The Busy-ness Whirlpool

How much time do you waste during the day? Yes, I know we are all busy…crazy busy. We brag to each other how busy we are. We even brag about what we don’t have time for. “I’m so busy I haven’t been to the gym in months.” Really? But what are we doing? We are getting sucked into our own busy-ness.

I admit that I also fall into the busy-ness trap. There is always so much to do and there never seems to be enough time. I seem to work at the office, at night sometimes when I get home and in the morning. But what am I really doing?

Very recently two things occurred that kept me very busy and I realized how much of my time was stolen on this busy-ness. First, Microsoft unveiled their new operating system Windows 10. I don’t tend to be much of an early adopter when it comes to technology, but I needed to upgrade the VAIO  in my home office and thought that this new system would do it. Well, the upgrade worked, but I lost two days integrating the system, bringing files over and of course, personalizing the desktop. I rationalized my busy-ness by thinking that I was making myself more efficient.

The second occurrence was the purchase and installation of a new computer for our business office. We were disgusted with our old computers and purchased an “all-in-one” Dell desktop. Again, hours were spent on setting up the system and getting it up to speed. It’s not done yet, I’ve still got more work to do. But I finally realized that a lot of the “set up” was the personalization of the computer and not important for our work.

I offer these two as examples of the “work” that can fill up our day. It is now estimated that most of us spend up to 30% of our work day just scrolling through email and because we are connected at home we continue to work in the evenings and on weekends creating what is approximately a 72 hour work week for ourselves. No wonder we don’t have time for anything. And of course it all seems important.

There is no easy answer. I’m not going to advocate turning everything off, because as a business owner I can’t. But I’m finding that it is important to understand and monitor what keeps me busy. Is it just my own busy work? Am I feeling busy because I’m doing something, anything, even just scrolling through email or Facebook, or am I moving toward accomplishing the things in life that mean so much to me, like writing, speaking and helping others? And of course, I want to spend time with the people in my life I care about. When I put those things in perspective I realize that scrolling through emails, checking news, reading Facebook, posting on Instagram, are jobs I create for myself that keep me busy. I can choose to maximize my time with the work I enjoy and the people I love. Whatever time is left over, I’ll give to my “busy-ness.”

How Many “Likes” Do You Get?

Do people “like” you? I mean on social media, in meetings and with friends, do they like you? We live in a society that preaches the independence and creativity of the individual while making us slaves to the opinions of others. Being “liked” doesn’t just happen on Facebook or other platforms, it is part of our lives and the way we respond to it can crush our creativity, independence and individual greatness or unleash it.

Recently I was in a conversation with some young women (although I’m getting to the point where everyone seems young). They were talking about their posts on social media and agreed that if they didn’t get a certain amount of “likes” after they posted something, they pulled it down because they were embarrassed. I pushed “so, even though you thought it was worth posting, if there are no immediate responses, you pull it off?” They looked at me as if I came from Mars and replied in unison “of course.” But wait, before we get on our high horses let’s look at our world.

Critics abound in every aspect of life. They will tell you how your work is poor, your clothes aren’t up to date, your knowledge of culture is lacking, your writing is elementary, etc. Essentially they are “disliking” you. Thumbs down. Some people are professionals at this, cultivating an attitude of cynicism about everything while offering nothing of their own. Beware them.

The current cultural belief is that everyone has a valid opinion. I’m not sure that’s true, but even if they have an opinion, who cares. Now I don’t write that glibly because I’ve struggled with my own daemons on this front. I’ve not written in quite a while because I became caught up in what others thought. My friend Jan claims that in your 50s you start caring less about what others think. I await that magic moment, but until then I need a strategy and I’ll share it with you.

Find what you love, how you like to dress, wear your hair, what you love to create, how you love to sing and find a few people who will “like” you just as you are. Stick close to them because it’s going to get ugly for a while. People will believe you’ve gone crazy, are on meds, or should be on meds. But it’s the greatest freedom in the world.

And finally (and this one I’m still learning for myself) the most important “like” you have to have is your own. You have to like yourself and what you do. Maybe that’s a process that comes with age, as Jan says, but I think it comes with discipline. So find your “likes” where they support the real you. Be crazy if you want to be and know there will be critics, but there will also be a lot of jealous people because they want to do the same. And in the end make sure you “like” yourself.

 

I’m Not Against Happiness. Well….

