Thursday, August 30, 2012

Your Best

Have you ever responded to a request with the phrase "I'll do my best" or something similar?

If so, what do you mean by it?

Does "doing your best" mean that you'll drop everything else and take not a moment's rest until you've successfully completed the task? Or, is "doing your best" code for, "I'll get around to it if I can" or "I'll try to do it."

Is "I'll do my best" more than or less than "I promise to get it done?"

What exactly is "your best"?

Certainly "best" is contextual. For example, you're likely not going to do your best when you're not at your best (e.g., on days when you didn't get a good night's sleep or when your blood sugar level has dropped through the floor.)  You're momentary best is easily compromised by distractions and changes in priorities. Even over extended intervals, there are factors that qualify "best" such time allotted, access to resources and level of support.

So you have your relative best and your absolute best. Which best do you mean when you say that you'll do it?

Although your relative best is subject to mitigating factors, many (if not all) of those factors can be influenced or controlled by you. That unforeseen interruption that takes you away from your best work is often foreseeable when you actually to look for it. Not having the right tools or the necessary time is never happenstance. Does doing your best include planning and paying attention to context?

With all these factors and responsibilities, doing your best may become an unattractive proposition. You might want to start using "I'll try" instead. (Of course, we could then spend some time on what it means to "try".)

Alternatively, you could become more specific about best. In fact, you could just drop "best" and specify what you intend. Rather than, "I'll do my best to get it done" you might say, "Over the next week, I'll spend ninety-minutes each day completely focused on just this task. If it looks like I won't be able to complete it, I'll text you right away."

Ahh... that's better. Simple quantification of time and effort is so much better than "best".

I've slowly weaned my vocabulary of "best", specially when it comes to qualifying my efforts. One place where I've continued the use of the word is in regard to relationships, in particular my relationship with Iris. My goal there is to be the "best thing" that ever happened to her and I want to do that on a continuum, not as a single event. It's a nice way for me to think about how we relate and an efficient reminder.

Of course, when I tell Iris that I want to be the best thing that ever happened to her, her response is to ask, "Okay, so what exactly do you mean by 'best'?"

Happy Thursday,
Teflon


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

What Are You Willing to Lose?

The most fundamental question when trying to predict an individual's likelihood of success in a competitive environment is: what are you willing to lose?

It's close cousin is: what are you willing to give up?

I've been thinking about these questions lately as I've considered new opportunities set before me by people who "really want to make it happen." The reason is that, in each case, the stated enthusiasm to make something happen is not matched by the commensurate willingness to give up other things that might get in the way.

I used to ignore these inconsistencies and decide that things would just work out. However, I've got to the point where I just don't have time to, as they say, "be unequally yoked". So, I've started asking, "OK, I get that you really want this. What are you willing to lose in order to get it? What will you actively give up?"

From the responses I get, it seems clear that neither question is asked very often.

When undertaking a new activity, we tend to focus on what we're willing to do or how much we're willing to give. Sure, these two themes are important and, in an environment without time and resource constraints or competition, sufficient. However, in a world where time, resources and individuals are finite, you need to know more.

All things being equal (skill level, talent, practice, development), the one who gives up the most to achieve her goal wins. Sure, there's never a case where all things are equal and the 'what' in "what you give up" matters. Nonetheless, time after time, I see people fail at what the say they want to accomplish simply because there are things in their lives with which they will not part.

This phenomenon pervades every endeavor from music to business to athletics to helping a child with autism. The un-relinquished items include everything from maintenance of houses and cars to self-image and pride to relationships and reputations. In some ways, everyone is alcoholic, it's just that source of "addiction" varies from sweets to a full-night's rest to how others feel about them.

To be clear, I compare the impact of these various sources of "addiction" to alcoholic's alcohol in order to convey just how powerful a hold they have on us. I don't mean to paint them as bad. It's just important to recognize that each of us has in our lives things that we loath to surrender. They vary greatly from person to person. Their influence is powerful and often subtle. Our willingness to give them up or lose them is often the deciding factor in our succeeding or not.

99% of the times that someone says, "I just don't have time for it", he does; he's just not willing to give up something that is consuming time. (Okay, it might be 98.9362%, but I rounded up.) There's always more time; it's just a question of source (not availability) and of course, priority. What will you give up in order to get the time you need.

Sometimes there's nothing to give up, at least not immediately. However, if things don't work out you might end up losing something. On several occasions when I've started new businesses, I've had to go for extended periods without income. During those intervals, I've paid the bills with savings or equity loans. If the business were not to work out, I'd be, well, broke.

The first time I did this, I was married with three teenagers. I'd have dreams at night where my business fell apart, we lost our home in foreclosure, and we were left with nothing but debt. I'd wake up in a cold sweat, my heart racing. I'd feel like I couldn't breathe. I'd walk through all the reasons I thought the business would succeed trying to reinforce my confidence.

Still, I'd have the dreams. Just thinking about the potential of losing everything began to chew up more and more of my waking day.

One day, I asked myself, "OK, so we lose everything. So what? What would you do next?"

It was as though I'd been unknowingly carrying a hundred-pound backpack and someone had just lifted it from my shoulders. Everything became easier. So we lose everything. So what?

Every one of us has things that we want to accomplish. Every one of us is compromised in our efforts because of things we're not willing to lose or give up. The effects of those things can be subtle and difficult to spot, but they're there.

What do you want to accomplish more than anything? What are you willing to lose to do so? What are you willing to give up?

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Modern Nomads

Yesterday in Your Other You, I referred to comments Sree had posted regarding Picking and the two trains of thought they'd set steaming ahead in my mind. I wrote about the first one yesterday. Today, I'd like to tackle the second one.  In his comment Sree said:
Also, on reading your three tips under Serendipity, it seems to me to be akin to a nomadic approach to life, in that there isn't a particular home or profession or activity that you're picking and settling into for life. If something catches your eye, you pitch a tent and start working on it. If it doesn't work out after a while, you just pick up and move on to something else, no big deal. As opposed to building a huge structure there and getting basically chained to it.
When I first read Sree's comment I thought, "I've never thought about it that way, but that pretty much nails it. The way Iris and I live is very much akin to nomadism; it just extends the paradigm beyond geographical locale."

Iris and I first met back in 2003. We were both attending a four-week personal development course. Neither of us had an intention of meeting someone. We were there to work on ourselves.

