Just Try It
The “die young as late as possible” reference is an old quote from American-British anthropologist, Ashley Montagu. It has become my short answer to the giant question: “what are you training for?” PS. no one ever asks me “what are you training for?” That’s the question I frequently ask others to see if anyone has a better answer than Ashley’s. The alternative is what?-to age fast & die old as early as possible?
Keeping up, let alone getting better, can be challenging. Many aspects of life seem to be getting more challenging, complex and confusing. A shortage of hope, growth, learning and momentum can lead to a contagion of stress, sadness, disappointment and unnecessary suffering (on top of the unavoidable suffering).
We can’t fix everything but we can at least take charge of reducing our own unnecessary suffering, right? We can easily make an effort to keep swinging the bat. Metaphorically, we can just get back in the batter’s box and we can try to at least make contact (home runs are not necessary) — we can at least keep trying in the areas we care about most — we can, if we start close in.
Beyond the inertial, incremental and exponential…lies the optimal. The most effective path to optimal is experimental. Experiment consistently; expect massive progress eventually.
CELEBRATE NOTICING WHERE WE MAY HAVE A GAP
If we’re not satisfied with our health, our relationships, spirituality, fulfillment, results at work or results at home — then that’s the tension we need to activate our curiosity (creative tension) just enough to go explore which current success formulas (default operating systems/brain circuits) are serving us well and which ones are no longer contributing to our happiness.
What if we temporarily drop the preference for certainty and just try experimenting more?
What if we believed that by generating just a meager amount of curious momentum today… we would be guaranteed to produce massive progress over time? Ten years from now, imagine how much better your ___(insert thing that matters most to you)____ might be.
When we focus our attention on the practice of becoming more optimal (better NOT perfect) versions of ourselves, we become more effective at producing all of the results we care about. Experimenting to be a better you = ripple effect of better results across all dimensions of your life and a ripple effect impact on everyone watching you.
Change is a chronic condition so learning how to be agile (learning agility) is the daily practice of updating our success formulas… learning to be perpetually better. I wish the younger me had learned this sooner.
“Younger Me” used to think that starting small, meant that my ambition was wimpy and I was not being decisive or bold enough. I used to tell myself silly things like “no pain, no gain” and “go big or go home.” Youth covered the many flaws in that reasoning.
Still, I kept getting older, squishier and more tired, aging like every other mortal being around me. It felt like my ego and I were deteriorating faster than everyone else. “Gross-Old Me” was frustrated, angry and blaming the universe, the environment and everyone else around me for the loss of my glory days and my lack of immortality (disguised as complaints about my lack of attention, money, power, status).
Despite being blessed with good health and having access to all of the modern world amenities, gadgets and emerging new science on fitness, resiliency, flexibility, adaptability, anti-aging, strength training, endurance, mental toughness, emotional intelligence, etc. at my fingertips…I was not operationalizing 90% of the new science and information that I had in my hands. In some ways I was trying to apply it — with brute force — without much progress. I was caught in the death-march vortex of deterioration like the rest of our species…from our quick, youthful growth into a perpetual weakening of our physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, financial and relational well being. I felt gross inside and out. I never felt further away from the “Optimal Me” that I assumed I would naturally, one day, blossom into. I felt entitled to blossom —at least a little. That’s not true, I felt entitled to unlimited, shameless, audacious degrees of blossoming. But not the delusional kind of blossoming where you eventually wind up on American Idol but can’t really sing. I suffer some similar delusions like that — I am always working on getting rid of those “carnival mirrors” in my life.
By forty-something, I reasoned that if only I had more energy, more time and more support…then I could reboot my vision for living a happier, stronger and healthier lifestyle — maybe even slow down the decay. Whatever I was currently doing was not getting the results I wanted, so I had to try something new. Still, with great hubris and with some growing curiosity (and nothing to lose), I decided to try experimenting with two little things that logically should produce more energy:
- get more sleep
- drink more coffee
That week, I went to bed one hour earlier and entertained a second cup of coffee in the morning. GENIUS!? From the description of how inspirational and well designed that experiment was, you may be imagining the image of Tesla in his secret experimentation center (or not). Innovation muscles and mindsets are all focused on the practice of expert experimentation.
Not that the previously mentioned experiment design would indicate this, I actually used be the president of an innovation strategy consulting firm in Chicagoland, CT and CA. We attracted nothing but the most wonderful, wicked smart, big brain, daring, dynamo consultants and creators. One of my favorite unreasonable people on the team used to lovingly poke fun at me and my ideas during internal strategy sessions saying, “aww, it’s a good thing that you’re good looking” — implying, that it certainly was not my superior intellect that was going to help the team solve F100 innovation challenges. The joke was on him…I wasn’t that good looking either! But he was right about how much smarter all of the consultants were than me — they were amazing in many ways — thank goodness. And thank goodness that I was not smart enough to take the ribbing personally — I knew he loved me and I was learning that I still had a lot to learn.
Experiments are for learning what works — not knowing what works. That was exciting enough for me to keep working at it.
“…humanity will be like an ant heap stirred up with a stick: See the excitement coming!” — 1900 Nikola Tesla
That one week of (not so genius) experiments led me to the next week of experiments: 1) more sleep 2) more coffee AND less creamer (= black coffee); the week after that no more drinking skim milk (no dairy). That built up to even better experiments the following week. I got even more curious about what was possible and started curating more ideas from the scientists and self-help experts. With all of this experimentation, I felt a little bit like the guy that tried trading up from a little red paper clip to a house…I had progressed far more than I had originally expected in a short amount of time. Most of my experiments didn’t actually work in the literal sense, but I found momentum and clarity in the continuous learning… which meant the experiments WERE working in the growing, evolving, unlearning and relearning sense. That was the quality of attention and paradigm shift I needed. It was easy after that for me to get hooked on the upside of testing and learning. There was no “failing” just maximizing the learning over the cost of learning.
