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A blog about personal development, teaching, learning and leading.
“Knowledge is not power -action is! Execution trumps knowledge every day of the week!” ~Tony Robbins
In my last blog post I mentioned that I have often used 30 day challenges to build new, positive habits in order to help me turn around various aspects of my life. I think the beauty of this approach is that anyone can commit to doing something for thirty days. I make a rule with myself that if I miss a day I have to start at zero again. This mental trick seems to work on me because I never end up going back to zero.
Oddly enough, although the thing that gets me started is knowing that I only have to do this new thing for 30 days, a huge number of my previous 30 day experiments end up becoming incorporated into my daily routine and I find myself still doing them consistently years later.
In Hal Elrod’s book The Miracle Morning, he suggests committing to a specific morning routine for 30 consecutive days. In Elrod’s terminology the first 10 days can be unbearable, the next 10 merely uncomfortable and by the last 10 you are unstoppable. He may be onto something because I read the book in January and I haven’t missed a day yet!
Some people find it helpful to use an app or website like don’t break the chain. Personally I use a paper journal, but go with whatever works for you. I usually fly solo with things like this but others find it useful to impose some accountability on themselves, to make sure they stay on course. Here are a couple of suggestions:
If you have an individual accountability partner, it can also help to make it interesting by introducing some stakes. If one of you skips a day you have to:
After posting last week’s article I was asked to give clarification on some of the 30 day or one year challenges are that have helped me in the past.
Here are some of my previous experiments, along with a few I intend to try in the future:
There must be hundreds of these to have fun with. Let me know if you have any ideas not listed here. Why not try one and let me know how you get on: Tweet me @dfrancisdrums with the hashtag #30days
I believe that cause and effect is one of the universal laws which govern our world. Whilst I will happily admit that there are many circumstances and situations that are beyond our control, I also firmly believe that most of us have more power over our lives than we ever realise.
Many of us have at some stage come across the following quote:
“Sow a thought and you reap an action; sow an act and you reap a habit; sow a habit and you reap a character; sow a character and you reap a destiny.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson
This sums up the concept of cause and effect in a nutshell. The implication is that by changing our thoughts we can change our destiny. So far, so philosophical… so how do we make use of the concept?
Let us focus on two areas – health (or more specifically weight) and finance. I’ve selected these for two reasons:
They are very easy to measure
Many of us find at least one of these areas emotionally challenging. It is easy to mis-interpret the “effects” we are experiencing as indicative of some kind of personal flaw.
Most people have experienced less than satisfactory results in one, or both areas at some stage. If you’re anything like me, you have also told yourself a story that somehow links these results to a personal characteristic that is set in stone. Here are some stories I’ve told myself about health/money:
I’ll never be able to get in shape
I’m hopeless with money
One day I’ll come into some money and everything will be fine
There are a few of problems with this type of thinking. Firstly it is based on the faulty assumption that we are our behaviours. In reality we have the power to make choices and change our behaviours. Secondly, these statements imply that we are passively experiencing life, rather than actively living it.
Though it is easier said than done, an alternative way to interpret our results is to look at them as a scientist might:
“This cause produces that effect… interesting! I wonder what happens when I change the cause?”
Rather than taking the “effects” personally, we can learn from them and adjust course. This should inevitably lead to different results. Rather than demoralising ourselves by thinking that our current circumstances are written in stone, we can examine what actions have produced these results and change them.
There was a time (and it lasted about twenty years) that I habitually avoided two things: checking my bank balance and getting on a set of scales. I was in complete denial about the effects I was producing in both areas and was unaware that I had the potential to completely change the results I was getting.
“We go in the direction we face.” ~Jim Rohn
Which direction are you facing? The only way to know for certain is to start tracking your results. I started some years ago with the initially painful habit of noting two things on the first of each month – my weight, and my net worth. For me, calculating my net worth was simple: take my overdraft and subtract from it all the debts I owed. This resulted in a satisfyingly large number… which unfortunately had a minus sign in front of it.
As soon as I had two months worth of results I could see which direction I was heading in… the wrong one! At this stage it was fairly clear to see where this would take me if I kept up my current habits for a year, five years or ten years.
