2023 Theme – With Intent

Usually ‘with intent’ has a negative connotation. For example, ‘with intent to distribute’…(or any of the below…)

It means that there is a purpose behind specific actions that someone takes, and that individual is aware that their actions will most likely cause a certain outcome, making them responsible for that outcome.

What it brings to mind for me is how my 6-year-old son behaves in a way that shows intent to annoy his 3 year old sister. I will often share my disappointment when he upsets her on purpose just to get her to react.

But it works both ways, because intent can be positive, and that is my hope for 2023. To be intentional with my actions – the more specific the better, in areas where my life isn’t going how I would like.

What makes intent positive or negative are the words that come after ‘with intent’. ‘With intent’, to what?  

So, my theme for 2023 is to live ‘with intent’. Intent to:

  • Be generous with specific amounts, organisations and people
  • Learn specific things
  • Improve specific parts of my finances
  • Spend time doing specific things which strengthen my body and mind
  • Spend time with specific people (and to find some more of these specific people)

(I do have these specific things, organisations and people articulated, in case you were wondering. This is just an overview.)

2023 is going to be my year of intent, to live knowing that my actions will most likely cause a certain outcome and that I am responsible for that outcome.

Where could you use some positive intent?

Top 5 Books from 2022

Of the books that I have read this year, here are my top 5 recommendations…(and then a list of some of the others in case you are curious.)

Personality Isn’t Permanent – Dr. Benjamin Hardy

I feel like I finally have an answer as to why I hate personality profiles based on a questionnaire. Besides the fact that all the information used for the profile is subjective (and provided by me about me – a topic that I really don’t fully understand) and the questions are way too simplistic, this book unpacks, from a psychological perspective, why personality types can be really harmful.

Your personality isn’t fixed. You are a number of different people throughout your life, unless you choose not to grow and allow yourself to be boxed in by your type/number/animal/acronym.

Read this book.

7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R Covey

Okay, I get it. I’m 30 years late on this one. I thought it was going to be a positive thinking book about getting up early and winning the day – like I need to hear more of that, so I have avoided it. I was so wrong. A few pages in I discovered that Stephen Covey was decades ahead of his time as he warned against the dangers of attempting to positive think your way into success and how manipulating those around you to do what you want with special techniques is not effective nor success. Many of the things that I have learned over the last 5 years that have been life changing can be found in the pages of this book. Most authors that I have credited with genius ideas have Stephen Covey to thank for giving them the inspiration to write them.

I had heard some of the habits mentioned before and on face value, again incorrectly, thought they were pointless. Instead, they hold a real depth and he takes you through the process of discovering what your values truly are, living them out through an empowered thought life creating an intentional future and building others up around you. If you have never read this book, read it…now.

Humankind – A Hopeful History – Rutger Bregman

Surely Rutger is one of the most hopeful people on the planet. His perspective and real understanding of some of the historical events reshapes the way that I see people – we are more often than not, generous, supportive and caring for others. Kids on an island is a fiction and also not true. The real story didn’t catch people’s attention because people treating others nicely rarely does.

Tribe of Mentors – Tim Ferris

Tim emails famous people that are pretty amazing in their field of expertise, a list of questions or which they can choose to answer a few or all if they wish. This book is the accumulation of their answers. Wisdom from actors, sports stars, tech billionaires, artists, authors and a whole lot more. Some of them weren’t for me but there was plenty of other brilliance.

Fiction of the year

A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

A beautifully written story about an aristocrat in Russia through parts of the 20th century, being held under house/hotel arrest for being an aristocrat. Some would say it explores the themes of the inevitability of change and government and power. I say it is a touching story, with the tiniest hint of The Count of Monte Cristo.

Others:

Michael Connelly – Bosch Series (Because I have read all the Jack Reacher books)

  • Black Echo
  • The Black Ice
  • Concrete Blonde
  • The Last Coyote
  • Trunk Music

The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid – C.K. Prahalad

The Obstacle is the Way – Ryan Holiday (for the third time)

Deep Work – Cal Newport (for the second time)

Achievement Addiction – Justine Toh

The War of Art – Steven Pressfield

Phosphoresence – Julia Baird

The Dark Moments

There are times when my spirit feels crushed. There are times when I don’t seem to have the ability to cognitively think my way out of a downward emotional spiral. The feeling of betrayal and anger, bordering on hatred, can burn a deep hole in your being. In those moments I feel disorientated and lost, desperately searching for a sure footing and a strong sense of my identity. Can you still act generously out of anger? What if I always feel this way? What if this is my new normal?

