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.”

Pilot: Behaviour Change with One Book, One Summary, and 30-Days of Tracking

Pilot: Behaviour Change with One Book, One Summary, and 30-Days of Tracking

Behaviour change is difficult. It’s the reason why I’ve been doing the same habits for years and years. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve tried to change my behaviour on certain things – but the deeply ingrained thinking just can’t get rooted out.

So, I have a proposal. Let’s try a new strategy for changing our behaviour. One that requires a little bit of planning, learning, and execution. But it won’t be too painful.

The idea is simple: I’m going to read one personal or professional development book per month and write a summary for it on ActionableBooks.com.

If you haven’t heard of ActionableBooks.com before, it’s a website that hosts over 1000 business book summaries collected over 10+ years. It’s amazing resource for those looking for a quick hit of learning and insight.

After writing the summary, I’ll decide on one behaviour change that I want to make. Over the course of the next 30 days I’ll track my progress of a scale of 1 to 4 to see how well I did on it.

By the end of the 30 days, I’ll do a post-mortem and see if and how that behaviour change took place. I’ll debrief with a third party who’ll give me honest feedback on my progress.

The plan is to read and summarize my first book this month and begin my 30-days of behaviour tracking in September.

If you’d be interested in joining me on this quest, add a comment below along with your book choice and we can keep track of each other’s progress! I can also help you get setup with the ActionableBooks.com team so you can get started with your first summary.

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation 2.0

A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation 2.0
Last year I wrote “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation” and it was – and still remains – the most popular post I’ve written on my blog. In an effort to update some of the resources and learnings, I’ve updated this post and created version 2.0. For additional resources on meditation, check out this conversation I had with meditation teacher, Mary Meckley. We cover topics including the benefits of meditation, recommendations for beginners, techniques, and much more.

If you are depressed, you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious, you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
– Lao Tzu

I started to meditate about 4 years ago and it’s become an important part of my daily ritual. I must admit, however, that it wasn’t easy getting started and it still isn’t the most natural thing for me to do. It’s taken some experimentation with what works for me and adapting a meditation practice around that. Your meditation practice might look completely different from mine – and that’s okay. The important part is that you put in the time to meditate to create the space for silence and calm during your busy day.

I’ll take you through a bit of my journey with meditation and the process and tools that have worked for me so far. If you already believe in the positive effects of meditation, you can skip Part I and just go right into the techniques and resources that I’ve been using. Either way, Part I will be helpful in helping you understand the why behind meditation.

So let’s begin!

Part I: Why Meditate?

There are a lot of reasons why it’s beneficial to meditate and in no particular order here are some of the benefits I’ve experienced and heard others experience.

  • Helps you move into the present;
  • Brings about peace and calm in your mind;
  • Builds your perspective and compassion for others;
  • Helps you feel like you’re in greater control of your day;
  • Helps you detach yourself from situations and outcomes;
  • Slows down your day;
  • Allows you to cut through the busywork and focus on doing what matters most;
  • Creates silence during our noisy, busy days.

In The Tim Ferriss Show the majority of top performers (80%+) Tim has interviewed have some sort of meditation practice, and his podcast has some incredible guests including Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tony Robbins, Sam Harris, Chase Jarvis, and many others. To me, there seems to be a trend with meditation and mindfulness that helps people be there best.

I know some of the benefits above might sound “woo woo” but there’s growing scientific evidence that meditation not only reduces stress, it also changes your brain. According to a study done in conjunction at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, long-term meditators had more gray matter in the frontal cortex, which is associated with working memory and executive decision-making. As we get older, the frontal cortex shrinks, and mindfulness practices like meditation can help slow this process down.

As you’re getting started, the important part is how meditation affects you personally. If you get even a modicum of peace and calm from a 5-minute meditation, maybe it’s worth it for you? After all, 5-minutes is not a bad tradeoff for that kind of feeling.

