This morning on the elliptical was different. I go most work mornings and work out on the elliptical for about 30 minutes, and it has become a little easy and a little routine, but not this morning. Why not this morning? Well, last night I finished a podcast from Freakonomics Radio about how to become good at just about anything. The core strategy discussed was the idea popularized by Anders Ericsson called Deliberate Practice.
Deliberate Practice, among other things, is practice that makes you uncomfortable. It pushes you past the limit of your current ability. Deliberate practice is knowing that you can run a 10-minute mile and pushing for a faster time. Deliberate practice is the only way to truly improve on skill, pushing yourself outside of the zone where your skill resides and into new areas where you will develop more skill.
I think we all have a propensity to coast, to do what we know we can accomplish and stop there. I have been doing that for months on the elliptical. But, doing that won’t get me to where I want to go, it won’t make me better, it only maintains where I am currently. If I want to get better, I have to do what’s hard, be uncomfortable and push myself further each time. It will be tough, but it will be worth it.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what my kids see when they look at me. When they walk into a room, do they see me reading, working, or playing on my phone? When they want my attention, do they see me as attentive to them or as distracted by a device? When I’m watching a ball game, do they see my cheering them on or paying attention to something else? Do my kids see me as attentive an available or distracted and distant?
I think a lot of this comes back to my relationship with devices and how I use them around my kids. I realize that I’m teaching them now what is acceptable, what is normal. I need to be cautious about what I’m teaching, and if I’m honest, at the moment I’m not sure I’m doing a great job. So, here are two lists of things I’m thinking through:
Commitments I’m making to my kids:
- I will not allow devices to distract me from my kids. Their childhood is too short, and devices will always be available.
- I will focus on being intentionally attentive to my wife and kids.
What I want my kids to see:
- I want my kids to see me work hard.
- I want my kids to see me up early.
- I want my kids to see that I care more about them than any screen.
The book The Power of Habit talks about creating a keystone habit. This is a habit that, if created and maintained, will help all of the other pieces of your life fall into place. An example of a keystone habit is daily exercise. If someone wants to get healthy, lose weight, etc., if they make exercise their keystone habit they are more likely to eat healthy and make better lifestyle choices causing them to lose weight and become healthy.
My keystone habit is rising every day at 4am. When I’m up at 4am, all of the other things that I want to do during that day seamlessly fall into place. On days that I’m up at 4am I tend to read, write, pray, exercise, clean, get to inbox zero, have more energy, and be abundantly more productive than on days when I sleep late. Getting up early makes me proactive and allows me to plan for, and then take on my day rather than reacting to it.
I’m convinced that this one habit will affect every aspect of my life, from how well I can grow my company to how I connect with my wife. In 2017 I’m not making a New Year’s resolution. I’m simply saying that I want to focus on getting up stupid early and then dominate each day as it comes.
In 1892, Williams James wrote, “All our life, so far as it has definite form, is but a mass of habits,—practical, emotional, and intellectual,—systematically organized for our weal or woe, and bearing us irresistibly toward our destiny, whatever the latter may be.”
Many of the choices we make on a daily basis are not choices at all; they are habits. According to a paper published by a Duke University researcher found that “more than 40% of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits” (The Power of Habit).
Think about your day so far. What time did you get up? What did you do first? Did you tie your left or right shoe first? Did you put on your pants or your shirt first? Did you brush your teeth and then floss or the other way around? What side of the bed did you sleep on and in what position and with what pillow? Did you make conscious decisions for any of this? Of course not! They are all habits!
How about this? Have you ever been driving and a little zoned out, only find that you are driving to one place when you should be going to another? Then you suddenly realize that your brain has disengaged and your habits have taken over?
I figure if 40% or so of what I do day to day is caused by habits, I should probably figure them out and figure out a way to improve them. I’m working on that and is why I care so deeply about habit formation, destruction, and hacking. If we can all learn to better control this “mass of habits” that call our lives, we can dramatically improve our daily living and the lives of others as well.
I’m a big believer that having a strict morning routine can make you significantly more productive throughout your day. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and have finally created a morning routine for myself. This is on my calendar with reminders that go off to help me move through my routine. I’m still experimenting and adjusting, but here is the routine so far.
My morning routine
- 4:00am – Get up & downstairs (no excuses)
- 4:15 am – Scripture, Prayer, Reading, Reflection
- 4:40am – Writing
- 5:15 am – Head to the gym
- 5:30 am – Workout
- 6:30 am – Back home to help with the kids
- 7:30am – Clear out email (inbox zero)
- 8:00 am – Plan for the day
- 8:45 am – First team call, the day is rolling
My afternoon routine
- 4:30pm – Clear out email (inbox zero)
- 4:45pm – Plan tomorrow
- 5:00pm – All done
Before you ask, I go to bed between 9 pm and 10 pm each night. If you have a morning routine I would love to hear about it as I’m always looking for ways to improve mine.
About eight years ago I met someone that has become a good friend and mentor. We were talking in the context of a small group, getting to know one another, and I noticed that Greg would often ask a simple question to gain more understanding about the person that was speaking. He would say, “what do you mean by that?”
For example, in that setting with Greg I might have said, “I want to be more productive” and Greg would have quickly responded, “what do you mean by that” to better understand my concept of productivity and what I mean. Then I might explain to Greg my detailed plans for rising early, reading, writing, etc. His asking the question gives the opportunity to provide context and clarity around a vague statement.
I started asking that question too and have learned a few things from it.
People usually start with a vague statement about what they believe and will let that statement stand if left unchallenged. I don’t think people intentional withhold the whole story. They summarize a thought or belief quickly, which has the appearance of being a complete thought, but is much vaguer than you might realize. If asked, a person will often elaborate and give much-needed context to a statement to help you fully understand what they are saying.
The biggest thing that I have learned is how little I understand about someone based on their first response. I have a tendency to assume I understand a person quickly. This is a terrible habit if I am seeking to understand someone’s point of view. Instead, I have to fight the tendency to assume and force myself to ask, “what do you mean by that?” I am rarely disappointed with the answer. Usually, my knowledge of the person’s point of view gets much deeper. My understanding of that person, in general, gets deeper. And, my ability to empathize and connect with that person becomes better. In short, this simple question helps me make sure that authentic and meaningful communication is taking place.
The next time you are in an argument, discovering a client’s need, or talking to someone in simple conversation and they make a statement about something they believe, don’t let that statement stand. Dig a little deeper. Ask them, “what do you mean by that?” You may be surprised at the response.