I spend a lot of time talking about how context is an excuse, not a reason, for failing to kick ass. I believe this absolutely. Go read some biographies like I told you and you’ll see how many people went on to Kick Ass after growing up in limiting circumstances. Not living to your potential and whining because daddy didn’t let you take dance lessons? Getting a trophy for playing soccer even though your team lost every damn game robbed you of motivation and desire? There’s a thousand people Kicking Ass right now who got beat every night by their meth addicted hooker mom.
So screw your whining and commence to kicking ass.
That said, context can be an excuse to succeed. If you leverage it right, you can turn context into opportunities, and those opportunities into strengths. Lemmetellyouastory….
I wrestled in high school, climbed rocks in college and fought competitively in my 20s. I’ve always been in good shape, and exercise is a positive addiction I’m proud to indulge. One down side of this is I never really built the habit of observing an excellent diet. I didn’t feel I needed to, what with all the working out I did. Even drinking 5-6 sodas a day and eating fast food more than I like to admit, my problem was keeping weight on.
Then I turned 30, and my metabolism slowed down. Then I turned 37 and we had a baby. Before I knew it, I had the kind of bowling ball belly you see on guys in top hats wearing tuxedoes. I weighed 210 pounds shortly before my 42nd birthday when my fighting weight was more in the 180 range.
Then I moved to Malaysia and lost 25 pounds in 4 months. I managed this because:
- Malaysia has wonderful meals. It’s a real dining paradise where Indian, Thai, Chinese and Arabian styles mix to form a smorgasboard of options. And it’s all really, really cheap. But their snacks are terrible, and fruit’s not as fresh. It takes effort to snack mindlessly and since avoiding effort is largely the point of mindless anything, I stopped snacking.
- We have just the one car over here, so if I want to go anywhere while my wife is at work…I have to walk. Also, I like walking around new places. It’s my favorite way to explore a city, so I log about 3-6 miles every day.
- Our apartment complex has a pool, which my kids love to swim in. It’s easy to get down there and put in 12-15 laps, then play in the water with my boys.
- I’ve gotten involved I a martial arts school run by a pro MMA fighter. A piece of my ego loves outpacing the high-speed, low-drag, 20-something go-hards on the deck with me. Not the most enlightened motivation, I know, but it does mean I get a few super-intense workouts every week.
- The pots in our furnished apartment are small, and so is the fridge. Where at home I made enough food for everybody to eat until they’d eaten too much, portions here give us all we need but leave us a little bit hungry. Smaller portions = fewer calories = weight loss.
Put all of that together, mix well with the fact that it’s easier to change habits in a new environment than in the context where you built and indulged them, and losing 6 pounds a month isn’t all that hard. So I lost the weight and now I fight at a lower weight class in the local grappling tournaments.
At home, I failed to follow my own advice. I wanted to lose weight, but I didn’t make it happen. I didn’t use the lack of those factors that played a part in Malaysia to be my excuse not to lose weight…I just went with the path of least resistance and failed to make the positive change I desired. But when I got over there, I leveraged the change of context — used the opportunity — to make those factors force multipliers in my battle against my belly.
My point isn’t how I couldn’t lose weight without those factors in place. My point is, in the presence of a positive context, I leveraged those factors and got healthier. Two lessons in Kicking Ass from this:
- Whenever you find a new context (new job, new realization, new relationship, new year…why do you think we have a practice of New Year resolutions?), examine it for opportunities to succeed at something you’ve been failing at. Once you get in the habit, you’ll find you spot them easily enough.
- If you’re frustrated about your progress on something important to you, look for excuses inherent in your context and for ways to alter your context — even if its just your attitude or mindset — to move forward toward your goal.
What’s also important is that changing your context changes your attitude. Ever notice how the most awesome stuff happens when you’re on vacation? Part of that is because vacation is awesome, but most of it comes from the fact that the changed context makes you more aware of awesome things and more likely to accept invitations to be part of the awesome. Changing your context, even a little bit like rearranging your office or working from home one day, will energize you. That small factor alone can make the difference between beating your head against a wall made of dead horses and crushing all the obstacles in your path.