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Facing the Flinch

Facing the Flinch

flinch: /flinCH/ – verb (used without object)

  1. to draw back or shrink, as from what is dangerous, difficult, or unpleasant. 

  2. to shrink under pain; wince.

For the past two weeks, I’ve been taking cold showers every day. I did not mean to, it just happened. The geyser broke, and instead of getting it fixed, I thought to myself, Benjamin Hardy has this whole thing about cold showers and why they are important. Apparently, taking cold showers everyday helps to build discipline. So instead of fixing the situation and returning to the cozy warm showers I’m used to, I decided to let it be, and dive into the experience of cold showers.

At first it was quite hard. Then it got a bit easier. Now when I go to take a shower, I switch the tap on, and dive in immediately. No time to think about how cold it is, and how uncomfortable it is. I don’t even let my mind start, I just dive in and embrace the pain. The first few seconds are tough, the sharp cold water hitting my skin, lungs hyperventilating, the burst of millions of neurons firing off in my brain during the experience. Eventually, it gets easier, and soon enough I forget that the water is cold, I’m deep in it by that point.

The aftermath is a bit interesting too, that feeling of being alive. The same feeling after you finish from the gym. That sensation that you tackled something tough and came out the other side. You are not as soft, you are a little harder, a little tougher, you lose your fear of the cold. Where others shrink back, you move boldly forward. You are a warrior.

There’s the idea of ‘The Flinch’ which I read about for the first time back in 2011. Julien Smith, the author of the book by the same name refers to the flinch as that instinctive fear that pops up once we have to take uncomfortable action. The fear evolved over thousands of years, keeping our ancestors alive in the savannah plains as they navigated a harsh and unforgiving world. That knee jerk reaction to any semblance of danger was many times the line between life and death, the difference between being the hunter and being the prey.

But we don’t live in that ancient dangerous and precarious world anymore. We live in general safety now. And even though there is a lot of bad, and there is a lot to worry about, things are on the whole better than they have ever been. But the flinch remains. It shows up as the lump in your throat as you contemplate talking to the attractive girl at the bar, the pounding in your chest as you think to raise your opinion in the board meeting. All echoes of our evolutionary programming.

We let this flinch metastasize into this amorphous fear monster that keeps us locked in our comfort zones and prevents us from taking the action required to move us forward to the next level. In the journey of getting what you want, at some point the rubber must actually hit the road. You must actually do the things and take action. And that is where many of us fail. Because it is nice to talk about it, it is nice to dream, it is nice to make the plans and hold the intention. Actually taking action and doing the thing is tough. But it can be done, and we must do it.

Know the flinch for what it is, a specter, a ghost. Meet it with bold action and find that it quickly dissipates. Get into the habit of the zero second rule. When you wake up in the morning, get right up, don’t hit snooze, don’t think about it, just get up. Remove the amount of dilly dallying in your life. You finish eating a meal, wash the dishes right away, don’t let them sit in the sink and fester away. You have a task to do, don’t procrastinate, get it done now, or do something to move it forward. You need to make a call, make that call. Don’t think about it, just pick up the phone and do it.

It will feel hard, but it will get easier. The more you do and step outside your comfort zone, the better you get at it. You will feel your discipline getting stronger. The things that were so hard will get progressively easier and you will get addicted to the feeling, soon enough you are climbing higher and tackling harder things.

Your flinch has become your worst enemy. It should be a summoning, a challenge to push forward. – Smith, Julien (The Flinch)

I was thinking about fear the other day, and if it was possible to reframe the feeling to help us instead of holding us back. What if we looked at that sensation, the feeling of adrenaline coursing through our veins, the thumping in the chest as something exciting as opposed to something to be scared of? What if we pushed forward through it? What if we learned to crave that feeling, and actually began to seek it out, going after the things that we fear so that we can feel that high? What if we turned fear into fuel?

Imagine how incredible that would be and what it would do for your life. Imagine your comfort zone expanding to cover a vast amount of things and experiences. Imagine the possibilities.

