Saturday, July 31, 2010

Backward and forward

Today we will look backward and to look forward. It is my birthday today and Mark asked me to write about some of the events in the last year and what I expect the upcoming year will look like. This is not a small task because many things happened and will happen. But I will pick some of the more significant events and experiences and share those with you.

We are an independent blog with lots of cool articles and writers. We moved our site, have a beautiful new look and some of our wonderful readers like Sree started to offer to participate in the writings. I am grateful for all the time the writers put into this blog to write interesting materials for everyone. Thank you so much.

In the upcoming year I plan to put more of my energy in this area. There is so much interesting stuff to explore, teach and use. The world is a ever changing place with amazing opportunities and I surely belief that there are many opportunities in the area of belief making.

My love for my amazing, wonderful husband has been growing a lot over the past year. I always appreciated and loved him, but I have gotten to know him in a different way. A lot of that has to do with this blog. The things we write and talk about have brought us to new understandings of each other and ourselves. The fact we drive to New Jersey every week and we spend a lot of time in the car together has given us new opportunities to distill thoughts and ideas, to brainstorm and discuss. We have opened our hearts further, and deepened our understanding and appreciation. I always knew Teflon was smart, but I have a new appreciation for his smartness and the way he uses it in life. I also love how he really wants the best for people and has this drive to help them.

By my next birthday I will love my husband more than I do today.

This morning I did a four-mile run towards the little breakfast place where I would meet Teflon for some good food and personal time together. At this moment I am in training for a half marathon in November. Most of you know that I started running at the beginning of this year and that it has been going wilt ups and downs. I started well, then got some injuries, recovered, then got into the allergy and asthma season, and finally got through that at the beginning of this month. It has not been easy. It has been a case of persistent and loving the challenge and everything that comes with it.

My run today, over the big hill in front of my house, following the smaller hills into town was as easy as it could be. I ran strong, consistent and my breathing was like a beautiful rhythmic instrument. I arrived at destination feeling I could do another couple of miles. This amazing experience I was able to create due to all my months of persistent practice. I feel exhilarated to have reached this new stage of physical development.

The upcoming year will surely bring lots of running and I expect to complete a half marathon and a marathon.

In June, Mark and I, his dad, the kids families, the grandchildren and his cousin’s family all hang out in one big house in Myrtle Beach. Everyone had a fantastic time. In the upcoming year I hope to re-create this experience with everyone.

My side of the family expanded with two sisters, one baby and a baby under way. I am grateful for the Internet that has brought my family so much closer to me than they have been for a long time... In November I will see my dad and Ina for the first time in two years, and I am really looking forward to that. 

This morning I hang out on Skype with a friend from the Netherlands that I had not spoken with in quite a while. I am grateful to have friends who like to pick up where we left off, independent of how many weeks, months or years have past.

Last year we have created new bonds with wonderful people living in our neighborhood. Our “No Room for Jello” band counts seven members at this point, and regularly we play with many more. We have lots of fun experimenting, jamming and rehearsing to create new original music. We also have friends who come by to hang out during our rehearsal times to enjoy the active energy of people making music. I learned to sing, perform and play the Jembe.

We had some wonderful visits, like Paul from the Netherlands who cut himself in the finger and who I had to transport to the hospital for stitches. We had Mary and Brian staying at our place for five weeks while they were exploring and growing their love for each other. You an read all about that on their blog Find Real Love

Relationships were challenged, and some deepened and others broke off. I belief these are moments with enormous growing opportunities for all parties involved. I belief this will surely happen again. Continuing changes in our lives, create continuing changing relationships. I am looking forward to it.

Today is my first non-working day in probably seven to eight weeks. I never knew I would be capable doing that, while at the same time waking up 5:30 every morning to do my writing and running. I am recreating myself in a more consistent me. It is almost like I am reshaping myself, by taking one thing (running), implementing that into my life and then continue to add other things.

One of the things I want to focus on the upcoming year is to integrate communication with my friends into my life in a consistent matter. It has been a challenge, and I start to realize that it’ sis something I want to change next. I also want to comment more on the site to show my appreciation for the articles written and teaching received. I want to show more gratitude towards all the people in my life that are so special to me, and to all the people I meet while living my life!

In short, I will continue recreating myself and my relationships in new and profound wonderful ways.

Ok. I could go on for a long time to come, but I am going to end it here. I want to leave you with the same question as I started with this morning: what happened for you in the last twelve months, and what are you going to do in 12 months coming?

Happy Saturday!

Friday, July 30, 2010

Trapped Between Wants

You know those situations where you say to yourself, "I really don't want to do this but..."
There are lots of them. There's the job that you don't really enjoy with the boss who micromanages you and the coworkers who seem to be completely apathetic about everything they do. There are the big family gatherings that you'd rather avoid, but go to anyway. There are the weekends spent fixing things around the house when you'd rather be at the beach.

Each of us from time to time (or even more frequently) finds herself in a situation that she'd prefer not to be in, and yet there she is. Why is that?

Conflicting Wants
The simple answer is that we're trapped between wants. You want to spend time drawing and painting, but you also want to have money for food and shelter: so you go to work. You want to be out with your friends, but you also want your mom to be happy: so you go to the family gathering. You want to feel the warmth of the sun caressing your body and the sound of the waves lulling you to sleep, but you also want the washing machine to actually clean clothes: so, you stay home and fix the washing machine.

The thing is that we tend not to see these situations as being trapped between wants in conflict. Instead, we see ourselves as being trapped by the resulting don't-want. And that's where we end up focussing our energies. I hate this job. I dread family get-togethers. It's a shame to waste such a beautiful day stuck in the basement fixing this stupid washing machine.

Since the don't-want is actually a symptom or a side effect of the conflicting wants, spending time and energy focusing on it doesn't get us anywhere. The don't-want is not itself the cause. And yet, our thoughts and energy tend to gravitate to that which we don't want in our lives. So we start patching it up with bandaid solutions, dressing the pig, polishing the turd.

To make the distasteful job more palatable, we gather at the local pub to blow off steam after work. To survive the family gatherings, we carefully guide conversations to avoid questions like, "So, when are you going to settle down and get married?" or "Why is it that your cousin Frank is doing so well financially and you..." We build work benches and buy nice sets of tools to make the fixing things go more easily. More or less, all these approaches yield results, but they never actually address the core challenge: wants in conflict.

Hating What Is
I read a lot of books vicariously through Iris. As she reads them, she shares what she's reading and we talk about it. One of the books she read recently is called Loving What Is by Byron Katie. Based on our discussions (I haven't read the book) I would distill the message to this: our happiness correlates directly to the alignment of our internal reality and our external reality.

Say what? Basically, we begin to feel unhappy when what we think should be is not what is. I should have been promoted by now! My husband should be helping me with cleaning these dishes and getting the kids to bed. I should have stayed in school. My mom should know better than to prepare all this fatty food. It's not what is that makes us unhappy; it's the disparity between what is and what should be that makes us unhappy.

To have a should-be requires us to create an alternate reality in which what is, isn't. Some of us merely flirt with these alternatives occasionally envisioning how things might have been if only... For others, the alternate reality is omnipresent, a constant reminder of how screwed up everything is.

So we're faced with two simultaneously occurring and yet independent challenges: 1) being in a situation that we don't want to be in, and 2) being unhappy about it.

Happy with What Is
Addressing the unhappiness is simple (but perhaps not easy). All you have to do is align your internal (should, would, expected) reality with your external reality (what is, what you got). In short, happiness starts with acceptance of what is.

Acceptance does mean submitting yourself to fate, resigning yourself to your lot in life, giving up on your dreams or throwing in the towel; it simply means seeing what is clearly as it is and not shoulding it into something else. This is a key to happiness.

Wanting What Isn't
Once you're happy with what is, it's time to change what is into what you want. This may seem silly: If I'm already happy with what is, why would I change it?

Here again the answer is simple: Because I want something else. The problem is that we've so conditioned ourselves to using negative motivation and reinforcement, it seems strange that we could simultaneously be completely happy in a situation and want to change it.

And yet, we do this all the time. While savoring a bite of tender grilled steak, you greedily eye the fresh sweet corn sitting next to it. While snuggling together in the early morning warmth of your bed, you're drawn to the beautiful new day that awaits you. After a great day at the office, you enthusiastically head to dinner with friends whom you haven't seen in months. You move from one situation to the next, not because of unhappiness, but because of conflicting wants: two wants that can't occur in the same space at the same time.

