Thursday, September 30, 2010

I stress, I stress not,...

Isaiah called me from work that day.  He was having chest pains.  By afternoon, he was asking me to meet him at the emergency room. Now, for another person, this might be no big thing, but I knew it was serious.  This was Jamaica in 1995.  Emergency rooms are not fun places.  This hospital had great doctors, but was not always well staffed so...anyway, even more telling than all that is the fact that Isaiah does not go to the doctor.  He is the self proclaimed never sick person.  I hurried to meet him a the ER when he called.  I also called a mutual friend who was a consultant at the hospital to, hopefully, expedite the process.  After several hours and tests, the diagnosis was stress.

The diagnosis was reasonable.  Jaedon was 4 weeks old.  His birth was the end of 8 weeks in and out of the hospital with several overnight stays.  I think my blood pressure was still high 4 weeks postpartum.  Neither of us were sleeping in the nights (thought he was getting more sleep than I was!).  Stress made sense.

Stress is one of the most common diagnoses around.  Anything from chest pains, heart burn, eczema and the like are said to be symptoms of stress.  Wikipedia made an interesting comment when defining stress: Physiologists define stress as how the body reacts to a stressor, real or imagined, a stimulus that causes stress.  In other words, the stressor doesn't cause stress, but it's what our bodies do with the stressor that causes the stress response.  Wiki commented that the issue is the body's response to a perceived threat, real or imagined.  

I've been feeling stressed a lot recently.  Most of my reactiveness has been around the day to day activities with the kids.  Mrs Hyde puts in an appearance often.  When I think about it, my stress response is pretty similar to that of a child with autism.  Many kids with ASD are in a high alert state, ready for something to go wrong.  Often, the things that actually go wrong have to do with a bigger/not typical response to some stimulus.  So a leaf blows in the wind, Jaedon sees it and bolts into the street.  Now we really have something going wrong.  The perceived threat has a less than expected risk-of-harm factor associated with it, but the response creates a situation with a larger risk-of-harm factor.

So I'm paying attention to myself to answer the question What do I think the threat is?  or perhaps What am I afraid I will lose?  Loss suggests that something is being taken away.  It has two parts: the perception that I 'had' something, then the perception that something external was removing that thing from my possession.  So the first question is really Do I have the thing that I'm afraid of losing?

Time to get specific.  I came home from running an errand and it's after the scheduled shower time.  When I get home, the children have destroyed results of the extensive cleanup activity we all participated in earlier.  They are happily playing in a pile of toys in the dining room.  Isaiah is restringing the guitar.  I decided that stress was an appropriate response.  Mrs Hyde was shouting in my head as I quickly organized the children and started the shower routine.  I was afraid of losing the perfectly organized and disciplined adults my children were going to grow up to become.  It did not take much examination to unveil the fallacy: I own the perfect children in the same way I own the Tooth Fairy, only in my mind.  Interestingly, Mrs Hyde vanished as soon as I focussed on being generous giver with no strings attached, instead of someone in a contractual arrangement that was being cheated.

I am thinking about Teflon's comment "there's nothing inherently draining about any challenge."  I think life is what it is. A challenge is just a thing, it's really neutral. We find it challenging because of what we think about it.  I'm not addressing big issues like tyranny and world hunger.  I'm working on how I respond to the 'little' stressors because then I might have a model I can scale up to those other issues.  What I do know is that life is not a contract. I'm not guaranteed an outcome because of what I do.  I want my actions to be based on the validity I have given to them.  When I act as if life is a contract, and I don't get that preferred result, I respond as if someone hasn't fulfilled their part of the deal; I live a very stressful life.  My stress responses create even more harm, and create some real threats.

So I'm ripping up the contracts.... didn't I do that before?  I must have missed some.... I'm ripping them up and choosing generous, non-contractual responses for myself.  They are definitely not draining, actually, they are actually quite invigorating!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


The movie Memento tells the story of Leonard, an ex-insurance investigator who can no longer build new memories. Leonard is attempting to find the murderer of his wife.

Each day, he awakes with no memory of the previous day, or of any days that have transpired since his wife's murder. In order to ensure that he never forgets the most important information, he develops a novel memory system; he tattoos himself with it. To remember people, he carries a small set of Polaroid photos.

So much of what we call dysfunction or negative emotion relies on memory.

Hate and fear are engines that consume memories as fuel. The engines that burn most powerfully are the ones with the most fuel. Without memory, the fuel exhausts and the engines stop.

In fact, all emotion is fueled by memory. Theoretically, you could control how hot each engine burns by through fuel selection.

Selective Memory Wednesday
As I thought about this, it occurred to me that it would be fun to conduct a little experiment. The first part would be to ask yourself the following questions:
What would happen if I knew that tomorrow morning, I would wake up with no memories prior to the age of ten? I would still have my skills and abilities; I just wouldn't remember anything about people or situations. What salient tidbits would I tattoo on my body? What ten photos would I keep?
Rather than simply writing them down in a list, you might draw the outline of a body and tattoo them.

The second part of the experiment would be to keep track of what memories you burn as fuel throughout the day; just jot them down each time you become aware of them. Each time you hesitate because of a past mistake, each time your face brightens at thought of your child doing something endearing, each time your blood pressure rises just a bit at thought of an injustice, write it down.

The third part of the experiment is to compare your tattoos with the memories you consumed. Are they the same? Are they different? Do they overlap at all? Why?

While writing, I played through the memories I've consumed over the past few days and I realized that there are many that I'd never tattoo or photograph, ones that I'd do well to forget altogether. So, why consume them? Why continue? Will I continue?

I also thought about the ones that would become tattoos and realized that I haven't thought about many of my tattoos in a while. Why not? What am I going to do about that?


Happy Selective Memory Wednesday!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Unappreciated Genius

I wonder how often people go through life thinking that they are a genius and feeling underappreciated when they are really just ordinary... or even subpar. Underappreciated genius is so rare as to be nearly nonexistent. The grandiose delusion of undiscovered genius leading to feelings of underappreciation is so common it should be listed as a separate personality disorder in the DSM IV.

Unappreciated Genius
It's a fine line between stupid and clever.

David St. Hubbins, Spinal Tap
No great genius has ever existed without some touch of madness.

It's impossible to tell the difference between someone infinitely ahead of you and someone infinitely behind you. We only reasonably calibrate people whose skill levels are close to our own.

As I read Unappreciated Genius' comment on Delayed Appreciation Sunday (OK, he or she actually left the comment anonymously, so I thought it would be nice to assign her a nom de plume), I was struck by the rich set of emotionally held beliefs wrapped up in one small comment that seemed only tangentially associated with the post that inspired it. As I thought about them, it occurred to me that perhaps it would be fun to play with them a bit.

Busy People
The first phrase that caught my attention was, go through life thinking. My thought was that to go through life thinking anything in particular would probably qualify as some form of dysfunction. I think the formal term in the DSM IV would be stuck. I've never actually known anyone who went through life thinking about anything in particular, but I have known some people who would get caught up in thinking, discussing, lamenting and rehashing ideas and situations for weeks and even months at a time.

For people who persist in thinking about and discussing the same stuff over and over, I believe the prescription found in the DSM IV is to get over it or as Faith explained it once, Just Stop It!. I've always thought that perseverating on anything was simply a side-effect of having nothing much to do and the best solution is to start actually doing something. Busy people never perseverate.