Part II: How to get started

I initially struggled to get my meditation practice going. When I first experimented with meditation, I picked up a meditation book, read it, and listened to the accompanying CD with guided 20-minute meditations. I found the experience to be extremely difficult – especially sitting in silence for 20 straight minutes. I began to dislike meditation after realizing I wasn’t particularly good at it.

In retrospect, I think I tried to do too much too soon. In my opinion, a 15-20 minute meditation is too long for a beginner to do on their own especially without a meditation teacher to guide them along the way. The key is to start small with a 1 or 2 minute meditation. This way you get a small “hit” of that calm, rewarding feeling to get you going.

The “calm” feeling could be different for you. It might not be a feeling of calm but rather a feeling of inspiration and excitement. It could be a feeling of understanding and love. Try to remember that positive, rewarding feeling so that it brings you back your next meditation session.

Rain Wilson (from The Office fame) shared in an interview that meditation for him is like watching the ticker symbol of a stock market go by. The symbols are your thoughts and they just scroll past you. You’re not attached to the thoughts, you just observe them and let them by. I think that’s a pretty good analogy. (You might want to use clouds in the sky if ticker symbols make you anxious).

The important part is realizing that meditation is not about eliminating all your thoughts and getting into a “blank” mindset. It’s about recognizing the thoughts as they appear and keeping yourself detached from them.

So here are a few tips to help you start to meditate and I’ll break them down for you in a bit more detail below:

Start with just 2 minutes.

Meditation is just like any sport or exercise in that the more “reps” that you put in, the better you get at it. You wouldn’t run a marathon on your very first run, right? So it makes sense to not make your first meditation session a marathon session.

Start with something small – like, very small. Start with a 2-minute meditation and see if you’re able to handle that. From there, up the timing to 5-10-15 minutes. But take it really slowly. Don’t rush yourself. It’s one of those things where you won’t just be able to “will” your way to doing more. Mary Meckley, meditation teacher at Sip and Om, suggests that you meditate just to the point that you can go a little bit longer so you can come back the next day excited to pickup where you left off.

Let’s make meditation fun by making it simple and easy to start.

Learn simple techniques to get you going. (e.g. box breathing technique)

I learned a simple breathing technique called the “box-breathing technique” from Ben Greenfield at a conference in 2015. The technique is simple but surprisingly hard to master. Basically, you slowly breathe in for a count of 4, hold your breathe for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 4, and hold (your empty lungs) for a count of 4. Then repeat. This technique allows you to oxygenate your body while allowing you to focus on your breath – not your distracting thoughts – during your meditation.

If you find yourself having difficulty concentrating, this is a good technique to practice. If you find that 4 seconds is a bit too long to hold your breathe, try 2 or 3 seconds. I recommend trying it once or twice during your first meditation.

Discover what time of day you are best able to meditate.

I’ve experimented with all sorts of times during the day but early mornings and evenings seem to be the best time for me. For you, it might be different. Try experimenting with a 2-minute meditation at different times during the day to see which one delivers the greatest benefits. When I used to work in the corporate world, I would find time to do a quick 5-minute meditation over lunch which created some calm in an otherwise busy environment. It was super helpful in helping me reset and get ready for the second half of the day.

Part III: My favourite resources

There is a ton of great resources available to get started with your meditation practice. Books, apps, podcasts, and so much more provide resources that you can often tap into for free. Out of all the resources that I’ve experimented with, here are a handful that have allowed me to cultivate my meditation practice.

Calm

For beginners, Calm is a good app to start with. It’s got a clean and beautiful interface and comes with a number of calming background sounds. What I like the most about Calm is that you can use their timed meditations for free. If you’re just starting out, I recommend using Calm to do a 2-minute timed meditation everyday. That way you’re not spending any money and you’re getting to benefit of trialing meditation for yourself.

If you really like the app it’s got a ton of great additional guided meditations – including a new daily meditation – that you can use to further establish your meditation practice.

Sip and Om

Once you’ve established your meditation practice and you can meditate up to 10-15 minutes with relative focus and calm, I recommend checking out Sip and Om. It’s the resource I’m using for my daily meditations.

