What matters most to you in life? And more importantly, do your actions align with what you say is important? This episode is a deep dive conversation with internationally best selling author Jim Huling on how we can focus on the wildly important things in our lives. Tune in to find out how we can move beyond the competing priorities of the day to focus on goals that will make all the difference.
*Full transcript is available at the bottom of this page.
[Website] Jim Huling
You can learn more about Jim, his free resources and programs on his website.
His books The 4 Disciplines of Execution and Choose Your Life are available on Amazon.
Something to think about:
What is matters most to you?
Something to try:
Try Jim’s 3 step process:
- Make a list of the dimensions of our life.
- Rank the order of the importance of each of the dimensions.
- Give yourself an honest grade on your performance in each of the dimensions.
You can grab your FREE homework Awareness & Action guide HERE
Scroll on down to the comments section and share your thoughts….
What is wildly important to you?
Is there a gap between what you say is important and your actions?
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CREDITS: The Being & The Doing podcast is produced by Neela Bell. Voiceovers by Jason Harris. Music is GoodMorning Sunshine by Yoav Alyagon and Firefly by Scott Buckley.
Full Show Transcript
Intro: Welcome to The Being and The Doing. Here’s your host, author and life coach, Laurel Vespi.
Laurel: Well, hey, lovely ones. Welcome to Episode 35 of The Being and The Doing. Today I have a very special guest that I get to be in conversation with. I’m going to tell you his official biography. Jim Huling, he’s an executive coach, who’s got four decades worth of experience working with leaders and in organizations from fortune 500 companies to privately held companies. He’s the coauthor of the internationally bestselling book, The Four Discipline of Execution, as well as the author of his own book, Choose Your Life. That’s the fancy introduction to Jim but I have a personal introduction because I first met Jim quite a number of years ago, actually in the countryside in Tuscany where he and his wife and my husband and I were participating in a lovely week retreat of reflection and poetry and walking and food and wine and I got to know Jim and got to know his lovely wife, Donna, and he is truly, truly a real gem of a human being. So I’m so pleased for you to be able to hear his thoughts on how it is that we can focus on what matters most to us.
Welcome, Jim, I’m really excited to get a chance to be in conversation with you on this interesting topic about focusing on the wildly important in our lives. So welcome to The Being and The Doing.
Jim: Thank you, my friend. The last time you and I were together for a good conversation we were in Tuscany and we had a wonderful glass of wine neither of which is true today, but I’m equally happy to be with you.
Laurel: Yes, yes. We have many fond memories of spending time together in Tuscany and good conversation, indeed. So you have this fabulous book that you coauthored called the The Four Disciplines of Execution and it is a terrific guide book for businesses and organizations to be able to achieve goals and be more successful. But I thought it would be interesting to take one of these disciplines and let people think about it outside of work. I mean, obviously these things apply to our work life, but if we can think about outside of our work life what does it actually mean to focus on the wildly important in our life?
Jim: That’s a really great question. I’m so glad you ask it in just the way that you did. The book was a surprising success. I think both to myself and my coauthor and dear friend, Christmas Teznie and Laurel, here we are today. This book has been translated into 16 languages as a bestselling book in America in 2012 and now all over the world, people are using it to achieve greater results in their business operations, but one of the greatest surprises and Laurel, you know me so well that you won’t be surprised by this, but actually a greater joy too, is the number of people who write to us still 10 years later, almost every week saying I used these disciplines or these principles in my life outside of business, I use them with my family, or I use them with a child, or I use them for myself. I lost the weight or I ran the marathon or I saved a relationship. We get these kinds of stories all the time and we thought very often that there is an equally important application out there to be written perhaps someday, which would be the four disciplines for life but you started with the one that I happen to have a particular fondness to and if you don’t mind, I’ll just chat about it for a second, but please keep me guided in a way you and your listeners will be the most interested in. So this focus on the wildly important, this is an interesting idea. So I want to give you a visual image first, and then I want to answer your question very directly.
So here’s a way metaphorically of thinking about the power of what we’re about to chat about on this podcast. If you think about the sun, the rays of the sun are so powerful that they can light and warm at any one moment in time, I guess one half of the earth surface, we would indisputably power of the sun would be enormous. And yet you cannot do much with that power unless you bring a degree of focus to it. So for example the sun may be particularly hot on any given day or particularly warm on any given day, but until you take a magnifying glass and concentrate the rays of the sun you don’t set anything of a flame, but when you do now the enormous power of the sun can be directed and of course, isn’t it a beautiful metaphor, set something on fire, from that moment.
Well, that’s how I feel about discipline one. I think focusing on the wildly important is the beginning and I hope you’ll forgive me for just a little bias here around this. It is the beginning of almost everything great that ever happens in our lives. It’s based on a very simple idea and you’re welcome to chat with me about this because I think you’re a person who knows as much about this as I do, but it says of all the things we hope to do in our lives of all the things we want to do in our lives, all the things that matter, we will seldom achieve anything extraordinary unless we concentrate our energy for a period of time on the thing that matters most.
