I was watching Master Chef. What a decadent people we humans have become. I watched someone prepare cauliflower for three hours. Slicing it, grilling it, making balls of it in solution and making a powder out of it. They served it four ways with a tiny ball of sheepâs these on top. Whilst it looked good, and was obviously a testament to the technical skills and creativity of the chef, do we really need to mess around with our food?
The answer to this question was made clear for me when the critic who tasted it described it as very clever because when he ate a bit of the cauliflower along with the cheese that exploded in his mouth, he said it tasted like cauliflower cheese - something much less extravagant that could be knocked up in a tenth of the time. If you want to eat something that tastes like cauliflower cheese, then why not just eat that rather than over complicate things?
Unsophisticated is the counter-argument. You are not sophisticated enough to understand the delicate flavours and all of the work involved. You must be unsophisticated if you like to eat actual cauliflower cheese for a tenth of the price.
I feel like money comes first and then seeking a way to waste it. Michelin star restaurants are the epitome of this for me. Why can we not be happy eating plain porridge for every meal? Why must we seek out the most elaborate processes possible for our food to be tampered with before we can enjoy it?
Why must food be exciting at all? It does not need to be anything more Than just fuel for the body if we do not give in to our need for pleasure.
Of course, we do this in every area of life. Spending money and over complicating things to further the perception of ourselves to others. We love to over complicate things as it makes us look clever, indispensable, that we need a bigger team to cope.
What can you try today to live with the scantest of fare, to think from first principals, to simplify? See how it feels.
If you do not have a plan when things go wrong, what do you do? You are trusting yourself to make a reasoned choice quickly amongst chaos and emotion. Planning is not some magical thing where you have to tirelessly plan out every scenario or every detail - as people who hate planning might think. Nor is thinking that the plan will need to change anyway so why bother doing it in the first place.
It is the planning, rather than the plan itself, that is beneficial. It is the thinking time ahead of chaos that allows better decisions when the plan is knocked off track, even if you have not formally considered the event or circumstances that end up impacting the plan.
Similarly, it is much easier to assess what is going on in life through a mental model. We have mental models whether we consciously choose them or not, so why wouldn't you want to be conscious of them! To be more aware of yourself, you need to be aware of the mental models you are using.
A plan is very to mental model, it helps make sense of what is going on around you, and the consequences, very quickly. It provides structure now, to any further decision. With no plan to start with, things will quickly descend into scattered panic and disorder at the first sign of trouble.
This is what leaders do. They must sell the vision of the future, gain buy-in and then get on track through a plan.
Meetings are no different. They will descend into mindless chatter and chaos without knowing the vision of the meeting - the purpose. There must also be a semblance of structure - an agenda. It does not need to be detailed, but it does need to be there to protect the purpose of the meeting.
Things will go off track but deciding how to get back on track is much easier now you have done the groundwork.
Wanting little is the key to a good life. We were watching Seven Year Switch on TV with a wife who did not work berating her husband for not being ambitious and for being too childish. She wanted money to buy a car to go and do nice things. They have a small child and he is amazing with her, running around enthusiastically on the playground whilst the wife was tense and worried about getting the child home to be changed or fed. He also loves his job. He does bar work so not likely to have a substantial increase in salary, but he loves it.
It was really interesting to see the reasons they cited for being unhappy. For another couple, the same things could be what they dream about. Living in the UK, not under a dictatorship, not in a war zone, not in famine or disease or high crime. Having a child when this is so precious to those that cannot have children. Having a loving husband who wants to help out with the cleaning, cooking, childcare and makes enough time to do this.
There is so much to be grateful for and to enjoy, yet all the wife could focus on was a lack of material things. If she did have a husband that worked fourteen hours a day to earn money to buy them things they did not need, I suggest that she still would not be happy either. I think that what she is really worried about is how she comes across to her friends and parents.
