There is a famous line in the 1999 cult classic Fight Club
The things you own end up owning you.
And I’m reminded of it every time I look at my phone. Now, it is one of the greatest tools we have ever created. At any point in time, I am connected to a vast network of human knowledge. I have the potential to reach out to almost anyone in the world or even to reach a large number of people at once. It is an incredibly useful tool.
But instead, most of the time I am held hostage by it. I pick up my phone up to 150 times a day. That’s an incredible amount of time. I’m a bit better, over the years I have slowed down my use of Twitter, Facebook…Instagram I’ve mostly hated for a long time, so I generally use that once a week. My attention now is consumed mostly by WhatsApp, I spend a lot of time chatting to my friends.
My eyes are almost always glued to my screen, and I’m not the only one, I look around and everyone is pressing, tapping or swiping. This is nothing new, many have been wailing about this phenomenon, the way technology hijacks our attention and exploits our evolutionary weaknesses and needs. We are hit with so many things every minute, it is much harder for us to sustain our attention on anything. Distraction is only a swipe and a tap away and we are forever fiending for a fix.
We think we use our phones, but really, they use us. They follow us, they stalk us, they market to us. All these apps and social networks take our attention, condition our behavior, generate and map out our data, they eventually end up knowing more about us than we do about ourselves. As Yuval Noah Harari highlights in his book ’21 Lessons for the 21stCentury’, we are now the ones being hacked by big corporates and technologies.
Before, we hacked technologies and networks, now humans are the ones being hacked. These technologies and algorithms understand us better and better, from our location, to our searches, to our health tracking data, it is becoming easier and easier to nudge us in directions without our conscious knowledge. In a world evolving faster and faster, we are increasingly vulnerable.
I was listening to a Gary Vee interview a few weeks back, and someone asked him who the best people in the social media game were, who was doing the marketing right. And for about 30 seconds, he couldn’t come up with one name, and he said the reason he could not actually point to anyone was because he actually consumes no one. Think about that, one of the biggest names right now in the world of entrepreneurship, famous for the sheer volume of content he puts out (100 pieces per day), and his insistence on the underpriced nature of most social platforms, does not consume social media. Mind blown.
What does he consume? He consumes the comment section of his content, he engages with his people and learns what they are thinking and feeling, or he consumes the comment sections of the biggest things in the world trying to place a finger on the pulse of the current zeitgeist.
That is a massive and powerful mental shift. And something I heard echoed again in The Order of Man podcast with Tyler Harris yesterday. Producers are usually too busy producing to consume content mindlessly. And that is something you can do to shift the control back to yourself. These tools are massively powerful. You have access to a potential audience, you have access to knowledge, you can create and build almost anything by reading the books, watching the tutorials, listening to the podcasts, it is an incredible time to be alive, if you actually take advantage of it. Become a producer, be active, build something, give value, make content, do things, and you will have less toleration for random consumption.
I have seen it happen in my life. I mentioned earlier how much I reach for my phone, I know people who reach for their phones even more. I’ve noticed my time reduce drastically on social media over the years the more I follow my path, the more I make content, the more I learn and execute around my business. The more I learn and create, the more I want to learn and create, and the less time or inclination I have to be swallowed up in the machine.
The sentiments have been echoed by many writers and thinkers. Cal Newport’s book ‘Deep Work’ advocates the ability to turn everything off and focus deeply on solving a meaningful problem. I wrote a post almost a year ago on why ‘Airplane Mode’ is one of the greatest productivity hacks.
In addition to this, you can practice more mindfulness. Don’t touch your phone for the first hour after you wake up. Do something else, read, meditate, exercise, eat, or just stare at the ceiling, you will be bored to tears, but you won’t die. Wean yourself off the addiction to your phone and reclaim your power and your attention. Then deploy it towards that which is truly important to you. It will transform your life.
This book was conceived, written and designed in 7 days.
I sat down last week to blog my thoughts on how you approach end of year reviews, and how to set and achieve goals in the new year. And as I started to put my thoughts together, I remembered a friend of mine – Mpumi had asked me a few times about how I went about strategically planning my year, specifically how you organize your life around the One Thing. She had read the book by the same name, and I had written about the book earlier in the year.
