The Life Simplified – Overview series was a quick toss-you-in introduction to a different mindset in life. A lot of important points were covered that deserve further attention and consideration. We will now highlight a few key points and in the future have an article devoted to a subset of these to ensure they receive justice.
Big Idea: Bypass the pain/pleasure trap by seeing life as an objective/impartial adventure.
Basically: Approach every experience with curiosity, independent of past or future stigmas.
Exploration is a theme that will repeat itself again and again. Remember it.
A mindset of exploration bypasses the typical desire trap of minimizing discomfort and maximizing pleasure. This trap prevents people from achieving success, such as building their ideal physique.
Such a mindset allows you to focus more on the fundamentals of life without added clutter. This means you focus more on things that are objectively separate from any single person’s interpretation. What is pleasurable to you will be different for me. There are many factors to this, most notable is the individual’s past experiences and expectations.
When you explore, you are open-minded and accepting of whatever your experience is. This includes sensations that you feel and thoughts that you have. There is no judgment or added interpretation.
What is pleasurable in the moment is often harmful to us in the long-term (e.g. sweet foods) and those that are harmful to us in the moment are often helpful to us in the long-term (e.g. cold showers, delaying gratification, exercise). This paired with the fact that our brains are hard-wired to keep us alive and that they are engulfed with the limitations of logic that emotions bring, approaching life from a mindset of maximizing pleasure and minimizing discomfort is simply not an effective way of living.
Exploration takes an objective approach, aiming to see life as a journey with expected ups and downs and struggles that all equally add to the experience of life. Curiosity is the metric by which you can determine how effectively you are exploring. The more curious an individual is, the more self-objective and open-minded they are. The more curious they are, the less their ego will show itself. With the ego out of the way and an open mind at hand, exploration and an objective viewpoint naturally follows.
There are many ways to apply this mindset of exploration, the suggested approach that we explored (and we’ll explore many others) in the Life Simplified – Overview series was categorizing your life into separate buckets (Social, Physical, and Mental) in order to provide directed and deliberate exploration in a focused and organized manner.
- In the Social category we considered the importance of connection and its relation to meaning.
- In the Physical category we explored the mindset of viewing your body as a vessel for some higher cause.
- In the Mental category we thought about how interpretations impact how we perceive reality.
Under the umbrella of exploration consists of various concepts, including: clarity, awareness, deliberation, intensity of stimulus, challenge, connection, and meaning. For now we will dive deeper into clarity as it is at the heart of all effective action and is vital for taking the first effective steps.
Big Idea: Remove resistance to action by planning for resistance of action.
Basically: Emphasize preparing for obstacles over daydreaming of perfect scenarios.
What is it?
Big Idea: Ensure success through recognizing your efforts are best placed on obstacles.
Basically: A plan for the rainy-day is far more valuable than a plan for the sunny-day.
Consider Fred, he is an ambitious 22 year old who wants to make an impact on the world. But he keeps finding himself setting goals that he never is able to follow through with. He blames it on a lack of motivation and frequently decides that he isn’t cut out for that life before having another surge of motivation which soon dies off. What could be the cause of this endless cycle that he finds himself in?
While in the real-world, situations like this are likely due to a whole host of complex causes that range from childhood to nuances like setting goals vs implementing systems which will all be dived into in future posts, but an overarching issue that encompassing this full range of potential problems is clarity. Clarity is simply having a strong idea of what it is that you want and what is in your way, this includes understanding how your past experiences could be impacting your current situation as well as the need for a systematic approach to goals (e.g. “at this time I will be at this place doing this for this long and I understand that these are potential obstacles that may prevent me from doing my best so I will be prepared by….”).
Clarity is about having a deeper understanding of the complex relationships between all aspects of your life, past, present, and future. Think of it like a walking path in a park, there may be a path that has been paved smooth by thousands of people walking through it while another path may be only slightly worn but has otherwise maintained its undergrowth. When coming to this fork in the road with these two paths, it will be far easier to go down the smoothly paved path, you may even find yourself completely not noticing the undergrowth path and think the fork isn’t a fork in the path at all and is just exclusively connected to the paved path. This is a metaphor for clarity, the path with undergrowth that hasn’t been worn down as much is the path of more resistance and the path that been paved through years of people walking through has become the less resistant path.