This subscription-based service provides a new meditation everyday. Each week is a different theme and each day utilizes a different technique to get you deeper into your meditation. I’ve had the pleasure of talking with Mary Meckley who runs Sip and Om if you’re curious to learn more about how this meditation service came to be. You can check out their free 2-week trial to see if this might be the right fit for you.

The Daily Meditation Podcast

If you can’t afford the monthly subscription, Mary does do a free podcast called the The Daily Meditation Podcast where you can listen to Mary explain a new technique everyday. It doesn’t give you the full meditation but you can get a sense of the techniques that are out there. The podcast episodes are shorter so you can even use it for your daily meditations as you’re getting started.

HeadSpace

Another notable app is called HeadSpace. I’ve tried HeadSpace in the past and they’ve got a great beginner program called the Take-10 which provides 10 short meditations with helpful video explanations to get you started.

The good news is current meditation apps are constantly updating and innovating to make meditation more accessible and new apps are being created as more people begin to meditate!

Final thoughts…

I hope this gets you started with your meditation practice. It’s a powerful practice to cultivate which impact so many different aspects of your life. Just make sure to be kind to yourself. Your first few weeks or months of meditating won’t be easy. I still struggle to convince myself that it’s worth the time to meditate especially when I’m in the midst of a busy day. But those just might be the days where you need to meditate the most.

Good luck! And feel free to post your personal experiences with meditation. I’d love to hear from you.


Featured image by Isabell Winter.

Five Stoic Quotes from Marcus Aurelius

Five Stoic Quotes from Marcus Aurelius

The below quotes come from Book Three and Book Four of Marcus Aurelius’s MeditationsA cornerstone of the Stoic philosophy, Meditations is a book I highly recommend anyone to read to prepare for life’s inevitable challenges and adversities. If you’d like to read a quick summary of the book, you can check out my Actionable Book Summary of Meditations here.

On pursuing the highest values in life…

If, at some point in your life, you should come across anything better than justice, honesty, self-control, courage – than a mind satisfied that it has succeeded in enabling you to act rationally, and satisfied to accept what’s beyond its control – if you find anything better than that, embrace it without reservations – it must be an extraordinary thing indeed – and enjoy it to the full.

My thoughts:

Justice, honesty, self-control, and courage. Can there be anything of higher value to pursue in life?

On constantly watching your thoughts…

You need to get used to winnowing your thoughts, so that if someone says, “What are you thinking about?” you can respond at once (and truthfully) that you are thinking this or thinking that. And it would be obvious at once from your answer that your thoughts were straightforward and considerate ones.

My thoughts:

You become what you think. So make sure that you’re monitoring your thoughts just as closely as you’re monitoring your actions. Don’t overthink or worry either. Simple is better.

On not letting others dictate your worth…

It would be wrong for anything to stand between you and attaining goodness – as a rational being and a citizen. Anything at all: the applause of the crowd, high office, wealth, or self-indulgence. All of them might seem to be compatible with it – for a while. But suddenly they control us and sweep us away.

My thoughts:

Humility. And keeping in mind what’s most important. Achieving goodness for oneself and others.

On being transparent and open with your thoughts and actions…

Never regard something as doing you good if it makes you betray a trust, or lose your sense of shame, or makes you show hatred, suspicion, ill will, or hypocrisy, or a desire for things best done behind closed doors.

My thoughts:

A good measuring stick on whether an action you’re about to take is wrong is when you feel a sense of shame or have to do it “behind closed doors”.

On being a good man…

…And then you might see what the life of the good man is like – someone content with what nature assigns him, and satisfied with being just and kind himself.

My thoughts:

Be content with what nature assigns you. Things happen. The least you can do is be just and kind to yourself and others.


Final note: 

For those curious about which translation of Meditations to get, I highly recommend the Gregory Hays’ translation as it is translated in a way that most of us, modern readers, can easily understand. But, you can’t go wrong with any of them out there because, well, wisdom is still wisdom.


Featured image via Wikimedia Commons.

