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1.5
February 24, 2019

The 5 Questions I Asked Myself—That Changed The Course of My Life.

So, there I am, looking down at my stressed shirt buttons feeling pretty ashamed and a little depressed. One thing was certain, I did not like what I saw.

Didn’t really matter to me who or what the culprit was, I just knew this version of me was not acceptable.

I’ve always been in pretty good shape, some times better than others, but for the most part I stay fit. Exercise has always been an easy choice for me.

I started training in martial arts when I was about 10 or 11 so the exercise habit formed early. Then I joined the Navy right out of high school and since, have always led a pretty active lifestyle.

I never gave much thought to my diet though. I have a high metabolism so carbs had always been my friend. Lots of activity + high revving engine = eat whatever you want, whenever you want. (I’m talking to you Guinness!)

But around the same time I noticed there was more of me, not only had my metabolism started to slow, but so had my lifestyle. I rose in the management ranks and started spending more and more time behind a desk, sitting on my ass or carting my kids around, sitting on my ass.

My weekend excursions had been replaced by a folding chair on the sidelines of the pitch, sitting on my ass. That combination of events didn’t take long to affect my waistline, but what happened next led me to recognize a system of change that soon permeated my entire life.

What’s important to note is that I didn’t spend a lot of time obsessing over my motivations or the contributors, I recognized a condition that was in contrast to my standards and I acted on it.
 
Bad habits are allowed to persist when we can’t connect the dots to their damage.

With respect to my physical appearance this was an easy sell, because my appearance is very important to me (Virgo, September 15th). There were a lot of other underlying motivators that I wouldn’t realize until much later, but that’s for another time. I promised you the 5 questions I asked myself that changed the course of my life and I’m going to get to them…shortly.

So, commitment to exercise (P90X this time) and an improved diet means…well people noticed. Success. I am the captain of my own ship! Then the insidious part, my mind began to ask…if this crept in, what other spare tires had infiltrated my life?

What other parts of my life are not in alignment with my standards. What other, less obvious compromises was I making…first things first…

1. What are my values?

Knowing what really drives you at a deep level is one of the most powerful lessons you can learn. Your values are a compass, a lighthouse for your habits. Being aware of the fundamental drivers of your life makes even big decisions incredibly easy.

Even the most nuanced choices, when weighed against your values, yield a clear winner. And by winner I mean, one choice more closely aligns with your values than another.

I defined my values using the Values Madness technique…I created a bracket. First twenty, then ten, then my five non-negotiable personal values of existence. Don’t get me wrong, they all matter, but I started simply and nailed down the top five.

The twenty may vary a bit after the birth of a child, or on the cusp of a career change. The top ten change much more slowly, but the top five are the bedrock of your personality and belief system.

So, once I knew what really mattered to me, the next obvious question was, how am I expressing those values?

2. What goals am I pursuing?

Right away, I knew there was trouble in my ‘house’. Sounds cliche’ I know, but goals are the things we pursue with our limited resources. Limited resources like time, money, attention, effort, practice.

If you have a value, but aren’t applying any resources towards expressing that value there’s a conflict there that will negatively impact your quality of life, or perceived quality of life. Apply that theory to any value you have and you’ll see that goals are the actions that express our values.

So, without trying to impress anyone I made a list of ‘pursuits’…which is kind of a trick to list all the things I was alreadyapplying my resources towards.

What was I doing with all my time? Money? In this example, how much time was I spending exercising (playing!) and what food was I shoving in my mouth and how many times a day was I doing it? (2-part problem, am I right?)

A quick scan of my calendar and credit card receipts showed a lot of sitting around and eating out. It also had the unintended consequence of laying out exactly with whom I was spending those precious resources. Clearly, I had a disconnect between my stated values and actions.

