Or the art of doing nothing
For the past few weeks, I’ve been laying fallow. Just sitting back and doing nothing.
Okay, not completely nothing. I still went about my business, consulting and designing for clients, but about a month, I have not blogged. I eased up from writing, I even eased up from personal development (more on that in another post).
And as weird as that can sometimes feel – not constantly creating and publishing, doing nothing and disconnecting from your usual patterns is an important part of the overall creative and living process.
There’s a farming practice dating back to ancient times of leaving a land fallow after years of cultivating and using it. You would work a piece of land for a while and then leave it alone to allow it to rest, recover, and replenish its nutrients. This gives the land the chance to bounce back and be as fertile as ever when you begin to farm again.
Like the seasons, like farming, we have similar rhythms and cycles.
We spend a ton of energy creating things – writing that book, curating that exhibition, making that movie, executing that project. This creative process takes a lot out of us. And once we are done, we take a break, we rest. Then we pick things up and begin again. Sort of like our 5 days of work and 2 days of weekend.
But sometimes, a little rest is not enough. Sometimes we need a vacation. Sometimes we have to pause,disconnect.
Sometimes we even have to lay fallow.
Where we deliberately refrain from creation. We allow ourselves the extended rest, the extended break. It might seem a bit counter intuitive. It might seem self-indulgent and lazy. But there is a space for this practice of doing nothing, and it comes with a couple of benefits.
It allows you to recover
Our world and culture is mostly of busyness, of always being ‘on’ and available. If we are not productive, we feel guilty. We feel the pressure (and material need) to always be doing, so we jump from thing to thing, from project to project often without being able to take the step back to even think.
The path to getting what you want is a marathon, a lifetime of work and creation, of battles and challenges to overcome. It takes a lot out of us.
We get tired, then fatigued, then we begin to burn out. But the show must go on. So, we keep at it. Soon, we hate the thing we have created, we despise the work we do, and we begin to rebel in small ways. We lash out, we turn to whatever coping mechanism appeals to us. We spiral.
Our creative well dries up, and we take damage, our bodies and minds battered over time in the bid to produce and create.
The art of doing nothing, of laying fallow is an important antidote and counter balance to this ‘always on’ culture. It allows us to truly disconnect. To actually rest. To allow the body and mind to repair itself. To re-embrace rituals. To heal.
It cultivates empty space
Laying fallow allows us to cultivate empty space. An increasingly important and useful thing in a world so full of stimuli.
Our days are usually noisy. There are things we have to do just to sustain life, errands and work to be done. And then there are the relationships to attend to, the requests, the messages, the noise of the world wanting or needing things from us.
Over time, this noise, the ever urgent din of the world around us crowds out the truly important things. Going the opposite way, taking a break, laying fallow allows us to recover from the noise and eliminate it. It allows us to return to a blank slate, to begin anew.
It allows us to be bored.
It gives us the permission to live, to move around, to do something different, out of the usual.
It is this space of nothingness, of absent-minded play that allows us to collect new material, new inspiration, new points of view to integrate into our next work.
It is the space that allows creativity to happen again.
It allows us to see again
The forest for the trees.
Active creativity requires complete immersion in whatever we are making. Our work, our lives become our whole world. We become like the fish who can’t see the water it is in.
Laying fallow gives us some much needed distance.
To reconsider. To appraise and judge our work, our efforts, even our goals.
The empty space we cultivate in the fallow period allows us to be even more deliberate. To put our efforts where they are most effective. To design our lives, routines and affairs more skilfully, so we can accomplish a whole lot more with much less.
There are insights and perceptive breaks that only occur in a relaxed state. In the space where we have let go of active work and our subconscious can drift.
It is the time where we can integrate the experience we just had, the results, the lessons learned. In the empty space, the fallow period, these things settle and forge the essence of our new transformed self.
Be fallow, not lazy
The concept of being fallow is not an excuse to be completely lazy. Otherwise our fields become permanently overrun with weeds and we never return to productivity.
While we rest, we must maintain a balance.
The point in being fallow is to do nothing for a while in a bid to recover, gain some perspective and new inspiration, not to let our creative muscles wither completely.
In this period, we may be at rest, but we still do drills, we still practice techniques, we still study. We explore.
