That Moment When You Realize The Genius Of Stephen Covey …

I was sitting in bed, last night, at 4 AM.

I couldn’t sleep. It was raining outside and I could hear every drop. The room was too hot but the main reason was the jet lag, pushing my biological clock GMT+2 -> GMT+1 -> GMT+8 in just two weeks.

(my last two weeks looked like this – Taipei (Taiwan) -> Hong Kong (Hong Kong SAR) -> Doha (Qatar) -> Bucharest (Romania) -> Milan (Italy) -> Bangkok (Thailand) -> Taipei (Taiwan).

So I’ve picked up my Kindle and read a few pages from Stephen Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. I have read this book many times because I could find it easy to agree with the concepts.

Yet, this time, while the spring showers came over Taiwan, I finally made sense of it and I saw all the wisdom and if I may say, genius, of the author. I have understood how for a long time I was very good at climbing the ladder but my ladder was poised against the wrong build. I valued efficiency because doing something and doing it in large quantities gave me a sense of inflated self-worth, of a hustler. The problem was that while the theory was correct, going in the wrong direction at 100 MPH or at 500 MPH is still going into the wrong direction.

I have understood the first two habits – be proactive, begin with the end in mind. In the beginning, I considered them to be managerial platitudes, the kind that sound good in a keynote speech. But in an instant, it made sense to me.

Being proactive is about expanding yourself through every decision you take. It is about growing in a conscious manner, not by taking one grand decision every six months but taking six small decisions every hour. It is about eating that need food, it is about asking that cute girl you’ve been dying to ask out, it is about smiling to a stranger or simply improving your world, one small decision at a time.

In our lives, we don’t always have the circumstances to make a grand change. These are rare. But we always have the choice to make small things better in the moment. Be it that you make your bed or not. Be it that you brush your teeth for 90 seconds instead of 60. Be it that you are polite when you are having a bad day. And this is the definition of being proactive – recognizing that opportunities for growth happen all around us, all the time.

Begin with the end in mind. It is such a simple but powerful concept. We have the power to create reality two times. First it is created in our mind. Second it is created in the physical world. When we imagine something, we create a map of reality, of what it may be. We can’t actually do something without imagining it first, without bringing the concept to our mind.

When you create the reality in your mind, you know your destination. What will happen will never reflect exactly what is in your mind but it can come rather close. The truth is that what Napoleon Hill said “what the mind can conceive, it can achieve” it is 100% true.

On a more practical level, this means that you should envision your perfect day every single morning. You should write down in detail how you want it to go, what you have accomplished (accomplished – past tense). You have the power to write the script of your day. It is completely up to you. The way the script will play out will be different and things may turn out a bit better or a bit worse … but you’ll be surprised at how close it will come to the reality you’ve imagined and put on paper.

Stephen Covey makes sense for me. In truth, all systems work. The “go all sociopath” approach of Robert Greene works. The faith based approach of Napoleon Hill works. The high energy neuro-conditioning of Anthony Robbins works.

The question is to find what actually works for you. If you like the idea of values, of balancing the means with the end and if fulfillment are just as important as your results, then I suggest you give Stephen Covey a try.

Here are the books I suggest from him:

Best regards,
Razvan

Why EQ is more important than IQ.

Hello,

The only constant in life is something always changes.

We (in this case, I) think that if we put everything in boxes, organize it and mark the right checklist, things are going to stay the same. We think that causality is pure and that there is nothing more in life than what we think we create.

This is false. You can put everything in boxes but this is just an illusion of control, not control itself.

The truth is a lot simpler. I have understood that life is an exercise in managing internal and external chaos. Circumstances change but most importantly, we change. Circumstances are causal in nature, no doubt about that, but the causal relationships are far more complex than we comprehend. We change because we have emotion. Logic is an important part of the human being but logic was developed after emotions and neurologically, our emotional centers have a lot more power than our rational ones.

This realization lead me to a simple conclusion. The most important ability one person can have is to manage this chaos, through the power of his or her emotional intelligence. In other words, life goes up and down and we go up and down and our ability to ride the wave is far more important than anything else.

A good analogy would be surfing. Surfing is hard to systemize. The waves are always different. All you can actually do is adapt. You change positions, you change angle, you change strategy based on what the sea throws at you. Yes, in truth, all those waves are predictable as they are caused by something. The waves are not born out of ether alone. But our brains do not have the capacity to make such predictions as there are too many elements involved. Maybe in 500 – 1000 – 10.000 years, our brains will evolve to be able to analyze a large number of inputs and predict outcomes accurately.

