I was fortunate enough to be on holiday with family and friends last week and, in pursuit of some relaxation as the kids played happily in the pool, I got stuck into a book which had been recommended (and purchased) by my good friend Lauren.
I prefer to learn as I flick from page to page, as opposed to immersing myself in a fictional story or autobiography, and this type of 'personal development' title; The Rules Of Life by Richard Templar, which summarises the rules that, if followed *successfully, would somehow lead to a more enriched existence, is very much my kind of read.
*Successful being interpreted as fulfilling, purposeful, in complete consciousness of who you are and what you want, living life to your own chosen standards and being a 'good person' whatever that means to you.
Templar breaks the book down to dual-page snippets of wisdom, insight and common sense, delivering each Rule in a concise and palatable fashion. Initially you are excused for feeling almost disappointed when you encounter a rule which could be seen as old news; something you already live by. However, it then becomes clear that the more this disappointment takes place, it's actually just confirming that you are clearly playing by the Rules of successful living, so the disappointment then becomes a reassuring sense of satisfaction.
I was also pleased to see that many of the Rules were also big staples from the supposed Life Coaching handbook, giving me satisfaction in knowing that what I'm doing on a daily basis forms at least six Rules detailed below, as well as an underlying theme throughout many others.
12. Be your own advisor
29. Have a plan
34. Learn to ask questions
64. Know when to listen and when to act
67. Keep talking
97. Have a plan for your career
In fact, the rest of the rules read like an index of the results my clients are achieving so, either Templar is a coach, has been coached, or most likely, many of the principles used and obtained from coaching are just the kind of things we clearly should be looking for in our lives.
Whilst this may appear to be a book review, or an opportunity for me to reflect gratefully about my new path in life, it isn't. My favourite rules were not the ones which told me I was doing something right, generally speaking we all know what areas are ticking along nicely, but the rules I had particular interest in were the ones that I wasn't living by, maybe not even coming close to abiding by, for this I figured, is where the development creeps in.
Take rule number eight for example. 'Take an interest in the outside world' Oops. I rarely read a newspaper or watch the news (unless it's Eamonn Holmes who could deliver the news that an asteroid is hurtling towards earth with a sense of humour). This self imposed ban is a conscious decision on my part to not spend any time subscribing to anything which is telling me over and over what is wrong with the world. If there was a particular news bulletin that only reported positive journalism, I would watch that.
Templar's angle is that it would make me more interesting if I could hold a conversation on current affairs and of course I agree. For me to live by this Rule I would have to break another, I'm still not sure if I can compromise on this one because I believe surrounding yourself with negativity makes you think negatively and who needs that?
Anyway I digress, the rule which really struck a chord was Rule Five - 'Know what counts and what doesn't' Albeit simple, this was just the message I needed. Recently, I have spent a lot of time focussing on my studies and creating my agency comecoachwithme.com. Before that existed I spent a lot of time (and obviously still do) on raising two children on my own, so much so, that I think my attitude towards what truly counts has blurred somewhat.
Recently, one of my best friends Justin accurately remarked that, "If it's not in front of me, it might as well not exist." What he meant was that by his own observations, I only seem to give my time and attention to what I'm choosing to focus on at that particular moment and while there's no crime here, I am doing my best to juggle quite a bit, if I were to link the meaning behind the comment, the Rule from the book and a fair amount of incriminating personal recognition on the subject, I could be self-critical and say I have become quite selfish.
I have long justified my selfishness as a necessary means to coping with all life encompasses, I didn't see it as being selfish, I thought I was prioritising, focussing on the boys, on work and on my relationship with my partner. I had distanced myself from other responsibilities, things I took for granted and over the past six years when I've really had to knuckle down, the changes I had to make initially, in order to get myself through the transition, have actually stuck and become habit.
In complete contrast, my role as a life coach requires me to spend around 20 hours a week listening attentively to others talk about themselves. I started the year buying a stranger a gift nearly everyday which has only faded out in recent weeks, so selfishness is an adage that clearly doesn't speak for all areas of my life.
Broken down into two syllables, its definition can allude to an individual who has a firm grip on their intended direction, they are aware of their 'self' requirements. It can also more commonly refer to someone who always puts themselves first. What it means in my case is that I could be a much better cousin, nephew, son, friend and person if I just made more than a plausible effort.
Since giving this one some thought I have started to do more that 'counts'. How do we define whether something counts or not? Well returning text messages and phone calls on the day they arrive not three days later should count, spending 30 minutes on Twitter doesn't. I gave a best man's speech six months ago stating the mark of a true friend was when they pay a much appreciated level of interest in your children, it doesn't make sense for that to be my favourite thing about this particular friend if its not something I embody and reciprocate myself.
Since my little realisation I have found it to be very rewarding to be far more thoughtful in my actions and to accept that my responsibilities stretch way further than my duties as dad, coach and businessman. I have offered lifts to airports, instigated a gathering to arrange a charity event for a friend's late mother and shown more than a passing interest in the mood of a friend who is laid up with a broken leg, and, whilst none of these examples make me Mother Teresa just yet, it's a positive start towards reminding myself of how a little effort goes an awfully long way.
Life has to be more than just being about what's absolutely necessary, we have a network around us which needs an element of input and equality in order to thrive. What is a life without wonderful friendships and relationships? All contributing to adding layers and enriching our experience along whatever direction we pursue, it can be a lonely path when selfishness prevails, even if it is only because you initially just wanted to cope and not let anyone down.
I'm very thankful that I'm completely open and receptive to change, unafraid to admit when I have made mistakes, not just because it will instantly add value to my wellbeing but mainly because;
Rule 7. Be flexible In your thinking - I guess thats another one I can put a tick beside.
(Unfortunately just as I wrote my ending there I realised that I have forgotten to buy my poor girlfriend an easter egg. Something tells me this is a daily battle and not a switch that you can flick! I'll keep working on this..)