Unless your mind is completely void of creativity and imagination, it's impossible to go through life without experiencing a conflict in wants. The difference between feeling blessed by all the opportunity afforded you by the universe and feeling trapped with what you don't want lies in how you perceive and respond to the conflict.

The steak and corn dilemma is easy enough, you just switch back and forth between a bite of corn and a bite of steak. However, it becomes a little more challenging when you're allowed only one. In those instances your happiness/unhappiness is directly proportional to the quality of the food: either one is amplified by how delicious the food is. You can thrilled that it's a no lose situation, satisfied with whatever you get, or you can be disappointed that you have to pick, second guessing your selection the entire evening.

You can be unhappy about surrendering the warmth of your bed, or you can rejoice in the ebbing warmth of the rising sun. You can regret having to leave the office just when you were on a roll or you can celebrate ending the day on a high note. It's all about your attitude and how you perceive the conflict.

What Conflict?
Here's the catch: in order to change your attitude and perception of conflicting wants, you first have to be aware of them. To do this starts with the recognition that everything in your life that you don't want is the result of a conflict between two or more things that you do want. Focusing on and responding to what you don't want simply addresses the symptom, not the cause.

Nonetheless, with a little diligence you can sleuth out the cause by starting with smaller wants hidden within the larger don't-want; every don't-want is rich with clues in the form of some benefit (no matter how small) that you're deriving from whatever it is you don't want to be doing.

With a little persistence and attention, you can track the trail of hidden benefits to the source of conflicting wants. Once you've identified them, you can toss the bandaids and begin a reconciliation process that leads lasting and more satisfying changes.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 29, 2010


I had a very interesting afternoon yesterday.  I spent time with children, parents and professionals in the autism community discussing everything from sports to video games to homeopathy.  I felt totally confused at so many points in the afternoon!

I have spent a lot of energy peeling the layers off my neatly packed away emotions over the last several years.  By the time I was 14, I had decided that excessive displays of emotion were wasteful so when I did stress, I did it computer style (see my comment on stress styles here).  Exploring my beliefs has meant acknowledging deeply covered emotional responses and practicing my awareness.  As I grew in awareness, it was as if I was angry all the time.  The problem with a computer stress style is that both the positive and the not so positive feelings are minimized.  My 'coming out' process has had some incredible highs and fascinating lows.

So yesterday, a little boy with autism looked at me and offered me some Doritos, all with his eyes and gestures.  He was beautiful, his hand flapping reminded me of Jaedon and I felt a rush of oxytocin, usually perceived as a combination of ecstasy and overwhelmedness.  I was briefly tempted to run from the room, but took note of the feeling, talked to myself a bit, and was fine, exchanging playful glances with the little boy.  After a few glances, his mother asked me not to look at him.  I think she thought we were being disruptive.  We were all listening to a presentation on helping children with autism.  Although I understood why she asked me to stop looking at her son, I felt disappointed and quickly realized that I had judged her. I decided that she was not appreciating an obvious strength in her son.  My mind went down the road of ..."so many children do not.....(like Jaedon)... and people can't see when they have something wonderful happening...."

Later in the afternoon, I chatted with some other mothers of children on the spectrum.  As comments about functioning "like animals" because of the need for detoxification, and the need to "stop the behaviors immediately", I felt tension rise in the back of my neck and across my shoulders.  Again, I judged the moms as insensitive and unappreciative of their children, I wondered, "Do I want to help all the parents of kids on the spectrum?"

A wise friend reminded me that it was about understanding another person's point of view.  The confusion vanished, my shoulders relaxed and I remembered.  I remembered the times when I tried to explain my own thoughts and feelings to people who didn't seem interested in listening, who were going to move forward with their agenda no matter what I said.  I remembered trying to explain how driven I felt to find help for Jaedon, and people telling me to come 'to terms with it' (a.k.a. don't try so hard).  I remembered hearing Jaedon's behavior was my fault.  I do understand.  If I really believe that what I have to offer can be helpful, I enter the discussion through the door of understanding.

I'm grateful for yesterday.  It is helping me be clear on how I want to show up in my interactions with other parents::

  • I don't think I can work with ALL the parents of kids on the spectrum, or even that I can help ANY parent, but that I will have particular parents who will be attracted to what I offer
  • The set of people that I do not ever judge appears to be very small so I won't be helping too many parents if that set becomes my target market
  • How come I find it so easy to judge parents? Especially those with kids on the autism spectrum?
  • Speaking of judging parents, I'm apparently on the list of parents I can't help, since the speed of my judgements directed towards anything is directly proportional (with a large multiplying factor) to my speed of self judgement!
  • Getting back to Jaedon as a starting point, my goal in any interaction is to bond, develop rapport, to understand.  No matter where I am, who I'm with, whatever the context, I will maintain my intention to understand, to lay down my own agenda and to engage people in their journey exactly where they are
All in all, I appreciated the experience yesterday.  I was glad to notice that I had (many) moments of absence, internal dialogue, judgement, which dilutes my intention to be curious, to listen, to love, to learn.  I'm glad I was able to be curious about my response.  A couple years ago, I would have judged myself for my judgement!

I hope you are are taking the opportunity to tune into someone else today, to listen deeply to them deeply and completely.  More than that, I hope you are taking the opportunity to listen to yourself today.  There is so much yet to discover in the infinite universe of you!

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Where to Meet a Partner

I used to believe that Sheffield, MA, USA would be the perfect place to meet a new partner. The reason was that the philosophy I learned there has become very important to me, and I want to have a partner who doesn't believe that we "need" each other, as in "we can't live or breathe" without each other or as in "if we break up I'll be unhappy forever and ever."

I want a partner who believes that love is a choice--that we all can chose to be happy or unhappy for our own reasons. I also want a partner who is open to look at and explain his behaviours to himself and to me.

Over a three and half year period, I spent nineteen weeks in Sheffield in some thirteen programs. Over that period, I have dated two guys whom I met at there. They were both nice guys, but neither of them was (each for their own reason) interested in pursuing a long term relationship with me. (Sorry, Brian, I didn't count you among the dating guys as you know, I only went on the date to get your list...).

I guess it's time to change my strategy.

I have actually thought about creating a class focused on how to find a partner. One of the exercises I imagined involved defining all the places you could possibly find a new partner, and specifying all the reason each of these places would be perfect.

A Friend of a Friend
This is one of my favorites: if I know and like my friends there are chances that I would also like the friends of my friends.

So maybe I should add to any invitation I send out: Please bring a single friend.

And if I need to expand I could ask: please bring a great friend and ask that friend to bring a single friend.

To those of you who think that I should add bring a single MALE friend, I have to say: this is no time for restrictions! Who knows? The right woman might inspire me to change my preferences?

Through Sports
I love sports - especially outdoor sports - and I would absolutely see it as a bonus to be able to do sports with a partner. In many sports you might be wearing clothes that reveal your body shape, and that does make some people more attractive.

If not, at least you know it.

At Work
I remember an episode in Friends that involved hiring an assistant. The woman hiring had a preference for this nice, good-looking and under-qualified male.... That may be a way to go...

Or I try some of our customers...

To be honest, the best way to meet a partner at work would be working in a big corporation that allows dating, setting up a business with a potential partner (sligthly risky), or going to many training courses and seminars...

At School
Much better than at work.

How about doing an MBA just for the sake of spending long hours doing homework with your co-students?

The Internet
There are SO many dating sites. There must be billions of people looking for the perfect love.

How about setting up a dozen profiles showing different sides of yourself and seeing who they attract?

The Supermarket
You might shake your head, but it is actually possible to meet someone at the market You can screen for people with healthy eating habits. Hey, check out the guy with all the organic vegetables...

Buses, Trains and Planes
If it's the local bus you get the advantages of someone living nearby. If it's the plane you get longer time with the guy in the next-seat (and it's difficult for him to escape), so you have plenty time to find your common interests... What about incorporating a dating site into seat selection?

Singles Clubs
If you take the time you can do anything from mountain biking, dining to seminars with other singles.

Speed-dating, Running Dinners
If you don't want to waste your time you could try the speed-dating (which I have heard can be very efficient). The running dinners concept is for people who are willing to spend a full evening on meeting Mr/Ms perfect.

