Why we procrastinate and what to do about it.

Procrastination leads to negative results and can negatively impact yourself and your environment and your relationships. So why do we procrastinate? According to Tim Urban, blogger and speaker on psychological shortcomings says we tend to gear ourselves to instant gratification. We tend to get on a habitual cycle of putting it off, avoiding a deadline or just ignoring the importance of the issue and feeling no pressure at all by choosing some sort of a more immediate gratification. Where situations require no deadlines, procrastination can lead to avoiding a situation for a long period of time and very likely leading to suboptimal outcomes. Two forces are at work. “The monkey” as Tim describes, prefers to play, have fun and engages in a tug-of-war with the “rational decision maker”.

This ‘rational decision maker’ will remind you there is a much better solution if we put in some ground work, a good long term result can happen. You can be completely guided to a better and different ending. The positive reaction would be to bravely confront the situation, see that to completion and take your life in a entirely different direction and open yourself to unmentionable great opportunities. What would we be missing out on if we didn’t procrastinate? Fear of anything like failure, of success and trying to be perfect can paralyse your life decisions and then affect those around you.
How do we make situations more pleasant to motivate us away from procrastinating or delaying the outcome?

  • Self-awareness is the initial change to any habit. You may tend to procrastinate and are on the verge of taking the shortcut when you know conscientiously there is another better way around that issue.
  • Your perception of the matter could be skewed – and hence lead to resistance. It may be you who is the obstruction to achieving the goal. Was your boss being insensitive when she piled more work than you expected right before the weekend and caused negative feelings? Was your husband barking an order rather than politely asking you when you had a long day and you just didn’t want to do anything anymore? There could be situations where you just were not in the right frame of mind and you felt unhappy and in turn not motivated to do anything about it or even make an excuse.
  • Any bad perpetual habit can be dropped and replaced with a more helpful and healthy habit with practice. People with low self-belief – a subcategory of self-esteem – don’t t believe that they deserve the good things in life and tend to stay in their comfort zone. If you want a good outcome, good choices need to be made, even if that means ‘sacrificing’ the old self for a new self, a new comfort zone.
  • Before you start working on a task, befriend it first. Analyse what needs to be done and break the work down into smaller steps. Best if you can then tell others about your project or ambition. Set reasonable milestones as mini deadlines. Get someone to hold you accountable. Cater for the “monkey” by planning little treats on the way. Always and only treat yourself after you have completed a task or milestone.

Watch the video to learn more about Tim’s procrastination identifiers. We can avoid ‘The Dark Playground, leave the ‘Panic Monster’ behind and try to make the ‘Hard Things’ become just as ‘Easy and Fun’ because your choices today will impact your tomorrow for possible greatness. 

Inside the mind of a master procrastinator

The Complacency Catch

Did you do better than last year? Does that mean you rock? Does that mean you master what you do?

This is a story about complacency. Here is how I painfully found out about having become complacent twice during the course of a few years – and this only with regard to my swim training. Complacency is the loss of self-awareness and critical judgement in exchange for convenience and grandiosity. The pitfall we are all facing is to stop aspiring the wisdom of knowing what we can change in ourselves and in our environment. With this blog I want to bring you up to Speedo about my findings in the Arena of swimming, which you might as well apply to life in general.

ACKNOWLEDGING A PROBLEM

It was a long and hard training for me to become the brilliant well-built fast eel-like and humble swimmer that I am now. It’s only due to the gift of great selflessness that I don’t earn money with my swimming but leave this to other younger talents who are – of course – more in need than I am.

My knees gave the signal for a necessary change with increased pain due to my ambitious frog-legs movement. I swam only breast stroke for most of my life. Which constitutes for the first complacency. Two years ago I surprised myself with switching to freestyle quasi over night. This was faster, more elegant and put no strain on my knees. In hindsight I regret a bit not having had realised much earlier how smooth and beautiful the freestyle really is. 

