Tag: Self-improvement

Self-Improvement Year Zero – Post by Michael Hanafin

Self-Improvement Year Zero

One person’s journey into the world of self-development through podcasts, reading and most of all doing.

My journey began 12 months ago so this seems an auspicious time to reflect.   I hope something here will resonate if you are starting on this path or already well on the way.

A change of job prompted me to begin. Before then, I allowed my employer’s training catalogue plus opportunities to learn from global colleagues cater to my self-improvement needs. Moving to a much smaller company (where opportunities to both add value and learn from others were more limited than I expected),  I took ownership of my own personal and professional development.  

You don’t need to wait for a life change like a new job or a calendar milestone – you are free to decide that today will be the day I make one small step.

The Process

To start I adopted one habit then built on that a step at a time. That habit and the follow-ons are described later but first I outline the framework I used.

I decided I needed 3 things:

  1. Structure
  2. Schedule
  3. Direction

Structure

I narrowed it down to 4 themes or ‘Pillars’ to focus on and planned possible activities and tasks for each:

  • Self
  • Health
  • Other (i.e. Family/Relationships)
  • Work

This allowed me to aim for balance in allocating time to each. By putting them in list format, I had a simple visual indicator of whether I was tending more towards some areas rather than others (which is not a bad thing – not all may need equal attention).  In the cases where something mapped to more than one pillar, I picked the pillar it felt more at home in.

Activities and tasks could be either tangible (exercise, cook something, do something at work or outside, journal keeping), online (research, blogs, podcasts) or reading books.

I found a “trialling” mindset to be valuable at this stage.  If I adopted a new habit I tested it for 4 to 6 weeks after which I would either jettison it, modify it or keep it.

I did try a further categorisation of each item into “Read” “Test” “Review” “Do” (inspired by Deming’s Plan Do Check Act cycle) but quickly felt this was too much, I was overthinking and over-complicating (nothing new there!).

Schedule

I time-boxed 3 hours every 2nd Sunday and for the first 3 months while planning, researching and shaping what I was going to do and how to do it, I did these sessions in my local coffee shop. As I got into the thick of it and out of the initial planning mode, I retired instead to my spare room but the name I first gave this quality time has stuck for me – even now I often refer to this time as a “Starbucks Session”.

Direction

To determine my direction, I first needed to define my values.  As a complement to my values list, I also developed a personal mission statement.  Finally, to guide how I implement my decisions and choices, I figured a set of principles would be useful.

I derived my values by narrowing down from two sets of lists found online.  The 1% Better blog post on this topic was helpful.  I ended up with 5 and in their current incarnation, they are:

  • Making a Difference
  • Mindset
  • Credibility
  • Inner Harmony
  • Vision

My mission statement is currently:

  • Maintain a conscious balance of Family, Health, Work
  • Keep Faith and broader spirituality an intrinsic part of life
  • Add real value and make a difference in my day job
  • As much as possible, operate in a mindful flow state with clarity
  • Be in control of finances, providing for present and future needs

My principles remain in draft format at the time of writing. I will write these to enable me to fulfil my mission statement and adhere to my values.

My notes on what that list might look like are as follows:

  • Practice Meditation
  • Balance self, family, work and health
  • Always ask What matters most?
  • What would <name of inspirational role model> do?
  • Engage with what I do with attention, compassion and non-judgment
  • Practice gratitude
  • Continue spiritual path
  • Don’t force it – take purposeful pauses as required, embrace ambiguity and unknowing, non-attachment to results
  • See the opportunity that is my life in 10 years (think of this from Seth Godin)
  • Respond, not react
  • Act like the person I would like to have reporting to me, be married to, have as a father

You will notice that values, mission statement and principles become more verbose and descriptive.  There should be some natural overlap between them also.

 A word here on goals. We are often encouraged to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-Bound).  I also discovered value in having longer-term goals that are not entirely SMART.  This type of goal may be impossible to completely define at this stage and may demand some blue-sky thinking.  At a minimum, your goals should be ART (trusting the SM to come in time) and remember that for visionary goals you need to be open-minded on what is Achievable.  Don’t be afraid to have a stretch target that you cannot quite see how to reach yet. 

