Why today is always the answer

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on… WHEN.

First question:  Who am I at my best?  

Second question: What’s Important Now? 

Third question: Why is it important to me?  

Fourth question: How do I get really good at creating good habits and eliminating bad habits?

Fifth and final question: When?

Today.

When things are going great?

Yes.

When things are falling apart?

Yes.

When?

Today.

Even better?

Now.

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Reflection:  What’s important now?  Reflect on the one habit I could start or stop which would have a big impact on my life.

Action:  Commit to starting it.  When?  Today.

What is the secret to living the good life?

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on… HOW.

One of the secrets to living a good life?

Get really good at installing and deleting habits.

Creating a new habit is a skill.  It starts with believing we can change our behavior.  With a little focus and effort, this is something we can do.  It is something we can get better at.  

To create a new habit or eliminate an old one, we map it.  

Bad habits are design flaws.  Not character flaws.

To learn a new habit or delete an old one, we must learn the A-B-C’s of habit change.

A is for Anchor.  We look for or create a trigger to remind us.  We want the prompt to be obvious.  Something we are already doing.  Example: every time I brush my teeth (anchor), I will do a set of push-ups (new habit).  

To delete a habit, we remove the trigger or make it harder to do.  Example: If we want to stop watching so much TV, we remove the trigger by hiding the remote on the top shelf in the closet.  

If our goal is to stop snacking and we have a habit of going to the vending machine around 3 pm every day (anchor), we set an alarm on our phone to go for a walk at 2:55 pm.  

B is for Behavior.  This is the new habit we are looking to install.  Start small, the experts tell us.  Make the new behavior ridiculously easy.  If we want to start doing push-ups, we start with one or two or five.  Not 25.  

C is for Celebration.  Immediately and intensely.  Brian tells us one simple thing we can do is say, “That’s like me!”

What do we do when we fall short?

What we don’t do is beat ourselves up.  No guilt.  No shame.  

We ask: “What needs work?”  We re-commit and start again.  

Ask: What’s my #1 goal right now?  Go all in.

ABC it: After I do it (anchor), I will do this tiny action (behavior), then I will reward myself (celebrate).  

Who, then what, then why, then what.

More tomorrow.

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Reflection:  What is the trigger for a habit I would like to stop doing?  What is a trigger for a habit I would like to begin? 

Action:  Experiment today with one of the triggers outlined above.

What is the “magic question?”

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on… WHY.

Why is the magic question.  

“He who has a why to live can bear almost any how,” Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote.

Answering why taps into our deepest reserves as human beings.  

Why is it important to me?  

Why am I fired up about this goal?

We want to be clear.  We want to be specific.  We want to make our why concrete.

Because when we do the right thing, we feel great.

Heaven and hell are not way off in the future, Brian tells us.  We experience heaven when we are connected to the divine within us.  Hell is when we don’t.  

Asking why provides a path forward.

Who, then what, then why.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Who do I want to be with my one wild, precious life?  Why is it so important to me?

Action:  Journal about the specific benefits to me of starting a new habit or stopping a current, unproductive one.

What simple question leads to powerful habits?

“People do not decide their future; they decide their habits and their habits decide their future,” says leadership guru John Maxwell.

To experience better results and a better life, we are wise to focus on our habits, philosopher Brian Johnson tells us.  Creating better habits involves answering five questions: who, what, why, how, and when.  

Today we focus on…  WHAT.

The first step is awareness.

Always awareness.

We pause.  We breathe. 

We ask: What’s Important Now?  Or, WIN.  

We do it to the best our ability.  Then, we celebrate by saying “That’s like me,” Brian suggests.

Reflection is key, Brian suggests.  We ask ourselves: What is the #1 habit we could start or stop doing? 

We shine a light.  What’s the #1 new habit which would improve my life?  We identify what Brian calls a “keystone habit,” where the positive impact spills over and benefits other areas of our lives as well.  

Or, what’s the #1 bad habit I could eliminate?

Or, what’s the #1 self-care habit that gives me strength?  What’s in the way?

Having embodied the best version of ourselves, we decide to close the gap.

We take one tiny, micro action.

Who, Then, what.

More tomorrow.

______________________

Reflection:  Reflect on the one habit I could start or stop which would have a big impact on my life.

Action:  Commit to starting it.  Today.

What is our true “super power”?

It’s the littlest decisions that shape our lives.

Imagine two friends: Brad and Charlie.

They live in the same neighborhood.  They have similar sensibilities. They each make around $75K a year.  Both are married and are of average health and weight, Darren Hardy shares in his wonderful book The Compound Effect.

Brad makes some small, seemingly inconsequential changes.  Every day he reads 10-pages of a good book per day and listens to something inspirational on his way to work.  He decides to cut 125 calories a day, trading in one can of soda for a seltzer water and walk a couple of thousand steps a day (less than a mile).  He’s committed to doing these new habits consistently leveraging the power of Brian Johnson‘s principle of “using his willpower wisely to install habits that run on auto-pilot.

