Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Lie with Numbers

We're bombarded daily with statistics and numerical comparisons, usually in the context of someone making a case or supporting her perspective. More often than not, the numbers presented (even the accurate ones) are misleading, meaningless and/or irrelevant. And yet, people hear them, are impressed and then buy the argument. Sometimes they simply miss the fact that the numbers are meaningless, irrelevant and misleading and rather than asking, "What's that got to do with anything?", argue that the numbers must be wrong.

In a world where only some people know how to lie with numbers and others don't even realize that it's being done, well, it's... it's... not fair. Everyone should know how to lie with numbers or no one should. Since the latter horse has left the barn, I decided to write Doctor Tef's Guide to Lying with Numbers.

Percentage versus Absolute Value
The easiest and quickest way to transform an unimpressive number into an impressive one is to change it from an absolute value to a percentage or from a percentage to an absolute number.

For example, let's say that you want to impress someone with your increase in time spent exercising. Over the past 6 months, you've increased your time spent running from 4 minutes a day to 6-minutes.

Now, you could lead with an under-whelming, "Over the last 6 months, I've increased my daily running time by 2 minutes!" or you could super charge it with percentages. 2 minutes is half (or 50%) of the 4 you'd been running, so you could state the more impressive, "You know what? Over the past 6 months I've increased my running time by fifty-percent!"

Alternatively, if you want to torpedo the management of a large corporation that is struggling with financial results, you might transform the numbers from percentages to absolutes. Saying that a two-billion dollar company experienced a 5% loss in value is nowhere near as impressive as saying that the company lost $100,000,000.00. Five percent or one-hundred-million: same number, different effect.

As a rule of thumb, if you want to minimize the impression, use percentages with large numbers and absolute values with small numbers. If you want to maximize the impression, absolute values with large numbers and percentages with small ones.

Direction Matters
One of the things that confuses evened seasoned analysts is direction. If you start with 50 widgets and you end up with 150 widgets, that's an increase of 200%. How can that be? You start with 50 widgets You add 100 widgets which is 2 x 50 or 200%.

On the other hand, if you start with 150 widgets and end up with 50, you have a decrease of 66.6%. You lost 100 widgets which is two-thirds of what you started with or 66.6%. Same change in count, but completely different percentages.

This can get even more confusing when you intermix change and result. For example, the change from 50 to 150 is 200%; however, the result is that you have three times as many as you started with or 300%.

If I increase my monthly revenue from $1,000 to $3,000, I'm making three times as much as I was, but my increase was just 200%. On the other hand, if I decrease my revenue from $3,000 to $1,000, I end up making just a third of what I was with a reduction of 66%.

Transforming directionality is a technique shared by used car dealers and HR personel, alike. If I want to impress you with the discount I'm giving you on a car that I've reduced by $800 from $4,000 to $3,200, I don't say that I've reduced the price by 20% (800 divided by $4,000), I say that if I hadn't reduced the price, you'd be paying 25% more ($800 divided by $3,200).

If I want to minimize the impact of a pay reduction from $100 to $80 per week, I keep you focused on the the 20% reduction and steer you away from the realization that you used to make 25% more.

Ignore or Change Context
Of course, many of these techniques don't work unless you can successfully obfuscate context. Nothing spoils good number manipulation like someone saying something like, "25% of what?" or "What was the income before the loss of $100 million."

Obscuring context is a critical tool employed by hucksters, researchers, nutritionists, stock brokers, sports-casters, well, pretty much anyone who's using numbers to get what they want or to impress.

If you want to lie with numbers it's important to avoid questions that lead to context. For example, a statistic like "75% of people who tried thus and such saw an immediate improvement" sound impressive, but they don't actually mean anything without further context. What percentage of people qualified for the trial? How much improvement? Was it something only visible on a scope or something that people could see for themselves? Was the improvement sustainable?

She's a great CEO. She's taken a salary reduction of 50% until the economy gets better!

Sure, but what percentage of her overall compensation package is represented by salary? Does she have stock or options? Does she have other benefits?

Without context, the statistics don't mean anything.

Stats that Have No Place
One of the best ways to lie with stats is to use them in places where they have no business at all. This works particularly well when explaining to people why what they want to do won't work. Tell someone who is starting a business that 90% of new businesses fail. Tell a kid with skill, vision and opportunity that the odds of succeeding in life without completing college are terrible.

In cases like these, the statistic may be "factual", but they're not applicable because they don't take into account the character, the drive, the focus and skill set of the individual. Sure, there are phenomena that behave statistically, that are truly luck-of-the-draw in nature. In these cases, statistics can be useful: predicting the likelihood of drawing the cards you want, the chances of winning a contest or the likelihood of lighting striking a certain place.

However, resigning to the stats is a victim's position. It does not take into account all that you or someone else brings to the table that can beat the odds. In these cases, the attributes of the individual can far outweigh the stats and the statistics have no place.

Become a Great Manipulator of Numbers
You can win all your arguments and make lots of money by becoming a competent manipulator of numbers. It's fun and it's easy.
  1. Know when to use percentages and when to use absolute values
  2. Change the direction to make sure the numbers work for you
  3. Obfuscate context and leave out contextual "facts" that might lead to better perspective
  4. Roll out statistics where they have absolutely no place at all
Before you know it, you'll have enslaved those around you to your mastery of "the facts". Alternatively, you can use your newly acquired skill as a lying-numbers-detector.

Happy Monday,

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Playroom Time

“Interesting, you use a mixture of not typical techniques. I would love for you to come again and see how your connection with my child develops.”

This week I was invited to play in New York with some fabulous children with autism. I was very excited about it, because I would be able to see other people in action and at the same time try my skills with children that are totally new for me.

Skills assessment

As many of you know, I have been trained to help people look at their beliefs and from that place make changes in their lives if that seems necessary to them. When I started volunteering to work in the playroom of children with autism in my area, this skill seemed to make me very useful in their playrooms. Nowadays my working life includes a lot of playtime with children and I totally love it. Not being trained in a specific way, I slowly have created my own style of things that work well with the children I see.

I believe there are limitations to my skills and so I was very excited to play in a totally new environment where I could test myself and see which techniques seemed solid and which need work. At the same time I was looking forward to learn lots of new things from the others there to bring back home to my friends.

It was a very exciting day and I played a lot. There was not a lot of time to observe or process, and most of my learning will start when I will be able to see all the footage of the day.


Driving home, I had very mixed feelings. Some of my techniques turned out very useful and helpful, in other areas I felt I really could use some more work. For example, if you work on sensory input with a tiny six year old by flying the child through the room, how do you translate that with a nine year old that is as tall as you and surely has some extra pounds on him?

I also realized that what I do is in a lot of ways not exactly what the others were doing, and it confused me. Why do I do what I do, instead of what they are doing? What do I do and why do I do that? What I see from the others seems “right”, so does that mean I am doing it “wrong”?

Beliefs, beliefs, beliefs!

OK, I realized that outside of training there is one other very important part that makes people act different in a same situation: Beliefs!

And thinking about beliefs related to the child of the mom who gave me the comment on top, I realized I do have a lot of beliefs that seem helpful. So, I thought to just share a couple with you. Maybe next week after observing the videos I then can share some after thoughts on this list.

Playroom beliefs:
Stage 1.

- I want to be your friend.
- You are my friend.

When I meet a new child, I clearly have the two beliefs above. I decide before going in that I want to become the child’s friend and I already decided that the child will be my friend.

It is interesting, but I do not decide that I the child’s already beliefs that I am his friend when I first meet him or her. I want the child to decide he or she is my friend, whenever he or she is ready. It is very important for the child to be able to say to me, “no, I don’t want to be your friend yet”.

Stage 2.

- I am your friend.
- You are my friend.

The moment the child first shows a sign of friendship, I change my beliefs to what I call Stage 2 above. From then on, stage one is gone forever. The child will be my friend, and I his or hers independent of what will happen.

A sign of friendship can be anything verbal or non-verbal that translates into something like “hey hello who are you”. I am not talking about a child looking directly in your eyes, but about something that the child does or says that expresses something they are thinking about you. It could be a smile or a giggle about something you did. It could be a facial expression that shows interest in you or a “who are you” or “what are you doing” face. It could be a word like ”let’s play” or a gesture that clearly indicates that you are the subject of the child’s attention.

Stage 3.

- Who is my friend?
- This is me!

“The dance of friendship”

What do you like? What do I like? How do we communicate these things? How do we show our affect, our enthusiasm, our irritation, our frustration, our wants? How do we respond to these expressions? How do we show we want a break, we want order, we want structure? Is what you show the same you tried to tell me before, or is what you tell me now different even though you use the same gesture or word?

