To build the future that you want, you first must have a pretty good idea of what that future looks like. And, whatever the specifics of that future, the chances are that future you envisage is one filled with success. But, envisaging a future filled with success raises an interesting question: what exactly is success?
The fact is, 'success' is something you hear a lot about. It's everywhere. Apparently. It's in the newspapers, on the sports field, on the big screen, in the board room. It's in glossy magazines. It's on your neighbour's driveway, and it's on white sandy beaches and cruise liners. Sometimes, it seems, success is everywhere but in your life.
But is that true? Is success really everywhere but your life? Is success really something that only other people experience? Or do you just not properly understand what success really looks like?
So, what does success look like? Or, rather, what does success look like for you?
You see, success is a personal thing. Just like beauty, success is in the eye of the beholder. It's not something that a glossy magazine, newspaper, reality TV show, movie, clothes store, holiday commercial, or even your neighbour can define. Only you can define what success looks like for you.
And that's because there is no one thing that defines success. What looks like success for one person may look like nothing at all to someone else.
Yet, despite the fact that your definition of success is unique to you, everywhere you look, the messages that surround you try to shape your idea of what success should look like: fancy houses, fast cars, flashy watches, snappy wardrobes, stellar careers, and holidays in paradise. And, sure, for some people, maybe perhaps for you, success may look like that, or at least like some of that. But it might also look nothing like that at all.
And, if success for you does not look like the commercials, glossy magazines, TV shows and movies would have you believe it does, then trying to...
I have a friend who uses the phrase 'Analysis Paralysis', and I love it. It captures beautifully that trap that we all fall into from time to time - the 'over-thinking-it' trap.
Let's be clear right up front: goals are just dreams unless you do something to make them happen. And, after a while, dreams that stay dreams become torture. So, taking action is key to staying free of torture, achieving your goals, and, ultimately, living in the adventure of your real life. But what action do you take? What should you do? What if it doesn't work? What if you end up flat on your face, or worse? What will people think of you? What? What? What?
With all those 'What?s' buzzing around your brain - all that analysis going on, and the overshadowing fear of failure it induces - paralysis sets in and you do nothing. And, guess what? When you do nothing, nothing happens. Goals don't become a reality. Dreams stay dreams. And you stay trapped in the torture of an existence as an interpretation of who you really are, and of the life you are made to live.
And that, let's be honest, sucks.
But here's an uncomfortable truth: failure is not something to be feared or fought, but something to be welcomed and embraced, whatever your over-thinking and analysis may be whispering (or even screaming) in your ear.
But, that truth can not only be an uncomfortable truth, it can be a truth that is tough to accept, or even to understand, because failure hurts. I know how that feels. And, I'm guessing, so do you.
But, tough to accept or not, the fact that failure is something to be embraced, rather than feared, is a truth. And yet, I've lost count of the number of times I've sat down with clients for coaching sessions to explore what the adventure into their best self looks like, and how they might go about embracing and living it, only to be told that, whatever it is they resolve to do as an outcome from our time together, "Failure is simply not an option".
I've been there - in those same...
The best is yet to come. There, I said it: no matter how good it may be, today is not the end game, not the final destination, not the pinnacle of all life has in store for you. No, the best is still ahead of you.
But the fact that the best is yet to come does not diminish the role of the present. You see, where you are right now is not to be dismissed as being undeserving of celebration, unworthy of savouring or cherishing. Far from it. Where you are right now very much deserves celebrating. Where you are right now is worth savouring and must be cherished. Because, who you are right now holds the key to who you become tomorrow.
But you have a choice whether or not you use that key. You can choose to surrender the key and exist as a version of you - remain in the here and now, and embrace what is as what will be; or, you can choose to stand firm and take hold of all that living as the real you entails - to set your sights on what is still to come, and embrace what is as the springboard for what could be.
But, to take hold of all that lies ahead in the life you were meant to live, and to live as the person you really are, you first need to know what that life, and that person, look like.
So how do you uncover the pieces of that picture that are missing? How do you unlock, and step into, that future that holds so much for you? Well, if you've read the last few journal entries, or signed up for the Live a Big Life Academy [LINK], then chances are that you've already begun uncovering the pieces you need to build that picture. But that's all you've done - begun to uncover those pieces.
Remember, the best is yet to come; and that means that there is still more to discover. Much more. Which means that there is still work to do. A lot of work. So, here are a few ideas for how you can use what you've already uncovered to unlock those pieces of the picture that you are yet to discover - pieces that you may not even realise exist, but that are an essential part...
Let's talk about strengths. And let's start that conversation by exploring what strengths actually are, shall we. You see, while a lot is made about strengths, and how important it is to know what strengths you have, and to 'play to them' in every aspect of your life, what they actually are, and how they actually work, often seems to be something of a mystery.
Your strengths are your innate abilities. They are things that you do so easily that you take them for granted, and may even assume that everyone possesses them. They include traits such as social intelligence, courage, honesty and curiosity, for example - things that are hard to measure, but critical to your success in your pursuit of your adventure into your best self. And they can be expressed in a seemingly infinite number of ways.
