Rewards, treats and cheats.

Mid-week nights out are generally a terrible idea.
However, sometimes the occasion provides a thought. This time it was about balancing hustle and reward, about values and I suppose generally about life. Rewards matter, doing things for their own sake matters – life is a collection of experiences; its more than ‘how far ahead I can get.’
Through the first two years of University, I made up this need to see how much work I could make up for myself. Diversifying my reading to a ridiculous level, researching training and nutrition for myself, studying economics full-time. There was a part of me that reinforced this because of my less-than-great social life. I prided myself on my eclectic knowledge of ’things’ and my favourite compliment was to hear that I’m an ‘old soul.’
I was convinced that I had a duty to learn, every day, relentlessly. I sacrificed social invitations in the name of study, I lied to myself, saying that “I’m studying this weekend, so I cannot come” often when I knew that it was a half-truth, and that I’ve got plenty of time.
It’s interesting that there was a real possibility that I’d have continued doing this to myself – retreating further and further into myself, reading and consuming as a distraction from mastering my studies, and having a noticeably unbalanced life.
So during the Wolfpack mentoring program at Enterprise Fitness, we were introduced to DeMartini’s 7 areas of life, and recently, I was introduced to the IIN (Institute of Integrative Medicine) wheel, which has 12 areas. (Thanks Georgia – if you have not yet been to Seedling Cafe or read her work, check it out here).
It’s a simple, powerful coaching tool – rank each area out of 10, then mark dots approximately where they’d sit, and draw the wheel.
Looking back, I’d have an incredibly wonky wheel…
I’d give myself 2/10 in Social, Relationships, Joy, Creativity, Spirituality and Finances. I’m by no means some guru with 10/10 in all areas of my life, but life is definitely an improvement on 3 years ago! What was it that instigated change?
Balance is not just a mindful, yogic, idea – its a positive productivity habit. I did not fully appreciated this until training for Geelong 70.3 in February 2016. Realising that digging the deepest hole in the pursuit of knowledge, fitness or anything else is not the path to the good life.
It’s so easy for hard-charging and ambitious people to work, or faux-work, without making the time to celebrate.
This celebration is critical to continuing to perform and to shoot for a higher star. On one hand, there’s acknowledging just how much work you’ve done to get where you are today, and how far you’ve come in the last month, year, 5-years. On the other hand, there’s the psychological benefit of giving yourself that reward. It has been worth it and that makes that glass of wine so much better.
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Cocaine acts directly on our physiological reward systems. It chemically triggers the same neurotransmitters that occur with feeling happy. I learnt from Dr Jordan Peterson that part of the problem with cocaine users is that frequently the first use comes with an “Oh, go on then” thought process. As if to say, it does not matter and really, the worst that could happen is not that bad at all.
Therefore the user reinforces thinking & behaviour in this way along this most direct route!
Direct reward for a destructive thought pattern.
It is directly opposed to doing hard work now for some future reward – improved health, well-being, happiness, etc.
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With behaviour change more generally then, it is important to consider the role of rewards, treats and celebrations in reinforcing the behaviours that we want to improve. As an example, one of my clients had a bad day at work. Towards the evening, his mindset became “f- it, I’m eating whatever I want.” So in some regards, the day was a write-off – and then he rewarded himself for writing it off!
On the other hand, another client, training for body-fat reduction, really embraced the idea of ‘extra’ meals (like cheat meals), where every Friday/Saturday, for dinner, he’ll eat whatever he craved during the week — provided that during the week, food is 80-100% spot-on.
This set him up with a psychological contract with himself. It gave him the tool of putting off lasagna, chips or cheesecake until the weekend.
I see this contrasting the typical approach that is taken with transforming health and physique where it’s a continuous battle with self and/or with trainer. It takes a significant toll on mental well-being and might well lead to harmful self-image and thought patterns.
So in a sentence, framing the weekend treat as a reward is part of the process.
Health has to be holistic – headspace, spiritual well-being, physical fitness and food relationships. Stepping back and seeing what context rewards are used could be the key to the next level of change.

Decision-making.

