RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

Jul/19

21

The Goldilocks Rule

In James Clear’s book Atomic Habits, he defines the Goldilocks Rule this way:

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“Humans experience peak motivation when working on tasks that are right on the edge of their current ability. Not too hard. Not too easy. Just right.”

That really is the key to success: Not too hard. Not too easy.

It’s interesting to contemplate. And if you think about it for just a bit, you realize it’s true. Here’s why:

If you know something very well – for example the basic skill of a job – it cannot be challenging. It is, by definition, an entry-level task. If you have been doing it for any period of time, it has probably worked its way into your muscle memory.

All tasks that we learn go from “hard” to “easy” over time. Everything we can’t do is hard the first time. Then it becomes possible. And over time it becomes easy. And that makes the next level of competence possible.

What do we do as we advance in our profession (or hobby)? We pass off the simple tasks to people who entering the field. These chores are not challenging and therefore not very interesting. We want to work on the edge of our competence. That’s where the work is harder and more fulfilling.

And the more time we spend in that “top 5%” of our ability, the more often we bump up against the limits of our ability. We stretch and learn, eventually increasing our ability a little more and a little more.

If you’re unhappy in your job, I’ll bet you’re spending a lot of time at the middle of your ability or below. It can’t be motivating. You become bored and feel unfulfilled.

You don’t have to be a workaholic to constantly improve yourself. In fact, it’s human nature to keep your mind engaged. And that means constantly improving yourself.

Where are you on the ability scale for the things that occupy most of your time? Are you on the edge of your ability? If not, consider changes you can make to start working on the edge. Chances are very good you’ll like it!

:-)

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Jul/19

20

Red Light

I was in a hurry taking my daughter to school. I made a u-turn but realized I shouldn’t have. I said, “Oh no. I think I just made an illegal U-Turn.”

My daughter said, “I’m sure it’s okay. The police car behind you just did the same thing!”

:-)

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I’m a big fan of working from priorities rather than a calendar. Yes, we all need calendars, but only for one reason: Our lives intersect with other peoples’ lives.

It takes a lot of effort to learn to work from priorities instead of a calendar. The good side is that you get a lot more done – and you know you’re always working on what’s important. The bad side is that most people don’t do this, and they can get upset with you for not adding their low-priority stuff to your calendar.

One of the huge benefits you get when you work on highest priorities first is that you take time to improve yourself and your life. Here’s what I mean:

All too often, we “know” we should do something, but there’s never time. I know I should study for an exam. I know I should upgrade my certification. I know I should read a book in my field. I know all that – but these things don’t make their way onto my calendar.

Everyday, we look at the high priority things and don’t do them because they take time. And since we’re focused on the calendar and the clock, time is so precious that we don’t make time to do what’s important!

For example: Let’s say you’ve been told – and you believe – that reading a specific book will dramatically improve your life (or sales process, stress level, relationships, etc.). You “know” that this book will change your life for the better.

But it’s been sitting on your shelf for a year. Why? Because reading feels like you’re not doing something. And, as a result, reading that amazing book never makes its way onto your calendar.

There’s a certain irony here, especially if you are struggling with something and you “know” this book will help. You don’t have time to take time to do something that will make all your future time more effective and positive.

What?

I love the old saying, “She’s too busy mopping the floor to fix the roof.” It’s very true for very many of us.

Some people find it hard to believe that I read, write, and meditate every day. The most common thing I hear is, “Where do you find the time?” The answer is, I don’t find the time. I find the priority.

I know absolutely and definitively that reading and writing every day will improve my future life significantly – both personally and professionally. So I set aside time to sit in a chair, get comfortable, and read.

You can do this. You don’t have to write every day. Or read every day. But whatever thing you know you need to do, just set aside an hour to do it.

And relax about it. It’s okay to block off an hour in your calendar for self improvement. Remember the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey? #7 is Sharpen the Saw. In other words, work on YOU.

Once you accept that something will improve your life, you have do it, right? That hour will pay you back with many better hours in the future.

:-)

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Jul/19

3

Watch Dog

I asked my neighbor why his dog keeps running in circles.

He said, “He’s a watch dog. He’s winding himself up.”

