Success takes “Grit”

There is no doubt that succeeding requires something that allows us to overcome the many obstacles that we encounter along the way. There is evidence that this something is born out of our habits and discipline: grit.

In a study of cadets at West Point, researchers noticed that the most important factor correlated with their ability to graduate was something called “grit”, which they defined as “the tendency to work strenuously toward challenges, maintaning effort and interst over years despite failure, adversity, and plateaus in progress.” What the researchers concluded was that cadets with grit started with habits of mental and physical discipline that allow them find the strength to overcome these obstacles.

(From “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business“, by Charles Duhigg)

Iyanla Vanzant on Purpose

“Your purpose gave birth to you. It has molded and shaped who you are and what you do. Your purpose is the reason you live and breathe. Your purpose guides your heart, hands, and head. It is alive in you. It is there, within, that you must seek to know it and live it.” (Iyanla Vanzant)

A reminder

When the “have to do” stuff starts to encroach on the “want to do” stuff, try to remember the following from Jon Acuff’s book Start:
1. Admit that you can’t possibly get it all done.
2. Give yourself the grace to accept that as reality, not failure.
3. Do things you can do with your full attention.
4. Celebrate what happens during Step 3 instead of obsessing over the things you didn’t get to.
5. Repeat as necessary.

Of course, one should never use this as an reason not to try to get stuff done.

From Bakadesuyo: Five powerful tips for getting more stuff done (…plus one from me)

Eric Baker, of the blog Bakadesuyo, published an excellent blog post on getting stuff done, entitled “Productivity Ninja“. In the posting, he lists five steps that I need to emulate:

1. Know when you’re at your best, and plan accordingly.
2. Get enough sleep.
3. Minimize distractions.
4. Work somewhere that you usually get things done.
5. Believe in what you do.

I would add a sixth tip, which I’ve found to be incredibly powerful:

6. Be accountable to somebody for getting things done.

I find that the more I am working with other people and finding myself accountable for completing tasks in order for them to accomplish their tasks, I am more productive. Even if the to-do list I share with my partners does not include things they are depending on, I am more focused on trying to complete them. So share those lists and be accountable.


Hunter S. Thompson on goals, and finding one’s path

The following excellent advice on finding a purpose and living a meaningful life comes from a letter penned by journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson. (Hat tip to Brain Pickings.) As for me, I think I’m still searching for my “ninth path”.

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles…” (Shakespeare)

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make – consciously or unconsciously – at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice – however indirect – between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

But why not float if you have no goal? That is another question. It is unquestionably better to enjoy the floating than to swim in uncertainty. So how does a man find a goal? Not a castle in the stars, but a real and tangible thing. How can a man be sure he’s not after the “big rock candy mountain,” the enticing sugar-candy goal that has little taste and no substance?

The answer – and, in sense, the tragedy of life – is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you. Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.) There’s very littlie sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

I’m going to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” but you might keep it in mind as a key of sorts. You might also try something called Being and Nothingness by Jean-Paul Sartre, and another thing called Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre. These are merely suggestions. If you’re genuinely satisfied with what you are and what you’re doing, then give those books a wide berth. (Let sleeping dogs lie.)

But back to the answer. As I said, to put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor police, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors – but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combine to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires – including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which ill let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary:  it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a mans MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals as to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life – the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Let’s assume that you think you have a choice of eight paths to follow (all pre-defined paths, of course). And let’s assume that you can’t see any real purpose in any of the eight. THEN – and here is the essence of all I’ve said – you MUST FIND A NINTH PATH.

Naturally, it isn’t as easy as it sounds. You’ve lived a relatively narrow life, a vertical rather that horizontal existence. So it isn’t any too difficult to understand why you seem to feel the way you do. But a man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance.

So if you number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life.

But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.” And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know – is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

And that’s it for now. Until I hear from you again, I remain,

Your friend…


8 lessons from Wharton

From Bruce Kasanoff’s LinkedIn page, comes a list of 8 lessons that he learned while in Wharton’s MBA program. Excellent lessons!

1. There are dozens of reasons why something can’t be done, but perhaps only one why it can. Decide whether you are going to search for a way to do it, or regularly settle for a handy excuse.

2. Nothing stays the same. You have to be in tune with changes. Change is the norm.

3. Learn how when you have the time, so that you can do it when you have the chance.

4. Every business is show business.

5. Get as close as possible to what drives the business.

6. Invariably, there is a difference between those who carry titles on an organizational chart and the people who run the company. As soon as possible, figure out who runs the company.

7. If you can’t relate to the boredom of daily chores, how can you manage people who must do them all the time?

8. A superior leader is a person who can bring ordinary people together to achieve extraordinary results. Remember this if you are lucky enough to manage a team.

Workaholism, Hedonism, and balance

The things we do should be of some benefit, or else why do them? We can classify the benefits as things that pay off later, or things that pay off at the present moment.

scales photo: Imbalanced Scales imbalanced-scales.jpgThings we ought to do lead to some benefits later, even though we don’t necessarily have to do them. For instance, we ought to save money for retirement but many people live happy, productive lives without doing so. Eventually, this may come back to bite them but that certainly doesn’t have to be the case. For most of us, these things are essentially forms of work that are not so enjoyable or pleasurable. Taken to the extreme, engaging solely in things we ought or have to do leads to workaholism.