Clarity takes the emphasis off of the day-dream and places it on the real-world practical steps that you can take to ensure victory. This happens by emphasizing what stands in your way and how you can handle the obstacles when they arise. The focus is on what is in your control.
Why is it Important?
Big Idea: Motivation gets you going, but clarity is what keeps you going.
Basically: Motivation is out the door once an obstacle hits you.
The more resistance a path has, the less likely you will go down it and the less likely that you will even notice it. It simply would require a higher level of awareness to even know that the alternative path exists, perhaps that was the path that had a pot of gold on the other end that a more aware individual would have discovered. In this metaphor, the path is simply the options you have in any given situation, those that are likely to be taken will be those that you are most comfortable and familiar with. A higher level of awareness is required in order to go down the unfamiliar path that leads to the objective. Further details on developing this awareness will be discussed in the next section.
When you raise your awareness through thorough thinking of what it is that you want, how you know whether or not you are making progress, and how you will handle obstacles WHEN they arrive, your success rate of accomplishing what you set out to do will skyrocket. Planning for when things go bad is the single most important step in preparation that you can do. It is, unfortunately, the one that most people leave out. This could be due to the lack of awareness as a result of things such as the constant stream of input and distraction (e.g. social media) as well as the lack of space for the awareness needed to notice the alternative paths (e.g. impatience).
With less clarity comes more resistance. And this is the core reason why a lack of clarity is responsible for inaction and why adding clarity will be most beneficial in improving your chances of success. This resistance is all that undergrowth covering the alternative path that so many won’t even notice. Those that do notice will likely quickly turn away to the more clear path due to the sting of discomfort felt from considering having to go through all that resistance. To gain clarity, you must spend more time thinking deliberately and in a focused manner on what it is that you want, what will stand in your way, and how you will handle the obstacles.
The aim should NOT be motivation, motivation is fleeting, it will come and it will go. Motivation will get you going but it will not keep you going. In order to keep going you must have the clarity in the why behind your actions. You can’t wait for motivation to come because doing so is the surest way to fail at your objective long-term.
The simple fact that motivation “comes” or “hits you” at all suggests that it is like a wave. Motivation is an emotion, and all emotions or feelings follow a wave-like pattern, a rising, a climax, and a falling. Any wave will have its peaks and valleys, it will come and go. No emotion can be trusted in making logical decisions, long-term objectives require a systematic and logical approach because no emotion will remain long enough during the full duration. Furthermore, competing emotions are bound to come up, such as the struggle faced when preparing for a marathon.
Most worthy endeavors are large and long-term enough that no amount of motivation will have a long enough peak to sustain you through the whole journey and therefore you must be prepared for those valleys. This is a principle of life, whatever has a peak will have a valley and most things in life have such, that is the principle of cycles such as the seasons, emotions, and life and death. If you’re only planning for and waiting for a high before taking action then you are only setting yourself up for being unprepared when the inevitable low comes.
How do I Develop it?
Big Idea: Focus on developing objectives iteratively, and less on only having a goal.
Basically: The focus should be on how to handle obstacles during the pursuit of a goal.
To gain more clarity is to build this awareness. Practically speaking, this looks like slowing down what you are doing and removing the clutter (e.g. put down the phone, move to a quiet room, go to a location reserved for concentration and focus) so that you are left alone with only your thoughts and perhaps a pen and paper so that you can thoroughly think through what it is that you want and what might stand in the way.
Effective action begins with effective planning and effective planning involves the majority of the time thinking spent on the obstacles that you may encounter. The tendency that you will want to avoid is planning for the “sunny-day”, everything goes perfectly, scenario. That scenario is easy to plan and therefore will be tempting to get lost in daydream, but that isn’t reality. Reality consists of challenges that will cause you to inevitably hit a wall, if you are not prepared for that wall you will be thrown off guard, disheartened, and heavily discouraged leading you to likely giving up at the first obstacle you encounter. This is why it is vital to focus your planning on the challenges you will come across and how you will handle them when they come.
