What Are Your Strengths–And How Can You Use Them More?

Disengaged at work? Not energized and thriving in your life? It’s all too common.

What’s going on? It could be that you’re not using your strengths—the things you’re good at—regularly.

Are you focused on fixing your weaknesses instead of leveraging your strengths? Maybe you’re engaged in tasks you’d rather avoid, such as those that bore you or challenge your confidence. Do you keep doing something even when others excel in that task and you don’t? Meanwhile, it just drains you.

This is a recipe for frustration and failure. A better approach: actively shape your work and life to align with your strengths.

 

What’s a Strength?

Strengths are the things at which you most excel.

Knowledge, skills, and talents are the foundational components of strengths. Their development is influenced by additional factors, including practice, coaching, repetition, and feedback. Through consistent repetition and targeted guidance, coupled with feedback on your performance, you can significantly enhance your capabilities.

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

The Advantages of Knowing and Using Your Strengths

Researchers highlight significant advantages associated with understanding and leveraging your strengths. For instance, doing so can:

  • Bolster your confidence
  • Elevate your motivation and engagement levels
  • Enhance productivity
  • Clarify your pathways to success
  • Facilitate goal achievement
  • Foster greater happiness and fulfillment
  • Help prevent burnout

Having a coach can help, since you probably have some strengths you’re not aware of. (When you’re good at something, you often assume others have no problem with it as well.) A coach can also help you figure out ways to develop and use your strengths more effectively.

 

Strengths Search: A New Tool for Identifying Your Strengths

Instead of sitting around trying to think of your strengths, you can take a strengths assessment to help you with this process. My new Strengths Search tool prompts you to do the following:

  • Choose from a list of dozens of potential strengths (and add any that may be missing).
  • Determine your three to five core strengths. Ideally, place them in order, or at least identify your top strength.
  • Describe each of your core strengths so you have a clearer picture of it.
  • Consider the extent to which you’re using (or not using) your core strengths at work, home, and beyond.
  • Brainstorm ways you could use your core strengths more.
  • Determine what specific actions you’ll take to start using your core strengths more.
  • If you wish, ask people who know you very well and ask them to share their perspective on your strengths. (The tool has this input and sharing process built in to its functionality.) This process of identifying your strengths works best when you discuss it openly with friends and trusted colleagues.

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

How You Can Leverage Strengths as a Leader

Strengths are highly relevant if you’re a leader. They can be a catalyst for high performance. How? Four ways.

First, leaders should actively identify and employ their own strengths in their work.

Second, they ought to scrutinize strengths during personnel selection, advancement decisions, and the structuring of job roles and teams. A team should be well-rounded and have people with complementary strengths.

Third, leaders should ensure that all team members are using their strengths as much as possible.

Fourth, leaders should develop the strengths of everybody on the team, including themselves.

 

Conclusion

By identifying your strengths and integrating them more into your life and work, you can experience heightened engagement, vitality, and success. Imagine channeling these strengths towards a higher purpose, leveraging them to serve others. The possibilities are enticing and powerful.

Wishing you well with it.
Gregg

 

 

 

 

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your core strengths?
  2. How often are you using your core strengths at work, at home, and beyond?
  3. How could you use your core strengths more?

 

Tools for You

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

Related Articles

 

Additional Resources

  • Patrick Lencioni, The 6 Types of Working Genius: A Better Way to Understand Your Gifts, Your Frustrations, and Your Team
  • Tom Rath, StrengthsFinder 2.0 (including an online assessment)
  • Albert Winseman, Donald Clifton, and Curt Liesveld, Living Your Strengths
  • Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work
  • Tom Rath and Barry Conchie, Strengths Based Leadership (including an online assessment for a personalized leadership guide)
  • Clifton Strengths Assessment
  • VIA Survey of Character Strengths

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Strengths

  • “Liberating and expressing your natural genius is your ultimate path to success and life satisfaction.” -Gay Hendricks, psychologist and author
  • “The man who is born with a talent which he was meant to use finds his greatest happiness in using it.” -Johann Wolfgang Goethe, German poet, novelist, and scientist
  • “A leader needs to know his strengths as a carpenter knows his tools, or as a physician knows the instruments at her disposal. What great leaders have in common is that each truly knows his or her strengths—and can call on the right strengths at the right time.” -Dr. Donald Clifton, psychologist and researcher
  • “I’ve never met an effective leader who wasn’t aware of his talents and working to sharpen them.” -Wesley Clark, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander
  • “While there are many good levers for engaging people and driving performance… the master lever is getting each person to play to his strength. Pull this lever and an engaged and productive team will be the result. Fail to pull it and no matter what else is done to motivate the team, it’ll never fully engage.” -Marcus Buckingham, Go Put Your Strengths to Work

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Avoid the Trap of Focusing Too Much on Others’ Needs

Daily life can be demanding. Work. Family. Bills. Deadlines. Dishes. Sometimes it feels overwhelming, especially if you fall into the trap of focusing too much on others’ needs.

This challenge is common among caregivers like nurses and teachers. Also, many women struggle with it, in part due to all the expectations they encounter around nurturing, caregiving, and supporting homes and families. But it can affect anybody, especially those wired to give. This trap can result in empathy overload, compassion fatigue, and giver burnout.

Signs of being too focused on others’ needs include difficulty setting boundaries, struggling with saying “no,” internalizing others’ emotions, feeling responsible for fixing other people’s issues, and losing yourself in relationships. These habits can become ingrained.

 

The Problem with Being Too Focused on Others

Focusing too much on others’ needs can lead to neglecting your own needs, harming your health, and feeling exhaustion or burnout. It may also pull you away from pursuing your own goals. It may even lead to an addiction to helping others that inhibits your own healthy functioning.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Avoid the Trap of Focusing Too Much on Others’ Needs

What to do about it? Here are 14 things you can do to avoid this trap:

1. Recognize that sacrificing yourself to help others isn’t sustainable. Be warned: troubles lie ahead if you continue down this path.

2. Create separation and distance between yourself and others when needed. Remove yourself from these situations when you can.

3. Designate times to enjoy life free and clear without the press of outside needs and obligations. Go for a walk. Read a book. Watch a movie. Choose activities that bring you joy. Make time for renewal and sanctuary.

4. Get better at setting boundaries and saying “no.” State clearly that you can’t help right now. Since you’re human, you have limits. Honor that so you can thrive personally and have the energy to continue helping others.

5. Develop a shield. University of Miami psychologist Heidi Allespach advocates for medical residents to cultivate what she terms a “semi-permeable membrane” around their hearts. This counsel extends to anyone grappling with compassion fatigue. She explains, “Without enough of a shield, everything just comes in.”

6. Reduce the extent of your assistance when needed. Remember that looking after someone doesn’t equate to swooping in to save them. Understand that even the smallest gestures can have a significant impact. People can feel upheld and comforted even by small acts of kindness and connection. They might not even need or want a ton of help. Sometimes, a simple visit, call, text, or meal can mean a lot.

7. Enlist the support of others, ensuring you’re not alone in providing help. Bringing a network of helpers is likely to lift the person’s spirits and ease your own load in the process.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Clarify what you need from others and ask for it directly even as you’re providing help. Don’t hesitate to articulate your own needs and requests while also being generous towards others. Master the art of advocating for yourself so you can continue helping effectively.

