What Does Success Look Like?

Success is a problem.

I mean, as a word. It’s a complicated notion that’s often given a simple definition.

The associations are accomplishments, tangible gains, and an antithesis to any kind of failure. For me, it’s too simplistic an idea — considering, for one, that we’re unable to see far enough into the future to determine progress or regress. But that’s not even it. The truth is that success is often a subjective crown, worn by the person who decides when to wear it and when it’s deserving of self-shame. Neither are quite beneficial.

When it comes to frameworks, however, success is in the development. It’s in the building of — and sometimes that means breaking a few beams. For me, it’s in the creation of something bigger, and each failure on the way is a step in the creation. This is what makes success so difficult to define in the monthly challenges I’m taken on.

It’s a nuance that I have a hard time explaining, so let’s try.

My monthly challenges are a chance to open up opportunities to test myself. That’s simple yes. But as I outlined previously, these are parts to a great sum — to develop a systemization of success. To find what it is that makes me successful and what allows me to fail. And to stay accountable to it.

I want to succeed in these short-term monthly challenges. But I want even more to succeed in the long-term game here of developing and refining a self-success system. And I realize to do this — the latter — that I’ll need to fail. That I’ll need to not hit the goals developed in my challenge (and sometimes arbitrarily developed) in order to achieve my something greater.

So how do I go on wanting to accomplish a goal and wanting to fail at the same time? Well, it’s tough. I approach it with my utmost. I approach it wanting to hit the challenge but prioritizing knowledge and experience over short-term gains. If I don’t finish a challenge, hard questions must be asked. If I do finish one, actions must be examined in detail. I must keep asking, “what happened?” and seeing that answer above all else. The problem is to not detach from the realm of happening. And that’s tough not to do.

Each month, particularly in the beginning, I play participant, referee, judge, and historian. The roles themselves are enough to throw the entire endeavor off, but I mustn’t let it.

Herein lies the problem I started with: success is not a simple location. So what is success?

Success must then be truth. It must be an uncovering of something in the action of achievement or the missing of it. That’s where I’m trying to head. It’s not just the pie-in-the-sky hope of my framework — there are steps along the way that can be called successful or not. But these are not the steps of finishing a challenge with a 100% achievement rate. Nor a 70%, or a 30% rate and calling it a failure, or a 0% and missing entirely. That’s not the mark of judgment where one stands successful or not.

Success, then, is the rumbling beauty of transparency. What is working and why? Can we determine to know? Can we place success as a quantum point in history that we can look back on, build on from, and not reduce to a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — but to make fecund unto the possibility of moving forward.

Success is a continuation. And so I move forward one month. And one after. And onward.

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Every Challenge An Opportunity

In previous posts, I’ve discussed the grander goal(s) of my monthly challenges — developing a self-success framework and upgrading my operating system in doing so. This post will deal with the break down of the “how” question.

Each month, starting last month, continuing through this one and through the end of the year (minus a July reflection month), I’ll be taking on three monthly challenges. These are broken into three categories that mean a lot to me and my life (writing, health, and a happy lifestyle), but that’s not here nor there. In fact, the challenges themselves are not the end game. Though I’m working hard to pick challenges that I’ve wanted to do, take on, or have avoided in the past — the real end goal is the learning that comes from taking these on month after month.

Last month, for instance, I took on a squat challenge. I failed, BUT….

Already there have been learnings about myself:

I have a long way to go on squatting, but writing is easier. I do better with gratitude at night as my day is winding down and I’m reflecting than I do in the morning as my day is just beginning. I’m pretty good at sitting in my meditation — once I can get it going. Also, bachelor parties tend to kill daily habits — though I suppose that was to be assumed.

What’s certainly been one important learning: habits are important. Getting into a daily habit helps ensure these things get done.

But there’s also just been real learnings in how I can develop my framework:

Attach To-Do’s to Habits

This was a piece of advice given to me by a friend (I believe funneled through another friend). If you already have habits — say brushing your teeth — attach something else onto it to help make that a habit too. So, if for instance, I need to do my L-sits for the day, I may do so before I can brush my teeth. If I know I’m going to have to shower, I’ll write my journal entry before going in there. Not after. I tried that. All that does is delay what you need to do and open up the possibility of forgetting. Do it before. Then go into your habit — since you know that’s going to happen anyway.