I love this stage, and I always go back here. I don’t believe we every can ask enough “who is my friend?, What does he or she like? What does he or she dislike?” Because we are all constantly changing, we never know who is at the other end without interacting. And we all respond different at different times. There are different things we like and dislike at different times. On Tuesday we might love to be non-verbal and instead be active with lots of jumping and running, while on Wednesday we may talk our hearts out.

This part is for me all about not assuming anything and really enjoy the current moment and all the changes that may come with it.

More to follow...

Ok, there is many more where this came from, but I am very slow this morning with verbalizing my chaotic thoughts, so I will do some more organizing and share with you more next week!

Have a great week everyone!

P.S. come back to read the articles from all our wonderful authors ☺

Friday, February 25, 2011

So What?

One of the key management techniques I learned in my first gig working almost exclusively with executives was to constantly be asking myself the question, "So what?" For me, learning to do this effectively was the most significant success factor in advancing within a large corporation, in becoming an effective executive in a small-cap public company, in raising venture capital to start my own company, and finally, in making life-decisions that changed everything. Whenever I would make a presentation, whenever I would interact with the executive team or the board of directors, whenever I would interact with staff or clients, every word I considered saying would first be passed through the filter of So What?

Changing our process to bypass thus and such would save 50% in development costs? So what? What does that mean in actual dollars or as a percentage of our overall budget? How much will it cost us to save 50%? What will the impact be on morale? Who will be distracted from other tasks in order to achieve the savings? How will all this impact our competitive position?

Whenever you hear numbers being bandied about, the first questions that you want to ask are those that lead to context. 50% savings sounds like a lot of money, but is it? If it's 50% of your overall budget, sure (well maybe). But if it's 50% of something that is in turn 1%, who cares? Sure, details and specifics can be important, but the question is, "What makes them important?"

I've mentioned before that a key to effective bullshitting is to state a whole bunch of specifics that are true and supportive of your point. People use it all the time and it works, at least until someone starts asking, "So what?"

Airport Scanners Emit Radiation that Can Cause Cancer!
Consider the measurement of REM (not the rapid eye movement associated with deep sleep, but the dosage of an ionizing radiation that will cause the same biological effect as one RAD of xray or gamma-ray). Everyone knows that walking through airport security is risky because you're exposed to radiation from the baggage scanners. Everyone knows that living near a nuclear power plant is risky because of exposure to radiation escaping from the nuclear core. We've all been warned about exposure to radiation from watching television or working on a computer. For the most part these "facts" and warnings are true and they seem meaningful until you start asking, "So what?"

The average exposure to radiation of someone living in the US is about .360 REM per year or 360 mREM (1/1000 REM). Of that 360, 300 is from naturally occurring radiation. Living on earth, we're constantly bombarded with cosmic radiation from space above (an average of 27 mREM/year), from the earth below (an average of 28 mREM/year) and from the environment (an average of 70 mREM/year). So, that's an average of 125 mREM from cosmic, terrestrial and background radiation.

Let's say that you fly round-trip from New York to LA every week and you're concerned about your exposure to radiation from the baggage scanners. First of all, each round trip flight exposes you to about 5 mREM (you're higher up so you experience more cosmic radiation). Passing through security exposes you to 0.002 mREM. In other words, your exposure to radiation during the flight is 2500 times your exposure to radiation from the scanner.

If you live within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant, your exposure to radiation is about 0.009 mREM annually. On the other hand, living within 50 miles of a coal-fired power plant, your exposure is 3 times greater at 0.03 mREM. Live next door to a nuclear power plant? 0.6 REM per year.

Do you watch television or play video games? Well, that would be 1 mREM per year (for each activity). Work with a computer? That would be 0.1 mREM.

All these are source of radiation. But so what?

Move to the Mountains and Breathe the Air
What about moving from Boston to Denver? How would that affect your exposure to radiation?

Well, in the context of scanners, nuclear power plants and watching television, quite significantly. Your exposure to cosmic rays in Boston (at sea level) would be 26 mREM, but in Denver (at a higher altitude) it would be 50 mRem. In Boston, annual exposure to background radiation averages 23 mREM and to terrestrial radiation, 16 mREM. In Denver that would be 90 and 40 mREM, respectively.

So your exposure to radiation in Denver is 3 times that of Boston. Or to better put it into perspective, your increased exposure to radiation from living in Denver for just 1 year is equivalent to living next door to a nuclear power plant for 192 years.

Perspective & Context
The essence of So What? is to gain perspective. Let's look at radiation exposure side-by-side to gain some perspective. Specificity is great, but only if you've first established context. Without context, it doesn't particularly matter whether or not what is being said is "true".

The table below compares anual exposure to radiation from a variety of sources. The flight statistics assume 12 round-trips from New York to LA, and the x-ray statistics assume once per year.

Sure, watching television, walking past an airport scanner and living near a nuclear power plant increase your exposure to radiation, but when compared to other sources, you gotta ask yourself, "So What?" For example, your anual exposure to radiation from sources inside your body (e.g. potassium) is 812 times that of an airport scanner (taking 24 flights).

Airport Scanner (24-Times Annually)0.05
Nuclear Power0.10
Working on a Computer0.10
Coal Power0.17
Next Door to a Nuclear Power Plant0.60
Watching Television1.00
Playing Video Games1.00
Extremities X-Ray (Once/Year)1.00
Building Materials (e.g., concrete)3.00
Drinking Water5.00
Living in a Stone or Concrete Building7.00
Chest X-Ray (Once/Year)8.00
Natural Gas in Home9.00
Dental X-Ray (Once/Year)10.00
Head/Neck X-Ray (Once/Year)20.00
Cervical Spine X-Ray (Once/Year)22.00
Cosmic (Difference Between Denver and Boston)24.00
Terrestrial (Difference Between Denver and Boston)24.00
Radionuclides in the Body (e.g., from potassium)39.00
Pelvis X-Ray (Once/Year)44.00
Round Trip New York to LA (12-Times Anually)60.00
Background Radiation (Difference Between Denver and Boston)67.00
Hip X-Ray (Once/Year)83.00
CT Scan (Once/Year)100.00
Lumbar Spinal X-Ray (Once/Year)130.00

Of course, contextualization and so-what-ed-ness can be applied to much more than radiation exposure. Where should I focus my time? How should I spend my money? What should I read? How should I change my diet? Should I buy a fuel efficient car? Any number of actions can be beneficial, but how much impact is the change really going to make?

For example, fine-tuning your diet is beneficial, but it's all airport scanners compared to eradicating your diet of sugar. Sure, it's better than not doing anything, but so what?

Happy Friday,

Setting Boundaries

Recently I got my first feedback as a volunteer in a playroom - working with a young autisic guy in a relation based therapy. The feedback was from Aaron Deland from Connecting with Autism. I loved it!

Anyone who is used to getting feedback in the playroom, knows what a blessing it can be. The feedback is given in a loving and respectful way - from a place of curiosity of "why did you do what you did in that particular moment"?

Often we have been trained to be defensive about the word "why" - too often it has had a kind of hidden agenda as in "why did you not do what I wanted you to do" or a "why did you do it the WRONG way" kind of judgemental attitude.

The feedback in the playroom comes from a really curious place as in "what was your personal reason for doing what you did"? or "what was YOUR underlying motivation for what you did in that particular situtation?".

What I did in the situation was more a lack of doing: I did not set clear boundaries.

What does it mean to set boundaries? How is this different in different situations? With different people?

After getting the feedback on a short videoclip from the playroom (I'm in Europe and Aaron is in California) I started to pay attention to my boundaries - to when they were met and when they were not.

I soon realised that this boundary thing wasn't just about the playroom - it was all over my life: with my friends, family, employees, managers...

I started to recognise a small tension that I've got when someone has passed my boundaries - and I started to say stop.

One thing that was especially effective from the feedback I got from Aaron was that it is important to stay with your boundaries.

My old way of setting boundaries would be to gradually expand my space. Let's say I wanted people to be no closer than 1 m. First I would ask them to stay at least ½ m. away from me. Once they got used to this I would expand to 2/3 m. then 4/5 m. etc.

This way I might never get to the 1 meter that I really wanted ( remember I'm a math person - x/(x+1) will never equal 1).
BUT I could end up having some "friends" who were pretty confused as of what my wants were: it seemed as if I kept changing my requierements from them.