I literally flip turned the script of my swimming in the public pools of Hong Kong. I had a good feel for the water since I was young and always felt in my element – never afraid of going under. I was not concerned about the strokes and the kicking. The biggest challenge for me was to get the sideways breathing right. Breathing unilaterally on the right hand side only I swallowed some of Kowloon’s finest while trying to catch air every second stroke.

LEARNING AND CONFIDENCE

Online videos helped me to understand movement and timing. I learned flip turn and soon was also able to breath on both sides. I forced myself to learn left and right hand breathing, because I understood that an unbalanced strain on neck and spine increased the risk of injury and neck deformation. Then my lungs developed and I switched to bilateral breathing, which greatly improved my speed and steadiness.

Since I became faster and fitter I swam longer distances and enjoyed variations of intervals which increased my confidence and stabilised my performance. I became the fastest swimmer in Lai Chi Cock during the afternoon sessions (amongst other swimmers often 20+ years older than me). Now it was time for a video analysis over and under water. I longed to see my metamorphosis into a dolphin and was convinced that the world – including my wife – deserved to witness the athletic resurrection of a 43y old caucasian male.

VALLEY OF TEARS AND MOVING ON

I found Dominic of Fastlane Swimming – a certified Swim Smooth trainer – who was prepared to capture my waterborn glory on a memory stick. Little did I anticipate how sobering my performance would be. I ticked all of the common mistakes and bad habits a freestyle swimmer can produce.

Hands diving in with thumbs first (bad for the shoulder), crossing over with my hands (inefficient style leading to a wiggly line), tilted body line with a turtle neck (slowing down and ugly), wide scissor legs to compensate for over-rotation, which in turn over-compensated for shock breathing (as opposed to continuously breathing out under water), straight arms in catch and pull (again,horror for the shoulders) and no sign of body-roll. The list was endless and painful. Endlessly painful. A quantum of solace was Dominic’s genuine confusion about how I could still swim so fast in spite of all of the above.

I was devastated. Instead of reassuring my grandiosity, the video revealed an underwhelming performance and an abundance of room for improvement. However, a few days later I was surprised with how much humour I could actually talk about my experience with the freestyle footage. After all, there was relief. I had not yet developed shoulder pain, my wife praised my butt cheeks and upper body on many occasions and I did enjoy swimming more than ever before. There was no reason to resign.

I now had something to work on. Myself.

REFLECTING AND KNOWING

It has been four month now since the video analysis and I introduced many changes to my swimming and to my life. At first my performance became lousy and I sometimes thought about reverting to my old but fast style of swimming. I didn’t. Now I am already faster than before with much stronger underarms due to an improved catch and pull from the elbows – amongst others.

The whole experience made me think ‘How often do we become pleased with ourselves based on improved performance or based on just feeling good about ourselves?’ In other words: Are you complacent right now, right there where you are? And in which area of your life are you complacent right now? Because you are. We all are.

Do you feel good about your sport or physical exercise? Your spiritual development and your social circles? Do you feel confident in your job, your profession your calling? Do you think you perform well in your other roles as a member of your society, partner, lover, colleague, friend or parent?

It is easy to become complacent when you measure efficiency as increased performance. You are faster, have more money, shuffle more emails and slapped out more of the same. As seen in my swimming, this is not sustainable and there is no increase in quality. My view was narrowed to efficiency and discounted effectiveness. I did not do the right things. I became complacent. In addition, for a long time I was not prepared to ask for help.

Are you already procrastinating? Or do you still distract yourself?

What I am hearing over and over from men of all walks of life with all kinds of professions, sexual preferences, educational, cultural and family backgrounds – is, that they seem to be unable to overcome the distractions of modern life in general and expat life in particular.

They repeatedly fail to stick to what they actually intend to do. What most people want to change in their lives can often be brought down to day to day behaviour: Going to bed earlier, going to bed when tired, eating less, eating more healthy, spending less time at work and more time with partners and family – to name a few.

Most men report to be desperate to stick to their goals, introduce a healthy routine of physical workout, adhere to healthy sleep and eat what is right. 

Most of these goals fall into one of two categories: limiting consumption and living healthier lives. 