For example, if your objective is to lose weight and you are going out to a party where there will be junk food, you would plan ahead for how you will handle that situation. Perhaps there is something a friend of yours wants your help moving and you can plan doing so when everyone else is eating, or you could bring a friend who is also avoiding junk food and have something planned with them during that time, or you could simply rehearse your responses to what others might say or tease when you are not eating or only eating the non-junk food.
The alternative of going into the party without a plan will lead you to quickly cave in once you hit the first obstacle such as realizing that you’re the only one not eating cake and with the rush of in-the-moment emotions and the peer pressure you will likely cave in and rationalize doing so in some way that will further strengthen the identity opposite of the person you’re aiming to be making losing weight more difficult now and in the future. The first time is usually the toughest, but once you build the discipline and gain the confidence from breaking through those obstacles and owning those one-second decisions you will find that it becomes much easier, this is precisely the process of reshaping your identity from an overweight person to a healthy and fit person. This is a BIG idea, re-read this section if you need to.
As mentioned in the Life Simplified – Overview series, journaling and meditation are incredibly powerful tools, their service especially extends to clarity. The process of planning for obstacles is accompanied best with pen and paper in a quiet and focus-promoting environment. Meditation can be added as well if you find that your thoughts are becoming anxious and you need a moment of stillness to settle them.
It is important to note that being 100% clear is often not possible, and shouldn’t be the aim (and is often counterproductive, spend an adequate amount of time in preparation but no more), life is inherently ambiguous, therefore there will be many various interpretations for every moment and the future can’t be made so clear. The objective with clarity is therefore not to know every step you will take but to have the big picture, this comes from having answers to big questions such as the WHY behind what you are doing and not so much on the how. If you have a strong enough why you will find the how. The why is what will keep you going through the obstacles because the obstacles you face will elicit emotion and it is the emotion that will bring the resistance and it is the emotion that will cause you to want to quit. Want is a desire, and any and all desire is tied to emotion, the why contains within it emotion and therefore it effectively serves as your weapon against the emotion of resistance. A strong enough why is a powerful enough weapon to overcome the negative emotions of any resistance.
It is worth emphasizing, the aim with clarity is not the details of what to do or how to do it, but to have a big picture objective on what you want and what might stand in your way, with specifics only for what is in your control. Notice how during the preparation for going to that party with junk-food the details of who, how, or where the resistance or obstacles came from wasn’t the focus. The aim was to remain general of the TYPES of obstacles that you will face and a specific approach to how to handle them. This ensures that you remain flexible for when things don’t go exactly as you anticipate them to (even the obstacle) but you already rehearsed a more specific way of handling it.
The key idea here is to build clarity for what you have control over, you don’t have control over the specifics of what others will say or do so therefore don’t plan for the specifics of what others will do and instead plan for the general, but you DO have control over what you will say and therefore you can afford to be more specific (and you ought to be to have the actions or words come to you easier).
After engaging in a particular task that involved preparation and building of clarity, it is important to spend some time in reflection. Journaling and meditation are useful tools here as well. This is basically an “After Action Report” (AAR), a retrospective that is meant to focus on what went well, what went wrong, and how you can improve. This is a great tool in any reflection but is especially important when learning the balance between how much clarity is needed before action and effective ways to build that clarity.
Lastly, it is important to note that clarity is something that is gained by taking action. It is not a passive thing that just comes to you. In order to gain another foot of clarity in foggy weather, you have to take another step. In order to gain more clarity, you have to take action. This is to say that you should not sit around for too long day dreaming of what you want, the process of gaining clarity is an active one, it can even be a challenging and uncomfortable process as you have to work through all of the current uncertainty and mud that might be blocking your view.
A lot of things can not be seen or known until you have already taken the necessary steps, the fog won’t reveal something further away by your will alone, you have to take steps in that direction. With that said though, clarity is most important before the actual action in order to at least ensure you are pointing in the right general direction and have considered what might be blocking your path forward. Clarity at the start of an endeavor is meant to uncover what the reality of the action would be like and to help ground yourself outside of daydream, it is to calibrate expectations.
If you sit down waiting for inspiration to strike or thoughts to come to you related to clarity, then you may be waiting awhile. Due to the dynamic nature of seeking clarity, it is far better to get a piece of paper and pencil and write. The first few things you write may be nonsense, but it can help to get the “juices flowing” and start sparking more thoughts. This is a great way to create a schedule, plan for the future, uncover obstacles and how to deal with them, as well as anything related to building an understanding or clarity of. You can even use this as a wonderful learning tool. Writing is a great way to direct your thoughts and slow your mind down to the point where you can think clearly, and not anxiously. Journaling is a really powerful tool and there are a ton of ways to implement it.
