were coming up, I naturally started questioning them.  This process allowed me to see that we are truly, not our thoughts, how we feel, or our past.  Once I started to see that 90% of these thoughts had no foundation in reality, my life began to change in positive ways.  I believe yours will too. 

If you would like to explore this idea further, you can take advantage of a free, no strings attached thirty minute life coaching consultation.

The Real Source of Positive Change


Just under the label of self help alone, there are nearly 90,000 books in print. Then you can just keep adding labels, like success, spirituality, motivation, and the list goes on and on.  My point is that we have more books available to us than we could read in a lifetime.  So how many of those books do you need to make a positive change in your life?  The answer is “ZERO”.  Yes it is true that most leaders read, and it is also true that some of the information in these kinds of books are very useful.  I read self help books.  The problem is that some of us get the idea that we need these kinds of books to succeed.  Sometimes we also get the idea that we are going to prepare ourselves for massive change overnight.  While change happens in an instant, getting ourselves to the place where we are ready to make those changes doesn’t work like that. 

Here are three of the things I believe to be the real catalysts for positive change.  

Awareness Without Assumptions

Awareness of the present moment is one of the most overlooked treasure troves for living a better life.  We tend to live too much of our lives in thoughts of the past and future.  We think about what didn’t work in the past, and how we need to do better in the future.  Pay attention to where your awareness is.  Are you thinking about the past or future?  How much of your energy do you spend being aware in the present moment, and not reliving the past or thinking about the future?  

This week try to devote thirty minutes in the morning reflection and planning for the day.  Other than these thirty minutes, pay attention to the present moment.  Without putting stress on yourself just carefully observe what is going on around you, and the process of doing what needs to be done.  Don’t make assumptions about meaning or outcome.  The present moment has many things to tell you if you are just aware.  If you catch your mind wandering back to the past or into the future, just gently bring it back to the present moment. 

We also need to be aware when we are making assumptions about things.  Is it true that the best scientists in the world know gravity?  The truth is that scientists can measure the effects of gravity but we have no earthly idea, what gravity is, why it is, or where it came from.  When we notice things our brain puts a label on them.  When we label them, we think we know them.  

When you are doing this exercise to focus on being aware, don’t make any assumptions about what you see in the present moment.  Just keep a sense of curiosity.  Instead of making assumptions, ask questions about what you are seeing.  Good questions begin with something like “Is it possible that…?”, or “What if…?.  Asking these kinds of questions about everything around us, will help us not to make the assumption that we know what it all means.  

One piece of awareness that has helped me greatly both physically and mentaly is learning to be aware of my breath.  When I am not aware of the present moment while I am working I tend to breathe quick shallow breaths.  When we breathe shallow breaths we greatly increase the likelihood of anxiety, and a wandering mind.  When we breathe slowly and deeply our bodies will naturally calm down.  If you want to test this out for yourself just stop what you are doing and take six deep, slow breaths.  You will notice a sense of relaxation.  Paying attention to your breath will also keep you mind out of the past and future.  The breath is a common anchor used in meditation.   

Be Grateful

Because we are constantly living in the past and anxious about the future, we find it very difficult to be grateful.  Once we start living in the present moment we can find all kinds of things to be grateful for.  It can be difficult to be grateful when we are faced with life’s problems, but even then we can find things in the moment to be grateful for.  

I don’t believe in silver bullets for success, but the idea I am about to share is powerful.  It is a primary reason that most goal setting doesn’t work.  Let’s say you set a goal to have a million dollars in the bank.  Your mind will imagine all the ways it would make you happy.  You begin to obsess on that goal.   You desire a million dollars so much that you lose everything you have to be grateful for. You feel the lack of not having a million dollars.  Now when you actually have to work hard, you feel discouraged.

No matter what your goal is, remember to work hard to find things you are grateful for along the way.  Maybe instead of setting a goal for a million dollars, try to set a goal to add a million dollars worth of value to others.  With this kind of goal you will find it easier to be grateful, and what you desire won’t make you lose what you have.