So just like the sun’s rays warming a planet, but if I need a fire, I have no power until I concentrate with a magnifying glass, same idea in life, you can apply a tremendous amount of energy and time and effort and have all the full heart and love and energy that you possess to do it but until you concentrate it somewhere, you’re unlikely to see any kind of a significant outcome.
Laurel: Right. And I think probably I imagine for some listeners that they might be having a yes and moment. Yes, I get that. That sounds good. I want to live my life on fire and how the heck do I do that? How do I know what is wildly important? Because there’s just so much vying for our attention all of the time. How is it that I know, okay, this is wildly important and that’s where I should focus my energy.
Jim: That’s right. And can you feel Laurel, even when you’re trying to ask me this question, it’s almost like there’s a tug of war inside of us. It’s kind of a, we’re simultaneously attracted to the idea of something powerful enough to, and ladies and gentlemen metaphorically only, set it on fire, but are also conscious all the time of, well, what do I choose? Because when I choose one thing, I also choose not to choose quite a number of other things. So if we start with this idea and I’ll just say it as simply, and as candidly as I know how, if everything in our lives is priority one, the reality is that nothing is priority one. Does that make sense?
Laurel: Of course, because only one thing can be number one at any given time.
Jim: Exactly right and so if we spread our lives, let’s just say, for example, we take 1% of our capacity and we give it to each of a hundred things. Think about it that way, 1% of you or me given to each of a hundred things at the end of any period of time, two things will absolutely be true. Number one, we will be exhausted as we’ve given 1% of, first of all, we’ve given everything we have, right. 1% to a hundred things, but second, we will have most likely accomplished nothing because we only gave the thing 1%, you see the dilemma? So the very beginning of this is to simply accept that I can sustain a lot of things simultaneously, but I can only have a dramatic or significant impact in one thing at a time. Now we live in a world of multitasking, Laurel, and you and I’ve talked about this quite a number of times and multitasking is just such an illusion.
In fact, in our book, we were really privileged to be allowed to quote Dr. Daniel Amen. You may have seen him on all sorts of broadcasts and books, but he’s considered by most people to be the leading brain researcher in the world today and he gave us a beautiful quote. He said, habitual multitaskers are suckers for mediocrity because it’s an illusion in the end. We think we’re doing seven things at once, but we really aren’t. So, if you accept that premise, then your question becomes most people’s first question to me, I believe you. I get it. I need to focus. How do I know what to focus on?
Laurel: It’s like in the book, in the four disciplines book, you use this talking about multitasking, you use this really great example about air traffic controllers and where air traffic controllers, they have their eye on lots of things, but they’re only landing one plane at a time. I think that is just such a great metaphor because I think also one of the yes, buts that might come in this conversation is people concerned about, or not being able to wrap their heads around all of the other competing priorities because I’ll have people say that to me, Laurel, I cannot focus on one thing because there’s like many, many things that are going on in my day and I can’t only focus on one thing, but it’s not really about, I’m only focusing on this one thing and there is nothing else going on in my life.
Jim: That’s right. It’s really about the separation between the one thing which gets a little more of your energy and everything else. So a really encapsulated way of thinking about this, Laurel is I’m thinking about my life and I’ve got all these different dimensions of my life and if you don’t mind, I’ll give you a very practical step by step way of doing this in a minute but one more conceptual answer. If I’ve got all these dimensions of my life, I must start by accepting the fact that I can sustain excellence in all of those things. I can, I’m not saying I dropped any of them or that I I’m willing to be a poor parent so that I can be an artist. I’m not talking about any of those kinds of trade-offs. I’m saying for all those things, I will hold a level that to me represents excellence in my life, but I will separate out the one thing that for now is going to get more energy, more investment, more attention. In fact, I’m going to do it in a very way and for the next 30 days or 60 days or 90 days or five years this is going to be my special thing. The thing that I give more to than I do and in broad terms, anything else. Does that make sense the way I’m saying it?
Laurel: It does. It does. And again, I feel like I’m the voice of push back to you. Not because I want to push back, but I am imagining myself as a listener, who’s driving in their car, sitting in their bathtub or running on the treadmill who are listening to us now, just the; do you think that there’s this concern of either not choosing the right thing or almost the fear of missing out that if I target my focus that somehow I might miss out on something else, because I’m not making this the one wildly important thing?
Jim: I think there is and frankly, Laurel, I think it’s a constant fear that most people, who are trying to live their lives in an intentional way, have that fear all the time. I really do and I also want to be very quick to say to anybody that I have the opportunity to influence that by far, the greater risk of missing out is trying to somehow juggle everything at the same level. Right back to that expression, I have the illusion that everything is priority one. So at the end of the day the story of my life may very well be that he was a good guy, but nothing was ever really priority one. So discipline one or this idea of focusing on the wildly important, it’s the antidote to that. Now I’m really conscious though, anybody I love, as you said, driving the car, both hands on the wheel, I hope, or in the bathtub says, “Okay, Jim, I got it, I buy the idea, but now how do I do this?”
