Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Happy Resignation

As I thought this morning about our recent discussions regarding personal change, it occurred to me that the missing ingredient for many of us may be the oft used, rarely understood word, accept. In this case the activity (yes, we're talking about the active verb to accept not the passive state of acceptance) would be self-focused. All personal change begins with accepting you and your situation.

This may at first seem counter-intuitive. You might be thinking, If I accept me and my situation, why would I ever change?

The way I see it is: If you don't accept who you are and your situation now, you'll never be able to facilitate significant change that lasts.

You see it all the time working with kids who struggle with developmental challenges such as autism and dyslexia. When the facilitator fully accepts (has no negative judgments about) the child and her situation, he is optimally ready to help her change. When he doesn't, when he sees the situation as bad, he compromises his capacity to help. He creates internal pressure to make progress. He becomes distracted by metrics and fear of failure. Although it would seem that the person who refuses to accept the situation will be more motivated and thereby a better facilitator, it's never the case.

When it comes to personal change the only real difference is that is that the facilitator and the child are one-in-the-same.

So, what do I mean by accept? To accept is to fully embrace a person or situation as it is and see it as good. It's more than the absence of negative judgment; it's the presence of positive judgment.

A lot of people buck at the idea of seeing a situation of child with autism as good. Nonetheless, you can see over and over that people who do are the ones best equipped to help.

To be clear, seeing a situation as good doesn't mean that you wouldn't want to change it. Let's say that you love to eat sushi; that wouldn't mean you wouldn't like pasta or steak or bibimbap or curry. Let's say that you love to play music and that you truly appreciate your skills and the sounds you produce; that wouldn't mean that you wouldn't want to practice and become an even better musician. You can fully accept something and still want something else.

To accept is not the same as to resign to. Acceptance is not giving up. Nonetheless, the path to true acceptance passes through resignation.

To fully accept you and your situation, you must come to the place where, even if nothing ever changes, you'd be happy. There can be no for now in the statement. Whatever your challenge, you have to decide that it's all good. What if I never get over being anxious or panicky? It's all good. What if I'm always going to struggle with overconsumption? It's all good. What if I never learn to play well? It's all good.

The reason that the never/forever component is so critical is that without it, it's easy to fake acceptance. Whenever for-now enters the picture you know you've still got latent judgments. So, true acceptance starts with resignation and finding all things good in that to which you're resigned.

The funny thing, at least in my person experience and my observations of the experience of others, is that happy resignation often leads to effortless change. It's quite amazing. The guy who decides that overeating and being overweight are awesome starts to feel less compeled to eat. They gal who decides that her saxophone playing is wonderful starts making giant leaps in her skill development.

So, perhaps today is the day that you become happily resigned to whatever it is you find challenging.

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tempo

Tick... tick... tick...

I look up at the wall clock.

Two-fifteen.

Damn, I should have finished this section of code forty-five minutes ago.

I exhale through pursed lips, the sound of my breath temporarily obscuring that of the clock.

Tick... tick... tick...

Two-twenty-one.

What was I doing? Oh yeah, I was chiding myself for not working faster.

I get up, walk into the garage, grab the broom and sweep. Sweeping helps me focus, helps me think.

My mind clears. The code comes into focus. I find my groove.

I hang up the broom and walk back into the house. Pulling the chair away from my desk to sit down, I glance at the clock and stop.

I walk over the wall, reach up and take down the clock.

I pull out the little double-A battery that drives it mechanism. I carry the clock into the garage and toss it atop the dirt and dust I collected from the floor.

Sitting down at my desk, I exhale. The sound of my breathing subsides. I hear silence.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Flipping the Switch

I'm reading Sree's post on flipping The Switch. I find myself muttering things like, "Yes! That's it!" and "Oh, yeah. Of course!" Images pop into my head: my visual translations of Sree's prose. Phrases come to mind.

I want to share some of the things that Sree's words inspired in me.

Ah Hah!
As I read Sree's description of the instantaneous nature of cognitive change, I thought "Ah Hah!" The instant at which cognitive change occurs might be synonymous with what I would call an ah-hah moment. You might not expect it or see it coming. You might be ready to give it up because it seems as though it will never come. Without a clue as to how it occurred, everything lines up and you see it clear as day. You break through the clouds. If you were an ancient Greek, you might cry, "Eureka!", but more likely you'd say, "Ah, hah!" or "Oooooh!"

The effort to see it in the moment is indiscernable. Once you see it, you can't un-see it.

The thing that struck me most is that, since you can't see it coming, it's useless to try and gauge when it will come or whether or not it will come. You just go forward waiting for the surprise.

Dominoes
An image that popped into my head was that of rows and rows of dominos arrayed to topple once the last domino is put into place. For some of us, in some areas of understanding, the dominoes are almost completely arrayed and waiting for us. You add one here and another there to complete the chain. Then, with a nearly effortless flip of your index finger, you tip the first and all of them topple.

Sometimes there are large gaps in the domino arrays and you have to spend time filling them in. It might take years. Nonetheless, once the last gap has been filled, the effort required to topple them all is no more than that of the person who inherited a nearly gapless array.

Sometimes you get so anxious to see them fall that you topple the master before all the gaps have been filled. Many dominoes fall, but not all of them. You get a partial ah-hah! You feel like you've made progress, but something haunts you, a sense that you're not done yet, that there are still dominoes standing.

I think it's the last set of circumstances that can be the most challenging. You wonder what you did wrong or if you'll ever get it right. You go back to the dominoes that toppled to see what you missed and therein lies the rub. The challenge isn't what you did wrong with the dominoes that toppled; the challenge is to look into the arrays of dominoes where you missed gaps. Rather than circling back to dominoes you've already toppled, you move forward to new ones.

Knowing You Can
What I found most inspiring in Sree's words was the difference that comes from simply knowing that you can experience cognitive change, ah-hah moments, and comprehensive domino-felling. While knowing that you can do it doesn't immediately lead to doing it, it does dramatically improve your chances. Knowing you can causes you to look for it and expect it. Knowing that you can causes you to keep going when you'd otherwise give up. Knowing that you can allows you to better see and understand the gaps in your domino chains.

You don't have to know how or when or even why. Just knowing that you can achieve complete and lasting change makes an amazing difference. Sometimes, it's all the difference you need.

Anyway, that's what came to mind this morning as I read Sree's post. Thanks, Sree!

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Switch

This blog has seen some interesting exchanges in recent days on the topic of happiness and how easy or difficult it is or can be. One thought I had right away upon reading these stimulating thoughts and responses is that words are such fascinating things. Just four letters – e, a, s, y or any such string, take your pick – can conjure up a whole world of meaning unique to the person contemplating them. It is not common for people to be precise in their use of words and language in general, simply because most of us aren’t very conscious of or intentional about our communication. But that’s a whole ‘nother area.

What I want to offer at this point of our discussion is the idea of the cognitive change. (Actually I want to scream from the rooftops, but it’s still just an offering). A disclaimer first: I use the term ‘cognitive’ rather loosely, without claiming to know everything involved in cognition. I’m using that term to refer to a change in a fundamental building-block in the way we think, something that really shifts our view of the world, or our impression of how things work. I first mentioned this in a post way back when, and I often return to that analogy as a reminder of how quickly and comprehensively shifts can happen. They say it takes only a billionth of a volt, and a mere millisecond, for an impulse to leap across synapses in the brain. That’s all it takes to cause that cognitive change, to go from difficult to easy, even historically difficult to forever effortless.