I realised that unless I changed my causes, the effects could be devastating over time.
Changing your habits is a study all of it’s own, but if you’re interested in this I would highly recommend Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. In my own experience I’ve found it easiest to change one or two small things at a time. I often do this by setting myself 30 day challenges. (More information about this is coming soon.)
Questions for reflection:
Which way are you currently facing?
What simple daily or weekly steps could you take to adjust your course?Each of these steps seem insignificant on a day-to-day basis but can have a huge impact over time.
There are two very good books on this subject which I benefitted from a great deal:
The Slight Edge by Jeff Olsen
The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy
In closing I’d like to paraphrase the great Jim Rohn and draw your attention to the following:
In ten years, we will surely arrive. The question is: Where?
It is largely up to you – cause and effect.
It is inevitable that no matter who we are or what we have accomplished, we will face challenges, obstacles, set-backs or even catastrophes at some point.
I am fortunate enough that I’m not currently experiencing these circumstances to any great degree. This is possibly down to my age, experience and lessons previously learned the hard way, but it is also at least partly down to luck – circumstances beyond my control.
I am fully aware that these tricky situations are bound to appear at some point in my future and when they do, I hope to be able to deal with them gracefully. I came across an African proverb last year that expressed very well the attitude I try and take towards obstacles:
“Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.”
The attitude I try to take is that each challenge we face contains within it the chance to improve ourselves, to learn and to grow. In finding solutions to the problems we face we often stretch beyond our comfort zones and develop ourselves in the process.
I have learned many useful lessons over the years by reading about Buddhism and Stoicism. One of the key lessons that I try to incorporate into my day to day life is this:
We have more control over our responses to the world than we do over the world itself.
Put simply – focus on what you can control.
Stephen Covey touches on this in the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People when he describes the circle of influence and the circle of concern. Covey urges the reader to be proactive, to recognise what he or she can control and to take action. In time we may find that our circle of influence expands, but time spent talking about or worrying about things beyond our control is time wasted.
I have also created an “in case of emergency” reading list for myself drawing on some more modern (and perhaps more accessible) texts:
And finally this youtube clip of former Navy Seal Jocko Willink, which depending on my mood either makes me nod in agreement, smile or laugh out loud. Check it out!
Here are three questions and an action step, with the potential to effect awesome changes in your life. If you’re anything like me, the answer to the third question is often “no” which simply means I didn’t answer question 1 correctly!
If the answer is yes, start paying, in simple daily/weekly instalments.
As always, if you’d like to share your thoughts on any of this tweet me @dfrancisdrums. Use the hashtag #questions
That’s it. Get after it!
This is a follow up to a previous post. You may want to read this first.
How good is good enough?
If we are committed to striving for excellence, this helps us to form a “minimum acceptable standard” of what we will accept from ourselves. If we have made a conscious decision to become world-class in a given field, then this can inform every choice, every decision and every action that we subsequently take.
If I set off on a journey without first deciding on a destination I might have a very enjoyable trip, but I may also end up driving round in circles, wasting energy and retreading old ground.
If I decide to drive from Newcastle to London, this dictates every turn and junction that I will take along the way. Even if I never make it, I will surely end up a lot closer than when I started driving. If I choose incorrectly I could end up arriving at Edinburgh instead.
Similarly I can’t just take the path of least resistance. If my decisions were based on what was easy I might avoid the traffic/roadworks altogether. Again, if I did this I might end up somewhere else entirely. I may need to stop to refuel, rest, or make the odd diversion but if I am committed to the destination and keep working towards it I will hopefully get there eventually.
This is where the driving analogy falls apart – because Edinburgh, like London can be a wonderful place, and sometimes you can have a wonderful time just enjoying the journey. In our commitment to excellence however, if we’re not at least moving in the right direction we will likely end up with average or sub-par results because…
The destination dictates the path
If we have made a firm commitment to becoming world-class then we can measure each and every decision or action against this goal. Asking ourselves questions like “How would a world class organisation respond to this situation?” can help us to discover what our next steps could or should be. Similarly asking “Would a world class organisation do this?” can help us to identify and then eliminate unnecessary or counter-productive tasks.
