The Other Way

044: Rewriting the Productivity Narrative with Monk Manual's Founder

July 11, 2023 Kasia Stiggelbout Season 1 Episode 44
The Other Way
044: Rewriting the Productivity Narrative with Monk Manual's Founder
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Are you feeling like a hamster on a wheel, constantly chasing productivity but never really finding contentment? Well, allow me to introduce our guest for today's episode, Steven Lawson, a whole-person productivity coach and founder of Monk Manual, who might just have the answers you're looking for. Together, we debunk the myth that busyness equals productivity and discuss how the balance of being and doing can lead to a more fulfilling life. Steven shares his personal journey from being a Type A personality to finding a more centered and content existence, a journey that will no doubt inspire and enlighten.

Let's face it, we're all susceptible to the pitfalls of perfectionism and the pressure to constantly achieve. But as we discuss in this episode, it's not always about reaching the peak; sometimes, the journey is just as important. We delve into the importance of reflection and intentionality, and how these elements can fuel positive growth and lead to a life of contentment. Steven talks about his Monk Manual and how it incorporates planning and reflection to inspire a more meaningful and productive life.

But it's not all about the journey and the reflection; it's also about recognizing the signs when you're heading towards burnout. In this episode, we talk about the often overlooked indications of impending burnout, and how being attuned to our physical, emotional, and spiritual cues can help prevent us from crashing. We also discuss the importance of self-compassion and inner guidance as we aim to balance ambition and contentment. Steven's insights, rooted in his personal experiences and the philosophies of Monk Manual, provide valuable guidance for anyone looking to lead a more integrated and fulfilling life. So, tune in, and let's rethink productivity and embrace a more holistic approach to our daily lives together.

To connect with Steven or learn more about Monk Manual:

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To connect with Kasia

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Hello and welcome to Nourish. My name is Kasia and I'm an entrepreneur, a longtime meditator and a student of Chinese medicine. My mission with this podcast is to share the tools and practices to help you integrate your whole self into every aspect of your world. As someone who is both a Taipei high achiever and a deeply spiritual, vulnerable and empathetic being, i know firsthand how it feels to be living a double life showing up one way at work a different way alone and struggling to reconcile the two. This disintegration of authenticity is one of the biggest causes of burnout, health flares and anxiety. For me, understanding how the mind-body connection is crucial to health and success, cultivating a strong sense of inner self and applying the healing philosophies of Chinese medicine and Zen Buddhism to my life has allowed me to lead from a completely heart-powered place, letting go of other people's judgments and finding peace in allowing my multi-dimensional being to shine. My hope is that this podcast may inspire you to do the same. I want to call out. It is a practice, it is a journey, but I believe it is the most important thing that we can do for our bodies, minds and our ultimate potential. Enjoy, hello, my friends, and welcome back to The Nurse podcast. I am so excited to welcome my next guest, steven Lawson. Steven is a whole-person productivity coach and founder at Monk Manual. After spending a decade pushing himself to every limit in the workforce alongside his colleagues and friends, he slowed down, looked around and realized that something was wrong. Modern productivity had given him all the right answers to the wrong questions and was robbing him of the two things he was actually seeking peace and fulfillment. Determined to find another way of life that accounts for the whole person body, mind and spirit, steven began a soulful journey that led him to launch Monk Manual. Inspired by the wisdom of monks and rooted in positive psychology, monk Manual designs productivity tools for the whole person. Y'all. This podcast is absolutely everything that I needed. I'm coming off of our recording just abusing with energy because we dove into it all.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

We talked about the myth of productivity and how often what we think is productivity is just a bunch of busyness. How to discern between the difference. We talked about the power of both being and doing and how that can actually lead to contentment and a more fulfilling life, which, ultimately, if you reflect on what it is that we are creating and putting ourselves out there and putting energy out into the world, for a lot of it leads back to desiring that sense of happiness, fulfillment and contentment. We talked about the difference between contentment and happiness. We talked about the downfall of perfectionism and how all too often our type A ambition driven qualities can lead us to betray ourselves, and how we can balance that and how contentment does not need to be at odds with ambition and success and working hard and creating things. We talked about examples around ways to recognize how you might be off track And finally, we shattered the good old myths around a to-do list and how intention can actually lead to freedom from that never ending to-do list, which most of the time just leads to busyness and not necessarily productivity.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

If you are looking for real insight into ways to cultivate a more meaningful, thriving life and if you're somebody that wants to tap into lasting energy clean energy, as Eden, who is another podcast guest, mentioned not just dirty energy, the dirty energy of a never ending feeling of lack, of something's wrong, of I need to work harder, of I'm behind If you want to tap into that sustainable, clean energy of inspiration, y'all, this episode is for you And, without further ado, let's welcome Steven Lawson to the Nourish podcast. Welcome, steven.

Steven Lawson:

Kasha, thank you so much for having me.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

It is an honor and we have a lot to talk about. But before we even do that and before we jump to the first question, I just want to say thank you for bringing this incredible product, Monk Manual, into existence. I know I told you right before we hit record that I thought that a planner slash journal, something that kind of integrates your whole self, has needed to exist for so long. So I usually hate ads, but I actually am really grateful for the ad that brought this into my life and for you for creating it. So thank you.

Steven Lawson:

I'm grateful as well We have. You know, there's a lot of downsides in some ways to some of those modern technologies, but they also are really good at connecting us sometimes with things that can help us.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

So And all the mindful type A people out there like myself who need it. But before we dive into all things productivity, full life, full self living I want to kick it off with three questions that I ask every single guest, And that is what are three words that you would use to describe yourself?