Four weeks later, Iris headed home to the Netherlands where she sold her house, quit or job, gave her car away. She packed a single suitcase with everything she had left and bought a plane ticket from Amsterdam to Boston. With one small back pack, a one large suitcase and not one key to any lock, door or automobile, she left the Netherlands.

We've been together ever since.

From then to now we've lived in five places and owned three different houses. Between us, we've had twenty jobs. We've worked everywhere from Cambridge (USA) to Oxford (UK) to Groningen (NL) to Toronto (CA) to New York City to Las Vegas to suburban New Jersey. We've consistently pursued new opportunities and taken on new challenges. Our work has been as varied as one can imagine, with everything from development of an implantable biomedical device in New Jersey to helping launch a human development initiative at Oxford to performing with a blues band in Las Vegas.

Thinking about it, I guess we've done a lot of stuff in a relatively short time and that's just some of the highlights. The detailed list is pretty extensive and looking at it one might conclude that we work 24/7. We work a lot, but I don't believe that's the key to being able to do everything we've been able to do.

I think the it comes back to Sree's notion of nomadism. For most of us, our lives have been unencumbered by the accumulation and longterm maintenance of stuff. That's where Iris and I are bit different from the norm. Although we've acquired lots of stuff (e.g., computers and music equipment and tools), we only have stuff that we use regularly. If we were to pack up and leave in order to pursue a new opportunity, everything we'd need to take would fit in our car and if you were to leave out the musical gear, we'd each have a suitcase and a backpack.

It's the accumulation of stuff that weighs most of us down and keeps us from doing all we might. By stuff, I mean more than material goods (although for many just the maintenance thereof is all-consuming). Instead, I would extend "stuff" to include things like daily-patterns that have outlived their usefulness or become irrelevant, television series that have lost inspiration, relationships that no longer share common ground, plans that didn't work out or are no longer relevant to where you want to go, or obligations that no one cares to see fulfilled.

I'm sure you can think of other non-material candidates for stuff, but there's something about "stuff" that manages to chew up your day and leave little time for anything else. It sticks to you like the evergreen pollen that covers cars in the spring.

However, in the absence of stuff, you become available to serendipitous opportunity. You see it. You pack your bag. You go.

Limiting your accumulation of sticky-stuff (material and otherwise) leads to a carefree lifestyle. However, being carefree doesn't mean that you don't care. In fact, by not having cares that follow you around, you're free to invest even more of yourself into those things about which you actively choose to care.

The more I think about it, the more I believe that pretty much anyone could do amazing things in the absence of her sticky-stuff. The trick is seeing it and then finding a good solvent to unstick it.

Hmm... So here are some questions.

What's your sticky-stuff? How much of your time and effort does the maintenance thereof consume? What serendipitous opportunities have you missed because of it? What are you going to do about it?

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Monday, August 27, 2012

Your Other You

Regarding Picking, Sree wrote:
I just read through your post once, and my first thought is - your thought processes (& MO) are so different from mine in many areas, and it's super cool to see them explained in a way that makes sense. For instance, I'm usually a spreadsheet/analysis guy when it comes to houses & cars, considering each pro & con and assigning weighting factors and the whole bit, but it makes complete sense that if you're in an 'always-looking' mode, you would have that analysis ready to go (at its current level) at decision time.

Also, on reading your three tips under Serendipity, it seems to me to be akin to a nomadic approach to life, in that there isn't a particular home or profession or activity that you're picking and settling into for life. If something catches your eye, you pitch a tent and start working on it. If it doesn't work out after a while, you just pick up and move on to something else, no big deal. As opposed to building a huge structure there and getting basically chained to it.
Thinking about Sree's comments this morning, each of the two paragraphs boarded me onto a train of thought that dramatically extended my shower time.  (Fortunately, we have a tankless water heater, so Iris was able to get out the door on time.) The first train took me to the importance of developing the other you (I'll explain in a moment). The second dropped me off at the idea of a embracing a nomadic lifestyle where your nomadism extends beyond geographic locality (we'll talk about that tomorrow).

The Other You
When I was at Berklee College of Music, I learned as much from my fellow students as I did from my teachers. One guy in particular had an approach to learning guitar that I've since applied to everything from music to math to management.

Each month Jason would pick a famous guitarist to emulate. One month it would be Jimi Hendrix, the next, Larry Coryell, and then Al Di Meola, and so on. He would go about learning to play everything that the guitarist had recorded. He would search high and low for obscure records, taped live-radio sessions, and concert bootlegs.

Jason would learn to play all that his guitarist du mois had played. However, his goal was not to grow his repertoire. Instead, Jason used repertoire as a way to get inside the head of the other guitarist. His goal was to experience playing guitar as his virtual teacher would.

To be sure, there were many guitarists at Berklee who could perfectly replicate famous solos performed by famous players. Many could play them better than the original. At first, I confused this with what Jason was doing.  However, as the months passed it became clear that Jason was onto something quite different. He slowly pulled away from the pack of great players and soon was head-and-shoulders above the rest.

The way Jason would describe it is: "I want to learn Jimi Hendrix so well that when I improvise, the next note that I play will be the one he would have played even if everything inside me is screaming, 'No, don't play that note!'"

And that's exactly what Jason did. He'd learn a guitarist's music. He study his life. He'd try to get hold of guitars, pedals and amplifiers similar to the one's he used. Sometimes, he'd adopt the guitarist's diet. Jason would learn the guitarist so well that he could step into his shoes and play as he would have played--even if everything inside Jason screamed, no play another way.

The cool thing was that Jason didn't pick guitarist like himself or ones that he'd admired as a kid. Instead, he picked great guitarists who were as different from him as night is from day; he learned to transform his day to night, and vice versa.

The Other Me
Although I saw how powerful Jason's approach was, I never fully embraced it while at school. I had too many voices in my head telling to spend time on other activities that were "more important", such as studying for class, working on assigned projects and doing homework. Nonetheless, the impact of Jason's approach on his ability to play stuck with me.

Years later, when I first became a manager, I found that all the stuff that had worked for me as a technical team-leader just didn't cut it in management. My style had been more of player-coach (heavy on the player side) than coach-manager and I foundered. I knew I had to change my approach, but nothing I did seemed to work.

One day I remembered Jason and his guitarist-emulation model. I thought, "Hmm... I wonder if that will work with management?"