In a teaching context you might ask yourself:
“Do I have high expectations for every student?”
“How do I demonstrate this?”
“How would the very best in my profession deal with this situation?”
Of course what excellence looks like may well vary from student to student, but the point is for both you and your students to strive for excellence… whatever that means to you.
How do we achieve excellence?
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sometimes we need to break down an outlandish vision into a long series of easily actionable tasks. I see striving for excellence as a gradual process – what Tony Robbins might call “constant and never-ending improvement” or what Toyota might refer to as Kaizen. We aren’t trying to become outstanding overnight, but rather to make small incremental changes in the right direction. It can sometimes be disheartening to focus too much on a very long-term goal, whereas a long succession of small “wins” can keep you motivated. For this reason it is very helpful to keep notes and record any and all successes, no matter how small, along the way. As Martin Luther King once said “Faith is taking the first step when you don’t see the whole staircase.” Taking time to periodically reflect on our progress so far can help us to keep the faith.
Do what’s right not what’s easy
By definition striving for excellence means that we have already accepted that we aren’t excellent yet. This means that we will have to tread unfamiliar ground. We will have to step outside of our comfort zone and do things that aren’t entirely comfortable.
“Unless we change directions, we are likely to end up where we are headed.” -Chinese Proverb
Have you decided where you would like to end up?
Are your current behaviours/standards/choices taking you towards this destination or away from it?
Why not decide on your destination, and start working towards it today?
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this. Please tweet me @dfrancisdrums and use the hashtag #excellence
My day-to-day work is focused on music education. At a recent meeting with other local arts and culture organisations, we discussed how we might use the Arts Council’s quality principles to help us evaluate and improve what we do in our work with children & young people.
The seven quality principles are:
In considering which of these resonated with me personally, I was drawn overwhelmingly to number one – striving for excellence and innovation. It seems to me that attempting to do the other six to the best of your abilities would mean that you were indeed striving for excellence and innovation. Conversely, I’m not sure you could claim to be striving for excellence and innovation without covering the other six.
Success is a choice
Why not strive for excellence in everything you do? Is there a better option? Do any of us truly wish and hope to one day be okay, or mediocre, or average?
I firmly believe that excellence, innovation and success are a choice. The day you commit to excellence, your entire world changes. Your philosophy is a guidance system which informs your decisions and actions, and therefore the results that you bring about. In addition, if you choose to aim for excellence, you will be far more motivated to continue in spite of obstacles because you have a clear vision of what could be possible.
How you do anything is how you do everything
We are creatures who are ruled by our habits, and our habits are formed and strengthened through repetition. It is a mistake to think that we can cut corners in preparation, and then excel in performance. The good thing about this is that any time you try do anything to the best of your abilities, it has the potential to affect all other areas of your life.
To distil this all down to it’s core I think the key questions we need to continually ask ourselves, and then act on, are:
For those interested, here are a couple of suggestions for further reading:
Success is a Choice – Rick Pitino
The Power of Habit – Charles Duhigg
As ever, tweet me your thoughts @dfrancisdrums. Use the hashtag #excellence
Reading has always been a huge source of pleasure and learning for me. I was an avid reader as a child and in the last 10 years, the books I’ve read have made a huge impact on my life. I can confidently say that I would be a completely different person were it not for the books I’ve read and the lessons I have learned and applied in this time.
Some books contain so much wisdom that it is impossible to absorb everything with just one reading. I have made a pact with myself to continually re-read certain books, in order to keep reinforcing the learning and really absorb and apply the lessons within.
Here are my 12 suggestions, for continued reading and growth, in no particular order:
This is a wonderful book. I have zero knowledge or interest in college basketball, but this is really a book about being a better person, a better family member and a better teacher. I have long been a collector of quotes, and often make a note in a notebook/journal when I come across something interesting in a book. I tried doing this with Wooden and soon realised I was copying out the entire book! I have since given this book to numerous people and studiously copy Wooden’s guidelines for life into every notebook I buy, so I always have them to hand. I will say it one more time – this is a wonderful book.
