OFAT (One Focus at a Time) is a process/mindset/hack that I have been using to help keep me focused on achieving goals in my side projects. This technique is the number one reason I've been able to complete so many side projects in my spare time over the past few years whilst also working full-time and growing my family.Read More
New year's resolutions do not work. In fact, wide sweeping resolutions of any kind are destined to fail because they create a pressure for perfection. There is middle ground for resolutions which makes them more likely to fail.Read More
Have you ever felt as if your life was hurtling along at such speed that you barely had control over it? Or have you felt like a juggler with too many balls (or chainsaws) in the air? Or maybe you have just felt so stretched that you badly needed a rest? Don't worry I know the feeling all too well...Read More
Setting goals is important in life as the right goals can provide motivation and encouragement. They can help you pick yourself up from the floor whenever something goes wrong, they provide a strong feeling of purpose and meaning to your life, and they help keep you focused. But only when we set the "right" kind of goals...Read More
Daniel Grant Newton is a kind, funny, inquisitive, and creative man and he has an impressive story. Not only did he recently quit his job to travel around the world but he also fulfilled his life-long ambition to write (and self publish) a novel. But it gets better than that. He published his first novel, The Last King of Shambhala in March 2012 and it has since been shortlisted as a semifinalist in the Kindle Book Reviews Best Indie Books of 2012. Now that's pretty impressive.
Knowing Daniel personally I knew that my readers would not only benefit from his insight into writing, but also gain insight into how he actually managed to achieve one of his life's ambitions and also the attitude and passion he funnels into his writing and his life in general. I hope his words can inspire others just as they did for me.
Writing a book is a long-term task and requires countless hours of dedicated effort. What made you want to go through this to write a book?
Thanks for inviting me to talk on your blog, Zac. To answer your question, I have always loved writing fiction from a very early age, and have started and stopped trying to write a novel ever since I was very young. It was never that I sat down and thought ‘I’d like to write a novel’, more that I got ideas and felt compelled to write – and dreamt that one of those ideas would become a novel and would be read by the world. I was no small time dreamer.
However, after years of having written the beginnings and middles of many novels, I made the definite decision to finish a book, and created different habits and strategies that would keep me on task. The real secret was that once I found a storyline and characters compelling enough for my ‘multi-focused’ brain, there was not much ‘motivation’ needed as the story pulled me back to working on it in any spare moment. Hopefully this will have the same effect on my readers.
What were the reactions of your friends/family when you told them you were writing and self-publishing a book?
My wife was always very supportive, and that was important for me. She was my biggest fan, just loving my story ideas from when we first met. As for the rest of my family, they knew I had always been writing, and were also supportive. But perhaps, knowing the magnitude of the task, they may have questioned whether I would finish it, I don’t know. I tended not to tell friends, and it was difficult to tell family, but usually once I did they were very supportive. Perhaps only other writers – jaded ones – were naysayers.
The thing that really raised eyebrows was when I decided to self-publish rather than go the traditional route. Almost everyone (bar my wife) thought that was the best way to not sell a book. I am starting to make independent publishing believers out of them now however.
Your story is a journey across multiple worlds and periods of time with many different characters. Where did you draw inspiration from for your novel?
I think when you are being creative you draw inspiration from all over the place. For me, I have a keen interest in different world mythologies, folklore, spirituality and religions, cults, lucid dreaming, astral travelling, psychic phenomena and cold reading, comedy, psychology, alternative histories and conspiracies, and even music… and so there were many ideas drawn from those subjects (or inspired by them) and interweaved into the multiple story arcs. I am also a fan of stories that are a little different (for example, the ‘Journey to the West’ TV adaption ‘Monkey Magic’, ‘Sanctuary’ and the British comedy the Mighty Boosh), or incorporate mythology (like ‘Stargate’, ‘Indiana Jones’, ‘Thief of Bagdad’ and ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’), and so my stories incorporate mythology and are a little different, I think.
I guess you tend to write what you like to read or watch.
What methods/tools did you use to ensure you kept writing, and kept progressing towards your goal, even through tough times (e.g. writers block, lack of motivation)?
There were many different strategies I used to keep motivation, but for me, I never got writer’s block. I think if you do however, perhaps just take the time to sit and daydream about your characters or story, read through your notes or what you have written, or take a little quiet break and come back to it. This will usually get the juices flowing again.