Use the “Power” Framework

I’ve also used a reward system for my work on these challenges. For instance, right now I’m dying to go watch the next episode of The Jinx, but I won’t do it until I’ve written this post. That’s helped me stay align with my challenges. Rewards are part of the pattern that Charles Duhigg laid out in his book The Power of Habit as the kind of closing aspect to forming a habit. If you can reward yourself with this action, you’ll further your desire to habitualize, mostly unconsciously. So I’ve tried to use that to my advantage.

New Actions Come with Consequences

For instance, this month I’m doing an V-sit (or L-sit) challenge where I hoist myself up on my arms and hold my bodyweight up with my arms & core. The goal is doing this 5 minutes a day and it’s quite difficult. At first I had to break this up into 9 or 10 sessions (about 30 seconds each). I can now do it in about 7 sessions (6 is my record) of nearly a minute each, and sometimes over. It’s been great — my core has never felt stronger. But I’ve attached this onto my habit of being clean, namely showering and brushing my teeth, and those have often come at the end of my day. The consequence from this, in general, is some tightness in my wrists and my shoulders/upper back. Since I’m often doing this at the end of my day, I’m probably not taking the wind down time I should and I’ve noticed the tightness lingering. I haven’t slept as well as I usually do and I think that’s due to some of that upper back tightness disturbing my laying posture. So even though I’m doing well in the challenge (so far 21 days of 23), there are some side effects I hadn’t considered — in both the challenge itself and the habitualizaition.

Why A Framework?

This is the second post in my monthly challenge. The idea is to help explain what I’m doing with these monthly challenges by blogging about it — which is a monthly challenge in itself. Meta, yes. Confusing? Perhaps.

This blogpost will center around frameworks. Or, more specifically, one framework. One I seek to pull out of these monthly challenges by the end of 2015.

In layman’s speak, “framework” is defined simply as “an essential supporting structure of a building, or object”. In the programming world, where frameworks have become quite common, it gets a little more complex.

Here’s how one site explains a framework (again, in the scope of computer programming):

In the longer term, a framework ensures the longevity of your applications. If a development team works as they please, only that particular team will be able to maintain and upgrade the application with ease. The way that a publisher supports a proprietary solution.

On the other hand, the structure that a framework provides for the application makes it possible to avoid this pitfall altogether and it gives any developer – whether they participated in its development or not – the ability to easily “adopt” an application, to maintain it over time and to upgrade it both quickly and neatly, whenever necessary….

I’d like to take this idea and spin it into my life. In this quote, the author lays out the benefit of a framework. It’s a way to share something across the board without the pains of sharing, or the extreme pain of starting from scratch each time. I won’t necessarily be using it to help different people (or take my hands off and into the hands of someone else), but I will be using a framework across several disciplines. In this sense, I’m the new person coming in and trying to pick something up with ease. And, for that, a framework can be quite helpful.

The idea is I can pick up a goal, a large goal: write a novel, or squat 350lbs, and eventually achieve that goal. It’s a self-success framework — one that does not reinvent the process for achievement with each new goal, just adapting its parts to fit the application (and remember the metaphor of an application from my previous post). This is what I’m after.

What can I use, time after time, to ensure success? We’ve seen people do this. Accomplish goals across different disciplines, different plains of thought and different schools. My theory is that they, explicitly or unconsciously, have a self-success framework that empowers them to success. This can simply be: put your head down and work. That’s a self-success framework. A simple one, but it’s certainly a structure around which you can build, or achieve, or progress. What I seek might be as simple as that, but I won’t know until I find it.

You can think of a framework as an umbrella. It should encompass everything that fits under it. If something doesn’t fit under it, it’s either been misclassified, or the framework is limited. Or both. One framework that everyone knows is the scientific method. This framework fits into every unit of science — from geology to neurobiology — and allows scientists to use it as a structure to frame research. It provides consistency and, having been refined or just made amazingly, accomplishes what it sets out to do: either proving research hypotheses or disproving. Either way, no scientist can truly publish work without utilizing this framework – and this it retains its umbrella status.

