How Attractions Help You Avoid Distraction

marquee-main-attractionThere’s a big reason we have so many issues trying to accomplish important work. We aren’t clear about what is the main attraction and what are simply distractions.

When you think about your daily activities, how many of them could be classified as a distraction?

  • Binge-watching House of Cards
  • Scrolling through a dozen screens of Facebook updates (and associated ads)
  • Reading gossip about celebrities
  • Spreading gossip about celebrities
  • Checking email unnecessarily

– Ironically, I got derailed from writing this blog post because checking my email seemed critical (it wasn’t).

But there are even bigger things than this. Your job could be distracting you from the attraction of a fulfilling and impacting career. That fad diet could be distracting you from a more meaningful, healthy lifestyle. Treating those migraine headaches may be distracting you from dealing with the stress you’re under and finding a sense of peace.

What can you do to overcome distraction?

Define Your Main Attractions

If you don’t focus on what is important to you, then distractions will continuously lead you around by the nose.  Take some time (yes, you can carve out an hour this week) to quiet your mind and ask yourself what is truly important to you. Write these down on a sheet of paper. It could things like your family, but try to build toward things that are specific to you and less generic (e.g. having a close-knit relationship with my kids, helping people overcome poverty or being active and fit).

Organize Yourself around Your Main Attractions

Knowing the big picture of what you want is helpful, but you need to understand how to apply it to your daily life. Use your calendar, a task managing app or even simple lists on a sheet of paper to make sure you’re taking care of what is important to you. Start by looking at the inventory of your personal main attractions and write down activities that help you stay focused on your goals and values. Revisit this at the end of the day. Evaluate what you did well and where you can improve. Now you can make a new list for the next day.

(Better yet, create “Success Lists” instead of “To Do Lists”, from Gary Keller’s book The ONE Thing. Brian Johnson explains the book succinctly in this video.)

Systemize Good Habits

In her latest book Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives, Gretchen Rubin disagrees with trying to make healthy choices each day. She encourages us to make ONE healthy choice and then make it systematic… a habit. Here’s a section from her interview on BigThink.com:

…the advantage of a habit is that once something’s on automatic pilot, then the brain doesn’t have to use any energy or willpower to make a decision. You’ve already made that decision. You’re just moving forward. And so it happens easily without any thought, without any willpower, without any effort. You’re just on cruise control and then you can do what you want to get done.

If you’re having to make deliberate choices to focus on your main attractions, you may reach a point of decision fatigue and then the distractions win again. If I plan to go to the gym, I set out my clothes and get my water bottle ready the night before. It has become a habit. Once I’ve done that, I rarely miss my exercise routine.

The world will always be full of distractions and the little gremlins will try to knock you off course. But, if you identify your main attractions and then organize and systemize your life around them, you have a better shot at accomplishing what is important in your life. What could be greater than that?

My life is my message.

-Gandhi

How Do You Decide When to Quit?

Knowing when to quit and when to press on can be one of life’s toughest decisions. When things get tough, the tough get going… but do they go straight ahead or in a different direction? When I wanted to quit football in high school, my father taught me a lesson I have never forgotten.

high-school-footballIn preparation for the big homecoming game my sophomore year, our rural Oklahoma football team had ordered new uniforms so we would look our best during the halftime ceremony. Just one problem – there weren’t enough new uniforms for everyone. Junior and senior class players got first selections. Then as one of the coaches was giving sophomores their uniforms, he skipped me (and a couple of other “average” athletes) and gave the remaining uniforms to some of the talented freshmen players.

I was humiliated.

I wasn’t being a fashionista. This was a message to me that the coaches didn’t consider me a valuable contributor, and this message would be on public display to everyone else. The uniforms were so distinct the rest of the team would notice, as would everyone in the stands while we stood in the middle of the field during the homecoming ceremony. I couldn’t imagine being one of the few varsity players wearing a marred and tattered, older-style uniform. I walked up to the coach and said, “I quit.” and walked out of the field house.

Shortly after the game had started, my father wondered why I wasn’t on the field and he came and found me. I explained my reasons for quitting the team. He understood my frustration, but reminded me I had made a commitment to the coaches and my team. He encouraged me to finish out the season before deciding whether to quit, but left the decision up to me.

I knew he was right. After the game, I swallowed my pride and asked the coach if I could return to the team. I finished the season, but never played football after that year. Since I didn’t continue pursuing football, it may seem like rejoining the team was meaningless. But I learned some valuable lessons from my father’s advice.

All of us have been in a place like this – where we don’t feel like a valued contributor, where we don’t sense we are in our element or where we don’t feel fulfilled. Maybe that is where you are today. You have no desire to stay where you are, but quitting can be a scary proposition.

So, how do you decide when to quit? Here are a few tips.

