Do you leave how you feel up to chance?
Some days are going to feel like the sequence of events and the energy of the world you occupy are just not complying with your will or expectations. Admittedly, on these days, you probably had very little planned and prioritized tasks to tackle for the day and were really focused on one or two stressful situations and got caught in reaction mode.
I have built a great playbook for when times are tough and for that I’m incredibly thankful. This thought hit me like a ton of bricks: We’ve got a plan for tough times but in good times I'm pretty much on autopilot. If I’m not conscious of what builds up good feelings, I’m leaving how good I can feel up to chance!
What if we took the same curious approach to the things that make us feel good? Can we build a playbook for the good times? You bet we can! I call it stacking the deck.
I’ll admit it right off: I’m not the first person to come up with this idea. Maybe you’ve heard of the “perfect day” experiment that a lot of business coaches use where you break down your ideal day down to the minute - from the moment you wake up to the moment your head hits the pillow. In practice, this isn’t too different but it’s more about curating your personal inventory that stacks your deck every day to serve your goals.
Before I dive into how I stack my deck, here’s the three steps that led me to think this is both so powerful and so overlooked.
When we feel bad, we tend to believe it’s eternal. That’s a survival mechanism that’s hardwired into our neurology. Our brain fixates completely on getting rid of the bad to the exclusion of everything else.
When we feel good, we stay in that moment. Subconsciously, we know that it won’t last forever, so it’s a positive adaptation to embrace that moment.
The reality is that all feelings are fleeting. If a mindfully cultivated set of tactics can help negative feelings go away faster, it stands to reason that a mindfully cultivated set of tactics can help create more good feelings.
Here are the ten tactics I use to stack the deck to be my best self. They’re born from a lot of reflection and align with the values that drive my life. Your stack is going to be different. My stack is going to evolve. But simply through the process of building this stack, you’ll be able to make sure your life is set up to feed your best self.
Sleep It’s #1 because it’s the most important. When I’m rested, I have so much more capacity to make the best decisions in my life. I don’t have a crazy sleep ritual, but I know that a hot shower, a few minutes of a book, and a dark room all help me sleep better.
Planning and Prioritizing I’ve really come to appreciate the practice of taking time to plan and prioritize actions that I need to accomplish on a given day. Many of us have developed the ability to craft goals pretty easily. I would say the skill I would love to see more of is breaking that goal into objectives or steps that need to happen in the process. Each of those objectives can be broken down into a few specific daily behaviors to work on daily, be consistent as possible and track them like a personal scoreboard every week. If we don't prioritize and schedule these behaviors, we almost ensure that we lose sight of where they fit in our day and then we lose our momentum. This is how new year resolutions die. If it's important, prove it and put it on your calendar.
RPR Probably not much of a surprise, but I use it as a way to feel really rooted in my body. It’s not just about performance in the gym, it’s about living a better life.
Human Connection I feel my best when I’ve got meaningful time with people. I’d almost call it shared struggle. It’s not just sitting around with other people, it’s being engaged either with physical work (like with training partners) or mental work (like with clients, or real conversations).
Solitary Time I need time on my own to recharge. Reflective and quiet time are huge keys for me and greatly enhance my abilities in the times where I’m connected.
Outdoor Time Fresh air and sunshine. Without those two, I wilt. No matter the temperature outside, I do everything I can to be prepared for the elements because it has such an impact on my day.
Active Learning In the classroom, in clinics, in the gym, with my clients; they’re all learning environments. Learning is an exercise in understanding patterns, making connections, and finding new approaches. This is a call to learn from people wholly unlike you as well! Find people you disagree with and set that disagreement aside and see the world through their eyes. At worst, this is a great exercise in empathy. At best, you’ll add richness to your own worldview.
Reading Nonfiction & fiction. Relevant to my professional work & totally unrelated to it. Joyce Carol Oates said it perfectly, “reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul.” Additionally, some of the great minds in all industries condense decades of their greatest work into books and can be the best value of education you could ever find.
Exercise This probably is no surprise but doing hard physical things (and even not-that-hard physical things) leaves me feeling better, walking taller, and thinking clearer. There’s a reason most of the highest performing people I’ve ever met were athletes through their youth and are still active as adults.
Hard Work When I can truly cast myself into a task it’s a reminder of what I am capable of. It’s hard to be down on myself when I’m solving interesting problems.