Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween or Saint Martin's day

Some weeks ago, while driving to the playroom to meet my friend David, some scary figures (human size dolls with masks) started to show up along the road. Each time I passed one of them, I thought: "What the heck are they thinking? Why would you want to do that? What do they want to accomplish? What is it that I don't understand?"

In many ways, the American celebration of Halloween is similar to the Saint Martin (Sint Maarten) celebration I grew up with in The Netherlands, except scary people, masks and demons were never part of the celebrations I participated in.

Realizing that I had some judgments about this (the scary) part of the Halloween, I decided to educate myself on Halloween.

Halloween, October 31
While "googling" around (is this an accepted verb these days?), I read that Halloween traces its origins to ancient pagan customs. I read that Halloween originated among the Druids in the lands of the ancient Celts in pre-Christian Gaul and Britain. The Druids believed the night was filled with demons and foul spirits who roamed the land to celebrate the return of the cold and dark. People tried to buy their freedom by offering food and assorted treats. It is believed that they also used to ward off harmful spirits by wearing costumes and masks.

Now that I understand where the scary part comes in, we can compare Halloween with the Saint Martin's Day.

Saint Martin's Day, November 11
Martin of Tours was born in the 4th Century and started out as a Roman soldier who later became a monk. His exemplary life (one of the legends tells how he cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar who was dying in the cold) led to his appointment as the Bishop of Tours (supposedly against his will).

St. Martin's Day is celebrated on the evening of November 11. Carrying hand-made lanterns, children go door to door while singing special lantern songs at each house. Much like trick-or-treating during Haloween, the children are given fruits, candy, money and other goodies as a reward for their singing and the beauty of their homemade or purchased lanterns.

Basically, Saint Martin's Day is a different celebration coming from a different origin. Cool.

"So", I ask myself, "Why is it that the Halloween celebration that started so close to my birth country is celebrated in the US, but not in the Netherlands?"

I googled a bit more and found out that Halloween is celebrated in the Netherlands! In fact, there are some areas in the Netherlands where people celebrate a Halloween type of event to scare away the bad spirits. The event occurs at about the same time as the American Halloween.

Cool. Now I know.

So What?
What I take away from all this is that the people around me are not trying to scare me; they're trying to scare demons and foul spirits. Also, this is not just some American thing; people do this in lots of different places around the world.

Now I'm wondering, "Why? Are most of us just a bunch of scared people? Do we believe in scary devils and evil spirits? Are we really buying our freedom and negotiating the freedom of our children?"

I doubt it...

As for me, I think I'll hold onto Saint Martin's day!

Bring your children by on November 11 with their lanterns, and we'll sing together while consuming goodies to celebrate Saint Martin's exemplary way of life.

Happy Halloween!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Drowning in Sunk Costs

The other day I was talking with Kat who had just returned from a conference in New York. Kat was excited and spoke enthusiastically about all that she had learned. In a nutshell, and no doubt inadequately paraphrased by me, Kat had learned about new theories regarding the fundamental causes of Autism and approaches that might successfully address them. At one point Kat was so taken by the implications of these new insights, that she felt as though she knew absolutely nothing about Autism.

Now, to be clear, over the past decade Kat has totally invested herself in understanding Autism and helping families of children with Autism. Not only has she completely immersed herself in relationship based approaches towards autism, but she has also undertaken the deep study of numerous theories as to the causes of Autism as well as the various and often contradictory approaches to Autism treatment. She's made Autism treatment her life. She knows more about Autism and its treatment than anyone I've ever met.

And yet, in the light of her new discoveries, Kat was willing to put down everything she'd learned so far were the new insights to prove more useful or beneficial.

This struck me as the essence of intellectual integrity: the willingness to abandon everything you've done so far, no matter how passionately, in the light of new insight (even if the new insight came from someone other than yourself).

Hanging On to What You've Got
Maybe it's simply the fact that I and the people around me are getting older, and therefore, we tend to have more to lose, but I've noticed that more and more people are less and less willing to take risks... less willing to go for something that could be truly life changing and wonderful... less willing to, well... live.

I've seen this frequently in friends who've "done well" for themselves. They've made money; they've established families; they may even have grand kids.

They may not like their jobs. They may not like where they live. They may not like their partners. But, you know, they've already come this far... They're getting older... They're not sure if they could handle a change or a loss... and so on.

It's strikes me that there are two basic reasons they hang on to what they have although they find it less than satisfying. The first and perhaps more obvious one is the fear of losing what they have. The second, and perhaps less obvious one, is the fear of what change would imply about all they'd done so far.

It's the second one that interest me today.

Sunk Cost Decisions
One of the most common mistakes in business is making decisions based on "sunk costs". Sunk cost decisions occur when you let the time and effort spent on a specific project or task influence your perspective on what to do next. Sunk cost decisions are often accompanied by phrases such as, "We've already invested so much into this project, we can't just drop it and do something else!"

In fact, the astute business answer to that statement would be, "But, of course we can!"

Savvy and honest business people don't look at what has been invested so far; they look at what the costs will be going forward. If you find a new alternative that can get you where you want to go more quickly and less expensively than your current initiative would, you go with it. No question.

The reason I threw in the word honest is that there are savvy business people who will still go with the sunk-cost decision because they don't want to get saddled with having made the wrong decision. Avoiding blame (even blaming yourself) and fear or embarrassment are other reasons for sunk cost decisions.

Sunk Cost Lives
Sunk cost decisions are even more prevalent in daily life. When we stay to watch the whole dreadful movie because we already paid for it... sunk cost decision. When we plow more money into a hopeless automobile because we've already spent thousands on repairs... sunk cost decision. When we stay in a career we don't like because we decided at eighteen to spend our parents savings on a specific college curriculum... sunk cost decision.

I imagine that you can think of times when you've said something like, "Hey, we've come this far already, we might as well keep going."

Looking at sunk costs not only leads to really bad decisions, it also artificially limits the choices that we consider. We not only make a bad choice, we don't even consider the best choice.

The Greater the Cost
If you've read many of my blogs, you might read references to my dad who, through expert use of anger, frustration, self-righteousness, malcontent and alcohol, may be the king of self sabotage. Still, over the past ten years,  my dad has managed to completely free himself from anger, frustration, self-righteousness and alcohol to become downright contented and happy! least for a period of time, and then it slowly falls apart.

Dig Your Own Hole
The thing that's amazing about this is why it falls apart. It's not that my dad doesn't get it. He understands that how he feels is really up to him. He also understands that how others feel is up to them. He even understands that our lives' purposes are defined by us, not discovered.