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, this is actually kind of a hard question for me, but shooting from the hip, I just wrote this down about 10 seconds ago. But I think caring would be the first word. I like to think myself as someone who cares a lot, both about what I do with my work, but also with my family and just with people. Like I want people to experience me as someone who really cares. I'm also really curious, So I think anyone who spends a decent amount of time with me will realize that I'm really, really curious. I'm really interested in people. Whenever I meet people, what can I learn from them? And then the third is a little bit more aspirational, but it's in some ways de-aspiration for me And that's content. So I'm sure we'll get into this.

Steven Lawson:

But my own story I'm a bit more type A myself was really really deep into productivity, But I found that it really was robbing me of a lot of my peace. I was getting a ton of things done, I was really efficient, but I was lacking a sense of meaning. And over time in my own journey, my goal in life, I think, is more to be content than it is even to be happy. It's hard to explain that, but I think that even behind my desire for happiness is really a desire for peace, And if I had to choose one, I think that contentment and peace is really what I'm directed towards. So yeah, caring, curious and content.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

I love those And I will say that a lot of entrepreneurs that I get to speak with I would say ambitious people tend to throw in curiosity as well. This wasn't the first question I was going to ask, but I have to go there. You mentioned that you would choose contentment over happiness, and we're going to get into, of course, monk manual and productivity and all that good stuff. But how do you define contentment as opposed to happiness? Because I feel like those two are related or not exactly mutually exclusive, but I guess they could be, depending on how you look at it. So what does it mean for you?

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, so not to get too abstract with this, but first of all, one of the things that's really interesting is when you look at research around happiness, it tends to be the case that if you're really, really almost like trying to grasp at happiness, it feels kind of elusive, like you don't really get happiness by trying to just be happy.

Steven Lawson:

Right, there's strategies, there are best practices, there's things that lead to human flourishing, but if you're just kind of hungering for happiness, sometimes you get in your own way.

Steven Lawson:

I think that the reason I'm so interested in contentment and peace is because, for myself, probably one of the highest ideals I have is to feel really free, like truly, truly free, and being free means that you're not really under compulsion of anything.

Steven Lawson:

So if I'm feeling a compulsion where it's like, oh, i have to just be happier, i need to just work this out, it can direct me sometimes to focusing on a lot of external things and focusing on trying to maybe control my environment or control certain circumstances or feel like the thing that's the barrier between me and maybe this deeper sense of fullness that I want to experience is something external, whereas I feel like with contentment it's a movement towards learning to be at peace, regardless of the circumstances, which then opens up a gateway to, i think, really really high levels of freedom. And for me, i feel like my own desire, from a personal, flourishing standpoint, is to be really free and then to be able to give my life as some form of gift right to be able to choose whatever I feel like is maybe the highest good at a particular moment in time. Right to be to be really there, really present and make some sort of positive impact. But I don't want that to be fueled by some level of like compulsion, but rather freedom.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

I'm laughing over here a little bit because I swear this is the second time in like a two week stand that the speaker or the guest that I've had on the NERSH podcast has delivered exactly the message that I think I was needing to hear on that day, and I think it's.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

I'm so happy we dove right into this subject because, as I mentioned before, we started recording a lot of the people that listen to this podcast is what I would describe Taipei mindful humans right, very ambitious, but then also striving for something deeper, something more and trying to integrate those parts of themselves. And one of the things that at least I can speak from my experience that I struggle with as somebody who identifies as that type of person as well, is that I almost feel as though, you know, contentment can be sometimes at odds with what it is that I'm trying to achieve, and almost as though disc contentment is a driving force to help get me there. And so to hear you kind of speaking about this like different perspective I think is really important And also it's a very powerful shift for people.

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, one quick note on that, because this is one of the kind of the operating principles running behind that is, i think a lot of things can drive our action right. So we all wake up every day and virtually everyone who's listening has something they're going after some way. They're trying to maybe grow or succeed, and it takes energy to go and do that. And one type of energy is it's like a negative energy, right, and it's an energy that comes from guilt or comes from shame or comes from compulsion, right, and that can be actually really effective. What I mean by that is it can be the sort of thing that can drive you to succeed in external ways from a very, for a very long time.

Steven Lawson:

But you tend to actually, in doing that kind of betray yourself in a lot of different ways And it's almost like that sort of negative energy tends to leave you feeling a bit smaller rather than expansive, and it's almost like you're burning yourself up rather than filling yourself up, right, whereas I tend to find that when I'm operating from more, something a bit more positive right, from that place of freedom, i'm still able to actually go and achieve a lot of things right, because I do want to achieve a lot of things Like it's not. I don't have a desire personally to go and say, like surf all day right, like that's not my desire. My desire is to do good things and to reach a fullness of potential for myself, but I just want to do that in a free way And I want to do that in a way where I'm driving, where, as much as possible, that's driven by something that fills me up and makes me feel kind of expansive on a day to day basis, rather than like I'm diminishing.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Oh my gosh, i love that you shared a bit more about how that looks from a very tactical point of view, energetically speaking, and I think that's really powerful. And I will say this that I personally, as I think a lot of the audience probably relates to that aspirationally. But day to day, i mean, how does that look like day to day? right, because not every day is filled with inspiring energy. And so how do you tap into that? right, because the energy of not enoughness, so to speak. Right, or scarcity, or you know, if you don't move quickly, your competitors will, you know, deliver this faster than you, or you have one shot. You can't waste it type of energy, like energy of there's not enough, there's something wrong. You know, there's something for you to move faster. If you don't deliver, your boss is going to be mad at you. Whatever that is right Is a really powerful driver day to day. So how do you tap into and keep that other energy sustainable? Or is this sustainable, naturally for you?

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, so it's a little bit of a both and so one of the things that is behind the monk manual is the really the history of productivity. So if you look at the word productive, it's skyrocketing popularity right around the industrial revolution, right, and what that shows us is we start getting really interested in being productive. When our value systems became all about production, right, so an assembly line model everything was focused on how do you go and build things to churn out the most production. And while that seems like it's just focused on the assembly line of the machine, it's a big system And the people were a part of the system as well, and I think that a lot of our models, even for productivity, go back to that.