Charlie makes a few poor choices.  He invests in the latest big-screen television so he can watch some more of his favorite shows.  He loves the Food Channel and enjoys trying out some recipes.  Two of his recent favorites are chicken Alfredo pizza and funnel cake fries.  He’s a bit stressed at work and enjoys one additional drink per week.  He adds about 125 calories a day to his diet.  No big deal.

Five months into our experiment, there’s no perceivable differences between Brad and Charlie.  In fact, looking at their weight, we’d see a rounding error of… exactly zero, Darren writes.

Ten months in, still not much of a change.

Around 18-months, there is a bit of a difference.  

But then around month 25, the compound effect kicks in and we start to see observable and measurable differences.

By month 31, Charlie is now overweight and Brad is trim.  By simply cutting 125 calories a day, Brad has lost 33 pounds.  (31 months = 940 days.  940 days x 125 calories/ day = 117,500 calories.  117,500 calories / 3,500 calories per pound = 33.5 pounds).

Charlie, on the other hand, has gained 33 pounds.  

But that’s just the start of it.  Brad has now invested one thousand hours reading and listening to good books and self-motivating audios.  He’s putting this new knowledge to work and has earned a promotion.  His marriage has never been better.

Charlie’s unhappy at work and his wife is unhappy with him.

Darren’s little story illustrates the power of the compound effect in our lives.  Small, seemingly insignificant changes in our behavior done consistently over time will create a radical difference.  Our choices shape our actions which become our habits.  

The ability to create new habits is our true “superpower” as human beings.  By eliminating bad habits and installing positive ones, we can take our lives in any direction we desire.

The challenging part according to Darren?

We don’t experience the power of the compound effect because we don’t see results fast enough.  

Many of us quit after the eighth day of running because we are still overweight.  Or, stop practicing piano after a couple of months because we haven’t mastered anything other than “do-re-me.” Or, cease making contributions to our 401K because we need the cash and it doesn’t seem to be adding up anyway.

But, if we keep at it consistently over time, we will see the payoff.  

It’s not magic.  Just hard work, discipline, and good habits.

____________________________

Reflection: What’s one new habit I’m willing to commit to?

Action: Start today.

What happens when we fall short?

1: Over the last several days we’ve examined the components of philosopher Brian Johnson‘s self-mastery formula.

Self-Mastery = Willpower + Habits + Algorithms.

Our goal is to use “our willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot.”

But what happens when we don’t?  What happens when we fall short?  Because we will.

With our behaviors.  Our thoughts.  And, certainly with other people.

Like the director in our own movie, we will have “mistakes.”

2: Brian suggests we create a “needs work” algorithm for when we mess up.

An algorithm is simply a rule we create: “If this, then that.”

First, we remove any hint of judgment.  We don’t beat ourselves up.  We treat ourselves as we would a beloved child.  We give ourselves some grace.  

Next, we approach the situation like a scientist.  We rewind to the moment of choice. We envision what we could have done instead. We imagine ourselves doing this opposite behavior.  We commit to what we will do next time.  Then, we let it go.

3: Brian calls someone who can take an unwanted behavior and do the opposite the next time an alchemist.  When we are tempted, we commit to do the opposite.  This ability becomes a way to spiral up to the highest version of ourselves.  

We get good at recovering.  We learn to catch ourselves.  

If we forget or fall short today, we make it the #1 thing on our calendar tomorrow.  We repay the debt.  If we know we are going to miss, we can “pre-pay” and do the behavior in advance.

After completing something, we reflect: 

What went well?

What did I learn?

How do I optimize for next time?

______________________

Reflection:  How have I responded in the past when I’ve done something I’ve regretted?

Action:  Look for an opportunity today to show myself some grace.  Then, consider what I will do differently next time.

How to re-train our brain

1: Philosopher Brian Johnson tells us there are three steps on our path to self-mastery.

Self-Mastery = Willpower + Habits + Algorithms.

We aim to use “our willpower wisely to install habits that run on autopilot.”

Monday we explored the role of willpower.  Yesterday we looked the power of habits.  Today, we turn to the third component: algorithms or autopilot.

2: There is a supercomputer inside our brain called the basil ganglia.  Brian tells us it’s been around for 500 million years.  It drives our behavior: when this happens, we do that.  The basil ganglia loves repetition.  It is indifferent to good or bad.  

The positive news?

We can train our brain.

Brian defines an algorithm as “If this, then that…”  We can be intentional about the habits we want to create.  

Initially, we use our willpower to install the new behavior or eliminate an old one.  We identify the trigger.  “If this, then that…” 

We make the decision once.  Then we repeat, repeat, repeat.  In time, the new algorithm runs on auto-pilot.

We can create algorithms for any time of our day or night.  

