Don’t Wish It Were Easier, Wish You Were Better

We all wish life was a bit easier – that we had more time to relax, less stress, and an escape from the duties and responsibilities we have. But we know deep down that escaping our responsibilities doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, achieving hard things gives purpose, fulfilment and happiness. Athletes chase the thrill of hitting personal bests and winning Olympic gold, entrepreneurs want to contribute to make society better, couples want to have great relationships and raise a family. All these goals are difficult to achieve, but we appreciate life so much more when we do difficult things.

So instead of avoiding responsibility, seek it out. Find a goal that you’re not sure is possible for you. Doing hard things hardens you. It gives you more encouragement to realize that your potential is a little bit higher than you thought it was before. It’s the key to self-esteem and purposeful living.

The Problem with Goals

I’m little wary about the idea of setting goals.

In a way, having goals makes us focus on what we lack, and it’s easy to link our happiness to the achievement of goals. But not all goals get achieved – in that case we postpone our happiness indefinitely.

In my first two years in door-to-door sales, I was encouraged to set sales and commission goals by my managers, so I did. Both years, I fell way short of the goal. Even though I did relatively well compared to my peers, and made two to four times the amount of money as I would have done had I stayed at my previous job, having that goal and missing it by so much was demoralizing.

In my third year of door-to-door sales – partly because of the uncertainty of the coronavirus pandemic – I didn’t set any sales or financial goals. In fact, I was almost certain that I wouldn’t beat the totals I had made the year before because our selling season was shortened. But, I ended up producing more than I had done the previous two years, in less than 60% of the time. Not only that, not having a goal made the whole process more enjoyable.

Don’t get me wrong, I still felt pressure to succeed – it was my first year managing a team and I was determined to show the new reps how the job could be done, as well as keeping our technician busy with work. Some may say, if I set a proper sales goal I may have achieved even more! Although I’m reluctant to agree with that, I can’t deny that it’s possible. Giving up having a goal in sales made it easier to do my job with the right principles – instead of focusing on getting a sale at all costs, I was focused on whether I was truly helping the person sitting in front me as my guiding principle.

It’s not that I didn’t set goals at all that year, it’s that I viewed them more like systems. I would decide how many days of the week I would be working, how many hours per day, when I would be going to sleep and waking up. Not only did I view them as systems, I focused on actions I could take instead of outcomes like sales since there was no way I could truly guarantee that someone else would say yes to my offering – there’s an element of luck involved with that.

Back to Square One or Back to Base Camp?

Failure is inevitable throughout life. But when failure occurs, we can sometimes think of giving up on our goals or go straight back to square one. But we don’t have to go all the way back to the start.

Instead, we can imagine it more as if we were climbing Mt. Everest and weren’t quite able to summit. Instead of going all the way down the villages at the foothills of the mountain, we can simply regroup at base camp. That way, we can stay acclimatized to the high altitude, and try again to reach the peak quickly instead of going all the way down the mountain, losing momentum and wasting energy.

When we pursue goals in life, we usually learn so many things on the journey that build on our skills, mindset and experience. Just like in mountaineering, we become acclimatized and fitter both physically and mentally. If we then fail, it doesn’t mean that all the development and progress has been completely lost – as long as we pick ourselves back up. If it’s really a worthwhile goal, have the resilience, grit, and determination not to go back to square one.

Find Happiness in the Journey

Sometimes, in the hustle and bustle and the quest to achieve our goals in life, we give up feelings of satisfaction, contentment and happiness.

But the reason why we are trying to achieve the goals in the first place is, in one way or another, to be happy. Happiness that comes from externals is a false joy. Not that it doesn’t feel as intense – it just doesn’t last. This false joy always wants more – it’s greedy.

If we were to think of ourselves as mountaineers, how much of your life would be spent at the summit of a mountain, compared to all the time resting, preparing, training, and climbing? It’s the same thing if we were only to experience happiness once we have achieved a life goal. The joy of achieving would be fleeting.

The key is to find ways of enjoying the whole process of life, knowing that you will try your best to reach the summit, but not giving up the higher values of integrity, compassion, and happiness. Life is made up of moments, and only a small number of moments will be in real, tangible achievement. So accept the moments that come with appreciation of how far you’ve already come.

Happiness the 80/20 Way

Richard Koch writes in his book The 80/20 Principle some daily and medium-term stratagems for happiness. Unlike money which can be saved and spent later, happiness is experienced in the Now and the more happiness we experience day-to-day sets up us for happiness going forward.

Koch’s Daily Happiness Habits

  1. Exercise
  2. Mental stimulation
  3. Spiritual/artistic stimulation or meditation
  4. Doing something for another person or people
  5. Taking a pleasure break with a friend
  6. Giving yourself a treat
  7. Congratulating yourself on a day’s worthwhile living

Koch’s Medium-term Stratagems for Happiness

  1. Maximize control in your life. This could come in the form of self-employment for example, and usually requires planning and some risk-taking. Those that lack autonomy in life usually end up stressed or bored.
  2. Set attainable goals. Goals that are too easy lead to complacency, and those that are unrealistic lead to demoralization. Attainable goals give us something to stretch to and keep us stimulated. Err on the soft side when setting goals. Remember that hitting goals is good for happiness!
  3. Be flexible. Chance events tend to interfere with expectations, and it’s our job to do the best we can do given the situation. Goals and strategy may change and the more ready we are to take the challenge on, the happier we will be.
  4. Have a close relationship with your partner. Koch reminds us that the happiness of your partner will have a huge bearing on your mood too, and vice versa. In that case, choosing your partner is one of the most important decisions to be made in life – teaming up with an unhappy partner is likely to lead to you being unhappy too. This also highlights your own happiness you bring to the relationship, since it’s just as bad to be bringing your partner’s happiness down too.
  5. Have a few happy friends. Most of your happiness will usually derive from a small number of friends. Make sure you are spending the most time with the friends that give you energy and happiness.
  6. Have a few close professional alliances. You shouldn’t be friends with all your work colleagues, but it makes sense to be close friends with a few of them. Not only could this help with your career, it also increases the pleasure you take from the time you spend at work.
  7. Evolve your ideal lifestyle. An ideal lifestyle is unique to each of us. Consider where you’d need to live and who with, what kind of work you’d be doing, and how much time is allocated to family, socializing and hobbies. An ideal life would be one where we are equally happy at work and outside of work.