The second phrase to catch my attention was when they are really just ordinary... or even subpar. Ahhh... where to start. I guess I'll start with the idea that someone is really anything in particular. The idea that you're really this or really that is kind of like taking a snapshot, waving it about and calling the result a movie. Each of us is constantly changing, growing and morphing into someone new.

There are of course the perennial seekers of "the real me" and spiritual questions regarding who it is that observes when you see yourself doing something, but the idea that there is this static definition of you that you may embrace or flirt with or deny is just kind of silly and certainly not very useful. In any moment, you can be this and in the next you can be that; baggage is optional.

Beyond believing that there is this real you that you can deny, Unappreciated Genius goes on to say that the real you can be summed up to a single net value that can be compared to the real net sums of others. I don't know if Unappreciated would go so far as to prescribe an exact distribution of values across the general population, but he does seem to imply something of a bell curve with true unappreciated genius residing somewhere in the four- or five-sigma range.

There are so many parameters that you could use to quantify you that it seems unreasonable to believe you could net it out to above-par, par or sub-par. I guess you might be able to do it within a category, but unless the category were narrowly defined it would be meaningless. For example, musicians would be too general. Guitar players? Electric guitar players? Electric guitars players who specialize in blues? ? Electric guitars players who specialize in blues between 1940 and 1950? Electric guitars players who specialize in blues between 1940 and 1950 who composed their own music?

Even if you sufficiently narrowed the domain, everything would be in flux.

And of course, there is the more obvious question: Even if you came up with a narrowly defined and specific quantitative metric, so what?

OK, just a couple of more. Here's a fun one: The grandiose delusion of undiscovered genius.... Ahh... if only more people would see themselves so grandiosely and then strive to fulfill it.

Yesterday, as Faith and I discussed her business plan, we Q-and-A'd our way to the root cause of her recent bouts of ambivalence. Lately, as she's shared her plan with others she's received advice that's run the gamete: Start fast and run with your intuition... Take your time and plan... You need to raise capital... You can run this without any additional funds... How do you know this going to work? Why are you so hesitant?

As I listened to Faith I mentioned to her that great entrepreneurs, inventors, composers, artists and writers are necessarily arrogant; they believe they can accomplish something that no one else has accomplished and they do so despite a loud consensus of contrary opinion. Unfortunately, the test genius is not unlike the old testament test of a prophet. A prophet is a true prophet if what she professed happened, i.e., false until proven otherwise.

Of course, with genius, you still never know. As one of my friends often said, "Better lucky than smart."

Since it's all delusional anyway, the question is more one of what delusion will better serve you, the one that suggests you're a genius or the one that suggests otherwise?

OK, here's the last one: leading to feelings of underappreciation is so common it should be listed as a separate personality disorder in the DSM IV.

I would have to say that there is probably not a person on the planet who is not under-appreciated. Very few of us appreciate what we ourselves have to offer let alone what others have to offer: delusional indeed.

If there is any dysfunction to speak of, it would be 'negative' feelings associated with being unappreciated. When we make being unappreciated a bad thing, we shift our specialness from our genius to our being misunderstood or ignored or scorned. In the pursuit of genius, my question would be, "Well duh... what did you expect?"

However, more generally, since every person on the planet goes largely unappreciated, why would being unappreciated (or under-appreciated) make you special?

Further Appreciation Tuesday
So, in honor of Unappreciated Genius (whoever you are), I'd like to declare today Further Appreciation Tuesday. To celebrate Further Appreciation Tuesday find a partner with whom you interact regularly, sit down together with a cup of tea, a glass of wine or a mug of beer and write down a list of things that you do that go largely unappreciated (even by you and even if it doesn't bother you that they're unappreciated). Share your lists with one another and then celebrate all those beautiful unappreciated skills, talents and activities.

Happy Further Appreciation Tuesday!

Monday, September 27, 2010

My Wonderfully Stimming Wife

As many of you know, my wife Iris spends most days playing with children with autism. Although one might normally use the word 'working', for Iris it is indeed 'play'. When people find out what Iris does, they often respond with something on the order of, "Wow, that must be terribly challenging work!" or "I know someone in special education and it's quite draining."

When I explain that Iris always comes home energized after playing with her little friends or that she sees it as 'play' and not as 'work', it frequently stops the conversation in its tracks. People simply don't know how to respond to such a bizarre statement.

I can make out bits and pieces of what's going on for them... Of course it's challenging. Of course it's difficult. Of course it's draining. You clearly don't have a clue about how terrible it is to have a child with autism... to work with children with autism.

Some people respond directly challenging my assertion, "Oh, Iris must be a very strong person. Working with kids with autism takes a tremendous amount of energy. She must really feel it at least sometimes."

Others respond less directly talking about others they know, "Well, my cousin works at a school for special needs children and she often comes home at the point of tears."

A very few respond inquisitively asking, "What do you mean comes home energized?" or "How is it that she doesn't feel drained?"

Iris of course typically answers these questions herself, but the other night I was thinking about it from an observer's perspective.
Why is that Iris doesn't come home drained or disheartened or upset?
I came up with several reasons.

Nothing Special, Nothing Wrong
The first thing that occurred to me is that Iris doesn't seem to notice that there's anything wrong with the kids she plays with. Sure, she knows that one child struggles with this and another with that, but she seems to see it just as she sees herself struggling with getting from nine-mile runs to thirteen-mile runs.

There's nothing fundamentally wrong or even different. Everyone has challenges. Some are more typical than others. But there's nothing about atypical challenges that makes them fundamentally different from typical challenges. You just encounter them less frequently.

Since Iris view challenges generally as a good thing, perhaps even a raison d'ĂȘtre and since she doesn't discriminate among challenges, the situation is more than not draining, it's actually energizing.

A Friend in Need
The second thing that occurred to me is that Iris truly considers these kids to be friends. She doesn't see them as children she works with, she sees them as friends she plays with.

Iris often describes one little boy as the only person on the planet who gets her jokes. She'll come home and share their discussions with me, laughing loudly as she repeats the 'funny' parts and describing him rolling on the floor, laughing. I'll often laugh too, but it's not because I actually get the joke. It's just so much fun to see how excited and happy she is.

What's So Different?
The third thing that occurred to me is that Iris and her friends aren't so different from one another. Iris can spend hours mesmerized in activities that many would call "stimming" (a repetitive body movement that is hypothesized to stimulate one or more senses and is common to children with autism.)

Fortunately for Iris, many of her stimming activities are what others would also consider to be highly productive. Rather than rocking or flapping her fingers in front of her eyes, she'll organize accounts in a spreadsheet or prepare packets of information for mailing. Also fortunately, Iris finds these highly productive activities to be relaxing.

Iris faces some of the same sensory challenges common to kids with autism. When we go out to eat, we often sit at the bar. Bars often have televisions positioned for patrons to watch sports events, etc. I've learned that if I want Iris to talk actually hear anything I'm saying, it's best to position her back to the television.

Draining or Energizing?
In the end, watching Iris, I've concluded that there's nothing inherently draining about working with a child with autism. In fact, there's nothing inherently draining about any challenge. There are just challenges. Some are common, some not. Some are typically viewed as unfair or draining or terrible, others not.

Just challenges.

Happy Challenging Monday!

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Stuck, Unstuck, Restuck...

My training distance preparing for my first half marathon has gotten longer and longer. I can now easily run six miles and I've already run a couple of nine-milers. My speed has improved and I have noticed an enormous improvement in everything related to running.