Steven Lawson:

We have almost like a robotic view of ourselves, but the problem is, is we're not? we're not machines, right? So a machine doesn't need to be inspired. A machine doesn't need to take care of themselves, a machine doesn't need to find meaning, right, they just can go and churn. And what's interesting is, if you look at people who are at the height of any profession, you'll still see ebbs and flows, right?

Steven Lawson:

I'm watching something. There's a series right now on Netflix about pro golf, and I'm not even really a golfer, but I've been watching this a little bit And you see, these are people at the very, very, very, very top And you see how they're up and down and how mindset impacts them and all these different things. And I think my experience is that even when I'm striving or aspiring, there's going to be certain days where I feel a certain way, other days where I feel another way. I'm not so much aiming for perfection as I am aiming for progress on a day to day basis. And I think that the wisdom that comes from the monks is really that the way you get there isn't through, and I think that growth trajectory isn't through primarily just like willing it right, like we don't just will our way to being able to grow. Maybe, if it's maybe, if you're operating 20% of the time from like a positive place, it's not like you just will yourself from 20% to being there 100% of the time, if that's even fully possible right? I don't think it necessarily is. I think there's still times where you're going to maybe fall off the horse, but the wisdom of what I think monks show us is that a lot of it and you see this in pro athletes too there's so many structures that are supporting that endeavor, right? So, monastic, community and monastery. It's very, very specifically designed and intentionally designed to support certain things, right?

Steven Lawson:

So when we're thinking about ourselves and we're trying to curate that, it really does go down to. It's like what kind of music are we listening to? How are we keeping ourselves inspired? How are we taking care of ourselves physically? How are we structuring our days? How are we approaching our relationships? How are we even designing our environment right? Do we have an environment that inspires us? Do we have an environment that draws us up a little bit higher? Or is it something that reminds us of all the ways that maybe we might be falling behind?

Steven Lawson:

And this is such like a small thing, but it's really, really practical. Is that because we miss this? is that for most of us, from the moment we were born, we've been getting marking messages fed to us telling us that we're actually not good enough and we're not okay. But if we buy this thing, if we subscribe to this program, if we do whatever this is, we will at some point be okay. That's never happened, right? Like humanity, our brains have never had to deal with someone perpetually dripping You're not okay, you're not okay. You're not okay.

Steven Lawson:

So to realize like we are fighting against a pretty strong current and even really practical things like all right, i'm going to unsubscribe from, maybe, all these different ads. Or I mean, i actually had to go one step further And at a certain point I even unsubscribe from a lot of personal growth type newsletters because I realized that I would get all these good ideas but there were things I couldn't necessarily implement And so they just leave me feeling like I was perpetually behind, right. And that feeling of perpetual indebtedness can be really difficult, right, because again, it's this like negative emotion, especially if you have this inherent shame. And one last thing I want to say is, a lot of times, high achievers do have an, i think, a little bit of a stronger tendency towards perfectionism, and perfectionism is often linked towards shame. So you often find people who are really high achieving struggle with these sorts of things even more than others, because not only is it something that they're so used to, but even getting rid of it can be difficult, because there's a tension of like, well, if I really did that, if I really did that like, the reason I'm successful is because I've done all these things, so how can I not do that Right?

Steven Lawson:

So it's a whole reprogramming. It's, frankly, it's scary, right? I'm a big believer that I didn't list this as one of my three words, but I'd love to aspire this to this as well. I think courage is really really, really important. Not courage like going water with like a shark or something, but courage and just like taking on, what's like really going on inside you at any particular time, like really acknowledging, like am I happy in this situation? Am I not happy in this situation? Like am I? where am I deceiving myself? Right, because we're all deceiving ourselves in different ways.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

I gave you far more of a long-winded answer that I think you're expecting, but no, oh my gosh, you hit on so many incredible topics right there And I just want to acknowledge that I think just the act of, in a way, going against the standard model of quote productivity, in a way like shifting it, making it a bit more individual as opposed to machine oriented which is also why, by the way, i'm so fascinated with Chinese medicine, because it views the body as like a whole and it applies to the mind and the spirit and all these different things And I think you know, as we talk about productivity, which is a piece, a huge part of our lives, how we create, not just what we create, but how we do it I really think that it is so courageous to go against the grain, in a way right, and acknowledge that, hey, like I don't want to operate this way, or I'm choosing not to, especially and I was thinking because it's so easy to talk about it and be like, okay, i acknowledge that would be great, but the reality is that when you're in a world surrounded by people who perhaps had more sleep than you last night or have a completely different thing going on in their personal lives, they might have a different amount of energy or show up differently that day, and if you're going to choose to listen to what's coming up for you and adjust appropriately and like design your life differently, that can be really really scary. And so I think you mentioned the word courage, and I think it is really courageous to do that, regardless of if you're an entrepreneur, like a you know person working for another company, whatever it is that you're doing to apply those principles to your life. One of the things that I wanted to ask you about you mentioned the word perfectionism, and I definitely oh my gosh, everything you were saying was just resonating so deeply just now. The thought process of feeling like a perfectionist and then shaming yourself for that perfection. That's like even better As you become to get aware, become aware of it, like that's the next stage. Congratulations. At least it is for me.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

It's like, okay, you're being a perfectionist, now We'll break the cycle. Why are you still doing this? Like this is so bad, but if you're not working hard enough, glow a lot like that entire internal narrative, and so obviously you've created a whole business and a beautiful kind of blend of a journal and a planner for increased productivity, which combines being with doing, and so I would love to hear a bit of that origin story. I'm assuming you probably weren't born with this. I mean, if you were just born like this, kudos to your parents And I feel like they should put out a parental like how to parent your children guide. But you know that's a whole separate podcast episode. We can bring them on for that. That's the case.