Being raised in a family where requierments from others were not pronounced but only INDICATED, setting boundaries was to some degree a new skill I had to learn. I started out in the playroom, expanded to friends, work and family - and I realised that not only did it feel good: it was also quite easy to do.

In the playroom boundaries could be things such as being physical without getting permission ( I used to accept it in some situations and not in others which must have been confusing). At work it could be to set requirments: I used to say pharses such as: do you have time to... rather than: I want you to...

With friends it could be to tell a person that she gives advice that I do not want and never asked for - and that I actually find it annoying. It has been to be more firm about appointments - to make sure that they are actually convenient for me - that the appointment does not become more important than things I have decided are high value - such as sleep.

I'll invite you to investigate your boundaries: when do you set them and why? do you have boundaries that you have pronounced earlier but now want to re-evaluate?

Happy Boundaries


I went slowly in the sense that whenever I felt uneasy or unclear - I decided: this is not a time for boundaries - this is a time for observation. This ment that I might have let people cross my ousituation.

Knowing my boundaries first made it more likely to set boundaries I would not later change - which ment that my pronounced boundaries seemed more stable and I believe that this made it easier for people to respect them

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What are you missing?

I'm listening to some new songs from a favorite artist of mine on rhapsody, while driving to MA last week.  The starting chords of the tune playing immediately registered as something I wouldn't like.  I had heard this album just a few times before, and never got beyond the first 15 seconds of this particular song.  As I reached over to skip the song, I caught myself:  How come I was so quick to shut down my curiosity after less than 15 seconds of listening?

I decided to grit my teeth, and listen to the next minute or so of the song, before deciding to pack it on.  My mind drifted for a bit, as I watched the wonderful countryside go by.  Then, maybe less than a minute later, I heard myself saying 'That's not bad'.  By the end of the song, I have to admit that I quite liked it.

That opened up a whole world of new awareness to me. If I slow my music listening experience down, a few chords prompt me to make a split decision to stop being present to the music and to change the song completely. I was intrigued by my decision not to be present at the first thought that this isn't something I like.

I realize I don't only do this with music.  One of the kids could start a familiar whine... I cut them off.  I hear a familiar crash, I already have a plan in action, my husband crinkles his brow as I speak, my judgement is in place.  It's an efficiency thing.  Why waste time re-assessing everything all the time?

Sometimes gaining new awarenesses isn't efficient.  Sometimes it takes stopping, allowing, even when your efficient brain is saying 'C'mon!  You know what this is!'  Your efficient brain is lying anyway.  It forgot about Johari and his window and the gigantic universe of stuff you don't know.  Maybe you don't know what this is.  Maybe you are missing something.  Something in you.  Something in your partner.  Something in the world.

So, here's to stopping today, and checking out what you may be missing.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Beauty of Tears

This week I have been exploring the beauty of connectedness and how often I take people and the way I feel about them for granted. For many of us, expressing our emotions is as easy as eating breakfast or in some cases, juicing. Although we may choose not to express them at times, if paying close attention, our eyes, our body language, or tone, etc. will give us away. Some of us cry when we are happy and sad so the context becomes important for others to understand our emotions. I don't know about you but for me, children have always been more free in expressing their emotions. At least until they have been reprimanded in public for "making a scene" and begin their long journey into the adult world of should and should nots. The expression of emotion becomes a catalyst for belief teaching and unfortunately many uneducated teachers believe they are experts on the subject.

Now, add in a dose of classic autism and totally freak most of the world out completely.

David had an incredible breakthrough this week. He cried uncontrollably for an incredibly long time after his 8 year old sister Aly left to spend the week at grandma's house for her winter break from school. Now, when I say cry, I mean cry. Lots and lots of tears, running around the house, closing himself in his room, slamming the doors to all the rooms, throwing himself on the ground, on the table, on the couch, and what most would describe as babbling nonsense to himself. It was quite a scene. The type of scene that would scare or embarrass most parents. For us, it was absolutely beautiful. For the first time in 7 years, David chose to visibly demonstrate his connectedness to his best friend, his sister. This was quite an amazing experience given the PhD who diagnosed him said he would never express emotion or have relationships with people and at first, we believed her. David was so far into his own fascinating world a few years ago, we weren't actually sure he knew any of us existed, most of all his big sister.

What I realized in this moment is that not only do I not throw tantrums and cry uncontrollably when someone I love leaves, I barely express any emotion at all. All those great teachers throughout my life have sold me beliefs about "properly expressing emotions" and I bought them all. Not even at a discount. I am now learning that I paid full price for withholding love and expressing openly how I feel about people. I have all this love bottled up inside but hold myself back from expressing it because of "what others will think". I am looking forward to our next family gathering where I plan to throw the tantrum of a lifetime.

Love to all,

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again!!

Well, I missed out on posting last week. I suppose I should start a series about Sure Ways to Not Follow Through on Commitments an Resolutions as a counter-point to Mark's Walking on Water post. I found that a great tool to this end is telling yourself every day that you ARE going to find time to do it later today or tomorrow instead of just doing it. I have been telling myself this several times a day for a week now and here I am on the following Tuesday and last week's blog opportunity has vanished in the wind. Oh well, here goes this week's missive for all to read.
As you can see by the graph, I appear to be much more tightly in control than two weeks ago. While I know from what I've eaten over the past week that I am toeing the line much more, I think my "improved" performance is largely attributable to my getting better educated as to when to measure my blood sugar. I now take almost all of my readings before I eat and not sooner than two hours after I eat rather than shortly after I eat. Doing so supposedly better represents the rise in my BGL (Blood Glucose Level for those just joining us) due to what I ate. So I no longer am showing the elevated numbers I had been recording by taking my BGL fifteen, thirty or sixty minutes after a meal--a time where my body was dealing with the short-term onrush of sugars from my food.

Now to give credit where it's due (to ME!!), I have also more conscientiously managed my choices of how much and what kind of foods I eat so that I am not asking my body to process more than 45 grams of carbs per meal/snack. At the advice of my nutritionist, I am snacking between meals (30 gms carb max) so that my BGL stays at a more consistent level throughout the day. Apparently letting myself go for five hours without eating sends a message to my liver that saying that I might be starving, so it kicks into high gear producing sugar for my body to use. Thanks for the good intentions, liver, but you know what they say about he road to hell and all.

As a result of my efforts and my improved technique this week's summary pie chart shows that my in-compliance readings have gone up form 80 to 89.5 percent! I have not done detailed analysis on the remaining 10.5% but I suspect that that would be a good place to focus next.

Mark's blog Walking on Water made a good point about facilitating success by smoothing the way ahead to make follow through as easy as possible. I want to share a bit of that sort of thing that I am doing this week.

My son's school has Mid-Winter vacation this week. So we have travelled to Aspen, Colorado to visit my Dad and immerse the kids in skiing and tennis lessons. Every day we have lunch at the restaurant at my Dad's tennis club before my daughter's lessons start. The folks there have been very accommodating in that the chef will take the little portable scale I carry around with me and write down and weigh each of the ingredients in my lunch for me so I can input them into the nutritional tracking program that I told you about in "Tools of the Trade".

As there is not much on the menu I would eat right now due to the somewhat restrictive parameters of my current diet I wind up ordering the same thing every day, grilled salmon salad. So, to help the kitchen help me I went ahead and printed up my order on their own order ticket so the chef only has to write down the amount of each ingredient he put in the bowl that day.

Kooky? Obsessive? I say, "Rip roaring fun!" And doing what I'm doing with an oddball sense of flair is a huge help to me in seeing this thing through. Besides, it also guarantees that I'll be remembered here.

I suppose that makes me somewhat of a publicity whore, but if it also makes me skinny and non-diabetic I'm totally up for it! I could go on, but I am thrilled that I actually managed to get back on the blogging horse and ride and it's time to go pick up my son from skiing lessons. So, until next time dear reader(s?), be good to yourself and to anyone else you can manage to.

Love Always.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Walking on Water

One of the things that I've got the knack of is following through on resolutions. If I decide to change my diet, I do. Working out every day, no problem. Losing weight to avoid alterations in a Sharkskin suit, got it handled. Breaking an hour to run ten miles, sure thing. As I talked the other day with friends who were struggling a bit with those resolutions that were all bright and shiny at the beginning of January, I thought about an old joke my dad told me about the Finn, the Swede and the Norwegian whose way had been blocked by a wide river.
After an hour sitting along the river bank pondering the situation, the Finn stood up and with an air of authority announced, "The solution is simple and it has been staring me in the face all this time. I am a after all a Finn. I shall simply walk across the river."