This is hard for some people, but sit down and write down all the things you have to be grateful for.  

Bias for Action

Nothing gets done unless someone does it.  Once you are aware of your environment, aware of what needs done, and have gratitude it is time to do something.  Earlier in the post I mentioned one reason that most goal setting fails.  Lack of action is the natural result of lack of motivation and purpose.  Having a sense of lack is one of the reasons we get discouraged and don’t act. We get discouraged because our minds are thinking about a past failure, or fearing a future failure. 

Once we have a goal, a daily task, we can then start doing it.  It is important to remember to keep our thoughts out of the past and future, and just focus on the task at hand.  Be curious about what you are doing and be aware of the results you are getting in the moment. 

Summary

You don’t need any books or programs to improve the quality of your life.  Just look within and in the present moment.  Early in the post I made the statement that the present moment has a lot to tell you.  If we can be fully aware of the moment we can act without the weight of the past and future, and be much more effective.   

If you are interested in talking further about improving the quality of your life, feel free to take advantage of a free thirty minute consultation.  

Cut Out the Middleman


Any worthwhile endeavor you take on is going to involve planning, preparation, and doing. There are some who do too much planning, and suffer not getting as much done as they could.  On the other end of the spectrum is the person who takes on the endeavor without proper planning, and paints themselves into a corner. What is the right way to think about the balance between planning, preparation, and doing? 

A lot of the problems around these challenges are likely caused by thoughts that we are not aware of on the surface. Let’s take the example of someone who does too much planning.  Our unconscious will naturally try to keep us out of uncomfortable situations, and it knows as soon as the planning is over the discomfort begins. The problem is that the person experiencing this thinks that careful and long term planning sessions are just the right way to do things. They believe this because their unconscious supports them.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person who subscribes to the “Just Do It!” marketing campaign. It is true that nothing gets done without action, and that is important for the over planner to remember.  The over doer would do better without this reminder.  

I want to share something with you that will help you naturally balance planning, preparing, and doing.  In short we just need to cut out the middleman. It is important that you get this next part because it isn’t intuitive for most people. Consider the following statement. “I am happy with myself”. Who is the “I” and who is “myself”.  

When we stand back and look at our lives, there seems to be an awareness that notices what we are up to, and another us who is the doer. The awareness is what’s left when we put aside our incessant thoughts about everything, and just experience the world with our five senses. It is a sense of seeing without judgement. The doer is constantly responding to whatever thoughts arise.

This may be uncomfortable for some, but we don’t really know why we think most of the thoughts we do. Notice the thoughts that naturally arise. Then ask yourself, where did that come from?  You can speculate about all the past events that might have caused the thought, but If you are honest you don’t know why you had that thought at that moment.

Have you ever had a dream, and spent part of the next day wondering where in the world it came from? Have you ever had a stray thought, and wondered why you would even think something like that. This is your unconscious mind, and it doesn’t appear to have any free will.  

Let’s get back to the point at hand. What does all of this have to do with balancing planning, preparation, and doing?  Who is the middleman? The middleman is the thought generator that produces the thoughts that you have little control over. Conscious awareness through your senses is the route to cutting out the middleman. 

Practical mindfulness is the way we cut out the middleman. There are two parts. The first part is to practice mindfulness by spending ten or fifteen minutes twice per day just sitting in a quiet place focused on your breath, or the sounds in your environment. Whichever you choose, this is your anchor.  When you notice a thought just gently go back to focusing on your anchor. Take heart if you get caught up in thought, and have to constantly focus back to your anchor. This is a good sign, because you are starting to notice those unconscious thoughts come up.    

The second part is just taking a minute or two out of every hour. Take a few deep slow breaths and notice whatever thoughts are arising.  Don’t react to them just notice them.  This will do two things.  The deep breaths will settle you down physically, and being consciously aware of your thoughts will help you to increase awareness.  Over a period of time you will begin to overcome the influence of your thought generator. You will in effect start cutting out the middleman.  

