The most important thing in life….

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“The most important thing in life is to remember the most important thing” Zen saying I recently spoke to a client who has been extremely successful professionally. “Bob” owns equity in over a dozen companies and will retire soon while being in his early 40s. He didn’t reach out to me to get advice on his investment portfolio, but because he was lacking something: peace of mind and enjoyment. Like several of my clients, Bob has developed an operating system geared towards efficiency, productivity and achievement. With admirable discipline he could set a goal, a timeline and reach it. Over and over again. I was impressed hearing his list of achievements and his focused effort towards financial success. Yet, he hardly ever enjoyed that journey. He just did what he was great at. Focus on a goal and achieve it. Whether that would take 80 hours a week and demanded deep sacrifices was secondary. Bob could reach pretty much reach every professional goal he wanted. Even though there is obvious value in setting goals, there is a danger in being too fixated on our goals or what leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith calls goal obsession. When we’re goal obsessed, we can loose perspective on what’s really important and we reduce our peripheral vision to see opportunities. So following the Zen saying above: What is the most important thing? Really? And are our actions and time allocation reflecting that? If you brush away that question right now, that maybe gives you the answer…. Now back to Bob. Together we figured out what actually matters to him. What is the most important thing? I asked him: What are moments in your day where you feel a sense of meaning and purpose? A simple exercise to explore this is to take a sheet of paper and write down: I feel a sense of meaning and purpose when…. Then start writing whatever arises. It might be when helping someone out in the supermarket or coaching your direct report towards a promotion. Maybe it’s when you send a gift to a sibling or write a blog post. I once did this exercise with a management team in Hong Kong and it was remarkable how the team members accessed that feeling of meaning and purpose from simple things that often have very little to do with their direct role description. Yet, when they share about it, they light up, get energized and inspire others. It’s important to unveil these moments because meaning and purpose are almost unlimited energy sources. Once you tap into them and do more of those things, you just feel energized and great. Check it for yourself. How do you feel after such moments? Now once Bob did this exercise, we realized that the financial gain did not make that list (anymore). It was ‘on the 2nd page of search results’ because he already created financial security for his family and it hadn’t really been a worry for years anymore. What came on top of his list was to help other entrepreneurs be successful, have fun and creating something in teams and spending time with his wife, son and dogs. Now his operating system wasn’t wired to allocate time to these three items. It was still wired for goal obsession and the pursuit of financial gains. But by a combination of conscious practices, bold business decisions and shifting priorities to his family, Bob made gradual and steady progress. And within a few months, he could redirect his success formula and discipline towards the things that really matter to him. It still requires mindfulness to shift his focus, but the more he practices, the easier it became. What’s your response to the Zen saying? What is your ‘most important thing’? And when do you feel moments of meaning and purpose. Do more of those and find out ways to follow that. Trust me. It’s worth it, because time is ticking…. Mindful regards, Gaston Gaston is co-founder of the TeamUp Triad Coaching Program, a 9-week mindful coaching program which helps you be better at the stuff that really matters. Check out our website!

The costs of holding on….

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Since I became a father, there is one thing I learned: I need to let go of how things were before. It’s remarkable how much of my personality still would like the same amount of me-time, work time, doing multiple sports and the same amount of time to learn and take courses. And of course, the same amount of sleep as before! Any parent out there knows what I am talking about… One thing I realized: The more I hold onto how things were, the more I struggle. This is not just with parenthood. It’s with every aspect of our working and private life. Clinging to how things are or desperately holding on to particular feelings or situations will eventually create tension, frustration and discomfort. When I was climbing the other day, I realized a good metaphor for that: ropeburn! The discomfort of holding on to what is can be equated to the pain that comes from trying to hold on as the rope (of life) is inevitably pulled through our hands. And those sailors and climbers out there know: ropeburn hurts. And it doesn’t heal that fast! No matter what we do, the rope will be pulled through our hands. If we look deeply at everything around us, we realize that everything is constantly in flux. Everything changes. Even that seemingly solid rock changes all the time. Even your mother in law changes (perhaps in subtle ways and not always to your liking). I won’t even start about the market, politics and the economy. But also we change all the time. When you sit still and really observe, you can sense that there is constantly something happening at the bodily level all over your body. Hot and cold sensations, itching, throbbing, discomfort, sweating, tickling. Not a single part of your physical body stays the same. Some cells regenerate faster than others, but we’re in a constant renewing process physically. It’s like a river flowing. The same accounts for our thoughts and emotions. They constantly change like a river as well. Did you ever have an emotion that lasted with the same qualities? They come and go. It’s wonderful when we feel great and happy, but the moment we desperately want that feeling to stay, we’ll quickly loose it again. Life simply includes both the joys and the sorrows, gains and losses and pleasures and pains. We cannot avoid that as I shared in “In pain? Don’ make it bigger than it is” before. Besides creating suffering, holding on also has another disadvantage, especially in a work setting. When we want to keep things as they are, we become less innovative, less creative and driven by fear. Several of my clients lost at some stage perspective on their business and strategy, because they were too occupied with clinging to the status quo. Their inability to ‘let go of the rope’ resulted in missed opportunity, outdated strategies and non-inspirational, fear-based leadership. We can intellectually grasp this fairly easily and even experience it. Yet, we often live our lives as if things are steady, permanent and unchanging. From living our lives as if we are immortal and our bodies won’t degenerate to assuming that our business will stay successful because it was in the past. Now sometimes, we may decide not to let go and we might have good reasons for that. We can just know that there is a cost to that. For example, I am fully conscious that I am developing a stronger attachment to my wife Laurence and Tao. I know at some stage that either I will need to leave them or vice-versa and will suffer deeply. I can choose to (try to) detach in order to protect me from that, but it’s not an option I want to pursue. And so I consciously go for attachment fully understanding the consequences. It’s a conscious choice. For other aspects of my life, I consciously let go. I am getting better at it, but it’s work in progress. Letting go can start with the next breath we take. If we can learn to allow that breath to unfold naturally, without needing to change or manipulate it, then we can gradually apply that to other experiences in our life. Another practice that helps me when I feel attached and contracted is to take a walk outside and with each left step, whisper ‘let’ and each right step, whisper ‘go’. Let…..go……let…..go. One thing is important in any letting-go practice: Letting go is a feeling, more than a thought. I have met many clients who have let go of stuff and ‘unfinished business’ at the intellectual level, but not yet at the feeling level. That is not enough. Allow your body to let go, your emotional system to let go. You’ll know when it happens. More lightness and ease arises. Now I am posting this blog and I am letting go….Breathing in….let….breathing out…..go. Mindful regards, Gaston Gaston is co-founder of the TeamUp Triad Coaching Program, a 9-week mindful coaching program which helps you be better at the stuff that really matters. Check out our website!