Break the Rules – Change your Life

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Raising the bar

I sometimes think that we live life like a high-jump competition.

We take on new things and have a good go at clearing the bar.  Every time we succeed, we raise the bar a little higher.  Eventually we’ll raise the bar so high that we can’t clear it any more.

Then we feel gutted.  Beaten.  Defeated.

All those clearances we made before feel like wasted effort – in the end we were a big loser!  All our focus goes on the failure.

This approach relies on some rigid rules about how to be successful in life that are hard-wired into our brains.

The Rules

Rule 1 – Strive to be perfect

We must always push us to keep striving to be higher, faster, stronger.  We strive for perfection, to be better every time.

Rule 2 – Never, ever stop

Like the high-jumper, when we achieve our goals, we barely stop to celebrate.  We have to go and get focused for the next jump.  The next task.  The next hurdle to negotiate.

Rule 3 – Failure is not an option

When we fail, we feel crushed, fixate on our failure.  It feels like the end of the world.

How did this happen?

career coaching, career change, find work you love

Evolve or die

I guess we have to thank our ancient ancestors for these rules.

Back then it was survival of the fittest – evolve or die.

You had to keep raising the bar – inventing a better spear, learning how to make fire, how to be a great hunter.

Stopping was not an option – life was urgent and primal.

Failure was the end of the world – literally

I’m still thankful that we have strong survival instincts. Yet in our modern world, I reckon it might be time to break these rules apart.

To live a remarkable, high quality life requires a more flexible approach to life than our primal ancestors took.  We need to break all the rules.

Breaking the rules

Stop pushing so hard

Striving to be perfect is such a heavy burden to carry.  We can always find someone richer, smarter, more charismatic to compare ourself against.

Perfection is just an imaginary concept to compete against – it lacks any kind of definition.  It’s like trying to find the end of the rainbow.

Instead of striving for perfection, how about aspiring to do the best you can?  Frankly you won’t always succeed, however hard you try.  Welcome to human!

If you try to do the best you can, enjoy each experience as much as possible and accept the outcome it is hard to ask for more.

Sometimes that means that you’ll lower the high jump bar rather than raising it, and be happier for it.

Give yourself a break

Never stopping is exhausting.

In the modern world, we have the luxury of being able to stop and reflect.  To smell the roses.  To day-dream, relax, look after ourselves and recharge our batteries.  We have the space to prepare for the next great challenge or project.

For most people life flows in peaks and troughs of energy and activity.  Your body and minds will tell you when it is time to go for it and when to slow down and take a break.  If you don’t listen you’ll be cruising for a break down.

So when you clear a jump, take a while to enjoy it.  Perhaps rather than resetting the bar, find a deck chair and take a nap.

Enjoy failure

If you’re not failing 90% of the time, you’re not trying hard enough”.

The current world high-jump record is held by Javier Sotomayor of Cuba at 2m 45cm.  Check out his jump.

Sotomayor didn’t just wake up one morning, hop out of bed and successfully jump over 8ft.  Sotomayor’s record is the result of a lifetime of failure.

Javier has inevitably failed many more than he has ever succeeded.  All the hours of training involved failing to clear the bar thousands of times.  He has learned to reflect on and learn from his failures to figure out new approaches to clear the next height.

If he had taken his first failure at the age of 5 as an utter disaster and given up, his personal best would probably be about 40cm.

If you can learn to enjoy failure, to reflect on it, to see the good things that happened as part of the failure, two things happen.

First, life becomes a pleasure all the time, not just when you succeed.

Second, you’ll learn more quickly and find success more easily in the long run

Sometimes in the high jump you’ll fail.  If you can enjoy that failure and learn from it, you’ve succeeded in breaking the rules.

Over to you

  • What rules do you follow in life?
  • Where did they come from?
  • What would happen if you broke all the rules?

Photo credit: Selective Focus Photography,  Lord Jim (Flickr Creative Commons)

Lessons learned from being a Chicken

Reading time: 1 minute 47 seconds

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How did I become the man in the chicken suit?

career coaching, career advice, find work you love, career group, careershifters

Chicken

It all started eighteen months ago.  My client Terri was struggling to find the motivation to study for a particularly dry module in her upcoming HR exams.