I thought of managers who were well respected and well rated, and then picked the one who seemed least like me. I went in to talk to William (not Bill) about what I had in mind. There we sat in his office, me in my jeans and t-shirt, hair down my back, him in his Brookes Brothers navy power-suit, with white button-down oxford shirt, Gerry Garcia tie, and wingtips. William looked at me dubiously as if I were up to something or playing a joke. After a few moments, he relaxed back into seat, exhaled deeply, and said, "OK, what do you want to know?"

I asked him question after question, everything from what he did in specific situations to what books he read and what television shows he watched. Promising not to say or ask anything, I asked if I might attend some of his team meetings to observe him leading. I asked who his mentors were and where he bought his clothes.

At first his answers were measured and doled out slowly, but the more I asked, the more he got into it. I decided to learn William the way Jason had learned Jimi. Sitting in a meeting, I'd slow my responses and ask myself, "Okay, how would William respond to this? Why would he respond that way?"

And then, even if everything inside me were screaming, "No, don't do it!", I'd do what I'd guessed William would have done.

You know what? It worked.

Your Other You
So, as I considered Sree's comments this morning, I thought of Jason and William and how cool it can be to not only recognize the validity in approaches that are opposite yours, but to learn them in a way that you become equally comfortable with either.

What do you think?

Happy Monday,
Teflon

Friday, August 24, 2012

Picking

In regard to Focus, Concentrate, Pay Attention (Start, Continue, Take Delight), Sree asked:
In addition to the how-to of seeing projects through to completion, do you have any tips on how to choose the projects in the first place, or just how you decide to spend your time every day?
I thought, "Wow, that's a good question. It's also one that's rather top-of-mind for me. I ought to write about it so I can figure it out for myself."

As I mulled over the question, I ventured down various thematic paths.

"Hmm... how did I end up doing what I'm doing now?"

"What opportunities am I considering at this moment?"

"With what priorities have I struggled? With what ones do I struggle now?"

"How do other people decide what to do and what not to do?"

The Iris Bounce Test
Last night after dinner at Bizen, Will, Iris and I take a talk-and-cigar walk around Great Barrington (Iris, sans cigar).

We pass several houses that Iris and I visited when looking to purchase a house in the area.

Will asks, "So, how long did it take for you to settle on the house you bought? How many houses did you see?"

Iris says, "Hmm... I think we saw about fifteen, going out with the realtor on two different days. I remember the house we just passed. We liked it, but it didn't pass my Iris bounce test."

Will says, "Iris bounce test?"

Iris says, "Yeah. At every house, I would go into a large room on the second floor and jump up and down to see how stable the house felt. In that house, when I landed, everything on the second floor bounced with me."

I say, "As soon as we walked into our house. We knew it was ours."

Iris says, "All we had to do was confirm that we could get Internet access."

I say, "Yeah, we've never take long to buy house."

Will says, "That's the same for us. We see something and know."

I think, "Hmm... that's part of the answer to Sree's question. You see something. You know it's right. You trust yourself. You go with it."

Just Knowing
I realize that "just knowing" may not seem like much of an answer, but there's something to it that I'd like to explore.

I've never taken much time to buy a house, days at the most. I walk into a place and it feels right or it doesn't. On the other hand, there are people who take a long time to purchase a house. They're methodical and calculating. Some take years to decide.

To the calculating and methodical person, "just knowing" may seem haphazard or random. "How do you know that the layout will work for you? How do you do know the structure is sound? How do you know that the neighborhood is safe? What happens if you pick the wrong place?"

These are all good questions. However, they're not ones that you ignore by "just knowing". Indeed, you answer them. However, you answer them in a more intuitive manner, one that employs logic so quickly that you barely notice it.

Always Looking
"Just knowing" comes down to awareness and being in a mode of always looking as if to decide.

For example, I pretty much always pay attention to where I am as I travel, getting to know the neighborhoods, their names, their juxtaposition to other neighborhoods and the various routes to and through them. I catalog them in my mind. I link to them things that I hear or read about them. I associate them with people who mention that they live there. As I do so, I think, "Hmm... wonder what it would be like to live there."

Similarly, when visiting homes, I take in the architecture and the layout. I look at the construction and take in how it feels. I breathe in the rooms and get a sense for the air flow. I think, "Hmm... wonder what it would be like to live here."

From cars and houses to musical performances and software, I'm always asking myself, "Hmm... I wonder what it would be like to have that or to do that?"

The result is a well-informed understanding of what I want and what I don't want, that serves as a template that I can overlay on any opportunity to see if it's a match or not.

Whereas many people develop decision-criteria only when they know a decision needs to be made, I believe in making that development an ongoing process that never ceases. Basically, you continually refine your understanding of what's available and of what you want.

Trusting Yourself
A lot of people talk about developing their self-trust or confidence.  However, as I think about what I just wrote, it occurs to me that many people would do better not to trust themselves. If in fact, they only work on their awareness of what's available and what they want at times of decision, then they're probably not very trustworthy.

Nonetheless, even the least aware person has some awareness of what she wants and doesn't want, of what's available and what's not. The critical part is not letting the "should-want" override the "do-want." Iris and I have got to the point where we go with "just knowing" on pretty much every decision. It's not a big deal. It's not traumatic. We just go.

For some, even minor decisions can create a moment of crisis.

I think the most important thing is to be aware of anything inside you that's saying, "Hey, what about..."  and giving it a listen. Even if all the "shoulds" in your head are dominating the discussion, the first step to "just knowing" is giving the floor to the small voice that speaks for the "wants".

Permanence
Of course going with what you know becomes a lot easier when you realize that there are very few decisions that can't be undone or modified. I've seen people struggle with a dinner menu as if they were making a decision on whom to marry. I've also seen people decide to get married faster than they would get through the menu at the MacDonald's drive-through.

There are very few decisions in life that you can't change or even undo completely. Fact is, there are very few decisions that we get right the first time. We just tend to forget about the times we got them wrong once we get them right. Sure, in many instances, there are lasting side-effects of change or undoing, but they can be managed.


Figure It Out
An important aspect of self-trust has nothing to do with getting it right; it's all about knowing that you'll figure it out when you get it wrong. That's "when", not "if".  If you actively act on "just-knowing", then you're going to get it wrong from time to time.

That's okay! You'll figure it out.

This approach does pose a bit of a chicken-and-egg problem. You won't "know" you can figure it out until you have figured it out (at least a couple of times). Even then, having figured out one situation provides no guarantee that you'll figure out the next one.  However, it sure increases the likelihood that you will.


