The time to reflect on the year gone by and plan for the next is upon us once more.
Each year I like to consciously recognise what went well, what didn’t, and to identify the differences that made THE difference between the two. You can see the full process I follow here – Annual Review 2013.
Overall, 2014 has been an amazing year full of new countries, people and experiences. I cycled 8600 miles from Turkey, through Iran, with a stop off in Dubai on route to India, Nepal, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and into Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I now reside. That said, much of what I set out to achieve has not come to pass.
I’ll spare you the details this year and concentrate instead on the differences that made THE difference:
Belief, Focus and Attitude
Each goal I didn’t achieve came down to a lack of focus on the desired outcome, each goal I achieved happened due to consistent focus on what I wanted. On the surface this is not rocket science, or particularly helpful, I had to dig deeper to uproot the factors that re-directed my focus.
More often than not, fear, discomfort or self doubt about my ability to achieve a specific goal shifted my focus away from the steps required to make it a reality – focusing instead on the reasons why I could not achieve the goal. At the time, the shift in focus was unconscious, usually triggered by an obstacle and followed by negative self-talk.
For example, when learning a language in a new country I would use words and phrases of the target language with native speakers, and still not be understood (speaking Scottish in different languages often creates that result!). That would act as an obstacle to learning the language, followed by frustration and negative self-talk which shifted my focus onto the reasons why I could not learn the language. All of which reinforced any underlying fear, discomfort or self doubt I had about learning the new language. On a higher level my focus on learning languages shifted to the route of least resistance: charades! Unfortunately, that was a very ineffective way of communicating and often resulted in frustrating exchanges of money for stuff I didn’t want – think: offal stew or sheep’s head instead of rice and vegetables!
Over the last few months I struggled to add a new blog post each week because I got out of the habit of writing, which made the process more difficult. I then started to question if I had anything valuable to say (lack of belief) and allowed negative self-talk to sabotage my writing efforts. Whether I do have anything valuable to say is questionable, but there’s nothing new about that.
The point is that writing, being creative, learning a new language, meditating, cycling or practising yoga all require different mental and physical muscles. When we stop flexing them they atrophy – sadly, we can’t go to the gym once and remain fit forever – we have to keep going. In my experience, just consistently showing up is more important than what you do once you get there because it reinforces belief, attitude and focus towards what one wants.
The same pattern of thoughts and behaviours was present when I looked at each of my failures and caused me to consider how I could fundamentally hack the cycle.
Conversely, when I looked at my successes they all occurred as a result of unquestionable belief and persistent, habitual behaviour. Cycling, practising yoga and meditating are areas where I achieved what I set out to, not because I didn’t meet obstacles, fear, discomfort or self doubt, but because I believed I could overcome them, and made a habit of doing so.
Beliefs, focus and attitude influence what we achieve through the stories we tell ourselves about what we can and can’t do. Most of these stories are whispered in the back of our minds just outside of conscious awareness, silently orchestrating our every move. Many of which are repeated so often that even when we become aware of them they are still accepted as the truth. But we are not the sum of our past and we have the ability to re-write our stories.
The important lessons I’m taking away from this year are:
- The things that get done happen as a result of habitual behaviour. Turn goals into habits.
- Consciously choose the beliefs and attitudes that direct focus towards what you want, then fiercely protect them.
- Right thinking creates right action – pay attention to what you are thinking.
- Fulfilment comes from struggling for something worth struggling for.
When I feel down, pessimistic, worried, overwhelmed or lack confidence it is always because I’m NOT struggling towards the stuff I think is worth struggling for. When I take the easy option too often, which normally involves consuming instead of doing, life gradually becomes un-fulfilling.
To make use of these lessons in 2015 my goals are all centred around cultivating the right behaviours on a daily basis.
- Wake at 5:30am
- Yoga and meditation 1 – 1.5 hours
- Creative writing 500 – 1000 words or 3 hours
- Vietnamese language learning 30 – 60 mins
- Coaching English learners 3 – 5 hours
- Eat whole foods or no foods
- Reading 30 – 60 mins
- Meditate minimum 20 mins before bed
Cycling doesn’t feature as I intend to stay put, earn money and integrate into the local area. To make it more achievable I will concentrate on following the daily schedule five days a week.
Hopefully, each of the daily tasks will move me closer to achieving my overall goal for 2015, which is, ‘mastering the inner game through increased self awareness.’ There are many specific goals I aim to achieve, however, fundamentally I want to gain better control over my mind! I’m aware that sounds very woo woo but the link between increased self awareness and external performance improvements is widely documented and gathering pace by the day.
Fitz Pearls, one of the founders of Gestalt therapy, said that ‘awareness in and of itself is curative.’ Meaning we can change our stories by consciously identifying what they are AND recognising if they serve us or not.
I have found Meditation to be the most effective way to increase self awareness. I know this term may conjure images of tree hugging hippies – meditation has a PR problem – but don’t let that stand in the way of the benefits. Recent scientific research has shown meditation to enhance attention, increase test scores, reduce stress, boost immune function, increase grey matter density, increase cortical thickness and the integrity of connections between brain regions important for cognitive control. The research on meditation is in its infancy, however, the implications of what is already known has proven that the brain is not ‘fixed’ in late adolescence, with regard to personality and innate potential, as was previously believed for decades by neuroscientists and psychologists. Meditation actually plays an important role in brain plasticity, facilitating changes in personality and potential.
Cycling around the world was always an experiment to explore the world around me and within me. The discoveries I’m making along the way are literally guiding me to places I did not know exist. But everywhere I go, there I am.
The inner journey is proving much more challenging than the outer, and over the next year I will be writing about how I get on sticking to a prescribed daily schedule. Will it lead to greater happiness and fulfilment, or misery?
Only one way to find out!