The Autotelic Personality in Action

Do you love your job? Really, really love your job? Is it because you make a ton of money? Or, is it because you actually love doing your job? Most people will agree that the key to living a fulfilled life is finding something that you love doing just for the sake of it-- and do it a lot. If you can make a living doing this activity that you love so much you would do for free, then you are absolutely golden.

I've written about developing an autotelic personality in the past. However, it is one thing to read about it and something entirely different to see in action. As a teacher, I understand that people learn in a multitude of different ways. Many students cannot understand a concept through just visual means; they often need visual reinforcement. I was lucky enough to stumble across this short documentary a few weeks ago that is the best example of autotelism in action that I have ever seen.

All three characteristics that I've written about before, setting goals, becoming immersed in an activity, and learning to enjoy immediate experience are evident in abundance in this video. Working as a cashier at a fast food restaurant is probably not an activity that most of us would consider doing just for the sake of it. In other words, it doesn't really seem to lend itself to autotelism. However, if you can find a way to truly enjoy a job that may seem mundane, I can't help but think life becomes just a little bit more enjoyable. I mean, just watch the video. Does "the Wendy's Guy" seem like he is enjoying life?

I used to work as a "cart attendant" at a major retail store while I was in high school. Basically, my responsibility was to get the shopping carts out of the parking lot and back into the store. At first, I hated the job; it was boring. However, I started making it into a game where I would never let the number of carts in the store get below a certain level. I had something to work toward and it in turn made me a better employee. Instead of the "cart bitch" that I initially thought of myself as, I changed my mental title to "cart wrangler." I corralled the carts like a cowboy herded cattle. Every once in awhile I had to make the trek all the way across the parking lot to collect a stray and the cowboy metaphor was reinforced. The carts were sitting out in the parking lot like lost cows-- it was my job to collect them and bring them home. Sometimes I would see how many I could push at once, or sometimes I would see how quickly I could clean out one section of the parking lot. There were countless ways to make my seemingly boring job into something more interesting and even fun. Looking back, this seems incredibly lame but it really did help make the time go by faster and I think, in a small way, it shows the power of autotelism.

The "Wendy's Guy" takes this to a whole new extreme with the way he approaches his job. It almost seems like he plays his cash register like a musical instrument. It's really an amazing thing to see. I encourage you to take a few minutes to watch this documentary and see if there is anything you can learn. If a fast food cashier can enjoy his job so much, is there any reason you can't find some enjoyment in your employment?



Getting to the Source of Your Procrastination

Procrastination is often more about distraction than anything else. When you are easily distracted, or there are many things that can distract you nearby, it is easy to procrastinate. With the new year I'm sure many people will be resolving to stop procrastinating. Whether that means your job, school work, or other tasks you need to get done but can't seem to sit down and do, procrastination is a killer. Instead of resolving to end your procrastination, try resolving to eliminate distractions instead. In my experience, distractions are the true culprit.If you've trained your mind and prepared your environment, the distractions are removed and the procrastination seems to fade away.

What distracts you? When you sit down to do some serious work, what do you find yourself doing instead? My biggest distractions come to the fore when I try to write. My biggest ones are:

  1. The need for order: If I sit down to do something that is not particularly easy (like write a blog post or prepare a lesson plan) I immediately seem to realize that my surroundings are out of order. Under normal circumstances, it wouldn't bother me too much that my books are not in alphabetical order or my pens are not arranged in my drawer by level of remaining ink. As soon as I sit down to write, however, I have an incredible (and utterly useless) urge to clean, organize or put things in order. It never fails.

  2. Perfectionism: How can I expect to write an article when I haven't picked the perfect title?! How am I supposed to plan a lesson on World War II if I haven't found the perfect opening question or activity?! I can't use this PowerPoint presentation because all of the pictures are not perfectly aligned! That battle between attention to detail and perfectionism is one that quite often will stymie me from doing anything particularly productive. Breaking out of that commitment to perfectionism is incredibly important to getting ANYTHING done.