This past weekend I had the good fortune to attend the World Congress on Positive Psychology. It was an amazing gathering of experts, researchers and practitioners who are attempting to study and apply science to figure out what makes life worth living and how that science can benefit all people. However I was discouraged by the amount of research and time spent on happiness as a goal. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not against happiness. And my friends will say that I’m one of the happiest people they know. It’s just that I believe making happiness the end goal is misguided. There I said it. Now let me explain myself.

Ask yourself, when have you been happiest in your life? Was it when you completed something very important to you? Was it time spent with a loved one? Was it just being in the right place at the right time and having nature overwhelm you? Okay, so you were happy, right? Now think of what it took to get to that moment. Perhaps it was being with a loved one, someone you parented through sickness, challenges (adolescence), and finding a purpose in life. Maybe it was a big accomplishment. A good friend just published his first book and it was a four year process and some of it was very grueling. I have found that sometimes the things I do in life don’t make me happy in that moment because they build toward a future. But when I finish a project, work through a relationship, struggle to find meaning in life or make a difference in someone else’s life, I have a happiness that won’t disappear in a flash. It is deeper and more robust. It is contentment. The important part is that I’m not focused on happiness, I’m focused on living. Happiness comes as a result of sweat, struggle and dedication none of which I would undertake if I only wanted happiness.

Think about your life. If you are honest with yourself your happiest moments came, not when you sought happiness, but when you struggled for meaning, love, accomplishment or even survival and you came to the end of a day and were able to see what you had done. That is true happiness, the kind I can live with.

How is Your Intensity/Rest Balance?

Have you ever tried to balance water in one hand and a fish
in the other and make it work? Sounds ridiculous doesn’t it? That’s the same
craziness as saying we need work/life balance. One really can’t exist without
the other and they are intimately connected. I’ve written about work/life
balance before, but we need a different way to think about our lives; one that
makes sense for an integrated life.

What’s wrong with the whole concept of work/life balance? It
is an incorrect dichotomy. Work is an integral part of life and cannot be
separated from it. Work, when seen as a vocation, gives purpose to life and
provides meaning. We don’t get meaning from lounging in a beach chair sipping a
margarita (as nice as that sounds). But we do get meaning from adding to the
greater measure of humanity by providing service, information, art or material
goods.   

At the same time we also need moments of pleasure, when we
revel in the work we’ve done, meet friends, celebrate our accomplishments and
free our mind of work. We take time to enjoy physical pursuits, outlets which
allow us to stretch our limbs and allow the sweat to cleanse and renew us.

Yet both the work and the play have their limits. If we over
indulge in either of them, we know it. If we continue over-indulging too long,
we burnout or crash. This is why we need a new concept of balance to understand
how we get the most out of life.

The ultimate balance is between intensity and rest. Whether
pursuing work or play, we know that balancing the intensity of focused
attention to a goal necessitates we provide ourselves with rest to continue
later with the same intensity. This is the balance many of us lack.

Our lives are consumed by the siren song of technology that
calls us to continuously check our messages long past the time when anyone
should be reasonably sending us any. But we create our own vicious circle by
replying and causing the other to continue the communication. There is no rest,
there is no downtime.

Somehow believing we are getting away by pursuing pleasure
or physical activity, we push ourselves at the gym, or meeting others without a
moments rest and then we check back in whenever we can. What is wrong with us?

Balancing intensity with rest is of tantamount importance to
great individuals from professional athletes to CEOs of major companies, but it
also applies to all of us. How long can we pursue this intensity? Our abilities
peak for about 90 minutes. Then we need to step away and give ourselves an
opportunity to regroup.  Studies show
that when individuals or companies create a “90 minute intensity – 10 minute
resting activity” throughout a day productivity climbs and more is accomplished
in less time. Try it. You will find yourself more productive.

Yet, even without using the 90/10 equation we need to think
about our intensity vs rest ratio whether we are working or playing. We will
find ourselves focused more when doing whatever task we choose and enjoying the
rest more.

So, let’s get the concept of work/life balance out of our
heads. That’s over-used, incorrect and even dangerous thinking. We need to
balance intensity, whether it’s at work or at play, with time for rest. Disciplining
ourselves to focus intently and then step away allows us to both recover and
pursue our passions whatever they may be. So, how is your intensity/rest
balance?

Living a Life of S(s)ignificance

Over the weekend I heard of two college commencements both of which exhorted students to “live a life of significance.” How that was expounded on I really don’t know, but the phrase stuck in my head. So since we are exhorting our young people to live this way, the question rebounds in our direction, are you and I living a life of significance?DSCN2356

 

If you are like me, the first question that arises is what is meant by a life of significance? Though there is a book by this title, I didn’t find it really enlightened me. A life of significance could be a life of fame, or notoriety, or stature, but I was pretty sure that’s not how they meant it in the commencement addresses. So, I thought I’d look it up.