The Zoo
I don't suggest you date Mr Bear or Ms Lion, but the Zoo is the perfect place to spot single dads. [You can meet the single mums at the local football club (or whatever sport is a male sport in your country) where women only come to support their kids when there is not a daddy around to do it.]

Not only do you get to check out their kids, but they get to check you out as well. If the kids like you, you're way ahead of the game.

So Why Have I Not Been Successful Lately?
As menitoned in ealier blogs, I have spent a lot of time being tired; this has kept me from doing sports. It also kept me from many social activities. When I finally do show up, I'm often too tired to engage with the people around me.

I love spending time with my friends one-on-one. This leaves little room for meeting their friends who could be possible new partners.

Spending my Saturdays in the playroom has been great and at times we have spent a lot of TALKING about dating, but the closest this has come to an actual date was when we decided to chat with the neighbor, a tennis coach my age.

My last holiday was a silent retreat, other holidays include running marathons (at a speed so slow that all the attractive men were home long before I reached the finish line) and spending time in a monastery (lots of men, but...)

I guess that it doesn't take much research to understand that I do have behaviors that are not conducive to finding a partner. I do also have behaviors linked to my personality that might be worth changing, but those are for another blog; we're talking about places.

So Where Do I Look Next?
Well first of all, I have joined a running club and when I get in better shape, I will be running with a group that includes men.

I am going on holiday in south of France with a girlfriend who has "promised" to help me find a nice guy and she has also promised that there will be other than french people (in my experience there are not many self-reflective Frenchmen).

Since it's summer time, I could spend time in the local parks, or even better, the parks downtown where I might meet some nice tourists.

And to all followers of the blog, drop me a mail or a comment if you have an idea for a date or a place to look for it.

Where will I go today?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Get on the Bus

You're standing in line at the station in Chicago waiting to board your bus to Los Angeles, and low an behold, just across from you, waiting to board the bus to New York is the most wonderfully attractive person you've ever laid eyes on. As your eyes dart about trying not to stare while trying to look, he turns his head, your eyes meet and he smiles at you. She doesn't look away, but instead, stares steadily into your eyes, smiling. You feel your heart beating faster and faster, the blood racing towards your brain as you try desperately to kick start it. Something inside you is screaming, "Do something!", but you don't know what.

You abruptly turn to the elderly woman standing behind you, asking her to watch your suitcase and letting her know that you'll be right back. You step out of line and walk up to this beaming beacon of beauty and say, "Hi, my name's…"

Sometime later, how long you don't know, you turn around gesturing towards the bus as you explain that you're heading to LA play a part in a film only to see your lone suitcase. Undeterred, you ask, "So, where are you going?"

Minutes later, you're standing next him with your ticket to New York, thinking to yourself, "How amazing! How wonderful! How exciting! How romantic!" Your blood is coursing, your hormones dancing, your left brain is somewhere on the way to LA. You feel intensely alive.

LA can wait. You get on the bus.

Months later, you're living in a brownstone in Brooklyn and waiting tables at a local cafe. You don't have the connections in New York that you did in LA, but hey, you're in love! The magic, the chemistry, the hormones are all still there. She's thriving in her new job on Wall Street. He's really great at what he does and the people at his company love him. In fact, her colleagues love her so much that they're around all the time, at night after work, on the weekends, for coffee in the morning. They talk a lot about finance and investment, stuff you don't understand or that's just plain boring. Every once in a while, you drop a great obscure line from a favorite film that seems to perfectly capture the moment; the conversation stops, everyone looking as though you just passed gas at subway decibel levels, waiting for the explanation or the punch line. You start explaining, "You know… Al Pacino… umm… you know… in… ah, never mind."

OK, you and his friends don't have a lot in common, but that's OK. The chemistry is in tact.

You exhaust your histories, finding yourself repeating stories of the time when you were seven and your dad… or how scared you were the first time you performed in front of a large audience. You switch to current topics, the book you're reading on new acting techniques or the newest foreign film playing down the street. She watches you listening quietly without comment. Without someone else actively contributing, the topic has no cruise control. You take your foot off the gas pedal and it rolls to a stop. She excitedly brings up the latest ruling from the SEC and how it's going to make things a bit more challenging at her firm, but she's figured a way around it. You listen not really understanding anything that she's saying, but it doesn't seem to matter.

Months pass and you start think about that role of a lifetime waiting for you in LA. You start dropping feelers… "Hey, winter's coming soon. Wouldn't it be great to be someplace warmer?" or "I saw on the news that the Finance and Securities industry is booming in southern California. Lot's of opportunity for someone as talented and skilled as you." But, your feelers don't yield the results you're looking for eliciting responses like, "Oh, don't be silly, New York is the only place to be if you want to be in finance."

One day, she walks into the apartment saying, "Hey, I just got a huge bonus. I think it's time for us to get out of Brooklyn and buy a place in Tribeca. I called a realtor who showed me some great lofts and I made an offer!"

Over the months, you've actually made some friends in Brooklyn, people you hang out with while he's working late at night. Even though you haven't been able to find any acting gigs, you've grown to love the bohemian nature of your little neighborhood. But who's going to turn down a loft in Tribeca.

You get on the bus.

The new loft is incredible, more than you ever would have imagined or hoped for. Being closer to Wall Street means that you'll be able to see each other more. You'll be able to grab lunch together. Sometimes you do. And when you do, it's great! You talk about movies, you talk about the furniture you ordered and what color you're going to paint the bedroom. And then one day, she says that it's time for one of you to get pregnant. Seeing as you just bought the loft and someone's got to pay for it, the pregnancy duty falls to you.

You get on the bus.

Over the last week, Iris and I have been talking with friends who are in magical, chemistry-driven relationships that have required them to change buses and destinations. It's been amazing to see how the things that were most important to them one day have all taken a back seat. They seem to be aware of it, but dismiss it as momentary.

The other night Jonathan and I were hanging out with an old friend who spoke longingly about "the one he let get away", the woman of his dreams whom he'd turned down when she issued the ultimatum, "are you in or are you out?"

Jonathan said, "I remember her. She wanted a life that you would have completely hated! In fact, you already hated pretty much all the trappings of the relationship."

Our friend responded, "Yeah, but the relationship was magical! There was such intense chemistry! It's indescribable."

If that bus rolled by again, he'd be on it.

Chemistry is but one of the reasons we get on buses headed to destinations other than the ones we would have chosen. Sometimes it's fulfilling the dreams of our parents. Sometimes it's a sense of obligation. Sometimes is just having no clue and climbing on the first bus to round the corner.

Perhaps it's just having lots of friends who are turning fifty (or thereabouts), perhaps it's because I'm someone who's managed to change buses, but lately people have been approaching me wondering whether or not it's time to get off the bus and head back towards their original destinations. For most of them, it's merely flirtation. In the end, sunk-costs will keep them on the buses they've been riding for years. I've even talked with friends who are absolutely miserable on the buses they're riding, and yet, they seem resigned to die on those buses saying things like, "I'm already fifty-two. How much longer do I have any way."

In many instances, a few simple questions reveal that each partner is riding a bus that they believe to be chosen by the other. Neither wants to be on the bus and yet, both are riding along silently resigned to their fates.

What bus are you riding? What bus is he or she riding?

Happy Tuesday!

Sunday, July 25, 2010


Do not stand idly by while your neighbor bleeds.
Leviticus 19:16
In a free society where terrible wrongs exist, some are guilty, all are responsible.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

The other day as I walked through the supermarket, I noticed that a bag of marshmallows had fallen off the shelf and was precariously close to being squashed by the carts rolling by it. So I stopped, picked it up and placed it back on the shelf. I normally pick up displaced items in the market and I normally don't give it a second thought, but in this case I'd seen ten people navigate their carts around the bag, obviously noticing it, none of them stopping to pick it up and wondered about it.

Then later at work, I saw that the double-wide refrigerator that is graciously stocked with water, juice, soda, and the like had just a couple of bottles of water left. So, before taking one, I grabbed a crate of water bottles and began loading them into the fridge. As I did so, one of the engineers walked into the kitchen, reached over my shoulder to grab one of the remaining cold bottles, and said, "What happened? Did you get demoted or something?"