The point is that clarity is a dynamic process, it is not something done once and then action is taken. It is something that is primarily done upfront but then as action occurs more clarity is actively added. More information is often needed before you can gain more clarity and that information often is only accessible by taking action. Perhaps that action is simply research online from what others have experienced or perhaps experiencing and exploring it for yourself.
If you had ambiguity that you couldn’t clear up initially, it may be because you have to take a few steps in to the action before seeing further and therefore you just have to get started. The important point is to use the clarity to recognize this ambiguity so that you can prime yourself to better notice it when it comes up. This practice also improves your ability/skill of gaining clarity so that future planning or other events that you need to prepare for can be more accurately considered. It improves your ability to take action and adapt or calibrate, a vital skill in a dynamic world.
For example, this section on Clarity wasn’t originally structured the way it is now. I applied a structure that I later changed in future sections and I still had yet to update this section. I didn’t write this section with the new structure in mind, so I wasn’t sure how to reorder things and add proper transitions to update for the new structure.
There was a lot of ambiguity around this. I simply copied the text over to a separate notepad where I had the freedom to explore and make mistakes without worrying messing up the original flow. This helped to allow more creative experimentation.
After starting to read through and categorize paragraphs based on what section they fit into, the ideas started to flow. I begin to see alternative paths that I didn’t see originally. Simply by taking action I began to clear up ambiguity. I was much more confident in the new structure and would have missed out on the added content to support the new structure if I weren’t to have just took the plunge.
This shows that you can’t have 100% clarity before starting, you often can’t even trust whether or not you have all the pieces, simply due to not knowing what you don’t know. Start with a high-level overview. What’s the objective? Recognize what is the main source of ambiguity. In restructuring the post I realized that I was worried about messing up the current flow of the section. I addressed this by copying over the associated text to a scratch-pad environment that allowed me to make mistakes. After gathering the big ideas of each of the paragraphs I noticed that there were ways to categorize each that fit the new structure. I began restructuring it bit by bit, having the new structure categories above the chunk of text and copy/pasting each chunk of text under the appropriate category in the order I come across them.
This illustrates the process of gaining clarity nicely. Notice that it is an iterative process. I began with understanding what the objective was and then I went more and more granular. I thought of what obstacles were preventing me from restructuring effectively and recognized copy/pasting the text to a separate environment would help to address that obstacle. Throughout the entire restructuring I revisited the bigger picture, adding what more clarity I can having made the most recent steps. I then took more steps and reflected, adding to what clarity I already had. This helped to make things “click” and fall in place nicely.
Another strategy for handling the ambiguity is addressing the worry that arises from the ambiguity. This can be done by a variation of journaling. On a piece of paper you write down in clear detail what you are worried about happening. This ensures that you get clear on what obstacle(s) you are facing. Then, you write down 3 or more things you can do about it, no matter if they are a good idea or a bad idea. This ensures that you remain practical and helps to get ideas flowing. With this list, you consider the pros and cons of each option, then decide an action to take that has the best chance of a positive outcome.
This method will help to alleviate most of the worry since you’re ground yourself in practicality and getting out of your own head. You may find that ideas start to come only after you begin writing, this is the power of journaling in action and illustrates the process of gaining clarity quite nicely.
This is an important point about the act of writing and is worth quickly exploring. Writing isn’t necessarily about making clear what you’re thinking, it is more often about finding out what it is that you’re thinking. When you first begin writing, you may find that you don’t know what to write about, but after just scribbling a few words the thoughts begin to flow.
Writing is a process, when you trust the process you will find that ideas will come out that you didn’t even expect. Relaxing and removing resistance allows the information that the brain has been processing in the background to come forward to conscious awareness. This is especially useful if you’re more of a creative or sensitive type since these individuals’ brains acquire and process a lot more information subconsciously.
