As a teacher, trainer, speaker and author on homesteading, sustainable living, activism, art, and farming there is one key “complaint” I have heard from people literally hundreds of times: They get stuck. They can’t figure out what they want, or if they can, they don’t know how to start. Or, they just don’t make progress, they stagnate, “fall into a rut,” they feel they’re “going nowhere.”
In today’s information-abundant environment, there are endless “how tos” available on everything. But how do you pick which to put your time into?
Often, the sea of tutorials just makes it harder to decide where to begin. Or, we have many false starts, as it’s easy to try 1,000,000 different things without a strategy or comprehensive plan. We can diligently copy each fad “homesteading technique of the week,” without ever knowing whether those techniques were appropriate for our situation, would work towards our goals, whether they had any positive impacts on ourselves, our health, our home finance or the world.
So, we may be doing lots of stuff, but “getting nowhere fast.”
To help cut through the noise and find that right balance that keeps us unstuck, I’ve used these foundational tools, to build a better path. These are proven patterns from the research on personal transformation, applied to our Transformative Adventures goals.
Foundation 1: Behavior is a key leverage point.
As we said in the section on strategy, behavior is a key leverage point for societal and ecological transformation.
The same is true for our personal transformation. Usually, we spend more time trying to motivate ourselves to do a thing, or to research it, than we spend just doing it!
But a weird trick is: the more you do something, the more you’ll do something. Doing things changes our internal monologue so that we come to believe “I’m the sort of person who exercises every day,” or “I keep the kitchen clean.” Then, researchers say, we’ll have a tendency to act in the way that reinforces that belief.
That’s one power of Adventure, the freedom to just take action!
Foundation 2: Leverage the 80/20 Principle. The 80/20 principle, or Pareto principle refers to a pattern found throughout nature: for many activities, we’ll get 80% of our results from 20% of our efforts.
The garden provides us with many good examples, including weeding, pest management, watering, soil organic matter, etc.
We’ll get 80% of our improvement on yield from just 20% of our investments in weed control, or pest control. Beyond that, we start get “diminishing returns.”
But, often, we’ll keep going well past that point, even well after we’ve stopped getting any benefit, just for the sake of “purity” or looking good on social media. Some gardeners will spend 10 times the amount of effort they need to on weeding, which means they don’t have any time left over for the basic pest control, watering, or improvements to soil quality and biodiversity that would have far bigger impacts on their yields.
Really, they’re no longer gardeners at all, they’re just folks with a weeding habit!
We don’t have to have a 100% perfect approach to make progress on a better self and a better world.
A better approach would be to figure out which activities have the biggest impacts, and do just the right amount of work in each, so we get the biggest return on our investment without wasting a lot of time.
With these adventures, we’ve chosen the 20% high leverage actions with big life-changing effect.
Foundation 3: Periodizing Action
Whether we’re talking about gardening, exercise, academics, musicianship or corporate development, this one principle is invaluable to achievement: working on improving a limited number of things at a time. In a way, this balances the previous foundation by recognizing that we get the best results when we set aside the time and energy to really focus on one thing.
Our time, our energy, our mental focus are all limited resources.
For a gardener or farmer, for example, it might be too much to identify 20 different things to improve on in one season: reduce weeds, improve market connection, reduce pests on tomatoes, produce better cucumbers…. Our attention will just be too divided to really be able to analyze and learn about all of these different things. Instead, we’d be better to select a few areas that will have the biggest impact (80/20 principle) and focus on improving those in significant, measurable ways.
For example, at Lillie House one year we periodized establishing good no-till systems. Another, we focussed on the quality of just a few favorite fruits and vegetables. Early on, we worked on learning and selecting a couple dozen top perennial vegetables for our site. Another year, we worked specifically on garden aesthetics.
Periodizing is also a key strategy in changing behaviors and developing habits.
This is what can make our journey of transformation a series of learning adventures. We can set up goals and knock them down, literally mark our progress and watch ourselves become who we want to be.
Foundation 4: Goals, Objectives and Accountability
While us hippie types often cringe at the words, being “goal oriented” has become a cliche for a reason. Results. The satisfaction of actually getting something done. In our program, we’ll set goals using the 80/20 principle, then break those down into learning tasks you can take on for a period of time.
