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"Move the big rock"

At first glance, it looks suspiciously like a vague Buddhist proverb, or mis-translated Kung Fu movie, or Native American nugget of wisdom shared only while smoking a peace pipe at a crackling fire.

Nope. That brutally simple piece of advice came from a sales coach. Yep, a stoic, suited, ultra-professional sales guy.

So, I've been obsessing lately about this funky idea of unearthing great wisdom from unconventional places. Specifically, people (me included) seem to tell ourselves to seek advice and support in a linear fashion.

Want to lose weight. Seek out a fitness trainer. Study fitness.
Want to write better. Seek out a writing coach. Study good writers.
Want to get comfortable speaking to large groups of people. Seek out a presentation coach. Study TED Talks.
Want to argue less with your kids and spouse. Seek out a Marriage and Family Therapist. Study communication techniques.

You get the idea. And it makes complete sense. Want to solve a problem? Find an expert at solving that particular flavor of problem, and immerse yourself in the topic. Make the changes. Oila!

Here's the flaw in that reasoning - problems are *not* linear in nature. Our happiness-obstacles are cemented together in oddly-shaped lumps, and the uncomfortable habits that make those rocks so heavy are rooted in strange, hard to reach places. They intertangle with other problems that compound if unaddressed. Think of it like your Christmas box. Christmas tree lights in a tangled mess, little ornament hooks stuck in that lump as well, some unwrapped, sticky candy canes meant for decoration that some drunk idiot (Nate circa 2007) licked for a quick sugar rush. Do you need a master untangler? An expert hook remover? A deep cleaner? A dumpster? All of the above? Some of the above? None of the above?

Instead of trying to solve that emotional calculus problem, I've opted for the unapologetically human, non-linear approach.

Here's a recent example: How did I lose - and keep off - 37-pounds over the past year and a half?

First, my autistic daughter needed a radical change in diet (gluten free), so the food I bought simplified greatly. Then, my belly started hating me for eating greasy and spicy foods to the point where I'd (unwillingly) throw up my favorite meals. Then while studying office productivity, I learned the importance of *measurement* of progress, so I bought a scale. Then a photographer showed me the importance of environment, so I moved the scale next to my front door. I became lonely, so I started producing dances and seeing pictures of my pooch on full display. Then I fell in love with a wonderful woman who's a brilliant nutritionist and pilates trainer. And she filled in all the gaps. Water. Sleep. Injury-free exercise.Walking. Oh, and more dancing ;^)

Everytime I tried a direct approach - calling a fitness trainer, who recommends "get a smaller plate", or studied paleo diets and body weight workout routines - the change never stuck. However, the "scenic route" led to permanent change.

Another example: When I was seeking out direct advice on selling to medium-sized organizations, I called up the aforementioned sales mentor. He reminded me that I still need to find my "big rock" and move that first. At the time, my big rock was accepting the fact that my small-biz flavored services just weren't adequately effective in larger organizations.

Did I work on moving that big rock? Nope.

Instead I applied that concept to solve my erratic moods, performance and overall happiness. After moving medium-sized rocks I thought were big (e.g. budgeting), I stubbed my toe on THE big rock: my Netflix addiction. Late night marathon TV binges were destroying my sleep, my mood, my career and also my family. I moved that rock eventually - got rid of my TV, removed the app from my phone, installed and app to keep me from reinstalling the app. Took a few years, but I eventually broke that boulder into small enough pieces to smuggle them out of the prison cell I'd built for myself - Andy Dufresne-style (he's the guy in Shawshank Redemption).

Did I ever move that business rock? Sure did. But I had to talk to that fitness trainer (the one I fell in love with) first. My old man knees were getting worse and I wanted to find out why. She patiently explained the critical nature of core strength, and a crash course in stretching complementary muscle groups.

Did I work on that big rock? Nope.

Instead of doing more sit ups and hitting the foam roller, I looked at my business problems through that lens and realized my core business strengths was laughably atrophied. I needed to  grow stronger. That meant more reps of selling, writing and training. My service set became strong enough to go after bigger businesses.

Now that the business rock is manageable, I've just started tackling actual core workouts, foam roller rituals, intentional recovery, etc... for my old man knees.

Ok, ok, I suppose we are overdue for the 'big reveal' a.k.a. The Point.

1) Rocks are rocks. They don't care what category they belong to - bad habits, toxic relationships, unhealthy diets, whatever.
2) Rocks are heavy. And the biggest rocks in our lives are likely so heavy that we aren't strong enough to move them ... yet. But if we find the bigger rocks blocking our progress, we will grow increasingly strong enough to move the bigger ones, and so on, so forth.
3) You NEED help to move those rocks. Otherwise, you would have kicked them aside years ago.

Admittedly, I wish the direct route led to stickier change in my own life. It would help me find peace and happiness that much faster. In my case, embracing the detours, examining radically - and seemingly unrelated - perspectives, and patchworking advice and insights, has helped me overcome countless scary large obstacles. I'd like to think that, in time, I'll learn to practice this form of self-improvement cross training with more deliberate, intentional focus.

Photo Credit: South Dakota Apologetics

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Last month, I clocked just shy of two thousand miles driving zig-zagging all across California. House hunting. School hunting. Business hunting. Sanity hunting.

Short version: it stressed me the fuck out. Usually, long drives help mellow me out into an almost zen like state. My zaniest ideas, and gnarliest life-detours were birthed on road trips. So what made this one so heavy?