9. Try “cognitive reappraisal”—reframing how you see a situation involving someone in need. Rather than assuming people will suffer or fail without your assistance, imagine how they might cultivate fresh coping mechanisms that will help them help themselves in the future.

10. Imagine a friend experiencing compassion fatigue (and feeling guilt for not being able to help more). You’d probably advise them to give themselves grace and take care of themselves first.

 

11. Prioritize self-care practicesEat well. Move your body. Get a good night’s sleep and make sure you have a good and regular sleep routine. Spend more time outside. Take regular breaks. Meditate. Try journaling. If you don’t take good care of yourself, how can you take good care of others?

12. Guard your heart and don’t let yourself get to the point of empathy overload or compassion fatigue. Pay attention to the emotions that arise when you witness others’ suffering. Allow these emotions to pass through you. Acknowledge them without clinging to them. This practice can help you stay grounded in the present moment with equanimity.

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

13. Connect with family and friends. The research unequivocally points to the profound advantages of healthy relationships. They play a pivotal role in enhancing your happiness and fulfillment.

 14. Preserve your time and energy for the others you care about and who rely on you. Focusing too much on assisting one person in need may hinder your ability to support others, including your family or colleagues. And it may detract from other important tasks.

 

In the end, the solution isn’t being selfish or neglecting others. It’s about taking care of yourself so you can maintain the energy and stamina to keep helping others.

 

Tools for You

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Quotations

  • “Don’t lose yourself trying to be everything to everyone.” -Tony Gaskins
  • “Many of us find that we have squandered our own creative energies by investing disproportionately in the lives, hopes, dreams, and plans of others. Their lives have obscured and detoured our own.” -Julia Cameron, The Artist’s Way
  • “It’s OK to do what is YOURS to do. Say what’s yours to say. Care about what’s yours to care about.” -Nadia Bolz-Weber, Lutheran minister

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Stop Being a Victim: 18 Practices

Why me? Why can’t I ever catch a break?

If you’re in the habit of asking such questions, it’s a sign you may have a victim mentality. When you’re playing the victim, you believe that bad things you experience are the fault of others.

What’s more, you believe those bad things will keep happening, so there’s no point in changing. It feels like the world is against you.

There’s a difference between being a victim of real hardships (e.g., poverty, disease, trauma) and having a victim mentality. (1) With a victim mentality, you believe not only that you’re a victim of negative circumstances but also that you’re helpless in the face of them.

Such thinking may provide some psychic relief, at least in the short term. But what you’re really doing with this kind of thinking is sabotaging yourself.

A victim mentality is not only a problem for individuals, according to researchers. Groups and teams can also fall into this trap. That damages the culture, so leaders need to monitor and address this problem early and often.

Having a victim mentality comes with a substantial price. For example, it can:

  • drain your energy
  • bring frustration, anger, resentment, and bitterness
  • result in giving up and feeling self-pity
  • diminish your sense of agency
  • lead to withdrawing from friends, family, and colleagues
  • stop you from taking necessary actions
  • damage your mental and emotional wellbeing
  • be a gateway to other maladaptive behaviors, including numbing behaviors like abusing alcohol or drugs
  • become a vicious cycle, with poor responses to tough situations, inviting more problems and then ultimately feeling worthlessness and pointlessness

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Stop Being a Victim: 18 Practices

According to psychologists, victimhood is an acquired trait, not inborn. That means you have the power to overcome it.

Here are 18 ways to stop being a victim:

1. Avoid wallowing in negative emotions. Dark and gloomy feelings are natural, even universal. But that doesn’t mean you have to dwell on them. Catch yourself tuning into negative feelings and resolve to change the channel when you do so.

2. Change your self-talk. Analyze and question your beliefs. Dispute the idea that you’re a helpless victim. For example, ask whether your identity as a victim is true. Ask whether your current beliefs are useful or harmful. Then act accordingly.

3. Don’t ruminate on your problems. Focus instead on something more positive (e.g., what you’ve learned or what you’re looking forward to). (See my article, “What to Do About Overthinking, Rumination, and Worrying.”)

4. Recognize the patterns of when you lapse into victimhood. Be wary of those people or things and devise ways to avoid or address them. Recall the kinds of things that help you stop these downward spirals.

5. Develop a healthy view of yourself and your capabilities. Build your confidence by preparing well for challenges or big projects. Focus on learning and developing as you go.

6. Recall situations in which you’ve overcome adversity. You may be more resilient than you think.

7. Take an inventory of your strengths. Know what you’re good at—the things at which you excel most. Brainstorm how you can use your strengths to address challenges you’re facing. (See my article, “The Power of Knowing and Using Our Strengths.”)

8. Distinguish between yourself and your negative experiences. You are not what’s happened to you. Don’t assume the identity of a victim. Believe that you have the power to overcome your circumstances.

“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
-Carl Jung, Swiss psychiatrist

9. Realize that you always have agency. Yes, life is sometimes unfair. It comes with pain, loss, and heartache. But that doesn’t mean you’re powerless in the face of hardship.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

10. Change who you spend time with. Avoid people who wallow in victimhood. Spend more time with positive people who take responsibility and proactively address problems as they arise.

11. Recognize that having a victim mentality is a form of self-sabotage. Resolve to transcend this thing that’s only prolonging your misery and holding you back.

12. Make a clear and firm decision to let go of the victim mentality. Why not choose to be happy and thrive instead?

13. Forgive. Forgive people who have harmed you—if not for them, for you. Maya Angelou called forgiveness “one of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself.” And forgive yourself as well for past mistakes. Make peace with your past.

14. Take responsibility for your whole life and everything in it. That means everything, including the things that are unjust or unfair. (See my article, “The Power of Taking Full Responsibility for Your Life.”)

15. Be kind to others and find ways to serve them. By doing so, you’ll escape an unhealthy fixation on yourself and your dramas. The fixation feeds the victim mentality, while service starves it.

16. Engage in daily self-care practices. Create systems for this, make it easy, and develop good habits. That should include exercise, good sleep and healthy eating habits, and perhaps other practices like yoga, meditation, or deep breathing.

17. Develop a gratitude practice. This will interrupt your negative thought loops and place your feelings of self-pity in a larger and more accurate perspective. (See my article,The Trap of Not Being Grateful.”) When you focus on the good things in your life, it’s hard to feel like a victim.

18. Seek help from a therapist, counselor, or support hotline when needed. Options include:

Wishing you well with it.

