In my early twenties, disgusted by my lack of progress in life, I disassembled and threw away my bed. I wouldn’t allow myself a bed to sleep in until I made something of myself.
Maybe a little over the top?
Yeah. I agree.
I decided I would build myself a loft bed. And so, I got pen and paper and drew up the plans. Measured the room, measured the wood and cut.
Now, I don’t have a “handyman gene” in my body. I can’t build stuff. But my bed turned out pretty darn good. There was enough room underneath for my desk and dresser. It was cool.
The learning piece however, was that something happens when you put pen to paper and plan! The power of thinking before you take action is often key to success.
Planning with good old-fashioned pen and paper has many benefits. The following are 5 perks of personal planning on paper.
1. Planning Sorts It All Out
What is it you’re trying to do?
When you accept there are only so many hours in the day and that you won’t be able to do it all, you’re forced to choose what you’ll spend your time doing. You are forced to face that certain tasks just don’t serve us in the pursuit of our goals.
The simple act of writing down our goals has great impact. In the act of writing, you identify what is important to you. Implied here, is that you are also noting what is not important to you by not writing it. You’re filtering what is and isn’t important1.
You are 42% more likely to achieve your goal if you write it down2. There is a level of accountability and clarity achieved by this simple act.
By handwriting your goal as part of a plan, you are deciding on a direction. If you decided to go west, you cannot also go east, for example. You are narrowing your focus.
Emily Balcetis, psychologist from NYU, believes that simply rearranging the way that we see things visually, changes the way we perceive them. And further, by narrowing our focus, we can achieve more3.
Narrowing focus leads to a greater likelihood of achieving what’s important.
2. Planning Reduces Anxiety, Stress and Fear
Writing a simple to-do list can reduce anxiety and give structure to what needs accomplished4.
The Zeignarnik Effect refers to the mind’s inability to let go of tasks until they are complete. Often the impact is raised anxiety. The simple act of writing it down helps ease this effect5. Just making a plan to get our tasks done can reduce anxiety6.
3. People Who Paper Plan Achieve More
Those who write clear, specific goals become oriented towards that goal. The act of setting a goal sets you in motion towards that goal. Handwriting your goal with specificity increases the likelihood of achievement by 1.2 to 1.4 times8.
Writing helps with a neurological process called encoding. Encoding is the process that determines what will be a long-term memory and what wont. Writing goals down helps them become encoded as long-term memories8.
In a famous Harvard Business study from the 50’s, the 3% of the class who had written goals and a plan to support the goal earned more than ten times the other 97% of the class9.
4. Planning Provides a Competitive Advantage
Most people don’t plan.
As a result, a shocking 92% of people don’t achieve their goals! For a variety of reasons, this is true. Planning enhances the likelihood of achieving goals where others are less likely to follow through10.
5. Planning on Paper is Better for Your Brain
Putting pen to paper to write stimulates neural activity in the brain. The effect is similar to that of meditation11. Writing down the plan can take your brain out of reaction mode and put it in long term thinking mode, lessening the release of stress hormones12.
Relatedly, stress reduces our ability to make informed plans14.
The act of setting goals changes the neural pathways in the brain, optimizing to achieve. The stronger the emotional energy associated with the goal, the more quickly our brains will change to accomodate achievement. In other words, the more you want it, the more your brain sets you up to get it13.
I use and recommend a planner called the #ThisIsMyEra Planner. It is a 90 day planner, totally customizable. Start with your vision of what Your Era should look like. Fill out your master goal list. Break them down into S.M.A.R.T. goals. Then, there is a monthly view, a weekly view and a daily view. Also, a system for daily gratitude and review.
Belief is “the ability to combine histories and experiences with imagination, to think beyond the here and now”1. Our minds are meaning machines. And so it’s pursuit is to find (or create) the meaning of everything. Further, what we consider our reality is a function of what we believe, not visa versa. Throughout human history, people have been either castigated or commended for their beliefs. If you were cast out of the “tribe”, this equated a death sentence. Consequently, our beliefs have evolved to be relevant and important to our lives. Often feeling like a matter of life and death.
