Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: The Four Burners

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I read and interesting article about work life balance, “The Downside of Work Life Balance” by James Clear.

The theory

The theory is that you can compare juggling your life with four burners. One for Family, one for health, one for friends and one for career (you might notice that I sorted and prioritized them differently from James).

The statement then is that in order to be successful you have to cut down one burner so you can focus on the others. In order to be really successful you have to cut down two burners.

James talks about various strategies you can apply to get there. I see a core of truth and value in most of them, but I think they are also each similarly dangerous for a balanced life.

Life has seasons

The strategy that comes closest to something that makes sense to me is the ‘seasonal strategy’ – you focus on different things in different life stages. That does make sense, you want to set priorities as you go through life. When you start a new career, focus on learning, when you have kids, focus on raising them well.

Where I disagree is the assumption that you should focus completely during those times. What good is a high paying job and a great career if you don’t live long enough to enjoy the fruits? How much is your wealth worth if your kids don’t talk to you anymore when you’re old and seeking company? How useful is that dream body if you don’t have friends?

Seek a balanced life but set focus points

My point here is that the key is a balanced life. Yes it is! Work life balance got a bad vibe in recent years with our gig economy and always-on mentality. You need to balance though! You need to invest in the long-term!

You can make the seasonal model work if you pick a few constraints:

  • Family – Never compromise on family. Ever. Really.
  • Health – Have a baseline for health. Don’t go below it. You might not need to train for Iron Man every year, but you do want to live to your retirement.
  • Career – Double down on career growth when the return is right. Change your career when it isn’t. However doubling down needs to come with a timeline. You cannot double down for 30 years. Treat it like a marathon with deliberate sprints in between.
  • Friends – The friends that truly matter. They will understand if you have times when you’re busy and need to focus on other things. Just explain it to them. They will wait for you.

Never compromise on family, never go under a baseline for health, adjust the rest with a clear focused plan.

Yes, it’s four burners. But if you turn any of them down too much for too long of a time, your meal will go bad before you can serve it.

Life is not a sprint. Life is a marathon with sprints in between.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

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Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Living is Learning

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I was reading “Mastery” by Robert Green and one of the things that stuck out for me was how Robert stressed the importance of the ‘apprenticeship phase’ before creativity and mastery can be reached. It reminded me of key lessons I learned early (and unconsciously) through martial arts practice.

However reflecting a little more I would suggest the learning mindset should never change and what one should truly develop is a ‘lifelong apprentice mindset’.

Never stop learning new areas

Everyone talks about lifelong learning today. Most people think about deepening their subject area expertise when they do. I think there is a bigger opportunity hidden in expanding into completely new areas.

Robert Greene has some such examples in his book as well, as he discusses people who went through multiple different apprenticeships over the time of their life, finally merging those skills together to understand underlying principles better or to develop completely new areas.

The most compelling opportunity that learning new areas opens up is the fact that the spectrum of things you can do widens instead of shrinking. If your focus is on getting better and better at one single thing, you face a good chance of either that thing becoming obsolete in the future or someone else outcompeting you in that narrowly scoped area. If you learn to do many things well, then your horizon of opportunities keeps expanding through your life as you mix those abilities into new compelling portfolios.

I learned this in martial arts, studying diverse disciplines and with that enhancing my core style. Looking back it rubbed off on my approach to professional life as well, where over the years I pursued experiences in coding, marketing, business development, PR, product management and teaching.

Learn to love pain and frustration

Robert Greene mentions this as well: you must learn to embrace and seek learning experiences that are painful and frustrating. If you don’t focus on the things that are hardest for you (and thus most painful and frustrating), then you won’t learn the traits of your trade that you are deficient in and will never truly master the area.

It’s way too easy to focus on the easy wins and the things that you’re good at. I am guilty of that too. However only playing to your strengths will prevent you from expanding the scope of your abilities. While leading to quicker wins in the short time, it will limit your ability to master an area long term since you will never close those capability gaps.

Martial arts teaches through pain, sweat and tears. For good schools that’s figuratively rather than literally (maybe with the exception of the sweat part). However they make you constantly face your biggest challenges and learn to overcome them. I think the same is true for our professional development, only with the big difference that it’s usually up to you to push yourself beyond your limits. Business often offers you an easy way out until the day when it’s too late to change. You need to be pushing yourself.

  • Never stop learning – Never think you ‘know it’.
  • Disrupt yourself – When you feel like you’ve reached a comfortable level in mastering an area, then it’s time to disrupt yourself and move on to something entirely different.
  • Face the challenges – Focus on learning the skills that are hard for you. You will learn the things that align with your strengths anyway. As to learning time, your knowledge gaps are what needs the most attention.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 48: Hike Your Own Hike!