And yet... Just at the point when he seems ready to really run with his new found freedom, he starts to consider the implications to every decision he's ever made. For example, what if all these years, he could simply have decided not to drink? All those destroyed relationships and lost days! What if life just is and all meaning is that which he ascribes to it? What would that mean about all the years that he spent going to church and studying the bible? What if he could have been a medical doctor rather than an electrical engineer? Did he completely waste his career?

As he considers these questions, everything slowly unravels. It's not that he's calling into question his new insights; he truly believes them. However, he simply can't tolerate the implications of his new insights; he's invested too much of himself into where he is. The sunk costs are too high; he retreats.

And then everything goes to hell.

Achieving Escape Velocity
I can remember the time that my dad came closest to breaking through. He was 76 years old and doing really well. He had a new girlfriend whom he adored. He was traveling. He was happy! He was even funny!

One night, he started playing the sunk cost game and I said to him, "Dad, I hope that the remaining years of your life are so amazing, so exciting, so engaging, that you completely forget everything that happened in all the preceding years of your life."

To be clear, it was not as though my dad was laden with responsibilities. I was the only one of his kids that would talk to him or return his calls. He had no debts or commitments to fulfill. His past friends weren't anxiously awaiting a visit.

I could see the gears turning as he considered the possibilities. I watched him taste the freedom. I swear, he seemed to sit taller as the burden of the sunk costs fell away.

And then... Sigh.

Are You Drowning in Sunk Costs
In business, considering sunk costs is just bad business. If you're a business person, you may want to consider decisions you or your organization has made based on sunk costs and revisit them.

By extension, in life, considering sunk costs is just bad living. If any of what I've written resonates with you, you might want to start looking at your decision process and identify the sunk cost components. Start with the easy ones: eating the entire terrible meal because you paid for it... throwing good money after bad into a wreck of a car... keeping your kids in a specific educational program simply because you've spent so much on it already.

Once you've tuned into the sunk cost model, you might want to consider bigger life decisions or your general life situation.

How much of who you are and who you're becoming is due to sunk costs? Your career... Your location... Your friends... Your house... Your partner... Your religion... Your politics...

What would you do differently if the sunk costs didn't matter?

They don't!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fear Triggered by Milky Discharge

Two evenings ago my world got shaken deeply. While examining my breasts which I do regularly, one of my breasts started to discharge something milky. First I looked at it in utter surprise, and then went into shock… Oh, my god! Am I pregnant?

You must know that I decided years ago that I don't want to have children. Mark has three grown children and two grand children whom I love, and I do not have any desire to raise my own children.

After a night of weird bloody dreams with dead aborted babies that were used for experiments to have souls implanted from people who died (yep, too many x-files!), I called the doctor's office and nervously told them my concerns. They were so kind to let me come in that afternoon. I was so grateful for that. I wanted to take action, because waiting just seemed too much.

When I told the doctor my story, she thought out loud about what could be going on. She decided to have my blood checked for thyroid problems and some hormonal things.  She also decided to send a little of the discharge to the lab to check for different breast problems.

She never ever, even once, mentioned pregnancy. I said, "don't you want to check on pregnancy?"

She responded, "But you use anti-conception. Do you think you are pregnant?"

I said, "No! (apparently very inauthentically), but I still want you to test me for it!"

Ohh, ohh, ohh, these fears we have! The sweet lady decided to have a pregnancy test run for my peace of mind, while she was going on to research all the other possibilities.

Back home, I got on the Internet and did my own research. It turns out that lots of women experience a milky discharge from their breasts while not pregnant. When you are pregnant, it starts normally somewhere between week eighteen and the end of the pregnancy.

Women also have these discharges in relation to lots of other things: it can be related to their hormonal balance, pre-menopause, medications they take, clogged pores in the breasts, different diseases, and the list goes all the way to cancer. Even men can have these challenges.

Pfff... While reading all this, I started to feel much, much better! I decided that I am going to be just fine!

You can guess that I slept with sweet dreams that night..

This morning I am feeling great! I believe I did the best thing to do, by going to the doctor and have everything tested. I believe I am not pregnant; I don't feel a cantaloupe in my belly (I found that description somewhere online, for the state you're in by the time you breasts start to discharge) and I use anti-conception medication.

The discharge doesn't look worrisome (you should read about the different colors that can come out. ughh!) and the doctor is looking into the different possibilities of what might be going on. I am grateful for my body talking to me and making me aware that it was time for a checkup.

Yep. What an experience. I learned so much. I know so much more about myself. And, I realized that if I would ever get pregnant, I would be able to figure out what to do.

Goodbye fear!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Burn Those Bridges

I was looking through some of the articles on this blog and I got inspired by Teflon's blog posted on September 30, called "The Path to the Future". The quote posted in his article says:

"The path to the future is brightly illuminated by the bridges burning behind us".

I love this motto.  Think about it: traveling through life is so much easier when you truly decide to let go of the past and focus on the future. You don't have to carry the weight of a tough childhood, an abusive ex-partner, etc. All you have to do is focus on what you want in the future and how to act in the present in order to bring your desired future into being.  Doing this lets you enjoy the present moment.

After reading the Teflon's motto, I spent some time thinking about all the things that I have let go of, things that I didn't want in my life  and are no longer in my life.  It felt so good to recognize the choices I've made and it felt great to silently celebrate them.

The same evening I was talking to my friend Mark K. I mentioned that I had withdrawn my application from a position at work because I didn't trust the manager. Mark asked me why my reaction was to withdraw my application. He suggested that I could have changed my relationship with the manager or I could have asked to work in that position under another manager. He wanted to know why my action was to simply redraw.

I explained my reasons. Although I had made attempts to change our relationship, I had decided that I didn't want to trust him. I had also made attempts to switch organizations (which might have actually happened in the end), but hadn't happened yet.

As I talked with Mark K., I got tired. I felt exhausted!

Mark also got tired of listening to me!

Wearing Myself Out
Initially, I thought I got tired because I felt that I hadn't "succeeded". I wasn't "good enough" and I could have "done more".

And this might have been true, but...  Today, I realized that my problem was the following: I had made the decision that "the man was not trustworthy by my standards, and that I did not want to work closely with a man of his standards".  This would have been fine had I only  BURNED MY BRIDGES. 

I hadn't!

Instead, I had held on to the belief that everything would have been better if I simply could have inspired the manager to change or if I could have inspired the organization to remove him from the department where I wanted to work.

Simultaneously, I held on to the belief that I could not have changed the situation in any way!

On the Horns of a Trilemma
I've been taught that I should split the situations I face into one of three categories:
  1. things over which I have full control
  2. things I can influence or over which I have some control 
  3. things where I have absolutely no control
    In this case, I decided that this situation fit into the second category; I decided that I would be able to influence or have some control over either the manager or the organization.

    Why did I decide this?

    Well, a teacher told me that she believes she can control the weather. So, why would I not believe that I could change my department or my manager? Maybe I already have influenced my department!