Up until a few days ago, I hadn't a clue. Then I complained about my sore legs, and my fiance morphed into trainer mode. Next thing I knew she had me flopping around on a foam roller. Admittedly, my legs felt better afterwards, but the bigger impact was her explanation of the muscles and the difference between soreness due to exercise (indicating you're getting stronger), and pain due to injury (which requires rest to heal from).

It got me ruminating. Does emotional stress work the same way?

I'm no psychologist, but the idea does pencil out. Let me take a crack at balancing this equation:

SCENARIO 1
13-hour work day.
+ 2-hours of traffic to get home.
+ Back-talking kids complain about breaking their $623 cellphone.
= EMOTIONAL SORENESS

SCENARIO 2
Boss or client tears a passion project to shreds.
+ You vent to your best friend, and they *helpfully* remind you that it happened to you - again - for the fourth time.
+ Best friend twists the knife by laughing at your bad luck. Something your ex-wife used to love doing.
= EMOTIONAL INJURY

Now we can take it a step further if we take a look at what happens when *regular* stress remains unchecked.

SCENARIO 1  x  17-days straight = EMOTIONAL INJURY

I experienced this in college, running 5-miles a day for a year plus without stretching. It took knee surgery and 4-months of rehab before I could walk straight again. And I experienced it again on an emotional front last month, pushing myself (and my family) at a very much NOT sustainable tempo of house prep, work projects, trips and budgetary olympics. I grabbed breaks here and there (the 9-hour drive back to Chico, for example) but I never quite healed, and slipped back into a hypersensitive state daily - think emotional 14-year old with an adolescent crack in his voice.

So how does one heal emotional injury?

Enter Grandma Lynn. Whenever I call blubbering, pleading for some magical emotional ointment to heal my wounds, she would inevitably say "time is on your side". And as with most of her best advice, it took me nearly a decade to actually understand what the hell she actually meant.

Time to sleep. Time to breathe. Time to heal.

Now don't try to bombard me with excuses, because I've already reserved the very best one for myself. "My biggest stressor is lack of time" - bullllllshit. Find it. Make it. Steal it. The most dangerous side effect of emotional injury, is that left untreated, it will cause no-kidding physical injury.

I don't have any awesome advice for *avoiding* emotional injury. That type of vulnerability is what makes us human. And I'm not about to start apologizing for that.

 

Photo Credit: WW2 Medical Research Centre

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I've learned a lot from my TV addiction. I was a beta customer of Netflix during the red and white envelope days, and am shamefully proud of my early adoption of the Netflix Binge back in the early weeks of their instant viewing days. BURN NOTICE has been on my rotating binge list for ages now, and I gotta give credit to the writers for some sage one-liners. In a typical episode, the team gets all worked up because some simple gig turned into a dramatic, dangerous mess. Then the Fiona and Sam (a.k.a. that guy from Evil Dead) corner Michael - "What are we gonna do Mike?"

Michael nearly always answers the same way:

"One problem at a time"

Whenever I'm facing an impossible pile of work, mishandling a cranky client or getting two bags of doritos past hangry, this has become my homespun mantra. It's stupid simple, yet remarkably hard to execute.

Most of us know that the myth of multitasking has been debunked, and single-tasking is all the rage in advice columns.

But if we've already spit out that Kool-Aid, why is it still so damn hard?

My thoughts:

1) Old habits do indeed die hard - most of us are still suffering in the age of tabbed browsing and hot swapping mobile apps. In pre-Internet terms - if multitasking was binge drinking, then these 'conveniences' are like free booze in your pocket, on your desk, in your backpack and next to your bed. It's tough to kill a bad habit when the triggers are literally strapped to your body.

2) Problems don't come in convenient shapes and sizes - life and business rarely behave like a whimsical assembly line a la Laverne & Shirley. Some problems come screaming down the conveyor belt of reality all at once and are likely too big for one person to carry, too small to pickup with bare hands or too sharp to handle without injury.

3) Prioritization is fucking hard, it's a choose your poison game - seriously though, choosing what goes first isn't as simple as numbering your problems from 1 to 10 and working your way down the list. In the real world, you are more likely to be forced to choose between a slap in the face or punch in the gut when that problem isn't resolved.


So how in the hell do we navigate this? Here's how I do it when my head isn't firmly shoved up my own ass:

1) Take a breath. I'm not talking useless billionaire advice to meditate on the job or unplug for one-week a year. Think more about taking a few breaths away from your triggers (devices, people, the actual problem). Even 1-2 minutes will do it. If you are having a hard time with this, go analog - I prefer a yellow legal pad and .7mm blue gel pen. An 'in case of emergency break glass' option would be a bathroom stall. No one can fault you for having to take a shit, regardless of the urgency of the situation.

2) Move the big rock. Choose the biggest problem on your plate and move that out of the way. I've been prepping for a move to So Cal for the past few months and have quickly discovered that I can't do jack shit in the garage until I move the big stuff outta the way. NOTE: the big rock needs to be something you can move on your own. Team / joint tasks can wait. Hat tip to Anthony Iannarino for teaching me this.

3) Decide who you are willing to piss off.  I learned this little gem while grinding away at the USAF Academy, where the entire system was designed to give you more than any human could handle. The only way to survive was to make the hard choice of who you would piss off. Girlfriend, Boss, Mom, Best Friend, CapitalOne, Kids, Neighbor, Dog ... while in a state of overwhelm, the sooner you accept that it's gonna hurt a bit, the sooner you can get back to work and ready yourself for the inevitable (and perhaps public) backlash.


And if all that fails, retreat to your bedroom, grab your tablet, Doritos & Mountain Dew and binge on BURN NOTICE until this lesson cements. It only took me 5-seasons ;^) Yogurt might work too.

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