There’s a wonderful short book, ‘The Four Agreements’ by Don Miguel Ruiz that outlays a very congruent way of living within its pages. In it, he puts forward 4 key habits or ways of being that allow us to live happier and fuller lives.
There is the first – Be impeccable with your word. The second – Don’t take anything personally and the third – Don’t make assumptions. All profoundly explained and expanded in the book, but here, I would like to talk about the fourth one – Always do your best.
For the past month and some change, I was in constant pain and essentially house-ridden. Which was very inconvenient to say the least. I had just moved into a new place, and was eager to hit the ground running, to dive right into my routines and aggressively work on projects.
But then out the blue, I get hit with health challenges.
And that’s life for you right?
You could do everything right, set everything up perfectly, and still be taken out the game by forces outside your control. It happens.
I was tempted to really feel bad about it, and some moments were really hard, but feeling bad wasn’t useful, it wasn’t going to change anything. I had to figure out what I could control, what the best thing to do was, and focus on that.
Clearly, the thing to do here, was to find a way to recover as soon as possible, and in the mean time, when it came to all my obligations and needs…just do my best.
The fourth agreement is about always doing your best, but at the same time, understanding that your best is a moving target, no two days or two moments are the same.
Your best when you are freshly rested, breezed through your morning routine and excited to get to work is much different from your best when you are at the tail end of 70 hour work weeks pushing to meet a deadline.
And it is much different when you are in constant pain and can’t focus or work at your usual pace.
But yet, life continues and we have the responsibility to rise up to our best in whatever situation, and not be too hard on ourselves. We do what we can, do what we must, and let ourselves off the hook for the rest of it.
Why torture yourself? Why beat yourself up for not being able to match your best when you were soaring high? Why get mad because you can’t do what you really want to do?
Do the opposite. Accept it. Embrace it.
Ask, what is good about this?
That is the thing to do when things go awry. Find the silver lining, the sliver of opportunity.
For all my pain and discomfort, I received some gifts from the ordeal. It forced me to ruthlessly prioritise, to push through the pain and get the absolutely necessary things done, while stress testing my capacity for discomfort.
It also forced me to not work as much. To sit back and lay fallow for a while (something essential to the creative process). To disconnect and watch YouTube videos the whole day. To fall into rabbit holes on the internet and stumble on weird content and interesting ideas. To step back and reconsider the business and the path forward.
Sometimes, the odds are just not in our favour. For no real fault of our own.
And yet, we must push ahead, we must keep going, the wheels must keep spinning. Well, maybe they can spin at half speed, or at a slow crawl. Maybe we can get someone else to spin the wheels while we take a nap.
Whatever it takes.
That is all is required from you.
To do your best.
Whatever that is.
So, a couple of weeks ago, I was thinking about fear. I was triggered by the sort of conversation that forces you to confront things you’d rather not think about. And I started to mull over the feelings that rise up every time I take a step forward, every time I try to tackle an area of my life that needs to be worked on, an area that I may or may not have avoided for years – the fear.
I’ve stared it down many times and won, and I have also conceded my fair share of losses to it. But the fear never completely goes away. It rises up without fail, to greet us, every time we knock on the door of opportunity and possibility. Often, we are able to overcome it – by sheer grit and force of will. We press forward and push through to the other side, only to find out that hey, it was really not that bad after all. It was just an illusion, just a mirage.
But we have to face it again and again. And each time, we approach knowing that we have been here before. We know that if we press through the fear, there will be great power released on the other side. But it still feels like the first time, every time.
And beyond these spikes of fear, there is also the low grade anxiety that is always there, lurking below the surface. There is the mind that is so quick to fall into negative patterns. One minute you sitting minding your business, the next, you are being dragged for filth by your fear of loss or disappointment.
This is the constant battle with fear, the perpetual struggle against this force that exists to resist us every time we move towards the edges of our comfort zone.
And its biggest effect is to hold us back. It keeps us rooted and stuck, unable to move forward in case our worst fears come true. But this fear is really just imagination gone wrong.
What if there was an antidote?
What if there was a way to flip it, and instead of living with this force that pushes us back, we could embrace a different force that pulls us forward?
What is the opposite of fear?
At first I thought the answer might be excitement. After all, I once heard that the fear one feels before performing or public speaking or presenting is really just excitement in disguise. We just need to transform that nervous energy into a source of power that can charge whatever we need to do.