The power of writing is similar to the power of speaking to someone else. It agrees with the notion of “teach someone else as a way to learn yourself”. When you need to take unclear ideas and formulate them in tangible sentences the brain puts the puzzle pieces together. This is what the idea of objective-based thinking is all about, the brain develops concepts, in real time, based on the current objective, which you define. We will explore this further during the topic of Meaning.
You often don’t know what it is that you’re thinking until you attempt to write it down or speak aloud about it. This is why those with very strong opinions on particular subjects are often those who either write a lot, speak a lot, or think a lot. In this way, you can deduce a highly conscious individual by the fact that they don’t write much nor speak much, and therefore they must have applied a lot of thought to the subject they have a strong opinion about.
If you don’t know what to write about, just get started. Let the words fly freely. Even if you are just doodling pictures or writing incoherent sentences. The very act of engaging with the precision and logical formation of putting pen to paper helps to get the juices flowing. This is a great way to warm up before writing or speaking of any sort, especially for kinesthetic type of people.
There is a connection here between movement and thinking. The very purpose behind having a brain relates strongly to movement itself. This suggests that movement of any sort is good for stimulating thinking. Hence the importance of exercise for a healthy brain! We will explore this more when we formally introduce the idea of Effective Living.
Additionally, you can utilize the power of prompts. Having a question to respond to is a fantastic way to get started and stimulate creative thinking or content to journal on.
Alright, so we’ve got a list of pros and cons and have a good understanding what is in our control regarding the situation. This may not eliminate all of the worry though.
If you still find yourself worried after the first exercise, you can then utilize a variation of meditation. During this exercise you fully accept the worse case scenario occurring, imagine it happening in great detail. Having experienced this worse case in imagination will help you be less resistant towards what may happen. Since you have accepted the worse case scenario as being a possibility, each new step you take is a bonus. Any progress away from the worse case scenario is a boost of motivation as you’ve now made it so that each step you take is a step towards ensuring the worse case scenario doesn’t occur.
As a last exercise you could help to prevent worry from coming up by practicing yet another variation of meditation. In this exercise you essentially ensure that your thoughts are only on the present moment. You box yourself into only today and focus on what you can do to improve your situation. You forget about yesterday and tomorrow. If you properly handle today, tomorrow will take care of itself. Do this for each day and you will find progress comes easier as you have dropped unnecessary resistance and directed your energies to the practical steps that you can take.
Notice a reoccurring theme of focusing on what is in your control. This is a vital principle to living an effective life. It is a deeply entrenched concept in the philosophy of stoicism.
As a last note, you may have noticed the use of the term “objective” frequently. This term is often used in place of the word “goal”. “Goal” is overused to the point that hearing it may trigger habitual thought patterns around the idea in a way that causes the term to lose its intended meaning. “Objective” is a word that is not often used but has a similar meaning.
“Objective” is essentially a goal with clarity and a system. Whereas a goal can be thought of as simply a finish line, an objective considers the need to have clarity in how to overcome obstacles and the day-to-day processes and habits (i.e. the system) that will ensure you arrive at that finish line. These added components to an objective are often overlooked, people engage in “goals” without having the clarity of how they will get to the finish line, what obstacles will get in their way, and how they will handle them.
With this said, the idea of creating a goal does have its use. In particular, setting a goal is wonderful at sparking motivation and encouraging vivid imagery of accomplishing the task. But due to the pleasure of this day-dream, people tend to stay in this fantasy world and avoid the potentially tedious task of gaining clarity and recognizing potential obstacles. As we have discussed, motivation is fleeting, it will get you going but it won’t keep you going. If you expect to ride the wave of motivation to the finish line, you’ll be disappointed. The most meaningful goals in life are often those that require the biggest commitment and the most preparation. The most life changing goals are often the hairiest to tackle, requiring the most clarity and effective systems.
How do you use these insights? Well, you start by recognizing the importance of an objective over a goal. You can consider an objective as consisting of 3 components: Goal, Clarity, System. You then address each component, one at a time, each with full focus and attention. When you working on the goal component, that is all that is in your mind, enjoy the motivation you get from seeing that finish line, use the emotion to fully visualize and commit to the task. But then have the discipline to pull yourself back to reality and then work through clarity, and finally developing a system.
