Inspiration from Mario Quintana, Toni Morrison, J.J. Watt, and More

Once a month (or so), I share a dozen things that have inspired me to greater personal, professional, and financial success in my life. I hope they bring similar success to your life.

1. Mario Quintana on chasing butterflies

“Don’t waste your time chasing butterflies. Mend your garden, and the butterflies will come.” – Mario Quintana

There are two ways of looking at success in the world.

One of them is the idea that success is something you have to chase. You have to pursue success by “faking it until you make it” and playing whatever games are necessary to get whatever rewards you are seeking.

Another is the idea that success is the result of preparing yourself so that the results you want come naturally, as do the accompanying rewards.

I used to believe strongly in the first route to success, that if you wanted success you needed to get out there now and grab it. What I’ve found, though, is that this kind of success often falls apart. It doesn’t last.

What lasts is the kind of success you built yourself, over time, by making yourself into a better person, the person that’s able to do something well. That takes a lot of time and effort, but that kind of success rarely fails.

I wish I understood the difference when I was younger.

2. Twenty minute time blocks

Lately, I’ve been scheduling my day with twenty minute time blocks. I plan out my morning routine with twenty minute blocks. I plan my work day with twenty minute blocks (usually three blocks of work and one block of break time in a repeating loop).

Why twenty minute blocks? For some reason, it seems to fit everything really well. One hour blocks of work followed by twenty minute breaks tend to match up extremely well with how I work, as I tend to start losing focus after about an hour and twenty minutes is a great amount of time for a “reset,” giving me time to take a short walk or to eat a quick meal.

How do I do this? When I sit down to work, I start a one hour timer. When it goes off, I stop working and go do something else for twenty minutes, then I repeat this until the time I have blocked off for work is finished.

Twenty minute blocks have felt like magic. When the timer goes off, I feel done and ready for a break. When a twenty minute break has passed, I feel ready to give it a go again. It just matches how my life flows.

3. Alexander Den Heijer on feeling tired

“You often feel tired, not because you’ve done too much, but because you’ve done too little of what sparks a light in you.” – Alexander Den Heijer

For me, mental tiredness usually comes from spending most of a day doing things that other people want me to do that are not in line with what I want to do. The more I do that, the more tired I tend to feel at the end of the day.

There are two solutions to this that I’ve found. One, find things that other people want you to do that you also want to do yourself. Ideally, you can get paid for this.

Two, live a life that enables you to at least have some time to do the things you want to do. That might mean living a more frugal life, for example, that enables you to work less. That might mean getting out of a difficult relationship. Whatever you need to do, find some room for yourself.

It’s almost a perfect equation for me. The more time I spend doing things that I truly want to be doing and the less time I spend doing things that I don’t want to be doing, the more alive and energetic I feel.

4. John Doerr on why the secret of success is setting the right goals

From the description:

Our leaders and institutions are failing us, but it’s not always because they’re bad or unethical, says venture capitalist John Doerr — often, it’s simply because they’re leading us toward the wrong objectives. In this practical talk, Doerr shows us how we can get back on track with “Objectives and Key Results,” or OKRs — a goal-setting system that’s been employed by the likes of Google, Intel and Bono to set and execute on audacious goals. Learn more about how setting the right goals can mean the difference between success and failure — and how we can use OKRs to hold our leaders and ourselves accountable.

So, what’s OKR? OKR is a way of setting goals that I’ve been playing around with lately. The idea is to set an objective – what you want to accomplish, in your own words – and a number of key results that describe that objective – numbers you will achieve if you meet that overall objective.

So, let’s say I want to be healthier – that’s my objective. I might set a key result of “losing an average of 2 pounds per week this quarter” and/or “walking 500,000 steps this quarter” and/or “doing 360 minutes of planks this quarter” and so on. You get the idea. Try to make those numbers audacious and right on the edge of what you think it’s even possible to reach.

Then, after the quarter is over (and at the midway point, too), grade those objectives on a scale of 0 to 1, where 0 is no progress and 1 is complete achievement. So, if I walked 350,000 steps in that quarter, I would have a score of 0.7, or a 70%. I basically look at this as a school score on a 90/80/70/60% grading scale.

I’ve actually been doing this during the third quarter of the year, merging this idea with ideas I learned from Triggers by Marshall Goldsmith.

5. Rumi on change

“Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.” – Rumi

The only thing you truly have control over is yourself: your thoughts, your choices, your actions. You can’t control what nature does or what anyone else does. You can only control you.

If you throw all of your energy into changing the world, you probably won’t see a whole lot of success, for a number of reasons. One, you’re not putting your best self forward because you haven’t invested in improving yourself. Two, the world is generally indifferent to you and won’t change just because someone who hasn’t made themselves the best they can be is demanding change.

A much better approach is to focus on improving yourself. Make yourself better so that, in the moments when you have an opportunity to make change, it actually has an impact.

I like to think of this in terms of tossing rocks in a lake. An impatient person might throw handfuls of pebbles in immediately and create no lasting impact. A more patient person, on the other hand, will carefully select the right rock that will create big waves, and that invested time and effort will have a far bigger impact.