Steven Lawson:

So I was not born like this. I am naturally a bit of a. I'm more of a doer than a beer, right, like that's how I would describe myself And I got really interested in productivity because ultimately actually I can't say everyone, i don't want to speak in really broad, sweeping terms, but I would imagine this resonates with the people who'd be listening is that we want to meet a certain potential And we're always looking around, like when you think about even when you're born. You're born and you kind of are a bit of a blank slate. There's some something going on there, there's a bit of an operating system going on there, but you're a bit of a blank slate.

Steven Lawson:

And then your whole life you're just trying to figure out, like, how to do life And you're taking cues from people. You're taking cues from culture. You're taking cues from a coach in high school. You're taking cues from the person on the street who maybe smiles more often than other people. We're constantly trying to read things and be like how do I go and do this better? And I think productivity is something that is really attractive as a model for how to go and reach a fuller potential. Part of that is because we do have this really high value of production within our society, and so it just seems like naturally yes, i want to go and be more productive, but also there's a lot of rewards that come with it. Right, like if you are very productive and you're willing to go and sacrifice, sometimes like get the rest of your life you can really succeed. Like, in certain ways, you can go and get the trophy that you're going after if you're singularly focused on it. But the problem is is it can lead you to feel a certain level of unrest And, like I said, like potentially you betrayed yourself.

Steven Lawson:

There's an American monk by the name of Thomas Merton He's no longer alive, but he has a quote along the lines of most people spend their lives trying to climb a ladder only to realize it's up against the wrong wall. And that's like really probably like the driving fear that I have And that was coming up for me at that time is I was like at the time I was married, i had maybe one or two kids. This was when I was really getting into starting the monk annual And I was just feeling like I was getting all this stuff done. But like the system of life, the program I was attracted to or that I was subscribed to, was just not actually working. It wasn't producing the results. I thought if I could get everything done and be a more efficient machine then I would find peace. But it wasn't working that way, right Right along that time.

Steven Lawson:

So I've been, i'm someone who maybe this is this is maybe a little bit unique, it's a little bit weird, but I've been. I've been interested in psychology for a very long time of my life. I've also been really interested in just general spirituality. Right, i was studying like world religions in high school. Right, i don't think that's super common, but I was, because I think I've always been interested in like what is the best way to live, and you have these wisdom traditions and there's all these different formulas And what I saw was that is, i was reading specifically in psychology around.

Steven Lawson:

I guess you could even say like logo therapy, if you're familiar with man, search for meaning. The author of that book created this thing called logo therapy, which is really about meaning, but that tied with Martin Seligman, who's the founder of positive psychology. I was seeing how in positive psychology they, they worked out this kind of formula for human flourishing And I saw how this interesting Venn diagram was connected between what seemed to be the model for flourishing in the spiritual traditions, tied with productivity, like the best of what productivity is, and then also tied with psychology, around human flourishing, and I saw this interesting convergence with with different language, but seemed to point to the same principles. And what was surprising to me was that I saw that what seemed to be the prescribed, maybe like way of being was actually most prominently lived out in the lives of monks, right, and I just found that so interesting because they do things so different, right, and normally we see them as almost like alien, right, because they're either wearing their brown robes or their orange robes, or, and they seem so foreign.

Steven Lawson:

But what we miss is that actually, for a lot of the history of humanity, we were closer to living like a monk than like modern man is, to what modern individuals are, to what they've been for a long stretch of history. So I was really intrigued by the potential or the idea that how do we go and take, not the forms, necessarily that monks live out in the East and the West, but specifically the functions, right, like can you go? And what if we didn't just say like, oh, that's only for the people who go and move to a desert or move to the Himalayas or whatever it is. But what if we really imagined porting over some of that into our everyday life? Could we really benefit from that? And that's what I was really excited about And that's what set me on the path.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Wow, i mean I love that you called out how at one point, kind of lived more like monks than we do the way we do today, and I almost actually this like word came into my brain as you were saying that like machines really, because that is what hyper productivity looks like. It's just output, output, output, driven like a machine, frankly. So I think that's such a good thing to point out. So I'm curious what is really unique about the monk manual in terms of how you approach both planning and an element of reflection, and how is, like the formula of the, of how to combine that. How did that come to be?

Steven Lawson:

That's a big question. I'll start by saying the monk manual. So when someone says describes a planner, or someone says, Hey, think of a planner, something probably comes to your mind. Usually, a planner is designed to be something that helps you organize maybe a calendar, maybe it helps you organize your to do list. So it is in some ways like that. But it's not just like that. It's really meant to be a bit more of like a daily system, right With the weekly component and the monthly component, kind of like this constant calibration that's trying to do a few different things. One is it's trying to take care of some of the basic things that are important, to keep feeding yourself with, like gratitude, paying attention to relationships, like paying attention to when you were maybe feeling enraged or when you were at your best. So it's trying to keep this, this loop, going. It's also trying to help you, I would say, actually be productive.

Steven Lawson:

So the problem with productivity and this this goes beyond even the conversation around peace But the problem with productivity is you could have a to-do list and you can feel really productive working on that to-do list, But the thing is there's not necessarily a filter upon which you're deciding should these things be on there or not. There's not forced constraints besides just time budgets, And so the idea behind the monk manual is to try and help you arrive at really high level intentionality. So rather than just living day by day by to-do list, you're actually filtering. What you're to do is buy higher level principles, Right? So ideally you're actually looking at your year and you're saying, like what are the things I want to invest in this year? And then that's drilling down to your quarters, and then that's drilling down to your months and then your weeks and then your days. So everything's always being anchored back up, Because otherwise we have a natural tendency to pursue the urgent, But the urgents rarely ever really the most important thing, And usually the important things we put off. So by trying to anchor people back to what's most important for them specifically, the idea is to kind of trickle down, go high and then trickle that down to your day to day so that you really are focusing on the most important things. Also, bring constraints, so that one of the things in the monk manual is there's three priorities each day, And the idea is, if you have three priorities for each day, you kind of have a relative sense of like if I get these three things done, I can consider this day a success. A lot of us have this rolling to do list where it's like a never ending list And what happens is we're always feeling behind, We're always feeling indebted to something, And that's just a terrible feeling.