And so, these are the four things you need to know about your beliefs.
1. Your Beliefs Are Strongly Influenced By Your Tribe
The feedback that you received as a child strongly influenced what you believe about yourself5. Our caregivers essentially provided initial beliefs regarding ourselves6. It’s fair to point out that with this initial piece of learning, that we also began the process of belief by taking on others’ beliefs about us. Also, we also began to make decisions about others based on the way we were treated by them. If we were loved and nurtured, then we are likely to have the belief that people are loving and nurturing5.
At times, we have beliefs only to ensure that we are accepted in our tribes. James Clear writes “The people who are most likely to change our minds are the ones we agree with on 98 percent of topics”3. In other words, the people we’re closest to influence us the most. Often referred to as Social Proximity Effect6, we mirror those who we spend the most time with7. This is true with beliefs as well. Asking someone to change their minds on a core belief is akin to asking they change tribes3. A difficult proposition indeed.
2. What You Believe Determines Your Reality…Not The Other Way Around
This idea is true culturally. For almost one hundred years it was said that a human being could not run a mile in four minutes. That is, until 1954 when Roger Maris did just that. Since then, more than one thousand others have completed this feat. Time did not change, nor did the devices or units we used to measure human running speed. However, what did change was the belief that it could be done8. Consequently, many have changed their beliefs regarding the four minute mile.
Our core beliefs are often considered in making decisions in our lives. Because of this, it is important that the quality of our beliefs will cause us to “run a four-minute mile”. That they will inspire our success. But all to often, our beliefs are self-limiting.
I am not attractive enough
I want great relationships as long as I don’t get hurt
“X” is wrong with me, I don’t deserve love9
Dr. Bobby Hoffman provides a good framework to think about how powerful beliefs drive our perceptions.
First, control. People who believe that they are in control of their lives are more accountable for their own success and failures. They feel they have the ability to orchestrate their lives, relationships and career.
Second, competency can determine the likelihood of performing on tests and completing tasks. Task avoidance, on the other hand, is tied to a feeling of incompetence.
Third, value. The value that we believe is derived from completing a task will often direct our behavior to complete the task.
Goal orientation is the fourth self-belief that drives our perceptions. The more goal oriented we are (especially when we get to the top of this “scale” to Mastery Performer), the more likely we are to try varying strategies to achieve goals and monitor our progress.
And finally, epistemology or the belief about the acquisition, application and usefulness of knowledge determines how we perceive knowledge, information and problem solving in general10.
Research has found time and time again, that what we believe about an outcome influences the outcome11.
3. There Are Things That You Believe, That Are Simply Untrue
Climate change is a political hoax.
The Earth is flat.
Brain cells can’t regenerate. T
here were three wise men.
Caffeine dehydrates you.
Adam and Eve ate an apple.
What do all of these statements have in common? They are all commonly held false beliefs.
Perhaps most interestingly, even in the face of evidence, we tend to hold on to false beliefs. If we believe that we know a lot about a topic, our level of curiosity lowers. Therefore, we don’t explore the idea any further and it “sticks”12. Confirmation Bias posits that we tend to discount ideas that contradict what we already believe13. I put some effort into ensuring that in the list of “false beliefs” listed above, there were examples that would ruffle feathers. That’s your confirmation bias at work.
Some 25% of Americans report being superstitious. Superstition is most commonly described as recognizing, fearing or celebrating “co-occurring, non-related events.”14 Many times superstitions can become self-fulfilling prophecies. In a study completed in China, students born during the year of the Dragon were examined. Chinese astrology points to those born the year of the dragon being “destined for good fortune and greatness.” The study found that due to this belief by the children’s parents, the parents behavior changed in ways that caused the children’s performance in school to be enhanced. The parents expected more of their children, spoke with their teachers more than other students and more often incentivised performance15.