Until finally we are ready…to begin again…
A new challenge rises up, a new idea takes a hold of us, a new curiosity…and then we dive back into the creative space, refreshed, replenished, reequipped and ready for the new adventure.
In the previous post, I talked about why it is a great idea to read certain books over and over again. Especially the books that profoundly impact your thinking and views on the world…your quake books. I even shared 10 such books that have changed my life to my email list (you can subscribe here for exclusive content).
One of those books is The 10X Rule by Grant Cardone. I have written about the book before, sharing highlights. Lately, I’ve had the strong impression to re-read the book. So I did one better, I read, listened and thought about the book in a quest to let the ideas really sink into my mind and subconscious to supercharge my mindset, my ideas and my action towards my goals.
I generally approach each year with a theme. In 2018, I worked on my execution skills, my aim was to get better at executing my ideas. I won some, and lost some, and learned many lessons about the process of getting things done. It is still something I continue to work on. This year, I’m working on my ability to set and achieve big goals.
The core of the 10X rule is that for whatever goal you have, you must take 10 times the amount of action you think you need to take to get there. It is the fastest way to guarantee that you will get what you want.
The 10X rule can be broken up to three aspects.
- Dream 10X goals
- (Over)estimate clearly just how much effort and energy would be needed to get to your goals
- Put in 10X action in the pursuit of your goals.
Set the right goals.The 10X rule means removing the internal limits we have set for ourselves around how much success we desire, or deem enough. Life is unpredictable and fragile. We have to set goals that are big enough, and sexy enough. We need goals that stretch us, excite us, and arouse us.
Which is an interesting thing to try to do, to open our minds to such goals because generally, from conditioning, society and experience, we have a range of goals we are comfortable with. Goals that are socially acceptable or normal for most people. What if we break out of that and access a wider range of goals? Not just goals around achievement and doing amazing cool stuff and having amazing pleasures and experiences. But also goals on impact, on transformation, on contribution of mutual benefit.
Being able to exercise imagination and see goals like this vividly is a super power that can be developed.
Then there is the other aspect to the 10X rule, which is estimating the effort required to achieve the goal. Grant says we falter here all the time. We are lazy. We consistently underestimate the amount of effort and level of action we need to get what we want. How do we fix that? By practice. By fleshing out distinct, clear and practical plans to getting us to our goals. By mentally running through the process before we begin. By imagining the pitfalls and obstacles. By imagining what could go wrong and coming up with contingency plans and redundancies. By reading, and studying the paths others have taken and absorbing just how much work they have put in to get where they were.
The better we are at estimating and anticipating the amount of pure graft required to do big things, the easier it gets for us to just buckle down and do it.
Which is the next aspect – the discipline of action. What does it look like to take 10X action? What does it look like to take unreasonable action? I got a glimpse of that recently, when I was looking for a new place. I browsed a bit, found a place I liked and went for it, assured I would get it. I didn’t. Spurred by this loss, and running out of time, I literally spent hours researching and looking for places. I identified up to 20 places and started calling from top to bottom until I got a hold of a few people and scheduled viewings. I kept multiple requests running right up to the moment of deciding and paying a deposit. I went over and beyond the call for action, to make sure I got what I wanted.
I have to apply the same to my goals. Want a remote job? Do a ton of research, call and speak to people who are working in places. Update your CV, refresh your portfolio, jump on to sites, apply, apply, apply. Take massive action until you get what you want.
Want to improve your finances? Make that list of books and resources you need to read. Spend hours watching videos on personal finance. Use that app to track your expenses. Work with an accountant closely to understand your numbers. Have a clear idea of your financial health even if it is bad. A clear idea is the first step. Set up new accounts, set up services, set up savings, set up all that you must. Know what your financial milestones are and what you want to get done with money.
And then go 10x on figuring out how to rapidly and permanently increase your level of income. Learn, up-skill, and take massive action in building business systems to deliver and capture value.
