Book Notes | The Courage to be Disliked

By Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga

ISBN: 1501197274

Year read: 2019

How strongly I recommend it: 10/10

This book is structured as a conversation between a young man and a philosopher. Over five nights they talk and debate the meaning in our lives through the lens of Adlerian psychology. I didn’t know anything about Adlerian psychology until this book but it struck a deep chord in me. If you feel like you’re struggling to find direction in your life or want to establish a clearer framework on how to live a fulfilling life, this book might be for you.

Notes

Don’t focus on what I don’t have. Focus on making the most of the equipment that I do have.

My past experiences and traumas don’t have to dictate who I become. I can have the courage to change my own life.

Don’t give myself the excuse that because “I don’t have this or can’t do this” that I’m incapable.

Adlerian psychology differs from Freudian psychology because it denies trauma as a deterministic event in one’s life. We have to deny trauma if we’re going to move forward from them. Not to forget it but to not let it prevent us from having the courage to change.

Being a part of a society means that having interpersonal relationships is unavoidable. We must learn to accept and deal with interpersonal relationships.

Problems in our lives emerge because we avoid or fail to deal properly with interpersonal relationships. And the truth is that we will get hurt in these relationships and will hurt others along the way too.

Knowing this, some people go as far as disliking themselves to avoid interpersonal relationships all together so they won’t get hurt. They give themselves an excuse to dislike others so they won’t get hurt.

Competition cannot be the core of any good relationship. A feeling of inferiority is healthy if that competition is against one’s ideal self rather than a comparison to others.

Part of the feeling of inferiority is accepting the “imperfect me” just as I am. When we’re learning something new – and we’re always learning – we must accept we are imperfect but that we are capable of changing that.

There are two objectives for behaviour: to be self reliant and to live in harmony with society.

There are three categories of interpersonal relationships: “tasks of work”, “tasks of friendship”, and “tasks of love”. We have no choice but to confront them when attempting to live as a social being. These, all together, are our “life tasks”.

One must not seek recognition or reward from others.

One must seek to separate tasks that belong to themselves and others.

The way to separate tasks is to ask yourself, “who ultimately is going to receive the result brought about the choice that is made?”

In addition to knowing who will ultimately receive the results brought about the choice that is made, one must allow others to experience the emotions that come with the separation that is created. You don’t and can’t own the emotions of the other person – that is theirs to experience.

It all starts by building horizontal – not vertical – relationships.

Having worth is about being beneficial to the community around you. Someone who is beneficial to their community is someone who has a concern for others, builds horizontal relationships, and takes the approach of encouragement.

The goal of interpersonal relations is to achieve “community feeling.”

If a relationship can breakdown just because you raise an objection, then it’s not the sort of relationship you should be in in the first place.

People who hold the belief that they are the centre of the world always end up losing their comrades before long.

When you feel like “I am useful to someone” it gives you the courage to live.

You can’t just build a horizontal relationship with one person in your life. Even one vertical relationship can seep through other areas of your life. You must have the courage to assert what needs to be asserted in all relationships in your life.

Self acceptance is about accepting “one’s incapable self”. It’s not about lying to yourself, but it’s also not about simply accepting the fact that you’ll always be incapable. You believe that you can change yourself but you’re not lying to yourself about your current abilities.

The key ingredient to changing your “incapable self”? It’s about courage. We don’t lack ability – we just lack courage to change what we can change.

Affirmative resignation (accepting what you are now but knowing you can change) doesn’t automatically lead to community feeling & contribution to others. The second key concept — confidence in others — is critical to recognize at this point.

From the standpoint of Adlerian psychology, the basis of interpersonal relations is founded not on trust but on confidence. It is believing in others without any set condition whatsoever.

“Doubt” cannot be the foundation of any relationship. Suppose you doubt your colleagues, friends, family, and partner? There’s no doubt they’ll detect your doubt in your voice, eyes, and demeanour. They’ll soon realize that you don’t have confidence in them. Building a positive relationship with that feeling of doubt will almost certainly prevent any deep relationship from forming. This is why we have to start with unconditional confidence in others.

Unconditional confidence is about making the relationship with the other person better and building a horizontal relationship.

The courage to overcome the fear of being taking advantage of comes form self-acceptance. We have two options: to believe or to doubt. If we’re aspiring to see others in the world as comrades, we only have one option that makes sense.