Sounds great, right! But...

I seem to have a go-past-nine-miles phobia... Each time I go out to do a run longer than nine miles, I seem to crash a third of the way in. (Mark is giggling next to me while I am writing this. He comments "this is what runners call a plateau, heh heh heh" and "you are just a victim of circumstances, heh heh heh".

So, here I sit, all plateau-ed... stuck!

At least I am aware of it! I even have thought to dialogue about it! But then I realized this is not one of those dialogue things. This is one of those do-it things!

I was not so insightful the whole time. At the end of last week, I was actually downhill-ing instead of plateau-ing. After my ten-mile crash, I started to run six- and seven-milers instead. My hubby interjects "Why????"


At that moment I believed that I had to slow down in order to recreate my base before attempting to reach the next level. But during my shorter runs I noticed that I wanted to make them even shorter. In my head I was figuring out ways to change my route in a way that would make it more comfortable and... shorter.

OK, I am not that simple-minded; I figured out what I was doing. I was going downhill because I didn’t want to challenge myself to get to the new plateau.

"Why?", my lovely husband interjects... again... (He is persistent isn’t he!)


And here I sit. I have been running longer distances again and I am back to nine miles again. Hitting this plateau, again. And I have no friggin’ clue as to why!

I seem to have plateau-ed in this post as well. And as I am thinking about it, maybe I have plateau-ed everywhere in life...

"What do you mean by that?" I hear whispering in my right ear, my husband ready to duck in case I respond strongly.

Ehhh... This isn't a dialogue thing; this is a do-it thing, right?

Ehhh... This is just a plateau thing. What's wrong with plateaus anyway? I embrace my plateau... I love my plateau... Look at the view I have from my plateau... Can I invite others to plateau with me?

The only challenge is that I am on a nine-mile plateau and I have to be on a thirteen-point-two-mile plateau by November.


Any tips?




Saturday, September 25, 2010

Between Good Enough & Perfection

A long time ago, when I was working at AT&T, the company's most profitable business was 800 service. A man at Bell Labs (AT&T's R&D organization) named Roy Weber came up with this crazy idea to bill the called party for a telephone call instead of billing the calling party. He then patented a way for the telephone network to do this. So, AT&T had the patent on all phone calls where the person being called pays the bill.

Prior to that time the calling party always paid for telephone calls. You never paid if someone called you. Customers who called businesses for sales and support paid all long distance charges (even for all the time that they were on hold). Why would a business want to change that and increase its costs? To provide better service than its competitors.

In 1967 AT&T introduced the first toll-free area code, 800, and in its first year of service more than seven million calls were made. Companies began feeling the competitive pressure to make their sales and support numbers toll free (by 1999 more than 30 billion toll-free calls were made in the US) and AT&T had the patent.

In 1984, after the government broke up AT&T, new competitive long distance carriers were assigned blocks of 800 numbers to be sold to their customers. Because each number was assigned to a specific telephone company, customers who wanted to change carriers also had to change numbers. Since many customers had invested substantially in the promotion of their numbers (e.g., 1-800-FLOWERS), they were loathe to change carriers. Since AT&T had all the currently used numbers, it was still able to maintain a rather monopolistic position.

However, that all changed in 1993 with a new regulation called 800-number portability. Simply, the US government enacted a law that forced telephone companies to allow customers to take their numbers with them when they changed carriers. With 800-number portability, AT&T's lock on 800 number service would be over and with 800-number service representing approximately seven billion dollars of revenue annually, the race was on to figure out how to keep all those customers.

Ask Mr. Fields
A corporate-wide task force was commissioned to determine what would be done protect this highly profitable business and I was invited as the R guy from the R&D community. To better understand the customers' perspectives, we interviewed not only our own customers to see what they liked about us, but also, customers of our competitors to see what they didn't like about us. One of the people who came to talk with us was Randy Fields, co-founder and president of Mrs. Fields Cookies. Randy was also the husband of Mrs. (Debbi) Fields.

Randy was a big client of our biggest US competitor MCI. At that time, big client meant fifty-million dollars per year. So, when he came to talk, we had an auditorium full up people there to hear him. Randy entitled his talk, Good Enough Never Is. It was fascinating.

He explained how the dollar amount of the average sale at his Mrs. Fields Cookies was less than that of places like McDonalds and Pizza Hut and therefore, he couldn't afford to hire the caliber of people that those companies could. So, he had to come up with ways to make less expensive people perform better. In a time time before iPhones, Facebook, and ubiquitous email, Randy had figured out how to use the telephone network and voice mail systems to keep everyone in his company on the same page.

Every day, Debbi Fields would send a voicemail to the entire company that talked about intention and focus. Every single employee had a corporate voice-mail box. They used the system to announce new programs and incentives, to communicate company news, to inspire and connect. It wasn't a perfect system. But it was also way more than good enough.

Randy then let us know how, having had a monopolistic hold on 800 service had led to a pervasive good enough attitude among AT&T's employees, and attitude that our competition did not have.

Why Good Enough?
Between piss-poor and perfect, for any task there lie infinitely many gradients of quality. How is it that with so many choices, we tend to gravitate to one of three: don't try at all, good enough, and perfection.

Generally speaking (at the supermarket, at restaurants, theaters, stores and banks, washing dishes or cleaning house), people seem to be in a good enough mode. When you undertake tasks that aren't particularly important or interesting to you, good enough is the way to go.

However, when the task is important, significant or meaningful, good enough, isn't. The thing is this: when we decide not to settle for good enough, we tend to go for perfect. We don't go for a little bit better. We don't go for dramatically improved. We go for perfect or minimally, best.

However, going for perfect tends to lead to nothing at all. Why? Because we've eliminated good enough as a possible outcome and perfect is unobtainable. That leaves only one other choice: nothing.

Prior to the days of home-recording studios, you had to book time in a commercial studio to create a high quality recording. Recording studios were expensive. So, you prepared and planned to ensure that you would leave with finished product in hand. When high-quality home recording became a possibility, my musician friends and I all lusted for the luxury of being able to take as long as we liked to hone and polish our recordings.

We would talk for hours about what equipment to get, how to set it up, sound-proofing rooms and running wires. Everyone I knew maxed out his credit card to get what he needed to build his personal recording paradise.

The crazy thing was that given all that time, the productivity level of everyone fell through the floor. No one finished anything. Because perfect had become a theoretical possibility (you could take as long as you wanted), we felt compelled to pursue it. However, it was only theoretically possible. Even when you thought you'd achieved it, you'd play the recording for a friend who would point out that the bass drum seemed a bit off or the vocal too washed out.

And then back to the studio you would go fruitlessly pursuing perfection.

Just Finish Something
One of the things I really enjoy about writing these posts is that they've helped me find the middle ground between good enough and perfect. Deciding to post something five or six days a week no matter what places perfection safely out of range. Since I'm also of the mind that good enough never is, that leaves two choices: nothing at all or something in between. For me, discovering the space between has been remarkably rich and rewarding.

At first, I might use the phrase continuous improvement, but I'm not sure that each day is improved. Instead, I think I would use the phrase continuous learning. Ultimately, I think that daily finding the middle ground has helped me in my development of passion with a loose grip. Whereas good enough is more an act of surrender or giving up, the ground between is more an act of letting go and being really good with it.

