The Art of Self-Validation

self validation

What defines a good day?

What defines whether or not we “get” to be happy?

These are very personal and challenging questions – questions that everyone, at some point, will address. Humans are unique amongst the animal kingdom in that we are “meaning searching” creatures.

I’m not a scientist, but I often read science and evolution books. They are fascinating to me. As far as I am aware (and I would be happy if one of my readers corrected me on this subject) we are the only animal that openly speculates and plans around the “meaning of life” and whether, and in what form, life has a purpose?

Everyone will answer the question of life’s purpose in their own unique way, and their answer, will, for a large part, determine whether or not they are happy.

For many, many years I defined my happiness in reference to the results that I was obtaining in various pursuits. This was a very dangerous method. It always seemed like there was someone better than me, someone who was achieving more than me, someone who was better than me in the exact pursuit that I was burning the candle at both ends trying to achieve in.

The “validation by reference” method that I was using was systematically flawed.

It was hopeless from the beginning, because if I could only feel good about myself, in the event that I was achieving, or in the event that I was the best, then I was 100% guaranteed to be disappointed, as I had not factored in the possibility that there were many things that were outside of my control.

At some point – I think it was because I “failed” in my first career choice (in some people’s eye’s, not my own), I changed from a “validation by reference” paradigm to a purely “validation by self” model.

This alone, I believe, is the most critical factor in the day to day well being that I now feel.

In order to control your happiness, you have to be the architect of your well-being. To do this you have to first define what the rules are for whether or not you can define a day as a good day, and you can define yourself as a success.

If you allow these rules to be set by the world you will never be happy. If you take control of them yourself you can also “validate” yourself in the process.

For example – I now use a “checklist” system that I have created to determine whether or not I should feel good about a given day. This system is entirely within my control. I’m not advocating anyone to use this model – happiness is a personal journey. However, I can share what I do because it may help someone else – and contributing value to others is one of my primary values.

Here is how my checklist system works:

I define several acts (all of which I can control) that I want to accomplish in a given day – things like writing 500 words, or working a certain number of hours on our business.

These acts are all related to the long term goals that I have. I also include certain things in line with my paramount values – such as how I want to treat my family, and physical fitness goals.

Every single act on my checklist I have the power to accomplish. I judge my worth, and the quality of my day, by whether or not I have completed my checks for the day.

I’ve been using this model for years. My wife jokes about all the “grids” she sees in my office, but she doesn’t quarrel with them because she knows that this system is at the heart of my well-being.

At the end of the day I get to “self-validate”. As I make my checks I feel quite good about myself, and my day, and the best part was that it was all in my power.

There really is no magic to this, it is just a simple little tool, that I’ve built into a habit, that allows me to define my self-worth by reference to my “self” rather than by reference to other people (and what they do), and I have found that this habit has paid huge compounding returns in my self-esteem, and sense of general well-being.

So if you struggle at all with any of these – my advice – develop a system where you, alone, get to determine your validation. You get to “self-validate”.

Choose Your Own Adventure

Choose Your Own Adventure

When I was a kid, my favorite books were the “Choose Your Own Adventure” series.  In fact, they were really the only books that I liked to read.

I would read every book that I could get my hands on.  I took out every copy I could find from both my school library and the public library.  They were the only books that I can remember truly loving when I was a kid.

I recently came across some of these book in a second hand book store (the picture above).  For those of you unfamiliar with this series, the books are written in the second person, and the protagonist—that is, the reader—takes on a role relevant to the adventure.  The stories play out so that, after a couple of pages of reading, the reader faces two or three options, each of which leads to more options, and then to one of many endings (the number of endings in each book varies depending on the book).

These books led to hours of discovery and adventure for me as a kid, and because of the way the books were written I could re-read a book several times, and still have a different ending and experience, based on the choices that I made.  I loved how my choices had consequences.  I wasn’t scared of the consequences; In fact I loved the adventure of uncertainty.  I would often daydream of having my own life adventures as well, and the bounty of choice that was in front of me.  Choice was exciting, uncertainty was adventure.

Although I stopped reading the books as I grew older, this mindset – that I could “choose my own adventure” in life stayed with me throughout college, and even into law school, and in my first job after law school.  Things were new, and exciting, and I didn’t know how the outcome was going to play out.