As for motivation, a quick way to get in the zone is to do the above, or watch something inspirational on YouTube. For example, if you are writing an action sequence, watch one from a movie on YouTube. It’s not to copy it, but to get you in the right head space. Another key thing I have learnt is to ensure your writing catches up
with your ideas. If you are no longer excited about what you are writing, or the ideas are no longer fresh and energising, inspiration will be difficult. You’ll be tempted to skip ahead to the next part, and it could eventually kill the motivation completely and you’ll be onto your next book. That said, sometimes you need to let the story simmer in your mind, and come back to it later.
You can use this time to research which is another great way to keep motivation. (I wrote about things I loved to research which made research fun and easy to do for a long time, and fun to incorporate in the story.)
I know that you were working full time whilst you were writing the book. How did you balance yourself between work and your writing?
Working full-time, with an active family and friend network, makes writing very hard. You need to fit it in around your schedule, and being productive and doing your best is nigh impossible, because you are – or at least I was – always tired.
As a result, I decided to have a solid schedule where no matter what, I’d sit in front of the computer and write. I tried early mornings and late nights, and both were difficult to get the energy required, and to be inspired because I put pressure on myself to get stuff done. Actually, the pressure to do an acceptable amount of words in a short time was the worst – very stifling. And if I didn’t get enough done each day I’d actually feel depressed.
The trick in the end for me was deciding to go down to working four days a week, and dedicate one full day to writing. In that time, my productivity each week increased phenomenally, and my happiness levels greatly increased. I had no pressure to write at odd hours, but interestingly, the times I decided to sit down at these times produced more than when I had simple set the time aside during the working week. I put a lot of that down to the lifting of pressure.
Describe how you felt in the moment when you finished the book, the moment you realised you had just achieved one of your biggest goals?
So very excited. I practically danced about the house like I was on drugs. But at the same time, a little sad that the journey had come to an end – I suspect I’ll feel this much more when the series is all over and I kill all the characters off … just kidding!
But I think there’s a funny thing about goals, even big ones, once you have accomplished them, it doesn’t take long before your focus turns to the next goal. For me, once it was done, like a madman, I turned my focus to my next book and began adding to the extensive ideas for the second book I had made during writing the first book.
This time I thought, it took me ‘x’ years to do my first book, but now that I know what I know, and know how to do it, I’m going to write my next book in a much shorter period of time.
What lessons have you learned about writing a book?
There are a lot of lessons I have learnt, and it could take another whole book to impart them all, but here’s a selection.
1) Write notes whenever you get ideas. Do NOT ever miss writing down a good idea that you cannot see fitting because it might become useful in the future. In addition to that, it is important to note that often great ideas come when you are occupied with other things like work or in the shower, but you’ll probably forget them if you don’t write them down at the next possible moment. From all my notes, I could have actually written countless variations for my book, all very different from each other. I chose the ideas I preferred.
2) Get to know your characters and fall in love with them. Talk to them in your head as if they are real people. The more you like them, the more the reader will.
3) Free your creativity. If any part of what you are writing is boring for you, it will probably be for your readers. I’d scrap that part and look for a better way to write it, or a better situation.
4) Start chapters with something that will draw you in, like intrigue or action or the anticipation of action. And finish every chapter with a cliff-hanger of some type.
5) Set your goals and a plan to achieve it. As a reader of Zac’s blog, you no doubt are aware that this is the only way to achieve anything worth achieving… well, almost anything.
What lessons have you learned about self publishing?
I am at the beginning of self-publishing, so I am very much still learning. There are a couple of points I can pass on.
Firstly, I never really considered publishing. For me and my artist brain, someone else owning the rights to my book, and doing what they want with it, turned me off. Or at least until I had proven the book and had a bit more control.
I have heard horror stories about the surprisingly low amount of sales many published books sell, and how after a few months with minimal promoting, if your book isn’t being sold magically (or with your unaided marketing sweat and tears paying off), it is no longer printed and you cannot print it until their contract runs out (in five to ten years). And from what I have heard, if you aren’t an established author or a celebrity (yet), YOU will be the one promoting your own book. So why bother? Especially since independent publishing is closing the gap traditional publishing once had.