That’s the practical question that we owe everybody now that we’ve sort of set up this question and I have a very simple way of going about it. I’ll explain it to you and just in careful terms, and then let’s go as deep as you’d like, first of all as a broad answer, most people decide what one thing is going to be most important for now. That’s critical, not forever, but for now, either through looking through the lens of purpose or looking through the lens of pain. Now let me just say for a moment, what I mean by that. So you know that I have a small book called Choose Your Life, which outlines this process. I hope it’s alright if I mentioned that.
Laurel: Oh, Jim, it’s a small book because it’s not like war and peace length, but it’s not a small book by any means. It’s a great book.
Jim: Thank you, my friend. You’re so kind, anybody who interested and said, gosh, I’d like to read a little more about this. I just want them to know there are words on paper. You can read them if you’re so inclined, but right now…
Laurel: And we will, Jim, we’ll put those links in the show notes so that people can get to other resources that you’ve got available for you.
Jim: Thank you dear friend, and if you’re in the bathtub, no sales pitch intended, just trying to make sure you know where all the resources are if this idea sparks something inside you. So let’s go back. I suggested people look at their lives through one of two lenses. One of those lenses is purpose, and one of those lenses is pain and here’s a way to address both of those simultaneously. It’s going to be very simple. It’s only three steps. But the steps really matter and they need to be thoughtfully done. So step number one, you just make a list of the dimensions of your life. Now I’m a little bit hesitant to use the old language called roles, it’s so self-defining, and it’s so interpreted in a variety of ways, but just imagine your whole life, all the energy all the time, all the capacity, all the love you have is a pie and you can only cut the pie into a certain number of slices. Let’s think of it that way. So how big a slice? So, one of the slices of your pie is your spouse or a partner to someone. One of the slices of your pie is you are a son or a daughter to someone, or a brother or a sister to someone, there’s a family slice of that pie.
Another slice perhaps is that you have been called to a certain kind of work. You love the work that you do. This is true of you, my friend; you have a nice, healthy slice that would somehow be called changing the world through a variety of powerful messages, that’s what you do. So that’s a slice of your life. If you have a slice of your life called children, that’s great, you’re a parent that’s a slice. If you love your community and you’re actively involved in helping your community to be a better place to live, that’s a slice. If you’re a person of faith and you’re a spiritual seeker in whatever form that takes for you, that’s a slice of your life. Along the way, maybe you love to make pasta. Maybe there are some little slices, but they’re still slices, but you get the idea that most people, when they do this exercise will end up with somewhere between 10, 15 noteworthy slices or dimensions. I like to call it of your life
The starting point, step one is so easy, you could do it on a napkin at lunch is to make a list of those dimensions. What are they? And the second exercise, second step of the exercise while the first one was unbelievably easy. I said a napkin at lunch, but maybe that’s not a good idea because, but a piece of paper and a quiet moment. It won’t take you long. The second step is really hard because the second step is where you rank the order of importance of those slices.
Laurel: So can’t you feel some listeners vibrating right now, Jim? How do I rank that? How could I possibly rank that? How do I put this ahead of that? Because they’re all important.
Jim: That’s right. It’s so hard and most people have seven or eight things that aren’t hard to rank and two or three that will rip your heart apart. At the end of the day, I don’t want to cause anybody any existential angst, Laurel. So I say, if you need to call two things, number one, that’s all right. If you need to call two things, number two, that’s all right. I don’t ask you to choose between your son and your daughter in terms of importance. Nobody would ever do it. It would be a heartbreaking exercise but I do think you’ve got to get some sense of the relative importance of those aspects of your life. Because if you don’t, what you’re going to do unconsciously is approach them all like they all mattered equally, and that’s what you don’t want to do.
Laurel: I would imagine too, Jim, that in this piece of the exercise where you are ranking things that it’s important to be having that deeply heartfelt conversation with yourself about the truth for you, not what someone else is telling you the ranking should be.
Jim: That’s right. In fact, Laurel, it’s not uncommon when I’m doing this exercise in one of my choose your life workshops that people will say before, they even really write anything. They will look at me with this pleading expression on their face and say, am I going to have to show this to anyone? I always am very fast to say, no, not at all.
Laurel: They don’t want to go home from the workshop, Jim, and have to say, well, honey, sorry, you ranked way down the list.
Jim: You came in at number three, sweetie. I’m so sorry, try to do better. It’s no because then all you’re doing is making a list that someone else would approve of and it’s not our topic for today, but I think you and I would quickly agree that too often, we live our lives based on the meeting of someone else’s standard or some other idea that someone put into us instead of our own true calling, what is it we think we’re supposed to be doing? So in this list, lock it in a vault, set it on fire, do anything you want with it, but at least one moment in your life, accept that everything can’t be priority one all the time and say at this moment right now, how do these dimensions of my life rank and Laurel, I never want to over promise anything, but I just want to say very honestly, that for most people, this is a defining moment in their life. They will come back 10 years later and walk up to me in a restaurant and say, I did that exercise and it changed everything because it’s such a revolutionary thing.