I shared one example of a game-changing cognitive switch for me in a past post (HERE). There’s another one that sticks out brightly in my memory – this one again many years ago. I can’t remember all the details now, but as I drove to the Detroit airport to board a flight, I recall a wintry February morning, with low clouds extending to the horizon in all directions, dirty snow lining the streets and a uniformly gray landscape. This was back in the days when winters in Michigan were a lot harsher than they are nowadays, and I was enveloped in the weary and gloomy mood that grips most Midwesterners around that time. But when the plane took off and broke through the low cloud ceiling in a matter of seconds, I entered a dazzling new world – brilliant sunshine everywhere the eye could see and a fluffy, billowy floor fit for the heavens. It was astounding to experience this magical domain coexisting with the ‘dreary gloomy’ wintry wasteland I inhabited just a few hundred feet below. Since that day, I have never been more than superficially affected by the day’s weather, and only need an upward glance to evoke a sunny disposition.

If you have been unsuccessfully trying to make a lifestyle change of some kind, knowing about this mechanism may not make a difference. Indeed, if I knew how to flick that mental switch at will, I’d be Superman. But I have to tell you, having personal experience with transformations in one area, however narrow, certainly makes you more open to transformations in other areas, and that certainly increases the chances of them happening.

To be sure, not all changes are wrought by the effortless, instantaneous flick of a switch in the brain. Many, if not most, seem to be the product of a long process, often accompanied by great effort, struggle and even pain. Certain changes I have made in my parenting methods fall in that category. For instance, I have learnt to employ the easy, relaxed mode even when confronting my strong-willed nine-year-old on hot-button issues, but that came after innumerable tantrums and power struggles in those nine years, and much reflection and angst on my part.

But I strongly suspect that even in cases of extended struggle, the actual change is made as the flick of a billionth-of-a-volt switch. Maybe it just sets up the right conditions for the switch to happen. I remember that upto the winter of 2006, I was arguably a “night owl”, and “not a morning person”. I remember consistently dragging myself to bed well past midnight, constantly having to rush in the morning to get ready for work on time, multiple hits on the snooze button, etc. Most importantly, I remember having this sense of powerlessness around awaking early or on time. All that came to a head in the final days of 2006, and I made a resolution to awake early in 2007. You have to know that until then I had never had great success with New Year’s resolutions, and a fairly weak record with resolutions overall. But the Switch had been thrown in my brain. The first couple of days – still on holiday - I arose early, and life was great. But then the first few workdays arrived, and with them the late-waking habit. I could have very easily given up, but mentally I knew I couldn’t go back to business as usual, and it was just as easy to not give up, grit my teeth and press forward. Within a couple of months, arising early had become second nature, and today, five years on, I am a confirmed morning lark, and love it. (Now, earlier this week I pulled an all-nighter, and it was great to know that I haven’t lost my night-owl-ness in the process).

That example may or may not inspire you to attack a particularly nagging challenge, but I can’t tell you how much that victory means to me. I know nothing is impossible. I will tell you this – if *I* can become a morning person, I – and you - can accomplish ANYthing.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Source or Sink

When it comes to personal energy, are you a source or a sink?

Source and sink are terms used in science and engineering. A source produces something--a spring is a source. A sink consumes something--a hole in the ground that water pours into is a sink-hole. In electrical engineering, source and sink are applied to the flow of electricity.

It occurred to me this morning as I perused a wiring diagram for a new sensor array that the terms source and sink could be applied to the flow of personal energy much in the way they're applied to electrical energy.

For example, you probably know someone who is so consistently pessimistic, resistant and negative that the lights seem to dim whenever she walks into the room. She's such an energy sink that even the Energizer bunny misses a beat. You also probably know someone who lights up the room whenever he arrives. His optimism, enthusiasm and energy are contagious.

It's the rare person who's either always a source or always a sink; we all have our moments. With some people it's difficult to discern whether they're bias is source or sink; it's hard to discern any energy flow whatsoever. With others, it's a matter of tracking the net-output as their energy biases are manic. Sometimes they're great sources of energy; sometimes they're great sinks. The question is: when you add up all the inflow and outflow, what's the net energy flow?

So, how would you describe you? Are you a personal-energy source or a personal-energy sink?

Your bias may change with your environment. You may be a sink with one group and a source with another. Your capacity to source the second group might be directly proportional to the capacity you sink from the first.

You can have strong (if not good) relationships between someone who is a source and someone who is a sink. You can also have strong relationships between like-biased people. There's this curious phenomenon where to sinks somehow manage to create consumable negative energy in a sort of negative feedback loop. The consumption may not be healthy, but it seems to satisfy their sink-ness.

In my experience, the best relationships are the ones between two sources; although scientifically impossible, it would seem that the relationship yields a net flow of energy that exceeds the summed capacity of the two; they seem to produce energy from nothing. You put together two strong sources and even when their batteries seem drained, they can produce amazing amounts of energy.

So which are you, source or sink? What about the people around you? How about keeping track today of net-energy flow? In each situation ask yourself, "Am I being an energy source or an energy sink?"

Then, decide whether you want to continue as you are, change your energy bias, ramp it up (or down), or, just leave.

Happy Friday,
Teflon

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Never, Never, Never

Never give in--never, never, never, never, in nothing great or small, large or petty, never give in except to convictions of honor and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.

Winston Churchill


Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Thomas Edison


Patience and tenacity of purpose are worth more than twice their weight of cleverness.

Thomas Henry Huxley


If you're going through hell, keep going.

Winston Churchill


All things are possible until they are proved impossible and even the impossible may only be so, as of now.

Pearl S. Buck


One who gains strength by overcoming obstacles possesses the only strength which can overcome adversity.

Albert Schweitzer


Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail.

Ralph Waldo Emerson


It's not that I'm so smart, it's just that I stay with problems longer.

Albert Einstein


Better a Has-been than a Never-was. But better a Never-was than a Never-tried-to-be.

Anonymous


Happy Thursday,
Teflon

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Love the Tough

OK, this is gonna sound all foo-foo and everything, but my suggestion for today is to love someone who's really tough to love. Just in case you misinterpreted me, I didn't suggest employing so-called "tough-love"; I suggested loving someone who is "tough-to-love".

I'm not suggesting a passive, touchy-feely kind of love where you want everyone to be happy and the nebulous world to be a better place. I'm suggesting something practical and active the side-effects of which may include happier people and a better world.

Why even consider this suggestion? Well, practically speaking:
  1. You'll feel better.
  2. You'll sleep better
  3. You'll get more of what you want
Numerous studies have shown that anger, resentment, fear and the like are health hazards. When you actively love someone, you leave no room for these other activities (yes, anger is not a state of being, it's an action). From a practical perspective, it's difficult to be not angry (fearful, etc.). You can't just stop. Instead, you have to displace it. In the absence of these hazardous emotional activities, you'll start to feel better, much better.

If you have difficulty sleeping or don't sleep well it may be that you're hazardous emotional activities have seeped into your dreamworld. The seepage is due to overflow from your daily activities that have no real outlet. If you spend the day bottling up your anti-love emotion, pressure builds up. At night when you're not paying attention to keeping it in the bottle, it overflows and voila, poor sleep.

The best part of actively loving people who are tough to love is that you're going to increase your bounty.

You've spent the last hour standing in line at the DMV. The people standing in front of you are frustrated. The farther back in the line, the louder the complaint. You lean to your left so as to get a good view of the clerk. His jaw is tight as he patiently listens to the complaint of his current patron. You see him suck in a breath through clenched teeth as he's interrupted in his attempts to respond to questions that sound more like allegations. He's not rolling his eyes, but he wants to.

