Instead of setting your own sails, most people I meet are constantly drifting in life. Trying to cope up with life’s demands, you keep a number of balls in the air at the same time. At your workplace, you keep drifting in and out of meetings and projects, often clueless and aimless about where life is heading. Or maybe, you’ve been dawdling from job to job without any real commitment. Adding to your work life, there are two more areas that cannot be fully ignored – your home life, and your personal life. Taking this all together often feels like a constant juggling trick. I understand that most people, including myself, want to do better in their endeavors. We want to arrive at that perfect measure of success that makes us feel happy, productive, and relevant.
Managing yourself is something that very few people spend any time on at all. Yet, I strongly believe that managing yourself effectively is the key element to do better and make the most of the opportunities which present themselves.
What stops you then? Simply put, you are too busy to begin. Working in a routine way can give you a false sense of progress and security. But, if you do a check-in, you’d quickly notice that you are spending most of your energy just coping.
Take a moment to pause, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Are you finding it difficult to manage your home life, your personal life, and your work life with relative success?
- Are you suffering from high levels of general anxiety and stress?
- Have you realized that you could be in a rut?
- Do you find yourself saying yes and taking on too many responsibilities and commitments?
- Have you slipped into some bad habits for coping with your challenges?
If you have answered ‘Yes’ to some or all of these questions, your capacity to manage yourself probably requires some attention. If you recognize any of these symptoms, it’s essential to take a look at how you are managing yourself. Remember, situations are just situations. They can always be improved, provided you choose to take responsibility and not submit to making excuses. Quoting Robin Sharma, “We cannot become everything we are meant to be without leaving behind who we once were.” You’ll be doing better if you are determined to make a start to manage yourself better. I don’t promise you that the journey will be easy. I assure you that it will be as messy and tumultuous as it would be inspirational and marvelous. It will make you prepared to find ways of improving your personal organization.
Managing yourself involves understanding how you like to function. It’s about identifying your preferred approach to life rather than being thrust on many responsibilities because of your perceived ability to get things done. As you start taking the initiative to understand yourself and your preferences you start to make the right choices for yourself and seek situations and opportunities that suit you best.
To work out your preferences start with understanding the four dichotomies as explained by the MBTI, which offers an indication of how people perceive the world and make decisions. The four dichotomies define the ways in which you prefer to function and orient yourself to the world. The ways of functioning are grouped into four dichotomies or pairs.
- Are you more organized or spontaneous? How do you react to life in general? Do you prefer to know what you are doing, having a sense of structure and control, most of the time, or do you prefer to do things on the spur of the moment, preferring spontaneity and flexibility?
- Do you gather and use information based on facts and details or do you have a preference for more abstract attention to patterns and possibilities? Do you prefer a factual style to take in information, or do you prefer to explore possibilities and have a broader picture, which in turn could lead to creative insights?
- Do you prefer to make decisions based on logic and analysis, or do you focus more on personal values, feelings, and effects?
- When you run out of steam, do you seek an external, action orientation, or are you more inclined towards an internal, reflective orientation? Do you prefer to constantly be with people or do you prefer to work quietly in essential solitary?
Realizing and understanding how you prefer to do things is an essential step that enables you to make the most of yourself. It makes you more aware of your preferences, which in turn influence your life to your best advantage.
“If you don’t have big dreams and goals, you will end up working for someone else who does.” I am sure you might have seen this unattributed quote at least once in your lifetime. If you have not decided what you want from your life, you will almost certainly find yourself going in directions you don’t want to go. You will find yourself taking on too much without a sense of alignment or fulfillment. You may not be sure what benefits you may achieve from doing so. Managing yourself effectively requires you to decide, at least at some level, what you want to achieve.
One of the first things I make my clients do, irrespective of their short-term goals and challenges, is to start working on creating a holistic life vision, not merely one or two-year goals, but a more long-range awareness of what they ultimately want in life. I recently watched the movie, Bell Bottom, where the character who played Indira Gandhi strongly responded to one of her cabinet ministers in an all-crisis meeting, “I want a 100-year vision, not a 5-year election plan.” Creating this sense of direction acts as a North star and prevents you from being deflected from your main journey. It helps to jettison unnecessary responsibilities, prevents you from being overloaded, and helps adapt to changes to become more receptive to new ideas and situations.
Finding the time and energy to determine your direction helps you take stock of what you like to achieve in your work, home, and personal life. You can then define and set goals that align with this direction, making them much more valuable and intimate to you.
In his latest book, The Everyday Hero Manifesto, author Robin Sharma talks about The Victim-to-Hero Leap. He talks about the following five leaps:
- The shift from a mindset of Can’t to the mentality of Can.
- The shift from making Excuses to delivering Results.
- The shift from living in the Past to making a brighter Future.
- The shift being Busy being Busy to becoming Productive.
- The shift from taking from the World to giving to the World.
In the book, he adds that every day, each one of us is presented with an enormous opportunity to shift from any form of victimhood into everyday heroism. In essence, what he means is that to manage yourself, you need to take charge of yourself and make things happen.
Gary Keller and Jay Papasan, in their book The One Thing, emphasize that momentum is the name of the game to start taking charge of your life. Begin with smaller goals to gain momentum, then, you’re able to complete larger goals more easily. Be prepared to say ‘No’ to requests, be willing to piss off some people, and start having a fairly good opinion of yourself.
A lot about taking charge also stems from being persistent and relentless when you want to achieve things. Take author J. K. Rowling for instance. The idea for Harry Potter came to her when she was delayed on a train trip from Manchester to London. When she began writing, Rowling was a single mother living on welfare and lost her mom which pushed her into a long-lasting depression. Instead of succumbing to victimhood, she used the emotional darkness to make Harry Potter’s characters more memorable. When she finished her book, and send it to a series of prominent publishers, about a dozen of them rejected it citing different reasons including too conventional, too long, too weird, too old-fashioned, and not commercially viable. Finally, Bloomsbury agreed to publish Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the rest is history. A Japanese proverb teaches: “Fall down seven times. Rise up eight.”
Before you scowl and growl at me for bringing in a topic that’s been generously served out by many motivational “gurus” and self-help philosophies, hold on to your patience a bit longer. The way positive thinking is prescribed in the motivational world doesn’t really work. Yes, as a student of human potential and neuroscience, I have seen reframing negativity and affirming positive statements have phenomenal benefits on our internal neural wiring, but it all comes with a pre-condition. If you lose your job, have a heartbreak, or are being bullied on the road, and pretend to be okay with it and practicing false optimism only means that you are sweeping your emotions under the carpet. Emotions are like children in the classroom. You can’t keep them silent or ignore them for a long time. You should not suppress the emotions of anger, sadness, grief, shame, fear, or embarrassment. Most people would want to just push through the emotions, acting and feeling as if nothing is wrong. That is how our society has conditioned us to be – emotions are for the weaklings. Yet, several studies in neuroscience have shown that mental reframing is only effective once you allow your natural emotions and physical sensations to surface up, and fully experience them and work through them. By allowing yourself to honor and feel all the negative emotions that arise in a crisis, you give them a clear passage to move through your system without weighing down your optimism. Once you have felt and worked through the emotional processing, you can then decide how to think about the crisis or situation. Purely focusing on positive thinking and suppressing your emotions only betrays your highest self. It’s called living inside your head – something that I have been guilty of for many many years. The ultimate goal of managing yourself is to feel good and achieve what you want. And to run positive thinking without performing emotional healing is nothing but fake and living in pure denial, something that is contrary to your truest nature.