Do you ever find yourself caught between good enough and perfect? Is your answer the fruitless pursuit of perfection? Is it nothing at all? How do you find the space between?

Happy Saturday,

Friday, September 24, 2010

Who Do You Love?

Who do you love?

What does it mean to love them?

How do you love them?

Does your expression of love adapt to the ones loved,
or does it require then to adapt to you?

Are you a one-size-fits-all lover or a custom tailor?

Do the ones you love welcome your expression?

Do they look forward to it?

Do they cringe?

Do they know that you love them?

How do you know that?

On a scale of 1 to 10, how well do you love?

Why did you pick the number you picked?

Thinking about how you love, what would you do...


...the same?



...not at all?

From your loved ones' perspectives,
what would be the greatest expression of love you could make?

How easy was it to answer the previous question?

How well do you understand
the perspectives of the ones you love?

Do you embrace or try to change them?

How honest and open are you with your loved ones?

How vulnerable?

How strong?

What will you do today to make your expression of love an amazing experience for the ones you love?

Will you do that?

Happy Friday,

Thursday, September 23, 2010

"I can't remember all those letters...!"

... wails Zachary.  He had just asked me to spell 'want'.  I told him all the letters and that was his reply.  This is not an unusual reply for Zach.  He definitely believes that he won't remember those letters and previously, I had bought into that belief, suffering long iterations of spelling words separated by 20 seconds for him to run to the spot where his paper was located, write the one letter and run back to me.  Today, I decided to sell him on another belief. "Of course you can.  w..a...n..t, want.  Can you say that for me?"  Wouldn't you know, he bought it.  He didn't always remember all the letters, but he certainly remembered more than one!  He even seems to be enjoying reciting the spelling of words.

I could hear Iris in my head.  We are all buying and selling beliefs.  What belief do you have today?  Do I want it? I thought back to my second year teaching Computer Science to undergraduate students at the local college in Jamaica.  In my first year teaching, I taught something that was pretty familiar to me.  The programming language was one I was very comfortable with and I could code in my sleep.  The head of department was a professor that got into Computer Science via Psychology and Cognitive Science.  His segue was Artificial Intelligence (A.I.).  He had written a text book and he was the defacto A.I. professor... until for some reason he decided to pass that course on to me.

I had done 2 AI courses in my life and I'm really not sure how I passed either of them.  As far as I was concerned, I hadn't learnt anything.  I was almost totally unfamiliar with the programming language, and the thought process needed to write those programs was unfamiliar (and unpleasant) for me.  The HOD handed me his text book and his notes and ushered me into the room of final year Computer Science majors.  I had some choices.  One of them was about the belief I was going to sell.  I decided to buy the HOD's belief that I was capable of teaching the course because the other belief was leading to PANIC.  I decided to learn while teaching (duh!  what a novel concept!) and stay 2 lessons ahead of the class (sometimes I was only one lesson ahead).

What was funny is that it became one of my favorite courses to teach.  I taught it for 4 years.  The HOD segued to Computer Science from Psychology.  His course helped me segue in the other direction.  I loved exploring ideas about learning and intelligence with  the students.  I still didn't enjoy the programming language but the new belief opened a huge door for me to think about so many things, and to later, have a philosophy about motivation and learning before there was even talk about autism.

Lately, I have been tempted to hold onto some 'I can't ...' beliefs.  Many of these are pretty old, resolution type beliefs that start with "I will" or "I am not going to...pqr"  Those were different times, different circumstances and now abc and pqr look different, but the old beliefs beckon, reminding me of the resolutions.  Now, those resolutions are like prisons, no longer serving, but limiting.  It's time to go shopping for some new beliefs.

Some days I'll belief shop by going through a long exploration, like when I'm buying shoes.  It takes me hours to get a pair of shoes.  Too many factors for me to consider.  Nowadays, I'm tending to just try something on and see if it fits.  If it feels right, I'll go with it.  It was interesting to me how quickly Zachary switched from "I can't..."  to "I can".  Actually, I switched my belief pretty quickly too, when faced with teaching that new course.  When I'm  belief shopping, I don't have to walk around the store in the new belief, not sure if it will fit when I get home.  I can just leave and own that belief.  There is a great return policy.  I can always take it back.  There is no time limitation.  I should know.  I own the store.

Are you due a belief shopping trip?  Today is the day.  Go have fun trying some on.  One might fit.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Why Indeed?

Regarding Gain Some Perspective Tuesday, Sree points out...
Ah, perspective… a topic on which I seem to spend a lot of mental energy. Teflon, you supply very useful questions and tips designed to help us understand other people’s motivations and perspectives. But you touched only very lightly on Why; “In general, I think that understanding perspective is better than not”. In my experience, that’s the missing piece.

People who have no desire to understand the motivations that drive other people’s actions are usually the ones you see fuming and fretting when things don’t go their way. To them, the world looks quite harsh and hostile, even unpredictable and erratic. I remember having that experience early on in my life, and it drove me to ‘figure out’ the world, or minimally, get a model that would explain more of all the inexplicable stuff happening in my world.

Perspective is like having a rear-backup camera feature in your car when you’re backing into a tight parking spot. If you have the benefit of the view before the accident happens, it saves you a bumper repair bill. But even if you have it only after the fact, you at least know why it happened, and what you can do next time to prevent it.

So, insight into other people’s motivations helps us:
  • Be friends with the world
  • Get what we want more often
  • Spend less effort getting what we want
  • Be more at peace during the times when we don’t get what you want
  • Have closer relationships with the people in our life; understanding people is the first step to building trust
I’ve seen this described in books as being tuned to the radio station that everybody is on: WII-FM: What’s In It For Me?
Regarding motivation, I do believe I mentioned the lack of perspective being the root cause of war; however, I think Sree provides a much more thorough and compelling list of reasons for gaining perspective. Most represent long term benefits of living a life that's tuned in to the world and people around you. However the one that you can benefit from immediately is Getting what you want.

Getting What You Want
How many times have you tried to motivate someone to do something by sharing why you want it rather than sharing why it would be beneficial to her? If you're like most people, you probably do this more often than not. While this tact may work with your mom, it's not the most useful way to appeal to others.

If you really want to be good at getting what you want, then gaining the perspective of the potential giver is critical. Consider a child who wants a new puppy. There are several motivational strategies that he might pursue with his parents:
  1. Pitiful: Oh mom and dad, I just feel so lonely every day after school. No one wants to play with me. If only I had a dog to be my friend...
  2. Guilty as Charged: You promised that you'd take us on vacation this year and that you'd spend more time with me, but you never did. If only, I could have a puppy, I wouldn't feel like you'd totally let me down.
  3. Godfather: Mom, if I can't have a new puppy, then I'm never gonna clean my room ever again.
  4. Risk Mitigation: Dad, if you get me a new puppy then I'll totally take care of her. I'll walk her three times a day and feed her and clean up after her. I'll be really, really, really, responsible.
  5. WII-FM: Mom and Dad, if I were you, I'd be thinking about getting me a puppy. Rather than driving me to friends' houses or having me in your hair every day after school, I'd be out with my new puppy playing to my heart's content.
Of course, all the above carry some factors that are motivational to the parents. Parents want to see their children happy and are often suckers for the pity play. Guilt is the age-old cure-all motivator for suckers the world over. Watching children in public is also a clear indication that many parents succumb to threats and undesired behavior. Risk mitigation is often used, but it also tends to highlight de-motivators. Although used infrequently, WII-FM can have the greatest impact of the all.

