How do we know we’re successful? How do we set up the rules of our own game so that they serve us, and give us a more meaningful life?
Jonathan Nation left a nice comment on an earlier episode about the definition of success:
… What is success? What is that vision you are striving for?
An excellent question, and a smart one to ask (and try to answer) as early as you can.
In this 23-minute episode, I talk about:
- What the Buddha and an ancient sitar player can teach you about goal setting
- The problem with most financial goals
- Is adjusting your goals just a nice way to make excuses for failure?
- Why your “sitar string” needs some tension
- The role of stress in a meaningful life
- Different types of stress and the healthy (or unhealthy) roles they can play
- How to implement “one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied” (and it’s easy and fun)
- How to build your goals so they serve a meaningful life
The Show Notes
- My podcast episode on The 7 Escape Pod Principles (aka Sonia’s book) (AUDIO)
- Jonathan Nation’s site — thanks for the question, Jonathan!
- Steve Kamb’s fun and useful book on Leveling Up Your Life — on treating your life as an adventure and quest for meaning
- Kelly McGonigal’s book The Upside of Stress
- McGonigal’s TED talk on How to Make Stress Your Friend (VIDEO)
- If you need a list of common human values, this is a good one from James Clear. Feel free to choose from values that aren’t on this list, of course!
- I always love it when you say Hi or ask a question over on Twitter — find me @soniasimone 🙂
Sonia Simone: Greetings, superfriends! My name is Sonia Simone and these are the Confessions of a Pink-Haired Marketer. For those who don’t know me, I’m a co-founder and the chief content officer for Rainmaker Digital.
I’m also a champion of running your business and your life according to your own rules. As long as you don’t lie and you don’t hurt people, this podcast is your official pink permission slip to run your business or your career exactly the way you think you should.
Note: Links to extra resources are in the Show Notes!
July I’m going to be digging some more into the themes from the book I’m working on. If you want to know more about that, look for the 7 Escape Pod Principles episode from PinkHairedMarketer.FM https://rainmaker.fm/audio/pink/escape-pod/
I wanted to kick off with a good question that Jonathan Nation left on that post:
The one big gaping hole I see is something you hit on often, but not in this model — what is success?
What is that vision you are striving for?
It’s sorta implied, yet for long term, it is needed, even if at first success is just trying something or earning an extra $400 per month.
I talk a lot about success, and every week in that intro to the podcast, more specifically I talk about running your business and your life according to your own rules.
I really like Jonathan’s point here — it’s important to start from having some kind of vision for What does it mean for me to be successful right from the outset.
Not too tight, not too loose
There’s a story about the Buddha observing a musician tuning a guitar– or whatever the stringed instrument was of his time and place. Maybe a sitar or a sarode.
A tight string will break. A loose string just flops and doesn’t make any sound. You need to tune the string so that it’s not overly tight or overly loose.
That “middle way” is a major theme of Buddhism, and it also happens to be good advice for a lot of things in life.
Goal setting is very much about the Middle Way.
If your vision is too tight, too specific, too rigid, then you create all kinds of problems. First, you probably won’t get it exactly right, since you do not have a TARDIS and you don’t know what the future will bring you. So you may be disappointed that you didn’t “call it” correctly.
The classic example of this would be a financial goal. It’s not uncommon for someone’s goal to be, “I will make $100,000 in 2016.”
So let’s say you made $50,000 in 2015, and you make $75,000 in 2016. This is major. And yet there actually are people who will feel let down and defeated because they didn’t “make their number.”
Second, you may be closing doors that could be extremely interesting and rewarding. Every decision we make does close some doors, and that’s the nature of things and is OK. But ideally you’d like to close as few as you can get away with.
So if you make the precise same amount of money but you move to some beautiful place with a lower cost of living and your life becomes immensely better — in the scheme of things, let’s adjust the goal to match the deeper vision.
Or you make less money but you quit the job you hate and get a job that you love and you’re able to make your finances work because you sold the house and live on a sailboat — again, victory unlocked.
Is adjusting a goal just “making excuses”?
There are people out there who will throw the word “excuses” at you if you make adjustments to a goal. “You’re just making excuses.”
I find this an extraordinarily unhelpful observation.
Sometimes it’s a conversation you have with yourself. You realize that you’re rationalizing staying with some toxic current reality because making a change seems too hard. Your therapist would be another person who might help you to see if this really is a case of making excuses, when it would be more productive to tough it out.