That could work, but it is not enough. The problem with excitement is that as the polar opposite of fear (anticipating the possibility an unfavourable outcome), it requires a level of denial about the possibility of failure (clinging to the possibility of a favourable one).
So, what could work better as an opposite force to fear?
Because curiosity does the opposite of what fear does. If fear holds you back, curiosity draws you forward, and it does so, in a semi-detached way. Here, we are not overly fixated on the outcome, but more on the process.
Curiosity allows us to approach our lives openly. In this mode of being, the idea isn’t – I really want to get this. It is more like, I wonder what would happen if I explored this. I wonder if I would get what I want. And if I don’t, I am just as curious about what happens anyway.
At the end of the day, I will either get what I want or I will get something else plus new information.
When you are curious, you don’t stake everything on a specific answer or result, you are really just vested in the process of finding out, the experience of discovery. You don’t care what happens, you just want to see what does. It is an intellectual stimulation. It is a call to adventure.
So, what if the next time you were greeted by your fear, instead of holding on to that tense feeling wondering if things will go your way, you were simply just curious?
What if you thought, “I don’t know if this is going to work, but I am willing to try and see. I might walk into that pitch and still not get a call back. But I’m not worried about getting it. I’m just curious to see what happens.“
Doesn’t that take a lot of the pressure off.
With this outlook, you start to focus on the actions, on the steps you must take. You get unstuck in your head and stop fixating on potential scenarios and simply surrender to what is. You are immersed in the now. No judgements, just experience.
And sure, even if you find something bad. Hey, it happens. We just keep it moving. We just keep fuelling our curiosity. Because even that bad, we can work with.
So that is the mantra I’ve been using a lot lately. Every time I feel that fear rise up within, before I take action, before I step out my comfort zone. I remind myself, to replace fear with curiosity. To replace expectation and entitlement with the sense of discovery.
Then I move.
Across many of Robert Greene’s books, there a reoccurring theme – to be effective in life, you have to learn to see the world as it is, not as you wish it to be.
Obviously this is easier said than done. It takes practice to develop and master this skill. We are naturally meaning attribution machines, we spin stories and see patterns to make sense of the events in our lives and the world around us.
None of us really see life as it is.
Or maybe there is nothing to see. Maybe nothing is real.
From a scientific viewpoint, there is nothing at the foundation of reality but the experiences created and interpreted by the observing self. Stimuli from an external environment filtered by the structure and capabilities of our senses, neurons and synapses, brought to life by the ego and consciousness.
But beyond physics and metaphysics, maybe nothing is real even from a social point of view.
The world around us, the one we think we live in, the one with the rules and norms and expectations, the one with the constraints and limitations, doesn’t really exist. We act like it does. We believe it does, and we eventually create it, by our expectations, beliefs and behaviour.
I think about this in terms of the market place and the world in general, questioning my preconceptions around brand, self-image and success in the real world. The battle as a creative, as a maker, is balancing the need to make things for the self, to create to learn and for creation’s sake, against making things that have wide appeal, that get famous, that resonate and succeed in a capitalist world?
How do we do that?
Some things work better than others. There are certain creative formulas that draw eyeballs and grab attention. Appealing to our baser instincts of lust, superiority, righteousness, indignation generally have a more immediate and visceral reaction than appealing to the sublime, or rationality.
Is it good or ethical to change ourselves, to change our packaging, change our story to achieve a goal? Does authenticity still matter, or should we just wear the masks we must, spinning the webs and illusions that get us what we want?
How long can you wear a mask before it becomes your true face?
Can we use this idea as a tool instead? Reaching forward to ‘pretend’ our way into the person we want to become. Is there an ethical way to ‘fake it before we make it’?
If nothing is inherently real, does that free us to be anything we want, anything we choose to be? Or is there a real self waiting to emerge? Where is the space for authenticity?
Is what we call authenticity just trying to hold on to a past story? Trying to make your actions today be congruent with the person you have always been?
If we must embrace forward-facing stories, pressing on to what we must be that we aren’t yet, then perhaps we can embrace the notion that nothing is real and just go ahead to create the new experience we desire.
Which means we second guess ourselves less. We are less tripped up by expectations, by the burden of our self-conception. We no longer use the excuse, ‘no I can’t wake up early because I am not a morning person’. We just go head and work our way to becoming early risers. We are free to change and be who we want to be moment to moment.