And with that, he strode forward and to the amazement of his companions stepped blithely onto the river walking easily to the other side where he sat to await them.

The Norwegian and Swede stared at him in wonder as he beckoned them to cross as he had. They looked to each other for an explanation and then both sat to ponder.

Twenty minutes later, the Norwegian announced, if a Finn can walk across a river, certainly a Norwegian can. He stood up and without hesitation marched up to the river and straight on across where he high-fived his Finnish buddy as they both turned to look at the Swede.

The Swede now felt a sense of desperation as he stared at his friends who seemed so happy on the other side. He'd been taught at school that people can't just walk on water and yet he'd just seen his friends do it. Finally, he resolved that walking on water cannot be simply a matter of national heritage, but instead must involve strength of will and determination, something that Swedes had plenty of. He would will himself to walk across the river!

With Churchillian determination he put one foot before the other walking down the river bank and onto the river where to his amazement, he did not sink. His eyes focused steadfastly on his friends, he took another step and then another and then... kerplunk... gurgle... gurgle... gurgle... he dropped into the water and was swept away by the current.

As they turned to walk downstream to fetch their friend, the Finn said to the Norwegian, "Do you think we should have told him where the stepping stones were?"

Stepping Stones
I think that for most of us, keeping resolutions is a matter of will power, determination and dedication. It may be in some instances, but I've never seen them work for long. In my experience, transforming a resolution into something that is easy, fun and rewarding works a whole lot better.

Here's an example. Over the last couple of months, I've reduced my consumption of simple sugars to near zero and I gotta say that if you were going to take just one step to completely change how you feel every day, it would be this: don't eat sugar... nada... none... zippo... finito.

By sugar I mean all processed foods (except those specifically created to contain no sugars), fruit juices, candies, pastries, ice cream, flavored yogurt, white rice, white bread, regular pasta, pizza, sweetened granola... well, you get the picture. And don't fool yourself with things like maple syrup or honey or agave . Sure, these sugars come with better nutrients than refined cain sugar or corn syrup, but they're still sugar.

I guarantee that if you do this, you will develop a level of energy and clarity that will be sustained all day long, no down time, no dips.

However, if you're like most, you're probably thinking something like: How can I do that? Everything has sugar in it! I've been eating sugar all my life. I'm addicted to the stuff. Surely, there's got to be some other way? What if I substitute honey for cain sugar? What if I cut back?

These thoughts and others like them are sure to land you with the Swede somewhere down stream and certainly not across the river. So, here are some stepping stones.

Take One Step at A Time
When you're hot with resolve it's easy to take on more than you can handle. So, the first step is to take just one step. For example, if you're cutting out sugar, don't also decide to diet or to start an exercise program. Although this may appear to be suboptimal at first, the best thing to do is deny yourself nothing, but sugar.

Eat all that you want that is not sugar: veggies, meat, whole grains, plain yogurt, etc. Don't count calories. Don't count fat grams. Just don't eat sugar.

After about a week or so, your sugar cravings will pass and you can take a second step by cutting back on consumption generally or cutting back on specific foods.

This principle can be applied to exercise, developing a new skill, or any number of resolutions. Start simply by taking one step at a time. Don't take the next step until you're really completed the first.

Stack the Deck
Nature abhors a vacuum and so do our bodies. Other than the addiction-like attraction, your body craves sugar because it's missing something nutritive. Although you could spend thousands of dollars identifying the specific nutrients that your body is missing, I've found an easier solution is to simply flood your body with all the nutrients you might need and the best way to do this is fun: make juice!

I wrote last week that You Should Be Juicing. One of the benefits of juicing is that it helps stay if not completely eliminate cravings for sugar by flooding your body with all sorts of nutrients. And while you might be tempted to go all esoteric on which vegetables and supplements to use, I've found that all you really need to do is start juicing with basics: carrots, celery, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, cucumber, tomato, brussel sprouts, etc. Your... ummm... garden variety vegetables.

Leave the dialed-in refinements for later. Just start juicing and you'll stack the deck in your favor.

Stacking the deck can be applied to many scenarios. Want to start running in the dead of winter, then buy yourself some good warm running clothes. Want to learn to play trumpet, then get yourself a good one that plays easily. Want to write more often, then create a place in the house that's yours and that's ready for you to write.

Instant Reset
One of the most common causes for failure is the belief that goes something like, "Well, now that I broke my diet, I might as well enjoy the rest of this pie", or, "Oh well, I'll try again tomorrow."

If you find yourself having violated you sugar embargo, stop right away; don't try again tomorrow, try again right now! It's what you do after the violation that matters most. Sugar is incredibly powerful. Although it takes about a week to get rid of the cravings, you can easily get them back with just one piece of pie or bowl of pasta. So, don't kid yourself with the "Oh well..." or "I might as well..." Reset immediately.

Every Day
A close cousin of the immediate reset is to do whatever it is you've resolved to do every day. Every time I hear someone say, "Well, I read that you don't want to push yourself to hard, that you want to start with just three days a week", I think, "OK, there's someone who's not going to make it."

Guidance such as, "You only need to do it three times a week" was designed by marketeers who don't want advertising to be off-putting to reluctant resolvers. If you want to do something, do it every day. We humans are intrinsically tied to patterns. The quicker and more strongly we establish patterns of behavior, the more likely it is that we will persist in them.

To start something new means doing it every day. In the case of sugar, take no holidays. In the case of juicing (or working out or writing or playing music or programming software), juice every day. If you find yourself ready for bed and think, "Shit, I forgot to juice (or write or program or play or read or study) today!", get up and do it, even if just for a few minutes.

If you stick with everydayness, before you know it, you'll have established such a strong pattern that forgetting to do something will become nearly impossible.

I Don't Feel Like It
I'm always amazed at how many adults say things like, "I just didn't feel like doing thus-and-such today" when thus-and-such is a resolution. Sure, there are creative pursuits where how you feel can dramatically influence who well you do and your level of energy can dramatically impact your capacity for exercise. However, how you feel has much more to do with whether or not you start, than how well you'll do once you've started.

In support of doing things every day, it's important to abandon the notion that how you feel has anything to do with whether or not you should do something. Drop that belief and you'll be amazed at the results. I've had my best experiences writing after having previously decided that I just don't feel like writing today. I've had the most wonderful workouts, ones that left me feeling brand new, on days where I didn't feel I had the energy to even start.

I don't feel like is transient at best and it's a terrible reason not to do something.

Walk On Water
OK, so forget about strength of will, determination and resolve and start by taking simple steps.
  1. Do one thing at a time.
  2. Stack the deck in your favor
  3. Hit the reset button right away when you fail
  4. Whatever you choose to pursue, do it every day, even if it's just for a while, even if it's not very good.
  5. Once you resolve to do something every day, don't even consider how you feel about it.
  6. One more that is optional. The worst thing that you can do for a creative person is to provide her a blank slate and all the time in the world.

    Creativity thrives when there are constraints: contraints in resources, constraints in the medium, constraints in time. Similarly, we tend to do better with resolutions when we schedule them, e.g., signing up for a class or hiring a trainer or joining a club. If you have a hard time maintaining a resolution, tighten the constraints.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Explore, learn, create and define

The next morning I felt renewed and positively enthusiastic. I knew everything would be different. Charlie would smile and say hello to me instead of hitting his backpack against my head. Sonja would come and sit next to me and be my best friend again, and mommy would surely make me pancakes when I would come down all dressed by myself.

I ran to the sink, pushed the yellow washcloth under the faucet and with cold water rinsed my face. Cold drips ran refreshingly down into my neck. “Don’t forget the towel, Let’s not forget the towel...” I sang happily.

“... and then we brush our... TEETH.”

“Underpants, underpants, I want new underpants...”

I made a little pirouette in front of the closet and decided to dress in my purple princess dress with secret pockets where I could hide the little wish gems I certainly would find during the day. I finished my outfit with my little white ballet shoes and happily tripled down the stairs into the kitchen.

“Hello mama”, I said with my happiest smile making a big bow, my arm moving like a swan in grace.

Hello Mrs. Green. We made you some pancakes this morning. Go sit down at the kitchen table and we will bring them over to you. With big eyes I looked towards the uniformly dressed ladies behind the stove. “Where is mom?” I asked while moving towards my favorite brown kitchen chair.

“You look absolutely stunning this morning, darling....” The lady bringing the pancakes observes me from head to toe. “After breakfast we might want to dress you a little warmer. A purple coat and shoes is not enough for a lady...”