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Up to now we have talked about many new habits and behaviors to live healthier, be more effective at our jobs and give more time to our spirituality. We gave you many suggestions and frameworks to balance your lives.

Try it; then adopt it and make it yours

Try them out and see what works for you. Then sit back and reflect. Use what works, change and adapt what doesn’t and discard what feels wrong. It needs to be about you. I know what works for me, I cannot know and prescribe what works for you.

There are two martial arts teachings that reflect this well. One is a old principle for teaching martial arts:

The teacher shows the door. The students needs to walk through it on their own.

The other is my favorite quote from the famous founder of Aikido, Morihei Ueshiba:

“Learn and forget.”
Morihei Ueshiba, founder of Aikido

Don’t blindly follow gurus and role models, or what I am writing in this book. All of those are inputs, suggestions, food for thought. Only you can find out what works for you. No one else can do that for you.

Learn new ways. Try them out until you understand them. Then forget the rules and let your intuition kick in. Be surprised and amazed by what will unfold.

What you ‘can’ versus what you ‘want’

Be careful to understand what you WANT to do. Often we just keep doing what we’re doing because we became reasonably good at it.

For example, I like to help others. I see where I can pitch in and make others great while also making a great living for myself. I am good at working in big IT companies, managing complex projects and products. But is it what I really want? That is a question that I need to check in with myself on a regular basis and get to a honest answer.

It’s too easy to just keep doing what you’re good at. To just follow the inertia of the path you started on when you were a different person all those years ago after High School.

I’m not saying you need to change your path. I’m saying though, that you need to be conscious and deliberate about it. Don’t just let it happen. When it’s time, find the courage to re-invent yourself.

Be careful to differentiate between what you can do, what is the natural next step to do (inertia) and what you really want.

Find your own way

Once you know what works for you and you know what path you want to follow, go there. Blaze your own trail, or as they say in the hiker community: “Hike your own hike.”

Be courageous. Don’t look at others for models or confirmations. Invent your path as you push forward. ‘Boldly go where no man has gone before.’ (You have to find where that reference comes from… 🙂

Hike your own hike!

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Spiritual Balance – Week 47: Have Impact Beyond Yourself

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We talked a LOT about what we can do to balance and improve our lives. Of course life is much bigger than just us. Once we got our own house in order, we need to impact others in a positive way.

Make positive ripples in the big pond of life. Watch them spread out.

Think of it as throwing a rock into a calm surface of water. We are the rock, the ripples that are created are the positive impact and change that we create. They spread out from us to every corner of the pond. They might get smaller in the distance, but they will still reach out and transfer the message.

Teach your kids well

Our time on this planet is limited. We can start positive change, but very soon we will need others to pick it up and continue the journey for us. Invest time in preparing the passing of the baton.

Teach your children well. Set positive examples. Love them and also show them the boundaries they need to grow up. Help them become capable of dealing with the challenges they will face on their own.

Don’t forget though, that there is a lot we can learn from our children as well. Watch them closely and see what lessons they might have for you. Watch their curiosity, get inspired by their eagerness to explore the world.

Teach them in their own language, and just every once in a while, try to see the world through their eyes.

If you don’t have children on your own, look at your extended family. Look at your community. Volunteer for coaching.

You have learned a lot in your life, pass it on through positive example and influence. Don’t let it go wasted.

Help your community or society

The next ripple in the pond is your community and in extension the larger society.

You don’t need to become a politician to have positive impact. I might even argue that your chance of having positive impact is much larger if you are not a career politician.

Engage in your neighborhood, in your school, at your local senior center. Find a cause that you care about and make a little difference.

I try to help people by teaching Tai Chi, mindfulness, compassion and by sharing some of the lessons I have learned in my career. Uli volunteers as art docent and helps challenged kids at the school with breathing, calming and mindfulness exercises. Find the cause you care about and then share it with others.

If you don’t find yourself to be altruistic, you might consider countless scientific studies that have shown that we get more satisfaction from doing good to others than from splurging ourselves. Help others to help yourself.

Be the change agent for your community. It will spread out. Just help someone without expecting a return. Just say a happy ‘hello’ with a smile to a stranger and let yourself be surprised by what will happen.

Environmental impact

Last not least, we need to take care of the planet we live on. We started off our discussion with taking care of our own health. Let’s close the loop and also take care of the health of our planet.

We cannot survive without our planet, the animals, and plants that inhabit it with us. We need to find a healthy balance with our environment.

Don’t consume more than you need. Don’t waste food, water or other resources. Don’t litter. Don’t destroy unnecessarily.

We just borrowed this planet. Let’s make sure to give it back in good shape.

 


Did you like this article? Want to read more?