    Understanding that this was my decision, I have now made peace with my decision, burning my bridges and looking forward.

    I can always look at my dis-empowering beliefs about which parts of the world I can influence and which parts I cannot influence.

    Looking Forward
    For now, I can take credit for the changes I have started in the organization by pointing out that low standards are not acceptable to me. Maybe highlighting one person's low standards is what it takes for ten other people to raise their own standards.

    Next, I am going to make a list of all the parts of my life where I have low energy and see for each of them if there are bridges I need to burn. I already feel my energy level getting higher!

    Thank you Mark .K for being such an honest friend. Thank you Mark T. for introducing this great motto which I'll repeat:
    "The path to the future is brightly illuminated by the bridges burning behind us."

    Monday, October 26, 2009

    Simply Confused

    Have you ever had one of those days when you wake up and wonder "how did I ever get here?".

    This past week has been one of those days or should I say, seven of those days. After my exercise in judgements where I realized I still judge the heck out of everything, I began judging my judging. Real productive huh?

    Then I began feeling sorry for myself and generated a large list of things I am tired of. I realized that this list contained most things in my life. So why exactly am I living a life that I am tired of?

    This is where the confusion set in. Since I believe that we always do what we want to do, I must want to be doing all of the things I am doing. If I am doing what I want to do, why am I tired of most of it?

    My first thought was that I do everything for others. Aha! The victim. Yup, that is me.

    The martyr. Aha! Yup, me too.

    As I went down this road of self pitty for a while, I realized that I so highly value what other people think of me that I end up doing things/being things that I think will be valued by other people and somewhere in that craziness, I lose myself.

    OK, I don't lose myself; I simply become such a fraud, I that I don't even recognize myself anymore.

    So now, I am simply confused. I am not quite sure who I am anymore. I am not even sure who I want to be.

    The good news is that I know I will be whatever I want to be and I also know that I am in full control of who I am.

    Sunday, October 25, 2009

    Relieving Stress

    In the last week, I had two dialogues related to the subject of tension and stress. In both cases the explorer judged had judged the situation he or she was in as being bad. Their judgments had brought them to a place of unhappiness.  The specific unhappiness had been tension and stress.

    What is stress?

    Stress is an emotional and behavioral response to a combination of beliefs and subsequent action or inaction. Stress shows up when we face a challenging situation that results in our bodies releasing adrenaline, but then fail to act. Our bodies release adrenaline to support either fight or flight types of responses to perceived danger; our bodies expects to react immediately and intensely when the adrenaline is released.  When we don't act and provide a way for our bodies to consume the adrenaline builds up causing stress.

    Doing some online research, there seem to be lots of different explanations as to how and why this happens, but all seem to indicate that the stress is a result of our failure to act. 

    There seem to be two versions of stress:

    •  Stress created in the moment: a huge explosion of emotion and adrenaline as an immediate response to a challenging or threatening situation.
    •  Stress built over time: a long-term build-up of unhappiness fueling beliefs that are not questioned or challenged.

    Stress in the Moment

    When our body responds to an immediate challenge with a build up of adrenaline and we fail to act with a fight or flight response because we believe the situation is hopeless, then we panic.

    What is Panic?
    Asklog describes panic in the following way (check out their article, lots of informative stuff): 
    Panic ensues when we: are unable to formulate an effective evasive action; we choose the wrong evasive action; the evasive action is ineffective; or, the evasive action goes terribly wrong in ways we do not understand.

    Basically, if we come to the point that we believe there's no hope of succeeding, we either panic or we give up.  Note that our panic or surrendering has nothing to do with the situation actually being hopeless.  It has only to do with our beliefs about the situation being hopeless.  We can actually panic before we've even evaluated the situation or tried anything at all.

    If we see our panic or stress as response to our beliefs about the situation and not about the situation itself, then we have a lot of options open to us.  So, the best thing to do is to first recognize that we're dealing with a belief-based challenge, not a situation-based challenge.  Then we want to challenge our beliefs (and if needed as was the case with one of my dialogues, ask for help).

    Long-term Stress

    Because long-term stress grows bit by bit, people often see it simply as part of life and they often do not question it or the unhappy beliefs that cause it. Over time, people carry more and more stress.  The stress affects everything from their attitude and manner to their health and relationships.  Yet, when you ask them how they're doing, they will probably say they're fine.

    As is the case with short-term stress, long-term stress is not based on situations, but our belief about the situations.  Like short-term stress, it is based on a sense of hopelessness and can be dealt with by investigating the beliefs that cause us to become hopeless and inactive in regard to the situation.

    The first step in dealing with long-term stress is to recognize it as such.  See the places in your life where you have discomfort or tension.

    The next step is to see what drives the stress.  Are there situations in which you feel more at ease and less at ease. 

    Once you identify the situations, then it's time to look at your beliefs around them.  By looking at your beliefs you can bring yourself to a point of action.  It may mean changing the situation.  It may simply mean changing your beliefs.  In either case, you can eliminate the stress.

    Denial, although an option, isn't a great one!

    Below I attach an email I received yesterday, which shows how wonderful it is when you allow yourself  to let go of stress.

    Hi Iris!!

    Wow!  The outreach was amazing.  I am so grateful YOU were there for me in my attitude emergency!  I was able to make such a drastic, complete change in my attitude so fast.  I went from being upset and "feeling not at my best" to feeling excited in a matter of moments.  I felt better than ever more and more through out the day - I was proud of myself for making the choices that I made.  Your loving questions helped me see through my fears, frustrations and disappointments regarding the situation I was in. 

    THANK YOU!!!

    Saturday, October 24, 2009

    Will You Help?

    Today, I'm writing to ask for your help addressing a challenge that has reached epidemic proportions. A scourge that knows no ethnic, racial, religious or geographic boundaries. An insidious affliction that affects rich and poor, tall and short, red and blue, public and private.

    The problem I refer to is bullshit.

    Once the province of politicians, scalawags and the kid who always forgot to do his homework, bullshit is now pervasive touching every one of our lives. Odds are you know someone who bullshits daily... it could be you!

    Bullshit costs tax payers trillions of dollars annually. It results in wasted time and missed opportunity. It ruins relationships.

    It you know someone who bullshits, then this article may be for you.