My Favourite Articles from 2016

My Favourite Articles from 2016

As part of my Weekly Learnings Roundup, I share an article that I’ve enjoyed reading. Over the course of a year that’s a lot of articles! And so, I’ve organized the articles I shared on my blog under Personal Growth, Professional Development, Health, and “Other”. Maria Popova’s work from Brain Pickings makes a very consistent appearance on the list below and I highly recommend checking out her remarkable writing.

Personal Growth

Why Self-Compassion Works Better Than Self-Esteem via The Atlantic

According to Kristin Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, the pursuit of higher self-esteem has been misguided. It’s a timely reminder for me (and perhaps all of us) to be more self compassionate.

Walt Whitman’s Advice on Living a Vibrant and Rewarding Life by Maria Popova

I admitedly don’t read a lot of poetry but Walt Whitman’s work intrigues me. I’m particularly interested in reading Whitman’s seminal book, Leaves of Grass, as I’ve heard it’s a classic from multiple people I admire. Enjoy this quick read by Maria Popova on Whitman’s advice on living a fulfilling life.

Bruce Lee’s Never-Before-Seen Writings on Willpower, Emotion, Reason, Memory, Imagination, and Confidence by Maria Popova

It’s hard to describe how inspiring Bruce Lee’s career in martial arts and film was. In this article by Maria Popova, we get to see some of Lee’s internal dialogue and methods that helped him overcome the many critics he faced.

Why being bilingual helps keep your brain fit by Gaia Vince

Bilingualism is more common than you think – between 65 to 70 percent of people around the world speak more than two languages. In addition to the ability to communicate with a greater variety of people, a steady stream of studies have show that bilinguals outperform monolinguals in a range of cognitive and social tasks. I speak English, Japanese, and Spanish, and I’m hoping to further develop my Portuguese competency. This article was a great “kick in the butt” to put more time into my Portuguese!

What Makes a Good Life: Revelatory Learnings from Harvard’s 75-Year Study of Human Happiness by Maria Popova

In an unprecedented 75-year study, we discover the key element for a happy and healthy life. According to Harvard psychologist and Grant Study director Robert Waldinger, “the clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

You Can Write Your Way Out of an Emotional Funk. Here’s How. by Susan David

This is a fantastic article on the power of writing and journaling. According to the article, numerous studies have shown that “applying words to emotions is a tremendously helpful way to deal with stress, anxiety, and loss.” Just taking 20-minutes everyday to journal can help overcome feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, and allow you to ‘step out’ of yourself and gain greater perspective.

My Dad Was Bruce Lee—Here’s How He Still Inspires Me And Others To Innovate by Shannon Lee

Great post by the late Bruce Lee’s daughter, Shannon. There’s a lot to learn from the man who transformed the Hollywood landscape for Asian actors. Not only that, his philosophies on life (e.g. “be like water” and “walk on”) inspire many of us to realize our inner strengths and become the best we can be. The article mentions a new podcast that Shannon has created – the Bruce Lee podcast – which I’m excited to check out!

Alain de Botton on What Makes a Good Communicator and the Difficult Art of Listening in Intimate Relationships by Maria Popova

It’s amazing how much our childhood impacts the way we communicate today. Communication is a product of how open and willing we are to be fallible and vulnerable. In intimate relationships, this is especially important.

Professional Development

The Three Frameworks You Need to Kick-start Sales by First Round Review

Great piece on sales strategy for those working in the startup and small business world.

This is the “growth hack” that got my whole company started by Julien Smith

A really cool story about how Breather was able to get their business off the ground. You’ll be surprised at how simple and how well their “growth hack” strategy worked.

OKRs are Old News — Introducing Goal Science Thinking by First Round Review

Setting better goals both personally and professionally is an area I’m weak in. This article explains clearly the benefits of using the science behind goal-thinking that can be applicable both in the workplace and in our personal lives.

Mike Birbiglia’s 6 Tips for Making It Small in Hollywood. Or Anywhere. by Mike Birbiglia

Some sound advice from one of my favourite comedians. My most important takeaway? Just start. If you want to do something, get started – stop talking about it.