Serendipity
I believe that, if you:

  1. adopt the "always-looking" MO,
  2. learn to trust yourself, and
  3. accept changing, undoing or figuring out decisions that aren't working for you, 

you open yourself to serendipity. Iris and I are both big believers in serendipity. When opportunities reveal themselves and we sense that they're right for us, we take them without question or delay.

Over the years, I've know many people who have remained "stuck" in situations they've claimed not to want all-the-while missing out on serendipitous-opportunity after serendipitous-opportunity to change everything.

Some will act on those opportunities, but only after long consideration. Problem with serendipity is that it typically doesn't wait.

Conflicting Wants
If you adopt everything that we've talked about so far, you'll end up where pretty much everything you do, every day is something you really love to do. At some point, your opportunities to do what you love will overrun your capacity to pursue them all.

As hard as it is to decide to pursue activities you'd love to do, it can be even harder to decide between or among activities you already do and love. Yet, if you're any good at following serendipity, you'll eventually find yourself in a place where your desires conflict.

This has been a theme for me as long I can remember. Although the specifics vary, the most difficult tension has always been between my love for the people I'm with and my desire to push the envelope on the activity we're jointly pursuing.

Whether working, or playing music, or mountain biking, I'd always rather be in the company of friends who are doing their best than experts who are not friends. I love the fellowship of working and playing together. However, I also love developing my skills and pushing myself to become better. When something is new, there's plenty of opportunity for both. However, as a project or program matures, the challenges afforded by the novelty of it diminish and people often settle into a kind of maintenance mode that I find stifling.

That's when what-to-do-next becomes really difficult for me. I feel like a man with one foot planted on each of two logs that are slowly drifting apart as they float down a river. My first reaction is to try to pull together the two logs. I'll push on everyone to continue to develop. I want to run fast and I want everyone to run fast with me.

Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes people just get annoyed.

When it doesn't work, I try to recast what we're doing into something new, something that will provide me the challenge and opportunity I'm looking for while satisfying everyone else. However, this rarely works. It typically yields a leuk-warm compromise that's not satisfying to anyone.

Letting Go
When you have desires that conflict and you can't reconcile them, you may have to let go of something that you really love. I'm particularly terrible at this. It takes me a long time to recognize unreconcilable: a really, really, really long time.

However, there are times when you need to close one chapter to move on to the next. This can be really challenging since the next chapter won't become clear until you close the current one. So, there's a lot of unknown in the mix.

Rather than clear and deliberate closure, it can be enticing to simply fade out. Lots of people do it. However, I've found that fading out doesn't lead to great results, specially when it comes to relationships.

In the end, it's easier to be clear and direct (no matter how hard it feels). In fact, it's best to do it in the beginning, as soon as you get a sense that what you're wanting is no longer being provided by what you're doing. A neat side-effect of early and clear communication is that it provides an opportunity for others to decide what they want as well.

I always hesitate to do this, because I don't like ultimatums and I don't trust decisions made as the result of an ultimatum. Yet, as I write this, I realize that there are times when what's going on inside your head is indeed an ultimatum and that to not communicate it is a bit unfair. So I guess that ultimatums are okay as long as they're a) authentic, and b) used sparingly. Hmm...

Picking
Sree, I'm not sure how directly or not I've answered your question with all that just flew through my keyboard, but these are the thoughts that come to mind when considering what to do and what opportunities to pursue.  I would love to hear what you think.

Happy Friday,
Teflon

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What You Teach

Growing up with my dad was often challenging for both of us. We thought differently and we learned differently. The things that came most naturally for him were nearly impossible for me and vice versa.

My dad went to great lengths to teach me what he knew and found interesting. The vast majority of his efforts yielded little. It wasn't until I was in my twenties, when left to my own devices, that I was able to learn the things my dad had tried to teach me in my adolescence. 

All this doesn't mean that my dad failed to teach me in my youth. It's just that the things he taught me were (as far as I can tell) unintentional. In fact, had he known he were teaching me what he did, he might have dones something to avoid it.  Nonetheless, I'm thankful for what he taught me, unintentional or not.

For example, my dad has a dry sense of humor. His whit is quick and razor-sharp. He likes to toss out little quips to see who gets them and who doesn't. If he aims his whit in your direction, you may find yourself shredded before you even know he's aiming at you. When he gets frustrated with someone, he would often go into shred-mode.

Being a frequent source of frustration, I often found myself the object of shredding. For whatever reasons, rather than shrink away from his rapid-fire pokes and jabs, I began to return fire. At first, he'd ignore my vollies as a large dog ignores a small one yapping. Overtime though, I learned to land a few hits of my own. By high school, I could hold my own. By college, there was no contest. 

Although he hadn't intended to teach me verbal and mental sparring, he had, simply by the way he interacted with me. It had nothing to do with the topic he was trying to teach me. It was just how he was and how he responded to unpleasant stimuli, in this case, um... me.

Fortunately for me, I was able to separate the frustration part from the reaction part. I enjoyed the rapid exchange. I experienced the development of mental agility like a weight lifter might experience the development of his biceps. What my dad inadvertently taught me became one of my more useful and potent skills.

I guess it's easy to completely miss what you're actually teaching someone who experiences you frequently and over time.

What are you teaching?

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Extra Mile Saturday

Well it's finally here. Time to put all that preparation and planning into action. Yes, it's the first Extra-Mile Saturday, a day on which we each look for ways to try a little bit harder or work a little bit longer to complete a task better or to reach a goal sooner.

What's that? You say you haven't been preparing and planning for Extra-Mile Saturday?

No worries. In lieu of preparation and planning, all you have to do is pay attention and look for opportunities. I guarantee you, it's way easier than finding eggs at a toddler's Easter-egg hunt. Once you start looking, you'll find gazillions of opportunities to go the extra mile.

Here's an example to get you warmed up.

Let's say you've just finished eating lunch. You get up from the table to leave and it occurs to you that you have no idea how the dirty glasses, plates and utensils normally get from the table to the cupboard. Someone must be clearing the table, washing the dishes and returning them to storage, but it's not you. In celebration of EMS (Extra-mile Sunday), you decide to clear your dishes.

You walk into the kitchen to place them in the sink, but notice that your plate still has large bits of food on it. You decide to go the extra mile and scrape the bits of food into the trash before placing the plate into the sink.

You walk over to the trash container and step on the foot switch to pop the lid. Hmm... the trash container is pretty darn full. Perhaps if you squish it down a bit, you can create enough room for your scrapings. Then it occurs to you; it's EMS.