However, I can assure you, this is not the case right now and even the best chess player, that can analyze multiple strategies on a chess board is unable to analyze the multitude of causal relationships that happen in reality.

Personally, I have used a system of KPIs because this was the best justification for declining my EQ. If I track everything and if what I need to do is always represented by a fixed number, I do not have to deal with what seems random, I can simply focus on my number. But the numbers are my internal representation of reality and not reality itself. Reality doesn’t follow the mathematical model that I have created for myself.

I am not going to hide the fact that I have developed my cognitive abilities to a high level type of thinking. Reading almost every day and working with systems tend to do this for you. The brain is very plastic in nature and it becomes what you need it to become. However, while IQ is important, I have realized that my bottleneck is not IQ. My bottleneck is my own ability to deal with my changing emotions and moods; with the changing emotions and moods of other and with the changing grand picture.

In other words, I am able to work perfectly when 1 + 1 equals 2 but when this goes out the window and irrational behavior is inserted, as my own and of other people, I am lost. Plus, I must add the fact that at this stage in my life, my own level of competence is already high and I can not progress further by improving what I am already good at. I can move forward only by working on my weaknesses and in this particular case, it means developing the same high level behavior for my emotional world as I have for my cognitive world.

It is hard to come to odds with this. After all, this is who I am. I am or better said, I have chosen to treat life as a game of chess, where every move has a value relative to all other moves. And this doesn’t work. I admit it. I have put my heart and my mind into it but my approach is flawed. It doesn’t work because I pick to focus on what I want, while ignoring what is actually required to succeed and it doesn’t work because my own emotions, my own moods, my own idiosyncrasies sabotage me. In other words, my strategy would work wonderfully if it was executed by a machine or if it was executed by someone autistic. But I am not either and since emotions influence me to a large degree, it was the right solution for the wrong person.

So what is the right solution for the right person?

My professional development path is based on the ability to lead at this moment. I am a very good copywriter and I am rather proficient in business. However, I am awful with people, with creating rapport, leading, managing, being lead and generally, being part of a bigger organization. I have the perfect skills for working alone but what I do is based a lot more on a state of interdependence with other people than my competency alone.

So for all intents and purposes, I have gave up on all forms of tracking. I am focusing on developing my emotional control as much as I can. I focus on using my emotions for good instead of suppressing them. I focus on accepting that 99% of the time, things are not going to happen based on my plan and that my goal is to go up and down with the waves, while staying on the board, that it is to “surf” life as opposed to trying to average the waves in my favor. I also understand that at this moment, I am needed a lot more than I am liked and the problem with just being needed is that you are nothing more than a tool. Real success is when you work with people who like you and who want to have you around and don’t see you just as a tool for accomplishing their goals.

There is a funny story, I don’t know if it is true or not. A family was going south to vacation. The husband was driving, the wife was on looking on the map. After a few hours, the wife says to the husband “I think we’re going into the wrong direction”. Then the husband, smiling, with a big grin said “It doesn’t matter, we’re making great time”.

So it is with a paradigm change, when you want to change from an analytical, over-controlling, low EQ perspective to a fluid, organic, high EQ one. You know that the first one is wrong and yet, because you are very good at it, you want to keep doing it. It is one of our idiosyncrasies that we’re willing to stick with the wrong thing just because we’re good at it. But looking down at my life, I have realized that I care more about reaching where I want to reach and having a good time getting there than being competent and going into the wrong direction.

This example is very personal and you may think that it doesn’t apply to your life. I beg to differ. Most if not all people, at some point in their life (or during their entire lifetime) get caught into this paradigm. They pick a method, an approach that works, the approach is the right solution but it is not right for them (which makes it the wrong solution) but they stick with it just because they are good on executing it. It is like playing a boring old video game but keeping playing it because you are good at it. It brings you little satisfaction and little reward but the sense of mastery and the sense of control overrides common sense.

My EQ though has not always been so low as it is now. When I have started to travel around the world, my EQ boosted through the roof in a short time. Meeting many strangers, creating impromptu connections and living in a state of uncertainty tends to do this to a person. Then I have gave up on all of this, kept the traveling but reduced my social contact to a minimum. This happened as a consequence of many circumstances but for all intents and purposes, let’s say that it was just the easiest way.

When I was traveling, I’ve became a people person because my circumstances required me to be a people person. Yes, work suffered but it suffered more from the parties and the subsequent intoxication with wine and whisky than from the idea itself. When I was doing this, I’ve received great business opportunities, meet amazing people and opened my horizon in so many different ways. Now, even if I work harder than ever, because I am not pleasant to be around, those opportunities dried up. This is my writing on the wall and as a consequence, I’ve decided to change direction, not a few degrees but at almost 180 degrees.