When you start to become more aware you can take all the noise out of figuring out how much time you should spend planning vs. doing.  You will also be more aware of the circumstances around the task.  This isn’t a silver bullet, but it will greatly help you to become more effective at picking the right amount of planning vs. doing. 

Feel free to reach out if you are interested in learning more.    

Where the Rubber Meets the Road


One thing that I am very aware of when writing these blog posts, is that it is easy to talk about achieving great things.  It is another matter entirely to actually make things happen.  When we plan, talk, and write about success, we meet with minimal resistance. When we get out there and start moving we meet with real resistance.  

Here are a few tips to help you move forward.  

  1. Take Immediate Action

Mel Robbins wrote a book titled “The Five Second Rule”. It is a great book.  The important takeaway from the book is that from the moment you decide you want to do something, it takes your mind about five seconds to realize you are going to do something uncomfortable. Once that happens it will do what it can to keep you from being uncomfortable.  It is a short book, a good read, and one of the most practical and effective books I have read on getting yourself to act.  Take action on your goals within five seconds of getting the urge.  Mel Robbins recommends counting down from five like you are a rocket about to blast off.

  1. Question Your Negative Thoughts

We all have moments of self-doubt.  That is especially true when we are fighting to do something that our mind continues to tell us we can’t.  When this happens, ask, “What if that voice is wrong?”  Follow that up with, “is it possible that if I take this course of action, I can overcome this self-doubt and get it done?  The truth is that all you need to do to make things happen is take the right action.  You are not those thoughts, and if you do what you know will work, you will get results.  Those negative thoughts are not true, and you can prove it by acting in spite of them.  If for some reason you fail, try again.  It took Thomas Edison ten thousand “failures” to invent the electric light bulb.  Did he fail? 

  1. Perform your tasks Mindfully

One of the things that makes it easier to think and talk about doing something than actually doing is chaos.  When you set out to do something hard and worth doing, there are usually a lot of moving pieces.  On top of that our minds are busy worrying about the outcome, and we put unneccesary pressure on ourselves.  The way to overcome this is to take a couple of deep breaths right before you start something, and deliberately and mindfully focus on the task.  Paying attention to every step.  If your mind starts to get busy, take another couple of deep breaths, and get back to doing the task mindfully.  Rinse and repeat.  This one takes a lot of practice, but I promise it works. 

Quarterbacks Tom Brady, Ben Rothlisburger, Patrick Mahomes, and Aaron Rogers all share one trait. This trait is a big part of what makes them great quarterbacks.  It is their ability to act in the chaos on the field, and stay keenly aware of their environment.  There are Quarterbacks who exceed their purely athletic abilities, and yet you will never hear their name.

These great quarterbacks have not always had the necessary ability to deal with chaos on the field.  They practice endlessly and have lots of hours on the field in live play.  Becoming intimate with the experience is one of the components that gives them this ability to remain mostly calm in chaos.  There is something else though.

They all realize that they can’t be great alone, and understand that the pressure is spread across the field of play.  They depend and invest in their teammates, and use their coaches to see what they can’t. Before we can become great at anything we have to practice.  We also have to find teammates and coaches, and give them our best in exchange for theirs.    

Things That Have to Get Done


All of us have those things in our lives that we have to get done.  Sometimes we don’t want to do them.  Can you think of something that you don’t like to do, but it has to be done anyway?  Here is something that has helped me to make that process much easier. Today’s post is short, but worth giving a try.   

Pick a small daily or weekly task that you don’t like to do, but will need to do.  It could be something as simple as making the bed, cleaning your office, or attending a regular meeting.  When the time comes and you feel that sense of dread, notice the thoughts you are thinking about doing the task.  Make a decision not to react to the thoughts, and accept the task as something that you are just going to do. When you start doing the task or walk into the meeting, don’t add your thoughts to it.  Simply pay close attention to every detail of doing the task.  Get curious about the task, not how you feel about doing the task.  Do it mindfully and deliberately, paying attention to every step.  