Do you have a goal? Apply the 10X principles to them. Indulge in the discipline of vision and goal setting. Set exciting, rebellious and sexy goals. Apply the discipline of effort estimation. Really understand and try to get a grasp and appreciation for what it would take. And then take massive action. Be unreasonably prepared and researched. Be unreasonable in your level of action and pushing. Be unreasonable in your analysis of your actions and results and stay persistent. Until you get what you want.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about the incredible freedom of having a routine. In it, I explored how most creatives actually thrive when they have a routine to tame the chaos of life, and unleash their productivity.
The path to success lies in putting the right things on autopilot. In other words, to create and sustain the level of success you want, you have to create the right habits. Success can be summarised in a very simple flow.
- Decide what you want to achieve.
- Figure out what you need to do consistently to achieve it.
- Make that thing into a habit or routine.
Of course, just because it is simple, doesn’t mean it is easy.
One of the most highly leveraged thingsyou can do to change your life is to adopt a winning morning routine. If we win the morning, we will win the day. If we lose the morning, we are left scrambling to catch up.
I am a self professed night owl and frequently start the day late, but there is something magical about the morning, or at least about your first few waking hours (whenever that is). You are at your clearest, your freshest, and your most susceptible. Provided that you actually did get a good night sleep.
And that gives us our first clue to an effective morning routine.
A successful morning starts the night before.
Effective sleep and rest is important to winning the morning and winning the day.
In his book ‘The Miracle Morning‘, Hal Elrod breaks down his life story, recovering from a near fatal accident in his 20s and surviving the 2008 economic meltdown that wiped out his livelihood. He attributed his miraculous recoveries to one thing – focusing his attention on his personal development and making the commitment to investing in himself every day.
And when was the best time of the day to do so? In the evenings, we are usually too tired. In the afternoon, we are right in the thick of the day’s demands. That leaves with the morning, that magical time.
There are 6 things Hal recommends that you do every day to invest in yourself, centre yourself and put you in the best possible position to win the day.
Start off the day with mindfulness and silence. Like I said earlier, your waking brain is very susceptible. Reaching for your phone first thingand getting sucked down a black hole of distraction and anxiety is a big no-no. The world can wait. This is time for you.
There are many ways to meditate and various teachings and great books on the topic. But they all boil down to essential elements. Sit still. Focus on your breath. Clear your mind. When you realise your mind has wandered, bring it back to your breath. Do that for 10 minutes and you will see your heart rate drop, your breathing deepen and a deep sense of calm come over you.
It is important to quiet the mind and centre yourself before you rush off into the business of the day ahead. I use meditation to resolve emotions and anxiety, to clear my mind, to get in touch with my highest intentions and desires and as a way to connect to the boundless it that holds the universe together.
This is also a fantastic time to pray.
Affirmations are something I do not do enough of yet. But they are a powerful reminder of the unlimited potential that is within you. Speaking and saying things out loud have a way of activating the spirit within and bringing things into fruition.
They allow you to design and build the mindsets you need to take any area of your life to the next level. If you don’t consciously design and choose your affirmations, you will most likely just keep on repeating and reliving the fears, insecurities and limitations of your past.
And that is an interesting thing. Because we all have a base level of feelings, anxieties and expectations that we carry around with us. Meditations, affirmations and visualisations allow us to be aware of these default feelings and begin to change them to the ones that empower us and deliver us to new levels.
For maximum effectiveness, your affirmations must clearly articulate exactly what you want, they must also connect to your compelling why, describe who you are committed to being in order to create it, as well as what you are committed to doing to attain it. In fact, you can go ahead and make your goal statements your affirmations.
So, what you want, why you want it, who you must be and what you must do to get it.
Speak out your affirmations with emotion and feeling. They will go to work in your subconscious, rewiring your expectations, beliefs and actions. Generate the feeling of excitement as you say the words and imagine them coming true. Which brings us to the next element of a winning morning.
We are often so great at visualising the worst possible scenarios. We can imagine all the ways things can go bad and not work. We have experienced failure too many times to embrace the possibility of happy outcomes.
Visualisation is a great way to break past these previous programming and open your future up. Vision is essential, and is a muscle and skill that can be developed.
Athletes are notorious for doing this, creating clear mental images and mentally rehearsing their activities before they do them. Try it out for yourself. Imagine exactly what you want to achieve or attain during the day, and then mentally rehearse doing what you need to do to attain it.
