2017’s Weekly Wins and Lessons Learned

KF Panda

I’ve been a big fan of keeping a notebook/journal for a number of years. Over time I have developed a loose format/structure for this that seems to work for me (more on this in a future post).

In the last few days, as part of my end-of-year reflection, I re-read all of my notebooks for 2017 and compiled a list of my top weekly wins and lessons learned – roughly one for each month of the year.

My weekly wins are sometimes achievements but can also be positive memories or just small things that made me smile. Lessons learned are thoughts/quotes and ideas that have struck a chord with me enough to make me want to record them. These can come from a variety of sources – my own thoughts and experiences, conversations with others, podcasts, books, and even animated films about animals learning martial arts!

Here are my choices for 2017:

2017 Wins

  • A wintry day out in Durham with my wife Elaine on 2nd January, including a walk along the river to the bench where we shared our first kiss.
  • A weekend away in Manchester for Elaine’s birthday. Exploring a new city is one of our favourite things to do and this trip included plenty of nice food, drinks, culture, museums and great music.
  • Getting a new job/promotion at work and receiving extremely positive feedback about my interview.
  • Organising an event for hundreds of children in Northumberland to come from different schools and sing together, backed by a live band of high school students.
  • Fulfilling a goal I set shortly after our wedding – to take Elaine back to Paris (where we spent our honeymoon) for our fifth anniversary, having planned and saved for 18 months.
  • A day trip to Wylam summer fair, catching up with family and friends, buying books, reading, a train trip and plenty of good food and drink.
  • A road trip to Edinburgh Jazz Festival to see Mike Stern, John Scofield, Randy Brecker, Dennis Chambers and Lenny White perform.
  • Our unexpected ‘bonus’ summer holiday in Argeles Sur Mer, spending some great quality relaxation time with the family, and as a couple. We thought we’d had our main holiday in May and this trip was fantastic.
  • Completing my third Great North Run, raising money for Crisis and surprising myself by achieving a time of 1:39.
  • A city break in Liverpool with Elaine, enjoying the city’s culture and hospitality together.
  • Family nights out in November – Jason Manford, Jon Ronson, Billy Bragg and fun at The Steamboat (our local pub).
  • A terrific, and very funny night with the wider family, seeing the London African Gospel Choir perform Paul Simon’s Graceland album at the Wylam Brewery in Newcastle.

Lessons Learned

  • I’m only in control of two things – my actions and my reactions. Take full control and full ownership of both. Are they in line with my values/the sort of person I aspire to be? If not… change them!
  • Live life for a living. Whatever you’re doing, do it 100% When you work, work. When you’re with family, be with family. When you rest, rest. Be totally present and committed. Do one thing at a time and do it as well as you possibly can.
  • Be proactive and exercise personal discipline. Easy Choices = Hard Life, Hard Choices = Easy Life
  • Consistently seek bigger and bolder challenges. It is in working towards and achieving these that I get most growth, and most satisfaction/reward. Purpose/structure is essential for me to feel happy. I need to feel a sense of progress. I’m not at my best, or happiest when I have too much ‘freedom’.
  • Ask yourself periodically “What impact do you want to have on the world?” and also ask daily “What impact do I want to have on the world today?” This is also useful as a reflective question: “What impact did I have on the world today?” Use these as journal prompts.
  • Life goals – 1) Build relationships 2) Help people/make a contribution 3) Create amazing experiences/memories. Set at least one goal each year that will truly stretch you.
  • “If you wait for things to happen to you, they will happen alright but they won’t be what you like and they certainly won’t bring you success. Initiative means seeing at once and very quickly what needs to be done, making up your mind to do it and then seeing it through to the bitter end.” (from the book Serve to Lead.) Come up with a strategy. Execute. Repeat – Take action habitually. Don’t wait for others. Be the chess player, not the piece. Don’t wait for external events to move you. Create your reality.
  • “Never fail due to a lack of effort, because effort requires no skill. A lot of people fear that they’re not intelligent or they don’t have any special skills so they’re not going to try, but the greatest thing about trying hard is that you don’t need any of that stuff. You just need to try hard. It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to fail because you didn’t try hard enough.” Sam Dogen – Interview with Noah Kagan
  • Do away with a ‘to-do’ list and have a ‘must-do’ list instead – maximum 3-5 items. Create this at the end of each day, and make sure to complete it the following day. Use a prioritised master list to identify the ‘must do’ items. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  • Leadership isn’t something you are (or aren’t) born with. Leadership is a choice. It starts with self-leadership. Are you going to choose to get up early, exercise, eat right, get your work done? Or not? You need to set a standard/lead by example. When things go wrong, you have a few choices: Make excuses, blame others, complain… or take responsibility and take ownership. Which of these presents the greatest challenge? Which will make you stronger and better? It isn’t enough to take responsibility (“Sorry, this is my fault.”) You also need to also take ownership (“…and here’s what I am going to do to make it right.”)
  • “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.” Anais Nin
  • View all of life’s struggles as (mostly) fun challenges to be overcome, on the road to improving yourself, and the world. Be courageous enough to accept that even the biggest challenges (loss of career, relationships etc.) may contain the biggest learning/improvement opportunities. Keep the faith that these events, and your responses to them will ultimately teach and serve you. Enjoy the process and keep at it. (Be like Kung Fu Panda!)