  3. My own inadequacies: Writing for this blog has made this a new distraction for me. I've always been pretty good at the things I try to do. I was a pretty good hockey player. I was an excellent student. However, I've never written for an audience (even the small one I've been able to accumulate at this blog). How can I sit down and write about this stuff when a.) I'm not very good at the stuff I write about (even though I think about it a lot and try to implement it) and b.) there are so many other blogs out there with huge readerships and really interesting things to say (Zen Habits, The Simple Dollar, Productivity 501 etc.)?

  4. The need for constant new information: This might be the number one distraction that constantly begs for my attention. Checking email, checking my RSS feeds, Twitter, instant messaging, and news websites all provide little shots of stimulation that aren't particularly important but take up an disproportionate amount of my time. One of the biggest "tips" that I've discovered I need to do to do anything particularly productive or difficult is to turn all of that off. All of it. No texting, no Twitter, no email, nothing. Breaking the hold that these services have over my attention is something that I work on everyday. Anything that breaks up your attention is something that takes away from you doing truly great and important work. It's tough, but get rid of it as much as possible.

Lastly, I realize the irony of writing an article about distraction when the chances are  I'm distracting you by writing this article.  Please forgive me for taking a few minutes of your time. However, if this has gotten you to think a little bit more about the role distractions play in your work, I think this initial time investment might be worth it. Now stop being distracted and go do what you know you're supposed to do!


Simplifying Your New Year's Resolutions

It's that time of year again. That one where we all make promises to ourselves that get broken in about two months. We all start with the greatest of intentions but life seems to slowly intervene until we're back to December wondering why our resolutions from a year ago didn't stick. There are as many ways to tackle making new Year's Resolutions as there are ways to break them. Are you just going to pick one overall goal for the year? Maybe you'll do a different goal for each month of the year? How about selecting multiple goals from different areas of your life? I've tried almost all of them and I've had varying levels of success. This year, however, I'm going to try something new.

First of all, why do we make resolutions? It's because we feel like we aren't doing things we should (or we are doing things we shouldn't) and we feel some type of guilt, shame, or other negative feeling. We feel this way because we realize that when we don't stick to those "things" we resolve to do, we drift further from living how we think we should live. In other words, we lose sight of our values.

If you've never thought about your values, I may have just lost you there. Your values are the principles or ideas that guide your life (i.e. help you make decisions). In the past, I've written about my values such as Growth, Family, Critical Thinking and Discipline, to name a few. Most people will have a huge list of values that they give varying degrees of importance; these just happen to be a few of my most important ones. Your values are the principles that you hold most dear and they are the metric by which you decide if you are doing the things you should. A person without values is rudderless and set adrift in a sea of endless stimulus.

My idea for this year's resolutions, instead of just grabbing ideas out of thin air for things "I'd like to do," is to use my list of values. Why make a new list of resolutions when I already have a list of values that I want to live closer to anyway? Each month I'm going to take one value to focus on. At the end of the month, I'm going to set aside some time to reflect and see how successful I was in strengthening that one, and all the other, values that I think are important. Did I do anything to grow as an individual? What did I do for my family? Did I have any good examples of showing integrity? Spending a few minutes throughout the year (monthly, weekly, bi-monthly, whatever) will help me keep these values in the forefront of my mind and hopefully help me make better decisions.

This year I encourage you to make a different list than your normal collection of "resolutions" that actually don't resolve much of anything and dissolve a couple months later. The whole point of making these resolution is to live a life more like the one we envision for ourselves. We need lasting change that matters, not a brief burst of well-meaning. Instead, if you haven't already, sit down and figure out your values. What are the five or six principles that you live your life by? That right there is the basis for your New Year's resolutions and the basis for long-term success.

My resolution this year is to live a life of value based on my values. What's yours?

Slay Monsters with Your Self-Discipline

Self-discipline makes everything easier. The problems is that developing that self-discipline is anything but easy. It takes conscious effort to nurture and practice being self-disciplined. Luckily, you don't have to tackle a monster of a goal to become a self-disciplined person. You can tame the monster by practicing your skills on the lesser minions that you face throughout your day.

Like any other skill, self-discipline is a skill that can be practiced. As a coach, I want the players on my hockey team to become better-- but I don't just have them scrimmage during practice. Instead, we work on individual skill sets like passing, shooting, and skating. When all of these are put together the result is a better hockey player. Self-discipline is like that. You start with something very small and easy to do. As you get better at it (i.e. more self-disciplined) you can start to ramp up the difficulty.

