“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your own heart. Who looks outside dreams: who looks inside awakes.” – Carl Jung
At the end of each year I reflect back on the pivotal learnings I had during the 12 months prior that shaped and impacted my life the most. My goal at the end of each year as I reflect is to document and reinforce my learnings in my mind and my life so I don’t forget the wisdom as I go into the new year.
My hope as well is that by sharing my most valuable learnings with you, they will help you navigate the year ahead as well.
Here’s my the 10 most valuable lessons that I learned in 2016:
(1) Self awareness of our limiting beliefs is critical for growth
I learned that we all have a BOO – a Background of Obviousness. According to Mark Divine an ex-Navy Seal commander, this BOO, is comprised of:
“Deep-seated belief systems embedded from past experiences and our culture, language and family which act similar to the way background programs do in the system software of a computer. If unchecked, these BOO software programs loop endlessly and can blur and bend your thoughts, emotions and awareness. These become the foundation of your cognitive biases.”
As we go through life, we collect these beliefs and ways of doing things that become so present for us, we no longer see them. And that’s the problem – they form part of an unseen background that can limit what we do and how we do it without us even being aware of it!
As Carl Jung has said, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate” and 2016 for me has been a journey of uncovering my BOO – my deep seated belief systems that shape my life and my behaviour.
This process has helped me uncover many self-limiting beliefs I’ve had that no longer serve me and has been so critical for my growth in 2016 as a person, husband, leader, team member and friend. This is now an ongoing life mission and one that I wholeheartedly recommend!
(2) Daily meditation helps uncover your BOO and increases your energy
In May 2016 a friend and mentor asked me:
“Are you doing something different? You seem calmer and more centred yet have more energy.”
The only thing I’d been doing differently was meditating.
As the Bhudda said:
Meditation brings wisdom; lack of mediation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.
For me, I’ve found that meditating every morning after I wake up has helped me calm my mind before the day begins and this has enabled me to think more clearly. It’s helped me slow down and find the space in my mind and in my schedule to observe myself and get greater self awareness on my BOO and my limiting beliefs.
It’s also helped me improve my breathing, which in turn has helped me improve my focus and energy. In fact, in 2016 I’ve felt like I’ve had the most energy I’ve every felt in my entire life and I credit this down to 7 minutes of meditation every weekday morning and finding my breath before meetings during the day.
It’s been remarkable to see how such a small habit change and investment of 7 minutes of time each day has brought such huge benefits to my life!
From my experience in 2016, if you’d like to explore meditating, I’d recommend starting small with a 5-10 minute meditation. To get started and learn how to meditate, check out the app Headspace.
(3) Writing a daily journal accelerates your growth as a human being
In 2016 I began journaling every morning. I’d reflect on my experiences from the previous day and identify:
- My key learnings from interactions I’ve had with people, books, podcasts and websites
- How I lived out my values
- Limiting beliefs I have and my new beliefs
- Celebrations and gratitudes
- What I could improve and do differently in the future
Life moves so quickly, (especially when running a start up!) and I’ve found it’s easy to move from one day and week to the next, without taking the time to reflect on who you are and where you are going.
For me daily journalling has been a way to be more present, to slow down and to reflect on the prior day and my growth and progress. It’s helped me appreciate what I have, rewire my BOO and self-limiting beliefs and helped consolidate and embed the learnings from my experiences.
In short, journalling in 2016 has been a key driver of all my growth as a human being. It’s taken 10-15 minutes each day and for me has had the biggest impact on my growth and life in 2016.
A book that helped me in 2016 implement this and develop a powerful daily habit was ‘The Miracle Morning’ by Hal Elrod. While the name sounds a little tacky, the book itself was amazing. I read it twice in a row and if you’re interested in developing a meditation and/or journalling habit, I’d highly recommend reading this book!
(4) Being vulnerable requires great strength
For a long time I’ve believed that showing and sharing your feelings and emotions, and consequently being vulnerable is an indication of weakness. I’ve associated feeling and emotions as something bad, as dark emotions.
This has meant that I’ve believed that sharing feelings and emotions is about being negative, complaining, whingeing and focusing on things that aren’t working in your life. As a result, I’ve consciously worked to always stay rational and logical and avoided emotions and feelings.
In 2016 I learned feelings and emotions are not all dark.
I’ve learned that being vulnerable is sharing an unpopular opinion, asking for help, saying no, sharing your writing with the world, saying I love you, admitting I don’t know the answers and asking for forgiveness.
I’ve learned that vulnerability actually requires great strength and that vulnerability creates connection.
For me this has meant spending time developing self-awareness about how I am actually feeling and instead of simply sharing what I’m thinking with others, also sharing what I am feeling.
I’ve had to consciously ask myself:
“What am I feeling now?”.