    Causes of Bullshitting
    The debate rages on as to the real cause of bullshitting; experts are at odds with one another. Yet, I would hazard to propose three causes that seem to pretty much cover it:
    1. Wanting to win an argument at all costs
    2. Not wanting to be found out (e.g., cheating on your partner, failing to fulfill a promise, not completing a work assignment, not wanting people to know that you listen to Barbara Streisand records, etc.)
    3. Not wanting to be honest about your real intentions or beliefs (e.g., agreeing with something to avoid an argument, saying you can't make an appointment when you simply don't want to go, saying you loved something that you really didn't like, etc.)
    Identification and Acknowledgment
    The first step to eradicating bullshit in your life is to recognize it when it's happening and then to act swiftly and decisively. Fortunately, many bullshitters are not skilled. You can tell immediately when they turn it on by looking for one or more of the following signs:
    1. An upward inflection at the end of a statement making it sound like a question, rather than a fact.
    2. Eyes looking up and to the left indicating that they're accessing visually constructed images rather than visually remembered images (eyes up and to the right).
    3. Eye looking left indicating that they're access constructed auditory images, versus remembered auditory images (eyes right).
    4. Hesitation and stammering.
    5. A smile that involves there mouth only, and not the rest of their face.
    6. Looking at you to see if you bought it before continuing.
    7. Really, really ridiculous statements.
    8. Statements preceded by "Would you believe..."
    When seeing one or more of these key indicators, the easiest and perhaps best response is to ask, "Is that true?"

    Typically, the inept bullshitter will stop in his tracks. He may hem and haw. He'll look to his left seeking some kind of visual or aural inspiration. He may avert his eyes or look away so that you can't see his mouth.

    With any luck, he'll simply say, "no" or "no really" or "not exactly."

    At this point, he may launch into myriad explanations, justifications and excuses, but you're not through the hard part.

    Dealing with the Adept
    As the epidemic rages on, practicing bullshitters are getting better and better and better. I'm going to outline several techniques used by adept bullshit artists to help you identify it when it's happening.

    The Confident Bullshitter
    Many bullshitters learn early on that, if you look someone directly in the eye, say things with strength and confidence and without hesitation, and if you don't let the ends of your mouth curve up, you can get away with pretty much anything.

    The thing that gives away these artists is that they don't actually believe what they're saying. They find it hard to hold your gaze for an extended period of time. The mask that they screw their face into feels unnatural and is hard to maintain.

    For example, if they're smiling, it's likely that just their mouth will be smiling and not the rest of their face. Their gestures and timing will be a little bit off. Over time, they'll start checking in to see if you're buying it.

    In this case, the best solution remains asking "Is that true?" or perhaps a slight variant, "Do you really believe that?"

    The confident bullshitter will not likely be deterred by these questions, initially. However, she'll also find it difficult to maintain the facade of confidence, slowly revealing the signs of an inept.
    Hey, Is that Elvis?
    A commonly employed technique of even inexperienced bullshitters is distraction with things that are irrelevant. In high school, I really, really, really hated math class. Each day I would walk out of Mr. Reedy's class feeling even further behind than the day before.

    Over time, I noticed through his comments that Mr. Reedy loved handball and loved to complain about his wife. So, on days when I believed that I simply couldn't take another hour of falling behind I would start the class by asking Mr. Reedy a question about handball or his wife. It would easily chew up half the class.

    Given that most of us have a difficult time staying on track, the distraction technique can be quite effective. Still you can address it by knowing what you're talking about (by what, I refer to the topic, not the subject matter), recognizing the attempt at distraction, and then simply asking, "what does that half to do with thus and such?"

    Playing to Doubts
    Some great bullshitters use the technique of positing. Let's say that you're in a meeting trying to make a decision. As you approach a conclusion, the bullshitter (either having failed to make any contribution to the discussion or not liking where the discussion is going) will posit, "Hey, have we considered thus and such? Even though we believe that we've come to the right conclusion, we don't know it's right. It could still be thus and such!"

    What makes this technique so insidious is two-fold:
    1. There's no lie in the statement. The statement that some other course of action could possibly be correct is absolutely true.
    2. The posit plays to the fears and doubts of the decision maker.
    This technique is typically employed at times when decisions are being made. They can be corporate decisions, team meeting decisions, personal life-choice decisions. The posit-er may come in the form of a team member, a friend, a family member. The posit-er's goal is typically to delay or divert.

    When you recognize that someone is using the posit technique, there are several reasonable counter measures.

    You can say, "Sure, thus and such is a possibility, but then, so are this and that. Why did you bring up thus and such? And why now?"

    Alternatively, you can say, "Sure, thus and such is a possibility, but so unlikely as to not be relevant."

    Or, perhaps best of all, "Do you really believe that thus and such is going to happen?"

    The Best Liars are the Sincere Ones
    The most difficult bullshitter to recognize and deal with combines all the above techniques with an overwhelmingly powerful catalyst, sincerity. In the moment he's saying what he saying, the bullshitter absolutely convinces himself that it's true. All the gestures are there. There are no telltale signs of eye movement. There's no hesitation.

    These bullshitters often go on to become powerful politicians or prominent religious leaders or great lovers. They're the players. Over time, a player tends to lose touch with who she or he really is. They morph from situation to situation, relationship to relationship, adapting and sincerely playing the part.

    The easiest way to identify this type of bullshitter is to bring their worlds together. For example, bringing people from work home to dinner, or bringing family members from home to work. Most players will vehemently resist having their worlds collide (a key indicator). If the worlds do come together, it can be an amazing show.

    Alternatively, you can simply watch over time to see consistency in statements and beliefs.

    If you find yourself in the company of a player, again, the easiest approach is simply to ask, "Do you really believe that?" Sometimes that simplicity and the directness of the question can have an immediately sobering effect.

    Alternatively, you can ask questions like, "Why did you say that?" or, if they're referring to someone not present, "Hey, let's call so and so on the phone right now and check it out!"

    A Bullshit Free Life

    In the end, we only have bullshit in our lives because we allow it there. Even if your life is full to the brim, it's easy to completely eradicate it of bullshit.
    1. Decide that you want a bullshit free life
    2. Learn to recognize bullshit (it's easier than you think, and you probably already can do it)
    3. When you see it, call it (just ask, "Do you really believe that?")
    You'll be amazed at how quickly either a) the bullshitter stops bullshitting, or b) the bullshitter stops inviting you to dinner.

    What kind of weekend will you have?

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    Inspiration or "let the world be my playroom"

    Joining a home-based relationship program has been a great inspiration for me. Not only is it fun to be in the playroom. I also get inspired to do more fun stuff outside the playroom. I get inspired to find ways to inspire Christo's mom. And I get inspired to change my life.

    Inspiration in the playroom
    When I am in the playroom we mostly play games inspired by Disney. We started with Tigger, which happens to be Christo's and my favorite Pooh character. We will bounce around and quote Tigger. Just try to perfect your "youuuhuuuhuuuhuuuhu". Can you do that without smiling? Do you recognize the amazing feeling when you get Tigger under your skin? You can feel the energy and happiness bounching around while being Tigger. It is so different from playing Eeyore (which is fun too, just different).