What was the moment in which I’ve realized this? It is rather complex. After a failed business joint venture in which I’ve realized that I’m not comfortable with what is happening (but to my defense, it may have not been what I was seeking), I’ve entered a period of mild depression. Before this, a lot of melodrama happened too, which only made things worse. Actually, emotionally, my life was a complete shit storm.

One evening, I’ve decided to do an exercise that I’ve tried in the past and worked for me. I’ve tried to write how my ideal day would look like, from the morning to the evening. This included waking up at a certain hour, exercising, dressing in a suit and so on. Then it hit me.

I couldn’t write it. My brain was so fixed on some ideas and on some beliefs that the simple idea of writing a ideal day exercise caused me considerable stress. My brain blocked me from even considering that my circumstances could be better, put me into a cognitive tunnel. In that moment, I’ve realized the problem. I’ve forced myself to finish the exercise, I’ve decided to change focus and I’ve done the exercise every day since then. And while my day doesn’t always go as planned, I accomplish a lot more of the important things when I use story-telling and I write a “script” for my day, as I was in a movie. I may not get more hours done and I may not keep up with my metrics but I’m making real progress.

This realization is new but I am already seeing the results. I already know that I must become a people person and that the more I delay, the more I have to suffer. I know that my mastery must be not in systems but rather in managing my emotional state (as opposed to managing time or managing productivity) and in dealing with the emotional states of other people. I am learning to surf through life as opposed to climbing in a tank and going on a straight, simple line and this makes all the difference.

When will I see some amazing, breath-taking results?

I honestly don’t know. Maybe it is going to be in a week, maybe it is going to be in a year. I have a lot of things to work on and a lot of things to change. This takes time. But I am happy to realize that even if I value intelligence and cognitive functions more than anything else, emotional intelligence is the right way to take into my path. It is exciting to start on this new road and I know that my life is never going to be the same.

Best regards,

Razvan

When I’m wrong … I’m wrong.

Well, I’ve realized something.

Your success as a person will always be limited by that area of your life in which (1) you are worst at (2) you constantly need to use it.

Or as they say … “the strongest chain is just as strong as its weakest link”.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The fact that I can’t cook or that I can’t iron a shirt to save my life is not a bottleneck. We are talking here about actual limitations that are critical to your existence.

For me, this limitation proved to be EQ. I have focused so much on developing IQ that I have forgot about it’s equal half. This was not always the case as at some point in time, my focus was on emotional intelligence a lot more than on being rational and logical.

So I’m focusing on developing my EQ.

And I’ve realized that my entire “track your life in a proven system” is kind of BS. After three months, I know five good and five bad things about my KPI based system.

Good:

  • It gives me a goal to aim at.
  • It is a way to keep me disciplined, kind of.
  • It helps me work more.
  • It helps me think about where I want to head, most of the time.
  • It actually helped me achieve some decent results.

Bad:

  • No single metric is enough to measure the requirements to succeed in reality.
  • While it helped me achieve some decent results, the results, thinking about them, are no better than when I was not using the system. Actually, I think that they’re about the same.
  • It gives me a huge dose of stress as I’ve fallen behind dramatically.
  • It makes me focus on the wrong things – key metrics instead of how everything interacts together.
  • It rewards effort as opposed to actual focus to accomplish goals.

So yes. I’m dropping all that. No more tracking. No more hours, books read, etc. I’m keeping my FitBit but for all intents and purposes, the entire “what you can’t track, you can’t improve” paradigm for my personal life is done.

With what have I’ve replaced it though?

It is a system that combines story-telling with script writing. In other words, I write my script for the day, as it was a movie, first person, present tense. I do this in blue. Then I add any major tweaks in red, after or before I am about to do them. In this way, I can see how my day was planned and how it turned out.

It makes sense for many reasons, more than I’m willing to write right now. But the most important one is that it is human. KPIs are machine based. Algorithms are machine based. Story-telling is human. And if there’s something I’ve realized in the last 24 hours is that you are better off leveraging your human self than trying to go against it. It is appealing to see life as chess and it may even be productive but your brain is not wired to do so. Your brain is not wired to measure success by key metrics and to follow procedures and personal bureaucracy.

Your brain is wired to be happy around people, to want sex, to want power, money, to enjoy talking to others, to have a good story to make sense of things and so on. I’ve realized that the systems, the knowledge, the wisdom that I’ve been so fond for the last 3 to 6 months is sound, is logic but it goes almost completely against of how the human brain is wired.

