Context is akin to perspective – which is the ability to understand a moment in time relative to all the parts that made it possible.
Why is context important?
Context is seeing each piece of a puzzle versus simply looking at the entire picture. One of the most disingenuous things I see online is people selling ‘how to’ [insert solution here] for body, health, or wealth product usually followed by a magic number: 30 days, 3 weeks, 10 days. It’s catchy because honestly – who doesn’t want a quick fix?!
I have no problem when people share their success, as long as they’re honest about the process (each puzzle piece) and how long it took to achieve – the length of time between connecting each piece to build the puzzle (the result). It’s not about doubting whether they’ve achieved it. Success is valuable social proof it’s achievable, as long we’re honest about how that happened. It gets muddied because the effort isn’t sexy.
This is why context is both important and necessary.
What is the harm caused by misleading self-sabotage?
Without context, it’s easy to get excited about a 30-day challenge to achieve X sold by person Y. Remember the old TV commercials where muscle toned bodies used product X? ‘Just 5 minutes a day on blah blah blah will sculpt your abs!’ I guarantee that model didn’t build that body with that machine. That’s context. I can follow the program to a T and fall short – immediately defaulting to ‘what did I do wrong?’ What’s wrong with me?
Most probably nothing.
Well – not entirely – I’ve defaulted to looking for, and ultimately falling for, a quick fix. There is always a share of the blame that lies with us. Being duped into creating a false expectation lies squarely on our shoulders. If it sounds too good to be true – it usually is.
Let’s take dieting as an example. The US diet and weight loss industry are worth $72 billion. Yet six out of every seven overweight or obese person will lose a significant amount of weight in their lifetime, but 95% of them will regain all the weight they lost within 3 years! That’s insane – not to mention a lot of anguish generated.
The biggest ‘secret’ the 5% used to maintain or keep it off?
They chose what their diet would be, enabling them to live a lifestyle they can maintain.
So simple – but when has simple ever been easy? Side note here – what we eat is more complex than simply losing weight; not all food is equal; some act as assets giving us energy and nutrients to fight disease medicine – while others act as liabilities slowing our system down and, if abused – harming them.
There’s no magical pill. No one diet, although there are tons to choose from – veganism, carnivore, keto, paleo, Atkins…. It’s endless… yet the long-term studies show that it’s not the diet defining the weight loss – it’s adherence.
This is a great example to show why focusing on the result versus the process can lead to negative thoughts about our lack of willpower or how we self-sabotage our progress. If we have unrealistic expectations, our lack of results in a certain time frame will aid our self-sabotage.
Up till now, context has been used as an external evaluation tool, but now let’s switch that inwards. Let’s get real here for a second – if I have zero value on being healthy, whatever diet I start or exercise I begin – I’m going to land up in that 95% pile, clearly – because 95% tells the story.
The good news is I can become more educated about how the 5% keep their weight off, like how the 1% generate tremendous wealth. The better my understanding of their actions linked to values, the greater my chance to build sustainable habits.
It’s why I build context into my talks when speaking to others about my world record attempt. My health and fitness is built on 22 years of experience. I’m sad to say I didn’t start with the right motivation. As a shy, insecure teenager – I started training at the gym because my internal dialogue was ‘A girl would only be interested in me if I had a great body.’ How’s that for low self-esteem? Mercifully, working at a retail store covered in pimples forced me to talk to the public and build relationships with my co-workers; and that bubble popped.
This is an example of having the wrong motivation with the right outcome! I’m grateful this happened so young. I did love playing sport all through school, which gave me a taste of being fit. Gym kept me linked to that world after school, and I’ve been training ever since. When I lived in Cape Town, the outdoor life is what excited me the most. Hiking in the mountains on a clear winter’s day after rain gets my juices flowing – even as I type that! I don’t need extra incentives to get out and enjoy nature, it’s my soul food. Thus exercise became intricately tied to the value of being outdoors. I’ve now since linked it to two core values: self-development (answering the question ‘what am I capable of’) and using my capabilities in service to raise money for housing and education.
These powerful values bring me immense joy and gratitude for the body I was gifted at birth. After 22 years, I’ve experienced the ebb and flow of training hard, followed by lull periods (usually the cold dark rainy winters in Cape Town). Still, I have always managed to get back into it. My major puzzle pieces are:
- By training naturally at the gym (no steroids or other enhancers), my muscle memory helps me return quickly – and I know that.
- No matter how long the lull, three weeks back is all it takes to feel an increase in energy levels throughout the day – that feeling of optimizing my body is ingrained.
- I was never a morning person – but training in the morning gives me more energy for the rest of the day, and I feed my body. I’ve felt the physical difference testing out different times, and mentally having that achievement done and dusted instead of hanging over my head.
It hasn’t all been gym work and hiking, I also enjoyed nine years of playing touch rugby league every Wednesday night; I loooooved trail running for two years before my injury; promenade walks in Sea Point and New York; road cycling for eight years (thanks to living in Cape Town with incredible scenery and the worlds largest timed cycle race in the world as an incentive for training). These are important puzzle pieces to build the full picture of how I climbed a mountain every day for a year.
I bet you’re thinking – so what does this have to do with me?