The Dark Moments are terrifying. To not see a way out. To know that things will get better but to not feel that. To know what I ‘need’ to do, but not do it. These are the time when generosity is most important.

Generosity is not all light and fluffy. It is also the hard work that goes on behind the scenes, when you are feeling the emotional weight, when you are not sure if you can carry on, when the voices of detractors are loud and echoing around your head. It’s the work of choosing to act generously, even if it is only to yourself and say, ‘it’s okay to feel this way’, and then to seek help.

Thief

Don’t compare yourself to other people. You never know who is taking steroids. You never know who is drowning in debt. You never know who is a liar.Ryan Holiday

Who are you in competition with? Why? Do they even know?

For me is it other fundraisers, other staff, other parents from my kids’ school, other people on the internet?

I wonder if they walk around thinking, “I am winning!” or are they so focussed on doing the best they can that they don’t even notice or care about me.

In a zero-sum game world, someone else winning would mean that I am losing. But what if we are not in competition with everyone else? What if we are all on the same team and we are only in competition with who we used to be?

If comparison with other people is the thief of joy, then personal progress is the thief of comparison.

This is my journey. This is my race. Success is whatever I want it to be. Survival of the fittest is a sham. We don’t live in a zero-sum game world. When you grow and progress then so do I.

How to Not Be a Jerk

A regular generous act we can be part of is to provide the gift of feedback. We do it all the time, whether we know it or not. Sometimes with words, many times with just our face. Regardless of how we do it, feedback is common.

There is something refreshing about getting someone’s honest opinion on about an issue or something we have created. In certain cultures, feedback gets sugar coated or hidden so that people don’t get offended or embarrassed by their shortcomings. But this doesn’t build trust and it keeps people from getting an accurate understanding of areas they can improve on.

That is one of the reasons that we are drawn to people who don’t have a filter. Normally these are the types of people who say “I just call it as I see it”. Honesty. Refreshing honesty.

But, if you see ‘it’ like a jerk, you will call ‘it’ like a jerk.

Let me give you an example, if you watch someone give a presentation at work and you notice that they are nervous, and stumble over a few words, it is generous to provide feedback on what you have seen so that they can improve – if they are interested in doing so.

One way to give this feedback is:

“I enjoyed your presentation, thank you for taking the time to put this together. I noticed that you looked a little nervous and stumbled over some of your words, perhaps next time we can get together beforehand and practice a little bit. Would that be of interest to you?”

Generous.

Another way is like this:

“You were shaking like a leaf, and I didn’t understand half of what you said. Public speaking is not your thing. Stick to what you are good at.”

Jerk.

Both methods would be considered as “calling it as I see it”, one method just uses it as an excuse to be a jerk.

How you deliver feedback is just as important as what the feedback is. No one can hear it well if you’re a jerk.

Don’t Get Stuck

“What causes a problem matters less than what maintains it” – Trevor Kashey

“Who did this?”

The question hung in the silence for what seemed like an eternity as two sets of eyes looked back at me in fear, eagerly waiting to see how they should respond to this emotional time, depending on how upset I was.

Another broken item in the home. Not an uncommon experience although it is one that drives me a little crazy.

My desire to get to the bottom of who, what, why and when of these sorts of situations can be helpful to figure out just what happened, but at the same time it can cause greater stress than the traumatic breaking of the breakfast bowl.

The result can leave kids being so afraid of breaking something that they get anxious about carrying a bowl from the kitchen to the table and in their anxiety, drop said bowl and break it. Creating more anxiety. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy.

This can happen in any area of life. We can get so caught up in avoiding failure that we are afraid to act, and when something does inevitably go wrong, we can expend all this energy figuring out who or what caused it, getting stuck in the process of dealing out blame. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for accountability and being responsible for your actions, but if it’s just about discovering who to get angry at then we have missed the point. Anger doesn’t create solutions. Blame doesn’t create growth.