The Goal component consists of getting clear what good looks like. Defining what your “definition of done” is. What are you after? Why are you after it? Ask questions to probe deeper. Use the pair of meditation and journaling as a means to dig deeper. The aim here is to build up that emotion around the task to encourage visualizations of the finish line. Focus only on creating the goal, you’ll figure out how later. Use the emotions form creating a goal to fully commit to the task, this may include making a public statement to your family about what you’re after or something else that helps to tie necessity to the task. The more self-discipline you have, the more you’ll be able to set the expected standards for yourself and stick to them without the need for commitment through publicly stating the goal or external support.
Commitment is most powerful when it comes from a sense of identity, such as “I will run this marathon, even without having to tell anyone, because I am the type of person to do challenging things and expect greatness from myself”. “This is who I am” is a great sign of someone having fully embodied commitment to something without any need for an external crutch such as a coach or support group. We will discuss how to develop this level of discipline more when we explore the big idea of Challenge.
Commitment is a necessary tool in taking deliberate action and is useful in overcoming resistance that comes from ambiguity. Deliberate Action is another big idea that will be discussed later.
After creating a goal, you then gain practical clarity about that goal. You consider what obstacles are in your way to reaching this finish line. Again, ask questions and use meditation and journaling to uncover what obstacles there are and how you’ll address the obstacles. At this stage you may recognize the need to consider this a “first-pass”, and gain what clarity you can now, then move to creating a temporary system before reiterating over the components after learning more. This first-pass will allow you to then take action which will likely clear up ambiguity and allow for more clarity. It also allows you the freedom to fully focus on creating the goal, worrying about how to achieve it later since you can iterate repeatedly over the components. You then revisit the goal, becoming more practical in your visualizations based on what you’ve learned. Then update the obstacles you face and how you will handle them. And finally modify your system(s) to support making progress towards this goal.
The System component is all about practical application. Here you are essentially defining the “day in the life”, where you are focusing on the smallest steps from moment to moment within a day that will progress you towards this finish line. Break up the bigger task into smaller tasks, ask questions and really discover what are the daily habits you need to accomplish the objective.
These 3 components will require varying levels of attention depending on the task at hand. For some tasks, such as my restructuring of this section, may only require a brief amount of time on each component over the span of a few minutes or even shorter. In other cases, such as planning to run a marathon when you’ve never done so before, it may require days of planning and many iterations over these components with trail and error before getting something sturdy in place.
For example, the objective of restructuring this section included each of these components. I had a goal of the structure I wanted, this structure was used in other posts so it was easy to visualize how things will be categorized. I then recognized the obstacle of ambiguity in how to go about restructuring the text. I addressed this by copying the text over to a safe environment where I was free to make mistakes. Then I developed a system of going through each paragraph, extracting the big idea, and categorizing it in one of the categories of the final structure. As I went about engaging in this system I realized that I needed transitions to help maintain the flow of text. What theses transitions looked like wasn’t clear during the first pass of these 3 components, but now I was able to reiterate through them with this new insight. I updated what my definition of done looked like, including transition pieces to tie things together, this allowed me to now view text that I would be moving around as opportunities to add transitions. I gained more clarity based on how transitions need to be structured and what possible ways there were in how I could mess up the flow due to poor transitions. Then I updated my system to include keeping an eye out for opportunities to create transitions.
The first pass of my example took the longest, only 5-10 minutes. After about 3 or so minutes of engaging in the system I realized that I needed another pass. This second pass took less than 5 minutes. It got to the point that I just had to write down a word or two on my whiteboard (my tool for encouraging freethinking) before having a series of ideas that I ran with.
If this strategy were to be applied to something like running a marathon, you may have expectations of it being easier than it actually is. You may schedule your training runs in the afternoon after work thinking that that would be a great way to unwind from the work day. But after having the clarity of tracking what days you successfully run on a calendar, you may find that you hardly follow through with these runs. Subsequent passes over the 3 components may result in you finding that you are far more likely to stick to these runs if you do them first thing in the morning. Your system may include placing your running outfit beside your bed each night and immediately putting it on in the morning, being out the door running within 10 minutes of waking. This new approach may lead you to realizing a morning run gives you a lot of extra energy throughout the day, having many other benefits such as metabolism boosting and irritation control.