  1. Assess your commitments.

    Did you commit to a timeframe or to specific deliverables? Consider how failing to meet those commitments could impact your employer, your client and/or your reputation. If staying committed is best for everyone involved, push to that finish line. I felt I had committed to completing the football season when I joined the team, so I pushed on. In another example, Heather Dorniden pushed herself to the literal finish line after falling during a 600 meter race. Here are the two inspiring videos: the first video and the second (hat tip to Michael Hyatt‘s great post “Don’t Quit Before the Whistle Blows).

    If I miss a goal, which sometimes happens when you set huge ones, I want the reassurance that I did everything I in my power to make it happen. I want the peace in knowing that it wasn’t for lack of hustling that I missed a target for my dream. I want to know that the one thing under my control was under control.
    Jon Acuff, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job

  2. Assess the opportunity to grow.

    That event at homecoming helped me recognize I was only playing football because I thought I was supposed to. Honestly, I didn’t enjoy it and likely would never have been more than a mediocre player. The time I would have spent continuing to play football was instead funneled into creative activities I enjoyed and excelled in, as well as a part-time job.

    Consider whether quitting now improves or limits your capacity to grow. What are the opportunity costs for sticking with it compared to trying something else? Do you have other options you know you can pursue and be excellent in doing?

    Mediocre work is rarely because of a lack of talent and often because of the cul-de-sac. All coping does is waste your time and misdirect your energy. If the best you can do is cope, you’re better off quitting.
    Seth Godin, The Dip

  3. Set a tripwire on your decision.

    There are very few times when you commit to something for life, so most everything we commit to has to end eventually… but when? My father suggested I wait and decide whether to quit after the football season was over. This gave me a specific time to consider my decision. If now isn’t the right time for you to decide, set a tripwire. Do you need to make your decision after fulfilling your commitments, like I did? Maybe you need to prepare yourself for the transition. Practicality may require you to line up another option first. But don’t let these issues cause you to procrastinate. Estimate how long this should take and set a date for your decision. This will give you a specific goal to aim for and will help motivate you to make progress toward that goal.

Quitting isn’t easy, but languishing in mediocrity is no picnic either. By considering your options and making a plan, you can improve your opportunities for success. Finally, don’t feel like quitting makes you a loser. To quote Seth again from The Dip…

Winners quit all the time. They just quit the right stuff at the right time.
Seth Godin, The Dip

I hope these tips help you do exactly that. Quit the right stuff at the right time.

How Emotional Posture Stunts Growth

vulnerability is not weakness

original image by samplediz at FreeImages.com (http://www.freeimages.com/photo/1224442)

“I’ll never let that happen again.”

Amidst all of life’s slings and arrows, we learn to put up our shields to protect ourselves. We do this to get through situations when we feel attacked, but if we leave our shields up we close ourselves off. We galvanize ourselves in a way that prevents us from learning, changing and growing.

We trust someone and they hurt us, so we no longer trust as easily.
We try something new and it backfires, so we go back to our comfort zone.
We share our art with others and get negative feedback, so we keep it to ourselves next time.

Our brains naturally try and avoid pain in order to protect our existence. Self-preservation is essential in life or death scenarios. But we’re people, not jam. We don’t need to be preserved indefinitely. In order to experience what it means to be human, we have to take emotional and mental risks, even when it means inevitably experiencing pain.

If we let it, our emotional posture will stunt our growth.

Vulnerability is not weakness. And that myth is profoundly dangerous. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.

– Dr. Brené Brown

Brené Brown’s definition of vulnerability is not one of weakness, but of strength (here are some videos of her explaining this). I find it helpful to think about vulnerability as a posture. If you are too protective, you could be closed off to the world around you.

If you are in a closed posture, you…

  • … keep your head down
  • … watch closely where you walk
  • … hold your arms in to protect your heart
  • … are sure to not make contact with anyone or anything
  • … ultimately make yourself smaller

If you are in an open posture, you…

  • … hold your head high
  • … see farther and can notice more opportunities
  • … are more free to use your arms and hands in helping others
  • … are able to connect more easily with others and build rewarding relationships
  • … are able to grow

It can be scary to walk through each day with an open posture (especially after getting sucker punched). But if we decide our solution to life’s hard lessons is to “never do that again,” we may miss incredible opportunities to see something beautiful born out of our willingness to be vulnerable.

As you go through your day, check your posture and ask yourself if you’re being open or closed.

2 Kinds of Indecision

2-types-indecisionYou are faced with a nearly infinite number of decisions each day. The cereal aisle in the grocery store used to be a sign of our mountain of choices, but you can now find enough varieties of any product to fill a store (or more) thanks to online shopping. The only problem with your freedom to choose is you no longer feel you have the freedom to NOT choose. (It’s no surprise we now use terms like decision fatigue to explain why this process wears us out.)