After 12+ years of baby steps (experiments) with my sleep, physical movement, nutrition, relationships, spirituality, business, etc it has become easier and more fun to continually get better — consistently, gradually and sustainably. Thanks to the inspirational energy and ideas that I get from other fellow experimenters, I’ve fallen into a mindset and lifestyle of experimenting for a better, more “Optimal Me”. With a consistent and almost effortless momentum of just trying, I continue to expect massive learning/progress — it’s like compound interest in all of the dimensions.
At 53+, my vision (a’la Ashley Montague) is still, simply to “die young as late as possible” — I’m prototyping with the fountain of youth. We all are.
No matter what the goals are (e.g,. physical fitness, mental toughness, organizational, financial, relational, spiritual) there’s so much information available to us that it can be very overwhelming. On top of that, each of us is different and our situations/contexts are always changing, making it even more complex to determine what works and why. That’s why it helps to reduce it down to a series of simple, actionable experiments, one week, one day, one hour, one moment, one baby step at a time. Expert experimentation is a learned skill — everyone can master it.
“START CLOSE IN” WITH INTRINSIC MOTIVATION & JEDI COUNSEL
In her recent podcast, “A Podcast About Exemplary Leadership” on Rise Leaders Radio, LeeAnne Mallory references a David Whyte poem, “Start Close In” and a related, insightful quote from Parker Palmer referencing the same poem:
“It reminds me that when I try to start big, it’s probably because I’m seeking an excuse to get out of doing anything. The big stuff is beyond my reach, at least at the moment. But if I start close in, I’ll find things I can do right now, things that are a lot more productive than pumping up my blood pressure.”
Anyone can be reactive, outraged, driven by blood pressure and brain chemicals. Leaders of leaders are also prone to reactivity — like all humans. Hopefully though, we have practiced how to recover from that reactivity more quickly so that we can help others recover as well. Being more productive/effective (not more reactive) at scale is the responsibility of leaders. We can be so much more effective than we’re being right now. Let’s experiment to regain our composure and get up to a higher altitude.
In the podcast link below, JEDI LeeAnn Mallory (executive coach) is joined by Rick Voirin (Chairman & Human Performance Partner at Stagen.com and professor at Duke University Fuqua School of Business) to explore ways of generating leadership momentum and powerful intrinsic motivation with poetry. Check out the links for the audio as well as LeeAnn’s generous show notes and her very useful guide for experimenting with reading poetry in the context of formal leadership development journeys and driving organizational change.
Using Poetry to Expand Perspective | Start Close In — RISE Leaders
We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race…
STREAMLINING VS STRUGGLING
We don’t have to live our lives unsatisfied at the mercy of our habits, routines, reactivity, drama and distraction. We can choose to practice falling in love with the creative tension between what we want and what we have. Anyone and everyone can make progress and get better…even if it is only a fraction better it is better than the alternative. We have more than enough information, willpower and discipline — we need to learn how to use it to design better experiments and just practice experimenting. We can streamline the learning and minimize the struggling, by experimenting until we find more effective routines/solutions/systems.
All we have to do is get our reps in (high-quality reps). Think “consistency over intensity.”
Try practicing that. There are a zillion experts (and we all have friends that think they are experts) and expert programs available to help guide you — but the experiments are yours to do — you are the one becoming more optimal in domains that matter to you. Even if the baby step experiments appear to be insufficient and inadequate, try them anyway. Jordan Peterson talks about having the humility (ego in check) to “lower the bar and aim up.” Aim up. Aim up again. Aim up again. Celebrate where we are and then aim up, again. That’s how we can live a lifestyle of momentum and learning.
The trying, testing and learning changes you. We become changed in the process of learning — learning leads to our audacious, shameless, contentedness. Learning is fun. If we’re not having fun yet… let’s take the “mulligan”and let’s try again, differently.
DROP EVERYTHING & EXPERIMENT — JUST TRY IT
Experimentation leads to discovery. Imagine how much stronger all of our innovation muscles and mindsets will be when we practice a lifestyle of experimentation. “Better” is easier when we pursue mastery — no dabbling — no hacking. “Better” is easier when we: start small— start close in — and start together.
I find that most of my success formulas don’t last as long as they used to — nor should they. One of my “better” ongoing experiments is to live a life less squishy… to be more focused and deliberate on shaping the things I care about (and have control of) regardless of the external changing circumstances — even age. Experiments provide us with data, scorecards, and feedback about what works and what’s sustainable now. Sometimes the improvement results are harder to measure (like our minds); sometimes they are very visible and easy to track like our personal mind-body “meatsuit” for example — we only get one of these. Our meatsuit is a scorecard…but it is more than just a reflection of self-care.
Raff, you aren’t in time and space to hit home runs. Couldn’t even if you wanted to. Can’t be done. The logistics are impossible. And besides, the pressure from trying would overwhelm the hardiest of souls.
Home runs are what I do. You just pitch. You want a new job, pitch it to me. You want more friends, pitch it to me. You want to lose weight, improve relationships, or strike it rich, pitch it to me.
There’s nothing you can throw that I can’t hit clear out of the park.