“It doesn’t matter what you did or where you were…it matters where you are and what you’re doing. Get out there! Sing the song in your heart and NEVER let anyone shut you up!!”― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Are there any formulae for success?
Are you having a wonderful time following your most cherished desires, pursuing skills that matter and making a difference to this world?
Or do you feel like you need a break and just do not know how to get on the path towards what you only dream about and are unable to fulfill or accomplish.
Does life feel like a treadmill of repeating tasks that you dread doing or does life feel enthusiastic, exciting and adventurous?
These are all difficult questions to answer and you may be stuck in your habits and routines and it might seem like it is almost next to impossible to carve out some time to follow what you love to do.
The problem might be that you may have lived another’s dream for so long that you may have completely forgotten what hope and personal power feel like.
Many programs and books might promise a way out for you but after following them for a little while and seeing no perceptible results, you may be inclined to quit.
You may have also internalized that creating something of value and making a difference in this world are for the select few. You may have begun believing that complex ideas and programs are the solution to your problems.
But often, something very simple and seemingly improbable might be the solution to your problems and your questions.
Here is a list of six steps that might make going for that dream for yours impossible to ignore.
1.Do You Really Know What You Want in Life?
“Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it” ― Buddha
This is the toughest question to answer for many of us. You may have been interested in projects in the past but nothing really grabs your fancy. When other people and books mention the much clichéd “going for your passion,” you secretly resent them and suddenly want to leave the room.
While there is nothing wrong in going for your passion, what if you do not know what your “passion” is and where to find it?
Joseph Campbell very famously said: “Follow your bliss.”
However, from your vantage point, life is stressful and exhausting and bliss is few and far between at best and non-existant at worst.
Let us do a simple experiment. Instead of finding the one passion or bliss, how about you make a list of the next best things. A lot of us do not go for it because we have so much emotional charge attached to the “one amazing passion” or “dream” idea.
Instead, allow yourself to intentionally dabble around in a few different things that have your interest and attention. Instead of being limited to the idea of “the one,” how about go and try out “a few second best things?”
Steve Jobs described in his Stanford commencement that he dropped out of college and began taking classes he got interested in. This lead him to take a class in calligraphy in Reed College, a skill that he amply used and brought to the personal computer much later.
You may have no idea what the remotely interesting idea might hold and lead you into. You may be searching for the one idea but if you do not find it, it is time to look and engage in what interests you even though it may not be your idea of bliss.
You may be surprised that when you seek interesting things, you may stumble upon “the one” purely by trial and error.
When you have enough experience in several different fields, you have a better shot in deciding exactly what you should go after.
It is always a great idea to remember that following what others want or a fad or something that might make you rich is often a recipe for heartache later on. You have to begin shaping and molding the clay of life around your skills, temperament and desires.
Any recipe for success is exclusively yours and you assume complete responsibility for its eventual fruition. By understanding yourself and following something that suits you is a wonderful way to honor and respect yourself.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” ― Confucius
Asking the why, when, how and what are also very helpful in determining where you would like to go towards. Peeling off the layers of why you want to pursue something unmasks the real reasons why you seem motivated to do it. If the underlying reason for why you want to do something is money and fame, there may be easier ways to achieve those.
Decide what you really want in life.
Ask the why, what, when and how questions. Understand the hidden motivations behind your passions and goals.
If you do not have a clue about what you want, attempt to do things that have been interesting but you may have dismissed as not being “the one.”
2. Making time, Disconnecting, Slowing Down And Stepping Off the Hamster Wheel: Rest a lot, get a lot of sleep and enjoy the little pleasures of life
“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
The world has become increasingly more connected and technology is moving at the speed of light. While this is a remarkable time in many ways, it is also a time that is unprecedented in the history of humans.
Never have you been so connected, so available and so ready and hooked on to electronics as right now. In science, this dilemma between useful information on one hand and clutter and distractions on the other hand is called the signal to noise ratio. You can understand signal as the results that you are getting or tasks that you are doing and noise as all the pings, the IM’s, texts and other distractions that are continually fighting for a pie share of your attention.
When the noise gets too high and the signal gets very low, you may have an electronic clutter issue on your hands. Since the conscious brain is only able to perform at 50-60 bits of information/second, you literally have limited attention at hand. And research has shown that willpower and the ability to focus or concentrate is limited and actually deprecates over time.
