How taking a step back helped me to move forward
With daylight savings upon us, I thought about the many times in my life that taking a step back has helped me to move forward, personally and in business.
Stepping out of our norm and doing things differently is rarely comfortable. Our brains are hard-wired for routine which makes change inherently uncomfortable. We love what we know and we tend to stay clear of what we don’t. While many of our decisions and routines are the result of creating productive and efficient systems for our lives, we also tend to get stuck with “systems” that we repeat simply because that’s what we’re used to – and often times, these systems limit and hold us back from improving all aspects of our lives.
Life systems affect our relationships, careers and overall fulfillment and the two biggest culprits of keeping us in poor life systems, I find, are fear and laziness. Fear is fuelled by our mentality and laziness is often the resulting behaviour.
But before we get into overcoming poor life systems, I think it’s important to touch on the general benefits of taking a step back in life:
- It puts us into observer mode, which is more accountable and honest with ourselves
- It helps us analyze, assess, re-think and get clarity
- It improves creativity to create new and better ways to tune our life systems
- It keeps us on track towards our desired life goals
- It helps us realize new life goals and desires
- It helps us break bad habits and ensure we are making better decisions
- It gives our brains a time-out to recharge and improve as we move forward
The past 15-years of my career as a Toronto real estate broker can be described as a roller-coaster of emotions, mental readiness and physical strength, constantly fielding the (OMG, this is so urgent) requests and goals of thousands each year, which also includes shouldering the burden of their emotional ups and downs, and their individual mentalities. Many of the people I assist don’t end up transacting a deal, others are one off buyers for a particular project, while the most pressing and important obligations fall to the 100+ clients I work with each year, many of whose families I know and have helped in the past. These are people whose successes and failures I feel a part of and whose needs, thoughts and emotions are brought home with me at night and I wake to in the morning.
I personally have had to take a step back many times to help me check my thoughts, emotions and habits to chart the way I intended to move forward. Over time, I’ve developed a habit of taking a step back that constantly keeps me accountable to myself (in some ways better than others) and gives me the energy and clarity I need to make better decisions more decisively and live a more fulfilling life.
Here are 11 ways to encourage success in business, happiness in relationships and to live a more fulfilling life:
Acknowledge what you have that you are happy with
We often focus on what we don’t have, which puts us into a negative mental state. By focusing on what you do have and are happy with, you are shifting your mindset into a positive mental state which will immediately empower you and will almost always put a smile on your face.
Immerse yourself in gratitude
Acknowledging what you have is the first step but then fully immersing yourself in a state of gratitude for those aspects of your life will compound the effects that simply acknowledging them will have. Consider this like a “super booster” on that positive mental state you are putting yourself in. Try saying it out loud, “I am thankful for…”, “I am thankful because it…”.
Admit to your shortcomings and tackle them
We all have them and admitting to them will be liberating. The relief of pressure will allow you to feel more powerful in making the needed change or at least help manage your shortcomings. Are we making too many excuses for our eating habits or poor gym attendance? Are we spending too much time on Facebook and Instagram, mindlessly scrolling when we should be tackling far more important tasks that needed to be done yesterday? Have you put off writing down your goals for tomorrow or making an important phone call because of work, the kids or you’re just tired? The hardest part is admitting we are making excuses for our shortcomings because naturally once we acknowledge it, we will want to take actions to change it.
Write down your goals and stick to a plan
Our hands and brains share a powerful connection to one another making writing down your goals a very fulfilling exercise for the mind, backed by solid neuroscience. The clarity that writing down your goals brings is remarkable. Start by outlining a list of your goals with your family and friends, for your work and your personal life in general. What do you want to change and improve? Be sure to put a timeline and benchmarks on them to keep you accountable. Just as important is making a list of things you want to eliminate in your life. This personal report card delivers in every aspect of your life as it solidifies your values and lets you see where you’re going more clearly. Re-check your goals often to ensure they are improving and make the changes you need as you see improvement or decline.
