“The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.”
“What gets measured, gets managed.”
Separation can bring things together.
In 2007, Leo Andrew Fernandez was at a bar in Chicago with a good friend for President’s Day weekend. This was when they still allowed smoking in bars and Leo and his friend were drinking and finishing a pack of cigarettes together. After three days of smoking and partying, Leo felt a sudden pain in his chest. He had been waking up each morning with a heavy smoker’s cough and knew this pain was related. Leo saw his doctor the following week and was given the option to stop smoking, or die. That’s when Leo started running.
At first, his running was merely a way to increase happiness and distract himself from smoking. But over time, running became a central focus for Leo, an obsession that completely changed his life. Leo started finding ways to eat healthy, he started developing leadership skills at work, and he started making new friends. One of Leo’s neighbors, Jared Fayer, was an accomplished runner. Jared lived across the hall and suggested that Leo join the New York Road Runners club (NYRR). Leo started signing up for 4-5 mile races and by June 2008 had run 6 races while being smoke free for 4 months. Leo continued to generate confidence in himself and in 2009, he ran the NYC half-marathon. By the end of 2010, Leo had completed his first full marathon, the NYC Marathon, along with 10 other shorter races with the NYRR, all while remaining smoke free for over 3 years.
How did something as simple as running restructure Leo’s entire life? How did his goal of completing the 2010 NYC Marathon alter all of his thoughts and actions? Leo established a significant, separate focal point for his life, and the laws of physics took over.
What Causes Spaghetti Brain?
Complexity creates misery. Think about the most stressful times of your life. I’m willing to bet that those moments were miserable because you felt pulled in too many different directions at once without feeling like you were making progress in any one direction. Most people’s idea of organization is to write down a to-do list that encompasses every single thing they want to accomplish in a day without mentioning anything about what they would have to accomplish to fulfill their purpose in life. The problem with these kinds of giant, superficial to-do lists is that they are intimidating and uninspiring. Without knowing where to start, the person creating the list immediately feels overwhelmed and exhausted.
The majority of the population runs on to-do and to-don’t lists. How many times throughout the day do you say to yourself, “do this” or “don’t do that”? Consider all of the “dos” and “don’ts” guiding your health, work, and home life. If you are trying to remember the importance of a healthy diet, your internal dialogue will constantly instruct you with scripts like, “don’t eat carbs”, “figure out how to avoid belly fat”, “don’t have dessert”, “eat more protein”, and so forth. If you’re constantly trying to remember a dozen different work-related goals, your brain will rattle off scripts like, “work on project X for 2 hours”, “don’t waste time on email”, “call clients A, B, and C”, on and on. This kind of internal dialogue is incredibly inefficient, yet it’s probably instructing every aspect of your life.
Multitasking is a myth. Your brain is a sequential processor, which means it’s unable to pay attention to two instructions at the same time. Studies show that a person who is attempting to multitask takes 50% longer to accomplish a task AND makes up to 50% more mistakes. Rather than multitasking, what your brain is really doing is attempting to switch its attention back and forth rapidly between tasks. Every time you switch your attention, your brain goes through a sequence of activities to refocus and adjust. This turns your brain into spaghetti.
By creating too many points of focus in your life, your mind gets sloppy, mixed up, and overwhelmed. You lose track of all your little “dos” and “don’ts” and every instruction stretches out like a flaccid spaghetti noodle. Eventually, all of these noodles overlap in a greasy mess that stops your progress completely.
The Rubik’s Cube Theory
Imagine that your life is one giant Rubik’s Cube. In order to experience ultimate achievement and fulfillment you have to reorder and align all of the cube’s colored blocks. Any Rubik’s Cube connoisseur will tell you that the most efficient and effective way to solve the puzzle is to set one block of any color in the center of one side of the cube and keep it there. This block stays put; it’s your focal point. From there, the goal is to manipulate and reorder that same side of the cube until every block matches the color of the block you set in the center. To solve the puzzle, repeat this sequence for all six sides of the cube.
The quickest way to cut the clutter from your life is to create a singularity. In physics, a singularity is a point of infinite density and infinitesimal volume. Singularities are believed to exist at the center of black holes, which are regions of space having a gravitational field so intense that no matter or radiation can escape. This is what you want to create in your life, a central point of focus that nothing can escape. Something so massive that it pulls everything else towards it.
