2017 has seemingly disappeared at an alarming rate and I am sure I am not alone in thinking that the passage of time seems to have increased. This, I suspect, is largely due to the volume of 'churn' that most of us repeatedly take on and is perhaps an indication of one of the big lessons we all need to take going forward. I started the year as assistant coach at Tigers and we were cold, dead, last shortly after Christmas. Preparing for life in the league below the committee took the decision to promote myself and Bomber, the assistant coach for the forwards, into joint head coach roles. In the remaining 7 games we won 6 and pulled off 'the great escape'. This ensured I kept the title going into the following season and we are now comfortably midtable. In work the NHS has once again been pulled in many directions and I have been supporting staff through massive change processes, along with going through change myself. Change has also been a factor in my personal life where significant relationships have ended and big goals, such as buying a house, have been achieved. This all makes for plenty of bones to pick through when reviewing and reflecting..
As always, written bluntly and in no particular order, here are my lessons from 2017:
- Celebrate the successes. When I sat down to write this I felt disappointed at how patchy I felt my writing has been this year. On review I've posted 35 blogs over the year - only a couple less than last. This is a perfect example of how a 'scarcity mindset' can affect our quality of life. If you are a hard charging competitive type then you are likely the same, ticking off achievements and moving to the next without pausing to enjoy or celebrate the moment. Regularly and quietly note the wins and allow yourself a little smile.
- Practice gratitude. Strongly linked to the above, this is one of the exercises I have people utilise most often in my working life. There is plenty of crap out there that can stress and depress us if we let it. We are good at spotting it and like to wallow in it. In order to experience more positivity we need a manual over ride, this is gratitude. At the start or end of every day, and at times of low mood, simply ask yourself 'what am I thankful/proud/grateful for right now?' Doing this draws your attention to the good in the world and by training that muscle you are more likely to focus on the good around you than the bad, which will ensure consistent improved mood.
- Focus on the process. Life is turbulent, stressful and distracting. In order to navigate this we need robust processes to lean on. I utilise these in the sporting realm, where Tigers have a backbone of processes to lean on throughout a game, and in my own life, where I have set routines to follow each day. Having a process saves decision making. This has the dual advantage of reducing decision fatigue - sparing cognitive capacity for other important things and providing much needed structure to fall back on as a guide when things get pressured. If you do something on a regular basis, create a process for it. Getting up and going to bed are 2 good starting points. Discipline equals freedom.
- Live through your purpose and values. As things get harder to predict it, in turn, becomes harder to set goals or aims, often the playing field changes before you can get to them. I often espouse a 'systems' way of thinking as a way of combating this - do things that move you forward and develop you regardless of external circumstances around you. My personal translation of this is to live through my purpose and values. I.e. what do I want to achieve in life (Help others, keep learning) and what kind of person do I want to be whilst doing those. These then become the guiding force when making decisions are navigating change. I know that if i stay true to those I will be moving forward, even if it doesn't feel like it.
- Work hard, stay humble. Even when we have robust processes and clearly defined purpose and values things can, occasionally, get tough and we need a failsafe. For me this is 'work hard, stay humble'. This phrase is the background on my phone. Whatever situation you are in if you get your head down and graft whilst also divorcing your ego from it, you will generally be ok.
- Embrace change. The certainties of life need to be extended to include change, it is part of the process, if we can't wrap our heads around this we are likely to really struggle. Change tends to be the no.1 factor that I end up working with people around in all aspects of my life. Understand that it will be horrible and difficult in the first instance, this is an evolutionary response, yet it will get reduce and things will get better. Remember that disruption breeds opportunity. Every big leap forward I've personally made has been when the sands have shifted around me, it forces the hand and changes perspective. Trust this process. You will be better for change if you allow yourself to be. Revisit the dedicated post on managing change from earlier this year.
- Have a personal philosophy. I spend a lot of my work time training on resilience. Ultimately this boils down to having a personal philosophy, a way of thinking about the world that helps you make sense of it, put things in perspective and navigate challenges. This is obviously a deeply personal thing but an exercise we should all go through. I repeatedly see that those who are in difficult situations can be split into those who have a personal philosophy and are ok vs those who don't and find it difficult. Revisit this post for an example of mine.
