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February 2, 2015

Ask These Two Questions When You Are Overwhelmed and Distracted

“The key to not feeling rushed is remembering that lack of time is actually lack of priorities.” ~Tim Ferriss

So many of us feel like we are constantly busy and yet not getting anything done – HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?

I know how. I felt that exact same way for many years of my adult life. It comes down to two things: passion and purpose. Navigating them can mean the difference between a life of busy and unfulfilling, versus a life of productivity and happiness.

See, I hardly remember what I was doing between the ages of 24 and 29. During those five years, I was heavily involved in 5 different endeavors: working fulltime at a university, helping Metabolic Effect in its instructor training education, writing meal plans and training programs for one-on-one distance clients at JillFit, co-authoring a series of workout workbooks called ‘My Gym Trainer’ with a partner, and going to school to get my masters degree.

Just writing that is exhausting.

I loved those years because I liked having my hands in a lot of places. It was energizing and exciting and creative and felt like I was really making lots of professional strides. Of course I was! LOOK AT EVERYTHING I’M DOING! I had passions on top of passions on top of passions.

Passion vs. Purpose

But here’s what no one tells you: passion without direction is just an excited version of busyness.

And “doing a lot” is not the same as achieving a lot. Busy is not the same as productive. Excitement is not the same as aim.

When it comes to passion and work ethic, they are worthless without purpose. Purpose is what provides the focus and deliberateness. It’s what helps all the distractions and considerations fall away. It creates discernment in our action – a place to move toward, rather than just moving.

Passion is great, but it’s also only the first step in both achievement and happiness. In fact, unbridled passion actually might be holding you back from being successful because you just want to do everything all the time, with zero regard for the direction you’re heading. Hence the common feeling of overwhelm – wanting to do so many fun and exciting things, but not actually doing any of them effectively.

And you actually don’t find your passion – you earn it.

Despite the fact that every teacher or career counselor you’ve ever had told you to simply announce it: “Follow your passion.” Great, but WTF is my passion?

I put together this little feed-forward framework to exemplify how passion comes to life, and how to keep it going. There are 5 parts in my “ASSAP” model:


  • A – Action
  • S – Skills
  • S – Success
  • A – Affirmation
  • P – Passion


So how do you begin cultivating your passion?

Jump into the cycle anywhere, but you will do best if you start with action. When you do, you are forced to cultivate the skills needed to be in better at that thing, thereby getting some wins under your belt. Once you feel a little accomplished, you get affirmation – could be anything – comments, awards, prizes, recognition, personal pride, whatever. And that affirmation helps solidify the excitement of doing that thing – your “passion” for it – and then because you are passionate, you keep taking action. It’s a feed-forward cycle!

My brother Danny gave me this analogy: he started playing basketball when he was around 6 or 7 years old. As many parents do, his stuck him in sports and let him figure it out. Over time, he was forced to practice, embrace the camaraderie of the team dynamic, work hard to get some wins and as a result, he started getting really good at basketball. Not because he knew at age 6 that he would love basketball, but because he was thrust into it and then learned how to get good at it, developing his skills and garnering some affirmation. Over time, basketball was just “his passion.” Of course it was.

We don’t find our passion, we earn it through exposure, experience and effort.

So don’t start with the question, “What am I passionate about?” Instead, spend time trying out new things and see which of them you stick with and feel drawn to put effort in to. That effort turns into successes, which reinforces excitement.

Got it? Good! Now for the next step: cultivating your purpose.

You don’t have a purpose; you create one.

Purpose is how you direct your passion. Passion and excitement without a clear path to a specific outcome is why so many people feel busy but not productive. It’s why they feel distracted and overwhelmed. It’s why they feel like puppets in their own lives. It’s me in my late 20’s – rudderless enthusiasm.

And purpose is what clears the path to accomplishment and effectiveness. It’s your compass. It’s the thing that gives you the power and confidence to say no to considerations, perceived obligations, other people, what’s culturally accepted, what you think “looks good” or what your parents/friends/spouse want you to be doing.

Purpose creates deliberateness.

So the question becomes, how do you create your purpose?

First and foremost, your purpose is not the same thing that you are good at. You are good at being an amazing mom. But your purpose cannot — at least in the long-term — be your children? Why? Because they grow up, they change, the move out, they move on. And that doesn’t change the fact that you will always love them and be there for them, but at some point, they won’t need a mom in the way they need you now.

