Monday, September 23, 2013

Let's Start a Revolution

Reading the news this weekend was an exercise in frustration. Though statistically we are supposed to be living in the most peaceful epoch of humankind the examples of barbarism, extremism, isolationism and selfishness are rampant. Additionally there is an undercurrent that hope is dead, compromise is not even considered and working for the greater good is something we read about in history books. It would be easy in the face of all this depressing news to give up and give in to the monomaniacal mindset that since everything is so bad, it's every man and woman for him or her self. Screw everyone else, it's about me! Welcome to the world of 2013.

Enough of this crap. It's time to start a revolution. There are enough of us who hope, who work with others and who want to change the world for good. Perhaps the challenge is that we have not screamed louder than the chorus of nay-sayers, nor have we pushed them aside in our building of a great world. But what do we need to dispel the darkness that obscures possibilities? I read a quote over the weekend that placed things in perspective:
"Optimism is the greatest form of rebellion."
In the face of all the negative news optimists are laughed at, ridiculed and shunted aside. Yet the belief that there are new possibilities, new ideas, and new energy is a rebellion against the tide. Rather than succumb to the overwhelming negativity or at best, apathy, we want more. By thinking of options and possibilities they don't magically appear, but we are more likely to see and grasp them when they do appear; more importantly we are willing to work for change because we believe it can happen.
This will take personal committment on the part of many of us. But what will that cost? Last Friday I spoke to a room of professionals of the power of optimism, the success it brings and the change it ferments. The claim is that optimists don't see reality as it really is. Well that's BS. The difference is that we see reality as it really is but don't allow it to win. We believe we can change reality for the good. Yet to many people optimists are obnoxious. So I asked the audience to become "obnoxious optimists." That may be the only way the world will hear another voice, another way and a powerful energy toward positive change. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Weather Forecast for Greatness

Doesn't weather amaze you? The variations of each day; the multitudinous minuscule changes that accompany each shift in the atmosphere. Yet underlying all of the variations is an incredible consistency that we rely on. The sun rises each morning. We rotate around it in annual patterns and mostly we can predict what will happen during the various seasons because of this consistency.

Pursuing a goal, learning a skill, or ascending to the next level in anything runs according to this pattern. Yes, we need intensity to achieve great things. But if we only rely on intensity we will burn out, give up, or frustrate ourselves eventually. We need both consistency and intensity to learn or achieve anything. However

Consistency is more important than intensity.

I've learned this important lesson many times in my life as I attempted new skills, tried to attain the next level of ability in an area, or worked to achieve a goal. I'd start with incredible intensity, work for hours in a day only to have the discarded carcasses of goals, dreams and tasks litter my little office. I'm really good at intensity... for a short period. 

Studying individuals who have succeeded in amazing ways I've noticed they start with consistency. Each day, or every other day they pursue their goal, practice their skill or chip away at their project. The consistency takes on a routine and the routine propels them to completion. It is only with the foundation of consistency that intensity works. When there are those inspired moments, when you have the time to dedicate a full day to a project, or when you are driven to complete a certain phase, that intensity only helps take the consistency to a higher level. The important thing is not to give yourself a break the next day, or the next week because you have accomplished so much. Return to your practice the next day and return to your consistency. 

Predictions in weather happen because we know averages, norms, seasonal changes and conditions that drive change. Achievement and personal greatness can also be seen the same way. Whatever you want to do, develop a consistent pattern of working at it every day or every other day. Allow the intensity to arise when it will, but return to the consistency. That pattern helps forecast your success. 

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Put Your Sneakers By The Door

I'm a runner. Okay, really I'm just a jogger and I usually plod along. But I'm most days you will find me outside running three to five miles. My friends ask me how I do it, how I get the discipline to run every day. Honestly, that's easy. It's become a habit. I automatically lace up my sneakers (mostly in the morning) and trek out just because it's become part of my day. I don't often think about the health benefits, or the extra food I might be able to eat. Running is just part of me.