Worrying what other people think can lead to a lifetime of unhappiness. This is the first thing to consciously let go of and then keep practicing and reminding yourself every day.
In my day job, we have a project to replace an IT system. We have the opportunity to take all the good parts from the old one and fix the bad bits. We can do this in life too.
Physically moving to a different climate, moving to a different partner, moving to a different job. But the new thing will also have other bad bits that you were not aware of at the time.
In our IT system example, we have managed to fix some of the annoyances of the past but things that we thought were going to be amazing have fallen short of the sales pitch and now have become annoyances themselves. Some of them are because the new system is worse than the old one in some areas and one because although it has gotten better, the benchmarks of expectation have moved on.
The same is true of our other examples. Moving to a different country? Now you complain it is too hot rather than too cold. Moving to a different partner? Now you complain they smother you with too much attention rather than being too aloof. Moving to a different job? Now you complain about the hours required rather than the salary.
There is a way, however, of taking all the good parts of life and leaving the bad bits. You just need to cultivate two habits: gratitude and not complaining. Realise that the only thing in your control is your mind, then you may take a second through before taking physical action.
Gratitude and not complaining sound like the same thing, but in practice, they are subtly different. Gratitude is being grateful for what you already have in the past and in the present. Not complaining is the ability to catch yourself in the moment. Gratitude is a proactive practice. Not complaining is reactive practice - the last defence - but still in your control.
The second of this weekend's link posts is from my fave, James Clear. A short and sweet excerpt, although the whole article is a quick read too:
Hereâs the single greatest skill in any endeavor: doing the work.
Not doing the work that is easy for you to do. Not doing the work that makes you look good. Not doing the work when you feel inspired. Just doing the work.
You might not be a brilliant writer, but if you actually write something each week, then youâll be better than most because you are doing the work.
You might not be an incredible athlete, but if you never miss workouts, then youâll be better than most because you are doing the work.
You might not be a savvy business person, but if you make a point to serve your customers every single day, then youâll be better than most because you are doing the work.
Read the whole article here
The first of this weekends's link posts is from Alison Rimm on HBR about to-do lists. The whole article is worth a read for how she manages her to-do's, but I love the following advice about using this in conjunction with your calendar, which I have also been doing for a while now:
The calendar is for blocking out time to accomplish important matters on schedule. For example, instead of putting an item like âwrite speechâ on my to-do list, I put it on my calendar, blocking out the necessary prep time to get it done. I do this as soon as I book the speech. Then thereâs no chance that Iâll notice the day before, âOops, Iâm supposed to give that speech tomorrow!â And putting it on the calendar right way means that if I donât actually have time to write the speech, I can see that at the outset and (regretfully) decline the opportunity. I consider that block of time an unbreakable appointment.
Read the whole article here
It is much easier when there is an air of possibility, when the future looks bright when you can see a way out. When the subject is something you are passionate about, when you are interested in learning more and excited about putting things into action.
But what about when the outlook is not that rosy? When you have to do things you are not interested in but have to learn anyway? Anyone that has tried to do anything of note - get promoted, start a company, get signed to a record label - has had to keep going through the tough times. They have had to be positive in the face of adversity. They have had to believe in a better future even when the present continues to look so bleak.
It is surely this ability to remain positive and focused no matter what fate throws at you that is the thing that separates success from failure, victory from defeat.
Being able to be positive though, is completely mental and nothing to do with external factors at all. Having a science background, I have been blind to this for a large part of my life. What was, in hindsight, cynical and destructive, I labelled as realistic. Of course, this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If I think something will not work, then am I really likely to try past the first hurdle? It will just confirm what I thought, and I will give up.
Is there any downside to being positive in every situation? You will likely be happier, you will give more energy to yourself and those around you, and even if that particular situation does not work out, who cares? At least you give it your best shot with the best mindset. What is the alternative? To give up and be miserable? Go expand your possibilities.