3: Once we’re clear on the habits we want to run on auto-pilot, Brian suggests we “WOOP” it.

W stands for the wish:  What is the new habit we want to create? 

The first O stands for outcome: What positive things will happen if we create the new behavior?  We want to be crystal clear on the benefits.  Why are we doing this?

The second O stands for obstacles: What’s in the way?  Mentally? Physically?  Emotionally?  We anticipate and plan for obstacles.  Too often, we skip this step.  We’re not prepared when we get tripped up and lose our momentum.

P is for Plan:  How are we going to overcome the obstacles and experience the outcome of achieving our wish?

______________________

Reflection:  What is a trigger for a habit I would like to stop doing?  What is a trigger for a habit I would like to begin? 

Action:  Experiment today with one of the triggers outlined above.

Fear and Perseverance

“I won’t let fear of a possible ‘no’ interfere with my telling,” writes Peter Guber in his terrific book Tell to Win about how we can use storytelling to achieve our business goals.

The trick is not to eliminate fear, but to use it.  We channel the adrenaline instead of resisting it.

Philosopher Brian Johnson tells us courage is not the absence of fear, but being aware of fear and choosing to act in spite of it.

Rejection is a fact of life.  “Next is the most powerful word in the English language,” says Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the Chicken Soup for the Soul series.  He and his partner Jack Canfield were turned down 144 times before finding success.  Today, they have more than 200 titles in print and have sold more than 112 millions of copies of their books.  

Ross Perot, founder of EDS, was turned down 77 times before winning his first contract.  But that first contract was worth $4 million.  Ross went on to build a world-class organization. He sold his stake in EDS for $2.4 billion.

“Sometimes rejection can be a gift,” says Nancy Traversy, co-founder and CEO of Barefoot books, a publisher of children’s books.  In the early 2000’s, she and co-founder Tessa Strickland pitched Borders marketing executives on the idea of a Barefoot Boutique within Borders stores where parents could connect with their children through reading.

No chance, they were told.  

What resulted was a whole new way of distributing and marketing children’s books involving their biggest fans, mothers who appreciated their high-caliber books for children.  “That’s when the whole ‘living barefoot’ idea came to me,” Nancy remembers.  The publisher encouraged this network of women to tell and sell their own stories or Barefoot Books to their friends and family.  Today, the more than two thousand Barefoot Ambassadors account for more than 20% of the company’s revenue.  

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Reflection:  When in the past has rejection motivated me to do my best work?

Action:  Don’t try to eliminate fear.  Channel it into adrenaline.  Today.

Energy + Vulnerability = A Powerful Equation

If we tell a story we don’t believe in, our audience will sense it immediately.

Like intention, authenticity and energy can’t be faked.  

This week we are looking at how to best deliver our message utilizing best practices from Tell to Win, Peter Guber‘s book about storytelling.  Peter quotes Williams College professor George Marcus who has studied the role of unspoken communication in the success and failure of politicians: “If we sense the other person is phony or distracted, we’ll automatically put up our defenses, either by tuning out entirely or listening with suspicion.”  

The moment we see someone, our ancient survival system kicks in and deciphers whether this individual is friend or foe, authentic or fake, trustworthy or dangerous.  “If we see a frown or can’t meet the other person’s gaze, our guard goes up and we feel anxiety, anticipating emotional attack or rejection,” George tells us.  

The reverse is also true.  Our subconscious picks up on genuine enthusiasm and conviction.  

The lesson for when we are presenting?  

We need to let ourselves feel it instead of suppressing it  Instead of telling ourselves to relax, philosopher Brian Johnson suggests we say, “I’m excited!”

“Our success or failure is determined by our level of energy,” says television mogul Mark Burnett.  “I tell my people, ‘Much more than our creativity, our level of energy inspires the people around us.'”

When we smile and look directly into someone’s eyes, the other person begins to relax and feel more trusting.

Our body language also sends messages.  When we stand or sit up straight and look our audience in the eye, we communicate we are alert, aware, and excited.  When we slouch in our chair or lean on the podium, our audience senses we are tired.

Does this mean we can only tell an effective story when we are feeling upbeat and happy?  Not so fast, Peter tells us: “Energy takes on many different emotional forms and it’s often most compelling when combined with vulnerability.”

Keith Ferrazzi, author of Never Eat Alone tells us, “Vulnerability is one of the most underappreciated assets in business today.  Everyone has something in common with every other person.  And you won’t find those similarities if you don’t open up and expose your interests and concerns, allowing others to do likewise.”

_____________________

Reflection:  Reflect on a time when being vulnerable allowed me to connect with another person or larger audience. 

Action:  Prior to my next presentation, tell myself I’m excited!

Why be grateful for our failures, mistakes and setbacks

The balance sheet is a key component of any business.

We also have a personal balance sheet.  Yes, this includes our cash in the bank and investments.  But these financial assets aren’t our only assets.  We also have our strengths, our passions, our personality, our skills, our experiences, and our memories.  