A new traditionally published writer gets about 20c for a $15 hard copy book or so (I’ve heard, you might want to do your own research there), and perhaps less for an online copy. That is just not fair. Yes, they are taking on the risk, paying for services like printing and editing and graphic designers, and are running a business. But, bottom line, you wrote the book – and that intellectual property should have a much higher value.
If you self-publish online, you will get on average about $3 per $6 book sold – it varies depending on location and store (e.g. iBooks and Amazon). If you had a traditional book deal that gave you 30c per online book sold (and they’d no doubt make it harder to sell with a much higher price), you’d need to sell ten times more.
That mightn’t sound much, but if the self-published author sells ten books, the published author needs to sell one hundred books to get the same amount. If the self-published author sells one hundred books, the published author will need to sell one thousand to make the same amount. And so on.
I have not gone down the Print-on-Demand route yet, but from my initial research you can get about $5 or so for a hard copy book selling at $15 on Amazon (there are other companies too). That includes printing, packaging and mailing out – and has no risk as you are only charged when a book is bought. And they can produce as little as one book, so there are no storage fees.
On a side note, I once went to a writer and publishing house seminar, and the publishing houses cried poor about their dying industry. All the authors and inspiring authors in the room sympathised with them and talked down about the changing industry – and the end of the world.
But for me, this proved I was right about my thinking and decision to go independent. One – the changes benefit the writer and the readers. The readers benefit because publishing houses will only print stories that have a ‘proven market’, meaning the books you are buying sound like books you’ve already read. Independently published books can be just as good as published, but can take you on all sorts of journeys, not just a ‘revamped Twilight’.
And two – if the industry changes, you have to change with it – not complain. Some publishing houses have taken writers for granted before, but with the Internet and advances in technology, we writers can do it ourselves. It will take work, but do not be fooled, being a new published writer will take just as much promotion unfortunately. If publishing houses want to keep up, they need to improve their services.
So anyway, what was the question? … :)
Just kidding, but as you can see, when you ask me about self-publishing, there is a LOT to consider for a new author. The big thing to consider is you need to look into ways to promote your book, do them, and think outside the box.
Once you have reached a certain mass of readers in the right niche, providing your book is good, you can then focus on writing and your relationships with them. Why? Because your readers are your best marketers. They’ll spread the word for you.
How are the book sale figures in relation to your expectations?
At the moment, I am still starting out in promotion, so it is too early to judge. The great news is I am understanding who my target market is better, and are planning around how to put this book in front of those who’ll enjoy reading it.
Not everyone will be your ideal reader, but I’ve had great feedback from those in my target market, and I have already apparently inspired a few to begin their own novels – which is the biggest compliment you can get I think.
What will you do different next time?
Write more novellas (shorter novels) that are serialised. The more material you have out there, the more ‘touch points’ you have for new readers to find your work.
In my research of the industry, readers like reading shorter stories online as well as books of traditional length, especially if these shorter novels are 99c or free. By showcasing your imagination and style in these shorter books, even for free, helps develop your emerging fan base.
What are you working on now?
I have just finished a novella called Don’t Shoot the Messenger, which is about a team of soldiers who travel back in time to change the world by assassinating a key but unlikely historical figure. There are some – controversial, let’s say – twists in the plot that make this quite a fun story, but I’m keeping them under wraps at this point in time. Don’t Shoot the Messenger will be available in the coming month.
The other books I am working on are the sequel to The Last King of Shambhala (Akashic Records Series) called Mysteries of the Black Sun, a prequel novella to the same series called Tsinto and Atlantis, the other side of the Frosted Mirror, and a teenage sci-fi series yet to be named. After those are complete, I have a backlog of ideas that will make up more novellas, and then the final book in the Akashic Records Series.
So yes, very busy, but it is what makes me thrive!
What advice do you have for any budding first-time novelists (like me)?
I could write a book about tips, but here are three pieces of advice to get started.
1) Enjoy the entire process, if your story at any point seems like a task, rethink it, and take it in a little bit of a different direction. Not only will it be hard to write something uninspiring, your audience will no doubt find it uninspiring too!
2) Don’t procrastinate planning too much, just jump in there with the main thrust and shape it as you go. Too many people I talk to who want to write a book use ‘planning’ as an excuse to not start, fearing they won’t produce something any good. You will fix and enhance all your work in the rewriting and editing, but that can only be done once you have something to rewrite or edit.