Train yourself to flinch forward, and your world changes radically. You respond to challenges by pushing ahead instead of shrinking back. – Smith, Julien (The Flinch)

I have a friend who is amazing at meeting new people. He would go out night after night by himself to new places and just strike up conversations with people. That’s the sort of thing most people are absolutely terrified of doing. But for some reason, it fuels him. It was never his default setting, he had to learn it, to deal with the fear, to embrace the excitement of new experiences and just get out there.

It was with him in mind that I recently went to a client party by myself. I walked in only knowing the client and the boss, in a party of about 50 people. I was absolutely terrified by the prospect, but I just went. It was incredibly awkward at first, but eventually I struck up a conversation with a 40-something year old man and his colleague, then eventually ended up hanging out with another group of people and making new friends. At the end of the night I was tearing up the dance floor with strangers. People I usually won’t be interacting with. And it turned out to be a fun and fulfilling night.

One of my favorite quotes of all time comes from the book – The 50th law by Robert Greene and 50 Cent. It is actually inscribed on the back of the book, it says ‘nihil timendum est’ which translates directly from latin as ‘Nothing is frightening’ or more colloquially as ‘Fear Nothing’. It inspires me to remember that fear is not real, it is all about how we perceive and interpret events. And as fear falls away, we grow our own power to deal with things and affect the change we want, and even where we can’t, we learn not be mentally tormented by these things but to maintain our peace and equanimity about things.

Face the flinch, and defeat it, everything you want is on the other side of fear.

Play to your strengths

Play to your strengths

I was watching Thor Ragnarok again the other day, and started to think about superheroes, the entire pantheon of characters that fascinate and entertain us. The big kick of watching these shows / movies is the Hero’s Journey, the protagonist being called to a seemingly impossible quest to save something or stop something else. What makes superhero stories more exciting (at least for me) is the fact they are superhuman. They have an ability or skill that sets them apart. And when you bring an entire team of remarkable individuals like this together, they can fight the battles and do the things we could never.

You have a quest, the quest of getting what you want. You are pursuing your goals and desires. They might seem intimidating and far-fetched right now, but you have been gifted powers too, powers to help you. Your gifts are in the form of innate strengths and inclinations. They might be obvious to you, or they may be lying dormant, waiting to be tapped into. They provide a hint to what your purpose is and the gift you must give to the world.

We have discussed the need to know yourself in the quest to getting what you want. On the road there, knowing and leveraging your ‘special powers’ is an invaluable resource. It provides that competitive advantage. And so, you have to ask yourself, what are those things you excel at, or execute easily? The things that come so naturally to you, they are basically second nature. Things you do so well, you take for granted that not everyone can do those things. Those are your powers, those are your strengths. And often, if you think back, you can trace them as far back as your childhood.

Strengths are not activities you’re good at, they’re activities that strengthen you. A strength is an activity that before you’re doing it you look forward to doing it; while you’re doing it, time goes by quickly and you can concentrate; after you’ve done it, it seems to fulfil a need of yours.

– Marcus Buckingham

In those formative years, there are the things we were inexplicably drawn to, avenues that sparked curiosity and boundless energy to explore. For me, it was arts, I found quick wins learning to draw, make art, write plays and poetry. I was learning to use words, imagery and to express ideas. As time goes on, we gain new abilities, new interests, but they are always rooted in something true that has existed since infancy. For me, everything ties back to the joy of creation and expression.

In the bid to conform and succeed, we are sometimes forced to contort ourselves to fit certain roles, and so we lose core parts of ourselves. Your strengths are your golden ticket, your entry key to the life you have the potential to live. Lasting success and fulfilment comes from understanding that everyone has a unique temperament, a peculiar build and It is important to honour yours.

Your powers are not just the obvious things like creative arts, or skill with your hands, they include even the more obscure ones. Powers like empathy – the ability to feel what other people are feeling and see from their perspective. The ability to look at an idea and see all the ways it could be improved and made better. The ability to organize and make a complex endeavor like a live event run smoothly. The ability to learn and adapt quickly. The ability to encourage and inspire. The ability to make people laugh. The ability to persuade people. The ability to diffuse tense situations and help conflicting parties come to satisfactory resolution. The force of will to persevere in dire situations. The ability to plan and break down a big hairy audacious goal to practical steps.

