Becoming Your Best Self: Lessons from 2016

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  • January 9, 2017


During the last few weeks of December and the first part of January, I spend time reflecting on the year and setting my intentions and goals for the next. As part of this process, I re-read all of my Monday Motivators from 2016; I want to share with you some of the lessons I learned throughout the year. I’m breaking these lessons out into three categories: health, leadership and life.

The Health Front

Staying in good physical and mental shape is critical to living a full and happy life. There are a number of ways I approach my health, some fairly mainstream and some a little more out there, but I wanted to share three big things that have helped my physical and mental health throughout the year. I should note that, while these practices have worked pretty well for me, I’m not a doctor and this isn’t medical advice. Do your research if you plan to follow in my footsteps.

Expose Yourself to the Cold

As a kid, I always loved the cold. Going out on a cold, snowy day was as thrilling to me as jumping in the ocean on a warm summer day, especially if hot chocolate was in my future. However, as I got older, especially when I lived in Florida, I started to dread the cold. I also developed Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid, which made my cold tolerance even worse.

A podcast with Wim Hof, the Iceman, about the benefits of cold exposure piqued my interest, so I started researching the benefits. It turns out exposing yourself to cold temperatures can lead to a number of benefits, including:

  • Improved mood
  • Metabolic advantages and weight loss
  • Increased immune strength
  • Improved blood circulation
  • Faster recovery after exercise
  • Better tolerance for cold weather

Working on cold exposure is difficult and uncomfortable at first, but good things often require discomfort to achieve. I’ve found winter to be a perfect time to start taking cold showers. They take my breath away, but I’ve already started seeing benefits. If you’re going to try cold exposure, make sure you do some research on it first. Don’t just jump into it; exposing yourself to too much cold too quickly can be dangerous, so make sure you’re being safe. If you do it right, though, you can get a lot out of it.

Take Naps

Napping has many advantages. Admittedly, I’ve let my ego prevent me from napping in the past, but I’m working on that. I’ve spoken a lot about the benefits of sleep and meditation before, so it shouldn’t be surprising that I’m a proponent of taking naps. Life is a marathon, not a sprint; taking time for sleep and relaxation is necessary for pacing yourself so you can run the whole marathon, rather than being burned out early on. For me, naps have five core benefits:

  • Restoring alertness
  • Preventing burnout
  • Heightening sensory perception
  • Reducing the risk of heart disease
  • Improving productivity

I nap about four times per week, and it has been a game-changer for me. I now have consistent energy throughout the day and feel much more productive in the afternoon, when I used to start losing vigor and focus. If you have the ability to take 10 or 20 minutes out during the day, I recommend spending them napping.

Practice Intermittent Fasting

For the past several months, I’ve been fasting for about 18 hours between dinner and lunch, bridging the gap with coffee and tea. Since I started, I’ve generally felt better and been sick less. There are a number of potential benefits of intermittent fasting:

  • Changing the function of cells, genes and hormones
  • Helping you lose weight
  • Reducing insulin resistance
  • Lowering your risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Reducing oxidative stress and inflammation in the body

There’s even some research out there that suggests benefits for hearth health and your brain, and that it might even help prevent cancer. Again, I am not an authority figure on this, and this isn’t medical advice. I can tell you that I feel better, and there is a lot of literature on intermittent fasting out there, so I suggest you do some research if you’re interested.

Fasting for up to 18 hours hasn’t caused me any harmful side effects. That said, everyone’s body is different. If you have any doubts, you should discuss them with your doctor or health care professional.

The Leadership Front

We all have opportunities in our lives to be leaders, even if we’re only leading ourselves toward our vision for a better future. I’ve identified five important components of leadership from my previous year of posting.

Practice Extreme Ownership

I read the book Extreme Ownership: How U.S. Navy SEALs Lead and Win, a book on leadership written by two former U.S. Navy SEAL officers. I enjoyed it immensely and got a lot out of it; here’s a quick bullet-point summary of the concept:

  • Extreme ownership means total responsibility
  • There are no bad teams, only bad leaders
  • Believe in the mission
  • Check the ego or stay out of your own way
  • Cover and move or support your team
  • Simplify
  • Prioritize and execute
  • Decentralize command or empower your people
  • Encourage leadership up and down the chain of command
  • Be decisive amid uncertainty
  • Discipline equals freedom

Live the 4 Core Behaviors of Level 5 Leaders

In his book Great by Choice: Uncertainty, Chaos, and Luck–Why Some Thrive Despite Them All, Jim Collins shares what two teams did on their journey to the South Pole in 1911.

One team’s strategy was to complete a 20-mile march daily, no matter what. In any weather and under any circumstances, the team marched 20 miles. The members of the other team used a strategy where they took advantage of good weather to march 40 to 60 miles, and when the weather was bad, they used that to their advantage and rested warmly in their tents. Roald Amundsen’s team marched 20 miles a day, no matter what, and the team got to the South Pole first, most importantly living to tell the tale.