3) Learn all you can about character development and plot creation, but don’t let it get in the way of your writing. I love learning about the best ways to tell my stories. I took subjects at university on creative writing, and I obsessively paw through books and the Internet for tips, and learning about your craft does make it better.
But creativity is a natural process, and you don’t need to comply with any tip or suggestion if it makes sense not to. (Perhaps the only general rule that applies to almost every good story is that there is a beginning, a conflict and a resolution, and at least one of your main characters will have changed as a result of that process.)
As a caveat on the above, don’t let anyone intimidate you and your work. Because there is this idea that being a novelist is highly competitive, it tends to breed desperate writers who are quick to put you down and make themselves sound amazing. If you haven’t done a writing course and haven’t read Dickens, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t got amazing stories to tell. And if you have, it doesn’t automatically mean you do.
So don’t take on board the words of a naysayer, and don’t be a naysayer yourself (it does more harm to you and your subconscious psyche that it does to theirs!).
Time-wasting, procrastination, and a general sense of under achievement are themes that are becoming increasingly common across society. As we move further into an environment that is always “connected”, where we are always within reach of a computer or a smartphone, we are becoming less productive and less happy. The main reason for this is that our usage of time has changed. We feel that we do not have enough time set aside just for ourselves, to do what makes us happy as individuals, and then when we do finally get some “spare time” (I really dislike that phrase) we fritter it away on useless, unproductive, time-wasters.
It is not by accident that two of my most popular articles of all time are on this exact topic: Sometimes We All Need Some Alone Time and The Gentle Art of Not Wasting Time. People want more time and they want to be more productive.
I cannot give you more time in a physical sense but I can show you how to stop wasting your time and start using it in a more productive way. Here are my 3 simple ways to stop wasting time.
1. Set Goals
Goals are a fantastic way to get yourself focussed and achieving more in your life. They guide your everyday decisions, determine what you do with your spare time, and they provide a massive sense of satisfaction when you manage to achieve one.
The biggest trick to setting goals is to make them quantifiable. Your progress and ultimate fulfilment of the goal depends on you being able to measure it. If you cannot measure it then how will you know when you are finished?
But measurable does not necessarily mean that all goals have to be number-based. A yes/no goal is still measurable because you either achieve it or you don’t. As long as there is a clear end-state to your goal then you will be more likely to reach it.
Tips for setting goals:
- Set often, review often - I set my new goals, and officially review past goals, on the 1st of every month. This allows me to see what I managed to achieve last month and plan better for the current month. It also provides the opportunity to push myself by setting recurring goals higher so that I am constantly improving.
- Track progress - I track progress in a spreadsheet which tells me the percentage of progress complete for each task. Every time I do an action associated with a goal I update the spreadsheet to reflect it. It automatically tells me how much of that goal I’ve completed and whether or not that is on-track for the month. Yes, I’m THAT nerdy.
- Small chunks - I set most goals to last 1 month only. If I have a goal that will take significantly longer then I record that under “ambitions”. Then each month I pick some tasks that I can set as measurable goals to work towards those ambitions.
2. Use Todo Lists
Todo lists are the obvious next step. Once you have a set of goals that you are working towards you need to break it down into smaller tasks that you can complete during your day to start building momentum.
That’s what lists are really for. Setting goals is a great thing to do and it provides an initial burst of positive energy but if you do not take regular steps towards your goals then they will feel unattainable. Lists are used to take that initial motivation and provide regular positive reinforcement.
The best way to use lists is on a daily basis. Each day starts with a new list that contains everything you would like to get done in that day. If you didn’t complete a task from yesterday then bring it forward onto today’s list. There are no “rules”. It’s just a list of actions.
As you complete each action you then cross it off your list, put a tick next to it, or whatever else makes you feel all warm and fuzzy, because feeling that way is the real point of having a list. Each time you finish a task you get an immediate jolt of satisfactions and happiness that motivates you to keep going. That is how goals get fulfilled.
Tips for using todo lists:
- New list every day - I write a new todo list out every day. This is done either the first thing after waking up or, when I have been particularly productive, just before I go to bed the night before. I don’t spend too much time on it here (5-10 minutes) as I just want to get a basic plan for the day.
