I was at the beach the other day watching a glorious sunset. Breathtaking.
The waves were gently breaking against the rocks on the beach, the water was aquamarine, there were fluffy clouds in the sky catching the pink light, and flocks of birds were flying somewhere, who knows, to sleep?
A few pelicans were still fishing and would swoop and crash dramatically into the water whenever they saw prey.
Sounds sublime, huh? And yet there I sat, melancholy, and not knowing why.
Then if occurred to me. I was feeling that I ought to be feeling all kinds of spiritual and uplifting emotions. That I was connected, enlightened, with some sort of witchy incantation to the setting sun on my lips. Or standing in some sort of yogic posture with a shamanic fire burning luminously, bidding farewell to the fading day.
No, instead, I was feeling irritated and a bit restless, and annoyed with myself for wasting this beautiful moment. That I ought to be feeling or doing something different.
Ought to. Ought. Roll it around in your head. Is that word ever welcome?
The other day a client was bemoaning the fact that she felt overwhelmed by everything she had to do and it spoilt her joy and wellbeing. She worked on her business from home and had a million ideas and responsibilities that needed to be acted on.
Ever been there?
I remarked that yes, we can be overpowered with too many things to do all at once. And too many things all at once frequently means whatever we are doing, we feel we ‘ought’ to be doing one of the other many things we need to do. We never feel we are doing what we should be doing and the result is frustration about not being good enough, or organized enough, somehow.
On the same beach holiday mentioned above, I was enjoying an afternoon alone on the balcony of our hotel room, reading my kindle, enjoying creative thoughts and making notes. Then suddenly my internal voice pitched up yapping ‘you ought to be down on the beach enjoying it while you’re here! You shouldn’t be doing this stuff when you’re in this lovely setting!’ Dang. There it was again.
Ought, ought, ought. That word trying to wriggle in and spoil my peace of mind. Telling me I’m never doing the right thing—there’s always a million other things that are better, more productive, good for me. Anything but this, Sunshine!
But I caught it this time. Drop kicked it over the balcony and into the sand.
Start noticing if the word ‘ought’ comes into your thinking. It does with me, often. I’m now noticing when I feel I ought to be cleaning the kitchen when I’m sitting on the veranda. Or I ought to be thinking about lunch when I’m working on this blog. Or I ought to be taking the dogs out for a walk instead of whatever I’m doing (now that’s probably true!).
Don’t talk to me about the treadmill. I always ought to be on that.
I’m dropping that word. Or at least taking note when it rears its ugly head. Banishing it. I invite you to join me in this experiment.
Just say no to any oughts that creep in.
Instead, give yourself permission to focus on whatever you’re doing and rebelliously give it your complete attention. Sit and bask in the sunset just for the beauty of it and lounge on the veranda with a book for as long as you like and feel good about it. Have a glass of iced tea and thumb your nose at even the slightest notion that there’s anything better to do.
The irony is you’ll become more productive, more focused, feel more peaceful and able to enjoy whatever you’re doing.
Because that’s what you ought to be doing!
A friend of mine wrote a screaming email to me the other day. Lots of caps. You know the type.
WHERE IS THAT THING YOU WROTE ON HOW TO DEAL WITH FAILURE AND SETBACK? I’m having a terrible day, everything I touch goes wrong and I CAN’T FIND THAT ADVICE!
I had to laugh. We’ve all had those days. Nothing goes right and it spoils our mood and puts us in a temper that guarantees even more things go wrong.
She wanted the ‘thing’ I’m about to share with you now. Keep it bookmarked—it might come in handy one day.
I don’t like failing
It makes me feel bad. So I will do everything I can to avoid it. If you think about it, we grow up with the message to get it right, make good grades no matter what, and that failure is definitely NOT a good thing. If you fail too much then watch out, YOU are a failure, a loser. Hang up your spurs kid, you got an F. Don’t do that again.
Maybe instead we should be encouraged to make mistakes, to take risks, fail and learn from it? Wouldn’t this help us all to be more creative? After all, every successful person will tell tales of failure on his or her way to the top, to success, creativity and fulfillment.
I recently came across an interesting take on this subject in a book by Tim Ferriss, called Tools of Titans. Tim is a kind of alternative success guru and he likes to unpack how successful people operate.
In the book Jocko Willink, Retired Navy Seal Commander, was asked how he dealt with failure. His reply—“How do I deal with setbacks, failures, delays, defeat, or other disasters? I actually have a fairly simple way of dealing with all those situations, and that is: “good.”
One word. Easy to remember, unless like my friend, you’re in meltdown.
So, in other words
—Didn’t get that job? Good. Opportunity to look for a better one.
—Got injured? Good. You needed a break.
—Unexpected problems? Good. You have the opportunity to figure out a solution and learn something awesome.
His staff ruefully relay that indeed he does give this response to every situation. And they learned that they may as well say it to themselves first before they go to him with any complaints.
And it worked brilliantly. What Willink was doing was training himself and his staff to approach every situation as a learning experience: to reframe mistakes or failures into a step on the ladder to getting it right. They were a championship team.
Now I know you may be thinking you’d like to deck him one for being so annoying, but he was a Navy Seal, so um, no.
It’s as if Willink is saying—‘It may not be great, or what we would choose, but it’s OK, good. It’s what we’ve got. We’ll make this work.’
Use this in day-to-day living
This works for everyday setbacks, irritants, or failures. Not for big disasters or tragedies. Things like:
- You’ve tried something new: it didn’t work. Good. You got feedback. Try something different.
