A couple of the core messages of the book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” (McChesney, Covey and Huling, Simon and Schuster, 2012) is that first of all, people and organisations who want to achieve success should focus on what they call Wildly Important Goals (WIGs) and secondly, that they should not have more than three of those goals.
For most organisations the idea of achieving ‘just’ three goals would appear to be counter-intuitive, I know, but it’s really in the drafting of what the organisational goals should be, that would allow multiple directions to be taken towards achieving the same three ends: by multiple departments and by a multitude of teams and individuals. The idea is that once the organisation has set its three carefully drafted goals, the organisation/departments/teams/people direct their activities towards executing their part in achieving them. Got it?
The concept works for individuals, too. At the start of the year, as I have done for the past ten or so, I used the Best Year Yet® process set myself about ten goals. Then, every year, reality kicked in and once ‘a’ goal was achieved I’d replace it with another. Or, more often, I’d change my mind about an expensive or difficult goal and delete it. 2021 was a cracking year – I did a lot of the things I wanted to do. So the idea works.
However, there were still some goals which I set every year – and manifestly fail to achieve. Yes, you’ve guessed them correctly – weight loss and physical fitness goals. As usual, these were part of the ten I set in anticipation of the start of the New Year. And, as usual, by the middle of January I realised that I wasn’t doing anything about them.
Cue WIG thinking.
I deleted many of the goals and set just three. Lose the poundage (again), get Cycle Fit, and write another book. Just three WIGs.
Every day, I plan so that those three goals will get the focus that their hoped-for and worked-for achievement demands. Everything else – and I mean everything, including this blog – gets fitted in around the activities that address those goals. I’m doing this blog during the pre-exercise session; I’ll do some training at the planned time, then settle down while I consider exactly what the next book will be. And then, and only then, will I do any reading, chillin’, administerial tasks, etc.
(To be honest, this blog relates to my writing goals, too, so is technically counted within the WIG, as will be the continued practice of public speaking.)
One side benefit of this approach is this – I no longer feel guilty about the things I don’t do that aren’t related to the Big Three.
At the end of my day I think to myself, “So I didn’t wash the car. So I watched two episodes of something. So I didn’t go shopping. Big Deal.
I trained hard. I ate wisely. And I gave due consideration to my writing.
Doing that, I know I’ll be lighter, fitter, wiser and, most importantly, happier than I have been since my last blog.”
Jim Collins, author of business books “Good to Great” and “Built to Last” once wrote:
True discipline means channelling our best hours into first-order objectives.*
Just to be clear, he was not promoting blind obedience to the Empire’s replacement in the latter Star Wars movies. That’s not the First Order he meant.
He was promoting the idea that success in any venture is best achieved by making the best use of time available, and wasting as little as possible. He also suggested that the better use of time was a discipline. Not desirable. Required. And, by implication (if you define discipline accordingly), difficult.
The truth is that time management as a discipline isn’t physically hard. It’s just seen as mentally draining. The simplest time tech – the To Do List – is draining because it constantly expands and is a visible reminder of all the things we haven’t yet done, along with all the things we know we must do, but don’t want to.
However, like any discipline – and I am positive that I mean any discipline – once the basics are learned and applied there is less and less need for ‘discipline’, because it becomes second nature. But until it becomes second nature, it seems hard.
Returning to the quote – what is so profound? If you think about it, that’s one of the most common-sense pieces of advice you’ve probably ever heard. The more time you spend on ‘doing’ something directed towards ultimate success, the quicker that success will come about. But no one ever thinks that learning a methodology that will help you apply that common-sense, is common-sense. (Sorry to labour the point.)
Moreover, many public organisations don’t seem to think that training in time management should be made available to anyone earning less than £80k per annum, in my limited experience. They provide that kind of training only to people who can delegate their work downwards, meaning the people to whom that work is delegated – the front line, coal-face operative – aren’t provided with the training that they need in order to cope.
Of course, they could seek out time management input themselves, and I would encourage them to do so. But there is one problem – it isn’t common-sense.
My goodness, what a convoluted, Mobius Strip. “I don’t know I need this, but I need this, but I won’t learn this because it’s common-sense and therefore I am expected already to know it, but I don’t.” (Don’t analyse that sentence too deeply.)
I stress. Yes, it may seem to you that time management training is either unnecessary or too hard, but a workforce trained in time management, that is using common language in its respect, can massively improve productivity simply because it is psychologically committed to what it has been taught. Each individual empowered to say to another, “I need you to be proactive in how you deal with this. Begin with the End in Mind and do First Things First.” No need for further explanation if everyone knows what you mean.
But if all you do is say, “Make a list,” everyone knows what you mean – but hates you for it!
*In his foreword to the 25th anniversary edition of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.
An interesting quote, today, from Covey’s ‘Principle Centred Leadership, made me think. It read:
“One common reactive pattern is to live life in value-based compartments, where our behaviour is largely the product of expectations built in to certain roles: spouse, parent, child, business executive, community leader, and so on. Because each of these compartments carries its own value system, reactive people often find themselves trying to meet conflicting expectations and living by differing values according to the role or the environment they are in at any particular time.” (Covey, Stephen R.. Principle-Centred Leadership (p. 20). Rosetta Books. Kindle Edition.)
Years ago, when I was a serving officer, I considered myself to be quite competent. Something would happen and I would quite easily approach and deal with it using my training and experience. Then, one day, something happened to one of my kids – and I was completely lost. I called a colleague, who dealt with it very well indeed, but I remember thinking, afterwards, “Why didn’t I do that?”
And, reading the above quote, I think I might have an inkling as to why. I was in Parent/Daughter mode, and applied a different kind of thinking than I would have, if I’d gone into Policeman/Victim mode – which was more objective, less emotionally involved. In that moment, I was probably applying a different role, and subsequently different values.
Which was odd, because I believe that the values we have are applied universally to ‘us’, and that experience suggested otherwise. It suggests that look at our Roles through different, role-related spectacles, and act accordingly. The question is,
Is that the right way to live?
It is certainly a common way to love, as shown by athletes with drinking problems, politicians who seem to be honest but then get caught out, married people who excuse one-night stands with strangers when out on business junkets – the ‘what goes on tour, stays on tour’ perspective.
For me, the ideal is that you/we have ONE set of personal values or Unifying Principles which apply whatever we are doing. The only ‘but’ being that some values may never apply in particular roles, although I am at a loss to conjure up an example for the sake of illustration. I suppose (looking at my own) a value of ‘Be an Intellectual’ might not really apply to a parenting role, except to the degree that role-modelling intellectualism may benefit a child. ‘Be organised in the home’ has little to do with work – except you tend to be more organised at work than you do at home. And role-modelling organisation benefits a messy child.
Looking at those ‘buts’, I think I’m still plumping for Values applying all the time because for every role I can think of, one of my values applies if I think about it deeply enough.
It reflects what Ghandi said. “A person cannot do right in one department whilst attempting to do wrong in another department. Life is one indivisible whole.” Which addressed people who lacked integrity and misbehaved in some fashion, but also supports the idea that our values apply universally, not on a role-by-role basis.
Are you who you are all of the time?
I’m trying to be. And while it isn’t easy it must be worth it. Ask my kids.
For more on this subject, buy my book at AMAZON, available in Kindle or paperback.
I read last night, in the Covey/Merrill book ‘First Things First’, about why otherwise successful-looking people were unhappy despite their success. They wrote, “—it became evident that there was a real difference between what people wanted and what they apparently needed in their lives. Many were achieving more and more goals…and feeling less and less happy and fulfilled.”
Probably belatedly, because of how many years I have been ‘doing’ this stuff, I realised that when people write down their values they often put down the things they are ‘supposed’ to value and neglect what they (a) truly value and (b) what they should value, but don’t write down because they perceive that they are fluffy, or too hard to meet.
Moreover, family, society, communities and organisations dictate to folk what they believe that those folk should value, and it doesn’t necessarily meet those folks’ needs. In fact, it may oppose them in some fashion. (And off I drift into the divisive Identity Politics of 2022….no.)
Anyway, I made a written note:
Meet a valued NEED over a valued WANT = success. Longer life, better relationships, the leaving of a legacy.
Meet a valued WANT over a valued NEED = fleeting satisfaction. An adrenaline rush, a new toy, five minutes on a zip line for the price of half a tank of petrol.
‘Wants’ tend to reflect an emotional attachment to a ‘thing’ or state of being, whereas ‘Needs’ tend to reflect the true, underlying, psychological musts that are to be met if we are to stay sane.
The problem is – identifying the difference.
Meeting Wants is often easier, occasionally requiring nothing more than a matter of spending a bit of cash. (Occasionally foolishly spending money we don’t yet have.)
But meeting Needs requires more effort – yes, we need to live (buy food, fuel, etc.) but there is more to a Need than there is ever to a mere Want. Meeting a Need often requires properly identifying what is behind a Want, and focusing our efforts on meeting the Need another way. And that, my friends, is hard work!
I’ve written before on replacing the value ‘Excellence’ with the value ‘Effort’ because the former is often judge extrinsically – “Do you think I did an excellent job?”; whereas the latter is measured internally – “Have I put my all into this project?” I have control on the latter, but limited control over the former. The latter may influence the assessment of excellence, of course, but doesn’t determine it. I can work really hard and still do a poor job. And thus still fail despite meeting a personal value.
But I now find myself asking, “What need am I addressing when I value effort?” And I find myself asking whether it is because I really want others’ approval. Which means my value is not the want of effort, but is, in fact, the need of approval. Which may not be a good thing to value. On the other hand, if I need to know that people have benefitted from my work, then it’s an opportunity to redefine my values
Yes, this article’s a bit of a ramble. It’s intellectually challenging to realise that your long-standing list of values may reflect wants over needs, and that you’ve been labouring under a misunderstanding for years. And don’t get me wrong – there’s nothing wrong with wanting, but as Covey and the Merrill’s have suggested, if you Wantat the expense of your Needs, then there be dragons.
Review your values. Ask yourself: “What is the need behind these things I want, and are they the same?” If they aren’t, you are truly on the way to a better life.
I am currently engaged in writing my autobiography. I am not a person of great public note, but I recently found myself making a speech about my beloved father, who passed away in 2002, and in doing so I realised just how little I knew about him. I knew what we’d done together over the years, of course, but apart from a few stories about his war-time experiences – and I mean a few, as he seldom spoke of them – I didn’t know much about ‘him’. I decided that I would not leave my kids and grandkids wondering who I was and what I did. So I began writing.
I thought I would do about a hundred pages, but owing to having been a police officer I possessed about forty notebooks for work experiences, supported by about twenty years’ worth of planning systems and diaries with associated entries, plus the occasional journal writings. As of today I’m probably well over the 300-page mark, and I’m only up to 2005.
It occurred to me that we all have a story to tell. I bet, when you’re out with your friends, you tell personal stories as a matter of course. Sometimes you’re the trigger for someone else’s stories, and a competition begins over who has the better tale to tell. (Although I do hate it when someone presages their story with ‘the best one was’ and follows that sentence with an utterly uninteresting and badly told fable.)
It would be true to say that I have two intended audiences – my family, and my old colleagues. Those colleagues will all have similar stories to mine – some will be more interesting, too. But the beauty of a biography is that a relatively common experience, properly told, will still be interesting to those who have ‘been there and done that’, because it triggers their own amusing anecdote. They laugh as they think, “Yes I did that, too.” And thus begin their own musings.
Which begs the question: Why aren’t you writing YOUR story?
One of Stephen Covey’s four human needs he identified as Leave a Legacy. Famous people leave public records – but you have a story to leave your descendants. You can’t rely on the BBC to select you for an edition of ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, and they certainly won’t do the research for you. To be frank, the pre-history they discover is interesting – but not much. I find that is a failing in many biographies – the fluff that is put in to make a relatively short biography bigger. A book about a celebrity who hasn’t done much is often padded out by irrelevant social commentary, describing the council estate in which they grew up – no one cares, and anyone living in a council estate already know.
So my book is going to be a chronological history of who I am and what I did, with anecdotes about the funny, tragic, and occasionally routine things I experienced. It’s as much a tribute to those I did those things with, as it is an attempt to flatter my own ego. I’m writing it mainly because of the funny things that happened to me, in the hope that my descendants will laugh at their ancestor – so that they learn to laugh at themselves. My legacy will be – have fun, laugh at yourself, and seek out what you want.
You are the hero of your own legend, as I am in mine. Start writing now.
I’m tired. Not having properly trained on my road bike for this year, I went out last Sunday with friends and rode 56 miles. It was evident fairly early on that I was lagging behind, although in my defence I was following a friend who’d just completed a two-day, 60/40 mile ride up the Marmotte in the Alps. In fairness, then, he was much better prepared for the day than me.
But that was four days ago, and I’m still tired. So what, I hear you ask?
Being tired is no excuse for being lazy. It is tempting to give a task less than you would if you were feeling hale and hearty, but doing that serves no-one. As I sat at my desk preparing to write this blog I was soooo tempted to put it off until I felt better or, failing that, to just look up an old entry and regurgitate that, instead. But you’d have not learned anything new – well, when I say ‘learned’ and ‘new’, perhaps I’m looking more towards providing a new perspective on old learning.
And I wouldn’t have ‘got better’ in the competency sense. Added to that, perhaps my conscience would have screamed at me.
Being tired is only an excuse – nay, reason – for taking longer to do a job. The reality of personal development is that people do get tired, they do lose their sense of motivation, they are affected by moods and circumstances. Neither of which excuse largesse, but they will certainly affect performance.
But how big an effect those influences have on performance, is up to the performer.
Making the proactive choice to put in the effort required to do the better job is key. Deciding to perform at the required level – even at the highest possible level – is the first step to overcoming the drag created by fatigue. It might not be the only step, I admit. If the task to be done is a physical task, then the effect of fatigue will be more obvious and impactive than if the task to be done requires a mental approach more than a muscular one.
But if you’re thinking “I don’t really want to do this,” then the answer is to decide that you will, and to decide that you will do it to the best of your ability even if it takes a little longer than it usually does.
And if you’re experience is the same as the one I’ve just had in writing this blog after thinking about whether or not I can be bothered to do it at all, you may well find that it didn’t take as much time or effort as your brain initially calculated it would.
Because 10 minutes ago I was too tired. Now, my work here is done. Including a review and an edit and posting onto this website. Ten minutes from ‘Not Today’ until ‘Done’.
Do you have days/jobs like that? Days when you just can’t get started because you are tired? Make the decision that YOU are in charge, not your emotions.
And as a bonus, here’s another tip for when you have started but are flagging. It’s one I used when I was trying to keep up with the King of the Mountains.
SEAL Team trainers have discovered that when a candidate has ‘had enough’, the successful candidates can still find another 40% – forty percent – energy left, if they just dig deep and find it. On my bike, really feeling the fatigue from about 35 miles in and knowing I had 20+ left to go, I just reminded myself that if I wanted it, the energy was there. I knew I’d feel it later, but my body would recover to a better base level afterwards. (Hopefully, soon!)
This week I have been mostly taken by a concept that the ‘better’ coaching writers espouse as a specific, rather than ‘work it out for yourself’ idea. The oldest writing I find about this is from the 1930s in the name of Napoleon Hill. It was later reframed in 1989 by Stephen Covey, and Jack Canfield provides the same overarching advice in his 2005 book “The Success Principles”. It is an idea that underpins any level of success in business and personal relationships, and without it everything else fails.
Napoleon Hill, paraphrased it thus: “If it’s to be, it’s up to me.” Covey calls it ‘Be Proactive’ and Canfield calls it ‘Take 100% Responsibility.’ All have the same meaning.
They mean that in order for things to happen, it’s all down to you. You either do it, or you cause it to come about.
I have taught this in personal development classes and often met resistance. It was understandable: in reality, other people and circumstances do have an influence on what we do. In truth, our success relies on us making ourselves relevant, and it relies on us dealing with those external influences. Which is where the resistance loses the argument.