“I am a princes today. Can’t you see? I have to show mama!” A growl of my stomach made me realize I was hungry and with enthusiasm I poured a whole lot of maple syrup on my pancakes.

Excerpt by Iris Tuomenoksa


Psych is playing in the background. Mark has fallen asleep on the chair and I sit here energized from a nice coffee drink that I drank during our extraordinary evening dinner together. While still fully awake I decide to write my blog article.

In last weeks writers group I read the ten-minute writing exercise that I posted above after which an animated discussion followed. We all had a different opinion about this first introduction of this character and the setting she was in. Was it about a little girl in the care of others because something happened with the family? Was it an old lady with Alzheimer? How and why did we interpret the story the way we did? It was a fun inspirational night.

Afterwards the story stuck in my mind, probably because the oddity and the possibility of it. I believe there is an old lady with a young mind in this story. Even though the girl is very engaging in this piece, I think if we would be able to observe the situation longer we would find out the old lady can no longer speak. When the nurses look in her eyes they see... I don’t know. Maybe fear for someday becoming like the oddly dressed silent lady. Maybe they see love, their own love reaching out to the lady she once was. And in meanwhile no one knows about the little girl.

I have found that our daily writing exercises bare parts of our inner souls. During the writing we unveil ourselves, and creativity pulls from what is there to mold ideas into written art. I created the girl, the old lady and the people taking care of her and in some funky way they all express something about how I see the world.

If I look at this piece as if everything is about me, there are so many confronting questions. Do I have a little girl in me that no one knows? If so, why? What does she mean with “I knew everything would be different”. Is this an optimistic characteristic of the girl, or is it an expression of her sorry state? What was going on with Charlie and Sonja? What was going on with the caregivers calling her Mrs. Green?

Isn’t this totally fascinating? We can use any form of expression, like writing, drawing, singing, running, moving, and find thousands of new possibilities to explore, learn, create and define.

What tools do you use to explore, learn, create and define yourself?

Have a great Sunday!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Sweating the Details

It's 4:30 PM. Just having reviewed our list of songs for the night's performance, Iris and I walk out of the suite at the Four Seasons Hotel, Las Vegas that is serving as the band's green room. We head down the hall to our room on the thirty-eighth floor, unlock the door and drop our stuff on the bed. Time to get ready for our first gig in Vegas and we still have a lot to do.

My phone announces the arrival of a text message. As I search for my glasses (eventually finding them dangling from the collar of my t-shirt), Iris grabs my phone and thumbs open the message. It's from Mark Kaufman and it says, "Call Me: It's URGENT!"

Iris thumbs the call button by Mark's photo and flips on the phone's speaker as his number rings.

"Hey, where are you guys?"

"Mark, I told you, we're in Las Vegas."

"I know that, but where in Las Vegas?"

"We're at the Four Seasons Hotel. It's down a the end of the..."

"Where at the Four Seasons Hotel are you?"

I look at Iris who looks back at me knowingly.

"We're in our room on the thirty-eighth floor, number 38227. Ummm... where are you?"

"We're in our suite on the thirty-ninth floor, room 39224."

"We? Uhhh... we'll be right up."

Iris and I look at each other and then at the pile of stuff on our bed and then at the clock and then back at each other. We head out the door and up to the thirty-ninth floor.

I knock on the door and am greeted by Renee Manning, Mark's friend and singing instructor from the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. We hug and then proceed into the suite where we find Renee's husband Earl McIntyre (who's a great trombonist and also an instructor at the Conservatory) and, of course Mark, who waves at us grinning but is now busy chatting on his cell phone. Earl shrugs and says, "He's spent the last hour trying to get on line without being charged another fifteen dollars for a day's Internet connection. So, we've been waiting for him to figure it out."

We leave Mark to his iPhone as Renee and Earl explain how Mark had called them that morning saying, "Hey, let's fly to Vegas and see Mark and Iris. Pack stuff for a couple of days and I'll pick you up."

As I listen to their story, my eyes wander over to Mark who's gesturing to his phone and I say, "So, let me get this straight. Without a second thought, Mark bought last minute round-trip tickets from New York to Las Vegas and rented a suite at the Four Seasons, but is now concerned about spending fifteen dollars on an Internet connection?"

Renee and Earl look at each other and then back at Iris and me and we all smile, "Yup, that's Mark!"

Over the last couple of days, I've been curious as to why so many people I know seem to be getting dumber. Last night, after a phone call from a friend whom I'm helping to get back into programming, one whom I thought would be well on his way by now, but who still seems to be struggling with basic concepts, I commented to Iris, "Didn't he used to be smarter?"

Iris' responded, "No, you just always think that people are smarter than they really are."

"Maybe", I thought, "but I'm not sure."

There was something in what she said that resonated, but it wasn't quite in tune. I don't believe in notions of fixed IQ or some intrinsic capacity for thinking. I see being smart as something that you either do or don't do, a skill, not a talent, muscle to be developed or to atrophy. Sure, there are things that come more easily to some than others, but that's a starting point, not a limitation. Yet most people (maybe everyone but me) see intelligence differently, as though it's something you're born with, something you have or you don't.

Then I thought about Mark abandoning his role as carefree millionaire to spend ninety minutes trying to save fifteen dollars or my would-be programmer friend who's missing out on opportunities because he's still hedging; he "really wants to do it", but his head isn't really in the game. And it occurred to me that it's all about priorities; the devil's in the details and being smart (at least one component of it) is about knowing exactly which details matter.

I use the word exactly deliberately. I believe the person who "appears" to be smartest is the one who is able to quickly sift through all the choices, all the data, all the opportunities, all the priorities, and pick out the ones that contribute meaningfully to her achieving what she wants to achieve without including any that don't matter and without missing any that do.

Being smart is the opposite of the Watson computer program that recently beat several Jeopardy champions by relying on an exhaustive database of trivia; being smart is about making decisions with the least amount of data possible. Being smart is about freeing your mind (and freeing your time) from the clutter of useless (or less than useful) information, activities and priorities (no matter how important they may feel, no matter how much sentiment they hold), and focusing on exactly that which will help you get where you want to go. Being smart engages the blocking and tackling of thought: focus and clarity.

Alternatively, being smart could simply involve adjusting your goals to your priorities.

It's hard to pull off being a flamboyant and carefree millionaire, when you spend 20% of your time in Vegas stuck in your suite trying to avoid Internet service fees. You can't become a kick-ass software guy while reading the want-ads for management positions. Healthy kids don't spring from stockpiles of supplements when you have a sentimental attachment to treats and simple carbs. Pick and choose exactly that which contributes to your goals and you'll appear to be a genius; for all intents and purposes, you will be.

Anyway, that's my theory this morning. What's in your clutter?

Happy Saturday,

Friday, February 18, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had some extreme weather variations here in Texas. I realize ‘extreme’ is a relative term, so let me elaborate: we had multiple nights where it went below freezing, followed fairly soon by daytime temps in the 60s and 70s (that's Fahrenheit, for you
non-USAns). So if you weren’t tuned into the weather forecasts regularly, you’d easily be caught dressed inappropriately for the prevailing weather.

At work, most of my co-workers who contracted the
subsequent colds/coughs/infections were
sensible enough to stay home to avoid spreading their germs, but I did get to see them as the symptoms first hit them, and also upon their return to work. I saw the very punctilious folks bring their tissue box and hand sanitizers to meetings, and using them every few minutes. I spent long minutes in elevators with some folks who obviously didn’t care where their germs went. And in between were the folks who walked into meetings and chose remote seats, but insisted on explaining to everybody within earshot what their problem was and (in painful detail) how they contracted it and from whom, etc.

In addition to people at work, everybody in my own personal family was affected, as the flu verily swept through our household. (At one point, our theme song was Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”). Now, the symptoms were quite severe and debilitating, so there is no question about the impact. But it was extremely interesting to watch how different people handled the physical stress. Rithvik was the picture of angelic cheer and repose – up till the sinus headaches appeared, upon which a low-level but constant irritability cropped up, which was largely amusing for its rarity but also uncomfortably intense in spots. Roshan did his best impression of a volcano throughout – completely unpredictable, flipping between explosive and inert, and making fairly widespread impacts. My dear wife Sowmya strove valiantly to keep up with the demands of the household, verging on martyrdom and buckling only when she had reached her physical limits. My father-in-law, who is living with us currently, was verily the walking death when his symptoms peaked. But he didn’t go to the extent of calling for distant relatives and dictating bequeaths, as he has been known to do in the past.