These are all soft skills, and they are all examples of the kind strengths that you can play up in your life and work. When you make use of them, you increase your level of contribution, and you become indispensable. These soft skills are the sort of things that you are very likely to overlook about yourself because, like I said earlier, it is so second nature to you. But these are the things you should think about what you are considering the direction you wish to take. Whether you are deciding what school to go to, what industry to enter, what role to take in an organization, and so on. You can build a life aligned to your powers.

But your strengths will often not be enough.

In the road to get what you want, in your quest for success, you will not have all the skills and powers you need to achieve your goal. You would need to work with other super heroes. Your powers complement each other and make the team far stronger than any of the individuals. Your job is to understand your strengths and bring that fully to the table.

Now for every yin, there is a yang. The fact that you have strengths means that you also have weaknesses. You might be even more familiar with those. Those things that you are just no good at, or that are harder for you than most people. I’m personally great at mapping out high-level vision, I suck at focusing on the details. I could tell you what the general plot of a book I read was, I couldn’t tell you the specific names of the people or places. I can learn to do it of course; my point is it is not my natural inclination.

What do we do about these? Some people say, go all in on your strengths, don’t worry about your weaknesses. Other schools of thought make the argument that you should work hard to improve your weaknesses, even to the point of turning said weakness into strength.

I would say, your strengths tend to tie in with your natural inclinations and passions, and then with your vision, your reason for being. So, you should definitely go all in on your strengths. You have the easiest potential of becoming great and world class if you work to your strengths. You already have an early advantage, double down on that by building real skill and craft on top of that. Be committed to continually improving and you will reap great rewards.

At the same time, have a balanced and practical idea of what it takes to get what you want. Your weaknesses can be your Achilles’ heel. They can make the process harder or even possible, so you can’t completely discount them. You have two options. You can work to become better at your weakness or you can partner with people who are strong where you are weak.

I’d recommend both, you can choose the relative weighting you would give to each line of action. Working to be better at your weakness allows you to balance out your skills. Working hard to acquire skill does much to increase our self-confidence when we succeed. Engaging with people who are strong where you are weak allows you to let those important things be handled well, while you focus on going deeper and extracting more value from your strengths.

Handle your weaknesses as far as they affect you getting what you want or living a happy and fulfilled life. But otherwise, ignore them. If it has no real impact on your life, why worry about what you are not good at. Go all in on what you are great at. You will have your greatest results along that line.

You have a lot to give, and you would get what you want faster if you embraced who you are. Own your strengths, manage your weaknesses and be a super hero you are meant to be.

Everything is learnable

Everything is learnable

Over the past 21 months, I have been steadily working on some things. Working to put together, package and present what I do to the world. Working to climb out of holes I dug myself into, working to manoeuver out of corners I backed myself into. In this time, I’ve been soaking up the wisdom and insights of the many people who are our modern-day voices of self-development and growth, of philosophy and spirituality. And there among many truths I’ve discovered, there is yet another one that is foundational to getting what you want – Everything is learnable.

Human beings are adaptation machines. This is the reason why we have survived for however long we have been on earth, why we live and thrive across diverse terrain and climate conditions. It is the reason why a baby is born a blank slate and grows into a fully functioning person speaking, walking, writing, reasoning, moving, doing, creating. We are designed to adapt, we are built to learn.

Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that is beyond the power of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also. – Marcus Aurelius

There are many things we deem great and impressive. They include the physical feats, the accomplishments in careers, in art, in business. The building of happy lives and relationships. It is easy to look at them or the people who attain them when we have not and then despair or regard them as unattainable for us. We believe subconsciously that they are well beyond our reach because we are not worthy, or because we do not have the skills or the resources to get them ourselves. It is this fear, this assumption that makes us hesitate, that stunts our action for the BHAG.

