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Letting go of Psychological Anti-Patterns

The gift of another year

As the fires of Autumn color dim to a soft warm glow of embers lining our sidewalks, the season of winter calls to us. With its colder weather and longer nights, we’ve come to embrace this season with warm celebrations — family, fires, flannel and food — to shrug off the snow and ice. And then, in a consumerist kerfuffle of giving and goodness, we psychologically prepare our own personal renewal for the upcoming New Year. I mildly dipped my toe into this topic when I wrote about distilling time, but this post digs in a layer deeper.

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For me, 2022 was another amazing year. Sure, there are many trials and tribulations, tests of resolve, moments of weakness (mostly around diet and my favorite discipline: focus), but ultimately, in a world where each day, hour and minute is a gift, all my challenges have been “first world.” As a futurist and entrepreneur, even in this spirit of thankfulness, I am always looking for how to kick things up another notch, and I figured revisiting my planning approach would be timely. This post, in the spirit of self-care, will focus on my planning journey, and poke a little fun at the anti-patterns I have created for myself, so I can let them go in the coming year.

PnP (Pen-andPaper) Self-Care

Yes, that is a reference to good ole’ Dungeons & Dragons. Technically, “self care” represents a much larger umbrella than this post is addressing (here’s one attempt to define “self care” and I think the topic is broader than that article). I’m focused more on the Thai Chi, or “inner kung fu” of this concept. I was originally introduced to my introspective self-care journey through the power of yellow, legal pads (D&D was quad-ruled paper pads, of course). I don’t know why, but for as long as I can remember, I would find a nice, canary colored, legal (or 8.5×11) pad of paper, and this was my go-to for journaling, expressive writing, sorting through dreams and goals. I came up with my own system. It was a teenage product of the 80s, so please, don’t ask me to explain exactly how it worked. It had check-boxes. . . that I remember. There was also a process of dumping ideas on the page and then selecting the ones that resonated the most.

The word "Udemy" with a red slash in front of it
Boycott Udemy

At the peak of my paper-based discipline, I had a boss (Vaughne Hollar) who let me borrow her “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” cassette tapes, and she sent me to a 3-day workshop to use the Franklin paper planning system. I used that system for years. and it served me well, especially professionally. However, even though I was at the top of my paper discipline game, aligning my top roles and goals, and all that good stuff, there was so much more introspection to be done. Decades worth, apparently! Since those days, I have invested in (or been gifted) a constant stream of self-help materials. Books, meditations, hypnosis, blogs, music, even “anthropological” texts where authors travel to country “X” and return with life wisdom “Y.”

“Big Rocks”

The system I have evolved from all this material is called “Big Rocks.” It is a head-nod to Dr. Covey, because in one of his most famous videos, he creates a visual metaphor using big rocks with important values on them (like “family” or “career”), and sand, which stands for all the little stuff we deal with every day. The only way to fit everything into our life (in this case a metaphorical glass jar) is to put the big rocks in first and then pour the sand. It sounds easy, right? I have been practicing this for decades and there is more to it than meets the eye.

I have tried a number of productivity tools beyond paper – I used the Franklin desktop software, I got a PDA back in the day, I had a Blackberry – I’ve always been on that forefront of productivity gadgetry. But there is more to Big Rocks than productivity software. There is this combination of elements which I touched on in that “Distilling Time” post mentioned above. I think these elements deserve more attention, but for this post, it’s first time to poke at anti-patterns.

Not Judging

Now would be a good time to interject: my “belief-ish system” holds serendipity (not fate) and faith (might not be the right word!) are far more powerful forces than our attempts at planning. Ergo, I feel it is completely acceptable to “wing it”, be spontaneous, and be open to the unknown in our lives. In fact, I encourage that. However, we frequently approach both the known and unknown burdened with extraordinarily thick layers of self-imposed social and familial programming. Getting to knowing ourselves is an intimate part of life, and, not judging, I do believe if we invest in a combination of self-care, inner awareness, and actively curating the programs we’ve adopted, then we can approach the known and unknown with more agility and adaptability — we can “wing it” in more fulfilling ways.

“Balance” has remained my favorite word for decades. When it comes to the cosmic road of life, there is a balance of pro-activity and reactive agility, of planning and spontaneity, of order and of chaos. We are constantly adjusting this balance over the course of our lives. If we take conscious ownership of these adjustments, we have more choice over the facets of our personae we bring to any given decision in our lives. Who we choose to be when making life decisions can make a significant difference on the outcomes we realize – both immediately and years down the road. Easy for me to say. You have no idea how many crows I have eaten based on that sentiment during my time on this earth. Delicious! (no real crows were harmed during this metaphor! I actually believe crows are wondrous creatures)

The Anti-patterns

Let’s pretend that I wanted to make “Big Rocks” a thing. What would that look like? The system can be applied to a block of time or to a project, but what I typically do is apply it to the calendar year. I usually look out over the course 1, 5, 10 years (I’ve done this out to 3000 AD, back before it was popular to talk about 3000 AD, yo!) and try to figure out, based on that vision, what inspired steps could I take to move that direction right now.

