Imagine the beginning of your perfect morning.
Maybe it’s a Jack Johnson “wake-up slow” kind of start. A stream of sunlight breaks across your cozy sheets. Your circadian rhythm gently wakes you from your slumber. Nothing is rushing you. Your eyelids effortlessly open as you get complete closure on your dream. You like how it ended. You’re inspired. Alive for another day. Clear eyes. A full heart. Coach Taylor would be proud.
Or, maybe you launch best with a “get the party started” kind-of-vibe. No alarm needed. Your bed is made before you're out of it. You’ve got a date with Jess King on your Peloton. You hope she isn’t late. After your ride, your ice-cold shower isn’t punishment. It’s there to keep your engine from overheating. Productivity drips from your fingertips and onto your day. You wonder why anyone would want to sleep in and miss out on so much.
Now, imagine the opposite... those days when your ‘start’ just doesn’t ‘start right.’
Someone (or something) jumps the line and rings your bell. You didn’t give them permission. They just barged in like the competition on The Bachelor. You’re stuck in molasses. There's no leading. You’re forced to follow… a victim to emails and clients and projects and responsibilities. You’re driving on an empty tank. Even the thought of getting fuel feels impossible. Your day got decided for you, and you’re not sure how you even got here.
Previously on TMYD
In our inaugural newsleader, I invited you to do a little recon -- to get curious with your people about how they start, sustain, and end their best days. You may have got curious with yourself too.
Any discoveries? Trend lines? Gold in those hills?
What did you find out? [Bonus points if you hit reply and share… if you're on the asynchronous train and feel a little adventurous, here is another option!]
Here’s the thing…
Most people have way more control over starting right than they’re willing to admit.
Ever wonder why we have so much potential but don't put it to work?
For me, that was literally a few moments ago… I had time blocked on my calendar to complete this article for you.
Before I sat down to get after it, I took a peek at my Inbox. As I thought about what was coming at me, I began to feel anxious.
The email anxiety got compounded by other to-do’s calling my name.
Like a cereal craving in the middle of a late-night Netflix binge, distractions like checking social seemed attractive and important.
Then... I sat down and started typing.
The feelings didn’t disappear. But they did get eclipsed by something more powerful.
What is shocking is how simple it was to override my fears and desires for distractions.
Over the last several years, I’ve been working on a Rule of Life -- a short checklist I go through when I lose my bearings.
My Rule is not complicated but it is reliable.
The only hard part is getting started. Once I do, I disappear into my best self.
Most noteworthy is I came up with my Rule when I wasn’t lost in chaos.
It was my Rule that told me the next right thing to do was to write.
So, in spite of how I felt, I did what my list told me to do.
Sometimes, feelings are overrated.
Here is the tried, true, and radically uncomplicated process I use every single day…
(1) I create an ordered list of how every 24 hours is supposed to work and
(2) keep my word to myself to do what the list tells me. That's it.
When you start with starting right, autonomy is what you get as a reward.
Autonomy may be the most rare and potent force available to leaders.
The reason autonomy is so scarce is because of what it requires.
By committing to your Rule, you remove options. You don't get to choose anymore.
You tell your short-term preferences to pipe down.
Your long-term strategy is in charge now.
Hitch yourself to your commitments. Put yourself on the hook.
Why? Because the hook is the only place where important stuff happens.
Imagine asking anyone on your team how things are going.
If they’re anything like the hundreds of employees we work with regularly at TMYD, they’ll describe their day as either good or bad based off of things they have almost no control over.
“My boss is a jerk.” Bad day.
“I just got promoted.” Good day.
“I’ll never catch up.” Bad day.
“We hit our numbers and got our bonus.” Good day.
Bad. Good. Bad. Good.
All completely dependent on people and things they don’t control. They’re victims.
What if they could directly determine their day, regardless of what anyone else did?
A better way…
Not only does establishing a Rule of Life guarantee most everyday can be a success, there is nothing about it that depends on other people.
When you and your team begin to experience the life-giving benefits of owning how you begin, sustain, and complete each and every day, you’ll begin to wonder how you lived any other way.
Better, as your Rule of Life starts working, it will become contagious.
Colleagues will follow your lead. The people who report to you start picking up what you're laying down. No management required.
What might a Rule of Life look like for you?
The idea of a Rule of Life largely comes from monastic orders: monks so committed to a belief that they are willing to order their lives around it.
For our purposes, we won’t be applying it to a religion, unless you’re religious about starting your days like a boss.
For this exercise, your job is to establish the best for you, and orient your whole life around it every single day.
How do you get one?
To get started, picture the smallest, most minimally-viable, life-giving habit you can think of. Next, apply some science.
As James Clear points out in the ubiquitous Atomic Habits, stacking a desired new habit in front of existing habit makes adopting the new one easier.
My own Rule of Life started with flossing my teeth.
I knew doing it would not only keep the dentist away, but make me feel accomplished before I did anything else.
So, I did two things.
First, I decided not to floss my teeth but to floss one tooth. That seemed like less of a commitment.
Second, I stacked the new habit in front of my commitment to use the restroom every morning when I woke up (something I knew I wasn’t going to miss). Once the first tooth was flossed, it wasn't a big leap to finish the job. And, because of when I do it, I never miss a day… ever.
Abracadabra… I instantly became a flosser.
Then I built from there. One good habit led to a few more. I started sequencing my stack into a routine. Baddabingbaddabang... my Rule was born.
What does a Rule of Life do?
It doesn’t take much imagination to begin seeing how powerful this could be if everyone on your team lived like this.
In no time, you become famous for how dependable your people are.
Recruiting top-shelf talent gets easier.
You don’t need to bug employees to keep their commitments.
That’s who they are now. Their Rule showed them how.
What shows up anywhere starts showing up everywhere. Your whole culture upgrades, making the entire company better.
But wait… there really is more
Imagine how much happier your employees will be when they start experiencing what it's like to lead themselves competently and confidently. Better, imagine how happy you'll be!
That's what autonomy does. The confidence of the individuals starts to grow and with it, their capacity. As their productivity increases. They start getting hungry for more.
But more is going to require something else... something individuals cannot do on their own. They need to play well together.
This is when things get interesting. The table is set for the next phase of building your company into something great. Moving from Me To Team.
We’ll get to that second strategy next time.
Until then... lead on!
Dane Sanders is CEO of TellMeYourDreams.com. His team of certified mental health professionals and coaches - trained in TMYD's motivation modality - offer workshops tailored for organizations looking to become great. Tom Rodriguez is TMYD's Chief Mental Health Officer. Comments, questions, and inquiries are always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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