Another interesting process I was able to observe was my own reactions, as the number of affected people and resulting impacts grew. In the beginning, I found it easy to be nurturing and solicitous, to pick up the slack with chores, and to do the multiple treks in the middle of the night with thermometers, nebulizers and ibuprofen. Then, as tempers frayed around me, and my own sleep diminished in quality and quantity, irritated thoughts crept in: “looks like sickness allows you to get away with murder”, “I wish I could say what I really feel”, “I’ve had enough of this”, “I’m the only sane person in the house”, “I wouldn’t mind getting fussed over a bit”, and so on. And bang - one morning I wake up with a fever and a sniffle. Now, upfront in this Big Flu Swoop, I had been particular to load up on the preventives – echinacea, vitamin C, chyavanprash, and the like, so I suspect that helped me escape with just a couple days of mild symptoms. But I can’t help wondering if those thoughts opened the door just a crack for the bugs to enter in the first place.

In any case, it made me wonder what I’m like when I’m sick. I like to think I remain my usual self – just a little lower physical energy maybe, but with unchanged levels of attitudinal stability and concern for others. However, feedback from others around me would be the only reliable way to assess that. How about you? What does poor physical health do to your mental health? If we were to ask your spouse/kids/colleagues, what answer would they give? Have you checked? How would you like to be when you're sick? Why?

To your health!

What Happens in Tokyo Stays in Tokyo

As kids, we're taught to respect each other's privacy. We learn that there are people referred to as private people. Sometimes the greatest desire of private people is to be known and understood, all while maintaining their privacy.

On the other hand, there are open people who share their most private and intimate secrets, once they've been scrubbed, sanitized and polished. Many open people duck, jive, roll and spin, considering obfuscation to be unavoidable, even compulsory, and certainly not discretionary lying. 

Privacy is something everyone of us considers from time to time, some openly and some privately.

To be sure, there are places where privacy is absolutely the best course of action, for example, keeping private the identities of those who might otherwise be subject to persecution or genocide. However, these form a tiny fraction of the actual incidence of privacy. There are places where privacy matters (actually, it always matters), but relatively few places where privacy is warranted or ultimately beneficial.

Privacy is often used as an incantation to ward off fears. However, in the end, privacy serves only to enhance and amplify that which is feared. It may help avoid the manifestation of that which is feared in the near term, but it leaves the fear in place like a dike leaves the ocean in place. And as with a dike, the only reasonable follow-on action is reinforcement. Before you know it, maintenance of the dike begins to consume more resources than are being produced by the land that the dike was created to protect; the maintenance of privacy becomes more important than that which was meant to be private.

No Secrets
One time when I was in Japan on business, our hosts provided us an evening of entertainment. We were first wined-and-dined at the former residence of the Mitsubishi family. It was a facility that often catered to heads of state and CEOs of major corporations conducting proprietary business. Arrivals and departures were tightly scheduled so that no party would ever see the members of another party. Privacy was paramount.

We were ushered into a private dining room where each participant in the dinner was provided his or her personal server who sat kneeling behind the one she was serving, waiting and anticipating, quick to respond to any request. Glasses were never empty. Items consumed were quickly replaced with new delicacies. It was amazing. It was opulent. And it was very private.

Afterwards, the party moved to a club that featured exotic dancers, a "strip club". I hadn't been to one before and I'm not sure that this one was representative of your average place. It was very private, a place where you had to know someone in order to gain access. Everything was spoken in code, some of which I could guess pretty well and some of which left me looking like some naive duffis who grew up in the midwest, which I was. Apparently, spending my late teens and twenties as a pentecostal Christian, I'd missed a lot of educational events that had been shared by my current colleagues.

As I sat there watching all the goings on, I didn't pick up on the propositions that were presented me as my some of my colleagues disappeared into private rooms for private entertainment. I was beyond clueless, and it wasn't until the next day that I began putting two-plus-two together. When I began asking my colleagues rather openly about the previous evening's events, it became clear to me that what happens in Tokyo stays in Tokyo. Very private.

Every once and a while, I'll encounter one of those colleagues in a social setting with his partner and he'll be quick to steer away from me lest I speak too openly forgetting the maxim of Tokyo.

Privacy is not a strategy. Strategies have forethought. They're designed for growth. They're designed to gain efficiency over time or to be self-extinguishing.

Privacy is a tactic, a defensive maneuver, a posture, a bandaid, and an expensive one at that. The overall expense is often unforeseen, easily surpassing the value of that being kept private. Privacy isolates us from others. It builds mistrust. It's difficult and costly to maintain. It causes us to miss out on opportunities to share and to connect with others.

And yet, no one questions privacy, at least not in western culture. It's a right that we defend and one that I agree with.

Still, I tend to think about the desire for privacy as a symptom, the oddly shaped mole that indicates some hidden malignancy or the shortness of breath tied to an undiagnosed condition. The nacent desire for privacy can be an early warning sign that something is amiss. The tiny fractures in a relationship that will grow if not patched. The early cellular mutations that attach to healthy tissue morphing into cancerous guilt if not exposed to the cleansing light of day. The trickle of hesitation that if unstopped becomes a river of obfuscation secluding each of us from others, even those with whom we've been close.

The question isn't one of privacy being good or bad, warranted or unwarranted, a right or a privilege; it's one of cost and benefit. What is the cost of privacy? What is the benefit of privacy? Is it really worth it?

Perhaps the first question that we might ask ourselves before incanting privacy or asserting rights to privacy is: Why? Why do I feel the need to keep this private? What about the shift in topic or the question just asked suddenly got me thinking about my privacy? What exactly is it that I want to keep private? What am I afraid would happen were it not kept private? What is keeping it private going to cost me in the long term? How am I missing out right now? What would change if I let go of privacy?

What are you keeping private? How come?

Happy Friday!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The One You Love Most

It's been one of those weeks.

It's been one of those weeks that kind of capped one of those years.

It all started last Friday morning. Between my day gig and my night gig, I was looking at about a month's worth of work and just six days in which to finish it. No problem. Roll up the sleeves and get started.

Working seventeen or eighteen hours a day and sleeping four is no problem, at least not for the first three or four days. However, around the end of day three, I start slipping a bit, missing things I'd normally catch, losing focus, etc.

By day four, I can't handle any interruptions without hitting my brain's reset button to figure out what exactly I was doing before the interruption.

By day five, my impenetrable bulwark of optimism starts exhibit stress fractures and I start to question whether or not I can do what I thought I could do.

By day six, I've substituted brute-force, exclusively-goal-focused, get-it-done-ness for elegantly-finessed, process-oriented, enjoy-the-ride-ness and by the end of the day I feel like my engine has been running all day at 100 miles an hour in first gear. There's been such a build-up of potential energy that my mind and body can't seem to contain it. It's one of those times where you best let the engine cool down before trying to open the radiator cap. Unfortunately, my indicators are often a bit slow to catch up with the state of my internal components. So, it's hard to tell from the outside just how hot things are inside.

The indicators are there and all; they're just not exactly where you would expect them to be. Or maybe they are.

You can tell when I've got way too much unspent energy because I start to be obsessively precise, detail-oriented and thread-conscious in conversation. Normally I do all those things tracking every thread of a conversation, every poorly constructed leap of logic, every unsubstantiated assumption and all the non-sequitured meandering that most folks call talking. Normally, I just keep that all to myself employing it only when someone asks, "Umm... so what were we talking about?" or "How did we get here?"

However, when I've got way too much unspent energy, well, I become completely intolerant of sloppy meandering. Actually, that's not it exactly. I become intolerant of sloppy meandering when people are applying helping me. Suddenly, I'm a surgeon running around with a scalpel looking for something to dissect and the poor person who is trying to be supportive, not seeing that it's the act of supporting that's become the target of my scalpel, tries to become even more supportive which in turn... well... it's what happens when you hold a microphone up to the speaker. Before you know it (trying to keep as many metaphors going as possible), he or she is reaching for the radiator cap.

That was last night. My would-be helper was my best friend and loving wife.

This Morning
This morning it's warm outside, more than forty degrees, and it feels like early spring. I slept til 7:30 and everything is different.

It's funny how small your perspective can get when you're overwhelmed by a build up of energy that has nowhere to go. I imagine that it's similar to the experience of a kid with autism who is overwhelmed by the sudden assault of sensory stimuli. He has this intense experience of discomfort that he can't explain, at least not in the moment, and all he wants to do is to make it stop. However, his attempts to do so are socially unacceptable to say the least and since he appears to be otherwise normal, they are deemed even less acceptable. Once the assault of the stimuli is quelled, perspective returns.