There are two objectives for behaviour: to be self reliant and to live in harmony with society. The two objectives of psychology that support these two behaviours is to consciousness that I do have the ability and the confidence in others.

For a human being, the greatest unhappiness comes from not being able to like oneself. The feeling of being “beneficial to a community” or “being use to someone” is the only way that one can feel like they have self worth.

Happiness is the feeling of contribution. You might never know how you contributed to someone’s life but that’s not important. All we need is the subjective sense that we were useful to someone.

The courage to be normal. This is what must be emphasized rather than the desire to be special.

Life is a series of moments. When we cast a dim light on the past or future, we’re forgetting to appreciate the beauty in what’s happening before our eyes.

If life is a series of moments and the goal is to dance in each moment, the objective isn’t to move forward to a destination in that moment. You’re dancing for the sake of dancing, enjoying it, and being present in that moment.

Life in general has no meaning. We must assign our own meaning to our life.

Adler’s compass – his North Star – is making sure we point ourselves in the direction of “contribution to others”. When we’re making a contribution to others, we’re going in the right direction.

Someone always has to start. Others might not be cooperative but that’s not up to you. I should always be the one to start.

The world is simple, and life is too.

Monthly Learnings Roundup (December 2018)

Monthly Learnings Roundup (December 2018)

Thanks for checking out the Monthly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, monthly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across last month.

It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

How to Configure Your iPhone to Work for You, Not Against You by Coach Tony

If you own an iPhone, this is a must-read article for you. So often we let the manufacturers and designers of our smart phones (who spend Billions of dollars to keep us hooked) dictate how we interact with our phones – this article helps you take back that power. Coach Tony does a great job laying out the steps and configuration from simple to complex. You don’t necessarily have to adopt all of the new configurations so it’s worth taking a look through the list to see which ones resonate with you first. If you like the first few configurations you make, try some other ones. Let’s shift the relationship we have with our phones one step at a time.

Books, documentaries, or podcast episodes that I enjoyed last month —

Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett & Glen Cordoza

This tome of a book is the holy grail for anyone looking to improve their mobility in athletics to day-to-day activities. I’ve been more conscious of my mobility of late after starting heavier weights for my olympic lifts. It’s become (painfully) clear that my lack of mobility in my hamstrings, calves, and ankles limit my ability to stabilize and be more explosive. With the help of this book and weekly stretch classes at my gym, I’m getting better. I’m also getting a better idea of how to better brace my spine for day-to-day activities and use “smashing” and “flossing” tools like foam rollers and acu-balls to loosen my muscles. There’s a long way to go before I can say I’m more mobile but I’m happy I’m taking the first step now in my early 30s.

Quotes that are inspiring me —

Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.

— Leonardo Da Vinci

Behaviour change of the month —

Time-Restricted Feeding

Based on recent research on mice, time-restricted feeding (TRF) has shown to lead to weight loss and lean muscle gain. There’s increasing science out there that your body performs important regenerative activites during a fasting period and we’re often short-changing this function when we eat later in the evening.

The gist of TRF is that you restrict the time of day that you eat food according to your circardian rhythm. A typical fast would begin at sundown and continue for 13-hours. So, if you were to begin your fast at 6pm, your next intake of food should be at 7am.

I’m trying it out for the next 12 weeks to see if TRF makes a difference in my biomarkers. It’ll be a bit of a shift for me as I tend to eat later in the evening (7-9pm) but I’m guessing this new rhythm will help me feel more rejuvanated in the morning & energized throughout the day.

Featured image by Hutomo Abrianto.

As always, thanks for checking out this Monthly Learnings Roundup.

Monthly Learnings Roundup (November 2018)

Monthly Learnings Roundup (November 2018)

Thanks for checking out the Monthly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, monthly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across last month.

It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath

An incredible book on how to create and sustain personal and organizational change. I learned a lot from this book and exposed my blindspots about how real behaviour change happens. My biggest takeaway was that change of any sort involves three elements: The Rider, The Elephant, and The Path.

The Rider is our rational side – we analyze and commit to things that we can logically understand.

The Elephant is our emotional side – sustained behaviour change can’t happen unless we’re motivated at a deeper level.

The Path is our environment – where the change happens, who we’re around, and how we approach the change matters a lot. Building the right habits & surrounding ourselves with a “tribe” of similar thinkers helps make change stick.