In addition to that, they want to overcome the unsurmountable Mordor of procrastination. Often this means to fight a battle with passivity in order to make space for the cultivation of activity. 

When I run men’s groups I enjoy the dynamic of having around 8 grown up men in a room for two hours in a non-BS environment. That means not in a bar, not showing off and not competing. Instead it means being yourself, listening to challenges and tuning in with each other’s experience of life. 

From these groups I learned a great deal about what men in general go through and how to best support them. While the questions for many people seem to be similar in nature, the answers are entirely individual. 

Motivation is essential. To get a life back and to keep it alive. Why you make choices the way you do is a valid and very helpful question. The mental strategiesn measures of change in your behaviour are most effective and sustainable when you customise them according to your circumstances.

Life in Balance

Your goals are not your values. Goals can be set, ticked off or put on a shelf as a trophy. They are achievements, moments, possessions. You can’t live them as such. Your values can be lived. They are what you represent. Like an energy radiating out of you. Owning a yacht is a goal. Sailing is a value. You can look back onto your life and say “I owned a yacht” or “I sailed the oceans”. That might be quite a different experience and also a very different perspective.

The more you live according to your own values in life, the more you will succeed in finding your Life Balance. Having found your purpose in life is the ultimate realization of living according to your values. Your purpose also incorporates your talent, passion and strengths.

You might want to become Head of Department, own a company or give a speech in the park. These are all goals. You might also want to give joy and happiness to people around you, inspire others and want to be known for promoting healthy living. All values. While you are living these values you might be able to achieve to own a company or become a leader or give a speech in public.
Transitions in life often prove difficult and lengthy. In order to find your purpose in life you need to overcome your biggest fears, eliminate your favorite distractions and face your dominant concerns. 

Is your job your purpose? Or is your job your calling? Or is purpose something else – nothing to do with work?

Why would that even make any difference? Is your purpose “Having a family and providing for it”?

I am happy to show you the benefits of asking these questions.

TAKE A BREAK

Do you know stein-holding competitions? The Hong Kong Octoberfest has just finished after many successful weeks. One of the games they play on stage is to ask some people to compete in who is able to hold a full liter of beer on a stretched arm for the longest. These competitions typically only last a few minutes, because human muscles will wear out and get tired quickly and the contestants will start to feel more discomfort or even pain until they set the weight down. What feels like one kilogram in the very beginning quickly changes in your perception and after a few minutes feels overwhelmingly heavy and like a weight you are no longer able to handle. If you put down the glass for just a few seconds and release your arm, you are able to hold the glass again for a while.

Frequent short breaks are necessary to refresh and recharge.

Imagine your MIND being a muscle that handles stress, attention, memory and concentration. If you never give it a chance to “stretch”, rest and refresh, the same thing will happen to your mind as it will to your arm in a stein holding competition: it fatigues. All the little things you need to remember, problems you need to find solutions for and relationships you need to manage will add up in your mind and after a while feel unbearable and hence more stressful. More stress in turn affects your well-being, mood, interaction with people and ability to care for yourself.

Sabbatical 3/3

Three Top challenges for a meaningful Sabbatical and how to deal with doubts

Your top 3 challenges in living a fulfilled and meaningful sabbatical are:

Not being clear.

Not being focused.

Not being relaxed.

“Relaxed?” you might ask. Indeed, if you are clear and you are focused, then there no need not to be relaxed. Tensing up will not help you. Becoming dull, lazy or mindless is not being relaxed. Chilling out is not being relaxed. You can pursue a meaningful life while being relaxed – without hammock and beer. Relaxed means not being stressed. Not being stressed means balancing your capacity with your tasks. As if your life depended on it.

