I want to take some time and share my “annual review” with you.
Since I’ve committed to blogging daily for the next 10 years this “annual review” thing is something I’d like to do every year.
I think it’ll be interesting to be able to quickly review the highlights of each year in one place. So without further ado, here we go…
What Happened this Year
1. My parents met my kids for the first time: Emma is 4, Lily is 2 and Benji is 1. And this summer was the first time they met my parents. I don’t have time to explain the backstory about why they haven’t met before, but the bottom line is that I’m working on reconciling my relationship with my parents, which I’m happy about. So I’m glad they got to meet their grandkids! I’m looking forward to rebuilding a relationship with my parents in 2017.
2. I completed a “productized service” coaching program: I’ve been wanting to make the leap from freelancer to entrepreneur since I feel more like an entrepreneur at heart. But it’s been hard trying to do it by myself. So I hired a coach this year who specializes in helping freelancers and consultants launch and grow a “productized service” agency. It cost $6,000, which was a lot of money for us, but it paid off. I learned a lot and numbers 3 and 4 below are a direct result of this.
3. I launched Insurance Funnels: I launched insfunnels.com this year as part of my goal to create an agency and not just work as a freelance copywriter. To be honest, this was super-stressful and it was one of the hardest parts of the year. For a while I was frustrated because I felt like I didn’t make as much progress as I wanted to. But after reflecting on it today I realized it was good and I’m thankful for what I did do.
4. I created my first online course and coaching program: I created a 6-week coaching program for insurance agents called the Insurance Funnels Academy. I also created a 20-part video course, with the help of my friend Wayne, called the Facebook Ads Bootcamp for Insurance Agents. The Academy was moderately successful and I’m ashamed to say I haven’t even marketed the Facebook Ads course yet! (It’s on my agenda for early 2017).
5. I took Emma snowboarding for the 1st time: This may have been the highlight of the year for me (this and the 2-month RV trip we took to San Diego). We spent 3-days at a cool little cabin on Mt. Hood with my wife, her sisters and all of my siblings. It was the first time me and my siblings had all gotten together like that in years! So that was cool. Here’s a little video of Emma’s first snowboarding trip.
6. Emma started gymnastics: this was one of the things we started while on our 2-month RV trip. Emma loved gymnastics and we want to get her back in now that we’re home.
7. I joined CrossFit: I started doing CrossFit in September down in San Diego and have been training 3 days a week since then. It feels good to be back in shape.
8. I launched this blog! I made a 10-year commitment to publish a daily blog here at jmonen.com (I’m on Day #52 now!). This has been something I’ve wanted to do for a while now so it felt good to finally pull the trigger and just commit.
9. Spent 69 days traveling in the RV! This is what I’m most proud about this year. A dream of ours has been to take a long-term RV trip and we got to do that this year. We left Yacolt, WA on August 24 and returned on October 24. You can read more about it here and here. In addition to this trip we also took 3 other shorter trips in the RV:
Total Days Traveling in RV: 59 + 3 + 4 + 3 = 69 (9.8 weeks)
10. Had Six 1-Day Silent Retreats: I went to something called the Kingdom Business Summit (my notes here) in May. And the speaker, Wez Hone, challenged us to spend more “extended times” with God. In my spirit I felt led to start spending Mondays with God. This didn’t make logical sense because I was super busy at the time. But I’m glad I did! I want to do this again in 2017. I spent these days down at the Ridgefield Wildlife Refugee. These “silent retreats” helped recenter me and provided the time and space I needed to hear from God better.
2016 in One Sentence This was a year full of adventure and trying new things, like living in an RV for 3 months, starting new business ventures and launching this blog!
Overall it was a great year and I realize I have a lot to be thankful for. I have a heavenly Father who loves me, a beautiful wife who is also my best friend and 3 amazing kids who are super cute and fun to hang out with! And I get to work from home to enjoy all these people more. It was a good year. It wasn’t always easy but overall I can be happy with my progress.