 The Starting Point

I had failed to establish a meditation practice on two previous occasions.  The first was before the advent of apps, the latter following a recommendation on a course I did at work.

Now, I looked again at meditation and saw that it could be the launching pad for everything I was trying to achieve (even though I did not know precisely what this was yet!).  The promise of having the mental space to better consider the impact of what I choose to do, how I think and how I make decisions was very appealing. 

I reasoned that the worst that could happen was that I would gain some valuable “me time” every day.  What I discovered was that, contrary to my expectations, my daily practice began to bear fruit after only a couple of weeks. It was the tip of the tip of the iceberg but rewarding enough to persevere with a guided meditation practice.

The Next Steps

Adopting one positive habit has a domino effect – you will find yourself wanting to add another once you establish that first one.

I saw the seeds of my next habit in the improvement opportunity of my first.  A lot of the self-improvement texts talk about the merits of a morning routine.  I saw that this would ensure I do my meditation at an optimal time plus give me a window to add something else.

Over time I started to rise earlier and earlier, setting the alarm for 6 a.m. and eventually getting it back to 5 a.m. (well, 5.05 to be accurate).  The next addition was diet-related, dusting off the blender to make a healthy early morning smoothie. I stuck with the same recipe daily, finding that doing the same over and over again helped break down any mental resistance – I did not need to think about what to buy or how to make it, just do it.

It’s at this stage that a significant step change occurred. I had a meditation practice and a morning routine.  I had also started journaling – using the Bullet Journal method – allowing me to reflect, to plan future activities and to record any inspirational quotes or writings I noticed.    Exercise was missing.   I found the “Couch to 5k” protocol and started following that 3 times/week.  I found it well-paced and being time-based rather than distance-based meant I could slow down if necessary. Like meditation, running had failed to stick on previous attempts but now became ingrained.

Conclusion

I struggle to say which activity has had the most impact – meditation or exercise.  There are mental health benefits to exercise along with the feeling of reward when running towards a glowing sunset on a Friday evening at the start of a weekend.  I endorse the use of positive language here – exercise is something you get to do (i.e. a reward or benefit), not something you have to do.

Meditation has given me a toolkit to manage life’s opportunities and issues, a toolkit that will grow over time. I see it as a foundational practice for me now.

Throughout all this (meditation, morning routine, exercise, Sunday morning reading/reflection sessions) I found the encouragement and learnings from podcasts invaluable. I built up a stable of regulars to which I return, including of course 1% Better.  Joining a community like the ROTG Slack community with its monthly challenges and supportive membership has also been a great help to maintain a “What else can I do?” mindset.

Progress has not been perfect – meditation has not been daily, I replaced the smoothie with overnight oats (which did not stick, no pun intended) and family life means my bi-weekly time blocking does not always happen.  On the plus side, I now know I have a mindset that is fixed on this course, flexible to adapt to circumstances and recognising of the rewards it can bring. 

When progress is slow, I remind myself of what I have done and  that it is an ongoing way of life with natural ebbs and flows (and not a short-term project). 

Here’s to the next 12 months.


About The Author

Mike Hanafin works as a technology project manager, with grey hair gathered in both the software and life sciences industries.  When not asking checking questions like “What value am I bringing to my role?”, Mike is finding joy in his ongoing self-improvement  mission (whose ultimate goal is to maintain a healthy work-life balance by dissolving the work-life distinction) and inching out of his introvert comfort zone (which has mood lighting and a copious supply of fiction and jazz).   Always wanting to write but never getting to it, Mike is making an early/late New Year’s Resolution to share more of what he has learned (and has yet to learn).

Photos by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash and Hello I’m Nik 🇬🇧 on Unsplash


If you’re interested in having being a guest post on the blog page or submitting some learnings for a community focused podcast episode, get in touch directly with me – [email protected] or sign up to the growing 1% Better community on Slack – Link to this here


 

Two of my core values and passions are continual learning & ongoing wellness (mind & body). When engrossed in interesting mind nourishing content, I feel alive, excited, energised and dare I say more confident as it feels great to be learning. Traditionally, this has been via books, TV documentaries or, in more recent times, a magical Ted Talk I may have watched online or heard on the Ted Radio Hour show.