 

The definition of significance is about “having meaning, importance.” Initially I thought about the majority of people who attend my workshops on personal greatness who have not specifically thought about meaning. But the more I think about it, I’ve realized (once again) that I am wrong. All of us have significance in one another’s lives. Since we live in a world where we interact with each other (a “hive”) we impact each other every day and foster or degrade individuals along the way.

 

I have encountered many people in my journeys about the globe who in a smile, a gesture, a comment, or an action assure me that I am a fellow human being deserving of respect and care. I’ve also encountered other people who treat me as refuse and toss aside me and anyone else who gets in their way to achieve or own something. Both examples have significance in our lives, just by the way that they live. This is significance with a small “s.” I happens everyday whether we think about it or not.

 

Additionally I believe there is significance with a capital “S.” There are individuals who think carefully about their footprint on this planet and how they want to touch the lives of their fellow human beings. Some choose to live significantly though parenting, some though their work, others through their attitude. But they are conscious about their Significance. I find these people to be powerful examples of lives lived fully with passion and vigor.

 

So, either way we live, mindfully or on autopilot, we have meaning in the lives of others. However the choice is ours as to what our S(s)ignificance is. What will yours be?

Greatness Is Not A Zero Sum Game

Many years ago I walked into my cousin’s bedroom and saw a new trophy on his bookcase. “What did you win?” I inquired. “Nothing,” he said. “That was just for being a part of the team.” I never forgot that moment and ranted for years against this way of rewarding kids and adults, but now I think I am wrong.

Yesterday I read an article in the New York Times where Alfie Kohn opined against my old way of thinking. He noted that many adults believe that giving kids trophies for showing up would make them soft, deprive them of grit and make them lazy. Our mindset was that in order to teach kids resilience, you have to make life tough. Some of us think that kids who receive praise for everything will never make it in the “real” world. Why not? Because we want them to go through the same suffering we had to?

Life is suffering. That’s not just a Buddhist concept, but a simple awareness that in order for life to be lived, we have to struggle and work. Kids realize this as well as we do. They know very well that they did not come in first place in a race even if we give them a medal. But what the medal does communicate is that they are valuable just for trying.

Of course I’m not saying to just give people everything. But to deprive both adults and children of praise just because we believe it will make them soft is stupid. 60 percent of American workers would like to have some recognition of the work they’ve done. It won’t make them soft, but it might make them realize how valuable they are and that they can have pride in their work. But when I speak to managers about why they won’t give more praise, they say “then they’d expect it.” Yes, imagine that. Expecting thanks for a job well done. (And this applies just as much at home as it does in the workplace.)

This notion of rewarding only the very best has made its way into corporations in very insidious ways. Most corporations have ranking systems and bell curves so that some employees are on top, some in the middle and others at the bottom regardless of how they performed. Managers are forced to fill all three buckets. This is ridiculous. If the hiring managers do their job, they are bringing on people who are talented and motivated to do their best. So why can’t everybody be great?

Currently I’m working with a major international firm that has done away with ranking and calibration. Employees are only evaluated on the work they do and how it helps the business and each other. In this scenario you could have a large number of employees receiving top rewards. Why not? Greatness is not a zero sum game. I am not diminished if you are great.

What finally clicked and turned my thinking around was imagining the environment created by never telling adults or children what they’ve done right or by ranking them against each other so there is only one winner. Any student who has taken Psychology 101 knows that the human response to a threat is fight, flight, or freeze. You don’t learn that way. But by creating an environment where everyone can win, in their own way, you create an environment where, as researcher Barbara Fredrickson describes it, individuals can broaden their capacity to learn and build on their skills. It’s an environment where everyone can be great, and that is not a zero sum game.