Gregg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on How to Stop Being a Victim

  • “Whatever has happened to you in your past has no power over this present moment, because life is now.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, philanthropist, and author
  • “Once you have identified with some form of negativity, you do not want to let go, and on a deeply unconscious level, you do not want positive change. It would threaten your identity…. You will then ignore, deny, or sabotage the positive in your life.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “…what helps victims best is the development of a healthier self-concept.” -Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, “Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
  • “If it’s never our fault, we can’t take responsibility for it. If we can’t take responsibility for it, we’ll always be its victim.” -Richard Bach, writer
  • “…an individual’s sense of personal control determines his fate.” -Dr. Martin Seligman, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
  • “Most people are in love with their particular life drama. Their story is their identity. The ego runs their life. They have their whole sense of self invested in it.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “The difference between the hero and the victim is the way they react to the pain they experience.” -Donald Miller, business executive and author
  • “…even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into a triumph.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor
  • “Turn your wounds into wisdom.” -Oprah Winfrey
  • “Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.” -Napoleon Hill, author
  • “Constructive action is the opposite of victimized brooding.” -Dr. Robert W. Firestone, clinical psychologist
  • “…people suffering from the victim syndrome are prone to aggravate the mess in which they find themselves. Strange as it may sound, they are often victims by choice. And ironically, they are frequently successful in finding willing victimizers.” -Manfred F. R. Kets de Vries, “Are You a Victim of the Victim Syndrome?”
  • “A victim identity is the belief that the past is more powerful than the present, which is the opposite of the truth.” -Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now
  • “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.” -Viktor Frankl, Austrian psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor

(1) If you’ve experienced trauma or abuse, try to disclose it as early as possible to trusted family members, friends, or trained professionals. That can lead to more support and quicker processing and healing.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, TEDx speaker, and coach on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Overcome Perfectionism: 14 Approaches

Do you struggle with perfectionism? It’s a big problem today for many, including ambitious professionals and leaders. It’s also widely misunderstood, and even misappropriated as a badge of honor.

Perfectionism is a personal standard that demands or expects flawlessness. It typically includes overly critical self-evaluations and excessive concerns about harsh judgments from others.

Perfectionism entails striving for unrealistic or even unattainable goals. What follows, of course, is disappointment when you fail to achieve them. If you’re a perfectionist, you translate low performance into low self-worth.

The assumption behind it is that perfection is the only route to self-acceptance. Some people praise perfectionism as a desire for self-improvement, but in reality it’s much more about seeking acceptance and approval. It’s about conflating your identity and worth with your performance and accomplishments.

Here are signs that you have perfectionistic tendencies:

fixating on your mistakes
being overly critical of yourself
striving to be flawless
being overly cautious
seeking to control situations
getting defensive about feedback

Researcher Brené Brown suggests that perfectionism isn’t binary. Instead, she notes that we all fall on a continuum of perfectionistic tendencies, ranging from occasional and situational bouts of it to “compulsive, chronic, and debilitating” versions of it.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

The Downsides of Perfectionism

How does perfectionism affect you? In sum, it lowers achievement while bringing stress. Perfectionism inhibits your work, harms your relationships, and causes needless suffering, degrading your mental health.

It can fuel fear and frustration, as well as disappointment and discontent. It even takes away from your enjoyment of accomplishments because you’re focusing on the things you could’ve done better.

According to the research, it’s linked with psychological distress and low self-esteem, as well as with fear of failure and workaholism. By tapping into your fear, perfectionism can divert you away from your creativity and deeper wisdom.

You may feel like your perfectionism can help motivate you to do a great job on things but, at the same time, you suspect that it can invite anxiety into your life and turn people off around you.

It can get confusing, so you’re wise to distinguish between perfection (which is impossible in human pursuits) and perfectionism, and between the pursuit of excellence (which is positive) and perfectionism (which can be quite harmful).

Perfectionism isn’t the same as the pursuit of excellence or striving to be your best.
Instead, it’s a self-destructive expectation that you can be perfect.

 

What to Do About It: 14 Approaches

Thankfully, there are many things you can do to address your perfectionistic tendencies. Here are 14 practical approaches:

1. Distinguish between tasks that warrant perfection, or at least a very high standard of performance, and those that don’t. If you’re involved in brain surgery, airline repairs, or financial reporting, you need to get things right. But if you’re responding to an email or taking notes on a meeting, you don’t need to agonize over every word or phrase. A simple example: do your colleagues need a verbatim meeting transcript that’s beautifully formatted, or do they need short summaries with helpful headlines and bullet points for the key action items?

2. Think about the ratio of inputs to outputs. Consider things like your effort and time on the front end and then estimate how much they translate into real value for others on the back end.

3. Factor in the opportunity cost of your perfectionistic behavior. Recall that there are diminishing returns to continued work on something after a certain point. Think about better uses of your time. You can make a greater impact on more things if you use your time intentionally instead of slavishly giving in to your perfectionistic impulses.

4. Force yourself to get started on important things right away. That way, you’ll sidestep the avoidance problem that comes with perfectionism. Many perfectionists don’t get started on something unless they know precisely how they’ll do it and they can convince themselves it will be flawless.

5. Show early drafts of your work to others and request quick feedback. Mention that it’s just a draft and you’re looking for high-level feedback, not fine-tuned edits as if it were a final version. Ask them if it’s good enough. And if not, how close to being done is it, and what would make it so? Often, you’ll discover that your early draft is either good enough or close to it, and that it would be wasteful to spend many more hours honing it.

6. Reach out to a trusted friend when you’re having trouble getting started. Talk through your initial ideas. This will often help put things in perspective, organize your thoughts, and help you realize you do have something valuable to contribute. And often, they’ll provide not only ideas or input but also encouragement and inspiration.

7. Remind yourself that most things involve a process of getting a rough start, making improvements, and then making final tweaks. Don’t let the perfectionist in you fail to start because the first draft won’t be perfect. Take a page out of the lean startup methodology common in the startup world in which they start with a “minimum viable product” and release it out to the world so they can get early customer feedback and learn from it before spending too much time and effort on something.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Give yourself a deadline. That way, you’ll avoid getting caught in an infinite loop of fixes.

9. Remind yourself that getting something done is more important than making it perfect. Recall the old saying, “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

10. Flip the switch from negative self-talk to positive self-talk. Change the channel on your inner voice so that it focuses more on potential and growth and less on deficit and critique.

11. Focus more on process and not just results. Recognize that results aren’t always fully in your control. When you focus on the process, you’re more likely to get lost in your work and not freeze up due to fear of failure.

12. Adopt a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset. In a growth mindset, you recognize that you can develop your intelligence, abilities, and talents—that they’re not static. Our mindset, according to the research, shapes our enjoyment of challenging tasks, ideas about what we will strive for, and performance on tasks.

13. Change your focus from perfection to progress. Use a checklist and regular reviews so you can see your advances (and celebrate them).

14. Remember that you matter and have worth regardless of how you perform on the specific task in front of you. Don’t fall into the trap of conflating your performance on everything with your self-worth. Recall that many great achievers got that way by stretching themselves, failing often, learning from their mistakes, and persevering through adversity.

Choose progress, not perfection.
Done is better than perfect.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you falling into the trap of perfectionism?
  2. How is it affecting you?
  3. Which of the approaches noted above will you try?

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Recommended Books

  • Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
  • Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha
  • Jennifer Breheny Wallace, Never Enough: When Achievement Culture Becomes Toxic—And What We Can Do About It
  • Shirzad Chamine, Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% of Teams and Individuals Achieve Their True Potential—And How You Can Achieve Yours

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Overcoming Perfectionism

  • “Perfectionism isn’t about high standards. It’s about unrealistic standards.” -Professor Andrew Hill, York St. John University
  • “At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” -Michael Law, author
  • “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” -Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
  • “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” -Anna Quindlen, writer

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Approaches

Are you self-aware? It’s common for people to overestimate their self-awareness.