You step back in line and think about him. Who is he? What does he do when he's not working at the DMV? He must have been a kid at some point; what was he like? What were his dreams? Does he have a partner? Does he have kids? You start to see him not as a government obstacle but as real live human being, someone with dreams and desires, someone with wants and needs.

He calls out, "Next."

You step up to the window and it's as though you're seeing a long lost friend. He asks you, "How can I help you?"

You say, "Hi, my name is... How are you?"

He looks up at you to see if you're for real or just using the question as form of greeting. He sees that you're looking at him awaiting a response.

I guarantee you, his manner and attitude with you will be completely different than with the people who preceded you.

The driver behind you rides your tail. What do you do? Drive slowly to really bug him or pull over and let him pass you? As he does, what gesture do you use?

The boss is pissed off and looking for someone to blame, anyone. Do you take offense or recognize that he's pretty stressed out and could use someone to talk to?

When you love people actively and practically, you transform them from objects to living, breathing human beings. A side-effect of this is that they too will see you as real, live person. The results can be outstanding, not to mention that you'll feel better and sleep better.

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Monday, February 20, 2012

Unhappiness Training

Just how strongly are you committed to your unhappiness? Really, just how much time and effort are you willing to put into feeding it, caring for it, building it and maintaining it?

With so many of us striving to be happier, the questions seem ridiculous. "Effort to stay unhappy?", you might say, "That's crazy! I'm putting so much into becoming happier? Do you know how many books I've read? How many courses I've taken? How much of myself I've invested in becoming happy?"

What if the default or natural state for humans was to be happy? What if, in the absence of all other influence, there was nothing left but happiness? Then the only way to become unhappy would be to exert some effort. It would by definition take more work to be unhappy than to be happy. To be happy would be the easier of the two.

Forget for a moment about how to get there or whether or not it's true. Just ask yourself how that would change things for you.

If the natural state of you is to be happy, then there must be some good reasons that you work so hard at being unhappy. As kids, we're trained from a very early age to use unhappiness to get what we want. The child who expresses unhappiness gets more attention than the one who seems content. People tend to cut you more slack if "bad" things have happened to you. We're taught to deny ourselves happiness as a form of motivation. We learn to trade current unhappiness for future happiness.

Our use of unhappiness is pervasive. We use it to teach. We use it to motivate. We use it to get what we want. We use it to keep going. It's no wonder that we often find ourselves mystified by our inability to overcome it.

Perhaps the answer to becoming happier doesn't lie in overcoming those big unhappiness obstacles, but instead, in abandoning the use of unhappiness as a tool for daily living.

It's not unlike the experience of alcoholics trying to overcome drinking. As dramatic as it might be, the time to overcome your desire to drink is not when you've sat down at the bar with double-bourbon in front of you. It's not when you've circled the block for the third time casually glancing at the pub. It's not when you got into the car to head into town. It's when it first occurred to you how nice it would be to have just one drink and you gave that thought a second glance.

Similarly, the time to overcome you unhappiness is not when you're in the pit of depression. It's not when you're hit by a panic attack. It's not when you experience an undercurrent of anxiety. It's when you chide yourself for waking up five minutes late. It's when you make your kid's activity 'bad'. It's when you give even the slightest opportunity to envy or fear or doubt or distaste. It's when you use words like 'yuck' or make a face tasting something.

How about doing an inventory of everything you do that employs some form of unhappiness (uneasiness, distaste, anger, fear, doubt) to facilitate what you want? What if, one by one, you walked through the inventory displacing your unhappy tool with a happy one?

Forget about the big stuff. Just take care of the little stuff and perhaps the big stuff will melt away.

Happy Monday,
Teflon

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Bring on the Critic

It's just after 11:00 on Friday. We've got a gig tomorrow night and we just finished a four-hour rehearsal. It'd probably be a good idea for everyone to get home and get some sleep, but no one's ready for sleep. Will unveils four very nice cigars and gestures towards the couch in the living room.

I smile and I say, "I'm in."

After a moment's hesitation, Scott decides that he's in too. Jeremy pops a slice of pizza in the microwave and we all settle in for a 90-minute session of verbal jamming.

We talk about songs, musicians, bands, instruments, technique and all things music. Our discussion drifts from the facts and experiences to philosophy.

No matter how good you are, you're always working on some technical aspect of your playing. Musicians often talk about techniques and skills they're developing. However, beneath all the technique and skill lies something more fundamental, something that defines who you are as a musician.

You take two guys with the same skill set; one is an amazing, confident performer, the other a timid player who makes lots of mistakes. What's the difference?

We get to the topic of inner critic, one with which each of us has had much experience. Although everyone knows what you mean by inner critic, the more we talk, the clearer it becomes that each of us experiences her uniquely. Scott's inner critic is quite healthy, thriving really. Will's inner critic might appear non-existent to the casual observer. Mine tends to look more like an inner-fan than -critic. Jeremy's inner critic is... well, I'm not sure I could describe him yet.

No matter how differently we define him, we each experience limitations imposed by him. We talk about ways to silence her. We talk about ways to ignore her. We talk about ways to change her. As we do, we learn more about one another and we help each other.

Somewhere along the way, it occurs to me that perhaps there's nothing wrong with having an inner critic. Normally we see our inner critic in her judge's robes, raising her gavel, ready to pronounce sentence. However, in order to determine her judgments, she must have some degree of knowledge about that which she judges, some expertise. When you screw up a note on a blistering solo run, your inner critic pounces on it in a flash. To do so, she has to know that the note was indeed a wrong. That requires expertise.

My mind bounces to another phenomenon, something I've been working to develop. There are times when you play where you completely abandon your critic. You're completely in the moment, one with the music as it were. Everything flows. Playing is effortless. You can play anything that comes to mind.

You suddenly become aware of what you're doing. You think, "Wow, I'm flying!"

And then, you think, "Wait a minute. Humans can't fly!"

That experience of flow can last a few seconds. It can last for hours. It's wonderful.

Still, there's something even better and it's this phenomenon that I'm trying to better grasp. One of the things about being in flow, at least conceptually, is that you don't think about what you do, you just do. If you play a guitar solo, you don't think about the notes, the structures, the chords, the band, the audience, or time. You just play.

However, there are times when I play and I not only become aware of all those things, I become hyper-aware. No matter how fast the beat, I have all the time in world to play emotionally or intuitively and to simultaneously analyze and understand what I play, why it works or doesn't, and what I might do differently.

My assessment and analysis doesn't disrupt my flow; it helps it. It's as though my inner critic traded in her judge's robes for a coach's uniform or cheerleader's outfit. I don't get there often, but when I do, it's the greatest thing ever.

So, I'm thinking that there's more to this inner critic stuff than the creativity-derailing, happiness-robbing, worth-depleting judge that we each know so well. Maybe the answer lies not in silencing or ignoring him, but instead, in loving him and helping him to better express his views in a constructive and encouraging manner.

Oh, by-the-way, my inner critic just asked me, "Where'd you come with that? What are you, nuts?"

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

Friday, February 17, 2012

Today

Right here, right now, your life begins.

You have the opportunity to make whatever you will of it, whatever you will of you.

May I suggest an approach, some things try?

Play! Play like you've never played. Play as though your were a kid. Play with breakfast. Play with your commute. Play with your work. Play with your parter, your friends, your colleagues, your kids. Today, everything is a game and nothing has any more meaning than the meaning you ascribe to it.

Do! Forget about figuring it out. Forget about having everything you need. Forget about the right time and the right place. Take something that you've wanted to do or try and do it. You don't have to do it well. You don't have do it long. Don't wait. Do.