With exercise and wellness, it’s very similar. For most of my life, apart from a few years during University and in my Twenties when way too much alcohol was being consumed, I’ve always been pretty active. Either in team sports or individually, keeping fit has been essential to my contentment. To be honest, a lot more than I probably realised. I definitely wasn’t aware, when younger, just how much of a positive impact some vigorous exercise had on my mood. It probably wasn’t until I took up long distance running in my early thirties that I could see the direct connection between running and a happier me.

The No Choice diet!

Around my 35th birthday, I had a bit of a wake-up call. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the pancreas can’t make insulin because the immune system attacks it and destroys the cells that produce insulin. So, I had to start taking insulin injections daily to control blood sugar levels. My passion for all things wellness became all the more important. Trying to look for the positives out of the situation, I consider Diabetes as best diet I could ever have gone on (I’m joking but it’s kinda true). A diet that I don’t really have an option but to follow. There is a certain freedom when choice is removed. As exercise and being active has a positive impact on Blood Sugar maintenance, I now have the perfect excuse, not that I needed it, to be active on a daily basis.

Up to this point, my exercise and learning passions were pretty much always independently pursued. I never could get the knack of reading a book on a treadmill! But that all changed for me a few years ago, when I discovered Podcasts. Things just got a lot better! More than 1% for sure.

Back around late 2012, I was like many of the people (guests included) that I’ve talked to over the last year. The podcast concept was not fully understood. ‘Isn’t that just Radio?’ I remember thinking. I decided to do a bit of digging into what these podcasts were all about. I’m not sure if someone had recommended one to me or if the curiosity got the better of me, but I downloaded the Apple Podcast App (since then it has become a pre-installed app on the iPhone). By luck, not design, I stumbled across a podcast called ‘Stuff You Should Know’. It had me at hello. I vividly remember listening to an episode while out for a 5km run, and I was hooked. Not just by this episode (I recall it was about the Berlin Wall). It was more about the possibilities that I had available to me. I had the opportunity to learning on the run, literally. I quickly realized that I had a mobile university in my ears and it was, for the most part, free!

Over the following months, and years, I embarked on a podcasting journey of discovery, listening to a broad range of amazing shows. It’s impossible for me to call them all out but two that I keep going back to are ‘the Tim Ferriss Show’ and Sam Harris ‘Waking up’. Both very different but hugely enriching for me over the last couple of years. I can say that they’ve changed my life in a positive way. I’m sure of it.

Overcoming the Imposter Syndrome
Fast forward to late 2016. As I continued to enjoy these shows, I was still struck by how many of my friends and people I’d talk with were unaware of the value that podcasts could bring. These folks are missing out! So, with some blind optimism, I started to investigate what I needed to do to create one myself. Switching roles from consumer to producer. With the bold simple vision of creating a podcast that could help others learn, improve, grow thought the stories of others. This was my fledgling idea and was enough to get me started!

While this was a very exciting time, figuring out everything and anything I needed to do to pull this off, it was also a period where I felt paralyzed with fear. I remember (and still hear it regularly but much less) the negative self-talk raging. The questions coming up were something like ‘who do you think you are to create a podcast?’, ‘you’re a nobody?’, ‘what do you have to say to share?’, and ‘who’s going to listen to you?’ to name just a few! I’m probably keeping the language extra clean here. My inner gremlin has a colourful turn of phrase.

I’ve since learned that this is commonly known as ‘the Imposter syndrome!’ Well, ironically enough, thanks to the power & insights I gleaned from listening to podcasts that talked about this condition, I pushed through, felt the fear and did it anyway.

Right & Left Brain in action

Over the months that followed, I got it done. Firstly, I spent a lot of time getting clear on my Why. This took a lot of right brain work, getting clear on my purpose, vision and mission. The work I had done on myself over the last few years, along with the learnings taken from the executive coaching diploma, all helped very much. That’s when the 1% Better idea became clear. Going back to my point above, I wanted to give something back and help others improve though the podcast. My aim was, and is, to create a show where every episode has the best content I can put together that consistently provides listeners with insights, tools, and tips to help them get a little bit better. I’m a poor man’s Tim Ferriss if you will, with slightly more hair. (Tim, if you’re reading this, I hope your stoic view of the world will see this as a joke!)