But the truth is everything is learnable. The surgeon who deftly cuts out the tumor from his patient brain did not come out the womb wielding a scalpel, she was trained, she studied diligently over years, she learned. The entrepreneur who starts, successfully runs and sells companies over and over again may have had some inclination as a child towards business. But it is his persistent study, practice, action, and learning that has turned him into a skilled entrepreneur. He learned.

Everyone who made it, learned the skills they needed to make it happen. And so can you.

Once you take a hold of this idea and truly believe it – that everything is learnable, nothing is impossible. You embrace the growth mindset, the one that says I may not be there right now, but if I’m diligent and consistent in working at it, I can get there.

If everything is truly learnable, then you can become whoever you want/need to become. The thing to do then, is to reverse engineer your desires. Look at the things you want to achieve, attain and do and consider, what would it take for you to be able to get it done? What skills do you have to learn? What knowledge do you have to acquire? And then pursue those.

But it starts with the belief that it can be done, and a willingness to be patient and invest in the process.

21 months ago, I did not know much about business. It was literally painful to spend more than 10 minutes discussing business strategy, models or case studies. I mean it, like my head would literally hurt and I would need to go do something more comfortable like watch music videos or series. Today it is much easier to hold those type of conversations, I am able to give insight and ideas on strategy with my clients and associates. In 5 years, it will become second nature.

Understanding that everything is learnable opens up possibilities. It’s not just about business or skills. Even the things that make life worth living or fun are learnable. You can learn to build better relationships. You can learn to network, to connect better with strangers. You can learn to let go and have fun and stop being so uptight. You can learn to work harder and stop being so lazy. You can learn to think better. You can learn to manage your emotions. You can learn to meditate. You can learn to be at peace.

All of a sudden, you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to keep getting better. You just have to learn. What pressure dissipated, what a weight lifted off our shoulders. What a chance to let go of the ego and focus on the pleasure of the journey, of the process.  If everything is learnable, you can give up your excuses of not being good enough, of not knowing this or that. You can focus on getting good enough, you can focus on learning, you can focus on becoming.

In a world where the only constant is change, the most important skill is that of learning.

The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn. – Alvin Toffler

Sure, learning is hard, it hurt learning to walk. You fell countless times, but you persisted. To learn something new means pushing through the resistance and fighting the urge to ease up on the pain, to do something more comfortable. Tackling new concepts and wrestling with new material is hard. Deliberate practice is hard, but it must be done. As with all things great, the price must be paid. But it’s a price that is worth it. The pleasure and ease of a skill learned and the opportunities it opens up is worth much more than the pain. I mean you don’t even remember the pain of learning to walk right. But now if you are able bodied, you probably take it for granted.

If everything is learnable, and we have reverse engineered the things we must learn, we then come to the question of how to learn. For all the years of ‘education’ we are mercilessly subjected to, the very key skill of ‘how to learn’ is unaddressed and yet it is the foundational skill that underpins all others. Worse still, the long tedium of the system spoils the sweet taste of real learning and makes most people shun it after leaving school. You must reconnect with the joy of learning, of discovery and embrace it as a life-long practice.

We all learn in different ways. Some like to read, some like to explore and experiment. Others like to be instructed, others simply need to observe or listen. Each of us has a dominant learning style, and once we understand what it is, we can leverage it in our quest to acquire knowledge and skills. But it is important to learn how to learn. Once you master that skill, the ball is fully in your court. You have the control. You decide the direction you wish to go. You can tackle projects, amassing skills and knowledge, growing in your contribution and your value.

Everything is learnable, you can become the person you need to become to get what you want. If you want to learn a thing, learn it. You don’t need the permission of an institution or an individual. The information is literally at your fingertips, and there are usually no laws against discovery. Go out there and learn.

The Craftsman’s Mentality

The Craftsman’s Mentality

There is just something undeniably awesome about someone who is incredibly good at what they do. That shit is attractive.

In a fast-paced world like ours, the pressure is always on to deliver with speed and move on to the next. We can quickly become spread across too many things, too many deliverables to be able to spend real amounts of time working on, building and refining a thing. We lose the art of craftsmanship.