Add all the electronic clutter and you have an inattention issue that you have to deal with all the time.
“To understand the immeasurable, the mind must be extraordinarily quiet, still.” ― Jiddu Krishnamurti
What is the solution? You may have heard this many times but the simplest solution is to slow down and take a few deep belly breaths.
When you slow down your conscious thinking brain and allow it to rest and incubate, your problem solving abilities may improve radically. When you make the time and space in your life and prune away the unnecessary branches, you make the room for what is important to bloom.
In a wonderful TED talk titled “How to succeed? Get more sleep,” Arianna Huffington reminds us that chronically over worked people should really consider getting more sleep and rest. I could not agree more.
If you are feeling pinched for time, attention and finding it impossible to get caught up, what are the chances that you will have fun and leisure time to work on what really matters to you?
There is an urgent need to reframe the image and idea of the stress of the speedy and connected lifestyle and replace large parts of it with rest, relaxation, fun and laughter.
When you begin to get a small toehold in the realm of fun and enjoyment with what you do on a daily basis, you are pushing yourself towards a conscious life that really matters for you.
When your work becomes fun and joy or at least are able to bring you some enjoyment and meaning, you are on the right path.
“The Way to do is to be.” ― Lao Tzu
Replace busy work and excessive stress with rest, relaxation, space and laughter.
Consciously create the time and space to go for the things that matter to you.
3. Setting up Habits and Structures to Support Your Desires: Taking Action That Matters
“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.” ― Samuel Johnson
After you have determined what you would like to go after and sufficiently slowed down your life to make the time to do it and enjoy it, the next step is to set up habits that support your desires.
After all, everything that we have become is a result of habits and structures that we have cultivated or practiced over the course of many years. Some of these habits have become second nature to you and you may barely notice them but they are still defining your life and creating your future.
If you are habituated to come back from work, switch the TV on and watch it for several hours in the evening, you will be hard pressed to find the time to do anything else meaningful with the rest of your time.
The single most important habit that many other habits revolve around as described by Charles Duhigg in his book The Power of Habit and is called a “Keystone Habit.” Do you have a keystone habit that everything else revolves around, something so significant that changing or altering it could change your life?
In the book, The Power of Habit, Duhigg tells the story of a woman Lisa Allen and how her life was quickly spinning out of control. She was getting divorced, overweight, deeply in debt and was addicted to smoking and drinking.
One day in a hotel room in Cairo on a vacation that she calls a rash decision, jetlagged and blinded by the darkness of the room she reached out for a morning smoke and smelt burning plastic and to her dismay realized that she was habitually lighting something that was creating the smoke, in this case a pen.
Lisa felt desperate and knew that she had to change something. Her self-pity gave way for a moment and she realized that she needed a goal to work towards. Her crazy idea and goal was to return to Egypt and trek across the desert, something that was impossible for her to conceive at her current state of affairs.
Lisa knew something had to give and sacrifices were required to be made and in particular she needed to quit smoking, a keystone habit. Lisa returned 11 months later to fulfill her goal and in 4 years completely turned her life around.
Research is now showing that creativity is less and less about waiting for inspiration and more about showing up everyday and putting in the work. In a recent article in Fast Company, this point was elaborately made and ample scientific evidence was provided.
I will be addressing how to break chains of habits that do not support your goals in another post in the future. Right now, I want you to correlate the desires that you have with the habits and structures that you have in place and potentially new ones that you may need to set up.
For example, you may desire to write a non-fiction thriller and you even have some ideas about the plot and the characters that play in the story. However, do you have the daily or weekly habits that promote and encourage the eventual fulfillment of that objective?
You may want to set up time and space daily or thrice a week where you can immerse yourself in your writing.
You may need to cultivate a habit of reading and scavenging for ideas or “scratching” as the inimitable dancer and choreographer Thyla Tharp calls it. You may need to have a habit of spending quality time doing research and documenting everything for future use in a novel.
You may also want to cultivate habits that limit your perfectionism, anxiety and fear of self-publishing and habits that encourage you and inspire you. You get the idea!