Instead of asking, “who did this?”, a better question is “what can we learn from this?”, or “how do we grow from this?” or “how can we improve this?”

Who or what causes a problem ‘matters less than what maintains it.’ It’s not about how we got here but it’s about where to from here.

Trapped on a Plane

I took a flight from Sydney to Perth and about an hour in, I began to feel a unwell. It was such a strange onset – I was feeling great before I boarded, but things quickly took a turn for the worse. The flight had some turbulence, so I thought maybe that was the reason and things would settle down.

No.

Just over half way through the flight the worst happened. My recently eaten dinner came back to visit. I would love to have told you that it was fine and that I made it to the bathroom in time, but I did not. Someone was in the bathroom and the best I could do a large plastic bag being used as a bin.

I was very apologetic to the crew, but they were so understanding telling me it “happened all the time”, and that I had “done quite well to minimise the collateral damage” (I’m not sure I could do their job – imagine the things they would have seen). They expressed concern for me and how unpleasant an experience it must have been. That was sweet.

The truth is, there is nothing I could have done to change the situation. I was trapped on a plane thousands of feet in the air. I just had to accept it, embrace the public embarrassment, and find a way forward. And it was embarrassing. I was afraid to look stupid in front of other people, but I had no control over that moment. My internal system forced my hand. (Or stomach as the case may be).

There are things we fear that we have absolutely no control over. We get to choose whether the things we don’t control stop us from living our lives, from exploring, trying something new or even stepping outside of our comfort zone.

Fear cripples. Being willing to look stupid in front of others not only lessens the embarrassment after projectile vomiting on a plane but also allows you to walk in the freedom of trying something new and not being good at it yet.

Generosity Grows

There are many lessons to be taken from nature. Like planting a seed, for example. It gets shoved in the ground where it is dark, moist and enclosed. Not normally a place that I would choose to hang around in. But it just so happens that this specific environment is the exact one it needs to break out of its seedy shell and begin to grow. From there, it is still in a dark, moist and enclosed area so it must keep struggling and growing in its infancy and head towards the light, finally breaking through the surface of the soil to begin its new life as a plant, which (depending on the type of plant I guess) looks extraordinary.

We can find ourselves in many a dark, moist (?) and enclosed place as we journey through life, and it is those specific places that provide us exactly what we need to break out, grow and become extraordinary.

Generosity grows. When the need is great, when things seem dark and enclosed, when the local, communal and global problems seem overwhelming, generosity breaks through and becomes an extraordinary plant which gives life to the world.

I no longer feel afraid for our world, because I know that as the need grows, the generosity of people will grow to meet and exceed that need.

I am Exhausting to Live With

“Can you rephrase that to a statement that serves you better?”

That was the question I was asked by a good friend, but I wasn’t sure if I could. I still don’t know. I think it is just the truth, I am exhausting to live with and the more that I recognise that the easier my world becomes.

Growth is my passion. I love it. I have a long way to go and there are many times where I much prefer comfort over growth, but I love to consume as much as I can around areas of leadership, psychology, entrepreneurialism, random information and anything else that I can get my hands on. Be that through podcasts, books or attending events, I have developed a deep love of learning.

I do forget sometimes that not everyone loves what I love – especially my wife. She has her hands very full running and growing a business, being a mum to a 4 and half year old ball of energy and a 1 year old demanding beauty. So, I can understand that sometimes she doesn’t care about why written words create less empathy than spoken ones, or how tank warfare impacted the result of World War II, or how Slack was founded. She also doesn’t want to have a conversation every single day about why she does the things that she does, or which tiny habit she should start.

I can be a bit intense, and recognising that gives me a great deal of gratitude for her, and for putting up with it, especially when I direct that intensity at understanding the psychological impact of going to the gym rather than just unstacking the dishwasher.

2020 Reading List

Building on my commitment to myself (starting last year) of reading one book a month from my reading list, I decided to up it to two in 2020. It’s lucky that I did because what else was there to do this year?

