Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Affliction of Certainty

The day started very simply. We asked the 23 leaders arranged at four tables to dialogue about what the opening time should be for a new tourist attraction. Seems simple? But the exercise launched a day of innovation and change that challenged everyone in the room, including me. The most important attitude highlighted in the day is to be curious, not certain.

As adults most of us move into the day, the workplace,  or our vocation with the affliction that we are supposed to know what we are doing. Okay, I'm being a little factitious here but we are afflicted with the "certainty" bug. This is the attitude that we think we need to project that we know what we are doing and we have the answers we need to proceed with our work, art, etc. This attitude is important to achieve something in the day, however it inhibits growth, learning, and moving toward personal greatness.

Curiosity is an attitude which allows us to move through the day with a mind open to new ideas and suggestions. We treat the world as a place to garner new ideas and thoughts to propel us to breakthroughs in our work and leisure. Without curiosity we tend to repeat the same behaviors over and over again and never get new results. We imprison ourselves in our own thinking without examining it from another's viewpoint and we never open up to the possibilities that new ideas might present to us.

Just try today being more curious about the world around you, about your work, about your artistry. You will find that others share some of the same challenges you do, but might have very clever ways of overcoming the challenges. Or, as the leaders in our program yesterday learned, by being curious they surfaced new ways of moving through challenges or toward opportunities. All they had to do was let go of the affliction of certainty.

Monday, February 27, 2012

And The Award Goes To...

They cried, they laughed and even if they didn't win they enjoyed the evening. No, I was not watching American Idol, I tuned in to watch the Academy Awards. Aside from the mega-stars who have won many times, what is wonderful to watch are the newbies; the individuals who have never been to the Academy Awards and never been nominated. They are grateful for everything. But what is most insightful are their comments. They note what an honor it is to even be nominated, and many of them who won for the first time mentioned how this made it all worthwhile, or how this helps them continue their work.

Why are there such gushing comments about receiving a little golden man at a lavish party? Because it is not about the statue itself, it is about being recognized for the work the individuals have done. What all of us can learn from the Oscars is that we need acknowledgement in our lives because it assists us in achieving our personal greatness.

Do we know of individuals who have continued in the face of adversity, skepticism and ridicule to achieve their goals? Absolutely. However, it is much easier when someone, anyone, acknowledges and recognizes what you've done. A U.S. survey noted that when asked if they needed recognition to do a good job, only 60% of employees said yes. However, when asked if they did a better job when they received recognition 90% of employees said yes. We work better when someone notices. Oh, and here is the kicker. 50% of the managers in the survey said they never give recognition for good performance. Wow.

Whether you are in an office, or a business, a kitchen, or a school all of us need to know that we are doing good work. We are energized by recognition and praise and even if we think we don't need it, it does help to hear it. So, who is your support system? Who gives you recognition and praise?

We don't need an academy award presentation to enliven us to continue our work, but sometimes even hearing someone say "nice work" can help us get through the day. So, if you are not hearing recognition and praise in your work, find friends and/or family who will acknowledge what you have done. Listening to their acknowledgement will spur you on to even higher heights. Just try to keep your acceptance speech to 45 seconds, or they will pull you off the stage.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Baseball and Mental Models

Last night I finally saw the movie "Money Ball." Briefly the movie is about a baseball manager who learns to think about baseball differently than just getting superstars on the field, and his new ideas, though successful, are  tossed aside by many people. But it is about more than just baseball, it is about greatness. At one point the general manager, Billy Beane, says to his managers "innovate or die." Well, it's not quite as drastic as that, but many times in order to succeed, we have to change and it is not easy.

Many of us attain a level of success in our endeavors by doing what has always been done in our field, whether its art, science, athletics, literature, etc. However we can become stuck in our way of doing things by falling into the trap of believing there is no other way to achieve success. We become wedded to our "mental models." Mental models is a concept promoted by Kenneth Craik in the 1940's which held that we create our own mental models of how the world works, how we interact with others, how we do business etc., through our experiences. These models contain our belief of how things should proceed in our world. However mental models can become outdated. The famous quote that "everything that can be invented, has been invented" was stated just before the industrial revolution. Wow, talk about a wrong mental model.

The importance of mental models is primarily recognizing our own and occasionally challenging them. Breaking through to a new level rarely occurs by doing the same thing. In order for the breakthrough to occur, you have to do something different, or examine your worldview  and choose to see things differently. That takes discipline and courage.