 

 

 

 

 

Time for the “Slow Connection” Movement

Recently I purchased a new phone. Well, I really didn’t buy it. With the upgrade I had coming, the discounts at the store and a special sale I got it free for a renewed contract. Weird huh? Then, since I switched my brand of phone, I spent the better part of a week uploading apps and syncing my new phone to all the devices in my house, car and office. After that I continued focusing on the phone tweaking the ringtones (James Bond), culling the contacts and finding more apps. And when I finally looked up from the phone I realized I lost more than a week of connecting with friends and family. Sad to say that I’m not the only one caught up in the digital world. That has to stop. The challenge is we live in a world that loves their phones and computers and that hurts all of us.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a Luddite by any stretch of the imagination. I have a Mac Book Pro, VAIO PC, Microsoft Surface and Nokia smart phone. I run my business digitally from any where at any time. And now I’m realizing the problem that can be. My research and life work is about bringing out the best in people. But when I am so focused on my phone or gadgets I forget the people around me and think that the world resides in my hands or at my finger tips. It doesn’t. There is nothing like a real connection to another human being.

Sadly we are a society moving in the direction of disconnection. Though we have a greater ability to reach out and touch someone, we do it more and more electronically with short messages and emoticons. These don’t create real human connection. Studies indicate that the more time we spend on electronic devices, no matter our age, the more our ability to read non-verbal communication weakens. We gradually lose the capability to discern facial expressions and body language. That’s scary.

A few years ago in Italy the “slow food” movement was begun. It was an attempt to regain the art and magic of dining by actually preparing food and taking time to enjoy it with others. It was begun in direct opposition to the “fast food” mentality. So I propose that we start a “slow connection” movement. This movement would emphasize taking time to be with our children, talk to our spouses, have dinner conversations that lingered, listen to the stories of our wise seniors and to linger over the nuances in our loved one’s reply, or watch the wonder on our child’s face as they experience something for the first time.

We live in a generation that could be the first to be utterly disconnected from those around us even though we share the same space. There is a place for electronics and digital connectivity, but its importance pales in comparison with face to face time with other people. Take time for a “slow connection.” Call up the person you’ve been meaning to speak with and arrange a lunch, a walk or a date. And remember when you are with them… turn off your phone.

Here Comes the Judge

Can you hear it? Does it get louder every time you try doing something creative and new? You know what I mean, the thought that says “you’re not good enough,” or “this work is crap, no one will ever read it or want to see it.” That’s the Judge. Many people I’ve spoken with struggle with these thoughts that hinder or stop any kind of creativity or new actions. They agree that when they try something they can hear this voice inside their head condemning their attempts or worse yet, laughing at them. It’s time to bring the Judge out of hiding and deal with him.

I’ve dealt with the Judge all my life, in every new endeavor, every new creative effort. There is this thought that my work is never good enough, people don’t want to see it and that I’m wasting my time. Sadly I’ve noticed that the Judge has not grown quieter over the years even after three books and other successes. It seems that he is now emboldened and he has taken on a new tack: “nothing you create will live up to what you’ve already done so you might as well quit while you are ahead.” Sound familiar?

I’m use to the Judge, the nagging voice telling me to “get it right.” I even would say to people “I am my toughest critic.” Midway through last year I let the Judge win. Telling myself and others I had writer’s block, I stopped writing anything. I stopped being creative in my work and basically just went with the status quo. But I’m also aware that when we engage in negative behaviors we do so because we gain something from them. So I had to ask myself the question, what do I get out of listening to the Judge? And the answer came back loud and clear, safety. When there is nothing new or creative no one can criticize or challenge me. I can’t underperform precisely because I’m not in the arena. And so for about six months, the Judge succeeded.

So, for those of us who have the Judge in our lives how do we eliminate or at least control him? Create an advocate.

For me, there was tremendous clarity about what I gained by not writing or creating. I gained safety. But what did I lose? I lost the joy and spontaneity of creativity, the exhilaration of the process of creating. I love the feel and sound of new thoughts and the possibility of the worlds they hold. And I lost the moment when even one person resonated with something I wrote or said.

That’s too much to lose.

And so I began thinking of how I feel when I create. I remembered what it is like to let loose. I savored even picking up my fountain pen and filling it with ink before writing (yes, I still use a fountain pen). And I starting hearing the voice of the “Advocate.” The Advocate is the voice that encourages me to let go and trust my instinct. The Advocate laughs, as I do, at the sheer joy in creativity. The Advocate comforts me when the fear of something new creeps up by reminding me how often I’ve been there and have chartered the rough waters successfully. Now I’m starting to realize how loud the Advocate’s voice can be.

So I don’t know if I’ll ever banish the Judge. The old curmudgeon does make me aware of my work and pushes me to be better. But I want to allow the Advocate to speak and speak loudly on my behalf. Because there is nothing like being creative. It unleashes the best of us. What we have to do is overpower the Judge.