I like to check in on Seth Godin’s blog about once a week; his daily posting is an inspiration. Whilst some of his posts don’t quite ‘hit’ me, many of them get at something quite profound. Usually the posts I find powerful, I’ve noticed, continue on a theme that I have discussed with somebody that week.
Seth has profound observation skill, in my opinion. He notices things that strike a cord as ‘well, obviously!’ but are not talked about nor addressed. Getting to a deeper level of understanding helps bring about the action to make tomorrow a little better than today.
This is why I think continuous reading, researching and learning is so important, the information we need is out there somewhere. It exists. The difficulty really is that we are not ready to receive this information and adjust to it. So as we adjust along whatever path we are taking, our receptiveness changes and our antennae collects different information.
I received As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen, recently. It’s a concise collection of essays on personal power and is available free online. Allen talks about direct action towards goals and choosing to focus our time, money and energy on things that will take us towards our desired state, rather than away from it.
Putting the day-to-day in the frame of “What am I working towards?” will tune the antennae to the frequency required to attain whatever life we are aiming for.
Everything is finite. Our time, our money and our energy. It seems to me that choosing to commit to our goals is critical to building a place in this life that we want, and not falling into one we despise.

There goes January.

We are already a month through 2018.

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It seems that everyone I’ve spoken to has remarked about how fast January flew by. So we are 4 weeks down, making it the perfect time to consider our end of 2017 goals, behaviour changes and life improvements that we set for ourselves.

It’s odd there are still ‘New Year, New You’ promotions appearing on my social media, of course it’s always the right time to initiate positive change, but procrastinating making a change for this amount of time needs some investigation.

Personally, I think the emphasis of one-off transformation of resolutions is over-hyped and can be destructive to building positive new habits. For example, whilst a new calendar is symbolically important for a ‘fresh start,’ there is no real reason why any change that seems important at the end of the calendar could not have happened in December, or November, or at any other time it came to your attention.

Apparently, 80% of resolutions fail by February (see here), perhaps this is indicative of the obligation to want better by listing off unclear, non-SMART and non-directive goals.

  • Eat better
  • Get fit
  • Save more

These are not good goals but they are all resolutions that I’ve made for myself and that people I work with have told me about. It’s running the same script year-in and year-out, and its no wonder that they fail, and that these resolutions reappear year-to-year.

If you missed the point with your resolutions, consider these questions and take massive action towards a chain right now…

  1. How will you know that you’ve succeeded with your goal?
  2. How will it make you feel?
  3. What number/metric can you use to track progress?
  4. How often will you track progress?
  5. What can be done to reward progress towards your goal?

February is as good a time as New Year. In fact, it’s probably better because by now, we’ve left holiday and celebrations and we’re back to the hustle of everyday life.

“The days are long, but the years are short.” — Gretchen Rubin

Now is the second-best time to start, the best time was last year.

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p.s. I recently listened to Tim Ferriss’ interview with Gretchen Rubin and I think it’s really worth a listen here for anybody interested in personal experimentation, happiness, habits and just a fresh perspective.

p.p.s. On a personal interest note, Dan Carlin recently launched a new Blitz episode focusing on the history of pain as entertainment here. Prepare to question ‘human-ness!’

Peanut butter.

In coaching and in achieving change, self-awareness is a key skill that requires constant honing and practice. Wikipedia defines self-awareness as

“the capacity for introspection and the ability to recognize oneself as an individual separate from the environment and other individuals.”

The capacity for introspection is the most important aspect for creating positive change. This is because the ability to know yourself, to know your idiosyncrasies and to know how you cope with situations enables conscious ‘pattern interruption’ to make better decisions for long-term health, or to respond to fear courageously, or to just say ’no.’

I’d add that this separateness enables recognising oneself as capable of changing the environment as well as changing yourself.

For example, I know that I really struggle with self-control on evenings when I get home from work at 8:30 or later. At these times, I’ve found myself eating half a jar of peanut butter, finishing a block of chocolate and eating tomorrow’s prepared meals. Obviously, this isn’t great!

Acknowledging it for what it is let me change the behaviour for the better. So first, the next time I went to the fridge door, I paused and reminded myself that I am a healthy person, and really, healthy people do not do this.

Naturally, this only half worked.

Maybe I had a tablespoon (or three) of peanut butter rather than half a jar. It’s a step in the right direction.