Whatever happens, we have a choice. That choice is to deal with the circumstance, fight it, or accept it. As Covey described it, we have Direct, Indirect, or No Control over what happens to us. Direct Control means we can deal with it ourselves, and overcome the challenge. Indirect Control means either we deal with it in concert with other people, or we nudge it in the direction we wish to go, adapting as we do so. No Control means we smilingly accept it, rather than waste time and emotion fighting the insurmountable.
But we aren’t only talking about severe challenge. We are also talking about little things, small annoyances. I can’t tell you how much emotional effort I find myself putting into the avoidance of a two-minute annoyance! This morning I have hoovered, dusted, stocked, emptied and sorted multiple little things that really have always been someone else’s responsibility. But today, I chose responsibility and it’s all been done.
Have I gone from serious stuff to trivialities? Maybe.
But how about you? What things are you avoiding because they are annoying, in the knowledge that the person responsible is you – but you really don’t want to do them? And is ‘not doing them’ creating the result you want to achieve?
Here’s an example. I am an introvert. I’m reluctant to mix. I have found that most people are: when a group of strangers assemble, there is abundant awkwardness until – I start the conversation and introductions. Me. Shy bloke. Until I, or someone like me, starts the mixing off, it’s awfully quiet. I take 100% (etc.) for communication.
Other things: Paperwork. Cleaning. Maintenance. Shopping. ‘That’ conversation’. All yuk jobs, but all necessary for a smoother existence. All or some of which are things which you think you have delegated, but which the delegate ain’t doing.
Of course, I haven’t yet mentioned the moral victory when you make it plain that you’ve briefly, and pointedly, taken responsibility for someone else’s work. Rub it in their faces. Let it be known far and wide.
Sometimes, the mantra ‘I will take 100% Responsibility’ means doing the ‘thing’ so that you can move on from it, and move closer to your desired outcome. Even if that ‘thing’ just means clearing the dishes from the work surfaces you won’t need for three hours – but will now be clean and ready when you get there.
Take charge of as much as possible. Even if you don’t want to do it – do it.
Today, I want to write about objectivity. Objectivity is a discipline, and one that is not easy to execute because we are all biased by our experiences, upbringing and value systems. What we see, we see through a lens that has been fogged to some degree, unless we occasionally choose to clean it in an effort to ensure that some clarity is possible. I raise this issue because what I see going on around the world is, it appears to me, the result of deliberate fogging of lenses by interest groups that have become so powerful because of social media that we risk going down a path that could so easily be avoided if we just asked better questions when ‘facts’ are trotted out for us to gullibly accept.
I heard a statistic the other day. The speaker (a socialist) was upset that 1 in 5 children lived below the poverty line. I thought, “Is that possible? That would require 8 houses in my street to be ‘in poverty’, and for every street that had no poverty there would have to be streets with massively more than one in five.
Of course, if you conclude that children don’t earn any money, and that relative poverty is defined as poverty created when people earn less than 50% of the average wage, then that statement could be true – but the kids weren’t necessarily poor or living in a poor household.
Another one – According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales year ending March 2020, an estimated 5.5% of adults aged 16 to 74 years (2.3 million) experienced domestic abuse in the last year. Extrapolated, that means that domestic violence takes place in two houses in my street, or more in other streets. Or is it more likely that the same victims are being abused by the same perpetrators and this isn’t reflected in that figure? A third – and a remarkably consistent one – is that 250,000 people go missing from home annually. When I was a cop, the same girl went missing from a children’s home every day – are those separately counted, or is each a separately counted incident?
Of course, I don’t know. I do know that figures can be warped; as I say, I was a copper and crime figures – well, least said, soonest amended. The COVID stats are hilariously warped – crushed by rocks but died within 28 days of a positive covid test? Boom, another covid death. And more justification for lockdowns and other restrictions on freedom. (The Sue Grey Report came out yesterday. Ironic.)
So the discipline I invite people to consider is this: to question what you are told, and not blindly accept everything you hear. I say this because I see the anger, ire, combativeness and hatred created by facts that simply aren’t yet verified.
This week, a child reported he’d been racially abused, chased, and lost a finger having climbed a fence to escape. I don’t want that to be true – the thought of kids that age being racist in 2022 is sad. If it is true, let punishment follow. But years of child abuse input (and some personal experiences) state that a child should not be interviewed by untrained staff, nor asked repeatedly what happened, because of the risk of accidental embellishment if they feel they’re being challenged.
Yet the press, celebdom and interest groups have all had their bandwagon launched, and statements have been demanded and occasionally delivered from those in authority, all of whom are angry and incensed – before any police investigation has even started. And all of them are supposed to be intellectual and objective. Their bandwagon behaviour suggests otherwise. It means either they’re not astute enough to wait for the facts to be fully provided (bad) or it suits their agenda to spout (really bad and malevolent).
So my plea today is to wait. Use the gap between stimulus and response to decide if you have enough data to believe what is being put to you.
Because that’s exactly what you’d hope would happen if YOU were the subject of conjecture, wouldn’t you?
When you have something to do that involves a long wait, what’s your plan? Are you an ‘unlimited coffee’ drinking Wetherspoons telly reader (because the sound’s off and the subtitles are behind the speaker)? Do you search the local shops with no intention of buying anything? Do you manically find some urgent task that you might just progress if the opportunity arises and can be taken? Or do you just chill?
Yesterday, I had a car serviced by a friendly mechanic in Cardiff and such is the distance that it’s not worth going home because as soon as I’d get there, I’d be called back to collect the vehicle. So when I’d booked the service, and in anticipation of the expected wait, I planned my day by first asking Neil (for that is his name) how long it would take. As a result of that one question I was able to make a plan as to what I’d do during the wait AND plan the rest of my post-service day.
First, I decided to go to a library and review my Personal Mission Statement and Goals, just to reset and refocus. That is a valuable activity that reinvigorates motivation and allows you to plan and envision how much better you’ll with deal with a challenge the next time someone annoys you. Then I decided to visit Cardiff Crown Court ‘for old times’ sake’, which proved to be a bust because inn the lead up to lunch there seemed to be little enthusiasm for starting the trial. (Wonder why courts are suffering delays? This is why: “Well, it’s midday, we’ll only get the jury sworn in and have to start the trial later, so let’s have lunch now and start the process at 2pm.”) Finally, I adjourned (ha!) to the adjacent museum and amused myself with some Natural History input – did you know that Wales is made up of rocks, like THE REST OF THE WORLD?
I walked 14km that morning and when I got home, I got to walk the dog, too. Yay.
But it was the first hour, the library life review, that made all the difference. No major changes in terms of my approaches to life, just a reminder where I was and wasn’t performing in terms of the person I want to be. A couple of short-term goals were identified, but the main benefit was just reminding myself who ME is supposed to be.
For those who just chill, kudos to you. Taking a break from the high demands of life is as valuable – I don’t do that because no matter how much I try I am always thinking about the next thing, so Mindfulness is a no-hoper. But for those who find meditation valuable, go for it when you have a long wait.
Charles R Hobbs, author of Time Power (best practical time management tome ever, available second hand only), suggests that when planning for a waiting period it is always good practice to have what he called a ‘High A’ to hand, meaning an important task that you can progress during your wait. Suggestions included making important phone calls or reading something related to your profession, but a good novel that lets you put the stresses of work behind you is as good a High A as a report that needs to be read but in respect of which you’re not really going to be able to provide the appropriate focus.
But the message remains clear –shopping, telly watching and other mind-numbing time fillers aren’t valuable enough for you to be wasting time on them.
What’s your High A, the one you can use to fill spaces in your day?
Like many of you I am an unremarkable person. That sounds modest, but I mean it in the sense that I am no celebrity – I am just one of millions of people who do their ‘thing’ on a daily basis, and that ‘thing’ is fairly normal, certainly to those in the same industry and related fields. Such people tell stories to each other and never consider whether, or how much, people outside their fields will find their lives interesting. But we all have a story to tell.
Recently it occurred to me that as much as I loved and respected my father, and we had a very good relationship, my knowledge of who he was “pre-DC” was lacking. I knew he served in WWII as an aircraft mechanic on a Typhoon squadron, and I knew he’d been an electrical engineer with a power supplier until he retired. I had heard a couple of amusing stories, but he died many years ago and I realise I knew less than I should.
I have five beautiful grandchildren. I had my own kids when we were young and they pretty much experienced a lot of my policing life with me, but none of them know the full story. So I decided to write an autobiography. I knew I had a few funny stories to tell and I figured they might find them amusing. So I began. I am 100 pages of A4 in, and I am only up to 1990 – 28 years old. Most of what I have written is based on memory and from before I kept a real diary, so the remaining 32 years are going to fill a lot more pages because i am diarised up the wazoo. And every memory disclosed sparks another tale, regardless of the records, so I keep having to go back and fill an older chapter with a new tale of derring-do – or embarrassment.
And I realised that this is not just an ego-trip – it’s my legacy. Every story can, in some way, provide a life lesson to my descendants.
People tend to provide life lessons when a situation demands, but wouldn’t it always be better to provide the lessons in advance of the challenges they can solve?
This book – which I will publish on Amazon but only so that I can give hard copies to my family, you can ignore it if you want! – will be an opportunity to give my kids the wisdom it took me 60 years to learn. Yes, The Three Resolutions book contains my philosophy on life from which they can learn, but the autobiography will be the background detail as to why I needed them!
My suggestion this week, therefore, is that you consider writing down your own life story so that those who you love, and will love, and who will wonder who you are and what you did, won’t have to listen to vague recollections of others – they can have a first-hand account.
Jordan Peterson is a Canadian Professor of Psychology, known around the world for his right-of-centre views on the steady creep of authoritarianism that is intended to dictate to people how they should speak. That is why he became famous – he spoke to his government to say that there was a huge ideological difference between directing what people should NOT be allowed to say (genuine hate-speech) and directing what people HAD to say, e.g. enforced gender pronouns. You can have your own views on that, but rest assured I will not be TOLD what to say. You can ask nicely, and I’ll do my best to comply, but I refuse to apologise if I inadvertently ‘misgender’ someone based on several million years of evolution and 60 years of hitherto reliable guesses.
But he is also, as indicated, an expert on human behaviour, and in an interview on YouTube (and nearly everything he’s ever said is on YouTube so don’t second guess what you think may have he said, he’ll rip your argument apart) he made this interesting comment when discussing how people are so easily swayed from the disciplined path. You know, when one more cigarette/pasty/drink etc. won’t matter, or ‘it’s too hard to keep pursuing this goal’. We’ve all been there.
He said, “You can change direction if you want – as long as the new road is equally or more difficult.”
I can’t say I’d ever given that idea too much thought, before. But it’s a great piece of advice. It reflects the reality that, sometimes, the path you’ve chosen for yourself isn’t necessarily the right one. Many would give up, but Peterson counsels not giving up, but redirecting the same or greater level of effort towards a properly considered, alternative route to the success you sought, or even a new definition of success.
To use a poor analogy based on personal experience, I used to be a runner and did a couple of half marathons, but about 5 years ago my knees started grumbling. Friends introduced me to road cycling, and I recovered a level of fitness I hadn’t experienced for a while. Now, that is an accidental example of ‘changing direction but applying the same level of discipline’ to achieve a similar goal – physical fitness.
What have you been chasing, but no longer ‘love’? Were you on a particular career path that you now question? For example, and again based on what I saw in the organisation I worked for, have you been desperately seeking upward promotion and ignored potentially rewarding sideways development – less pay but a greater sense of contribution, achievement and purpose? To do either takes discipline, but they may also require similar mental and academic approaches which are just as difficult to travel, yet more satisfying.
In the same interview, the interviewer spoke of a friend who’d retired from some enterprise and initially enjoyed retirement, but realised he was getting bored. He made an astute observation with which I sympathise. He said, “I miss being good at something.”
You don’t only have upward, better paid options available. You have specialisation options, academic options, different job options – lots of options. And when you choose the option that works best for you, you discover the pleasure of being good at something.
What could that be? Apply self-discipline, and go and get that.
For more on this subject, buy The Three Resolutions in paperback or Kindle HERE at Amazon.co.uk .
This week, I’d like to take an opportunity to tell you more about my book “The Way: Integrity on Purpose.”
In 2014 I self-published ‘The Three Resolutions’, an effort to expand upon Stephen Covey’s own writing under that title, which was a small chapter in his book ‘Principle-Centred Leadership’. The chapter described how making three commitments could make quantum improvements in an individual’s life, specifically in three areas. The areas were the physical self in terms of the wellbeing of the body; the ‘mental’ self in terms of character and competence; and the spiritual self in terms of contribution and service to others. The commitments were to overcome appetites and passions through the application of self-discipline and self-denial; overcome pretentions and pride through becoming a person of good character, and of great professional competence; and to overcome unbridled ambition and aspiration through a focus outside oneself.
I expanded on the concepts and publicly committed to a set of rules, values and a personal mission statement that reflected those headings. In many ways I succeeded in executing to a degree, but I felt that I wasn’t as compliant with my intentions as I could or should have been. Asking myself why, and considering the self-generated feedback that resulted, I concluded that there were four reasons why I, and many others, don’t feel as though our level of compliance with our mission statements is as high as we would like.
This realisation led me to consider the reasons for this, and how we could go about addressing the gap between desire and execution in living our personal mission statement; or, for the purposes of this book, living The Way.
First, though, I want to make one clear statement.
When I use the expression ‘The Way’ I am not saying there is only one ‘way’.
When I use the expression ‘The Way’ I am talking about what you will discover, in this book and through its study, is YOUR ‘Way’. Not mine, yours. This book isn’t about moralising and dictating what you should think, feel and do. I may make some suggestions, but the focus is intended to be on assisting the reader to discover his or her own Way, not just reproduce people who believe in mine. The objective is to help you design your better way of living, and for me to redesign and recommit to mine. But yours and mine will be different, either to some small degree if we are alike in some way, or by a huge difference if your values are hugely different to mine.
I concluded that there is only one true route to personal success. It’s a straightforward formula of four phases. They are:
Find the Way
Learn the Way
Live the Way
Teach the Way
These four phases systematically summarise a strategy for living. The system reflects the identification, learning and application process, that process which we all undertake when learning to live, to work, to earn, to relate to others, to manage – everything. They embody all the skills we need to have and to demonstrate in our efforts to live ‘properly’. They also reflect those areas where, if we are not careful, we will act badly.
This system parallels any development process undertaken anywhere, by anyone, for any purpose. It is how a professional learns; it is how a religion becomes ingrained into an adherent to that religion; it is how a family member learns to become a contributor to that family. The reason that such a system works is because it is neutral. It is a principle in action. It is the principle of progression, of starting out as a novice with the aim of becoming a master.
I believe that the route to living your Way is taken through these four steps. The steps are progressive, and they involve properly and fully identifying the Way, studying in greater detail about how the Way can be executed, then living in such a fashion as to clearly be in congruence with the Way, and finally to reinforce your Way by teaching it.
In brief, the four elements of The Way are expanded thus:
Find the Way
To quote Covey, the first challenges we face when deciding The Way is that we are not sure who we are, and where we want to go. The first part of the book is therefore intended to help you decide what values you have or want to have, the associated behaviours you believe will help you comply with those values, and writing them down so that you, yourself, clearly understand them.
Learn the Way
The second challenge, once we have put our fingers on who we want to be and where we want to go, is to learn how to do so. This section will be about studying and committing to the behaviours that serve execution of The Way.
Live the Way
Having overcome the first two challenges, there remain still further challenges to living the Way.
The first is that we do not realise that we are compliant because we don’t feel as though we are ‘doing’ our mission all of the time. Life gets in our way in the sense that it is hard to consider yourself ‘carrying out your mission’ when you are filling the dishwasher. Life is full of little routines that have to be done but aren’t, well, exciting.