Steven Lawson:

But probably the bigger thing and you mentioned earlier this idea of kind of a more holistic approach And I think where it gets really exciting actually is I brought up how productivity comes out of the industrial revolution. But the word productive, actually its roots are in the same, come from the same root is produce, right, It actually comes out of agriculture And that model for the human person, right, a more agricultural model. It's just radically different. It's about cultivating, right, It's about like beating the thing right. It's about trimming back in certain areas because it's about how do you go and essentially function in this with a certain creative generativity. I'm much more attractive to an idea of my life being like creatively generative. I know that's kind of a strange way to put it, But the idea of basically just creating good things, that I am to just be like churning out widgets all the time, right, That's a little soul sucking Like. When you even just say that it sounds like a bit soul sucking, diminishing, right, And so I'm really a big fan of that.

Steven Lawson:

One last thing I'll just say and this is probably one of the biggest things that's a differentiator from most tools people would be familiar with is there is a heavy reflective component, Because my own belief is that, if you think of the idea of evolution, evolution is basically, in principle, this idea that certain things live and then they adapt and then certain things die, and it's like you keep moving forward, And I think our lives are like that as well. Right, We build certain habits, we do certain things, and then we learn and then we change and we grow. Right, We're going through our own process of evolution, And the thing is is, every single day, every single week, every single month, there's so much data that's coming into our lives. Some of that's coming from outside, some of that's coming internally to us, And when we don't slow down and pay attention to that, we miss the lessons that life's presenting us, And so we actually slow down our whole process.

Steven Lawson:

Sometimes people can have basically things screaming at them from outside like Mayday, this is not working, something needs to change here. And put it off for a very long time because they never actually reflect and take the time to have some stillness, to pay attention to what's going on. So the idea is, if you can reflect, every single day, you create a flywheel effect where you have this feedback loop, you close the feedback loop where you prepare and then you act and then you reflect And every day you get a little bit better right, Not only at being more intentional but also kind of moving up that maybe personal ladder of fulfillment, of contentment, whatever that might be.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Oh my gosh, so much there. And I absolutely I love the pillars that you described, like the intentionality to make sure that you're moving in the right direction, that sense of ending that indebtedness to provide that freedom of the never ending to-do list. Oh my gosh, i can relate to that hardcore And it gives me anxiety, like I cannot look at my to-do list over the weekend because I immediately am just. I actually I meditate a lot and I recognize how much time when meditating, when trying to be present, i spent on planning out what I was going to do. And so having like both intention and kind of that element of really having to choose just three things to focus on, i think that is so powerful.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

And I also love really prioritizing the reflection in the context of, as you mentioned, evolution, because people myself included I'll just speak from my experience there's like this terror around change And I'm going through it right now because a lot of change is happening in like my professional life, like I'm up leveling in many ways, and there are elements of that are just completely, completely terrifying. And so I love the notion of having kind of that reflection of change and evolution be built into the process, because I don't think we ever look at it like that. It's just something that we try to avoid as much as possible because it doesn't feel safe right.

Steven Lawson:

One thing that's, i think, actually difficult it's not so much a hard part of selling the monk manual, but I think it's a hard part in getting people to adopt the monk manual and actually use it is that a lot of times we're attracted to reflection in a distraction. when we're honest And this is I throw this out almost as like a challenge to listeners to just like reflect on this, because I do this as well Like sometimes we actually get busy. This is not conscious to us, but we keep ourselves busy so that we don't have to actually slow down and we don't actually have to pay attention.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Oh yeah, Oh yes, 100% In fact. I will call out something that I'm going to mention here, but are you familiar with the aura ring?

Steven Lawson:

I am.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

This little thing that like tracks all your biomarkers. Today I've had pretty exhausting week. I definitely over pushed it, pushed it a bit too hard, and I was looking at I discovered this like feature called like rest tracking, and it basically is the time where your hands are warm and you're not active and you're not moving and aura recognizes that as rest. And I will admit that last Thursday I had a total of five minutes of rest. Is that not nuts? Is that not nuts?

Kasia Stiggelbout:

And that is just like one moment where it's just, if you don't have time to sit there and gather your thoughts over a cup of tea which is like one of the examples that they listed or sit there in journal or just nap for more than five minutes, like you know, to kind of balance that out. If just your, you know your evenings before bed are the only moments that you have to pause And you don't even use that for pausing. A lot of the time You just collapse into bed, scroll until you fall asleep. What is that in terms of even being aware that you're living?

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, Yeah, And I think and I think, and I think one of the difficulties as well is and I don't know your life that well, other than how you describe things But I think, for high achievers, like they tend to, they do tend to push right, And there's a difference between trying to run for an hour at a jog versus trying to run for an hour at a sprint, And a lot of times high achievers are pushing it right. So it's it's not like five minutes, like not having five minutes of rest. When you've just kind of been waiting through your day. It's probably likely that you were pushing.