This method is supported by the fact that most of the pain associated with doing these tasks comes from our mind.  Many times the tasks aren’t terrible, it is just our thoughts about them that are terrible.  Mark Twain was reported to have said, “I have had a lot of troubles in life, and some of them even happened.” In saying this he was bringing to light the fact that we are most of the cause for our own mental worry and suffering.  Think about things you have worried about that never happened.

Somewhere along the way we label the specific task as bad, and our mind just reminds us every time we have to do it.  Maybe when we first did the task we were having a bad day, and associated that having a bad day with the task.  Now everytime we have to do that, the same negative feeling comes back.  

Doing things without adding our own thoughts and just paying attention to doing the task, is a great way to make life a little easier.  Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Add Focus and Discipline to Your Day


Do you want to increase your ability to focus and gain discipline consistently?  In this post I want to provide a practical exercise to increase your daily focus, and increase discipline over a period of time. If you do this exercise consistently over a week, you will notice a significant improvement.  I am not by any means completely effective, but this exercise has definitely been a game changer for me.  

Our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. This is a scientific fact. We like to think we are effective multi-taskers.  The truth is that we can become better at task switching, but it is not the most efficient way to get things done.  It takes time to task switch, and dilutes focus.

One common piece of advice from the most successful people, is to only focus on one goal at a time if possible.  If you are focused on growing your business, do your best to just stay focused on that.  This is not an easy discipline to develop, especially when so many of life’s demands are coming at us. 

On a micro level, we also need to limit the items we focus on the same way. This will keep us from diluting our focus, and make each minute of effort more effective. It will also make us more aware of our environment, which will keep us more alert overall.  Your unconscious mind is really good at alerting you of change in your environment.  If you are intentionally focused on fewer things at time, you have more capacity for overall awareness 

The first step in getting more focus and discipline in your day is to be completely aware of what you are up to.  Our minds get really busy, and sometimes we aren’t conscious of just how busy our minds are.  I recommend taking  five or ten minutes twice per day to do the following two-part exercise.

  • First find a quiet place first thing in the morning, and some other time later in the day.  Sit or stand someplace comfortable.  Take a deep breath, and then continue to focus on your breath in and out for the next few minutes.  If you notice any thoughts coming up, just acknowledge them but don’t react to them.  Go back to focusing on your breath.  Do this for around five minutes.  You will find your mind a little calmer and clearer. It is normal when you are getting started to  have a hard time staying focused.  The fact that you notice it, just means you are making progress. 
  • Next just think specifically about what you want to get done for the rest of your day. You may want to write them down as well.  As you do this, you may find your mind jump to other things.  You will notice this because of the first exercise.  This is a good thing.  When your mind begins to generate thoughts, just go back and focus on what you want to accomplish for the rest of the day.

If you have tried this, let me know how it has helped you.

Once you have done the exercise just go back to your day and execute on what you want to get done.  Throughout the day try to keep this awareness.  I will often take a minute or so, several times a day to just take a deep breath, and just focus on my breath in and out. 

Moving Towards


I heard a story about a tour guide who led risky white water rafting tours down perilous rapids.  He was said to have one of the best records for not getting his rafters injured.  One of the ways he accomplished this, had to do with one sage piece of advice.  The trick when you see a dangerous obstacle is to look where you want to go, not where you don’t. 

This same advice holds true in life.  For example if you want to get our of your nine to five job, you might try saying something like this instead. I want to create income producing assets, sufficient to more than take care of my monthly expenses.

Don’t picture a purple elephant in your mind right now. Please don’t picture a purple elephant.   Did you picture a purple elephant?  I pictured it as I was writing it.  In the same way you can’t help picturing that elephant, you won’t be able to avoid thinking negatively about what you don’t want.  This focus will occupy our thinking resources on the wrong thing.

In past posts, I have talked about the importance of accepting our circumstances, and moving forward towards what we want.  When we accept our current circumstances, it doesn’t mean we can’t go in another direction.  It just means we are not going to give our circumstances the power to make us unhappy.  It is the same thing with stating our goals in the positive.