Here are the books that I’ve worked through this year, some planned, some unplanned, but all worthwhile…well most of them. Some weren’t great.

January

The Tipping Point – Malcolm Gladwell

Classic Gladwell. A book about how little things can make a big impact and what it takes for an idea to reach critical mass to become a significant movement.

The Dispossessed – Ursula K Le Guin

This is the first of a few books that I read this year which I have no idea how it made it on to my list. But it was there. So, being a slave to my list, I read it. It was an intriguing fiction novel about different planets and other space type things which are not normally interesting to me. However, it was worth the read.

February

The Infinite Game – Simon Sinek

I have heard Simon interviewed about this book a few times, and whilst the book doesn’t really provide much more than what he covers in the interviews, the concept is brilliant. The idea that, in business and other areas of life, we are not playing a game with set rules and timeframes. Nobody ends up being the ultimate winner. Sometimes we will win, sometimes we will lose, but shifting your mindset to understand that the you are not in competition with the person/business next to you. Instead, you are playing your own game.

Utopia for Realists – Rutger Brehman

The best first line of a book ever. “Let’s start with a little history lesson: In the past, everything was worse. For roughly 99% of the world’s history, 99% of humanity was poor, hungry, dirty, afraid, stupid, sick, and ugly.”

Essentially the book is about a vision for a realistic utopia, with universal basic income, a shorter work week and open borders. A very interesting read.

March

Enlightenment Now – Steven Pinker

500 pages of why things in our world have never been better than they are now. Still much improvement necessary but a great perspective on history and humanity.

April

Better Than Before – Gretchen Rubin

One of the many books about habits Gretchen talks about the pillars of habit and the four tendencies being an upholder, a questioner, an obliger and a rebel. Whilst not going deeply into the psychology of habits, Gretchen does appear to understand and explain some of the complexities of how we all create habits differently. This approach is different from what I’ve come across before where she unpacks some of the methods that we can use depending on what type of personality we have to help create habits and facilitate better habits

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield

Probably my favourite book this year. Chris Hadfield is an experienced astronaut having travelled to space 3 times in his career, this book outlines some of the practical things that he learned during that process. He is really funny too. Many times I would chuckle to something humorous in the book which piqued my wife’s interest and she in-turn, read it and loved it.

His ability to work the problem in front of him regardless of all other challenges he faced, is inspirational.

Dark Matter – Blake Crouch

Another book that I have no idea how it ended up on the list, but, well, it was on the list. A fiction novel about the multiverse. Tripped me out a bit, but quite the entertaining read.

May

Meditations – Marcus Aurelius

I think this is a book that I will read every year as there is just so much to it. It is the writings of Marcus Aurelius, the stoic philosopher and Emperor of Rome, as he wrestles with some of the most significant questions about life and meaning.

It has provided me with a quote that I am striving to live up to…

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”

The Sun Also Rises – Ernest Hemmingway

Having never read anything from one of the greatest author’s ever, I thought I better do so. At first I struggled with the pointlessness of the story but recognising that it was first published in 1926, I was impressed by the ability of the author to tell an engaging story. Even if it didn’t seem to have a point.

Renovation of the Heart – Dallas Willard

On a suggestion from Donald Miller from Story Brand, a look at the state of our hearts. “We live from our depths – and we understand little of what is there”.

Predictable Irrational – Dan Ariely

Dan is in incredibly intelligent and thinks about the world in a very interesting way. The premise of this book is that we are not rational beings in the decisions that we make and whether we approach our lives but that irrationality is predictable dance studies really inside but the majority of them are done in university colleges in the US don’t have the reach or the breadth of the entire community as a whole. The sections on pricing and the psychology behind it is fascinating. The section money and deception is terrifying.

June

Give and Take – Adam Grant

The book of generosity. Adam lays out why those who are generous in the workplace become more successful than those who aren’t. Outside of the Bible, this is my bible. A true encouragement to not shy away from seeking the best for those that you work with and around as it will make you better at your job.