The second reason for ineffective application of The Way that we have identified is inextricably linked to the first. As our lives are littered with unexciting, routine, non-mission projects, tasks and other activities, we fail to properly and routinely recognise opportunities to execute on our missions. For example, part of my own mission is to be patient with others. Imagine a day cluttered with runs to the shops, commuting in traffic jams, banking and managing money – then something jumps at you and interrupts you and in that second you react impatiently, because you haven’t seen, in the clutter, that opportunity to be what you want to be. The third part of the book is intended to help you overcome the challenges and live The Way – the way that you want to.
Teach the Way
And one way of living The Way is to spend a lot of time teaching it. Covey counselled participants at his many events that the best way to learn something is to teach it to others. He would ‘volunteer’ random attendees and tell them he was about to teach something that they would have to repeat to other participants. Then he would point out to those others that his ‘volunteers’ had just pricked up their ears and picked up their pens – they were now listening because they knew they had to understand what they were about to teach. The fourth part of the book will advise you on how to do this.
To summarise, then, the objective of this book is to
Help the student identify the values, disciplines and objectives for their future success in life.
Help the student find the motivation to learn the precise definition of those values so that they are content they reflect their true desires. And then to master that understanding.
Help the student master and execute the behaviours and actions needed to live in accordance with the values they themselves have identified in the first two parts.
Encourage the student to teach others, with the objectives of both spreading the word and ingraining their own improved mastery of their chosen path.
I hope you take the opportunity to get a copy, which is available at Amazon through THIS LINK and is as much a bargain of a paperback as I could make it!
There’s an old saying: Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. It’s a maxim with validity, and essentially speaks for itself, but I sometimes feel as though the message has still to get through because it’s a metaphor. Sometimes metaphors need to be more specific, which kind of undermines their purpose but some people need to be spoon fed, and sometimes those people include me.
So here’s my amendment.
“Teach a man to pass an exam, and he passes the exam. Teach a man the ability to analyse, to reason, to interpret, to question and even challenge, and you create a leader.”
(Which is something I wish University administrators and educators would return to understanding in the way they used to when graduates knew more than ‘just’ the content of their thesis.)
Let me give an example of how that doesn’t happen. In my years as a copper, I concluded that a lot of the training we received was designed to tell us ‘what was what’ and to accept the wisdom of our trainers. In fairness to some trainers, they were just given material and told, “Teach this.” I remember being trained about the new surveillance laws in 2000 and walking away convinced I couldn’t do any active police work, so bad was the explanation of the law. Later, I was engaged in an argument with a trainer over another misunderstood process, and I have always been bemused by how data protection legislation continues to be taught by threat, rather than as a relatively straight-forward concept.
You see, people were seeing only the overall objective, but never researching deeply enough to understand the details – which, more often than not, made life easier than their poor understanding allowed. They worked on a ‘you can’t do that’ basis instead of finding out what you could do.
They’d been given a fish, but not taught how to fish.
Giving fish is how young people seem to be learning, these days. Ideologies proliferate without question, which is troubling. Blind obeisance to the prevailing wisdom is causing old, practically settled identity politics to rear its ugly head again, because ideologues shout louder than people who challenge those ides with analysis, research, considered reasoning, appropriate questions and robust challenge (see what I did there?). The worst example is Critical Race Theory, which appears to be a form of reverse-racism, in that three or four decades after the question was settled in principal (it will never be settled in universal practice, fact of life), now those who accepted the responsibility for overcoming all the isms – and arguably the belated credit for doing so – are now expected to account for their guilt for offence caused a hundred years or more ago. Apparently, me, born 1961, must accept guilt for 18th century slavery despite the fact that me, born 1961, never knowingly owned or trafficked a slave.
It’s divisive, and the shouty side is trying to stifle debate either because it has no reasoned argument, or because there is a terrifying motive behind it. In other words, I believe that the unintended consequences of their violent demand for tolerance will be even more intolerant division. They must actually want that, and we’ll all have to pick our side. (And by the way, their leaders never put their heads above the parapet, like most Marxist generalissimos.)
Well done, educators. You’ve fed our kids poisonous fish, stifled challenge, invented reason, and now the rest of us are reaping the rewards of your stupidity. Or, at best, you’ve sat by and let it happen.
It’s not too late. You can stop imposing your ideas on the young and, instead, debate with them. If your ideas are valid, then they will stand. If not, they should die. If you’re quiet, stand up and be counted.
Doing that will take character and competence. And it’s the best service you could ever provide.
In conclusion, let me put it this way – an intellectual argument for CRT is the same as an intellectual argument for that rectangular pile of concrete blocks in the Tate gallery.
Three words that dismay the most productive and professional among us represent the death knell to a positive mindset. Stephen Covey mentioned them as part of his treatise on Habit One: Be Proactive, and just lately I’ve been feeling their proverbial pinch. The three words are:
“I have to.”
That expression is usually attached to an unwanted imposition or commitment, is it not? If you don’t believe me, ask yourself if, when you are looking forward to executing on any commitment, you use them – or if you use expressions like “I want to”, “I am going to”, or “I have promised that I will…”. In truth, I’d gamble that you only use the expression “I have to…” when what you are about to do is NOT something you want to do, at all.
Well, it’s certainly true in my case.
Until last night. I was reading a book called ‘Best Year Yet’ by Michael Hyatt. He was writing about how barriers present opportunities in the sense that if what we truly want is the other side of such an obstacle, we will do anything we can to go over, under, around or through it. Alternatively, if we aren’t really all that interested in what’s waiting ‘over there’, then there is no way on Earth that we will even try.
Now, I’m not sure if what occurred to me is what he meant, but my brain went, “You don’t have to – you get to.” My brain dropped its mic as it said that. Boom!
And my mind raced.
I get to hold my wife’s hand. I get to ride a road bike because and so that I am fit and active. I get to write because the information technology exists to make that possible. I get to drive a fast car because I earned and inherited money from loving parents that enable it. I get to drive well because people with charitable intent provided the training I needed, and as a result I get to pass on what I learned from them.
I also get to make proactive choices because life gave me the intellect to know that I can, and life did not mar my life with insurmountable challenges. I get to live in a relatively free country (damn that Covid and its excuse for authoritarianism) and am not subject to an unwanted war. I get to hug five gorgeous grandchildren because I got to bring four loving children into the world, and I get their love, too.
I don’t ‘have to’ do anything special to get any of those things. They came naturally, or I sought them out and got lucky that way. I didn’t ‘have to’ have children, I wanted and got to. Some never have that blessing and some don’t seek it – that is up to them.
There’s no doubt about it. I am living a great life because of what I got and get to do,
So from now on, I don’t have to rise out of bed in the morning – I get to.
I don’t have to write a blog that is available to millions (if they want it) – I get to.
I don’t have to walk that bloody dog – I get to.
And it’s quite surprising how that simple change of expression turns an imposition into a benefit,
Try it – from now on, instead of ‘having to’ do something you don’t want do, consider that you ‘get to’ do it because something good happened, first.
What do you do about the exercise of self-discipline – the First Resolution – when you’re suffering from a chronic illness? When you’re ill, being disciplined is the hardest thing of all to do.
Injury is inconvenient, but unless it’s particularly catastrophic, an ‘average’ injury seems less mentally stressful because you conceive of an end date. You usually know that your body will repair itself. Like injury, most illnesses are the same – you know that ‘this too, shall pass’ unless your diagnosis reveals something a little more challenging.
What do you do when your diagnosis tells you that what you’re experiencing isn’t going away any time soon, is manageable but not evidently curable, and is causing constant discomfort?
When feeling chronic pain, two personal characteristics tend to go walkies.
First, it’s easy to find yourself venting on other people, failing to come through on commitments, lowering your standards and just feeling miserable. Really easy. Ask my wife. Secondly, it means that exercising self-discipline becomes even harder than usual.
But if you value your good character, you choose otherwise. You recognise your condition for what it is – yours, and yours alone. You can ask for help from others, but you are responsible for accepting or ignoring that advice, or for accepting or avoiding their help. You decide whether to act upon or be acted upon, by whatever it is that ails thee. It also means that you should only abandon the exercise of self-discipline if it is truly too onerous because of the condition. If it isn’t, you need to avoid using it as an excuse.
That choice is easy for people of character, but acting on that choice requires reversion to the practices of the First Resolution, specifically being disciplined enough to do what is required to deal with the condition and the emotions that come with it, and continuing to live a disciplined life. All while denying yourself the soft option of attacking those who have no responsibility whatsoever for your illness.
No, not easy.
If you are suffering from a chronic, painful condition, remember that those you love are a potential support, but you want them to give that support freely – it’s not something to be demanded from them. (I detest news reports when people ‘demand’ something from government – try asking nicely and using a convincing argument rather than expecting other people and organisations to dance to – and pay for – your admittedly painful tune.)
They will give it freely, even when you don’t want to hear it, which is the danger moment. The moment when you reactively slap them down because you KNOW that already. But the real reason you slap them down is – you aren’t doing what you know. But even though you’re to blame, in the moment you snap, it’s ‘their fault’.
Character means being proactive with chronic illness. It means accepting the reality of your own situation, taking responsibility for dealing with it, fighting it in a disciplined way, and acknowledging that any help that is offered is well intended and with a serving of love attached.
There is a lot of material in the personal development sector that promotes the setting of goals. It’s a standard theme, which makes perfect sense because you can’t develop yourself in a particular direction unless you know what your destination actually is.
Numerically, there are a LOT of those books. Also numerically, there are fewer books that promote the idea that your goals should be, as far as is possible (given the reality of work impositions which your employer would really like you to consider as important outcomes), aligned with your personal value system.
There are millions of books on relationships. Some ethical, some manipulative. There are those which instruct you how to improve a loving, compassionate and giving relationship with someone important to you, and at the other end of the ethical scale there are books that tell you how to make people do what you want them to do for you, regardless of their own interests. We don’t like those, do we?
But in my (admittedly limited) experience I can think of only one that truly combines advice on how to set goals that align with your personal values AND which take into account the fact that what you want to do involves and affects other people. In other words, one book that asks the values-directed goal-setting reader to consider their relationships as part of the planning equation.
The book is Stephen Covey et al’s 1994 classic “First Things First”, and it dedicates a lot of its pages to ensuring that the reader properly considers their important relationships, and compassion for others, as part of their planning and executing of their lives. There are 43 pages alone under the heading ‘First Things First Together’, but the tone of the entire book is one that says, “Everything we do, we do with, for or because of others.” It’s all very well having the drive to get what it is you desire – but this is the only book I have read (on time management/event control) that reminds us that relationships are more important than achievement.
Which is not to say that I have ever mastered that idea. Far from it. I have spent many a day frustrated that ‘someone’ is getting in the way of my plan by being late, letting me down, not performing well, or being the other half of a misunderstanding. Like you, I get the hump with other people.
First Things First was the first Covey book I read, because I was exploring the concept of time management for work at the time I found it. But despite my generic impatience with other people getting in ‘my’ way, it spoke to me. It spoke to me so much that I have subsequently explored everything Covey ever wrote (to an embarrassing degree, to be frank). Me! Mister Miserable, Mister Impatient, Mr Self-Absorbed was impressed by a book, the tone of which was about recognising and respecting other people in personal and professional planning.
So impressed that I taught it, gifted it and promoted it. Some will listen, some will not. C’est la vie.
But if you have an inkling to learn time management AND you love, respect, and wish to take into account the needs of, other people, this is the book you want.
Make it your next personal development purchase.
(And while it might not have a big section on e-mails, be mindful that this is about the mind-set, attitude towards, and execution of life and work, not how to use a hammer that has its uses but isn’t applied to everything. There are lots of books about emails, too.)
You can get it through THIS LINK. (I suggest you don’t buy the audio book as it is too heavily abridged.)
I am a traditional male. Not metrosexual. Not a Hipster. Not any of the ‘new man’ alternatives that were designed by people who do not consider themselves ‘just’ men. Each to his own, but ‘my’ idea of a man is someone who’ll back you in a fight, not hang back questioning the morality and whether his hair will get ruffled or his nails scraped. That’s just me – I’m the same age as Jack Reacher, (The book one, not the telly one. There’s been some temporal fiddling going on there.) Not that I’d start the fight, but my criteria for manliness, old-fashioned as it is, is ‘would I be happy if he was my only back up in a scrap?’
But I do have a softer side, and this is the funny thing. I get teary. And this is my list of teary moments.
The last scene in ‘Saving Private Ryan’, where a now elderly Ryan stands over the grave of Lt Tom Hanks and asks his family, “Am I a good man?” (Damn, here I go…….)
The goodbye scene in the movie ‘E.T’. “I’ll be right heeeeeerrreeee.”
Funerals. Anybody’s. I feel the sadness of a life gone by.
My daughters’ births and weddings. I think that’s allowed.
When other people cry on telly in a properly poignant moment. No idea why.
When Mel Gibson, as Lt Col Hal Moore, weeps after the battle at Ia Drang in the film ‘We Were Soldiers’. Made more poignant because the real Hal Moore did exactly that after the actual battle, as he praised the bravery and sacrifice of his men on national TV. (I’m really struggling to see, now.)
The end titles of ‘The Battle of Britain’. Music composer Ron Goodwin’s build-up of strings to brass as they list the losses brings home the sacrifice of young men a third of my age.
‘Marley and Me’. Can’t watch that.
Artax sinking into the Swamp of Sadness in ‘Never Ending Story’. Moroder’s music did NOT help.
And damn it all, the final scenes of the Bond film ‘No Time to Die’. I’ve known that man since I was 8. And using John Barry’s ‘We Have All The Time In The World’ over it was a killer. And I was in a public place, damnit!
I see no shame in a man crying. It shows some level of understanding and empathy with whatever is causing it. And it shows, I guess, that there is something within said man that underpins his willingness to fight for something that matters, if fighting is needed. If a man didn’t care, then he’d fight for the wrong reason – false, macho, hyped-up patriotism, for example.
I remember 1982. I watched the documentaries as the men left for the Falkland Islands. Singing, “We’re going to the Malvinas, we’re gonna kill a **** or two” at the top of their voices.
And I also saw the documentaries as they came back. Utter silence.
And I wept for their sacrifice – the sacrifice not only of their colleagues and their friends, but also the evident loss of innocence about combat.
Interesting question. You may reply that your employer keeps you up to date with industry developments, legal and practice changes that influence or dictate how you work. That is, indeed, training. But I am not writing about training to which you are directed on pain of death. I am writing about self-directed, self-financed (if necessary) and possibly self-interested education. I am referring to off-the-job training.
There are countless options for most of us to learn something that isn’t job-related – for example, we might decide to learn to play a musical instrument, to scrapbook (now a verb as well as a noun), to reorganise flowers or to cook. Community Education is a big area. And I recommend you do some research about that.
But available through the same route, but more competence-focused, are courses provided outside your work but which would enhance your ability to do that work.
No, I have no odea what that might be – I’m not in your industry.
But let me provide my example. I was a serving police detective, but outside of that I trained as a legal executive (lawyer) for 4 years, obtained a qualification that allowed me to teach adults in further education, and di other courses related to both of those. They weren’t provided by, nor funded by my employer – I funded part of it, grants funded the rest. Ker-ching!
On the face of it you may ask what legal training in probate law, land law and contract law had to do with policing, but I assure you the benefits to me as a Fraud Detective were amazing – the number of cases I could deal with because of that knowledge rose, as did the number of cases we passed back to complainants. Cases passed back because we knew they were trying it on – for example, solicitors, rather than dealing with a probate dispute, would point their clients at the police and scream ‘FRAUD!’ so that we would get all the evidence and they could use it having had it gathered gratis. I, on the other and, could show why it wasn’t a fraud (at least at that point) and make a perfectly good legally-sound argument for that decision. And we had one man alleging a commercial fraud that I sent back pretty much annually for 10 years because I knew about contracts while not one of my colleagues had the foggiest.