Of course you have doubts and concerns. “What do you mean “my first day back in the office”?” I hear you say. Maybe you are not sure what you want to do after this. Maybe you don’t even know what to do with this. So you learn Spanish eventually and then what? You live in Hong Kong, work for an Australian company, go to Thailand on vacation and love Japanese food. True, you can read Paulo Coelho in any language. But there is more to life than just functioning – I reckon. Share your concerns with others and talk about your doubts. The answer might lie in the way you feel about things when you hear yourself talking. If you are looking for a wholesome journey, then start by tuning in to yourself – as a body and mind experience. Ticking off boxes, fulfilling tasks and reaching set targets will often not make you  happy if your heart is not in it.

One more thing: Document your journey in some way!

You don’t need to have an agency working for you nor do you need to have your own blog, Facebook page or twitter account dedicated to your sabbatical experience. However, documenting your experience in some way or another will be helpful. It helps you reflect on you aspirations and adjust towards your goals if needed. It also helps you learn and develop a sense of achievement. Furthermore, while documenting your experience you will know if your heart is still in it – if the sabbatical carries your signature.

If your documentation enables feedback from friends and family or other followers, you can use this to help you stay focused and aware. Journal or reflect on your time spent ongoingly. Do not wait until the time is up or even worse postpone reflection to a later future stage. The learning and adjusting must happen while it happens: in the here and now! What you do later on can be done in addition.

Sabbatical being an amplified concept of life as such!

Sabbatical 2/3

Know your distractions as if your life depended on it!

So you take time off work and want to make the best out of it? Be mindful of some of the things that might hinder you making the most out of your time. Knowing your distractions can help you to steer clear.

Reflect back on last week. Where and how did you spend time on activities that were not in sync with your aspirations? Now ask yourself: did you make a conscious decision to spend time on those activities? And did you stick to that time? You will find that very often this is not the case. You need to develop the awareness of where you put your focus of attention and then having the courage to remember what you actually wanted to do. This as the ultimate path to being satisfied with your sabbatical in particular and your life in general. Funny enough, the same basic principle as applies to simple awareness of breathing exercises and other mindfulness practices.

Being effective – The courage to remember

Having the end in mind is essential for your mental balance and in order to formulate aspirations which can guide you day by day and week by week. Only the definition of clear and measurable intentions enables you to keep track of your course. Clear goals – like “I want to read one chapter of a book per day” or “I want to run 30km per week” – are measurable and achievable yet give you the freedom of how you allocate your time within a day or a week.

PURPOSE IN LIFE – part one and a half – finding purpose

Remember the purpose statement attempt from last week?

Here is more. And more hands-on.

Read through the following questions to better understand the implications of having purpose in life:

Do I have a sense of genuine happiness that glows deep inside of me?

Do I feel clear minded about the things I do – with the clarity coming easy to me?

Is it natural for me to come up with projects to grow, evolve, enhance or change what I do?

Do others seek me as an expert, teacher or consultant?

Have I never felt boredom – ever?

Am I relaxed and at ease with myself?

Am I less concerned about the daily news and have reduced reading newspapers?

Do I feel that I can choose my distractions wisely and consciously?

Does my mind become creative during leisurely activities?

When holidays end, do I look forward to going back to where I came from?

If you answer most of these questions with yes, then you very likely have found some kind of purpose in life. If not, find people around you who do answer these questions with yes!! Do it now! Because you are running out of time!!

Let me know whom you found. 

Here examples of purpose statements which were the outcomes of an exercise we did in one of my men’s groups: 

Purpose Statement 1 – Director Communications – Financial Industry

“My purpose in life is to make a positive contribution to the world by creating engaging and visually appealing messages [texts, photos, videos], to analyze, tell the truth, and to coach and mentor others so that they have the opportunity to excel in their jobs and in life.”

“My purpose in life is to help people cope, develop and heal by leading meaningful conversations and encounter individuals, couples and groups with empathy and enthusiasm.”

PURPOSE IN LIFE – part one – finding purpose

So you want to know what your purpose in life is? And you really have no clue what it could be? Really no idea?