Which led me to…

3. Are my actions congruent with my values?

So, in this example I already knew my actions weren’t inline with my values, it’s kinda how I ended up here. The problem is this is usually where most people start the process. Unfortunately, without weighing the indicator (body fat) against your values (appearance) you can’t be sure if your actions are helping or hurting you.

If you pursue a goal to appease someone else’s value system, you are likely to quit or fail. And even if you do achieve the goal, you will not be satisfied or at peace. You’ll be stressed. Anxious. Unfulfilled.

My experience is that this is why over half of the workforce is dissatisfied with their career. They’re doing work they can do, instead of work they should do to gratify their value system.

I had a pretty strong tie between actions and consequences, even though those consequences took a few months to manifest. Most outcomes take a long time to affect us. If lung cancer formed immediately on taking your first drag..no one would smoke! But because there’s a little fudge factor in the probability and severity the immediate good outweighs the distant bad.

This is where you have to be really honest with yourself and accept that you can’t outrun your value system. You can violate for a little while, but eventually what really matters to you will demand expression.

4. Are my habits helping or preventing me from reaching my goals?
 
All of our daily decisions and actions have an impact on the trajectory of our lives. As minuscule as they may be, each choice we make either moves us closer or further from our intended existence.

What most people fail to recognize or acknowledge is the cumulative affect of these thousands of tiny choice and their unintended consequences.

When I first stepped back and took a critical look at the choices I was making:

  • pop-tart or mixed nuts
  • sarcastic response or constructive feedback
  • stairs or elevator

I was able to categorize each of my choices as simply those that were moving me towards who I wanted to be, or away from who I wanted to be. In alignment with my values, or not.

It quickly became obvious that with respect to the big stuff we all do a pretty good job of not acting on impulses with significant, immediate consequences. But the smaller choices, the less obvious consequences are allowed to ’slip through’ because their affects are nearly imperceptible.

But those are the choices that, over time, push us of course and away from our value base. Those are the choices that, one foot from the finish line, rear their ugly heads and cause us to miss our target.
 
5. What am I going to do about it?

Now it’s grown-up time. Taking responsibility for my choices was the final piece of the life-satisfaction puzzle. Those of us that own our mistakes and choices are exponentially happier and more satisfied with our lives than those who blame and cry victim.

Even if you believe in fate (things out of your control) you must still accept that there are consequences to your actions. If you touch fire it’s not fate that decides if you get burnt, it’s physics.

The world does a pretty good job of providing feedback (f***ing Twitter trolls) we just need to be aware of and accept which feedback as real and actual.

Regardless of our planned outcome we need to be cognizant of what’s really happening. You don’t get to dismiss someone’s feelings just because you weren’t trying to hurt them.

So, to be happy I need to be aligned, to be aligned I need to take action, to take action I need to…um…not forget. Oh, yeah.

This is where to myriad of technological tools can actual serve to make your life better, easier, more Star-Trek-like.

Use the tools! Take the subjectivity out of your decision making. Don’t do the things on the days you feel like it, do the things on the days that best serve your goals.

Ok, I had a set of values, a set of goals to actualize those values, I figured out how to ensure my actions were moving me towards those goals, and I set-up a way to make sure those actions were getting done.

So, those are The 5 Questions I Asked Myself That Changed the Course of My Life…they didn’t just change them the first time I asked them, they have changed my life every time I’ve asked them.

I guarantee you, if you have an accomplishment that has been eluding you, perhaps for years, your goal-setting system is not in alignment with how you truly see yourself, or truly want out of life. So one or the other needs calibration.

I hoped you enjoyed this article and found something of use, a lifelong student of continuous improvement means I always looking for ways to improve.

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Tina B May 9, 2019 4:00am

Thank you for this!

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Charles Browne

Charles is a Men’s Life & Leadership Coach specializing in Breaking the Cycles that prevent a life of purpose and authenticity.

A Navy Submarine Warfare veteran, Charles has spent his life studying human performance and continuous improvement and often writes about the tools and best practices to get the most out of life.