I'm also a writer. Well, not really. I'm a blogger, who has written a few articles, a couple of books and most recently a chapter about Positive Psychology and high performance teams. However my writing, unlike my running, comes in fits and starts. At times I have to force myself to sit down and write something, anything, just to get going. But unlike those writers who say they have to write every day I havent' gotten in the habit. Why? I haven't put my sneakers by the door.

No, I haven't lost my mind. I've heard that in running one of the toughest things to do is lace up your sneakers. I disagree. The toughest thing is to put them on. When you place them where you can't miss them they are a constant reminder that they want to be worn. When I first went back to running a few years ago I put my sneakers in a very visible place as a reminder every day. Now I don't need to do that.

But what about something else you want to do? Whether you are a writer, a parent, a professional and there is something you want to improve on, or at least work at every day you can create habits. The easiest way to create a habit is to develop a ritual that you do on a consistent basis.

I've not created a ritual for my writing. For those who follow me on this blog I you know I haven't written for about a month. Though I know I write best in the morning I always find myself reading the news first, or scrolling through my emails and the next thing I know the morning has disappeared. Even running can be a distraction from my writing. A fellow artist told me the other day that he wakes up and starts writing. No distractions, no checking email. He has created the time and the space where he immediately puts words to paper (or words to screen). That might work for me. I need a visual reminder of what I want. As I open my laptop in the morning, or unscrew the top of my fountain pen I can enter a world of words and get lost in them.

Putting your sneakers by the door is a ritual reminding you to put them on. Placing your laptop or pen in a quiet area and going there the same time every day is equally as ritualistic. What is your ritual to the next thing you wish to do?

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Announcing The Greatness Project Channel on Youtube

Well, it's time to try something new. What the heck, that's the way we learn right? So we are launching The Greatness Project on Youtube. We will still blog for those of us who are into the written word, but for those who like visuals we will try to place a weekly video about the latest research, findings or scientific studies that help all of us achieve our personal greatness.

Here is the link to the first video.  We are very open to feedback and suggestions, and we want to get our information out to a wider audience.

Scott and Jan

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

How to Train Your Boss

If you haven’t read the latest Gallup results about workplace engagement, don’t. It’s depressing. According to Gallup 70% of the workers in this country are either out to get their company or minimally have mentally checked out. Only 30% are engaged and enjoy their jobs. More fascinating but not unexpected is the main reason for workplace discontent, the boss. According to the study what employees want from their bosses are three things: regular praise, opportunity for growth and involvement on how to improve whatever work they do. Well, if you have one of those bosses who fails in any one or all of these areas, here are some things you can do to train your boss.
1. Ask for praise. More specifically ask for feedback. If you really want to know how you are doing, ask on a regular basis. Most managers assume their employees know how they are doing which is why they don’t tell them. Also it’s uncomfortable for managers to give difficult feedback to people they don’t believe are receptive. After all, bosses are human. So make sure you ask what you are doing well (so you are praised, but more importantly so you can repeat it) and what you are not doing well. And be ready to listen to it.
When I was at Merrill Lynch I gave my manager a printed list at the end of the week of all I had accomplished (she didn’t do email). It gave her the opportunity to provide immediate feedback and I knew if I was on track or not.
2. Ask for opportunities. Assuming that your boss knows you want to try new opportunities at work is bad communication. Bosses can’t mind-read. If you want to try new assignments or growth opportunities, ask for them. And make sure the description, expectations, support, and final result are clear so that you will have the best opportunity to succeed. You also might come with suggestions of areas you want to explore. That way the boss doesn’t have to think it up.
Recently a support person on a financial team wanted to expand into the role of events planner. She suggested to her boss that a culinary experience might be fun for clients and beneficial to the team. So she volunteered to run it. When it was successful she became the event planner for the team, but without her suggesting it her boss would not have thought about it.
3. Suggest improvements. No one knows your job like you do. You probably know many ways your work can be improved to be more efficient, productive, etc. But all that brain power goes to waste if you don’t get your idea to your boss. So, if they don’t ask you how to improve your work or your job, suggest it to them. Start with how it will improve the work. When bosses see that something can be better they quickly realize what is in it for them. Then detail how and why your suggestion can be implemented. Finally suggest a trial run so that your boss can see the results. And remember, at the end of all this, if your idea is adopted, your boss will get most if not all of the credit, but she/he will understand where the idea came from and your will have bettered your workplace.
I worked with a team that struggled to meet it’s goals, everyone was on edge and not a lot was getting done. One of the newer members of the team suggested a reorganization of the work based on people’s strengths. She convinced the boss to try it. After the initial test they found that both their productivity and morale soared. The bonus was that the boss gave her all the credit.
4. Praise your boss. This is the most important discipline of all. When your boss does something right, thank her/him. If they have a particularly efficient meeting, tell them what was so good about it and thank them for running it that way. If they praise you, thank them and tell them how much it meant to you. If they give you good feedback, thank them and tell them why the feedback was so good. The reason is that, like all of us, bosses like to do things right and most likely aren’t hearing anything from their own boss. When you thank them for what they did well, they are much more likely to repeat it.
I’ve always believed that people need to take control of their own lives. In the workplace we are very much at the mercy of our bosses. Yet they are not always the villain. Many times they are being pushed, prodded and driven from multiple directions at once and are overwhelmed. They also need to be trained on how to deal specifically with you. Teach them. Help them to be the boss you need them to be by following these four simple disciplines. They will be better for it and you will be happier and more engaged.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Work-Life Balance is the Holy Grail of Our Era