At the same time, there are still many instances of craftsmanship around us, and at various scales. The products handmade with love, you know, the craft beer, the artisanal coffee, the quirky furniture. There are also the ubiquitous, mass produced products that are just simply made to a high standard – the iPhone, the Boeing engine, etc. It is craftsmanship applied at scale.

On the road to getting what you want, you would have identified who you are, what makes you come alive, as well as what you want to accomplish. You would count the cost, cultivate burning desire, set your goals and build your systems. You would hone in on the one thing that is most important and you would go deep on that, giving it the time, energy, and attention, it deserves. In those moments of work, executing and building, you must hold the craftsman’s mentality in mind.

The craftsman’s mentality is that of love, exacting standards and insatiable drive. The craftsman loves what she does and will go to great lengths to do it the very best she can. Good enough isn’t good enough. It must be absolutely incredible.

Sure, there are many people and companies who come out with ‘just good enough’ products and services. You can cash out quickly by going to market with something that ‘just works’, promote the hell out of it and make your money. But there is a special pantheon for things of beauty, and high-quality attention to detail. The things that are made with love, with a high level of conscientiousness. It is just a different experience when you interact with the work of craftsmen. You can tell that the people behind this actually gave a damn.

Consider the mentality of the craftsman as a precursor to excellence. It will improve your quality of life and be an invaluable resource on the road to getting what you want. The craftsman enjoys the pleasure of doing a thing well for its sake. Becoming a craftsman means taking responsibility for your work and making sure it is executed with care and due diligence.

The craftsman takes pride in his work and sees it as an extension of himself. The thrill for him is in the pursuit of excellence. He loves working on the thing, making it better and better every time. He loves learning, he is prolific, weaving in exploration and practice in to the process as he executes and delivers. He digs in and puts in the time.

The craftsman mentality is more than just making excellent products or work, it is a mindset you bring to life, to daily tasks and daily actions. It is the spirit of doing the best you can and making sure your thing is dope.

When you have the mindset of a craftsman, you ignite passion. The deeper you dig, the deeper you understand it, the more you enjoy it, the more it propels you, and the more it fulfils you. And as your passion grows, the people who work with you or are served by your skill will clearly see that you deeply care for what you do.

Seest thou a man diligent in his business? He shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men. Proverbs 22:29 (KJV)

People love an excellent product or service. If you have the craftsman mentality, you make things so awesome that they speak for themselves. Word of mouth travels faster and you get exposed to more and more opportunity. There is just something undeniably awesome about someone who is incredibly good at what they do. That shit is attractive.

Adopting the craftsman mentality might be frustrating sometimes, pushing to excellence can be hard work but it leads to a deeply satisfying life. There is a place for ‘work well done’ as a source of happiness on a soul or spiritual level. True happiness comes from purpose. And there are few purposes more noble than working and crafting excellence from our passions and our gifts.

 

The art of letting bad things happen

The art of letting bad things happen

When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it. – Henry Ford

There are many true facts about life, but there is one that is particularly uncomfortable to look at and deal with – bad things happen. Sometimes they happen as consequences of our actions, sometimes they just happen. If this is a fact of life, is there a way to embrace and navigate it? Can we learn how to handle misfortune in our pursuit of our success and happiness?

It’s easy enough to look at the bad things that happen as a result of our actions, especially the actions that we are not too proud of. We understand the harm that comes from selfish actions that break trust or damage relationships. We understand the misfortune of failing an exam when we know we really didn’t put in the work required to succeed. There we have a clear set mandate. Stop doing stupid shit.

It’s trickier when bad things happen because of the good things we are trying to do. Embracing the philosophies of the One Thing and Deep Work comes with its own set of trade-offs. Every day, there are demands on our time, things we need to get done, people depending on us or needing us. Choosing to stay the course and go deep on the one thing can mean saying no to all those other things.

The trade-off, another fact of life is inevitable. Going down one path, means forgoing many others. It is never an easy decision choosing between two great things. We do not like disappointing or inconveniencing people. But if you have identified what you want, and have set your course, there is only one thing to really do. Sometimes you have to let bad things happen, so that you get the main thing done. It might mean delaying responding to the other things for a while or it may mean forgoing the other option completely. Many times, the fall-out isn’t so bad that it cannot be managed. A few hours or days delay won’t make the world stop spinning.