If you love learning about learning then read this book. The author reached the pinnacle of success in two fields: chess and Tai Chi. Josh Waitzkin won his first National Chess Championship at the age of nine. And the movie, Searching for Bobby Fischer, was based off his life. After he left the chess world he learned the martial art Tai Chi Chuan and ultimately became the World Champion. Waitzkin explains how a well-thought-out, principled approach to learning is what separates success from failure. I love this book!
I sometimes refer to it as the study of numbers to leave numbers, or form to leave form . A basic example of this process, which applies to any discipline, can easily be illustrated through chess: A chess student must initially become immersed in the fundamentals in order to have any potential to reach a high level of skill.
I became a protégé of the street, hard to rattle, a feisty competitor. It was a bizarre school for a child, a rough crowd of alcoholics, homeless geniuses, wealthy gamblers hooked on the game, junkies, eccentric artists—all diamonds in the rough, brilliant, beat men, lives in shambles, aflame with a passion for chess.
I guess it was a calling, though I’m still not sure what that means.
He had to teach me to be more disciplined without dampening my love for chess or suppressing my natural voice. Many teachers have no feel for this balance and try to force their students into cookie-cutter molds.
Bruce didn’t patronize me—some teachers rebel so far away from being authoritarian that they praise all their little player’s decisions, good or bad. Their intention is to build confidence, but instead they discourage objectivity, encourage self-indulgence, and perhaps most destructively, they create a dishonest relationship between instructor and pupil that any bright child can sense.
Times at sea are periods of renewal, coming together with family, being with nature, putting things back in perspective. I am able to let my conscious mind move away from my training, and to gain creative new angles on the next steps of my growth.
Often in chess, you feel something is there before you find it. The skin suddenly perks up, senses heighten like an animal feeling danger or prey. The unconscious alerts the conscious player that there is something to be found, and then the search begins. I started calculating, putting things together. Slowly the plan crystallized in my mind.
Dr. Carol Dweck, a leading researcher in the field of developmental psychology, makes the distinction between entity and incremental theories of intelligence. Children who are “entity theorists”—that is, kids who have been influenced by their parents and teachers to think in this manner—are prone to use language like “I am smart at this” and to attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. They see their overall intelligence or skill level at a certain discipline to be a fixed entity, a thing that cannot evolve. Incremental theorists, who have picked up a different modality of learning—let’s call them learning theorists —are more prone to describe their results with sentences like “I got it because I worked very hard at it” or “I should have tried harder.” A child with a learning theory of intelligence tends to sense that with hard work, difficult material can be grasped—step by step, incrementally, the novice can become the master.
One of the most critical strengths of a superior competitor in any discipline—whether we are speaking about sports, business negotiations, or even presidential debates—is the ability to dictate the tone of the battle.
My whole career, my father and I searched out opponents who were a little stronger than me, so even as I dominated the scholastic circuit, losing was part of my regular experience. I believe this was important for maintaining a healthy perspective on the game. While there was a lot of pressure on my shoulders, fear of failure didn’t move me so much as an intense passion for the game. I think the arc of losing a heartbreaker before winning my first big title gave me license to compete on the edge.
While a fixation on results is certainly unhealthy, short-term goals can be useful developmental tools if they are balanced within a nurturing long-term philosophy. Too much sheltering from results can be stunting.
After about ten minutes of thought, I began to lose myself in the variations. It is a strange feeling. First you are a person looking at a chessboard. You calculate through the various alternatives, the mind gaining speed as it pores through the complexities, until consciousness of one’s separation from the position ebbs away and what remains is the sensation of being inside the energetic chess flow. Then the mind moves with the speed of an electrical current, complex problems are breezed through with an intuitive clarity, you get deeper and deeper into the soul of the chess position, time falls away, the concept of “I” is gone, all that exists is blissful engagement, pure presence, absolute flow. I was in the zone and then there was an earthquake.
In performance training, first we learn to flow with whatever comes. Then we learn to use whatever comes to our advantage. Finally, we learn to be completely self-sufficient and create our own earthquakes, so our mental process feeds itself explosive inspirations without the need for outside stimulus.