If you have goals written down somewhere, check them for moving away from language, and replace it with moving towards language.  When you are moving towards something it paints a positive picture, when you are eagerly moving away from something it creates a negative picture.

If you ever go white water rafting or car racing, remember to look where you want to go not where you don’t.

Small Stuff ?


Small changes over time can turn your life around. These small changes build on each other. Sometimes we think that success happens because of the massive action we take, but we never think about the small things that let us build up to those massive actions.

Last week i got off track and started focusing on making changes to things that were currently out of my control. I let the actions of others get me worked up through the process.

Once I realized what was going on, I asked myself what I could do to get out of that state of mind. I realized was that I hadn’t been taking time to clear my mind, and exercise in the morning. I also hadn’t taken the time to be mindful throughout the day.

These were small habits that made a big difference in my effectiveness and happiness. I really didn’t think they would help that much, but I had to start somewhere. They were exactly the things that helped me to get perspective on what was going on. In a few hours, I was back on track moving forward.

When we want to make changes in our lives we often look for big things we can do to get on track, but the things that really make a difference are the little things. It occurred to me to write this post because I was surprised that getting back on track with just those two small daily habits, would make that much difference.

What are some small positive habits you can start this week?

Is Your Life Full of Stress ?


Have you ever stopped to think about the things in our lives that cause unnecessary stress? In this post I am going to list a few of those stress inducers and some tips to reduce stress in your life.

Mobile Phones

In a prior blog post I talked about dysfunctional alarms. We often associate alarms with things like our alarm clocks, and fire alarms that were meant to startle us to action.

The term alarm can mean anything that creates urgency for us to perform some action. The device that we carry everywhere with us is constantly calling us to pay attention to notifications that are often unimportant. Of course having an unanswered notification causes us to switch the screen on, and check it. Your unconscious has no means of determining the importance of those notifications. It just reacts by breaking your focus.

The constant breaking of focus throughout the day breaks down our ability to focus our attention where we want it. It keeps our brains in a constant state of alarm, but we often don’t realize it.

Do an experiment this week. Keep your mobile device in silent mode for a whole week, and make a special effort to focus a hundred percent of your attention on what you are doing. Doing routine tasks that are second nature to you and purposely and fully focusing on them may bring more enjoyment to them. It will definitely make them more tolerable.

Social Media

Facebook and other social media platforms know what kinds of content you are attracted to by monitoring the kinds of content you browse. They have algorithms that put content in your feeds based on your likes and reading habits. These algorithms know what you believe, and can be pretty accurate. They also know the kind of content that is most likely to get you to respond. This causes you to add more content, and this is what they want.

Advertisers also make their money by knowing what will cause you to respond to ads. If you have particular political leanings, it is almost certain that Facebook will place things in your news feed that cause your mind to overact to something. Something that may be happening a thousand miles away, or not really happening at all. Have you ever read a post on social media and it gave you a sense of dread almost immediately? Was it something that would lead you to believe the world is coming unglued? The algorithms are designed to do this, to get you to respond.

This week I asked you to set your phone to silent, and check it periodically. Maybe next week you can start a social media diet. If you are an active social media user, maybe look at your social media feeds once or twice per day, and stay on for no more than ten or fifteen minutes. This will pay dividends

Unconscious Thoughts

Your mind is constantly working to protect you. All the things that have caused you pain in the past, cause your mind to stay vigilant to alert you to future dangers. This can be useful sometimes, but in our modern world a lot of these thoughts just hold us back.

This week schedule five or ten minutes a few times per day. Consciously stop thinking, and just pay attention to the thoughts that come up without judging them. Another thing I mentioned in the mobile phone section is deliberately focusing your attention on every detail of what you are currently doing. This will also go a long way in helping you to quieting those rogue thoughts.

In summary, the more time you can keep your mind in the present moment and eliminate distractions the better your quality of life. If you would like to quiet your thoughts, and can’t seem to get there, feel free to reach out.

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.