We’d explored some of the more conventional motivational techniques – understanding how the exams fitted into the big picture for her career, getting someone to hold her accountable, setting rewards for success.

No dice.  This stuff was truly dull.

Suddenly a flash of inspiration – a little wager. Another client had purchased a chicken suit as part of her campaign to lead a less ordinary life (don’t ask!).

The deal was set – if Terri studied for and passed her exam successfully, I would walk down a busy shopping street in broad daylight… in a chicken suit.

Miraculously, Terri’s attitude to study transformed. Suddenly she was whizzing through the modules like a superhero on a mission.

Exam day came and the inevitable result.  Passed with flying colours.  Terri even got a lapel badge to proudly tell the world she is a qualified HR practitioner!

Fast forward to April 2010

The venue: the bustling Santana Row bar scene, San Jose, California.

The time: Friday evening at Happy Hour.

A 6 foot five chicken emerges sheepishly from a side alley.

A group of men in suits stop drinking their beers mid sip to stare.

A passing couple do a double take.

A security guard looks a little nervous and considers reaching for his radio.

The world starts to warm up to the idea of a giant chicken in their midst.

career coaching, career change, find work you love, careershifters

Chicken in action

Suddenly people start approaching.  “Could I have a photo? – My dad would love it” asks a passer by.

Children are waving and smiling, coming up to say hello.

In the frozen yoghurt place, everyone loves the chicken.  The guy behind the counter has never seen anything like it.  The chicken has made his day – “this one’s on the house”!

Deep down I wasn’t looking forward to wearing the chicken suit.  In the end I could hardly take it off.  I loved every minute of being a chicken.

Lessons learned from being a chicken

What do I take away from dressing up in a giant chicken suit?

  • Sometimes finding motivation requires something a little beyond the ordinary.
  • Doing something different is fun and inspiring.
  • Wearing a chicken suit showed me that there is no need to be afraid.  I normally loathe being the centre of attention, yet with the suit it was great.  Now I can imagine wearing a chicken suit to stir myself on to greater things.
  • I have a renewed respect for anyone who has ever been a mascot – giant yellow chicken suits are hot and cumbersome!

Over to you

  • What do you do to be a little bit extraordinary?
  • How do you motivate yourself when the going gets tough?
  • Have you ever dressed up in public and what happened?

More Inspiration

Evelyn Lim on how to get creative and map your mind

Jeffrey Tan at Art of Great Things on Being who you want to become

How to stop holding yourself back and make it happen

Reading time: 2 minutes 43 seconds

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“You’re not good enough”

career coaching, career counseling, dream job, job you love

Gremlin!

“You should keep quiet”

“What a stupid thing to say, you idiot”

“You can’t do that”

That voice in our head has a spectacular talent for running us down.

Our gremlins cast judgment (usually negative) on the past, influence what we do (or don’t do) in the present, and poor cold water over future plans. The have a huge impact on the quality of life we lead.

Dealing with our gremlins is a vital part of any Mental Spring Cleaning.

A friend of mine was telling me about their inability to ask for a promotion at work.

She felt she was totally outperforming their peers, had great feedback from her line manager and had surpassed every goal she had set.  Yet when it came to pulling the trigger and asking, a voice in her head kicked in saying “who are you to ask for a promotion – you don’t deserve it”.

My friend described feeling paralyzed by the strength of this thought and found an excuse to run away without broaching the subject.  Afterwards, she was furious with herself for “bottling it”.

We tried to figure out how this gremlin came about in the first place. Gremlins almost always come from childhood experiences where we create defence mechanisms to protect ourselves.

My friend recalled asking a teacher in primary school for permission to join the school choir and being told “No – you haven’t worked hard enough on your singing”.  Even now she recalled the sick feeling in her stomach that day.

