The month before I got married, I had a long talk with my then-fiancé Jean. She asked me to rest for around 3 months, and just think about what I want to do next. She said that the same thing happened to her when she resigned from her job of 8 years some months before that. The rest helped her clarify her values, refocus her priorities, and she was able to ask herself the difficult questions — questions that you don’t really face when you’re very busy — like, “What do I really want to do with my life?”, or “Is this the trajectory I want my life to go?” You need the psychological space to answer (or even just come to the point of asking) those important questions. And if you jump from one job to the next out of panic, life will go on as usual and you will go back to the rat race you sought to escape when you resigned. Not everything that glitters is gold. But we’re so busy running the rat race that our brains become confused.
It was during those months of rest that this present job she’s now in found her. Because it was during these months of rest that she was able to fix her linkedin profile, and say no to potential lucrative offers that she would have grabbed if it were not for the clarity she gained during those months.
And so these past 2 months, I did my sabbatical and followed my heart and guts.
And things have been great! I have one more month to go, but I think I’m as productive as I was when I was still in the Philippines. These are the things I learned the past few months that have served me very well. The good thing about these is that they were earned and learned during these months of clarity. And I intend to continue them when I finally get out of this self-imposed sabbatical.
1. Stick to a de more. De more means “the usual”. It is a term I learned some years back for keeping to a schedule and doing things habitually. I learned it from the Jesuits, and they’re probably the most productive and prolific organisation there is, so they know what they’re talking about. And they start with a de more — a ‘the usual’, understanding perhaps that we have to train our psyches to follow a rhythm of life because it is this rhythm that breeds creativity. Rhythm creates habits and habits shape who we are.
Chauncey Riddle (yes that’s really his name) would put it this way: “Our religion is the sum total of our habits.” And Frank Outlaw (yes, that’s his real name too!) gives us the now famous quote: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch actions, they become habits. Watch your habits, they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
The point is, we do not become creative and productive just out of thin air. We are destined for failure if we cultivate bad habits. And we are destined for success (whatever your definition of success is), when we are able to cultivate good habits. So I wrote down a de more, followed it, knowing that a sabbatical is not a time to get lazy. It’s a time to kick back so that you can eventually kick ass. And so even the kick back times became part of my de more. And that allowed me to kick ass.
Our religion is the sum total of our habits.
2. Long cold/hot showers AS SOON AS you wake up. This is actually one of the best things I discovered this past two months. I learned this from Brendon Burchard who wrote a book called CHARGE. A long shower is better than caffeine in waking you up. And I should know, because I’m a coffee addict!
Added emphasis on the word LONG. I used to take very quick showers. But when you allow yourself to stay longer in the shower, many things happen. They’re a time to think about my day—about the most important thing I need to do during that particular day. I use Covey’s principle on beginning with the end in mind here. At the end of the day, what important task would make me feel most accomplished and happy? That allows me to focus.
I also use the time to be grateful—to thank God for one thing (you can do many, but I just do one per day) you consider as a blessing from the day before or the week before. It’s a very simple thing, but it makes a lot of difference. Since this is the first thing you do every day, it sets the tone for the rest of the day and makes the whole day a blessing.
3. No emails, viber, whatsapp, Facebook or Instagram until you finish your priority task (remember that important task you thought about in the shower?). I know this takes a lot of discipline, so I’ll take some time to talk about this.
Brendon Burchard would put it this way, “Beware of your inbox, it’s nothing but a convenient organizing system for other people’s agendas. Your goal is to always keep the main thing as the main thing in your life, whatever it may be.”
Of course, sometimes you HAVE TO open email because that is a requirement of your job. But think about this (I’ve been a victim of this in the past): once you open email, you start replying to the emails you receive (that’s instinct!). You’re actually helping another person finish his/her work, and you’re not helping yourself finish YOUR WORK. Well and good and that’s very generous of you. And then you help another, and another. And you check Facebook and give likes here and there. Or read this great article that makes you go awwww. And you just have to share that article to your friends. You get what I’m trying to point out here? You end your workday and you didn’t get to do any meaningful work done. What if you do that every day for a week, for a month, for a year? And you ask yourself why your life has no meaning? It’s because you’re doing someone else’s work! You’re helping build someone else’s dreams! Not your own. Your agenda didn’t matter because you didn’t make it matter.
The world is changed by people who focus on their own agenda and just lean into the world until the world budges. They had a study of the most successful people in the world, and guess what, they all say the same thing: do not answer email UNLESS it is to write someone about WHAT YOU WANT TO DO.
4. Reboot Walks around the Neighborhood after dinner. I’m lucky to be living in an area in Shenzhen that allows me to have quiet walks after dinner. It helps clear my mind, it’s a good cap to my day, and allows me to reboot. This is a also a great time to walk with my wife. It allows us to talk about things in a spontaneous, no agenda way. When you are relaxed, that is when you are most creative. When you are relaxed, that is when the crazy-but-doable ideas come to mind. And we actually have 9 different business ideas just waiting to be fleshed out because of those creative spurts of inspiration helped by those quiet walks.
5. Review of your Life. I think you do not have to wait for a sabbatical to do this. Your birthday or the new year for example is a great time to reflect on where life has brought you, and where you want to go. When I went on a 30 Day Retreat some years back, one of the prayer exercises was a contemplation on death. I imagined being in my death bed and the question that was on my mind was, “Did I live a full life?”
It is a good exercise because it frames the rest of your life from that point on. And you don’t need a 30 Day Retreat to answer that question yourself. I would suggest you take some time off, and ask yourself honestly, “Am I living a full life right now? What do I need to do in order to live a full life?” I think Brendon Burchard asks a similar question, but framed in a different way. He asks, “What will make me matter?”
If you’re not living a life that will make you matter, maybe you should change it NOW. And because you only have one life to live, there is no time to lose!
[by Eric Santillan]
About Eric Santillan
AngPeregrino lives with his wife in Shenzhen, China. He is currently on sabbatical to think about his next big step, knowing that he’s in a country of mind boggling opportunities. Before that, he was a management consultant specializing in sustainable business, competitiveness and culture management; and did counselling. He remains to be a writer for The Mindanao Current, and a retreat giver.