Constantly work at imagining a powerful compelling future that pulls you forward harder and faster than your past, insecurities and experiences.
Visualising what you want creates it. Combine this with your affirmations and mentally see yourself living in alignment with your affirmations, being who you need to do and doing what you need to do.
If you are to move beyond your past and transcend your limitations, you must stop living out of your rear-view mirror and start imagining a life of limitless possibilities. – Hal (The Miracle Morning)
I’ve written about the power of this habit. Journaling regularly allows you to document your insights, ideas breakthroughs, realisations, successes and lessons learned, as well as any areas of opportunity, personal growth or improvement.
They help us mark time, they help us create the future, and they help us create ourselves.
As I said before:
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.
The habit of journaling helps to crystallise our thoughts, and express our true feelings. It helps us realise what we want, allowing us to clear the fog of confusion, and showing us paths and solutions to take.
Journaling provide the records you can use to supercharge your growth by revisiting lessons learned and making new commitments to implementing them.
All you have to do is write, and there are many ways to do this. You can write in a free flow form like Julia’s Morning Pages, or you can journal with specific prompts like ‘What are you grateful for today’ ‘What would you like to achieve today’, etc. This is one habit that could really change your life.
We consume an incredible amount of information on a daily basis. From messages, to notifications, emails, and feeds, we are endlessly barraged. It can feel overwhelming and crowd out of the most important sources of information and wisdom – books.
For every problem under the sun, someone, somewhere at some point in human history has written about it. You do not have to flail around struggling without success, you can simply learn from the experience of others. That is what books are for. They open up our minds to new worlds. They give us empathy for the experiences of others. They teach us things, about the world and about ourselves. They hold the keys to vastly improving our health, our relationships, our finances, and anything we want really.
But most people avoid them. Don’t be that way. It can be as simple as just reading a few pages every day. A pro tip from Hal is to read 10 pages each morning and record a few ideas you want to implement that day. That way you put what you have learned to practice and extract maximum value from it.
Sleep helps your body rest and recover. Exercise activates it. Putting your body under physical strain allows it to reach its potential. It gets stronger, it improves blood flow, especially to the brain and gives you a body strong enough to handle the demands you put on it on a day to day basis.
Even a simple stretch, brisk walk, short yoga session, couple of pushups. Whatever you can manage is a good first step to activating your body in the morning, clearing your mind and giving you that bolt of energy to get the day cracking.
If you don’t make time for exercise, you’ll probably have to make time for illness. Robin Sharma
So, there you have it. Doing these 6 things every morning allows you to invest in yourself physically, mentally, and spiritually. Centring and aligning yourself for maximum effectiveness and living intentionally towards your goals and purpose.
You are a unique being, feel free to tailor these to your personal preferences. But as long as you are able to enjoy some silence, visualise and affirm what you want, record and learn new things, on a daily basis, you will soon become unstoppable.
“If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the answer, I would spend the first 55 minutes figuring out the proper questions to ask. For if I knew the proper questions, I could solve the problem in less than 5 minutes.” Albert Einstein
Questions are an underrated tool and resource. With the right question, you can radically shift your perspective and open up new possibilities in your life. But we don’t usually like questions. They make us insecure, they shift the ground beneath our feet. They invite chaos.
Answers are more soothing and comforting. So, we are always looking for them. We yearn for the silver bullet, the simple solution that will solve all our problems and put us at ease, give us some kind of peace.
But in this vast complex world we live in, we need to value questions more. We cannot assume the answers we have will always work, because things are always changing. We have to become more adept with living through questions than latching on to answers.
Questions are more important than answers because they instigate. They force us to think, to examine assumptions, to dig deep and find true answers, not just surface answers, but the ones that resonate to our core.
Because to truly learn is to question, not just blindly accepting answers, questions are a learning super tools that turn us from passive receivers to being active participants. They stress test the limits of our knowledge and show us the gaps we need to work to fill, leading us down paths of discovery.
The very best questions can even change your life by helping you find new meaning, or prioritise, or deal with the challenges of life.
In my life experience, and over years of reading some good books and listening to people way smarter than myself, I have come across a few questions that are potentially life changing if addressed regularly. Here are 6 of them.