I have tried to write a psychological programming language. I have tried to define behavior using algorithms and patterns, using conditional code because this is the fastest way I’ve seen from A to B. But, the brain doesn’t work this way so similar to a science experiment, my hyphotesis was perfectly sound on paper but when it is tested in real life, it fails.

So I’m done with systems, with the infatuation of systems, with the infatuation of combining psychology with high level programming. It may work if I was a sociopath or if I was affected by a neurological disease that made me extremely analytical and almost zero emotional but I’m not.

Behavior must first and foremost be congruent with how the brain works, how the brain always worked and not validated as a computer code. So I’ve kind of forbidden myself, for my own sake, to keep an interest in a system based approach for life. Instead, I’m going to do the smart thing that will actually work – develop my EQ and raise all my bottlenecks so I can progress in life.

I must say – if I were in a scientific field, engineering, statistics or anything focused on math and precision, everything I’ve done would have made sense. But hell … I’m in a field where my success or failure has 90% to do with my ability to lead, negotiate, persuade. I’m not a system engineer. I’m not paid as a system engineer. I am a future leader, future CEO, future entrepreneur, future role model. I’ve been training for the wrong field.

Best regards,
Razvan

Give yourself a pat on the back …

I’m visiting my parents and I’ve found my old book collection, or at least a part of them. I guess I have books at every girlfriend, relative and friend that I had in Romania.

As I was seeing the books, it made me smile. I’ve read each of them or at least, most. If you asked me the names of the books I’ve read before 2014 (when I’ve started keeping track), it would be hard to say. I remember a few, but not all.

But yet, each book taught me something. I haven’t took notes and I haven’t consciously learned from them and even if I forgot about them for years now and I had to see them, physically, to even remember, each book changed something inside of me.

Every book I’ve read and every experience I’ve took transformed me into who I am now. I have planted many seeds in the past, some good, some bad and now, these seeds are trees.

What does this mean?

Sometimes, we get very ahead in life and we forget how long we’ve came. We forgot that we are now versions that we’ve never thought possible. We forget that at some moment, everything we take for granted was our biggest goal.

But you’ve come a long way. Be proud of yourself. You deserve it.

Best regards,
Razvan

 

I’ve Started My First Kindle Book!

I’ve started work on my first book!

The title is not final but the working title is “how to manage your day”. It is a book about my interpretation on time management and how I organize myself. It contains knowledge from several topics, including system theory, behavioral economics, management and simply time management.

The ten chapters will be as follows:

  • Why traditional time management fails.
  • What is your daily degree of control?
  • The power of using generalized performance goals.
  • Starting and ending your day strategically.
  • Using daily goals as opposed to a task list.
  • Using boundaries and the power of a simple timer.
  • Applying gamification to time management.
  • How to prioritize on the fly.
  • Time management drills in the time of crisis.

I will most likely publish it on Amazon. I don’t know if I’ll charge or give it for free now as I’m not very familiar (at all) with the publishing process on Amazon.com. But I don’t want to publish it as a PDF, as I’ve published until now. I write because I love writing but I need to get my book in front of an audience. To do this, I must make sure my work is out there and that folks from all walks of life and locations have access to it.

There are a few things that I must take care once I write the book. Among them:

  • Creating a cover.
  • Sending the book for editing (I estimate around 20.000 words in total so at $5 per 2000 words, that’s only $50 – I love the crowdsourcing economy).
  • Going through the entire Kindle publishing system, which from what I’ve heard can be very simple and done in half an hour or a pain in the butt. We’ll see.

I don’t want to have a masterpiece, I want to have a finished product, so I’m starting now, at a rate of five pages each and every day. This means that in 20 days, I should have my first book done, maybe even sooner. Consistency rocks!

Best regards,
Razvan

Exiting The Realm Of Moral Ambigous

Many of the decisions I’ve took in my life were morally ambiguous. They’ve involved manipulation, coercion, misrepresentation or downright foul-play.

I’m not proud of them and yet, for a long time, I’ve considered this to be nothing wrong. Robert Greene, House of Cards and cold hearted sociopaths made me think so (plus my own biases).

But … it is done.

I’ve realized that I don’t want to be that person anymore. While I won’t detail why, I’ve realized that I can’t be someone else just to meet my goals. Yes, I want riches, I want happiness, I want power just like everyone else but I can’t be that person anymore.