Fun fact, we have an almost hour-long interview we did together a while back talking about design, branding and personal development – here.
To be honest, the question threw me off. At first, I was just going to talk specifically on how I set goals and translate that to the day-to-day actions that would get me there. Now the scope was a little bigger. Taking into consideration the concept of the One Thing, I quickly realized I had to take a few steps back to accommodate the new ideas that spring from that one question. What is the One Thing, how do you find yours, and how do you orient yourself toward it? Why have a One Thing at all?
As I wrote, I found myself meandering, getting to page 4 without even scratching the surface. For context, I usually write about 2 – 3 pages per blog post. I had two options, continue the blog route and make a 4-5-part blog series, or just write all the pieces and make it into a book.
Hmmm. I released my first book in October. Could I really write two books in one year? Why not? It was a stretch but it was certainly doable. It could at the very least be a cool flex.
So, on this whim, I asked around, ‘what people would like to read, a series or a book?’ The book won by a margin of like 3:1. So here we are.
As I wrote and thought more about what I was trying to say in this book, it became apparent that I was really trying to write about the art of living intentionally. I believe the road to fulfillment – happiness, and success starts here. To be successful, you have to be able to set a north star and move towards it consistently. But how do you define your One Thing, and how do you connect the dots backwards to your day-to-day life?
This book is an attempt to answer these questions.
There is a part of the game that is hardly talked about. And that is the after game. We know all about striving and pushing towards the goal. That’s the basic fodder of self-help content. We are very concerned with what it takes to win, to become successful. We don’t talk too much about the aftermath.
What do you do after you get what you want?
In our minds, we only really see the long difficult journey, imagining that ‘bam!’suddenly, one day, we arrive at the destination, our own version of happily ever after. We imagine we will undertake this journey, do the work, push the hustle until we get what we want – the job, the business, the spouse, the family, and then we will be suspended in contented bliss, never to stress anymore.
But we know that’s not the case. That is not how life works. There is always the day after. The day after the fairytale wedding, after the graduation, after the raise, after the investment exit.
The day after, after the high of struggle and work, the roar of the crowd has died down, and the court is empty. The lights switch off and the darkness sets in. Now you are listless. You don’t know what to do with yourself. Your whole life was structured around the pursuit of this one thing for so long, you feel lost at sea now that you have gotten it.
Our lives are finite, with a beginning and an end. But between the hour of our birth and the hour of death, like our planet, our lives resemble a spiral. We continually move through the same seasons, with similar rhythms, but each cycle is unique. We have the ups and downs, the moments of activity, the moments of rest, the inspired days and the dim ones, as we move forward in time.
Same as success. In many ways, getting what you want is death, it is the end of an era. But it is also the beginning of a new journey. It is the end of a cycle, but it is also the start of a new one.
In the midst of the pursuit, we forget that.
We think that the end is THE END. And that space, just after the win, is a very vulnerable place.
Especially when the battle is hard won, and you are scarred and wounded. With no real plan or rest routine in place, we can forget that there is yet another peak on the horizon. We think we have arrived. In this moment of success, it is too easy to plant the seeds of failure.
You set a goal, you ran the race, and you made it. It was tough, but you won. What do you do now? You have to rest. The way we wind down is just as important as how we take off. We have to land properly so we can get a running start into the next phase of our journey.
Take a step back to celebrate your win. Relax, take a load off, soak it in. For a moment, for a weekend, for however long makes sense. Get off the treadmill. Rest is the crucial counter balance to productivity. Allow yourself to be replenished.
And then you must review and reflect.
The true value in getting what you want is not the ‘thing’ that you get. It is who you become in the process of going after what you want. Now that you have your prize in your hand, you must turn your eyes inward. Gaze upon the mirror and see the person you have become. Are you happy? Did you do your best? Who are you now? How have you changed? Do you even want this thing anymore? It is possible to seek a thing, gain it, and then not want it anymore. The process of seeking changes us, shifts our perspective, adjusts our priorities. Sometimes the change is dramatic.
