I've had M People's annoyingly catchy tune "Moving On Up" in my head while thinking about how we can prepare ourselves to have a successful 2017. My rationale is that we have to leave things behind in order to make room for more reward in our lives. And here are my 5 suggestions as to ‘how’…
1. Do less by taking things off your ‘to do’ list (instead of adding to it)
Humans only have a finite amount of energy. Yes, some operate at a faster pace than others, and some are fitter than others. But we’re not Duracell bunnies; we reach burnout.
So much of what we do on a daily basis is insignificant and inconsequential vis-à-vis what matters to us, and what we want out of life. While at the same time we struggle to find the time and the energy to focus on what really matters and what we really want to achieve – the big hairy life goals.
So divert energy away from the micro and the insignificant so that you can spend an hour a day thinking about doing, or doing, the stuff you really want to do. It’s a cliché but less really is more.
2. Care less about others
We’re social, tribal creatures so we expend precious energy over-empathising, looking for causes to support and worrying about those around us, when often the reality is that we can’t change others' behaviours or circumstances.
Instead, this emotional energy can be redistributed to thinking about our own situation, behaviours and circumstances - and in so doing move one step closer towards achieving our own goals. Unless it's your children, friends and family who don’t judge you and who love you unconditionally (and lots of them don’t – sorry, but it’s true!), or professional, transactional relationships i.e. you are being paid to improve them, then try not to invest too much in others.
Stick to who you know and trust, and stay within your spheres of control and influence.
3. Care even less about what others think or do
We want to be loved, be included, to belong. So it matters to us that people like and accept us. But not everyone does matter, and certainly not all of the time. We should only really care about what the people whose love, trust and respect we covet think. The rest – well, we simply don’t have the mental or emotional reserve.
And nor should we compare ourselves to others. Neuroscience research shows that when we allow our green-eyed monster out, it stresses us out - our threat response kicks in, releasing cortisol and other stress-related hormones.
Next time you catch yourself wondering what other people think, ask yourself ‘why does it matter?’ ‘How important is this person to me?’ ‘Should I be comparing myself to this person?’ If the answer is ‘it doesn’t really/ not really / no’ - then move on.
4. Be conscious of, and try to manage, your stress
Often we subconsciously use stress and being ‘too busy’ as excuses for not achieving our goals. Being busy and being stressed out consumes a lot of energy that we could otherwise convert into beneficial stress – also known as eustress – to push ourselves to take that necessary risk or leap.
Anxiety carries a stigma but there are some hugely successful individuals who have suffered from - or continue to live with - anxiety disorders such as OCD, panic attacks and hoarding - David Beckham, Oprah, Adele and Beyonce, to name some. Our fears can be our biggest drivers towards success, as long as we don’t allow them to hijack us.
The first step towards managing stress is to be aware of it. Be mindful of when you’re feeling stressed, and when you’re not, rather than running around in a semi-permanent state of mindlessness. Then ask yourself what is causing my stress? What could you do differently? How could you self-regulate? And is your state of stress wholly negative or could it be channeled more positively?
5. Move on from negative experiences and people who still occupy precious brain capacity
Shit happens in life. To everyone. Fact. Sometimes people or circumstances upset us, threaten us, overwhelm us and leave us feeling powerless – in our work and in our personal lives. Trauma drains us of our optimism and leave us feeling angry and incredulous as to what has happened. And we can spend years trying to fathom ‘why’? Subconsciously, this negative ‘energy’ can infiltrate and linger. We have to reclaim this energy – this power; repair our brains and approach our next challenge with a blank and positive white canvas.
As Neuroleadership (the application of brain research in leaders and at work) guru David Rock writes in his paper “Managing With The Brain In Mind”:
“The threat response is both mentally taxing and deadly to the productivity of a person. Because this response uses up oxygen and glucose from the blood, they are diverted from other parts of the brain, incl. the work memory function, which processes new information and ideas. This impairs analytic thinking, creative insight, and problem solving.”
Do you want a promotion this year? Finally start that business you’ve always dreamed of launching? Apply for a first mortgage and get on the property ladder? Or find happiness in your work, even if that means finding new work?
Whatever you want to achieve it’s worth considering what might be getting in your way, diverting your energy and brain power, and holding you back.
Ask yourself: what do you need to let go of in order to have the headspace, the time and the energy to repair, refuel and reach into the exciting unknown?
As author, motivational speaker and evangelist Nick Vujicic, born with phocomelia (no arms or legs), says:
“To move to the next rung of the ladder, you must give up your grip and reach for the next one.“
This has been a tricky article for me to write. I try to be a compassionate and empathetic person and yet some of this advice may come across as a bit brutal. But I have learned, both from personal experience and from my work as a coach, that we have to practice self-compassion first and foremost, if we want to achieve our goals in life. It's the in-flight oxygen mask analogy: you have to fit your own mask, get your own air and breathe first, if you're going to be of any help to your fellow passengers.