An incredible book that has helped (and is helping) me better understand the power of vulnerability is Brene Brown’s book, ‘Daring Greatly’ which is an very powerful, practical and vulnerable read – I wholeheartedly recommend it for anyone interested in exploring vulnerability, shame, and developing increased emotional intelligence and self awareness.
I’ve also written more about how vulnerability creates connection here.
(5) Comfort and growth can never co-exist
In 2016 with the onset of turning 30, I found myself spending a lot of time reflecting and re-evaluating the progress I’d made as a leader, entrepreneur, husband and human being over the prior couple of years.
And I was disappointed with what I was seeing. On reflection, I felt that while I’d achieved much, I hadn’t reached my potential. In fact, I felt that I’d fallen well short of my potential. You can read more about this journey of reflection here.
An old friend who’s known me for a long time shared with me:
“I think you’re just really comfortable. Life is good and you’re just not as hungry as you used to be. You’ve lost that spark and that fire in the belly.”
And he was 100% correct. Life was/is good. I was really comfortable. This meant I wasn’t challenging and pushing myself to grow and be better. I was coasting.
And this was when I realised that being comfortable and growing can never co-exist.
That my rate of growth as a person directly correlates to the degree of discomfort I feel. The more discomfort and cognitive dissonance I feel, the more I grow and learn.
In hindsight this should have been a lesson I already knew intimately well. From years of playing soccer with the goal to play professionally, I’d learned that my fitness, strength and skill would only grow, if I challenged and pushed myself a little harder than the last time. If I ran a little longer and faster, lifted a heavier weight, played against a better player. And yet, I hadn’t transferred this learning to my life.
So I’ve learned in 2016 that growth doesn’t happen automatically. Growth only happens intentionally, when we consciously put ourselves in situations that challenge us, push us, that cause us to stretch and make us ’sweat’ because we’re uncomfortable.
A great story on the power of intentionally pushing your comfort zone is the entrepreneur Jesse Itzler’s story of hiring a Navy SEAL to live with him for 30 days. Listen to it here.
(6) It’s easier to come from a place than to go to a place
I heard this statement on Tom Bilyeu’s Inside Quest show and podcast when he was interviewing ex-Navy SEAL Commander Mark Divine.
Mark Divine talked about how in the lead up to his Navy SEAL training, he visualised every morning in his meditations himself succeeding at the training so that when we actually arrived to SEAL boot camp, he believed he had already been there before and could do it and as a result felt a great peace. Mark Divine credited it to enabling him to top his class at Navy SEAL training.
The essence of this idea is best captured by Sun Tzu who said:
Victorious warriors win in their mind first, and then go out to the battlefield.
For me this has been a mindset shift. For a long time I’ve believed you go out onto the battlefield first, win, and then you are a winner.
Or to put this another way, I’ve believed that you become successful and then you are successful. What I’ve learned in 2016 is that in fact the inverse is true.
I need to be first to then become. Not become first and therefore be.
For me, what this has meant practically is that I’ve spent 15 minutes each morning deeply visualising who I want to be – a better leader, husband, entrepreneur, son, and friend.
I’ve developed a visualisation for what I want to achieve in my life which I visualise each morning through meditation – deeply feeling and richly experiencing it. I’ve also developed a list of affirmations which I speak out to myself each day in front of a mirror and I’ve developed a vision board.
What difference has this made in my life?
I think the big tangible change I’ve seen is that my belief in myself has grown, and this has meant that I’ve started taking actions, both consciously and unconsciously to make my visualisations a reality. I’m closing the gap between what I see and experience in my mind and what I experience in my reality.
Additionally, my daily focus on my affirmations have meant that I’m living each day more closely aligned to my values. I’m living more authentically and this is very empowering.
(7) Your ego is your enemy
Through journalling and asking for feedback from friends, family and colleagues, 2016 was a year of discovering just how much my ego was impacting my relationships with those around me and constraining my ability to be an effective leader.
I discovered that driven by my ego I have a desire and need to be perceived as knowledgeable, smart and competent.
This has meant that if someone has started to share their knowledge or experience about something I’m working on, I’ll often interrupt and say, “Oh yeah, I know that” or “Oh yeah, we’re already doing that” and then share my own story about it. I’ll basically ‘show off’ my own knowledge.
The impact of this is that it regularly shuts down the conversation about this topic. It deprives the person I’m speaking with an opportunity to help, contribute, share their knowledge and critically to feel heard, understood and valued. It also deprives me of a valuable opportunity to learn more about this topic from someone else.
I’ve learned that even if I think I know something, I need to resist the urge at an ego level to ‘show off’ my knowledge or competence.
I need to instead listen first, seek to understand the other person’s perspective by being 100% present and asking them questions to better understand them. In doing so I’ve discovered I learn so much more and the person I’m speaking to feels so much more valued for being able to share and contribute!
Connected to this, I’ve also discovered in 2016 that your learning curve also rapidly accelerates when you drop your ego.