Being self-aware means having a clear and accurate understanding of yourself, including your feelings, motives, desires, core values, strengths, and weaknesses.

Do you have a realistic view of yourself,
including a good and true sense of how others perceive you?*

Based on multiple investigations with nearly 5,000 participants, organizational psychologist Dr. Tasha Eurich and her colleagues found the following:

“…even though most people believe they are self-aware, self-awareness is a truly rare quality:
We estimate that only 10-15% of the people we studied actually fit the criteria.”
-Dr. Tasha Eurich

Psychologist Daniel Goleman considers self-awareness one of the four domains of emotional intelligence (along with self-management, social awareness, and relationship management). What’s more, self-awareness is the foundation for the other three.

If you lack self-awareness, you’ll have blind spots that cause problems. For example, if you don’t know the reasons for your actions, you’re likely to keep making the same mistakes. Also, you’ll be less likely to take responsibility for them, damaging your credibility.

There are many benefits to having high self-awareness. For example, it can help you communicate more effectively, improve your relationships, and increase your happiness and fulfillment. It can help enhance your sense of personal control, improve your decision-making, increase your confidence, and augment your influence.

“…self-awareness is a predictor of success in leadership.”
-James Kouzes and Barry Posner, A Leader’s Legacy

Also, how can you expect to find good work that’s a good fit for you—and know what work you should avoid—if you don’t know your strengths, passions, and preferences, and if you don’t know what energizes you and what drains you? How can you avoid conforming to the desires of others if you don’t know your own heart?

“When you start thinking that you don’t know what to do with your life,
what you really mean is that you don’t yet know who you are.”

-Brianna Wiest, The Mountain Is You

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

How to Develop Self-Awareness: 7 Powerful Approaches

Here are seven things you can do to elevate your self-awareness:

 

1. Engage in frequent self-reflection.

Reflect on meetings or other encounters and their emotional wake. Pay attention to what you love, what you long for, and what makes you come alive. This means sometimes getting out of “climbing mode” (striving to move up the ladder of success, focusing on achievement and advancement) and getting into what I call “discover mode” (learning about who we are, including our values, strengths, passions, and dreams, and what we can do in the world). Listen to your inner voice.

 

2. Take assessments.

They can facilitate not only your self-awareness but also your personal development. For example:

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

3. Ask for input from family, friends, mentors, and coaches.

Solicit honest feedback, not only about your behaviors and strengths but also about your weaknesses and blind spots. At work, this can include “360-degree reviews.”

 

4. Consider not only what you know about yourself but also what others know about you.

For this, check out the Johari Window, a framework that can help you identify what’s known to yourself (or not) and what’s known to others about you (or not). See below.

Source: Adobe Stock

How many people get to see your true self? Do you have blind spots—things that are known by others about you that you’re not aware of? Consider writing down ten words that describe yourself—your main characteristics. Then have people who know you well do the same for you. Compare the lists to see how much overlap there is (or isn’t).

 

5. Journal.

As you journal, reflect on your experiences and feelings. Seek insights and look for patterns.

 

6. Join or start a small group.

When run well, small groups can facilitate deep conversations about meaningful things. Make sure the conversation includes not only self-reflection but also input from the group. That way, participants will have a chance to consider new insights in a safe environment.

 

7. Make time for renewal and sanctuary.

Engage in daily restorative activities (e.g., meditation, yoga, or gardening). Find places or practices of peace that help you guard and recenter your heart. Without renewal and sanctuary, you’re likely to be too scattered and frazzled to maintain high self-awareness.

 

Developing your self-awareness will have powerful effects on your life, work, relationships, and leadership. It’s an investment that pays big dividends.

“’Know thyself’… is still the most difficult task any of us faces. But until you truly know yourself, strengths and weaknesses, know what you want to do and why you want to do it, you cannot succeed in any but the most superficial sense of the word.” -Warren Bennis, On Becoming a Leader

Warren Bennis quote

 

Reflection Questions

  1. How well do you know yourself?
  2. Might you be overestimating your self-awareness, like so many others?
  3. Are you asking for feedback regularly, and are you truly open and receptive to it?

 

Tools for You

Strengths Search

We all have core strengths–the things in which we most excel. Take this self-assessment to determine your core strengths so you can integrate them more into your life and work.

 

Related Articles

 

Related Books and Videos

  • Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • Tasha Eurich, Insight: The Surprising Truth about How Others See Us, How We See Ourselves, and Why the Answers Matter More than We Think
  • William L. Sparks, “The Power of Self-Awareness,” TEDx Asheville
  • Tasha Eurich, “Increase Your Self-Awareness with One Simple Fix,” TEDx Mile High

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Self-Awareness

  • “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom.” -Lao Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher
  • “Know thyself.” -inscribed on the temple wall at Delphi, 6th century BCE
  • “If a man does not know himself, how should he know his functions and his powers?” -Michel de Montaigne, 16th century French Renaissance philosopher and writer
  • “Self-knowledge is best learned, not by contemplation, but by action. Strive to do your duty and you will soon discover of what stuff you are made.” -Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German writer, poet, and scientist
  • “Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” -Witold Gombrowicz, Polish writer
  • “When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.” -Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • “The deepest vocational question is not ‘What ought I to do with my life?’ It is the more elemental and demanding ‘Who am I? What is my nature?’… Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening…. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” -Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation
  • “To be aware of a single shortcoming within oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in somebody else.” -Tenzin Gyatso, 14th Dalai Lama
“Self-awareness is the foundation of authenticity. You develop it by exploring your life story and your crucible, and by understanding how these experiences shape you as a person and leader. You enhance it as you seek honest feedback from others. You refine it by adopting practices that help you remain mindful and aware, even amidst life’s chaos.”
-Bill George and Zach Clayton, True North: Emerging Leader Edition

 

* There are two types of self-awareness, according to researchers. The first type, internal (or private) self-awareness, is about how clearly you see yourself and whether you notice and reflect on your own internal state. The second type, external (or public) self-awareness, is about how aware you are of how you appear to others.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

This Is How to Avoid Complacency

Have you become complacent? Have you been lulled into a state of easy contentment? Or are you at risk of not paying enough attention to potential problems? Is complacency preventing you from trying harder and making needed improvements?

It’s a common trap. Perhaps you’ve been complacent about your health—or the health of those you love? Have you been complacent about your work, team, leadership, or organization? Or complacent about your relationships? About democracy or the planet?

You may be struggling with complacency if you’re taking things for granted or if you have too much routine. Do things feel monotonous?

Are you sticking to what you know? Staying in your comfort zone and avoiding risk? Are you “phoning it in”? Have you stopped learning and growing? Is your ambition waning?

Perhaps you’re wondering,

Is this it?
Where did all my time go?
Isn’t there something more I should be doing with my life?

There’s nothing wrong with comfort per se, or with feeling satisfied. You probably want them in your life. The problem is when you have too much of them and lose your inner fire to fight for your dreams or your zest for life.