This week we are exploring the power of gratitude to increase our happiness and success.  Yesterday we examined the assumption: first, be successful; then, you will be happy.  The research is clear and turns that idea on its head.  Happy people are more successful.  And, one of the strategies we can leverage to increase our happiness is to cultivate our gratitude.  Intentionally. 

The word appreciate has two definitions: (1) to see the value in; and (2) to grow.  Keeping a daily gratitude journal allows us to do both.  We give thanks for our strengths and experiences.  And, by focusing on them, we expand our capabilities.

The other important aspect of our personal balance sheet is our mistakes. Or, as philosopher Brian Johnson says, our mis-takes.  We see our failures, setbacks and challenges not as liabilities, but as valuable assets.  We want to capitalize on them, not waste them.  These experiences provide maturity and wisdom.  Our most important learning experiences many times involve extreme challenge and even trauma.  There is a bevy of research detailing what researchers call “post-traumatic growth” which leads to an enhanced appreciation of life. 

The person who isn’t making any mistakes is likely sitting around doing nothing.

The liability side of our balance sheet is a list of all our bad habits that get in the way of living our best, most purposeful life.  These we want to minimize or eliminate all-together.

In 1921, my grandfather Rocky founded our predecessor company.  During the recent kickoff of our 100-year celebration, I suggested we at PCI have much to be grateful for.  We’ve been blessed to have a string of strong years, certainly the best in our long history.  

But, as many PCIers know, it wasn’t always so.  We’ve had our share of tough, challenging years as well.  And, we are grateful for these years, too, because they made us who we are today.

The one thing we know about any organization like PCI that has stood the test of time is the people who make up that organization are resilient.  Capital R: “Resilient.”

Brian tells us there are people and organizations which are fragile: they fall apart quickly.  There are people and organizations that bounce back from adversity.  We call them resilient.  

And, then, there are people and organizations where the greater the challenge, the stronger they get.  He calls these organizations “anti-fragile.”  Brian’s phrase “obstacles make me stronger” or OMMS is one of my favorites.

As I’ve written about before, at PCI we went through an extremely difficult stretch in the mid-2000s.  It was white-knuckle time.  Very difficult.  Layoffs…  Zero bank balance…  Hard, hard times…

But it was during this period when we articulated our purpose: “We inspire dreams and transform lives.”  It was during the darkest of these days that we became clear on our enduring organizational goal/rallying cry: “Every client should be referenceable.”  We shaped our five client promises: Be proactive.  Be accountable.  Be positive.  Be trustworthy.  Be passionate.  And, it was during this period during which we first coined the phrase “notthebigcompany” which defines our workplace culture, our business philosophy, and even the way we live our lives.

Remember: Obstacles make me stronger.  Obstacles made us stronger.  Indeed.  We fought.  We didn’t give up.  We were resilient.  And, we persevered.

A great workplace culture is wonderful when times are good.  But, it’s even more valuable when times are hard.  It is my belief that if it were not for our notthebigcompany culture, we wouldn’t have survived.

Since then, we’ve rebounded nicely.  Top line revenue is up nearly 10x from its low point.  It’s been an incredible ride.  And, as we begin our next century, we believe we are just getting started.  We have a new service offering, the Oral History Project that makes it feel like we work at a 100-year old start-up!

The enduring lesson we’ve learned is to be grateful for the successes.  And the failures.

__________________

Reflection:  What is a challenging experience from my past that shaped who I am today?

Action:  Commit to keeping a gratitude journal for 100 days starting today.

How to make 2021 the best year of your life

That’s the opportunity.  

How?  

By setting powerful 2021 goals and then achieving those goals through a simple process designed to optimize follow-through.

Over the past three years, I’ve utilized a goal-setting methodology from Trent Hamm titled: “Developing a Real Plan for a Better Life.”  Implementing Trent’s framework has resulted in:

o My family creating wonderful memories during the last year of my wife Julie’s life when she was fighting cancer

o My creating a book for my daughters about their mom from interviews I did with Julie prior to her passing along with sweet memories from her friends

o Us taking a trip to commemorate Julie’s life

o Starting a new, fun family practice where once a quarter one of us gets to select a full agenda of events and experiences which we then do together

o Tremendous progress on a new business opportunity called the Oral History Project

o Launching an Intranet featuring associate recognition, best practices, and information on our culture

o My starting this blog

Today we focus on step one: Decide which parts of our life we want to focus on in the coming year.

“One thing you can do to get ready for your session is to think about the key areas of your life,” writes Trent. “There are lots of lists of such areas and I think different lists work well for different people. For me, there are ten areas I really care about.”

Personally, I recommend reducing the number of categories to simplify the process.  As you will see in later steps, there is quite a bit of work to do in each of the categories we choose.  

If you are new to annual goal-setting, you might consider just two categories: personal and professional.