I don’t know what changed me. I could have sworn at some point that I was a sociopath. Maybe it is traveling and meeting so many people. Maybe it is the girl I’ve met one year before and which went into a store, bought food and gave it to a stray dog and which I deeply love. Maybe it is because I’ve left the “latin” culture of doggy eat dog found in Eastern Europe and moved to another place with a completely mentality and focus.

I don’t know.

I know that when I was a kid, I always played the good guy in video games. I was a paladin, a protector of the weak in WoW. I played as the brave US Army in C&C Generals. The idea is that I picked the side with the morals.

But in my life … it wasn’t always the same. I’ve cheated many times. I’ve discovered my powers of persuasion and used them many times not to do well.

And yet, tonight, I feel like I am reborn.

I’ve moved away from something because it didn’t feel good. Yes, logistically I’m screwed now, as I’ve made my situation a lot worse but I’ve decided to move away.

And for whatever reason, I feel at peace. I feel that I’m congruent with myself. This is because deep down, I’m a nice guy. I want to be a nice guy. I wear a leather jacket and pack a long beard but I don’t want to be bad. I want to do good in the world and for the first time in a long time, I’ve realized that some things are more important than money and power.

I’ve realized that what I’m seeking is not a Porsche 911 or a huge house. It is fulfillment.

From tomorrow, my life is going to change. I don’t know how yet but I feel it is going to be very different. I feel like I can take 100 different routes. Maybe I’ll do what I always wanted to do and become a writer. A published author. Forget business and instead, focus on making people’s lives better through my writing. Maybe I’ll do something else.

But what I know is for sure. I’d rather be happy than rich. Maybe I’ll become rich one day but … for now, I pick happiness. And I pick to be the good guy.

What about all the sins of the past?

Some will come to bite me. I hope the bite won’t be too harsh. Others will remain only in my memory. But I can’t change the past … or event fix it in some cases so I must make sure that I’ll be better in the future.

Five lessons I’ve learned today:

  1. Don’t ever do something that doesn’t feel right. Listen to your gut even if you can’t explain it.
  2. Aim to be a success but do what you love. Do it knowing that it is going to change something for good. Even if there’s a lot less money in doing good than doing bad, focus on what you consider good.
  3. At the end of the day, the most important feeling you can experience is satisfaction. This may or may not come with the rewards you desire but satisfaction means that you have achieved something important to you.
  4. Keep yourself clean. Don’t kill yourself smoking. Don’t ruin sex by watching porn. Don’t harm yourself. I’ve realized that each time I’m doing something I know it is not right, I punish myself by smoking. I can’t say everyone does the same thing but this is what I do.
  5. Have some faith that if you do the right thing, you’ll be rewarded. Your faith will be rewarded a lot more times than not.

It is nice to achieve a moment of full congruency. And even if I’m in a far worst situation now than a few days ago, I am so contempt.

Best regards,
Razvan

PS: I’ve decided that my calling is that of a writer. So expect sooner or later my first book. I don’t know if I’ll publish on Amazon or somewhere else but … if I look ten years in the future … twenty years … forty years … I don’t want to see a life as a businessman. I want to see one as a writer. And that’s what I’ll be.

High level performance is not part time. It is a full 24/7 job.

Let me make this clear – there is a time for play and there is a time for work. However, when it is time for work, your goal, your mission is the most important thing – nothing else matters.

When it comes to your goal is not about …

  • Feeling comfortable.
  • Looking good.
  • Being relaxed.
  • Being liked.
  • Looking good.
  • Being respected.
  • Having a good time.

No. When it comes to a goal, the only thing that matters is to achieve it. It is to win. That goal becomes the center focus of your life That’s what you sleep. That’s what you eat. That’s what you fantasize about. That’s what you brainstorm while taking a shower.

When you have your goal, you don’t disconnect. Instead, you give it your all to accomplish it as soon as possible, per the parameters set, with violence of action and a decisiveness of action.

The value of a goal comes in two forms – what you become when you are working on it and the actual payout of the goal itself. That’s all. Goals are not normal life. A goal is like an elite military squad being sent in a mission. They go in, do their job, get out. They don’t do this daily but once a month or once every six months. The rest of the time they train, they stay in shape, they improve and generally, they are in a state of constant momentum. But when it comes to the actual mission, they let everything else pass and focus on accomplishing it. It is as simple as that.

Major success requires some form of obsession. You can’t do it if your mind is somewhere else or if you don’t really care if this is accomplished or not. It requires that the outcome must be very important to you so you are willing to go a long way to make it happen.