Then in the bathroom stall, I noticed (albiet a bit late) that the toilet paper on the roller was nearly gone. I turned to see that the spare roll sitting on the back of the toilet was also nearly empty, it's discarded wrapper lying on the floor. I made due with what was left, grabbed the empty rolls and crumpled wrapper, found some replacements, unwrapped one and placed it on the roller, and then placed the others on the back of the toilet. Must have taken all of twenty seconds. In this case, many guys must have observed the situation and none did anything about it.

At the end of the day, I stood in the parking lot talking to one of my colleagues and he dropped his pen. I stooped down to pick it up and then handed it to him all before he could react. He thanked me and apologetically said, "I could have got that."

I don't know, maybe I did get a demotion, maybe I'm obsessed with order, maybe I just hang out at the wrong markets, maybe I'm paranoid, but I think I've uncovered a conspiracy of ignorance. It's not that people don't see opportunities to contribute, to help, and to make things better. It's not as though the opportunities are limited or costly. And yet, the conspirators seem to ignore them, sometimes in concert. Why is that?

Pervasive Ignorance
Last Sunday night as Iris and I drove to New Jersey, I talked to her about people we know whom we've always helped in their times of need, but who in times where we could have used help, seemed to join the conspiracy ignorance and become idle standers-by.

For me, this had not been a new phenomenon. However, I had started to wonder whether or not helping the idle standers-by was the best use of my time. Until that point, I had always believed that the best way to inspire others to leave the conspiracy was to be an example; however, I've concluded that rather than inspiring others to leave the conspiracy, setting an example simply places you in the servant caste: the ones who pick things up, replace toilet rolls and load refrigerators.

Hitler's Germany
Of course, changing a toilet paper roll, picking up a pen, tossing an errant styrofoam cup into the trash, carrying a lost wallet to the lost-and-found, spending a couple hours a week helping a family with an autistic child are all little things. No big deal. But I can't help but thinking that people unwilling to do little things will do much better with big things.

Fortunately, we live in a time where there aren't big things (as long as you don't consider Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and Myanmar to be big). Or at least, there aren't big things close to home (as long as you don't consider autism, aids, the unemployed, or the uninsured to be big things). OK, maybe we do live in a time where there are big things going on, but fortunately they're big things that we can ignore.

The problem is that there's no future in ignorance. Ultimately, it's all Hitler's Germany. The ignoring population dwindles over time as the ignorers eventually become the ignored. It may take weeks, months, years or decades, but ignorance is not sustainable.

What to Do?
I'm long past my days of activism and protest, at least in the traditional sense. I've found so often that people involved in causes contribute to the cause by being unhappy: by getting upset about all the bad stuff going on and telling others that they too should be upset. Doesn't seem particularly productive to me.

Other groups seem all about studying the problem and understanding it, which is fine I guess. However, I'm coming to the belief that almost all problems that get studied are simply the result of ignorance. One could study the effects of cigarette smoking forever trying to figure out the root cause of the problem, but in the end, if the cigarette manufacturers simply stopped ignoring the effects of their products (read actively embraced and paid attention to) the problem would go away. I'm not talking about the executives whom we typically vilify. I'm talking about every employee--the executives can't produce cigarettes on their own.

The same goes for so-called global warming; the problem results from billions of individuals ignoring it, or more accurately, ignoring their tiny, individual contribution to it.

Choosing Ignorance?
There are many reasons that we choose to ignore.

We believe that our actions wouldn't make a difference. A line worker at a cigarette plant thinks to himself, "Well, if I quit, they'd just get someone else."

We believe that we can't afford to pay attention. An employee at BP doesn't complain about potential safety problems because he can't afford to lose his job.

We believe that someone else will take care of it. They pay people to pick up the trash on the streets, don't they!

We believe that the problem is too big for us. How can I stop global warming?

We wait for someone else to go first.

I believe that the world changes through many, many, many people making little changes that affect those around them. I also believe that you don't have to go out looking for a problem to fix. All you have to do is stop ignoring the ones staring you in the eye. The beauty of it is that it's not at all hard and there are no strings attached. Stopping once to pick up an errant bag of marshmallows is easy and it doesn't imply any kind of contractual agreement to do it in the future.

What do you ignore?

Happy Sunday,

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Who Be You?

Cease striving and know that I am God...
Psalm 46:10a
Sree and I have been playing around with the notions of being verus doing. Most of us would distinguish who I am from what I do, at least we would say that we do. However, as we dig into what we mean by saying, I am not what I do, things get a little vague and mushy pretty quickly.

In Who Is You?, I suggested that each of us is in fact the net sum of all he does. In the context of this definition, doing:
  1. is not limited to occupation, but includes everything from breathing and sleeping to thinking and feeling to working and playing
  2. is never accidental, but always deliberate (whether we're paying attention or not)
  3. can completely change from moment to moment; past doing does not dictate current or future doing.
When contrasted with how most of us define who I am, the above definition can be quite empowering. Most of us see who we are as the net sum of genetics and experiences. At any moment who I am includes everything from the genes that make my hair blonde to my mom breaking her elbow taking a swing at me when I was five to what I ate for dinner last night. Who I am is this indiscernable yet deterministic mush of everything. We end up saying things like, "I don't know why I do that (indiscernable), I guess it's just who I am (deterministic)."

When we make who we are the net sum of our actions and make our actions all inclusive, deliberate, and non-deterministic, we empower ourselves to change who we are. Nothing is hidden (I can know why I do what I do) and nothing is predetermined (I can change it).

Nonetheless, simply viewing who I am as the net sum of what I do is somehow less than satisfying. There still must be a reason for the existence of the two verbs other than historical baggage.

How Do You Do?
This morning it occurred to me that the distinction we're looking for may lie in how I do what I do. We've talked before about epistemological (structured and ordered) thinking and ontological (stream of consciousness) thinking.

Some would describe epistemological thought as right-brained thinking and ontological thought as left-brained thinking. Ontological thought is what you do when you're in flow or in your zone and epistemological thought what you do when you're not. Epistemological thought is the manifestation of destination-oriented attitude and ontological thought, the manifestation of journey-oriented attitude.

In the strictest sense, all these distinctions (right versus left brain, flow versus non-flow, destination-orientation versus journey-orientation) could be defined as doing, but they're kind of a meta-doing: a doing that supersedes, spans and influences other doing. In particular, I like the notions of flow and what they might mean in regard to being.

Regarding flow, Wikipedia says:
Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields.

According to Csíkszentmihályi, flow is completely focused motivation. It is a single-minded immersion and represents perhaps the ultimate in harnessing the emotions in the service of performing and learning. In flow the emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. To be caught in the ennui of depression or the agitation of anxiety is to be barred from flow. The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.
Although musicians, writers, painters and athletes have been aware of flow (flowing, grooving, and being in the zone) for years, it's great to see that modern psychology is acknowledging, exploring and formalizing its understanding of flow.

Concentrated You
When you think about it, any task (any doing) can be done from within a mental state of flow or from without it (ebb?). Flowing completely recasts the experience of the doing (joy and rapture) and it substantially influences the outcome of doing. For me, flowing is concentrated being; it's the collecting of all the little bits of me and focusing them in the moment. I would stop short of "task at hand" because when you're flowing you seem to be unaware that there is a task at hand; the task at hand becomes almost an artifact of flow, not the focus of it.

I would go so far to say that flow defines intellect, it's the difference between idiot and genius. Imagine waking up in a campsite situated in middle of a large field surrounded by forests and mountains; the broadly defused predawn light renders everything about you indistinct and in a blue hue. Now imagine collecting all that light energy scattered from you to the horizon and concentrating it for a moment on a single object: a rock or a leaf or a twig. The concentration of so much energy would yield nothing short of a lazer. This is the intellectual effect of flow, the concentration of diffused and scattered mental energy into a focused beam of light.

Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a particularly interesting and challenging (read fun) problem regarding the interpretation of electrocardiogram data. I'd been working through it step by step in the manner that many engineers would work through it and I'd been having some success. But still, there was something nagging at me: something telling me that the way I was approaching the problem lacked certain aspects of system-ness.

Then the other night, I decided to go to bed early and not think about it anymore. Around 4:00AM I sat upright in bed and saw the problem completely worked out as if someone had drawn all the diagrams and formulas on a blackboard. The solution that I saw was nothing like that which I'd been working and it's going to take me weeks to implement it all, but there it was. It was a flow-based solution.