:-)

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Jun/19

18

Single File, Please

In his autobiography Even This I Get to Experience, Norman Lear relays a story told to him by a therapist. He says to imagine a crowded room with about fifty people in it. Suddenly there’s smoke and someone yells “fire.” Some people escape, but others are jammed in the doorway and can’t get out.

The lesson: “Your thoughts are no different from those people who rushed to the door and are crushed there. Let the people out one or two at a time and everyone gets out. . . . Same thing with your thoughts, Norman.”

Single File

Someday I’ll come up with a less gruesome example. But it really struck me that this is an important lesson about our brains. So many people complain that their brains are over-active. They can’t think straight because of self-diagnosed ADD. Or their lives are just busier than everyone else. Or they can’t meditate due to monkey mind.

Here’s the deal: We’re all like that. We all have a million thoughts a day. We are all super-ridiculously busy. We all have monkey mind.

And for all of us, focus comes when we begin choosing to address the situation instead of using it as an excuse to be parallized by a tangled ball of thoughts. Despite all the research verifying that there is no such thing as multi-tasking, many people embrace it. For some, this is because it keeps them in the middle of the whirring, buzzing busy-ness and doesn’t require them to take responsibility for not making progress.

Everyone can focus. Everyone. When my daughter was born, I was amazed at how she could entertain herself watching the ceiling fan, or the faces of people going by. Then, I was amazed at her ability to play with blocks or books for hours. At every stage – even when the world said “Kids at that age are impossible” – she had periods of intense focus.

For some reason, many people don’t acknowledge their own ability to focus. Whether it’s reading, gardening, carving wood, painting, or just working really hard, we all have periods of great focus. But we don’t notice what’s going on in the moment.

When you’re focusing intently, you don’t notice that your brain has quieted down. You don’t notice that the thoughts have moved to the background and are forming a nice, orderly line. That’s because, once you’ve set your sites on the one thing that needs attention, your brain relaxes a bit and digs in. You choose to focus and it works hard to help you.

Intellectually, we know this is happening. We know we can do it when we need to. But we really love the story about millions of competing thoughts and monkey mind. That story gives us an excuse not to be focused.

Here’s the reality. If you know you can focus once, then you can focus again. You can choose to take a little time and be aware, in real time, how your brain and body feel when you’re focused. You can almost step outside yourself and catalog what’s going on. Try it.

The next time you are doing something super focused (anything from frosting a cake to balancing your books), do a quick cataloging exercise. How does your brain feel? How are your emotions? Are you relaxed? Is your heart going fast or slow? Are you muscles tight or loose? What does this kind of focus feel like?

Note: Focus can be very different for different situations. If you’re mountain climbing, your physical senses might be very highly tuned in and hyper aware. If you’re much safer and less intense, such as planting flowers, you are more likely to be very relaxed with a lower heart rate.

Once you’re aware of these moments of intense focus, you can start figuring out how to get back there. What’s the setting? What’s the task? What time of day? etc.

One of my favorite rules of life is Slow down, get more done. This is certainly an example of that. In the end, you get a lot more done when you only try to do one thing at a time.

Next time I’ll talk a bit about setting priorities. As long as you’re going to line up those thoughts single file, you might as well figure out which is at the front of the line!

:-)

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Jun/19

18

You Don’t Know . . .

Cowhand: “It looks like you’re putting the saddle on backward.”

Dude: “What makes you say that? You don’t even know which way I’m going!”

:-)

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Jun/19

11

Embrace Imperfections

Many people consider me to be odd because of my meditation practice. In fact, I think it has been central to my personal health and business focus. If nothing else, it helps me to slow down and take a measured reaction to events. It also helps to see from outside myself and understand my situation more quickly than if I take action first and think later.

One of my favorite meditations is on rocks or pebbles. I collect pebbles from beaches that I visit (and the occasional mountain top). And every once in awhile I collect a piece of coral or a sea shell.

An imperfect piece of coral

All too often in life, we tend to think that things are not “beautiful” unless they are perfect. In fact, there’s research to show that human faces are considered more attractive if they are perfectly symmetrical.

But the real world is rarely filled with perfect symmetry.

About five years ago, a friend and I were in Australia and we saw a number of perfectly symmetrical trees. They were so perfect, they looked fake. We commented to each other that, if you drew one for an art class, the teacher would tell you to add some imperfections because no natural tree is that perfect.