For example, take creativity - it covers a multitude of things, from the immediately obvious - painting, drawing, music, dance, writing, acting, for example - to the much less obvious - such as mathematics and computer coding.
So, someone with the strength of creativity may find that painting landscapes seems to come naturally; or, the minute a beat strikes up, they find themselves harmonising in their heads, or breaking out a dance move; or maybe they lose themselves in algorithms and complex equations. But, sit the person who busts out the dance moves in front of a piano, and they may be all at sea, and put the person who loses themselves in algorithms in front of an easel, and a stick man is about all they can muster.
How do you go about discovering what your strengths are?
Not many people understand their strengths. Not fully. And even the people who do recognise their strengths, all too often under-estimate them.
So how do you recognise, and appreciate your strengths? A great place to start is with the free VIA Strengths Inventory, which is a proven questionnaire that will help you identify your top strengths from 24 possibilities....
Time is precious - you only have so much of it, and you never get back time that you lose, or waste. So, wasting time on things that don't put a smile on your face - things that you aren't passionate about - is something you want to avoid, if you can.
Now, I'm a realist. I get it. There will always be times when you have to do things you'd rather not do. Life simply doesn't work in a way where you always get to do only the things you enjoy. But you need to keep those times to a minimum.
You see, when you spend your time doing things you enjoy, you feel happier, more fulfilled and more positive about your life. But, when you spend time doing things you don't enjoy (especially when you have chosen, or allowed yourself to be persuaded, to do those things), you generally feel the exact opposite - miserable, unfulfilled and negative about your life. And, when you feel miserable, unfulfilled and negative, you move away from your adventure of becoming your best self and living your best life.
But, when it comes to what you enjoy, all is not always what it may at first appear. Not everything you think you enjoy doing is necessarily something you actually enjoy doing. So, as you think about where your passions lie, you need to exercise a little caution.
Most people, and, if you're honest, you are probably no exception, find themselves doing things that they try really hard to convince themselves they enjoy but, deep down, would really prefer not to do at all. And, while it can sometimes be good to try and make the best of a bad situation, there is a risk that, the more you do that, the more you begin to believe that you actually enjoy those things, and end up doing them more. Which eventually leaves you feeling drained, disheartened and miserable.
So, you absolutely need to get to grips with where your passions lie - to know those things that you really enjoy, and those things you try to convince yourself you enjoy, but really don't.
But how do you do that?
Well, what if...
Just who do you think you are? That's not asked with even the slightest hint of indignation, it's a genuine question: who do you think you are? Take a moment to think about how you might answer that question, and while you do that, let me run through a few thoughts and ideas that may be racing around your mind...
You might have zeroed-in on the different roles you play in life - roles that define you as a dad, a mum, a business owner, an employee, a carer, or someone who is cared for, for example. Or maybe your mind has jumped to the things that you can or can't do - your skills - and you are forming a view of yourself based on those - an artist, a writer, an engineer, a mathematician; someone who builds things, or grows things, or breaks things, perhaps? You may also be thinking about your feelings. Maybe you are lonely, excited, depressed, happy, melancholy, or just plain numb.
But none of those things are who you are. Each one simply describes something that you can, or can't do. It paints a picture of where you fit in your world. And it points towards how all of that makes you feel. But that is not who you are.
Maybe your mind didn't race to any of those things I just mentioned. Maybe it was consumed by labels that have been attached to you over the years - messages that people have given you about the person you are, are not, or that they want you to be. And maybe some of those messages were pretty negative - you are a loser, a waste of space, a nobody - insignificant, unlovable, pathetic. Or, perhaps those messages were positive. You have the whole world in your hands, you can be anything you want, you are super-talented, beautiful, and awesome. Or maybe your messages are a mash-up of positives and negatives.
But none of those labels given to you by other people are who you are, either. Sure, some of those labels may apply to you, but others will not. And whether they apply to you, or not, none of them originate from within you - they all flow into you from...
You hear it a lot. I say it a lot. But what does it actually mean - to 'live your best life'?
Does living your best life mean three vacations a year? A new car on the drive at regular intervals? Meals out in fancy restaurants with friends? Does it mean fighting the good fight? Or having a figure straight out of a magazine, and the style of a catwalk model? And what about family time, me time, us time and down-time - does living your best life mean time-a-plenty? Or does it mean pay-rises and promotions, qualifications and accolades?
All too often, it seems to mean whatever other people want for you.
But you know that your best life is not defined by vacations, or new cars and fancy meals, fighting for good causes, or having a figure and sense of style to die for. Sure some, none, or all of those things may feature in your best life, but to have them does not mean that the life you are living is the best that it can be. In fact, you could have all of those things and more, and still be living a life that is a million miles away from being the best that it can be.
You see, there is more to you and, therefore, to your best life, than those things that give you pleasure, bring well-being, or give rise to a sense of belonging. All of those things matter - of course they do - but they matter as being the outworking of something much deeper, much more fundamental than anything you can lay your hands on. They are simply the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. They flow from your best life, not into it.