Now there’s a Part B to this and it’s easier to do, but it’s only slightly second in terms of a heartfelt difficulty and that is you give yourself a grade on your current performance in each of these dimensions. So think about it now, you’ve got a list and it has parent and spouse and sibling and child or relative. It has teacher, healer, auto worker. It has everything on it, the 10 to 15 major dimensions over your life. You’ve got them all now ranked and right beside each one, you give yourself a report card style grade. Now in the United States where I’m broadcasting to you from today, we use A, B, C, D, or F that’s the universal language for how you’re doing. I don’t know that anybody necessarily deserves an F on anything, but the listing of ABC, possibly a D in the US that’s the second to the lowest score you can get. I’m not sure what the grading system is up there, but whatever the equivalent is, give yourself a grade and it’s got to be honest.
Again, remember you’re going to pour gasoline on this paper and set it on fire when they exercises over, no one in the world will ever see it. So why not be honest, just in this one moment. Here’s how I think I’m doing. I think I’m an A level employee in my company. I think I’m a B level parent. I think I’m a C level a member of my community. I don’t know and I’m not even trying to be precise now about how you come up with that, because I think you know, I think everybody in our inside voice knows how we think we’re doing on a relative basis. So whatever the scoring system is, you can help me if there’s a different one in Canada.
Laurel: No, actually the same scoring system. I mean, often if I’m doing a similar type of activity, we’ll use a sort of a five point rating scale where five means I’m knocking it out of the park and one means, oh my goodness, we seriously need some help.
Jim: I like the five point scale as well. I’ll tell you, this might not be a good thing about me, but I’ll confess it to all of your audience. I have often used the ABC because there’s more emotional impact than there is from a number, but maybe that’s just my own opinion. That’s just how it affects me, Laurel.
Laurel: I’m wondering, so as people are thinking, okay, I’m sort of getting how this exercise is going. So in the dimensions, is there a dimension that it is not necessarily specifically role related that is about sort me and I’m thinking things like sort of my relationship to my health or things like that because I’m wondering if people are thinking, okay, but maybe right now what is not wildly important for me is taking care of my health and actually that is the thing that should be perhaps elevated. Where would that fit into the dimensions?
Jim: Yeah, you’ve given me just a beautiful example of my friend and I love that you see from this moment forward, you’re actually the superior teacher on this call today because that was beautiful.
Laurel: No, we’re co-teachers today.
Jim: Okay, good. That lifts up my performance, I think by you elevating me there, but I love this example. So first of all, let’s be clear about what you said, that it is perfectly appropriate to have a dimension called health and fitness. It’s possible to have health as one fitness as another. Those are two separate things, but it’s also possible to have a dimension that’s a little more esoteric, perhaps you want to have a dimension that says I am a fearless voice for humane treatment of animals. That’s a dimension, that matters to you and now in this one small exercise, you’re going to actually be asked for the first time to say, okay, got it but where does that rank in the midst of everything else? You might think of this first step as the step of clarity. That’s how I think of it. It’s not so much about importance, but it’s about me being clear that all the things on my list are important, or they wouldn’t be on the list, but which are more important than others. That’s where clarity begins to set in. So yes, put all of those things and by the way, Laurel, you’ve seen some of this in my most recent work this last month is about if there’s a dream inside you, you wanted to be a chef, you wanted to bake incredible cakes and all of a sudden, while you’re doing this exercise and you’re listing these dimensions, that thing wakes up inside you that says, “What about me? Can I get on the list?”
Laurel: Yeah. and I love the idea of just even considering that, let’s call it the dream as a dimension, because with everything else all of the other demands that we feel like we have and balls that we’re juggling, that dream many times get set aside or pushed aside because there’s just the practicality of life that I’m dealing with. I know for myself that like, oh, I can say now back in the last century, when I was first to university, my dream was really around being a journalist or a photo journalist and I pushed that aside for all kinds of different reasons and it’s never gone away and so when we have those dreams I think it is important to make sure that they’re on that list and you’re rating it in terms of how much life am I giving that thing?
Jim: That’s so true and to be very pointed about it in the making of the list, most people think they’re simply going to document the dimensions of their life as they exist today, and are often quite surprised to find that that thing that was in the closet that you really wanted to do, you really wanted to learn another language. You really wanted to write a book. You really wanted to do something in this area. It didn’t have to dominate your life and it didn’t by the way, have to be the way you earned your living. You just wanted it to be part of your life, but you let that fall asleep. This exercise has some mysterious way of waking up that part of you. It’s almost like that part of you comes out into the light and says, wait a minute, if we’re making a list, I’d like to be on it. Even though you’ve forgotten all about me, I need to be on the list. So it becomes that kind of exercise as well and then of course, this interesting thing about saying, well, okay, where does that rank? Then of course, if it’s been asleep for 10 years, I’m going to give myself a very low grade on my performance in that area.