Her gremlin formed to protect her from that feeling, and since then she has always struggled to ask others, particularly in authority for what she wants. On reflection, she recalled many times when she held back from asking for something and told herself “you don’t deserve this”.

Creating these protection mechanisms takes a lot of hard work. We use a lot of mental bandwidth once the emergency red light comes on and a gremlin kicks in.  My friend felt exhausted for the rest of the day – probably because she had used her adrenaline rush for flight rather than fight.

Many of our gremlins are no longer useful to us in adult life. My friend’s gremlin worked well when she was a little girl, but now it was a serious pain in her backside, holding her back from being successful.

6 Steps to bust that gremlin!

If you have a voice in your head that is holding you back, this is a powerful technique to move on. I used it with my friend and it has helped countless coaching clients:

  1. Identify the gremlin you face (how does it manifest and what does it say to you) and give it a name
  2. Understand the gremlin’s purpose and history. Think back through your past to the first time the gremlin appeared.  What was its’ purpose back then (usually protecting you in some way).
  3. Acknowledge the gremlin and thank it for helping out.  Let the gremlin know that it is no longer needed for this purpose.  Tell yourself that you can handle things from now on.
  4. Identify your new approach – how would you like to act differently in the next situation where the gremlin might arise (e.g. for my friend she would like to confidently ask for what she wants)
  5. Ask the gremlin to help out – the gremlin can provide a lot of energy to the new approach.  Ask the gremlin to help you act differently next time.
  6. Set a goal – identify the first time that this energy can help you out and what outcome you’d like.  In my friend’s case she set the goal to go back to her boss and this time she asked for and got promoted.

Over to you

Answer the following questions:

  • What gremlins do you have?
  • When do they appear for you?
  • How do they hold you back?
  • Which gremlin would you like to change the most?

Try the gremlin buster and set yourself a goal.  Leave a comment on what you are hoping to change and email me if you’d like support in this Spring Cleaning activity.

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Photo Credit – Inti (Flickr Creative Commons)

Think Big and Achieve More – Slow Down to Speed Up

Reading time: 2 minutes and 48 secondsSlow down

Two weeks ago, I went through a patch of feeling pretty frustrated and disheartened.  I was pushing and striving with all my might to achieve my personal and professional goals, and maybe not seeing the rewards I felt were deserved.  How could it be that I was running at 100 miles per hour, doing so much and yet apparently getting so little back?

On reflection, I realised two things.  First, it was time to put away the smallest violin in the world and lighten up.  Second, in racing so quickly I was unable to appreciate the progress I was making.  I realised it was time to slow down my thinking and look at bigger picture of my life.  By good fortune, I had a week vacation planned in Tuscany and I’ve just got back from this.  I was able to slow down, disconnect and get the perspective I needed.

On our break, we were in the middle of nowhere with no television, internet or telephone.  We didn’t race around or try to do too much.  A few days in, time seemed to slow down and the world started to feel less pressured.  I was able to look at life from a fresh perspective and focus on thinking big about the future without the chaos of the now. The feelings and judgments that had been playing on my mind evaporated.

I took my journal on holiday and one thing I did was look at my goal setting from 2007 for the next few years.  I had been too busy to open the book at home, yet on review I realised that I’d actually achieved almost every big hairy audacious goal I’d set two years ago.  Although in the heat of the moment I felt like I was going nowhere, when I slowed down I saw my journey in a fresh light.  I was encouraged to think big and set my vision for the next five to ten years of life.   I took my time, reflected, dreamed and have sketched our some pretty exciting challenges for myself.

Obviously, I am now back in the “real world” and the challenge for me is how to stay in this slowed-down mode and ensure that I keep my perspective.  I’m convinced that avoiding getting sucked into the daily maelstrom of life will help me stay focused and move faster toward the next horizon.  It will also help me to meet the inevitable set backs and bumps in the road with the right attitude.