The Reverse Sale
Good sales people know that you don't sell the features of a product, you sell its benefits. The best sales people no how to quickly dial into what the potential customer would consider beneficial. How? Understanding the customer's perspective by observing and asking questions.

A great car sales person will quickly discern if a potential buyer is motivated by economy, or safety, or flashiness, or speed and performance. She'll not only discern the list of motivators, but she'll also understand why they're motivational. It's one thing to say, "This car is very economical." and another to say, "It's so hard to make ends meet nowadays. On the one hand, you could keep your old car a few years longer to save some money, but then you just never know when it's going to break down. It could be a safety hazard. I think I have something that will allay your concerns while fitting within your budget."

Sometimes, just knowing that someone actually gets it can be truly motivating. You breathe a sigh of relief thinking, "Finally, someone who understands where I'm coming from."

Ensuring Denial
Although what I've described above may make sense, it's not common practice. Consider the ubiquitous queue: waiting in traffic, waiting at the airport checkin, waiting at the supermarket checkout, waiting for a table at a restaurant. Typically, the person who's serving the queue (the cashier, the flight agent, the teller, the waitress) is feeling the pressure and stress of too many people and too much to do. Still, how often to you see the person who's finally reached the front of the queue recognizing and acknowledging the server's perspective?

There's a story about a man who after waiting an hour to check in at the airport became quite testy and belligerent with the flight agent, blaming her for everything and threatening to report her to the airline. She listened calmly, acknowledged his concerns and remained completely pleasant throughout his diatribe. After he stormed off to the gate for his flight to Chicago, the next man in line commented to her on how calm she'd been and how she hadn't reacted at all. He asked her how she'd managed to stay so easy and non-defensive. She smiled and said, "Oh that's easy. I have an outlet that always lets me remain calm and peaceful. That man is flying to Chicago. I've just checked his bags to Singapore."

Not understanding the perspective of others can often lead to not getting what we want.

Getting What You Want
Where in your life have you repeatedly failed to get what you want? Getting your children to pick up after themselves? Getting your partner to join you in an activity? Getting your boss to give you a promotion or a raise? Getting your neighbors to cooperate with you in approving your home addition?

How have you gone about seeking compliance? Being pitiful? Threatening? Trying to mitigate the downside? Have you really made a good case for what you want from the perspective of the person you want to motivate? How would you?

Happy Extended Perspective Wednesday

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Gain Some Perspective Tuesday

Have you ever thought or said something like, "I just don't get it! I don't understand how someone could get to the point where he would..." or "Why in the world would anyone ever want to..." or "What the Hades were you thinking when you..."

These and statements like these accompany situations where someone's behaviors and actions are so outrageous that you have no clue as to what might motivate them. In other words, you lack perspective. In this case, it's the perspective of someone outrageous.

Almost all war results from the inability or unwillingness to fully appreciate the perspective of others (think art-appreciation, not your mother's gratitude for the birthday card that you made yourself). Of course, the inability to understand the perspective of others is a misnomer. It's not hard (let alone impossible) to understand someone's perspective... if you want to.

However, there are often good reasons not to want to. You might believe that there's no benefit in understanding the other's perspective. Understanding might equate to opening Pandora's box. Perhaps it's not worth the effort. You might believe that understanding would require you accept and adopt that perspective. Nonetheless, understand you can.

On the flip side, imagine a world where everyone fully appreciated the perspectives of others. It wouldn't mean that they bought into them. It would only mean that they understood and respected them. Imagine a world where every time anyone observed an outrageous act, she would say, "Oh, I know why Charlie did that... he was..."

What would happen? What would change?

Doing Their Best
In general, I think that understanding perspective is better than not. I also believe that it's entirely doable if desired. If you agree with me, then the only remaining question would be How? How do you understand the perspective of someone whose beliefs and actions run counter to your own? The first step in gaining perspective is do adopt the belief that:
Each and every one of us is doing the best he can to take care of himself given what he believes.
There are no evil, wicked or bad people; there are just people who are doing what they believe best given the context of their situations and beliefs about their situations.

Adopting and embracing just this one belief can change everything. Further, adopting this belief precedes finding the evidence to support it. I can't tell you how times I've shared this belief with someone and he's responded with, "Yeah, but what about Hitler?"

This is one of those beliefs that's causal in nature. As you believe it, the evidence emerges to support it. So, for example, when you see a little kid acting like a brat in the grocery store, you can say to yourself, "Oh, this is how he's learned to get what he wants. He must do this because it works."

In fact, pretty much every behavior and action (aberrant or otherwise) is adopted simply because, somehow, somewhere, it worked. It worked once, so you do it again... and again... and again. In fact, you continue doing it long after it stops working. You forget why you started doing it. You bury the motivational beliefs, and yet, they continue to influence your actions posthumously. Before you know it, you find yourself lacking perspective even on yourself, saying things like, "I just don't know why I do that!"

When we adopt the attitude that everyone is doing the best they can given what they believe, we open the door to the idea that:
For every action there is a good and logical reason (even if that reason is not grounded in current reality.)
Knowing this, even if the reasons are not readily apparent, opens the door to exploration and understanding. Without this, there's no reason to pursue reason.

So, if everyone is doing the best she can motivated by good and logical reasons, all that remains is ferreting them out. Once you eliminate the answers "I don't know why..." or "I can't understand why...", pursuing why becomes much easier. You just start asking.
Why do you do that?
What did you think would happen when you did that?
What were you hoping to achieve?
What were you afraid would happen if you didn't do that?
Question by question you peel back the layers and eventually get to the core. And with that comes perspective.

Gain Some Perspective Tuesday
Given the state of things, it seems to me that it couldn't hurt for each of us to get a better understanding of the people around us, especially those with whom we find ourselves at odds. So, I've decided to declare today, September 21, 2010, Gain Some Perspective Tuesday. It's one of those walk a mile in someone's moccasins kinda holidays. To celebrate, pick someone whom you frequently don't get, someone who gets you steamed or leaves you shaking your head or rolling your eyes, and take some time to understand her.

It could be a coworker or a boss. It could be child or a friend. It could be that guy who talks loudly on his cell phone in the coffee shop despite all the signage to the contrary or the woman who rides your tail all the way into town. Pick someone (or some ones). Decide that he is doing the best that he can given what he believes and that therefore, there must be good and logical reasons for his actions and behaviors. And then, without judgment or condescension, ask, "Why?"

Happy Gain Some Perspective Tuesday

Monday, September 20, 2010


The funny thing about most arguments is that you have two (or more) delusional participants both of whom profess to have a handle on reality.

A delusion is an invariant belief that is either false or misleading. It can be the result of being deceived or simply being lazy, (the former usually resulting from the latter). More often than not, our delusions are the result of sloppy reporting, not checking out sources and facts. We buy into a story line and we stick with it.

Psychiatrists make delusion a bit more dramatic (pathological) attributing the cause to some kind of chemical imbalance or illness. Although the pathologies vary (dogma, stupidity, denial, bipolar disorder, watching too much television, slothfulness), the dysfunction is always the same, a disconnect between what is and what you profess.

Now (for the observant) the reason I say "profess" rather than "believe" is that, except in the rare case where people are somehow chemically bound to the delusion, most delusion is the result of desire: desire that the belief be true. So, delusions are beliefs spawned from desire.