Please don’t let the title, or the fact that this was written thousands of years ago put you off. The Gregory Hays translation is very readable and contains a huge amount of wisdom that is applicable to 21st Century life. This is a collection of journal entries from the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and contains wisdom on all aspects of life. The fact that each entry is fairly short allows a reader to dip in and out, rather than just read from cover to cover. Reading a few entries each morning is a great way to start your day.
I’ve read a number of Brian Tracy’s books, but this was the one that had the greatest impact on my own life. One of the concepts that I have used and re-used is this: If you are currently doing something that you wouldn’t willingly take on knowing what you know now, you should stop doing that thing as soon as possible. This is a great way to remain focused on activities that bring you happiness and success, and eliminate things that draw you away from what is truly important.
I have read all of Jim Rohn’s books and listened to hundreds of hours of his audio recordings. This is my favourite. It contains all of Rohn’s key lessons and is a joy to read. Highly recommended.
This is a book that was recommended by Jim Rohn on the subject of time management. It is actually about something deeper than this. It is an excellent method for ensuring that your activity matches your deepest values and aspirations. It is fairly short, and a quick read, but many of the ideas are potentially life-changing. The section on overcoming procrastination is very practical and has helped me a great deal. Bill Clinton also recommends this book and regardless of your opinions of him, there’s no denying that he has achieved a great deal more than most!
This book is all about the power of incremental change and the fact that a few small disciplines, practised daily, can have a huge impact over time. I read it a couple of years ago, and in the application of these ideas I ran a half-marathon, achieved my goal weight, got a new job, and reclaimed thousands of pounds of money from high street banks. Well worth the investment of time and money spent reading the book.
This book expresses a very powerful idea extremely well. It is a great way to make sure you are aligning your daily activities with your core purpose and values. The One Thing is a very easy read and is great for applying in your own life but it is also invaluable for anyone who finds themselves in a teaching, coaching or mentoring role – either at work, in your family, or in your friendships.
This is one of those books that everyone has heard of and few people seem to have actually read. We interact with other people, all the time, in family, friendships and work settings. Reading and absorbing the lessons in this book will definitely help you to deal more effectively with other people and enjoy these personal interactions more. If everyone read this book, I am convinced that the world would be a much better place!
This is an excellent companion to Mediations by Marcus Aurelius. It builds on a central principle from Stoic philosophy and Buddhist teaching – that we don’t control what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. A terrific book, and like many on this list, the lessons within are applicable to all kinds of situations, for all kinds of people.
Those of you who remember McKenna as a television and stage hypnotist may be slightly sceptical about this choice. I picked it up out of curiosity as I felt that the title might be over-selling the content a little. In reading it, I found that many concepts I had seen elsewhere were taught in a much more accessible way, that made sense to me. When I picked this book up again last year, an index card fell out. I had used the card four or five years previously to do one of the exercises in the book, setting some goals for my life. The card very accurately described my current life and every goal had been achieved. I am convinced that this book was at least partly responsible.
This book took me a while! I had heard this recommended over and over and had tried to read it many times, but found it hard work and gave up. Eventually I bought an abridged audio version and, having listened to this, I found myself reading the actual text (and numerous other books by Covey) several times over. If you can cope with the style of writing, the lessons in this book are powerful and timeless.
This is one of my all time favourite personal development books. It is full of very use-able concepts and exercises, illustrated with stories about real-life applications. It is a fun read, but contains many powerful ideas.
Who has time to read 12 books?
…pretty much everybody, but if you want the edited highlights, consider this:
If I were able to choose three books to give to every student, on leaving school they would be Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court by John Wooden, The Magic of Thinking Big by David J Schwartz and How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.
Over to you…
I’m curious to hear from others – If you had to choose 12 books to re-read over and over throughout your life, what would they be? Why not tweet me a “shelfie” photo of your 12 books? Mine is at the top of this blog. Find me on twitter @dfrancisdrums
Even those of us who love our jobs usually look forward to the weekend. Why? It’s a chance to unwind, to decompress and to spend time with those who mean the most to us.
It seems counter-intuitive to plan and schedule our weekends too much. We want to feel that we have freedom and spontaneity. We want to go with the flow and relax.