Search your thoughts.
Do you still like yourself? Are you happy with this thing you have worked so long for? Would you like to move forward? Where would you go next?
If you subscribe to the idea of letting your moves stack on each other, the thing you have gotten is also a stepping stone on the road to a further ultimate goal. Your latest acquisition is also your seed.
You are back at the beginning, but you are stronger, wiser, more experienced, with some wins under your belt. It is time to look at what can be improved, what can be strengthened, where can you stretch and occupy more of your potential?
Then it is time to begin again. There is more to be done, you still have much in you to give. You must jump into the fray again.
Return to the starting blocks with humility and assume the beginners mind. Remember that mastery is built on a firm foundation of the basics. Now decide what you want and set the goal before you. This time, challenge yourself.
I have this set of notebooks that have been with me for years now. When I was 16, there were just two or three of them. Now, there are maybe 20 of these notebooks and sketch pads in a pile on my shelf. A modest collection of personal journals. I have written in these books for over a decade as a means to tease out and understand my innermost thoughts and intuitions. Once in a while, I dip into them to remind myself of the things I’ve thought, and days gone by.
Life is long, and time is relentless. As our days progress, they blur into each other, the days turn to weeks, and the weeks turn to months, and then years. A perpetual cycle of change and evolution. It is easy to forget things. That is why we instinctively try to capture memories, in videos, and selfies and journals. They help to leave checkpoints along the way that we can return to and relive, albeit in faded form, our thoughts, and feelings at certain points in our lives. They serve as records of our lives, evidence of our growth and transformation. They serve as reminders of our resilience.
This is the first power of journaling, as a reminder.
“In the diary you find proof that in situations which today would seem unbearable, you lived, looked around and wrote down observations, that this right hand moved then as it does today, when we may be wiser because we are able to look back upon our former condition, and for that very reason have got to admit the courage of our earlier striving in which we persisted even in sheer ignorance.”
When I browse my past journals, I do it to remind myself of the things I wanted to accomplish, the true yearnings of my heart. They have served many times as a firm reminder, a sharp reprimand or a fond nudge in the right direction. They have also been sources of pleasant surprise, as I dig into an old notebook and find that I had inadvertently accomplished things I had written before.
This is the second power of journaling. With it, you can create the future. Asides from just marking time or serving as time capsules, the act of writing is also kind of magic. If you took a notebook, and wrote down some things you wanted to accomplish, and then closed that book and only came back to it a year later, you would be surprised how far you would have gotten in the pursuit of that thing, if you hadn’t already gotten it. And if you haven’t gotten it, you would also know precisely why you hadn’t gotten it yet.
That’s the magic. I don’t know why it works. I have just experienced it. The act of writing somehow, encodes the desire deep into your being, and releases the intention to the universe, so that subconsciously and super consciously, you are working towards your goal.
More than just creating the future however, you can also create yourself through journaling. You can write out the person you want to be, the things you want to do, the things you want to have, and let that magic cause the person you desire to be to emerge.
“In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself.”
I remember in my late teens, writing about the kind of person I wanted to be. How I wanted to interact with other people, how I wanted to be perceived, even down to how I wanted to dress. I came across those notes a few months ago and chuckled. I became what I wrote on those loose pages many years ago in my mother’s office. Simply noting down the desire for the person you wish to be helps to change the way you see yourself and creates new possibilities for your life.
Journaling also serves as compass to find your way.It is often the first advice I’d give to someone who is lost and confused. Pick up a notebook and a pen and write. Express yourself. What do you feel? What are you worried about? What do you desire? Where do you see yourself? How can you get there? What is stopping you? How can you overcome it?
It is a wonderful practice that clears the fog of confusion and begins to show you solutions and paths to take. Every time I have felt distraught, or unfocused or like I was on the wrong path going nowhere fast, I would just start writing, releasing and wading through my thoughts until I could start brainstorming solutions and making plans.
As I began the journey of blogging weekly this year, I quickly settled into a ritual. Before I could get around to drafting the post for that week, I first had to journal. If I was to gather my thoughts and craft them into a coherent piece, I had to let go of all the chaotic ones built up from the week before. And so, without intending to, I started a ritual of journaling every week.