You place your plate on the counter and pull the trash bag out of the can. You notice that it's dripping a bit and determine that it might be better just to put it back. But you don't because it's EMS. You let the bag sit in the container while you search the kitchen for another bag into which you can place the first one. You find one and struggle a bit as you try to place the full bag inside the empty one. With only a small amount of garbage juice dripping on the floor, you tie off the outer bag and place it beside the container.

Hmm... something smells. You look down and see the puddle of who-knows-what on the kitchen floor. You wonder if anyone will notice or think to attribute it to you. Then you think, "Oh yeah, it's EMS."

You walk back to the sink, wet a couple of paper towels and grab the all purpose cleaner. You wipe of the smelly wet spot with the wet towels, spray it down with the cleaner, and then wipe up the cleaner with a couple of dry towels.

You pop the lid of the trash can to toss out the paper towels and see no liner. The thought of dropping them in and abandoning your plate-scraping plan dances through your mind, but it's EMS.  You grab a new trash bag and begin to push it down into the container but realize that there's even more garbage juice there than was on the floor.

You grab the cleaner and a couple more towels and clean out the container. You push the new bag into it and even wrap the bag's edges around the top to make sure it doesn't fall in when someone drops in something heavy.

You toss in the paper towels and notice the spray bottle of all purpose cleaner sitting on the counter. You think to just leave it there, but then... yup, it's EMS. You return the cleaner to its spot under the sink, grab your plate and scrape the leftovers into the new trash bag.

Now you're on a roll. Rather than dumping your stuff in the sink, you rinse your glass, plate and utensils and place them in the dishwasher.

Oh no! The dishwasher is full of clean dishes.  What do you do? It's EMS.

The dishes all put away and your dirty ones now in the dishwasher. You make to get out of the kitchen before any other celebration opportunities reveal themselves. You notice the double-wrapped trash bag sitting next to the bin. You sniff to see if the outer bag is doing its job. Not too bad. Besides, you already washed your hands.

You walk out of the kitchen and something stops you. It's EMS. You walk back in, grab the double-wrapped bag and take it outside to the trash container.

You review all you did and pat yourself on the back. Great job! You've just celebrated Extra-Mile Saturday!

Happy (Extra-Mile) Saturday,
Teflon

Friday, August 17, 2012

Winners and Flat Earths


8.45pm last night. Roshan (our 10-year-old) and I open the back door and stagger into the kitchen, sweaty and tired after an hour of tennis in the 80-degree evening. Roshan heads to the fridge for some grape juice. While he’s chugging it down, he remarks, “I never thought I’d beat you today, Appa. 14-9 after being down 4-9!”
Then after a moment of reflection, he says “I’m not a winner. Winners always expect to win”.

In the bathroom, where I’m washing my face, I pause. That sounds like new material. “Says who?”, I call out. 

“Lewis Timberlake”, he replies. That’s the author of the book he started reading yesterday “Born to Win”, a collection of stories about inspirational characters like Wilma Rudolph.

“What’s a winner, Roshan?”, I probe.

“You know, somebody like Federer, Djokovich, Nadal”.

“You mean somebody with those last names?”

“Of course not. Somebody who reaches their goal in life”.

“Well then, Federer must not be a winner; he still hasn’t won the Olympic gold medal”.

He thinks for a moment. “Somebody who sets a goal and tries hard to make it”.

“Hmm. So they just have to try? They don’t have to actually reach their goal?”

He thinks a bit more. “Well… I know what a failure is. Failures lose once, and then give up”. Then, rather confidently, “You’re not done when you lose. You’re done when you quit”.

“Ooh”, I exclaim, impressed. “Who said that, Lewis Timberlake also?”

“No, that last part I heard in school somewhere. Lewis Timberlake said that thing about failures”. 

“I see”, I say thoughtfully. I’m wondering whether to pursue that any further. But it’s time to go take a shower and get ready for bed, so we head upstairs. The conversation meanders to other topics.

After the shower, while toweling off, he says, somewhat out of the blue, “Mistletoe is a parasite”. 

“Mistletoe?”, I reply in surprise. “I thought it was a plant!” 

“So what? It’s a parasite!”

I’m not convinced. “Really? I thought parasites had to be in the animal kingdom”. 

“No!”, he replies, with an air of supreme confidence. “Plants can be parasites too”.

“How do you know that?” I ask, genuinely curious.

“A kid in school told me”.

“What?! That’s all it takes for you to treat it as the truth?” We’ve been over this before, how he takes something he has heard casually and repeats it like it’s the gospel truth. 

“But it’s not a lie!”, he protests.

“I didn’t say it’s a lie. I’m just asking if you know it’s the truth.”

He changes tack. “You know about facts and opinions, right, Appa? An opinion doesn’t have to be true to be an opinion”.

It’s a red herring. He loves taking contrary positions just to be contrary, tying up people in tangled knots. I ignore the bait. “What makes something true, Roshan?”

Pat comes the answer. “If it’s actually correct. Like back before Copernicus, everybody in the world said the earth was flat, but it wasn’t actually flat”. 

“Well, but what if everybody in the world says it’s flat? Let’s say it’s 1400 now, before Copernicus, or let’s say 1200, well before him. There’s no America. Let’s say we’re in Italy. Or Britain ! They are the big kahunas of the world. King John says the earth is flat. Everybody says “don’t sail out too far; you might fall off the edge of the world!” The Pope says the earth is flat. The Chief Scientist – no, there’s probably no such thing, not much science back then; your fifth-grade teacher says all day long that it’s flat. Everybody you look up to says it’s flat. So is that the truth?”

Roshan is clear. “No, it’s not, because we know the earth is round!”

“But that’s because you’re in 2012! Remember, we’re back in 1200. No airplanes, no astronauts taking pictures of the earth from the Space Station. You climb up the tallest tower around, and you see a horizon, and so you climb down and tell everybody the earth is flat. Nobody knows the earth is round! It’s a few more centuries before Columbus and Vasco da Gama and Magellan do their thing”. 

“But even if EVERYBODY says the earth is flat doesn’t MAKE it flat.”

“True, but that was the Truth in 1200!”