    Sometimes we pick characters from "Jungle Book". I love Balou. Being Balou gives me a chance to move my but! I would like to be a monkey, but I still can't sing all the words from "I wanna be a Mankind" (I haven't made it my highest priority yet!). Than there are the dogs. They are everywhere: it can be 101 Dalmantines, Blutz, you name it. There are so many great Disney dogs, and I'm a dog person..

    I would recommend to anyone to personify a disney character. It's fun and you can make it a good workout too. Pick one of your favorite disney characters and start playing! And by the way: when was the last time you were standing close to someone making funny faces? or scary faces?

    Preparing for the playroom
    We've been playing monsters, dogs and George of the jungle. I didn't even know George of the jungle. So recently I 've spent time on youtube. Laughing a lot watching clips from this crazy movie.

    I've bought some new dvd's and borrowed some from friends with kids. Because how could I know that "Get out of here" was just a quote from Beauty and the Beast"? And I for sure didn't know that there were lines from StarWars in KungFu Panda!

    Lately I have been smiling, singing new songs and making more jokes and people around me have been laughing with me!

    Inspiring someone else
    When I did a training to facilitate groups I found it challenging to find the energy and enthusiasm within me. But when I am sitting at the kitchen table exchanging ideas for the playroom with the mom, I am excited. I love telling her how good she is, how fantastic it is that she can see what to do next and that she keeps moving.

    I want her to get more help and training, so I keep feeding her with suggestions, and step by step is she moving on it. It's fantastic. I see that I can inspire, and can be patient, all at the same time. It feels so good.

    I used this inspiration to challenge people at my work, people who seemed to be waiting for inspiration. When they resisted taking responsibility for their lack of inspiration, I would ask them: how is it working for you to wait for a small ant to bite you, to get under their skin and fill you up with inspiration. As we laughed I knew that they knew that inspiration was there for them to choose.

    Let the world be my playroom
    I want to take as much as I can from the playroom and build my world from this.

    I know that Brian and Mary have a webpage on how to create relationships. My suggestion will be: build a playroom for you and your partner. Build this place with love and acceptance, and a lot of space for exploration.

    If anyone want to join my playroom, let me know. It might include pillow fighting and greek dancing, but it will be fun.

    My playroom, my rules.


    Thursday, October 22, 2009


    What if today were all you had? How would you live it?

    What if you had just this year? What would you change in your life?

    What if you were to live forever, never sick, never without? What would you do differently?

    How much in your life is what you've settled for? How much in your life is what you've dreamed of?

    What would you change?

    Everything and Nothing
    The other day, Iris asked me what I would change in my life. I thought about it and it occurred to me that, at a macro level, not much. I really love the life I've chosen. I'm apparently, based on the feedback of others, incredibly happy and content. I certainly feel that way.

    Yet, at a micro level, there are gazillions of things that I would change. I would spend more time playing music. I'd figure a way to get my kids to come visit us here in the middle of nowhere versus us always going to them. I'd spend more time writing and more time singing. I'd cure cancer. I'd solve the energy thing. I'd cook more. I'd run more. I'd spend more time talking with friends late into the evening. There are so many things that I would do.

    What an interesting paradox: being totally contented and wanting so much more. It's pretty amazing.

    And yet...
    There are times when I'm not so contented. There are times when I start pressuring myself to deliver on my wants. I start believing that I'm not working fast enough or hard enough or smart enough. I start believing that I'm not enough... that I should do better.

    Perhaps it's an interesting side-effect of always assuming that you can do the impossible or the improbable or at least more than you thought was possible or probable. Over time, you slowly raise the bar higher and higher and higher. What was a stretch goal becomes an expectation. What was a stupendous victory becomes ho-hum.

    Over the past few months, I've been pushing myself really, really hard: perhaps harder than I have ever pushed before.

    My friend Jonathan gave me this amazing opportunity to write the software for his device that precludes heart attacks. My friend Kat gave me an amazing opportunity to work with her to develop a website that will help families of kids with autism and other developmental challenges. Iris gave me an amazing opportunity to play music with a great group of musicians who are the sweetest people in the world.

    It's all been, well, amazing!

    What If I Can't Do It All?
    I've been running as fast as I can to keep up with all the opportunities that I've been presented working at least twelve hours every day of the week, and yet, I feel like I'm always just inches behind where I need to be.

    The thing that I noticed today is that my attitude towards myself has been slowly shifting. Rather than seeing myself as doing remarkable work and valuing my effort, my heart and my skill, I've started judging the fact that I'm always just shy of where I want to be.

    It's not a disabling kind of judgment per se. I don't spend time lying in bed bemoaning my situation. Some might even call it an enabling judgment in that I actually work harder and longer. But still, I'm quite convinced that, by focusing on the spots where I'm missing, I've started to undermine how effective I am.

    It's a subtle thing that shows up as a tightness in my neck and shoulders or as a shallowness in breathing. My very concern is undermining my ability to address that about which I'm concerned! Maybe more importantly, the work I love so much has become less fun. It's almost become, work.

    A Milestone
    Today, I go the this incredible email from Jonathan regarding the software that I'd developed for the heart attack device.

    By way of background, medical devices (even implantable ones) are typically tiny computers that run software. Unlike the software that runs on the computers that we see on our desks, medical device software has to be really, really efficient (so that the battery can last for years, not hours), and it has to be really, really, really reliable. Blue screen of death takes on a whole new meaning.

    One of the things that was special and challenging about the software that I wrote for Jonathan is that he wanted the exact same software to be able to run both on the device and on a the desktop computer that doctors use to program the device. Typically, these are developed independently because the tiny computer on the medical device and the big computer on your desk are so different from one another.

    Jonathan knew that, if you developed the software once for both, then you could dramatically improve the quality of both systems; by testing one system, you would also test the other. This would also guarantee that whatever the doctors saw on their program console would be exactly what was happening in the device that was implanted in their patient.

    Over the past few weeks, Jonathan has been running tests on the software, tweaking little pieces as he goes. In his email, Jonathan told me that he'd just run a test that successfully processed and analyzed thirteen million segments of heart attack data (more than 300 million heartbeats).

    As I read the email, I thought, "Shit. It's really working!"

    And then, I just stopped.

    Celebration and Closure
    A few weeks ago, I handed off the software to Jonathan and his team and then raced back to the Berkshires to pick up the next task at hand. Internally, I don't think I even paused to acknowledge the accomplishment, let alone celebrate or relish it. I had too much left to do.

    As I sat with Jonathan's email in front of me and paused, I could feel my neck and shoulders relaxing. I could sense my lungs opening and my breathing slowing. I felt an ease that although normally present, had been evading me over the past few weeks.

