When I decided to leave the military I knew I’d need a plan. A plan that needed to be much more robust than just financial considerations and a dream to open a coffee house.
I understood that I had to be sure that I understood fully how I defined success in life, and that I had a plan to achieve it. Any definition of success I had for my life had to consider, encompass, and in many aspects, align with those of my family – wife, kids, and even with consideration to my parents and siblings and their families.
I took two years to work through this contemplative exercise. In the end I created a roadmap of life for myself. This roadmap clearly articulated my definition of a successful life. I was able to discern cycles, or chapters, and rhythms in the life I had lived, which I thought might be important to recognize in the life I still had to live. I identified long-term goals, and shorter ones – five-year, 1-year, monthly, right down to daily goals.
This last point is important because I was then able to understand what a successful day looked like. From here then I was able to nest it under and into weekly, monthly, and longer-term goals – understanding, of course, that the further away the goal was from today, the more it could, would, maybe even should be fluid and adaptable to circumstance, growth, interests, and future reconsideration.
My intent here is to share the format and shape of that analysis, without all the personal details; save perhaps, a few to highlight or clarify the model. I want to be clear here, that from the start I had no format or shape; it manifested from the exercise itself, although it was influenced by the many books, articles, models and processes I had exposed myself to in the two-year exploration.
I am a person who organizes thoughts visually; sometimes linearly, sometimes more graphically and multi-dimensional. In preparation for transition from the military I used many conceptualizations; graphically for the broad conceptualization, a more linear approach for shorter-term objectives. Here are examples of two:
You can see from these that, like a good former staff officer, PowerPoint was my medium of presentation. Also, from my experiences in staff functions, I understand that by having these completed and archived that I had a baseline to go back to whenever I needed to re-evaluate the path I am on, or in trying to figure out adjustments to the path that lay before me.
COVID was a great example of this, when the pandemic hit and I found myself without a job and questioning my future plans. With my plan to open a coffee shop seemingly thwarted, I had the resources to go back to in reassessing my direction and reconsidering where and how my goals might be adjusted in meeting my definition of success – and also my shorter-term objectives. You see, although the coffee shop is a longer-term objective it is not a part of my definition of success. My definition of success is not tied to the success or failure of a single effort. That doesn’t mean I don’t see the coffee shop as an objective, but it is only one of many; all of which nest under, and contribute to my definition of success in life. No one failure will deny me success in life.
I am nearing the 3-year mark of retirement. I have many times gone back to this work to help guide my way in life. It has been exceptionally helpful. One of the most helpful outcomes though has been my ability to understand how to win each day. This, I am going to share in detail with you now. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn’t. It most certainly has helped me.
Winning the day for me is tied inextricably to my deliberate effort in planning the week. Each Sunday I sit with my planner and map out the week. Work shifts, family commitments, weekly objectives towards short and mid-term goals, outdoor activities, time with friends.
Once I see how the week is shaping out, I then search for a quote that captures a sense of the week and I write that in my planner to help keep me motivated and focused on the objectives of the week. I then identify a single priority for the week – which I also write down in my planner.
With my week in focus now, I can build the rest of my days around my daily and weekly Big Rocks.
Health is my overall priority. Therefore, my daily Big Rocks begin with them. Each morning I wake at 5 a.m. I have a coffee and wake myself up and then it begins. Here is how that looks:
0530 – weigh and record weight
0535 – plank (right now I am doing 4 minutes)
0545 – push ups (never less than 4 sets of 25 and with varied forms)
0600 – pull ups (never less than 3 sets of 12 but I play with this depending on how I feel)
0615 – chin ups (I strained my finger climbing and the healing has been slow, so I do only what feels good, never more)
0630 – stretches and hand strengthening
0700 – cold immersion if not working, otherwise its off to work (if working, cold immersion immediately after work)
This routine is locked in now. It took a long time to get this right and see the gains. It is solid now and I don’t miss – not can’t, not won’t, I DON’T miss. Your task: lock that shit in!
There were a few principles I found I needed to make sure this routine worked and was maintainable. Here is what I would offer as factors that need to exist to make this work:
- Easy enough to do it without seeming an obstacle or chore
- Robust enough to provide ‘gains’ and measurable outcome
- It needs to have ‘locks’ – for example, weighing in each morning and recording it is my prompt for the routine, and cold immersion is the ‘lock’ – if I finish each routine with the dip then I feel no need to do any more, although I usually do!
The Best Days Start The Night Before
One of the things I have learned is that in order to win the day it has to start the night before. Getting up at 5 a.m. consistently doesn’t happen if you aren’t getting good sleeps. It is hard to control the flow of the house with teenagers, but there are some things I can control. I may not be able to get to sleep before 11 p.m. if the house won’t settle, but I can start to slow myself down. I have imposed on myself what I call the 7&9 rule. This means that I try to cease eating and drinking (save water) by 7 p.m. If I find I am wanting to snack or grab a beer then I will head out for a walk.
By 9 p.m. I am ‘ready’ for bed. Very likely I won’t be in bed and asleep, but I do put my phone and all electronics away and I grab a book and this is my reading time. Sometimes that will put me to sleep, sometimes I’ll read for a couple hours, regardless, my body is at rest and my chance of getting to sleep is better, and so is getting between 6-8 hours of sleep.
Now, because I have also mapped out my week and each day therein, after my morning routine I don’t have to think about what needs doing, and what is priority. Admittedly, my afternoons and evenings are much looser than my mornings, and I am willing to adjust for opportunity and friends, and of course family, but I am working on it.
I will state this though, with that morning routine locked and recorded and my cold-water dip done, I really don’t feel any further pressure to ‘achieve’ much more in the day. I do achieve more, but with a clear mind and without stress. That is the beauty of health and prioritizing it.
And that’s it. It has been a long road of exploration, discovery, and learning (about strategies and myself) to get to this process and routine, but it has been an amazing journey and better facilities the continuing journey.
For what it’s worth.
Have an amazing Sunday, end to January, and start to February.