Complacency becomes a problem when it’s sapping your motivation, when it’s leading to inaction when action is warranted, when it’s detracting from your sense of hope, when it’s leading to mediocrity. Is it robbing you of future opportunities and benefits, or derailing your career?

 

14 Complacency-Busting Actions

Fortunately, there’s much you can do to avoid complacency (or to break through it when you’re in it). Here are 14 complacency-busting actions you can take:

1. Start acting with urgency. Like your time counts. Because it does—and probably more than you’re realizing now.

2. Invoke deliberate agitation. Try using what Tyler Hakes calls “deliberate agitation.” Think of it as shaking a snow globe. He writes:

“You let things settle into place just long enough and then shake them up. Watch to see if they fall into the same patterns or if something new and better emerges…. You deliberately and intentionally question things and change them before they become a problem. You remain vigilant in trying to improve so that way you don’t fall into the trap of complacency that leads to eventual failure.” -Tyler Hakes

3. Dream big. Think expansively about all you want to do in your lifetime in different areas, from family, relationships, and work to education, service, travel, and more. When you do that, you start to feel the powerful pull of your deepest aspirations.

4. Step out of your comfort zone. Has fear held you back from venturing forth and risking yourself? When you push yourself, take risks, and dare to have adventures, your blood races. You start to feel awake and alive again.

5. Strive for a BHAG—a “big, hairy audacious goal.” It can be a life goal or a work goal, but a true BHAG should take your breath away with how bold it is and how amazing it would be if you could make it happen.

“…there is a difference between merely having a goal and becoming committed to a huge, daunting challenge—like a big mountain to climb…. Like the moon mission, a true BHAG is clear and compelling and serves as a unifying focal point of effort…. people like to shoot for finish lines. A BHAG engages people—it reaches out and grabs them in the gut.”
-Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in Built to Last

6. Build your top priorities and most important activities into your calendar. Doing so will ensure you make progress on your top goals. That way, you can not only develop good and productive habits but also become the sort of person who consistently gets big stuff done.

7. Enlist support. Consider recruiting an “accountability partner”—someone who can help keep you on track (such as a training buddy or someone you can send regular progress reports to).

8. Identify and remove barriers to change. When you’re stuck, it’s easy to become complacent and acclimatize yourself to the new situation. Why not get to work instead on identifying the major obstacles to progress and how to overcome them?

9. Notch short-term wins on meaningful work to build momentum. Draw on what researchers call the “progress principle”:

“…of all the positive events that influence inner work life, the single most powerful is progress in meaningful work; of all the negative events, the single most powerful is the opposite of progress—setbacks in the work. We consider this to be a fundamental management principle: facilitating progress is the most effective way for managers to influence inner work life. Even when progress happens in small steps, a person’s sense of steady forward movement toward an important goal can make all the difference between a great day and a terrible one.”
-Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer in The Progress Principle

10. Take full responsibility for everything in your life. Be what my co-author, Christopher Gergen, and I call a “LIFE entrepreneur.” You’re much more likely to thrive when you take ownership of your life and recognize your agency—when you take your life back. LIFE entrepreneurs go out and create opportunities for themselves. They intentionally craft a good life with good work, and they bring their dreams to life.

#11. Get clear on your personal purpose, values, and vision:

  • Your purpose is why you’re here. It’s what gives you a sense of meaning and significance—often by connecting with and serving others.
  • Your values are what’s most important to you—your core beliefs and principles that guide your decisions and behavior.
  • And your vision is what you aspire to achieve in the future—and what success looks and feels like for you.

12. Cultivate vitality. You’ll feel better and perform at a higher level when you develop physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health and wellness. Being intentional about productive and energizing habits will pay big dividends.

13. Let go of limiting beliefs. Ever been your own worst enemy? Have you locked yourself in a mental prison of judgment, negativity, and rumination? Never forget that you always retain the power to upgrade your thoughts, and it can help you avoid the trap of complacency.

14. Set and maintain high standards. You tend to rise or fall to the standards you set. Why not leverage deadlines, accountability, and high standards to propel you forward?

 

Related Traps

Complacency is common, and it can be deeply damaging. It also tends to come with several associated traps:

 

Final Thoughts

Are you letting the complacency trap rob you of quality time and experiences? Of achievement and passion?

It’s tricky because you probably want satisfaction and serenity, and not a life of frenetic striving or perpetual busyness.

Somewhere in between the extremes, there’s a healthy place of urgency to live intentionally, achieve important things, serve others, and cherish your days, not squandering your time in a cloud of complacency.

Wishing you well with it—and let me know if I can help.

Reflection Questions

  1. To what extent has complacency crept into some aspects of your life and work (or your family or organization)?
  2. What will you do to regain the motivation and urgency to escape this trap?

 

Tools for You

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Complacency

  • “The life you have left is a gift. Cherish it. Enjoy it now, to the fullest. Do what matters, now.” -Leo Babauta, author
  • “Complacency keeps you living a comfortable life… not the life you desire. Challenge yourself to do something different. Then, notice the new charged quality of your life.” -Nina Amir, author and coach
  • “The tragedy of life is often not in our failure, but rather in our complacency; not in our doing too much, but rather in our doing too little; not in our living above our ability, but rather in our living below our capacities.” -Benjamin E. Mays, minister
  • “I really try to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Complacency is my enemy.” -Trent Reznor, musician and singer-songwriter
  • “History and experience tell us that moral progress comes not in comfortable and complacent times, but out of trial and confusion.” -Gerald R. Ford, former U.S. president
  • “By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in fellow managers and employees.” -John Kotter, founder of Kotter International and Harvard Business School Professor
  • “Without a sense of urgency, desire loses its value.” -Jim Rohn, author and entrepreneur
“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.” -Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

Why You Should Build Your Passions into Your Life and Work

What are the things that consume you with palpable emotion over time? What are the things you love so much that you’re willing to suffer for them? Those are your passions.

You probably have passions in different domains of your life. Are you passionate about your work—or at least parts of it? Do you talk often about what you like about your work, or find yourself working extra hours even when you don’t have to? Are you building your passions into your days and weeks?

 

14 Benefits of Building Your Passions into Your Life and Work

There are many powerful benefits to building passions into your life and work. For example, doing so will:

  1. boost your motivation
  2. enhance your engagement
  3. increase your productivity
  4. sharpen your focus
  5. augment your creativity
  6. help you achieve your goals
  7. motivate you to keep learning, growing, and developing in your areas of interest
  8. boost your persistence
  9. help you be more resilient in the face of challenges
  10. lead to more happiness and fulfillment
  11. inspire others to find and work in areas of their passions when they see you loving life and thriving
  12. help you avoid burnout
  13. lead to much higher job satisfaction, according to a meta-analysis that reviewed data from nearly a hundred different studies (1)
  14. result in better work performance, according to a meta-analysis of sixty studies conducted over the past six decades

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

Of course, there’s also a flip side to this: there’s much lost when you don’t have passion for what you’re doing. In that case, you’re much more likely to lack enthusiasm and “phone it in.” Over time, this can put you on a downward trajectory.

To what extent are you building your passions into your life and work?
What more could you do?