    So, I've decided that one of the things I'm going to change about my life is to take more time to to recognize and enjoy my accomplishments. Not just the big ones... Not just the ones that go according to plan and schedule... Not just those that others would consider important...

    I'm going to start recognizing and celebrating anything that I see as an accomplishment simply because it feels really good.

    Happy Thursday!

    Wednesday, October 21, 2009

    My Faux Pas...

    So tonight I got this really interesting voice mail from my dad who lives in Kentucky.

    He said, "Hello, it's dad calling. I just wanted you to know that I'm in the hospital. I almost drank myself to death tonight. The number here is, xxx-xxx-xxxx."

    There were voices in the background telling him the number as he repeated it over the phone.

    I didn't call him back.

    My Frigging Idiot Father
    You might have read previous blogs in which I talked about Mark K and Jonathan competing in The World's Dumbest Smart Guy championships. Well, despite all their qualifications, my dad's got them beat by a country mile.

    My dad grew up in Finland. When he was fourteen and his father was overseas in the US, the Russians invaded Finland making it impossible for his father to return until the end of the war. So, my dad tutored calculus to college students in order to help pay the bills.

    When he went to MIT to study electrical engineering, he would take advanced math classes for fun. He would complete the supposedly impossible-to-complete three hour final exams in just a couple of hours and then go back through his test and enumerate the steps required to get each answer. The professors would then post his exam as the answer key as he never missed even one question.

    A Brief Interruption
    Excuse me a moment, it's Mark K calling on Skype...

    OK, I'm back! As I conversed with Mark, I typed everything he said... He gave me some advice regarding my dad, told a couple of jokes, interrupted our call to talk to Vadim (trying to include Vadim by holding his iPhone up to his computer's camera), and generally said things like:

    "No... see... what I understood is... No, I don't have a theory or interpretation, but, well, umm, his actions... uhhh... So, a man and a woman both buy tickets on an overnight train via the Internet..."

    I said, "Mark, when I type everything you're saying, it becomes immediately clear that you never actually pursue a train of thought to it's conclusion."

    Mark said, " I just want all of you in the blogoverse to know that Teflon is trying to get me to write his blog for him. Now may I please talk to Iris...

    Back to Dad
    While cruising through MIT, my got a summer job in Manhattan where he met my mom who was studying music at Columbia. My mom was from South Carolina, her family having been there since the 1600's. My dad was just off the boat from Finland. My mom was a singer who couldn't do math to save her life. My dad can't carry a tune in a bucket, as they say. My mom was an extrovert. My dad the silent type. She was the queen of the prom. He was a nerd. They were pretty much polar opposites. It was a marriage made in heaven.

    I'm not sure exactly when my dad took up the pastime of consuming as much vodka as possible before passing out, but I can remember different incidents as a young teenager where he would just seem out of it and get really belligerent.

    My mom grew up Southern Baptist and a teetotaler. So, we didn't talk about alcohol, let alone alcoholism. As a kid, I was instructed not to mention things like beer and wine when we visited my grandparents in South Carolina. Even as we shipped my dad off to rehab at Hazelden, my mom wouldn't say that he was an Alcoholic. So, it was pretty much up to the kids to do something about his drinking.

    When is Enough Enough?
    I can't count all the times I've bailed my dad out of a touchy situations, cleaned up after him, reconciled his finances, sorted his paperwork, appeased those he'd offended, got him into programs, found people to help him, and generally navigated his wake.

    I can't estimate the number of relationships he's burned through: people who were good friends who finally gave up or were simply afraid to have him around. Over the past five years, he's pretty much exhausted the good will of everyone in his life. At times, it's come down to just me and Iris.

    The crazy part is that my dad doesn't seem to appreciate or have any gratitude for any of our help. Every once in a while he seems a bit humbled by his past actions and their effect indicating that he holds a lot of judgments about them, but he never says, "thanks".

    When he does get himself into trouble, he expresses entitlement. He calls or has the doctor call or has the cop call expecting me to do something.

    I think that this time, I'm not going to do anything.

    As you might have noticed, I'm feeling a bit emotional about this whole thing. I feel sad. I feel angry. I also have a sense of determination and a feeling of freedom.

    What do you think?


    The baby slept all night!

    Next month, Jaedon will be 11 years old.  I must be starting my reflections early this year, looking at old pictures, and thinking about the past 19 years.  There have been sooo many lessons learnt.  I have adjusted myself and my beliefs in monumental ways (for me, anyway).  The past almost 2 decades have often felt like a mini tropical storm whose waves were constantly uncovering beliefs,  like old artifacts buried under the sand for centuries. I've kept some of these artifacts, and thrown out quite a few! 
    My becoming a parent was an enormously multi-dimentional stimulus of gargantuan proportions!  It would take a book to describe all that I discovered about myself in this journey of parenthood.  I am so grateful for my kids, because in so many ways, they have helped me to grow up.  As I watch myself respond to them, respond to others' response to them, respond to my husband's response to them, I have to admit, none of these responses to the responses... have anything to do with them and only to do with ME.  But wait...I'm getting ahead of myself.  Let me tell you the story that started some of these explorations.

    I remember getting home from the hospital with Jaedon, settling in and going to bed, fully intending to go to sleep. First, let's hope the baby goes to sleep. At 2 days old, he did sleep quite a bit, just not all in one shot. Aha! Finally, he's asleep. I put him in his bassinet....on his belly, or on his back? the books say on his back.... let's try that. "Wahhh!" His arms shoot out to the sides, his legs stiffen. OK, that didn't work. Walk, walk, walk,...he's asleep. Let's wait a bit. Ok, let's put him down. Maybe on his side this time. Ahhh! He's still sleeping. I head over to my bed and try to settle in for the night. It took me a while to find a comfortable spot, to quiet my mind. It has been an eventful 2 days, with sonogram, hospital stays, induction.... my thoughts get fuzzy and tumble over each other.  I'm not sure if I had been asleep a minute when .."Eh, Eh, Eh....Waaahh!!!" I get him, put him on my breast. To prevent jaundice, he should be fed every 90 monutes. In 10 minutes, he's sleeping again. It's now one in the morning and I haven't slept yet. I had a sinking feeling, a premonition of things to come.

    Ok, so now I know how to put him down, I put him in his bassinet and get into bed. My body relaxes and I sigh in relief as the quiet continues. But the red light from the digital clock is bothering me. I throw a shirt over it. Sleep, at last. Then, "Eh, Eh, Eh, Wa, Waaah!" It was exactly 90 minutes from the last feeding, 2:30am, and 15 minutes of sleep under my belt!
    This continued until morning when my life partner, my soul mate, Isaiah, woke up, looked at the sleeping baby in the bassinet and exclaimed, " The baby slept all night!" A description of my thoughts in that moment are for another posting.
    Happiness was no-where in sight in those early days.  I felt flooded with confusing thoughts about everything and everyone, especially Isaiah.  If the baby cried and he didn't rush over, I felt rejected.  The journey into sadness and depression felt tormenting and I wanted to understand what was happening and why.  One of my core beliefs came to my rescue: "I can benefit from everything that happens in my life".  I started taking ownership of my feelings and became a better student of myself.  I became more curious, even intrigued by the various external things that determined how I felt on the inside.  This was great practice for the next tumultuous season that occurred 2 years later: Jaedon's diagnosis of autism.