Start creating singularities in your life by focusing on a few, critical goals that will bring you closer to fulfilling your overall purpose in life. For example, if you want to boost vitality, create a specific, overarching health goal. If making money is important to you, establish a single, wealth-related objective. The key is to make your singularities big, measureable, and few. These singularities are the center blocks of your Rubik’s Cube. By staying focused on your center blocks, the rest of your life will naturally reorder itself until each side of the cube is perfectly aligned.
How To Have A Waffle Brain
Picture your brain as a fresh waffle, firm yet flexible. Like all waffles, your brain has individually defined pockets. But instead of pouring syrup or fruit into these pockets, you are going to pour in your attention and actions. You have six pockets, each correlating to one of your center blocks, or singularities.
In the book, Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti, Chad Eastham asserts that men’s brains are like waffles because they keep their lives compartmentalized in boxes, while women’s brains are like spaghetti because everything in their lives is connected to everything else. The truth is that both men and women can organize their thoughts and goals into boxes, or pockets. Likewise, both genders can keep everything in their lives connected to these central goals. After all, each waffle pocket is part of the same waffle.
Whether you’re a man or woman, turn your brain into a waffle by labeling your pockets, or singularities, with a single word that describes its central mission. For example, name one pocket “Vitality”, name another pocket “Enjoyment”, another “Influence”, “Passion”, “Love”, “Contribution”, “Security”, “Freedom”, or “Wealth”. Next, determine one significant, measurable achievement for each mission. For example, if vitality is a mission, make finishing the 2013 Boston Marathon your achievement. If wealth is a mission, make buying oceanfront property on the Oregon coast by January 1, 2014 your achievement. Notice that both of these achievements are big, easily measureable, and have a deadline. As an example, here are two of my current singularities:
Mission/Goal – What Achieving Your Goal Looks Like
1. Enjoyment – Spend two weeks in Fiji by June 1, 2013
2. Influence – Have 10,000 monthly blog readers by January 1, 2013
Size inspires. If your singularities are big enough, you won’t have to remember anything. Goals like “losing ten pounds” or “shaving a minute off of my 10K time” are not inspiring. They have no mass. As a result, nothing in your life will gravitate towards them. Instead, you will have to make mental to-do lists and consciously remind yourself to find ways to eat healthy and boost vitality. On the other hand, goals like “qualify for the 2013 Iron Man” or “climb 6 mountains over 5,000ft by the end of the month” have massive pull. These goals will automatically realign your life in the direction of their fulfillment.
With the right focus, everything falls into place. Consider Leo’s marathon story; once he established racing as a singularity, he ate in a way that made him a better marathon runner, worked in a way that made him a better marathon runner, and slept in a way that made him a better marathon runner. I imagine that he got his tasks done at the office without procrastinating and set aside quality time with his family and friends so that nothing would suffer or become a problem that would affect his training. High-quality goals will force you to improve self-confidence and develop as a leader because you’ll have to take control of your life in order to accomplish them.
Goals = Growth = Measurement
It’s not enough for your goals to be big, they have to be measureable. Make it as easy as possible to track the progress of your achievements. This is another reason why health-related singularities are so powerful; they are trackable. If your 12-mile run time is decreasing, you’re becoming a better marathon runner and are achieving your goal. If your 12-mile time is increasing, you’re moving backwards and away from your goal. Also, make sure to set aggressive deadlines. Apply the doomsday strategy to inject each of your singularities with a sense of urgency.
If it can’t be measured, it’s not a mission. The good news is that you can measure almost anything, even goals like “finding ways to enjoy life more” or “figuring out how to increase happiness”. Last month, I worked with a woman who wanted to set “Love” as one of her singularities. She defined achieving her goal as “showing her husband and children more love”. The problem was that she couldn’t figure out how to track and achieve “showing more love”. I suggested making a “love” or “care” book for each person by writing a separate entry in every book, or adding pictures and clippings to them, once a week, for 20 weeks. After 20 weeks, right around Christmas, she will give the books to her loved ones. This gives her a deadline and the means to track her progress (through weekly entries), as well as a clear definition of what success looks like (giving away the finished books).
Likewise, you can find creative ways to measure and manage all of your achievements. Start pulling your life together by creating singularities. Turn your brain into a crisp waffle instead of a greasy pile of spaghetti.