 

Tools for You

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Passions

  • “If there is any difference between you and me, it may simply be that I get up every day and have a chance to do what I love to do, every day. If you want to learn anything from me, this is the best advice I can give you.” -Warren Buffett, legendary investor
  • “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” -Oprah Winfrey, media entrepreneur, author, and philanthropist
  • “Paul and I, we never thought that we would make much money out of the thing. We just loved writing software.” -Bill Gates, co-founder, Microsoft
  • “I did it for the buzz. I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for the joy, you can do it forever.” -Stephen King, writer

(1) Mark Allen Morris, “A Meta-Analytic Investigation of Vocational Interest-Based Job Fit, and Its Relationship to Job Satisfaction, Performance, and Turnover,” PhD dissertation, University of Houston, 2003.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

 

This Is How to Develop Focus: 20 Approaches

It feels like the world is dead-set against our focus these days. Are you bombarded with digital distractions? Are there near-constant requests for your attention?

Do you feel overloaded? Does your concentration feel fragmented? Find yourself checking your phone constantly?

These aren’t just annoyances. They can become a disaster for your productivity and quality of life.

 

Focus and Leadership

According to a survey of more than 35,000 leaders in more than 100 countries, 73% reported feeling distracted from their current task some or most of the time, and 67% described their minds as cluttered.

Nearly all the leaders surveyed (a whopping 96%) reported that enhanced focus would be valuable or extremely valuable to them. The researchers concluded:

The ability to apply a calm, clear focus to the right tasks… is the key to exceptional results….
we have observed a direct correlation between a person’s focus level and their career advancement.”

-Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter*

 

Struggling with Focus?

Here are some signs that you may be struggling to focus: You’re reading something but not absorbing it. Maybe you’re listening to people but you’re not taking their words in. You zone out in meetings. You’re jumping from task to task, and not making considerable progress on your priorities.

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

The Benefits of Focus

There are many benefits when you cultivate the ability to focus. When you’re focusing properly, you: make better decisions, manage your time more effectively, feel less stress, remain calm under pressure, and have better work quality. What’s more, you’re more creative and productive.

 

How to Develop Focus: 20 Approaches

How can you develop your focus? Here are 24 actionable approaches:

 

1. Observe your daily rhythms. Notice your best and worst times for focused work. Track your energy levels at different times and on different tasks. Then design your work and schedule to capture your greatest attention and energy.

 

2. Take regular breaks. Your brain can’t focus all the time. You need to toggle between focus and rest. (When you do so, you’re able to focus much better when you return from rest, according to the research.)

 

3. Practice self-care. Develop good sleep habits (regular bedtimes, caffeine and device curfews, etc.), eating and hydration habits, and exercise habits.

 

4. Minimize interruptions and eliminate distractions. For example, turn off smartphone notifications and place your phone outside the room when working.

 

5. Develop simple rules to maximize time in deep work. For example, don’t check email before noon (or another time that works for you).

 

6. Focus on one task at a time and avoid frequent task-switching. When you switch tasks, you waste time regrouping and trying to recover your focus. Be more disciplined in doing one thing at a time.

 

7. Design your work for “flow.” According to researchers, flow is a state of deep concentration and absorption—a state of almost effortless attention and peak performance. (See my article, “Designing Your Work for Flow.”)

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

8. Practice doing things that require concentration. For example, read books or play games that require focus.

 

9. Engage in deep breathing and practice meditation. With meditation, you can train your mind to become more present, focused, and still, and you can enhance your concentration. It can help you train your attention and awareness, helping you feel calm and clear in the process. It’s a means of quieting and focusing—and refocusing—your mind. (See my article, “Why We Need Meditation and Mindfulness Now More than Ever.”)

 

10. Reduce anxiety, stress, and negative self-talk.

 

11. Get very clear on what’s most important so you can direct your efforts toward that.

 

12. Determine which tasks will contribute the most toward your most important aims.

 

13. Clear the decks so you can focus on your most essential task for extended periods.

 

14. Reduce or eliminate non-essential tasks. Consider using a “stop doing list” or a “drop list.”

 

15. Schedule your most important tasks and give them deadlines. (Tip: Be generous in the amount of time allotted for completion. We tend to underestimate the time it will take, generating stress in the process.)

 

16. Learn to say “no” more often and more easily, especially to things that don’t fit with your top priorities.**

 

17. Systematically measure your progress on your most important tasks. Tracking progress helps you maintain attention.

 

18. Stop focusing so much on results and focus more on deep engagement with the process of doing things that matter. For example, focus more on the strategies you can adopt for healthy living and focus less on your target weight.

 

19. Experiment with different schedules that help you focus better. For example, try themed days, such as a Monday planning day, Tuesday prospecting day, Wednesday writing day, etc. (or half-days).

 

20. Make a “Done for the Day” list each morning—a list of what would constitute essential progress and that’s reasonable for a single day.***

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Tools that Help with Focus

Beyond the approaches noted above, here are three tools and frameworks that can help with focus:

1. Eisenhower Decision Matrix (a.k.a., Urgent-Important Matrix): distinguish between tasks that are urgent (time-sensitive, demanding immediate attention) and important (contributing to your long-term purpose and vision), using a simple matrix.

2. Ivy Lee Method: give yourself no more than six important tasks per day, listed from most important to least important. Then address them in order of priority, and without moving to the next task until you’ve completed the current one.

3. Brian Tracy’s “Eat the Frog” method: identify one challenging and important task (the metaphorical frog) and complete it first thing in the morning. The logic:

“The hardest part of any important task is getting started on it in the first place. Once you actually begin work on a valuable task, you seem to be naturally motivated to continue…. The most valuable tasks you can do each day are often the hardest and most complex. But the payoff and rewards for completing these tasks efficiently can be tremendous.”
-Brian Tracy, Canadian-American author and speaker

Reflection Questions

  1. Are you struggling with focus?
  2. How is it affecting you?
  3. Which approaches work best for you?
  4. Which new ones will you try, starting today?

 

Tools for You

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Recommended Books

“The ability to perform deep work is becoming increasingly rare at exactly the same time it is becoming increasingly valuable in our economy. The few who cultivate this skill and make it the core of their working life will thrive…. Efforts to deepen your focus will struggle if you don’t simultaneously wean your mind from a dependence on distraction.”
-Cal Newport, Deep Work

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Focus

  • “Concentrate all your thoughts upon the work at hand. The sun’s rays do not burn until brought to a focus.” -Alexander Graham Bell, scientist, engineer, and inventor
  • “If there is any one secret of effectiveness, it is concentration. Effective executives do first things first and they do one thing at a time.” -Peter Drucker, consultant, author, and expert on management and innovation
  • “Learn to master your attention, and you will be in command of where you, and your organization, focus.” -Daniel Goleman, psychologist and expert on emotional intelligence
  • “Most people have no idea of the giant capacity we can immediately command when we focus all of our resources on mastering a single area of our lives.” -Tony Robbins, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist

 

References

* Source: Rasmus Hougaard and Jacqueline Carter, “Are You Having Trouble Focusing? These Simple Strategies Will Help,” Harvard Business Blogs, December 26, 2017.

** Author Gregory McKeown suggests saying “yes” only to the top 10% of opportunities you encounter, in part by using rigorous criteria for giving assent, such as whether the opportunity is exactly what you’re looking for. If it’s not a clear “yes,” then it should be a clear “no.”