Then that leads us to the final step I think of this process and it’s one that’s really quite revealing and that is to circle the places where you have, the dimensions where you have the greatest gap. Now this is really about looking through the lens of pain I’m speaking about right now. So in other words, if I list something as number three on a list of 15, and my performance level is a D the gap between the high ranking and the low performance is probably the greatest source of pain in my life, because I know I’m a D on something that really matters. Now, I have to tell you, I almost got a little choked up when I say that, because I invented this exercise by going through it myself. I was one of those people working 100 hours a week and traveling Sunday night through Friday night and really in a very dutiful way, giving everything I had to trying to have a great career while flying the flag of making money for my family and taking care of everyone and all that. I flew the flag, nobly on this effort. But when I sat down and listed these dimensions, the grade I gave on being a parent or being a spouse to my beloved was poor and the gap between how important that was and how much I was ignoring that caused me to make big decisions in my life, to reorient my time and my energy and my talent to balance out. By the way, not to quit my job, not to walk out on anything, but simply to say, I’m going to begin today systematically to re-balance these things.
So this last step is the crucial one, which is through the lens of pain, is to circle the places where you have the greatest gap. Now, I don’t want to go too long on this because I like to say one more thing about this idea of choosing the wildly important goal, but through the lens of pain, this exercise that we’ve just outlined, which takes the average person less than an hour is the clearest lens they’ve ever had. Why am I not happy? Why am I never satisfied? Why is it never enough? I’ll do something and then I still I feel this emptiness, this is usually the beginning insight to where all that’s coming from. It’s not the whole solution but as we say the beginning of knowledge is of self awareness and that’s what this brings.
Laurel: I imagine too in looking at that gap, because we’re always talking about minding the gap, the gap between what we say is important and what our actions demonstrate is important that it isn’t an all or nothing black and white thing, because I listened to you talking about being a spouse and being a parent and in no way are you not a great spouse and a great parent, but what I hear is that for you, that you could elevate what it was that you were bringing to that. So it isn’t that, oh, I’m a horrible parent. Maybe it’s for the importance that this has in my life; I need to up my game in that area.
Jim: In fact, it’s such an overused expression. I’m sorry to use it, but it’s the best language I know. I simply register that I am out of balance. I’m giving too much energy to something that matters less and not enough energy to something that matters more. So it doesn’t mean that I amputate either one of those aspects of my life. It just simply means that I begin systematically to re-balance. Now, as soon as I say that, I do often get the same question. Do you mind if I just keep this thought going one more step? Because sometimes, and I’ve done this exercise many times in my coaching work with lots of people, all walks of life, but also in big workshop style settings. It’s interesting to watch a 150 people filling out their list, live in a room. It’s a fascinating experience, but then really quickly, if you bring that awareness, everybody needs to know, okay, what do I do about this? Because otherwise, you know, you’ve opened a box and you’ve got no answers. Now you just say, congratulations, you now understand your problem.
Laurel: Right. Well, and for me, I mean that there is a lot of the focus of a lot of the work that I do that we’re awareness is a wonderful thing. It’s necessary, but it’s not sufficient that we have to do something with that now and that there is this beautiful dance, I’ll call it between awareness and action, where we can’t, if we just take action without any awareness, then we’re just running around doing things and if we only have awareness and never put it into action, then you know, well, I guess we’re sitting there with all of this beautiful insight that never translates into any change. So the dance always going back and forth between awareness that creates action and action then creates awareness. So, yes, please point people to now they’re going to sit down and they’re going to have a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and they’re going to do, Jim’s very cool exercise and then what?
Jim: Then what is we literally, so now we know which dimension we’re going to work on first. Let’s reorient everybody who’s listening to us. You’ve made your list. You’ve ranked the list and you’ve assessed your current performance on the list. You’ve done those steps now. So you’ve really, you’ve taken something that’s very right brained, and you’ve activated your left brain. Your analytical side is now helping you to know what to do next with that clarity. You decide which one of these gaps you’re going to try and close first. Before we do this last piece, I’d like to just make a quick comment that I’ve really spoken on this conversation with you through the lens of pain that’s gap analysis. I feel that I’d be remiss if I didn’t quickly just mention that some people choose their most important thing to work on now through the lens of purpose. They may or may not have the sources of pain, but it is possible that a person is so-called to a certain purpose that it may override in the moment. It may be the thing they need to express or need to work on more than these areas of pain. So like we said, the person who dreamed of being a chef and hasn’t cooked a meal in 10 years, can say, “I want to do this and I’ve waited so long. I want to give this a lot of energy so I can perhaps catch up a little bit in my life.” So that would be sort of through the lens of purpose, what calls to you.
So, having said that, then here’s the way to move forward. I love what you said, by the way, to raise this kind of awareness in a human being and not give them a path forward is in some ways kind of cruel, isn’t it, because now you’ve got, what do I do with all this, Jim? You don’t want me to say, “Thanks for coming to the workshop. I hope I see you again someday.” So the way forward is incredibly simple. And Laurel, if you don’t mind, I just want to caveat it for a second, because if I were on the listening end of this podcast, I might roll my eyes in a minute. I might say, “Oh, come on, Jim, really? Seriously?” Because when you and I, when all human beings face a big challenge, particularly one that has an emotional connection with it, what we want is a big response: “Oh my God, I’m failing as a parent. I haven’t had one on one quality time with my child in, in 11 days. What am I thinking?”