Steven Lawson:

It's like you were in high intensity training, but it wasn't so much intervals, Like there was only a five minute. There was a five minute pause in between everything else that was really intense And that is just really hard to sustain. And I think that we see signs, often physically, that show up before the physical signs show up, usually emotionally, mentally, even even spiritually I use that term in a very broad sense It's like the human spirit, like we. Actually there's cues that come up in those areas, I think, long before the physical ones do.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

So let's talk about that. Actually, what are some of the signs? for people who are out there listening, because and I'm sure I know that you have an incredible coaching program as well that goes along with Monk Manual that's available to dive deeper, we can talk about that towards the end, but I am shocked frequently. I would consider myself a reflective individual And I'm shocked when I kind of look back and I'm like how did I not see this coming? You know, like the person that has the heart attack all of a sudden but has had chest pain for six months, right? So what are some of the early signs that you might notice or that you see people talking about, that show up before it's the full-on crash of the burnout, which looks very different. It might be a heart attack for somebody, but it could look like just a depression and like the need to numb every day for somebody else, right, the inability to get up because they're so exhausted. So what are some of the signs?

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, you know it's interesting and I'll go through a few different areas, but I've noticed this for myself because I am part of my doing. My doing nature is my natural position, i think maybe since I was a child, once I became more of like a doer. I'm not convinced, i was a doer as a kid, so I don't know exactly where it came up for me, but it really at the height of the productivity piece, i was like very disembodied, what I mean by that. I was like very in my head all the time, right, and I wasn't actually aware of my body, like the actual I'm saying like the actual data points weren't there. So now there's certain things where I'll feel like. I'll feel certain things Like I'm like, oh, i'm really tired, right. And then I'm like am I just more tired because I'm getting older or is it this or that? And I'm fairly convinced that actually what it is is I just was never paying attention, like I could go and eat food. That was terrible for me and it didn't make me feel like I wasn't listening to this, i just wasn't aware because I wasn't. It's like there's the radio of like my body and it was just like turned off right Or it was so quiet I didn't even know. So I think that one thing is paying attention, right. So if you're someone who's really in your head, maybe start trying to just like, pay attention to, like, how you're actually feeling, actually like, and it could even be a practice of in your body, like how do you feel? That's something from certain types of meditation mindfulness, meditation can help with that body scans, things of that nature.

Steven Lawson:

But emotionally, the same thing, right, because there's a lot of people who kind of like cut off themselves from their emotions or like their emotional body right, like they're not really aware of those data points, right? So from a physical standpoint, i think some of the cues are maybe pain or just tiredness, right, feelings of angst I don't even know if even now I have all the language right, because it's like I'm porting over language from something else into the physical world. But I can recognize it, right, i can recognize it with something's like a little bit off, right. Emotionally it's the same way, right, like trying to go and figure out what's going on emotionally.

Steven Lawson:

The thing that's difficult about the emotional piece is, i think, that the goal is not necessarily to get rid of like uncomfortable feelings. That's like the happiness thing, right. It's like if you were like I'm always going to be happy all the time and I'm always going to feel great. What that means is you just actually try, and usually that means you just turn down the contrast on your life and you just kind of like gray out, right, if that makes sense. You just actually cut off emotion and you're not feeling anything, but paying attention to maybe those more uncomfortable emotions, things like anxiety when it comes up, rather than trying to get rid of it, saying like what is this about? I think our emotions are actually like a really, really brilliant way for us to learn certain things I've come to believe in.

Steven Lawson:

Again. I'm not naturally someone who's like very cute into the emotional thing. This has been part of my process actually since the month manual, right, but coming to recognize like what are the lessons? Like what are these things teaching me, right, like what's really going on here? There's obviously chemical things going on and there's hormonal things, but I am a big believer that when you have feelings come up like they're tied to things and you can try to figure out what the triggers are. You can try and figure various things out.

Steven Lawson:

I think from the spiritual standpoint, probably the biggest indicator is like really is feelings of either malaise, so like just an overall feeling of like weight, a feeling of kind of like.

Steven Lawson:

If you feel about, like, think about when you have like a cold, or when you have maybe like the flu, like when you're, when you're, when you're, human spirit, like feels like that a little bit, maybe turned up from that as a feeling of unrest, right, like if you're feeling a sense of unrest that's telling you something as well.

Steven Lawson:

Right, that's not really in a, it's tied to emotions, but it's something almost deeper, it feels a bit more almost like personal, like it's. It's tied to something else. Also, meaning is a place, kind of in that spirit place where if you're, if you're really lacking a sense of meaning or a sense of why does this really matter? diving into that. But yeah, there's a lot of. I think the big thing is is paying attention, you start recognizing what those things are And then the curiosity really becomes big, because just trying to lean into a certain level of curiosity, you kind of can start following the bride, the breadcrumbs, back to certain things And then you can make changes, whereas if you don't have that data, you're not even aware it's going on, right.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Absolutely, and I love how you called out the lack of embodiment. I can so relate to that deeply, and a lot of people that I know from the tech world here and based in Silicon Valley. They talk about, for example, going back to back to back all day without using the bathroom And then like waking, you know, kind of like waking up from their stupor, being like, whoa, you know, like I am not feeling very well, right, by the way, i was one of those people. So calling that out as something that I do or used to do, i don't do that anymore.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

But I think that there is also a word that came up for me, which is like the sense of self gaslighting, where, when these feelings come up, i think all too often I'll speak for myself here, or the way I used to be, at least, i would kind of acknowledge them as wrong, right, like oh, no, no, no, no, you can't be feeling tired, like you know, like you have to finish X, as though the way that my body is feeling could be somehow, you know, dependent on the deadline that I have in front of me, or something along the lines of how could you not be happy that you won X award and got X raised.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Like how could you feel dissatisfaction or feel uneasy here? Like that something's wrong? Like why would you feel like that This is all you ever dreamed for? Like almost as though there's this like inner narrative that comes up that invalidates a lot of those feelings, the feelings that don't fully align with you know what productivity and achievement and whatever that I guess the white picket fence version of success looks like. I don't know if you can relate to that, but at least that's like the first thing that came up a lot when I was thinking about, okay, reflecting on some of those emotions, to also recognize them, as you know, reflect on them, as you said earlier, rather than just shutting them down and like inner gaslighting.