Allow yourself to experiment with new ideas and habits and consider the great advantage of improvising and fine tuning towards setting up structures that matter.
The truth is that everything including great success and great failure and everything else in between are usually the result of the habits that we cultivate over years and decades.
Make an inventory if your habits and structures support your goals.
If your habits do not support your goals, attempt to start small and set up habits and take the time to engage in activities that will lead to the eventual fulfillment of your goals.
4. Going Through the Inertial of Self-Doubt, Excuses and Other Limiting Beliefs: Reframing the Fear of Failure
“Once you become self-conscious, there is no end to it; once you start to doubt, there is no room for anything else.” ― Mignon McLaughlin
After setting up structures that support the forward momentum towards your goals, you will come upon the greatest challenge in your adventure. It is the challenge of continuing forward when all evidence points towards your imminent failure and lack of forward motion.
The biggest challenge is that you may have a set idea of how things need to work out and how results should show up in your life. You may have internalized the idea that if it does not work out or of it does not come easily enough, it may be the wrong thing to pursue.
This is the time when the poetic and romantic idea of your dream and desires seems to slip away and gives rise to massive amounts of self-doubt. You may begin to make excuses for not going forward because quite frankly things were not meant to turn out this way.
All the limiting beliefs that you have constructed and internalized as physiological neural networks begin screaming that you are on the wrong path.
This is the period of trial that you will experience over and over again on the path or the journey of your adventure towards your goals and desires. This is also precisely the time when you need to connect with the belief and the faith that you have in your endeavor. Without nurturing the reasons why you are on your quest and without reconsolidating why it all matters, things will look a bit hairy.
You may dismiss the power of belief as new age mumbo jumbo but without great belief that it is possible and that you can succeed no matter what, you will simply give up.
It is another thing to read in a book or in a post that failure makes you strong and gives you character but it is an entirely another matter to be in the epicenter of the storm when your world or dreams are falling apart.
It is in this time that you need a nudge, a toehold, something to grab on to push you forward. You need to kindle a little light of belief and hope that when released in your consciousness burns brighter than the inertial of failure and limiting beliefs.
There are a few questions that may really help you out when you are on the verge of giving up.
The first question is: “what do I have to lose? It is better to go for it, fail and readjust and recalibrate your journey instead of never trying.” I believe that the burden of not knowing if you could have gone places if you would have gone for it is too great to bear at a later on time.
The other question is one that Dr. Gay Hendricks describes in his book, Five wishes. A coincidental encounter at a party changed the way Hendricks looked at life forever. A stranger asked him to imagine himself on his deathbed and to consider this question: “Was your life a complete success? If not, then what would be the things you’d wish had happened that would have made it a success?”
You need to ask yourself if you will regret not going for your dreams and journey the way that you wanted or will you feel immense angst and ask “if only I tried?”
Do not take the issue of limiting beliefs and self-doubt lightly because they will stop you from moving forward. And they will express and mask themselves as excuses and other physical, mental and emotional manifestations that will convince you to quit.
According to the negativity bias, the negative state is much stronger that the positive state and it takes five times as much positivity to get past negative states.
Being positive is not just being “Pollyannaish” even though there is nothing wrong with that but science has shown that the negative state is more sticky, strong and our brains have a preference and a bias towards the negative state. And mucking around in too much “no, it cannot be done” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy where your mind will generate excuses why something is impossible to accomplish.
It may be more realistic to recognize that life moves two steps forward and then a step backwards. When you expect only forward motion, you may be setting up for disappointment.
“The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it is not without doubt, but in spite of doubt.” ― Rollo May, The Courage to Create
Reconnect with the real reasons why you are going for your desires and set up beacons of hope and belief in yourself and your own work.
Whenever it looks like it is impossible, deeply reaffirm your commitment to achieving your dreams and find little toeholds of inspiration to counteract the inertia.
Commit yourself to sail through self-doubt and the inertia of limiting beliefs.
5. Allowing the Exponential Power of Networks and Connecting With Others for Mutually Beneficial Outcomes
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” ― Mother Teresa
It is very true that you cannot do it all alone. This is perhaps the most significant of all the steps that many people fail to recognize. In great enthusiasm and forward momentum, they want to do it all. After all you feel invincible and like a superhero in your journey and want to control everything.