I read somewhere a while ago that behaviour drives emotion and behaviour drives desire.
It means that we can change desires. We are who we are now because we have conditioned ourselves through our choices and behaviours. We love junk food, or leisure or low-value entertainment and activities because we have behaved in ways that reinforced those desires in us.
We are also familiar with change, growing out of things and into things as we develop over time.
But if behaviour drives desire, then we can speed up change in the directions we choose. It will feel weird and horrible at first, but over time, after constant action, desire changes to match behaviour.
The more I workout, the more I enjoy it, the more I crave it. Something I would not have imagined possible years ago. The tricky part is that initial hump you have to push across. Doing something consistently enough to change desire.
If nothing is real, (and the timeline is malleable, which is another idea for another time having to do with changing the past) then we face the questions, what should we do, and how should we do it?
If nothing is real, then our fears are unfounded and unreal. It means there are no real lines, no real restrictions, just illusions, promises and agreements. We can honour them and we can break them.
Is there then no morality?
If nothing is real and anything is permissible, it does not mean that it isn’t without consequence.
So, perhaps nothing is real but everything has consequence.
The idea that nothing is real then becomes a liberating idea that allows you to morph and change as needed. It also frees you from constraints of expectation. If nothing is real, then its okay to create the image you need to get what you need to get done sorted. But know that what you create will have an effect.
If nothing is real, and you want success in a certain arena, if you want more eyeballs and attention to your work, to your brand, then you have to work and rework your brand until you find resonance. And that is not something to fight, it is something to embrace, to practice at until you get it right.
But whatever you create, must be aligned with your true values. If you are not aware of your values, you run the risk of building something empty, losing touch with that which is most fulfilling, the highest expression of your soul.
I love books, but I have a wierd relationship with them. Sometimes I read books properly and sequentially, from start to finish. Half the time however, I read books in bits and pieces, often preferring to read multiple books at the same time, a page here, a paragraph here. I tend to treat my small library more like a buffet than a menu with distinct meals.
Many books I read just once and never crack open again. With some, I don’t even get past the first chapter. But there are a few books that I keep coming back to time and time again. They are the books I reference often in my posts like Gary Keller’s The One Thing, or one of my favourites, 50 Cent’s and Robert Greene’s The 50th Law. These are my ‘quake’ books.
Quake books (the term was coined by Ryan Holiday I think)(actually it was coined by Tyler Cowen), are the books that shake you to the core. They cause a seismic shift in your thinking and perception. They radically change the way you view and approach life or yourself. They open doors to new worlds of ideas and possibilities that were hidden from you up on to the point you came in contact with the book.
These are the books you should read over and over again.
Why do that? Why go back to something you already finished?
For some reason, we tend to forget that repetition is how we learn anything. We understand that principle when it comes to studying and acquiring new skills. But when we approach books, we hold on to the mentality of getting it done and dusted. We read the book, and then put it down and that is it. Sure, you can treat many books that way no problem, but if you really want to extract the marrow from the bones of a book, especially a really good one, then it pays to approach reading it differently.
We only retain a fraction of what we read anyway. How many times have we read a book, put it down and then completely forgotten about it? If you just read that textbook once come exam time, you would almost definitely fail? So you read, you studied, you took notes.
The more we read and re-read a text, the more familiar we get with it. The easier it is to recall what we learnt and bring those lessons to mind when needed. The more times we read a book, the deeper the ideas and principles seep into our mind and subconscious, and the more they transform and change us. Which is really what they are for – To help us change and to help us grow.
Now, It might seem boring to read a book you have already read before. Why read a book again when I already know what it says?
Because things change, and we change.
Every time you interact with a something – a book, a movie, a work of art, you bring your self, your perception, your interpretation, and your experiences to the table. What you take out of that interaction, is as much a reflection on who you are at that point in time, as it is a reflection of the thing itself.
This is how we can grow to dislike something we used to love or grow to love something we used to hate. This is how many people can look at the same thing and have wildly different reactions.
Reading books over and over again allow us to approach the content at different points in time. Points where we ourselves are different and have grown. Suddenly, a part of the book we usually glossed over before springs to life with new and fresh meaning. With the benefit of new experiences, we get deeper understanding and appreciation of the nuances in the ideas presented to us. We connect us to the author’s words in a way that we could never have appreciated before.
We read books over and over again To remind ourselves.