- Your electricity just went out. Good. Take a break and do something different.
- Your computer broke right when you were in an online business transaction? Good. Maybe it was a bad transaction. Good. Next time you’ll have some backup handy.
- You got food poisoning from eating street food? Well, if you’re not dead, good. Go to bed, enjoy your rest and you might lose some weight.
- Caught in a traffic jam? Good. A chance to listen to your music.
NB: Obviously it’s not recommended to use it in tragic situations, serious accidents, or death of someone or a pet. Those situations can take longer, sometimes years to see the good side, the silver lining.
A simple change in perspective can work wonders
I’ve started using this and am amazed how well it works to clear the decks and keep my balance when something goes haywire.
It shuts off my negative thinking, the story I’m building about what a bad day it is, and how I’m jinxed on technology, etc.
It’s more just observing what’s going down in a stoical way without judgment and then moving on to see how you can make the best of it.
This simple reframe takes you out of the victim mode. It implies taking action, putting things right, learning from mistakes. This didn’t work? Good. Do something different next time. Suck it up Lollipop and get on with it.
If whatever happens is ‘good’ then what have you got to lose? You’re learning all the time. You’re improving all the time.
Push yourself out of your comfort zone, take some chances, make lots of mistakes and reframe whatever happens as OK. You’ll be amazed how much progress you make in life and work.
It’s these little changes that can make the big differences in how we run our lives.
There is no failure, only feedback, as they say.
I’m lazy. I like things to be easy. If you tell me that in order to get healthy I need to go on an anti-inflammatory diet where I have to give up, well, let’s just say, food, I won’t do it. It’s too hard to stop tomatoes, potatoes, peppers, flour, dairy, sugar, pasta, bread, and everything else that makes life worth living all at once.
I will not do it. Not one bit of it—much less the whole shebang.
I balk like a stubborn mule. Do you have a mule?
Mules don’t like overwhelm.
How my Physical Therapist unwittingly used a Japanese strategy to deal with my mule
I recently engaged a Physical Therapist for a repetitive strain injury. Typically I left it until I couldn’t move my thumb at all and was in agony. He helped a lot with the recalcitrant thumb, but it was something else he showed me that you may find interesting.
We discussed a health problem I had had for several years that caused breathlessness and left me exhausted after even the smallest amount of exercise. I was terribly unfit as a result. And mule-like I didn’t like going 3 times a week to the exercise classes my doctor insisted on.
My PT taught me just one thing—how to breathe. I mean really breathe. Big gulping deep breaths for minutes at a time. All day. Whenever I thought about it. He persuaded me to buy a fitness watch that would beep to remind me to breathe.
Breathe. I can do that. It’s pretty cheap and very easy. The Mule in me didn’t notice.
Well, gentle reader; I’m here to tell you it got me off the couch. After a few weeks I had more energy and was using the treadmill for more than 2 minutes before collapsing. I even got in a swimming pool for the first time in 5 years.
All because of breathing? Yes.
One thoughtful change had worked better than all the expert advice from umpteen doctor/chiropractor/acupuncture/massage therapist appointments pooled together. Oh, and kick in a portable oxygen tank that I never used.
What my PT had done for me, albeit unconsciously, was mimic a Japanese system called Kaizen.
A little background here is interesting
Hang in there with me.
In the years following WW2 the Japanese were exhausted and defeated—their economy destroyed by the devastating effects of war. Japan was in dire straits, yet within 30 years bounced back with one of the strongest economies in the world.
American businessmen traveled to Japan to learn their secret and discovered that the Japanese employed a method called Kaizen to get back on their feet. It involved making itty-bitty changes—not big ones. They tackled their huge problems one tiny step at a time, one week at a time. It worked. Spectacularly well.
Kaizen literally means ‘incremental change, continuous improvement’.
Start with the smallest and practice the easiest.
How does this apply to me, I hear you cry?
Simply this. If you make small, seemingly insignificant, but thoughtful adjustments in your life, slowly but surely everything will start to improve.
What about, if instead of those huge monstrous dietary deprivations, you gave up just one thing for that flipping anti-inflammatory diet? Let’s say sugar. Or pop drinks. Or cereal. Just one thing. Won’t kill you.
You can do that. Even I could.
Overly ambitious goals will trigger overwhelm and defeat. They don’t motivate.
Tiny changes will slip under the radar of the mule-mind.
So, let’s look at your goal or challenge
What is the smallest step you can take this week in relation to it? Can you do it for a week?
- Treadmill for just 5 minutes a day?
- Learn one Spanish verb this week and use it?
- Give up sugar in your tea? See if you can stand stevia. Just for a week.
- Don’t watch YouTube while you eat breakfast. (Not sure I can do that one. May be too challenging.)
Think tiny. Don’t go big. Think easy. Think small.
Ignore advice to ‘Go big or go home!’ ‘Go all in’, or ‘Make a 100% commitment if you’re serious! 98% is not good enough’. Bad advice.
Instead, go for 50% max. More or less willing to give it a go. What have I got to lose. Why not.
Next time you feel overwhelmed with an issue and all your myriad options, try Kaizen. You’ll be amazed. It’s unimpressive, dull, unspectacular, not at all sexy, but will get you results.
Let me know how you get on. I’m genuinely interested.
My approach to coaching is based on this philosophy. So if you want help getting that mule moving, or more info about Kaizen, contact me by replying to this email.
Easy and effortless beats difficult and challenging every time.
Fool that mule.
Kaizen Coach and Mule Kicker Extraordinaire