Things we like to do are usually those things that we do for our own pleasure and happiness right now. In a perfect world, we like to do the same things we ought to do (like the person that actually enjoys eating sensible meals and running 60 minutes a day). In an imperfectly selfish world, we practice extreme hedonism, engaging in actions we enjoy at every given moment to the detriment of anything that we ought or have to do to enjoy life later. Quoting from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica (online here):

The earliest and the most extreme type of hedonism is that of the Cyrenaic School as stated by Aristippus, who argued that the only good for man is the sentient pleasure of the moment. Since (following Protagoras) knowledge is solely of momentary sensations, it is useless to try, as Socrates recommended, to make calculations as to future pleasures, and to balance present enjoyment with disagreeable consequences. The true art of life is to crowd as much enjoyment as possible into every moment.

Both workaholism and hedonism can be characterized as over-indulgences at one pole or the other. In both cases, one chooses to do things that satisfy one part of our life while ignoring the other part, whether that is all work and no play or all play and no work. For most of us, this clearly does not lead to lifelong feelings of satisfaction and contentment, nor does it typically lead to enjoyable and responsible lives for friends and family, particularly those that depend on us.

Presumably, one’s life should reflect a certain degree of balance between the pursuit of momentary pleasure and the pursuit of future gains. Such is the balance of life. Sometimes, responsibilities and discipline dictate that we must spend time doing things that we have or ought to do, but sometimes we should do things that we want to do. The trick is not spending too much time with one over the other.

What we want to accomplish here is a roadmap to guide our pursuit of both short- and long-term benefits, with an eye toward finding a way to make at least part of our ought to do list as enjoyable as possible.

What are “Things to do”?

We all have things that we need to do in our lives, both in the very short term (“What things do I need to do right now?) and the very long term (“What things do we need to do before we die?”) .The idea behind this blog is to answer the question: What are these things to do and how do they shape our lives? More practically, how can I change my relationship between my things to do and my life so that this life can be more productive (whatever that is), enjoyable, and fulfilling. Along the way, I will seek to address these and over 40 other questions regarding the way we affect and are affected by our things to do.

We can start with the first question: What are “Things to do”?

“Remember that there are only three kinds of things anyone need ever do. (1) Things we ought to do (2) Things we’ve got to do (3) Things we like doing. I say this because some people seem to spend so much of their time doing things for none of the three reasons, things like reading books they don’t like because other people read them. Things you ought to do are things like doing one’s school work or being nice to people. Things one has got to do are things like dressing and undressing, or household shopping. Things one likes doing — but of course I don’t know what you like. Perhaps you’ll write and tell me one day.” (C. S. Lewis, in a letter to a young girl names “Sarah”, April 3, 1949)

Truth be told, I had written something very similar to this before Googling “Things I ‘ought to Do’ ” today and finding that Lewis expressed it very clearly nearly 3/4 of a century ago. Regardless, this is the first thing that needs to be addressed. Conceptually, a thing can be thought of as “that which can be touched, reached, or seen” (Heidegger, “What is a Thing?”) or, in a wider sense, as “every affair or transaction, something that is in this or that condition”, or occurrences and events (ibid). It is in this latter sense that we can discuss “things to do” as events or actions that we need to “do”. Each of us

But what does it mean to “do” a thing? To “do” something (according to Merriam Webster online) means to cause it to happen or to perform or execute it. Combining the two definitions, we can define a thing to do as “an event or action that one needs to perform or cause to happen“. Beyond our definition, the first factors to consider are the specific examination of each thing on our list: When should this thing be done? Even further, where did this thing come from? How important is this thing? Can we actually perform this thing? (I.E., do we have the knowledge, expertise, and resources? Is it legal, ethical, and moral? Is it possible for anyone to perform?) An examination of each thing independently leads to a better understanding of the events we are expected to perform and that we expect to perform in our lives.

But that is only the start of our exploration. As C. S. Lewis discusses above, we can further distinguish those events or actions that we ought to do from those that we have to do and from those that we want to do. It is this distinction that forms the second major factor in our relationship with our things to do. How do we balance our things to do between the three categories (ought, have, and want to do)? How should we balance these things? We can theorize that a productive and happy life is one in which we are able to perform everything that we want to do (assuming, of course, that it is doable), while not ignoring the things we must do and ought to do.

All of this assumes that we are able to identify the things on our list. Life is not always so clear and predictable that we can predict all of the things we will be called upon to do for the rest of our lives, or even the rest of this week. But a good start would be to list and enumerate all of our things to do, along with an assessment of their importance and timeliness. Don’t forget the routine things (cutting the grass, paying bills, etc.) along with the big, “one day I want to” type of things (save for retirement, go to Rome, finish my novel,  learn Swahili, etc.).

Over time, we will use this list to examine our relationship to our things to do and to seek ways to bring these things more in line with a happier, more fulfilling lifestyle. This includes filtering our relationships with other people and organizations in an attempt to manage their  impact on our things to do, finding time to finish those things that we believe to matter (including delegating as many of the things as possible to minimize the amount of time and attention we have to spend on them), and aligning the things we have to do because of our career with things that we want to do. In other words, making our careers match our interests to the greatest extent possible.

Needless to say, there is a lot of ground for someone to cover in trying to bring their things to do under control. So let’s get started!