All of those things that you may have in your life are complicated. Some bring pleasure, some bring pain. Some bring laughter, some bring tears. Some bring happiness, some bring heartache. But your best life is simple. Beautifully simple. It is pure. It is complete. It is the expression of who you truly are. And those things that bring you pleasure, well-being and a sense of belonging are merely temporary, requiring constant 'topping-up', your best life is...
Wisdom is a lot of things. On the theoretical side of things, it might be seen as an exceptional level of human functioning - a state of mind and way of behaving that is all about excellence and displaying high levels of competence, and a balanced approach to the emotional, motivational and intellectual aspects of life. But wisdom is more than a theory. Much more.
Wisdom is the difference between navigating life's twists, turns, highs, lows and pitfalls, and succumbing to them. It's the ability to accept what needs to be accepted, and change what needs to be changed. It's the awareness of when it's time to walk away, and when it's time to stay. It's appreciating when to stay silent and when to speak. And, even more than all of that, it's about helping yourself, and maybe others, too - to see things in a new way.
But not everyone displays wisdom, and even those who do often do so erratically. So, what makes some people wise, and others not so much? I mean, when you strip it down to its core, what actually is wisdom?
Well, for me, wisdom is an interplay of seven aspects of life. No single aspect stands alone - each relies on at least one other to play its part, and it is that inter-reliance that gives wisdom its value and its power. So, let's break it down and look at each one.
Knowledge: wisdom relies on knowledge. Without knowledge you have nothing to offer yourself or others. It may be knowledge about a specific subject, like mathematics, or it may be knowledge about an area of life such as business, relationships, physical or mental health, or finances, for example. And wisdom does not require you to know all things about all things - you know what you know, and wisdom draws on that.
Understanding: knowledge on its own, though, is just knowledge - it is understanding that gives you the ability to take that knowledge and do something with it. It is understanding how to apply that knowledge you have to situations you face, or to the situations that...
I've heard it said, and you probably have too, that you can have too much of a good thing. And, maybe when it comes to things that are good 'in the moment' - like a slab of triple chocolate cake, an ice cold beer on a hot summer's day or a triple shot espresso, for example - too much may not be so great. But, I personally don't feel like it applies to everything. And most definitely it does not apply to positive emotions.
When it comes to positive emotions, I don't think you can ever have your fill. And wanting more and more positive emotion in your life is not just about wanting to feel good - it actually has a huge impact on what path you follow into your adventure of becoming your best self (or, indeed, if you even pursue that adventure at all). There's even a fully tyre-kicked theory about the effect of positive emotions on how your life plays out: the 'broaden and build' theory, which suggests that the more positive emotion you have, the better equipped you will be for life.
But, hang on a second! Life can't always be all sunshine and rainbows, it just doesn't work like that. What about when things go wrong? What about when you feel sad, or scared? What about when those emotions you feel are not so positive? What then? Does that undo all the good things that this so-called broadening and building can do? If I experience negative emotions, does that mean I won't be as well equipped to live the life I was made for?
Well, life is all about the ups and downs, the twists and turns. You can ride the roller-coaster, or you can get on the merry-go-round.
You have choice: you can take on board those negative emotions and wallow in them and, if you do that, then yes, they pretty much will pull the rug from under your chances of living the life you were made for. You can ride the merry-go-round.
But, if you resist the urge to languish in a pity-party for one, and allow your negative emotions to play the role they are meant to play, then no, far from leaving you...
Sitting down, I had no idea what was about to unfold. Had I known the turn things would take, I may have skipped the sitting part and gone straight to the confrontation. Turns out, though, taking my seat was possibly the best thing I could have done because, what could have got quite ugly ran out of steam well before it passed the point of no return.
At Deloitte, I'd spent many years being schooled in how to handle confrontation and had always come out on top. My teachers had been at the top of their game, and I'd been a good student. And although I'd been many years away from that environment, old habits die hard, and it didn't take much to press those buttons that would see me reverting to the bad old days. So when the attack was launched, although momentarily caught off-guard, it didn't take long for my own attack strategy to form.
But, poised to finish the war that the person on the opposite side of the table had declared on me, a strange thing happened. I apologised.
For what, I still to this day have no idea - I hadn't done anything that required an apology. In fact, I hadn't done anything at all. But, somehow, I took control of the demon inside who wanted to lash out and crush my 'adversary' and, focused on what I wanted the outcome of the meeting to be (which was not an emotional bloodbath), played the peacemaker.
And, in that moment, that most unfamiliar moment, I learned the power of self-regulation.
Self-regulation is the ability to manage behaviour to bring about desired outcomes. It's the ability to resist that doughnut when the goal is to lose a few pounds. It's the capacity to turn the iPad or PlayStation off to take a break from a screen. It's the restraint required to leave in the store those shoes, that gadget, that bag, or whatever it may be that you don't need. It's the awareness and presence of mind to be able to leave that argument over breakfast in the car as you step into the office. Or, as it was for me on that pivotal day, the...