Building context reveals the small changes needed to build sustainable practices
Simon Sinek talks about understanding ‘your why’ in business, and as an individual, I speak about linking goals to values. The better we understand ourselves and be brutally honest – the greater our chance of building sustainable practices. Deep down, you know what brings you fulfillment – but there’s a wonderful tool from Dr. Demartini that can help you determine your values today (values are a fluid concept.) I’ve used that in conjunction with a numerology report to understand why I feel so passionately about certain things and not others. If you’d like an evaluation send me an email. No matter what – there’s help to begin your journey to understand who you are.
Brutally honest means unpacking why something is important and whether it’s my dream or planted by someone else (maybe even society). To see if it’s ours, we can distill any goal by asking: ‘is this helping me with my mission in life?’
No? Then that’s why you’re feeling resistance and possibly exhibiting symptoms of self-sabotage like procrastination, substance abuse, or negative self-talk in pursuit of your goal.
I remember my accountancy lecturer telling my mom I was lazy. Did she know I hadn’t taken accountancy at school? Did she know I was an A student in maths? Did she know I am the type of person that needs to understand how something works – the principle – by having things explained in detail?
Thankfully, my mom knows me well enough not to judge me based on this assessment. Instead, we came up with a plan to do introductory self-paced courses going over the basics in six months. I went back the second year and passed. This experience showed me accountancy wasn’t for me. More importantly, I learned a valuable lesson around the word lazy – so often attributed to children.
We are incredibly diverse as a species. Think about how many facets shape us:
- Our bodies and how they function;
- Where we are born;
- Our parents;
- Our greater family;
- The schools we go to;
- What inspires us;
- What we love doing;
- Our education (inside school and outside)
- Where we get our worldly information;
- Opportunities along our path;
- Our exposure to different opinions;
And we keep searching for ‘the one thing’, a template to follow for happiness, fulfillment, success, and health.
I can understand why wealthy people with money as their success metric end up unhappy. We can follow a formula laid down by someone successful – but without their motivation, how can we possibly expect to feel the same sense of fulfillment? Or be surprised when we don’t feel the satisfaction they do? Imagine trying to bake a chocolate cake with ingredients meant for a soufflé?
Fulfillment comes from satisfying our soul, not our senses.
I’ve been on a loooooooooooooooooong journey to understand this. When I climbed Table Mountain, I lived 100% according to my values, ignoring the outside world’s commentary. The noise deafens our soul’s words whispering to us gently, which is why I now understand the value in sitting in silence – meditating. It gives me the chance to embrace the void, where inspiration, creativity, and ideas to excite us are born. The irony is we believe we must work harder, longer hours to reach our goal.
That’s like running faster and faster on a treadmill wondering why the goal in front of us never arrives.
I often battle internally about where I am – versus where I believe I should be. I’m falling for the puzzle picture versus looking at each piece that created it. That generates anguish. It’s been my unease about teaching goal setting. While working on a goal-setting course, I realized that the most important element of setting attainable goals is a deep understanding of who I am and what I want.
That idea from the void set my soul on fire. It was as if a star ignited inside, unleashing unlimited energy within me. Sure I can break down how I executed that idea to make it a reality. Still, I didn’t consciously choose to climb every day – that gift came neatly wrapped up in an idea perfectly expressed in a sentence of eight words. If anything, the first step in goal setting should be learning to sit in silence.
The irony about self-development is that the journey isn’t about discovering anything – it just uncovers what’s already inside us all along. We currently have it all backwards. We’re more concerned with goals giving us something, than realizing it’s what we give that builds the foundation of achieving our goal.
So what next?
I hope you can see the value in developing a curiosity to understand the context of something before comparing yourself to others? A journey by definition requires action – which means movement, which involves taking a step. May I suggest your next step be putting this into practice? I know the more significant the inspired effort, the greater the corresponding result.
Here’s a suggested step by step guide to understanding how to build context into your life to unpack your goals and, who knows, maybe even uncover what sets your soul on fire:
- Context requires effort and research. Sit with this word and what you’ve read above. Take some time to digest it, and then write your thoughts on what resonates and what doesn’t.
- Articulate why you feel that way on each point. If you’re reading this, I’m 99% sure you have an internal drive to discover what you can become.
- What comes naturally to you? List them and goals associated with them.
- What fills your days and thoughts? If I asked, you could talk at length on? List them and correlate with the above.
- Now think about all the times you’ve beaten yourself up for not achieving a goal. Was that goal important to you? If so – did you dissect reasons preventing you from persevering? Was it simply because you gave up?
- Did you understand the context of what was required to make it a reality?
- Do you look at this post as a puzzle piece or the full picture? (I hope you answer puzzle piece!)
- Do you follow people that share how long they took to achieve what they did?
- Are you prepared to be in it for the long haul? Or want a quick fix?
I’m deeply committed to teaching others the benefits of pursuing their highest values because I’ve experienced how fulfilling it is and know the value it brings all of us if we do this. I have zero doubt about the purpose of what I share – whether in my writing, speaking, advising, or workshops – it’s to empower others to find their puzzle pieces – not follow others. Would you go on a treasure hunt and be happy there’s no treasure left after following someone else’s map?
The most exciting moment of my life always happens when I get a new piece of the puzzle – and take the first step on that path. I’m no longer constantly plagued by the anguish (it still pops up) that comes from trying to build my puzzle with someone else’s pieces. I still battle self-sabotage – but I’m kinder with myself as I master these ideas and keep pursuing what feels right, even in the face of steep ridicule or opposition.
Will you take the next step on your journey to living your purpose?