Being self-disciplined can only be developed by taking action consistently. You have to pick something that you want to get better at and make yourself do it, all the time. Two easy ways I've improved my self-discipline is by making my bed every morning and stopping the terrible habit of biting my nails. These may seem incredibly trivial, but how are you going to trust yourself to do anything more difficult (like train for a marathon) when you don't even have the self-discipline needed to make your bed? Once your mind is convinced you can handle the easy stuff, you can turn your slightly strengthened self-discipline onto bigger and better things.

If writing that novel or finishing a triathlon or anything that takes more than a modicum of effort is one of your goals, you probably need to develop your self-discipline. Don't be afraid to start your training with the smallest of actions. Make your bed, put your laundry away immediately, do the hardest task on your to-do list first. Master the trivial. Master the minion. Then, master the monster.



The Beauty of the Late Night Mind Dump

It is truly amazing what a late night cup of coffee can do for my restless and scattered mind. This is not the first time that I have sat down with a cup of brew after the sun has gone down and spent a couple hours figuring out my life. My to-do and project list has been pitifully short the past couple weeks. That may sound like a good thing, but I assure you it is not. My short list was a product of keeping too much in my mind. I didn't think I really had that much up there anyway, considering my reduced responsibilities and lack of a full-time job. However, once I started writing and sipping my coffee, I rattled off three pages of ideas, concerns, projects, to-dos and other flotsam that was clogging my neural passageways.

Despite my new writing projects and renewed commitment to making something of myself as a writer, I've been plagued by an uneasy sense of underwhelming. I have a ton of free-time and I have not been using it as well as I should. This late night brain dump has filled me with a new sense of energy and purpose, something I have lacked for too long.

The most important thing I accomplished from this activity was breaking down some ill-defined and vague goals into steps that I can actually execute. For example, when it comes to my coaching I don't know what exactly I want to do or how far I'm going to go. I do, however, have some excellent contacts with former coaches (including an ex-NHL coach) that I should utilize. So, I spent a couple minutes to track down some email addresses and phone numbers and will be sitting down next week to discuss my coaching future with a couple of guys who really know what they are talking about. I still don't know what my future holds in terms of coaching, but at least I have taken steps to figure it out.

I really don't know if the combination of late-night caffeine and subtle self-loathing is my ticket to these flashes of motivation and self-realization. All I know is that once every couple months I brew myself a hot cup of joe, resist the urge to go to bed, sit down at my desk with a pen and a piece of paper (or three), and just let my worries, thoughts, and ideas flow out.

Using Your Free Time to Support Your Passions

The constructive use of free time is something that is very important to me and lately I've been doing a terrible job utilizing it. In a world with almost endless opportunity for growth, learning, stimulation, and entertainment how do you decide what to spend your free time on? Whenever I feel like I'm in a slump of some sort, it can usually be traced back to the way I've been using my attention and time.

In a perfect world, the way I spend my extra time would be the way that I spend the time making my living. They would be one and the same. However, even if you don't live that perfect situation of having your passion and your livelihood be the same thing, there are still constructive ways to use your free time that will support or improve whatever it is that your "great work" consists of. Or, in my situation, the two things that I am passionate about (teaching and coaching) are not something I can really "do" in my free time. I need to be in a classroom to teach or on the ice to be coaching hockey.

Figuring out what I can dog to make constructive use of my free time while improving myself as a teacher and a coach is what has been consuming the majority of my attention the past couple weeks. I want to get better at what I do, but I don't know how to do that. I can read about teaching/coaching, I can write about it, I can watch videos or listen to podcasts; but unless I am actually DOING the activity, I don't think I'm actually getting any better.

How do you handle a situation where your passion is not necessarily creating something (like teaching or coaching) but you still want to get better at it in your free time? I really don't have any answers to this question. All I know is that in my quest for the simpler life, I want to be able to take steps to become even better at what I do, even during my free time.

Quality Over Quantity is the Core of Simplicity

I think simplifying gets a bad rap because of the imagery that many people associate with it.  "Living a simple life?  That means having an empty house and no possessions, right?  Basically, you just sit around and think about your existence all day-- maybe do a little yoga?"