6. Idea Paint

I recently visited the office of a friend who had each wall of his office covered in Idea Paint and I quickly realized the huge benefits that such an environment would have for me.

Idea Paint is basically paint that turns a wall into a whiteboard. You can write on it with dry erase markers and erase what you’ve written with dry erasers.

Every single wall of his office was painted with this stuff, which turned his entire office into a giant whiteboard, and he was really using it. There were notes and diagrams and to-do lists and other things everywhere. Brainstorming sessions, quick jottings, half-formed presentations… it was like he had dumped his brains out on the walls, and it was amazing.

I would really, really, really love to paint my home office with this stuff. If we ever do decide to build a new home and I have a home office, this is how I will paint the walls.

7. Marcus Aurelius on power

“You have power over your mind — not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius

The path of success in life isn’t in going out there and changing the world around you. You can’t really control those outside events; at best, you can influence them.

How does effective and lasting influence occur? It comes when someone with the right skills and traits pushes at the right place at the right moment.

Those right skills and right traits are built with time. They’re built with the constant choice to make yourself better. They aren’t found overnight.

Similarly, the right place at the right time is often found with a great deal of reflection and study and observing the world around you.

You control you. Improve yourself – your skills, your thinking, your ability to observe – and you’ll be ready for when the right moment comes.

8. Stephen Duneier on how to achieve your most ambitious goals

From the description:

How you define Stephen Duneier depends on how you came to know him. Some define him as an expert institutional investor, while others know him as a large scale installation artist, avid outdoorsman, professor, decision strategist, coach, business leader, mindfulness extremist, author, speaker, daredevil or Guinness world record holder. In his talk, Stephen explains that what truly defines him aren’t titles, but an approach to decision making that transformed him from someone who struggled with simple tasks to a guy who is continuously achieving even his most ambitious dreams.

What’s the core message here? It’s kind of the theme of this edition of “A Dozen Pieces of Inspiration” – putting effort into improving yourself or improving your routine, even if that improvement is seemingly a tiny one (he refers to them as a “marginal adjustment”).

He does this by breaking down self-improvement gestures into really tiny bits – five or ten minute tasks. What can you do in five or ten minutes to move you just a little bit toward your goal? If you want to get healthier, maybe you could do pushups and jumping jacks for five minutes. If you want to learn a new topic, maybe you read a difficult book for ten minutes. When you’re done, you go off and do something else. (I kind of like twenty minute blocks, as I noted earlier.)

The key is marginal adjustment – just finding a little thing you can change in your daily routine and then sticking with that little change. Make that one change and keep making the decision to stick with it.

9. Thomas Jefferson on trying something new

“If you want something you never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.” – Thomas Jefferson

If you want something new in your life, you can’t keep doing things the way you’ve always been doing them.

If you don’t want financial stress, you can’t keep spending money like you always have. If you don’t want career stress, you can’t keep staying in the same job doing the same things. If you don’t want relationship stress, you can’t keep treating your partners the same way you always have.

You have to try something new.

Trying something new isn’t easy. It’s often hard and it’s often scary. It can also feel like you’re not making any progress, especially after the “honeymoon” period is over.

Again, I’ll repeat: doing things the way you’ve always done them will give you the same results you’ve always had. If you don’t like those results, you either need to do things differently or learn to live with them.

10. Toni Morrison on the responsibility of freedom and power

“If you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.” ― Toni Morrison

There comes a point in the life of most people when they realize that they have “enough,” and that continuing to chase more and more and more is an endless road that will never lead to happiness.

At that point, many people begin to struggle with purpose. Why am I doing this? What’s the use? They either find a state of contentment or a state of frustration.

For me, I’ve found that the idea that I can help others once I’ve found that sense of “enough” to be incredibly exhilarating and inspiring. The constant endless road toward “more” leaves me feeling drained, but knowing I have “enough” and anything more that I achieve will help lift others is exciting for me.

11. The Band feat. the Staples Singers – The Weight

This comes from The Last Waltz, a Martin Scorsese documentary covering the last concert given by The Band, an influential musical group in the 1960s and 1970s. The concert featured a lot of guest performers on many of the band’s well known songs, but this one takes the cake.

The song itself is a good performance, but when the Staples Singers, particularly Mavis Staples, join in, the song goes to a whole new level. Her voice is amazing and the song just flows along.

There’s this sense of underlying joy here, where you can feel everyone enjoying themselves while performing beautiful music. That brings me back to this performance over and over again.

12. J.J. Watt on the bill of success

“Success isn’t owned. It is leased, and rent is due everyday.” – J.J. Watt

Our natural, default state, when we’re not working for anything and just wandering through life, is usually not nearly enough to get us the things we want in life. In order to have those things we want, we have to become something more than that default state. We have to become better than that.

The catch is that the process of becoming better isn’t just something you do once and call it good enough. Rather, it’s something that you always do. You work on it until it’s a part of you and it’s ingrained in you, but that natural default version of you still lurks inside.

If you don’t keep an eye on yourself, if you don’t keep working for that better you, you will slide backwards. Being a better version of yourself is a daily thing, not a “once in a while” thing.

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