My sister is going to be starting college next month. Over this summer she and I have had conversations about college, which has made the topic top of mind for me. The other day my mind went on a journey:
Shirrie is going to college… I wonder what her upper level business courses are going to be like…. I wonder what her entrepreneurship class will be like… they will probably have cool guest lecturers… the professor will probably ask them if they know someone who should present…. Shirrie will probably volunteer me… the professor will love that idea… What would I present???
Apparently I have some assumption about my sister’s college path: 1) She will be a business major and be taking entrepreneurship classes. 2) She thinks that I am suitable to give lectures and 3) She would want to hear me speak in front of her peers.
So I did what anyone would do, I wrote a lecture. Here it is:
[Generic College Lecture Introduction]
I believe that there are specific non-technical skills that are foundational life skill that should be formally taught, but rarely are taught. In my experience, these “soft” skills will allow you to better execute everything that you do in life.
I have put together a list of four of those skills that I see as important. I will walk you through each one of them, let you know how it has affected me personally, and provide some next steps in developing these skills now. All of these skills are something that you can practice and get better at.
Comfort with discomfort
Comfort with discomfort
Discomfort is your body’s way of telling you that you are at nearing the edge of your capacity. A good example is physical discomfort while working out; that is your body saying that you are close to the edge of your physical strength. And that is specifically where you need to be to improve. Similarly with all other areas in your life, discomfort is a signal that you are at the edge of capacity. To grow is to push that capacity. And to do that you need to be spending time in your zone of discomfort. The goal should be to become aware when you experience discomfort, and then to actively work through that discomfort and put yourself into similar situations until you not longer feel the discomfort- effectively increasing your capacity in that area. Once you start thinking about discomfort as a signal for potential growth, you will start becoming more comfortable with discomfort, which will put you in a better position to grow and learn.
I personally found discomfort in confrontation. When I finally realized that my discomfort and avoidance of confrontation was hindering my ability to manage and lead, I took steps to put myself in more confrontational situations so that I could build out that skill set. And I believe that it has allowed me to become a better leader and in general build more meaningful relationships.
I have two suggestions to get started today. 1) Start asking for a discount every time you buy something. You might be amazed at how much discomfort you will feel… and how much money you will save. 2) Draw a square on your forehead with a dry erase marker. If anyone asks you why you have a square, do not give them a reason. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable- then you might have this skill on lock down already.
The way that I think of it, mindfulness is the ability to recognize what your mind is thinking about and how your body feels. It does not mean you should be someone who never looses focus, just that you should be aware when you do lose focus. And you should be able to recognize the physical signals that your body has and try to understand what that means about your mental state. The benefit of mindfulness is that you can shift your focus on what you want to be doing instead of letting you mind wander.
For me, there were two benefits to a more mindful experience. Firstly, I became much less anxious. My mind wanderings usually took the avenue of worrying about things that I could not control. Being able to notice and stop that greatly reduced the overall amount of anxiety in my life. Secondly, I have been able to notice things about my mood by paying attention to my body. For example, I sometimes get nervous before meetings. And usually when that happens I start sweating profusely in my armpits. I never really noticed that I was nervous, or that I was sweating, and I would sometimes babble through the meetings. Now when I notice profuse armpit sweat, I try to notice if I am nervous. If I feel that I am nervous (sometimes it is just caffeine), then I will over prepare for the meeting, and the meeting goes much more smoothly.
I recommend starting with a mindfulness app. I took me about 8 weeks of daily practice to be able to notice my mind and body. Once I acquired the skill- I no longer needed the daily practice to continue to notice. I used the app called “Headspace” that has the first 10 sessions for free.
Google, Apple, & Facebook are actively trying to distract you on a regular basis. Every time they are able to grab your attention, they are able to capitalize on your interaction. They have some of the smartest people in the world working for them, and they do a pretty good job at distracting. You need to understand that you cannot compete with their attention grabbing skills, and you need to take them out of the equation. It takes time and space to be able to focus, and it takes focus to get real work done.
I have found that I need about 4 hours of uninterrupted focus to get real work done. To do that, I set aside time where I disable phone, email, texts, and any pop up on my computer. I carve out the time I need. Then I also make sure that I am in an environment that is conducive for work. I do not work well from home; if I need to get real work done, I go to the office. I carve out the space for myself.
Do this: put together a group of work, and get it done like you normally would. Time how long it takes you. Then put together another group of work and go to the library. Turn off your phone and disable all notifications on your computer. Make plans with friends for 4 hours later, and let someone know where you will be in case of emergencies. Time how long it takes you. My bet is that you get more done in less time.
It is common understanding that you need disciple to reach goals. You want to run a marathon? You will need the discipline to run regularly. I agree with that. But I find that many people equate discipline with the ability to constantly overcome hardship. And I do not agree with that. Discipline is the ability to take something hard and make it easy. And once it is easy, you can do it all the time.
Taking something hard and making it easy is a two-step process. Step one is to remove the ability for your future self to make a decision by employing support, accountability, social pressure, and goals. Step two is structure the activity so that it creates a habit.
Lets go back to the marathon example, and assume you want to run in the mornings. Step one is to make sure that you wake up every morning to run. Ideally you find a running buddy that has already been doing this for years, that you look up to, that you would feel embarrassed if you did not show up. Then you sign up for a specific marathon that gives you just enough time to get ready. You tell everyone you know. And you place a bet for a significant amount of money that you will run the marathon under a certain time, and if you don’t, all that money will be donated to the Nazi party. You have just successfully removed your future self’s ability to decide to not wake up. (I pretty much did the above except for the Nazi part).
Step two is to structure the runs in a way where they develop in a habit. You mind is something that you can program. Create a routine every morning before you run, run at the same time every day, and reward yourself somehow at the end of every run. Maybe your pre-run routine will be putting on your running clothes, eating a granola bar, and stretching in your house. Then you run every day at 6am. And after the run, you treat yourself to a smoothie. What you are doing is you are programing your mind to 1) have a specific routine for the run and 2) enjoy running. In the future, all you will need to do is put on your running clothes, each a granola bar and stretch, and you will suddenly feel like you really want to run. It becomes easy. Soon you are running every morning and enjoying it- and it seems like you are disciplined.
There you go. Four skills that I believe will make a meaningful impact on your life. Start practicing the skills of Comfort with discomfort, Mindfulness, Focus, and Discipline and I believe you will be able to better execute on your different life goals.
I guess I just have to wait a few years until Shirrie gets to her upper level entrepreneurship class, and her professor asks the class for guest presenters, and Shirrie volunteers me. At least I will already have the lecture ready.