10Xers exhibit four core behaviors:

  • Fanatic discipline
  • Empirical creativity
  • Productive paranoia
  • Level 5 ambition

According to Collins, fanatic discipline keeps 10X enterprises on track, empirical creativity keeps them vibrant, productive paranoia keeps them alive, and Level 5 ambition provides inspired motivation.

Be a Great Team Member to Become a Great Leader

While it may seem counterintuitive, those who put the team first often do excel in their own careers. In my opinion, good teammates put the team first every day, but build in time to think about themselves regularly. Here are eight questions exceptional teammates should ask themselves regularly:

  • Am I putting the team first?
  • Do I bring value to the team?
  • Is my communication open, honest and respectful?
  • Is accountability a major part of my work?
  • How committed to success am I?
  • Do I make building good relationships a priority?
  • Is practicing gratitude a habit?
  • Am I trustworthy?

In today’s fast-paced world, being a great teammate is the No. 1 quality I look for in team members, even more than aptitude.

Focus on the ONE Thing

What’s the one thing you can do that makes everything else easier or unnecessary? This is the quintessential question from a book called The ONE Thing, by Gary Keller. I ask myself that question at least quarterly across all major areas of my life — work, family, health, spirituality, finances and relationships. I now ask all of my direct reports and their direct reports when we meet quarterly to provide me with the one thing they want to make happen above all else to help the company move closer to achieving its long-term goals.

The main driving force behind the “one thing” is leverage; as the saying goes, “Big doors swing on little hinges.” We need to look for leverage points in our life. Taking naps is a leverage point for me. In the morning, I’m not afraid to go hard and get a little tired because I know relief is coming. In the afternoon, I’m refreshed and ready to go. It only takes me 10 to 15 minutes to recharge the batteries.

Keller outlines four strategies for living the philosophy of the “one thing:”

  • Give your undivided attention to what is most important
  • Use discipline to develop long-lasting habits
  • Life is a question, not an answer
  • Goal setting to the now

Be a Good Ancestor (Whakapapa)

Recently, I wrote about New Zealand’s national rugby team, the All Blacks, and their credo, “Better people make better All Blacks.” I read a book called Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership by James Kerr that discusses how the All Blacks have remained the most successful international sports team in the world. There are many fantastic principles that the team lives by, but the one I want to focus on is being a good ancestor.

The team has another expression, “Plant trees you’ll never see.” Whakapapa is a Māori expression that signifies the interdependence of everything. One of the overarching responsibilities of being an All Black is to “Leave the jersey in a better place,” to work incrementally toward a better collective outcome and to be a custodian of the future.

As a leader, it’s one thing to produce some good results in a quarter or a year. It is a whole other thing to make decisions that you believe will positively impact future leadership teams.

The Life Front

I’ve learned a lot in the last year, and I’ve identified eight strategies to help you live a more fulfilling and successful life.

Become an Essentialist

Essentialism is the art of discerning between external noise and internal voice. It’s a mindset and a way of life. I like to think about the Essentialist mindset as an “extreme” disciplined alignment with your purpose and values in life, coupled with a keen understanding of trade-offs. An Essentialist is a highly discerning individual armed with the logic that less means more, and more leads to mediocrity or worse.

Here are key takeaways from the book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, and a roadmap to becoming an Essentialist.

  • Live by the delayed yes
  • Know the Joy Of Missing Out (JOMO) vs. the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO)
  • “Owning” things is overrated
  • Things always take longer than you think, so doing fewer things and choosing more carefully is essential
  • Discover the power of now
  • Remember to keep things in perspective

The core of Essentialism is a dedicated focus to living your purpose. When you walk this path every day, saying “no” and focusing on the things that truly matter becomes easier.

Overcome Blame Bias

The authors of Primed to Perform, Neel Doshi and Lindsay McGregor, point out that it’s easier to destroy Total Motivation (the notion that why you work determines how well you work) than to create it because of a phenomenon they call “blame bias.” They say, “when things don’t go as planned, our natural but misplaced blame bias seduces us into always pointing the finger at the individual instead of considering the context in which they acted.”

In business and in life, things are constantly playing out differently from our expectations, and the instinct is to find someone to blame. We can overcome our blame bias by examining what about the context could be causing the observed behavior or outcome.

The authors of Primed to Perform feel that we spend too much time focused on hiring the “right” people and underestimate the influence our culture and strategies have on the success of the business. Teams perform better when leaders believe they’re made up of high performers. The opposite is true as well.

Primed to Perform provides a framework called REAP to help overcome blame bias.

  • Remember: When you are about to blame someone for an issue, assume positive intent.
  • Explain: Before even approaching a team member, come up with several scenarios to explain the individual’s behavior. Do not assume the problem is with the individual.
  • Ask: When approaching a team member, mention what you observed. Assume good intent, but ask why.
  • Plan: Together, identify the true root cause and develop a plan to remedy it.

