[dropcap]P[/dropcap]ushups. These are ugly and torturous things, devised by mankind to torment those who are weak shouldered and long-armed. Pushups are both the ultimate total upper-body workout and the seminal destroyer of confidence and pride. In fact, as I write this post my left pec is screaming at me every time I hit a key from the letter “G” on over, and that’s after eeking out a child-size portion of pushups. (If you’re looking for 35 ways to torture yourself, click here.)
Pushups also happen to be one of the core exercises in my new workout plan, P90X. For those who are unfamiliar with this program, punch yourself in the face six times and then drink a glass of bleach. How do you feel? That’s how I felt after only my first day. But I have done this workout many times before and strongly believe in its ability to whip even the weakest person into shape in a little more than a month. Funny thing is, much like every other workout program on the planet that promises amazing results, the exercises are nothing you probably haven’t seen before. But, as with most people, I’m always on the lookout for a new way to get in shape, to minimize the chance of failure, and to save time while achieving the desired result.
The irony is that “new and improved” ways of doing things either 1) don’t work or 2) rely on basic and timeless principles that are proven to lead to success. P90X is really just a well-organized grouping of basic exercises that are led by an extroverted and ultra-tan guy named Tony. And this formula isn’t confined to workout programs. The root of any plan of this kind is the same, whether you’re wanting to write a book, start a new business, get in shape, shake an addiction, make more money, or avoid that late-night bowl of Lucky Charms. But the key to actually getting the desired results is discipline, or the ability to get yourself to take action regardless of your emotional state. Nothing gets done without discipline, no matter the size of the task. You can buy every workout plan, success book, or self-development program on the market but you will never progress without crossing the threshold from being stagnant to moving forward, and that takes discipline. Discipline is also the key to doing what you love for a living. Discovering your passion is the first step but discipline is the fuel that powers you to success in whatever you choose to do. A new job isn’t going to get you where you want to go, but discipline will.
So how do you develop more self-discipline? To be honest, I’m still figuring it out myself. But one thing has become clear to me based on my experience with P90X this morning. It’s all about the first five minutes. Or, as Tony from P90Pain says, “Just keeping pressing play.” When that alarm went off at 6am this morning I wilted in my bed. “Nothing short of Dave Matthews standing by my bedside and screeching in my ear in his annoying falsetto voice,” I told myself, “was going to get me out of bed. I can’t get up. I’m too tired. I know I need to get in shape, but there’s nothing worse than working out when it’s dark. Blah blah blah.” The self-talk persisted for about five minutes before I finally manned up and literally threw myself out of bed. I knew if I didn’t get up at that moment I wouldn’t get up tomorrow, or the next day, or a month from the next day. One hour later I was glad I did (okay, more like 5 hours later I was glad, after the nausea subsided).
As I reflected on this today, on getting up and getting it done, I realized the key. Those first five minutes of self-talk were pivotal. Getting myself out of bed was clutch. But defeating those first five minutes was even more important. And now I’m developing more than a chiseled, Hulk-like body — I’m developing discipline. You see, forcing yourself to do hard things builds self-discipline. The more you do it, the more control you have over your life and over that adversarial voice in your head. And, I believe the principle holds true for virtually any goal you have. Like Woody Allen said, “Eighty percent of success is just showing up.”
So prepare yourself for the first five minutes. Just now, as my kids were going to bed, I told myself that I was about to have a choice pop up in the first five minutes after they went to sleep. I could either A) turn on the TV and sink into the couch like a worthless blob or B) write a blog post and share what I’ve learned to benefit others. Everything in my mind was screaming “BE UNPRODUCTIVE” but I knew that I would feel better if I showed some discipline and wrote this post. Sure enough, I feel great, and now I can feel like a productive blob as I flip through channels.
So pay attention to the self-talk, and in particular to the noise in your head during the first five minutes of decision-making. It may make all the difference in the end. As I was laying on the ground this morning, face down and nauseated, recovering from my self-punishment, Tony from P90Awful left me with these words that are appropriate to close out this rant: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is your body.” As cliche as it sounds, it’s true. Just keep showing up. That’s the key.
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For my graduation from Indiana University with my Master’s, one of my mentors gave me a small, orange journal as a parting gift. Yeah, it wasn’t a $50 spot or a new Jaguar, but it was meaningful nonetheless. And it has that classy faux-gold leaf stitching around the edges so it looks like an ancient text. He told me that my first few weeks at my new job would be a roller-coaster — full of ups and downs — and he challenged me to take some notes in it so that I could remember how it felt to start something new.
I wrote a total of about 249 words in the journal, about one-fourth of the length of this blog post. I’ve never been much of a Doogie Howser (flashback!). But as I was reading through those 200+ words of wisdom the other day I realized I had actually written something of real value. Under the heading “What I See Will Be the Keys to Success in this Job” I penned the following:
That last one is the zinger. I didn’t realize at the time how true that statement would become.
Doing what you love doesn’t always require a dramatic move, like quitting your job in order to become a full-time pig farmer. Sometimes it does, but oftentimes it doesn’t. In fact, dramatic shifts are often more realistic for individuals who are either A) single, B) retired, or C) living on $12K a year. Granted, I made a dramatic shift when I was neither A, B, or C, but it was definitely the hard way to do it. Imagine the blow to the economy if everyone left their job to start an ice cream stand or to free-wheel through Latin America while selling e-books on the side. Sure, Latin American tourism would get a boost and e-books would be a dime a dozen, but stable jobs would disappear, the economy would crash, and a tidal wave would rise up out of nowhere to engulf the northeast and destroy the New England Patriots practice facility and football stadium — which may not be that bad after all.