I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:

 

Put on your oxygen mask first - book cover

Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps

By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk

ISBN 9781077278929

Find it on Amazon: Paperback, Kindle

 

If you like what you’re reading, please consider leaving a review on Amazon. If you don’t like it, please tell us what we can do better the next time. As self-published authors we don’t have the marketing power of big publishing houses. We rely on word of mouth endorsements through reader reviews.

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Invest in Experiences, Not Stuff

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Every now and then we ask ourselves the big questions: “What is this life all about? What will we leave behind? What will be our legacy?”

There are many great answers to these questions. Most of them come down to making a difference. Changing the world (for the ambitious crowd) or changing how others perceive us by getting rich, pretty(er) or famous (for the more egocentric folks out there).

What I personally really want to leave behind are fond memories and strong bonds with the people in my life that I care about most, especially with my family.

Which is a long intro to get to the point I want to make in this post: focus your time and energy on creating rich experiences, fond memories and with that strong bonds.

Focus on experiences

Making time for and investing in experiences was one of the big resolutions and promises to each other that Uli and I made when we moved to the US.

Back in Germany we were always super busy during the week, exhausted on the weekend and as a result crashed on the couch in front of the TV most weekends instead of going out and experiencing the world.

We were also living in the same area where I grew up and subconsciously we probably thought we had already seen it all anyways.

So how do you do this ‘experience thing’?

Block time, make it a priority

First of all, as for everything, you need to decide to actually do it and commit to it. Block time, protect that time. Define a measurable goal or success criteria. For us it was to commit to going outside or doing at least one fun and engaging activity every single weekend.

You need to defend that time since you will of course have errands to do every weekend that will distract you from your goal. Do it! The renewed energy you will gain from your experiences will let you blast through your other responsibilities much more effectively once you’re back.

You will also often need to kick your own behind because all you really want to do is to actually crash on the coach. Get yourself going. Get over the hump. You will feel much better afterwards. And if not, you can still get your beer and chips and decide that I suggested a really stupid idea to you.

On a side note, Uli and I don’t watch TV at all anymore – it’s too much of a time and energy sucker. The only exception is the occasional movie night with the kids, which quite frankly is much more about the experience than the actual movie when you watch Frozen for the 20th time.

Keep your curiosity

The big stuff is awesome. We love going to National Parks and spending our vacations camping in nature.

Don’t waste your time waiting for your next vacation though. There is so much to explore right here, every day. Keep your eyes open and be curious like a child. If you have a hard time doing that, watch your children, they will teach you. Rediscover your inner child and its playful curiosity and wonder for the world.

Invest in experiences

Rather than buying lots of stuff, that will soon end up at your next garage sale, spend your resources on experiences.

Instead of buying that beautiful little thing, go to your state park website and book a campsite for next weekend. Instead of renting that movie, get gas for your car, grab your loved ones and drive into the mountains. And instead of buying your kids that new toy, get them a swim suit and go to the lake.

Our biggest investment this year will probably be a new camping trailer since our old one starts to fall apart. Rather than a new TV or car or whatever status symbol we could show off to friends and coworkers, this will bring us out with our kids for irreplaceable bonding time and fun. You don’t need a trailer though, a tent or picnic basket will do just fine. The point is, focus on getting stuff that make you create experiences.

Which brings me back to closing the loop with my intro.

Leave a legacy for your kids

What really made us double down on experiences are our kids. They are still young and sometimes even listen to mommy and daddy. Sometimes.

So we still have direct influence on their lives and views of the world. That won’t last much longer though. Friends will take over as influencers. They will become more and independent and soon take off into their own lives. They will have their own families and kids and will carry forward what they picked up from us.

So what can we leave?

Teachings and rules? Unlikely to stick.

Stuff? Maybe. They will be ‘thrilled’ to have to get rid of all of the old ‘junk’ that we will leave them.

Memories? For sure. And I think experiences and shared memories will shape their lives more than any smart advice we can give them. After all teaching by example is still the most effective method of teaching (it might well be the only one that actually works).

Invest your time, energy and resources in building experiences. Through that, create strong bonds and memories with your loved ones. And have a TON of fun along the way!

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Minimalism – Simplify Your Life

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I guess this is one of the basic principles in my life so far. Be it my choices in sports: Karate, Tai Chi, other Martial Arts or in arts: Ikebana, Sumi Painting, Photography or woodworking.

Yes, Minimalism or Simplifying your life is a modern trend, but looking back it has been part of my life all the time.

Sports and Minimalism

Following a totally random choice of starting Karate (Shotokan) at the University Sports Club at Ludwig- Maximilian University (LMU) in Munich, Germany, while pursuing some extracurricular education in Sports Medicine, I not only found my passion for Martial Arts, but for the simpler things in life. The less embellishments, the more straight forward your move is, the more powerful it will be. No extras added. If you take a closer look at the Karate you see in competitions or movies, you might think those fancy jumps or moves look cool. But in the end, the guy who studies his opponent, finds the opening and delivers the final blow, is the one who will be successful. No fancy, good-looking cinematic stuff required.