This form of obsession is now frowned upon in our society. Balance is instead promoted and I agree, balance is important. I want to exercise daily, walk, read for pleasure, spend time with loved ones, etc. But balance doesn’t mean being average. Balance means meeting all your needs. Balance means that you do need time off but this doesn’t mean you need more time off than time engaged. Balance means that you do what you need to do for other parts of your body and mind and then get back to work on your goal.

Dan Pena said “There is no such thing as a part time high performance person”. I’ve listened to him the first time when I was 15. I couldn’t understand that much then but in time, I’ve understood. It takes complete dedication to accomplish amazing things in life. You can’t do it part time. You can’t be half in and half out. It is like sex. You’re either fucking or you’re not.

Personally, I’ve decided to take out of my vocabulary the idea of “I don’t like to do this now”. Yes, there are times where I can’t. No matter how much I wanted, it was hard to work after a 33 hour flight. However, there are always things you can do. Maybe you can’t do something but you can do something else. You can’t work but you can read. You can’t read but you can take a walk. Every moment of your life should be invested into a manner to improve and to get closer to where you want to be. Some moments are very important while others are trivial.

Some are in the area of “get in a suit and travel to JFK tonight” while others are in the area of “brush your teeth and wash your face before sleep”. But no matter how you feel, no matter your state, one thing must be clear – you need to have an obsession with progressing on your path. Some days you’ll walk five kilometers and others only a few meters. But you need to be obsessed to move forward, whatever it takes.

Best regards,
Razvan

Time eventually runs out – and knowing this is a blessing.

Time passes.

It is a basic fact of life. Be it that you’re young or old, poor or rich, smart or stupid, the twenty four hours you get in each day will pass at the exact speed and at the exact measure.

And at the end of the day, at the end of those 24 hours, there are only two questions you can ask yourself:

  1. Have you’ve lived the last 24 hours in accordance with your values, wishes and principles?
  2. What have you’ve accomplished in the last 24 hours that tomorrow is going to be a better day thanks to the seeds you’ve planted yesterday?

That’s all. Nothing else exists out there. You can ask these two questions about 30.000 times in your lifetime, give or take. Once those 30.000 sessions end, it is done. You’re done.

In all honesty, you’re going to die. It is important to remember that. I don’t care how old are you but one day, you are going to die. Your body will give up and your time experiencing existence will be over. Maybe that will be at age 105 or maybe it is going to be in five years. This is something you don’t know. You can’t base yourself that there is going to be a tomorrow because even if you have a long, great life ahead, it is still finite. There will be a day with no “tomorrow” for you.

So knowing that, you have two decisions to make. The first decision is to live your own life, a life that is not perfect, that is full of mistakes but at least, it is made on your own terms. The second one is to accomplish as much as possible you can today, because tomorrow is formed by today. The crop of the future comes down to the seeds that you plant in the present.

So before you start your day the next morning, ask yourself this – would you rather look behind at the last 24 hours and feel average … or would you rather make some huge quantum leaps in your life?

Think about it.

Best regards,
Razvan

Mental toughness – redefined.

Anxiety. If anxiety was a person, it would be someone who follows me almost everywhere I go, even if it is far from something I welcome in my life.

For a long time, I’ve considered anxiety as something I need to battle and avoid at all costs. I am familiar with it since childhood, when I’ve suffered from a strong form of social anxiety. Simply going outside and having people around me cause a strong stress reaction. This was compounded by a (very) poor self-image.

Now, I’ve grown to accept it. Anxiety happens when I try something new, when circumstances change. I’ve learned that anxiety is the natural side-effect of any form of progress and that as a human, no matter if things turn good or bad, as long as they change, I’m going to feel a huge hole in my stomach.

This is something few people know. Most people knowing what I do and how I act, consider that I’m fearless. They see that I do paragliding and that I travel and that I speak in public and consider that I have ice in my veins and that I am extremely calm under any circumstance.

The truth is far from it. I am calm and I am able to remain under a constant state at all times. Be it good times or bad times. However, this is my mental toughness training, staying calm under pressure, keeping my eye on the ball than my emotional form. In all honesty, many times I’m so scared that I feel like I need to take a seat. I feel so anxious that I’m virtually shaking inside, psychologically, while keeping a very composed demeanor on the outside.

Why am I writing about this though?

Because anxiety and stress management are a critical part of leadership. Most of the things that must be done in life, to achieve success at a high level will scare you. That’s the truth. You can have the confidence of James Bond and you’ll still be scared. This is because progress, by definition, requires that you do something that other people don’t want to do.