What Do You Believe?
When we argue, we are in effect selling beliefs. We sell the belief that republicans are greedy or that democrats can't seem to actually do anything. We sell the belief that eating organic beet powder is somehow better than eating MSG. We sell the belief that going to church on Sunday and Wednesday night is important. Why? Because we want others to join us in our belief. Why? Well, that's a good question.

Before embarking upon an argumentative adventure, there are three important questions to ask yourself:
  1. What is the core belief that I'm trying to sell?
  2. Why do I believe it?
  3. Why is it important for me to have someone else believe it?
The answer to the last question is the most telling; answers to other two are required to get to it.

If you start employing the above steps, you may find that you never actually get to question three. Many arguments result as the momentous culmination of situations drunk with emotion; stopping to ask yourself, What exactly am I trying to say here? can have a sobering effect, stopping the argument before it begins.

Further, question one can be answered by either party. Lately, as I've seen the inclement clouds of argument starting to form, I've started to formulate the question on behalf of the other party in a yes/no format, something on the order of, "So what you're saying is that all balding, longhaired men born between 1940 and 1960 should be driving Harley's rather than Honda's?"

Frequently, just hearing that you've been heard is enough for a would-be arguer. The argument is reduced to, "Ummm.... well... yeah."

Why Do You Believe That?
If someone is not content with having been heard, the next question is a variant of number two: "Do you actually believe that?"

In this case, many times the argument is again dramatically reduced to: "Ummm... Well... not really?"

If on the other hand, the answer is affirmative, then question two comes into play: "Why do you believe that?"

Since understanding why you believe something is some much more productive than selling a belief that you haven't really vetted, question two and the series of questions that follow it along the path to understanding are usually the end of the argument.

Why Do You Want Me to Believe That?
Sometimes you'll find someone who knows what she believes, can explain clearly why she believes it and is ready to argue, to sell you on her belief. Then question three becomes the most important question: "Why is it important that I also believe what you believe?"

Why? Because the motivation for the argument has nothing to do with the belief itself, but instead the desire that will be fulfilled if the belief is bought. Another form of question three would be, "What are you hoping to accomplish by selling me your belief?"

The answer to this question tells all and can completely short circuit an argument. The answer is telling, because despite what we often profess, motivations drive beliefs and not vice versa. Motivation is what transforms beliefs into delusions. Motivation is at the core.

Of course, there is a feedback loop connecting motivation and belief and one can easily get into a chicken-and-egg discussion. Still, I've found that understanding core motivation is much more useful than understanding core belief.

Tripped Up by Beliefs
Further, getting what you want often doesn't require your selling a belief, but instead simply and clearly stating your desire. In fact, many of us would fair better to drop the supporting beliefs and simply ask.

It all goes back to trying to sell the "but all the other kids are doing it" belief. Rather than straightforwardly asking mom and dad for a new bike, you begin by explaining how both Bobby and Mary got new bikes and how you therefore should also get a new bike. Folly indeed.

Your getting or not getting a new bike has nothing to do with Bobby or Mary. Parents the world over are quick to point this out saying,"If Bobby and Mary were to jump off bridge, would you also jump off a bridge?"

Unfortunately, you've now introduced a completely unnecessary barrier to getting a new bike. Rather than arguing the merits of your deservedness, you're stuck with arguing why Bobby's and Mary's bikes should influence you parents' decision.

As adults, because we enter arguments before answering questions one, two and three, we often find ourselves in the same position. We conjure up a belief designed to help us achieve our goals, we begin selling it, and then we're stuck with it.

At this point, the quick bailout is typically to use analogy. Strong analogy is a one of the form of communication and the worst form of argument. Fortunately, most people aren't trained in formal argument and you can often pull it off. In selling the bicycle belief, an appropriate application of analogy (or in this case simile) might be: "Not buying me a new bike when all my friends have new bikes would be like sending me to school in clothes that are smelly, dirty and three sizes to small." (This is best said with just a hint of tearfulness.)

Of course, this only works if you're not arguing with someone who's not going to respond with, "What do think I am, an idiot? Analogy has no place in formal argument!"

So, the next time someone approaches you with an argument, ask and answer:
  1. What is the core belief that you're trying to sell?
  2. Do you really believe that?
  3. Why do you believe it?
  4. Why do you want me to believe it?
You may have a completely different day.

Happy Monday, Teflon

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Delayed Appreciation Sunday

Last night, as Iris and I sat in our usual spot at Bizen, we talked about the previous week, and more importantly, some decisions we'd come to based upon it. Since both of us are quite busy and have far more opportunity than time, it's become quite clear that we need to develop a new set of criteria by which we determine which opportunities to pursue and which ones to pass on by. As we discussed our weeks, one criterion that emerged for me was appreciation, i.e., how much does someone you're helping or with whom you're working appreciate what you're doing. By appreciate, I don't mean expressing gratitude, I mean getting it.

Time Before Swine
We had several events over the past few weeks that triggered our discussion of appreciation. Iris spends lots of time with parents of kids with autism and she has a lot to offer them. Some parents listen intently to what she has to share, asking questions, wanting learn from her experience and opening themselves to the possibilities. Others don't listen so intently and sometimes not at all. They have their opinions and questions that are independent of what Iris has to offer. They don't appreciate the opportunity they have in Iris.

The problem is that it's the non-appreciative parents that take up most of Iris' time. It's not that Iris wants people to robotically do whatever she says; she simply doesn't want to spend a lot of time with people who have no intention of listening or aren't open to the idea that there may be things they simply don't know or understand.

In the end, the challenge isn't the people per se; it's time. Iris is amazingly patient with the non-listeners, but each moment she spends with a non-listener is a moment that she's not spending with a listener.

Fleeting Time
For me, time has become more precious than ever. As a result, I find myself constantly evaluating my time investments. Is this really where or how I want to be spending my time?

The other night at rehearsal, I found myself feeling the time pinch. Normally, I'm all about experimentation and giving everyone as much latitude as they need to figure things out. However, last week was my most overloaded yet. I worked right up to rehearsal time and planned to work after we were done. Since we'd played a gig the week before and had one coming up Friday, I figured that we could quickly run through the set list and be ready to rock-and-roll.

It didn't go that way. Instead, we found ourselves running into basic challenges with songs we'd been playing forever. As I saw my planned work-time evaporating, I started evaluating my investment. I thought to myself: Come-on guys, we have rehearsal tapes so everyone can go home and work this stuff out. Showing up not knowing this stuff is like showing up without your instrument or your amps or cables.

In frustration, I declared, "Hey, look, if we're not comfortable with this song, let's just not play it."

I probably said some other equally useful things before kissing my planned work-time goodbye and getting down to working through the material. As we came to one song, Scott (our bassist and trumpet player) began playing lines that duplicated the syncopated rhythm of the guitar players making the song feel top-heavy and in danger of tipping over. Scott is a remarkably talented and creative person, music being just one of the manifestations of that talent. However, in this case what he was playing just wasn't working. It was one of those not-even-wrong situations where he played all the notes well, they were just the wrong notes in the wrong places.

I stopped the song and asked Scott to change what he was playing so that it would offset the syncopated rhythm of the guitars. I played him a quick example of what I wanted him to play anticipating that he would pick it up right away and then play it (Scott's quite quick at picking up new material). However, tonight was different (of course).

Rather than trying what I suggested, Scott insisted that what he was playing seemed to be the thing to do. When I convinced him to at least try what I'd proposed, he did so half-heartedly stopping the song in the middle and declaring that it wasn't working.

