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4 Exercises That Can Help You Simplify Your Life


#4. Create an advisory board

“Go into your closet. Take all of your shirts and hang them so they’re all facing the same direction. When you’re done wearing one, hang it up so it’s facing the other direction so you have a ‘worn’ camp and an ‘unworn’ camp. After 90 days, grab all of your unworn shirts, and give them to someone who will wear them.”

Three years ago, my mom told me about the exercise above. When it comes to simplifying my closet it’s been a godsend. Every single piece of clothing I have serves a purpose. After some time, if I discover that something isn’t being of use, I get rid of it.

I’ve reached that stage in my life where I want my life as clean as my closet. I want my life to be lightweight. My goal is simple: be surrounded by people that fuel me and spend my time on activities that light me up.

The 4 exercises below have helped with this. When life gets complicated I turn to them as a guide. They remind me to act in-line with the person I want to be while providing clarity regarding the actions I need to take to keep moving in the right direction.

1. Create an “admirable” list and an “unadmirable” list

According to legendary investor Warren Buffett, one of the best decisions we can make is to mirror the qualities we admire in others while doing away with the qualities that we don’t.

A very simple way to accomplish this is by taking out a piece of paper and creating an “admirable” list and an “unadmirable” list.

Start by thinking about your closest friends and take a moment to identify the one quality in each of them that you respect the most. It could be that you look up to generous people who give for the sake of giving and don’t keep score. Or maybe you respect optimistic people or you look up to brave people who have the courage to be themselves.

Once you get all of the positive traits you admire in others down on paper, flip the script and get clear on the qualities that you do not admire in others. It could be that dishonest people turn you off. Or maybe it’s someone who thinks they are above others or a person who doesn’t walk their talk.

This exercise may sound overly simple, but when it comes to getting clear on your values it’s deadly effective. None of us are born with any of these positive and negative traits. Each and every one of us can work to improve upon the qualities we admire in others while being more conscious of the actions we don’t.

2. Choose your one-word theme for the year

A year ago, my friend Niklas Göke told me about this exercise. Since then, not a day has gone by when I haven’t thought about it. In short, at the beginning of each year, Nik chooses a theme for the year that serves as his guide.

For 2020, Nik’s one-word theme is “Balance.” Over the last few years, he’s been focused primarily on his career. He has reached the decision that now is the time to lower the burner in that area while raising the heat in other aspects of his life. This year he will make more time for family, friends, romance, and health. Opening up his computer and seeing the word “Balance” every day on his screensaver helps him to not only remember this, but act upon it.

My one-word for this year is “Enjoy.” Last year I was presented with some amazing opportunities. Offers I never thought I was capable of getting. However, I became blinded and without realizing it I began to risk the things I love in order to get things I’m not sure I even want.

I don’t want to make that same mistake again. My goal this year is to better appreciate what I have. So this year I’m pulling up the brakes. Every time something gets thrown at me I say the word “Enjoy” to myself and it triggers a set of questions: Does this opportunity represent my own definition of fun? Most importantly — Will this decision take away from the time that I should be spending with my number one priority: my wife and kids.

Reminding myself of my one-word theme ignites a gut reaction. The older I get the more I am beginning to trust that response and it has saved me countless hours of internal debate.

3. Create a daily love-hate list

When it comes to building self-awareness, pattern recognition is the name of the game. One of the best ways to achieve this is by journaling about not only our day-to-day actions but also our daily interactions. Over time, patterns will come to light regarding both the things and people that fuel you, and the things and people that don’t.

An easy way to get started with this is by keeping a daily “love-hate” list. Simply take a moment towards the end of each day to jot down everything and everyone that brings light into your life and everything and everyone that stamps it out.

According to leadership expert Conor Neill, more times than not it’s the little things that detract us from staying on track. So when making this list, dig deep. Identify the food that fuels you and also those which slow you down. Get clear on the conversations and individuals that lift you up, while taking note of those which bring you down.

Like a lot of people, I used to wake up each day and ask myself what I needed to do. Today, however, I also see tremendous value in reminding myself of what I shouldn’t do. Keeping a “love-hate” list helps with this.

4. Create an advisory board

Like my mom’s suggestion for my closet, the 3 exercises above can help us to speed up our decision-making process. But what happens when we are faced with situations where the answers aren’t as black and white?

This is where the power of establishing a group of trusted friends to act as your advisors can seriously come in handy.

Once a month, 4 of my friends and I get together on a call where each of us brings to the table a problem or question we are facing. Prior to the call, we let the other members know the background of the situation so when we get together we are focused primarily on solutions.

The group of people you work with doesn’t have to be your closest friends. But trust is essential. The goal is to get the right feedback even if it hurts.

Gaining the perspective of straight-shooters on a regular basis has been huge for me. However, one benefit I didn’t see coming is that when I have a problem, instead of pining over it, I tuck it away knowing that in a few days I’ll be speaking to the right people about this problem. This has freed up a ton of headspace. It has helped me to be fully present with my friends and family even while I’m in the process of making a tough decision.

Like I said above, I’ve reached the stage in my life where I want to be lightweight. I want to be clear in my direction and decisive in my actions.

When it comes to achieving this, the 4 exercises have helped tremendously. The beauty of each of them is that they don’t take that long or involve a lot of heavy thought.

Stuck in a position that tests your values? Remind yourself of the traits that you admire in others and follow suit.

Faced with a new opportunity? Remind yourself of your one-word theme and ask yourself if now is indeed the best time to ensure your actions are in-line with your commitments.

Want to get a better idea of where and with whom you should be spending your time? Take 5 minutes a day to update your “love-hate” list and pay attention to the patterns that arise.

Still unsure of what you should do? Turn to your advisors for guidance to see if their suggestions match your feelings.

And don’t forget, if your closet is getting too full — it may be time to clean it out.

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