Defer to others for help
This one has always been one of my toughest. I’m a self-admitted perfectionist. Generally, I feel I can do it better than someone else and that means taking on a lot more than I should. This perfectionist mentality started to hurt my business and I had to step back from it all to realise as such. I was too busy, yet too scared to give up much of my work load. I sat down and broke things down into smaller tasks. I started delegating more to my assistant, other professionals, my wife and even my friends who are accustomed to me taking the lead with our social and travel plans. Stepping back actually propelled by business forward and helped me make more money while affording me more free-time with my family and friends. Deferring to others also helps you see things from another perspective, which often decisions making.
Face your fears
One of the darkest times in my life hit me when I was 29. I was an otherwise healthy, married professional, who lived a stable and overall fulfilling life, going on a trip with friends to Los Angeles. As I left the house, I felt a little nervous, which is typical when you’re rushing to catch a flight but this time things felt a little different – the feeling of dread started creeping into my chest and head. I was on a 6 hour flight feeling like I was having a heart attack. We landed and the feeling subsided but throughout the 4-day trip that same feeling kept recurring and it kept me awake at night. I stayed locked in my hotel room and almost checked myself into a hospital. I started panicking and feeling anxious even when I didn’t feel that dreadful feeling. It was clear that I developed an anxiety disorder which made me not want to leave my home or go to work. I feared that I would have a panic attack in a meeting, during a negotiation or while driving. I couldn’t sleep and would take walks at 3am… even in -40c weather, just to help me clear my mind and breath easier! I felt like I completely lost my mind and I was being told by doctors to start taking anxiety medication. At one point I said to myself, “I now understand how people could commit suicide, constantly living with this dreadful feeling.” Instead of taking medication for the anxiety, I decided to face my fears by doing what scared me most. I’d go to those to meetings again, even when I felt scared. I got on a plane knowing that I could be stuck on it while having a panic attack (and I did), and I kept repeating the things I feared most which eventually reprogrammed my brain not to fear them anymore. Within 10 months of my first panic attack on that plane, I never had one again. I faced my fears head on and it paid off in the best way – I got my life back. As someone who loves to travel, the thought of not being able to fly or be away from home was the worst life I could imagine and taking a step back from everything in my life to take care of myself and face my fears was better than continuing to push forward in a perpetually medicated state.
Your fears might be standing up to your boss or switching jobs, perhaps taking on a bigger task or client? Some of us are scared of relationship commitments or telling our loved one’s what’s bothering us or admitting that we need help. We are unique in the fears we possess. They are embedded in us through our parents, through personal experiences we’ve lived and what we’ve observed through others. Facing our deepest fears is difficult YET it is an essential precursor to a fulfilling life. Take small steps. Face them and know that on the other side of fear is a better life.
Travel and explore
The benefits of travelling are endless. The confidence you come back home with is something I look forward to each time I’m away. You literally come back feeling like you can take on anything! Sitting poolside all day is not what I mean, though. I mean exploring and putting yourself into situations you typically don’t find yourself in. Saying yes to things that scare you a little and living outside your comfort zone helps nurture a well-rounded mindset that’s more adaptable, creative, open-minded and confident. I know I already mentioned confidence but I can’t express how beneficial confidence is to every aspect of your life and your decision making skills. Confidence helps you tackle your fears and nip your laziness in the bud!
Try something new
Our days are filled with things we’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of times. How often are we doing something new? Unique experiences make us feel good, helps cultivate our imaginations, which help us make better decisions. When we learn new things we find ways to apply them to our current problems. Our decision making process becomes more fluid and we are better able to handle our priorities and goals. What are you doing on your FREE time? The benefits of being in nature are plenty and supported by science. Why not take a hike (even in the winter), play a sport, start a side business, write on a topic you are knowledgeable or passionate about. New experiences keep us youthful and children are the best examples of that fearlessness.
When was the last time you took it upon yourself to learn something new. I don’t mean for school or work, I mean for you. Taking a step back from our daily routines to learn something new can be time consuming but the payoff for all that hard work will be an achievement you keep with you for the rest of your life. When I took on becoming a more effective negotiator I decided to also take on being a better communicator. I took training in neuro-linguistic programming and body language which has remained with me in my daily life. I notice it when I’m speaking to people in the supermarket or trying to get a free upgrade at a hotel or on an airplane. The skills we acquire from learning something new help us for the rest of our lives.