Trying to remember the name of one movie, I think it was “The Seven Samurai” (Akirao Kurosawa), where there is one Samurai being attacked by a group of Ninja’s. He is calmly waiting inside a house and suddenly starts moving. Every single stroke of his sword hit’s the intended target.

I remember one of the first books I read in connection to Martial Arts was Jon Hyam’s “Zen in the Martial Arts” (“Der Weg der leeren Hand” in German). I have re-read it several times since then. Empty your bowl, if you want to learn new things. His stories still inspire me and help me reflect.

The same fits for Tai Chi. Flowing movements, but also straight forward and no extras. Focus on breathing and meditation more than the movements themselves. Meditation in motion does not really need fancy forms, but being present in that moment and not thinking of other things. Those thoughts are not important right at this moment. Put them on a shelf and unpack them if needed afterwards when you are ready to focus on a new task.

I did Yoga for a couple of years and it feels as if it is the same. Moving from one pose to the next offers you the time to focus and reflect. Be it reflection on your current physical condition or the things which concern you right now. And whichever Yoga teaching you are following, it often is the reduction of movements which brings your life back into focus. I was lucky enough to find an amazing teacher right here in our backyards and am truly sorry that I am not continuing with this right now. Maybe I will get back to it when the time is right.

Any of the martial arts I tried so far have that major commonality (Gemeinsamkeit (D)), be it Aikido, SMR (Shinto Muso Ryu) or Kobudo. No embellishments, focus on the one practise, focus on the moment.

Art and Minimalism

Ikebana (Japanese Flower arrangement) teaches you the art to embrace spaces. To not only see the flowers, but emphasize their beauty by reducing it to the basic components. Sometimes the empty spaces are the most important ones. The hardest part at the beginning of my  learning voyage was to be brave enough to cut off petals or leafs or even branches. Sometimes you feel so sorry and afraid to do it, just to realize that after you did it, it enhanced the beauty of your arrangement. It still is sometimes hard.

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If you know Sumi-e or Sumi Painting, you also realize the focus on the simplification. Ink is your medium and even if you add some color here or there, it still is the reduction of strokes, which shows the essence of the painting.

If you look at the best pictures of well-known photographers, they most often focus on one thing. I am thinking of those pictures on National Geographic, where you see the one polar bear trotting over ice, the one wave crashing on top of you or the one little bright-colored frog in the rainforest. I know someone who makes awesome Macro Photos, just depicting a raindrop on an insect or a leaf on the ground. Focus on the reduction of visual deterrents and reduce the stress in which we are surrounded every day.

Even though I’ll never be (nor want to be) Mary Kondo, the author of “The Art of Tidying up”, I still strive to simplify and reduce. I need space surrounding me. Clutter at home or in my surrounding really drains my energy. No, I am anything but perfect in this realm, but I am definitely working on it. Two major learnings here: everything has its space, and one thing in, at least one thing out!

And never forget to breathe!

Reflections on Achieving Your Goals: Learning Curves

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Learning is never going to stop. You die if you stop learning.

I’m in a phase right now learning something new every day. Mostly about myself. Not always something to be proud of, but I am trying to work on it. I am listening to the book “You are a Badass” on Audible right now and it totally resonates with me.

A few outtakes right now are on my mind here:

Be in the present.

Don’t be anxious. Don’t fret what may come in the future, because it will always be different from what you are fretting about. And I think our mind conjures up the worst scenarios anyways. Most of the time it won’t be as bad as imagined.

Is it life threatening? Is it threatening someone else’s life? No? Then don’t worry!

Own your mistakes.

Try to at least learn from them. Maybe set up some contingencies, so it won’t happen again in the future or ask for help!

Don’t trust your own imagination and memories, because they can deceive you anyways. There are enough studies showing that memories change over time and over emotions.

Imagine yourself owning your own dreams and then go for it! Don’t wait, because we only have this one life and one body to work with.

Yes, you might not have this unrealistic body they want to sell you in magazines, but you have your body and hopefully your health to enjoy life.

And yes, there might be others who are better …. ( you fill in the blank) than you are, but there is only one you! No-one else is there who can do whatever you want to do the way YOU are.

Don’t worry about what others may think of you , because it’s your own life and as long as you don’t hurt – and I don’t think feelings – others with it. Go for it!

And if you commit to something, do it now. With your whole you in the mix and in the present! It might turn out to not be the one thing you wanted to do, but at least you did it.

As Yoda might say:

“Try not, Do!”

Enjoy the ride!