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, it's really curious, right, because there's that idea that almost like having emotions or having needs, feels weak. You know, it's interesting because I'm not in a Silicon Valley and I'm not as familiar with it as you are, but from what I understand, it's very competitive. It has its own culture, it has its own values, right. Whenever you're within a culture and there's values, there's a bit of like a cultishness to that, right, like that's even tied to the word culture, right. So there's when you're in, when you're a part of a cult, there's certain expectations, and so you feel a little weird doing things that other people don't accept as as normal, and so there is a certain level of like learning to stand on your own feet and maybe trusting yourself more than the broader narrative that might be there. And I don't know, again, i don't know enough about your own personal story, but I think that what often happens for people is they will go and sacrifice a lot of things, like they'll push themselves, push themselves, push themselves, waiting for this, thinking that like, okay, i'm going to just push and then I'm going to get to the top of this, like mountain, and then everything's going to be okay. And they get to the top of the mountain and they realize that the top of the mountain is pretty much the same as the bottom of the mountain And that actually the journey was not what they even thought it would be. And then there's a feeling of like okay, well, that trade off wasn't exactly what I thought. It's like buying a car that, like, looks beautiful on the outside but it's like a lemon that doesn't even run right. So you're like was that really worth the investment to begin with, and then you just start questioning things and saying, like, what do I really want? The thing is, i don't think we should try and convince ourselves to want something we don't actually want, but I think a lot of us do want to live some level of peace. I'll also say I'm not personally of the opinion that you shouldn't work hard right Like.

Steven Lawson:

One thing I think about is if you think about someone in the military, for example, they might have to leave their family for nine months at a time to go and fulfill their job, and sometimes you might have to go and put in long hours. But there's also there's a certain level of personal honesty that needs to be taken on in terms of like. Is this something that's a phase, or is it something that's a season or is? has this become my life And how do I feel about that? Am I happy with that? Do I feel a certain level of contentment?

Steven Lawson:

One thing that's helpful for me this is actually like an overarching guiding thing is a lot of times like if you listen to the voices in your head because we have all these different voices in our head it's like you can listen and recognize like am I something that I used to talk to myself like the world's worst manager in the world? right, if people could hear the way I talk to myself, like that guy would have been fired from. Like Annie, he'd probably be in jail, right. So that's the way I would talk, and I've tried to move more towards like all right, how do I talk like the world's like best coach, like if I can imagine the world's best coach? and when I think about treating myself, i think about like how do I go? I don't know if I imagine like a six year old version myself, like how do I go and design a life that like honors that person? Like what would that person kind of want?

Steven Lawson:

Because there's a little bit more not primordial, but there's, and I don't even mean to be nostalgic with it, but sometimes we forget, like it's, there's like I'm sure people can resonate with this on some level, but sometimes you just feel like you've forgotten something right, like you've just forgotten something that you know is true and it's a little bit elusive, and you're just trying to be like you're trying to put the pieces together and be like what is that Right? But it's hard because things are moving so fast. So unless we actually slow down, we have a really hard time putting those things together. We have a really hard time trying to, because the inner voice that's like inside of us is usually really quiet. It's not usually the thing that's going to go and like punch you in the face until you have like a mental breakdown, right, until it gets really bad, and then at a certain point it's like all right, that's enough, i'm pulling the fire line, and that also happens. But the idea is, if you can, if you can bypass that, sometimes it's helpful too.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

That was so good. I just have to say I love that. Just bypass it. Oh my gosh, steven, i swear I could chat with you for hours and we got through like a third of the questions that I've prepared. This always happens. This is the perfectionist right, like I have so many to go but this. I am loving this conversation, but unfortunately I do want to be mindful of time and we're almost hitting that, And a lot of folks are going to want to know where can they find you and what do you have coming up. Where can they find Monk Manual? And if you can also talk about, i know you have some programs on the Monk Manual website, so where can they find you? I'm going to deep link everything, so don't worry about that.

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, so the first thing would be monkmanualcom. That is the home for the monk manual 90 day planner. It's also got a number of different resources. There's a few different programs we have as well. One is a goal tool and goal training that focuses not just on doing goals but also being goals.

Steven Lawson:

Like that would be one of the other points of differentiation, right, is? it's not about just like getting things done, it's also who are you becoming and, ultimately, how are you growing your own sense of being present, right? How are you cultivating both of those things Which actually do not? if you spend enough time in the ecosystem, you'll understand that at least our premise is that those things are not running, they don't have to run opposite directions. Like you can actually cultivate a deep, deep sense of being and doing And ultimately, you're probably actually going to be most productive, properly understood, if you're doing both those things.

Steven Lawson:

So, monkmanualcom. We're also on Instagram at monkmanual, and then, depending on when this episode comes out, you can find me. I'm actually just launching a new version of my personal site, which would be StevenVLossoncom, and on the personal side, i do some coaching with entrepreneurs in the space of whole person productivity and what I call time leadership. I'm a big believer that we think about like time management, but actually our time problems are leadership problems, not management problems. So I do some one-on-one coaching there as well. But yeah, i would love, if any of this resonates, to check one of those things out.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

It does. I'll just tell you that much, Steven. I do have one last question I want to throw out there, And that is as somebody who has lived the kind of before I guess how would we describe a content life and a life driven from that energy that it comes from? lack right, And you've transitioned now to aspiring or moving towards or perhaps even living day to day a content life, yet still creating living life as an entrepreneur, a coach. Do you feel like the kind of that sense of contentment is at odds with the sense of ambition or the sense of or, I guess, the ability to create? What does it look like, practically speaking, for you today?

Steven Lawson:

I can answer that in a couple of ways. So if you were to ask someone, if you were to ask someone if they're happy, i believe that.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

Oh and, by the way, sorry I didn't mean to interrupt, but I do want to just throw in one thing, because you did mention at the beginning of this that a lot of type A perfectionists have a fear with letting go of, or like being content, because there's this fear of I might lose my ability to actually create and, like my kind of, reach my ultimate potential, and so I think that's kind of where the question stems from.