We are forgetful creatures. We are constantly collecting new information everyday and bombarded by stimuli all around. As we record all these new things, we forget others. Reading these books over and over remind us of what we have learned. They keep us on the path and from sliding off. They pull us back when we have strayed too far.
And so these books become more than just books, they become life long companions, living sources of knowledge and wisdom, sources of strength and guidance to pull from in our journey of life, in our journey to get what we want and max out our potential.
The other day, I was listening to a Benjamin Hardy webinar, and he said something that really stuck with me since. He outlined a couple of things that influence the trajectory and quality of your life – things like your body, your brain, your environment. But there was one he mentioned that I found quite interesting, and that was the idea of your story.
What is the story you tell about yourself?
Stories are crucial to our humanity. As a species, we have evolved to process and transmit a ton of information in story form. From our earliest days in caves to modern day cineplexes, we have had stories at the core of our culture, society, and civilisation. Stories are how we connect, communicate, and understand our place i society as well as our history. Stories are how we pass on cultural norms, and form social bonds with one another. Stories are how we create meaning.
We are surrounded by and inhabit stories all the time. We have stories about our world, about our nations and their interactions with one another, stories about race, about community, about families. But there is the story that is uniquely important to us, shaping our self–perception, stirring our motivations and driving our actions. And that is the story of ourselves.
What is your story?
You might never really think consciously about it, but you can see the main plot points or elements of your story very clearly when you are asked, ‘so tell me about yourself‘. Every time I hear that question, the first thing I draw is a blank, like – ‘well…um… where the hell do I even begin?’
How do I define myself? How do I tell the story of me?
Who are you?
Usually, when I am faced with the question, I generally default to saying I am a designer. I have held that label and identity for so long, that even though it is not precisely accurate or complete, I still use it. As limiting and dated as it is, It just rolls off the tongue.
What are the words you use to describe yourself?
For most of us, we define ourselves around our economic roles or societal function. Do you define yourself around your work and what you do? Do you define yourself around your personality, or around your values? Maybe you define yourself around your family or tribe or nation.
But perhaps, the most important element of your story is this – is your story fixated on the past, or is it focused on the future?
The direction your story faces has a massive impact on how you view yourself, what you believe is possible, and how you move through life. You can focus on the past – on what you have done and who you have been. Your can latch on to your past achievements and accolades, your failures and missteps, or you can reach out for the future – your dreams, your vision, your all–consuming passion.
The past is important yes, to anchor us, to show us where we have been. But dwelling on the past too much will lock you in and hold you back. Even if you have racked up wins and have a string of successes to show for your life so far, holding on too tightly to that will eventually make you slack, become defensive, rest on your oars and quit pushing forward. And if your past is checkered or less than ideal, it can send you down a vicious spiral.
What if you framed your narrative with regards to the future? All of a sudden, you are not bound to what happened before, you create a blank canvas of possibility. You quit being reactive to previous experiences and begin to be proactive and decisive. It is not just about what you have done or what you are doing, it is about where you are going.
Where are you going?
Now you have to exercise imagination. You have to figure out what you want, what your values are, and what you want to create in your future. And commit to it, and tell your story around it.
When you begin to adopt a future-facing story, a couple things begin to happen.
It helps you let go of the past
We all have things in our rearview mirror that we are not proud of. We have mistakes we wish we could take back, missed opportunities, We’ve been through twists and turns we never saw coming. Embracing a story that focuses on the future, allows you to forgive and let go of those things. The past is done. It came. It went. We are here now. We are able to forgive ourselves for past mistakes, knowing fully well that your past does not equal your future and that we have the chance to write a brand new story starting from today.
It creates new options
When we are fixated on the past, we become limited. We are held back by what we have been and what we have done. It is hard to break out of it and imagine something new, to embrace new possibilities. So we default to our past story, and with every retelling of the story, we ingrain those ideas and patterns deeper and deeper into our brain. It can trigger a rut that keeps us stuck at best, or drags us down at worse. We are confined to the same routines and undesirable results.
When we focus on the future instead and tell our story around what we want to create and be, we become creative again. New things become possible, ideas and possibilities we would have never recognised suddenly come into view. It opens up uncharted waters for us to explore and discover a better life.
It changes our self-perception
A story that embraces the future weakens our old conditioning and rewires our brains, changing our perception and expectations of ourselves. The more future-facing we are, the more we are inspired to take new action, We do and embrace new things and are forced to grow. With this new narrative in mind, we realise that we are capable of more, that we must embrace and nurture this potential. We break old patterns and actually begin to visualise ourselves living the dreams we set out for ourselves. We create this new person and life in our minds and are subsequently pulled towards it.
Oh, but you might be thinking, this future facing story isn’t true yet. Wouldn’t I be lying to myself and others?
We are on a journey, and the journey itself is more than half the fun. We must speak things into existence and embrace new realities. We are marked by our relentless pursuit of a worthy goal. There will be haters, those who say that you are not it, that you should stop lying to yourself and just quit. There will also be supporters, those who believe, who see clearly what you only see dimly, those who will walk with and aid you in the journey to your new future.
Embrace the story. Everyone loves a good story anyway. With a clear vision, backed up with massive work, things will come together.
An exercise to help reframe your story
Who are you?
Write out your story. A quick 5-6 sentences in answer to the question ‘who are you?’
Now read through it and analyse it. How do you define yourself? Do you talk about your job, or relationships or family? Is your story more focused on the past, what you have done and how you have gotten here? Is there anything that tells us about where you want to go.
Now write it again. This time keep your vision and dreams in mind. Reframe your story. Take the best of where you have been and combine that with a clear statement of what your big dream is, what you are pursuing for the vision.
Doesn’t this new story fill you up with hope? Does it not make your heart sing, your chest puff out a bit more and your walk briskier. Try on this new story and read it to yourself every day for the next 30 days.
Tell this story when people ask ‘tell me about yourself‘, and see what it does for you.
We all know that person. The one full of hot air. The one that talks a whole lot but never executes. They can regale you of tales of their ideas and plans. But nothing ever comes of them. You will most likely find them in the same place in a decade. Still talking about their ideas. They probably thought of Uber before Uber, and Amazon before Amazon. But it never went further than a fleeting thought in their mind.
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the person who just talks and never takes action. Because, you miss out on a lot. It is important to execute on your ideas. The ones that come to you, the ones that are uniquely yours. The ones that never seem to go away. Sure, you don’t have to execute every single thing. But it is important and massively impactful when you take a concept of yours from idea to reality.
Here is why.
The more action you take on your ideas, the more they will come.
Creativity is an infinite resource. The more you use it, the more you of it you get. Ideas beget more ideas. And clearing out ideas by executing them provides the space for new and more interesting ideas to emerge in your mind. But if you do not act in the first place, those new ones never come. If you are stuck for ideas on what to do and work on, take look back. What ideas did you abandon without executing? Revisit them, dust them off and work on them now, or release and let them go. Create the mental and psychic space for new ones that you will commit yourself to executing on.
Executed ideas open up doors
When you execute on an idea, make it real and release it into the world, it provokes a response. Sure, they might hate it, or they might like it. Either way, it is a response, far better than the deafening silence that is the back of your closet or mind where that idea resides wasted. When you put something out, it allows you to be seen, heard and interacted with. People can find you, talk to you, and open more doors for you. Imagine if JK Rowling never published the first Harry Potter book, or George Lucas never made the first Star Wars movie, the entire massive cultural phenomenon they both became would never have existed. Execute.
They help you learn
Executing on your ideas will teach you more than any amount of theory could. The actual experience of learning, practicing and creating encodes lessons deep into your mind and soul. They teach you about who you are, in the process, in the failures and heartbreaks, and the successes. They give you character, they build grit. You will learn as you execute, and you will learn after the execution. Did the idea work? Did it resonate with people? Did it fail? Why? What can we do better next time?
Executing on your ideas builds your confidence
Confidence is a huge part of the game of success. If you don’t believe in yourself, why should the world? The act of executing is a bold statement of belief, in yourself in your ideas. You move from being a passive consumer, to being an active creator, contributing to the fabric of the world around us. As you execute, you learn to value yourself and your opinions more. You hold a higher respect for yourself as you can point to tangible things you have done and created. The more you execute, the better you get at it, the more confident you become in your skill and in yourself.
Executing on your ideas helps you become more YOU
Our ideas are an extension of ourselves, our programming, our environment, our life and experiences. As we create and execute them, we are forced to come to terms with a lot of things, to examine our biases, to clarify our thoughts, to define ourselves more clearly. The creation processes allow us to become more of who we are. As we create things and execute things, we create ourselves, we affirm what we believe, we engrain the values and traits we believe in.
Honour your ideas and dreams with execution, and watch your life transform.