- Prioritise difficult conversations. If a conversation feels awkward and difficult then it means you need to have it. You can judge someones likelihood of success by the number of difficult conversations they are willing to have. The weight they can lift from your shoulders is transformative and the skills you develop in the process are highly transferable.
- Be selfish. Very much linked to the above is being selfish. Those of us that live or work in the areas we regularly discuss on this blog tend to be people pleasers. We care for others and regularly put the needs and wants of those that surround us over our own. This can be a strength but is one that is very easy to go into overdrive with, where we start to suffer. We need to be more selfish. Note that what we experience as selfish is likely just normal and therefore won't be viewed particularly harshly by others. Relationships is a key area for this, we are the average of the 5 people we surround yourself with most. If any of those 5 aren't as positive as you might hope then be selfish and have the difficult conversation.
- Don't take responsibility for others. This is one of the most valuable lessons from my year and was given to me by an experienced psychologist and counsellor as her method of surviving in her highly emotive role. Whilst we can all endeavour to support, guide and coach others, we can never ultimately guarantee an outcome. Their success and failure is on them. I see much of my own stress and emotional burden coming from when I am carrying the weight of others. Relinquishing that, focusing on the quality of my process and not the ultimate outcome is a surefire way of improving your own quality of life and ensuring you don't burn out when supporting others.
- Take extreme ownership for yourself. The extension of the point above is that when we relinquish ownership of others we have more capacity to focus on personal ownership. This is the area where we should be strict and hold our self to high standards. Revisit the post reviewing the book 'extreme ownership' for more on this.
- Apply 80/20 for both sides of the coin. Such a simple exercise yet so powerful. Work out what are the 20% of people or activities that cause you 80% of negative emotions or outcomes. Now look at how you can remove, reduce or mitigate against these. Then look at the 20% of people or activities that bring you 80% of your positive states or experiences. How can you increase these or simply be more present to them. Restructure your life around your findings and repeat this exercise often, perhaps quarterly.
- Live simply. We live in a world where we are programmed to consume. We need X product in order to be happy/attractive/young/wealthy. We don't. Without going full hippy the reality is that everything we need for happiness we already have. Spending money and gathering possessions is not a sustainable nor effective solution. Rather than trying to solve problems by addition, first look to subtraction. What can you remove, where can you simplify? That will then create the room required for positive things to flourish.
- Program your weights. If you are time pressured then you need to program your key lifts in order to maintain physical progress. With my current schedule I have about 3 hours a week for all my gym work, much of which is taken up with mobility & prehab. I've therefore stuck to the classic 5/3/1 programming from Wendler on my squat, deadlift and bench. Last week I pulled a 210kg deadlift for 10 reps, The strongest I've ever been in-season. Some weeks I will literally just have time to hit these index lifts with no accessory movements, having some basic numbers to hit ensures there are no 'zero weeks' and you keep progressing.
- Stick to the basics. As I look back through my posts from previous years there is one thing that clearly shines through; fads come and go, the basics survive. Stick to focusing on your nutrition, sleep, movement and relaxation and you won't go far wrong. Sleep 7-9 hours a night, eat real food, move daily and have a relaxation strategy. That will get you very close to wherever you want to go.
- Allow yourself to enjoy it. The most important lesson of all - enjoy it. There are all the cliches available about only having one shot at it and, despite how cheesy they may sound, they are true. Often Type A personalities don't feel they are achieving unless they are red lining and close to exhaustion. This isn't true. Pump the brakes and smile. Optimise your schedule for enjoyment. People perform best when they are happy, remember that.
And there we have it for another year. As ever I would encourage you to write your own list, you don't have to share it, just keep it for reference. The power in this is being able to go back and remind yourself whenever you feel you've lost your way a little. If you're feeling brave share your top 3 in the comments below so others can benefit.
Finally, thank you for reading. Whilst I don't write these posts for external recognition it still amazes me that anyone should read them and interact with them. I hope this and the others that preceded it have been useful. Have a very happy New Year and I hope you are able to create everything you want in 2018.