And now that you ask yourself these questions, you start to feel a bit anxious about adding some awareness to this. Maybe you hear a voice in your mind that says that this whole purpose discussion is not important and that we all die anyway and life is too short and meaningless to waste time on such a philosophical matter. Or maybe you just now conclude that god knows and guides you and that it is not in your hands what to make of your life. Or, you simply define roles,  moral standards or goals as your purpose: “being a good father”; “being a reliable housewife”; “leading a humble simple life”; “not harming others”, “building a house” and if you are Chinese or have lived too long in Hong Kong maybe “becoming rich” seems like a fantastic purpose to surf on.

So why is purpose important? Fulfilling your purpose in life holds the power to create genuine happiness. This as a source of energy which helps us living our lives with more confidence and less fear. The clarity about your own individual purpose is the antidote for your anger, anxiety, and depression. Living your live more purposefully will reduce your levels of stress and increase sustainable well-being.

Let’s uncover this thing in two steps:

First we want to know what we actually mean by FINDING PURPOSE in life.

Second we want to ACCESS AND MAINTAIN PURPOSE in our lives.

FINDING PURPOSE

Purpose in life seems to have something to do with MISSION, CALLING, VALUES, STRENGTHS, TALENT and PASSION amongst others. We keep it inside of us – often hidden somewhere

My preferred way of understanding purpose is to make it explicit as a mission statement. Something you commit to through your speech and behaviour ongoingly, but what you will never accomplish or tick off, but rather constantly aspire and pay into – similar to contributions to the account for your godchild. In this sense it is very similar to values.

For example I value being outdoors and close with nature; life-long learning, humour and friendship. Therefore I love hiking, sailing, camping, reading, writing, teaching, training, comedy, making others laugh and keeping in touch regularly with my three friends I know since Kindergarten (currently living in Panama, Zurich and Munich).

But purpose does not superpose values. Here examples of purpose as mission statements: “I create meaning in my life and the lives of others by reducing suffering and dissatisfaction. In my way of doing this I focus on meaningful conversations and awareness of myself.”

The next blog entry to this text  will contain 10 essential questions to ask yourself or someone with purpose around you. Stay tuned!

COMMON NON-SENSE and the art of giving feedback

I don’t like references to common sense, because – let’s face it – what we experience as common sense more often than not turns out to be a lot of non-sense when looking at it more closely. Here is an example: remember the last time you flew as one of many passengers on an aircraft? Think about these two questions 1.) Where did you put your carry-on luggage before taking your seat? 2.) What did you do after landing right after the “fasten seat belts” sign went off?

Let me guess: You put your luggage into the overhead compartment exactly above your head. And when the sign went off, you jumped up as if some poisonous snake had just tried to bite you. But Why? Maybe you are scared that someone takes your stuff or steals from your belongings. It does not matter how substantial this worry is, it’s there and it makes you jump up. It’s very common, and seen from a distance it is common non-sense.

What if everyone would place his/her belongings into the overhead compartment on the other side of the aisle? CRAZY that would be – right? absolutely outrageous. Think about it for a moment. Let the craziness of that thought slowly evaporate and then acknowledge that doing so could actually help you worry less about where your bag is and if your belongings are still safe – because you could better keep an eye on your stuff!

Now, back to common non-sense in couples counselling. When it comes to relationships clients often reveal the following misbelief. They are convinced that communicating personal experience (better known as “giving feedback”) has something to do with embellishing the truth or a requirement to beat around the bush.

Furthermore, in my men’s groups I often hear, that the proper way to tell someone that he or she has areas of improvement is to sandwich this message between at least two positive remarks. This then often ends up like “Hey Seb, I like your tie and by the way you suck big time. But hey, you are really a funny guy!”. To be clear here: this is NOT feedback! This is HR talk in a german multinational automotive supplier in the early 90ties. It is that sort of horrible experience that people write about 20 years later on their blog.

When we give feedback to our partners or anywhere else where we show up as a person –  we do this by connecting with our hearts. Do this ONLY a) because you care about the other and b) because you want to support the other. Moreover, you will want to ask for permission (“Can I share my experience with you …”) and you do NOT want to package or sandwich anything. You do want to be honest about what is relevant. That requires you to refer to behaviour and not to personality.