Every Sunday I sit down to journal serves to center me, to remind me of what is important, and of the promises I made to myself, of the goals I set. It serves as a navigation system to keep the main thing the main thing. In life, there are too many things and forces competing for your attention, and your effort. The journal helps one keep things in perspective.
For years, I have complained about being blown off course from my true goals by the pressures and demands of life and business. This year, I’ve been a lot more intentional, and its partly due to the journaling habit.
With it, I’ve also been able to time travel through my thoughts since last December, observing my struggles, my insights and my progress. And that last part is important, being able to track progress and evolution.
One advantage in keeping a diary is that you become aware with reassuring clarity of the changes which you constantly suffer
Journaling serves as a force of accountability.Once a thing is recorded, it can be measured. It stands as something to reference. Journaling regularly allows us to keep track of our thoughts and our actions. If you want to break through to a new level, you have to be able observe and judge yourself in real time.
You can argue with memory. You can’t argue with stats.
When you record your intentions, as well as your actions, you are able to clearly see the difference between the two. How well did you do? How bad did you miss the mark? What went wrong? Then you can adjust and then record the results of those adjustments, until you win.
Some people think they have 20 years’ experience, when they have really just had one year of experience repeated 20 times. Conscious journaling and meditation allow us to ponder the quality of our lives and the time that we have spent. With this powerful practice, we can live more intentional lives, we can create ourselves daily, and we can get what we want.
Someone asked me the other day how I managed to stay upbeat, and full of energy. What keeps me going? What keeps me so fired up? I was pleasantly surprised, because I don’t particularly see myself that way. My answer included a bunch of things like growing older and having a chip on my shoulder, but in hindsight, a part of it is probably down to habit. I have been doing certain things almost every day for years now and at this point in time it is just a way of life, it is an obsession.
Every empty pocket of dead time – waiting in line, unexpected delays – I spend reading or watching videos. I’m always learning or being motivated or enjoying insights from the most productive, prolific and impactful people in the world. It’s just what I enjoy doing. If I’m too tired or feel overloaded, then I’ll binge watch Netflix. But generally, I fuel my fire every day out of habit.
I’ve been thinking about momentum lately.
“Momentum,” she repeats. “You can’t just stand there if you want something to fly. You have to run.” – Lauren DeStefano (Fever)
Since the beginning of the year, I blogged around the theme of how to get what you want. To get what you want, you have to know what you want and why it is so important to you. The burning desire for it is what makes you act, fighting against inertia to move you from point A to point B.
At the beginning it is hard work. You don’t know where to start, so you start anywhere. And because you are new to this, you fail, but you start again. You persist. You keep it moving, you keep working.
Soon you win the battle against inertia and eventually get into motion. Even though it feels like a series of starts and stops, eventually, we get a bit of wind. Taking action becomes easier, and now and then, we even start to gather hot streaks. We get stretches of time where we stay in motion, maintaining that flow, seeing our efforts begin to multiply. We have gained momentum. And this momentum is a powerful and profitable force.
Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort. – Charles J. Givens
Momentum emerges from being consistent over time. The longer we take a line of action, the deeper the habits are ingrained, and our moves become instinctual. But you have to front load the investment to reap the reward. And that reward is the exponential increase on our input.
When we gain momentum, we become formidable. With your moves stacking on each of each other, results begin to compound. Success builds on success. New possibilities appear, new doors open. The universe itself seems to unfold before you.
When you find yourself in the thickness of pursuing a goal or a dream, stop only to rest. Momentum builds success. – Suzy Kassem
But momentum can be fragile. It can become its worst enemy. Hypergrowth is just as bad as no growth if the system cannot grow to accommodate it. So, we must manage ourselves so as not to burn out from the power, from the abundance and increasing influx. It takes discipline to manage momentum. Too many times, we get a bit of traction and for some reason or the other, we stop and let it die out. To keep momentum alive in a sustainable way, and to protect it from waning or even reversing, we have to keep moving, we have to keep adding to the fire. We must continue to strike the iron while it is hot and knead while the dough is wet. We can’t afford to stop.
