Think Big – Four Steps to get unstuck and start living life to the full

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Reading time: 3 minutes and 2 seconds

We’re all human and change can be tough.  Its easy for us to get stuck in a rut, or in our comfort zone – and this can lead to our good intentions and Big Thinking dying on the vine.  Nasty things like fear and emotion can sometimes block us from action.

Getting unstuck and out of a rut is challenging.   I always start out by taking baby steps.  For example, looking at my personal vision and goals, my first step is to identify my most urgent goal.  Currently this is getting more involved in my community and building out my network of friends.  My goal in 5 years time is to be a leader of a community organisation, and to be an active member of a two other groups focused on areas of personal interest.  The next question is – what can I do this week to move forward with this?

I’ve learned that to successfully achieve goals like this I need to take two parallel tracks – taking actions in the world around me, and working on what goes on between my two ears in my internal world.  To achieve my goal I came up with the following plan that covers both areas:

  1. Actions in the outside world – I’ve already researched community groups that interest me on the internet and identified an organisation called Slow Down London and a local running club.  I’ll commit to calling a representative of Slow Down London to find out more about how I can be involved.  I’ll also commit to going to the running club next week to see how I enjoy it.  Making these real life commitments and keeping them moves me towards my goal and vision.
  2. Actions in my inner world – Although I’m a sociable and outgoing person, I have always avoided joining groups and societies.  Something inside me has held me back from this for all of my adult life.  I’ve been meaning to attend this running club for nearly a year now and haven’t done it.  To successfully achieve the goal in a sustainable way, I need to understand more about this and overcome this issue, or the initial actions I take will probably quickly fade away.  I’ll commit to observing the thoughts and emotions that come up this week as I take my first steps.  Perhaps I’ll identify a fear of rejection if I turn up to the running club and no-one talks to me the first time.  I know that I have a tendency to think I can do things better than anyone else (I’m wrong of course), and get frustrated in group situations, so I’ll look out for that feeling.  I’ll record the thoughts, emotions and stories I’m telling myself about groups, and spend time analysing them to see what is working for me and what isn’t.  I’ll come up with different ways to think about clubs and different stories to tell.  If I commit to this and work hard at it, it should make it easier for me to happily commit to clubs and societies in the future.

I know that joining a new group is hard for me and the physical action of doing so will help.  However, unless I can get my head straight, it will never get any easier.  So taking the first step, actually involves taking two steps and each is vital.  At the beginning, I said that making change is hard for us, and this explains why.

So how can you take your first step?  Follow this simple process to design your actions this week:

1)   Identify your most pressing challenge or area that you want to work on (for me, my community)

2)   Identify the specific area for development (for me, involvement in community groups)

3)   Design some specific actions to take that are realistic over the next week.  Remember that great journeys start with a single step, so don’t overdo it

4)   Think about how your thoughts, emotions, fears, beliefs and stories might be impacting your ability to be successful.  Determine to observe these over the next week without judgment and write these things down.  When did you feel fear and what was behind that?  What stories did you tell about yourself (I’m not good with new people) that might stop you in your tracks.  Consider which thoughts might be holding you back and analyse them – is that story, fear or emotion realistic?  How could you think in a different way or tell a different story that would be more helpful in achieving your goals?

This approach was difficult and frustrating when I first tried it, however over time and with practice it has become more instinctive.  If you can stick with it, you’ll find it gets easier to take the actions in the external world as you remove the mental and emotional blocks you’ve built up.  Week by week you’ll start to get unstuck and make steady progress towards living your vision and achieving your goals.

So now you have the three steps that I use to think big and make it happen– creating a vision, setting a 5 year plan, and taking external and internal steps to achieve this.  The world is your oyster, so think big and make the most of your life!

For the rest of this year, Less Ordinary Living will focus on making the most of 2010, so please subscribe to make sure you don’t miss a post!

Thinking Big – 5 Years Time

Reading time – 2 minutes 58 seconds

What could life look like in 5 years?

What could life look like in 5 years?

What could your life look like in 2015?  In the second part of this three part series on Thinking Big, the focus is on creating a clear picture of how your life could be in five years time (for music lovers, this post was inspired by the song 5 Years Time by Noah and the Whale)

What were you doing in 2005?  What was life like back then?  What were the most important things in your life?  What did you want your life to look like at the beginning of the next decade?  One thing I’ve found for myself is that life was a lot different 5 years ago.  A lot has changed, a lot has happened and I’ve learned many lessons (some easy, some pretty tough).  I also know that creating a plan back then, along with a certain female country singer has helped me to make the most of my life.

Five years ago, I was very happy in my personal life and quite dissatisfied with my professional life.  I was an accountant and couldn’t get excited or see the meaning in the work that I was doing.  My department was struggling and shipping people off to anywhere projects could be found for long periods of time.  At one point, I found myself in Minneapolis, working 14 hours plus a day, seven days a week, doing a repetitive task.  I was out of shape, bored and missing my wife and friends back home.  One night I drank most of a bottle of red wine, and found myself weeping into my pillow whilst listening to Sheryl Crow.  It was time to change and start thinking bigger.

In 2005, I started to think about what life could look like in 5 years time.  I realised that I couldn’t change everything overnight, but I started to formulate a picture of what my ideal personal and professional life could look like in 2010.  Professionally, I knew that I wanted work that I enjoyed, that allowed me to work with interesting people and most importantly was meaningful.  Personally I wanted to be a happier person, be able to react more calmly to life’s ups and downs, and to have enough time to enjoy life.