There is no such thing as work-life balance. There I said it and I wasn’t struck by lightning nor did the house shake. Though the inspirational-speaker-gods might be angry with me the ground did not swallow me up. The work-life balance misnomer has floated around for quite a while and it has been the cash cow for a lot of speakers, including me. Everybody seems to want to know how to find the magic balance. It is the holy grail of our era. But just like the holy grail of old, it is just a legend, a myth. It doesn’t exist.

Arianna Huffington’s Third Metric Conference recently focused on redefining success. She identifies that there needs to be a third way of defining success. She believes the first two metrics of success are money and power. Then she offers that the third metric needs to be about well-being. Reading about the conference I agreed with her up until this point. There needs to be a redefinition of success and that is great fodder for another blog. But as I read further in the article I believe the conference just made it more difficult for everybody. They said that the way to find success is to balance money, power and well-being. Okay, now they have just guaranteed that those who attended the conference and those reading about it just added tremendously to their stress level.

Work-life balance is not possible. Mathematically it is almost impossible to balance the hours in a day so that there are precisely enough for work and leisure. More importantly to separate work from life is ridiculous. Most of us have to work for a living. (Perhaps unless you are Arianna Huffington.) Work is integral to our lives. So, what do we have to do?

The challenge of work-life imbalance is stress and guilt. We spend more time on one side of the equation at the expense of the other and we feel stressed out and guilty. We believe we should be focused more on one element than the other whether it’s work or leisure. So the answer is choosing our imbalance.

Some of us actually enjoy the work we do. We are passionate about it and we gain joy in our creativity and success. Others love the power or connection their work brings. And it pulls us away from our family and loved ones. But if we choose the “work” side of the equation to focus on, and accept the fact that it will demand our time, perhaps we can relax so that when we spend the time with our loved ones, or in leisure we can savor the moment rather than feel torn about getting back to work. Or conversely, if we identify that we want to spend the majority of our time with our family and loved ones we set that expectation in our mind, work as little as we can and accept the consequences.

The challenge with work-life balance thinking is the fallacy that we can “have it all.” In reality we can’t have it all, but we can have more of what we want if we stop searching for the grail of balance and just accept whatever imbalance we choose.

Friday, June 7, 2013

The Ritual Effect

Many years ago when I first began speaking to audiences I would become so nervous I'd want to vomit. I was given some great instruction and wonderful advice that has helped me transition to a much calmer and more professional speaker. One of the key pieces of advice was to create a "ritual." Seriously? When I first heard the word "ritual" I thought of incense and prayers since as an ordained clergyman I've participated in many rituals over the years. But what was suggested to me was using a physical movement that would trigger my body when I was about to speak. My body would then react by moving the energy to where I needed it and not leave it in my stomach. All these years later I still use that same quick ritual before I speak and I feel myself gaining control.