I feel pretty strong on the Rider & Path side as I’ve read a lot of books about planning and habit building but I’d always underestimated the power of The Elephant. This book has opened my eyes to the importance of integrating The Elephant into all of my behavioural goals.

Books, documentaries, or podcast episodes that I enjoyed last month —

The Redeemed and the Dominant on Netflix

A documentary of the 2017 CrossFit games. These are some of the most physically fit people I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s motivating and inspiring to see them push the limits through an array of physical challenges. Even if you’re not into CrossFit, this will be a riveting watch.

Quotes that are inspiring me —

When you are offended at any man’s fault, turn to yourself and study your own failings. Then you will forget your anger.

— Epictetus

Behaviour change of the month —

Be Spartan Ready

I’ve been reading up a lot lately about the Spartan Race and I’m currently in the process of training for a race in June, 2019. In preparation (and in the spirit of the aforementioned focus on engaging The Elephant in goal setting) I’ve made it a goal to “Be Spartan Ready” in seven-months time. Instead of focusing on losing weight or body fat percentage, my goal now is to train my body for a Spartan Race and be ready for any obstacle they throw my way. It’s a far more motivating goal and also has a specific outcome attached.

It’s a behaviour change for me because everything I do from here until June needs to be juxtaposed with the thought: will this help me Be Spartan Ready? The popcorn or candy because just a bit harder to stomach when I have a bigger, emotional connection to a goal I’m going after.

“ah-ha!” thought of the month —

Mental Health > Physical Health

I’ve been reading Stoic philosophy over the past few years and one thing that becomes clear as I learn more about this way of living is that the Stoics believed that mental strength and resilience were far more important that physical health or anything material for that matter. They believed that everything physical that we possess is on loan. You’re going to have to return it one day. Whether that be our health in old age or our relationships when our spouses or friends move on or pass away. The only thing you have is your mind and how you control your emotions to these losses.

I feel like I’m buying into this more and more. The one key strength that we can cultivate more of in all of our lives is mental strength and resilience. Even in everyday situations like a rude client or a critical colleague, if we can find a way to be more “antifragile” in our everyday, we can live a life of greater peace and contentment. So maybe it’s time to shift more of my focus to building my mental resilience than thinking and doing too much about my physical health.

Product or service I’m loving —

YouAte

I was introduced to YouAte by my nutritionist. It’s basically a food-tracking app that uses photos instead of typing in cumbersome details about calories, macros, etc. It feels more human when it’s just a quick shot you need to take of your food. The quick snapshots allow you to visualize your eating patterns and identify foods that are “on path” or “off path”. If you go “off path” for a couple of meals in a row, there’s that visual stimulus that compels you to get back on track for the next meal.

The free version allows you to take unlimited photos with one caveat – you can’t access their social network of other users. You can, however, add someone who does have the premium version – in my case it was my nutritionist – so they can see your eating path. Super helpful when you’re working with someone directly to improve your nutrition habits.

Featured image by eberhard grossgasteiger

As always, thanks for checking out this Monthly Learnings Roundup!

Monthly Learnings Roundup (October 2018)

Monthly Learnings Roundup (October 2018)

Thanks for checking out the Monthly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, monthly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across this month.

It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

Taming the Mammoth: Why You Should Stop Caring What Other People Think by Tim Urban via Wait But Why

A classic blog post about why letting our “social survival mammoth” run our lives will lead to an unfulfilling life. Learning how we can tame our instinct to follow social pressures and norms and crafting our own ideal life is something I’m learning to do everyday.

Books, documentaries, or podcast episodes that I enjoyed last month —

Reverse engineered approach to human longevity by Peter Attia at MIT’s Whitehead Institute

Dr. Attia is well respected voice in the medical community for his insights around human health and longevity. This 90+ minute video gives a really good overview of his thinking around not just improving our lifespan but our healthspan (i.e. the number of healthy, productive years we live) and how we might go about achieving a higher quality of life. It gets pretty in-depth so if you’re a novice in this subject, you might get lost when he deep dives into a couple of topics. Either way, it’s a great watch if you’re curious about this kind of stuff.

Quotes that are inspiring me —

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.