Blame bias is everywhere, and it’s a major detractor to motivation in companies and to healthy relationships. I know I am as guilty of this as anyone, often looking to people to explain problems rather than context, but I’m working to improve.

Find the Abundance in Life

An abundance mentality requires a deep inner sense of personal worth and security, as well as a belief that there’s enough for everybody. When you practice an abundance mentality, you share prestige, profits, decision making and just about everything else. It fosters creativity and gratitude all around.

There are several ways you can demonstrate an abundance mentality.

  • Make sharing a habit
  • Default to trust
  • Realize life isn’t a competition
  • Seek out win-win situations
  • Learn from failures
  • Stop comparing yourself to others
  • Practice daily gratitude
  • Celebrate others’ successes
  • Reduce media consumption
  • Understand the best is yet to come

I have struggled with this my whole life, but the more I shift to this mindset, the more amazed and grateful I am for everything I’ve received.

Manage Your Ego

While ego can help us achieve great things, it can also have a dark side. I read Ryan Holiday’s latest book, Ego is the Enemy. Holiday defines ego like this: “It’s that petulant child inside every person, the one that chooses getting his or her way over anything or anyone else. The need to be better than, more than, recognized for, far past any reasonable utility—that’s ego. It’s the sense of superiority and certainty that exceeds the bounds of confidence and talent.”

Holiday uses Stoic philosophy, among other things, to help others find traction in their careers and personal lives. In the book, Holiday shares two strategies that go a long way toward managing ego.

  • Always be learning. Holiday shows that a student mindset goes a long way toward managing ego and avoiding disaster.
  • Adhere to a standard of performance. Holiday states that, “A person who judges himself based on his own standards doesn’t crave the spotlight the same way as someone who lets applause dictate success.”

Act Like a Champ

I wrote three blog posts this year on getting into the mind and heart of a champion. Whether you’re talking about the great Muhammad Ali, the 1936 Olympic eight-oar crew from the University of Washington or someone like Simone Biles, they all demonstrate a set of traits that are both understandable and doable if we are willing to put the time in and have the courage to change. Some of the key lessons are:

  • Move on when losses come
  • Dare to think big, really big
  • Live a purpose-driven life
  • Strive to be the greatest at whatever you do
  • Hope + Courage = Unstoppable
  • Address the small things, like bad habits, that can thwart your efforts
  • Practice self-awareness
  • Defer gratification now and endure pain in the short-term to achieve lofty goals in the long-term

Be Gritty

Author and researcher Angela Duckworth has made grit one of the hottest words of the year. She states that grit, not talent or I.Q., predicts success. Duckworth defines grit as passion and perseverance toward long-term goals.

Talent × effort = skill. Skill × effort = achievement. In other words, “effort counts twice” in the quest for achievement. She lays out four steps to developing grit:

  • Identify a burning interest
  • Practice it a lot
  • Develop a sense of higher purpose
  • Develop a growth mindset

Lean into Failure

Lately, the entrepreneur story that’s captured my attention the most is that of Sara Blakely, the founder, sole owner and CEO of Spanx. In 2012, Blakely became the youngest self-made female billionaire at age 41, according to Forbes. Blakely has talked about her father’s influence on her mindset — how he used to ask her what her failures were each day at dinner and how he’d congratulate her for them, even “high fiving” her.

She learned that making a mistake wasn’t the real failure; not trying wasBlakely’s attitude of celebrating failure is a good one to have. It encourages reflection, growth and doing the things you’re afraid of. People tend to live in their comfort zones, myself included.

As part of my nighttime ritual of journaling, I reflect on my failures from the day or, said differently, areas I feel like need improvement. This daily practice has helped me push myself outside of my comfort zone to where the good things happen.

Be More Vulnerable

Author, researcher and TED Talk speaker Brené Brown has brought shame and vulnerability to the forefront of self-improvement strategies. She states that being vulnerable is absolutely essential to wholehearted living. Brown says, “Through my research, I found that vulnerability is the glue that holds relationships together. It’s the magic sauce. Vulnerability is our most accurate measurement of courage. Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Brown could go down as one of the great researchers of our time by exposing the epidemic of shame and lack of vulnerability that resides in our culture. According to Brown, shame is highly correlated with addiction, depression, violence, aggression, bullying, suicide and eating disorders. What Brown is doing is attempting to get at the root cause of our problems and start working on not seeing vulnerability as a weakness, but rather paradoxically a strength to fulfilling human potential and living what she calls a wholehearted life.

Both at home and at work, my goal is to create an environment where shame is eradicated on one end and being vulnerable is supported and rewarded on another. I struggle with being vulnerable, but I know it is critical on my journey to being the best version of myself and helping others to do the same.

What have you learned over the last year? What lessons can you share to make the next year a good one?

About Todd Zipper

President & Chief Executive Officer

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