I started to get specific on each part of my life – career, family, health, financial, my community and my spiritual development.  Some of the areas were easier than others to think through and visualise.  I started with the question, what would be ideal in this aspect of my life in 5 years time?  When I got stuck, which I did with the career question, I then asked how could I find out?

To answer the career question, I started to look around me at people who seemed to enjoy their careers.  I asked them about the reality of their work – what they enjoyed and what made it meaningful for them.  I also looked internally and started to ask myself important questions – what are my values, what gets me excited and passionate, what are my strengths, what DON’T I want from my career.

It took me a fair amount of time to work through each area and come up with an answer to the question of what would be an ideal situation in 5 years time.  It wasn’t always easy to do and I was lucky to have support from a coach, my mentors, friends and family when I got stuck.  Once I had the questions answered I’d developed a blue print for what life could be.

So, your challenge is to think about how life could be ideal at the start of 2015 in each of the following areas; your career, your family situation, your heath and mental wellbeing, the community you live in and your support system, and your spiritual understanding.  Use the vision you created in the first post to help guide this process.  I won’t pretend that this is easy or won’t take time.  Get support, think it through, do some research, don’t get put off and think big about the possibilities.

So how does my life now compare to the plan I created in 2005?  Well first, it certainly isn’t everything that I’d visualised.  A lot happened between now and then including some unexpected and delightful opportunities.  I used my vision as a compass to set the rough direction, rather than a map that had to be followed.  However, I have found incredibly meaningful work, a much better balance in my life, more peace and the ability to react to external circumstances with more calm.  Without Sheryl Crow and my 5 year plan I know that a lot of this wouldn’t have happened.

In the final post, the subject is taking action to start Thinking Big.  Subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss it!

Thinking Big – Creating your Vision

Reading Time: 2 minutes and 53 seconds – Value: Priceless

Find your vision

Find your vision

The next three posts on Less Ordinary Living, are about Thinking Big and creating a powerful, clear vision for the next decade (and beyond).  At the end you’ll have a no-holds barred plan for the future, which will help you make the most of your personal and professional potential, and feel happier and more confident.  Please take part over the next three posts and encourage all your friends and family to do the same.

I’ve been trying to think big over the last few weeks and the biggest challenges I’ve faced are my own thoughts and emotions.  I’ll suggest a big dream like running a marathon and raising money for charity and… BOOM – I start thinking about how hard the training will be.. POW – I feel afraid that I might fail and let all my sponsors down.  It’s easy to think ourselves out of the life we’d like or to get afraid of failing.

A technique I’ve found particularly helpful in overcoming these challenges is to create a vision of the future.  Most of us like to daydream and start imagining what life could be like.  We create an image of a life where we are fabulous happy and have time to do all the things we’ve always wanted to.  I’ve found that if I can grant myself permission to dream for half an hour without any critical thoughts I can really start to think big.

Visualisation is an incredibly powerful tool in preparing for the future.  Professional sportspeople use visualisation to prepare for a big race or tournament.  Neurological studies have found that the same parts of the brain fire in the sportsperson’s brain when they visualise as when they actually compete.  So visualising helps us practice the future and train our minds to focus on what we want to achieve.  I’m trying to take time to visualise my vision as much as possible and finding it helps to quieten some of the negative thinking and fear that arises.

One exercise I’ve found particularly helpful for this process is the Party.

In this exercise you find somewhere comfortable and set aside 30 minutes.

  • First, you make an agreement with yourself that you’ll allow yourself to dream without judgment or fear.
  • Now close your eyes and start to imagine that you are at your 90th birthday party and are surrounded by the most important people in your life.
  • Everyone has gathered together to celebrate your life (so far!) and to talk about you.
  • Start to imagine who is at the party, where it is being held and take a minute or two to walk around and just soak it all in.  Don’t worry if it takes a while to see it – that is natural.
  • Once you are ready, let the toasts begin, as the most important people in your life talk about you
  • Some people might talk about the amazing things that you’ve done in your life – how you travelled the world, gave your time to a charity, were a loving family member or parent.
  • Others might recall some of the great times they spent with you – the parties, the holidays, the projects, the businesses they worked on with you, or just the quiet times.
  • Others will talk more about the kind of person you are – your best qualities – kindness, love, compassion, dynamism, sense of humour.
  • Take some time to enjoy the party and listen to what everyone is saying – what are the most important things that are coming through about you.
  • Once you’ve heard everything you need to hear, call the party to an end by thanking all the guests and being grateful for their role in your life.
  • Now take a little time to write down the key ideas in a notebook or journal – think about some of the key achievements, the good times and importantly how you applied your best qualities.

This exercise helped me to really get an understanding of the vision for my life.  It clarified my priorities, identified a few really key things that I’d like to do, and helped me to work out what kind of person I’d like to be today.  I’ve used it several times to firm up my vision and to get a clear picture of the life I’d like to lead.

So, step one of the Thinking Big process is to create your vision of the future.  Don’t feel you need to get out your crystal ball and get every detail right – and don’t feel that this will tie you to achieving the exact vision you create.  The vision is guide for how to act each day and the direction to take – but just a guide.  Often life will create opportunities we couldn’t even have dreamt of.   As your vision develops, spend time with it and learn to quieten the doubts and any negative emotions that arise.

Congratulations – you have taken the first step to creating your vision for the future.  Next time, we’ll look at how to plan for the next five years.  Take a minute to subscribe by clicking here to make sure you don’t miss the next two parts.

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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