I have always cared about helping people change the way they think. It’s like a scientist setting off a chemical reaction – the beauty of what emerges is both planned and organic. At best, changing the way you think is a chain reaction that enables you to see and engage with the world differently, to wrestle and live differently and to find your way to a more authentic self. Living into that authentic self matters, because the world needs you and I, to be our fullest expression. We each have something to offer the world and each other.
Often it is through pain or unexpected circumstances, transition and brokenness that we find the path to growth. These are the moments we become resilient as much as learn resilience. There are plenty of tools to help through that process, that I have used myself in the quest for wisdom. Books, therapists, mentors, guides. Exercise and meditation.
But it’s the moments when I find myself needing to take a deep breath that I need something small, digestible but hopeful and pragmatic to center me again. Just to help me re-engage my mind and be thoughtful for a minute. But it has to be gritty and real. There’s no room for trite in my life and probably not in yours. We’ve seen and experienced too much, right?
And that’s where this project was born. I was looking for something that I could read for 2 minutes in the morning or in a coffee break that would help me continue to keep growing but that really spoke to me.
A long time ago, I was a minister. That was my job, curating experiences and opportunities for people to engage spiritually, intellectually and emotionally with the world around them. While it’s no longer my job, it is still my vocation – to care for people, the whole of them. The all of your messy, chaotic and beautiful self.
So here’s my offering – a short journey for 30 days into Thoughtful, from September 1 – September 30th, 2017.
I’ll send you an email with a reflection from my private journals, this blog and lessons I’ve learned from wise advisors and mentors on the way. And if it helps you, then share it. You can read more about Thoughtful here or subscribe below.
Please share this with others who may also be encouraged or find it useful.
This post was commissioned by The Human in the Machine project, a year-long collaborative blogging project on the subject of productivity. I’m republishing here and extending it for my Life By Design series.
As a kid, I loved Tetris. Lining the blocks up and seeing them fit perfectly into place gave my strategist mind a thrill. It was the rhythm I loved so much, the tappity-tap-tap of keys and buttons, the sensory meditation of my fingers moving in pace with my eyes to see those blocks fall perfectly into place. Seeing it, feeling it, doing it.
Rhythm is everything. Layers of rhythm over the hours, days, weeks and years. Maintaining, feeding, adjusting and enjoying those rhythms are the keys to my productivity and my rest.
I work as a strategist and with almost every client, there is a moment of clarity when they begin to understand their rhythm.
Rhythms of learning, creating, reflecting, listening, purging and so on.
For organisations, this is largely about understanding the productivity of teams but it also applies to families. Understanding your rhythm is about understanding your short-term and long-term capacity and your constraints. To learn how long your team needs to understand a problem before it can begin to solve a problem is helpful for designing projects. To know how long it takes your family to pack the car for vacation is an invaluable rhythm to understand.
I thrive when I am learning. About every March, I find a new subject that intrigues me or is useful to my work and I’ll spend the next year reading and applying what I learn. Usually as March rolls around, I naturally get drawn to another topic and so the rhythm begins again. Research, read, apply, re-think, share what I’ve learned.
This is just one of the rhythms that fuel me. I have learned them over years of studying my own patterns and failing to conform to others. Self-awareness is critical to unlocking your real productivity potential. Understanding how you process and output information, how you fuel your mind, body and soul all factor in to how you make, how you think, how you create. Try as you may, this rhythm or that rhythm belonging to another may work for a while or fit you quite well. But nothing will unleash you like understanding your own unique rhythms.
My simplest rhythm is how I like to wake in the morning. I like to sleep with the curtains open so I get a wash of serotonin over brain on waking. Then I rise, make coffee and breakfast and before my mind gets too busy with structured thought, I write three pages of stream of consciousness prose. Whatever is top of mind, I put it to paper. I connect back through my mind to my body and back to my mind until I am a cohesive whole.
I think about it in these themes; physical, intellectual, spiritual input and output.