Deep Work – Cal Newport

Cal Newport outlines what he means by that phrase in deep work and then he outlines why we should all be looking to create more opportunities to do work in our lives especially in our work lives. The opposite of deep work being shallow work which is all the things that actually distract us in our work life or can be things which are just not helpful to us. the capacity for someone to create a great amount of work when they have access to the work is extraordinary and there is something that everybody can take out of this book even if they are not an intellectual store professor he does bring a specific view of a professor to this work and there is some things that will not translate into other areas of life especially when it comes to taking time off. There are times when it comes off arrogant but his insight is second to none.

July

The Bourne Initiative – Eric Van Lustbader

In light of not having a Jack Reacher novel to read (as I had finished all of them), I thought I would give another series a try. You will notice there is no other mention of the Bourne series in this list. There is a reason for that.

Atomic Habits – James Clear

Another favourite. James unpacks how little things that we do build up over time and can create a significant impact. We get to choose what daily things we do to either create a positive impact or a negative impact.

August

Hiking with Neitzsche – John Kraag

Having never read anything by Neitzsche this was a nice introduction to his philosophy and life journey. This book is about John Kraag’s two trips following in the footsteps of Neitzsche through the Swiss Alps, one he took as a teenager and one 17 years later as a married father of one. An amazing journey into the depths of despair and depression and seeking out meaning in meaninglessness.

Bruce Lee – Matthew Polly

Having never seen anything with Bruce Lee in it, or really understanding who he was, this story captured me. His intensity and influence across martial arts and the movie industry are overwhelming. Every familiar ‘tough guy/girl’ in movies today can be traced back to him. All of this at the same time as being caught between two cultures. Not accepted as fully Chinese and not embraced as an American, we are only left to imagine what else he could have brought had he not died so tragically.

September

Man’s Search for Meaning – Victor Frankl

On the back of my Neitzsche journey in August, more staring into the face of darkness and despair. Frankl writes about his time in Auschwitz from a psychological perspective. It was through this experience that he shaped the framework for his practice in psychology in the years to follow. He doesn’t go into great detail about the atrocities that occurred, but he does talk about the importance of finding a meaning and purpose that can keep you going in the most troubling of circumstances.

The Only Story – Julian Barnes

Random addition. Written from three time perspectives, it is a story of forbidden love but is unusual in the sense that it plays out the relationship to the end. The complexity of what a relationship between a teenage boy and a middle aged woman looks like ten years down the track, and then even further.

October

Fear & Trembling – Soren Kirkergaard

Kirkergaard is revered as a deeply influential thinker and so I have been attempting to get an understanding of that. I find him very challenging to read with moments of pure inspiration. This entire book describes the journey of Abraham on his way to sacrifice his son, Isaac. It is about faith, courage and whether or not Abraham was a sadistic murderer.

Thirst – Scott Harrison

The story of Charity: Water as written by its founder. His is an intriguing story and upbringing. From the darkness of running nightclubs in New York to digging wells in Africa, Scott is brilliantly honest about his journey, mistakes and all, in an attempt to bring clean water to the world.

November

The Happiest Man on Earth Eddie Jaku

Another inspirational book from World War 2, Eddie went through many concentration camps, including Auschwitz, as a Jew. His survival and life after has been a miracle. This is a really easy read, written very simply and does gloss over some of the finer details.

Jack Reacher – The Sentinel – Lee Child

The brand new release, timed well as it was about the 2020 election and how it could be hacked by Russia. I hate to say it but I was disappointed. I think Lee tried to shoehorn an idea into a story to fit the year. It lacked the normal Jack Reacher flair.

What’s Your Plan – Suzzanne Laidlaw

Written by an Opportunity International Australia Ambassador, Suzzanne shares her story and then couples her journey with business principals to help those starting out, or trying to get a hold of their business. Suzzanne’s story is one of the most unique, gut-wrenching and inspiring challenges that I have ever come across. And her heart is one of the largest ones that exist.

December

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

I did not know a thing about this before I read it. Everyone seems to know it and the answer to the question of ‘What is the meaning of life?’ being 42, but I had no clue what that was all about. For a sci-fi book that was written in the 1970’s, it is refreshingly creative and engaging. It was a wild ride, although I found the ending a little disappointing.

That’s it for another year – I would love to hear your suggestions for my list for 2021!