So, this morning I woke up in full beat-myself-up mode which, as we all know, is a highly productive expenditure of time and effort. Time to refocus. So, I decided to be express how lucky I am to be with the person in my life who loves me through it all and whom I love the most.

I'm not like most people. I daresay I'm not like nearly all people. I might even go so far as to say that I'm unique.

For example, I don't spend a lot of time thinking about having enough money or saving up for retirement or controlling spending. I just assume that we'll always have enough and that, if we need more, I'll go make it. It's not that we're rich (although I think people assume we are based on my attitude), it's just that I'm not concerned about it.

For many partners, my attitude towards money and finances in general could be a big problem, but not for Iris. She's good with it no matter what. Were we to make a lot of money and travel the world she'd be there. Were we to lose it all and need to start again, she'd be there. Whether it's first class or coach, whether it's the Four Seasons or a hostel, whether it's filet mignon or burgers and fries, she's there and she's happy. I can't begin to explain how wonderful that is for me.

I often work closely with women who are extremely intelligent and attractive, women of whom many partners would become jealous or about whom they'd become concerned. Some would express their concerns outright, some more subtly, but their concerns and jealousy would be there nonetheless and they'd likely become issues from time to time. Iris never does jealousy and it makes life so much easier.

I'm spontaneous, not spontaneous as in "Hey, let's go out for dinner", but spontaneous as in, "Hey, let's go buy a house today!" You can imagine that this kind of spontaneity could pose a challenge to some partners, but not to Iris. She jumps in with enthusiasm and energy that matches mine, and personal investment that often surpasses mine.

My interests are, umm, diverse. I love playing music. I love programming. I love mountain biking and snowboarding. I love writing. I have thousands of things I still want to learn how to do. Some partners try to contain their partner's interests to their own, some allow their partners time to 'do their own thing', but Iris joins me in my diverse pursuits. Sometime we spend romantic evenings sitting by the fire programming. We play music together. We write together. She's always up for new adventures and learning new things and she's wonderfully supportive of my trying anything I want to try.

And of course there's her being smart and beautiful and energetic and inquisitive and loving and open and sweet and caring.

So, this morning I thought I'd channel my unspent energy into writing about the one I love the most, how amazing she is to me, and how lucky I am to be with her.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Happy Birthday

Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday to me, Happy Birthday dear Kathy, Happy Birthday to me! I love singing so much, I have been singing to myself all week. For my birthday, I ate incredible Tangelberry pie yesterday, I slept in today (hence my late blog), and plan to do something special for myself all year long! This is a very special year for me as it is the last year the numbers will go up. Yes you heard it! Once I hit 40 the numbers will go back down and when I hit 0, the numbers will go back up again! This way I plan to live to be 10 at least three times. I will truly enjoy reliving my thirties and experiencing my teenage years with an entirely new perspective. I am most looking forward to dropping all of societies beliefs about age by approaching my birthdays this way. Imagine how it will feel to have the curiosity of a 10 year old when my body is 70. What an experience! By changing my beliefs about age, I am taking greater accountability for my life. For example, when I wake up with a stiff back in the morning, I won't be able to say "boy, I'm getting old" instead I will say "boy am I out of shape, I better add more exercise to my life". When I decide to make breakfast for dinner when I am 5 again, it will be because it is "cool" not because my dentures are bothering me. When I get down on the floor to play with my grandchildren when I am 12, I will stay on the floor because it is so much fun not because I can't get up. Ahhhh what an amazing life I have!
Love to all,


Yesterday, we passed the first half of February. A perfect time to check-in with ourselves and see what we have been doing with our New Years resolutions.

If we are cut from the same trees as the average person, most of us will by now have abandoned our plans or struggling to keep them going.

Time to invigorate!

1. Focus

What was your New Year’s Resolution? Stopping with smoking? More physical workout? Being more friendly or helpful to your family? Finding a new job? Create an internal image of how the outcome would look like. Make it beautiful.

2. Workplan

What are the steps you have taken over the last six weeks to work towards this goal? Did you tell everyone that you stopped smoking. Did you ask them to remind you friendly about your goal? Did you ask them to not smoke in your house? Did you engage some friends to start sporting with you. Did you sign up for a sport school? List all the things you have done and things you thought about doing.

3. Evaluation (Don’t give up!)

This is about the place where people stop. Instead of checking in after a bit to see how their plan has worked, they judge themselves for not having started or doing “it” half, that they never evaluate the plan in place.

Evaluation is insight. Evaluation is change.

Most plans do not work without making adjustments to it. People making a business plan refine that plan hundreds or more likely thousands of time. People working towards breaking their personal PR’s refine their strategies depending on the trainings from that week or even that morning. Too stiff to run, from now on more stretching into your program.

Be honest.

Look at your Work plan in step two and evaluate how it worked. Which steps were easy to implement? Which were harder than expected? Did you try all the possibilities to make your plan work? If not, why not? Don’t be afraid to admit that you do not really stand behind your goal. It’s easier to set a new goal than convincing yourself you really want something you don’t want!

4. Refocus

Ok. I only have another two minutes left before I have to leave for work, so here very quickly the last step:

Change your plan.

Decide to your goal. It could be the goal you had before, an adjusted version, or a totally new goal. I don’t want to stop smoking, I want to smoke only five cigarettes a day.

Then make a step by step plan that is five times more detailed than the first one you had. I am going to..... If not I will... I ask help from... etc. Make it as detailed as you think needed to really feel solid about starting and keeping going.

5. Start.

Do it. Go for it. Work at it. Then after a couple of weeks, come back to this place and re-evaluate.

Have a great day!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Of Course You Can Do Caculus

You've just found this great condo high atop a twenty-story building overlooking the Charles River in Cambridge. The seller decides that she really likes you and she wants you to have the place, so much in fact, that she's willing to cut her price in half.

There's just one catch. The architect who designed the building was a bit eccentric and put a clause in her contract that required anyone purchasing the condo to install new carpeting in the living room and further, that the purchaser determine the amount of carpet required to cover the floor.

Normally, this wouldn't be too much of a challenge; you'd just measure one the length of the room (say twenty feet) and then measure the width of the room (say fifteen feet), multiply the two numbers together and get the area of the room in square feet (twenty times fifteen is three hundred).

Unfortunately, in this case, the computation is not so easy. The wall of the living room that faces the river is all glass (so far so good) and to optimize the view of the winding river, the facing wall winds with it as shown below.

You know how to calculate the area of squares and rectangles, but you've got no idea how to calculate the area of a shape that winds in all directions. As you contemplate the situation looking out over the river watching the crews rowing up and down and thinking about the great deal you've been offered you remember your first apartment in Cambridge (one with poor heating and cold floors) and how you carpeted it using discarded floor samples that a friend had found in a dumpster.

The multi-colored quilt you created from 2'x2' floor samples inspires you. If you were to lay out the floor samples in a way that covered as much as the floor as possible, then you could just count them up to determine approximately how many square feet you needed. Each 2'x2' floor sample covers 4 square feet.

In your mind's eye, you start laying out the floor samples counting as you go. Because the room is so oddly shaped, there's a lot of floor that you can't cover without bumping into walls, but that's OK; you're still getting a much better idea than you had before.

You complete your exercise counting 66 floor samples. So, you know that area of the room is about 66 * 4 square feet or 264 square feet.

The seller looks at you quite impressed, but says that unfortunately your number is not quite accurate enough.

Then you remember that in your first apartment, there were a couple of posts that passed from floor to ceiling. There was also an area that was raised to make room for some pipes. The place wasn't exactly rectangular and neither of the walls measured an even multiple of two. So, to fill the spaces, you had to cut the floor samples into smaller squares.

In your mind, with carpet squares that are now just 1'x1', you fill in the gaps adding 10 1'x1' squares. You add this to the first number and now have an even better approximation of 274 square feet.

Before the seller says anything, you think, "Wait, I can fill in even more space with 6"x6" squares (each representing 1/4 of a square foot). You fill in gaps counting 64 6"x6" carpet squares or an additional 16 square feet. You add this number to what you've counted so far and come up with 290 square feet.

The seller looks at you now very impressed saying, "The place is yours if you want it and by the way, you just invented Calculus."

You look at her a bit confused and she goes on to explain, "Actually, I designed this place and I never wanted it to belong to anyone who couldn't fully appreciate everything I did. So, I came up with my little 'test' to see how well potential buyers think. I can't tell you how many people have just walked out the door not knowing what to do when I ask them about the carpeting."