The clarity of the morning output fine-tunes my brain and my morning hours are my most productive for thinking, strategizing and outputs. After lunch, I tend to slide out of productive output and into productive input. Instead of fighting against myself, I lean into these rhythms. After lunch is the perfect time to either input with reading or research and I often exercise either at the beginning or the end of the day.
My days form the pattern of my week. And those weeks, a year. I have come to know my project cycles, where I can undertake significant long-term work which is invaluable in how I structure my working life. And I know how frequently I need to play and to laugh.
What am I producing after all? I’m not on a factory floor. The work that I do for is not what I am actually producing. I am producing a life. I am designing as I go, a life of rich experiences, adventure, meaning and relationships. That is the key to productivity – how do I live in a rhythm that sustains these things?
A wise teacher once said “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
The unforced rhythms of grace that allow us to live freely and lightly are the key to productivity. The way of being our true selves. Our truest selves are the most fully alive and the most productive. If you are living in your best rhythm, it only makes sense that you will thrive in your activities. You will come to understand the signals your life gives you when you need to rest or when you need to re-engage your childhood play.
Even in the workplace, structured and locked down, there are ways to allow your natural rhythms to maximise your productivity. You might choose to use lunch breaks for exercise, mindfulness practices or to nurture social, emotional connections. You might organise your schedule to never meet before 10am or to close up email no matter what by 6pm.
Wherever you can let your rhythms work for you, you must. You’ll find it easier to dance that way.
This is particularly true for families and people-pleasers. Using rhythm to understand and manage your capacity will give you freedom from over-commitment (although perhaps not the guilt of not being able to do all things). It gives you common language to build a family rhythm from as you manage the highs, lows, constraints and capacity of a family whether in juggling chores and transportation or organising Christmas vacation.
If the rhythm of your life feels heavy or burdensome, if you don’t feel light on your feet then you’ve found a great place to start in your life by design.
Here are some good questions to ask to help identify those rhythms:
- What time of day do you wake up feeling most refreshed if you let yourself wake naturally?
- How often do you change or take up a new hobby?
- When in the calendar year is it easiest for you to start a new project or habit?
- How frequently do you get bored with something you are working on?
- Do you like to solve problems as you go or wait til you can give them attention?
- When do you feel most creatively inspired or productive?
- What kind of environment do you need to relax?
- How often do you need have physical input or output?
- How often do you need have intellectual input or output?
- How often do you need have spiritual input or output?
Enjoy discovering your rhythms of grace. Remember, as you look back on your life to date – things like project life-cycles and rhythms of rest, relaxation and play will appear as the times things finished or happened just at the right time and you were able to move easily into the next rhythm.
If this has been helpful to you or you have questions, I’d love to hear from you.
I first knew I wanted to be a writer the moment I defined my life purpose; to help people think differently by communicating and sharing different ideas about how to live. Recently that’s evolved to the idea of living by design.
Writing is bigger than words on paper or screen. It’s designing a story. Creating the narrative, understanding the players. It’s also taking into account the ideas of others and changing variables that affect the outcome. It’s the same skill set that enables me to facilitate a room full of senior corporate stakeholders and wrangle 4000 teenagers at a time. Listening, understanding, reflecting the emerging story I hear and designing a way forward through creating, evolving, testing and shaping the story based on the outcome.
What’s the outcome you are living towards?
There is a difference between author and writer. People frequently use the metaphor of ‘author’ to talk about how we create and shape our own paths. It’s a powerful idea to think we take our future and our narrative into our hands as simply as pen stroke to page or keystroke to screen. I have a few ideas about this difference and the use of the metaphor.
A writer is skilled at understanding, translating and then communicating the thoughts and ideas of others into meaningful narrative or work. This is the work of design, the link between story and strategy.