“But that was not actually correct. Are you saying the earth was flat then and became round now?” We talk about truth versus actual. We can't settle on precise definitions. Then another angle occurs to him.”What if everybody in the world says 2+2=5? Or they all say “I’m the Queen of England”. Does that make it the truth?“

By now we’re lounging on the bed. Rithvik pops into the room occasionally to confirm that this is not an argument threatening to become a tantrum. We go over examples of statements that can be verified or reasoned by personal experience (2+2=5, the bed is rock hard, I’m the Queen of England) , and some that can’t (e=m*c^3, electrons have a positive charge). I mention how today, despite all the advanced physics theory and technology we have available, all the Hubble space telescopes and Large Hadron Colliders and everything, we have explanations for only 4% of the observable mass in the universe. That means we are missing about 24 universes right now. It boggles his mind for a bit. “What do you mean universes? What does the end of the universe look like? Does it have walls or something?”

“Hah. That’s a whole ‘nuther question, Roshan. So instead of that, let’s think this way. What do you know as the truth today - the actual, correct truth? You know, like back in 1200, the earth was flat.”

He can’t come up with one off hand when asked in that manner. So I suggest some. “In 2600, there’s going to be a dad telling his son “can you believe that back in 2012 people actually used to think that the earth was a round ball traveling in space around the sun, with 8 other planets like it?””

Then Sowmya comes into the room and reminds us of the time. Reluctantly we break off. 
But I have a feeling we’ll be resuming this discussion pretty soon.

Indeed, what are things around us that we take for granted today but will astonish future generations ?
Sree

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Focus, Concentrate, Pay Attention

Iris says, "Focus. Concentrate. Pay attention!"

I say, "What?"

Iris says, "I said, 'Focus. Concentrate. Pay attention!'"

"Why'd you say that?"

"It's what Quinn was saying the other day."

"Was he saying it to you or himself?"

"I think he was saying it to both of us. Sometimes he'd stretch it out."

"What do you mean?"

"For example, he'd say, 'Focus. Focus. Focus. No-no-no. Concentrate. Yes. Con-cen-trate... And pay attention."

"Uh. Where did he get that from?"

"From Lynn, I think."

"Focus. Concentrate. Pay attention?"

"Yup."

"So did you?"

"Did I what?"

"Focus, concentrate and pay attention?"

"We both did, for two hours straight."

Focus, concentrate, pay attention. As Iris proclaimed the words using a serious Quinn-like tone, my shoulders tightened and my stomach clenched. I heard accusation. It's funny that I would hear her words that way, me being all about focus, concentration and paying attention. I don't think I've heard them said that way since my dad tried to help me with algebra homework in eighth grade. His version was usually accompanied with phrases like, "this is easy; you're just not trying", and "you just never pay attention."

Alright, my saying that I responded to what Iris said today based on something that occurred decades isn't quite right. The stage may have been set decades ago, but my reaction was based in the moment. So why respond so viscerally?

Hmm... First thought: judgement.  I must have some judgements I hold about the importance of focus, concentration and paying attention and my ability (or inability) to do so.

Wait! I do have judgements about all that.

Ahhh.... I get it. Lately I've had so much going on that I'm constantly shifting focus from one activity to the next. This is no problem generally speaking. However, there are some activities that take a while for me to engage, in particular, working on large systems.

Large systems work can be challenging because, in order to make even a small change, you have to be aware of the implications to the overall system. It's like the butterfly-effect in chaos theory, except that you're not allowed to blame chaos; you have know exactly what the butterfly flapping its wings will lead to.

Not knowing this is the reason that companies like Apple and Microsoft have to release so many updates to their systems. At some point, large companies lose control of their software code bases. The people who designed and developed the systems move on and are replaced by others who understand some, but not all of the system. The replacements make changes. Sometimes they know all the potential side-effects; sometimes not. The replacements get replaced by others who understand even less. Over time, the number of anticipated side-effects divided by the number of potential side-effects approaches zero, i.e., it becomes hit-or-miss.

Most companies respond to this phenomenon (losing control of their code bases), by increasing the amount of testing they perform rather than learning the system so well that they regain an understanding of all the side-effects. The ratio of testers to developers can easily reach ten-to-one.  Since I work by myself, that's not an option. So instead, I always make sure that I reacquaint myself with my systems before I make changes.

The good news is that when I'm working on a system, I can see the entire thing stretched out before my mind's eye. It's like hearing the entire score while working on the second violin part. The bad news is that, if it's been a while since I worked on a system, it can take me a while to get reacquainted with it.  So, even a small change can take a disproportionate amount of time.

The net is that it can take me a while to focus on, concentrate on and pay attention to the immediate challenge, because it takes so long to rebuild the setting in my mind. That's been happening a lot lately and I guess I've been judging myself for it.

So seeing that, what do I want to do?

Hmm... I think I'll stop for a self-congratulatory moment. OK, rather than thinking about myself as a slow sports-car that takes a long time to get up to speed, I'm going to see myself as a high-powered locomotive that takes a while to get up to speed, but then becomes unstoppable.  Yeah, that's me, an unstoppable freight train comin-atcha.

Focus. Concentrate. Pay attention. 
Strike that.

Take time for a self-congratulatory moment.

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Start

I used to be someone who procrastinated. When I did finally get around to starting a project, I would have a hard time staying with it or seeing it through to completion. Nowadays, I'm pretty much the opposite of who I was. When I decide to do something, I do it. If a project is more difficult or takes longer than expected, no problem; I stay with it until it's done. I even pick up projects that Iris has started and see them through to completion.

I often talk with friends who are struggling with the same challenges of procrastination and follow-through that I struggled with. Sometimes (okay, maybe lots of times) I suggest ways they might overcome their challenges. My suggestions are often dismissed as being not-applicable because I'm a different kind of person than they are and I wouldn't understand how challenging it is for them. But I do.

I still encounter the challenges that lead to procrastination and quitting, I've just learned to deal with them so quickly that they seem not to exist. If you ever find yourself overwhelmed by all you have to do or feeling that you simply don't have it in you to do what you planned for today, then maybe these will help you.

1. Start
The most important thing is to stop thinking and start doing, specially if you're working on a long term project or program. Whether you're writing a thesis or building aerobic capacity, the key is to stop thinking about it, stop waiting for the right moment, stop waiting to feel like doing it, stop hoping for the right conditions and start. Start to write. Start to run. Start to clean. Start to practice.

Don't give a second thought to questions about readiness or situation or timing. Once you do, you'll be on the track to nowhere. At the first thought of not doing it, don't think about doing it; start doing it.