But you see … when you are in a leadership position, you need to lead by example. People look up to you. If you are calm, they feel more secure. They want to know that someone is in the control of the situation and your job as a leader is to control this frame. It is to appear fearless so other people are not freaking out – even if inside of you, you are, you are freaking out.

The idea of mental toughness is complex. Few people can define what it is. We can show what mental toughness looks like but it is hard to quantify. In practice, mental toughness means that you are able to operate effectively under adverse conditions. It is keeping your calm when you want to shout, it is the doctor that follows the procedures even when the patient is in critical state, it is the soldier who lets his training save his life when he is fired upon.

Mental toughness means that no matter how hard life hits you, you are following a proven set of rules and procedures that are known to create a favorable result. Mental toughness is the framework for managing and canceling anxiety. It means that even if you are scared, you calm see things calmly and act accordingly to the plan and not let your emotions take over.

How do you cultivate mental toughness?

Again, it is not easy to answer. In some fields, it is cultivated through the training itself. For example, a SWAT operator goes through thousands of hours of training to be able to stay calm, focused and mission oriented under extreme stress. Yes, his genetics have something to do with it but his non stop training of “if this happens, do that” helps him a lot more. The same with a doctor. In all honesty, if I were a surgeon and my patient would be dying, I would freak out and go into fight or flight mode. This means that a lot of bad things would happen. But a surgeon knows better – he was trained to stay calm under those circumstances and to detach himself. He doesn’t have ice in his veins but rather, he has a good training that prevents emotions, overwhelming emotions from taking over.

A good example of this would be in an airplane. If something happens, the instructions are clear. Go to the nearest exit, deploy the chutes, slide on them, get to safety. The same can be said about most type of vehicular drills. And yet, most people would freak out and start crying “we’re going to die” and not act on the few things that can actually save their life.

But mental toughness is not just about life or death situations. It is about everyday life. When you have an important exam tomorrow, your mental toughness will decide if you prepare or if you procrastinate and try to ignore it until the last moment. The brain itself doesn’t want pain, it wants pleasure and there are millions of ways to escape pain in any given moment. Mental toughness assures you that you go through that pain so in the end, you can obtain the result that you actually desire.

Most of my traveling had been uneventful, at least from a negative perspective. Nothing really bad happened. Yes, things rarely went to plan but it was okay. I know people though who were mugged, threatened with a gun even assaulted. Some of them freaked out and some of them simply resolved the solution with calm. However, even if they’ve shown incredible calm in front of a stressful situation, when they’ve got home they’ve started shaking and even puking. This happened to me too – I kept my calm in a very tense situation but as soon as I got out of it, I’ve started feeling sick and I felt overwhelmed. I’m saying this to make clear that you don’t have to be Rambo, you just need to keep your mental discipline when it is required most.

I’m not a calm person. I freak out with ease. However, I’ve developed the discipline to stay calm because if I freak out, things are always going to be worse. In life, your job is to get an upside, a positive. If you can’t get a positive, it is to minimize the negative as much as possible. For this, you need to keep your head clear and your behavior logical in that particular situation. It may be for one minute, five minutes, ten minutes, one hour but rarely more than that. You need to think in terms of payoffs and not in terms of “what feels right”; analyzing your actions like they were moves on a chess board and taking the most effective route to the resolution of your goal.

Once this is done, go home. Take a hot shower. Go in bed, put Netflix on your iPad and freak out. Cry or shake or scream or whatever feels right. Once the stressor is gone and you don’t need to act as a leader anymore, it is okay to stop. It is okay to let yourself be weak when you are in safety. The goal is not to be extraordinary 24/7, the goal is to do extraordinary things when they are required.

The more you grow in life, both in age and in maturity, you understand that people are not robots. You understand that heroes are courageous just five minutes more than the coward who quits early. They are not courageous all the time. They are not emotionally neutral all the time. Not even close. Only sociopaths are able to not feel anything and while sociopaths do not score high in the morality and ethics score, they are still susceptible to emotional pain.

So develop the mental toughness, not as something that you use 24/7 but as someone that you use when you really need to use it. It is okay to be human and it is okay to have emotions, just be able to keep those emotions in check when the time and circumstances requires it.

Best regards,

Razvan

Not tomorrow. Today.

We think we have time. That is our biggest mistake. We are or can be rich in anything, apart from time.

I have realized this yesterday. My girlfriend was sleeping next to me. I was playing chess on my iPad. I was so engaged (especially since I won a few games in a row) that for me, in that particular moment, playing chess was the most important thing in the entire world.

Except it wasn’t. A question appeared in my mind.