- Carry it everywhere - My todo list is now in the form of half an index card cut down to fit in my wallet. It goes everywhere with me. This allows me to have a constant reminder about what I wanted to achieve for the day, get that immediate feedback loop going when I finish something and can cross it off, and it means I can flexible. If my availability for the day drastically changes then I can update my list to remove/add tasks that I expect to complete.
- Each day is different - I plan differently each day and I only build a todo list based on how much time I will have to work towards my goals for that particular day. I make sure my todo list reflects my actual day because there is nothing more unsatisfying than ending a day with a todo list filled with incomplete actions.
3. Create a routine
Routines are the mechanism to ensure you are crossing things off your todo list and moving towards your goals. They are critical for maximising your productivity and helping push through the inevitable periods where progress feels that it has stagnated.
By creating a solid and persistent routine around your goals you force yourself into constant action. If you can get into a positive routine of productivity then you are guaranteed progress towards your goals.
Turning a routine into an ingrained habit can take about 4 weeks so no matter what the routine is I recommend committing to it for at least month. It doesn’t matter if you want to go to the gym 3 days per week, spend more time on your start-up business, or just improve your fake tan. You need to commit to doing it consistently for a month.
Tips for creating routines:
- Go daily - I find daily routines easier to maintain and quicker for them to become part of our everyday habits. If I have a routine that requires a day off then I still try to fill that timeslot each day with related activities to enforce the ritual. For example, when creating a new gym ritual I will use my rest days to read up on what's new in the world of fitness.
- Pick your best times - I create my routines for the times of the day that give them the best chance of succeeding. When it comes to writing I am at my creative and productive best early in the morning so now I get up early and I write for an hour. Because morning is my most productive time I have noticed a dramatic increase in my output which means I am way more likely to maintain the early-rising routine into the future.
- Finish your tasks - When I am creating a routine I make that time solely about being productive towards my goals. The positive feeling of crossing something off your todo list can be almost addictive, and doing it every single day means the routine is way more likely to become habitual.
There you have it. That’s 3 simple ways to stop wasting time and start being productive. Now I’m wondering, what do other productivity-fanatics like me do to help them stay focussed and achieve more in life?
Everyone has dreams; things they desire for their life, goals they would love to complete, and achievements they wish they could have. But most people do nothing about them. Most people consider dreams to be unattainable. They see them as figments of the imagination, a flight of fancy, and nothing more than something to distract them from their current dreary lives. This is simply not true.
Dreams are nothing more than big goals and every goal is achievable through dedication and perseverance. I believe that deep down everyone realises this but they are simply too afraid to change. They are afraid of their own dreams, afraid of failing to complete them, and afraid of losing their just-better-than-average life that they have been struggling to achieve thus far.
This is how our society has been conditioned. We believe that the only "safe" way through life is to do what everyone else is doing and strive to get just a little bit better than our peers. We've been conditioned (or brainwashed) to believe that chasing our dreams will put everything we have worked towards at risk. It is this fear that causes people to get stuck in a rut, never able to fulfill their dreams and never able to fully enjoy their lives.
But now we have created a stigma in our society around dreams. People that quit their high paying professional jobs to become a painter, or start their own cake shop, or trek around the world for a year are often frowned upon by the majority. This is because we have created a culture of being embarrassed about our dreams.
Dreams are not things to be embarrassed about. What should embarrass you is the thought of going through your entire life without following them - living the same old life as the people next door, and the people next to them and the people next to them, and...you get the picture.
Having a dream is not a crime, in fact it is a healthy and natural thing. And so is fulfilling them. Why do you think the self-help industry is so big and why so many people have a mid-life crisis? Because we have a deep urge within us; a need to fulfill our dreams.
And I'm going to start you off...
5 Simple Steps to Start Fulfilling Your Dreams
I recommend doing the rest of this article with a partner - someone who is like-minded, positive, and also looking to start down the path of dream fulfillment. You can do it alone, in front of the mirror, but I think it works best when done with a partner, or better yet an entire group of friends.
1. Write down all your dreams
If money was not a problem, if you had all the knowledge, contacts and experience needed, what would you do in your life? What do you wish you were doing right now? What would make you 100% happy?
It can be 3, 30, or 300 things. They can be as crazy and absurd as you like (walking on the moon perhaps?) but just make sure your list captures everything you dream of doing.
Go on, write them down now. I'll wait...
