What do you do? How do you do it? And perhaps most importantly, why do you do it?
Many people never take the time to stop and smell the roses, as they say. So what on earth would make them stop for long enough to examine their own behavior, analyze it, and take corrective measures?
What would make them realize that they have all of the answers? That all they need to know is where to look for them?
Well, articles like this, hopefully.
Intention might be invisible, but so is air. And you need that stuff.
The chances are that you’re familiar with the following tired, yet tried and true sentiment: Intention accounts for a massive chunk of reality. Sure, it could be classified as a cliché, but that doesn’t do anything to debunk its validity.
Say that you hold the door for an old lady as she scoots her motorized cart through it. Where was your head – rather, where was your heart when you made that split-second decision?
Was it truly an altruistic, self-sacrificial, enlightenment-filled, bleeding-heart-driven random act of kindness?
Or was it one of those “If I just walk right through without letting her in, the cashier will see and I’ll look like a huge jerk,” situations?
We know what you’re thinking: “Either way, I held the door, so what’s the difference?”
The difference might seem invisible right now, but you can uncover it by zooming out and taking a screen shot of your life over time.
Examining the deeper reasoning, motivation, or purpose that underlies your actions and behavior is often the key to amending the tendencies you have and trading up for better, healthier, and more productive ones.
“Well how exactly am I supposed to get started? It seems like way too broad of a concept to wrestle, and I don’t know where to take the first bite.”
Up top, you need to know this: You can talk the talk for the rest of your natural life without ever actually taking even a single baby step in the right direction. Actions speak louder.
So many people get caught in the trap of being vague with their goals. Surely you’ve seen speakers and even brands boast about “the hustle” like it’s going out of style, but what exactly is it that they are doing?
You will find that focusing on real, actionable, tangible ways to increase productivity and reach for the stars will bear noticeably more fruit. I mean, we’re talking a whole orchard more.
The setting of concrete goals while keeping your vision clear and transparent will help you with both the formulation of a game plan and the whole “sticking to it” part.
Step 1: Toot your own horn (aka list your career highlights).
This could seem hard to narrow down at first, but think of it this way: Zero in on the events that had the greatest positive impact on you, your attitude, and how you operate in both the business and personal realms of your life.
Some things seem small on the outside, but make serious waves internally, so be sure to include those as well. Size isn’t important here, but magnitude is, if that makes sense. The effect these events had on you is the key.
Now, it is painfully true how accurate the yin/yang dynamic is and how applicable it seems to be in every situation. Balance is a constant, and polarity can get you into trouble when you try to isolate two sides of the very same coin.
Many of the things we experience in our journeys are riddled with both pleasurable and stomach-churning aspects, and we get that. Don’t get caught up here.
Maybe you achieved a lifelong goal, but totally neglected your significant other in the process, and your distraction from the romance totally tanked your relationship.
Although they appear inseparable, see if you can focus on the good and the bad one at a time – at least for this exercise.
Not every little thing is as objectively black or white as we would like it to be, but for this step, we are really urging you to separate the wheat from the chaff as best you can.
Starting off on a positive foot should ease you into the process. These highlights can come in a plethora of shapes and sizes, so definitely avoid preoccupying yourself with whether or not something is worthy enough to make the list.
See if you can list five especially memorable, spine-tingling moments when you had that unshakeable feeling that you were on the right path, at long last.
Of course, winning an award or receiving praise from publications and judges would fall under this category. However, don’t forget that dedication-inspiring encouragement like that can just as easily grace your journey on a smaller scale.
That is, if you’re paying close enough attention.
Sometimes, a simple letter of thanks from a happy customer or a smile from someone whose life has changed as a result of your care and attention can do wonders for the soul.
After all, what better validation is there than knowing that you made a positive impact on the life of someone else?
Got your list? Okay, on to the not-as-fun-but-equally-as-important part of the process.
Step 2: List your career low-lights. That’s a word, right? No? Well it should be. I’m calling Merriam-Webster.
At first glance, this part might seem expendable and borderline disqualifiable because of the very nature of what you’re digging up.
Who wants to relive mistakes? Who wants to live in the past? Who wants to beat themselves up over regrets and think about the negative when they can just as easily focus on the positive?
While those gripes are perfectly valid, please don’t be turned off by this. It is admittedly not as ego-stroking as the first step, but we promise, it matters just as much.
In the present moment, negative events that have had a major impact on you can be turned into life-giving opportunities to learn and improve instead of simple lingering skeletons in your dust-filled, and in all likelihood odorous, closet.
A failure is just an opportunity to learn, adjust, and win in the future. If you approach this list with that mindset, you’ll be relieved at how painless it can be to rifle through your past.
These low-lights (give me a break, we’ll trademark it or something), like the highlights you listed already, can come in all sorts of forms, so stay open and try not to pass any judgment just yet.
A seemingly harmless mistake like ringing a celebrity up with the wrong coupon code and being mortally embarrassed certainly counts.
On the other end of the spectrum, a major lapse in judgment that resulted in your termination from a position would also qualify.