So we want a big response, but the problem with big responses is they’re not sustainable. And we think of them, almost for a moment, we completely forget, we have this whole other life. We have got to get up and go to work and we have to buy groceries and feed the dog. We’ve got all these things we’ve got to do. So the path I recommend is the path of small actions and small wins. So the idea is simply this. If I want to improve my performance in the role of being a parent to my child, let’s just take that one, a lot of people would be able to relate to that. Then I’m going to sit down and simply brainstorm the longest list I can imagine of small individual actions, things that I could do in a single step. So, this is the guideline, Laurel: anything that requires a project plan is too big.
Single-step: We’re going for ice cream Thursday night. The next time that movie with the person my daughter loves comes out, we’re going to see it, just the two of us. I’m buying tickets to the concert six months in advance. We’re going backpacking together. We’re going to read these books together. I could just go on and on and on and on and on, but you see how all of my examples are these very discreet, single-action items. This is the key. So you just brainstorm that list. You build the longest list you can think of. And by the way, you don’t do it just one time. Every time you think of something new, you add it to the list. I have a little thing on my phone. Is it all right to say iPhone in this podcast?
Jim: I have it on my iPhone. And there’s a thing in iPhone called Notes.
Laurel: Yes. I’m an Android user and we have Notes too.
Jim: Oh, wow. Congratulations. So in other words, every time I think of one, I have built the discipline of just pulling up my phone, tap, tap, tap, tap, tap, I got that idea, but I keep my ideas under these dimensions. So as a husband, as a father, as a teacher or a speaker, as an author, I keep those little categories on this Notes thing and I just tap, tap, tap out any idea that I have. So every single week, I choose a minimum of one action from that list and I follow through and it’s as simple as that. So I look on my list and here are 10 ideas of things I’ve been thinking about that I could do with my daughter, Sarah or my son, Scott, here are 10 ideas. I just pick one for this week, but I do not let a week go by where I don’t make an investment in that dimension of my life. And most of the time driven by something, just like a little treasure chest, I just open the lid of the box and inside, are all these sparkling little ideas and I pick one. It doesn’t matter how big or how small it is as long as it’s not too big and then I follow through.
Laurel: Yeah. And what I love about that is a couple of things. One, that it’s action-oriented; that these are all things that are something to do where I’m going to take action. And I so agree with you, Jim, about this idea of single steps or small steps that if you have the motivation and the energy and the resources to take a mighty leap, go for it. Well, my experience is most people just living their lives, don’t have that major commitment. And so if we can just take these small steps, small steps, small steps, and it’s the consistency, the repetition of those small steps that actually create the change.
Jim: That’s right. And you know, the beautiful thing about the way you just said that is it emphasizes, you’re also building a habit. You’re ingraining in yourself: my work is important to me, but it is never more important than my family. So I’m never going to again, have a week where all I do is work and I gave nothing back to the people I love the most. I’m not going to have a week like that. Or, you know, this about me even from the long years ago, when we first met, I always wanted to be an author. I always felt a sort of a calling to write something. I didn’t know what, and I didn’t know how but I always wanted to do it. And then when I went through this exact same exercise, I started with things like one action item would be to dream of three titles for my book this week.
Another idea might be to go to the bookstore and wander through the section that my book would be in and look at other titles and look at what other people were saying. Another might be to listen to a podcast like this one and note down at least three ideas that I could take away. So the things in and of themselves sometimes are 10, 15-minute items. Sometimes they’re longer. If we’re going to a movie with one of my children or my sweetheart, something like that but they never were dominant aspects of my week. The key was they always happened. So cumulatively, they add up to a lifetime where if I took the exercise again today, I’m happy to say I wouldn’t have any real pain. I don’t want to say perfect or things that I would do better, and I’m going to be better tomorrow than I am today, or I’m as human as everybody listening to this podcast.
But I wouldn’t have any significant source of pain in one of those big gaps nor a deep calling that I’ve paid no attention to. Well, I got there in a step. One last thought, you might think of this as I didn’t get off track in one big leap. From the day I had the dream to this day, it may have been 10 years or 15 years or 20 years. I didn’t get off track in one big move. So why would I think I can be on track in one big move? It’s very subtle. Now, we have to be careful these days because we are so much more aware. Sometimes people are in abusive situations or in situations where their health or their very life feels threatened. So you and I are not talking about that arena. Sometimes people do need to make big decisions and big moves. Sometimes they need to say, today is the last day this will ever happen to me and I recognize that. We are talking more about people who are in a different place, where they have the time and the emotional capital and the capacity to make small adjustments over a period of time and bring themselves back into this balanced idea.
Laurel: And I also like the idea of this activity feels like one that you could do regularly. Whether it’s your spring cleaning activity or your new year activity, something where you’re continually going back in and taking a look at sort of that assessment of, so how am I doing because life will pull you away, even with the best of intentions that, Oh, you know, I’m closing the gap, I’m closing the gap; great. But you know, things will happen that will pull you away. Or the other condition that many of us suffer from, of being human beings, with the best of intentions, sometimes we get distracted or unfocused on things. And so, I love the idea of turning this into sort of a regular meeting you have with yourself once or twice a year to say, how are we doing?