Recently Forbes Magazine ran an article about two associate professors at Harvard, Michael Norton and Francesca Gino, who are researching the effects of rituals. They discovered that rituals help alleviate grief and also enhance the experience of eating. Well, as a clergyman, I know about alleviating grief, but had to smile at rituals enhancing eating. Yet what I wondered is why it has taken so long for many of us to catch on to the power of rituals. 

Rituals enhance, assist and invigorate most activities. Actors, singers, athletes and business men and women use them effectively every day to be better at what they do. A ritual helps them prepare, focus and be energized throughout an action. We now teach professionals to create their own rituals so that they can quickly engage in an activity rather than be hesitant or distracted. 

For example, when I am writing something new I prefer to create the idea long hand. Only once the idea is on paper do I sit at my keyboard and flesh it out. But the ritual I use before I write brings my mind into focus and relaxes me. First I purchased some very nice pens. My favorite is a fountain pen which I purposely fill with ink each time I want to start a new article, or book. The movement of deliberately picking up the pen, opening it and filling it with ink relaxes and focuses me. It's as if my mind and body know what's coming and so they are ready. 

What rituals do you use in your life and work? How do you prepare your mind and body so you will be more relaxed and focused during any activity? Remember, you can create rituals to enhance anything you do. Just as long as they are followed every time by that activity your mind and body will be more in tune and more focused as you start. And you can even use them to enjoy your meals more. 

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Devil Made Me Do It: Disbelief in Free Will May Lead to Unsocial Behaviors

Those of us old enough to remember the comic Flip Wilson also remember his alter ego Geraldine. When Flip Wilson dressed up as Geraldine, it was hard to forget. Geraldine was a vivacious, amazingly funny, energetic woman who never took responsibility for her own actions. Her classic line after a lewd remark or action was “the devil made me do it.” And since she believed she had no control over her actions she’d just laugh and carry on.
One of the crucial elements of achievement, success and personal greatness is the belief that you are in control of your choices and actions. Individuals who have higher degrees of success take the actions they need because they believe they are in control of their choices no matter the circumstances around them. They will admit that sometimes the choices aren’t balanced or equal, but they still have a choice. In my workshop Roadmap to Personal Greatness the first exercise I offer is one designed to help people understand what is behind their choices and most importantly, that they have free choice no matter what is going on.
Do we have free will? Can we make a free decision at a crucial moment to alter our own actions? There are some psychologists and sociologists who would clam that we don’t have a choice. They claim we are primed for certain behaviors. These behaviors become constant either because of the genetic wiring in our brain or because of the habitual reflexes we develop. The researchers make a good case that we often react without consciously choosing what we are doing. Some philosophers go further by trumpeting determinism where all our actions are pre-determined anyway and we are just acting out a preassigned role. I’m not going to argue about free will. However there is recent research that disbelief in free will may cause some disruptive behaviors.
Using texts that argued against free will, researchers first had volunteers read the texts (the control group read neutral texts) and then gave the volunteers various activities to participate in. Vohs and Schooler found that those induced to disbelieve in free will were more likely to cheat on a test, they were more aggressive and less social than others, whereas those who strengthened their belief in free will fostered a sense of thoughtful reflection and willingness to exert energy to accomplish a task. Overall the researchers found that our personal belief about free will affects job performance and career attitudes based on having control over our actions.
Most of us believe we have free will, but it is more of a philosophical thought. When I ask people what gets in their way of achieving their goals, too often they blame others or circumstances on why they can’t make the choice. Yet in every moment of every day, we have the choice to decide how we will act. It’s not always easy and it’s not always fair, but we always have a choice. Otherwise, we may as well just blame our actions on the devil.