So, what do you do? If you’re like most of us, you put off choices when the decision isn’t clear. But some of these decisions could be important or urgent, so the procrastination technique isn’t always successful. Some decisions can’t wait, but you don’t have enough time to do everything at once.

This brings you one more decision to make: which choices will you choose?

In order to figure this out, it will help you to know which of 2 kinds of indecision you’re experiencing: indifference or ambivalence.

indifference-versus-ambivalence

  1. Indifference

    If you don’t care whether you eat at the Italian restaurant versus the burger joint, then you are indifferent. This is the type of decision you can defer. Let someone else choose or simply flip a coin to decide. If the meal isn’t imminent, you can also put off this decision until later.

  2. Ambivalence

    If you’re choosing between two very different job offers, but want each one for solid reasons… then you are ambivalent. This is the kind of decision that deserves your full attention. You may need time to research the options further, gather other opinions and gather your best judgment.

This seems somewhat obvious, but you can spend a lot of time pondering choices without considering how much you care about the outcome. By focusing our attention away from our indifference and on what you feel strongly about, you can accomplish more significance with every decision.

Do you struggle with indecision? Let me know if this is helpful or if you have other thoughts on this topic.

God from the Machine

JR-Ewing-Jeannie

Many of us remember when the TV show Dallas turned an entire season into “just a dream” in order to bring back a character who had been killed off. Viewers were furious with what they deemed a copout. The solution was much too convenient and it came out of the blue.

This is a prime example of what the industry calls a deus ex machina.

A deus ex machina is something inserted into a story which provides a contrived solution. In Latin, the phrase means literally “a god from the machine.” We may show frustration with Pam waking up or Tolkien’s eagles, but truth be told, we want our own god from the machine.

We want the pill that allows us to lose weight without changing our eating or exercise habits. We want that windfall of money from the lottery to solve our debt problems. We want our relationship issues to disappear as the other person realizes they were wrong all along. Basically, we want to wake up in the morning and realize all our problems are now as insignificant as a bad dream that rinses out of our lives in the morning shower.

Wishing for your own deus ex machina does little good. Your time can be better spent honing your craft, growing your following, rolling a snowball downhill and building momentum. As you do this, you learn how to make bold – but smart – decisions. This is where you can take the leap you’ve been preparing for your entire life (and the leap after that).

And maybe that’s it. Maybe it is a bit of god from the machine. Only, in this case, the machine is your life.

How to Find Significance in Your Work

bite-sized-elephantCrossing numerous small hills doesn’t make you a mountain climber.

Dousing millions of lit matches one at a time won’t qualify you as a fire fighter.

Running a quarter mile every day for four months won’t make you a marathon runner.

The tedium of small accomplishments can lead you to become apathetic about what you’re doing. If you’re willing to take on the bigger challenge, you may find greater significance in your work. Each step gets you closer to the top of the mountain or closer to an important finish line. The thrill of knowing you can do something significant can inspire you to keep going.

They say the key to eating an elephant is to take one bite at a time. Unfortunately, we often look for bite-sized elephants instead.

That’s fine. Just don’t complain about the portion size once you choose it.

Does Seth Godin Get It?

After reading Seth Godin’s latest book What To Do When It’s Your Turn (and it’s always your turn), a friend and I talked about it. She questioned why there is such a disconnect between how most people live their lives and the possibilities Seth talked about in his book.

It was a really smart question, and it begs another.

Does Seth Godin get it?

The reality we experience tells us otherwise. In our reality…

  • The tallest blade of grass gets cut. So fly under the radar by keeping your head down.
  • Generosity doesn’t scale. You gotta get your own in this world.
  • Art doesn’t pay. Get a real job with guarantees and certainty.
  • Picking yourself is a fool’s errand. Your energy is better spent getting the attention of the powers-that-be and persuading them of your worthiness.
  • If you don’t know if it will work… don’t do it. It has to work or it isn’t worth the investment.

Seth’s book (as well as his long-lasting blog) tells us otherwise. His possibilities tell us…

  • You owe it to the world to pick up the microphone and say something meaningful.
  • It’s your turn to give a gift. Just because you can.
  • If you are open to uncertainty, you can be a pathfinder for the rest of us. There is art in that.
  • You have to TAKE your turn, because it’s rarely given to you.
  • This might not work, and that’s OK. Dance in the duality of work/not work. Don’t run away from the fear, but don’t ignore it either. The ability to live in that tension and discover what you can do in the midst of that… that is artistry.

Godin is definitely seeing something else. The world he paints isn’t the one most people see when they walk into their slate gray cubicle on Monday at 7:59 AM. It’s not the one we see in the eyes of the department store clerk… partly because he won’t make eye contact with us to begin with. This isn’t the reality presented to us by television, human resources, our colleagues at the water cooler or by bureaucracy.

So, does Seth Godin get it? If so, why is this so hard for us to see?