With the why clear, I then focused on the How and the What. I put a detailed plan together. My background is in project management. This helped hugely. Setting a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) can be the easy part. Implementing it is what normally gets in the way. Setting the launch date was key! Telling others about it held me accountable to myself! I recall, as the project gained momentum, and I started to record my first interviews, my confidence grew. I was learning so much. About production, editing, interviewing, and most importantly, myself.

Then in early March 2017, one week ahead of scheduled, after many long hours, definitely lots of sweat, a few tears, (can’t recall if there was any blood spilt other than pricking my finger to check glucose levels) and definitely learning to overcome the embarrassment of the sound of your own voice, I launched my first set of shows. It was out in the public domain. It felt good. Another syndrome, that my boss at work liked to call ‘perfection being the enemy of good enough’ was there during this time too. But the momentum was too strong and the date was set so it was time to go-live. Waiting for it to be perfect was not an option.

Road to 50!
Back at the start of 2017, I wrote down about ten goals I had for the Podcast in the year. I literally did this in about ten minutes and was just randomly throwing out what was coming into my head (although subconsciously they were probably well formed). Now, as I’m writing this, I have forty-eight episodes released and I’m putting final edits to the last couple of Season One. My original goal for the show was to do thirty in 2017. So, I’ve exceeded that. To be honest, I’ve exceeded nearly all of them! All the ones that mattered for sure.

The journey had lead me to conversations with World Champions, World Record Holders, Magicians, Entrepreneurs, a Clairaudient (look it up), a Social Media Strategist, and I’ve just released a great new episode with one of Ireland’s best-known Chef’s (thanks, Neven). That’s just to call out a few. I have over one hundred hours content released and learned so much about topics such as Business, Start-ups, Meditation, Mindfulness, Developing Habits, Morning Routines and even people’s earliest memories. It’s been an awesome experience.

Lessons Learned & Success
I’ll wrap up this piece by sharing a few takeaways that might be of value to you. Something to ponder over or maybe even take some inspiration from if you’re facing some similar challenges or are being held back from trying something new.

I started out this podcast voyage with a few personal goals in mind. Give something back to the podcast world that has helped me learn & keep fit over the last few years. By devouring hours of podcast content, I believe I have developed new habits and practices that have made me more confident and more willing to push through fears and set BHAGs for myself. I’ve confronted the imposter syndrome head on by putting the content out there. What once was a loud voice inside my head, is now hardly audible at all. All this shows that if you set the goal, work out a plan to get there, be resilient and stick the course, you can achieve it. Whatever IT is. It’s a simple enough message to write, much harder to execute. But it can be done.

In my performance coaching work, one of the tools I find the simplest yet more powerful is the Action Learning Cycle. Taking Action to set up my own show has continued that Learning cycle for myself and moved things to the next level. In parallel, I’ve made connections with people I would never have otherwise. I’ve also been able to share these stories with thousands of others across the globe, received emails from folks that have benefited from hearing the struggles and victories of others. And maybe in some ways they have become that 1% better as a result.

In one of the episodes, a guest turned the success question I ask back on me. What is success for me? I didn’t have to think too much. In that moment, the conversation I was having with the guest was success. I was taking action and learning simultaneously. It was aligned to my own why, how and what.

Looking ahead
Once season one ends, and I take some time out to do my own proper reflecting, I’ll post more on the themes and patterns that emerged from interviews with guests. But for now, I hope you enjoyed this read. If you haven’t listened to an episode of the show yet, I’d love to have you as a subscriber or casual listener. Check out the links below to the show, the newsletter, and other useful ways to connect. Feedback on this and the show overall is not only welcome but highly encouraged. I’d love to hear from you.

Thanks,
Rob O’Donohue AKA Rob of the Green

Get in touch – links below:

Website www.robofthegreen.ie

Podcasts episodes www.robofthegreen.ie/episodes/

Itunes Subscribe https://itunes.apple.com/ie/podcast/the-1-better-podcast/id1212137500?mt=2

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Best,
Rob

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