Friday, May 24, 2013

What We Have Here is a Failure to Communicate

“The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”  — George Bernard Shaw
My days are spent talking. Either I’m standing in front of a group giving a speech or workshop (as is the case this week) or I’m speaking in a small group or with an individual. Basically I get paid to speak. It’s not a bad gig and I enjoy it. Yet listening to the leaders in this current workshop you’d think talking was a lost art form. They bemoan the fact that they believe they communicate well, but find out that they’ve barely been heard, and not understood, or they’ve not been heard at all. One of the leaders in the workshop shared with us the George Bernard Shaw quote that “The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred.”
I’ve always found it amusing that communication is referred to as a “soft” skill. Of course this actually reflects that its well nigh impossible to calibrate communication, compared to a skill such as accounting where there is clear definition. Yet too often, people refer to these “soft” skills as though communication is easy or it doesn’t matter as much. It is very difficult to do it properly. That is why, when communication is done effectively it is so obvious.
Interestingly enough, we live in an age were there is the illusion of constant communication. Cell phones are glued to people’s ears. Fingers are toughened through constant tapping on screens. We have facebook, twitter, IM, Skype, Oovoo, and a myriad of devices to communicate. And yet so often people complain about not knowing what is going on, or they have misunderstood some form of electronic communication and had to apologize.
Let’s face it. The most powerful and clear form of communication is face to face communication. We can hear the person, watch their gestures, listen to their tone and get the message. Nothing can replicate face to face dialogue. And even then, I often think I’ve explained something very clearly only to find my listener received a totally different message.
Technology is great for many things, but getting a message across about business, politics, religion, opinion or love is best done so you can look into people’s eyes. Even then, we all need work on how to be concise and clear. Want to know how good you are? Ask someone to summarize something you spoke about. You will find very quickly if your communication is real or an illusion.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Fly the Skies: Friendly or Not

At Newark Airport yesterday morning a group of us stepped up to the TSA pre-screened line. Having done the extra paperwork and having allowed the extra scrutiny by the government, I look forward to the shorter line. Yet, I noticed the agent turning away many of those who approached her. Confident that I had been vetted, I approached the agent and she scanned my ticket. “Nope” she cheerfully said, “you don’t have access.” Determinedly I scanned my boarding pass again, but did not hear the usual three beeps allowing access to the shorter line. As she pointed her finger to show me the way, I joined the other, much longer, line. Apparently the TSA occasionally refuses even those who are validly pre-screened as part of their security procedure. Yet what fascinated me was the palpable glee on the agent’s face as she denied access to many fliers. Most of the time she wouldn’t even look at them while she pointed to the end of the other line. As I watched she would sometimes wag her finger in the faces of some of the fliers telling them they were refused and their wait was about to become much longer.

Yesterday Newark Airport was a laboratory of emotion, self-esteem and personal interaction. Like most days for each of us, it offered the possibility of acceptance and rejection, success and failure, and control along with lack of control. But even more powerful was the glimpse into how most people are treated in life and how depersonalizing that is.

Watching the faces of individuals in the airport I saw anger, despair, helplessness and frustration. Rarely did I encounter people smiling or walking confidently. Yet as I thought about it, it is natural to react to what has become a threatening environment. Long lines are exacerbated by agents telling you very little news and yet demanding you stay in them. Everyone tries moving as efficiently as possible and become irritated when someone in front of them is too slow. And of course, there is the strip search.

What struck me is that, despite some excellent TSA agents (aside from the one at the pre-screen line) who were trying to help people and keep a smile on their face, the situation and the necessary security treats people in a very inhumane way. When that happens, people respond to the feeling of threat by fighting, fleeing or freezing.

What we need in life to make us feel human and special is easy.

·         Use names. Remember the sweetest sound to the human ear is the sound of their own name.

·         Smile occasionally. We live in a world where people smile less frequently, especially in new situations. We need others to smile and allow us to relax.

·         Create eye contact. There is nothing better for the soul than to know you’ve been acknowledged.

·         Treat others with respect. We are working our way through this world like everyone else. Give others the respect you deserve.

I’ve flown over a million miles and that is just on one airline. Traveling can be challenging, and it’s the perfect analogy for life. We are all going some destination. Either we can be concerned only about ourselves, or we can realize that everyone else is a traveler too. The traveling is much better when we all respect each other, mount the challenges together and then enjoy the ride.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

STAY In Your Comfort Zone

We live in a world where change seems constant. Technology outpaces our ability to utilize it and to monitor the improper use of it. Corporations radically restructure their infrastructure, platforms and products. Even the pace of inter-generational gaps accelerates dramatically leaving us befuddled in our family or social communication. Yet, this does not mean that we, as individuals or even businesses, have to embrace the same mindset of constant change.