2. Continue
Starting doesn't immediately dismiss the thoughts and questions that would keep you from starting. You get on the treadmill to run and you feel little aches and pains. You sit down to write and nothing comes to mind. You pick up your guitar to practice and you're all thumbs. You climb on the exercise bike and the cold air makes you shiver.

The aches and pains, the creativity void, the clumsy fingers, the shivers all tell you to stop. Don't give them any consideration. Don't try to work out what's going on or why they're there. Just continue, perhaps a little more slowly, perhaps paying a little more attention to form, but nonetheless, continuing.

3. Take Delight
As you continue to run the aches fade away. As you continue to write your creativity fires up. As you continue to practice your coordination returns. As you continue to bike, your body warms. You start to feel good. You take a look around. You see how much you have to do and how little you've done, how far you have to go and how little you've come. You start to get overwhelmed.

Don't try to work it through. Don't try to calculate how long it will take or whether or not you're going to make it in time. Focus on what you're doing in the moment and take delight in it. Feel your muscles warm and become more pliable. Praise yourself for the beauty of the line you just wrote. Watch your fingers move across the fingerboard of the guitar. Enjoy what you're doing.

That's All
That's really all it takes. The process is necessarily simple and for the most part, thought-free. You don't need to work things through. You don't need to understand why you procrastinate. In fact, it's necessary not to work things through or figure out why. Just start, continue and take delight.

Happy Sunday,
Teflon

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Second Order

Last week, Iris and I drove from Great Barrington, Massachusetts to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. Along the way I came to that conclusion the most obvious insights are often the most evasive. For example, take the insight: if you want to lose weight, then eat less and do more.

Seems obvious, right?  However, based on:
  1. the number of people we overheard talking about wanting to lose weight, 
  2. the portion sizes of the food they consumed, and 
  3. the effort they placed into finding parking spots near the door,
I would have to conclude that it isn't obvious to everyone.

This obvious, yet evasive correlation among food consumption, activity level and body mass has analogs in other areas. For example:
  1. If you want to become a better musician, practice (more).
  2. If you want to get into shape, exercise (more).
  3. If you want to become a great writer, write (more).
All seem obvious (right?). Yet, I can't tell you how many people I've heard state a desire (to become a better musician, to get into shape, or to become a great writer), but who haven't followed up with commensurate (and obvious) action. This is not to say that they did nothing; it's just that they didn't do the most basic and important things.

What did they do? In software, we would call it second-order optimization. When developing a new system or writing an application, there are always things you can do to improve it. You can make it more efficient, faster, easier to use, cheaper and so on. The number of potential improvements is endless and each improvement reveals new opportunities for improvement. With all the potential for improvement, it's easy to fall into an optimization trap. You never complete anything because it could always be better.

To avoid the optimization trap, you have to put off improvements that are not absolutely essential to the  first release limiting yourself to zeroth and first order optimizations.

The zeroth-order optimization is the one that goes from not-working to working (No matter how many potential improvements there, there's nothing like making something work, period.) First order optimizations are the ones required to make something usable and useful. You don't have to make an audio processing system work instantaneously; however, if it's painfully slow, no one will use it. So, first order speed optimization would be the one that goes from painfully slow to acceptably slow.

Second order optimizations are the ones that would be nice to have, but aren't essential. Third order optimizations are ones that would only be useful to a small group of people. The definitions aren't strict (and often the topic of heated debate), but you get the picture.

The ability to determine the order of optimization is one of the most critical success factors for any project. I'd say that it was probably one of Steve Jobs' greatest strengths at Apple. In order to meet deadlines, he would discard product features that many considered essential and keep ones for which others saw no reason. He would delay the introduction of products that others saw as critical to the marketplace making Apple a latecomer and accelerate the development of products for which there wasn't yet a market. The result? Apple's product launches became major industry events because Steve Jobs had an uncanny ability to launch exactly the right product with exactly the right features at exactly the right time.

When it comes to ordering optimizations, most of us aren't Steve Jobs. We tend towards a proces that is often likened to rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. We lose sight of the most important optimizations and pay inordinate levels of attention to ones that make little difference or would become superfluous had we first addressed the important ones.

A classic example is hiring the wrong person for a job. You interview candidates. You identify the best one. You recruit her and hire her. A week after she starts work, you realize that she's not all that you'd hoped for, so you:
  1. let her go and hire someone more qualified,
  2. prop her up by helping her complete her tasks, or
  3. put her into a training program that will hopefully improve her skill level.
Although the best answer for everyone (including the person hired) is always to recognize your mistake, let her go and hire the right person (there are studies that show this), people almost never take that course. Instead, they spend excessive effort trying to fix or cover the mistake. They make second order optimization more important than first order, sometimes at great expense.

There are many common reversals of order like drinking diet cola while consuming vast quantities of fat, or spending more time on your hair than learning your song, or making the trim color in bedroom more important than the pouring of the foundation. Some just slow us down, some completely block progress and some are downright disastrous (e.g., not taking the keys away from your drunken friend because you don't want to harm the relationship).

In the end, knowing what is zeroth-, first-, second-order and so on and letting that guide your priorities and activities can have a stronger impact on your level of success than anything else, period. It's the key to working "smart", rather than working "hard".

I'll betcha a dollar that you've got a lot of first order optimizations gathering dust on the shelf while you spend your time on others. How about checking to see if it ain't so?

Happy Wednesday,
Teflon

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Go Get Overwhelmed

One experience that I highly recommend is that of being overwhelmed. It's like yoga for your comfort zone, stretching it out in ways you might never have considered and keeping it limber.

Yup, I highly recommend it, but I've got to say that it's often a hard sell.  First of all, many people find just the thought of being overwhelmed overwhelming. Second, stretching one's comfort zone is by definition, uncomfortable. Third, if you consider overwhelmedness and discomfort to be reasons not to do something, well, then actively pursuing states of being overwhelmed is a non-starter.

You might be thinking, "So what? What's the big deal about choosing to not put myself in situations where I'd be overwhelmed?"

The big deal is this; either you're growing your comfort zone or you're shrinking it. It may feel as though there were some sort of middle ground, but there's not. Comfort zones defy stasis. They grow. They shrink. They never stay the same.

You might be thinking, "That's not true. I don't spend time being overwhelmed and I'm perfectly comfortable in most situations. In fact, my level of comfort seems to have improved remarkably over the years."