Purpose is not about other people. It can’t be. I can’t be “Jade’s wife” or “Jim’s daughter” — even though I am those things, they can never direct and sustain my actions. And why would I want them to? They depend on other people being in my life and on some level needing me. And that’s not always guaranteed, those things change.

So your purpose has got to come from within and serve YOU.

Start by getting clear on how you spend your time currently. Write down all your daily obligations and places you spend your time, like I did above in the 24-29 years. And then ask these two questions:

“Which of these things would I choose to do forever if I could only choose one?”

Be honest here. No one is judging you. Take away the obligations and the considerations and the But-I-Don’t-Want-To-Hurt-This-Person’s-Feelings mental aerobics you are doing. Because believe me, if you are doing things out of obligation or guilt or not because you genuinely love something, then at some point that shit turns into resentment and inaction, which is not good for you. OR THEM! Do everyone involved a favor by starting the process of disentangling yourself. It helps everyone transcend and improve.

“Focus is about saying no.” ~Steve Jobs

I would go even further to say that accomplishment itself is about saying no. Because without delineation, we do everything mediocre, and nothing exceptional.

This exercise is about getting clear on your priorities. While I was doing five different things and splitting my time and mental energy five ways, there was one thing that I felt a noticeable pull toward, above the others, even if that pull was only slight — and that was my work at JillFit. It was my baby, something I was completely and totally in control of, no considerations and 100% creative control. Over the last 4 years, I’ve slowly disentangled myself from the 4 other engagements to focus on JillFit completely. And I have never been happier or in a more effective “flow.”

You’ll know which engagement is #1 when you think about yourself in the moments you’re doing it. “Flow” is actually a psychological term describing, “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity. In essence, flow is characterized by complete absorption in what one does.”

I AM IN THE FLOW RIGHT NOW! I’m in Australia, drinking a glass of Pinot Grigio typing this blog like a madwoman, like my thoughts might disappear at any second and I’m hypnotized by my passion and purpose. I am in my zone — 100% authentic and creative with zero considerations to outside factors. There’s no way I can NOT do this.

My purpose? Creating meaningful messages and sharing meaningful tools that help women get better, stronger (mentally and physically) and feel understood. It infiltrates everything I do. It need to do it. It’s what I was meant to do, as evidenced by the ease with which it happens.

Next question:

What is one step I can take right now to turn my work-life balance into a work-life integration?

Last November when I was at the Happiness Vacationar conference in Mexico with my girl Neghar Fonooni, we were lucky enough to get to hear Jenn Lim, co-founder of Zappos and current CEO of Delivering Happiness, speak on positivity and authenticity. At one point she said, “Instead of creating work-life balance, could you consider creating a work-life integration?”

I love this. It speaks directly to the idea that when you are living your passion and discerning with purpose, you don’t want to take breaks. It feels that organic and amazing. So why have times when you are “off?” Why separate work from life? This isn’t the 1950’s — we have the power to create the exact life we want, do what we love, make an impact and then make a living.

Yes, it takes effort and time and courage and introspection. But it’s possible. And to me, it’s the ultimate in creating a meaningful life. For Jenn, it’s the key to sustained happiness and fulfillment.

So the question is, how do you start making that switch?

The first order of business is creating something that is 100% yours. Whether it’s starting a blog or journaling or volunteering or writing a novel (yes, out of thin air!) or creating new recipes in the kitchen. There needs to be a creative element to it. When we create, we empower ourselves to feel like we are making an impact in the world — it creates meaning.

Start by asking, “How can I take my daily routine and make time for a creative pursuit?” — even if it’s just 10 minutes a day. Integrating the things you have to do with the things you love to do begins the process. Because life’s too short to have days when you feel obligated and separate days when you feel invigorated. Find a way to get your shit done while doing your shit ;)

Remember, passion is the easy part. Any person can be excited over something. But cultivating and following through on your purpose with laser focus is infinitely harder. In fact, it’s what separates the doers from the dreamers. It’s what separates the productive from the busy. And it’s what separates the accomplished from the struggling.

Get clear. Don’t be afraid to say no. Don’t be afraid to quit doing stuff you dread. Don’t be afraid to disappoint. People will get over it. You will endure. You’ll figure it out. And don’t be afraid to back out of things you could take or leave. Because a fulfilling life is not about toiling away doing things that you could take or leave. It’s about going after — with merciless passion and focus — those things you can’t imagine NOT doing!


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