So, I asked him, "Were you actually playing what I asked you to play?"

He responded, "Sure I was... wasn't I?"

I asked him for the bass and we started again with me playing the notes I'd prescribed. The sound and effect were decidedly different.

My little evaluator whispered, "Twenty minutes on something that could have been one minute?"

Getting It
There are many aspects of get-it-ness. For example, there's the simple understanding of cost. How much did it cost so-and-so to do that for me. Cost might be measured in terms of money, but it can also be measured in terms of time or effort. In all three cases (money, time and effort), the cost to a person is not absolute, but instead proportional to the amount available. If someone has lots of money, the cost of ten dollars is much less than it is to someone with little or no money. The same goes with time and effort.
To appreciate someone involves being aware of what it costs them to do what they're doing.
Another aspect of get-it-ness involves skill and expertise. It's quite often the case that someone's skill and experience level is so far beyond your own that you can't fathom just how far beyond it is. In many cases, you can't fully appreciate the skill of an advanced practitioner until you've developed your own skill level. The problem is we often don't conceive that someone may be so far ahead of us that what they're telling us to do may sound like complete nonsense.
To appreciate someone involves staying open to their being so far ahead of you that their nonsense may be genius.
Another aspect of get-it-ness is perspective. We often come to the conclusion that our way of doing, understanding and perceiving things is the way. We become dismissive of other ways. However, there are almost always infinitely many ways to do, understand and perceive something.
To appreciate someone involves taking time to understand their perspective.

Being Appreciated
Of course, we often make being appreciated a bit challenging, for example, insisting that others rely on clairvoyance to know how much something is costing us (in time, effort or money).
To be appreciated requires you to openly share what it's costing you to do what you're doing.
Another example involves insisting that someone listen to you simply because you're an expert. After the syncopated-bass incident with Scott, I sat down at the piano and played a straight bass part with my left hand and a syncopated rhythm part with my right. I then played the same song with both parts syncopated. The contrast was easy to see and Scott immediately picked up on why I had asked him to play the way I did. I could have saved myself the twenty minutes.
To be appreciated requires you to explain to others why you want what you want.
Another example involves sharing conclusions without foundations, contexts and perspectives. So often, when we're pressed for time, we jump ahead to the conclusions without providing all the background information. Sans context, breakthrough conclusions can sound completely ludicrous.
To be appreciated requires you to share your perspectives, assumptions and logic that brought you to your conclusions.

Delayed Appreciation Sunday
Over the years, I've played the role of pearl-endowed swine many times. In just the past couple of months, on several occasions as I thought about people from my past (colleagues, bosses, teachers, and friends), an insight occurred and I'd think, "Shit, now I get it!"

There have been people in my life who were so far ahead of me that they defied understanding and appreciation. There have been people in my life who did things for me at great costs that I am only beginning to understand. There have been people in my life whose perspectives and insights completely escaped me at the time, but are now making wonderful sense.

There's an oft referenced phenomenon of how much smarter parents become during a child's first year away at college. As you look back through your life, there are probably many people who seem much smarter, more insightful, more caring and more skilled than you could have understood at the time.

On the flip side, there may be people in your life who just don't appreciate you. Perhaps you haven't been easily appreciated.

So, after this long and winding post, I'm declaring today Delayed Appreciation Sunday! How do you celebrate Delayed Appreciation Sunday!? It's easy: think of someone whom you now appreciate much more than you did during your time together and let them know how much you appreciate them now. Alternatively, if you've been feeling under-appreciated, take a quick inventory of the things you done to allow others to appreciate you. Have you expected clairvoyance? Have you fully disclosed your costs and perspectives? Spend some time today becoming more appreciate-able.

Happy Delayed Appreciation Sunday!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Resolute or Inflexible?

I have these reasonably inflexible (perfectionist?) kids.  Come to think of it, Jaedon may not be inflexible because of autism, since in our family, we are scoring 5/5 for inflexibility.  Anyway, Simonne was illustrating a verse she had copied in her notebook, when she bent over her page, not seeing my recently placed coffee cup close by, and a few locks of hair got in the coffee.  She lifted her head quickly and some drops of coffee got on her page.  I could hear her response from the other room.  There was no consoling her.  I encouraged her to let the page dry (after blotting the excess coffee).  Sadness continued, because the now dry page was crinkly, not flat.  I couldn't rescue her, so I left it alone.  Later that evening, she brought the page to me.  "I finished it, Mommy!" she said, showing me the page.  She finished her illustration of the verse, coffee splashes and all.  I was extremely excited to see it.  She moved through, even though things hadn't gone exactly as she wanted.  I'm so glad she is learning this at 9...she has a few years on me.

Inflexible and resolute sound very similar.  Inflexible is when the resolution is getting in the way of where you want to be going.  I have created some resolutions around predictability in the past because they helped me feel safe.  However, insisting on predictability in the face of the varying things I don't control, was a recipe for insanity.  Now, I'm resolute about a particular outcome, but I'm learning flexibility about the particulars of getting there.  I am also flexible about my resolutions.  I give myself opportunities to change them.  So today, I set some resolutions/intentions for the day, inspired by a recent post.  Thinking back on the day, I'm certainly glad that I did!

It was the first day of a group meet-up my daughter attends.  We went to bed early (11 p.m.) so that we could wake up early (8 a.m.).  Everything was going smoothly until the neighbor rang the bell, letting us know that my van's window was down, and I should check to see if everything was ok.  I looked at the van for a few seconds wondering why the window was down.  Then, I realized: it's not my van!  It's my mother's.  We both drive grey minivans.  Mine is a Ford Windstar, hers a Dodge Caravan.  A quick look up and down the block helped me ascertain that the Ford was nowhere in sight.  It was now 9:55 a.m. and I was just getting ready to get my keys... my keys are missing from my key ring.

At about this point, I feel the tension in my shoulders.  Simonne needs to get to the Adventure Center in 30 minutes.  A quick call to my mother revealed the details.  Her car had a flat at 6:30 a.m. when she was leaving for work so she took mine and asked my brother to get the tire fixed so I could have the car.  I hurriedly called a cab to take Simonne to the meet-up, piled everyone into the cab, had it wait for us and hopped back in.   $25 dollars less, I'm back home thinking about my appointment in NJ that I needed to leave for in 30 minutes.  I'll spare you the details.  In an hour I was on my way, just to realize that I had no GPS charger, no phone charger, no IPhone to radio attachment, no EZPass!  They were all in my car.  Good thing I hadn't paid the babysitter.  I then had some money for tolls.
On the NJTPke, I remembered my intention to savor every moment.  That and my constant assertion that I'm flexible and can constantly figure out new ways to get what I want helped me to get to my appointment, have a great visit and return home (sans GPS!).  Sometime on my trip, while wondering if the tire would lose air again, I noticed a black strip of rubber flapping in the wind close to the windshield wipers.  This strip was attached to the windshield at the base.  I'm driving at 70 miles an hour and this strip is quite hefty.  I decided not to indulge in anxiety.  I stopped looking at it.

All in all, I had a good day.  It was like a day at the gym.  I had a good workout.  I stretched myself, and I can feel the effects, the slight soreness of the muscles, the good kind of tired.  Yet, It's great to get a good workout and see what you can now do, that you couldn't do before.  So, I will bend, I may even break, but I definitely won't stay the same.  I'll grow.