    So, here I am, almost 11 years later, grateful for the wealth, the strength, the internal fortress that I have developed over the years.  I'm grateful for all the stories, some you have read about, and some you'll hear about soon because without my participation in these stories, I wouldn't have even looked at my beliefs, much less adjusted them, and become the person I am today.

    If you are in a new situation that is feeling like a tsunami, take a moment, breathe, relax and know that you are a powerful tsunami withstanding machine and you can do it, one belief at a time.
    Love, Faith

    PS, photos are of Jaedon (10), Zachary (5) and Simonne (8) all having fun in the playroom last year.

    Tuesday, October 20, 2009

    Keep It Simple

    I regularly hear from friends that they deeply admire the relationship that Mark and I have. They tell me that they want to create for themselves a relationship like ours. I agree with them; Mark and I have a wonderful and amazing relationship. Let me tell you our secret: we keep things simple.

    I believe that, if you integrate the following five points into your relationship you will have a lot of fun together.

    1. Believe that your partner has the best of intentions
    When Mark and I got married, our only commitment was to love each other more each day than the day before. Picture that: a promise to grow and expand the universe of our relationship in the same way the physical universe expands. When you grow your love more every day, there is no space for doubt regarding the intentions of your partner. I believe that Mark at all times has the best intentions for me in our relationship no matter how he shows up.

    For example, the other day Mark told me that if there were one thing he could change about me, it would be making me more consistent. I could have taken this comment as criticism, and made up that he didn't love me as much as he once did. But just as easily, I could take it as an authentic conversation in which Mark said these things to help me gain new insights in myself.

    Believing that your partner wants the best for you is crucial in creating a great relationship.

    2. Say what you want
    The other day, I heard a story about a married couple who went to counseling sessions to see if they could bring new life to their relationship.

    Throughout their 18-year marriage the husband would often walk into the kitchen, grab a paper towel and blow his nose.  Each time he did this, his wife would ask, "Doesn't that hurt your nose?  Wouldn't you rather use a tissue?"

    The husband would respond, "No thanks, I'm fine with the paper towel."

    In the counseling sessions, the wife brought up the fact that she'd always found his blowing his nose in the kitchen to be "disgusting".  She had wished that he would simply go blow his nose in the bathroom.

    The husband had been totally unaware that his wife had these issues with his behavior. He would have happily complied if she'd simply stated what she wanted.

    I regularly see this pattern in relationships.  For example, a woman says to her friend, "I don't really like baseball, but my husband does, so we always watch all the games.  I'm really getting tired of it."

    Instead of telling her husband what she wants and finding a solution, she complains to someone else, someone who has no influence on the situation.

    By simply stating what we want, we clean the air quickly and create room for enjoyment and pleasure.

    3. Take nothing personally
    This sounds simple, but it seems to be a challenge for a lot of people. Let me give you some examples of things that people take personally:
    My husband is working eighty hours a week and is grumpy all the time.  I think he prefers his job to me...

    She's wearing that ugly red sweatshirt just to irritate me...

    When he makes a drink for himself, he never asks me what I want. He doesn't care about me...

    She was crying again last night. She just wants to make me feel guilty...
    Your partner does things for his or her reasons. Your partner may sometimes make choices you would not make. It's not about you!

    When this happens, take yourself out of the equation.  Ask questions that give your partner room to explore his or her challenges.  Don't insert yourself into the logic.

    4. Don't assume

    I can't tell you how many times I've seen people get completely upset about something that never happened.  This is a classic result of making assumptions rather than asking a question.  Now, if you read item number one, then you'll see that there are some assumptions that I endorse.  The assumptions I'm referring to here are "negative" assumptions.

    I have a friend who's girlfriend is insanely jealous.  Each time he shows up later than he had planned, she assumes he's been with another woman.  Each time his phone rings or a text message shows up, she wants to know who sent it.  She assumes that he is cheating or is going to cheat.  You can imagine the long term impact on a relationship.

    Consider the following situations.  What assumptions do you make?
    Your partner is an hour late picking you up...

    Your partner agrees to wash the dishes before leaving the house.  You come home to find the sink stacked with dirty dishes...

    You see a thousand dollar charge on your credit card bill attributed to your partner's card, but you can't make out what the charge is for...

    As you walk into the room, your partner quickly shuts off his or her computer...
    Years of assumption build up like plaque on teeth, layer upon layer upon layer.  If you want a great relationship, avoid the build-up by simply asking instead of assuming.

    5. Enjoy each other
    If you're together, then there must be things that you enjoy or have enjoyed doing together.  It might be talking together, it might hiking, it might be playing chess, or working in the garden, or sex, or cooking...

    For Mark and me, it's often the simple things.  For example, tonight we went to the kitchen and I cleaned dishes while Mark cooked.  Later, we went and worked on a song that I'm learning to sing.  Mark sometimes refers to our romantic evenings on the couch sitting next to each other writing software.

    The thing is that, whatever we do together, it can be really enjoyable.  It doesn't require trips to Paris or expensive dinners in New York or long planned outings.  All it takes is choosing to enjoy being together, no matter what we're doing.

    It's Up to You
    I guarantee that, if you actively and consistently pursue the five activities I've outlined above, you'll have an amazing relationship.

    What about starting with just one or two? For example, you and your partner could decide that, from now until Saturday, neither of you will take anything personally!  If you catch yourself or the other taking something personally, you'll point it out.  If it's pointed out to you that you're taking something personally, you agree not to take it personally and get defensive, but instead ask, "what do you mean?"

    Have really great relationship week!

    Monday, October 19, 2009

    Do you forget things?

    Early this morning I knew that I would not be able to post an article, so I posted a quick note which said that I would post my article later this afternoon! This way I could write the article after my sessions and you would not have to guess when it would show up. Wasn't that great thinking?!

    Then during my day, I "forgot" to write the article. This afternoon, I took time to work, do a workout, and do my singing exercises. Five minutes ago, while sitting on the couch being hot and sweaty from my workout, I realized that I "forgot" to write and post an article!

    The word forgot always makes me smile, because I no longer believe in the concept of forgetting. For years, I was a victim of my forgetfulness. My forgetfulness was a weapon used against me, and I believed I had no way of controlling it.