— Ian MacLaren

Behaviour change of the month —

Checking in: gaining 10 lbs of lean mass

Back in August, I wrote about my goal to add 10 lbs of lean mass in 2 months. I just want to share a quick update since then. My average weight back in July was 142 lbs with an average lean mass of 120.7 lbs and a body fat percentage of 14.9%. Today, my average weight is 151.9 lbs with an avereage lean mass of 124.3 lbs and a body fat percentage of 18.1%.

I must admit that this is not quite how I imagined this all to work out! Yes, I’ve upped my lean mass by 3.6 lbs but I also added 9.9 lbs of fat — clearly not good. There’s a couple of things that didn’t help.

1) I was consuming a lot of milk that my body wasn’t able to digest effectively. Specifically in Canada, all milk is pasteurized which leaves no probiotic bacteria to help with digestion and protein synthesis.

2) I needed a better strategy on the road. I was traveling almost half the month in September & October leaving me out of a proper, health “bulking” routine.

To me, this was a really good experiment and a learning lesson. Bulking up is hard (duh!) but only you can figure out the right strategy that matches your body. And it’s no wonder that people do this over the course of a one-month “sprint” because the amount of attention you need to put into your diet and exercise.

I’ll be experimenting again – likely in January or February – and will report back on findings then.

Product or service I’m loving —

S’well Onyx Traveler water bottle

I’ve been using this water bottle for my strength training workouts and it’s been the perfect companion. It’s got a wide base so it doesn’t tip over easily and there’s a bit of a rough texture on the outside which makes it easier to grip. The wide mouth also makes it easier to pour in electrolytes or other workout powders. It’s become a huge staple to my workout gear.

Featured image by Craig Adderly.

As always, thanks for checking out this Monthly Learnings Roundup!

Monthly Learnings Roundup (September 2018)

Monthly Learnings Roundup (September 2018)

Thanks for checking out the Monthly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, monthly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across this month.

It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

When to work: How to optimize your daily schedule for energy, motivation, and focus by Jory MacKay (via RescueTime:blog)

I’m more conscious of late about leveraging my circardian rhythm to optimize my day. This article gives a great overview not just of your circardian rhythm but also two other daily cycles that affect your productivity. The last part of the article talks a bit about RescueTime’s product and tracking but I think you’ll find it interesting or maybe even worth a try yourself. Full disclosure: I’ve been a RescueTime user for 2+ years now.

Books, documentaries, or podcast episodes that I enjoyed last month —

Shoe Dog by Phil Knight

This might be the best book I’ve read all year. It’s as honest and open of a memoir that I’ve read from someone as successful as Knight who shares his journey borrowing $50 from his dad to start, what later became, Nike. This book is one that anyone, anywhere – from a CEO to an intern – should pickup and experience.

Quotes that are inspiring me —

A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once. It seems to me most strange that men should fear, seeing that death, a necessary end, will come when it will come.

— William Shakespeare

Behaviour change of the month —

Bulletjournaling

I’ve been underwhelmed with a number of task management/organization philosophies that I’ve tried in the past. They were either too cumbersome or just not robust enough for me to get enough value out of them everyday. I’d heard about the Bullet Journal in the past and decided to give it a shot in September.

I have to say, I’m really impressed with the flexibility and simplicity of the Bulletjournaling system. I like how it’s analog (e.g. you still use a notebook as your primary note-taking system) and easy enough to fit it into any part of your workflow. Maintenance time for this system is minimal too – just a morning/evening setup and a monthly “migration” protocol. Give it a shot if you’re looking to try a new way to organize your life effectively.

“ah-ha!” thought of the month —

In August, I published a post called A Simple Model I Use to Organize My Life Priorities which I was really proud to share with the world. I’m now realizing that the post and the model I share in it is missing an critical component – philosophy. Philosophy (or your approach to life) is probably the central piece to the model I shared. You can have many of the extrinsic things like good physical and mental health, strong relationships, and wealth, but what really leads to the “good life” is having a clear guiding philosphy to life. Without one, you can’t enjoy the fruits of your labour or really feel present with those around you. It’s a thought that I hope to expand upon on an updated version of the post!

Product or service I’m loving —

Google Keep

Google recently integrated some of their tools like Keep and Tasks to their Gmail interface. I’d never used either of them before but I’ve come to really enjoy using Google Keep. I use it essentially as a “bulletin board” for key links and documents I want to have quick access to. It’s way easier to track down a document than having to comb through the depths of Google Drive.

Featured image by Stas Knop.

