Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Playing Around

When I was in college I had a nerf basketball hoop on the back of my door. In the middle of studying for an exam, or writing a paper, I'd stop for a while and just shoot baskets and get lost in the fun of bouncing a ball off my "backboard" door. Eventually I'd return to studying or writing my paper feeling renewed and refreshed. Yep, I was playing around.

Reading the NY Times article I posted recently on The Greatness Project Facebook page about the psychological benefits of play caused me to assess my own uber-focus on achievement. If I'm being honest, I've cut out almost all of the play in my life. Oh sure, I say I have fun. But do I do something just for the fun of it? Not really. Everything in my life has some sort of achievement as the goal. Working out, writing, reading, all have goals attached to them so I can "feel" productive. Doing nothing for the sake of doing nothing has been effectively pushed out of my life.

But what do I really gain? I miss the times of regeneration and renewal, times of wandering reflection just sitting and doing nothing. I'm so caught up in productivity that even if I give time over to play it is regulated by a strict schedule.

Which will lead to personal greatness: continuous productivity or occasion play? I don't know. Reading about great individuals they seemed to have a single-mindedness that drove them even to the point of exhaustion. But is that really personal greatness? Play unleashes creativity and re-energizes the soul. How can that be bad on the road to personal greatness?

I hope that you make opportunities to play, relax and reflect. I'm beginning to believe it is essential to life balance. Whatever you do, take time to play. As for me, I'm going out and buying a new nerf basketball set.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pickup Basketball, Grit and Greatness

Ever play pickup basketball? You go to a gym, meet people, pick up teams and play. You never know who you will get on your team, or how your team will do and it changes every time. Last night I was reminded of a critical factor in greatness that any of us can leverage: grit.

Arriving early I was the tenth player so we chose teams and started playing. Since there is only one court, if you win you stay on. As the game progressed more players started arriving at the gym. I knew them. They were bigger, stronger, and more talented than anyone we had on our team. Though we won the first game I thought our time on the court might be short lived. However we won the next five games against far superior teams until we finally lost by a point (I think we were exhausted by that time). Why did we do so well? Our team worked harder, fought harder and wanted to prove ourselves much more than the other teams.

Research on grit, which is perseverance in the face of obstacles, has proven to succeed over talent and IQ. Our cultural challenge is that many of us want instant gratification. Instant gratification will never lead the way to greatness. Those who are willing to continue in the face of obstacles fight against challenges and even fight against their own lethargy will succeed in whatever they want to achieve.

So, what do you want to achieve? What are you doing about it on a daily basis? What do you do when you encounter obstacles? The answers to these questions reveal the likelihood of your success. Any of us can succeed, but it may not happen tomorrow, or the day after, or for quite a while. But if you are willing to make the journey, you may find your success at the end of the road.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Do You Have Attention Surplus Disorder?

Night cancer. Ever had it? Sure you have. Those are the nights when you can't sleep and every pain grows worse and worse until you wonder if you will make it to the doctor or they will find you dead, and your worries about the job, or the bills, or the kids seem insurmountable. Yet, in the morning and as the day gets going, you wonder why you were worried so much the night before. Yep, we jokingly call it "night cancer" but it is all about where we choose to focus our attention and that has a lot to do with how we gain or lose our energy during the day and how we interact with the world around us.

Reading an article on I saw a quote from Marcus Buckingham that caught my eye, "attention amplifies everything." The more we pay attention to something eventually everything else fades until that is the only thing visible. It could be called Attention Surplus Disorder. So what happens when we focus our attention?

We are an age of uber-information. Bombarded with news and updates all day, we don't even brake for braking news because it is part of our lives. Yet where does all this information, mostly negative, get us? It creates a state of fear. Learning of the latest shooting, accident, or impending storm and being bombarded with constant updates our typical reactions are flight, fight or freeze. Subsequently our attention amplifies the threat and it looms larger than it might in reality. We do the same with any information about us so that "constructive feedback" grows monstrous until we believe we will be fired, or a snippy reply means that a friend, who we thought liked us, hates us.

Let's do a reality check. We need to be mindful threats against us, and to keep informed. But let's keep this in balance because the quickest way to squelch any attempt at achieving potential is to think that the entire environment around us is so threatening that we have to pull into survival mode.

Occasionally paying attention to the good news around us creates balance, like looking for the heros in current situations, or searching for stories where people helped others. Attention to these stories encourages and inspire us to the point that we believe we can do something similar. Even paying attention to a compliment and not ignoring it can be a wonderfully energizing moment in a day.

"Attention amplifies everything." So, where are you placing your attention during the day and is it helping you or inhibiting you at being your best? Shift your attention to what is good, those you love, or the good things in you and watch what happens to the good in your life. It gets amplified.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Time to Stop Making New Year's Resolutions

Maybe I’m wrong. Okay, that’s not easy for me to admit. But for years I’ve been badgering people to create specific, short term goals to carry them to success especially at the New Year. Why? Because that’s what I do; that’s what works for me. Reading the research I’ve helped individuals create goals have been driven from what they wanted (intrinsic) and not what others wanted for them (extrinsic). I’ve helped them create benchmarks along the way to celebrate success and see that they are achieving their goals. And yes, some of them achieve their goals… only about 10 percent.

Over the past two weeks before and since the New Year, I can’t tell you how many articles I’ve read about goal setting and the optimal way to succeed and achieve your goals. But my experience has been that by March most people can’t even remember the New Year’s goals they set, let alone achieved them. So, I researched how many people actually achieve the goals they write down. In all of the studies I read, it runs between 8 and 12 percent. Even on the high side that leaves a supposed 88 percent who aren’t achieving their goals. That’s when I thought, perhaps I’m wrong.

For those of us who love lists and goals to cross off, the concept of a New Year’s Resolution is perfect. We make our lists, and create attainable goals and cross them off as we achieve them. However, we are only a small percentage of the population. Yet with 88 percent of the population not achieving their New Year’s goals the world does not come to a stand-still. People go to work, are productive, get raises, raise children, buy houses and achieve things. What are they doing if they are not writing lists? That is the key to understanding success.

I’m discovering that some people, to achieve a goal, have to take the time and identify what they love about something they want to achieve. When they do so, they find that the achievement almost takes care of itself; they love working toward success. Still some people succeed when they have others joining them in the achievement, even just to cheer them on. They like accountability to others and want to talk about where they are on their journey and what the challenges and success are. Still others are happy to move in a general direction, i.e., moving up the corporate ladder or raising a family, and are very adept at dealing with the next stage of their overarching goal. Everyone is different in how they approach achievement and there is no magic on New Year’s Day that makes resolutions automatically come true.

The most important question is how do you succeed? Think of a time when you wanted to achieve something and you did. What did you do? How did you motivate yourself? What did you do to get through the difficult times? Because I’m convinced that success for many people is not just about creating goals, but identifying how you personally have achieved success in the past and applying the same personal process in the future.