The Freaking Never Ending To-Do List

The Freaking Never Ending To-Do List

There are times I wonder if it’s just me.

Is it just me who has given up reading fiction, even though I desperately need the mental escape, because my stack of unread self-improvement books is just too high?

Am I the only one who occasionally dreads unexpected calls, even from friends, because I feel like my life cannot absorb even one more thing?

Does anyone else lament their exhaustion, even if only privately, while simultaneously committing to big, impress-the-pants-off-everyone dreams?

I have published articles on why you need a to-be list instead of a to-do list and how self-improvement can ruin your life. I have considered unconventional advice such as how to relax by doing more. I have promoted time management methods that worked in the short term, but clearly failed me in the long term.

Today I stand before you to say I was wrong. (more…)

What It Takes to Change the World

What It Takes to Change the World

It’s become almost cliche to say you want to change the world.

But for you, it’s different. You know deep down that you have something of value to offer. You’re passionate. You’re hungry to make a difference and you’re willing to work hard to make it happen.

So why isn’t it happening?

You tell yourself you have a job to do, maybe a family to feed, and that doesn’t leave a lot of time for world changing. And when you’re being really honest with yourself, you admit you just don’t know what to do.

A vague kind of stress gnaws at you. You know it’s ridiculous, but there’s a part of you that expects to be the next Martin Luther King Jr. or Jo Salter.

And the gap between what’ve you’ve done to foster change and what you feel you should be able to do is driving you crazy.

I get it. As an overachiever, I’ve always had big dreams of changing the world too.

Then I realized those big dreams were just holding me back.  (more…)

How Do You Measure a Successful Year?

How Do You Measure a Successful Year?

O nce I started paying attention to joy, I realized it often showed up at the strangest and smallest of moments.

Walking to the grocery store to buy the most flavorful strawberries I’d ever eaten. Understanding, for the first time, the difference between a direct and indirect object—in English and Spanish. Watching my daughter develop into a Connect-4 powerhouse.

I teach my clients that the secret to feeling successful (not just looking successful) is to focus on three concepts: alignment with your core values, regular moments of self-pride, and a better balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. But I know as well as anyone that to actually live your definition of success, assuming you’ve dared to define it for yourself, is easier said than done.

For an overachiever, it’s hard not to fall back on accomplishments and other external measures of success. It doesn’t help that all the annual reviews I see focus on what people have done, not how they’ve lived.

And that is the best way I know to describe why this year feels like the biggest success of my life. I didn’t accomplish anything particularly impressive in the traditional sense, but I made gigantic progress on the things that matter … to me.

I experience joy and gratitude more often. When I am challenged or stretching myself, I don’t feel (nearly as) anxious. And when I do feel anxious, I’m able to see it in context. I don’t get anxious about being anxious.

A year without goals has helped me appreciate the entire spectrum of time: I’ve built amazing memories, I’ve felt the abundance of the present, and continue to look forward to the future. I can never thank Leo Babauta enough for introducing me to this concept.

So instead of writing an annual review based on accomplishments, I decided to look at hinge moments. Jon Acuff introduced this term in his book Quitter to describe those times

…when you are planning to do something standard and normal, something you’ve done many times before, like turn a key in the ignition. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, something, a small detail usually, hinges you in a different direction.

Hinge moments are perfect for an annual review because they hard to identify in the moment, but can have huge long-term impacts if you reflect on how to capitalize on them. Here are my four hinge moments from 2013, and how I think 2014 will be different. (more…)

Core Values: How to Predict (and Avoid) Regret

Core Values: How to Predict (and Avoid) Regret

M ost would have found it hard to call Steve anything but a failure.

He was divorced, his two kids were living with his ex-wife, and he was living out of his Ford Tempo. A struggling stand-up comic in the late 1980’s, he made a measly $75 a week.

He was barely making it. And he lived like this for 3 years.

Before reading on, ask yourself: if Steve were your friend, what would you advise him to do at this point? If you were in Steve’s shoes, what would you do?

Would you tell him to get his act together for the sake of his kids and get a “real” job? Or would you encourage him to hold fast to the dream, hoping that big break would eventually materialize?

I read about Steve in a recent issue of People magazine. Of his time living out of his car he says, “It was so disheartening. It was rock bottom. But even in my darkest days I had faith it would turn around.”

And just like in the movies, things did. (more…)

The Perfectionist and her Violin

The Perfectionist and her Violin

T here are certain days when we feel our lives change profoundly, days we remember for a lifetime.

Listening to my daughter practice in the other room, I could tell something wasn’t right.

It wasn’t just the scratch and whine of the notes. Something wasn’t right emotionally. I felt an uncomfortable tickle in my stomach. My muscles tightened.

“It’s just violin practice!” I chided myself. “What could possibly be wrong?”

As a scientist, I don’t really believe in a sixth sense or the ability to read minds–unless you’re talking about mothers.

Maybe fathers have it too, but mothers definitely have a special connection to their children. We cut one cord at birth, but maybe there is another cord that remains. I don’t know. But this was one of those moments.

I walked in, trying to appear casual. I’m pretty sure I was shaking. “What’s going on?”

“My nose hurts.”

Her nose? How do you hurt your nose playing a violin? “Do you have a cold?” I asked.

“No. I hit myself in the nose because I was angry I couldn’t get the notes right.” (more…)

Are You Addicted to Your Achievements?

Are You Addicted to Your Achievements?

In some ways it seems incredible—in my 22 years of schooling, no one ever explained what success was or how to know if you were one.

I’ve taken numerous classes in management, philosophy, English, and history—not one provided more than a superficial examination of the subject.

If there was any indicator of what constituted success, the definition seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere at once: your GPA, then the prestige of the university you got admitted to, then salary, promotions, and even the zip code or square footage of where you resided.

By the time my vacation destinations had become a source of bragging rights, I knew I was in trouble. I was addicted to my achievements and the emotional boost that came with them.

We know to be wary of things like drugs, alcohol, and junk food. But setting goals and achieving them is not only supposed to be healthy, it’s a way of life for many of us.

A way of life that has the potential to harm unless you’re careful.

This isn’t an anti-achievement manifesto. Healthy achievement can be rewarding and fulfilling.

But when our self-worth becomes dependent on ever more impressive achievements, judged not even by our own standards but by how much we crush our competition (and everyone, by the way, can be seen as the competition), the result is shockingly destructive—and one that few are willing to discuss openly.

Addicted to achievement, we forget there is a huge difference between success at a task or goal and success as a person. [Click to tweet]

To bring this point home, I made this short video to explore achievement addiction and what to do about it.

Can’t see the video? Click here.