As always, thanks for checking out this Monthly Learnings Roundup. Follow me on Twitter @peternakamura to see all the articles that I share on a daily basis.

Monthly Learnings Roundup (August 2018)

Monthly Learnings Roundup (August 2018)

Thanks for checking out the Monthly Learning Roundup. These bite-sized, monthly posts are designed to give you a quick hit of interesting learnings and articles I came across this month. It’s a motley assortment of tips, resources, and links that will hopefully give you a bit of inspiration for the upcoming month. Enjoy!

What I’m reading —

How to make the 4-day workweek work: An interview with “Rest” author Alex Pang by Jory MacKay (RescueTime)

Some of my best ideas for work actually come when I’m not working and engaging in relaxing, “unproductive” activity like reading, walking, or exercising. The author provides a compelling case about how we should be prioritizing “rest” just as much as we are work in our day-to-day.

Books, documentaries, or podcast episodes that I enjoyed this month —

The 4-Hour Body by Tim Ferriss

Tim Ferriss makes another apperance on my blog this time as a self-experimenter extraordinaire with the human body. Tim shares his research – both academic and personal – on key areas such as fat loss, muscle gain, sleep, optimal performance, and more. It’s a really well researched book and he provides the content in simple, understandable, and most importantly, executable language. His “Slow Carb Diet” has gained a large following and it’s no surprise. I’ve used this book so far for guidance around muscle gain – see more below about how that’s going for me.

Quotes that are inspiring me —

Philosophy isn’t a palor trick or made for show. It’s not concerned with words, but with facts. It’s not employed for some pleasure before the day is spent, or to relieve the uneasiness of our leisure. It shapes and builds up the soul, it gives order to life, guides action, shows what should and shouldn’t be done — it sits at the rudder steering our course as we vacillate in uncertainties. Without it, no one can live without fear or free from care. Countless things happen every hour that require advice, and such advice is to be sought out in philosophy.

— Seneca, Moral Letters, 16.3

Behaviour change of the month —

A journey to gain 10 pounds of lean mass

This month, I began a process of transforming my twig-like body into Arnold Schwarzenegger circa Terminator 2. (Okay, maybe that’s a stretch). I set myself a goal this quarter – August to October – to gain 10 pounds of lean mass. I’ve been working with a personal trainer with olympic lifting since February but didn’t see much improvement in muscle growth – maybe adding ~1 pound of lean mass during that time.

The problem? I wasn’t eating nearly enough calories or protein to stimulate muscle growth. Borrowing key concepts from Tim Ferriss’s The 4-Hour Body, I began to implement his guidelines to muscle gain. I didn’t realize that eating so much could be so hard. Here’s what my meal schedule has looked like over the past 3 weeks or so:

6:00 A.M. – Protein Shake (40g)
9:00 A.M. – Protein Bar (30g)
11:30 A.M. – Lunch (30g)
2:00 P.M. – Protein Bar (30g)
6:30 P.M. – Dinner (30g)
9:00 P.M. – Protein Shake (30g)
Total protein intake = 190g
So far from July 30th to today (August 25th) I’ve gained 7.2 lbs of lean mass. This is based off of data collected from my Fitbit Aria scale which uses bioimpedence analysis to measure lean mass and body fat. I’ll report back next month with an update on how this lean mass gaining experiment has gone for me. My goal this quarter – August to October – is to gain and maintain 10 lbs of new lean mass.

“ah-ha!” thought of the month —

Upgrade your skills faster with a coach or specialist

Recently I’ve been a bit more aggressive in the uptake of hiring of a coach or specialist to support my growth. In the past 12 months, I’ve hired a personal trainer (specializing in Olympic lifting), a naturopathic doctor, and a psychotherapist to support me with certain goals and challenges that I have. And I’m blown away at how quickly I’ve been able to make progress in areas that they support – Physical & Mental Health. They instilled in me knowledge that would’ve easily taken years of experience to gain (if ever at all) in a matter of weeks and months.

Yes, it’s expensive to hire a coach or a specialist there’s no denying that but imagine the cost of time & money that it’ll take you to come remotely close to acquiring the knowledge that a specialist might have. Not to mention the sense of accountability they provide by being in your corner as you embark on your change process.