In Money Ball, Billy Beane learns to view the world of major league baseball in a totally different way. He encounters a lot of opposition, because he is also challenging the mental model of others, but succeeds in changing the way the business is perceived. What mental model do you need to challenge?

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Gift of Silence and Daydreaming

Nothing. My mind is blank. Sitting here in the early morning I sense, more than see, the sunrise dispelling the darkness of the room. Casually, almost gratefully, the shadows are expunged from corners and edges leading to a clarity that didn't exist a few minutes ago. But in my head there is no clarity, just gray. And that is just what I want in my early morning moment. There are few greater gifts to personal greatness than quiet, and there is no discipline so in danger of disappearing as silence.

Recent studies examine the trend away from periods of silence and contemplation and indicate that creativity falters if it is not fed on moments of idle daydreaming. Sadly we fail to value moments of silence and daydreaming believing that increased productivity and creativity will only happen by a dogged pursuit of the task and continuous input. That is mostly incorrect. For the brain to be at its most creative it needs down time, time to make connections on its own without our help. Creativity is a masterful blend of the conscious and subconscious brain, but if we never "sleep" on a idea, or never let ourselves daydream of possibilities we tend to recreate what we've already created instead of making breakthroughs.

It's not easy. I've found that sitting and allowing my mind to drift is a discipline I need to rekindle. My life has moved toward constant movement and productivity. My friends and family comment on the fact that I can't seem to sit still. And, yes, I've accomplished some good things, but I've neither been able to write creatively in almost two years, nor create unique opportunities to help others achieve personal greatness. I'm stuck in a "doing" rut. I want to get back into a discipline of doing and thinking about nothing again. So here are a few tips:

  • turn off the "bells and whistles." Silence all of the noises and notifications that emanate from  your phone or computer. They are tremendously distracting. If necessary place them in another room where you can't hear them. 
  • don't set out to think or not to think, just allow your mind to go anywhere. 
  • do it at the same time every day. This helps me. My mind is ready to relax. 
  •  allow your mind the gift of no judgments, corrections, or direction and see what path it takes. 
  • sit back and watch what happens. 
I started daydreaming again at the beginning of the year. Already I'm aware of its effects. From newer ways to approach old topics, to ideas on how to change the world, my mind is exploring new galaxies. Frankly, I'm enjoying it and giving myself permission to explore further. 

Give yourself the gift of silence, you won't regret it. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

First Thing In The Morning

W.C. Fields apparently once quipped "Smile first thing in the morning and get it over with." The legendary curmudgeon was actually giving bad advice. There are studies that indicate that if you smile first thing in the morning, you will smile more often during the day and you will have a better day. Though I haven't come across any studies which indicate that this reality translates to forming new habits, I'm finding it true.

 I'm finding creative meditation and writing first thing in the morning is affecting my whole day. Yes, I am finding that the meditation makes me more focused, but I'm speaking about the feeling of completion and success that carries me through the day. Whatever you want your new habit to be, if you accomplish even a little of it first thing in the morning it spurs you on through the day. What I'm also discovering is that it is encouraging me to write more at later times in the day. I have more ideas and more drive to accomplish the other writing I want to do. So, even if you are not a "morning person" accomplishing your new habit first thing in the morning starts to build your self-efficacy and you potentially accomplish more during the day.

 Or, if you can't accomplish anything else in the morning, look in the mirror and smile. At least that will make the day better.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No Apologies, No Excuses, No Second Chance

Years ago, while playing basketball, I had an important realization. I apologized constantly. I apologized for bad passes,errant shots and missed opportunities. Worse than that, I also realized I apologized when someone else would make a mistake by telling them that it really was my fault. When I wasn't apologizing I found myself making excuses for poor play. I was tired. My foot hurt. I sprained my finger. The day I realized my behavior I felt sick. This was not the person I wanted to be. So, I adopted a mantra for myself and how I would play on the basketball court, "No apologies, no excuses, no second chance." Let me briefly explain. "No apologies." Apologies are often empty words that are thrown around after someone is caught, or in my case a distorted belief that I wasn't supposed to make mistakes, or miss. Yes, occasionally apologies have to be made, but what is more important is changing behavior. Nothing says I'm sorry like changing my behavior and doing something different. So, I put aside apologizing all the time and moved on to changing behavior. "No excuses." When I step on to a basketball court, I step on to play. No one cares if I am tired, hurt, or distracted. They just want me to play the best basketball I can or get off the court. "No second chance." Many times the places I play basketball there are teams waiting to get on the court. Once you lose, you may as well go home. There is no second chance, so I've learned to put it all out on the court. Years later I realize that this mantra applies to life. So many of us spend too much time apologizing for what we've done instead of making up and moving on. We all make mistakes, but we are by no means the sum of our mistakes. Sometimes the best gift we can give to ourselves is to unlock the chains with which we bind ourselves and let us go free. So too excuses. I've got a million of them. Reasons why I can't write my next book, or be the speaker I want to be. No one cares, and the only person I'm excusing is myself. And finally, there is no second chance. This is it. Every moment of every day we choose how our lives will unfold. If we are waiting for something to happen it has probably passed us by. "Life- no apologies, no excuses, no second chance."