I have come to believe that the solution to this type of situation does not lie in denying our emotions, but in learning to use them to our advantage. Instead of stifling myself, I needed to channel my mood into heightened focus—and I can’t honestly say that I figured out how to do this consistently until years into my martial arts career when dirty opponents tried to take out my knees, target the groin, or head-butt me in the nose in competition.
Problems set in if the performer has a brittle dependence on the safety of absolute perfection or duplication. Then an error triggers fear, detachment, uncertainty, or confusion that muddies the decision-making process.
I linked life and chess in a way that appeared to move them—this tragedy needn’t have happened.
I believe that one of the most critical factors in the transition to becoming a conscious high performer is the degree to which your relationship to your pursuit stays in harmony with your unique disposition. There will inevitably be times when we need to try new ideas, release our current knowledge to take in new information—but it is critical to integrate this new information in a manner that does not violate who we are. By taking away our natural voice, we leave ourselves without a center of gravity to balance us as we navigate the countless obstacles along our way.
Mark Dvoretsky and Yuri Razuvaev are the pillars of the Russian school of chess. Considered by many to be the two greatest chess trainers in the world,
Muscles and minds need to stretch to grow, but if stretched too thin, they will snap. A competitor needs to be process-oriented, always looking for stronger opponents to spur growth, but it is also important to keep on winning enough to maintain confidence.
A huge element of Tai Chi is releasing obstructions so the body and mind can flow smoothly together. If there is tension in one place, the mind stops there, and the fluidity is broken.
William Chen’s humble vision of this issue is that breathing should be natural. Or, more accurately, breathing should be a return to what was natural before we got stressed out by years of running around a hectic world and internalizing bad habits.
It is Chen’s opinion that a large obstacle to a calm, healthy, present existence is the constant interruption of our natural breathing patterns. A thought or ringing phone or honking car interrupts an out-breath and so we stop and begin to inhale. Then we have another thought and stop before exhaling. The result is shallow breathing and deficient flushing of carbon dioxide from our systems, so our cells never have as much pure oxygen as they could. Tai Chi meditation is, among other things, a haven of unimpaired oxygenation.
Great ones are willing to get burned time and again as they sharpen their swords in the fire. Consider Michael Jordan. It is common knowledge that Jordan made more last-minute shots to win the game for his team than any other player in the history of the NBA. What is not so well known, is that Jordan also missed more last-minute shots to lose the game for his team than any other player in the history of the game. What made him the greatest was not perfection, but a willingness to put himself on the line as a way of life. Did he suffer all those nights when he sent twenty thousand Bulls fans home heartbroken? Of course. But he was willing to look bad on the road to basketball immortality.
The learning principle is to plunge into the detailed mystery of the micro in order to understand what makes the macro tick. Our obstacle is that we live in an attention-deficit culture. We are bombarded with more and more information on television, radio, cell phones, video games, the Internet. The constant supply of stimulus has the potential to turn us into addicts, always hungering for something new and prefabricated to keep us entertained. When nothing exciting is going on, we might get bored, distracted, separated from the moment. So we look for new entertainment, surf channels, flip through magazines. If caught in these rhythms, we are like tiny current-bound surface fish, floating along a two-dimensional world without any sense for the gorgeous abyss below. When these societally induced tendencies translate into the learning process, they have devastating effect.
It is rarely a mysterious technique that drives us to the top, but rather a profound mastery of what may well be a basic skill set. Depth beats breadth any day of the week, because it opens a channel for the intangible, unconscious, creative components of our hidden potential.
When aiming for the top, your path requires an engaged, searching mind. You have to make obstacles spur you to creative new angles in the learning process. Let setbacks deepen your resolve. You should always come off an injury or a loss better than when you went down. Another angle on this issue is the unfortunate correlation for some between consistency and monotony. It is all too easy to get caught up in the routines of our lives and to lose creativity in the learning process. Even people who are completely devoted to cultivating a certain discipline often fall into a mental rut, a disengaged lifestyle that implies excellence can be obtained by going through the motions. We lose presence. Then an injury or some other kind of setback throws a wrench into the gears. We are forced to get imaginative.
Clearly, there is a survival mechanism that allows human beings to channel their physical and mental capacities to an astonishing degree of intensity in life-or-death moments. But can we do this at will?