4. We Can Change Our Beliefs And Other’s…But Not How You Think
When I was young, my girlfriend’s father provided an old adage: “When you’re young, if you’re not liberal you don’t have a heart. When you’re old, if your not conservative you don’t have a brain.” Well, ladies and gentlemen, I was the tin man and am now the flighty scarecrow.
We can change what we believe. Implicit in the definition of belief is experience and history. Much has happened to change those things in my life. Experience will change conceptions. These changes will alter our beliefs. We are a process.
Harvard Professor John Sharp recommends the following:
Be the editor of your life story. If life’s not manifesting what you want, change the script. Make the decision to change.
Divergence Point. Where does your story break from the reality? Identify. Start here.
Is the story you’re telling yourself really true? Is it too negative? Does it hide bad habits? What does it conceal? Is there a blindspot?
Think Self-Appreciation vs Self-Deprecation. You’re beliefs are intertwined with your identity. It takes time. Be patient with you.
Ditch the Old Story. “Cut away what no longer serves you.”16
You are not your beliefs. Although tightly tied with identity, belief is continually changing in us. C.S. Lewis was famously an atheist turned Christian. Vader comes back from the dark side, in the end. Even to yourself, be kind first and right later3.
Time Anxiety is the pervasive feeling of being rushed, causing feelings of overwhelmingness and panic1. It can be in relation to current time, future time or existential time – fear of time slipping away without meaning.
Though many people experience these various forms, they are all connected. While I am consistently fighting this anxiety, it is always fighting back.
In Time Anxiety, there is an overwhelming sense of time lack. There is a process of thoughts taking up a lot of mental bandwidth. This anxiety impacts functioning in other areas of life. Due to this anxiety, I haven’t engaged in relationships as well. I haven’t accomplished as much as I’d like. And finally, I haven’t done a lot of the things that I wish that I had at this point in my life.
But, I’ve made serious headway in dealing with it and I’ve almost beat it.
Here are three steps to minimize Time Anxiety.
Step One, Be Aware
Be aware of how you’re feeling.
Many of us aren’t born with this ability. If not, think about it like this. If you’re not as productive as you’d like or if work (or some other large, time-taking obligation) is not allowing the freedom for you to do what you would like, you may want to dig a little.
Do you get up each day and just “wait” to go to work?
Do you not make plans with friends because you “have work”?
Do you often not do the things that you wish because there’s not enough time?
Do you rush through tasks, not completing them to the best of your ability?
Is there something important you’ve failed to do, because you don’t have time?
Are you ALWAYS in a hurry?
While on the surface these seem like innocuous questions, the thoughts that drive them are problematic.
For years, if I worked a certain day, I did little else. At the time, if you would have told me I had some sort of anxiety I would have said something like “I don’t have time to think about that. My job is a lot, I need to rest.” In hindsight, I was so overwhelmed with the thought of there not being enough time, that I wouldn’t put anything else on my list. An so, there was nothing but work on my list. No friends, hardly any hobbies and my relationships were left failing.
Now, I work more hours than ever, I do more of the things I love and I’m happier than ever! But the first step was being aware of what I was feeling.
You can do this by meditating, journaling, yoga or just going on walks. These activities help bring ideas or thoughts to the surface.
To think: “I feel overwhelmed with the quantity of tasks I have to do in the time allotted, and that’s a problem…” was a breakthrough for me. Especially, the last part – identifying this was a problem.
Step Two, Gain (Some) Control
So now that you’ve become aware of some of the roots in your Time Anxiety, you’ve got to understand that it most likely comes from a lack of control.
So, what can you do?
*Maybe most importantly, you should realize that you’re never fully in control. Throughout my learning process, I’ve had days so rigidly planned (to the minute) in my fight for control, that when a surprise inspection shows up at work, I am thrown into a full fledged panic attack. My day is ruined and I performed like a moron in the inspection. So, it’s important to understand this. But the point is, do something to help you gain some control.