*** Source: Gregory McKeown, Effortless: Make It Easier to Do What Matters Most (Crown Currency, 2021).

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Break Bad Habits and Create Good Ones

Got bad habits? You probably do. And you’re not alone.

Are you in the habit of avoiding hard or uncomfortable things, or people? Dispensing advice without being asked?

Not getting enough fresh air and sunshine? Not exercising and moving enough? Sitting too much? Procrastinating? Being late or doing things at the last minute?

Blaming others instead of taking responsibility and finding solutions? Complaining? Doubting yourself? Compulsively using your smartphone?

Okay, so you have some bad habits.

Unfortunately, those bad habits can add up to big problems over time: unhappiness, poor health, feeling stuck, lower performance, and relationship harm.

In dealing with bad habits, it’s not as simple as summoning your willpower so you can be stronger when faced with temptation or maladaptive routines. You need more sustainable strategies since your willpower can erode over time.

 

How to Break Bad Habits and Create Good Ones

Thankfully, there are many ways to break bad habits and create good ones. Here are 15 practical approaches:

 

1. Begin by believing you can change your habits.

Also, believe that if you do so, you’re likely to see powerful results. It all starts with mindset.

 

2. Study your bad habits.

Develop self-awareness and get clear on the patterns of your bad habits: What triggers them? How and when? Where? With whom? How often?

 

3. Determine the underlying drivers of your bad habits and address those deeper issues.

If stress is prompting one or more bad habits, deal directly with the person or issue that’s causing the stress. That will eliminate the need for a habitual coping mechanism.

 

4. Focus on “keystone habits,” since they affect several areas of your life.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg wrote about “keystone habits” that can cause widespread shifts in other areas. For example, he cites the following research about leading keystone habits: A habit of regular exercise often leads people to eat better, become more productive at work, show more patience with others, report feeling less stressed, use credit cards less, and smoke less. The habit of eating together as a family is associated with children having more confidence and emotional control, as well as better homework skills and grades. And the habit of making our beds each morning is associated with higher productivity and a greater sense of well-being and financial discipline.

 

5. Prime your environment to promote good habits and prevent bad ones.

Set out your workout clothes and gear the night before so you’re ready to exercise in the morning. Or prepare healthy meals on weekends so they’re ready for the week ahead. Place your smartphone in a different room when you need to focus so you’re not tempted by notifications.

“Environment is the invisible hand that shapes human behavior….
Create an environment where doing the right thing is as easy as possible.”
-James Clear, writer and speaker

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

6. Develop systems that promote good habits instead of simply setting goals and trying to reach them.

Automate things you do over and over. Set up processes that help you eliminate non-essential tasks and avoid repetition. Use your calendar to ensure you’re focusing on the right things at the right time.

“If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead….
You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.”
-James Clear

 

7. Follow the four laws of behavior change:

  1. Make it obvious. Use a visual cue that tees up the intended behavior. Example: Leave out the materials you need for your workout drink. It will remind you to get your workout in.
  2. Make it attractive. Give yourself a reward—ideally something you crave—after you do the desired habit. Example: Watch your favorite show only if you reach your daily quota on completing your critical project.
  3. Make it easy. If your phone is in another room while you’re doing deep work, it won’t be difficult to fight the temptation to scroll.
  4. Make it satisfying. Use a checklist and enjoy noting your progress as you go when you’ve had the discipline to do your important work for the day. (Source: James Clear, Atomic Habits)

 

8. Focus on who you wish to become through your good habits and systems, not on what you want to achieve.

There’s something powerful about this one. If you become the kind of person who exercises every day, or who eats healthy food, it starts to become engrained and automatic. You don’t have to keep fighting for it. You live into it.

“Your identity emerges out of your habits. Every action is a vote for the type of person you wish to become.”
-James Clear

 

9. Focus on replacing bad habits with good habits instead of breaking your bad habits.

For me, replacing a hazy morning of checking the news or email with an intentional morning of reading, meditation, and prayer has been a gamechanger. A simple replacement can go a long way.

https://greggvanourek.com/why-we-need-meditation/

 

10. Eliminate the triggers that your brain associates with the bad habit.

Move the remote control away from the TV. Turn off your notifications. Don’t keep junk snacks in the pantry.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

11. Leverage technology to help automate your habits.

Build good habits into your calendar and set reminders for them.

 

12. Find an accountability partner to help you with habits.

Make joint commitments. Check in regularly to hold each other accountable. Celebrate progress and victories together.

 

13. Surround yourself with people who live the way you want.

One powerful reason this works is that you don’t want to be the one who lets others down or doesn’t follow through with commitments. Also, surround yourself with visual cues of what you want—like Post-It notes, screen savers, pictures, refrigerator decorations, or vision boards with a message or images of your desired future.

 

14. Turn a good habit into a streak that you track and celebrate.

Track progress and celebrate success so you feel and enjoy a sense of progress and momentum. Sometimes gamification or challenges can be real motivators (motivation to succeed and/or avoid failure).

 

15. Anticipate setbacks.

Don’t expect perfection in all habit-busting domains. When there’s a letdown, commit to getting back on track right away. Don’t let the bad habit groove re-establish itself.

Goal-Setting Template

Goals are the desired results we hope to achieve—the object of our effort and ambition. Goals are common in our life and work, but that doesn’t mean we’re good at setting and achieving them. Use this Goal-Setting Template to set your goals properly, based on the research and best practice.

 

Final Thoughts

By replacing your bad habits with good ones, designing your environment to be more conducive to the life you want, and developing systems that help you be your best, you can improve your life dramatically.

Good habits create leverage. More progress, with less struggle and effort. Stop shooting yourself in the foot and start elevating your days, one habit at a time.

 

Reflection Questions

  1. What are your worst habits?
  2. How are they affecting you?
  3. What will you do about them, starting today?

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Habits

  • “Drop by drop is the water pot filled.” -Siddhartha Gautama (the Buddha)
  • “First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not.” -Octavia Butler, science fiction writer
  • “The secret to getting results that last is to never stop making improvements…. Small habits don’t add up. They compound. That’s the power of atomic habits. Tiny changes. Remarkable results.” -James Clear, writer and speaker
  • “If you are going to achieve excellence in big things, you develop the habit in little matters.” -Colin Powell, U.S. Army officer, statesman, and diplomat
  • “Good habits are worth being fanatical about.” -John Irving, writer
  • “In essence, if we want to direct our lives, we must take control of our consistent actions. It’s not what we do once in a while that shapes our lives, but what we do consistently.” -Tony Robbins, author, entrepreneur, and philanthropist
  • “Success is the product of daily habits—not once-in-a-lifetime transformations.” -James Clear
  • “Successful people are simply those with successful habits.” -Brian Tracy, Canadian-American author and speaker

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

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Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!

How to Get More Exercise: 17 Tips

Do you struggle with getting enough exercise? Sit too much? If so, you’re not alone. Adults between age 20 and 75 reported spending an average of 9.5 hours of sedentary time each day, not including sleep.