    Today, I see that my forgetfulness has nothing to do with me not being in control. I believe in this moment that I am totally in control and my actions were orchestrated by me with precision! I could have scheduled my calendar in a way that it would have reflected my plans to write this article this afternoon, but I didn't do it!

    So, seeing that I didn't schedule time for me to write the article, I purposefully and deliberately made room for "forgetfulness"; I decided that instant that I could make other things more important. I opened the door for that option and then I took it!

    I'm just realizing that by not scheduling writing into my calendar for this afternoon, and by not writing in the announcement this morning that I was planning to forget to write a post, I also was totally inauthentic with all of you.

    I am a liar! Wow!

    Luckily, I will have a new chance tomorrow! You will find that article early morning!

    Blog today after 4PM

    Hello everyone,

    Just wanted to let you know that the blog for today will be posted around 4PM.


    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    The Bell Curve

    Businesses all over the world conduct a ritual known as the Annual Review. The Annual Review takes on many forms and many implied meanings. Some annual reviews are conducted on or about the service anniversary of each employee; others are conducted en masse.

    Some reviews are designed to provide feedback on an employee's performance based on a set of goals established the previous year, others are designed to rate employees to establish a basis for compensation.

    The King of All Reviews
    When I was at Bell Labs, we went through this incredibly rigorous process that took days (not the use of the word incredibly). Each employee would submit a list of their accomplishments for the year. We called it the Why I'm Great! form. Next, taking the Why I'm Great form as input, each manager would complete forms for each employee including accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses, and so on.

    We would distribute all the forms to all the managers within a given area and then convene a series of meetings whereby we would rank order (i.e. from 1 to n) every employee in the organization.

    As we rank ordered the employees, we would pursue vigorous discussion of the employees strengths, weaknesses and areas of improvement. We would talk about development plans and so on.

    Adding a Little Pressure
    At times, the discussions would get quite heated. The reasons were three-fold.

    First, once we established a ranking for each employee, we would discuss salary treatment. The reason we called it salary treatment rather than raises is that the process was designed to align compensation with performance; ostensibly, the highest ranked employee would have the highest salary and the lowest ranked employee, the lowest salary. Makes sense, right?

    The problem was that the rank ordering didn't always reflect the salary ordering. Some employees might have had an off year, others might have transferred from another organization where they were paid more highly or more lowly, and so on.

    Since we had a limited pool of funding for raises, truly aligning salary and performance meant providing some people with negative raises. If I had a highly rated person who was poorly paid, in order to fund their salary increase, I would have to take salary away from a poorly rated person who was highly paid. You can imagine the discussions that would arise when a manager was told that one of his or her employees would be receiving a significant negative raise.

    Second, in order to be promoted within the organization, one would need to be consistently highly ranked. So, we often had lots of debate over the people who were in almost in or just in the top ten percent.

    Third, as a matter of policy, we would look to let go people who were in the bottom ten percent. Again, lots of heated discussion about who deserved to be let go.

    All in all, I really enjoyed the process. I liked the debates and what they revealed about both the topic of debate and the debaters. I also really liked the concept of aligning compensation and performance.

    The Bell Curve
    One of the the most amazing things I discovered in the Bell Labs annual review process was that the distribution of employees' performance levels complied with what's referred to in statistics as normal distribution. When you plot data that distributes in this manner it has the appearance of a bell, so we often call it Bell Curve distribution.

    In bell curve distributions, the amount of data decreases as you move away from the center of the bell and increases as you move towards the center of the bell. The farther you move from the center (either to the left or to the right), the less data you'll find.

    You might have heard people in science or statistics referring to standard deviations. A standard deviation is simply a way of referring to clumps of data within the bell. If you start at the center of the bell expanding simultaneously to the left and to the right until you've included 68% of the data, you have one standard deviation. If you keep expanding evenly to the left and to the right until you include 95% of the data, you have two standard deviations. At 99.7% of the data, you have three standard deviations.

    There's a lot of math that people use to compute this, but in the end, that's all standard deviations mean.

    Data that falls into one standard deviation is referred to as being one sigma data, data within two standard deviations as two sigma data, and so on.

    So What?
    When you think about it, the whole idea of a bell curve distribution seems kind of silly.

    If I were to measure the height of every tree in a given forest where the shortest tree was ten feet tall and the tallest tree was 100 fee tall, why wouldn't I find just as many ten foot trees as I did twenty for trees as I did fifty foot trees, and so on? Or, why wouldn't I find all the trees were either ten feet tall or 100 feet tall, with no other heights?

    If I were looking at SAT test scores, why wouldn't I expect an equal distribution of poor scores, moderate scores and high scores?

    The answer is, "I don't know!"

    Nonetheless, as we collect countless data on observable natural phenomena, they seem to conform to bell curve distribution.

    It's pretty amazing.

    Back to Annual Review
    The crazy thing is that Bell Curve distribution seemed to apply to the performance levels of employees at Bell Labs.

    Why is this crazy?

    It's crazy to me because every one of the people being rated had always been in the three sigma category. They were at the top of their class in high school, at the top their classes as Berkeley and Stanford and Cal Tech and MIT, and so on. They were all used to being the best at what they did. And still, when we did our rank ordering, everything complied with Bell Curve distribution!

    The three sigma people (the highest rated and the lowest rated people) were easy to identify. Accordingly, the people in the middle (the one sigma and two sigma people) were also quite easy to identify.

    In the end, although we could spend weeks trying to figure out the linear rank ordering of each and every employee, all we really needed to do was decide into which standard deviation they fall. Within each category, the differences weren't that meaningful or significant.

    So, How Does this Apply to Me?
    If you've hung in here this long, congratulations and thank you!

    If you think about it, when it comes to decisions in our daily lives, most of spend most of our time focused on the nuances that distinguish items within a certain group and almost no time on selecting the group itself.

    I know managers who will agonize for months or years about a poorly performing employee trying to figure out how to get him or her up to snuff, when in fact, the employee is simply not a match for the job. Alternatively, I have three sigma friends who have miraculously found a compatible three sigma girlfriend or boyfriend, and yet they harp on all minor incompatibilities.

    In the end, I think the most useful approach is to understand into what deviation our challenges fall, and then look for a solutions that are in the same deviation. If you have a one sigma challenge, then all you need is a one sigma solution. If you have a three sigma challenge, then don't waste any time looking at one sigma solutions, go right to the three sigma category.

    You can apply this approach to everything from thinking about where to eat dinner to what car to buy to where to send your kids to school to whom to marry! By matching the standard deviation of the challenge to the solution, you can make better, faster decisions, and you won't waste time on solutions that will never ever work.

    If you made it all the way to here, thanks for your indulgence!

    Happy Sunday