Flowing = Being
What's all this got to do with being? If I were going to draw a distinction between doing and being, I would say that doing has to do with the what of activity and being has to with the how of activity. Regardless of what you're doing, you can do it from a state of flow, a state of ebb, or somewhere between.

Ebbing is a state characterized by distraction, diffused energy and attention, and striving. It is goal-oriented and formally structured. Flowing is characterized by focus, concentrated energy and focus, and ease. It is process-oriented and organically structured. Who you are, who you're being, is simply a snapshot of where you are on the spectrum from ebbing to flowing.

In this model, there is a feedback loop from doing to being. There's no such thing as people who just flow and people who don't: you can do flow. However, I like the distinction between state (of mind, of body, of consciousness?) and action.

Anyway, that's the best I've got so far. What do you think?

Happy Saturday,

Friday, July 23, 2010

Your Stop List

Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
Song of Solomon: 2:15

It's funny how every day, no matter what you do, you manage to completely use up twenty-four hours (solar time). Some days seem to fly by and others take forever. Some days feel amazingly productive and others feel wasted. Nonetheless, every minute of every day (1440 of them) is completely consumed by activity.

Some people seem able to get more done in their twenty-four hours than others. At first it may appear that they're simply less encumbered by life. They may have money to pay others to help them. They may have fewer obligations: single versus married; no children versus many children; typical children versus atypical children. They may have a less demanding job or not work at all. They may have more energy or need less sleep.

Some people seem truly better at managing their time: they squeeze the marrow out of every second; they accomplish everything they set out to do. And yet, at the end of the day, they have the same number of minutes than everyone else.

What about you? Do you find more than ample time in your day to accomplish all that you want to accomplish? Do you find yourself leaving things undone (or un-started) simply because you don't have enough time?

A Stop List
If you'd like to make more effective use of your 1440 minutes, the first and most important task to work on is the creation of a stop list. Time management courses are not about managing time, they're about managing priorities. Priority management can get quite tricky, especially when trying to choose among tasks all of which are important. However, the reason that we often find ourselves forced to make difficult choices among important tasks is that our time (and resources) have been consumed by unnoticed, little tasks of no import whatsoever.

You'd be amazed at how much time can be spent deciding what to wear or what to eat, or worrying over and over about exactly the same unlikely event, or getting every hair perfectly in place. Tasks that could be easily stopped altogether or minimized if you were just to pay attention. Tasks that belong on your stop list.

A Temporal 401K
In many ways, effective time management is like a 401K: long term growth and accomplishment can be achieved by consistently saving a relatively small percentage each day. For example, let's say that you could gain an additional two-hours per day to do with whatever you wanted. If you sleep eight hours per night, then two hours represents 12.5% of your waking day.

In terms of money, if you make $40,000/year, 12.5% would mean saving $417/month. Saving $417/month with an annual interest rate of 2% would give you more than $200,000 at the end of thirty years. At 3.5% you'd have nearly $300,000 and at 6% you'd have over $500,000. Over that same thirty years, were you to withhold 20% in taxes and social security, you would have earned a total of $960,000. Imagine that: accruing savings of more than $500,000 with a total income of only $960,000. Saving and investing a relatively small percentage of your income can yield tremendous wealth.

Now, to save that $417 per month, you'd start cutting out little things. Skipping that daily triple no-foam latte would garner you about $120 a month. Skipping the sale at the shoe or clothing store might save you another $100 or $200. Walking or taking public transportation or using Zip cars when you need them could save you hundreds or even thousands in gas, maintenance and insurance. Items like these would represent your financial stop list.

Your financial stop-list provides you the principle for your investment, the two hours out pulled from sixteen. Whether you get a 2%, 3.5% or 6% return is determined by how well you invest your newly accrued free time.

What to Stop?
One of the reasons we often find it difficult to stop tasks is because we glide past the easy decisions and dive right into the contention between high-priority items. The first step is to think through your day considering everything you do and how long it takes you, and then writing down all the potentially stoppable tasks, even ones that don't seem that significant.

Black on Blue
For example, for the past ten years or so, every day I wear some combination of black t-shirt, jeans and sandals. More accurately, I wear one of two black t-shirts, one of two pairs of jeans, and one of one pair of sandals. Lately I've got a little wild and incorporated a couple of colored t-shirts in my wardrobe; in the winter (sometime in late November or early december), I switch to shoes.

Why black t-shirts and jeans? It's just way easier and takes less time. I never spend any time in the morning considering what to wear. I don't have to ask whether or not A matches B. I don't have to think about colors and whites getting mixed up in the laundry. I don't have to take special care washing delicate clothes or drop things off at the dry cleaners. Doing the same thing repeatedly is simple and saves a lot of time.

Elegant Coiffure
The same goes for my stylish coiffure which I owe to my Mach-3 razor. One might think that it's time consuming to shave one's head daily, but, when you do the same thing the same way every day, it gets to be quick and easy.

Short Trips
Lately, I've had to pull even more time out of my daily budget. I'd kind of exhausted my excess sleep allocation and so I tapped a source of time I'd never considered before: the coffee shop. Each morning, I normally get up and head to the coffee shop to spend the morning writing and working. I'm really productive there and it seems worth the investment. Nonetheless, driving into town takes fifteen-to-twenty minutes, getting coffee and catching up with everyone, another twenty minutes, and then driving back another twenty. By not going to the coffee shop in the morning, I gained another hour.

Biking Nowhere
A few years back, I spent $300 on a Schwinn exercise bike that I keep in my office. Going to and from the gym had been taking about forty minutes and I'd ended up working out less frequently. With the bike sitting in my office, I am able to work out every day. The daily workout (without the overhead of going to and from the gym) more than pays for itself in increased focus and productivity (increased interest rate).

What's on Your Stop List?
Are there things in your life that you'd love to do if you only had time? If so, there's hope. Doing all that you want to do begins with creating a stop list. Once you get started you'll be amazed at how much untapped free time you have. Moreover, the more you stop, the better you'll get at stopping. I guarantee that, if you've never created a stop list, then you have at least two hours of free time per day just waiting for you to find them.

Happy stopping,

Thursday, July 22, 2010

I am Leveler!

I remember the first time a doctor told me I had to help Jaedon learn some skill (like looking in my eyes) that he was not doing and that typical kids did effortlessly. I was freaked out! If my son has no inclination to do a particular thing, how in the world could I make him???  That reminds me of my reaction when I discovered that no matter how much I wished it or whined it, Isaiah was not going to ask me how my day went, and tell me how his day went, immediately after he came home from work.  How could I make him do what I so desperately needed???

A couple of years ago, Isaiah and I participated in a relationship skills course and one of the first activities is the identification of your and your partner's stress style.  In other words, when you are doing stress, how do you typically do it?  In summary, they identified 4 styles with a myriad of combinations of representations. 
  • The Blamer: "It's your fault!" (minimises your feelings, highlights hers)
  • The Appeaser: "It's my fault" (minimises her feeling, highlights yours)
  • The Computer: "The facts of the matter are..." (minimises all feelings)
  • The Distracter: "No problem at all...let's go to the movies!" (later we deal with feelings)
The program advocated a response called the Leveler, created by pulling the strengths of each style out and combining that to create a more optimal response.  So I can
  • be aware of the other person's feelings without taking responsibility for them
  • own my feelings and my being the author of those feelings
  • be aware of the facts and make a desision to delay resolution until another time, if that is useful in the moment.

I may do stress because I'm not getting what I want, but as I own my stuff and acknowledge whatever portion of other people's stuff I can see, I recognise that I can't make anyone do anything.  That anyone includes my son with autism.  Since he provides me with a wealth of learning opportunities, I'll go back to exploring with him.  How do I deal with my desire to make him do something?

I've discovered that I may not be able to make him do the particular thing, but I can encourage him, celebrate him and even ask him to do a whole lot of things. So many of the not-so solid skills, the missed steps that Jay is challenged by, are things that he already does, perhaps infrequently, unintentionally and with a looong delay after my request.  Yet, whatever we focus our energies on becomes bigger. I've decided to be a detective for my son's hidden skills so I can celebrate them like crazy. If I don't believe they are there, I won't even see them when they show up. So I have a built in curiosity about what he does. Everything is examined for the value, the possibilities, the learnings. When I see something that I want to see more of, I celebrate it. When I haven't seen it yet, or not seen it in a long while, I ask for it. I explain why I'd like to see that thing. You know what? Sometimes he just does it!