But this is not a word that’s helpful to use with other people. Keep your eyes on your own path.
And if you do hear it from someone else, realize that it’s much more comfortable to judge you than it is to work on their own stuff. We all know that one. So roll your eyes and move on.
The problem with “too loose”
Of course, sometimes that string is tuned a little too loose. Just like the sitar string won’t make a sound if it’s adjusted so there’s no tension, you’re unlikely to see the improvements you would like to see if there’s absolutely zero tension.
This might be a good time for me to bring up once again Kelly McGonigall’s book, The Upside of Stress.
A lot of us hold back from big work, the kind of work that makes our heart beat faster, because “we can’t take the stress.”
Now you know you. I’m not going to talk you into taking on more stress than you can manage.
But you may want to play with the idea that some stress is actually quite healthy for you.
In particular, chronic, relentless stress that you have no control over and that has no meaning is quite unhealthy. And coincidentally, this is the kind of stress that rats get subjected to in studies about stress.
But you are not a lab rat, thankfully.
How you think about and interpret your stress has, statistically, quite a significant impact on how it will affect your health. And not every stress response is “fight or flight.” A lot of stress — I think we’ve all felt this — is what’s called a challenge response, where we pick up more energy to do the thing that needs to be done.
According to the research that McGonigall has pulled together from multiple studies, this type of stress is associated with neurochemistry that is much less damaging to your heart.
Another documented stress response is “Tend and Befriend,” which is associated with a release of oxytocin — the “cuddle hormone.” This hormone is beneficial to your heart, it turns out.
The book is a good read if you like sciency-stuff, or her TED talk gives the highlights.
So you may have a lot of stress happening today — but it could be that by shifting the rules to play a game, even if it’s part-time at first, that’s better aligned with your values, and that gives you more freedom over your circumstances, could not only make your life better, but it could help shift some of your bad stress to a more beneficial type.
The power of values
Here’s another quote I found super interesting from McGonigall’s book:
It turns out that writing about your values is one of the most effective psychological interventions ever studied.
I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s such a fast tweak that you can make, and I also find this a good thing to do for example right before I go to sleep, just to relax myself and help put my head in a good place, and that’s connecting with your values.
It doesn’t matter if those values are conservative or liberal, eastern or western, urban or rural. They also don’t have to be something you’re excelling at today. If your value is “family” but right now that’s in a difficult place, that’s completely ok. Values are about what you care about, not always what you’re magnificently good at right now.
What matters is that you connect with what matters about your life — what gives your life meaning.
You don’t necessarily have to go through an exercise of mapping out “How this thing I did today reflects my values.” Those always felt stiff and clunky to me and I just don’t do them.
Instead, I make time regularly to reflect on what my values are. What they mean to me. If they’ve come up during my day or my week, I can think about that. But the main thing is to connect myself to meaning, not to try to play match-the-values game with every action I take. That can get kind of exhausting, and if it’s exhausting you won’t do it.
Connecting with your values, on the other hand, is easy and energizing. It’s refreshing. It helps you reframe things. And if the research holds true, it lasts a surprisingly long time.
It can just be a matter of writing out a few paragraphs about your values and why they matter to you. Just take a little time to remember what they are, and think about them with some richness for a little bit.
I would definitely recommend that you feel connected to your values — to the ideas that give meaning to your life — as you work with goals and vision. They’ll give you that “Why.”
And they’ll help reveal goals that might be the more fun toys. Not that it’s bad to want a particular car or a particular material thing. If you can have a few treats and preserve the meaning in your life, that’s a lovely thing.
But the treats won’t give you any kind of lasting emotional payoff really — and if you pursue the material stuff at the expense of your values, they’ll become a prison. We see it all the time, people who are so caught up in the markers or the signs of success that real success — which is living a life worth living — drains away.
Values are the way we protect ourselves from that and make sure the richness stays in our lives.
That’s it for today — just a heads up that the podcast will continue as it has done throughout July, and then I’m going to take a hiatus for about a month in August because I’m going to be moving both my family and my podcast. Family and I will be making a grand experiment for a year, and the podcast will move on over to my personal blog site.
You can always find me at PinkHairedMarketer.FM, but it seems I’ll need to rebuild my iTunes following — we’re not having any luck transferring the podcast to my own account. So if you do happen to like the podcast, I’ll be hitting you up to help me find more listeners and sustain this community.
Thanks so much for your time and attention and I’ll catch you next week. 🙂