Competence in the workplace is obviously covered by that statement, but I argue that such competence can extend, indeed should extend outside one’s professional obligations. In fact, I suggest it should include your societal and familial obligations, too.
Be a better citizen, be a batter parent, be a better child. It’s all there in that simple sentence. Be (character) a better (competence).
There are many facilities available for training, and in areas you might thing weren’t catered for. For example, parenting training is available from many charitable foundations, including Care for the Family. You might think parenting comes naturally. Lucky you if it did.
Identify and seek out training in respect of the competencies you lack – and identifying and admitting that lack is an example of good character, by the way.
As they say, admitting the existence of a gap in your education is the first step to closing it and reaping the rewards that follow – both financial and personal.
Years ago I read the book ‘Your Best Year Yet’ by Jinny Ditzler, who sadly passed away last year. In a nutshell (because it’s a lot deeper than the following might suggest), she proposed that every year you go through a process of examining past success and failures, identifying what you learned from both. From that learning you consider looking at life through a new paradigm, and list three (could be more but not too many) Personal Guidelines for the next 12 months. Only after you’ve done that should you then identify your roles, values – and ten goals for that period. It’s called a BYY Plan.
(I’ve written before about ‘only’ having term goals and ‘what to do when you’ve only got 5 left and loads of time.)
Anyway, I have been doing that on and off for a while (and amending the list every time I complete one or more goals on that list) and this year was no exception. Except I wasn’t feeling the love. It’s 4 weeks in to 2022 and after a spectacular start I was feeling unmotivated. So what was wrong? I decided to look at last year’s BYY Plan.
Last year went well. I had a list, and one of my Guidelines was ‘Make Hard Choices and Act’. That was possibly the best one. Many’s the time I read that and went out and exercised, or pushed myself a bit harder, or did something towards a goal that I otherwise would have avoided. And I would guestimate I completed on well over 80% of the goals I set for my 60th year. I rewrote books, requalified as an advanced driving mentor, and drove three racing circuits of the four I planned, only being defeated when my brakes developed a fault and, let’s be frank, a race circuit is one place you need good brakes. I completed on a few procrastinated house development plans, and generally succeeded all over the place.
So why not this year, so far?
First of all, I realised that some of my goals were a bit vague. Well-intended, but vague. They needed sub-goals to make any sense, or just needed more specificity than I’d initially stated. (30 years of receiving AND giving SMART Goals input and I still screw up….)
Second, I realised that some were the goals you’re ‘supposed’ to have. Which means they weren’t really mine, they were someone else’s.
And third, I set the bar way too high. I decided to ride my bike 100 miles a week. For three weeks (and one day, to be honest) I did exactly that. And I felt absolutely wrecked, bored, unmotivated. The time it took out of each day among all the other commitments I made was mentally wearing.
And one goal was a combination of both the ‘someone else’ and ‘high bar’ faults, and it was debilitating mentally as I struggled with the effort of trying to meet it while not really wanting to. I’d walk the dog and the whole hour was my conscience debating ‘can I?’ ‘can’t I?’ and ‘How do I/Should I get out of it?’
In the end, I chose to disappoint the someone else, and in fairness they didn’t try to talk me back around, and respected my decision. It’s great to have understanding friends.
Anyway, long story short, today is the day I address all those errors and create a plan that is still challenging, but which I want to do as well. For example, one of my guidelines read ‘Exercise relentless self-discipline’. It may seem soft, but that word ‘relentless’ was causing mental and physical pain. Every time I didn’t train because of the motivation/physiological challenges, it just added more pain. Just removing that word is going to make the plan easier to execute without excusing laziness, for example. And if you’re being truly relentless, some things have to give way to other things, which in itself pulls at the conscience, which drives you nuts.
I know I promote self-discipline on this site, but in my book The Three Resolutions I address exactly when self-discipline becomes self-defeating, so my integrity remains intact!
So I recommend Jinny’s book (after you’ve read mine 😊) because properly executed in a considered way the Best Year Yet Plan I made for 2021 resulted in the best year I’ve had in quite a while.
And I was faster than the Stig around Castle Combe Race Circuit. (have I mentioned that before?)
(I admit that’s Anglesey Circuit and not Castle Combe, but I haven’t any pics of that day. Sorry.)
I was at a meeting last night, and the subject was Guidance – where do you find it? The trainer suggested that there were 5 sources to which you can turn when faced with a decision, or more accurately a momentous decision, the settling of which will have massive impact on ‘what happens next’ in the particular scenario with which you may be struggling at any time. Note that I said impact – the event leading to the decision may seem quite trivial, but your decision on how to deal with it will create the result you want, the outcome you need (which may be completely different), or a complete mash up mess.
The sources included reference material, social and professional peers, and previous practices or protocols. But the one that made me sit up with interest is arguably the most important one, and relates to the Second Resolution, or more specifically the second part.
The decision might well go through all of the assessment sources identified in the previous paragraph: what does the book say, what do my colleagues, supervisors and other human resources suggest I should do, and what is the current practice as laid down in page 457, paragraph 3 sub-section 2 of that manual we all say we’ve read but have actually never been able to find. And after going through that systematic(!?) approach, we arrive at the final guidance criteria, the one relating to that Resolution, and the one which causes the most trouble. And that assessment question is….
“Is it the RIGHT thing to do?”
The problem may have technical solution. It may have a protocol supporting the policy supporting the law supporting the organisation. Your friends may think it’s best. But in your heart, there is doubt.
If that is the case, you need to ask that last question and decide whether your conscience will let you do something you know isn’t right (or as right as it could be), but you’ll keep your job and reputation; or whether you’re prepared to act in all conscience, breach a protocol or practice, risk offending your peers and be absolutely content that what you did was clearly in keeping with your own personal value system, and extrinsic principles.
I hope that where I’ve been faced with such decisions in my past that I usually made the right choice. No doubt there have been occasions when I know I’ve done what I was told to do, in contravention of what I thought I should do, but that was often the result of a direct order by someone with more experience, knowledge (and power) than me. But in one situation that comes to mind as I write this, I was able to communicate my distaste for the execution of the instruction.
It isn’t easy fighting for what’s right. There are always consequences. But it’s a lot easier than fighting your conscience over something you did that you knew wasn’t right. You have to weight the consequences of every decision, right or wrong. You may have to weigh them up for a long time.
But while you wrestle with your feelings over what you decided and what you did, don’t forget to consider that other alternative: how would you feel if you hadn’t stood up for what was right?
Don’t focus on the problems created by acting correctly, in accordance with your conscience, values and personal character.
Focus instead on the personal integrity you demonstrated. People can see it, even if they rarely point it out.
When do you get frustrated? Not disappointed – that’s a different thing. Disappointment means something hasn’t and will not happen. Frustration means it either hasn’t happened yet, or that it hasn’t happened in the expected fashion. And that’s the crux of today’s article – how to view frustration, which goes to the Second Resolution, and Character.
Frustration is a function of failed expectations. A promise is made, a contract signed, a E-Bay order submitted, an appointment set, and so on. In that moment, an expectation is established on the part of at least one party involved that the agreed consequence of the transaction will be met by the other. At this point, the ‘other’ party has only one obligation, which is to do what is expected of them. Probably nothing more. They entered into the agreement intending to do just that. To do X by Y.
Very often, the party with the expectation will have other activities which rely on X being done as agreed, which the second party knows and cares nothing about. Not their job. Why you want them to do X may not even be known to them.
This is the crux of frustration. A failure to communicate the consequences of any failure to meet the expectation. Of course, in day to day transactions such as those on-line (E-Bay, Amazon) the seller isn’t in a position to ask, and the buyer in no position to add to their order ‘I need that item for Claire’s birthday party so if it doesn’t come on time I’ll be embarrassed and she’ll be disappointed’, and it probably wouldn’t make any difference to their ability to deliver what they’ve already promised. But there are circumstances when an agreement is set, and bot parties made aware of the consequences of failing to act as expected.
But sometimes ‘it’ happens, and the expected action isn’t completed on time or as otherwise expected. That’s when Character comes in.
Character means the ability to look at a situation with an emotional detachment sufficient to see the reality – that sometimes promises are made and circumstances outside the other’s control came to pass that affected their ability to meet their obligation.
All too often, our response to a frustration is anger, accusation and a complete lack of acceptance of an absolute reality – that not everything and everyone revolves around us. Circumstances change and o one is to blame. And in situation of frustration, the first approach of a person of character to the ‘offending’ party should be inquisitorial, nor adversarial. To ask why something hasn’t happened before assuming it happened out of spite.
Not easy when your wife hasn’t come home to make the dinner. (I’m not good at this, either.)
Be honest – when someone doesn’t come through on your expectation, what’s your first inner reaction? Me, too. But there is another way.
Proactivity – the ability to make a considered choice in the gap between what’s happened and our response to it, is key. It allows us time to recognise that the world doesn’t always do what it’s supposed to, and that finding a mutually acceptable solution to a problem is better than starting a war over what is often quite a trivial problem, but one we’ve blown out of all proportion.
Next time someone doesn’t do what was asked by the time their action was needed, ask yourself whether the expectation was set as clearly as you thought, and then, if it was, enquire with the other person as to what has happened. Don’t assume you know, and then attack them.
You might need their help again, and that relationship is more important than being right. And you know, in your heart, that you aren’t perfect. And if you aren’t, why should anyone else be?
For more on character and the other Resolutions, read The Three Resolutions, available at Amazon HERE in paperback or Kindle.
“To change one’s life: Start immediately. Do it flamboyantly. No exceptions.”
William James PSYCHOLOGIST, PHILOSOPHER, AUTHOR
Funny, isn’t it? Right now, with 20 days to go, I am positive that millions of people are making their rules for 2022, applicable from Day 1. (Okay, maybe not so much the Chinese, who have a different New Year.) They plan to diet, exercise, rise early, watch less telly, etc. Or maybe that’s just me. Again. Every year since ever.
Honest intentions, I have no doubt.
Next funny thing. Having promised to eat better, exercise etc. etc., they (we) rationalise that because this is the season of celebration (and the conventional wisdom for celebration is to eat and drink to a massively stupid – yes, stupid – degree), the fact that we are definitely starting to live better on Jan 1st means we can justify doing the exact opposite.
And I am just as stupid as most of you, in that regard. (Not as stupid as those who think it’s okay to do it FROM New Year until Christmas. Love to those alcoholics who will give up booze for a month to prove they’re not.)
William James, the ‘father’ of psychology (not psychiatry, different science), sought to identify the proper prescription for a successful life. By successful, he spoke not of fame and fortune, but of greater personal effectiveness and integrity, where one lived in accordance with one’s values and therefore did not suffer the debilitation of depression, stress and guilt. His prescription was to advise people throw themselves ‘flamboyantly’ into their primary objective – living life with the peace of knowing that what they are doing is good for them, good for others, and which serves a greater good. Even if that service only means becoming a role model for others.
Bear with. You have a conscience. It may be teeny weeny, or it may be a big bu66er. But you have one. When you fail to act in accordance with its sage advice, you feel a soupçon or a bucketful of guilt, depending upon its capacity and your willingness to listen to it. What you do with that knowledge is the difference between achieving James’ definition of success and living a life of quiet desperation where you spend every evening wondering where the day went and why you haven’t achieved what was on your principled list of things-to-do.
How do I know? I know because that has been a tendency* in my life. A lot of my friends seem impressed with the amount of ‘stuff’ I do and the miscellaneous blobs of service for which I am known support their belief, but I know I could be a doing a whole lot better.
And with few exceptions, so do my readers.
Right now, those close to me privately and professionally are all preloading every conversation around the cake/biscuit barrel/sweet tin with ‘well, it is Christmas’, then stuffing their face knowing how daft they’re being. And (here’s the annoying part), after Christmas they’ll all go on a diet and bring their left-over cr4p into work. Thanks a bunch.
Starting today is key. It’s not easy, but it is the only truly sound route to getting what you want, and getting it soon enough to enjoy it.
My advice, therefore, is to follow William James’ advice. But be a little bit careful with the ‘flamboyantly’ bit. I think he meant do it ‘big time’, not dressed in a pink tutu, wearing a Stetson and covered in Braveheart make-up.
*Does ‘tendency’ mean absolute headlong throwing-yourself-into-dedicated-idiocy?
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The greatest writers on time management all agree – plan weekly, adapt daily. I subscribe to that ideal and do my planning on each Friday, but don’t worry – this post isn’t about time management. (That’s my other blog at https://policetimemanagement.com )
No, this blog being about The Three Resolutions, my focus this morning is about how ‘weekly’ doesn’t cut it for so many of us. A weekly review of our commitments and plans isn’t enough if, like me, you’re not as disciplined as you’d like to be. Recommitment every Sunday morning isn’t enough for us just as much as it isn’t (really) enough for churchgoers who are all pious from 11am to midday, and then go for a beer and heavy Sunday dinner in a pub.
Nope. I’m afraid for those of us still striving to become what we have concluded is ‘our best’ once a week may not be sufficient for our needs. We need to remind ourselves on a daily basis what it is we are about, what we are for. For those of us who really struggle, we may have to recommit every time we pass a temptation – like the fridge.
Having your values/mission/plan as a handy reference is, well, handy. In fact, having it to hand can be a literal requirement. An ‘in-yer-face’ representation and reminder could be key to keeping you on your set path. It’s not absolutely reliable – it takes personal proactivity to actually comply – but having the reminder present is certainly helpful. It reminds you of the guilt you’re going to feel when you don’t act in accordance with the values you set yourself.
In my ‘other’ book, ‘The Way: Integrity on Purpose’, I promote the analysis of personal values and the creation of a personal mission statement in much greater depth than revealed in The Three Resolutions book. I also discuss iconography. (See also Dan Brown and his ‘Robert Langdon’ novels.)
What’s that got to do with the price of eggs?
I’m a bit OTT. I have my ‘mission compliance reminders’ on the screensaver of my mobile phone and in the front of my planning system, but I’ve also had badges made, badges that I wear on at least one piece of clothing (coat or hat) that remind me I’m a frequent failure. 😊 Surprisingly cheap to obtain, given they’re custom designed. (£14 for 14 2 ½ inch metal badges from Awesome Merchandise, free plug).
You see, I’m trying to create a kind of obligation to act in accordance with the motto/philosophy that these badges represent. You might think that’s a bit weird, but there you sit in your football club’s shirt, or a branded shirt that just advertises someone else’s mission. Think about that. You paid more for your shirt than I paid for my badges, and you’re reinforcing and funding someone else’s mission. Duh!
Have you explored your personal values? Have you a personal mission statement or stated, written ‘constitution’? If so, great. If not, do the exercises that create them.
Velleity. Ooh. New word. One for Scrabble, minimum 14 points. But also important when defining your goals. Particularly at New Year……
What does it mean? According to Edwin C. Bliss, author of Getting Things Done (that isn’t the David Allen version) and Doing It Now!, it means “wanting something, but not wanting it bad enough to pay the price for it.” Yes, losing weight comes a rampant first place in the list of velleitous goals. (Oh look, I made up a new word. Yay, me.)
I’m gambling that you, dear reader, like me, have a bucket load (list) of such goals. They’re ‘Like to Dos’ rather than ‘Will do at any costs’. They’re the ones that start with good intentions and usually remain there. Or they do mean something, but every time you consider committing to them – usually when action is actually called for – then you vacillate, meditate, procrastinate, and then change-the-date.
For example, I have a desire to drive the Nurburgring, but when the offer came up recently I put it off until next year. On the one hand, I could drive my car around it gently, but the enthusiast in me would inevitably try hard and risk having to walk the 450 miles back home, red-faced.
The answer? There is one, but even it can be looked at with velleity. The famed climber William H. Murray, leader of the Scottish Himalayan Expedition* in the early 1950s, once wrote an oft-quoted ‘personal development’ paragraph that read,
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!”
Velleity in a well-crafted nutshell.