Decide! Decide that no matter what comes your way, you'll figure it out. Even if you can't see your way through in the moment, decide that you will. When a challenge pops up ask yourself, "How hard could it be?" and decide, "It's got to be easier than it looks."

Love! Gaze across the kitchen table at your partner or look at her picture and think of all the things you love about her. Build your love piece by piece and then express it to him in as big a way as you can. Before your meeting, think of each participant and love them. Build it. Show it. Exude love in everything you do.

Enjoy! Take deep delight in simple things, the warm of the water as it runs over your hands while washing the dishes. The texture of a carrot as you crunch it with your molars. The sound of your kids as they run about the house. The smell of the air as you step outside. Breath deeply and savor the bounty that is yours.

Today is a new day. Never been used. Yours to take and make your own.

Happy Friday,
Teflon

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Easy?

I use the word easy a lot, a real lot.

Oftentimes when I use it, it's misunderstood.

The misunderstanding is understandable. You see, easy has two really different meanings, meanings that are often lumped together into one.

The first meaning of easy is simple. To say something is easy is to say that it's straight-forward and clear.

The second meaning of easy is effortless. To say something is easy is to say that it requires little time and effort.

The problem is that you have things that are both easy and hard. Running every day is easy (clear and straight-forward). You put on your sneakers, you walk out the door and you run. Yet, most would agree that running every day is hard. There are motivational challenges. There are physical challenges. There are scheduling challenges.

So, when I say that running every day is easy, people often look at me as though I were crazy or just full-of-shit.

It can get very confusing. Specially since I pretty much think that everything is easy.

Everything?

Yeah, pretty much. Most things are relatively simple. They often get cluttered by people trying to make a buck through education, training, coaching, planning, etc. However, when you strip away the clutter, things tend to be pretty darn easy.

Dieting? If you consume fewer calories than you use, you will lose weight.

Playing an instrument? If you practice everyday with a metronome and never play faster than you can play well, you will become a great player.

Running? Get up every morning, put on your sneakers and jump on the treadmill. Walk until you feel like running. Run until you feel like walking. After an hour, get off the treadmill.

Easy, right?

Yet, in my experience at least, people tend to make things hard (complex) and from my perspective, unnecessarily so. And as they say, "It ain't necessarily so!"

I've come up with two primary reasons for unnecessary complexity, or perhaps to better illustrate, the unwarranted complexitization of tasks otherwise deemed to be less than trivial. The first is teachers. The second is wanting an out.

Most teachers (at least those that follow the traditional pedantic method), don't understand what they teach. The follow a prescribed method and adhere to a prescribed format. They answer questions in a prescribed manner. They teach, but without understanding. This phenomenon extends to the writers of most educational textbooks. The people writing the books know a lot about the topic, but they don't understand the topic.

The topic could be math, language, history, science or music. The result is that they make what they're teaching overly complex. Rather than teaching a few elemental facts from which a student might derive the rest of what can be learned, they teach each of the derivatives as though it were something to be remembered. If you grew up taught in that way, you likely believe everything is more complex than it is.

Even if you didn't, making things overly complex is a great out for something you don't feel like doing. Since most people are complexity biased, it's not a hard argument to sell.

Dieting is so difficult; you have to consider the nutritional components of everything you consume as well as the interactions among them to ensure that you're getting all you need.

You've got to be careful running. You could really hurt yourself. Better make sure you have the right shoes and it's good to get a personal trainer.

You can't just play the piano. You first need to learn to read the notes and to use proper form. Otherwise you'll develop bad habits that will limit your playing.


Anyway, it's easy to make things difficult and to get others to agree with just how difficult they are.

But they're not, their easy.

The funny thing about the first easy (simple) is that it often leads to the second easy (effortless).

What's hard for you today?

Happy Thursday,
Teflon

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Play

I want to talk to you about something, something so amazing that it's all I want. I can't stop thinking about it. If it were a physical substance, they'd call it addiction,

But it's not a physical substance?

No, not in any normal way. It's... it's more.

More than physical?

Does that sound silly?

Does it sound silly to you?

Well, yeah, but... shit. OK, there's nothing that someone could call an addictive substance here. You don't eat or drink anything. There's nothing to swallow, nothing to inhale, nothing to inject. Still, I feel more attracted to this than anything I've experienced. You know what I mean?

I might, at least for me.

Oh come on, you're just screwing with me. You know what I'm talking about.

I think I understand what you're saying. There are some things that are so wonderful that once you get a taste it's nearly impossible to resist another. If we were talking about a consumable substance, we'd say it was "highly addictive". However, there are things that lack substance (at least physically) that are significantly more addictive than anything physical. I'm just not sure what that means to you or what it is you've tasted, but I think I get the gist of it.

OK... yeah, that's pretty much what I meant. What don't you get?

I get the concept. I don't get what your non-substance is or why you find it so appealing?

Hmmm... well, the substance is, and this is going to sound ridiculous, it's playing the piano. I mean, I can't even play that well, but there something about the movement of my arms, hands and fingers, my whole body actually, that feels so good when I play. There's the touch of the keys and how they resist when I press them. There's the sound, not just one voice but three or five or even ten. There are all these little nuances that occur as I change my body position, as I become more aware of my posture and breathing, as I become more involved with playing. Even though I've just scratched the surface, it all feels so... so real.

So real?

Yeah! Everything becomes so clear. Time seems to slow down. No, it just disappears. I feel so completely in the moment. The contrast with everything I've ever done is so stark. I feel like I've never actually been clear or present before.

That doesn't sound ridiculous to me.

It doesn't?

Nope. Sounds pretty darn compelling. You're playing.

Yeah, but not very well.

Sorry, that wasn't clear. I wasn't talking about playing the piano; I was just talking about play generally. You're not working at learning the piano. You're not trying to learn the piano. You're not practicing. You're allowing yourself to play the piano, you know, like a kid plays with a piece of wood he found in the backyard or a discarded box or an old doll with missing pieces. You're just playing.

But... well... yeah, now that you mention it, I guess I am. I sometimes start out wanting to practice or to make sure I learn something, but I always end up getting lost in...

In experiencing the piano?

Yeah, just experiencing it. Is that crazy?

It might be rare, but I wouldn't call it crazy. I think if you saw someone else experiencing what you're experiencing, you'd call it passion.

What would you call it?

I'd call it play.


Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Air-cover

Throughout my life there have been people who were willing to give me a shot just when it seemed that no one ever would. By 'give me a shot', I mean give me a chance to do what I do the way I do it. It's great when people lend a hand to help you out. It's great when people provide you opportunity. For me, the greatest gifts have come from people who decided to just let me do me. I don't have words to adequately express my gratitude.

It might not seem like much, letting someone just be who they are or do what they do, but it my case, well, it is. The way I think about things, the way I approach problems, the way I implement solutions, well, it's not normal. It's not even not-normal; it's completely different (or wrong, depending on your perspective.) I can't tell you how many times after having done something, someone told me, "That shouldn't have worked."

For example, I have no problem conceiving a musical score and then jotting it down on paper. I can play on piano pretty much anything I can hear. Yet, I can't sightread even the most basic piano music. I write software like a one of those sketch artists who'll draw your portrait for a couple bucks. I don't think about it or design it or lay it out; I just look at what I want to create and start drawing. I just draw in code, not pencil or charcoal.

Anyway, giving me a shot can be risky, at least perceivably so. If you were thinking of hiring me or having me work on a project, all the informed and educated people would tell you that it's a bad idea, that I don't grasp the proper methods and techniques, that to hire me would be a mistake So, you'd have to be willing to go against the wisdom of the experts.