2. Verbalise them with your friends and family
Here is where the group aspect of this activity kicks in. Get together with your partner/group and take turns reading out every single one of your dreams (if you are doing this solo then get in front of the mirror and read them aloud). Even if you are embarrassed, you must read them out for everyone to hear.
When reading out your dreams start each one with a phrase like "I want to..." or "My dream is to..." Give as much or as little information as you want, so long as you succinctly explain what your dream is. You do not have to justify any of them, but if you want to share the reasoning with your friends then by all means go ahead.
The listeners are not expected to say or do anything except be positive, but it is good practice to make a mental note of the dreams being stated because you are going to help them be fulfilled!
I don't think I need to say this here but I will anyway. It is highly important that there is no challenging or ridiculing someone for their dreams. They have taken a courageous step to stand up and verbalise their dreams, and to shoot them down is simply not on. If you are this kind of person then do not participate in this activity. If you know one of your friends is like this then do not invite them. This is for positive people only - people who want to see their dreams, and the dreams of others, fulfilled.
3. Start working towards your own dreams
Now that you have finally written your dreams down, and had the courage to stand up and tell people, you can start working towards making them actually happen. You have made them real, not just an idea in your mind, and if something is real it is achievable.
Treat your goals like you would any other task or project in your life. Break it down into small tasks because small tasks get done more often. That way your dream will not seem unattainable and you can tick things off regularly and see the progress. Just make sure you give yourself tight deadlines - don't let it stagnate!
I personally recommend that you aim to do at least one action towards one of your dreams every single day. Even if the action is just spending half an hour researching on the internet, it is wise to get into the habit of using your spare time to work towards your dreams. This will create the mindset that your life is all about following your dreams rather than just "getting by".
4. Help others with their dreams
Now that you know the dreams of those close to you, you can start to help them as well. You can motivate and remind them to follow their dreams, you can support them when they need encouragement, and you can help identify opportunities for them.
By sharing dreams you have made each other accountable. Make sure that the others are working towards their dreams because this will also help motivate you to fulfill your own dreams. Success breeds success and when you are there to witness a friend achieve their dream it will reinforce that dreams can become reality. All of a sudden your dreams will seem so much more attainable.
Not to mention the joy and happiness you will feel when you help someone achieve one of their life long dreams. ;)
5. Tell everyone you can
Now that you have told someone your dreams you should have realised that it is not so scary, and definitely not embarrassing. So get out there and tell as many people as you can!
It might feel strange being so open, exposing your dreams to the world, but sometimes it is the only way that you are going to find the help you need to achieve all your dreams. You never know, you might just meet someone who has a friend with a rich cousin who was looking for a buddy to start a circus act with...how else would you find out about that without telling people?
Tell everyone you meet about your dreams and I guarantee that most of them will be happy for you. If you are met with any negativity just smile and remind yourself that those people are just afraid - they are scared to follow their own dreams and they don't like to see other people achieving success. The best thing you can do is to keep striving for your dreams and hope that you will inspire them to take a chance of their own.
Don't hold back. This is your life and they are your dreams. Make them happen! Image: Stuart Miles
I'm back. I've been back for a few weeks now, but my holiday was enlightening and thought-provoking so I've been taking a longer break from writing here while I collect my thoughts and determine what it is that I want from my life. Sounds deep hey?
There is only so much relaxing one can do, and especially so for someone like me - someone with an active mind who is always seeking a new challenge. It turns out my relaxation amount was about 5-7 days of sleep-ins, buffet breakfasts, and cocktails by the pool.
In the second week of my holiday my brain kicked in again and I began contemplating where my life was going and what I wanted to be doing. As our brains will try to answer any question put to it I managed to come up with a lot of ideas.
Some of these ideas were brilliant, and some not so good. Some were easy to do, some much harder. And some were that crazy that they made me wonder if I may be from another planet.
I managed to short-list these ideas (and cull the ones that could have me locked up in mental asylum) to a refined list of possible projects that I can immediately begin work on. Here is that list, in no particular order:
- Writing my novel (the same idea I've been refining for nearly 10 years now)
- Releasing some cool iPhone/iPad games
- Starting a sports analysis website
- Selling myself as an expert management consultant
- Writing an e-book based on this site
What to do?
I believe I will tackle most, if not all, of these ideas over the next 12 months. They represent the things I enjoy most, the things I excel at, and the things that have the potential for good financial return and thus allow me to achieve my lifestyle freedom goal and ultimately work on more of these kind of projects.