If you’re like me and don’t have a six figure salary or a massive savings bank to draw on, there are ways to make this happen. Here are a few possible ideas:

  • Save enough money for at least the first three sessions and keep saving to stay ahead of the expenditure.
    • Note: This will help make the financial budgeting a bit easier if you decide to continue on with the coaching.
  • See if the coach or specialist would be open to starting with a staggered schedule (e.g. bi-weekly vs. weekly or quarterly vs. monthly).
    • Note: If they are resistant, ask them why. There might be a very good reason that starting with a weekly cadence, for example, would be much more effective than a bi-weekly or monthly. Remember that you’re ultimately looking for results here and not something that fits your budget the best.
  • Ask them if they have suggested resources – especially books or online courses – that they would highly recommend.
    • Note: Don’t mix this up with actually doing the sessions. This might be one way to help you gain the knowledge you need faster and picking things up on your own.

Finally, when selecting a coach or specialist, avoid going with the first, second, or third person you find. Look at at least five options to give you a breadth backgrounds and experiences. Preferably, you can ask a friend or colleague for a referral for someone they’ve had a great experience with. Make sure, though, that they’ve seen results from working with them.

Product or service I’m loving —

The Division Pack by Timbuk2

Timbuk2 makes great bags. I’ve owned one of their messenger bags for years until I was told by my naturopath that a switch to a backpack would be a better option for my body alignment and not cause extra stress on one side over another. So when I started searching with options, I started with Timbuk2. The Division Pack is great. It’s well constructed and doesn’t lose its shape as you’re walking around or putting it on the ground. What I love the most about their bags is their attention to detail around organization. The bag has multiple pockets of different sizes and it makes it really easy to organize everything. There’s enough room with the bag to pack my laptop, notebooks, and a lunch – everything I need for a day’s work.

Photo by Stas Knop from Pexels

As always, thanks for checking out this Monthly Learnings Roundup. Follow me on Twitter @peternakamura to see all the articles that I share on a daily basis.

A Simple Model I Use to Organize My Life Priorities

FeaturedA Simple Model I Use to Organize My Life Priorities

Like me, you probably learned about tree rings in elementary school. Every year trees add a layer of growth on the outside and develop a series of concentric rings. Over the course of their lives, these rings become identifiable layers that tell a unique story. Tree rings, aka growth rings, also help scientists understand climate conditions that each tree experienced; years that were plentiful with rain and sunshine produce thick rings and excessively dry and cold years produce thinner rings.

Nerdy fact: there’s even a word for the study of tree rings – it’s called “dendrochronology”.

To me, tree rings are a great metaphor for personal growth. There was a tough year that I was let go from a startup to another year that I met my incredible girlfriend who I’m now living with. We have great years and some lean years, and we do our best to play the hand that we’re dealt. Trees, in their own way, are very stoic; enduring whatever the environment throws at them without complaint or becoming overly excited.

The Tree Ring Model

As I contemplated this metaphor of tree rings and my life, I began to ponder what my tree rings would look like. More specifically, how can I use this image as a metaphor for my personal growth and life priorities? After some thought, I drew a model based on my current life priorities:

  1. Physical Health
  2. Mental Health
  3. Relationships
  4. Growth
  5. Wealth (Finances)

Evernote_Snapshot_20180520_1141131

To me, where it all starts is with a strong foundation of Physical Health. With proper food, nutrition, sleep, and exercise, I’m able to maximize the capabilities of my body and put my best foot forward each day. The mind feeds off of the physical energy to help gain and sustain Mental Health. We often overlook mental health as it’s not something that is as visible like our physical health. Understanding your personal triggers, speaking with trusted people about your emotions, and taking the time to reflect in a constructive way are all important elements of ensuring you’re developing a resilient, positive mindset.

The next ring – Relationships – builds off of the stable and positive mindset to provide patience, understanding, and love to others. A study from Harvard tracked 268 graduates over 80 years and showed that embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier. Relationships and community make a tremendous impact on our happiness and our health. As social animals, we need it as it takes a major priority to nurture and sustain important relationships in our lives.

The average person will spend approximately 30% of their lives working. Yet many people work in jobs that don’t leverage their unique talents and interests. Growth is the ring which encompasses the work that I invest myself in and the learning opportunities I create in my life.

In Cal Newport’s fantastic book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, he writes that developing your skillset and expertise is more important than “following your passion”. Passion is a mercurial thing but developing a skill will help you be in demand. Newport calls it the “craftman’s mindset” which requires years of dedication to a craft and creating a valuable skillset the job market will value. That’s what this ring is all about: constant learning and professional development of oneself.