This also provides us with accountability, both to ourselves and to others.
When would-be change-makers get stuck and become stay-the-samers what they are often missing is any way to hold themselves accountable. Instead of getting things done, it’s just far too easy to read through the pages of another book, or let the information of another Permaculture or Profitable Farming workshop wash over us without connecting to any of it or putting it to use!
A spirit of adventure allows us to set goals and knock them off the list.
These days we have many “experts without experience,” who have taken several courses or certifications, but have never tested it out for themselves.
The Goals and Standards in this program provide a meaningful, tangible measurement of real-world experience and understanding. Anyone who has completed half the Adventures will have gone far beyond book-learning and theory to develop a deep understanding of sustainable lifeways, and the skills to get stuff done. And those who have competed 90% can rightly claim to be truly formidable agents of change.
Foundation 5: Establishing Basic Skills and Foundations
In the world of the internet, we have developed a myth that if only we find the right piece of advanced knowledge, that “one crazy trick,” that one guy who “finally figured it out” then we’ll get what we want. So we could fool ourselves into thinking that one special, secret piece of information is the key we’re looking for.
No amount of special sauce will hide the fact that you’ve never learned to cook.
We want to skip over the basics because we think it’s the “hardcore” advanced stuff that will get us results, but it’s almost always the basics that will be the 20% that will have the highest impact! In fact, the advanced stuff we’re wasting time learning about on Youtube will usually will have no benefit to the beginner, and will often be harmful.
That means we’ve got to practice. It’s not enough to read the basics, then move on to the advanced stuff. We must practice and build experience.
Again, it is the actual adventure of taking real action that sets the foundation for excellence, not finding “that one weird trick.”
Foundation 6: Investing in self-organizing systems, “Syntropy,” and Growing Real Wealth through “Transformative Assets.”
In literature, the key to any adventure is to accumulate transformative power, through friendships, knowledge, experience, powerful tools… “Transformative assets” are investments which grow in value over time, and which are largely self-maintaining or self-organizing, and require very little maintenance or upkeep investment. While most of the junk we buy as consumers just weigh us down and hold us back, these investments are more benefit than burden.
Each of our Transformative Adventures programs are developed around investing in acquiring powerful Transformative Assets that will help us change our lives and society.
Foundation7: “Root to rise.”
Now, all of this talk of “optimization” might sound strange coming from a self-professed “lazy gardener,” who’s biggest life goals are things like sitting around all day watching butterflies and growing the perfect tomato.
But for me, a fundamental truth in life is that it takes a certain amount of discipline to allow us freedom, it takes a certain amount of planning to create the space for spontaneity. And a good grounding in research-based, scientific methods frees us up to explore and follow our intuitions. Building deep, firm roots allows our branches to grow to the sky, to sway and follow the wind. A paradigm of adventure allows us to do both.
Foundation 8: Adventure and “Windhorse”
What makes you leap out of bed in the morning? What gets you excited and helps you push through your day, eager to get going day after day?
When we can connect to that internal energy of excitement and joy, we can fuel our actions with a limitless power source. We’ll borrow a term from the Shambala training system for this, “windhorse.” We can ride on the wind of our internal interests. The metaphor that’s often used is that of the sun, which in burning, creates its own fuel.
When we instead focus on the elements that are drudgery to us, we put ourselves in a precarious spot, where it’s too easy to want to stay in bed, procrastinate, fall back into a rut, or escape into vacation fantasy.
Everything in life comes with some drudgery. The trick is to give ourselves enough tasks that we’re excited about that they fuel us through the drudgery. When we stop having adventure, life can begin to feel dull, hopeless. Good life design means giving ourselves windhorse, connecting to meaningful, exciting tasks that we can get a sense of accomplishment from.
When we truly connect our goals to what gives us windhorse – stand back! Things will practically transform on their own, and life will begin to seem like an endless adventure.
That is why Transformative Adventures, is “choose your own adventure.” You begin with the topics interesting to you. Not only does this allow you to start to understand how to motivate yourself, but you’ll begin to see how to use this same concept to motivate others, as well. Believe me, this is a true super power!
We can start to understand how we can turn the necessary work of transforming our world and society into the great rewarding adventure of our time… then – watch out! Change will be unstoppable.