The thing that is most impressive to me about many of the people who've given me a shot is that they themselves didn't understand how I do what I do or why it works. Someone is thinking about hiring me or bringing me onto a project. All her local experts are telling her that it's a bad idea. She has no idea how what I'm saying I can do can actually be done. Yet, she decides to hire me and lets me do it my way.

My friend Jonathan was one of those people. We were as opposite as you can get. He didn't understand how I do what I do. But it didn't matter to him because he didn't need to. When others would complain that I wasn't "following the rules", he'd tell them to back off saying things like, "Yeah, but he gets results."

When I'd get frustrated with an overly zealous manager who had decided to manage me, Jonathan would explain, "Look, he can't even conceive of being able to work the way you do", adding, "And you can't conceive of not working that way. You're not going to get him to get it. Don't worry about it."

We used to call what Jonathan and others did for me and people like me, air-cover. Sometimes you need someone high above watching out for you and clearing the way of well-intentioned obstacles. Sometimes, you don't get that and things get a bit challenging.

I'm not sure where I'm going with all this (either in this post or otherwise), but that's where I am.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Monday, February 13, 2012

Wrong Reason

A phrase commonly used in business is sunk cost. It refers to an expense that has been incurred, but cannot be recovered. You spend ten-million dollars on the development of a new product that is only two-thirds complete. You have no product to sell, so there's no way to recover the cost of development. The ten-million is a sunk cost.

Business schools teach you to never make decisions based on sunk costs; make decisions based on future (or prospective) costs. No matter how much you've spent getting to where you are, the question is how much will it cost to get where you want to be.

Make or Buy
You spend ten-million on development of a product that's just two-thirds complete. You have the opportunity to purchase another company with a completed product for three-million. Do you buy the other company and cancel your product development or continue? Since it will cost you another five-million to complete your product (you're only two-thirds complete), you make the purchase. The ten-million you've spent so far doesn't matter.

When looking at sunk-cost decision making from a purely economic perspective, it's easy to see the fallacy. Why would I spend five-million when I can get what I want for three-million.

In practice, it's a completely different story. Business people make sunk-cost decisions all the time. They place a higher priority on loyalty to a project than accountability to the business. They rewrite history to reduce past expenses attributable to the project under consideration. They develop plans that understate future-cost and overstate future-benefit. They make it a matter of pride (Look how far we've come!). They make it a matter of guilt (We've spent so much, we can't just quit.).

They equate 'sunk' with 'bad'.

Sunk ≠ Bad
A sunk-cost isn't a bad-cost, it's just an expense that you can't recover. For example, it could be that the company you purchase for three-million already spent twenty-million in development, but ran out of funds and couldn't continue to market. Your development costs weren't bad. At the time you began, developing the product rather than purchasing a company was the best choice.

However, since most people see sunk-costs as bad-costs and since most people don't like the potential side-effects (e.g., canceling a project that employs many), no matter how irrational it is (from a business perspective), they make sunk-cost decisions.

Sinking Costs
The opportunity to make sunk-cost decisions occurs ever day and not just in business. Sunk-costs are not limited to money nor to business. Every day you make investments. You invest your money... your time... your strength... your emotion... your passion... your ideas...

You invest in your partner... your kids... your home... your job... your education... your avocation... your religion... your favorite television shows... your favorite computer game.

It probably doesn't occur to you that everything you do is an investment of you into that activity, let alone that you should expect a return on that investment. Because of that, it's likely that most of your you-investment takes the form of sunk-costs.

All of this goes on without notice until it's time to make a decision. Suddenly, all the time, expense and effort you've put into something becomes crystal clear.

You can't quit school now, your father and I have worked so hard to get you into a good college.

We can't just sell the house, we've put so much into fixing it up.

I don't care that the other company has offered to double my salary, I've put fifteen years into this one and I just know that they'll eventually see what I'm worth.

I can't just leave him, I've worked so hard on our relationship.


These are all forms of sunk-cost decision-making. The enormity of your investment causes you to lose sight of where you want to go. Not being clear on where you want to go, makes it impossible to see the least expensive (emotionally, physically, financially, temporally) way to get there.

By happenstance, sunk-cost decisions can turn out just fine, but the reasoning is always wrong.

 Good Reason
Stay in school?You love what you're studying and want to make a go of it.
Keep the house?It's the best place for you and your family to be.
Don't quit? You're passionate about the work, enjoy the people and are compensated well.

What sunk-cost decisions did you make yesterday? What sunk-cost decisions await you this morning?

Happy Monday,
Teflon

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Who's Faith?

It's Thursday morning about half past ten. My iPhone chimes. The text is from Faith.


I'm in a close to crazy place. The stark contrast between my stated beliefs and the challenging experience is jarring. Lots of thinking... Sometimes I can shift to get alignment; sometimes it's like oil and water. But can it be happy oil and water?

"How perfect", I think as I hasten toward the bathroom at the mere thought of oil and water. My stomach flu is providing me a similar challenge regarding the contrast between belief-in-theory and belief-in-practice.

Kneeling over the toilet, I think, "Thanks, Faith! What a great reminder!"

I stand up feeling a bit better. Walk back into my office, plop down on my chair, close my eyes and rest.

Who's You
There are many ways to answer the question, "Who am I really?" You can answer the question physiologically. You can answer the question philosophically. You can answer the question psychologically.

Even within those domains, you have subdomains defined by medium and temporal frame. You can describe your physiology chemically, visually, electrically, or dimensionally. You can describe it as a snapshot, over time or under various sets of circumstances. You can describe it in part or in whole. An X-ray, a CT-scan, a thermal image, a blood test, a sonogram and an electrocardiogram each provide a different version of who you are physically. None of them is right or wrong. They're just different ways at looking at what makes you, you.

Philosophically, one way to describe you is by the constellation of beliefs you hold. Some beliefs vary significantly over time; some are more stable. Some contrast starkly with others. You have sunny-day beliefs and rainy-day beliefs. You have beliefs you've carefully crafter over time and beliefs you picked up at the checkout counter when you left your folks' house. You have beliefs that surprise you when they pop out given the right set of circumstances and beliefs that are always where you expect them to be. You have beliefs that have stood the test of time and circumstance and beliefs that have never been challenged.

Never Been Challenged
The last category has the greatest capacity for emotional upheaval, specially when the unchallenged belief is strongly held, or better yet, strongly held and broadly proclaimed. The upheaval doesn't come from the strength of belief, but from your attachment to the belief. When it becomes important that your belief is 'true', well, then you've built yourself a great internal roller coaster that's just waiting for you to climb aboard.

What happens when your deeply held, loudly proclaimed, highly-invested belief turns out to be WRONG? The bars come down, the car rolls up the incline and weeeee... you're flying through the loop-de-loop at 100 miles an hour.

Here's the thing, the thing for which I breathed a, "Thanks, Faith". It's just a belief. And a belief is just a decision. And a decision can always be changed. Simple, right?

Well, yeah, but, then why the roller coaster ride?

The roller coaster ride is not due to your belief being WRONG. It's due to your BELIEFS about your belief being right. If you believe strongly that it'll be a beautiful day tomorrow and then wake up to find it raining, no problem. However, if you insist that the corporate picnic will be fine and veto the decision to postpone it, well, that's another thing. It's your attachment to your belief that causes the angst and that attachment is itself based on other beliefs.

Surfing the Tsunami
The cool thing is that, if you're someone who's into better understanding herself by actively exploring what she believes and why, then the oil-and-water scenario becomes better than a happy experience. You're a surfer suddenly coming upon a tsunami or mountain biker cresting a peak and finding a gnarly downhill run. It's awesome. It's what you've been training for.

