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HOW TO ORGANIZE YOUR LIFE STARTS INTERNALLYCan you count the number times have you heard someone say they could be more productive or effective IF only they could be more organized? How to organize our life is a real self-improvement challenge. The commitment to the change required is not an easy one to make. Committing to self-improvement and organizing your life will lead to you being more efficient, happier, healthier, more confident, and more productive. The better you get, the better you are at taking on life and the better life gets. There are effective ways of going about self-improvement. Most people approach this effort the wrong way. For instance, we often fall victim to the idea that significant changes require ‘big steps’. You hear clichés like ‘turn over a new leaf’ and ‘start afresh’. The only place you are going to hit a ‘reset’ button is in a video game. There is no magic solution and no ticket to punch to make everything perfect right away. In reality, lasting self-improvement often means taking much smaller steps. Learning how to organize your life is the realizing that you have to make personal changes and it is going to take a little time.
NUMBER 1: STEP INTO FEARFear. There’s no feeling like it. It is real and it is strong. It builds in us physically and emotionally and it causes our brains to scream “RETREAT”! When it comes to self-improvement, this retreat means doing nothing. The emotion of fear (specially fear of risk) has been one of my greatest adversaries. Changing ourselves is a fearful journey. Or at the very least, it is uncomfortable. Growing up I was probably more of a risk taker. I was adventurous and liked to explore new experiences. I remember one time, however, when I was almost paralyzed by fear. I must have been 10 or 11 years old, taking swimming lessons. For some reason, I had to jump off the high dive in the 12-foot section of the pool. When my turn came, I froze on the board. Jumping from that board was part of graduating from swim class. I also knew that I wasn’t going to drown. Yet I was terrified. Finally, my instructor climbed up the ladder and headed out on the board to where I was standing. It meant the only way off was to step out and take the plunge. I’m glad I did. After surfacing from the water the thrill of pushing through my fear overcame the anxiety I felt on the diving board. This lesson would later serve me well when I joined the US Navy. What we fear, especially about changing ourselves, is not rational. We know we are going to be better for the change, yet we hesitate.
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THE RIGHT MINDSETWhen we adopt the mindset that self-improvement outweighs the pain of the change, we can commit to take action despite our fear. This is a habit that has allowed me to take full control of my life and implement long time change. As I began to work on myself and learned what my fears were and why they existed, I started to truly comprehend the limitations that fear had created in my life. I saw what my fears had been costing me, the inspiration to overcome the fears seemed to blossom. I actually felt angry, I was associating the pain of missing out on life’s adventures with my inability to transcend my fears. Now I see fear, doubt, and worry for what they undoubtedly are; imagined catastrophes. I once heard an author mention that fear stands for “Fantasized Expectations Appearing Real” and I couldn’t agree more. When I am feeling fearful, I can effectively get involved with the emotion. I now understand that I am using my imagination to contemplate a disastrous consequence to a circumstance. Having this awareness enables me to move forward, experience the physical sensations of the fear, and ultimately overcome the feeling.
THE INTERESTING PART ABOUT FEARThe most interesting part about learning how to overcome fear is the true sense of liberation you experience. Yes, I was fearful on that high dive, but I still had an awesome experience. I didn’t experience that fear, eight years later at the US Navy Submarine School, when I exited the airlock at the bottom of the 100-foot-deep water tower. I was excited at practicing the submarine escape maneuver despite the risks. Learning how to organize your life means you will have to step into some fear. You have to feel the thrill of accomplishing something you were afraid to do. That positive result will chip away at your fear and move you to liberation. Accept and embrace fear as a component of the equation that keeps you sharp. You will systematically move forward and propel yourself to new levels and accomplishments. You will get things more organized and under control. That means more time for the important things in your life. Life is much more exciting when you step into the fear!
NUMBER 2: CAPACITY OF FOCUSOnce you can overcome the fear and pain of change, the next step in how to organize your life is to get focused. Lately, I have observed a recurring theme among friends, colleagues and partners. We are all struggling with the same issue – the skill to stay focused on a single activity for a significant period of time. When I last took a mental inventory of my typical day, I was surprised by the amount of ‘multi-tasking’ I was doing at any given time. Worse yet, when I examined my results and productivity levels, I was challenged to keep delivering the same results in my business that I had in the past. Then I came across an article written by Josh Waitzkin that pinpointed the direct cause of my reduced productiveness. The article was on a topic he calls the “Multitasking Virus” as posted on Tim Ferriss’ Blog at http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog. In the article, Waitzkin proves the detrimental effects of multi-tasking and references a recent study at the British Institute of Psychiatry which “…showed that checking your email while executing another creative activity decreases your IQ in the moment ten points. That is the equivalent of not sleeping for 36 hours—more than twice the effect of smoking marijuana.” This was a real eye opener for me! I had slipped into the tyranny of the Outlook ‘Ding’. On more than one occasion, I would absolutely stop an activity (often an essential, income generating task) to tend to a new email that popped up in my inbox…regardless whether it was an essential email or not. (I learned more about stay focused on the right things in the Getting Things Done book) This is kind of distraction is not how to organize your life!