1. What is the ONE Thing I could do that would make everything else on my list irrelevant?
This is one of my favourite questions. I’ve written about it over and over again. It is the focusing question at the heart of the book – The One Thingand is the main question I use to prioritise my day, my week, my month, my year, all the way to my major goals.
At its core, and most immediately applicable level, it is the question I ask myself first in the morning – what is the ONE Thing I could do today that would make everything else on my list easier or irrelevant? Or what is the ONE Thing I could do today that would make the most impact? Then I go do that thing. The focusing question allows me to identify what is most important.
2. What if it were easy?
Hard work is important, and a lot of great things are only won with great effort. But there is such a thing as wasted effort. Sometimes, a great amount of value can be unlocked with minimal but perfectly placed effort.
As much as many people would love to have 4-hour work weeks, there is also such a thing as the fetishization of hustle. We love the idea of the grind so much, that we get wrapped up in work-for-work’s sake and forget that we also must be effective.
An interesting way to figure how to achieve a goal, is to ask ‘what if it were easy?’. Or ‘what is the easiest, lowest pain way to get this done?’ If there is an easier way to do it, do it. Save your energy for the things that are most important.
Hustle is important, hard work is guaranteed, but we have finite resources and we must allocate them wisely.
3. What important truth do very few people agree with you on?
This one is from Peter Thiel’s Zero to One. The ‘unpopular question’, as I once read it called, is a powerful one. It separates the incremental thinkers from the truly innovative and out the box thinkers.
When we hold a belief that most people don’t, we stand against the tide of popular opinion. It is a call for deeper introspection and becomes the launch pad that allows us to have original thoughts, and exploit unseen opportunities to do something remarkable and new.
4. What do you really want?
“This is a fundamental irony of most people’s lives. They don’t quite know what they want to do with their lives. Yet they are very active.” – Ryan Holiday
You would think you always know what you want. You probably don’t. The pull of society and our upbringing is very strong and rightfully so. It takes time and effort to get still and reach deep within. To withstand knee jerk reactions, conditioning and habits. I use this question a lot, to monitor my desires, to make sure I am oriented towards a larger purpose, to delay gratification, to make decisions when I am swamped by requests and demands on my time, presence or energy. What do I really want?
5. What do you truly value?
A derivative of the desire question is the value question which allows you to prioritise your options in life and make the choices best suited to you.
Our lives are driven by our values, consciously or subconsciously held. And for each of us, they are different. Some people value material comfort, others value adventure. Some people value stability, others need constant change to feel alive.
Understanding your value system allows you to make decisions and tailor the life meant for you. And because we are always growing and changing, it is necessary to ask this often, and make sure we stay congruent and aligned to our highest values.
6. Where is the good in this?
The alchemic question. The one you use to turn tragedy to triumph and shit to sugar – where is the good in this?
This question allows us to step back and analyze situations, and circumstances, even the worst of them, and glean something good. If we are able to do this constantly, we are able to see the silver linings in dark clouds, the opportunities in chaos, and the lessons in failure.
It teaches us that everything has the potential to be used for good, to be turned on its head, or as a lesson to be learned.
In this way we become stronger, wiser and more resilient.
In my previous post, I wrote about failure, and having the most unproductive week ever. I had an embarrassing fall off my high horse and my routine and suffered for it. But I bounced back. Because the art of success is really about how you respond to failure.
There is something else I discovered in my week from hell. I wasn’t that stressed. And that is because I am presently pretty organised.
At any point in time, I can take a glance across 3 A4 sheets and a few post-it squares and I know exactly what’s on my plate, what needs to be done, who needs to be followed up with, what is urgent, what can wait, what’s important and so on.
When you are that organized, a bad week is manageable. Because even though you can’t go all out and crush the way you really want to, at least, you can handle the bare minimum. You can do what you need to do to keep everything humming along.
In each of the days where I was either running around, being too tired and sick, or having to devote a chunk of the day to meal prep, I was able to sneak in an hour to four of work. But because I am organized, I was effective, I knew what to focus on, and what could wait.
I also knew what to aim at. Everything I was doing was so that I could get back to routine and tackle a specific set of tasks on my list.