Beliefs are just decisions waiting for an opportunity to manifest. They're not who you are. They don't define you. They're just a way of describing your state.

In physics, you have potential energy and kinetic energy. So it goes with decisions, you have potential decisions (beliefs) and kinetic decisions (actions). They're still both decisions. The potential decision (belief) converts to kinetic when it causes you to act. Conversely, kinetic decisions lead to a build of potential.

Perhaps most importantly, beliefs don't mean anything. Meaning is simply a side effect of having a belief about a belief.

So, who's Faith? That'd be up to her and she might change it a minute later.

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Funky AM

I woke up this morning about 5:30 and noticed that I no longer felt achy or nauseous, which I took as a good thing. I looked around and remembered that Iris is away for the weekend; she's attending a training course in the city.

I got up to write and realized, not only do I not have to be quiet, but I can be loud. So, I ran up to the studio and decided to play. As I started playing, I thought, "Hmmm... I wonder what the musical composition corollary is to ten-minutes of writing. So, I decided to record a song and post it no matter what.

About an hour later, I'd recorded drums, bass, guitar, keyboard and four sax tracks. Time to post!

But then I realized it's easier to post a movie than a song, at least on YouTube. So I decided to quickly convert my song into a movie by using it a sound track accompanying a picture. However, I couldn't decide on which picture, so I picked a lot them. (There's even a hidden bonus picture of Mark K).

Anyway, that's what I did this Funky AM.

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Walk alone


There are paths we walk alone. It would probably be better to say that we always walk our path alone, but in many instances it feels like we walk together with our loved ones, the ones we trust and the ones we care for. At those moments it seems as if our spirits are holding hands and we all move together, until at one point we look around and we see none. There is no one next to us, no one walking with us. But we keep on walking. Not because of the people around us; not because of our connection with our loved ones and not because we care about others. No, we continue because of an inner urge that tells us to move, to act and to go forward.

Tonight, I am sitting on my bed while I should be asleep and I feel alone. My loved one is near; my friends are close; my bed is warm; my belly is filled; my life is great.

Still, I feel thoroughly alone.

I have been here many times before. When I put my personal belongings in a shopping cart as a fourteen year old and left my parents house to not return until many years later, I felt alone. When my teacher told me to work harder in class while I didn’t really know where to spent my time after school, I felt alone. The time I broke up with my first love, I felt very, very alone. I was alone when I moved into my first student house rental. I felt alone the first Christmas living on my own, having decided that I wanted to be all by myself. Because, you know, feeling alone is not bad.

And feeling alone doesn’t only happen in times of turmoil. I also can feel alone when I visit the Bishbash waterfalls, when I see a good play or movie, when I swim in a lake or when I go into the sauna (yep. That one surprises me a bit, but it is true).

What I feel tonight is related to the alones of great emotional times. Seeing that we lost our good friend Jonathan two weeks ago; that we participated in his funeral service the day after; that we traveled northwards that same weekend to celebrate the beautiful wedding of Mark’s daughter on Sunday after an emotional ending family diner on Saturday; and this followed by a CAT scan of my head when I returned home to diagnose a growth on my skull; I am not surprised that I feel shaken and alone tonight.

It never stops to amaze me, how feeling alone is one of the best remedies to heal depression, sadness, frustration, irritation, and helplessness. When you are alone there is no one to blame (except yourself), there is no one to trust (except yourself) and there is no one to guide you (except yourself). From that place there is only one direction to move, and that is forward...

Many people are afraid of “alone”. They seem to belief that being alone implies that there is a challenge in connecting with others or life, and that a person feeling alone makes choices without caring for the people he or she should be caring for. I strongly disagree.

Being alone reminds me that I better take the wheel in my hand and steer the boat if I want to go somewhere. There may be cheerleaders along the way. There may be friends who fill the boat with food, water and love, but in the end it is me who has to decide which stars to follow. It makes me totally responsible for what happens now and tomorrow. It makes me look at my actions and ask myself the questions “Is this who I want to be”? Am I the biggest me? Do I share my biggest love? Do I give my biggest self? Do I create my biggest work? Do I represent what I like to see in the world?

Never have I been able to answer these questions with a solid one word: “YES”. There are moments I would answer “Yes, but....” the but always pointing towards something I would like to do bigger, better, more often. I can say today, I am the biggest me I have ever been, but that doesn’t stop me from dreaming what that could mean about me in five months, two years, or twenty years from now. And it somehow always motivates me to get of the couch and do something!

It helps me reconsider my dreams, my wants, and what I have to give to the world. Instead of disconnecting from the world, I notice that I become more compassionate with the world around me. It opens the door to reconsider what I have to give and how I can continue growing towards what I think is important in life.

So, tonight I feel alone and I feel grateful for the opportunity to share these thoughts with you.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

What Sticks

You know, you totally suck at this!

What do mean! How can you say something like that! I'm doing the best I can!

Nonetheless, you suck at it.



Sometimes people say things that really get to you. There words might feel hurtful. They may anger you. However, it's not the words that hurt or anger. It's not the person saying them. Nope, the only thing that can hurt or anger you through words is you.

You might say, "Are you kidding? You just haven't heard some of the things that people say to others. Some people really take delight in hurting others with their words."

I'd still stand by my original statement and add an additional clarifier. Even if they mean to hurt or anger you, only you can hurt or anger you.

It all comes down to whether or not you buy what's being said. If someone damns with faint praise the meal you spent hours preparing, you may feel hurt or embarrassed or disappointed. However, you can only do so if there's something in you that agrees with the damning or at least entertains that there may be something to it. If not, then the words would have no effect.

For example, let's say that you're six-foot-four and 240 pounds. A kid walks up to you and asks if life's difficult being so short. You think he's kidding, but he's serious. He presses you for an answer saying, "What are you like five-two, maybe five-three? I bet some people never even see you in the room; they look right over you. What's it like to be a grown-up and so small?"

It's unlikely that you would feel hurt or angered by his words. You would recognize that what he's saying says more about him than you. You would laugh it off. You might later tell the story of the kid who thought you were short. You might want to disengage from the conversation, but not because you found the words hurtful.

However, if you were five-two wearing platform shoes, you might take the words differently. You'd buy them. You'd make them mean something about you. If your height were an issue for you, then you might feel hurt or angered. The words would still be about the person saying them. However, you'd have bought in.

People make ridiculous statements all the time. 99.999% of them just pass right by you, but occasionally one sticks. When it does, it's an opportunity to explore why it stuck and not why the other person said it. They said it for their own reasons and why they said it will tell you something about them. However, if you want to figure out you, then look the other direction and ask yourself questions like:
  1. How am I feeling right now? At ease? Upset? Hurt? Angry?

  2. What about that last statement rang true to me?

  3. Even if it were true, why would I make it mean something?

  4. What meaning or implications did I draw from the statement?

There's absolutely nothing anyone can say to you to hurt you or anger you. Only you can do that.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Longest Day

You know those days that seem like they'll never end?

Forget about winning. Forget about doing well. Forget about complete and utter humiliation. All you want to do is survive... to make it to the end of the day... to close your eyes and let sleep carry you away to morning. No, forget about morning, to just carry you away.

There's this long and narrow body of water that stretches 184.5 miles from Cumberland, Maryland to Georgetown called the C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) Canal. It was built way back in the early 1800's when a canal system was considered a potential alternative to the railways. In the US, the canals lost the battle, playing the role of 8-track tape to cassette, or beta to VHS, or Windows to Mac OS. The canal business died; the canals and their towpaths (the paths walked by mules towing barges) were abandoned.