I’ll save the whole “why” question for another blogpost — thought I kind of did answer it in this one. The truth is, I see this as being the safest road to self-success and self-advancement. Safe not in the opposite of danger, but safe in the sense of reliability. Maybe that’s the better way to say it: this is the most the reliable method.

And so, I seek a framework. One I can use in any challenge. How will I get this? Examining myself and my success through a series of monthly challenges — testing different facets and achievements. What is consistent across these int terms of success? What is a surefire trigger for failure? The collective understanding of these will help to build that framework.

Or at least that’s the idea.

Upgrading My Operating System

Last month started my monthly challenges — where I take on a set of three challenges and analyze the results. The goals — in the categories of writing, health, and lifestyle — are all things I’d like to work on and accomplish (if possible), but the monthly challenges are not simply unto themselves. There is a higher motive.

That motive is the idea of self-success and systemization. This motive started with a year goal: to develop a framework for myself that can work with any challenge or project and lead to success. It may take a month or seven years, but if I can develop a system or process that works for me, I theorize that I can take anything on be successful. There are several examples of people who have done this, but one that sticks out is Arnold. The man has been (beyond) successful in three facets of life, taking his own process in with him each step of the way. I’d like to start the process of developing that for myself. But I don’t know what it is.

So I’m in the processing of figuring that out. Each month’s challenges give a testing ground for examining myself and my system for success. And that brings me here.

This month’s writing challenge is meta. I’m going to write five (5) blogposts about this journey and year goal — this will help me both understand my mission more clearly, and also give an opportunity to explain myself in writing and muse on the journey a bit more. It’ll also allow me to point people to the posts to explain what I have some trouble doing in words.

SO, all that said. Here’s blogpost #1.

In a podcast with Tim Ferriss, Peter Diamondis brought an analogy to the table that has since stuck with me. It fit with his whole theme of not looking at the small problems and coming up with small solutions — and his analogy was the human as a phone.

Diamondis says that you can think of your brain much like hardwiring of your smart phone. It’s fixed. It’s amazingly complicated and profound, but it takes enormous efforts to change small parts. The synopses and connections of our brain will function a certain way, but changing that functioning is very difficult. It takes brain damage, surgery, or something else drastic to change the reality of this.

The brain, in this way, is not unlike the hardware of your smart phone. It’s fixed, locked-in, and incredibly complicated and capable. But to change it would mean undergoing something serious, and most of the time, this is not undertaken and instead new phones are bought, or released unto the market.

What is altered though, and updated constantly is the phone’s operating system. We see this in iPhones with their incremental upgrades. iOS 6.1.4, OSX 10.9.2, etc… These are changed, updated, and made to alter how a person interacts with his/her phone (ostensibly to make for a better experience). In the analogy’s terms, this is our character, our personality. This is what governs how we act and what we do (and when). Much like the operating system, this is our fundamental character — and it’s usually worked and changed to make things better.

The last part is applications. Apps are built on top of that operating system. Apps are designed to do one thing and to do it well. Take your Maps app. It, itself, is always being upgraded, but it’s meant to do one thing — one thing built through code which matches with your operating system to produce the application and its work in real-time. In the analogy in which we are a smart phone, Apps are skills that we have, Diamondis says. Math, for instance, is an app. Spanish, or any other foreign language, is also an app.

So we have a set-up now. As Diamondis goes on, he explains that too many people get caught up in Apps. That seeing ways to improve themselves, they look to Apps to do so. Some try to learn a different language, a different skill (like coding), or take on a different hobby. The trick he says is that too few people look to upgrading their operating system — and instead default to adding apps, or improving old ones.

It’s a borrowed metaphor but I’m writing these posts to clarify my goals — both in the monthly challenges and in my greater goal for the year. I want to improve my operating system. I want to make it so that any app (new or old) can be made great by existing on top of a solid foundation, and succeed thanks to a success framework. In explaining my mission, this is the closest I’ve gotten to an accessible rundown. The rest of my posts will elaborate on from here!