I was recently reminded of the expression “clear as mud.” My superiors in the military used this expression to drive home the point of getting something done expeditiously, whether the task at hand was clear to me or not. The point of the expression was that we were going to do it anyway.
When I read “Clarity” by Jamie Smart, I realized this is the opposite of the message in his book. He uses the term “superstitious thinking” as the pervasive behavior that robs us from achieving the clarity of purpose in our lives. He dives in further using the metaphor of the “hidden hamster wheel” as a common barrier to clarity. Imagine it: The hamster is forever running on the wheel with nowhere to go, lacking the clarity of understanding the futility of this behavior.
This caused me to reflect on the role of clarity in making a change and achieving growth. In his book “Indistractable,” Nir Eyal makes it a point to discuss three fundamentals necessary for behavioral change: motivation, abilities and triggers. Something must motivate you to change, but that motivation alone is not enough; you must also have the ability to change and a trigger to eliminate distractions and reach higher levels of productivity. It is ultimately about making individual choices to get rid of distractions.
Clarity may be achieved by eliminating distractions such as frequently checking email and social media, which often play a role in redirecting us away from what is important. With these lessons in mind, I have discovered three important elements that can help leaders achieve the necessary clarity for growth. Think of growth as something that occurs when we’re beyond goal achievement. This begins with honesty:
Honesty. You must be honest with yourself above all things. If not, then you’ll only impede your chances for individual growth. I like to use the power of reflection on a daily basis, and while there are many different ways to do this, I like to examine each day before going to bed by thinking through the way my day was planned versus what really happened. This allows for honest introspection and the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of the day.
Believe. This is an important factor in the pursuit of clarity and in exercising the daily habit of reflection. You must believe in yourself. As John Maxwell emphasizes in his book, “Talent Is Never Enough,” you must be disciplined and believe with conviction. This type of belief can become your superpower to achieve higher levels of growth in the pursuit of clarity in your life.
Commitment. Finally, you must be able to commit to change for the sake of growth and not just for the sake of change. Jamie Smart also talks about the internal power of “innate thinking” — according to his book, everyone possesses this ability and, when used properly, it renders superstitious thinking harmless in its negative impact on the individual. This can be done by selecting necessary behaviors to be measured over time using daily action steps to methodically get you to the level of clarity you seek.
The year 2020 presented many challenges that often made it difficult to proceed with clarity. Earlier in the year, my wife and I walked into a restaurant in Harrisonburg, Virginia, to have lunch. The place was open but deserted. The host greeted us while wearing a mask and escorted us to our seats. Once seated, we were permitted to remove the masks we were wearing, but we still felt apprehensive given the state of fear and levels of anxiety we had been experiencing during the pandemic and while watching the news. We were afraid and unclear about the future. Of course, we didn’t want to admit to these fears as we attempted to live our lives in what everyone has referred to as the “new normal.”
Suddenly, the host brought two guests to our table where we were to share a hibachi meal within social distancing proximity. Our guests were two brothers who were taking a respite for a business lunch. We struck up a conversation while being very guarded with our words — such was the tension in the air during this time. The conversation circled around current events in the country and how people were treating one another. We were hoping for a little kindness to be expressed in a tangible way so that our world would be just a little better.
Then it happened — the person serving us interrupted our conversation with a question: Is this bill going to be all together or will you pay separately? I seized the opportunity to joke out loud and say, “no it is all together, they are paying.” They stopped talking and looked at each other, then looked at us and said, “yes, we have this one, lunch is on us!” I was speechless. I was only joking, but all of a sudden I had the clarity I had been seeking — that people are good and capable of kindness.
Sometimes we need to take things one day at a time. Remember, if we let the mud in a bowl of water settle, the water becomes clear. In life, it may take some time to see things with clarity, but we can believe that anything is possible with conviction.