At the same time, we all know that it is our imperfections – our uniqueness – that makes us who we are. It’s also what we find appealing in others. If you meet someone who looks like everyone else, talks like everyone else, and does what everyone else does, they are very forgettable. It’s the people who are a little different that you remember.

I love the coral in the photo above. When you examine the individual coral polyps, it’s easy to see the beauty and magnificence of these creatures that become huge reefs (and white sand beaches).

But click on the picture and look at the detail. You’ll see the broken parts. The imperfections. Those are also part of the coral. In fact, that’s where the story is. Did the weak area cause this piece of coral to break off more easily? If it was snapped off by a parrotfish, why wasn’t it ground into dust?

Perhaps we need to be a little kinder about imperfections, both in ourselves and in others. Perhaps we should focus on the interesting story. After all, perfection is a lot less interesting.

:-)

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Jun/19

10

Lawn Distance

Two houses next door to each other fell in love with each other.

It was a lawn distance relationship.

:-)

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May/19

25

Leave Gaps

Nothing is important. Um . . . Let me rephrase that: Leaving space in your life for new things is important. Leaving space for “nothing” means leaving space for opportunity.

We modern humans have a natural tendency to over-pack, over-schedule, and over-commit. We stack our day with frenzied activity and act surprised when one domino knocks down all the rest.

A few years ago I wrote a blog post about one of my favorite “Rules for Life.” It’s called Silence Means Nothing. (Read that now.) The gist is that we spend lots of energy filling in the mental gaps when we waiting for communication.

A very common example is when you send a text and don’t get a reply. Is that bad? Did I offend someone? Is silence a yes or a no? More often than not, silence has nothing to do with you. Perhaps the other person had to jump in the car and drive somewhere. Or their mother called. Or something. Once you tune into this, you’ll see examples everywhere.

In my “day job,” I train technology consultants to be better at the business side of their business. Very often, that means helping them to create good processes and procedures. A big piece of this is helping them manage their work load. And the biggest problem I find is over-scheduling.

Think about your average day. Is it filled before you start? Is you entire day booked up by the time you start your first task? If the answer is yes, then you’ve set yourself up for a stressful afternoon. Why? Because “something” will happen. Something always happens. One client has an emergency. Another shows up late. Somebody goes home early.

Whatever it is, something interrupts your nice, tightly-packed schedule.

Another maxim I use in by business is related to project management: Something’s going to go wrong. We don’t know whether it will be big or small, but we’ll find it and fix it. We’ll always be successful in the end; we just don’t know how smooth the path will be.

Accepting that emergencies and interruptions happen does not mean you’re a bad person. Don’t plan your day as if everything will be perfect. When was the last time that happened?

Here’s a challenge to reduce your stress in the next week: Leave gaps. Leave blocks of time un-scheduled. Leave room at the table for an unexpected guest. My guess is that you’ll actually get a lot more done. When the inevitable interruption takes place, you’ll wiggle things around a bit and take care of it without throwing off the rest of your day.

Three great advantages come from leaving gaps in your day.

  • “Stuff” happens that you didn’t expect. Now you have a little extra time to take care of it without making a mess of your whole day.
  • No emergencies or big interruptions happen. Good! That gives you time to finish everything you had scheduled and either start working on tomorrow’s list or give everything you do today a little extra attention and love.
  • In your open time, your brain relaxes and new ideas emerge. You may not have time to work out all the details, but you’ll probably have time to jot down a few notes so you can revisit the new ideas another time.

There’s a lot of great research about the chemical factory inside your brain. When we over-book and over-pack our lives, we place ourselves in a perpetual state of “Fight or Flight” – and that’s not healthy. You need it once in awhile, but as a constant state of operation, it will lead to serious health problems.

Really. Google “perpetual fight or flight” and read any ten of the five millions results that come back.

Yet another of my maxims is Slow Down, Get More Done. When you under-pack your day, you actually have a chance of accomplishing everything you need to do. AND you leave room for opportunity to knock on your door.

Opportunity has probably been knocking for a long time. You just didn’t have time to answer the door.

:-)

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May/19

25

Piano on the Porch

Joe: Why is there a piano on the porch?

Moe: He forgot his keys.

:-)

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