I’m a big fan of philosopher Brian Johnson who suggests we focus on three areas of our lives: love, work, and energy.

Another option is Steven Covey‘s four types of intelligence: IQ (mental intelligence), EQ (emotional intelligence), PQ (physical intelligence), and SQ (spiritual intelligence).

I’ve come up with six areas to focus on – which I call my “Six F’s:” faith, fitness, family, function (i.e. career), finances, and fun.

The next steps involve blocking off time to write a draft of your life plan.  

More tomorrow.

_____________

Reflection:  What specific areas of my life do I want to focus on improving in the coming year?

Action:  Journal about the above.

Playing Poorly Well

This week we’ve been exploring how to architect what philosopher Brian Johnson calls “masterpiece days.” 

We think of our day like a canvas.  We focus first on the parts of the day where we have maximum control: the PM bookend and the AM bookend.  Next, we take action to optimize our energy, our work, and our love.  

We then bridge the gap between our current level and our ideal.  

Except some days we won’t.

Oops are going to happen.  And this is where it gets interesting. Because the best optimizers know how to “play poorly well.”

We don’t beat ourselves up.  We don’t shame ourselves.

Instead we ask:  

What was awesome?

What needs work?

What will I do differently next time?

We get good at turnarounds.  We reset.  We rebound.  One bad day does not create a bad week.

As optimizers, we focus on the process, not the outcome.  We know the game we are playing and we play it well. 

It’s about progress, not perfection.  In time, our worst days become rebound days, another step on our journey to the next best version of ourselves. 

We master the growth cycle:  We set a goal.  We fail.  We learn.  We improve.  We set a higher goal.

We master the death cycle:  We let it die and are re-born to the next best version of ourselves.

This mindset requires emotional stamina.  We stick to our protocols.  No matter what.  The worse we feel, the more we stick to protocols.  

According to Brian, we can go through life being fragile (handle with care), resilient (our ability to bounce back), or antifragile, which means the more life kicks us around, the stronger we get.  When we become antifragile everything becomes fuel for our growth. 

In time we develop confidence, a deep trust that can handle whatever life throws at us.

_______________

Reflection:  When have I been at my absolute best?  How specifically did I show up?

Action:  Play to my strengths today.  Close the gap between my best self and how I’m showing up right now.

How to W.I.N. the Week

Attention Management is the first module in the Stagen Leadership Academy’s brilliant, impactful year-long Integral Leadership Program (ILP)

By being more proactive about managing our attention, the idea is to find two or more hours a week which can then be reinvested in learning the program demands.

Of all the attention management tools, Rand Stagen tells ILPers, the single most impactful is the “Weekly Focusing Process” where he encourages us to set aside time each week to plan out our week and schedule our most important activities.  

In his book, First Things First, Stephen Covey recommends a very similar process.

This week we’ve been looking at how to create what philosopher Brian Johnson calls masterpiece days .  Brian suggests we make time at the beginning of each week to zoom out and decide “What’s Important Now” (WIN) this week?

Each week has 70 90-minute time blocks. Brian encourages us to look at the upcoming week through the lens of “the Big 3” – energy, work, and love.  We decide what’s most important in each category.  Next, we block out time in our calendar.  Then, we get it done.    

Brian’s tip #1: For maximum effectiveness, create a “tech free zone” each morning where we schedule our most important or most creative work first thing.  

Brian’s tip #2: Always focus on “micro wins” – the next small step we can take toward our larger goal.

Brian’s tip #3:  When we accomplish something, celebrate!  Say, “That’s like me!”

Brian tells us to have fun with our days. Make it a game and compete with ourselves to get more things done each day.  

Each week, we step back, and ask ourselves:

1: What’s working?  Lock it in.

2: What needs work?

3: What will I do differently this week?  

_______________

Reflection: What are the benefits of setting aside time to plan and schedule my upcoming week?

Action:  Experiment with one of the ideas above.

How Many Different Types of Love are There?

In our quest to create what philosopher Brian Johnson calls masterpiece days, so far this week we’ve looked of two of Brian’s “Big 3:” our energy and our work.

Today, we turn our attention to the third element: Love.  

To love, we must be deeply present.

What’s the #1 thing in the way?

Technology.

Yesterday we covered how digital distractions are the #1 enemy of doing genius work.  

New day.  Same lesson.

The single best thing we can do to both give and experience love is turn off and put away our phones.  

How does it feel when someone gives us their undivided attention?

It feels like a gift.  Right?

The reason it feels so awesome is because it’s so rare.  Who’s had this experience?  We’re talking with someone.  Let’s say it’s an important conversation.  We hear the phone’s notification ding.  And, what happens?  Someone whips out their phone to look at it. 

Who’s more important?  The people in our lives or random inputs?  

When we stare at a screen, we are not present to the people we care about.  Our presence is the greatest gift we can give our family and those we care about.  