Oscars usually go to someone actually doing their job - acting. People taking on roles that are different to their natural personality. I personally usually find these performances over exaggerated. Ones that would no doubt be impressive on the stage but are not subtle enough for my tastes on film. I prefer movies where for all intents and purposes the actors are just being themselves and they have been cast as such. Why force someone to act completely out of character when you could just get a different actor who is like that character?
This brings me on to personal development. If you want to be different, you can be right now. Today. The body leads the mind and the mind leads the body. Want to be more confident? Stand up tall, make eye contact longer than usual, speak to everyone you meet. These are not superpowers. Just act the way you want to be and soon you will gravitate towards this.
On the flip side, do not forget your strengths. Do you think that you will continue to be great at the things you are already known for if you are distracted acting at something else? It takes time and energy to think how to be different than your natural style.
What is natural though? Shyness and social awkwardness are learned, not innate. There are many examples of outgoing toddlers not afraid of anything who turn into reclusive teenagers trying to fit in.
For me, as Robert Kiyosaki says, you want to be on the edge of this particular coin. Knowing what side of the coin to use at any particular time. Know what will hold you back if you do not act differently and know what you are best at. Flip the coin as often as needed.
Whatever happens is the best thing. What is the alternative? When things happen that are outside of our control then the best thing is to just think that this is the best thing. If you cannot think this is the best thing then think of three other good things to come out of the situation.
This is not being blind to reality - quite the opposite. It is understanding that our reality is made in our perceptions and our thinking. Just because something did not play out the way we wanted, it is no reason to assume it is bad. It has happened. This is all the reality of the situation. Nothing that happens is good or bad. It just has been. If it has happened, then you cannot change it. You cannot go back, only forwards, only now. Any appropriation of emotion, any labelling of good or bad is all in our minds.
What is the point of thinking something is bad? You cannot change it and it is your thinking that it is bad that is making you feel the way you feel. Rather than trying to change the world around you, try focusing on your own thinking, your own emotions, your own philosophy.
If you do not already think like this, that whatever happens is the best thing, then do not wait for something big and unexpected to happen. Start practicing now, whilst things are good, while you do not need it.
Ignore the bad things, focus on the good. And, of course, the bad things are also the good things. What is the alternative? To make yourself miserable? Thinking that everything is bad, that the world is against you, that you cannot do anything about it?
Let go of outcomes. You are not in control of these. Inputs are out of your control, but you could still get stopped from physical actions today. Thinking is the only thing that is in your control. Treat it with the special attention it deserves and train this muscle.
Remembering that you have control over your own emotions and your own reactions is surely something that should not be left for people to discover when they enter the real world by chance. Unless sought out through your own reading of books or blog posts or perhaps happened upon in a corporate training session, there is nowhere else this is taught.
For a sound mind and a happy life, it is surely the best remedy. As parents, all we really want is for our children to be happy. So why is this underlying outlook on life not taught in school? Why must we happen upon it by chance?
Learning how to think is the best possible thing one could learn. Some have it naturally, some pick it up and others waste a lifetime not knowing what they are missing. Instead, through frustration and regret, or worry and anxiety, seek a quick fix from a pill because they do not know there is nothing wrong with them apart from lack of practice.
I wonder whether schools will change what they teach in our lifetimes. How many people need to remember dates of historic battles? To remember the abbreviations of the periodic table or, in fact, to know anything without looking it up via Google. Is this really a skill that is needed?
With all this "knowledge," we leave school not being taught social skills, confidence, leadership, how to run a meeting, how to sell - an idea, a product, a business - how to start, time management, prioritisation, how to actively listen, eye contact, body language, how to code, how to find our strengths, how to delegate, how to bring others on board, how to be a kind human being, charity, money management, reallocation, pensions, 401Ks, ISAs, stocks and shares and tracker funds, bonds derivatives, lessons from the past rather than dates and facts.
These are the things you need to know in the real world. All I can remember from school is 1066, the battle of Hastings - and I was an A and B student.