Here are some of my ideas for how I will “Slow Down to Speed Up”:

  • Understand and use my natural energy cycles – science has shown that we all have a natural cycle and rhythm for our energy during each day.  Some of us are larks and are highly energised in the mornings, others are nightowls and get most energetic in the evening.  I took the time to map out my typical rhythm on a graph, plotting energy against the passing hours.  I intend to use my early morning when I am at low energy levels to slow down and not force things.  Currently I slam down a coffee and try and make myself work however not much really gets done.  Instead, I’ll try to read, exercise and do some breathing exercises during this time.  It’s a chance for me to slow down, reflect without losing out on my most productive time each day.
  • Breathing and self-reflection exercises – I try to stop for between 5 and 15 minutes every day to practice breathing exercises.  I find that this time helps me to feel more energised, have a better perspective on life and control my emotions.  Some times, I simply follow my breath, sometimes I reflect on how grateful I am for my life and the world around me.  It stops me taking myself so seriously and helps me to slow down.  For me, each 5 minutes is the closest thing to a mini-holiday.
  • Regular check-ins – One key observation from my holiday was that it was great to be able to share my reflections and planning with my wife.  Having someone to remind you of your progress, laugh about your failures, and hold you accountable for the future brings a great perspective on life.  We’re planning to set aside a regular time each week to slow down and check in.

I’m sure that by slowing down, I’ll actually be able to move forward more quickly than ever.  The practices I’m putting in place will help me to be more focused both on external achievement and also more self-aware.  Take time to think about how you can slow down and please share your comments with the Less Ordinary readers.

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How to Think Big for your Life and Career – 5 lessons from Rudyard Kipling

Reading Time: 2 minutes and 8 seconds

As I’ve turned my attention to Thinking Big for the next decade, I’ve encountered some interesting challenges.  Getting excited about the possibilities that lie ahead has seen me encounter some of my old friends – fear, anxiety and reality.  I’ve heard the little voices in my head popping up to try and persuade me “you can’t do that”, “don’t be ridiculous” or “that’s impossible”.  The fear of failure and the embarrassment that comes with it nearly stopped the Big Thinking in its tracks.  Luckily, I was drawn to the wise words of Rudyard Kipling in his poem, If.  Here are some key lessons:

1 If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you, But make allowance for their doubting too.

Kipling’s first lesson is to believe in yourself.  If you believe in your ability and your vision wholeheartedly, you’ll increase your chances of success.  It will help you to remain focused in your actions and to deal with the skepticism of others.  Starting with the mindset that everything is possible is a very powerful assumption for Thinking Big.  Kipling adds that it is understandable that others might doubt you, and not to dismiss them for that – however it is vital to trust yourself.   Building up our self-belief by taking action helps to lower our fear of failure.

2. If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster, And treat those two impostors just the same;

Kipling’s famous line rings true for Thinking Big.  The path to realizing your goals may not always be smooth.  We all face kinks in the road, and days when everything seems to go wrong.  Kipling advises remaining calm and focused at these times.  The genius of this advice is to take the same approach when amazing triumphs occur.  Getting off the emotional rollercoaster ride is a key to staying focused and that helps us to achieve our goals.  We can only control our actions, not the results of how we act and this maxim reminds of us this.  If we give 100% and accept the results, fear of failure can start to fade away.

3. If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,?’ Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch;

Kipling reminds us to stay humble regardless of our trajectory and surroundings.  Thinking Big may lead to huge changes in our life as the journey progresses.  Kipling suggests staying true to ourselves and being authentic in our relationships to others.  His advice is not to keep our virtue and humility intact as we progress on life’s journey.  This reminder has helped me to manage my anxiety over Thinking Big.

4. If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;

Kipling hits on one of the keys to Thinking Big – the ability to dream without letting the dream take over.  A dream or vision can provide huge motivation and focus, yet life has a sense of humour and the unexpected is never far away.  A fixed dream can become a rod for our backs, or even worse blind us to the possibilities in a situation.  Kipling teaches us that we have to be focused, yet flexible in our approach to life.

5. Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,

Kipling reminds us again that if we follow our dreams and retain our composure, then anything and everything is possible.  Thinking Big isn’t easy but If we can stay focused, act with humility, believe in ourselves and manage our expectations then amazing success is possible.

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