Brian calls this Love 1.0.  With our partner, we aim for soul connection.  Brian suggests we make it a game: we can strive to “out-love” our partner.

Love this.

Before Love 1.0, however, there is Love 0.0.  Brian tells us before we can love others, we need to be able to love ourselves.  

How do we connect with our inner soul?  By putting our virtues into action.  

We ask: What’s our #1 self-care habit?  We do that.  We treat ourselves like we would a beloved child.

From there, Brian expands out the definition of love utilizing a framework from Barbara Fredrickson’s terrific book Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection. Barbara suggests we broaden our concept of love from just our family and few close friends.  

Love 2.0 is about looking for small moments to connect with other people.  Perhaps just 30 seconds or a minute.  

Opportunities to connect are everywhere all around us.  Instead of looking at our phone, we can choose to speak with someone.  We can stop comparing and complaining, and choose to connect and see what’s working.

Love 3.0 is heroic love.  Which involves encouraging others.  Brian tells us encouragement is one of the most underrated virtues.  Compassion is important.  But so is encouragement.  We don’t just suffer together.  With encouragement, we have courage together.  And, courage vitalizes all of the other virtues.  

Love 8.0 ties to the 8-hour workday and loving our work.  “Work is love made visible,” the poet Kahlil Gibran writes.  “For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.  And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.”  

Finally, there is Love. Infinity which involves loving all that life gives us.  With this infinite power, we say yes to all that happens in our lives, Brian tells us.  The good things.  And the bad things: OMMS: Obstacles Make Me Stronger. 

Today is the day.  Let’s create a masterpiece day TODAY.

__________________

Reflection:  What are some of the specific benefits to me of expanding my concept of love?

Action: Experiment with one of the ideas above.

What’s the #1 thing I want to change?

What game are we playing? 

Are we going through the motions or are we on the path to mastery? Philosopher Brian Johnson asks.

Are we committed to actualizing our potential or pin-balling around based on random inputs?

At the heart of Brian’s philosophy is the idea of creating masterpiece days.  

Brian suggests we begin by focusing on the parts of our day where we have maximum control, what he calls the AM Bookend and the PM Bookend .  

It starts with this idea: today started last night.  We start by getting a good night’s sleep.  Next, our morning practices set us up to have a great day.  Which we begin by having wins in three key areas of our lives: our energy, our work, and our love – what Brian calls “the Big 3.”   

This week we will shine Brian’s “bright light” on our energy, our work, and our love as we seek to create masterpiece days.  

It starts with energy. Zest is the virtue that drives all other virtues, Brian tells us.  It is our life force.  Our level of energy drives the other two key areas: our work and our love. 

“We are only the light bulbs,” says Desmond Tutu.  “And our job is just to remain screwed in!” 

The seventh and final of Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people is to sharpen the saw by seeking continuous improvement and renewal professionally and personally.  Our goal is up the ante and build a chain saw.  

We start by asking: Who do I want to be?  How do I want to show up?  Then, we aim to close the gap between our best self and how we are currently showing up.  When?  Right now.  In this moment.  

In her book No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of FitnessLinda Seger writes about the science of motivation.  Linda tells us we need the right “why.”  

To increase our energy level, we go to bed earlier.   Why?  Not to live longer or to lose weight.  Instead, we go to bed earlier because it gives us more energy RIGHT NOW.  

Brian tells us that 90% of our psychology is driven by our physiology.  To increase our energy, we focus on the fundamentals that drive how we feel:

Eating

Moving

Sleeping

Breathing

Being present

The best way to optimize?  Remove the “kryptonites” or bad things in our lives.

For example: for eating, we can minimize sugar and other refined carbohydrates.  For moving, we don’t sit at our desks all day.  We stand up periodically and walk around.  We do this consistently.  To get a better night’s sleep, we shut off all technology at least an hour before bedtime (what Brian calls a “digital sunset).”  For breathing, we take intentional, purposeful breaths.  To be present?  We stand up straight. 

We take inventory of the energizers and enervators in our lives.  We make a “stop doing” list of the behaviors that aren’t working for us.  Then, we select one thing to focus on first.

Next, we use “the power of habit” to swap one behavior for another.  We identify the “trigger” which precedes the behavior we want to remove.  Then, we intentionally use that trigger to install a new habit in its place.  When “this” happens, we do “that” instead: when I feel the urge to ______, I will do ________.  

We create a rhythm for our day. Brian suggests we look at our days in 90-minute blocks.  During each 90-minute period, we focus on what’s important now.  100%.  All in.  Then, we take a break.  We intentionally build in recovery time.  We go for a walk.  We connect with a colleague.  We do some burpees.  

We are either “totally on,” focused on what’s important now, or “totally off.”   Using the metaphor of a heart monitor, our day is not a flat line, but rather successive waves with periods of incredible focus and then moments of deep recovery. 

Within our 90-minute blocks, we can break it down further by setting a 1,000-second timer where every 20-minutes or so, we stand up and stretch our legs.