With Time Anxiety, the most effective thing you can do is plan. The planner I use is fully customizable and requires some serious thought. It helps me keep track of what’s important and where to spend my energy. I’ve used planners before, but they just helped me create lists that I’d rush through. I wasn’t really doing anything very well, just feeling…rushed. And overwhelmed.
Each week, I have a set of priorities. They are pretty general. For example, ‘publish blog’, ‘get my team on board with the new company initiatives’ or ‘run five times’. Each day, based on those general items, I plan activities that support them.
I have made the lists too large. Also, too short. I have avoided the lists. And, I have completed nothing the whole day, just adding to the list that I’ve never started. In the end, the behaviors about this are driven by Time Anxiety.
Planning is also a skill. Be patient. You have to give yourself time to learn. You’ll schedule too much, too little and some days you wont plan. But be tenacious, keep coming back to it.
Decide what you want to accomplish for the next ninety days. Break it down into thirteen weeks of smaller chunks. Take each week and break it into days. The days, hours.
This will help you realize what you really want, value and are willing to sacrifice for.
Oh and also…
Get up early, like no later than 7.
Just do, don’t think.
Eat less sugar- More greens, nuts and olive oil.
You will feel powerful.
Step Three, Monitor & Improve
As with any new venture, there is trial and error. And for this, you’ll need to find a way that works for you to track yourself. It could be as simple as taking mental notes… “I don’t feel as anxious about time as a I have previously, today.”
Or, you could physically document it in varying degrees. I recommend the latter.
Each day, I take note of the volume of activities that I attempt. (I often take on more than is possible to do in one day. )
I note when I am best able to complete tasks effectively. Early in the AM, most admin tasks go off with a hitch. In the early afternoon, physical tasks are favored. If I don’t accomplish my task list, I take note of why. Common causes are that something emotionally draining happened at home or at work. Or, something unexpected comes up such as a visit from my boss or human resources issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Sometimes, I’m just fatigued and the tasks lose their meaning.
I take notes on how I could have been more effective given the circumstances. This ‘view from 10,000 feet’ approach also gives you a sense of control. It’s uncomfortable at first, but once you make it a habit…it becomes easier to view yourself in this way.
I recommend the #THISISMYERA planner. It has all of the tools to help you succeed in this. Creating this habit of revisiting your activities daily can transform your life.
Use these ideas and tools to create a habit of improvement.
The benefits of reducing Time Anxiety are great. Less stress, muscle aches and a greater desire to do. I am more productive, more flexible and better at every activity I take part in. The more I release the anxiety the more ambitious, social and more likely to reach out to my family and close friends. Also, I eat better, exercise more and enjoy life to a greater degree, moving forward a little bit every day.
Our relationships shape the quality of our lives. From our parents and friends made in formative years, to our life partners and coworkers, the impact of our relationships is often underestimated.
Early in life, without human touch, infants may die. Skin to skin touch increases the neurological development process in small children as well as other processes2. Physical and emotional connection releases oxytocin2, responsible for trust, empathy and bonding3. A recent study identified high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, disability, cognitive decline, and depression among the conditions affected by loneliness4 – or the lack of relationships. The importance of our relationships can’t be overstated.
You are who you’re (and have been) with.
The Jonas Brothers
More than any other type, family relationships play an underlying role in our well-being throughout our lives7. Our families are our first experience with relationships. It has a large effect on how we conduct future relationships. The way in which we express or repress our emotions, communicate, handle stress and how we interact with our significant other all stem from what we observed in our close family relationships8.
We were born programmed to bond, to engage in relationships. Especially with our primary caregiver, often our mothers. The quality of this bond is said to predict the success or failure of our relationships, emotional balance, the ability to enjoy being ourselves, to find fulfillment in being with others and the ability to bounce back from disappointment, discouragement and misfortune9.
From this relationship, we are found to develop an attachment style or bond. This attachment bond is thought to impact future relationships, either strengthen or damage our ability to focus, be conscious of our feelings, and/or calm ourselves. This attachment bond also greatly influences the ability to deal with adversity9.