After a couple of years of being a lawyer I hit a very dark place in my life, and for the first time I experienced real depression and anxiety.  I wrote about my depression and anxiety attacks at length in my book Unsuited.  For me, being open about my depression has been a fundamental component of my becoming empowered, and recovering from the dark place I found myself in during those years.  I’m not ashamed of this period.  It was a sickness, that took hold me, why should I be ashamed of it?  In fact, I think about it often – not quite daily – but enough not to forget it.  I never want to feel again, in my entire life, how I felt during those dark years.

Yesterday for some reason I was thinking about the dark years, and at the same time I was thinking about the “Choose Your Own Adventure Books” (oddly enough – and there is a connection, keep reading).

I realized that the darkest moments of my life, the moments of grim depression that gripped me, were also the moments when I didn’t believe that I had the power to choose my own adventure anymore. 

I felt stuck.  I felt trapped by the demands of a career that wasn’t fulfilling.  I felt trapped by the 9-5, the bills, the mortgage, the commitments – life itself.  This is something that I think (in fact I know) that many other people share – the anxiety associated with the transition from being a child to being a responsible adult – where the excitement of the adventure is seen an immature.  We need to “grow up” we are told.  We need to “get a real job”.  We need to “buy a house”.  We need to….

What I’ve since discovered is that we don’t need to do anything.  We still get to choose.  We never lost that ability.  Perhaps for a moment the crowd hypnotized us, but we have always had the power to go a different way.

Life is most fulfilling when it is a daring adventure, and the one thing that no one – no boss, no law firm partner, and no institution – can ever take away from us is our ability to choose.  Just like in those books.  Every day presents itself to me with several choices to make.  I alone get to make them.  Now granted, I alone have to accept the responsibility of my choices, but I’m never trapped.

I’m never trapped in a job

I’m never trapped on a dead end

At any moment I can change, I am the protagonist. 

It is such an amazing feeling when you embrace this concept – that you are the hero of your story.  You are the protagonist. You get to choose every outcome.

For me, this discovery was at the heart of my coming out of depression – the idea that no one had power over me.

I can’t speak for anyone on the subject of depression.  I’m neither qualified, nor do I believe that there is a one-size-fits-all remedy.  It’s too complex.

But I can just say, that if there is anyone that reads my blog that struggles, or has struggled, with depression it helped me tremendously to take control back of my choices, and realize that forever, I am the protagonist – that I get to choose my own adventure, no matter what.

To A Large Extent, Success Is Just A Matter of Numbers

Law of Large Numbers

Our Australia trip has been amazing so far.  In addition to the incredible scenery, the amazing and unique wildlife, and the sincere hospitality and warmth of the people, we’ve also had the chance to connect, in several meaningful meetings and conversations, with various team members here in Australia. They are hungry to succeed and wanting to know any advice that we can share that will help them as they walk a similar path that we did 5 years ago – introducing a new product to a new market.

In re-telling our story, and attempting to provide them with as much meaningful advice as we can, I’ve really reflected on our business and the concept of success at large.

What I’ve come to recognize, both through our entrepreneurial experience, and my pursuit of any worthwhile goal, is that at some point, everything is simply a matter of numbers, and that if you just embrace this concept you can really work it to your advantage.

If you keep practicing anything, eventually the scale of competency will tip in your favor, you will master the actions you are taking, and you will then see significant results.

I really believe in what has been described by other writers (namely Nick Murray and Steven Pressfield to name a few) as the “Law of Large Numbers”.

In my words, here is an explanation of this law:

At some point success, in any endeavor, becomes a certainty if you are willing to stick to a task long enough, taking the results that you get as instructive feedback, thereby improving upon your actions as you continue along, until you get the results you want.

When I realized the full scope of this principle it excited me because it demystified everything, and better yet it made anything theoretically possible.

I just had to apply the law of large numbers, adjusting the actions I took (based on the feedback that I received along the way) and continue on until I get the results that I want.

It also flattened the playing field because I realized that everyone has the same amount of time in a day. Sure people may start with advantages and more finely turned skill sets, but this law makes success achievable for any person in any circumstance:

Lock onto a target, take large volume action towards it, adjust your actions as you go based on the feedback you receive, and stick with it until you get it.

Name a pursuit: the law of large numbers applies. Eventually – if you stick at something long enough, always making course corrections as you go, you are guaranteed to get your result.

Who knew math could be so awesome?

If you make enough sales calls, adjusting your approach based on the feedback you receive, then eventually you’ll hit your sales target.

If you write enough pages, continually improving your writing abilities as you go, you’ll finish many books, and over time at least one of them will be a success.

If you take enough jump shots, correcting your form as you go, eventually you’ll be a dead shot. Name a pursuit – this law applies.