Our goal isn’t time management.  It’s energy management.  

Each moment is another chance to close the gap between our best self and how we are currently showing up.  In time, we develop “anti-fragile confidence.”   The worse we feel, the more we are committed we our protocol.  

We go all-in.  We make and keep commitments. Then, we celebrate: “That’s like me!

A good place to start?  Ask: what is the #1 thing I’m going to change?

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Reflection:  What is the #1 thing I’m going to change?

Action:  Use the Power of Habit process to replace the bad behavior with a new and better behavior.

Priming Ourselves for the Day Ahead

Our goal?

To create “masterpiece days.”

This week we’ve looked at the importance of our morning and evening routines, what philosopher Brian Johnson calls our AM and PM bookends.  I’m currently enrolled in Brian’s year-long Optimize Mastery program which has been an incredible learning opportunity.  

One of the key elements of Brian’s AM bookend is meditation.  We aim to practice “paying attention to our attention.”  We begin by focusing on our breath.  When we become aware of our mind wandering, we patiently and persistently return our attention back to our breath.  Again.  And again.

Our ability to focus our attention allows us to be more present moment-to-moment in our lives.  When we meditate, we cultivate our ability to insert ourselves into the space between stimulus and response. Between what happens to us and how we respond. Rather than react, we get better at being able to choose our response.  

This is a game-changer.

Brian tells us the goal with meditation is not perfection.  His message: Do it, don’t judge it.  He tells us: “It’s okay to suck.  It’s not okay to skip.”

Today we will look at a slight variation on the standard mindfulness meditation practice Brian calls the “virtue meditation or prayer.”  This meditation is all about priming ourselves for the day ahead, which is my goal for my morning routine.

The virtue meditation or prayer combines Plato’s four Cardinal Virtues with four additional virtues from positive psychology.

The idea is to say the virtue on our in-breath and the definition on our out-breath.

1: God, please grant me the wisdom…  to know the game I’m playing and play it well

2: God, please grant me the self-mastery… to play that game well today

3: God, please grant me the courage…  to be willing to act in the presence of fear.

4: God, please grant me the love…  to be present and engaged and connected and encouraging today

5: God, please grant me the hope…  to know my future will be better than my present because I am willing to do whatever it takes to make it so

6: God please grant me the gratitude…  to celebrate the Blessings I have in my life today

7:  God please grant me the curiosity…  to be open-minded and see what’s working and what needs work

8: God please grant me the zest…  to have the energy to show up most powerfully in my work and love today.

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Reflection:  Consider the benefits of meditation, and specifically Brian Johnson’s virtue meditation.

Action:  Try it tomorrow morning.

Why Not Look at Your Phone First Thing?

This week we are looking at how to create what philosopher Brian Johnson calls “masterpiece days.”

So far we’ve looked at the connection between our evening habits and how we feel when we wake up to start our day.  

We extend that idea today by making the connection between the quality of our day and our how we start our morning.  

What Brian Johnson calls our “AM Bookend.”

“How you start your day is how you’re going to live your day,” Louise Hay tells us.  “And how you live your day is the way you live life.”

Step one is to get a good night of sleep.  

Next, we set ourselves up for success by beginning our day purposefully.  

The last thing many people do before going to sleep is look at their phone.  Then, as soon as they wake, they check their phone again.   

Brian urges us to do the opposite.  At night, we institute a “digital sunset” by putting away our electronics a minimum of one hour before bedtime to prevent the blue light from our digital devises from disrupting our melatonin and our ability to get maximum rest.  

Then, when we wake up, we continue in a “tech free window” by keeping our phone and electronics out of site.  Instead of starting the day in “reactive mode” by responding to other people emails, texts, and posts, we aim to be proactive and purposeful.

Our AM routine is a great time to pray.  Or meditate.  We can set aside time to read.  Early mornings are also the perfect time to think, plan ahead, and write in our journal.  

Brian also recommends exercising early in the day because of the 12-hour “mood boost” working out provides. The only downside is the time required to exercise may prevent us from doing the other AM routine activities referenced above. For this reason, writer Dr. Benjamin Hardy recommends exercising at mid-day.

Brian’s final recommendation is to continue the “tech-free window” into our morning.  Before checking email and messaging, we use the start of the day to connect with family and then tackle our most important project(s). 

Note: for more information on morning routines, see Hal Elrod’s terrific book Miracle Morning or my prior blog posts:

My Best Life

2 Get up an Hour Earlier?  Are you Nuts?

3 One Hour to Change my Life? 

4 Today Started Last Night?

5 No BS

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Reflection:  What are the benefits to me of a morning routine?

Action:  Experiment with getting up 30-minutes earlier and doing something purposeful with the time (prayer, exercise, meditation, journaling, etc.)

Why We Shouldn’t Shake the Snowglobe

If our goal is to create a masterpiece day, where do we start?