You wake up to the incessant buzzing of your alarm clock which is set all too early for a Friday. Peeking outside you notice how beautiful the day is already looking - the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and there is not a cloud in sight. And you're miserable. You've got a million things to do at work (hence the early morning alarm) and they are all due today. You can feel the stress building inside you already and you're not even out of bed yet! It's going to be a tough day…
If this sounds all too familiar then I am willing to bet that you often feel like you have too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and I am also willing to bet that you are wrong. You have plenty of time but you are just making things harder than they really are.
Making Things Harder Than They Are
This is something us humans love to do. We love to make things harder than they actually are, for any number of pseudo-psychological reasons, and it can be a very difficulty habit to break out of.
It is hard to break because the symptoms are not always obvious.There are dozens of little actions that we do every day that purposefully make our lives more difficult and often they are so small, or so ingrained in us, that we don't even notice them.
Of course this means that we just assume things are hard and we have to deal with it, when the reality is much different. The reality is that things are generally simple and we choose to make them harder.
It is not always obvious that we are doing this. Like many things, being at the centre of the problem actually makes it harder to identify it.
When we are slap-bang in the middle of a stressful and difficult time our mind is focused on finding solutions to the problems, not on questioning why the problems exist. But that is exactly what I am encouraging you to do.
Why We Make Things Harder
Whenever you are faced with a difficult situation that is causing you stress, stop and ask yourself if you contributed to it. Did you somehow make this situation harder? If you want to play the victim and pretend that all this bad stuff just happens to you then stop reading now. You wont be willing to change anyway.
We all make things harder for ourselves at different times in our life, and some people more-so than others. But why do we do it at all? Why would we purposefully choose to make something harder than it needs to be?
The most obvious reason is that it gives us an out. It provides us with an excuse for mistakes, or sub-par performances, and allows us to exaggerate any successes. We create a fictitious win-win situation where we feel excused if we do bad and feel praised when we do well. But this is bullshit.
When we make things harder we only make it harder within our own frame of reference meaning that, for most of the time, other people do not see the added difficulty we create. They see the problem in the original, simplified manner which means they wont be likely to accept the excuse or find you deserving of praise.
How many times have you had a task sit in your inbox, or on your to-do list, for weeks only for you to get stuck into it in the last few days before the deadline? You end up going a little crazy as you try to cram weeks of work into a few days and somehow you manage to get it all done and you feel like you've worked your butt off to do it. You may have too, but in the eyes of your boss, or your client, or whoever was waiting for that task, all you have done is finish the task in the allotted time. Nothing special there. But if you had missed that deadline they would have been very unhappy. You had weeks to do it and you still couldn't manage!
Making things difficult to have an excuse doesn't help anyone and is just plain wrong.
Thriving on Drama
The next biggest reason why we make things harder for ourselves is that we naturally thrive on the drama. When we are immersed into a stressful situation our body produces chemicals and hormones that amp us up to perform at abnormal levels.
This is known as our fight-or-flight mechanism and in previous centuries it was very useful. It was built into our bodies to enable us to be ready to take instant action whenever we were in mortal peril. But our modern lifestyle rarely has a need for this mechanism so we create excess stress in our life as a cheat. A cheat which is not doing anyone any favours.
The energy we generate in fight-or-flight mode is designed for very short bursts. It is literally used to escape danger by fighting it or fleeing from it. These are not long-term activities.
When we use this as our main source of energy just to "get things done" we force our body to run on this intense energy for periods much longer than it expects to. Our body is not designed to do this and the result is any number of negative consequences - physical and mental burn-out, tiredness, inability to focus afterwards, headaches, and so on.
Picture a time that you worked under an immense stress (legitimate or manufactured) for longer than a few days. Do you remember how you felt afterwards? Most people cannot keep it up for long before they crash, and the bad news is that the longer you over-use this fight-or-flight mechanism the bigger the crash will be.
Avoidance is the next most obvious reason we subconsciously make things harder than they need to be and this ties in closely to making excuses. If we make things so hard and complex that we are constantly busy then we can feel a little bit better that we didn't get those crappy tasks done.
It's the perfect excuse for not cutting the grass, not calling the phone company, and not joining that nudist colony.
In reality it is not an excuse at all. It's just poor time management.