So why is the pursuit of success so complicated?

Why don’t they just had this formula to kids in the first grade, and simplify all of life. Well, for one, the most important factor (in my opinion) of the formula – the feedback loop – causes people to become discouraged.

They associate their self-esteem with their performance and as a result internalize failure too much, rather than just embracing the feedback as part of a much larger game of numbers.

Second – we live in a “fast food everything” culture. We want things NOW. We don’t like to wait, especially if it means that we slog away in obscurity building that business, or pursuing that goal.

By definition, the law of large numbers creates a possibility that the pursuit may take a long time for results to manifest, and many people aren’t committed to the long-term path. They don’t love the journey enough to stick with the day to day. They haven’t learned to self-validate.

They haven’t learned to find happiness in their own effort, but rather they use external things (like what they achieve or the results they get) to control how they feel.

Freeing yourself from societies external rewards system can be one of the most liberating acts that one can take. When you learn to do things for their own sake, and enjoy the actual actions you’re taking, the law of large numbers is easy to apply.

So whatever you’re doing right now, whatever your top three goals are – take a look at them from the lens of the law of large numbers. It is a certainty that eventually you will get the result that you are seeking if you just stick at it long enough, correcting your approach as you go (based on the feedback you receive).

Are you willing to stick it out? 

My “Why Not” Manifesto

Why Not Manifesto

We’ve travelled to the tropical north of Australia – Queensland – and we are staying right now at a little spot on the coast called Yorkeys Knob, about 20 km north of Cairns.

This morning I went for a run on the beach outside the condo that we’re staying at. I started my run at 5:45am, and there was a dim glow just starting to peak out from the ocean horizon in front of me.

There was no one on the beach at this hour. I was alone. It felt like I was running on a deserted island, but it was perfectly peaceful. The low tide revealed an assortment of new shells on hard packed sand as I ran. There was no visible wildlife, although I could see the fresh holes in the sand that the ghost crabs had dug only hours before, and I could hear, in the distance the sound of a kookaburra bird.

I ran for several miles until I came to a break in the beach, where the ocean had carved a stream inland. From this point I looked up, and saw the orange hued clouds rising above a bluish orange sky. The water at this hour, because of the reflection of the moon and rising sun, had almost a metallic glow to it – like my own private sea of platinum.

I looked up and saw a bright crescent moon, surrounded by stars. I could see the light of the moon and the stars, as I felt the gradual warmth of the rising sun. It was one of the most peaceful, serene moments that I’ve ever experienced in my life. I stood there for several minutes taking in the beauty of the world that I stood alone, at that moment, appreciating.

As I stood there all that I could think of was two simple words:

Why Not?

It’s almost like the beauty and serenity of this place empowered me with a mindset that anything in life, which seems worth pursuing, is in fact worth pursuing. Why not?

It is funny, in this setting I could have easily felt entirely insignificant – just a small spot of nothing in the vast expanse of the world, let alone the universe.

But I felt the opposite, I felt strength, a sense of wonder, and an overwhelming sense of curiosity to discover more of this world – not just its physical marvels, but also to discover how the world could open up to me if I would continue to engage my passions, stand up in the face of my fears, and pursue the desires of my heart.

I took out my phone, and on the notepad I started to write down any idea that same to me.  Effortlessly, while in this empowered emotional state, this is what I wrote:

Everything good that I have in my life has come about because I was willing to trust my own intuition.

Even in the face of risk, and criticism, the most empowered moments of my life have been the times where I felt a personal calling to pursue something, and I pursued it independent of the risk.

I am a conscious creator, and although I may seem small, when compared to the world, I have the capacity to dream, I have the capacity to think, and most importantly I have the ability to consciously direct my actions so that I can bring to life my thoughts and dreams.

I have the ability to turn a thought into its real counterpart. 

This endowment – the ability to turn thoughts into things – is something that I possess. However, if I allow fears, or the opinions of others to, in any way, influence the decisions that I take in my life then I am giving away my power. I have no interest in giving away my power.

Why not?

Why not go after every single crazy, wild dream that comes my way?

Am I scared of failure – no. Why? Because I’ve failed before, and I can handle it, so failure doesn’t have power over me.

If failure doesn’t have power over me, and I am resolved not to give away my power – my ability to create, to turn thoughts into things – then there is absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t chase every single dream, aspiration, desire or goal that comes my way.

Why Not?

Life is short, but life is also really wonderful, and beautiful when I am engaged in it.