Last year, Jaedon repeatedly stood on his toes while his toes were folded under his foot, so he was standing on his toe knuckles. It didn't seem to hurt him, but his ankle bones seemed to be protruding all the more because of this position, not to mention the gigantic corns on his toes. One day, I decided to explain my concerns, ask him to go on his toes in a more traditional way, and demonstrated it. Guess what? He changed how he did tiptoes! I couldn't believe it.

I heard recently that love is not vested in the outcome.  I really like that thought.  I have a totally different energy when I'm asking for something without needing it, without being invested in making it happen.  I had honestly decided that it didn't really matter if he kept standing on his toes that way, I just preferred, and thought it better for his foot, it he changed it.  I was prepared to help him no matter what he decided to do.  So back to the real world with larger sized humans.  Whatever I focus on gets bigger.  Hmmm, so my energy around my 'needs', does that make the neediness bigger?

I'm setting an intention today to focus my energy on what I want to see become bigger by celebrating the existing occurances, like I do with a brief glance or spoken word from Jay.  It's like releasing the lion within, or exposing the rest of the iceburg.  Isn't even one occurance liberating?  Can't I release myself to hope for more?  When Jay lost his potty training a few years ago, a very wise friend said to me, "Great!  We know he can do it!  So now we just have to encourage him to do something he is already quite capable of!"  What a refreshing thought!  So much more energizing than harping on the 'have nots'.   That feels like that dripping faucet King Solomon referred to... irritating, even to me.  I will reflect the possibilities! 

Today, everything will examined for the value, the possibilities, the learnings.  I am the Leveler!  Owner of my own feelings, celebrater of what I see, requester of things I want to see more of, passionate hoper for tomorrow! (a superhero!)

By the way, if you have a child who may not be doing something you want him/her to be doing, don't focus on its absence, focus on its presence. Look for it with anticipation. Celebrate it like crazy, ask for it enthusiastically!  Who knows, it may work with the adults too!  Oh, working doesn't mean you will definately get what you want, you'll just enjoy not getting it so much more!

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


In the good old, early days of computing (or perhaps the good old, middle days), before the advent of PCs, computers were shared by many people at once. Rather than working directly on the computer, you would work on one of many computer terminals that connected to the computer.

My first computer terminal was a TI Silent 700. It looked like a typewriter with two little rubber cups on the back. Instead of sheets, it used a roll of paper. To connect to the computer, you would push a handset into the cups and dial a number that would connect your terminal to a modem (modulator/demodulator) at the computer. After a few seconds of sounds similar to those made by a fax machine a little prompt would be printed on the paper roll saying: login.

After entering a user ID and password, you would be connected: in this case, at 300 baud or 0.3Kbps.

Since the connection between the computer and the terminal was not fast it operated in a mode called half-duplex. It was bidirectional, but only one direction was active at time. The terminal and the computer could not communicate and listen to one another simultaneously. For everything to work, one had to listen while the other talked.

Half-Duplex People
I hadn't thought about half-duplex communications in years. However, the other night at dinner as one of our companions began droning on and on, repeating herself again and again seemingly unwilling to hear anything that anyone else had to say, Jonathan pointed out that she was in half-duplex mode: as long as she was talking, nothing was getting in.

Jonathan had nailed it. As I considered his analogy, it occurred to me that it's simply no use trying to have a discussion when someone is operating half-duplex and stuck in transmit mode; you might as well be talking to your television.

This morning as Iris and I sat in the bagel shop, one of the regulars who is herself a half-duplexer sat down next to us and launched into transmit mode. In the context of this morning, she didn't repeat herself. However, she did repeat what she'd said the previous morning and the morning before that and the morning before that. She's getting a new dental crown, the dentist says she'd do well to get implants, it's going to cost a lot of money, and so on.

As we got into the car to drive to the office, I commented to Iris that I have no trouble focusing intently with loud traffic or the din of a crowed restaurant or the TV and radio playing; they're all background noise to me. However, when a half-duplexer gets stuck in transmit mode, I get completely distracted by it.

Addicted to...
In the coffee shop in Great Barrington, there are several regulars who are transmit-only half-duplexers. Typically, a transmitter will sit down with someone, start talking and then keep talking (seemingly never needing to breathe). If the person at whom he's projecting begins to ignore him (it needs to be fairly obvious that he's doing so), the transmitter will simply turn his head until he catches the eye of someone else foolish enough to look in his direction. He'll then project at the eye-catcher until the eye-catcher obviously ignores him and the dance continues.

I seem to be a magnet for transmit-only half-duplexers and the attraction seems to be mutual. I can sit for long periods of time listening to transmitters go on and on and on. If the transmitter is projecting elsewhere, I seem to be drawn in like a moth to a flame. They say that addiction and allergies are closely related; we're addicted to that to which we're allergic. I used to attribute my seemingly compulsive attraction to transmitters to being allergic to stupidity: my salvation coming in the form of headphones and iTunes.

I've come to the conclusion that it's something other than being allergic to stupid. There's something about someone talking with no one really listening that results in me wanting to listen to them, to hear them. I guess I believe that they're stuck in transmit mode because they believe that by talking incessantly someone will finally listen. So, if I simply listen and ask questions, maybe they'll get unstuck.

However, I'm not sure that this is the case. One problem I have is that, while others seem capable of simply ignoring what's being said, I really do listen and I interact. When a transmitter says something that seems inconsistent to me or doesn't make sense, I'll ask about it. When she says something dubious, I'll ask about it. When he makes a face or sighs or looks about, I'll ask about it.

Asking lots of questions of people lost in transmission leads to varied results. Some transmitters really engage, digging deeper and deeper into the topic of transmission. Others seem confused continuing to transmit whatever it was they were saying, but keeping an eye on you just in case. Some are so transmit-only that they roll right over the question as though it hadn't been asked or they pause momentarily to suggest that you not interrupt them. Others reset, rolling the tape back to the beginning and starting over again. And occasionally, after a few questions, a transmitter will stop and say, "I don't know, what do you think?"

Everyone is Half-Duplex
Of course, in the end, we all run half-duplex: no matter how hard you try, if you're talking then you ain't listening. Some of us are biased towards transmitting and others towards receiving. As stuck as one may seem to be, no one is purely a transmitter or purely a receiver. The question is: what causes the bias? Is it a desire to be seen and heard or is transmitting a form of obfuscation and avoidance? Are there people who can only think by talking and therefor talk all the time? Are receivers hiding or are they curious? What do we each try to accomplish by transmitting and what do we each try to accomplish by receiving?

What do you do when encountering someone lost in transmission? Do you avoid making eye contact? Do you engage? Do you try to politely ignore them or feign interest? Do you try to transmit more loudly?

Does your transmitter ever get stuck in the on position? When and why does that happen? How do others react to you? Or are you more the receive-only type? How come?

What's your bias?

Happy Wednesday,

Monday, July 19, 2010

What Was I Thinking?

The mind is an amazingly flexible instrument. In one moment, it's a calculating machine, racing through facts and figures like Sean White traversing a half pipe. In another, it's a magic carpet whisking us away to foreign lands never visited? More often, the mind is a time machine transporting us back to events long passed or forward to events long anticipated. Just a word, a sound or a scent can trigger an instantaneous time trip. All the while, the mind is a master controller, maintaining temperature, blood flow and balance.

And yet, despite all the wondrous tasks that a mind can accomplish, despite its adaptability and flexibility, a mind is finite: a mind can do almost anything, but it can't do everything.

Poor Performer
As Iris and I were driving to New Jersey last night, I was sharing with her how I felt as though lately I'd been doing pretty much everything poorly. Tasks that would normally have taken me three or four hours have been taking five or six hours. Little details that I would normally have caught, have been dropped. As I've played sax or piano, I just haven't been in my flow. As I've approached complex software programming tasks, it's taken me longer to get into my zone and I've consistently found myself losing context, losing track of where I am. I'm not sure that anyone else has noticed it. In fact, I'm pretty sure that no one has noticed it. But I have noticed it.

And then it occurred to me. The word to describe my situation would be: distracted. Normally, when I take on complex or intense tasks, I'm able to completely abandon myself to them, much more readily than with simple, mundane tasks. I find the intensity and complexity to be freeing and I'm able to achieve a hyper-focus. But lately, it takes me longer and longer to establish that level of focus, and then, I pop out of it almost immediately. It feels like my mind has gone from a nice fat broadband connection to a skinny, piss-poor dial-up connection.