Knowing what you are all about and what is most important allows you to make the tough choices and go all-in on the things that will move you forward to your intended destination.

But what happens when bad things happen for seemingly no reason. Sometimes suffering exists and there is nothing you can do about it. The deal falls through, you are involved in a freak accident, other people disappoint you. Shit just happens. It is easy enough when it happens every now and again, it is much harder when it happens regularly or in a long stretch. Life can start to feel like a long series of unfortunate events.

It is tempting then to fold, to cross your arms and sit back. Especially when you have been trying really hard. It is very possible to do everything right and still fail. Sometimes it’s just bad luck, other times it is things completely outside your control. What do you do?

These times call for an exercise in character. Will you fold, or will you hold on? Will you let the emotion, the frustration, the anger, the despair, will you let it all sweep you away? Or will you pause, catch your breath, grit your teeth and continue?

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records. – William Arthur Ward

You may need to take a step back to reconsider things. Are things going bad because a wrong assumption, or a mistake? Or is this just the equivalent of bad weather? Something completely outside your control? If it is just a bad time, and you are on the right path, doing the things you know you should be doing and investing in, keep pressing on.

It’s hard. I’ve blogged earlier about suffering. Writing about it is one thing, going through it is another. The past two months have sometimes felt like a real-life exercise in eating shit. I don’t have any answers on how to fix it. You just endure it and keep doing your job as best as you can. At first, it’s easy-ish to do it. Wake up every day and press on. After a while, it gets harder to stay upbeat. Eventually it just feels easier to not even try and slip into depression.

So, then you just lay down on the floor and try numbing yourself with your drug of choice. But then you have to get back up and try again. We rest, catch our breath, do some self-care, bandage ourselves up and get back in the ring.

It is easy to freak out, but in the midst of the storm, keep the one thing in mind, keep the prize front and center. Focus on the most important thing and get that done, then move your attention to the next pressing crises and do what you can to fix it. It is never easy, but you get better at it. You get stronger at remaining calm under pressure, you better at coming up with creative solutions on the clutch. You learn how to plan better and anticipate the bumps. You become more resilient.

And then you start to invert and turn the problems on themselves.

There is a book called ‘The Obstacle is the Way’ by Ryan Holiday that gives some insight on how to handle adversity. It goes beyond just dealing with the crises to using the problem as a stepping stone. Is there any way you can turn this shit show into something useful? Can you turn this turd into fertilizer? Maybe you use this problem as a cautionary tale on how to prepare better. Maybe it becomes the chip on your shoulder that you harness as energy to fuel and drive you forward. Maybe you use the time to train some more, to get better. Perhaps you just use it to grow more grit, to become mentally tough. Find the gain in your pain. Find your diamond in the dirt.

It all boils down to a three-part approach to dealing with adversity. Have the discipline of perception. It is easy to get emotional about shit when it goes down. It rips away from our routine and safe bubble. It gives us something new and unexpected to deal with. Fight the urge to react, settle back return to your calm. There is only one thing you can really control, and that is how you react to the things that happen. Strip away the emotion and look at the situation clearly. What is really happening? What caused it? Can I prepare better? Can I handle this, so it never comes up again?

Cultivate the discipline of action. You have steadied your nerves, you have observed the situation clearly and gained your insight. Now take strong consistent action. Do what you must do, keep moving forward. In the midst of this storm, until the sun breaks through the clouds and until the next storm, keep on moving.

 

Airplane Mode, the greatest productivity hack

Airplane Mode, the greatest productivity hack

When you absolutely must get things done.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, two books I read in 2016 really changed my approach to life, and my work. They represent two concepts that work together to provide a powerful one – two punch combo that supercharges your ability to get things done.