This is not just an idea that works well in managing your to-do list and general productivity. This is an underpinning idea behind successful businesses and organizations. Being organized is a superpower, and it has many other benefits other than capping the downside of a failure.
It gives you clarity
If you are organised in your business, you have clarity. You know who you are, what you do, what you should focus on, what your metrics are, what you need to be doing to get there. You simply just press play and follow the plan. A lot of stress in life and business comes from chaos and not knowing what to do. Being organised reduces all of that.
It helps you bounce back
Failure is inevitable. Even the best-laid plans go awry. But as long as it is not a catastrophic failure, when you get knocked off, and everything falls apart, to get back, all you have to do is consult the plan, adjust and continue where you left off.
It super charges your chase for success.
I’ve always been organized or at least fairly so. I can be quite OCD and I need everything to be just so. But it is one thing to be organized just because you like it, and then to be organized towards a goal.
If you have done the internal work of figuring out what you want, getting your mindset right and then building a plan to get it, setting up routines and being organized are the support structure and systems that put your efforts on automatic. All you have to do at that point is just ride the wave. Being organized is a huge leverage point that regularly gives exponential results.
It reduces cognitive load
Being organized allows you to build a second brain around you. You are able to outsource things to this second brain and free up mental bandwidth for what truly matters. You don’t have to spend energy remembering things when your calendar pings you at the right time. It is easier to work and remain in flow if all your tools are well placed within reach to facilitate the work. You don’t have to juggle things if they are well mapped out.
Like I said, I have always been somewhat organized and you probably have been too, but taking the time to fine-tune and improve those processes and tools can really be like strapping a rocket to your back and jetting off while providing a safety net for you to land on if anything goes wrong. Let it be a core tool in your journey to your success.
It was honestly quite embarrassing. I had just written a piece about the importance of routines and how they have helped me be consistent with blogging and a better creative as a whole, and then the very next week, I go on to blow that routine to smithereens and have an absolutely terrible week. Okay, I’m wildly exaggerating. It wasn’t that bad a week, I just felt very untethered for most of it.
I had failed. I failed my routine and I failed to post.
It is not ideal. But it’s okay. It is bound to happen from time to time.
On the road to success, failure is guaranteed. Your getting to the place you want to be, depends on how you react and deal with failure. Do you spiral down even further, or do you bounce back?
I had failed. What next?
A good strategist and executioner always plans contingencies. What happens when things don’t go your way? How do you recover? What do you do next? The answer for me was simple. And the answer was a question, a paraphrase of the focusing question from The One Thing.
What is the ONE most important thing for me to do right now that would make the most impact?
And in the stupor of my week, floating disconnected from my routine and usual momentum, I asked the question. On the day I was sick and tired, the most important thing to do was to get groceries done, it was simply all I had any energy for and what needed to be done. The next day, the most important thing to do was to do meal prep. And all of that was simply foundation, so I could wake up on the third day and get right to work and spend all day being productive like I wanted to.
It would have been easy to spiral, to feel anxious and guilty, to try to over compensate for the failure of routine by doubling down and pouring yourself back into the grind. But failure is a feature that can be used to improve routine because it is an invitation to pause and reflect, to recover and then improve.
If we design routines and rituals to control and direct the chaos of life, then we must also be aware of and prepare for the points of failure. So when you fail, you have the response mechanism to get you back on track.
But it is not just enough to bounce back. How far can you bounce back? Can you bounce back from failure better and more anti-fragile?
Failure is inevitable, but what matters more than the failure, is your response to it. The quicker you can bounce back, and the more you can milk that failure for all its worth, the faster you get back on to the road to success.
Failure is an opportunity to pause, reflect and recover. It is also an opportunity to learn. To figure out what went wrong, and to anticipate it the next time.
I fail at running my daily routine, so I execute this other small sub-routine (the focusing question) to get myself on track. I don’t just get back on track, I learn what went wrong, what to avoid the next time and how to improve my routines. I learn to regulate my energy and pay closer attention to my diet. I learn to manage expectations and protect sacred creation spaces. I learn how to increase my creative output. I return even better.
So, when you fall off the wagon, as we are all bound to, don’t beat yourself up. Take a breath, reset, learn, and do what you need to do to get back on track stronger than ever.