On Receiving (and Truly Hearing) Radical Candor by First Round Review

I really enjoyed this read. It was particularly helpful in understanding the importance of giving honest feedback. I often find myself tiptoeing around a piece of critical feedback but that does more harm than good for both me and the person I’m working with.

Health

How Exercise Shapes You, Far Beyond the Gym by Bradley Stulberg

Exercise should be as fundamental to your weekly priorities as eating quality food and getting enough sleep. Beyond the health benefits, exercise can also build greater resilience in your mindset and seep positive benefits to all aspects of your life.

 

Don’t Fear the Fat: 7 Ways Fat Can Help You Lose Weight by Bulletproof

For decades the food industry has made us want to believe that high-fat diets are linked with heart disease and generally bad for you. But having been on the Bulletproof diet for the last (almost) 2 years, I’ve never felt better having more high-quality fats in my diet. This article breaks down how fats can help you rather than hurt you.

Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime by Ferris Jabr

Extensive article on why your brain needs downtime and the solution doesn’t have to be a 6-month sabattical. Here were my top takeaways:

1) Consciously build out downtime/down days during the work week. (E.g. Half-day Friday and no screentime after 8pm.)

2) Take a 10-20 minute nap in the early afternoon.

3) Continue my mindfulness meditation practice.

4) Spend more time walking outdoors – ideally in nature.

Other

New science on the benefits of stress and building resilience in children’s lives. One key ingredient for helping to build reslient children? One person, just one person, that the child can rely on for unconditional love and affection.

My Ship List 2016

My Ship List 2016

Last year, I started the tradition of putting together a “ship” list. You can check out the 2015 version here.

In a nutshell, I’m borrowing a page from Seth Godin’s book to share with you my 2015 “Ship List”. The Ship List is anything that you “shipped out” over the course of the year (I’ve cheated a bit to include milestones in this one). Seth compiles his list every year and it’s a great tradition.

Below is my 2016 ship list which includes some personal and professional milestones. The process of compiling the list was actually quite interesting. It allowed me to take a moment and reflect about my year and scroll through my calendar. It’s helpful because it makes you appreciate how much you can accomplish in 365 days.

January

  • Began my new role as Marketing Manager at Actionable.
  • peternakamura.com experiences the largest spike in visits with 293 unique visitors.
  • Actionable Team retreat in Toronto.
  • Volunteered for the Future Possibilities for Kids (FPK) program.
  • Started writing the first version of the “Weekly Learnings Roundup” which was originally called “Links of the Week”.

February

  • Spent a week with Carly’s family in beautiful Hermosa Beach, CA.

March

  • Took a cooking class with Carly at Dish Cooking Studio.
  • Completed Discovery Session tours in Ohio and Southwestern Ontario.

April

  • Completed a Discovery Session tour in Boston and New York City.
  • One-year anniversary of living in my own apartment.
  • Published my 50th blog post.
  • Participated in the Collision Conference (largest startup conference in North America) in New Orleans, LA. Learned more about what it means to compete and stay relevant in the startup world.
  • Completed the 7-month workout challenge in the Seven app.

May

  • Traveled to Las Vegas, NV for Actionable’s first Global Summit and team retreat. Groundwork gets laid for organizational priorities for the second half of the year.

June

  • Participated in a softball tournament with friends.
  • Picked up Carly’s kitten – Freddie! Who is now an integral part of our lives.
  • Consolidated my finances for greater efficiency using YNAB (You Need a Budget).

July

  • Attended Infusionsoft University in Toronto to deepen my skills with the software.

August

  • Spent a weekend camping at Bon Echo Provincial Park.

September

  • Booked a trip to Japan with Carly.

October

  • Celebrated my 30th birthday with Carly in Prince Edward County, ON.
  • Brought on Gina as our first “official” team member on the Discovery Session marketing team.

November

  • Joined the global Actionable team at the Kingsbridge Centre in King City, ON for our annual staff retreat. Amazed to see our team grow from 8 people to over 20.
  • Participated in the Axe Batizado and earned the second belt (azul) in capoeira after two years of training. Learned a variety of movements including being able to hold a handstand for at least three seconds.
  • Launched my new Daily Tracking tool to create greater awareness of my habits and routines.