Some of the other common negative events that could make the list include receiving criticism from someone you respect (or even a perfect yet ruthless stranger on Yelp), taking more than you are giving to your position, or underperforming because of a poor attitude.
Hopefully, you will be able to fill both of your lists with 5 items each, which will keep the next steps nice and balanced.
This world isn’t fair as it is, so you might as well be as diplomatic as you can be when dealing with your own performance.
Step 3: Look for a common thread. There has to be something stringing all of these items together.
Obviously, if you are just taking things for their surface-level value, you will retort with something like, “What does me winning the Nobel Prize have to do with that time I dropped a vase when I worked at Target?”
This means that you’re not digging deep enough, pal. Grab that shovel and go to town. Dig straight to China if you have to. Take the time to read into the subtext of the events, and you just might strike gold.
Because it can be sort of tricky to pick these things apart on your own without being overcome by self-defense and eager justification, we recommend sharing your list with a friend to get an unbiased outside opinion.
This person will serve as a fresh pair of eyes and ears. Find someone that you trust and respect deeply, book a coffee date, and bring a notepad. The odds are that this friend will hear things you didn’t even say, and likely couldn’t have seen on your own.
Don’t be surprised if you come up with multiple common threads – this is normal, and means that your potential for self-improvement is now greater than you expected. Score!
When looking for this thread, it would help to boil everything down into a more generalized form. We’re talking about zooming out and getting a big-picture perspective on each item.
By doing this, you would realize that dropping a vase could be a form of inattentiveness or absentmindedness. Maybe you were looking at a particularly attractive customer, or goofing off with another employee, or you were trying to text.
As for winning the Nobel Prize, you could maybe break that down into a striving for recognition, fame, achievement, success, or excellence. Do you have a competitive nature? Are you goal-oriented? Insatiably driven?
Maybe you just wanted to be onstage in front of a buttload of people to receive an award. Maybe you just wanted to give that acceptance speech. Maybe you get a kick out of having a large platform. These are all possible generalizations you could extract from that.
Likewise, another common theme that pops up in the lives of many is the desire to help others and make a positive impact. Bringing value to this world, answering questions, solving problems, and changing lives.
When you really examine the fundamental atom-sized building blocks that comprise your intentions, isn’t that the ultimate hunger of countless wantrepreneurs around the globe?
Step 4: Break it down. Like, again. But further.
Okay, so this is a lot like step 3, we know. What sets this level apart is that you should be looking for massive, general overarching themes that pervade every step you take in your career – the good ones, the bad ones, and even the ugly ones.
This is sort of like trying to discern the moral of a movie when they don’t lay it on very thick in the dialogue or the plot. Sometimes you leave the theater thinking, “Why on earth did any of that even happen? What was I supposed to take from that?”
These are the questions you are trying to answer with this step. You are literally finding your “why” – and once you address that, the rest of the revelation starts to flow in much more smoothly. You’ve finally gotten to the bottom of it. Congratulations!
Some examples of these hyper-general and oversimplified themes include the building and preservation of relationships and the value of an “I can totally overcome this and bounce back stronger than ever” attitude.
“To be honest, I didn’t read this whole article. It’s too long. I just kind of skimmed while scrolling to the bottom to see if there was a recap.”
You’ve got something better to do? Fine. Let’s go over what we’ve learned and how and why it helps.
First, you need to ask what you are doing. Seriously, what the heck are you doing? That’s the initial step that kicks it all off, and for this, you need a very basic level of self-awareness.
The next level down, underneath that crust, is the how. How do you do what you do? In what manner do you carry out your daily activities? Through what means? With what attitude?
If you’ve answered these questions, and you’ve managed to dig this deep, pat yourself on the back. The why is the most essential, and yet most evasive, aspect in the relationship between you and your behavior.
Simply ask yourself, Why am I doing this? Essentially, this is searching for the root, what connects the trunk and its branches to the soil, nutrients, and other things that this digging/plant metaphor need to stay afloat.
Your intention is of the utmost importance. Once you discover why you do these things, you can easily pinpoint the healthiest, safest, most responsible and productive route of pursuing the deeper things you’re actually striving for.
This direct approach provides enough clarity to boost your efficiency so that you can spend your valuable time cutting to the chase.
Have you ever heard someone aimlessly ramble on for an hour? You just want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them, shouting in their face, “GET TO THE POINT ALREADY!”
You might even find yourself doing that with this article, but the miracle of it is that you are already there. You have found the point. You’re standing in it. The point, of this and quite literally everything, is the why.
Dive into this, and you find the key that unlocks what makes you tick. There is no better way to equip yourself for productivity than this.
“Okay, so you talked my ear off about giant, overarching themes. Does this article have one?”
Of course it does. We didn’t string you along for no reason. You know us better than that.
We touched on it several times here, but it wouldn’t hurt to reiterate: Intention, mentality, and attitude are kings. These aspects of the why have an undeniable impact on the outcome of anything you do.
Begin this series with the intention of becoming more productive so you can better achieve your goals (winning awards, receiving validation, building relationships, helping others, impacting the world, etc.) and watch what happens next.
Luckily for you, we have the intention of helping you do exactly that, and two heads are better than one.