Jim: Yeah, reassessing I love that. Twice a year, by the way, is probably plenty because otherwise, you become focused too much on the analysis and not enough on the resolution. But the week to week progress, that’s where the real I hate to say battle, but, you know, that’s where the real struggle is of who’s gonna win, you know, is it my determination or my distraction, which is going to be the driving force for me?
Laurel: I love that Jim, I, I have to write that down. Is it my determination or my distraction?
Jim: It’s like a boxing match, you know, and determination and distraction are fighting with each other and somebody’s going to win. And we all know what distraction is. That’s picking up the phone or mindlessly watching television or whatever, you know, losing time in that sense. Or we used to say wasting time when I was young. And the other is, am I determined enough to just try it, moment by moment? And again, let’s emphasize for everybody in the bathtub listening, we’re not talking about huge movements. We’re not saying we need one day a week focused on these things. We’re saying start small, win regularly; you’ll build momentum that way.
And Laurel, I have one other very practical piece of advice that people have found so helpful and that’s to just keep score. And I know when I say that, you know, there’s, we sort of divide the world. Some people love that idea and some people are like, Oh, no, I’m so sorry he said that. But what I mean is you need some way to hold yourself accountable. And I have a way that I like, and I’ll tell you one way that one of my clients introduced me to. So my way, I have an app on my phone. I hope we’re giving free advertising to everybody now, I guess, but it’s called DONE. And it’s a wonderful app because it allows you to simply set up the thing you want to focus on and to be specific about how often you want to focus on it: every day, once a week, once a month, whatever that’s going to be.
And then every time you do it, you follow through, you simply tap it and it turns a different color. I get this little subliminal reward every time I touch that thing and it goes from light blue to dark blue or something. But that’s my way. I keep track on that path, whether I did it or not. But I’ll tell you a really fun thing. One of my clients gave me this last month. She, when starting this process, was going to in the midst of being a mom and a working mom and a wife and a spouse, and all the dimensions of her life, it was a list that would match anybody’s in terms of complexity. She was going to find time to paint. She loved painting as a child, completely forgot about it in her middle years and this is the thing that came out of this exercise.
So she’s going to reintegrate sometime…can you imagine how hard it would be for a mom to say, “Kids, entertain yourself. I’m going to go paint for 30 minutes.” Every mother on the planet feels what I’m talking about right now. But the way she did it was she bought two jars and she bought a bag of marbles, 52 marbles, and she put all the marbles in one jar. And then every week, the jar sat there, right in her bedroom on the dresser, every single week when she took the time to paint for 20 minutes, that was her thing, she moved the marble from one jar to the other. Week by week by week, she could watch, she labeled one jar ‘potential’ and she labeled the other jar ‘fulfillment’. And she said, “I’m now moving one piece of myself every single week from potential to fulfillment.” And 52 times in a year, one marble pass from one jar to the other. And today, she’s selling her watercolor paintings.
Laurel: Oh, isn’t that a lovely story? And you know what, so thank you for giving two great alternative ways of looking at how we can be accountable to ourselves. Because great for people who love an app and I’ll leave a link in the show notes to that app so that people can see how it works great. And for people who are really trying to you know, not be as tethered to their phones, here’s another tangible, visual way of being able to do it, or, you know what? Put stickers on their fridge or whatever it is, something that helps you. You know, there are lots of ways; you can bullet journal that too, where you create interesting ways to keep track what it is that’s happening
Jim: And maybe one small thing we just tag onto the end of that is this is a real truth, but it has to be calibrated to be right for the person. I really have found in all these years that visibility drives accountability. So, you know, a secret checklist that’s only in my head is pretty easy to discount, but a calendar on the refrigerator that has a green checkmark or a red X for every day I did what I was supposed to do, you know, or marbles in a jar or something like that. Just the visibility of that sort of brings it out into the light and it adds an element of accountability. And, in the truest sense, accountability is what helps us get to another level. It’s really what enables determination to be distraction is that we’re accountable. So some people have a negative connotation around accountability, but it can be a very positive force in our lives. And this app and the marbles and the calendar on the refrigerator are all just ways of bringing a little bit of very manageable accountability into a thing we’re trying to learn to do along with everything else.
Laurel: Yeah. And I’ll sort of just piggyback on that. So, my hubby and I this year sort of just to probably raise the bar a little bit, we made a commitment to 365 days of yoga practice.
Laurel: So a daily practice. So we do have a calendar on the fridge that he marks off with his green highlighter. But the other piece of the accountability there that sometimes I think could be helpful is having a partner in what it is that you’re doing, because on any day when you might be wavering in your determination when you have an accountability partner who is either in it with you, or you can reach out to that someone else who understands this is the thing that you’re trying to focus on and can they encourage you or give you a nudge or a kick in the butt or whatever it is that you might need.