December

  • Read my 26th book of the year surpassing my goal set to read 20 books by 30%.
  • Developed a Marketing Strategy for 2017.

(Bonus) 2016 Hustle Calendar

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Here’s to making your 2017 another productive and meaningful year!

Craft Your Yearly Goals in Buckets.

Craft Your Yearly Goals in Buckets.

If you love life, don’t waste time, for time is what life is made up of.

– Bruce Lee

This past October I turned thirty.

It was a big milestone for me and I was extremely grateful to have wrapped up another decade of life here on Earth. Like what many of us do when we hit a major milestone, I took a moment to pause and reflect on my experiences so far.

But this year I tried to be a little bit more deliberate with my goal setting. (More than the typical 5-minute daydreaming I usually do). I spent several days collecting my thoughts and crafting personal goal “buckets” for the next year and beyond. I focused on goals that I’d be able to make progress on in the next year and would also have a significant impact on my life for years to come.

I found the framework I used to be helpful so I wanted to share it with you. I call it the ECCCT process. Here are the steps:

  1. Express.
  2. Connect.
  3. Craft.
  4. Commit.
  5. Track.

Using these steps, I crafted my 7 personal goal “buckets” for my 30th year. They range from goals on emotional and physical health, professional success, personal finance, and relationships. It was an eye-opening process for me to take the time to dig into what I want out of my life.

There isn’t a perfect process in setting goals and the framework above might not be for you… and that’s okay. This is just one way to do it. You may want to borrow elements of the framework or try your own thing. Personally, I found it particularly helpful to go through this process during the month of my birthday as it felt tied to a meaningful day in my life.

Either way, important part is that you’re taking the time to reflect and think about what you want your next year to look like. Speaking of time, I’ve also added a suggested “Time alloted” under each of the steps as a guideline on how much time you might want to spend in each stage. This is just a suggestion – if you feel like you’ve put in enough time into each stage, move on. Just make sure that you feel like you got everything you need to get out of the stage. Sometimes taking a break and stepping back from the process may help too – I’ve suggested a 24-hour pause in some steps to give time for ideas to bubble up.

Good luck with the process! If you have any suggestions or questions, feel free to use the Comment section at the bottom.

1. Express.

Objective: Express your thoughts about things you want to explore.

Time allotted: 3 to 6 hours.

The first step is Express. The objective here is for you to take a moment to write down or type all the thoughts you’ve had around the things you’ve wanted to explore.

Here are a few questions to get you started with the Express step:

  1. Looking back at the past year, what were some of the top priorities that emerged for you?
  2. What projects do you think about starting most often?
  3. What are some of the areas in your life that you want to improve in?

We live in a world where there’s so much information that comes at us from every direction and we often get inundated by the thoughts and information that pop into our brains. So using a pen or a Word document to write your thoughts down can be an illuminating process.

There’s a wide range of topics you’ll want to explore in this stage. For me, I spent a lot of time hashing out priorities in health, fitness, relationships, finances, etc. Anything that’s a value or a priority in your life should be expressed at this stage. And, finally, nothing needs to be polished at this stage. All you’re trying to do is help yourself put your thoughts down. Ideally you’re spending at least a few hours on this step. Come back after a break if you need to.

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.

– Confucius

For me, this process involved typing. When I saw my thoughts typed up on a page (or in an Evernote note in my case) I got an immense sense of relief. I could now look at that my thoughts objectively and work with them.

Your preferred way of expressing might be different. (You may even prefer recording audio, video, etc. over writing/typing). The important part is for you to record your thoughts around your goals and dreams. Spending enough time to get all of your thoughts and ideas out here is really important. Don’t be afraid to write down your fears and insecurities here as well. The more honest you can be with yourself in this process, the more meaningful the goals you create become.

2. Connect.

Objective: Review your thoughts from Step 1 and identify common themes.

Time allotted: 1 to 2 hours. (Optional 24-hour pause).