An author is one who creates and develops the idea, the plot or the content of the work towards a pre-determined outcome. There is a role for authorship in our lives, as we determine unique outcomes but I’m not sure it’s enough. Moving towards the outcomes you desire requires a proactive writing of your story, or what I call life by design. Adapting to the context, circumstances and characters that exist outside of my control. I’m engaged in authorship but I am not an author. I’m writing my story and designing my life as the variables move around me.
With all that in mind, I’ve been thinking on the following points
- We develop authorship over time
The ability to create, develop and communicate (or execute) unique ideas and futures of our own is something we learn. The societal framework we live in across the developing and developed world is a series of pre-determined paths. Those who choose to create their own paths inevitably experience a learning encounter or drastic change that precipitates new solutions or pathways. Therefore, authorship is a choice and not a necessity.
- If we choose authorship, we must be collaborative
We are creatures wired for relationship at an individual and collective level. Our lives are not as singular in focus as the plot of a novel or the arc of a TV series, not as concrete or resolved as the script of a movie. We interact with hundreds of individual ideas in a day and have to live amongst our own needs and desires as well as the desires of others. Therefore, authorship of our personal stories must include those we live in relationship with – an intersection of unique storylines.
- We are authors of an evolving narrative
Our world view craves systematic thinking and process. Anything that simplifies data and our ability to rely on programmed responses (you can read more about categorization here) is a natural fallback. Therefore the challenge of authorship is how to deal with a changing context and the variable data we have to process. In the truest sense, an author has absolute power over context, character and circumstance. We can wind our plot towards the pre-determined outcome. That’s the truest problem with the metaphor because real-life authorship is a constant re-writing of the story with uncontrollable context, characters and circumstance.
It’s this evolving narrative that makes the practice of writing or designing our story even more powerful than the metaphor of authorship. Design works with variables and evolving contexts to help us continue moving towards the outcome. But it also gives us permission to change the outcome over time and redirect our energies and strategies should our context change.
Writing or designing an evolving story might look like the art of nudging, to see where your organic growth takes you. Or if your current context is painful, you might like this reflection on being in the graft. Maybe you are at the very beginning of recognising the life you’re meant to live. Your story is in infancy. Welcome aboard!
A few reflection questions to consider as you engage in life by design:
We develop authorship over time > Where or what are the learning encounters or drastic changes giving you opportunity to develop your own authorship or begin designing/re-designing your life?
If we choose authorship, we must be collaborative > Who are your collaborators? They might be authors, teachers, spiritual leaders or family/friends. They should definitely include people you share physical space (face time) and aspects of daily life with. How might you invite them into collaboration?
We are authors of an evolving narrative > What are the variable contexts, characters and circumstances in your narrative? Which of them cause you anxiety or pain and which bring you joy? How might you engage differently to empower or disempower those variables in your life?
I want to write about how to get started, how to reframe your desires and begin designing your life. What I’ve learned about how to break down the made-up rules that are governing your creative freedom. I want to write and teach you about outcomes instead of goals and how to live from a values-led place. I want to write and talk about fear, how it’s most dangerous when it stops the movement already happening within us.
I want to write and talk about integration with our whole selves and how to create a life that is space for your authentic self. And I want to add in the observations about life, death and love that are welled up within me – but I don’t. I’m too afraid of humiliation and judgment to write those. So they boil inside me, emotions churning when I ought to turn them into words and let them go free.
I want to write in such a powerful voice that you cannot help but be changed or to at least consider a different path or possibility to the one you know. I want to write for you and share all these things I believe are important and could make us difference to us all. But that seems impossible today.
Fear is most dangerous when it threatens to stop our onward movement, the organic growth that is already going on within us.
I want to write for you because for the entirety of my life I have wanted to help people think differently. Not necessarily the same way I think but to see the possibility that you can design your life anyway you like. That the truth is maybe simpler but also less apparent that what we believe. I want to write for you because I want to make a meaningful difference in the world.
But not today. Today, I’m too afraid and fearful of humiliation. Of not being enough. Not being smart enough, wise enough or having the right pithy quote. I’m afraid I’m just noise adding to the chaos and you tolerate my thoughts.