As you invest in your career growth and develop new skillsets, success in acquiring Wealth will be a bi-product of that. With work that matches your long-term goals and market needs, you can find ways to build my wealth sustainably. When you look at some of the most successful people in our time from Bill Gates to Barak Obama to Oprah Winfrey to Warren Buffet, they all focused on honing their craft before they arrived onto the big stage.

Let’s Dive Deeper

So what does each ring mean on a day-to-day basis? I dug into this a little further to give more clarity to myself.

You’ll notice that I’m not getting über specific with some of these habits. I find that absolutes such as “never” don’t help when it comes to establishing a habit. Of course I’ll occasionally indulge in a sugary snack or have a drink with a friend. To me, these are helpful guidelines that ensure that I’m focused on putting the right things into my body.

Physical Health

The connection between physical and mental health is close. Mental health relies on strong physical foundations like a clean diet, quality sleep, and regular exercise. To start, here are the core habits that I focus on for Physical Health. Thanks to Dr. Rhonda Patrick for inspiring many of the key guidelines below.

Diet principles:

  • Eat a mainly plant-based diet.
  • Eliminate consumption of refined sugars and fast foods.

Exercise principles:

  • Engage in vigorous cardiovascular activity of at least 30-minutes once or twice a week.
  • Lift heavy weights 2 to 3 times a week for muscle growth & retention.

Lifestyle principles:

  • Reduce eating or snacking past 8pm.
  • Disconnect from digital devices by 9pm.
  • Be in bed and asleep by 11pm.

Mental Health

This is an area that’s currently my biggest challenge. I’ve dealt with anxiety and self-esteem issues in the past and still do to this day. I’ve read books, taken programs, and been mentored by some amazing individuals. The challenge still remains that changing your ingrained thinking patterns and habits is difficult. It often takes months and years of concentrated effort in making that shift.

Gaining control of my mindset and feeding it with healthy, positive fuel is a day-to-day grind. I have good days and bad. But there are ways to mitigate risk of mental breakdowns with some simple, day-to-day habits. In a way, the below list is the “mental flossing” habits that I try to accomplish every day.

Lifestyle principles:

  • Meditate every morning and evening for 20 minutes.
  • Read a text on Stoicism every morning.
  • Reflect every morning and evening by writing in a journal.
  • Arrange professional, psychotherapy support when needed.

When I combine both the habits of physical health and mental health on a consistent basis, I feel the biggest reward. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been interested in the ancient Stoic philosophy as a way to strengthen my mindset and manage my ego. Ryan Holiday’s writing in this space is highly recommended including his books Ego Is The Enemy and The Obstacle Is The Way. They’re both easy, practical reads about how many people in history have used Stoicism as a way to overcome their challenges and make a meaningful impact in the world. If you’re looking for texts straight from the Stoic masters themselves, I highly recommend this translation of Marcus Aurelius’s Meditations and The Tao of Seneca audiobook series.

Finally, there may be certain mental health challenges that are beyond your own ability to work through. In most cases those are rooted in deeper psychology and could require some support from a professional. I found this video from The School of Life to be helpful as a way to understand the objective of psychotherapy and how it might be able to help you.

Relationships

Investing time in family, a significant other, and friendships are critical to long-term happiness. The aforementioned Grant Study from Harvard is a great example of how strong social bonds can shape our lives for the better.

Unfortunately, loneliness is becoming a real problem in our society today. A 2010 study of adults 45+ by the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) reported that 40-45% of respondents said they regularly or frequently lonely. Nuturing strong relationships in which we care deeply for others and support their lifelong journeys will lead to a sense of fulfillment in ourselves.

While I don’t have specific “habit” recommendations here, it’s important that there are some guidelines you create for yourself around the candence and rhythm with which you see important people in your life. In the past, I’ve enjoyed organizing a quarterly “Gentlemen’s Dinner” with a handful of my close male friends or scheduled a weekly “date night” with my girlfriend. Setting up recurring events for those important relationships can help guarantee that you’re spending quality time with people that matter.

Finally, I also want to mention the importance of vacations as a way to disconnect from the day-to-day and strengthen the relationships with the people you care about. Don’t neglect the importance of taking that time away from work and truly recharging. You’ll come back to work with even more creativity, vigour, and energy that your colleagues would be thankful for. From a time & budget standpoint, don’t forget to plan 3 to 6 months ahead for these vacations as they do take some planning to make them meaningful.