So I resolve to engage fully in all aspects of my life. Wonder is life’s precious gift, and there can be no wonder, without discovery, and there can be no discovery without bold action taking.

Action taking – the ability to act, independently – lies at the heart of personal empowerment.

Why not?  Life is an experiment for me to try.  Anything that someone else can do I can do also if I pay the same cost.  Why not go after whatever it is that makes my heart sing. 

I think I’m going to print this out when I get home – I’ll call it my “Why Not Manifesto.”

If You Aren’t Fulfilled, There’s A Good Chance You’re Living Too Safe

Pendulum

I’ve got a couple of hours before the cab comes to pick our family up and take us to the airport to go to Australia. Bags are packed, everything is good to go – so I’m doing what I love doing – thinking and writing.

As I think about this trip I’m conscious of the factors that have contributed to our building an international business, particularly in Australia – and as a result, why we now have the chance to travel to exotic locations, and give incredible learning experiences to our kids.

I’m reflective, and grateful, at the blessings that exist in our life right now, the freedom, the flexibility, the empowerment and fulfillment.

Without a doubt, perhaps the most important factor, in all of this coming about, is that,

We have been willing, repeatedly, to risk failure, risk losing money, risk “being wrong”, risk being mocked, risk the tempting pull of secure, but less fulfilling pursuits, to pursue a path that we felt in our heart was right.

When we first started our business in 2009 we had many people tell us that it was too “hobbyish” to really build a significant income stream. When we started to travel throughout Canada, and use the Internet heavily to spread the product, we encountered similar resistance.

When I quit my law job in 2012 to double up our efforts on our vision, we had so many people think that we were nuts, and that I was going through a mid-life crisis.

When international borders opened for the product we were quick to “put our money where our dreams were”, and invest to personally travel to these new locations to spread the product and opportunity.

In every step of our “story” we’ve had lots of “failure potential”, and by no means has every step taken been successful. We have encountered lots of failure, lots of rejection, lots of “well meaning advice” telling us not to dream so big, and now that we are starting to see success, it can be tempting to ease off on the “risk pedal”. It can be tempting to start playing safe.

There is a difference obviously between “reckless abandon” and “calculated and intelligent risk taking”; however, because the subject of risk is such a deeply personal interpretation many people’s paradigms are vastly different.

What may seem to be “calculated and intelligent risk taking” by us can easily be interpreted as “reckless abandon” by others, and in many situations this has actually been the case in our life. As a result, there is no “objective standard” as to what is the right risk to take, and what is the wrong risk – remember it is a “risk” right!  You have to do what your heart says is right, and ignore everything (and everyone) else.

I believe however that you cannot live a fulfilling life, unless you are willing to take risks, even if those risks are interpreted in another’s paradigm as the “reckless” kind.

If your heart sings for a path, you take it, because even if you don’t reap the fruits of the risk, you still learn, you still grow, you still feel empowered, and you grow in personal complexity – and when you start succeeding, when you finally, after all those years in the desert, get to the well and taste the cold water, you still have to be willing to go on another adventure. Because one day the well will run dry.

We need risk as human beings. Uncertainty, I believe, is a basic human need, and too much certainty can lead to boredom and a lack of engagement in life.

In may ways life is a lot like a pendulum – one side represents the “potential for fulfillment”, and the other side represents the “potential for loss or pain (ie. risk”).

A pendulum swings the same distance in each direction, so if you are only willing to barely move it on the side of “potential loss” then the result of that hesitancy is that the pendulum can only swing back a very small distance on the side of “potential fulfillment”.

The people who are willing to swing that thing full tilt do run a much greater risk of loss, but they also have a much greater chance at being fulfilled. So we each get to choose the extent that we want our individual pendulums to swing.

So if you aren’t feeling fulfillment in your life, and your work, there is probably a good chance that you are holding tight to that pendulum.

My advice:

Give it a big swing, it might surprise you what will happen.

One Of My Goals: Hitting Flow Every Day

flow

In my work, every day, I’m looking to hit that “sweet spot” and find myself in “the zone”.

It doesn’t matter what I’m working on – business, writing, speaking – I want to hit flow, every day, because if I can hit flow then I grow in complexity as a individual, I do my best work, and most importantly, I really enjoy the process.

Flow is a principle that is well known in psychology and performance literature. First articled by Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience – it has been described as that optimal human condition of energized focused where all of our abilities are directed at the completion of a specific task.

When we are in a flow state we feel complete immersion in the activity that we are pursuing, so much so that when in a flow state, the rest of the world seems to disappear, and the only thing that exists is the task that is in front of us – time stands still, even hunger can go unnoticed.