Now it was strategy time. I realised that this behaviour was often me misinterpreting dehydration as hunger and then wanting to reward myself after a long day at work. Then the inconvenience of cooking a proper meal was too big at that time.

Ah ha the insight!

So I began preparing a small meal I could have before leaving work such that I wasn’t grumpy, hungry or irritable. I ensured that good hydration habits were maintained all the way into evening sessions, and I placed a handful of dark chocolate bars in the fridge at home.

Hydrated, fed, happy, rewarded. It’s simple.

It would have been too easy for the days to roll into months, and the months to roll into years, where I continued to wolf down random collections of food every night before bed. Now though, I have taken control of the habit and made it work for me.

On the whole, it seems to me that this is the main reframe we need with our lives. Habits are habits, they will always be a part of us and how we live. Then they can help us or hinder us. Habits can also be reactionary or proactive – that is, we candesignour habits to improve our lives or our habits can rule us to despair and dis-ease.

 

Which way are you heading?

I think about these figures a lot. At the core of how I set goals and evaluate myself is the belief that nothing is constant, this means that either things improve or they decay. As an example, in 2016 I ran a 1.32 half marathon, which is approximately 4:22 minutes per kilometre.

Due to changing my priorities and dropping down the amount of mileage and training hours generally, I currently can maintain something in the region of a 4:44 pace for half an hour. I’d predict that a half marathon would take me a little over 2 hours.

Likewise, if we are not careful, giving insufficient thought to our food, lifestyle, sleep, fun can led to poor health outcomes, dis-ease, and burnout.

Life is a one day at a time game, aiming straight for an Ironman or cooking a complicated soufflé is perhaps setting up for disappointment. It’s considering what stage our life is at and which bars we are attempting to lift.

Dr John Demartini lists 7 life areas: spiritual quest, mental space, career, family, finances, social and physical health. Ranking each of these 7 out of 10 provides an excellent framework for identifying what to work on and what we have succeeded in.

I understand that we all have commitments and things in our lives that take up lots of our hours. In the 168 hours in a week, say 40 are work-related, say 65 are asleep – that leaves us up to 63 hours to address any shortcomings.

It doesn’t take much.

Dr Jordan Peterson, a psychology professor and research at the University of Toronto, talks about the idea of starting small, and in fact, starting by ‘tidying your room.’ For me, whilst certainly true literally, the idea expands to include all those little tasks that have been on my mind… doing the washing-up, taking books to the charity shops, tidying social places and cleaning the oven. It’s preparing our environment to free our headspace to focus on improving what matters.

I don’t know about you, my bedroom certainly has symptoms of gradual decay. Applying the method is just using 5 minutes to put some things away and make order.

Start with the simple things, and apply in each area one day at a time. Settling at any time means decay, so managing time to work out the areas of biggest return is awesome for holistic life improvement.

Dream Big. No, Bigger.

On a journey with no well-defined destination, any path is correct.

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To move forward to a desirable future requires defining exactly what it is we are working towards. The most common goal I help people accomplish is to get fit and/or to lose weight. Both of these are unclear and fail to provide instruction.

How do we know when we are successful?

How do I know when I am fit?

Is it the number on the scales really what matters?

Let’s take getting fit. Each of us has a different mental image of fitness. It might be Kayla  Itsines, Ben Greenfield or maybe doing what we did a decade ago. Fitness has come to include how we look, how we feel, what we can do and even our health overall.

I have found that whatever resonates and jumps out as significant for each of us is a sign of something that we can work towards. Maybe it’s getting the 1:30 half marathon, or dropping that 10kg, or moving painfree. As a gateway to self-understanding, the process of sacrifice and improvement to attain that goal is critical in developing excellence in fitness.

Working with runners in this regard is simple. They have concrete metrics that can be used to track progress and the micro-goals add up over the months to amazing transformations. Tracking and following numbers is one part of getting to the final destination, because the course to success in non-linear and requires individualised experimentation and adjustment.

John Lee Doumas (of Entrepreneur on Fire) talks about FOCUS as standing for…

Follow

On

Course

Until

Success

That’s what it’s all about, really. Goals do not work unless we do, so first and foremost, defining where I want to be in 12 months gives me feedback of how I am progressing month-to-month and week-to-week.