According to philosopher Brian Johnson, we begin with our nighttime practices and habits.  What he calls our “PM Bookend.”

Step one, Brian tells us, is to create a “bright line” between the end of our work day and our family or personal time.

“Shutdown complete,” Brian calls it.  He suggests we decide when and how we will end our workday and make a ritual of it. Say “shutdown complete” out loud and then physically shutdown our computer and phone.  

Brian points out that continuing to work while we are attempting to attend to our family or personal time is a mistake.  

Instead: work hard when we are working.  

And, play hard when we are playing.  

Our goal is to increase our intensity.  When we increase our intensity at work, we get way more done. Intensity is a function of our energy and focus. And, we increase our energy and focus when we know we will be making a hard stop from work at a specific time.

As we move from work into family and personal time, we want to see and feel the transition from deep work to deep love.  Work off.  Technology off.  

Once again, we aim to engage 100%.  With our family. With our personal matters.  

The second best practice is to create what Brian calls a “digital sunset.” When we stimulate ourselves with Netflix or our phone before turning in, we disrupt our ability to get a good night’s rest. Blue light from our digital devises disrupts our melatonin and our ability to get maximum rest.

Don’t shake our snowglobe right before bedtime!

So, at least one hour before bedtime, we turn off all our electronics, including our television and phone.  

Brian has a handy acronym for any goal we set: WOOP.

Wish: What would our ideal PM bookend look like?

Outcome: How would this benefit me?

Obstacles: What’s in the way?  Perhaps working too late?  Checking email?  Watching TV?  

Plan: Put an action plan in place to overcome the obstacles.

We start by creating a vision for how we want our evenings to go.  Then, we get to work with an experimenter’s mindset.  We experiment and practice.  And, when we fall short, we look at the data and get back to work.  

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Reflection:  What would be some benefits of making a brighter line between work and family time?

Action:  Experiment with shutdown complete and a digital sunset.

And today started last night.

This week we are exploring philosopher Brian Johnson’s idea of creating masterpiece days. Brian suggests we focus on the beginning and end of our day because this is where we have maximum control.  

Today we begin looking at our evening habits and practices, what Brian calls our “PM Bookend.”

Which starts with this insight: how we end yesterday will directly impact today.  Brian encourages us to make the connection between our nighttime habits and how we start the next day. By being awesome tonight, we will “high five” ourselves in the morning.  

Step one: get a good night’s sleep.  Brian has summarized over 500 books with his Philosopher’s Notes. So, it would be wise to pay attention when he tells us of all the books in his library, his #1 recommendation is Why We Sleep by Matthew Walker PhD.  

Matthew tells us getting a good night’s sleep is not just a pillar of health, it is the foundation on which all the other pillars rest.  E. Joseph Cossman says: “The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”

Simply put: life changes when we get enough sleep.  

We humans need between seven and eight hours of sleep each night.  That’s not time in bed.  That’s asleep time.  Which means we likely need to be in bed another hour.  

What gets measured gets done.  So, purchasing a Fitbit, Apple watch or Aura ring to track our sleep is certainly something to consider.

Brian suggests we ask ourselves: What game am I really playing?  Do I want to be energized or fatigued in the morning?  Do I want to be optimized or entertained?  Am I focused on other people’s fictional dramas or on actualizing my potential?  Am I going for the good mood or the good life?  

We want to make these decisions consciously.

What virtue does science tells us is most correlated with a deep sense of happiness and flourishing?

Zest.  

And, sleep is the #1 practice which impacts zest.  

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Reflection:  Am I happy with my overall level of energy?  What nighttime practices would I like to alter or delete?  

Action:  Take inventory of my current PM routine.  What’s serving me well?  What isn’t?

Why Love, Work, and Energy are the Three Areas on which to Focus

This week we are exploring what it means to be heroic.  

This is the key learning from Brian Johnson’s year-long Optimize Mastery class.  Brian tells us our highest goal as human beings is to flourish.

How do we do that?

By living virtuously.  By expressing the best version of ourselves moment by moment.

Specifically, Brian recommends we focus on three areas of our lives: love, work, and energy.  

According to Freud, if we do work and love well, we will be happy.  

Brian suggests we add energy to Freud’s list because it is the fuel for everything we do.  Physiology drives psychology.  Of all the virtues, Brian tells us zest is most aligned with flourishing.

We begin by reflecting how we show up when we are at our absolute best in each area – energy, love, and work.  

We look backwards and forward.  

When in the past were we at our absolute best with energy?  With love?  With work?   

Next, we look to the future and envision the absolute best version of ourselves in each of these areas.

Tomorrow we will explore how to take these best versions of ourselves to create masterpiece days.

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Reflection:  When in the past was I at my absolute best regarding love, work, and energy?  Imagine five years from today: Envision the absolute best version of myself in each area.   

Action: Journal my answers to the questions above.