Now that you’ve spent some time expressing your thoughts it’s time to connect some of the key themes together. The objective here is to bring together your thoughts that appear to be closely related. In a document or piece of paper, you may want to start creating headings like “Health” or “Work” and organize the various thoughts under these headings. If you’re more visual, you may want to draw this out or use a mindmap.

After you’ve organized your thoughts, take a moment to look through them.

  • Are there common themes that seem to stick out?
  • Do the headings overlap with each other?
  • Is there a theme that seemed to have gotten a lot of attention from you?
  • What areas are missing? Was that by design?

The idea here is to refine your thoughts a little bit more. This is also a great moment to see if there are any areas that are missing that you haven’t yet expressed yourself in. Feel free to go back to the Express stage at any point to hash things out further. I’ve also found it helpful to let this step sink in a little bit by coming back to the document 24 hours later.

3. Craft.

Objective: Create up to seven “Goal Buckets” to organize your goals under major themes.

Time allotted: 1 to 2 hours. (Optional 24-hour pause).

At this point, you should have a lot of great ideas and themes to work with. You’ve expressed your thoughts and had a chance to start connecting some of the thoughts together. Now it’s time to start crafting your “Goal Buckets”.

Your Goal Buckets will consist of the major themes that have emerged from the Step 1 and 2. For each bucket, you’ll create a sentence to describe what that bucket is about. For example, one of my Goal Buckets for the year is to invest in friendships. So one of my Goal Buckets for the year is “Develop better, tighter friendships.” It’s a fairly broad goal but tight enough to cover the main objective.

Here are a couple more of my Goal Buckets:

  • Make all-around improvements in capoeira with a focus on strength and flexibility.
  • Continue to save 15% or more of my income for future financial flexibility.

The key in this step is trying to keep the objective of the Goal Bucket succinct (i.e. no more than 1 sentence). You want the goal to be something that gets you really excited to get started with everytime you look at it. It’s something that lights a fire inside of you. With that being said, don’t worry about making the goal perfect. You still have some time to tweak things later in the process. At this point, you’ll want to start writing down your Goal Buckets so that it goes from a jumble of ideas into one succinct sentence.

Finally, keep the number of Goal Buckets to five or seven at the most. I’ve found that trying to manage seven goals across an entire year can be too daunting and ultimately demotivating if you’re not making progress.

4. Commit.

Objective: Commit to 1 or 2 micro-goals for each of your Goal Buckets.

Suggested time allotted: 1 to 3 hours.

Step 4 is to commit to tangible micro-goals within the major buckets you created above. For example, if one of your major goals is to “eat a healthy diet and lose 10 lb”, how are you planning on achieving it? How can you break down that goal into mini-goals that you can work on during the year?

Success comes from knowing that you did your best to become the best that you are capable of becoming.

– John Wooden

Think of these micro-goals as either 1. a habit you want to establish (e.g. workout for 15-minutes everyday) OR 2. a milestone you want to hit by a specific day (e.g. read 6 books by July) . Just a couple of guidelines to consider when you’re setting your mini-goals:

  1. Make it fun.
  2. Make it small.
  3. Make it measurable.

Fun doesn’t get the credit it deserves. If you’re not having fun, the goal itself won’t be very motivational. If you’re looking at the goal you’ve written down and thinking “Oh boy… this isn’t going to be fun” then try a different angle. Fun can also mean new, exciting, or challenging.

Small and measurable are also important for micro-goals. Keep the goal small so it’s something that you should have no problem completing. You can increase the difficulty or commitment at a later stage but the key is to make the barrier to start as low as possible.

I really like measurable goals. Whether it be a checkbox for a habit you completed that day or more detailed data you were able to collect. My habit goals like reading 15 minutes everyday or spending 15 minutes to work on my blog are both measurable. I can also be more detailed with goals to sleep 8 hours per day by tracking my Fitbit data on how much I actually slept the night before. Having measurable goals will help you feel motivated as you make progress.