Stay away from mindless and negative programming
Naturally, we as humans are a knowledge seeking species. This inherent need means we also seek out “negative information”, which many times can be helpful – like staying clear of bad weather or a dangerous incident near us, etc… But it also means we actively seek out gossip about people we know and even those we don’t. We are bombarded by negative programming in the news we watch and the reality tv-shows we are obsessed with. We become numb to the negativity and it starts to seep into our lives in ways we may not realise. There are no shortages of articles that discuss the negative well-being and body image messages from these shows and overtime we become less aware of it and more accustomed to that messaging. Even some children’s shows need to be eliminated for their negative contributions (Caillou will make any parent want to smack that little asshole for being so annoying). Social media isn’t doing us many favours, either. As we spend more time on it, it becomes more problematic and the first people to feel the consequences of that negative mindset shift may be your kids or spouse. Taking a step back to evaluate your daily programming will pay dividends, time and time again.
Visualization and Self-Talk
Your thoughts have a powerful influence on your life. This one is important to me and it should be important to you, too. Quantum physics has taught us that the thought is an energy vibration that transcends our minds. Experiments with plants using positive and negative thought reinforcement shows us how powerful are minds are. Visualisation is a great tool to start using but the lesser known self-talk is what I want to encourage you to take notice of immediately. Self-talk is your inner voice, the way you talk to yourself and effectively think. Its impact on your mood is tremendous and taking control of it can completely change your life. Our inner voice is constantly telling us things that shape the way we perceive situations. This includes conscious thoughts as well as unconscious ones. Much of this self-talk can be negative, unrealistic and self-defeating brain chatter – “There’s no way I can do that”, “I am not good at…”, “Things will never get better”, “I’ll never find the person or job I love”. You must STOP this destructive self-talk right away and train your mind to do the opposite. Positive self-talk can be easily instilled and its benefits are quickly felt. Your self-esteem, wellbeing, anxiety, confidence and personality will all see noticeable improvements which will translate into a greater ability of facing your fears and making the changes your seek for yourself. Start speaking to yourself more positively – “I am awesome”, “I am great at…”, “I can do anything I work hard at”. Challenging your-negative self-talk with positive reinforced messages will have profound effects on your overall fulfillment in life and will change the way you react to things that happen along the way. Stop thinking of the worst case scenarios and think about the best case. Stop blaming yourself and start thinking about how you will do it better. You have the power to control your mind with some practice and this is one tool that has majorly improved my business and personal life.
Bonus point: The power of giving
Giving your time and/or resources to those in need is uplifting and immediately satisfying. I feel the act of giving can be somewhat a selfish because of how much it gives me back in return. When I do a suit drive for homeless or disadvantaged men, I feel like a winner. When I raise funds or donate to a kids foundation, I feel like a great person. When I help someone push their car off to the side of the road, I feel powerful. These acts of giving create a sense inner gratitude which puts a smile on my face and helps me put things into perspective.
Moving away from poor life systems
Earlier, I suggested that fear and laziness were the biggest reasons we get stuck in life systems that don’t meet our expectations and greater abilities. Review the list above and you’ll see that behind all these points are manageable hurdles to overcoming our fears and will to improve our lives. We cannot allow the fear of making changes stop us from growing and we must start putting ourselves outside of our comfort zone to realise that growth. Our transition past fear can happen multiple times at various points in our lives and by constantly taking a step back to evaluate our life systems we can improve our habits to create a life we are truly happy with.
Are you alive or are you living?
It’s clear by now that making changes has major perks. The more you face your fears and your laziness, the braver you will become and the more improvement you will see in all aspects of your life. You will find it easier to say yes to things you were fearful of before. The fear that comes with change ultimately translates to confidence. Your brain will start to create new patterns that see change as an opportunity that gets you excited – yes, embracing the fear of change can be exciting, empowering and ultimately drive fulfilment into your life and those around you.
On the other side of fear is the life you deserve. Take a step back from time-to-time and go after the life you want. There’s nothing scarier than living below our highest potential.
Ilan Joseph is a Real Estate Broker with Sutton Group and is co-founder of a 10-person award-winning Toronto, Thornhill and Vaughan real estate team. Since 2002, Ilan has been privileged to advise and service thousands of buyers and sellers, enabling them to reach their real estate goals.