All of us have been in a flow state – when we think back and recall these experiences we recognize that they are compelling, meaningful and also addictive (in a positive way).

In a flow state the sense of “self” is absorbed into the task we are pursuing, in a way that we don’t think about our “self” – there is a oneness with what we are doing.

Flow states, in my opinion, are the practical explanation of the esoteric principles of “presence” and “detachment”. Repeated flow states are how we progress, and these states can be induced in any environment – although I have found that they are easier to attain if the task that we are engaging in is in someway related to what we uniquely value as individuals.

When our values are aligned with what we do there isn’t internal resistance – therefore we are able to more easily submit ourselves, and lose ourselves in our tasks.

For example – some of my most strongly held values are freedom, autonomy, and creativity. So activities that allow me to express my creativity in a free and autonomous way are likely to engage a flow state. However, because I value freedom so much it is sometimes a challenge for me to channel a flow state when I’m in a compulsion driven activity – ie. doing something simply because I’m told to do it (which is why I struggled in a “big law firm” setting).

Unique value awareness, in my opinion, is the secret to channeling daily flow – which should be a goal for all of us, if we want to truly feel fulfillment in our work.

If we uniquely value community building, teamwork and the empowerment of others, then activities that allow us to experience this will channel flow for us, and be intrinsically rewarding, independent of any “reward” for our actions.

If we love puzzles and solving complex problems then activities in our career that allow us to experience these values will channel flow, and again be intrinsically rewarding.

If we love discovery, adventure, and are curious about the world, then actions in our job that allow us to experience these values will trigger flow, will be intrinsically rewarding, and will lead to personal fulfillment.

This principle is at the heart of a fulfilling career, and a fulfilling life – inducing flow experiences daily in activities that are aligned with what we uniquely value – and anyone can experience this in their career.

All we have to do is choose (or change into) a career where our daily activities allow us to experience the things that we uniquely value.

The Best Advice About Writing I’ve Ever Received

writers-block

I don’t consider myself a highly accomplished writer, as there are many goals that I have yet to achieve in the field; however, I do consider myself a Professional writer.

Here is why:

I control the definition of what the word “Professional” means, and according to me Professional means someone who: 1) writes every day; 2) has produced works that are in the public domain; and 3) earns income from their writing.

I do all three – therefore (according to me) I am a professional writer.

I want to share the very best advice that I’ve ever received on writing.  I didn’t make it up.  The advice comes from two very accomplished writers.

1) Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art: Break Through The Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

 War of Art

And 2) Stephen King’s book On Writing

On Writing

Essentially it is the same advice (paraphrased into my words):

Everyday you have to write.  

You have to choose a word quota and then hit that word quota.  

You have to learn to detach yourself from the “results” of your writing, and simply produce the words – even if they are crap, even if you throw them away, even if no one ever reads them, or worse, people read them and they think you can’t write to save your life, you still have to write them.  The barbarians can be at the gates, the thieves at your door, you don’t get up off your chair, and you don’t go to bed until your word quota is done. 

It’s as simple as that – but trust me – it’s profound in its application.

I have a word quota for myself – I established it in 2012 and it’s been the extremely rare day that I have missed it: 500 words.

Whether it be in the form of a blog, an article, an essay to myself (yes I do write those), a book – whatever – I’m not going to bed until I’ve written 500 words, and – most importantly – I’m going to detach my emotions from the process.  I’m going to write, detached, every single day.

Thank you Steven Pressfield and Stephen King – your advice has allowed me in 2 years to 1) write hundreds of blog posts and articles online.  2) write and publish my first book 2) write (as of today) 166 pages on my second book (to be announced later in the fall with a release in 2015).

The crazy thing is that 500 words doesn’t take that long, and it’s not that hard once you build the habit (Stephen King’s word quota by the way, as noted in On Writing, is 2000 words a day).

500 words is basically two pages of a “Microsoft Word” document with size 12 font.  Sometimes it takes an hour or two (or three on a slow day), but other times I can do it in 30 minutes when I hit flow.  The hardest part is just the commitment to sit down and do the work.  Once that commitment has been resolved into a rock solid habit the production becomes fantastic.

I’ve had a lot of aspiring writers talk to me since I published Unsuited – and they want to talk about how they can start writing as well.  The answer is profoundly simple:

Set a daily word quota – even if the word quota is 5 words a day in the beginning. Set the target, and hit it, detached, every single day, no matter what. 

starting today, be the hero of your story

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