So of course the question is, why? What changed? What am I doing differently?

Malicious Mindware
This morning, it occurred to me that it's not so much the connection that's the problem, instead, it's more like my mind has been infected by a virus, or perhaps more accurately, by malware or spyware. My mind is working just as fast as ever. However, a lot of CPU cycles and memory are being allocated to running the malicious software (mindware) that I've allowed to infect my brain. Everything seems to have slowed down like a Gatesian PC overrun with the stuff. Getting a faster processor or more memory won't help. What I need is some good mental anti-virus scouring.

Not to overstretch an analogy (as perhaps I already have), but it also occurs to me that the times that you experience the effects of spyware are not the times when you are being infected by it. In fact, spyware stealthily enters your system unannounced doing everything possible not to draw attention. Only later, when you're focused elsewhere, does it begin to eat away at the capacity of your system. Similarly, distraction doesn't enter your mind at the point of distraction; it enters at other times, taking root when you're not particularly focused and then lying dormant until you really need to focus.

Actually, that's not it either. I don't think that it lies dormant. I think that it begins running immediately, taking up more and more and more of your mind's capacity. You simply don't notice until it's time to bring that capacity to bear on something important. I imagine that many minds are completely infested with spyware, but you'd never notice because the spyware becomes the program of choice. The distraction becomes the focus: having enough money, being accepted by others, doing well at work or in school, fear and doubt…

Eradicating the Spyware
OK, so I'm going to go with this: distraction doesn't occur at a time of focus, it occurs on an ongoing basis and is only noticeable when you try to focus. If that's the case, then trying to deal with distraction at the point where you notice it is like stepping in front of a boulder that's rolled three-quarters of the way down the mountain hoping that it will stop. The boulder barely notices the encounter, whereas the stopper…

The best way to stop a boulder from bouldering you is to never let it roll in the first place. If it does start rolling, then you want to stop it before it gathers momentum. The same is the case for distraction, if you want to avoid being bowled over by distracting thoughts, then never let them start rolling in the first place. If they start, stop them before they gather momentum.

OK, nice analogy but how the heck does that translate into actually doing something? I think the key to eradicating the distraction is to focus on it, step one being identifying it.

Let's see, as I think about it, for me the biggest distraction right now is my internal critique of how I'm doing. Normally, I don't give a thought to whether or not I'm performing well, but lately, I give it a lot of room. For example, yesterday I spent several hours before breakfast writing a blog on how to create a business plan. When I was done, I didn't celebrate it. Instead, I thought, "Shit, it took me nearly three hours to write that and in the end, I left out so much stuff."

Later as I got things ready for us to drive to New Jersey, I made dinner so that Iris would have something to eat on the way down. Each Sunday, we jump in the car and start driving as soon as Iris returns from her sessions playing with David and Quinn. Iris is normally famished. Last night, I got everything done about ten minutes earlier than I'd planned, so I jumped all over myself for the fact that it wouldn't be hot when Iris arrived.

You wouldn't believe how much I can distract myself with this kind of trivia. Nonetheless, distract I do. I guess I could critique myself for being so trivially critical of myself, but... OK, so today I'm going to focus on eradicating self-criticism. I'm not going to let the boulder start rolling. Nip it in the bud. Not an inch, let alone a mile. No room in the inn. You're not thinking you're gonna bring that thing in here are you? Uhh... Well, you get the point.

So, what spyware are you running? What are your biggest distractions? Have your distractions become your foci?

Happy Monday!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Planning to Succeed (Part II)

Yesterday, in Planning to Succeed, I shared one of my experiences in writing a business plan. Today, I'm going to walk you through the basics of creating your business plan.

Why Develop a Plan
Whether you're a high-tech entrepreneur or a low-tech family services practitioner, whether you're in it for the gold or in it for the soul, whether you envision an international corporation employing thousands or a local, mom-and-pop shop employing just you and your kids, a well constructed business plan can make a huge difference in how well you do, how quickly you achieve your goals, and how much fun you have in achieving them.

In constructing a business plan, you'll become an expert in whatever area of business you intend to enter. Your expertise will serve you in enlisting the support of others, soliciting funds from investors, and navigating potential pitfalls before you even encounter them. A clearly written business plan makes it easy for others to understand what you intend to do and seem how they fit into your picture. It's a great recruiting vehicle for partners and employees.

Probably most important, constructing a business plan will let you know whether or not the business is right for you without having to go through the costly trial and error approaches that often leave investors and partners with a sour taste in their mouths.

Step 1: What is Your Motivation?
Before even getting to the what of your business, it's important to answer the why. There are no good or bad reasons for starting a business. However, not being clear about your reasons can lead to confusion, bad decisions and failure. Further, even though our motivations tend to be a mixed bag, it's important to identify the most important first, the one that trumps all the others.

So, what's your core motivation: fast cash? ...long term wealth? ...fulfilling a childhood dream? ...saving the world? ...creating a company that's a great place to work? ...being the best at what you do? Whatever it is, it's important to get in touch with your most basic, core motivation. It will become the hub around which all other decisions revolve.

Intimacy with your core motivation will help you make good decisions quickly and help you avoid long, time-wasting explorations of "opportunities" that ultimately won't get you where you want to go. The process is simple: when considering alternatives, first ask yourself the question: how would thus and such help me achieve my primary goal?

It the answer is anything like: it wouldn't or I'm not sure or maybe, then drop it. Don't waste even one moment thinking about it.

Step 2: What Problem Are You Going to Solve?
Although most of us would start with what we want to do, I'm going to suggest that you start with what problem you're going to address. The reason is that this causes you to immediately focus on what you will do from the customer's perspective. So often I'll hear someone say something like, "Wouldn't it be great to have a company that did thus and such?"

The answer to this question is always another question, "Great for whom?"

Successful businesses require customers. To have customers (outside your family and supporters), you need to solve a problem for the customer. The problem might be where to get dinner tonight, or taking vacation that is actually restful when accompanied by an autistic child, or protecting a data network from hackers who seem to be getting smarter and smarter. The problem might be highly sophisticated and rare or simple and common. It might be something that only a few people on the planet can figure out or something that anyone with Google can do. Whatever it is, before getting to what you're going to do, define the problem that you're going to solve.

As you define the problem, you'll also focus in on who the customer is. Is it a corporate executive, an IT manager, a social services practitioner, a doctor, a parent, a student? Characterize the person or group who is trying to solve the problem.

Step 3: Your Solution
Now that you've identified the problem that you'll address with your business, it's time to determine how you're going to solve it: your great idea! In this case, it's important to think about the entire customer experience, from the time they hear about your product to the time they've determined to purchase your product to the time they've satisfyingly employed your product to address their challenge.

In this case, I've found scenario planning to be the best approach: create a time-line that walks your customer through the process of finding your product (web search, hearing about it from a friend) to deciding to buy your product (talking to a sales person or reading a brochure) to purchasing your product (on-line, in a store) to obtaining it (carrying it in a bag, receiving delivery via mail, attending a class) to using it (swallowing a pill, eating a meal, wearing a t-shirt), to what happens when not everything goes to plan.

In addition to the time line, I've often found it useful to create the product brochure and product announcement/press release prior to actually developing the product. This brings clarity and specificity. However you do it, it's important to define your product to the point where there's nothing left to the imagination of the person reading or viewing your description.

In addition to defining your product, you'll want to define the price and how someone might pay for it. Is your product something that is purchased once in a lifetime, or something that is purchased weekly? Are payments made on a subscription basis or an ad hoc basis?

Step 4: The Competition
OK, you're in touch with your core motivation, you know the problem you're solving, for whom you're solving it, how you're going to solve it, and how much you're going to charge for your solution. Now it's time to consider your potential customers' alternatives to your solution.

You'll not that we're looking at competition not from the product perspective, but from the customer's perspective: a perspective of alternatives. The reason we do this is that the biggest competition to your solution may not come from similar solutions. For example, one of the biggest competitors to air travel is not other modes of travel, it's video conferencing.

When I think from a product perspective, I can miss customer alternatives that might sink my business. Bands don't only compete with other bands, they also compete with pre-recorded music and DJs. Restaurants don't compete only with other restaurants, they compete with frozen pizzas and pre-packaged meals. If you think from the perspective of customer trying to solve a problem, you'll gain a better view of who your competition is.