Jim: I did some work in Africa last year, Laurel, as you know, I think about and I just met the most wonderful people. It was a great experience. But I came home with perhaps the greatest memento of that trip was an African proverb that said, ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ And that’s really what you’re talking about. If you have a person in your life whose intention is to support you through this accountability, nothing is better than that. Now, I think the intention part, which you certainly have, that’s a clear part. If you don’t mind, one last comment about this is that I think it’s really easy for people to be dismissive of, “Oh, come on, Jim. You’re going to change my life because I watched a movie with my kid?” And I just want to say really quickly, yes.
Laurel: Yes. ‘Cause, I’m sitting here thinking, well, yes!
Jim: Of course. Right. And here’s the real reason because it’s the thing you’ll do. If you’re planning a revolution in your life, you’re probably not going to do it anyway or you would have done it before now. So it’s the manageability of the small action. And I know you know this story because I told it to you many years ago, but I started, I’m this year 40 years married to the most extraordinary woman I’ve ever known in my life.
Laurel: She is an absolute delight.
Jim: She is, we should say that with emphasis and then make sure she hears this recording. And when we first got married, I realized very quickly, this woman loves flowers. And so, when I was going through this very exercise that where you’re talking about today, one of the actions on my list was to bring home flowers on Fridays. Now I want to be really quick to say in the years, in which I developed this idea, which is a time ago, we really couldn’t afford to buy flowers every week. You know, young people with a small child, it was a discretionary purchase that couldn’t be made every single week, but I was still determined to do it because I saw what the power of this was. It made her so happy. On Friday afternoon, I came home from the week, you know, with this bouquet of flowers.
But I would often keep a pair of scissors in the glove box of my car. And I’m sorry to say to all of my employers at that time, I used to snip the flowers out of the landscaping around the office building and I could take those home. But pretty soon I got to the place where I could go to the grocery store and buy a small bouquet of flowers. And so, here I am, 40 years later, I have almost never missed a Friday bringing home flowers. And if I’ve said this often to other guys that it takes me about 15 minutes to stop and get some flowers on Friday afternoon. And what do you think 40 years of bringing home flowers every Friday is worth in a relationship? I think it would be if I died today and Donna was giving my eulogy, I think it’s one of the things she would mention that made such an impact. It was a way of saying, “I love you. I’m happy, I’m home. The week’s over, let’s start our weekend together.”
So I’m only trying to say, if you discount the impact of small actions consistently carried out, you’re missing one of the greatest opportunities to make a difference in your life and maybe in somebody else’s. Because they are the things you will do and all of the grand ideas, most of the time come up to nothing because they’re so daunting in the opportunity we have on a realistic basis to actually implement them. It’s far better to do a small thing every week for 40 years, than to say, “One of these days, we’re going to Italy for three months and renting a Villa.” It’s kind of thing we will do and in the end, because we did it, it makes a huge difference.
Laurel: Yeah. So here’s what I know, Jim. You’re going to have to come back again because I have a feeling there are just so many other conversations that we can have of just giving people something…I always talk about something to think about and something to try because it is that awareness action piece, like something to think about and now something to do, to take on. And I mean, this has just been a beautiful example of that. Like, let’s think about things a little bit differently now, here’s something to do. And so, I think there are probably other conversations for us to have. So I look forward to having you come back and join us on The Being and The Doing in a future episode.
Jim: Thank you, my friend, I’d be very honored by that. And it has really been such a joy to share ideas and your energy is just amazing. You’re a force in the world and through this podcast and many other things you do, you’re far ahead of me in making the world a better place. So thanks for letting me stand beside you today.
Laurel: Thank you. Thank you. Because from the very first time we met it was like, Oh, wow, this is a special guy. And so, I’m honored to call you friend and to have you here and have my listeners get to have a little sample of Jim too.
Jim: Wonderful. Thank you.
Laurel: Terrific. Thanks. Well, that was a deep dive into a really juicy topic, wasn’t it? I encourage you to visit the show notes where you will see the links to Jim’s website and he’s got some great free resources on his website, and also you can get the links for his books. And of course, this topic in particular really lends itself to doing a little bit of Being and Doing homework, something to think about and something to try. I’m sure, I probably don’t even have to give you a question to think about, but let’s hone in on this one.
Something to think about what matters most to you. It’s such an interesting question where we can give a very kind of superficial answer and being able to like, just play with that question and turn it over in your mind.
And then something to do. I encourage you to try Jim’s three-step process. Make a list of the dimensions of your life and then rank the order of importance of each of these dimensions and then give yourself a grade about your performance in each of those dimensions.
And if you’ve listened to the podcast, you’ll know how to work with that as he has really given a great explanation about how to play with that particular process to kind of get clear on, you know, the important in our lives and how we actually line up our what we say and what we do.
So thanks for tuning in, I always appreciate the gift of your time and your energy and I look forward to meeting again. And until next time, just go and enjoy your day, lovely one, pay attention to what matters most and enjoy each and every day.
Outro: You’ve been listening to The Being and The Doing with your host, Laurel Vespi. If you like this podcast, stop whatever you’re doing, unless you’re driving, and hit subscribe, leave a review, then share this episode with a friend. Thanks for your support.