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Familiar is Seductive

The line "There's got to be a morning after" keeps running through my mind. This is one day after I committed to spend time allowing my creative mind to run free and then writing. Now it comes down to discipline. The challenge of embedding a new habit confronts all of us when we attempt to diet, exercise, work or play in a new and different way. After all, as my friend Jan says, the familiar is seductive. So we will have a tendency to revert to our old way of doing things.

First try doing new things, or embracing new habits in the morning. Research indicates that will power is like a muscle and it tires during the day as you use it. So, the easiest way to use your will power is to do something new earlier in the day if possible.

Second, make it easy. For me it begins as simply as not turning on my computer and becoming destracted. So, I won't sit at my desk first thing in the morning, but in a chair next to it. That allows me to unleash my mind for creative wanderings. You might find that placing sneakers next to your bed will help you run in the morning, or placing fruit in easy reach will help change your diet. Make the change as easy as possible to accomodate.

Third, don't be too hard on yourself. The key is consistency. If I only succeed in sitting for 10 minutes in the morning before I jump to something else, I will celebrate that I did something. The habit will develop if I keep doing it, not how many hours I keep at it. People have told me of their success at meditation because they were consistent at it, not because of the hours clocked.

What do you do that works to create new habits?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Get Creative

Have you recently seen something new and thought "I wish I'd thought of that?" Creativity or innovative thinking is one of the hallmarks of individuals who unleash their personal greatness. They are able to see new ideas where the rest of us see none. But there is a necessary discipline... we have to take time just to sit and think.

Now, before you immediately reply that you don't have time to just sit and create, think again. Having a moment when we allow our minds to do whatever they want, go wherever they want unleashes all of the creative thoughts we've been storing up. We've mostly fail to realize how valuable that is, and how precious.

So, I'm trying a new discipline. First thing every morning I'm just sitting. It's tough. The first week I tried it I almost always ended up on the internet reading the news. But now I enjoy allowing my mind the time to wander and wonder. Have I written the next best seller, created the newest app or solved world hunger? Not yet, but I'm finding that the creative juices are flowing again.

Try a few minutes a day. Let us all know how you do. And please let us know if you solve world hunger.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thumbs Up

I was running on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, New Jersey. Well, not really running, more like a slow jog. I'm trying to get back into running and that day it was not going well. What looked like a beautiful January day with temps in the mid 50s and a crystal clear sky hid a challenge, a constant 12 mph wind.

As I ran into the wind for the first part of my run, I was full of all the complaints about my knees, my back, the chill in the air and especially the wind in my face. Those complaints did not diminish even when I turned and had the 12 mph wind at my back. But as I was moaning and groaning my way back to my start, I picked my head up and saw a challenging sight. An older man (well, he wasn't too much older than me really) was painfully hobb

ling along on a cane. He looked at me running and got a beautiful smile on his face. Then his free hand came up and he gave me a thumbs up as I ran by.

Studies of greatness usually focus on the gold medal winners, nobel prize winners and super elite of the world. Yet in my encounter on the boardwalk I met a great man. He was pushing himself to the edge of his own limitations and was enjoying the moment as he did so. And, as is typical of great individuals, he also lifted me up in the process.

Too often we are held back by what we can't do, rather than celebrating and enjoying what we can do. Not many of us will go down in history, but all of us can change a moment in our life or the life of someone else.

So ask yourself, what are your limits? How often do you push yourself? And when you do push yourself toward you own personal greatness, do you encourage others to do the same? If you have a crutch, do what you can and then share your energy, success, or just your struggle with someone else. Thumbs up.