The point here is that the newer or larger an objective is, the more likely you’ll need more passes over the components in order to remain on track. Many people fail to accomplish their goals because 1. they are missing the other components that make it an objective and 2. failing to calibrate after realizing the struggles that exist when you actually engage in the activity (e.g. running). Recognizing that the components to an objective often need several passes helps to set the expectation that the first pass won’t necessarily be ideal. In the example of the marathon, most people would have quit after realizing they feel depleted after a long day of work. But, with the proper implementation of the components to an objective, and slowing down and taking the time to write down on paper the obstacle you discovered and how you can adjust, opportunities begin popping up. You may even find synchronicities occurring, where opportunities for fitting it into your schedule come up or new, unexpected, compounding benefits, such as deeper and more rejuvenating sleep from your running.
Lastly, it is important to emphasize visualization.
The more clear you can see yourself doing something, the more likely you will do it. Pair this with preparation for obstacles and you’ve already covered a good majority of the struggle. The main piece left at that point is just to do the work. This is even more powerful when used with Identity Reinforcement.
Identity Reinforce is essentially promoting the character traits that you want to possess before you even have them developed. This is a powerful tool to remove resistance since your mind begins to see yourself already having achieved the objective. Identity is an incredibly powerful tool.
Just think about the actions you take, the habits you have, good or bad. You probably have some sense of identity wrapped up in them. You run, because you’re a “runner”. You avoid junk food, because you’re a “healthy person”. You work hard, because you’re a “hard worker”. You smoke… because you’re a “smoker”.
Once you identify with something, you’ll begin building an environment around you to reinforce that identity. Even if it is negative, such as a victim identity. “Everyone is out to get me, they are all unfair”, is an ego action which ultimately comes from a place of identification. This is an echo chamber, the people you are around are those who reinforce the identity you hold about yourself.
If you were to suddenly do something against your identity, it would feel like death. In many ways, it is. It is death to that identity, to the ego that manages it. This is why habits are so hard to change, because our identity has been wrapped up in them.
With this said, you can change your identity. The details of this will be discussed later when we formally present Effective Living. For now, the main idea is visualizations. Engage in them in every way, feel them, smell them, hear them, fully emerge yourself. Here are a few important considerations:
- Rehearse conversations, in your mind, before you have them with others.
- Notice the times when action feels most easy, this is probably when you have a feeling of “I can see myself doing that”. This feeling comes up easily because it is in alignment with your current identity. Habits are essentially behaviors that have been repeated so often that this process is automatic. You jump right to action.
- Whenever creating a new routine, take time to visualize yourself engaging in the individual actions. Develop strong clarity on what you will be doing. Try to bring up the exact feelings that you’ll have, the worries and thoughts. This is a great mental state to then consider what obstacles there will be. How will you prepare for and overcome them?
- Define your success story before your success.
- Come up with your elevator pitch, before achieving the highlights.
- Write your resume, before learning the skills.
This last point of pre-defining your success story is worth exploring further.
For example, when preparing for a marathon and develop the identity of a runner it is important to utilize visualization to reinforce this identity. This looks like explaining, in your head, to someone why you’ve achieved success. How you were able to run that marathon from just a few months of training. Really emotionally engage with it, the more you do so, the more you will get out of it. Identity is closely tied to emotions.
Here is an example, step-by-step guide to how you can apply clarity this to an objective:
- Plan – High Level
- Visualize yourself in the action.
- Pay special attention to obstacles.
- Define your success story, the elevator pitch, the resume.
- Decide the steps necessary.
- With your current knowledge, lay out the system of habits you need to put in place to ensure success.
- Decide how you will track your progress.
- A calendar with check marks showing a successful day is great.
- Don’t break the success chain! Even if you do, don’t miss twice!
- A calendar with check marks showing a successful day is great.
- Visualize yourself in the action.
- Engage – Details
- Execute the plan.
- Take note of what works and what doesn’t.
- What is inconvenient and seeming unmanageable? Take note of this and consider ways to calibrate. Do this AFTER a while of engagement.
- Reflect – Meaning
- Revisit your success story. What were the discontinuities? What did you do well? What could you have improved on?
- Self-correct and calibrate for next iteration.