Today, I’m stuck in the fear loop.
Fear makes me stop and gets me stuck. Fear is most dangerous when it threatens to stop our onward movement, the organic growth that is already going on within us. So I just have to write for the sake of it. So I don’t get stuck. So I don’t stop.
In the same way I had to get up and workout this morning for the sake of it, not because I felt strong or motivated. I didn’t even workout because I’ve been feeling self-conscious. I just did it for the sake of it. For the sake of not being stuck. For every outcome you are striving for, there is an underlying fear but there will also be a simple next step you can apply to move through fear into action.
Here’s a life-by-design strategy to help you determine your next steps.
Step One: Ask yourself this question
Are you stuck because you need to figure out what’s next or because you’re afraid?
If the answer is you’re trying to figure out what next stay tuned and read this post.
If you are stuck for a completely different reason, tell me what it is.
If the answer is remotely related to fear then move to Step Two.
Step Two: Understand how fear is working against you
What’s the unbearable feeling that fear is driving towards? I’ve shared mine above. Then ask yourself what’s the worst possible outcome if what I fear becomes true? Answer honestly and don’t catastrophize the scenario. For example, if I have a deadline and the worst possible outcome is that I didn’t get it 100% right – that’s not a disaster. The steps to remediate will be simple. You need to understand what your fear is in order to take away it’s power.
Step Three: Do it for the sake of it
We might also call this, feel the fear and do it anyway. Whatever the next step is, do it. Whatever your life is about right now, just do it for the sake of it. When you are stuck by fear, it’s difficult to motivate yourself out of it or to use ‘change feelings’ mode as a long-term solution. So you have to acknowledge the fear and understand it, then do it for the sake of it. Don’t do it in spite of your fear – we don’t want to live with fear, we want to disempower it. So do it for the sake of the thing you want to do.
What are you doing right now?
I don’t mean the laundry or making dinner, passing time on your phone while waiting for something else to come along. What are you really doing right now? Are you trying to resolve a difficult relationship? Are you trying to achieve an outcome in your health, self-esteem, career, adventure? Or is there something you want but you just can’t bring yourself to do what you need to do? Are you trying to write a book or find more fulfilment in life?
Right now, I’m trying to create a new consulting business, write an essay, complete my client deadlines, do my taxes and invoicing and to lose a dress size. And in each one of those things, there are fears sitting under the surface that threaten to stop me. So I have to do the next step, regardless.
Here are some examples from my own life
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Sometimes you just have to do it for the sake of it.Do you see how it plays out? So what are you doing right now? What’s the fear that’s trying to stop your momentum and what’s the next step you can take?
Disclaimer: Sometimes, being stuck is a good thing. If you’re stuck because you’re not sure where you want to go next, that’s okay. ‘The trouble is, being stuck can feel like going nowhere, but a lot of the time, being stuck is just the break your sub-conscious needed to figure out what’s next and how to navigate it.’
Has this been helpful for you? Please let me know by leaving a comment or dropping me a note. I believe it’s never too soon to share something you’ve learned or found helpful, so if you know someone this strategy might help, please share it with them too. You can join this conversation on Facebook too.
I’m sweating. My breath is more ragged than normal, blood thumping through my body. Pink and flushed, head back against the wall and eyes closed, counting my breath back under control and realigning the pull of muscles against my spine. This is me, engaged in the deeply spiritual practice of Nudging.
in order to attract attention
touch or push gently or gradually
coax or gently encourage
(in Nordic nugga, nyggja ‘to push, rub’.)
It’s also me, returning to the boxing gym after 6 weeks away, 3 weeks of medication and surgery. My body is usually stronger than this but normal slips away quickly if you don’t keep your rhythms. So I’m nudging because returning to the same place I was isn’t enough. I want to see how much further I can go. A little more sweat, a little more stretch, a few more rounds. Nudging: to see how far you can go. Nudging to see what more you can wring out of your body, your mind. In the gym, it looks messy. At higher reps my form gets untidy as I get tired, my cheeks impossibly pink.