To do something you ‘kinda’ want to do but keep putting off, you have to invest something of yourself, or your cash. One of the least mentioned elements of Murray’s quote is that the ‘commitment’ to which he referred was – wait for it – paying for the boat tickets to Bombay. But as simple and uninspiring as that may seem as a ‘commitment’, popping some cash down when you are financially challenged is a good way to reinforce commitment – once you’ve coughed up cash you struggled to obtain, it’s mentally stressful NOT to come through on your goal.
Another way to overcome velleity is to make non-performance more painful than performance. A famous example is a Jewish gentleman in the USA who publicly swore that if he didn’t come through on a commitment he made, he would donate a four-figure financial sum to the Ku Klux Klan. He came through.
What can you do to, today, to overcome your wanna-do reluctance?
*Still can’t find the Scottish Himalayas on the map.….
Assuming you have taken the time to identify your personal values/principles, let me take a punt at identifying two of them.
Family. See, told you I was clever. Okay, unless you’re living alone or are a complete psychopath there is a good chance you put Family on your list. The level of compliance with that value (over work, for example) is another question, but for another time.
The second on is Excellence. Was I right? Is excellence on your list of personal value statements, appropriately defined? Well, if I was – I recommend that you take it off.
That may seem an odd thing to suggest. You may feel that excellence as a value is an accurate reflection of what you believe to be a unifying truth. Well it is. And it was on my list of values for a long, long time. And then I removed it.
I removed it because excellence is a lovely target to have, but an impossible one to hit. Not always – sometimes you do something that you think is perfect, and sometimes you will be absolutely right.
But I know of no-one who is ever completely satisfied with an outcome that can be and is affected in any way at all by the actions or assessments of other people. Excellence is so easily defined as being somewhat parallel to perfection. And that target constantly changes.
I have written books, and both although and because my valuing of ‘excellence’ existed, I rewrote them all. Some needed routine legal/practice/digital updating but others just weren’t good enough – for me. And even when I was happy with it, and felt I had achieved excellence – someone else saw it and made some genuinely pertinent observation that made me wish ‘I’d thought of that’.
Which is a good example of showing that excellence is very often in the eye of the beholder, which means it is to some degree outside of your Circle of Influence. Well, certainly the smaller Circle of Control, anyway.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t aim for excellence. But if you’re going to make it a value, prepare to disappoint yourself. You will do that constantly.
What to do, instead? I suggest you consider valuing Effort. You know how much of yourself you put into any endeavour, and you know when you aren’t doing enough. Other people’s opinions and assessments can’t affect what you know you have done, and how well you tried to do it. If you value effort, you value the mental effort you take to learn the particular method for doing something, you know whether you sweated enough in terms of the physical effort, and you know whether you put the time (psychological effort) into the task.
You can also, then, make some allowance and forgive yourself when you did all you could and it still wasn’t enough. For example, when you make an error that costs you dearly. You may well have done an excellent job, but something or someone felt disappointed and the result was you lost out. But you know, at the very least, that you did the best you could with the resources you had.
You put in the Effort. Your integrity is sound, and you maintain your sense of dignity and personal self-esteem.
Which is excellent.
Review your value of ‘Excellence’ and redefine it to mean Effort. It is worth the, er, investment.
Hubris. A word you’ve heard but until you’re accused of having it have probably assumed you understood but in fact have no idea. At least, that was my experience. Thought I knew what it meant, didn’t. Maybe suffered from it, I don’t know. If I did, maybe I realise it now by seeing it being more and more evident in the news. How so?
Most of us possess reasonable levels of self-confidence. A few, lucky people possess enormous levels of self-confidence, but of a type that isn’t ‘in yer face’ and annoying. These people we respect and seek to emulate, and we do so in the knowledge that emulation will serve us well. Nice, professional, generous and inclusive people who pull us along and make us better than we are.
I’ve been lucky enough to work with a few of those.
Then there are those I call Flashhearts, based upon Rik Mayall’s delightfully funny Blackadder character. They truly are ‘in yer face’. They have self-confidence, but they demand that you acknowledge it. They don’t want respect and mere emulation. They demand ad-oration. You mere underlings are there for them, not the other way around.
Sometimes, these people start out well. They perform at a level of excellence, possess some serious talent, and have worked hard to get where they are. But at some point in this development, they start to believe, and to believe in, their own publicity.
And then they believe they can do no wrong. At the government/celebrity level, they believe themselves to be untouchable, unreproachable, unstoppable and unimpeachable. They dismiss criticism as badly-motivated. They see those who challenge their poor behaviours as jealous, as threats, as beneath them.
Name one. Actually, let me change that challenge. Try to name ONLY one! Bet you can’t. bet you know the Robert Maxwells, the Donald Trumps, the Jimmy Saviles. And many more.
First of all, the people who follow or serve them, but fail to challenge them, are enabling their bad behaviour. The follower’s self-interest is undermining their integrity. They won’t speak out because they feel they can’t. I understand, but there is a cost.
The second point is – we all suffer from it to some degree. Including me. We commit acts that we know would and could get us into trouble. We tell a joke that in the current climate just isn’t allowed, and we expect others to laugh and move on. (Whether that should be the case is a ‘cancel culture’ question but my point remains valid.) it’s 2021 and the English Cricket Board is now dealing with a racism issue, which I bet was seen by those committing the offensive behaviour as ‘team banter’. We are sexist, racist, homo-ist and so on – usually for the sole purpose of humour and not necessarily directly towards and in the presence of the target, but we do it anyway. Not maliciously, but we do it believing ourselves, in that specific instance and with our humorous intent, to be safe in doing so.
Hubris. It’s defined as ‘excessive pride towards or in defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis’. That’s posh for thinking you can beat the principles or rules, and then you get what’s coming to you in the form of poetic justice.
So when you tell that joke (for example), or ignore the systems, protocols and ethics that life calls upon you to observe because you think you’re above them, don’t be surprised when they bite back.
I am currently engaged in providing witness training to young people at University, and as we were going through the routines that a witness should undertake in preparation for and in delivering testimony, we had a discussion about the effect of failure to be well-presented, professional, articulate, truthful and evidently competent. One of the questions arising was: What are the consequences of failure in these areas?
It gave me to thinking – doesn’t the answer to this court-focused question apply to all roles in life? Of course, in our scenario we addressed how failures would negatively affect the quality and effectiveness of our evidence. If we appear in unkempt and ill-fitting clothing, how does the jury see us? If we are ill-informed about the case, and/or can’t explain our case in accordance with the rules, will anyone hear what we have to say? If we are caught in a lie – even one borne of a genuine misunderstanding, will we be believed? And if we mumble and say ‘So’ or ‘sort of’ or ‘like’ every three words, won’t that eventually be all that the jury hears?
At court, the effect of all those potential failings can be catastrophic – the guilty freed, the innocent convicted (it applies to both sides!), our reputation tarnished.
The question I have, therefore, is – why do we apply such deep thinking, preparation and motive to our professional lives, and rarely to our personal lives?
Aren’t the potential consequences as bad? Maybe even worse?
You wouldn’t answer a client back – but you snap at your spouse. You wouldn’t talk down to a co-worker (deserved as it may be), but you shout at your kids in desperation. You shave, dress and present yourself nicely on the job, but wear a dressing gown all day when at home.
Before you bite, there are times and even days when that last one is all you feel like doing, and I have been known to spend a few hours building up the motivation to get going. But if those behaviours, alternating between work and play are your default position, ask yourself whether your superb professional reputation would be sullied if people knew what you were like at home. And also ask yourself – which IS the real me?
And make sure that the one you think reflects the better you – is the one you choose to be as much of the time as possible.
You may take the view that people make allowances for lesser standards, or that they don’t know what you’re like off the clock so it doesn’t matter. Maybe.
But my experience is that people aren’t so easy-going when it comes to other people’s standards. And when you think they don’t know or don’t care – they usually find out, and they will enjoy letting you know that they know. And the work and opportunities they provide you will reflect that knowledge.
Reputation MATTERS. That may seem unjust, but it’s true.
I hope my students will take on board what I have taught them. They are good people. I hope that my example (suit, waistcoat) reflects well on me in class and they see that I am walking my talk, and so see that as a template for their day in court.
But I also hope that this impression is an accurate reflection of me as a congruent ‘whole’.
Identifying and clarifying your personal values is more than an academic exercise. It is an activity which can define you on your own terms and which can lead you to the kind of success which is sustainable. Knowing your values and then living in congruence with what you know provides you with four important benefits.
First of all, your values can provide you with a sense of security. I say ‘can’ because they will only do that if they are in alignment with, if not exactly the same as, true principles. That’s a whole other article. But knowing them can provide you with the knowledge that whatever happens, they won’t fail you. You can fail them if you lack the discipline to enforce your own rules, the rules that were created in their regard, but they will never let you down. Properly identified and complied with, your values were rules you set that consciously or unconsciously will support you in times of challenge.
Secondly, they provide guidance. When those challenges, problems, situations, events and other ‘happening’ words take place that make you pause in confusion over what to do in response, your values will objectively tell you what (you know) you should do. They do this by reminding you what you decided, in advance, was the ‘right thing’ to do. It’s when you ignore your own advice (conscience) that you feel shame, guilt or strong doubts about any action you took.
Properly considered values provide you with wisdom. Knowing that you have already considered them, they will pay you back by reminding you of the wisdom that you found in defining them. It’s a loop. “I chose my values wisely, they therefore advise me wisely, I learn better, and that new wisdom repays me.” But the new wisdom reinforces the old wisdom – it rarely replaces it if the original value was in line with reality and genuine principles. But yes, if the old value was ill-considered, experience can result in a reassessment.
And your values provide you with a sense of power. Knowing that what you are doing is the right thing to be doing, reinforces your mental capacity to choose and to enforce that value in the situations that demand such application.
You best come to know when you have lived in accordance with your values when you suffer a challenge and, despite the potential for pain that your values-based decision may cause you, you make the values-based choice – and you feel good about it. Even when you feel a sense of disappointment about the actual outcome – you feel satisfied that you did right. You can then deal with that new outcome without the emotional baggage that a ‘wrong choice’ may have created.
I know that’s happened to me occasionally. My last resignation was the result of a values-based decision to walk away from a damaging situation regardless of the sense of injustice I felt. I won’t say it wasn’t painful, but the pain is assuaged by the firm belief that my solution was as right for me as it was for anyone else.
In my website https://threeresolutionsguy.com you can find a free exercise through which you can identify and define your personal values. It is both an easy and difficult task. Finding the term for a value is easy – defining it is a little more complicated as it requires you to imagine the situations in which it may apply and to define your response accordingly. And actually living it can be very challenging indeed – espousing honesty and then using little white lies is risky.
But it is worth it. I’ve lost count of the number of times the act of reviewing my value statements has jolted me into action. The same process could serve you.
And those you serve – not just your employer or client, but those you love.
Do it for them.
For a detailed values identification process, read The Way, available HERE on Amazon.
Ayn Rand wrote, “Those who deny reason cannot be conquered by it.” At the same time, police officers say, “Accept nothing, believe no-one and check everything.” Police live on an evidence based basis (so the reason someone invented the phrase ‘evidence-based policing’ when it is ALL evidence-based policing, escapes me.)
Both phrases relate in some way to the Second Resolution. Rand’s lends itself to Character – the acknowledgment that we are not all-knowing, and that where we express opinion we may be wrong. In other words, humility. Ideologists don’t like that idea. They prefer to counter Rand’s tenet by shouting louder. Argument is not key to winning; silencing the other side is their route to ‘right’.
The police motto lends itself to Competence. It’s about not accepting ‘facts’ blindly. It’s about questioning to identify fact from fiction, truth from exaggeration. All towards ensuring that action taken is the best solution to the challenge faced.
There is a corollary to that, of course. When I hear the expression ‘there is no evidence that….’, my next question is always ‘Has anyone actually looked?’ Zebras didn’t ‘exist’ until someone saw one. The evidence wasn’t there. Then, when the first person to saw one described it, some disbeliever or doubter would say, ‘That’s just anecdotal evidence’. Which all eye-witness testimony is, so it’s as valid an evidential basis as any.
Yes, there are overlaps between those character- and competence-based expressions – there always are. To a degree that is hard to quantify, character enables competence, and competence develops character. But character listens, because competence requires it.
I watch too much television, but I try to watch debates to gain a better understanding of ‘things’. And it grieves me to watch the shouters who can’t wait to debunk their opponent’s statements before they are clarified, and do so by shouting over them. Those shouters are the ones Rand means when she writes of those who won’t be cowed by reason – they won’t listen to see if something is reasonable.
I’ll be frank. A lot of the v-word debate at the moment smacks of an unwillingness to listen. There are too many emotion-based, rather than rationale-based arguments being made. I have questions (police tenet) but the answers I get are likely to be emotion-based rather than factual. Truth be told, my experience of the whole COVID things is different to others. I know of absolutely no-one in my circle of family/friends/community who has died, or who has suffered more than a sore throat and lack of taste for a couple of days. This situation serves my scepticism. It seems that if you know me, you’re safe.
But listening to the ‘don’t kill granny’ arguments, I accept nothing, believe no-one and question a lot. Not so much about the virus, but about how the situation is being used to do things which otherwise would not be countenanced by a free society. And I admit to wondering why this immunisation programme differs from tetanus (10 years), Hep C (5 years), smallpox, MMR (both once, ever) and other preventative treatments. Which doesn’t stop me seeking them, just questioning why it is the only three-times in a year version.
But as long as the fire of debate is fanned by those whose interests do not necessarily match my own, I will remain doubtful about any argument that is made at a higher decibel level than that used by the other ‘side’.
Retirement sucks. Enforced retirement sucks even more. What’s more, the longer the gap between stopping work and finding alternatives, the harder it is to find the motivation to do so. But the biggest suck of all is knowing how productive and organised you are, when you haven’t much to organise and produce.
Which is a lie, to be frank. Nobody has nothing to do. But after years of managing work in the service of an employer, coping with interruptions, dealing with new projects, facing greater challenges and fending off – sorry – helping other people, managing your own life and household comes a poor second. Or does it?
When writing about the service-orientation of principle centred leaders, Stephen Covey wrote, “I emphasise the principle of service yoking up because I have come to believe that effort to become principle-centred without a load to carry simply will not succeed. We may attempt to do it as a kind of intellectual or moral exercise but if we don’t have a sense of responsibility, of service, of contribution, something we need to pull or push, it becomes a futile endeavour.”
Which profoundly makes my point. Knowing that serving is a worthwhile endeavour means little or nothing in the absence of actually providing that service.
I guess that’s one of the reasons for these blogs. My avowed intention is to bring the word of Stephen Covey to greater prominence (if that is even possible) so that others may benefit from learning what I have learned. I have taken one of his concepts and expanded upon it as both an intellectual exercise and in an effort to become a principle-centred leader, myself. Unfortunately, fate slapped me in the face and I found myself looking at The Three Resolutions from an academic perspective when I lost the opportunity to serve an organisation that I still hold in high regard.
So I still serve. I don’t have a formal job, but through this medium and other routes I train, I teach, and I develop others. And in doing so I still get to organise and produce, even if the pay is pitiful. 😊
Service does not require compensation – in fact the best service is arguably unrewarded by money. But that doesn’t mean that service shouldn’t be rewarded. As implied by Covey, the idea is that whatever it is you are called upon to do by way of providing any service, you yolk up and put your back into it. You provide the best service that you can. You do so by proactively choosing that your best is what you are willing to give.
Which takes discipline. And it means being competent at whatever it is that your service requires of you.
And not just in the workplace. There’s another, important part of your life that requires competent service. Your family. If you just teach, listen to, nurture and provide good example to your immediate household, that’s a service. So be good at listening. Become more patient and understanding. Provide for them if that is within your role, and if you aren’t the breadwinner, just be fully present.
That is the best part of being retired. Four and a half grandchildren who can see me when they want, where they want. And I get to see them, too.
I may miss work. But now I have a new job. Pappy. No dosh, but the best job in the world.