Be resolute about your flexibility today!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Break It Big!

A couple of weeks ago, I spent the day reviewing marketing materials for a company that I've been helping. My goal was to quickly understand what was working, what wasn't, what would be required to work, and how to get there. As I talked with people, it became clear that the answers were not that hard to find. In fact, most everyone I talked to knew what they were. However, even knowing what was required, it seemed next to impossible for anyone to act upon it.

The problem was simply that the solution required a significant departure from the status quo. Why is that a problem? Well, it's okay to make mistakes when you're operating within the boundaries of what is considered to be normal or reasonable or sane. You can always attribute failure to luck of the draw or trying to follow orders. However, when you step out of bounds, well, then... IT'S YOUR FAULT! So, better to stay in bounds.

The problem with staying in bounds is that it's highly unlikely ever to achieve a breakthrough while being careful not to break out. Pretty straight forward, but here's where it get's kinda pitiful: there are times when you know exactly what to do, clear as day, and yet, you hesitate, because exactly-what-to-do would be way out of bounds. So... you have choice.
  1. Ignore what you know to do and stay in bounds.
  2. Slowly creep up to the boundary (and beyond) hoping that no one notices and quickly retreating anytime you get an inkling that someone might
  3. Forget about the boundaries and break out
The marketing folks I'd been talking to were clearly pursuing the second strategy. They knew it was time to do something really different. They wanted to do something really different. However, they were afraid to do something really different. So, instead, they flirted with things really different being careful to stay in bounds.

Coloring in the Lines
Over the years, I've played with some truly amazing musicians, several of whom have gone on to be successful studio session players in places like Nashville and New York. These guys can play anything you want in any style perfectly on the very first take. It's remarkable.

I was sitting with one of my session playing friends a while back and he pulled out a recording that he and a group of fellow session players had produced. It was an instrumental album of original jazz compositions with lots of improvisation. As I listened to it, I was taken by its perfection. The timing was like clockwork. The pitch was dead-on. The inflections and nuances were all that they should be. It was a perfect recording. And it was really boring.

And then it occurred to me that these guys are all so good that they can easily make an impressive recording that is flawless while staying comfortably in the boundaries of their skill set. They were all coloring within the lines. However, museums are not lined with images that were flawlessly executed by experts staying in their comfort zones. They're lined with images that broke boundaries. Images that changed everything.

In or Out
The crazy thing is that the more important we make something, the less likely it is that we'll ever do something really important. Instead of breaking out, we hunker down. We hold our positions. We play it safe. We play not to lose. However, anything truly new. Anything that changes the game. Anything worth doing (in my opinion) involves breaking out of our conventions and comfort zones, trying something, falling down, getting up, and trying again... and again... and again...

So seeing as you're going to fail anyway, you might as well fail big-time, fail in a way that provides the greatest opportunity for learning from your failure. If you're going to break it, break it big!

So, where are the opportunities in your life where you're carefully inching up to the edge hoping that no one will notice? What are the situations where you know what to do, but where you're not doing it because it would be out-of-bounds? In which activities have you made success so important that being boring perfectly is more important than being interesting imperfectly? Where are you ready to break it big?

Happy Friday,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What you really want

I want....
I have spend most of my summerholiday with an amazing boy. His name is Christopher, he is 6½ yrs old and has autism. He has got amazingly blue eyes and he knew that I loved those eyes, so when he wanted me to join or keep joining a game he would give me the most fantastic eyecontact. He knew that this eyecontact would motivate me to keep the game going.
Sometimes he wanted things that I did not want to give him, such as a croissant (he is on a glutenfree diet) and then he would say in a very firm voice: "I want a croissant RIGHT NOW". And eventhough we would praise him for using his voice and clearly stating his wants, the croissants wasn't part of would he would get.

I wondered: what would happen if I went to my manager saying: "I want a payraise RIGHT NOW". The idea is kind of funny but I don't think I would be very likely to get it. I believe that the reason is that when someone is making a request, we are looking at:
  • do I find this reasonable?
  • do I get something in return?
  • are there another thing that I would rather want to give?
In the case of the croissant, I make up that he is hungry, and if he is hungry I would rather give him something else. I make up that the croissant will give him a fuzzy brain and that, that is not something I want to give him - regardless of his own preferences.

But what if he just likes the taste and the texture of the croissant? what if he doesn't get fuzzy from having one croissant? then I am actually not helping him by providing different food.

I react to his wanting or to his request based on a set of beliefs I set up about WHY he wants it and about What are the consequences.

After reading Iris's blog Who is to Blame I realized that I also do this for my own wants.

So the new "exercise" for myself is to make a list of things that I want. Included in my personal list is eating healthy, doing another marathon, doing a 315 km bike race, learning to take good pictures, to teaching mindfullness, getting massages, doing my laundry and lots of other stuffs.

Then I want to look at the WHY's: so what do I expect to get from fulfilling my wants? The laundry will give me clean cloth to wear at work which will give higher propensity for the partners to want me to be present at customer meetings (which I find fun), it would give me a clean bed and a better sleep etc...

The 315 km bike race would give me inspiration to do more biking, lots of fresh air, calming my head, enjoying the scenery, better physical shape, more energy - and bigger thigs (big thighs are not on my positvie list - so it might keep me from doing lots of bike riding)

Then I want to look at the Whats - as in What might the concequences be?
For the laundry, it will take time from sleeping, cleaning and doing dialogues - which would be ok, since I could still have time to do SOME of the three things and the "price" seems reasonable.

For the biking, it would take 5-10 hours a week, it would take time from being with my dog and my friends (unless I did it with a friend), it could help me loose weight which I would love to, but I might put more size to my thights which would make me consider another sport. In total: I would only go for it if I found someone whom I would like to spend a lot of time with, and who would love the biking.

Got the idea:
  1. Make a list of wants
  2. Finding out the WHYs - meaning if I got it what do I get from it
  3. Finding out the WHATs - as in what do I get from it
I want.... RIGHT NOW
The little boy was very clear in his statement: "I want a croissant RIGHT NOW". He didn't talk about something he wanted tomorrow or in half an hour - he did not want to go to the supermarked or the bakery to get his croissant, Oh, no, he wanted it NOW, as in Right now - this second.

If I was to have a croissant - and if I wanted the croissant because of the taste and the texture - I would not want to have the "croissant d'hier" (the one from yesterday), oh, no, I would happily take the time to go to the very best baker to get a good fresh croissant. - I could even wait for tomorrow or next week if they didn't have the good one.

But then if I wanted the croissant because I was hungry then: give me the old one, and give it to me FAST.

So what are my wants for what I want RIGHT NOW? I want to be on the computer, drink my tea and get some rest. - what happend to the laundry and the biking?

What are the difference for wants I set up for the future and wants I set up for now, right now - and do I make sure that they are in sync? In the blog If not now... Teflon came up with ideas of why we prospone things. There could be the "figuring out", "the blaming others" and "the why bother (as in it wouldn't work anyway)".

There are another "Why bother" - the one where I have reasons to want it and reasons for not wanting it - as in my example with the biking. Maybe I just SAY I want it - rather than really,
really wanting it.

Maybe we could change the definition of "I want" to be that anything that I really, really want will also be a thing that I want RIGHT NOW - if I want it right now, I'm gonna do it.

Anything that I really, really want is something that I'm doing.

Have a great day of wanting and doing, Right now.