ADDICTION OF DISTRACTIONWhen I found out that this sort of disruption was decreasing my IQ, I could see certain areas where the quality of my work had been affected. The article also forced me to stop and think about all of the other distractions that I was empowering (knowingly or unknowingly) to affect my work. Between news and information websites, email, phone calls, automatic messaging and videos, I was getting distracted a minimum of ten times a day! If you believe that number sounds high, stop right now to mentally review a few of your own personal distractions. You will probable notice that they add up quickly! In my case, these distractions would actually make me stop the activity at hand and move on to something special. Often, I would move on to something of reduced priority. This repeated lack of focus meant I couldn’t even discern the priories because I had been so disoriented from my previous train of thought. Have you been there with me? All of us do our best and generate our most productive work when we are able to remain focused and concentrated on one thing. This applies to anything we want to accomplish. One of favorite things to do is play guitar in my band. We get to travel a bit and will soon be going into the studio. Playing guitar is not labor intensive (unless you are in a high-energy rock band!). However, when I am playing I often perspire because of the focus involved. Being in tempo with the rest of the band, bending notes to the correct pitch, singing and not screwing up the chords! This requires a great deal of focus if I want it to sound good. The skill of Focus applies to everything we do in life. if you want to make significant change in your life, the best approach is by ways of a complete immersion process. Total focus. if you want to run a marathon, you concentrate on running (a lot!). if you want to learn how to speak Spanish, you get into a Spanish class and forget about other languages. When you want to improve yourself and get your life organized, you will get your best results when you are able to consistently concentrate on the highest priority tasks.
FOCUS, BREATH, THEN FOCUS MOREAnother empowering discovery I have learned about using the power of focus is that it becomes increasingly easier to remain focused for longer stretches as you practice this mental self-discipline. One of the 6 intellectual faculties of every thinking person is something called “will”. This is our skill of concentrating on one thing for an any period of time. If you remember your “will” as a mental muscle, you can actually grow this muscle just like the way you would with your body; by ways of frequent exercise. Your difficulty in getting organized, decreased productivity, or lack of personal self-improvement may mean you lack clear focus. Then, try to establish where you are falling victim to distractions. Commit to eliminate these distractions (shut down email, turn off the cell phone, etc.…) to practice your focusing exercises. Try starting with 30 minute blocks. Work on staying 100% present with the activity at hand. Monitor your progress. As you feel comfortable and find your rhythm, work on stretching it out to an hour, then two hours and then go beyond if you can. But don’t forget to hear what your mind and body say. Taking breaks is critical for your sustained success. Since I often work without leaving my home, I use my breaks to drop all work from my mind and invest quality time with my wife or work out a new part in a song. Do something that will refresh you. Be sure you have an outlet to take your mind from your work for at least 15 minutes at a time. Then when you’re ready, go back and restart to strengthen your focusing abilities. Unnecessary and self-imposed distractions will keep you from an organized life.
NUBMER 3: SLOW AND STEADYOrganizing your life means breaking out of old habits and introducing new behaviors. Doing both of these is very complicated and need a lot of effort. Behaviors form because of repetition. This repetition eventually strengthens connections in the brain and reinforces those connections much to the point where they almost fire instantly. It’s like digging a deep gulley into the ground and then running water along the surface – it flows to the gulley. If you’re trying to organize your life, then you’re going to be exerting energy against your natural inclination to keep doing the things that disorganize you. What it means is that you require a lot of focus and willpower if you’re going to succeed. The biggest the change you want to make, the more willpower you will need – and the greater your natural resistance. Trying to make too much change all at once is going to overwhelm you. Doing this has the ability to just shut you down. If that happens… then nothing happens. If you’re trying to change everything at once, like going from no exercise at all to ten hours a week of exercise, you’re fighting a losing battle. You’ve set yourself up to fail! This is can be especially insidious if it’s something like information overload that you’re trying to fight. In this case, your new behavior is actually adding to that information overload! Instead then, try changing just one little thing or introducing just one little new behavior at a time. This is much easier to make that one change. Then you can try and introduce another ‘small step’. Over time these small changes add up. They begin to have a profound effect on your life. In a few months, you realize you are much more focused, productive, and organized then you were before.
As Rocky Balboa mentions in Creed:
“One step, one punch, one round at a time!”