Do you ever feel like your holiday was so awesome and exciting that when you get back, you feel like you need a holiday from your holiday?
Those holidays are fun. No two ways about it.
As a child, I don’t remember anything more awesome than being on holiday. As a parent, my experience has been totally different.
Firstly, giving a child a great holiday requires energy, time and in most cases, some (lots of) extra money. For special occasion holidays, there is the added benefit of the extended family. For me, this means sometimes sharing a five bedroom house with 10 adults, 9 children and 5 dogs.
I can say with confidence that after this kind of holiday, I need a holiday from my holiday. They are full and ‘enriching’ but they are exhausting and messy.
The biggest problem I see coming up with my clients is that they lack motivation after holidays like this. They do so much work when it’s work time, and then drink and eat the universe over their holidays only to come back to work exhausted and needing my help.
A lot of the arguments I hear relate to ‘blowing off steam’. ‘I need to blow off steam so I can come back to work motivated’. That is like saying the best way to cool a boiling pot is to take the lid off. But only for a bit. And then it will be cool.
You don’t need to blow off steam to feel motivated. You need to turn off the stove.
I believe that everyone wants to be motivated and to feel energetic.
Everyone wants to wake up and bounce out of bed, to skip into work, flick on their laptop, smile like a stock photo while they bang out high quality work. Everyone wants to float into the cafeteria eating something photogenic, then head to the gym/park/forest/mountain/studio and just love exercising.
Why is it then, that no matter how much we want that feeling, it feels like an impossible state to maintain. We can do the breathing, and the chest thumping, and the mirror talk to reach Tony Robbins’ peak state, but eventually that state wears off, and we lose that motivation.
Not long ago, I did something during my holiday that gave me unusual results. Instead of running out of motivation, my motivation grew throughout that quarter, and has continued to grow since then.
When I did this difficult yet very important exercise, it was like I was planting a little magical bean of motivation that has now grown into a giant beanstalk of ferocious hunger and passion for my work, my family and my health.
I would go further and say that since I did what I did, I haven’t actually needed self-talk or
I can say with confidence that I had never had such productive stretches of work as I do now until I started doing this on my holiday.
The good news is that you can do this too as it requires no real skill. The better news is that you can do it without being on holiday. You could do it today. You should do it right now.
In The Willpower Instinct (soooooo good), Kelly McGonical talks about how we get a limited amount of willpower every day.
In Deep Work, Cal Newport says the same thing about our ability to focus or pay attention to complex problems. According to Cal, the most focused people on earth can only sit through four hours of completely dedicated, focused, deep, productive work in a day.
Whether it is willpower or focus, there is consensus – When you wake up you have lots. At the end of your day you have very little. It is as though you have a willpower and attention ‘bucket’. And everything you use willpower for, or focus on, depletes your bucket.
Important to note – willpower is not limited to that half slab of Lindt you have in the drawer. It extends everything you try to prevent yourself from doing like losing your temper, spending money, clicking on that clickbait (and all the clickbait), eating junk and binge watching.
Of equal importance – attention is not limited to producing complex work. Anything you focus on will empty out your bucket.
And, attention takes willpower. And willpower takes attention. Wait, is attention actually willpower and willpower actually attention? Did Kelly and Cal write a book on the same thing?
I think so.
Motivation, attention, and willpower (NOT eating crap) are governed by the prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain that manages logic and reason. When you make the right decision, that’s your prefrontal cortex working)
Impulses like smashing the pizza, losing your cool, chasing your algorithm down the YouTube vortex or buying stuff you don’t need are all ‘escape’ tactics governed by your amygdala. This the part of the brain that triggers the fight or flight response. When you eat the cupcake even though you know it’s not what you want, your amygdala won.
So when you lose focus, or have a lapse in willpower, you are not being a bad and useless person. Your prefrontal cortex is tired and being totally dominated by your amygdala.
According to the above theory, the advice is obvious. Use your willpower wisely. Focus on the most important and difficult things earlier in the day. Limit the amount of distractions in your environment.
All of these will make your willpower and attention last. Right?
Right. But wait, there’s more.
If our attention can be depleted just by us focusing on stuff, then what happens to the stuff that’s always going on in the back of our minds?
What if you’re angry with your ex? What if you’re in debt? What if you’re angry at your old business partner?
What if you still stew on a lawsuit that you went through that almost put you out of business, cost you your website, cost you countless relationships in your industry, cost you your health, drove you to drink, and put your back up against the wall so you made four years’ worth of bad business decisions that you’re still paying for (asking for a friend)?
Will that empty the attention bucket?
Yes it will.
So imagine waking up, and before you’ve arrived at your desk you’ve worried about your finances, your ex, your lawsuit, all your friends immigrating and whatever else.
Now, imagine using what is left in your bucket to produce an outstanding day’s worth of productive work and healthy eating.
Carrying that stuff around is like having holes all over your attention bucket.
In fact, anything that weakens the prefrontal cortex is another hole in the bucket. Eating inflammatory foods, drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, taking drugs, not sleeping (or sleeping badly) and stressing and worrying about stuff all weaken the prefrontal cortex, and therefore limit your focus and your ability to focus.
OK, so what happened on your holiday. I wasn’t expecting this much reading.
It’s coming, just one more piece of theory.