As they say, “sitting is the new smoking.” Your body was made to move, and it pays a price when it doesn’t. When you’re sedentary, there’s a dramatic drop in the production of enzymes that burn fat, and your metabolism slows.

You know that exercise comes with an array of benefits. For example, it has positive effects on energy, happiness, blood pressure, brain health, cognitive capacity, disease prevention, immune system function, mood, motivation, confidence, sexual function, sleep, stress management, longevity, and overall physical and mental health and wellness.

According to researchers, exercise can help you be more productive at work, have better interactions with colleagues, and feel more satisfied at the end of the day. (1) What’s more, when you don’t exercise, you get tired more easily and lose energy and stamina. You get stressed, irritable, and more forgetful and impulsive. Not good.

 

How to Get More Exercise: 17 Tips

So how should you go about it? Here are 17 tips for getting more exercise:

1. Start small and keep it simple. Take the stairs. Park at the back of lot. Avoid making it overly ambitious or complicated at the start.

2. Walk more. Why not go for a brisk walk daily? You’re built to move, and walking is simple and accessible. It allows your mind to wander and also gets you outside into the daylight.

3. Try walking meetings. They replace sitting with moving, and they can make the meeting more collaborative and enjoyable. You’ll also enjoy fresh air and sunshine.

4. Make exercise and regular movement as easy as possible. Keep those running or walking shoes by your bed. Have that gym bag packed and ready to go. Eliminate barriers and excuses.

5. Find out what works for you and do more of that. Start with one or two simple approaches that seem promising and see what works and what doesn’t. Don’t expect perfection and risk getting frustrated.

6. Build movement into regular microbreaks. How often do you get up from your desk? Not enough, in most cases. Can you stretch or do some simple movements (e.g., jumping jacks, knee-bends, squats, pushups, burpees)?

7. Choose activities you enjoy. You tend to feel more confident and perform better when you enjoy what you’re doing. Incorporate play or a challenge into exercise, with novelty and change. Engage in fun or relaxing hobbies that require some movement (e.g., gardening).

Take the Traps Test

We all fall into traps in life. Sometimes we’re not even aware of it, and we can’t get out of traps we don’t know we’re in. Evaluate yourself with our Traps Test.

 

8. Calendarize exercise to help instill regularity and accountability. If you don’t, it’ll be too easy to skip as the busyness of the day overtakes your good intentions.

9. Use a step counter or other technology to track your progress. As they say, you don’t get what you don’t measure. Turn it into a streak and see your motivation and commitment increase dramatically.

10. Find powerful motivation to drive your exercise. Connect exercise to a deeper why and your higher aspirations and life goals—ones that have emotional resonance for you. Example: “I stay healthy so I can be alive and energetic with my kids (or grandkids).” For many people, continuing with exercise depends largely on anticipated rewards. Do you exercise because you like the way you feel afterward? Or does it give you a sense of accomplishment? Do you like seeing people at the gym or out on your walk?

11. Create habit loops for exercise. When you do this, you’ll stop thinking about it and just do it automatically. In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg notes that you can create more effective and lasting habits via a three-step loop: cue, routine, and reward. For example, he writes, a cue can be seeing your workout clothes laid out and ready to go next to your nightstand when you wake up, the routine can be going to the gym at a set time, and a reward can be a delicious post-workout smoothie. You’ll begin to anticipate the reward (not only the smoothie but also how good you feel after a tough workout), and that craving will make it easier to get going each day, he writes.

12. Set challenging but realistic goals. Good goals can help you with focus, motivation, and commitment—especially when you keep them visible and top of mind. Write them down, display them, and talk about them.

13. Set milestones to shoot for and celebrate on the way to achieving goals. This will help you avoid the problem of insufficient or fading motivation from goals that are distant. Examples: 500 more steps walked per day on average vs. last month.

Quality of Life Assessment

Evaluate your quality of life in ten key areas by taking our assessment. Discover your strongest areas, and the areas that need work, then act accordingly.

 

14. Use implementation intentions. These are concrete plans to follow through on your goals. They come in a specific form: “I will (BEHAVIOR) at (TIME) in (PLACE).” Example: “I will exercise for 40 minutes at noon on weekdays at my local gym.” According to research from the British Journal of Health Psychology on 248 people and their exercise habits, a much higher percentage of people who devised a plan for when and where they’d exercise did so at least once a week.

15. Replace bad habits with good ones. For example, go without devices for an evening and focus on walking, moving, or stretching instead.

16. Build in social and group components to exercise. Join a team or enlist a workout buddy, trainer, accountability partner, or hiking hive. By building in mutual dependence, you get both accountability and routine.

17. Change your mindset about exercise and movement. First, view it as part of your job—or at least a prerequisite to it. Or view yourself as a corporate athlete who needs to be at your best physically and mentally. Keep in mind that not everyone has the gift of health and movement. It’s too easy to take it for granted. Better to view exercise as a privilege, not a chore—and something you can invest in so you have the ability to do all the other important things that give your life meaning and joy.

“Instead of viewing exercise as something we do for ourselves—a personal indulgence that takes us away from our work—it’s time we started considering physical activity as part of the work itself.”
-Ron Friedman, “Regular Exercise Is Part of Your Job,” Harvard Business Review

Meanwhile, as you’re exercising, be sure to be smart about it. Build in enough recovery time to avoid injury. Drink enough water. Don’t exercise too close to bedtime, as it may make it harder to fall asleep. And give yourself grace and avoid harmful self-judgment.

You got this!
Gregg

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tools for You

Personal Values Exercise

Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.

 

Related Articles

 

Postscript: Inspirations on Exercise and Movement

  • “Physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness.” -Joseph Pilates, German-born physical trainer, writer, and inventor
  • “Take care of your body. It’s the only place you have to live.” -Jim Rohn, entrepreneur and author
  • “A fit, healthy body—that is the best fashion statement.” -Jess C. Scott, writer
  • “When it comes to health and well-being, regular exercise is about as close to a magic potion as you can get.” -Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, author, and teacher
  • “If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness.” -Robin Sharma, writer
  • “Physical fitness is not only one of the most important keys to a healthy body, it is the basis of dynamic and creative intellectual activity.” -John F. Kennedy, former U.S. president
  • “Exercise is amazing, from the inside out. I feel so alive and have more energy.” -Vanessa Hudgens, actress and singer
  • “Physical activity can be an effective treatment for mental health problems.” -Ben Singh, lead author of a large new meta-analysis with 97 reviews and more than 128,000 participants, research fellow, University of South Australia
  • “Sustained high achievement demands physical and emotional strength as well as a sharp intellect…. When people feel strong and resilient—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually—they perform better, with more passion, for longer. They win, their families win, and the corporations that employ them win.” -Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” Harvard Business Review, January 2001

(1) Coulson, J.C. & McKenna, Jim & Field, M. (2008). Exercising at work and self-reported work performance. International Journal of Workplace Health Management.

Gregg Vanourek’s Newsletter

Join our community. Sign up now and get Gregg Vanourek’s monthly inspirations (new articles, opportunities, and resources). Welcome!

 

+++++++++++++++++

Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, and TEDx speaker on personal development and leadership. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose, passion, and contribution) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Check out his Best Articles or get his monthly newsletter. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!