I’m not in the business of shooting down dreams if your hope is to be an entrepreneur and start a money-making blog or other venture, but I am in the business of suggesting that this isn’t the best or only option for all people because we all value different things. Some people prefer stability and a steady paycheck to more freedom and an erratic paycheck, and it is often determined by other factors in your world. For those of us who need a job to support our families there is hope that we can still do what we love without a major life change, and it can be found in two little words: job crafting.
According to researchers at the University of Michigan, job crafting is the practice of redesigning your job in way that incorporates more of what you do well and that consequently leads to “engagement, resilience, and thriving at work.” In other words, job crafting is all about figuring out what comes naturally to you that you love to do and finding ways to introduce more of it in your job while still managing the core requirements of your position. Instead of looking at work as an either/or effort — I can EITHER do what I love and leave this job OR do what I hate and stick with it — it’s a both/and philosophy — I can BOTH do what is required of me at work AND do what I love. The two become one, like the Spice Girls always said.
According to these fine folks’ research, there are three ways to job craft:
1) Alter the boundaries of your job by taking on more or fewer tasks, changing the scope of tasks, or creating mechanisms to simplify tasks. For example, my predecessor in my previous job in Las Vegas was a prolific program developer. He loved to work behind the scenes to plan programs that others executed. I am admittedly more of a front-of-the-house kind of guy, so I took more ownership for not only creating programs but finding ways to plug myself into their facilitation.
2) Changing relationships at work by altering the nature or extent of interaction. If your position generally has little human interaction but you happen to thrive on relating to others, find ways to plug more relationship-building into what you do. For example, if you design software, create a mechanism to interact with users of the software and receive feedback in person. Or, if you are a researcher who typically works in a lab, present at a conference and network with others with whom you can build long-standing, and potentially beneficial relationships.
3) Shift how you cognitively view your work. For example, rather than looking at a task as “compiling a spreadsheet of past customers” you could see it as “searching for past connection points to amplify future business opportunities.” Suddenly you are no longer a minion completing an otherwise tedious task but rather an integral part of the marketing team, identifying past clientele that you could reach out to in order to develop relationships and increase future sales.
These principles hold real power and potential for individuals who are looking to increase job satisfaction but who may not be ready for a dramatic shift. I have used these principles (without knowing it) in my past two jobs to carve out my niche and play to my strengths. The thing to remember is that this isn’t a one time effort…you will not likely be able to shift your job overnight, nor will you suddenly feel better after you’ve molded your job to your strengths. Job crafting is a continuous process of doing more of what you love. But redefining what you do will lead not only to more joy from 9-5 but increased opportunities as people begin to recognize you for what you do well.
So give it a try. Today. Identify one of the three ways that you can begin to shift your job and make it happen. And, as always, let me know how it goes. Oh, and share this with your New England friends…just so they have ample warning should this “quit-your-job” fad gain too much traction.
I recently read an article about happiness that stated that we are least likely to find it when we are actively seeking it. The reason, the research stated, is that happiness is actually a byproduct of something else, such as giving your energy to a task you enjoy, serving other people, or working hard (there’s that grit thing again). So by actively trying to attain happiness we actually may never find it because whatever happiness we find will not be enough to satiate our needs. It will be short-term and sporadic. This made a lot of sense to me for several reasons:
1) Being happy all of the time would be numbing. If I always felt happy I may become desensitized to it or unable to truly appreciate that happiness. Philosophically, if I never know anything but happiness, how do I know if I’m truly happy? What do I have to compare it to? Several years ago, I read a quote that said, “The bad stuff makes the good stuff even better.” By having experiences on both extremes of the happiness scale, I feel more appreciative of the good times.
2) Seeking happiness seems to be a never-ending journey. When I focus on the pursuit of happiness, it seems to always lie just out of reach. Plus, I become narcissistic, focusing excessively on how happy I feel. Me me me. The world begins to revolve around my need for happiness to the detriment of others around me. Moreover, I invest less of myself in truly meaningful work because my efforts are so narrowly focused.
3) As I reflect on my life, the things that have brought the most lasting happiness have been difficult, and they generally contain an element of service to other people. Achieving particularly difficult tasks leads to satisfaction and it seems that the more difficult the task is the higher the resulting satisfaction. This morning, in a brief moment of clarity, I created a graph that demonstrates this principle. I replicated it below:
I know what you’re thinking: “Dustin, this is pure genius.” Ok, maybe not. But the principle seems to hold value regardless. In fact, that’s the beauty of the search for happiness — the path is very simple. Find ways to add value to the world using your innate talents and abilities and trust that the happiness will come. It may come immediately or as a result of reflecting in hindsight, but the happiness will be there. Simple as that.
And, for those of you who kept count, I mentioned the word “happiness” more than 20 times. That alone should make you more happy!
Do you know an unhappy person? Are you friends with a real “Debbie Downer?” Pass this article along and give them some hope.
Hi! I'm Dustin.
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