Fear of losing control or having their life spin out of control is one of the basic fears that humans have and of you allow it to rule your life, it will.
Attempting to control everything and doing it all yourself is great in the beginning but as you expand and learn more in your field, you will quickly realize that becoming an expert in all fields is unnecessary and quite impossible.
Instead, you should be focusing on getting skills and mastering the areas that most matter to you and seek out assistance in other areas.
Also, it is very important to network and connect with the right people if you want to become successful. Networks and connections quickly become exponential and you do not have to look further than social media where your post may become viral on the internet after being reshared many times.
Of course, connecting with people to give them greater value is always a better and more worthy goal instead of just desiring fame and success.
Your success and forward momentum will depend on the company you keep and the networks you nurture. Alas, if you try to do it all alone, there is simply not enough of you to get everything done and make a meaningful impact. To make an impact, you will have to start a movement, something that inspires, provides value and motivates others to take action.
Seeking, selecting and encouraging the right people will prove critical for your continued success in the field. Sometimes, this connecting and seeking will compel you to cast aside your ego and genuinely seek value and learn from many more people that you are used or comfortable to learn from.
One idea to foster and promote like-minded people is from the mastermind network that Napoleon Hill talks about in his classic book, Think and Grow Rich. If you can find and promote relationships with people in your field who can question you, challenge you and encourage you to move forward, you have an invaluable ally.
If you are not comfortable with the idea of networking and nurturing relationships and dismiss yourself as uninteresting and shy, you will have to begin slow and get used to asking questions and connecting.
Always remember that you may not hit it off with all but you will certainly hit it off with a niche or a “tribe” as Seth Godin calls it.
“If you hang out with chickens, you’re going to cluck and if you hang out with eagles, you’re going to fly.” ― Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience
Find your niche or your tribe and actively connect with them.
People love genuine engagement and casting aside the gimmicks and connecting with others to exchange great value is always a better way.
Delegate, delegate, delegate. Allow others to do great work for you so that you can do your great work for them.
6. Lather, Rinse, and Repeat: The Amazing Power of Engaging with the Problem to Come up With Novel Solutions: The Power of Practice and More Practice
“It is time to reverse this prejudice against conscious effort and to see the powers we gain through practice and discipline as eminently inspiring and even miraculous.” ― Robert Greene, Mastery
This is where the linearity of a list of steps does not work because in reality it is a cyclical process. You will need to repeat many of the steps over and over again.
You will have to look at new habits through the lens of effectiveness and forward motion.
You may have to persevere in your startup or pivot to do something a little different that works as Eric Ries of The Lean Startup puts it. Ries suggests that to start a Lean Startup that has maximal chance of success, you will have to build, launch quickly and take feedback to improve your game and learn from the failures.
You may need to have a growth mindset and not have a fixed mindset as Professor Carol Dweck tells us in her amazing book, Mindset.
You may have to repeatedly bust through your excuses and call out the assumptions. You will have to take consistent action and even sometimes if it means moving a step forward and a step backwards to recalibrate.
You may have to take very small actions with the tasks that scare you most. You may have to constantly remind yourself of the benefits and fulfillment that will get by moving forward in your unique journey.
It is not a linear path and there is no prize at the end of point B. The journey and terrain will look more like ups and downs, forward and backward motion, navigating rapids or moving on serene waters. Whatever your unique journey will be, rest assured you will encounter the yin and yang, or seeming contradictions and opposites.
The journey will encompass great fear coupled with the great excitement, small tiny steps and the giant leaps. And everything matters! And if you treat your journey as an exciting adventure with ups and downs instead of a trip towards a particular destination and outcome, you can slow down and enjoy the uncertainty.
“Do it again. Play it again. Sing it again. Read it again. Write it again. Sketch it again. Rehearse it again. Run it again. Try it again.
Because again is practice, and practice is improvement, and improvement only leads to perfection.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich
Understand the cyclical nature of things and that the yin and yang, the ups and downs are normal and inevitable.
Repeat the many steps over and over again in a cycle instead of a linear step A to B model. Just keep at it and be committed to action and forward motion.
Now over to you! Please let me know in the comments below if you found these steps useful in your own personal adventure.