Creating your own weekly review: Robert Cooper on finding ways to be exceptional.

Living up to your potential sounds pretty fancy. It's something we all want, right? Live up to your potential. Maximize your potential. Be all that you can be. 

But how, exactly, do you do it? How does an intangible life objective become manifest into your daily routine? For Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90%: How to unlock your vast untapped potential for leadership and lifeaccessing our own hidden intelligence and achieving our potential lies in better understanding neuroscience and trusting our brains in order to unlock our full capacity.

What did you do last week?

What did you do last week? What did you do yesterday?

A friend of mine was chatting with me recently, and he confessed that he'd get to the end of his day and he would forget what it was that he had done during the day. He'd look at his to-do list and realize, "Oh, right—I did some account desk settings, some client help, answered emails, built my next list..."—but when prompted with a question, he couldn't remember. Nothing stood out.

Our brains are designed to help keep us safe and warm—comfortable and secure. Cooper describes how this part of our brain works:

"A powerful part of the brain, the amygdala, wants the world to run on routine, not change. Located within the limbic system, an ancient area of the mind that deals with the way you perceive and respond to the world, the amygdala relentlessly urges us to favor the familiar and routine. It craves control and safety, which at times can be vital."

The amygdala serves as the center of our brain to keep us safe and secure. When deciding between doing something new and something familiar, we'll be steered to the familiar. This is helpful in many ways—but in terms of growing beyond your comfort zone, not so much.

"The amygdala's instincts, which have evolved over thousands of years, tend to spill over into every aspect of life and promote a perpetual reluctance to embrace anything that involves risk, change, or growth."

And here's the kicker:

"Unless you choose to consciously override this brain tendency, you're consigned to repeating the past." 

After understanding how our brains operate to keep us safe, he devised a simple mechanism to "overcome our natural resistance to growth." By regularly asking two questions—whether it's by taping them to our bathroom mirror; scheduling a meeting with ourselves weekly, or having a journaling practice—we can begin to override the amygdala's tendency to keep us safe and secure.

He recommends asking yourself two questions:

What did you do last week that was exceptional? 

What can you do next week that no one expects of you? 

Defining exceptional:

Exceptional might be loving more; it might a tender moment. It might be resting more, or doing less. What is exceptional for you—taking your child to school and holding his hand and listening to his stories—might be different for the next person.

For me, this week, I'll follow up with my clients and prospects and touch base with people just to let them know I'm thinking of. This week, I'll plan a brand-new webinar and teach myself a new software program to run more online classes. And this week, I'll do week 6 of The Artist's Way, a project still in fruition for me. Those are the exceptions to my week. Those are the pieces that are somehow difficult for me, and that will make this week above and beyond last week.

Breaking down 'exceptional' into weekly increments—noticing what's different from one week to the next; understanding how a little bit more, or a little bit different this week can be the work that matters—is both tangible and do-able, and keeps you on track.

That way, when fifty-two weeks add up to a year as they always seem to do, you can look back and think, wow. That year was great.

What will you do this week that's exceptional? 


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5 Responses to Creating your own weekly review: Robert Cooper on finding ways to be exceptional.

  1. I love the story about your friend not remembering what he did during the day, even though he made it through his entire to-do list. I see this exact thing far too often.

    The process of writing down chores, errands, and action items may feel satisfying, but it’s exceedingly shortsighted. What happens when you finish the days to-do list? You make another one. And another. And another. But you’re not building anything (other than a pile of paper).

    Spending your time on things that actually matter make exceptional days, which lead to an exceptional life.

  2. Brianna says:

    This is so awesome. I definitely need to keep this stuff in mind, especially over the summer as I’m working to grow my business.

  3. Cat says:

    I agree Sarah, one of my favourite Tony Robbins quotes is Once you have mastered time, you will understand how true it is that most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year – and underestimate what they can achieve in a decade.
    When I tell people what I do in a week, they are amazed. Though I personally don’t think that I get enough done. The hardest thing for me working full time and having my own creative/business pursuit is fitting everything in. Sometimes I wish I had Hermione Grangers necklace so that I could pop back in time and do more…unfortunately that is not an option. Rest I have discovered is also important in the creative process, though having creative moments and inspiration does not limit itself to 9-5 and sometime I will find myself up at 1am scrawling furiously ideas into my Moleskine.
    I am a P type for Myers Briggs – we are notorious for starting projects and not finishing them, except when we have deadlines and I am not generally a fan of locking myself into what I have to do during every night of each week, a sure fire way for me not to do it. I’m a rebel :) Rather I like the idea of an intention to complete certain things in order to achieve the BIG goal. With regular reviews to make sure you are on track. And it has certainly sparked an idea to do something different with Sketchnotes and Mind Mapping…

    • Sarah says:

      I am constantly frustrated by how little it feels I get done in a day and a week! My consolation is that I know if I keep going, it will somehow, amazingly, add up. Somehow it always does. Those days when you realize the fruits of your diligence are both amazing and humbling. Keep it up, Cat!

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