The four types of attachment bonds are Secure, Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant and Disorganized.
Secure Attachment types tend to have high self-esteem, are comfortable sharing their hopes and dreams, and can ask for support and comfort when they need it.
Anxious-Preoccupied types desire love and intimacy, yet their low self-worth causes them to be clingy, needy and jealous. They can be known as fun-loving, but this is often an attempt at attention seeking behavior in order to earn love and admiration.
Dismissive-Avoidant types may desire a loving relationship, but are plagued with some deep-seeded internal struggles. They dismiss the need for love and affection, simply because they don’t know how to conduct themselves. Parents were most likely physically present, but not emotionally.
Finally, Disorganized types were usually raised by a caregiver who was dealing with trauma themselves. Their behavior was probably fearful and unpredictable. And so they learn to see the world as a threat, are preoccupied with pain and loss and may have trouble socially10.
Of course, Secure attachment is the ideal. Counseling and cognitive behavioral therapy can help those with Anxious-Preoccupied, Dismissive-Avoidant and Disorganized.
Studies show that younger brothers and sisters teach the older empathy. Sibling bullying is tied to depression, anxiety and self-harm. Relationships between siblings are a critical factor in adult well-being11. People emotionally close with their siblings rate a higher level of life satisfaction and lower levels of depression12.
Strong family relationships express appreciation and affection, commitment, communicate positively, enjoy their time together, have a sense of spiritual well-being and manage stress and crisis well12.
Jim Rohn, motivational speaker, famously said “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”14 This has several implications. First, you want to be loved and accepted by those closest to you. Secondly, you also need to be challenged and able to accept criticism. A good friend is not always an enabler, but will tell you the truth even when you don’t want to hear it. And finally, perhaps most importantly, how influential these folks can be in your life.
It is said that most people have an average of 5 intimate bonds, 15 close friends, 50 friends and 150 casual friends15. This is based on Robin Dunbar’s research. She goes on to theorize that we only have the mental capacity to have 150 casual friends. Further, this is due to the our evolving in villages containing about 150 people in population16.
Friendship are important in fulfilling the basic human need of being accepted. It improves socioemotional movement throughout life and helps us cope with stress. Friendship even helps with decreasing illness 17.
Friendships are defined by five dimensions. Their dyadic nature, the emotional bond between the two, the fact that it’s voluntary, its egalitarian and its a form of companionship13.
Studies show that being physically within 25 feet of a high performer can have a positive effect on your performance of about 15%. On the other hand, being in close proximity to a low performer is detrimental to your performance. This can decrease your performance as much as 30%1.
It has long been known that acquaintances or “weak-tie” friendships positively correlate with happiness . The more “weak-tie” friendships you have, the higher reported happiness17. These folks could be your yoga instructor, the barista, your cab/uber driver or fellow coworkers. Some companies have used this information to set up work space to set up chance encounters between employees17 to drive creativity and collaboration.
The point is that people in our periphery are impacting our overall well-being. Those who we wouldn’t consider friends but still connect with on an, albeit, shallow level are having an impact on us.
There is all kinds of research suggesting that healthy, committed, romantic relationships provide a boost for health and even life expectancy. Healthy relationships tend to have the following characteristics:
They listen to one another.
They openly communicate without judgement
They make time for each other
They remember important details about the other’s life
They engage in healthy behaviors together18.
Married people undergoing heart surgery are three times more likely to survive the first three months. Married folks also report lower stress levels, a greater sense of life purpose and healthier behaviors18.
From my romantic relationships, I’ve learned everything from how to properly fold my clothes to how to properly groom to how to be honest with myself and become more self aware. Relationships, whether current or not, impact who I am and what I will do. The journey through life is really lived with others inside of our relationships, both close and acquaintances. It is important to understand their impacts on us, so that we can be mindful of how and why others are affecting us in the way that they do.
In sum, you are who you’re with and who you’ve been with…