A resolution for myself this year is to be more real with myself, and looking at the metrics for what they are – being on track is great, being off track requires adjustment.

Trust the process and the results will come.

 

Christmas & Goals

What an amazing time of year!

I still have yet to come to terms with celebrating Christmas in beautiful weather and stunning sun – it’s definitely a bit different to my childhood experiences!

Personally I love this time of year…

Family, friends, love and connection. Having free time devoted to just being with family and friends and making the most of the moment is special. As an expression of this, I really love giving gifts and expressing gratitude. Often it is only a tiny, insignificant demonstration of what I feel… it is nice to give that energy out to the world.

Taking stock and looking forward. The symbolic meaning of Christmas.. as the (re-)birth of the hero in the depths of darkness talks to me a lot – and it strikes me as the perfect time to take a few hours alone or with someone I trust to look back, review and then look forward.

This post will outline how I approach this yearly review process – it’s not exactly comprehensive, but these are the questions that I ask and the notes that I make.


Running through this process has become a ritual now – for the last 5 years, I have devoted perhaps 6-hours every Christmas-week to journalling, reflection and projection.

Questions to Take Stock…

  1. What am I most proud of in the last year?
  2. What new dream did you achieve in the last year?
  3. Who did you meet and how did they shape you?
  4. What skills and experiences are you proud to have honed?

Questions to Guide What’s Next…

  1. Where do you feel you let yourself down, or let fear take control?
  2. What would you have done differently?
  3. What did you do last year that had you feeling excited, and how can you take it to the next level?
  4. What 6-12 bucket-list experiences do you want next year?

Taking the time to flesh out full answers to these questions, and letting the unconscious run with any answers is a formational time for transforming your life. With all the people I have talked to who have done remarkable things, they always bring up a time usually 3 years ago where they sat down and wrote down what they wanted their life to be 3-5 years later. They set concrete, objective goals in health, happiness, wealth, relationships, business, whatever. Then by asking, the Universe and the Unconscious adjusts and provides.

It reminds me of this Napoleon Hill quote…

“A goal is a dream with a deadline.”

Now whether this is synchronicity or ‘the secret’ or any other theory isn’t important. Defining what is coming up next sets the standard for evaluation – and given enough leg in the game, adjustment towards the goal will take place!

Personally I believe that most New Years’ Resolutions do not trigger real sustainable change is because they are too fluffily defined – “This year I will be healthier” is a really ineffective resolution — what does it mean, how will you know, how can you track progress, when is the deadline, and what is the emotional motivation behind it?

As a ridiculous comparison – I’m going skydiving next year. It’s a goal and maybe not a resolution, but principles cross-over. In the process of realising this bucket-list item… I had to become someone who goes skydiving – I had to ‘put in the work’ of finding a provider, of scheduling, and of paying. So, I’ve already paid and put it in the calendar.

In this example, the leverage for me to fulfil this goal is that I’d lose my money. I’ve acknowledged this and understand it – because my money is with the provider! It is a silly example – but with our person wanting to be healthier… they could ask themselves:

  • How am I tracking this – is it how I look, my body-fat percent, how I feel, my posture?
  • When will I evaluate this – all of the above really should be monitored at most monthly – but also there need to be harsh deadlines. So…
  • How can I leverage emotion to create a reason why? Like, if Sally’s wedding was in 6 months, her food and movement priorities will reflect this – looking killer in her dress is a huge emotional pull towards healthy choices.
    • A fun alternative to this is making a deal with a friend. So let’s say John wanted to lose 10kg by June 2018 for a holiday… John can give his trusted coworker Steve $500 with the agreement that if he is not 10kg lighter by 1/6/2018, that $500 is donated to a charity or organisation that John despises – maybe the Australian Nazi Party. If he does achieve his goal, it gets returned to his holiday fund.
  • The most important question that I ask myself every day is possibly “what is the smallest possible step I can take towards my goal?” Ask this question, answer it, then do it!

Let the mind run wild and feel the excitement of achieving some long-held bucket-list goal or correcting something that was off for 2017. Taking out-of-focus plans and making them clear is a key step in having a magical year.

Making 2018 the best year so far is in your hands.