New Year’s Resolutions are Not Dead Yet

The day has passed. Yes the world-wide day when most of us have abandoned our New Year’s resolutions. At this point, we don’t even look longingly back on what “might have been” but hope for better things next year. But wait! There is hope for us yet. Those longed for dreams of weight loss, exercise, writing, new work etc. still have a heart beat and can be resurrected. And all it takes is a little rethinking.

New Year’s gives me hope of all the things I can accomplish. A pristine canvas, it stretches languidly off into the 365 day distance with promises of a new start. Yet a mere 20 days later and the canvas seems grittier, dirtier and the few brush strokes on it lack the importance of impending  brilliance. So what can we do?

1. Stop looking at the entire year (or the next five)

For many of us the daunting task of remaking our lives or at least some part of them shuts us down. Looking at the height we wish to achieve or the goal to accomplish just seems to much. So, the first thing some of us need to do is stop looking at the entire goal. Of course it’s important to identify where we are going and why, but once that’s done many of us have to get the larger goal out of our mind because it will paralyze us.

2. Choose the one thing that makes the biggest difference.

Dr. David Cooperrider asks the question “what’s the smallest thing you can do to make the biggest difference?” That’s a powerful question because I know I normally go for the biggest thing I can do. But Cooperrider is right. If we focus on something small, we can accomplish big things. We must break our goal down and down and down until we understand some of the behaviors that lead to that goal. For example it might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier to walk or write. Rerouting our trek to work so we don’t walk by the Dunkin  Donuts shop. Or just taking 10 minutes to look at the sky and think. What’s the one behavior, the one thing we want to focus on?

3. Only work on the “one thing”

The greatest athletes in the world only focus on improving 1% at a time. According to Dr. Greg Wells they concentrate on one movement, one muscle, one action until they get it just right and then they move on. For us, it’s about focusing on our “one thing” and getting it right. Focusing on our “one thing” can change behavior long-term and help us achieve larger goals.

So, it’s not over yet. The canvas of the year is yet to be painted. We just need to remember, it’s just one brush stroke at a time.

There is No Such Thing As Free Choice

For years I’ve defended the notion that we have free choice at every moment in all of the decisions that we make. Just this past week, I facilitated a workshop on “Achieving Personal Greatness” and I convinced the 30 professionals in the room of the free choice they always have. Now I realize I’m wrong. However, knowing that we have no free choice makes a huge difference if we are to succeed at almost anything.

For example, a minute after I started writing this blog I realized that today is recycling day. So, let me ask you, do I have a free choice as to whether I take out the recycling or not? The answer is no, my choice is not free. Every choice comes at a cost and when we understand the cost and the benefits that is when we truly have full control of our lives.

To use my example, the recycling has piled up in my basement since Christmas and is impeding clear access to the basement door. The recycling truck sometimes comes very early in my neighborhood. However it is raining right now and I’m comfortable in my room. Other factors include the societal imperative to recycle to save the environment. Also I have my personal standards of efficiency and order. On the other hand, I’m not dressed yet and I’m comfortable at my desk. However, you might still be thinking I’m free to make a choice. No, I’m not. I have to pay a price for that choice and therein lies my power.

If I choose to stay at my desk, I pay the cost of an impassable basement for at least another week. If I choose to take out the recycling I pay the cost of an uninterrupted morning at my writing desk. On the other side of the decision if I take out the recycling I gain peace of mind and my basement back again. If I stay at my desk I gain a finished blog and some personal journal time. Hence, there are costs to every decision and benefits to every decision, they are not free.

Why does this matter? When we make any decision, but especially life decisions we can often feel we are not “free” to make the decision because of society, family, previous commitments or peer pressure. Many times people say to me “I can’t pursue my goal because of …”  Essentially we end up blaming someone or something else as to why we can’t or won’t do something. That’s where we err.

When we blame someone or something for why we can’t do something we give up the most powerful ability we have as rational human beings: our power of choice. The choice might not be fair, or balanced; the pressure on us might be extreme to choose one way or another, but we always have a choice in everything we do. It is just that the choice will not be free. We have to decide if it is worth the cost.

But that is what is so freeing and so frightening. Once we realize the cost of choice and that we have ultimate control then we are totally responsible for our life. That is immensely empowering.

So, the next time you have to make a decision, think carefully about it. What is the cost you pay for your choice? What are you letting go, or putting aside; what value are you upholding against another? And, of course, what is the benefit you are gaining and how does it stack up against the cost? Knowing that your life is directed by you is an amazing and scary thing.  But at least you know your life is yours because of your choices.

As for the recycling, I took it out.