Growth

I try to look at growth from a holistic sense which encompasses both my professional and personal development. Of course, my full-time job is a massive commitment in life and finding something fulfilling is really important. At the same time, feeling like that I’m growing within my current role at work and outside of it gives me immense amount of joy. In many ways this “Growth” section is the fuel of the fire that keeps me wanting to improve my life and continuously look at ways to level up the other rings in the model.

Here are few of the keystone habits that I try to incorporate with this ring:

  • Schedule in dedicated reading time every night.
  • Spend an hour each week learning a new skill.
  • Invest in coaching for a specific skill you’re developing.
  • Write your ideas and thoughts publicly (e.g. blog) or privately (e.g. journal).

One area that I’ve recently been investing more time into, is coaching. After experimenting through books, videos, online courses, etc. with limited experience (and budget) during my 20s, I’ve realized how much faster you can get to your goal with a smart, qualified coach at your side. I know, it sounds obvious, but hiring somebody to give me 1-on-1 coaching on a specific topic has almost always been worth the investment. Even with a limited budget, you can still get an hour’s worth of time with an expert to extract valuable information. If you’re looking to develop a specific skill, consider hiring somebody to support you (at least while you learn the ropes) so that you don’t get stuck figuring out early roadblocks on your own.

Wealth (Finances)

This is one that you can get pretty tangible with as financial wealth markers can be quantified a little bit easier.

  • Pay yourself first and automatically save a dedicated percentage of your monthly wages.
  • Invest in low cost, index funds for medium to long-term investments.
  • Craft a budget for each major priority in your life.

There are a ton of excellent resources out there on financial planning. A few books that I’d recommend reading include Automatic Millionaire by David Bach, Millionaire Teacher by Andrew Hallam, The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton, and Unshakeable by Tony Robbins. Across all the reading I’ve done around wealth building, the common message is simple: invest early, invest in low-cost index funds, and pay yourself first.

I’ve found that the hardest part is not necessarily the “technical stuff” like finding the right low-cost index fund provider – there are a ton of great options available today – but the behavioral change in managing my budget and saving more for my future. One tool that I’ve been using consistently over the past couple of years is YNAB (or You Need a Budget) which is a fabulous budgeting tool that’s helped me build a solid financial buffer and create visibility into how I’m spending my money each month.

The Problem with Models

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

– George E. P. Box

The Cynefrin Framework is a decision-making model which describes how systems and scenarios can fit into one of four types: simple, complicated, complex, and chaotic. For the most part, our lives and the interplay of our priorities are not a simple or a complicated system. They are most often complex or even chaotic depending on what’s happening in our lives. And while it’s convenient to have a model that helps us clarify priorities, our lives by no means are as cut and dry as the tree-ring model suggests. There’s constant interplay between priorities and some event might shift dramatically one week or month to another.

It’s for this reason that the goal of this model is not to maintain each priority in its “correct” ring but rather we accept that things will change and that we need the resilience and flexibility to deal with those changes quickly. We need an internal philosophy and approach to life that acts as the roots of the tree to make this model work. Personally, I’m exploring the work of the Stoics which happens to match my mindset in life quite well but yours will likely be different. Whatever it is, spend the time exploring your own vision and mission in your life so you have the foundation underneath your priorities – especially for when times might get rough and unpredictable.

Finally, thinking about my priorities through the lens of this model has been a huge help in knowing where to invest my limited time and resources. For example, when I budget for my monthly expenses, I categorize each budget item under one of the five priorities above. Since Physical Health is my biggest priority, I’m not afraid to fund it with the most amount of dollars. In essence, I’m starting to build awareness on putting my money where my mouth is as far as key priorities go.

So, what now?

I hope the model above provides just a bit of inspiration to create your own tree ring model. I’d imagine your version may have a different order in the rings or perhaps completely different priorities. Whatever you land with, the key here is awareness as that first step to realize what and who you truly value in your life. I also encourage you not to be stuck in your current situation. Imagine ahead at the next year, what would you like your tree ring to look like by then? Priorities don’t have to stay the same and if you want to change them, you have the power to make it happen.

As Jim Rohn once said, “if you don’t like how things are, change it! You’re not a tree.”