Eight Lessons From 2021
As this year comes to a close, I wish you, your family, and your loved ones a safe, happy and healthy New Year. Another year of Covid has made many of us reflect and review our approach to life. It certainly has affected me and my own family. In my year end Newsletter, I wanted to share:
- To Achieve Greatness You Need Partnership. I learn this lesson on an annual basis, but this year was particularly instructive. I have been working with life coach Jim Harshaw, Jr. for five years and many of the following lessons were spawned as a result of our work together. I had this revelation about a month ago when I was asked to serve as a reference for Jim. I knew I had benefited tremendously from our work, but I didn’t realize how much until his potential client said, “Mark, you are a brain surgeon. Why do you need a life coach?” It was then that I began listing what I had accomplished in just this year. Upon review, it seems that my progress is not just increasing linearly…it’s actually exponential. If you really want to make big gains in 2022, consider engaging a life coach who holds you accountable.
- Take the Five-Day Marriage Challenge! I listened to a podcast about improving your marriage which offered a free five-day challenge to strengthen the most important partnership I have. Julie agreed to try it and we spent the next five mornings doing the exercises for 15 minutes. We found it worthwhile and highly recommend it to you! Here is the link to the Marriage Challenge.
- Enter a Competition. One of the recommendations Jim made was to enter a competition that would challenge me to work out more as I trained for the event. I choose a Spartan Race and successfully trained and finished the race. It was difficult and extremely rewarding. I will do it again in 2022.
- Take a Retreat to Refocus: This summer, along with my fellow Pathfinders (a working group of Jim Harshaw clients), I spent a day in the woods focusing on aligning my values with my goals. We did an exercise using a compass that made me realize how critical it was to continually recalibrate the direction I was going. By walking blindfolded and steering only on compass bearings, I was able to hit my target, whereas when I just walked in the direction that I intuitively thought was the right path, I drifted more and more off course. The lesson was that by anchoring my actions to a compass (an instrument that symbolically can lead you on the correct path as long as you follow its course) I was able to hit my target reliably and consistently. It was a very powerful exercise that made me realize the physical importance of a compass to guide oneself through the forest. Jim is one of my compasses. What are yours?
- Start a Journal. Jim often says, “It’s the start that stops most.” I never had journaled in my life. And I wasn’t planning on starting. But one day early last January I received a nice leatherbound blank journal that Jim mailed to me. He suggested that I just try it. Maybe jot a few lines down in the morning. I began very slowly with a one-line entry here and there. Slowly I began to weave it into my morning routine. It is now my one-year anniversary of journaling and It has been an incredibly useful tool for me. Today I reviewed my last year of writing and I have picked out a number of pages where I wrote down a great quote, highlighted an important lesson or marked a special day. I have come to love my journal and will continue this exercise into 2022 as it has enriched my life with reflection and foresight. I recently read a great piece on the virtues of journaling that I hope you enjoy.
- Take the Seven C Challenge. Here is another great exercise that I have incorporated since working with Jim Harshaw. He introduced me to Dr. Rob Gilbert who taught me about the Seven C Challenge: abstinence of Candy, Cake, Chips, Cola, Chocolate, Cookies, and COMPLAINING. When I first heard of this challenge I thought there would be no way that I could do this. I love every one of those foods. And early on I resisted this challenge. BUT over time because I was surrounded by an environment of excellence I tried it for a weekend. And I survived. Then I tried it for a week, then a month. And I was able to master it. Now I only use it during the weekdays, but it has changed my diet for the better and I have been able to maintain my target weight successfully for the first time in many years. The Stoic philosopher Epictetus said, “For bad habits are first weakened, then obliterated.”
- Read Stoicism Daily: Three years ago my friend Moss Kearney sent me a book that has profoundly changed the way I see the world. It’s the Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. It’s a simple once-a-day, one-page read that taps into the teachings of Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus, and other Stoic philosophers. The wisdom contained in this book is transformative and the simple habit of reading one page every morning has led me to read other classics like Meditations and The Enchiridion on a daily basis. My new morning routine is to read this philosophy for 15 to 30 minutes. It’s a way of paying myself first.
- Read Two Books a Month. I set this as a goal and am happy to say I did it! I will write a separate article for my website on this, but meanwhile, here are the top three on my 2021 list.
- Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
- Slave and Sage by William Ferraiolo
- Donnie Brasco by Joseph Pistone
The takeaways. Don’t make excuses. Hiring a life coach worked for me and I do recommend the approach. As Harshaw says, "We all need an unreasonable person in our lives who holds us to a standard higher than we believe we can attain." But maybe it's not for you. Figure out another way to set goals and achieve them. There are any number of books or online courses to get you started. Or follow some of the tips I’ve mentioned.
At times in the past several years it has seemed that the world is collapsing around us – a pandemic that just won’t quit, climate change, divisive politics. It’s an impressive and scary list of issues that affect our well-being – and that of our children and future generations. We may often feel there’s nothing we can control. That just isn’t true. As Marcus Aurelius taught himself over 1,900 years ago, we can start with ourselves. Who knows where we can go from there?
Pardon the Interruption!
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