“If tomorrow is the last day in which you’ll ever see her, would you spend the last hours playing chess?”.

The answer was no.

I’ve put the iPad away and I’ve hugged her to sleep.

In those few moments, I’ve realized a truth that is so basic, that is so easy to understand and yet, it eludes most of people. We focus our attention, our money, our energy on what is urgent and what seems stimulating. We do it based on a single premise – there is always tomorrow; there is always tomorrow to read that book, to make that call, to complete that project, to go un that run.

We have developed the attitude of a spoiled child on a trust fund that always say “I don’t care if I waste these funds, father will send me another payment next week”. The difference is that he’s doing this with money, and you can always get more money. We are doing this with time, which is finite and once is gone, is gone forever.

Today, I spent most of my day in bed, playing on my iPad. I am leaving my new country for six months and I am not excited to do this. I am not mad either because I am going to do something important in these six months. But I am in a state of borderline depression thanks to it.

So I’ve bought a few games and played. The clock showed 16:30 when I’ve stopped. Now, as I’m writing this, I’m having the first meal of the day.

What’s my excuse? There isn’t any. I am in a bad emotional state so I am a sucker for shiny things. But I could exercise, I could read, I could show those that I love how I appreciate them, I could do all those important things that I never have time for, not play on my iPad for almost five hours straight.

I’m not saying this to blame myself. What I do with my time is my business only and I’ll pay the price. I say this because I feel like someone who lost his wallet. I feel like I’ve lost a few hundreds dollars on the street but in this case, I’ve lost them in front of a touch-screen.

And just as I had written above – I think or I thought that I have time. I don’t.

The truth is that when it comes to the remaining time, there is no guarantee. There are laws that prevent banks from running away with your funds. However, there are not laws regarding your longevity. You don’t know if you are going to live until the age of 100 or if you are going to die of cancer in six months.

Believe me. You don’t know. Existence in itself is a gamble. You could lose everything because of a drunk driver. It may not be your fault but existence tends to not take into account the concept of justice.

The truth is that this may be the last day that I have or I may have thousands more. Both carry the same degree of possibility. The truth is that life may change overnight and everything I have now, I may not have tomorrow. This is true for you too. And yes, you can rationalize and you can avoid thinking about it. However, this doesn’t make it false.

It is not pleasant to think about it. If there would be no psychological certainty about the future, we would go all into psychosis. Without the concept of a “tomorrow” that is always there, there is no purpose in trying. And even if the tone is bleak, of this article, statistically, your chances are huge to live a long and happy live and very small to not.

But even so, you need to learn to appreciate now. Kiss your wife. Hug your kid. Tell them that you love them. Do this because even if the chance is that you’ll see them again soon, for someone is always the last opportunity and last time. Work on what you love. Read that book. Exercise. Make yourself better. Tomorrow may come but this doesn’t mean you need to wait for tomorrow. You have today. And even if unlikely, there are cases in which if you don’t do it today – if you lose today, you’ll never get this chance again. Many times, we think we have 1000 shots remaining when you have just one more shot.

My life is not tragic. Things are very okay. Apart from the prospect of facing diabetes, things are okay, could be better but okay. So I don’t have a reason to be sad. But this doesn’t prevent me from realizing the truth of this moment. From realizing that what is happening right now is not practice. It is not the warm-up. It is the play itself. You are on the stage. What you do or you don’t do now matters. That if I know that something must be done, don’t promise to do it in the future. The future may never come. You can do it now? Do it now. Can you do it only partially now? Do it only partially. You can’t promise something that didn’t happened but you can do something now.

For me, today, I’ll try and enjoy this day. I’ll try to the best extent of my ability to appreciate every chance I get today for existence as it is my last one. I know that it won’t be my last one, unless nature has a very dark sense of irony. But I’ll appreciate it as it is. I’ll focus on what’s important and I’ll ignore everything else.

  • I hope that tomorrow I’ll get another chance to show my appreciation and warmth to the people that I love. However, I’ll do everything in my power to show this today.
  • I hope that tomorrow I’ll still have my sight and the ability to read, train my mind and be fascinated by the imagination and ideas of other people. However, I’ll read today.
  • I hope that tomorrow I’ll still have the chance to exercise, to improve my fitness, to walk, to use my body. However, I’ll use it today.

This list could go on. I hope that tomorrow I’m getting a chance to see the world, in all its beauty but if I don’t, I don’t want to regret that I’ve missed my chance of doing this today. And I hope you’ll take my advice and do exactly the same.

Best regards,

Razvan