When I am coaching clients around broken relationships (because bad break ups do actually make you fat, and this is why), my clients often start by saying they will only be able to get closure once the offending person says they’re sorry, or admits to being wrong, or owns up to some kind of wrong-doing.
And this is when I use a theory I learned at a conference almost 20 years ago, called ‘Whole and Complete’.
To get closure, or to get ‘complete’ with a relationship, you do not need anything from the other party. This is true for any kind of relationship, even when the other person is dead.
‘Complete’, or closed, means that that relationship or individual no longer triggers any negative feelings or emotions in you. It means that there is nothing left unsaid, and because of that, you could even look that person in the eye and smile if you really wanted to.
This might sound like I’m telling you to ‘let him have it’. So please keep reading.
Sam Owen says that “Lack of ownership over your anger can incorrectly absolve you of all responsibility and so keep you stuck in the anger.”
Anger, at the best of times, is an escape from responsibility. What this means is that if you can take responsibility for your actions, and become unattached to the actions of others, you will have no reason to be angry. You will have no anger.
This is what I did on my holiday.
I slept eight hours a night. I didn’t drink alcohol (that’s cheating, because I don’t ever drink). And one more thing.
I got ‘whole and complete’ with a relationship that I have been angry about for about four years. The relationship ended in an ugly lawsuit. I almost lost everything, and it cost me a SHIT ton of money.
For context. The initial claim of the lawsuit was for more than 12 times my annual turnover. It was an amount that would hurt Naspers, let alone chef Jonno in his garage writing blog posts. It was ludicrous, unfounded and totally malicious.
But my role in it was the way I acted. Regardless of the lunacy of it all, I was a mess. I worked on smear campaigns to try to defame my opponent. I was on the back foot, and there wasn’t much I could do, but I did everything I could to hurt them.
And that’s not even it. The dispute arose out of a partnership deal that I had proposed. And, in proposing it I was totally naive. I also changed the nature of the deal about five or six times before we agreed to something in writing. And then, when it changed again, we agreed verbally (which I had no record of). Silly me.
In fact, I was the one who suggested we do business together in the first place.
It didn’t take much digging to find actions I could take responsibility for.
There were so many lessons that I learned during that time. Lessons about business but much bigger lessons about myself.
Throughout the lawsuit I was forced to study IP law, contract law, litigation strategy and a number of other valuable topics that enriched me as an entrepreneur. I was forced to dig deep and get control of my anger so I could go to work and do work. I learned how to be almost functional while facing bankruptcy, public humiliation and significant damage to my marriage and family in the event that I lost everything and couldn’t provide for them.
Funny. Even now while writing this I don’t feel like telling you all the dirty things my opponent did, because I don’t feel I need to. What you need to know is that I was angry. I had anger that was so deep it was emptying my bucket before I got out of bed in the morning. It stole my attention from me. Or, I gave it all my attention.
When I was able to see those learnings and appreciate them, it lightened the load for me, and helped me look back and be grateful. I am so grateful that I went through that.
The only thing left was to close the book and move on with my life.
So I closed the book and ‘let them have it’ by doing this…
I wrote a letter where I took 100% responsibility for everything in the relationship that went badly. I apologised for being immature and naive about the prospects of a deal. I apologised for not recommending mediation. I apologised for playing dirty. I apologised for the fact that the relationship turned sour, because had I known then what I know now, I would have been able to prevent it from going that way.
Then, I thanked them for everything that was good in the relationship. I thanked them for how it started, and for the times that I did feel supported and the moments that were positive.
I then closed off by saying I didn’t need a response and that I needed to write the letter to own my part.
I clicked ‘send’, cried for a few minutes, and carried on with my life.
Whole, and complete.
I repeated that process with a few others. What I found was that I felt lighter every time. That anger, resentment and internal debate isn’t putting holes in my bucket anymore. When I wake up, the voice in my head is quiet. I make coffee. I hang with my kids. I chat with my wife. That’s it. No noise. Nothing.
When I get to my desk, the attention bucket has barely rippled.
Now, when I get caught up thinking about what a blood sucking vampire psychopath that person is, I remember that I am 100% responsible for me. I thank my mind for the reminder that I need to keep those lessons close to me. Then I say, ‘You do you, boo’ and carry on with my day.
As life goes on, with those relationships being whole, complete and integrated into who I am, it feels like my bucket is getting bigger.
And because I have ‘pulled the biggest plasters’ and know the payoff is worth it, when I notice a build-up of anger under the surface, I can swat it off with some vulnerable apology.
What I realised is that we spend too much time looking for inspiration. We think we’re just one amazing TED Talk away from a breakthrough or a surge in energy.
We want to make drastic changes, or take dramatic action to catapult ourselves into the future, but we don’t realise what we’re carrying around with us, or how much it is weighing us down, draining our energy.
We go on holidays or benders hoping when we get back that we will be ready to destroy, but we haven’t shifted any of the weight, or filled the bucket. All we have done after a holiday like that is escaped from it.
Make no mistake. I still think you should play as hard as you work. But your holiday will not make you whole, and it won’t make you better or more effective just by being a holiday if you punish your brain for thinking about stuff like that bothers you. When you sober up, it will still be there.
So if you are going on holiday and you want to come back with a fire inside of you, and take your life to the next level, you need to own your life and get closure so there is nothing draining your bucket.
Because motivation isn’t something that you get. Motivation is what is left when you get out of your own way.