The first book was “The One Thing” which I have written about. The One Thing offers the idea that only one thing really matters above all. On the macro level, there is the One thing you choose to make your life all about. In the day to day, there is the One Thing you could do that would make other things easier or unnecessary. It’s all about defining your vision and lining up your dominoes and whacking away at the first one until it falls and topples the next one with topples the next one and so on.

The second book is Deep Work by Cal Newport.

Deep work is the ability to focus on a hard task, to really concentrate for a long enough period of time. According to Newport, it is a skill that is becoming increasingly rare in a world filled with easy to access distraction. It is also a skill that is becoming incredibly important and useful in a networked world that needs you to learn skills quickly to thrive, and that allows you to affect millions with just your phone. We are too distracted at our work or at our businesses to give the right amount of effort and focus on the key tasks or projects that would make a definite difference. Doubly so for creatives or knowledge workers who need to expend considerable mental effort to produce good work.

There is a feature of the iPhone (and most other phones I would imagine, I’m hopelessly lost to the Apple hype train) that is irrefutably the best feature of the phone. It is not the above average camera (Samsung kicks its ass in my opinion), it’s not the design and how sleek it looks, it’s not the fact that it makes me look cool when I whip it out. It is the airplane mode function. With a swipe and a tap, I can turn the device from a portal to the infinite distraction machine that is the internet into a shiny paperweight.

Deep Work is the reason my phone is on airplane mode at least 50% of the time. This book is the reason I am many times unreachable, much to the chagrin of my friends and clients (I am so sorry guys but let me explain). It is also the reason I have been able to work on my business and my brand consistently over the past 18 months. It is the reason my design work has gotten stronger, the reason I’m learning faster and the reason my general productivity (the ability to get things done) has doubled or maybe even tripled.

It is also the reason I am less stressed and haven’t tried to hug a kitchen knife.

You see, regardless of how urgent and pressing everything feels, ultimately only a few things really matter. Out of the 100 or so different things you do or get asked to do today, probably none of them actually move you forward in any meaningful way towards a better life or better experience in 5 years. But if we know where we want to go, we can focus on the things that matter and move intentionally towards our BHAGs.

When you combine those two ideas, you are able to focus on what is most important and devote the kind of time and attention that it deserves. It is doing Deep Work on your One Thing.

In the midst of life’s noise, you can take the time to figure out what you want, count the cost, define the key activities and line up the dominoes. Now is the time to cultivate empty space, to block out some time that you can pay attention to the things that really matter. To learn the new skill, to work on the new business idea, to make some art, or simply to give back or build relationships. This is the time for Deep Work.

If I get anything done, and get it done well, or even quickly, my first step is always to switch the phone off. None of that ‘I’ll just put it face down’, that doesn’t work. Psychically I’m still attached, I’m still wondering about who’s trying to get in touch with me. It has to be off, and then finally I feel shut off from the world enough to allow my ideas and creative energy to bubble up to the surface.

Give it a try. If it’s too hard, put your phone in the drawer or the laundry basket or wherever. Just practice being cut off from your phone. See what that does for what you are working on.

When last did you give your full attention to a task? It feels very tempting to multitask. The pleasure of scrolling through our Instagram feeds, or losing hours of time to YouTube is very compelling and addictive. But if you are to get things done, if you are to move steadily to that BHAG, its very useful to learn how to switch off.

Even if it is just to think. From the moment we wake up, notice how we are mentally highjacked by our feeds. My first impulse when I wake up is to check my messages. First Whatsapp, then the Inbox, then Twitter (never Instagram until I’m mentally ready for that kind of mental and emotional assault). And just like that, my day can get highjacked by the needs and demands for others. Live like this enough days in a row and soon you are swept up in a fog of distraction, mediocrity and dissatisfaction. We all need space to think, to connect with ourselves, to heal, to spend some time in reflection or in the quiet pursuit of an interest or a craft.

The ability to go deep, both in your craft, in work and in your life will produce many benefits. It is a required resource in the marathon of pursuing your BHAG and cultivating a happy life. If you can isolate your main thing, and steadily devote time to it, you will stop feeling listless and more focused. And as you get better at it, that momentum of actually doing things will propel you to do some incredible things.