In 1954, US Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas organized an eight day hike up the C&O's Canal's towpath in an effort to save it from being converted to a parkway. His efforts succeeded and in 1971 the canal became a national historic park.

A Little Bike Ride
In March 1995, a friend asks me if I'd like join him on a little bike ride. I explain to him that I'm not much for road-biking, preferring the bumps and ruts of a mountain trail to the smooth asphalt of the road. He smiles and says, "Perfect."

I don't ask any more questions; I just show up at his house the following Saturday for what he deemed a 'training' ride. When I arrive, there are sixteen other biker-riders with everything from hybrids to extreme downhill bikes. We head down the road a couple of miles and then off into the woods. The ride is relatively easy, mainly fire roads with the occasional single track, nothing too gnarly. During a break, I ask Rod (one of the riders I've just met), "So what kind of ride are we training for?"

"You mean, he didn't tell you?"

"Uh... no. I just never asked."

Rod chuckles and says, "You ever hear of the C&O Canal."

"Nope."

"Well, we're gonna ride its towpath from Cumberland to Georgetown."

"How far is that?"

"One-hundred-eighty-four miles."

"One-hundred-eight-four-point-five miles", says John another rider joining the conversation.

"OK", I say, "How many days?"

They both look at each other, then at me and in unison say, "One."

"One? We're gonna ride a hundred-eight-four miles in one day?"

"Hundred-eighty-four-point-five and, yeah, we are. Well, at least some of us are."

"OK. Well, I've ridden centuries (hundred mile rides), but never that far. Should be alright."

"Yeah, but your centuries were on the road right?"

"Sure."

"The towpath ain't a road. It's an overgrown collection of rocks and roots loosely held together by mud."

"For a hundred-eighty-four miles?"

"Nope, the last ten miles has been converted into a trail for weekend riders and strollers."

I look back-and-forth from Rod to John. They're not kidding.

Cumberland
Three months later, it's 2:00 AM in Cumberland. I bounce my bike down the cement stairs of the Best Western, one hand steadying myself against wrought-iron railing the composition of which seems to be more paint than iron. Rod, Jimmy and John are already standing in the parking lot. A few minutes later a couple of other guys emerge from their rooms. What had started out as a crew of twenty-five would-be riders is now just five.

I run a last check of my gear, flip the switches on the two D-cell Mag-Lites I have duct-taped to my handlebars and head into the mist that rolls off the canal and over the towpath.

I say to Rod, "So, why do we start at 2:00 AM?"

"Better to start in the dark than finish in the dark. By the end of the day, it's hard enough just to keep upright; forget about trying to see things."

It's June 21, the longest day of the year, perhaps the longest day ever.

We ride in near silence for three hours ducking phantom low-hanging branches and occasionally getting smacked by real ones. The sound of crickets and frogs becomes deafening. My Mag-Lites dim. I stop to replace the batteries and the pedal like a madman to catch up with the crew. Black becomes blue; blue becomes gray; gray warms to gold; morning comes.

About 6:00 we stop for breakfast. We've covered forty-eight miles.

The rest of the day is a blur. As we slowly pass a troop of Boy Scouts one asks us where we're camping tonight. Rod responds, "At the Four Seasons in Georgetown."

"You guys are riding the whole trail in one day? I hope that I can do that some day!"

Rod pulls along side me and breathes, "Shit, I hope that I can do it today."

Later in the morning, Jimmy asks me, "So Mark, what's the difference between seeing a mirage and being delusional?"

I completely miss the joke and launch into a textbook explanation. My legs are cramping and if I never taste Gatorade again, it will be too soon.

Mid afternoon, we stop for a break. A friend of one of the guys is waiting in a parking lot just thirty miles from Georgetown. He sits on the tail-gait of his Explorer. He has a large Igloo cooler and a broad smile. As we roll up to him, he pops the top of the cooler and says, "You guys look like shit. Maybe this will help."

The cooler is filled with wedges of watermelon and ice. He hands each of us a cheap plastic salt shaker and says, "You are about to experience a miracle."

The combination of ice-cold watermelon and salt is nothing less than miraculous. I feel my head clear. My leg-cramps subside.

The last thirty-miles is easier. No rocks. No roots. No mud. No low-hanging branches. The trail is groomed and smooth with the only peril being the occasional jogger stopped to take a call.

About 4:00 we roll into Georgetown. Seeing the marker at the end of the trail, Jimmy hammers down on his cranks speeding forward just as a jogger crossing the path stops dead-center to tie his shoe. Jimmy, slams his brakes, his tires slide out from under him and he follows his bike across the brickwork that now serves as the path's surface.

Before we can get off our bikes to see if he's OK, he's back up and roaring forward. The jogger never even sees us.

Standing outside the Four Season, we stop for a picture before heading into to find out rooms. We leave our bikes with the valet, agreeing to meet in the lobby for dinner a couple of hours later.

There are days that you think will never end and yet, they do. Sometimes you'd like a do-over. Sometimes you'd like a never-again. Sometimes you think, "Wow, that was perfect."

Happy Monday,
Teflon

Sunday, February 5, 2012

More than Grateful Sunday

Ask yourself the question, "How long has it been since I made a huge display of gratitude for someone in my life?"

OK, now answer it. How long has it been? Minutes? Hours? Days? Weeks? Months?

Hmmmm... And the answer is?

Perhaps you've felt grateful. Perhaps you mentioned it casually. But when was the last time your expression lived up to your gratefulness?

Perhaps, you haven't felt all that grateful. Is there nothing for which to be grateful? Or have you begun to take for granted that for which you were once truly grateful?

Come on now, it's really hard to believe that there's nothing. So, what have you taken for granted lately? How about rekindling a sense of gratitude for it? It'll feel really good.

Of course, the best way to build gratitude is to express it. It needn't even be to the object of your gratefulness. You can just shout it out to no one in particular. Go ahead, shout it out. Don't worry about those other people in the coffee shop or in check-out line; just shout out, "OMG! I am so thankful for... I can't even believe it."

Then make it even bigger by making it more specific. Build on your gratitude with other statements of gratitude. If your fellow patrons give you any problems, just ask them to join you. Ask them for what they are grateful. Let'em know that it'll feel really good. Get everyone to join in, even the grumpy guy behind the counter.

Happy More-than-Grateful Sunday,
Teflon

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Little Things

What makes a great relationship? Answers abound from theoretical to practical. Whole sections of bookstores are dedicated to the topic. Everyone has a theory and more than enough advice to offer.

Some say a great relationship takes commitment and hard work. Some say that the key is to have alignment of your most fundamental beliefs. Some say that the key is complete honesty and openness and others that you need to know what to say and what not to say.

I think that much of what makes a great relationship comes down to the little things that you do day-to-day, things that you might consider trivial or inconsequential. King Solomon said that it's "the little foxes that spoil the vine." In other words, it's not the "big" issues that wear away at a relationship, it's the small ones that occur on a daily basis. They're so small that you'd hesitate to call them issues delegating them instead to the category of incompatibility.

Points of Compatibility
Let's say that you're someone who bounds out of bed in the morning ready to go and your partner is someone who likes to sleep in and then take a long time to get out the door.

Let's say that your partner loves to cuddle at night and you really need your space. That's a third of your life where either of you might be denied something meaningful to you.

Let's say that you make quick decisions and your partner really likes to take his time.

Some incompatibilities stem from likeness. You both like to talk, but not to listen. You both like to eat, but not to cook. You both like to drive. You both like to be in charge.