My grandmother, Stella Waitzkin, a boldly creative Abstract Expressionist painter and sculptor, used to tell me that intuition was the hand of God.
Learning chess at this level becomes sitting with paradox, being at peace with and navigating the tension of competing truths, letting go of any notion of solidity. This is where things get interesting. We are at the moment when psychology begins to transcend technique. Everyone at a high level has a huge amount of chess understanding, and much of what separates the great from the very good is deep presence, relaxation of the conscious mind, which allows the unconscious to flow unhindered. This is a nuanced and largely misunderstood state of mind that when refined involves a subtle reintegration of the conscious mind into a free-flowing unconscious process. The idea is to shift the primary role from the conscious to the unconscious without blissing out and losing the precision the conscious can provide.
The key to this process is understanding that the conscious mind, for all its magnificence, can only take in and work with a certain limited amount of information in a unit of time—envision that capacity as one page on your computer screen. If it is presented with a large amount of information, then the font will have to be very small in order to fit it all on the page. You will not be able to see the details of the letters. But if that same tool (the conscious mind) is used for a much smaller amount of information in the same amount of time, then we can see every detail of each letter. Now time feels slowed down.
The Grandmaster looks at less and sees more, because his unconscious skill set is much more highly evolved.
In virtually every competitive physical discipline, if you are a master of reading and manipulating footwork, then you are a force to be reckoned with.
Because our minds are so complex, if you give us a small amount of material to work with, and we do it with great intensity, then we can break it down into microscopic detail.
When two highly trained minds square off, in any field, the players are in a fight to enter each other’s heads. These exchanges feel like epic tennis rallies in which the tilt of battle sways back and forth as one player picks up on a faint tell that may or may not exist long enough to be exploited, and the other has to feel the danger, and swat the rival out of his mind before it is too late.
We cannot expect to touch excellence if “going through the motions” is the norm of our lives. On the other hand, if deep, fluid presence becomes second nature, then life, art, and learning take on a richness that will continually surprise and delight. Those who excel are those who maximize each moment’s creative potential—for these masters of living, presence to the day-to-day learning process is akin to that purity of focus others dream of achieving in rare climactic moments when everything is on the line. The secret is that everything is always on the line. The more present we are at practice, the more present we will be in competition, in the boardroom, at the exam, the operating table, the big stage. If we have any hope of attaining excellence, let alone of showing what we’ve got under pressure, we have to be prepared by a lifestyle of reinforcement. Presence must be like breathing.
The next morning, Striegel and Loehr told me about their concept of Stress and Recovery . The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line.
In your performance training, the first step to mastering the zone is to practice the ebb and flow of stress and recovery. This should involve interval training as I have described above, at whatever level of difficulty is appropriate for the age and physical conditioning of the individual.
So, if you are reading a book and lose focus, put the book down, take some deep breaths, and pick it up again with a fresh eye. If you are at work and find yourself running out of mental stamina, take a break, wash your face, and come back renewed. It would be an excellent idea to spend a few minutes a day doing some simple meditation practice in which your mind gathers and releases with the ebb and flow of your breath. This will help connect your physical interval training to the mental arenas.
As we get better and better at releasing tension and coming back with a full tank of gas in our everyday activities, both physical and mental, we will gain confidence in our abilities to move back and forth between concentration, adrenaline flow, physical exertion (any kind of stress), and relaxation. I can’t tell you how liberating it is to know that relaxation is just a blink away from full awareness. Besides adding to your psychological and physical resilience, this opens up some wonderful and surprising new possibilities. For one thing, now that your conscious mind is free to take little breaks, you’ll be delighted by the surges of creativity that will emerge out of your unconscious.
I have used routines before competitions for the last ten years of my life. At chess tournaments, I would meditate for an hour while listening to a tape that soothed me, and then I would go to war.
I had learned from Jack Groppel at LGE to eat five almonds every forty-five minutes during a long chess game, to stay in a steady state of alertness and strength. In martial arts tournaments, I now tend to snack on Clif Bars, bananas, and protein shakes whenever necessary. Or, if I know I have at least an hour, I might have a bite of chicken or turkey.