Because I’ve had a need to show that I’m knowledgeable, smart and competent, it’s meant that I’ve been reluctant to ask others for help. Asking for help was an admission that I wasn’t knowledgeable, smart or competent enough.
I’ve discovered however, that when you open up, be vulnerable and share where you truly are at showing warts and all with another person, without putting up an image of success, you no longer need to constantly try to protect your ego. The other person has seen you as you truly are.
This is so powerful and liberating as it means that all the energy that was was going towards protecting your ego shifts towards you asking for help, learning from the other person and growing. It also enables the other person to be able to better help you as they truly understand where you are at!
In 2016, I’ve learned therefore that my ego is my enemy to learning more, growing more, and enabling others to contribute and feel valued!
(8) Never ever multi-task. Always give people 100% of your focus, 100% of the time
I used to be a notorious multi-tasker.
I’d be on a web conference or call, and I’d also be banging out responses to emails, replying to customer support tickets and researching and reading on the web.
And I was proud of it – I was smashing through my to-do list and felt super productive.
Until a good friend and ex-colleague said to me:
“I get that you’ve got an epic to-do list – but when you multi-task on calls and meetings, it’s very obvious. You’re not 100% there and it sends the wrong message as a leader – that you don’t value and respect other people’s time.”
This was a huge wake up call for me.
I never realised the message my multi-tasking as a leader was sending to my team. That I didn’t respect them or value them.
It was at this point I made a commitment.
Never multi-task. Always give people 100% of your focus 100% of the time.
It’s been really hard as it’s involved a big change of habit, and occasionally I fall short, and slip out a quick reply to an email. But since making this commitment to be completely present in meetings and interactions with my team, clients and customers, I’ve felt an shift in the quality of our interactions.
The energy has lifted, the meetings are more productive and people feel valued and important.
(9) Self promotion is not about you
I’ve struggled for a long time with promoting and sharing what I do with others.
It’s scary to put yourself out there into the world. What if you and your work is not accepted, loved and deemed worthy?
What if you’re viewed as arrogant, narcissist or egotistical? What if you are laughed at, ridiculed, or perhaps even worse, ignored and dismissed?
I didn’t realise the impact these self-limiting beliefs I had about self promotion were having in my life until a good friend said to me:
“I’d love to help you and contribute to what you’re working on, but I don’t even really know what you do! I’ve got no clue, and if I don’t know I can’t help!”
This was a big slap in the face for me. If a close good friend didn’t know what I did and how they could help, how would anyone else know!
My friend’s feedback prompted me to reflect on my beliefs about self promoting and ask whether they were true, and whether they were serving me.
Through this process, I came to realise was that self promotion isn’t actually about me. I realised that if I don’t share what I do with the world:
- I’m not connecting and developing relationships with other people, and we’re both poorer for this
- I’m depriving other people of the opportunity of getting involved in an incredible mission to make the world better – to solve the growing global youth unemployment epidemic and to remove a one-size fits all approach in the classroom.
- I’m depriving other people of the opportunity to contribute, to be valued and connect with other people around a shared purpose
I’ve now changed my perception of the ‘why’ of self promotion- instead of viewing it all about me, and something driven by ego, narcissism, and a desire to validate worthiness, I’m coming from a place of viewing self promotion as all about other people, an opportunity to enrich others lives.
And this new belief is incredibly empowering – when I self-promote now, I ask:
By sharing and promoting this, how can I help others, add value and enrich their lives?
(10) Actively seek feedback always
As Elon Musk says:
It’s important to have a feedback loop, where you are constantly thinking about what you’ve done, and how you could be doing it better.”
But receiving feedback is scary. We view feedback as a threat to our self-worth and as a result our brain goes into protection mode by avoiding opportunities for feedback and it changes how we interpret feedback that conflicts with our self-perception.
As a result, ‘being open to feedback’ simply doesn’t work. If we’re open to receiving feedback, our brains do a good job of evading the opportunity to receive feedback, and it places an onus on other people to provide you with feedback.
On the basis of these learnings, I made a decision earlier this year to actively and intentionally seek feedback. I sent an email to 20+ people asking them to be brutally honest in sharing with me 3 areas they believed I could improve.
Sending that email was very scary, but the results have been incredible!
I received over 16 pages of amazing feedback from people covering areas of improvement and strengths and this has enabled me to have:
- a much great sense of self-awareness
- tangible actions to help me improve as a leader, husband, friend, team member and entrepreneur
- deeper connections with the people in my life
You can read about my experience sending this email out to 20 people and the feedback I received here.
What were your biggest learnings from 2016?
I’d love to hear what your biggest learnings where from 2016 and learn from them as well.
What was your #1 learning that impacted your life in 2016?
Share it in the comments!
Hey, I’m Rowan. I’m the CEO of Art of Smart Education and I’m on a mission to help 1,000,000 young Australians answer the big question, “What am I going to do with my life when I finish school & how do I get there?”