For each of your competitors, identify their products and what they cost. For each product, specify what it does and what it doesn't do. List product strengths and weaknesses. Specify why people use the products: is it cost? availability? ease of use? effectiveness? brand recognition? belief regarding efficacy? Remember that having a new and better product may not be enough when people strongly believe in an existing brand.

As you collect information on customer alternatives, do you best to coalesce it into a table or grid that lists the products on the left column and categories across the top. Column one might be the manufacturer, column to the product name, column three the description, column four the price, columns five through ten specific features. As you do so, don't sugar-coat or dismiss anything. If an existing alternative is really great, say so.

Now that you have list of your competitors, it's time to see how you stack up against them. Take your product and add it to the table you've created. How is your product like the others? How is it different? Where is your product stronger than the others? Are you the cheapest, the most expensive, or the best value? Does your product work better than anything available? Is it the easiest to use? Do you provide the best customer experience? Become intimate with customer alternatives knowing where you're better, where you're the same and where you're weaker.

There's nothing that will turn off a potential investor faster than someone who simply insists that their product is the best across all categories being seemingly unaware of their own weakness or competitors' strengths.

As you view the competition, you'll probably find yourself making changes to your product: improvements to the feature list, reduction in price, changes in service delivery model. A business plan is a living and breathing document that will change significantly over time.

Step 5: Costs and Revenue
OK, here comes the part that many people avoid or sugar coat: answering the question of whether or not your business can actually make money. Although revenue and profitability models can get quite complex, the basics are simple. At the end of the day you're going to sell some number of products or services at some price. The number of products times the price determines your revenue. At the end of the day, you're going to pay for the products and the people required to produce, deliver, market, sell and account for them. These payments represent your costs.

Step 5A: Revenue
To build your revenue model, open your spreadsheet program (Excel or Numbers). Across the top starting in the third column, list months starting with the first month that you start your business. Down the left column starting in the second row, list the products and services that you plan to sell. In the second column, next to each product or service, list the price.

Now, starting in the third column (under the first month), put a number representing the number of products you plan to sell. Do this for each month and for each product. This first table now represents your sales volume projection, how many of each product you plan to sell in a given month.

Below the sales volume project table, once again enter the name of each product in the left column. In the adjacent cell, set the value equal to the price cell from the table above, e.g., type "=B2" in the price cell for the first product, "=B3" for the second product, and so on.

Now we're going to determine the revenue for each product for each month. In each cell, we're going to multiply the number of items sold by the price. To do this, starting in the third column of the first product enter "=C2*$B2", in the fourth column, "=D2*$B2", and so on. Move to the next row (the next product) and continue similarly. In the third column for the second product, enter "=C3*$B3", in the fourth, "=C4*$B3". If you do this for all the months and all the products, you'll have a revenue projection for each product per month.

Finally, it's time to tally your monthly revenue. To do this, you simply sum the revenue for each product for each month. To do this, go to the row just below your last product and select the cell in the third column. If the first product of your revenue table begins on row 7 and the last on row 10, then you'll go to the third column of the eleventh row and enter "=SUM(C7:C10)". In the fourth column, "SUM(D7:D10)". In the fifth, "SUM(D7:D11)". As you complete each column, you'll see the projected revenue for that month.

Step 5B: Costs
To determine whether or not your business is going to be profitable, you have to compare your revenue with your costs.

As you start your business, you're going to have start-up costs that go away over time: initial product development costs, basic brochures and marketing collateral, equipment, computers, registering your business with the secretary of state, etc: costs that are largely one time.

As you run your business, you'll have costs that don't change much regardless of how much business you do (fixed costs) and costs that change with the volume of business (variable costs).

What is variable and what is fixed will depend upon your business. For example, if your sales and payment processing are all conducted online, then you'll have fixed sales costs. However, if sales of your product involve people talking to customers, then your sales costs will be variable: the more you sell, the more sales people are required. If you send out lots of printed collateral, then you printing costs will vary with the volume of business, but your personnel costs for marketing will be relatively fixed.

Your cost model depends a lot on what your business is and how you determine to market, sell and deliver products and services. Fortunately, you have your product/service time line that you created in step 3. To build your model, walk through your customer experience time line identifying everything that is going to cost you something; don't worry about exactly how much each item costs, but instead, focus on what the items are. Try to think of everything: office supplies, insurance, accounting fees, materials, consultants, advertisements, product, your time.

Going back to your revenue spreadsheet, begin your cost table just below your revenue table. Enter each of your cost items in the left hand column. Google ads, referral compensation, sales person, marketing brochure, etc.

Now, next to each item, determine the cost per month or the cost per item as appropriate. For example, if you're going to pay a sales person $48,000/year (including taxes and benefits), enter $4,000 next to sales person. If a single Google ad costs $5/month, enter $5. In some cases, you may have per product costs: the amount you pay a supplier for a t-shirt or a sub-contractor to provide a service. In that case, put the per item cost in the second column.

Now, here's where we put it all together. For each cost item, it's time to determine how much you'll need each month. For your fixed costs, the number is going to be the same each month: for example, the number for office managers will likely stay at one for some time regardless of your sales volume. The same is likely to be the case for payments to yourself. One you, one office manager.

For your variable costs, the number will change. For example, if you're hiring sales people, determine how many sales each person can make in a month. The number of sales people required each month will be equal to the number of sales planned (from your sales projection table) divided by the number of sales a person can make. Note: for now, we'll allow fractions of sales people.

If a t-shirt cost you $3, then all you need to do is set the cells for t-shirt purchased to be equivalent to the number of t-shirts sold from your sales projection table. If you pay a counselor $60 to deliver a session, then the number of counseling sessions paid for is equal to the number of sessions sold. Working in this manner, you can determine all the payments that you will need to make in a given month.

Now, similar to the way we computed revenue totals we'll compute cost totals. We take the number of payments times the cost per payment and create a cost table. Then we sum each column of the cost table to determine our monthly costs.

Step 5C: Profitability
OK, now that you have your costs and revenue, the next step is to determine your profitability. To do this, simply subtract your costs each month from the revenue each month. If you have a relatively high fixed cost, it may be that your business isn't going to be profitable for some period of time, the time required to get to a high volume of sales. If you have a relatively high variable cost, it may be that your business is never going to be profitable.

Depending on the profitability, you may determine to cut costs somewhere or, if the price of the competition permits it, raise prices.

Step 6: Marketing and Market Sizing
There are volumes that can be written about marketing and market sizing. The important thing to do as you build your plan is to determine what your addressable market looks like: how many people are there who would actually be interested in purchasing your product. You'd be surprised how many people develop business plans that would require 150% of the market purchasing their products to be successful.

Market research data can be quite expensive. However, by combining publicly available statistics, you can get a pretty good idea. For example, if you know that one in five families purchase toothpaste once per month and you know that there are 500,000 people living where you plan to sell your toothpaste and you know that there is an average of four people per household, then you can compute how many sales are possible where you plan to sell.

Once you've determined your addressable market size, you see if your plan requires just a small fraction of the potential or a miracle to be successful.

Step 7: Step Back and Review
The process of creating a business plan is iterative. It takes time to think through all the details and, as you learn about your clients, the competition and cost factors, you'll find yourself changing the plan to accommodate what you learn.

Don't be surprised if your first attempt yields something that will never make money. That's par for the course. The thing to do is take what you learn, revisit your plan and change it, always keeping in mind your core motivation.

As a rule of thumb, try to maintain a consistent level of detail across your business plan. Don't spend all your time getting really deep on the product while ignoring the revenue model or competitive analysis. Instead, get a basic idea of the product and pricing, then build a simple revenue and cost model. Refine as you go across the entire document.

As you develop your plan, ask others to review it. What do they think of the product? What about the price? Do your numbers make sense? What are the competitive threats that you haven't considered? Be open and listen to the feedback you receive.

Have Fun!
For some reason, many people shy away from building a business plan. I'm not sure if they consider it to be too difficult or they don't really want to see whether or not it adds up or what, but developing a business plan is something people don't do. However, if you really dive into the process and stay open to learning everything you can, you'll be amazed at how exciting and fulfilling it can be to develop a plan. It can be a lot of fun!

Anyway, that's enough fun for this morning. If you'd like to know more or dive into specific areas, please let me know.

Happy Sunday!