She continues saying, "Many people understand how to compute the areas of simple shapes like squares and rectangles, but they're completely baffled by more complex shapes. It seems never to occur to them that you can think about any complex shape as a collection of simple shapes. As you make the simple shapes smaller and smaller, the sum of their areas gets closer and closer to that of the complex shape. Calculus is just a set of formulas that let you calculate what you visualized using carpet squares; any complex shape is just a bunch of rectangles."

What have you invented not even knowing that you did it?

Happy Monday!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Workout is Happiness!

It’s 4am and I wake up. It’s still dark outside and I am lying in bed thinking about the conversations Mark, Clay and I had the evening before at the bar of Bizen, our favorite local sushi restaurant in town.

Clay asked me “what makes you happy”. And I answered all kind of stuff and rattled of all kind of things that I enjoy in life. It was a long, convoluted answer that we discussed and distilled with enthusiasm.

“Scratch whatever we said” I think at 4am. “Workout is happiness. That’s it.”

I understand this might sound silly without any further explanation, so I am going to see if I can make a solid case here that still makes sense in the morning light.

Happiness is about enjoying the process not about reaching goals.

During dinner we discussed how happiness seems to be related to doing things without having to hold on to the outcome. You want to do certain things because doing them makes you feel happy.

I threw in that I like to also work towards something. And when I loose the something out of sight I seem to become less happy. Then when I realize I do some unhappiness and refocus on what I want and where I go, I become happy again. So, I made the statement that I maybe need goals to be happy.

Mark threw that from the table. He said that I regularly enjoy things that have no goals or attributes of going somewhere. When I asked him for specifics he said “you can for example happily watch television without having a goal related to it”. "That’s true", I thought and decided to believe that goals are not related to happiness.

We never ended this discussion that evening, and leaving the restaurant I still had the belive that happiness and movement are interrelated for me. Maybe not a goal oriented movement, but movement anyway...

Workout is Happiness!

go with the flowWorkout is movement. Workout is an active statement of moving around flow. Flow of body fluids, flow of energy. At 4 am, I am realizing that this is for me the most important thing to feel alive. I feel alive when flow is moving in my body and mind. It’s the motion that makes me tick.

A workout for me can be running or walking, but also learning a new language, finding new ways to challenge the kids I work with, reading a good book, or seeing a great television show. It is anything that creates interest, a want, and a flow of energy in me. The more motion or flow I have going on, the more wonderful I feel.

What do you think about this?

I wish you a good workout today!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

You Should Be Juicing!

It was mid-November. Iris and I sat in our car parked outside Jeremy's house late for rehearsal. We we were listening to my buddy Jonathan's voice as it emanated from the speaker hanging from the sun-visor. He was explaining that he'd just been diagnosed with lung cancer. It was one of those surrealistic, WTF moments where you just can't get a handle on it. One that would evolve into a twelve-week adventure into the world of cancer and cancer treatment.

I've been encouraging Jonathan to write about his experiences and I'm hoping that he'll share them with you. I will tell you that it was a remarkable experience for me and Iris to watch and participate in Jonathan's response to cancer. After finding out that his cancer was advanced, Jonathan called me. As we talked, he pondered, "Why should I treat this any differently than any other problem I'm working on. We've figured out heart attacks. We've figured out epilepsy. How hard could it be?"

Jonathan dove into the literature on cancer, consuming all the texts that are typically studied by doctors who specialize in cancer. He quickly filtered out the superfluous background information and got to the core of causes and treatments.

The doctors prescribed an extremely aggressive protocol of radiation and chemo-therapy (the one that Jonathan had already determined on his own) and although they warned him about the side-effects such as losing weight and losing hair, Jonathan decided to train for it like he would a race or boxing match, losing weight, getting in shape and deciding to do it all well. Long and short, Jonathan underwent six weeks of intensive radiation and chemo therapy, and surgery in which they removed a lobe from his lungs. He didn't lose weight or hair, and except for a couple of days where he felt a bit "depressed" after chemo sessions, if you didn't know what was going on, you wouldn't have even thought to question that something was going on.

Last week, Jonathan got great news from his doctors who said they'd found no traces of the cancer left. When he asked them what that meant on a scale of one-to-ten, they beamed and said, "A Ten!"

Do Not Feed the Cancer
The thing I wanted to talk about this morning is one of the elements of Jonathan's personally crafted, custom treatment program that Iris and I participated in: juicing. One day, Jonathan called me to explain that pretty much all the research on cancer fell into one of two areas: the factors that cause cancer cells to form (typically environmental) and the methods of eradicating them once they have formed. However, it seemed that little attention was paid to a third area, answering the following question:
Why do the mutated cells that become cancer survive in the first place? Sure, there are factors like smoking and exposure to carcinogens that cause and accelerate mutation, but generally speaking, mutations don't survive. So forgetting for the moment how they got there, why is it that the mutations didn't just die? There must be something in the body that provides a fertile environment for the newly formed mutations. What is it?
Based on his research, Jonathan told me that, if you want to create a cancer friendly environment, then you want to load up with sugar. Cancer cells love sugar. They thrive on it. He went on to explain that he wasn't just talking about the white granular stuff that you put into coffee and tea, but any simple carbohydrate: cane sugar, white flour, white rice, potatoes, you name it. Additionally, it didn't matter whether it was all natural or organic or processed; some sugars come with more nutrients than others, but in the end sugar is sugar.

So with that, Jonathan decided that he'd eliminate sugar from his diet and that, in order to ensure that he was getting all the vitamins and nutrients that he would have otherwise got from foods and beverages with sugars, he was going to start juicing. He'd already narrowed his search for a juicer to two and was trying to decide which of the two to purchase. So I said, "How about I buy one, you buy the other and then we both start juicing? I can be your control group, but instead of being the one with cancer who keeps eating sugar and doesn't juice, I'll be the one who eliminates sugar and juices, but who doesn't have cancer!"

The next day, Iris and I ordered our Omega 8006 slow-masticating, single-auger juicer and (except for when traveling) we've been juicing every day since.

Chew Slowly
Every morning we feed our little juicer a combination of vegetables including a variable mixture of carrots, celery, broccoli, asparagus, spinach, brussel sprouts, beets, kale, cucumbers and tomatoes: all vegetables and no fruits (which are much higher in sugar). I'm always waiting for the juicer to stop and say something like, "What's up doc?" as it slowly chews up the vegetables separating the moisture (that drops out the bottom into a basin) from the pulp (that is extruded out the end into another basin).

The reason we chose a slow-masticating juicer is that it leads to lower oxidation of the vegetables which in turn leads to better retention of nutrients. Working slowly, the juicer doesn't get hot (it doesn't cook the vegetables) and it doesn't churn them to so quickly as to blend them with the air (there's no foam).

We always make the juice first thing so that we can drink it on empty stomachs allowing the nutrients to be absorbed immediately through the stomach lining. We play with different improvised recipes (I like fresh ginger root and tabasco in my juice, Iris doesn't) and we use organic vegetables (you can really taste the difference).

So What?
I wouldn't have believed it, but I started seeing results the very first time I juiced! First thing in the morning, we got up and made our juice. I drank mine and in just a few minutes, I felt this rush of energy. I told Iris, "I must just be psyching myself up or something, but I'd swear that I can already feel this working."

Then Jonathan explained to me that, by consuming the juice on an empty stomach, the nutrients were bypassing the normal digestive processes, being absorbed immediately through the stomach lining and that, yeah, you could feel the effect within minutes.

Since we started juicing, I've had a lot more energy which apparently I already had too much of, at least for some people. I need less sleep, I'm clearer and I feel really great.

Another unexpected side effect is that I've lost weight. It's not that I'm dieting; it's just that I don't experience hunger as frequently. Turns out that you often experience hunger because your body is simply missing one or two essential nutrients. So you eat and eat until you happen to consume them. With the juicing, you've got it covered.

One more thing: I simply don't get sugar cravings. When you start juicing, you just don't want anything sweet. Further, in the absence of eating sugar, everything that contains sugar starts to taste really sweet, too sweet. You'd be amazed at all the stuff that has sugar once you start being able taste it.

I imagine there are other benefits to juicing outside of having more energy, needing less sleep, being more focused and clear, not feeling hungry and losing weight, but those are a pretty good start. (Oh yeah, I almost forgot the not-filling-your-body-with-cancer-fertilizer one.)

Having been pretty much an omnivore, I've always sat on the sidelines amused by the array of diets my friends have paraded past me and I'm the last one in the world to be recommending a dietary change, but I gotta tell ya, "You should be juicing!"

Happy Saturday!