Some compatibilities stem from differences. You like to talk, she likes to listen. You like to cook, she likes to eat. You like to drive, he likes to ride. You like having a boss, she likes being the boss.

All these little things add up and they're easy to miss when you're dazzled by love. It's not even that you miss them. You just decide that they're not that important, or worse, that your partner will change over time, that he'll come around.

How Compatible Are You?
A fun way to gauge compatibility and identify points of incompatibility is to sit down with your partner and write down as specifically as possible everything you want from your relationship. Do this together, but without looking at one another's answers. It helps to identify categories before hand: sex, meals, sleep, exercise, outdoor activities, indoor activities, talk time, displays of emotion, friends, etc.

Of course any solid relationship involves a give-and-take. So, for every item that you write down on the what-I-want side of the page, write down a corresponding what-I-want-to-give in exchange for what you want.

Once you're done, sit together and compare your lists. You may be surprised on where you're compatible and where you not.

Even Then
Compatible or not, there are some basic tennets that can help you improve your relationship no matter how good or bad it is.
  1. Never take anything personally, even if it was meant to be personal. Any time someone says or does something, even if it's said about or done to you, it's still all about her, what she believes in that moment, how she feels, and what she's struggling with. No matter how much it feels like it, it has nothing to do with you. Really.

    If you respond in a manner where you don't take it personally, you'll actually be able to help. If not, well, you significantly increase the likelihood of exacerbating the situation. The easiest way I've found to do this is to listen to someone talking to me about me as if I were a third party. I guarantee you, if you learn to take nothing personally, you'll see miracles.

  2. Be authentic. Witnesses giving testimony in the US court system are sworn in repeating the words, I promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. It's the whole truth part that most of us struggle with. I've found that people are often pretty honest when asked a direct question, but less so when volunteering unsolicited information or information that wasn't solicited directly.

    To be clear, I'm not talking about developing Tourette's Syndrome or verbal diarrhea. You don't need to articulate every thought that pops into your head. The key is to become aware of times where you're actively not saying something or you're hoping no one asks. At those points, you're actively abandoning the whole truth component of being authentic.

    To further clarify, I'm not talking about ranting or raging. When you find yourself withholding, simply say what you have to say with as much love and respect as you can muster. If you can't muster much love and respect, simply identify that you have something you'd like to say later.

  3. Express love and gratitude, for each other, for what you have, for who you're becoming. Being loving and grateful is great, but expressing love and gratitude regularly has a magical effect.

  4. No that you're both doing the best you can given what you believe in the moment. No matter how annoying or upsetting or angering another person's actions can be, if you adopt the attitude that he's doing the best he can in that moment given what he believes and how he feels, things change. You open your mind to a new world of possibilities.

Have a Great Relationship
I'm not quite sure why I woke up this morning with all this on my mind. Could be our recent Eila's Day event. I believe that we all want the best partner-relationships we can have, but that sometimes we start to settle for less than that. Thing is, it doesn't take much to take a sidelined relationship and get it back on track towards greatness.

Happy Saturday,
Teflon

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fear

One of the things every one of us deals with from time to time is fear (or one of its many incarnations). Sometimes fear is easy to spot, sometimes less so. You've got your clearcut cases of fear such as terror, dread, trepidation, panic, phobia, foreboding and fright. You've got ones that are less clear cut such as consternation, suspicion, unease, worry, distress and doubt. And, you've got ones that might be argued as something other than fear including anger, revulsion, abhorrence, agitation and aversion. All are directly related to fear.

In fact, you could probably distill all negative emotion down to just two basic categories: fear and regret. (Hang in there with me.) Regret has many manifestations including anguish, self-reproach, bitterness, compunction, disappointment, annoyance, heartache, loneliness, heartbreak, misgiving, remorse, ruefulness, discomfort, self-condemnation, disgust, grief, and sorrow.

The distinction between fear and regret comes down to temporal frame of reference. To fear requires you to focus on the future. You can't be simultaneously present and afraid. All fear is about something that has not yet happened. It might be about to happen. It might be something in a vague and distint future. You don't fear the monster in the room. You fear what the monster might do.

On the other hand, regret is focused on the past. Even though your regret may take place in the present, it can't happen without a past frame of reference. Something you did. Something you didn't do. Someone you wish were still with you. Someone you wish weren't.

We could spend lots of time talking about the differences among the various emotions I've lumped together under either fear or regret. You can use whatever umbrella word you like. The point is, all of what we would call "negative" emotion can only occur when your focus is diverted from the present.

Of course, if you want to get yourself into an endless feedback loop, you simply combine the two. How? By fearing something you're going to regret or by regretting something you should have done to avoid something you fear. Either works equally well, but the most popular form of the art is the fear of future regret. It's powerful and it's easy to do.

Overcoming
There are three basic ways that you can deal with fear and regret.
  1. Convince yourself that what you fear won't happen.

  2. Distract yourself from what you fear and try not to think about it.

  3. Decide that even if what you fear comes to pass, it'll be OK.

The first two don't work, at least not for long. With the first one, you can work hard to convince yourself you've done all that's necessary to avoid what you fear. But if you're at all creative, all your efforts will tumble like a house of cards the first time you put any though to it.

The second one can be made to work, but only through displacement, i.e., you have to fill your present so completely that there's no room for futurizing. This approach still leaves you vulnerable to those moments late at night when you lack the energy to displace. Ultimately, the only way to deal with fear (or its backward looking cousin) is to decide it's OK.

The trick is that we often don't want to make it OK. Why? Because making it OK might compromise our efforts to avoid what we fear. We've so integrated fear into our motivational psyche that we fear who we'd become without it. If you didn't fear losing your house, you might not work as hard to make money. If you didn't fear dying from a heart attack, you might not stay on your diet. If you didn't fear for your children and their futures, you might not push them hard enough to do their schoolwork.

When we observe anyone else operating under this MO, we see how ridiculous these beliefs can be. We see how motivation through fear compromises effectiveness. Yet it's often difficult to see this at work in ourselves. Not only does fear-based motivation compromise our immediate efforts, but it also has a repetitive-stress effect on our overall states of being.

Nonetheless, being willing to be OK with any outcome is the first and most difficult step. Once you've decided that it would be OK to be OK, the next is to try it on, to stare your fear straight in the eye and say, "Bring it!" You lay down you sword and let your fear wash over and past you. It's the only way that works on a sustained basis. The process may take repetition as fear tends to build up like caked-on crud on the bottom of an oft-used cast-iron skillet. Removing one layer of fear may reveal another.

Sure, you can use various meditative techniques to displace your fear by bringing yourself into the present. You can focus on your breathing, etc. However, these are mere parlor tricks when compared to facing your fears and transforming them into something that'd be just fine.

Happy Friday,
Teflon

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Eila's Day

What do you want for your kids? What do you hope for?

When you strip away all the accoutrements, I think it comes down to four basics. You want your child to:
  • Become strong and independent.

  • Find a partner who is their intellectual, emotional and physical match and who loves them intensely.

  • Find work that is rewarding and fulfilling.

  • Be happy.
Sure, there are things like a good education, a nice place to live, children, and the pursuit of happiness. To me all those are secondary. A strong, independent and happy person with a loving partner who can keep up and a job that is rewarding and fulfilling can take care of the rest, herself.

The other day, I wrote about the first Eila's Eve. It occurred 30 years (plus 15 days) ago. On Sunday we celebrated what I'll call Eila's day. Our Eila's day celebration provided a glorious conclusion to what had been a pretty tough week. Although the world is short one Tuomenoksa, it gained a Pereira. We partied like Brazilians.

I got what I hoped for and I have photos.

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon