“The problematic situations in your life are not chance or haphazard. They are specifically yours, designed specifically for you by a part of you that loves you more than anything else. The part of you that loves you more than anything else has created roadblocks to lead you to yourself. Without something pricking you in the side, saying, ‘Look here! This way!’ you are not going to go the right direction. The part of you that designed this loves you so much that it doesn’t want you to lose the chance. It will go to extreme measures to wake you up, and it will make you suffer greatly if you don’t listen. What else can it do? That is its purpose.”
It’s a long quote, but every word of Almaas’s wisdom here has power. Problems in life are not matters of circumstance but of design.
Equipped with this insight, how then do we tackle things better as creative pros? Here are three fundamental ideas that shape the way I plan, the way I get things done and the way I make decisions. Each of these works well for me and might do the same for you.
Plan from first principles
Maybe I’m a slow learner but it took me a long time to discover this point and apply it to my work. In essence, it says find the core fact within a problem you're trying to solve. I like the way Tesla’s Elon Musk explains this: that it’s different from reasoning via analogy. “Through most of our life,” he says, “we get through life by reasoning by analogy, which essentially means copying what other people do with slight variations.”
First principles thinking means you recognize most of your beliefs are only assumptions. In that sense, knowing the difference between what you feel is true and what you know is true is a kind of superpower.
Build with habit stacks
When trying to change something in your work or your life, it’s too easy to get stuck in binary thinking: that either you achieve a goal or you don’t. Often the goal we think we want isn’t the one we need. Look at the problem instead as a series of habit stacks: a series of conditions that go into achieving something meaningful. For example: if you want lose weight and the scale says you’re not, you’ll convince yourself that you’re failing. But of you look at the solution in three parts—diet, exercise and behaviour patterns—you now have three stacks you can manage.
Find a win in one of these and the others will follow.
Define from negative space
Early in my career, I said “yes” to everything. I felt I had to. As a result, I had a lot of work in areas that didn’t really interest me, and not enough in the areas that really did. While I learned how to say “no” to things—and it’s certainly an important skill—that’s just an outcome. Knowing why it was difficult for me to say no was a much tougher thing to understand. For me, part of problem was in the way I looked at self identity: that I was defined by what I did or by how well I met expectations set by others. So I tried to do a lot of things. It took me a long time (as I said earlier: slow learner), but eventually I figured out that fulfilment starts by having a clear understanding of what you don’t do and what you are not.
Define your negative space: don’t live your life based on a script that someone else wrote for you.
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