The practice currently gets messy and fragmented quickly . . . what are my anti-patterns? I have a text document on my cloud drive, reconciling to some journal entries, poking at some apps on my smart phone, mixed with my Remarkable tablet, paired to my wife’s Google Keep, strung out on some shared Google Drive folders, couple blips on a whiteboard, piece of poster-sized post-it paper on a wall in the basement, notebooks filled with doodles and check boxes, and somewhere I have my 1-page plan. I take a step towards the start-ups, towards career objectives, towards learning objectives, towards family and travel objectives… steps, steps, steps and then I find I have done a LOT, but instead of doing one big thing, I have done 1,000 little things, which don’t always string together into a cohesive accomplishment I can feel good about. And instead of having 5 top goals for the year, I have 50 or a 100. I’m an idea, learning and experiential hoarder!! I want to do and experience everything. Of course funding and a team of people working each initiative is viable, too, but in that case, I still need to start by budding one team instead of launching 50 teams at once, hmmm?

The irony – I know exactly what I am doing. I am simply not following the advice I would give to someone else in my position. Isn’t that a classic? My next door neighbor in the 1990s owned a lawn care service. There were wind chimes hung in a circle around the large, derelict refrigerator in the center of his front “yard.” All dirt. No lawn. It’s like the joke about psychologists – they get the degree because their lives are a mess and then they fix everyone else but neglect themselves. I have no idea if that is true, but it certainly sounds plausible, right? I went to school and learned stage-management, which I took into the corporate sector and used for project management, eventually getting my PMP. I know how to effectively (and innovatively…and “shameless-plugally”) manage a portfolio, but when people ask, “what do you do outside of the office?” You could watch your dog run away for three days before getting to the end that hot mess.

The “best” anti-pattern emerged just last week. I realized two core things about myself that have taken over 5 decades to create. Now I can finally do something about it. Those two core things were:

  • Still Playing the Victim: I cannot believe it, but despite gobs of “self-mastery”, overcoming multiple kinds of limiting speech, negative self-talk, phrasing outcomes in a positive light, new visualization techniques… there was still this “victim energy” mulling about from my early childhood. This was baked in at . . .Idunno 8, 5, 4? Who knows, but I programmed it, as a defense mechanism and it has shadowed me ever since. It’s shocking, but liberating to bring that into the light. Using the Shrek onion model. . . we gotta approach these things in layers, right? This was deep in that onion, yo.
  • Law of Attraction: Everybody talks about LOA. I had this stunning realization which demonstrated, yet again, the ridiculous power of the “Law of Attraction.” Stuff I told myself was true as a child and teenager – I created a reality to match. The life I am living to this day is still resonating on top of frequencies from my childhood. This includes this new “victim” layer I discovered, but also in multiple other categories of my life. Heck, in 7th grade I got a school assignment to write my own epitaph. The intent of the exercise was good, but still. . . I killed myself off in 2031. In 7th grade, that felt like forever. Now. . .I kinda want to kick that one down the road a few millennia!

It is on this foundation of anti-patterns I have poured my big rocks, and they have still been wildly successful. I am blessed how well things have gone even with me not following my own advice. But, imagine how amazing things could be if I did follow my own advice? If I simply freed myself from every last ounce of dis-empowerment (thinking in terms of victim, oppressor and hero), and re-scripted those foundational LOA programs? What a fascinating experiment. As a kid, I told myself I was superhuman, that I could manifest things no other person on this planet could manifest. But then, I threw in this limiter that said, “if only the world could understand me.” Womp womp wahhhhh (that’s onomatopoeia for the sad trombone sound).

Surprise! I indeed have been misunderstood my entire life, up until recently. I did this to myself! I sold myself the box and nailed myself into it, as a psychological protection: “If I don’t realize my best potential, it’s the world’s fault for not understanding me.”

Re-scripting for 2023

Shakespeare once wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

We can reinvent that sentiment for this day and age: “Everyone’s a programmer, and we are in charge of the code that our avatars run upon.” Maybe we didn’t write the compiler and maybe there is some low level stuff we have yet to figure out, but there is plenty of code we adopt by choice – sometimes cognizantly, sometimes subconsciously, but we have the power to re-script our code. It is a tremendous gift. In fact, it is probably the best thing we can give each other for the holidays – better versions of ourselves.

As I write new chapters in my life, I am holding on to the decisions I made during previous chapters which make me that “best version” of me. The rest, I am setting free – it is dissipating back into the cosmos as energy to be up-cycled.

And like most of my posts, I sit down intending to write one thing and something else emerges. I still want to create the Big Rocks system and take it for a 2023 test drive. But I am content for today’s post to shine the light on things I can now change to improve my already groovy results. Feel free to plug these affirmations into your code:

  • As I share my experiences, I attract even more joy and abundance into my life and into the lives of all those around me
  • While focusing energy on my most inspired priorities, a healthy synchronicity arises to deliver results far faster and far better than I originally envisioned
  • While I review my approach to planning, a cohesive system of practices and software tooling readily and easily emerges
  • While going about my daily life, Udemy has stopped using malware against their customers and now allows them to freely choose their display hardware once again.

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