I believe that this type of condensing practice can do wonders to raise our quality of life. Once a simple inhalation can trigger a state of tremendous alertness, our moment-to-moment awareness becomes blissful, like that of someone half-blind who puts on glasses for the first time. We see more as we walk down the street. The everyday becomes exquisitely beautiful. The notion of boredom becomes alien and absurd as we naturally soak in the lovely subtleties of the “banal.” All experiences become richly intertwined by our new vision, and then new connections begin to emerge.
I believe that at the highest levels, performers and artists must be true to themselves. There can be no denial, no repression of true personality, or else the creation will be false—the performer will be alienated from his or her intuitive voice.
There is always the lingering question—what is really possible and what is hype?
Tactics come easy once principles are in the blood.
I remember reading something about how you can actually decide what thoughts to have. Maybe most people already knew this their whole life, but for me, a 21-year old ex-drug addict, this discovery rocked my world!
For the first time ever I shifted from a passive recipient of any thoughts that came my way to a powerful person who decided what thoughts were allowed to take place in my mind.
“Take every thought captive” became the new theme for thought life.
And even though it’s been almost 13 years since I had this revelation I still revisit it for one simple reason: I forget!
So I want to remember things like:
I’m the one in control of my thoughts.
I can decide to focus on either what I don’t have or what I do have.
If I’m feeling overwhelmed, stressed or anxious it’s probably because of thoughts I’ve allowed.
If I want to be happy, peaceful and productive then I can’t afford to entertain negative thoughts.
As someone who is self-employed it can be tempting to go down the rabbit hole of fear, doubt and worry. But it’s dangerous territory down there. Sometimes when I venture down there it feels like I won’t make it out alive!
This is why I’m re-committing to “taking every thought captive.” To be intentional about the thoughts I have.
“Success is much more of a relaxed intensity rather than an intense intensity.” – Jeffery Combs
One day I was playing in a pickup hockey game in Vancouver, WA and there was a player who skated circles around all of us.
I was amazed how good he was at keeping the puck away from the other players. The way he moved and stick-handled seemed to flow so effortlessly, yet he was quick and aware at the same time. But it looked as if he wasn’t even trying hard.
As I sat on the bench mesmerized by his ability I heard someone yell, “Center,” as he skated toward the bench for a rest. I was next up so I jumped off the bench and took up my position as Center.
When I got the puck I skated toward the goal and tried to deke the defender in front of me but he easily took the puck away. This happened again and again. I was frustrated.
As I was sitting on the bench, exhausted and catching my breath the Superhuman Player took a breather and sat next to me.
We chatted for a bit and then he gave me a piece of advice I’ll never forget. “Slow your brain activity down,” he said.
“Slow your brain activity down.”
He went on to say that the reason the defenders could steal the puck away from me so easily is because my frantic stick-handling movements made it easy to read. And that’s a result of “overactive brain activity” when playing.
Instead of letting the unconscious part of me control the puck as I skated I would overthink my stick-handling and then get nervous, which resulted in me going left, right, left, right with the puck in a predictable pattern.
The defender would just look at me coming and know when I was about to switch sides and then steal the puck.
But Mr. Wayne Gretzky (I never did find out his name) seemed to only do fancy stick-handling moves when he needed to. And when he did, every move was intentional and different.
It was like he was doing some choreographed Tai Chi movement on the ice, his head up the whole time, completely aware of his surroundings.
When he told me to slow my brain activity down it was not just an “aha” moment for me on the ice but also in life.
I realized I do the same thing in business. When I don’t know what to do my default is to just speed up and do more. And just like in hockey, I end up out of breath wondering why I failed to score.
But the times I’m able to slow my brain activity down and practice “relaxed intensity” I’m able to think clearly and focus on what’s important. My training kicks in. And my actions become ordered and intentional vs haphazard and wild.
What about you? Do you need to slow your brain activity down too?
If you’re wondering “how do I do this?” then consider doing activities that calm you down. For you that could be taking a long walk, meditating or spending less time on Facebook or reading the news.
Whatever helps you “slow your brain activity down” can help.