Power Hour: The Importance of the First 60 Minutes Everyday

Power Hour is a book by Adrienne Herbert, a modern fitness ambassador who also hosts the weekly Power Hour podcast. From her writing it seems that she is a highly motivated, organized and productive individual. In her book she writes that the birth of the “Power Hour” was in 2017 when she accepted an invitation to run a marathon for the first time after already having a packed schedule of other commitments. The only way she could find the time to train was to wake up earlier and to go on training runs as soon as she woke up.

Herbert explains that it doesn’t make a huge difference whether the power hour is before the crack of dawn or towards the end of the morning, as long as it’s the first hour upon waking. This is the hour that should be assigned a task that will propel us forward in some way. It could be doing a work out, journaling, or writing the book we’ve always wanted to. It could even be a combination of things.

Although the book is very basic in terms of the level of its ideas, it is very effective in getting the reader to think about whether their current habits are working for or against them, and how to change them if they need changing. There’s actionable exercises in the book to reconsider purpose and to dream up goals.

If you knew this was your last year what would you start doing right now?

It asks thoughtful daily questions like “Who would love to hear from me today?” and “How can I have more fun today?” It also invites us to define our goals, and then think of potential blockers in the path towards them.

The beauty of the power hour is that the new habit we choose is anchored to a task that we do every single day – waking up. What’s more, we end up finishing a task that is important to our wellness and long-term future before we have even considered breakfast! Doing something that we know is good for us so early sets us up perfectly to make good choices for the rest of the day.

Sometimes a book like this is the perfect medicine when we find ourselves snoozing the alarm everyday because of the lack of motivation and clarity in which direction to go in life.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life Rule 4: Compare Yourself to Who You Were Yesterday, Not Who Someone Else is Today

Ok these rules are getting more difficult. Ok, I can stand up straight. I can try to look after myself better. I can try and spend less time with toxic friends. But there are so many times I compare myself to other people. Whether it is to my detriment, I don’t know. But it probably is. Jordan Peterson said so.

Whenever my friends give me praise when I play pool, I usually respond with “You should see how good the pros are…” When someone tells me I’m doing a good job selling 6-10 security alarms per week, I say “Someone did 118 in a week.” If someone tells me I write well in my blog I thank them and then think of some of the best writers I have had the honor to read from.

In a sense I don’t fully agree with this rule. The reason I was able to sell 6-10 security systems a week was because I’d heard through the grapevine that someone sold 118. At the time I was only doing 1-3 sales per week, and I thought to myself “Surely, I’m not 60x worse than this guy, maybe I can sell six in a week.” I ended up doing 10, with no other difference other than my renewed mindset.

Likewise when I played a professional snooker player in a tournament one time. He demolished me. It was actually a pleasure picking the balls out for him. His safety game was astounding, as well as his potting and break-building. And he was one of the worst pros on the tour. It made me think “This is what ‘being good’ is”. This is the new level of what I could achieve. I saw it with my very own eyes.

When Roger Bannister broke the four-minute-mile in 1954 – a feat that was considered impossible – the record lasted only 46 days and has been broken countless times since. I think it’s important to look at what others are doing for inspiration, and to be able to see where the bar is set.

However, I can see why Peterson recommends ignoring that and focusing on personal improvement. No matter how good you are at something, there is 99.9% chance that there is someone out there better. This could be demoralizing for some (though I find it in equal parts inspirational). Those that are demoralized may say that it is meaningless anyway. Who cares if you are the best actor, athlete, or tiddlywinks player in the world?

But instead of being nihilistic, we can focus on which games we want to play, and which games we want to improve at. There’s the career game, the money game, the friends game, the love game. Sports, art, and personal projects are games. So how do we rig the game so we win? We do this by focusing on personal improvement instead of beating people. It doesn’t matter if someone is out there running marathons in 2 hours if you just completed one with a personal best time. You won at the game of personal improvement!

This is why most competitors focus not on whether they beat an opponent upon reflecting upon the contest, they’d rather focus on whether they played a good game and to their own standards of performance. After all, you cannot control what the opponent does, only what you do yourself.

Peterson encourages us to change our aim, to change our focus. If we know what we are focusing on, then we are more likely to see or hear things that will help us toward our goals. It’s amazing that in my work if I focus intently on sales I almost always end up getting them. If I am focusing on personal problems, or the fact that I’m hungry, or that I’m too cold or too hot, I will likely miss the opportunities that tend to arise when I am laser-focused on my goal.

The fulfilment that we get from our journey uphill could be as simple as looking on our desk to see what we can do today that gets us closer to a better tomorrow. Who can I reach out to that would set things between us right a bit more? What problem can I solve? Can I do one more push-up than I did yesterday? And before you know it, you’re smashing 50 push-ups in a single set and smashing targets at work and in life. That’s consistent daily action and improvement. That’s compound interest.

Compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not who someone else is today.