The worst form of avoidance though is not the small and boring tasks but the big and important ones. Being "too busy" has become the excuse of choice for those not willing to take a chance and pursue their dreams. These people manufacture a life where they are constantly busy, working hard, and feeling stressed, so they have the perfect excuse for not achieving their dreams. This stems from a fear of failure and a fear of success and neither are valid things to fear.
Avoidance is never the right option.
Making Your Life Easier Instead
The key to changing this behaviour is to become more aware of your actions, your motives, and your choices. Start by analysing your actions to identify when you are subconsciously making your life harder than it needs to be. Once you recognise that you are doing it you can start to change it.
Making the change comes from attacking the root cause of the problem. Think about why you are creating more difficulty than is required. Are you making excuses or avoiding something? Do you just love the pressure of an impending deadline? Or is there some other hidden reason?
Once you figure out the reason behind your actions you can begin to implement changes - use a daily to-do list to stop you from procrastinating, halve all your deadlines so you don't have time to waste, or run away and join the circus.
The choice is yours but don't waste your life pretending to busy.
The world really is a wonderful place. Too bad most of us get stuck in boring, long-winded "careers" which don't provide much benefit other than to keep us from doing what we really want to. If this is something that resonates with you then it is quite possible that your life is suffering from a serious case of inertia and it is time to take action, find the life that you enjoy, and break out of that rut!
Inertia: Stuck in a Rut
Inertia is the basic physics principle that says an object will retain its state of motion or rest until a force is applied to alter that state. If something is stationary then it will remain that way until it is forced to move, and if something is moving it will continue moving until something forces it to stop.
This principle applies to non-physical objects too.
Our lives are subject to, and often ruled by, this principle of inertia. It is easy for us to get stuck in a rut, feeling unhappy with our current situation but also at a loss for how to change it. We become set to our routine, immersed in inertia, with nothing in sight that might force us to change direction.
This is a terrible way to live and it is not how our lives are supposed to be. Do you really think we are just supposed to keep running the same loop - work, eat, sleep, pay the bills, work, eat, sleep, watch TV - for the rest of our lives?
No! We are meant to be challenged regularly. We are meant to push ourselves to new limits - physically, mentally, and emotionally. We are meant to have new experiences, see new places, and learn new things.
To do this we need to utilise the positive flip-side of inertia to create change in our lives - the fact that once something is moving it becomes hard to stop it.
We need to learn how to apply enough force to shift our direction, to change our state, and start us on a new journey. We need to generate positive momentum.
Positive momentum is what we need to generate in order to build enough force to make dramatic changes in our life. The more stagnant your life has become, the more positive momentum will be needed to break free.
I prefix momentum with positive because we only want positive life changes and they only come from positive momentum. If you create negative momentum in your life then the resulting changes would be negative and you end up in a worse situation than you started with.
That highlights the awesome, but dangerous, power of momentum - once you start building it up it can be very hard to stop. Think of the snowflake that triggers the avalanche. It began small but it was enough to start moving a few other snowflakes around and soon enough a wall of snow is rolling down the mountain and nothing can stop it.
The same effect can be achieved in your life. If you make positive decisions and take positive action then the momentum will build and what started as small, barely noticeable changes will grow into large and significant life changes. You just need that one positive snowflake to start it.
Building positive momentum is not easy though, because at the start it can feel like you are facing an immovable wall of resistance. That is the inertia barrier and crossing it can be a daunting task. But it all starts with the first step.
Take The First Step
The first step in anything new is always the hardest. Especially so when that first step is the first of many trying to break out from the force of inertia.
"A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step" - Lao Tzu
The sheer weight of inertia pushing back can be too much for some people and they quickly lose their resolve and slip straight back into their rut thinking it is just too hard to make a change. It isn't!
The first step in any life-changing direction should be a time of pleasure. Take pride in the fact that you are making the change and recognise that you are just building up your positive momentum. Acknowledge that drastic changes do not happen overnight, but they will only happen because you take that first step.
Change Your Life
Life is a series of changes. Well, at least that is what it is supposed to be. Do not let yourself get caught up with negative inertia - stuck in a place that you really don't want to be.
Make a decision to take action. Only you have the power to create enough positive momentum in your life to make a change. Only you can force your life to take a new direction.
Start today - take a single step towards your dream and build your positive momentum.