I know I must Be proactive. I know I must Begin with the End in Mind. I know First Things must be First. And I know of four other important habits that, applied, lead to an effective life. I have read ‘that book’ hundreds of times, I could probably get a cracking score if it was my specialist subject on Mastermind. But..
I lose my temper. I get wound up. I forget things because I haven’t planned, and I procrastinate more often than i like to admit. I don’t listen (I’m a man), I am non-considerate – by which I mean I’m not inconsiderate (deliberately uncaring) but I’ve never developed the empathy required to see when compassion or thoughtfulness is called for. I frequently find reasons not to exercise my body or my mind.
So there is a gap between what I know, and my ability to master its application.
Yet I can live with it. I can live with it for two reasons. First of all, the guy who organised those ideas wrote that he himself had trouble living in their accord with 100% consistency, and if he can fail, it’s reasonable to say that I can fail, too.
But the second reason is because it means when I do comply with those effectiveness habits, I can recognise and learn from that experience from a positive state, rather than from the personal perspective of guilty failure.
It would be true to say that I should’ve learned by now. I know from recent experience that compliance with one’s values and ‘productivity training’ that making the effort brings great emotional satisfaction, while allowing emotions to set the agenda does not. In other words, deciding to be proactive, values-driven, productive and contributive overcomes the emotions of ‘tired’, ‘bored’, ‘unmotivated’, etc.
It’s all in his book, and mine. Yet all too often, in the moment, the emotions mentioned above will still dictate our response – I say our, because we both know it isn’t just me. You feel unmotivated, bored, tired and utterly washed out yourself, on occasion. And at times like that it is easy to fall into the Gap between what you know you should be doing, and what you actually are doing.
Eventually, just like me, you recommit. And the only question to be asked is: Will I get it this time?
Yes, you’ll get it. You’ll get it the moment you lapse again.
But here’s the rub. Over time you fail less and less, and you learn more – and better. Your knowledge/behaviour Gap shrinks. Or it changes its nature and you discover new and better ways of behaving in keeping with your values system, which may require more effort but which bring ever greater rewards, and a renewed sense of higher self-esteem.
That, readers, is your Integrity Muscle being developed. And the more you exercise it to the point of failure, the stronger it gets.
Know what to do, do what you know. And when you fail, you know something new.
Onward, ever upward.
The rewards of your efforts will be spectacular.
For more on the field of principled self-improvement and development of a personal philosophy with which you can be come congruent, get The Three Resolutions at Amazon, HERE
Years ago, I made a mistake. I sent an email to a small group, and accidentally sent it to the world. The content was accurate, but the world didn’t need to know it. Embarrassed, mea culpa, apologised publicly to the individual, copied in the world who’d read it.
Unfortunately, sometimes instead of mea culpa, people who make that kind of error don’t apologise. They double down like a wronged spouse, who raises every fault the husband (usually) has committed, ever. Their mistake is entirely YOUR FAULT. Everything you ever did (even if you didn’t) caused the offender’s error.
The unfortunate part is that doing this destroys any good will. The party who was publicly stabbed will no longer go the extra mile to serve the offender. Which may have impact on any corporate, commercial or community interest within which that offender works. Where a simple apology, taken in good humour, could have healed all wounds, the doubling down defensiveness adds infection to the mix.
And the really funny part is that people committing this error are usually people who would consider themselves ‘senior leaders’. They may have that title, but do they read the leadership material that espouses humility, integrity, honesty? Evidently not. Years ago, I wanted to be taken to task in bad faith by a certain boss, because he had a copy of Stephen Covey’s ‘Principle Centred Leadership’ on his bookshelf and I would’ve picked the book, turned to the relevant page and shoved it in his face.
(Unfortunately, I never managed to offend that particular chap.)
This is not an attack on any individual. We all make mistakes, and we all have regrets. I have many. And I seem to amass them quite frequently despite all my best efforts to live according to my ‘code of conduct’.
And that leads me to the other dimension of character errors such as blaming the person you’ve offended. If you don’t apologise, how can you be forgiven? Don’t you want good relationships? Do you want to be thought of badly? Is there something wrong with being liked?
My code requires me to apologise when I’m wrong. I made a bad character error on holiday, recently – impatience – and even though it took me a couple of days, I walked up to the person I offended, offered her flowers, apologised twice despite her repeated ‘no needs’, and walked away with a tear in my eye, partly because of her forgiveness but also because of my humility – which sounds backwards but it is really emotionally satisfying when you act as per your personal code of conduct when the potential consequences could be severe – she might have called security, after all!!
So next time you make a complete noodle of yourself, acknowledge your error, apologise (truly, not just say the words) and take whatever comes.
It is soul-affirming.
Buy The Three Resolutions HERE – available in paperback or Kindle
Jerzy Gregorek is a Polish weightlifter who has won four World Weightlifting Championships and achieved a world record. Since retiring from competitive posing (sic) he has established a brand called ‘The Happy Body’ (https://thehappybody.com) serving his clientele in terms of the provision of nutritional and exercise advice.
But he is mentioned here because of a now famous quote attributed to him, which parallels the First Resolution, and which is the subject of today’s blog. The quote read:
“Hard Choices, Easy Life: Easy choices, Hard Life.” Four words, used twice, and an enormously powerful and profound truth that most of us try to avoid.
We know that eating nutritious food in sufficient quantities is good for us, but the easy choice leads us to the tasty stuff.
We know that exercise is good for us, but we park as close to the office entrance as we possibly can rather than use those dangly things hanging from our hips.
We know that doing an excellent job is the right thing to do, but if we can get away with it, we’ll do a ‘good’ job. But as Stephen Covey espoused and Jerzy agrees, the Good is the Enemy of the Best.
Hard Choices require a disciplined mental approach. They require that we look at our situation, the challenges presented, and consciously us the Gap between that stimulus and our yet-to-be-decided response and decide – what is the best thing to do, now?
Various alternatives will present themselves, and in that moment, the success or failure or ‘just get by’ is decided. To get the success – or at least the longer-term, substantial and irrevocable success – you have to make the Hard Choice.
That may only mean getting out of bed when you really want another five minutes, but that initial personal victory can have surprisingly powerful effect. It may not seem so in the gloom as you stumble for your slippers, but doing it once makes it easier to do again, and suddenly your time is being utilised better, your self-esteem expands, your results improve.
Which leads to the second truism. The Hard Choice rarely has an immediate payoff, whereas (psychologically) the easy choice provides exactly that, an outcome that doesn’t serve us at all. And you know that. You just needed reminding, like me.
What Hard Choices do you need to make, today? You’re already up so that’s one you can’t make again. But how about lunch – jacket potato, salad and beans, or a huge coronation chicken baguette? How about that difficult conversation? How about parking at the far end of the car park (unless it’s raining. I understand the practicalities of wet clothes in an office).
What can you start doing that’s better in the longer term? What can you stop doing that’s convenient but less conscientious? What are you doing that is already good, perhaps so good that you could do more of it?
Make the Hard Choice. It’s a heavy lift, but in the end you know it is the way to success in any area of life. Ask Jerzy.
For more on the subject, buy The Three Resolutions, available HERE at Amazon in paperback or Kindle format.
One competency that people often lack is the ability to listen. I recall as a husband and as a school pupil the accusation that ‘you never listen’, but I don’t recall the lessons in listening that accompanied literacy and numeracy. Do you? Do you remember being taught attention management as a listener rather than as a teacher? Nope? Me neither.
Listening is a skill. The ability to not just hear what is being said, but also to see how it is being said and to understand why it is being said are the three elements of good listening. They are summarised in the expression that good listening requires HEART – an ART of using the EAR to HEAR what’s in the HEART. Yes, I know – ouch. Yet perfectly apt.
The ability to truly understand through listening is therefore a competence, one that can be studied, learned and finally applied. But all of that competence requires something else, something that underpins all learning.
Not just discipline required to apply oneself to the learning of the competence, though. That’s only half the story.
Discipline is also required to actually apply that learned skill at the appropriate moment. It means pausing in the gap between hearing someone say, “I want to tell you something” and the knee-jerk “Not now, I’m busy” which we tend to apply.
Not as easy as learning about how to listen, I’m afraid. We all live in our own world, and other people’s need to intrude upon our inner peace (i.e. while watching Line of Duty) tends to lie secondary to what we have ‘going on’ in our own heads. It takes discipline to decide to be present for another person. Until that discipline can be applied, all the listening training in the world won’t make you a great listener.
It’s easier to pause and listen to someone important to you in an intimate sense – immediate family, best friends, and so on. It’s also arguably easier to listen at a time of crisis, because the crisis is salient, it’s ‘in yer face’ and can’t be avoided.
But there are times when someone needs to be heard, but there is no obvious sense of urgency and so the moment is missed because the intended listener hasn’t developed the skill, and discipline, to be (a) willing to listen and (b) able to see that listening is needed now.
Next time someone seeks to attract your attention, pause and ask yourself – am I ready and willing to take the time to understand why this person wants me at this moment? That pause will inevitably result in better communication, even if the result is to arrange a better time for the conversation – the individual knows they have been and will be heard if the counsellor actively acknowledges that there is a conversation required.
You are familiar with the expression Win-Win, are you not? It’s a management go-to term when you are engaged in some kind of negotiation. Of course, in most negotiations the term is interpreted to mean that ‘I will win most and you will win some’. For example, the nice double-glazing salesman my father played, whose opening gambit for doing our whole house was £10,000, but when he wasn’t getting anywhere with that dropped straight to £6,000, at which my Dad suggested the salesman had (a) just tried to con £4k out of him and (b) better leave while he still could.
Another example – when someone with a purpose on television says ‘we need a debate’ may imply they are seeking a win-win solution to the issue at hand, but what they really mean is they want a debate where the other side does what they want done. My evidence – politicians stating that the other side should ‘show leadership’ by doing what they’re told.
Readers of the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will know that a true Win-Win means that both sides seek out a solution that is better than either of them foresaw when they began the relationship, or they just don’t do the deal. That takes courage and consideration – the courage to stand for what you believe while also being considerate of the other’s needs and perspectives. It’s not surrender – it’s a deeper discussion.
It also means applying all of theThree Resolutions. It takes self-discipline to not blindly default into seeking what you want at the other’s expense, and it means denying yourself your initial victory in preference for consciously seeking a better one. It takes character (knowing what you value and being unwilling to compromise your principles) and competence (specifically the intellectual capacity to negotiate, to understand conceptually within the practices and legalities which cover the matter at hand, and the technical ability to do what is agreed). And it requires that you know your purpose and are willing to serve the other party and their stakeholders as much as you wish to serve your own.
This isn’t just a business related idea. This applies to all interpersonal transactions, from deciding on a family holiday to getting a stubborn teenager to clean her room. (That adjective was redundant, really, wasn’t it? They’re all stubborn.)
It means being proactive. It requires a momentary pause between the stimulus of getting your needs met and starting to demand them, instead using the pause to ask ‘how important is this relationship’? It means deciding that you want to consider your ultimate objective from the broader perspective of a whole-life view and any future dealings. It means giving thought to how you want the project to progress, and whether carrying it through is ethical, and won’t compromise your values and external principles.
Nope. Negotiating from a desire for all involved to benefit is definitely not easy. But it all starts with your being the kind of individual who is conscious of the above principles, and sufficiently proactive as to notice when they need to be applied. Instead of jumping straight to the default ‘win’ programming that we tend to adopt as we grow up – and learn from our ‘betters’.
Next time you want something that involves someone else, ask yourself – “Am I disciplined, congruent, competent and service-orientated enough to take the time to find out how I can be a part of making this a mutually beneficial project?”
If the answer is No, even in the moment, then decide to wait until you are.
The results will be truly extraordinary.
For more on The Three Resolutions, got to Amazon and buy the book.
I don’t know many successful people – and by that I mean people I respect and who deserve their success – who surround themselves with clutter. It might be an amusing comedic meme for a character in a film or programme to be successful and yet live in a pile of clothes and dirty dishes, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen that in reality.
The successes I respect tend to exists in an organised environment, indeed often minimalistic. One place for recording everything that requires a decision, immediate referential filing for items once read and digested, immediate planning for an action resulting from input, in the appropriate place and for rediscovery at the appointed time. A clean, tidy, organised and clutter-free workspace, usually paralleled by an equally open personal space.
I wish I had that.
Unfortunately, like most people I live with others. Others who have not delved as deeply into the benefits of self- and space-organisation as I. Those whose idea of being organised means having just the one pile – in each room – of ‘whatever it is they might ever need’. But it’s in the one place so they’ll find it if they have to.
#except they don’t, because they forget which pile/room they left it in.
And at the risk of talking out of turn, the people who live like that tend to be indisciplined, overweight, unfit and flighty. Everything last minute, and everything an inconvenience. That may not be abundantly clear with young people whose metabolism is yet to disappoint, but after 40 all that indiscipline suddenly manifests itself around your waistline.
Which raises the question – which came first, the disorganisation or the indiscipline? It’s a good one.
But there is a chap called Peter Walsh who opines that fat people are fat because they hoard stuff. Caveat – he’s not saying that is the primary or only reason but hear ‘him’ out through me. He does suggest that when we hoard, we create an environment that owns us, rather than an environment that we own. As the less disciplined see their environment take charge of their lives, they surrender to it. When it finally takes command, their preferred coping mechanism is – you guessed it, comfort eating.
It’s hardly scientific, but he has demonstrated on Oprah how finally regaining control of the environment they lost, resulted in losing the weight they had gained. (I am particularly proud of that sentence. 😊 )
I am engaged in clutter clearance now. And it is fun watching how quickly I decide to dump something, while others’ stuff awaits assessment – for days. And how the moment I clear four square feet of space, one of my children needs something stored ‘just for a bit’ and it gets filled again.
Keeping an ordered environment takes discipline, but there are peripheral effects on your physical and mental health – and that of the people around you who, like me, wish to heaven that you’d get your ‘arris in gear and throw some cr4p out.
Exercise the First Resolution on your personal and professional environments. I guarantee you’ll feel better, unless you live with a hoarder. Then it’s a case of controlling any homicidal tendencies you may have.
I would love the patient of a saint. It would be a characteristic could be humbly proud of (it is possible), but of late I find that my patience patina is wearing thin. I shan’t go into why, but suffice to say the expression ‘gritted teeth’ comes to mind because – I think I’m gritting my teeth. Nevertheless, I am trying to keep my counsel because of the relationships involved and the potentially negative and expensive consequences of just telling it like it is.
Which raises the question – is it better to be completely open to the point of bluntness (that’s an oxymoron if ever I wrote one), or hold back because one isn’t walking in the shoes of the people who ‘need telling’? The former approach could be said to be the most honest, but the latter the more respectful. A principled decision is called for in every different case.
There is no blanket strategy. You might argue that there is but have you ever opted for a specific approach only to discover that the facts and assessments that led you to use it – were wrong?
The only advice I can give – and which I would dearly love to consistently apply myself – would be to us the space between stimulus and response to really, conscientiously dig deeply into the situation, and act accordingly. Think broadly and deeply – what do you know, what do you think you know and can find out, and what is the situation as seen from the other side. Just asking those questions can truly serve your strategy for dealing with the event.
But there is another assessment I would invite you to consider.
If your selected approach requires careful wording and you can’t think of the words – consider letting it go.
It is easy to think you’re using the right words only to wonder why the other person didn’t hear what you said, but instead heard what they decided you meant and the situation worsened rather than improved.
And here’s the rub – sometimes they won’t tell you what they thought they heard; instead, they’ll go off and report their inaccuracy to someone else, and it all goes Pete Tong. Of course, that ‘someone else’ will be their friend, therefore on their side by default. They rarely go to an objective listener.
This whole idea is a ‘soft skill’ that requires wisdom, considered thinking and occasionally resignation to a situation.
Which means being willing to surrender, to leave things as they are while mitigating the potential risks of staying silent on the matter.