This is understandable, but in my experience a completely unplanned weekend can often result in several hours of cleaning, grocery shopping and laundry, followed by the realisation that we’re too exhausted to do much else. Before you know it, its Sunday evening and you feel like all you’ve done is a few chores. Don’t get me wrong – having clean clothes is important, but is your laundry more important than happiness, your family or your marriage?
Why not pick a weekend in the near future and design, and then live, your perfect day?
Step One – Imagine:
If you had a full 24 hours to do whatever you wanted, how would you spend it?
The only limitation is that this all has to be do-able within 24 hours. Don’t say that you want to wake up on a desert island… unless you already live on one!
Here’s an example to get you started:
If you’re stuck for ideas, have a go at the exercise in this post first.
Step Two – Plan:
Will anything on the list require any prior planning? You might need to make reservations or buy tickets. You may need to check when your next free day is, and whether or not it coincides with a free day for your partner/friends/family. You may need to save up a little.
Whatever planning is needed, take the time and do it. Make an appointment with yourself in your diary for your perfect day and stick to it. Even if your perfect day is a few weeks in the future, the anticipation of it will bring you joy, just like the day itself will.
Step Three – Do:
This is the fun part – simply enjoy living your perfect day, and of course, give yourself some flexibility. You don’t want to feel like it is a chore, or that you’re clock-watching. If something doesn’t work out, or you run out of time, just adjust as you go.
Step Four – Repeat:
If you’ve had your own perfect day, why not take turns with your partner/family creating and living perfect days? In my family I’ve noticed that a perfect day for one of us, leads to a fun day for all of us. Its a great way to encourage others around us to focus on happiness, use their imaginations and create positive memories.
Enjoy the exercise. If you’d like to share the results please tweet me @dfrancisdrums with some photos from your day(s) using the hashtag #perfectday
I’m a big fan of setting and working towards goals. Some years ago I discovered that I had far more power over my life than I had previously realised. I began setting goals and working towards them. My life began moving in a far more positive direction and I began to grow and develop as a a person.
This is all very positive and I can’t recommend goal setting highly enough… but this process can lead us to focus on long-term success, rather than immediate happiness or joy. I don’t believe this has to be an either/or proposition.
Who doesn’t want to experience more joy and happiness on a daily basis? When we pursue longer term goals, we often end up telling ourselves things like “I’ll really be happy when…” and forgetting that we can take action to make ourselves happier right now.
If you’d like to become happier today, here’s an exercise which will only take a few minutes, and may well create more happiness in your day to day life.
Lets get started. You will need:
5-10 minutes of time
A journal/sheet of paper/computer/smart phone
Your memory and imagination
Step One – Give yourself 5 minutes to write down at least 30 activities that make you happy.
If you’re suffering writer’s block, here is a sample list (my own) to give you some ideas:
Step Two – Go through your list and ask yourself if each activity would bring you joy or pleasure (I believe that there’s a significant difference.) If you did these things consistently are there any which would cause harm rather than benefit? If there is anything that you wouldn’t want reported on the front page of the local newspaper, you might want to remove it from your list!
Step Three – Go through your edited list and put a tick next to all of the items that are either free or inexpensive. If your list is anything like mine, the majority of items will fall into this category.
Step Three – Go through your list again and see how many of these you could do every single day if you wished. Pick your top three from this shortlist and consider making an effort to do all of them every day for a week, starting today.
Step Four – Is there anything on your list that you haven’t done in a while, say the last six months? Why not work out a plan today to do one of these in the near future. Make an appointment with yourself, put it in your diary and do it!
Step Five – Which of the items could you do immediately? Why not choose one and do it now!
I believe it was Aristotle who said “We are what we repeatedly do.” If we repeatedly do things that make us happy, surely we will become happier people. It is worth keeping your list accessible, perhaps on a smart phone or in a journal, and adding to it over time. You can also use this list to form the basis of a perfect day (more on this in a future post.)
Have fun with this exercise – I know I will! If you’d like to share your thoughts please tweet me @dfrancisdrums with a photo of your list using the hashtag #happylist
Disclaimer: If you are experiencing symptoms of clinical depression, there are far more important things for you to do than to read this blog. Please make an appointment to see your doctor, or a trained counsellor. I know that both of these can make a huge impact, and help you to turn things around.