And my trainer says, ‘C’mon Tash, we’re giving it a nudge.’
What exactly is a Nudge?
Picture a pile at the precipice of a cliff and you’re standing behind it. Looks like it might fall but how do you know? You give it a little nudge. A gentle push, a little coax in the right direction. When you give something a nudge, you look to see whether there is an opportunity for movement. In the animal kingdom, this pattern is external – one elephant nudges the smaller elephant in the right direction.
Sailors look for the ripple of the right wind on the surface of the ocean and watch the currents the birds drift on. When you see a glimmer of wind that might take you in the right direction, you nudge the pilot’s wheel in the direction of the wind and see whether you can catch some speed.
Our approach to our own transformation might be better described as ‘discovery’.
nb: nudging is not nudge theory, a human behaviour theory about decision-making that is sometimes used for political and social manipulation, but there is certainly some truth in the observations of how we might cognitively improve the outcomes we seek.
I have practiced Nudging for a long time now. Expending a small amount of energy to see where there is opportunity for growth and movement.
You will might oscillate a dozen times in your life between striving for change or avoiding it, but transformation is the only way to grow. We don’t change completely overnight but in a series of small, incremental steps. I watch my 7 month old niece and her transformations, each so small and easily overlooked, seem a wonder to me. But in my mirror, I want to see broad, sweeping changes. We’ve embraced the glamour of grand reveals and 180 degree changes as the right kind of story.
But our neural wiring simply can’t keep up with the reprogramming when we try to change too much, too fast. Whether our habits, our thought processes, our rhythms of the day – it’s easy to overwhelm our physical and neural systems. We need to think big but step small so we don’t work against our True Selves in the work of transforming.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what values you represent.” – Parker J Palmer
Parker Palmer speaks to this disconnect between how we see our autonomy in the process of transformation. Nudging is a beautiful way of giving intent to your transformational desires and goals, but allowing the rhythm of your life to work with you. Nudging gives you a chance to see where the wind and movement of your life is leading you and work with it, not against it.
Our ideas about transformation are often too concrete – we do not enter into the process of transformation without an end goal or expectation of what transformation will look like. But the pumpkin looks nothing like the seed from which it comes. Nor the fruit of the apple tree resemble the seed or the tree.
Our approach to our own transformation might be better described as ‘discovery’. Much like sailing into the wind to see what happens, we listen to our life and begin the process of transformation to see what might happen. What might our tender, wondrous little changes result in? What wonder might our small lives contain if we allow the change to happen?
We need to think big, but step small.
So how do you Nudge?
First, nudging is about giving attention. Sometimes there are aspects of my physical, intellectual, emotional or spiritual self that need some movement. Attention creates space. Like #100days of simply paying attention to what was in front of me each day, an opportunity for creative intervention.
Sometimes nudging is about pushing gently and gradually. This month, I am pushing a bit harder, giving more than what I usually give in the gym to reach a new pinnacle of strength and flexibility. I’m giving it a nudge literally, to shift the dial on strength, energy and output from my physical self. When I push, I push first in the direction of what I know is already working in my life.
And sometimes a nudge is about wooing, coaxing and encouraging myself and others to new movement. I’m trying to read a philosophy or ideological work each month that is useful for me and others. It’s just a nudge for my spiritual and communal self to embrace new ideas. I engage with my desire for transformation and my frustration through embracing new ideas and ways of thinking about what’s in front of me.
When I am nudging, things get sharper. New ideas nudge old habits and both get clearer. My spiritual practices don’t get overhauled, they become fine-tuned. My horizons and understanding expands, given permission to explore and discover.
Slowly and gently pay attention to your life. There is something to learn in every aspect of it. Don’t be afraid to enter into transformation with just a nudge to see what may become of your willing self. Nudge and discover what might come.
Want to join me in a Nudging journey? Let me know the space you want to nudge in and we can journey together.