Which is bloody stressful, my teeth can tell you. Ask my dentist.
Last week I suggested I would monster everyone at a racing circuit Track Day. How did it go?
I arrived at Castle Combe and immediately realised (a) I was possibly the oldest driver there and (b) mine appeared to be the only unstripped, unchipped and unmodified car there. I was surrounded by Caterham 7s, quasi-sponsored trackday specials and even a Radical racing car. I knew I was toast.
But I really enjoyed myself. Although I was often a mobile chicane (except when I overtook a string of four slowly driven, identical Honda coupes) I was able to drive to ‘my’ max.
I discovered something apposite to life. Being the slowest (ish) car there by virtue in part of my being bog standard, I frequently found myself alone, which meant no-one was getting in my way, which in turn meant that I could perform without others influencing what I could and couldn’t do.
How often is that true? How often is what you are doing in terms of personal performance influenced or even impeded by the actions, inactions or rules created by others – and created in their interests rather than yours?
I’ll leave you to ponder that one, and then move on to suggesting that being ‘at the back and alone’ with no-one in your way may just be the best time to learn – about yourself, about your capabilities, and about your potential.
When unfettered, we can occasionally go further than we think. Like on track, we can focus forward rather than backwards. We can try things out and see what occurs, without the external critics that point out how ‘they could’ve done better’. We discover, for ourselves, where we can do better, where we have pushed too hard, where we make mistakes – and we tweak our self-expectations and behaviours with a view to overcoming or managing our former limitations.
I am confident that my next experience, in June, will show an improvement in terms of car control and speed management around a strange circuit – I’d visited last week’s on a prior occasion – and I’ll be willing to push a little harder.
Yes. Sometimes the tortoise beats the hare not because it’s smarter but because it took time to learn.
And I beat Top Gear Stig’s lap time. By four seconds. Admittedly he was in a Vauxhall Astra Diesel and I had a Focus ST but I’ll take the win.
Do you put as much into your pastimes as you put into your work? Alternatively – do you put as much into your work as you put into your extra-curricular activities?
The Three Resolutions ethic suggests that you should seek to be equally competent in both, and that the levels of competence you seek should be the highest possible. Note that is use the word ‘seek’ – it would be unfair to suggest that you all have the time and resources to succeed at the highest level, in everything, all of the time. But you should do the best you can with the time and resources available.
Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, touched on this. He suggested that many people think in silos, not deliberately but because that’s just the way society developed, in that there is a time for work, a time for play, a time for worship, and so on. Each was seen to be separate from the other. But in the 21st century, those boundaries slipped away. Now you have a work AND personal social media strategy to consider, work is a 24-hour focus (you are contactable constantly, and shifts and home-working are common), and self-directed personal and professional development is the norm. and you have to manage it, not your supervisors.
Next Monday, I will be engaging myself in my hobby, advanced driving. Not on the road, but on a racetrack. I’ll be driving my own road car, but I will be unfettered by speed limits. My intention, therefore, is to go as fast as I can and out-drive other people in faster cars. My experience in more controlled conditions has been that there are many folk out there with spectacularly powerful and beautiful motor cars who have no idea how to drive them the way they were intended. In two racetrack experiences, despite being up against Teslas, Jags, Porsches and BMWs, my Ford Focus has been let by and I’ve been passed once, because the instructor told me to let someone by when we were held up by a Tesla.
Yes, I’m clearly boasting. But it illustrates, to me, how some people aren’t seeking, or don’t appear to be seeking, the excellence that their resources will allow them to demonstrate. They’re settling for less than they can be. Yes, there may be other factors at play – I might just be reckless in exploring the outer limits of my ability and they have too much to lose – but as an illustration this example has merit.
How good are you at what you are not being paid for – and could you do it better?
I also write, I am a public speaker, and I am a cyclist, and in all three I try to be as good as I can get within the parameters that life presents. I also try to be a great grandad and husband. No resources needed there, but ‘me’.
Strive to learn, strive to be your best. Returning to the Covey description, when we exceed expectations and capabilities in one are of our lives we can also improve our abilities and capacities in the other areas. Every improvement in one area creates improvements elsewhere.
But you must take care not to be like the excellent lawyer, who goes home and questions her family, seeking evidence for everything they tell her. Horses for courses – it’s the mental approach to excellence I’m proposing, not the ability to use the wrong tools in the wrong situation!
I do try to be ‘my best’ in everything I do. I frequently disappoint. But by seeking excellence in everything I am easily better than I would have been if I hadn’t even tried.
And another hint – if you teach as you learn, you actually create a personal and social obligation to be better all the time. Which those you serve will love.
I suspect there are two directions in which readers’ minds travelled when they read that question. For some, and not necessarily for bad reasons, their minds went to their financial status. Their answer may have been ‘none of your business’, but since that wasn’t my motive it doesn’t matter. Others would have proudly stated their net worth, the value of their possessions and the consequences of their life’s work, their inheritance, their future anticipated wealth. A figure, preceded by their currency of choice’s symbol, be it £, $or €.
But that’s not what I asked, even if the words implied it. What I meant is…
“What are YOU worth?”
To put it another way – what is the price of your personal integrity? What boundaries are you willing to cross, and what borders represent the spot where you will fight and die – metaphorically, perhaps even literally?
And, perhaps more to the point, just how firm are they? Which, if any, are a bit rubbery depending on the circumstances? Which values might bend in the wind? And..
Have you bent any, already?
I’m not talking about other people’s values and standards – for example, those imposed upon you since you entered a profession, association, relationship or otherwise. (For example, where the ethical standards you subscribed to have now changed with the influence of excessive political correctness, as opposed to reasonable adjustments which probably didn’t contravene your values in any case?)
I’m writing specifically about whether – or not – you follow the advice of a US politician who reportedly stated, “I have a firm set of principles by which resolutely stand, but if necessary I can change them.”
That is your true ‘value’. Whether you are willing to stand by your principles in the face of challenge, or excuse a failure to do so. Not money. Integrity.
Perhaps – and now I get truly controversial – you have another form of incongruence which I perceive (I could be wrong so I am being careful with my words) exists in the world today.
I am thoroughly bored with the virtue-signalling I see around me. People who have never given a monkey’s about ‘social justice’ now routinely reposting and liking SJW memes. Celebrating things they never celebrated before. Companies banging on about social justice, when really all they want to do is sell stuff. And, more often than not, failing to recognise that if there’s one thing people really know about their motives, based on the evidence around them, is that it is Profit, not Principles that direct their spouting.
I firmly agree that people should absolutely stand by the values in which they truly believe. I might not like Greta’s approach, and I question its psycho-sociological origins, but at least she believes in what she is doing, and is doing what she believes in.
But don’t pretend to stand by Values imposed upon you by others, because you’re afraid to either oppose, or at least be neutral about them. Stand by them if you believe in them, but don’t pretend you give a toss when you really don’t. Or worse, if you do so only because you fear being seen to question them.
It’s a Circle of Influence ‘thing’. If you think that reposting and liking woke posts makes you a good person, stop and take a good hard look at yourself. You’ve stood for nothing. You haven’t put yourself at risk in any capacity. You haven’t demonstrated the vulnerability that true congruence can represent. Worse still (for the particularly vociferous), the manner in which you intolerantly oppose what you perceive to be ‘intolerance’ says more about you than you think. You’ve pandered. You’re wearing a badge someone else paid for.
And people can see it. They see behind your fearful façade.
And that, readers, is how they know your true value. Your character speaks louder than your reposted memes.
I have always been ‘intelligent’ in the sense I could pass examinations, but I don’t think I became really intelligent until I started studying the works of Stephen Covey. He didn’t make me any cleverer in IQ terms, but he did open my eyes to a new mental approach to things. He showed me how people – you, me and an awful lot of politicians and celebrities – are psychologically flawed, and in recognising those flaws I realised just how much what we are told is ideologically biased. Not necessarily on a political ideology – just a set of ideas about which the speaker feels certain, even though they have no empirical, objective evidence for the firmness of that certainty. It is, to use a Markleism, a ‘lived truth’ and is therefore subjective.
I hear a ‘fact’ now, and I realise that it is rarely factual. It is routinely an opinion. It is an opinion honestly held in the sense that the person stating it (usually) genuinely believes it, but it is rarely an absolute, objective truth. I now question everything I hear, because I know about Values. They believe what they are saying because they want it to be true. And anything which challenges that ‘truth’ is not only wrong, it is an absolute lie!
Attaching emotion to an argument colours it, so when I hear emotion – anger, passion, hate, fear – then I also hear bias. And just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I am right, either. Objectivity requires acceptance that you may also be biased.
Covey taught me many things, but one of them was to see things not through ‘my eyes’ but through ‘principles’. The main principle of debate and learning being – ‘have we heard ALL the facts?’ So I accept nothing, believe no-one and check everything.
For example, when I hear someone on one side of the political divide start insulting the other, I remember Desmond Tutu’s advice that when in debate, instead of raising your voice, raise the quality of your argument. Try explanation and a quiet, considered voice – and I’ll hear you.
When I hear ‘There is no evidence to show …….. (whatever the speaker does not wish to believe)’, I ask, “Have you even looked?”
When I hear ‘something terrible IS going to happen’ (e.g. Brexit), I recall Hyrum W. Smith (author of What Matters Most) saying ‘ Results take time to measure’ and recognise none of us can tell the future. Try ‘might’ happen – and I’ll listen.
When I hear ‘you MUST do it this way’, I look at the background material and frequently find that ‘this way’ is not the ‘only way’. Indeed, it is occasionally the wrong way. Question what you are told – even if the answer remains the same, you will understand it to a far more informed degree.
When I hear talented actors, who I’ve watched grow up from their first childhood films to mature individuals, telling me their opinions about politics I ask, “When exactly did you do your—–ology degree?” They have a right to an opinion – but all too often they have no ‘authority’ behind it. (And as I get the impression that ‘creatives’ are almost consistently left-wing, I also ask how that stands up, statistically?).
And when I hear an academic’s opinion that is based on their expertise, I remember that they may have found the evidence they sought, but was it objectively tested? And you can get a degree with a 40% pass mark, by the way. Having letters after your name may just be confirmation of a bias!
In essence, what I am promoting, here, is to live a life of healthy cynicism, where you question what you hear – even your own experiences. The last thing this world needs is to move from objective reality to ‘lived truths’.
Listen, but assess. Could they be wrong – because if they are and you act on that, you’re wrong too.
Is your LinkedIn ‘blurb’ the whole extent of your existence? Is your quirky, deeply-considered and often trademarked tagline the result of deep introspection, or just a marketing tool for making you special? I’ll be blunt – I suspect for many it is the latter. It has a genuine purpose, and you’ve put a lot of thought into it. But the motivation may not be ‘right’.
We are not a job title, quirky or otherwise. We are far more than any professional trademark can ever describe with any accuracy. What is more, what we are we are all The time, whereas the registered trademark (is it really, or have you just popped an ® by it?) is, at best, nothing more than who we are at work.
We are whole human beings, and our senses of being, purpose and relating should be reflected in a set of self-defined guidelines that, if we are to be seen as having true integrity, must be executed with consistency.
That is why I wrote The Way – Integrity on Purpose. It is a deep-diving guide to identifying, defining, designing and executing on a personal credo that is about as comprehensive as I could make it. It is a book that provides counsel on self-analysis to the point at which you – yes YOU, not me or anyone else – decides what your are for in your personal, interpersonal and professional lives to the point at which you are congruent in the way you ‘are’ at all times, instead of different people in different situations.
It is also the route I took to deciding to write and (try to) live by the contents of my magnum opus The Three Resolutions. It is also the foundation to my ability to roll with the several punches I have suffered over the years in terms of cancer, professional challenges and occasional failures.
To be frank, and some psychologists would agree, material and counsel of this type is what can turn someone from feeling ‘meaningless’ to ‘purposeful’ – and we know the devastation that can occur when that gap isn’t addressed, don’t we.
If you have any sense of self-doubt – any at all – then reading this book will, I firmly believe, at least point you towards a bespoke solution for rediscovering a sense of purpose and inner peace.
It’s not about having a registered trademark to hide behind. It’s about having a set of standards to which you hold yourself, all the time and everywhere.
Go and explore the index. See if there’s something there for you – or for someone you care about.
What are you good at? Outside your profession, that is?
And another question – how good are you at that ‘other thing’? And a final one – How good could you be at that thing?
There is a book out there called ‘The One Thing,’ by authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It’s a fine book, very easy to follow and (one might argue) twice as big as it needs to be to explain its main idea. It promotes the idea that you should focus on your ‘One Thing’ and (to use their words) to do so to the extent that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary. And there’s my issue.
I don’t know anyone who does One Thing.
To be fair, Keller and Papasan are mainly asking you to address the One Thing that will make you successful and most people see that as a professional aim, and therefore seek it out in one area of life – the money-making, success-orientated part. The authors do acknowledge and promote using that question in other life areas, too. Which is where my point in this blog comes in.
First of all, I believe most people have a number of things they want to do, some of which they discover along life’s (DON’T SAY JOURNEY) path. BUT there is a tendency to seek high levels of competence in only one or two. I believe it is possible to have high levels of competence in all of them. Indeed, if you consider some important roles, it is essential to be optimally competent. Do you want to be a ‘passable’ parent? Thought not.
So secondly, I believe that it is a good idea to study, experience and apply yourself to your ‘other interests’ to the highest practical degree. I say ‘practical’ because you can’t work for a living AND study for a degree in every interest you might have. That’s impractical. But you CAN seek out experiences, and practical learning, in your fields of interest. For my part it’s in public speaking and advanced driver instruction. There have been other interests as well (investigator training and writing) which took up time, but time well spent as my competency in each area developed through osmosis. I learned as I ‘did’. That’s not as fast as 100% focus one can apply to a new career, but it is effective. And here’s the thing.
What I learned in every different and distinct role, I have discovered can be applied in all the other roles, too. My legal training helps me deal with life’s challenges because of a forensic, logical approach. My learning the art of manly and sporty lycra-wearing has made me fitter and more able to ‘work’. My studies required and developed my writing ‘ability’ such as it is (your assessment….) My desire to train required I learn to speak in public so I ‘got gooderer’ at that.
There are people in the world who can learn, qualify in and apply some serious disciplines. I’ve known medically-qualified barristers, and that is some time- and mental commitment! I’m jealous of people who can achieve this level of competence but I’m not suggesting we can all do that. But we can find something we like to do and seek out the ability and knowledge required to be the best we can be at whatever that is.
Look at your work and hobbies. Are there things you can do that will make you even better at doing them? Courses, reading, experiences you can have that will make you better at, and therefore enjoy those activities.
Go to it. Maximise your application of The Second Resolution and become a better person on your own terms.
When I set out my plan for what is my 60th year, one of the tenets I elected to live by was the expression “Make the Hard Choices.”
What is a hard choice? In a nutshell, a Hard Choice has to be made when, in Three Resolutions terminology, one often has to choose between a short term preference, or a ‘fight or flight’ kind of response, where the immediate temptation is to take the easy option. Or one really thinks about it.
I have made several hard choices over the fairly recent past. Two stand out because the first impacted the latter. In 2019, I was accused in my workplace of some thought crimes. One was a silly joke I made, which in the current climate really was silly. The rest of them – well, let’s just say I dispute either the recollection, or the existence of the event. My Hard Choice was – fight, or flight? During the internal hearing, where the number of pages exceeded the number of days I’d worked, I found myself wondering if the next allegation would be that my striped tie was phallic in nature. I decided that the relationship between the people involved was such that, for the sake of the organisation, I would resign. I didn’t need the money, nice as it was. The organisation didn’t need the bother and, quite frankly, neither did I. So I left.
Two years later, an agency with which I am registered asked me if I wanted a role with that organisation. As I am lockdown-bored, I suggested that if they’d have me, I was willing. The agency said they’d contacted them and they were okay with me, “Would you like an interview?”