However, when I think of simplifying my life, I think of quality.  I think about eliminating all the random junk that seems to fill up my life and only keeping the stuff that I actually care about.  For me, a life of simplicity is a life of richness.  This principle, replacing quantity with quality, can be applied to almost every aspect of your life, not just your possessions.

For example, think about your relationships.  How many friends do you actually have?  Do you have a large group of people that you "sort of" know, but very few, if any, extremely close friends?  A large group of acquaintances can be beneficial at times, but I would argue that a small number of truly high quality friendships is best.  Keeping up with that large group of semi-friends can be very time and attention consuming.  It's much simpler to be an active and contributing part to just a few people's lives that you truly and deeply care about.

Another place that many people, myself included, could stand to apply the quality over quantity concept is in the information they receive throughout the day.  Timothy Ferriss and other "lifehack" authors have proposed the idea of low-information diets before.  The incredibly fast pace and ubiquity of information raining down on the average person is truly mind boggling.  How many feeds are in your RSS reader? How many other websites do you check on a daily (or hourly) basis? How many emails do you get in a day? Every aspect of our lives online could stand to be looked at in a critical light.  Every couple weeks I like to go through my feed reader and remove subscriptions to blogs that no longer add enough value to my life.  Without taking this step, I slowly keep adding more sites to follow, more information to keep up with, until I'm spending an hour or more everyday trying to get my unread feeds down to zero.

Lastly, the most obvious part of your life that the quality over quantity concept can be applied is with your physical possessions.  I am trying to take steps toward saving and buying higher quality versions of items that I use everyday.  For example, instead of buying a set of cheap knives for your kitchen consider buying one very high quality chef's knife.  Or, instead of buying a lot of cheap clothes that wear out very quickly, try saving for some higher quality and timeless clothes that will last longer.

If you are curious about simplifying your life I encourage you to try thinking of it as living a life of higher quality, instead of reduced quantity.  By eliminating your low quality possessions, relationships, and attention sinks, you are left with the true essentials of life.

There is no reason a life of simplicity should be a life of deprivation.

The Role of Self-Discipline in Self-Development

I'm a huge believer that self-discipline is the keystone to all sustained self-development.  Without self-discipline, when your enthusiasm fails and excitement fades you are left where you started.  Self-discipline is the difference maker that separates the truly amazing people from the average.  Luckily, developing rock solid self-discipline is not reserved for elite athletes and military personnel.  Anybody can become the self-disciplined stud that people turn to for help and admire from afar.

I must confess from the start that I almost feel fraudulent for trying to write this.  I am not nearly as self-disciplined as I wish I was.  In fact, sometimes my lack of self-discipline makes me sick.  However, I have at least come to the realization that this is something I want to work on and improve.  I want to share my successes and failures with you and, hopefully, together we can all develop our self-discipline together.  I believe in embracing the simplest way to do things in every aspect of my life. Having very strong self-discipline makes any other change you undertake that much simpler to achieve.  If you know that you have developed your self-discipline to a high level, the guesswork for any habit change is removed.

Why is self-discipline important?  Many self-help gurus have argued that self-discipline should take a backseat to motivation.  I vehemently disagree.  Being highly motivated is definitely a perk that makes everything easier.  However, as much as everyone tries to tell me, I will never be motivated for certain tasks.  Life is not always a basket full of kittens.  Sometimes you have to do things that aren't fun but still very, very necessary.  It would be disingenuous if I tried to trick myself into thinking I was highly motivated to take care of certain administrative tasks that are vital to keeping my life running.  It's just not going to happen.  This is where your rock solid self-discipline steps in to save the day.

Your self-discipline is what allows you to do things that are unpleasant, yet, important.  As motivated as I am to get into good shape and become a better runner, sometimes at 6:30 a.m. on a January morning in Michigan, I don't feel like running.  I can either chalk it up to not being motivated enough, or I can use my self-discipline to make myself get out there and pound the pavement.

As I said before, I am not an expert at developing self-discipline.  I am just a guy who wants to become more disciplined in many aspects of his life.  Therefore, I hope to do a series of posts where I will explore some different elements of developing self-discipline.  I will share with you my successes, my setbacks, what works and what doesn't, as I try to whip myself into the type of person that can do those unpleasant tasks without fail, every time.