If so, then one, the other or both of your assumptions are flawed. Either a) you've been overwhelmed but haven't noticed or, b) rather than you becoming more comfortable in your environment, you've made your environment more comfortable for you, or c) both a and b.  Your encounters with overwhelmedness may have been minor and your accrual of new comforts may have happened slowly, so you might not have noticed. However, if you compare yourself to who you were ten years ago, I'll bet you find changes in comfort-level that you can trace back to changes in your situation or challenges you overcame.

Fact is, most of us actively seek improvements to comfort and avoid challenges that might be overwhelming; this leads to continually shrinking comfort zones and greater dependency on external accouterments to maintain a sense of comfort. The result is like agoraphobia, just less pronounced. You fear leaving your comfort-zone lest something terrible happen.

As your comfort zone shrinks, your experience more closely resembles claustrophobia as your comforts close around you. All this may sound a bit overly dramatic (primarily because it is), but I think it illustrates my point pretty well. Your comforts close on you like the lid on a coffin.

So, I highly recommend exposing yourself to situations that are not only uncomfortable but completely overwhelming. Rather than growing your comfort zone incrementally, you grow it multiplicatively, and perhaps (if you get overwhelmed enough) exponentially. Just try it for a while. You'll amaze your friends and family with how much you're able to handle and how you don't seem to notice it.

Yup, that's what I recommend.

Happy Tuesday,
Teflon

Sunday, August 5, 2012

You Know What to Do

My friend Kat (Houghton) has an uncanny ability to to transform dry research studies into meaningful, digestible and actionable concepts. She routinely bridges the gaps between physiology and psychology, between science and daily living, between thinking and doing. Working with her, I've learned a lot about how we humans operate. In particular, I've learned more about how I operate.

Sensory Systems and ADD
For example, I now have a clue about my Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). Over the years, I've discovered that I can stay focused and keep my ADD in check if I work out vigorously a couple hours per day, drink a lot of caffeinated beverages, and play loud beat-laden music while running an action movie on the TV. I never understood how all this worked. Much to the chagrin of anyone living with me, neither did they.

Now, thanks to Kat, I understand it all has to do with the physiology of my sensory systems (sight, hearing, touch, sense of balance) and their state of arousal (the level of input that is required get them up and running). It turns out that my sensory systems nominally operate at a low state of arousal craving stimulation and input.

In the absence of a lot of sensory stimuli, when I haven't regulated myself with workouts, caffeine, or Adderall, I tend to get distracted, fidget and fly from thought to thought to thought. Much to the annoyance of others, I tend to focus on the most provocative aspects of what has been said as it increases the energy level, rate and volume of the conversation. It's as though my mind were a big hydro-electric dam that overheats when there's not enough water passing through it. In lieu of the water flow provided by my sensory systems, my mind starts to manufacturer its own water.

(By the way, in a sort of cosmic joke, Iris operates at the opposite end of the sensory spectrum. All the stuff I do to focus get's her totally distracted.)

Under Control
For years, I tried to manage all this simply by controlling myself and how I acted, e.g. forcing myself to sit in a library and concentrate for hours at a time. Slowly I discovered ways of regulating my systems, not knowing that that was what I was doing. I'd work out religiously, I'd drink espresso late at night to calm down, I'd fill my time with the most challenging and engaging activities I could find, I'd flood my environment with stimuli.

I started exploring various therapeutic approches to managing my ADD. With practice I learned to manage my ADD in the moment by taking a snapshot of my current beliefs, analyzing them, and then deciding what to do with them.

At one point, I started playing with creating the effect of Adderall by thinking about it. I'd get up early in the morning and slip downstairs before anyone else woke up, sit down on the couch, pop an Adderall, close my eyes and then become completely aware of how my body responded. Later in the day after the Adderall wore off, I'd see if I could give my body the same experience by imagining it. I slowly learned to recreate the same experience without the Adderall. For me, it was similar to how I play piano. If I can hear something, I can play it, no written music required. So, I listened to my body on Adderall and learned to play it.

So Many Options
The beauty in this is that I've learned not one, but hundreds of things that work. However, I used to have a lot of judgments about good ways to manage ADD and bad ones. I would put things like changing my beliefs, playing Adderall by ear, working out, and doing challenging work into the good category, and things like loud music, medication, provoking others in conversation into the bad category.

As a result of judging some methods as good and others as bad, I would often deny myself the most useful and beneficial alternatives, all because I should be able to do it some other way.

Nowadays, I go with what I know in the moment. If working out is an option, cool. If the easiest thing to do right now is to take a pill, then take a pill I will. If I have the time and space to meditate myself into a non-ADD state, that's great. The wonderful part is that, by opening myself to all the options, I almost never experience ADD. It's really nice.

Missing the Obvious
I have so many wonderful people in my life who struggle with their own versions of ADD and who often deny themselves the most useful solution because they should be able to... do it themselves... do it without medication... do it cold turkey... do it some other way... do it by changing their beliefs... and so on.

For example, Iris has a rather volatile blood sugar system that can lead to commensurately volatile behavior. I've gotten so I can spot the early warning signs before things get completely out of hand. As Iris' blood sugar dips and she morphs from sweet, talkative and engaged to distracted and less talkative, to quiet and unfocused, to short and pissy, to downright angry. We used to address all this by talking it through. How are you feeling? Why are you feeling that? And so on. It could get, well, dangerous.

Now, rather than working our way through it, we just get Iris something to eat. Duh?

You Know What to Do!
I believe that oftentimes, when we feel stuck in a situation (depression, fear and anxiety, self-doubt, excess weight, poor condition), it's because we're overlooking, ignoring or pushing aside the most obvious solutions. We do this because we decide that obvious solutions are not good or they're too simple, or because we don't like them, or they're to difficult, or because there's got to be a better way.

For example, let's say you're an overworked, overweight parent flirting with depression. A really amazing solution would be taking your child out for a walk every day: pushing a stroller, walking hand-in-hand, observing the world around you, talking. It simultaneously solves gazillions of challenges: spending time together, sharing experiences, firing up your cardiovascular system, increasing your serotonin levels.

And yet, I can hear the litany of reasons why mom or dad might not do it. It's too hot. It's too cold. If I'm going to exercise, I want to really exercise. My child's schedule is too full already. I'm in no shape to walk that far. The list is as long as you are creative. And yet, were mom or dad simply to start walking with their child every day, for whatever time or distance they could go, remarkable changes would start to happen.

What simple solutions are sitting right in front of you staring you in the face? Why do you dismiss them? Are you ready to do what you know to do?

Happy Sunday,
Teflon