Sometimes, bad things happen. Tragedy strikes, we get unpleasant news, we get into bad company, we are knocked off course and pushed back on our heels. With that falter, rises the flicker of doubt. We see our momentum reverse against us. The fear sets in, the anxiety, we make another mistake, or another tragic thing occurs. We begin to spiral, maybe we react badly, reaching for something to cope. We are stressed, we are failing, and the failure compounds. This is how fortunes are lost, this is how citadels crumble.
Momentum can make you or break you. When it’s positive, it is great. It buoys you up like a wave, moving you forward with little effort. When it is negative, it is incredibly hard to stop and can dash you against the rocks.
You always want to optimize for forward momentum. Only stocking up healthy food and snacks in the house, as well as installing triggered habits like 5 push-ups every time you went to the bathroom, would make your forward momentum in staying fit more antifragile. Hanging around smart and inspired people can fuel your forward momentum in building a successful career into a roaring steam train.
The trick, once you have secured the basics of taking action towards your chief aims, is to go a little harder, a little faster, and a little longer. Build momentum and make it easier for yourself to succeed by pouring fuel on the flames.
This means staying focused. On the goal. On the objective. Despite distraction, and setback, you must keep an eye on the goal. Take a step back if you need to, catch your breath if you need to, but keep pushing forward, learn to break into those pockets of momentum. They will put wind in your sails and push you forward further and faster than you could imagine.
What do you think about when you think of success? Something big right? Like buying that house or buying the car. Hitting that number in the account or starting that family. Maybe it is bagging that degree, or chilling on a yacht sipping mimosas. Perhaps you more inclined to having a successful career or business as your benchmark for success.
We work diligently towards the big moments, the time when all our work culminates in something tangible. We daydream of the championship moment, the winning second. We desire some pomp and ceremony, whether it is the celebratory party or the humble brag Instagram post.
And they are wonderful.
However, in between our beginnings and these moments of climax lie the long days and nights of work, of mis-steps, of dashed hopes, disappointments or just plain mundanity. We face the thankless work, and unexciting grind. In this vast swath of dirt, we also find some glittering gems, the small wins.
The big moments we crave, the ones that we look to and pin all our hopes on, they add up to a handful, a baker’s dozen at most compared to the vast ocean of the trickling sand of day to day life. And that is why we celebrate them so much. They are rare, they are hard won. They are huge, and they are wonderful, they come with the euphoric rush and make for incredibly Instagram-able moments.
But as soon as they come, they go. We rise high and then float back to earth and are off to the next thing.
But while we grind and work towards those moments, the process does come with some rewards. Cups of refreshing drink as we run the marathon if you will. Sometimes, success doesn’t look like pomp and celebration. Sometimes, success looks like progress.
It is in the slight differences between our ‘before’ and ‘after’ pics two months into consistently putting work at the gym. It is realizing you are now able to complete a task in half the time it used to take you. It is getting deeper into your craft and understanding it on an increasingly deeper level.
Success is not just the big moments, it is also the small wins. The ones we tend to discount because they are not marked with fireworks in the sky.
The small win encourages us. It lets us know that all the blood and sweat so far is not for naught. It reminds us to stay strong, it inspires us to take up more, and to tackle the areas we have slacked.
The small wins are worth paying attention to and celebrating, because life is not about the big break, it’s about the many tiny breaks that add up to something great over time.
Sometimes success even looks like failure.
Shekinah is now an award-winning artist, but she first burst into our collective consciousness when she came second place at Idols SA in 2012.
So, it’s not necessarily about the win or loss, it is about what you do with it. Sometimes failing can be the best thing, because it can have the seeds of your breakthrough. Many successful companies and products have their roots in failure. Twitter pivoted from a podcast subscription network called Odeo to what we know it as now. Tesla probably exists now from soil made fertile by Better Place’s failure.
Thomas Edison said that Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. In the same way success doesn’t always look the way we think success should look. Our focus must remain on doing the things that count, maintaining the action that increases the odds that we will get what we want.