 

 

 

 

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Can you spare two minutes to help the homeless?

Please watch this short video explaining why I am running the Great North Run on September 10th 2017 and then… take action!
Please share the video, donate, or even better – do both.

More about the charity Crisis here.

30 day challenges

30 days

“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:

  1. Find an accountability partner – a friend you trust, who is working on their own thirty day challenge.  You have to text message or phone each other to “check in” once you have completed your daily activity.
  2. Post evidence of your daily activity on your social media, tagged day 1/30, 2/30 etc. Your entire friends list becomes your accountability partner

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:

  • Buy the other person a meal
  • Donate to a charity of the other person’s choice
  • Donate to a cause you definitely do not support (a group or political organisation you find objectionable) This third one is the scariest, and therefore perhaps the most effective, of all!

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:

  • Drink a minimum of three litres of water a day for thirty days
  • Keep a food diary for thirty days
  • Walk at least 10,000 steps per day for thirty days
  • Avoid all alcohol for thirty days
  • No takeaway food for thirty days
  • Meditate for thirty days in a row
  • Day 1 – one sit up, and push up, Day 2 – two sit ups and two push ups… etc.
  • De-cluttering – throw away/donate/recycle one thing on day one, two things on day two… etc.
  • Smile and say “hello” to everyone you pass for thirty days
  • Write in a journal every day for thirty days
  • Compliment someone, anyone every day for thirty days
  • Perform a ‘random act of kindness’ for thirty days in a row
  • Start a conversation with a stranger every day for thirty days
  • Practise a musical instrument every day for thirty days
  • Read for ten, fifteen, twenty minutes a day for thirty days
  • Get up early for thirty days
  • Learn a foreign language with Duolingo every day for thirty days
  • Write down ten ideas every day for thirty days – thanks to James Altucher’s Choose Yourself for this one
  • Take a picture a day and post it on social media – this is fun as a 365 day project. It encourages you to live a life worth photographing, and keeps a nice record to look back on at the end of the year

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

Good luck!

Cause and Effect

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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’m fat

I’m lazy

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.

Thoughts on resilience/overcoming obstacles

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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.

For those who want to learn more about this attitude, there are some great classic texts. Seneca’s Letters from a Stoic and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations are both highly recommended.

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!

Striving for Excellence Part Two – Becoming World-Class

This is a follow up to a previous post. You may want to read this first.

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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

Striving for Excellence

 

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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:

  1. Striving for excellence and innovation
  2. Being authentic
  3. Being exciting, inspiring and engaging
  4. Ensuring a positive and inclusive experience
  5. Actively involving children and young people
  6. Enabling personal progression
  7. Developing belonging and ownership

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:

  • How good do I want this to be?
  • Is my current attitude/activity going to achieve this?

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

12 books to read, read and read again

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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:

Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court – John Wooden

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.

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

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.

Focal Point – Brian Tracy

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.

Leading an inspired life – Jim Rohn

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.

How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life – Alan Lakein

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!

The Slight Edge: Turning Simple Disciplines into Massive Success and Happiness

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.

The One Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results – Gary Keller and Jay Papasan

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.

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

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!

The Obstacle is the Way: The Ancient Art of Turning Adversity to Advantage – Ryan Holiday

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.

Change Your Life In Seven Days – Paul McKenna

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.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R Covey

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.

The Magic of Thinking Big – David J Schwartz

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