Steven Lawson:

Just to further clarify, So I think that if you were to ask someone if they were happy as long as like out of, if someone's like a six out of 10 in terms of happiness, they're going to say, yes, right, but the thing is, it's like, actually it's really hard for a six to imagine a seven. They might have an inclination of it, but they feel relative contentment, but a little bit of like a sense like there's just more right. And I think actually when you get to like seven or eight, you become much more aware actually of the nine or 10. But there's always a sense that there's more. That is there. Now the thing is, i want to be.

Steven Lawson:

I've found that to the degree that I am maybe in the grip of doing. What I mean by that is like when I'm purely externally focused and I'm just about achieving like long term outcomes, what ends up happening is I almost entirely sacrifice the present. What I mean by that is I'm just not there. It's like. It's like my life is a movie that I'm missing, and so the way that works is that if you're always focused on the next thing, you can have an entire swath of your life like a 10 year period where you were never there at the entire time And again you get. You might get things for that and you might think that, oh, maybe it's some future point I'll be able to be happy and do all these things. I just decide for myself. I don't want to do that because I feel like my first of all. I think that really ever happens exactly that way. But I want to kind of meet the potential of every present moment, while also doing that by deeply engaging in the material of my life. So the material of my life would be what is the actual good I can do, so something I do. That's been helpful because it's moving a bit out of like the perfectionism. There's still some perfectionism that comes up though, because, like old habits die hard right. Like it's not. None of these things are like you just take a magic pill and then actually you wake up and you're a different person, right. Like these, they're deeply rooted. It's like a fishing line. You got to untangle it and it's a mess.

Steven Lawson:

But to the degree I'm able, what I try to do is operate from a place where, on a very baseline level, i've decided that I want to go and do some good right Now. Doing some good does not mean like I'm like volunteering all the time at like a soup kitchen. It means that I believe that there's some potential, like my life is essentially a gift, right, i didn't earn my life. I was born and, for whatever reason, i'm here, right, so my life is a gift that I just freely got and I want to go, and I have found that for myself and there's some psychology behind this. But you get your life becomes very deeply meaningful when you approach it as like I'm just giving that gift back and I'm just going to try to always choose whatever I feel like is the highest way to give that gift. Part of that is making long-term investments. Part of that is saying like I might go and try and move up the ladder in this organization I really believe in because I want to provide for a family, or I want to go and I believe in the mission, or I just want to refine this way or that way.

Steven Lawson:

But like when the baseline is actually like, in some ways, generosity, which again is when you're freed from that compulsive spirit, when it's not motivated by guilt. You can't really be generous and be motivated by guilt because that's compulsive. That's actually coercion, right, that's like you being coerced to go and give. That's why sometimes, when people can give, if someone says like, hey, do this thing for me, you feel like you're committed to it. You actually don't feel like you've expanded afterwards, you feel like you've shrunk because you're coerced to do it. So, generosity being this free gift that you're giving.

Steven Lawson:

And so I'm trying to operate from that place and then meet every moment and constantly trying to ascense, like discern what is the higher potential. And that includes like leveling up, like what you're talking about, of being like I want to go and take this. Like if you know you have the potential to do great or good, then you're always going to want to be trying to do that. And it's not necessarily just like even for you. It's because if it's just for you, there's some meaning, you'll get out of that. But if you actually feel like, look, this is going to benefit people, it's much more meaningful, like I'm sure, for you. Like the idea of you thinking about a listener maybe listeners and it impacts their life in a positive way like that probably really fills you up. That probably really gets you going. Like that, if someone emails and stuff like, oh, this is an amazing thing, it really helped, that might carry you for a whole month of work, or you're feeling really inspired and all these things, and so I actually feel like, in some ways, it creates such a deep passion for me that I'm actually I'm no less ambitious than I ever was and I'm an intense person. I could have named that as one of, like, my four things. Like I'm very intense, like I feel things very deeply and I'm very intense. So I don't feel like it's impacted, that it's just changed the way I experience it. Right, that's the whole premise.

Steven Lawson:

In some ways, behind the monk manuals, it's like you have tasks of life and you're going to be doing a lot of these things. Anyways, it's not about leaving the world to go join a monastery. It's about how do you go and live like a monk, right here, right where you're planted. So, essentially, like bloom where you're planted. And that doesn't mean disengaging from your life, it means fully engaging in it. It means being even more present in your workday. It means, rather than zoning out at a meeting, you're actually trying to understand, like, what's going on here? how do I go and engage this? what's going on for this person? right, it's always trying to go and actualize the potential of the present moment, which very, very few people do do, and that's why I think that actually it ends up strangely although there is there is that fears are natural I think it actually ends up unleashing a whole new level of potential. That's been my experience, at least.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

I love that. What a note to end on Stephen. It was such a pleasure having you on. I feel super inspired from my day, so just know that this conversation inspired me. I cannot wait to have it inspire our listeners, and thank you so much for joining me today.

Steven Lawson:

Yeah, thank you so much for having me.

Kasia Stiggelbout:

All right, everybody. See you next time. Thank you so much for tuning into this episode of Nourish. If you enjoyed this conversation, please leave a review. Five star reviews helped the podcast grow and I'm so grateful for that. I publish new episodes twice a month, so hit the subscribe button to be notified and, if you want to stay connected in between episodes, join my community on Instagram and TikTok at nourish underscore podcast. All right, that's all I got for you today. See you next time.

Exploring Productivity and Contentment
Navigating Growth and Perfectionism
The Importance of Courage and Productivity
The Monk Manual
The Importance of Reflection and Intentionality
Recognizing Early Signs of Burnout
Finding Inner Guidance and Self-Compassion
Living a Content and Ambitious Life

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