Finally, the Commit step involves sharing your Goal Buckets with someone who will keep you accountable to them. This can mean a friend, family member, or colleague that will be supportive and honest with your progress. If you want to raise the stakes even higher, considering posting your Goal Buckets/micro-goals on social media or on your blog. You may also want to consider using stickK – a website that lets you put stakes on whether you achieve your goals or not. If you don’t achieve your goal, you can have stickK send the money to your least favourite charity! How is that for some added motivation?

Side Note: You may have heard of the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) goal-setting framework. I think it’s a helpful framework for setting micro-goals but it’s missing a major component of a great goal: Emotion. If the goal isn’t connected deeply to your emotions, it’s bound to fail. So if you’re setting a SMART micro-goal, perhaps add an “E” for “Emotional” and tie it back to Goal Buckets you got excited about in the Craft step.

5. Track.

Objective: Track your progress on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. 

Suggested time allotted: On-going

Tracking is probably my favourite part of this process. You’ve done the heavy lifting by creating meaningful goals for yourself and now it’s time to execute. Making sure you track your progress is essential to keeping your momentum going and course correcting along the way.

The important part with tracking is that you’re looking at your goals on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Each timeframe allows you to see your progress (or possibily the lack thereof) from a different viewpoint. Trends you might be able to see from a monthly timeframe may not be apparent from a daily or weekly timeframe. And likewise, there are insights you can gain about yourself only from a daily review of your progress. Experiment with some of the tools below and see how they might work for you!

Daily

I use a Daily Tracking spreadsheet to help me keep track of my key daily activities starting with the sleep I got the night before all the way to my daily reflection questions. I also use this spreadsheet to keep the goal “buckets” that I created to continuously remind myself about what the big picture looks like.

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Daily tracking is really important to me as I get a chance to interact with the data on a daily basis and uncover some really interesting insights about my behaviours and habits.

Weekly

For weekly tracking, my favourite tool is the Weekly Big Rocks. The concept of Big Rocks was first introduced by Dr. Stephen R. Covey the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Big Rocks represent the important things in your life such as your health, relationships, finances, etc.

If you can imagine your time as a large glass jar and your priorities as the big rocks and non-priority items as sand, you can fit all your big rocks and sand into the jar only if you put your big rocks in the jar first. If you put the sand in the glass jar first, there will be no room for the Big Rocks. It’s the same with life. If you fill your life with the trivial items first, you won’t have time to take care of your priorities.

pebbles-and-sand

I use a template from Travis Hellstrom’s Crafting Your Purpose Course to set my Weekly Big Rocks. He’s got a fantastic mini-course on how you can identify your key values and priorities in your life. I highly recommend it if you want to check it out.

The purpose of this document is to note down the biggest “roles” you play in your life (e.g. husband, father, colleague, friend, etc.) and write down 1 or 2 of the most high impact activities for each role you play. I do this every Sunday evening to make sure that I carve out the time for my most important roles I play. This dovetails very nicely with your Goal Buckets as many of the roles will relate to the goals you’re trying to achieve.

Monthly

Finally, monthly tracking involves doing a quick review on the progress you’ve made over the past month. Taking 30 minutes to answer the following questions can help you reflect and reset for another productive month. Credit to Leo Babauta from Zen Habits for sharing his monthly review process in this blog post.

  1. What work did I get done?
  2. What projects did move forward?
  3. What personal learning did I work on?
  4. What health and fitness challenges did I do?
  5. What other big life events (some of them unexpected) happen?
  6. What are some things I’ve learned and want to remember?
  7. What are my hopes for the next month?

It’s usually quite surprising what we can accomplish over a month. Taking the time to complete this review can open your eyes up to your capabilities and keep you motivated.


I hope you find the above framework helpful. It’s still an evolving framework and I hope to come back to this post on a yearly basis to add my thoughts and experiences to them.

Gretchen Rubin, the author The Happiness Project, wrote in her book that “the days are long, but the years are short”. I think that’s absolutely true. But if you live an examined life in which you deliberately set your goals and live according to your values, you can look back knowing that those years that felt so short were packed full with meaning.