Essentially, you plan, you push, then you reflect. During the planning stage you are only planning. During the pushing stage, challenge yourself, be improvement focused. Thoughts only on the task. No meta, or high-level thoughts, just focus on the details of the grind and to improve. No ego, avoid too much self-indulgence of pride, a little is fine for Identity Reinforcement, but too much distracts from the focus on improvement.
Then you reflect. During reflection you can toot your own horn (while remaining facts based, avoid exaggerating, and consider failures). Now you can finalize that elevator pitch or update that resume. This is to say, during reflection, you integrate your accomplishments into your being so that you enhance your identity. Most people skip reflection, but it is the MOST vital for change. Events can only be understood looking backwards, this is when understanding and meaning is applied. But life can only be lived moving forward, so you have to have intent in reflecting.
There is great value in applying some this reflection behavior to the plan step as well. Defining that success story can help prepare for the Identity Reinforcement. It is a great way to prime the mind for what you would want to be like after accomplishing the objective. But, reinforce the identity, and then FORGET.
The engagement step should be fully focused on improvement, get lost in the process. You should feel like you are struggling and may even have doubts. That is great, that is the growth zone. When you go to the reflect step the meaning of it all will rush in and when you compare to where you were before, you’ll be astonished.
Use what you wrote during the plan step as a way to self-correct for any misses or failures and highlight the progress you’ve made.
At each step, only focus on that step. As stated before, you may need to repeat over each step in a recursive manner as you learn more.
That is clarity. With the right amount of clarity, any action seems trivial. You gain clarity by taking action. The initial uncertainty from ambiguity will pass, avoid the habit of turning away once you feel the tug.
Big Idea: Get more out of exploration by applying more clarity to increase effective action.
Basically: Know what you should do, what will stand in your way, and how to persist.
Approaching life with a sense of curiosity adds to the experience of exploration. A path is more easily traveled when there is less resistance. Increasing clarity decreases that resistance.
These are the big ideas that we have covered today. Effective action is a balancing act between gaining clarity and taking action. The time spent gaining clarity should be deliberate and distraction free and the primary focus should be on the things within your control. Aim to address the resistance you feel towards the action by thinking deeper on why you feel that resistance and how you can eliminate it.
Don’t wait for motivation, instead do your best in preparation and then take action. It is an art in how you balance this and therefore can only be gained through experience (just like any art, it is more of a feeling that words can’t accurately capture). The objective is to take action and calibrate appropriately. This self-adjusting is fine-tuned over time as you gain more experience. And to complete the circle, this experience is gained through exploration. You will find that as you repeat this process of planning for the obstacles and then spending some time reflecting on the experience you will improve in your ability to spend an adequate amount of time planning and doing so in an effective manner.
You will know that it has proved most beneficial when you begin to find this concept seeping into your subconscious. You know this has happened when your personality, identity, and unconscious actions begin to align more and more with these concepts. This may be in the form of habitual anticipation of what may go wrong BUT not stopping here and looping over the horrors but remaining realistic and moving to the more important step of how you can manage the obstacle when it comes. You may find yourself better capable in accurately predicting what might happen with a vast range of probabilities for the various outcomes and feeling an objective sense of clarity and duty towards doing what needs done to remain effective. What I mean by this is basically you’ll find that your thoughts are more like “this is the problem, okay, I can figure this out, let’s think about what we can do” and less like “oh my goodness, I am going to screw this up again”.
Reinforce that identity. Write your success story beforehand. Utilize visualizations to see yourself through the finish line. Fully focus on each step of the process, one at a time.
Your Call to Action
Thank you for reading!
Clarity is sure to have an impact on anyone’s life. Take the first steps by forming logical and clear sentences stating what it is that you are working towards. Share the obstacles you anticipate and how you will ensure success. Share in the comments section below!
Don’t put off contemplating what the insights from this article mean, find a quiet location and think deeply about what it might mean for you. Just 10 deliberate minutes can make a large difference, set a timer, do it regularly and you will notice the changes within a few weeks. You improve your ability to think and therefore make effective decisions by spending more time deliberately thinking about the relevant subject. Consider applying journaling and meditation to see more profound changes, these are just more deliberate and concentrated forms of quiet and focused thinking. Slow down, find stillness.
I am always looking to improve my reach and the impact that I have with my writing, please provide your feedback in the comments below.
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