I actually panicked. I had the shakes, concerns about ‘them’, concerns about the work. My blood rushed to my head; I was mentally all akimbo. And then my mantra kicked in – “Make the Hard Choice.” I replied, “Yes.”
During my interview it became clear that my past hadn’t been passed on. So I told the interviewers (as an answer to the question as to whether I’d ever made a difficult choice, ironically enough). No point in hiding what they needed to know, after all.
Those examples represented the making of a ‘hard’, Hard Choice. But I have made another one every morning this week. To get out of bed and exercise first thing, or (weather permitting) to go out on long/hard road cycling expeditions. Some people love doing that – I am less enamoured. But as I lay there in the morning gloom (roll on Summer), I remind myself – Make the Hard Choice, and I rise, dress, set up my tablet and watch Talk Radio and other videos as I use up the calories I will take on later in the day.
You may have a range of Hard Choices to make. Divorce, marry, date, dump. Take or refuse an opportunity. Eat a salad or a cake. Give up a vice or accept the consequences. Write that e-mail, or delete it once drafted.
Of course, some of your hard choices may affect others. Promotion/resignation affects those who rely on you for survival, after all. Facing or escaping a danger may result in the difference between saving a life or making sure you stay around for your loved ones. (I’ve often wondered why, when they DON’T leap into danger, coppers are often criticised. If it’s courageous to throw yourself into a river to save a stranger, it is ‘normal’ and expected NOT to.)
What Hard Choices do you make? If there aren’t any, are you living to your full potential? There is no doubt in my mind that it is the Hard Choices that bring out the best in us. And sometimes, that choice may seem self-centred – but might actually contravene our values in preference to the needs of other people.
“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” Mary Pickford
Every now and then, even the best have a poor day. An actor fluffs a line, a singer misses a note, Tiger Woods misses a road. These days of woke, a slip of the tongue causes offence and you are the one in the wrong, undermining hundreds of years of basic law about intent being the important element of a crime, not the ‘feelings’ of the other party. People are losing jobs because of momentary lapses of judgment that have nothing to do with their actual job performance – and often because the ‘offendee’ has an agenda (newspaper sales, TV ratings, they want your job, etc.), and not because they were genuinely offended.
And you’re cast down. Do you stay there?
It’s entirely up to you.
Here’s some advice for those who fall. Get up and start again from the First Resolution. Re-establish the disciplines that made you the success you were until only moments ago. Address the mistake by deciding either to never repeat it or to stand by it. Depending on your perspective and the nature of the event – you decide. If you were guilty, in part or in full, accept your tort and never do it again. If you weren’t, be steadfast and step away from the situation before it worsens.
Then look at the Second Resolution: revisit your sense of character, a massive element of which is Integrity. What does your conscience say about your ‘offence’? Was it wrong – if so, decide never to do it again. If not, conclude others were in the wrong and move forward. Examine your professional competencies: which ones weren’t what they could have been – if personalities were involved, what did you miss? Who did you fail to judge accurately? What nagging doubts (‘yellow alerts’) did you ignore? What action did you fear to take? It is rarely your professional competency that fails – it is almost always relationship-related – people, in other words.
Finally, consider the Third Resolution: can you still follow through on your sense of purpose, even if it is in a different way? Who can you serve, instead? What skills do you have that haven’t been compromised or lessened by your fall, that can be put to good, or even better use?
This* happens. But only death can really stop you doing something meaningful with your life. Anything else is a temporary distraction if you decide that to be so. The world is full of recovery stories – write your own if you need to. Use the philosophies available through the many books on purpose, discipline, and so on. Discover an alternative route to the end that what you lost was intended to provide.
Years ago during my policing career, two colleagues arrested a criminal who had a reputation for violence. On arrival at the Custody Unit car park, and just outside the Unit entrance doors, the officers alighted and invited the detainee to get out of the car. (It was before the use of vans was routine.) He declined their invitation.
Using ‘minimum force’ I used a technique I had learned in training, I put the blunt end of a pen against his earlobe and putting the two between my fingers, squeezed. He got out, at which point my two colleagues pinned him against the wall and tried to cover all his limbs and torso at the same time. I observed two things – one, he was trapped, and two, he wasn’t actually resisting any more.
“Flipping heck Dave, help us!” yelled one of my mates.
“He’s not resisting anymore.” I calmly responded. And he wasn’t. he meekly accepted his fate once the two sweating coppers eased off and the rest of the process went easily.
For 24 hours the two colleagues thought ill of me. The following day, they apologised. The emotion of the moment had taken over.
Another day, same unit. A well known and truly violent prisoner, with a history for acting up in the Unit, was asked to remove his clothes for forensic examination. Predictably, off he went. Yelling, demanding, threatening. It was going to take the world to get his kit off.
“Oy, ******,” I shouted. “WHAT?” he replied.
“Has behaving like that ever actually worked for you?” I asked.
A moment passed and he started undressing.
I’m no saint. I lost my temper now and then. Which doesn’t make today’s lesson less impactive, it merely reinforces it.
When emotions are high, when stresses are present, when losing your temper and abandoning all emotional control is ooohhhh so easy,
There are two reasons for this. First of all, it makes you feel good afterwards. Your keeping control is emotionally satisfying.
But second, it means you keep control and are able to deal with the event better. While I’m not proposing you will ever need this advice, my experience has always been than in a fight it’s the one who loses control that loses. I was attacked many times during my career but I always (somehow!) managed to keep my cool – even when a criminal bit into my leg and I let him stay there because it meant he wasn’t running off – and I literally tied them up in an effective controlling hold because they had lost control and I hadn’t.
You may not be involved in fisticuffs, but the same advice applies to those verbal confrontations we all, occasionally, find ourselves starting or trying to finish. Maintaining emotional control is key to resolution, and it is a truly empowering characteristic that those who wish to be principled leaders should seek to adopt.
All it takes is a moment to decide – who’s in charge here? Me or my emotions.
You are on Amazon or you are in a bookshop, searching in the business or self-help section for one of a few reasons.
You’ve tripped over it by mistake. Could be serendipitous, and you’ve accidentally discovered something that piques your interest.
You have recently been introduced to the concept of personal development and are exploring available options. You are looking to be better than you perceive you are. This is your first foray in the well of wisdom. Good luck. There’s plenty to see, here.
This isn’t your first self-help book. You are an avid reader of this kind of material. You’re addicted to researching the solutions that all your previous reading hasn’t provided. I feel your pain, because I have been there. Like me, you’re into ‘shelf-development’ by accident.
You are already successful by all ‘normal’ societal measures but there’s something that you either can put your finger on and you think an answer might be found within these pages, or you can’t put your finder on ‘it’ and you hope to realise what it is as you progress through the chapters. You’d be surprised how many potential readers come under this description.
But do you want to buy and read it, yet? No?
Let’s explore further.
Do you know someone who you think represents your ideal? And why do you think that person is your ‘ideal’?
I had someone in mind when I wrote that question. He was a consummate professional, arguably a leader in his field even though when I really knew him he held low rank in the organisation for which we both worked. He was at the same time one of the most caring supervisors and individuals I had ever known. His name is Russ. I hope you know someone like that.
If you really study people like Russ, you will notice certain things. You’d probably notice that they possess six character traits, and in my book The Three Resolutions I argue that those six traits come under three pairings. Mastery of those pairings will enable you to emulate your ideal and thus become someone else’s representation of ‘great’. Oddly enough, if you look at disgraced celebrities and politicians you will notice the lack of some or more of the same six character traits that make for true greatness.
Do you want to know what they are? Better still, do you want to possess them yourself? Good. But wait a little longer before making the commitment.
What if I said this was a book on ‘the simple, quick way to success?’ Would you buy it then? I certainly hope not.
We should all strive to be the best at what we can do. That is the objective of much of the personal development literature out there, but I think there is one problem with a lot of it.
A lot of the books have a tendency to over-promises and under-deliver. They offer ‘massive’ success, ‘greatness’, an ideal that is all too often defined as rich, famous and accompanied by the lifestyle of millionaires. Which is not to say that isn’t a worthy ambition and that you should never, ever pursue such a goal.
Unfortunately, the sad, sobering truth is that we can’t all be at the top of our respective field, even if we can strive towards that goal. We can’t all be celebrities because don’t all have voices like Katherine Jenkins or Andrea Bocelli, we can’t all act like George Clooney or Tom Hanks, and we can’t all write like J.K. Rowling and Lee Child. We can’t all be immensely rich because there’d be no-one left to do the work that we do. Economics would make all millionaires ‘poor’ if that was even possible. We can’t all run the organisation we work for, because there’d be nobody in the shop floor making the widgets we need to sell in order to pay our salaries.
Which is not to say we can’t try. And I will argue that we all have an inkling of what is required, but many of us tend to avoid actually doing it.
The six character traits under the three ‘headings’ are easy to understand, I assure you. The challenge is that they can be surprisingly hard to do. True greatness doesn’t come about through just pottering at something – it takes some effort, at least. I can’t make it easier to do, sorry and all that. Any author/ trainer/coach who says s/he can, is a liar. A charlatan. A snake-oil salesman.
But what I can do is make it easier to understand the traits, systematically help you see how they inter-relate, and motivate you to do something about what you discover.
Are you willing to consider doing that? To putting in the effort to understand and then actively apply what you read?
Still not convinced? Okay, let me try another tack. What if you don’t buy this book, don’t study its content and leave your success to accident, to other people’s design, or to fortune? What do you think will happen? Could you win a lottery if you haven’t bought a ticket? Can you get a job you haven’t applied for? Can you have a beautiful garden you don’t plant, nurture and maintain? In fact, can you get anything meaningful without taking action towards that end? Without at least doing something? Everything in life requires input if we are going to get output. Everything.
The fact is that while there’s not enough room for everyone to be at the top because the bar is always rising (and what represents talent changes with the mood of the client!), there is no need to be despondent because there is one thing at which we can be best, and once we achieve that we can all have the potential to go for the bigger things.
The one thing at which you can be great is – being the real, best, most competent, nice, disciplined, healthy, slim, helpful, dutiful and ultimately Russ-like ‘you’.
And that’s where The Three Resolutions come in. I invite you to read about them while you’re stuck indoors – and before you’re set free and accidentally default to how things were before.
For the past 8 days I have been dutifully watching a PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War, covering the 1961-1973 American involvement in what had hitherto been a French problem. And the overarching message that I have received has been – if they’d just applied the Second and Third Resolutions, maybe the lives of 282,000 US/South Vietnamese and other allies’ service personnel, 444,000 North Vietnamese/Viet Cong soldiers, and 627,000 civilians, would have been saved. Not all, I suspect – if North Vietnam had simply been handed control there would no doubt have been the kind of casualties usually associated with a communist takeover.*
Why would the Second Resolution have saved them? Character.
You see, the recurring message of the testimony and evidence produced showed (a) how often the US authorities admitted, in secret, that they were fighting a losing battle from when Kennedy was still alive and (b) that the self-interest of Presidential re-election was the focus of some of their decision-making. They even produced evidence that Nixon sabotaged peace talks as a way of supporting his efforts to replace Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 elections. How many of his citizens dies because of self-interest – because of a lack of character?
Which also brings up the Third Resolution. The other factors that killed countless people was unbridled ambition on the part of the leaders of both sides. The North could argue that they wanted to unite their country under one flag, albeit a communist one. The American evidence was clearly that, rather than acknowledge a huge error and step back from it with careful consideration as to how, they just threw people at it to avoid having to admit to a mistake – even someone else’s! Just to maintain power 6,000 miles away.
When I saw how many soldiers died taking ‘strategically important’ hills, only for the victors – survivors – to leave them once they got to the top, I was grateful that my children never volunteered to join the Forces, and simultaneously even more respectful of those who do.
I have always been willing to acknowledge and apologise for my mistakes. Even when my efforts have been rebuffed, and lies told about my errors, my disappointment has been more about another’s unwillingness to accept my apology out of self-interest, than it has been about the negative personal consequences.
Saying sorry often takes courage. It means acknowledging imperfection, it means risking a reputation – it means being vulnerable. Acknowledgement of a genuine effort to apologise is the least one can ask for.
But as Vietnam shows, stubborn insistence on ‘being right’ when patently ‘doing wrong’ in an effort to hide being even more wrongis dangerous to everyone involved.
Particularly for those who didn’t realise they were being misused by the players in the game.
Tell the truth. Live the truth, Acknowledge the truth.
*Turns out there weren’t any massacres. Just big re-education camps. Honest.
≈ Comments Off on Conscience – the Key to Success.
In First Things First, Stephen R Covey asked the question (sic) “How can we implement the choice to be congruent in life – to have greater personal integrity?”
How often do you sit there, trying to decide whether or not to do something that you know will be good for you, but which you know will be hard? How often do you find yourself rationalising the easier option? I know I do that. I repeatedly commit to doing some exercise every morning, but when the alarm goes off I enter into analysis mode: what’s the temperature/weather like? Can I get away with not doing it, today? Is it more likely that I can exercise later?
Anything to avoid exercising now.
Covey’s solution to this lack of integrity is to consider and apply a three-step, self-analysing process.
First, Ask with Intent. To quote Covey, this is to “ask our conscience, not out of curiosity, but out of a commitment to act based on the wisdom of the heart.” You see he knew, as do I and as do you, that there is often only one, true, conscience-derived answer to the question we are asking of ourselves. And it is all too frequently the answer that we don’t want to hear. The Hard Choice. So, when you truly ask your conscience for guidance, it will always tell you what you, yourself have instructed it to tell you. The answer you don’t want. The one that will serve you best of all.
But finding the answer to the question you are asking of yourself may require deeper thought, which Covey admits. So further questions may be asked, in addition to or in lieu of the first. They are:
“Is this in my Circle of Influence?” Can you actually take action, or are other influences going to affect your decision? It happens. You can’t ride a bike in a snowstorm. Do you even have a bike?
“Is it in my Centre of Focus?” This question, which relates to the tinier circle at the centre of your Circle of Influence and which was only written about in First Things First, can be answered with your mission in mind. Is it the best thing to be doing or is there something better that will move you closer to your Primary Objective?
If the answer to those questions is No, or even Yes No, then your integrity is intact if you choose the more objective-focused action instead of the one you don’t want to take. But only the true answer works that way – any other answer is procrastination.
In any case, the second process is Listen Without Excuse. Maybe following this advice answers those mini-questions already mentioned above, but what Covey means is that you don’t ask the question, only to start the excuse-making so often associated with taking the easy way out. As he puts it, “If we choose the first option, we feel peaceful. If we feel the second option, we feel disharmony and tension.”
This may seem counter-intuitive, in the moment. If we take the easy option, the stress of acting on the harder option goes away – for all of a few moments. Then we feel the guilt. Taking the first option creates immediate tension – which may go away once we start acting on the Hard Choice, and which certainly dissipates when we complete what it was we were trying to avoid.
The last element of the process reads Act with Courage. Covey writes not of acts of extreme bravery, but courageous acts taken in the gap between stimulus and response. In this context, it means acting on the better (harder) choice made between the ‘I don’t want to’ stimulus and the ‘I wish I had’ response that gets you nowhere. It means acting in the knowledge that acting on the Hard Choice is routinely more self-serving (in a good way) than delaying or failing to take that action.
In a sense, the whole chapter in First Things First, which is entitled “Integrity in the Moment of Choice, represents the key to the difference between failing in your objectives, and succeeding. It reflects the advice provided with less depth, but equal accuracy, in any personal development book you read. It identifies the key difference between a life of mediocrity and one that is values-driven, principle-centred and truly successful.
If I was to summarise this article in a few words, I could only repeat my interpretation of it, as already stated within these paragraphs. I suggest that when you ask yourself if you are going to Act with Integrity in the moment, and in doing so behave in compliance with your own conscience, then it is:
Make the Hard Choice.
(Which, coincidentally, is in keeping with the First Resolution. )