We hear mantras like "change or die," "think outside the box," and "get out of your comfort zone." The challenge is that these concepts are essential to technology businesses and much of the competitive core that makes us our economy. Organizations and corporations need to create, innovate and examine opportunities and weaknesses on a regular basis. Some have gone overboard and waste precious time and energy with constant hierarchical restructuring, but that is a thought for another blog. The challenge is that this "constant change" thinking affects and infects how individuals think about themselves and their work.

If something is working. If your life is going well. If you enjoy what you do and are doing it well. LEAVE IT ALONE! Yes, you continue to work on your skills or relationships to improve them, but you don't need to put change in your life for change sake. Constant change activates the emotional brain into a fight-flight-freeze response and that is the sure-fire way to kill success.

Athletes have known this for decades. When they are in the zone, when everything is going right, they don't change a thing. They use the same rituals to prepare, eat the same food, go through the same game-day routines and ride the wave of success. It is when they suspect they could improve an element of their game, or they feel something going wrong that they move to change it.

So when things at work or at home are going well; when what occupies our time also fills our soul, we need to enjoy it. That's why they call it a "comfort zone." Allowing these moments in our lives give us the energy to continue the journey and eventually reenter the maelstrom of change.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Having Integrity

It's election day in my town. Working with one of the parties, I arrived at 5:00 AM to help with the day's events. Our immediate task was "challenges." Challenges are the procedural way to examine who used mail-in ballots and to see if there are any irregularities. Any party can use them. For example, we found fourteen voters who supposedly lived at the same address. By the way, the number on the address was "0." Really? Yet in the midst of our work, someone asked the question, "couldn't you challenge anybody's vote? Couldn't you challenge a whole district you thought wasn't voting for your ticket?" The answer was yes. You can challenge anything. But as our campaign manager wisely said "That's not what our candidates want to do. At the end of the day, they want to wake up after the election with their integrity intact."

We live in a world of challenges, achievement, success and position. Moving through that morass can be confusing at times and tempting at others. Our headlines are strewn with the wrecked careers of men and women who stepped over the line to achieve something and were caught. They hang their heads and move on. But what was missing?

Ethics and integrity are some of the key characteristics of greatness. Yes, people can achieve amazing things through cheating or enhancing their performance. Of course, they have to live with themselves. If each of us doesn't have a crystal clear distinction of right and wrong, we are vulnerable to the temptations for the easy ride, or the short cut.

In reality there are those who have not been caught. They've cheated the system, perhaps cheated you and me. But how worthwhile is an achievement that has been captured falsely? Can you really enjoy the moment if you've succeeded under false pretenses. I know I couldn't.

I was proud of the team this morning and it was a good reminder for me. Everyday shortcuts and backdoors are offered in various ways. The first step is always small. Yet, standing by your beliefs and knowing what is right and wrong is a powerful foundation. With your ethics and integrity intact you can take on the world knowing that even if you lose, you did what was right.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Make Molehills Out of Mountains

Just for a second, pick up an object and hold it very closely in front of your face. Now, ask yourself what you see. Most likely, if you are holding the object close enough you probably don't see anything but the object. It looks enormous. Now, take the same object and place it across the room, sit down and look at it. Doesn't it have a totally different perspective? You've just made a molehill out of a mountain. 

We live in a society where everything seems to loom over us. Our 24/7 news screams at us constantly about the latest threat. There is always "breaking news." For many of us our workplaces have taken on this magnification. Everything is "urgent" and "immediate." If we ask for some priority we are told that it is "all important." And so we attempt to accomplish everything by putting our heads down and diving in.

Though I've long employed the strategy of attacking everything, I'm learning that I need perspective. When I'm task driven everything is right in front of my face and sometimes I can't judge how much emphasis to place on it. In other words, something more important might need to be done, or there is a different way to handle what I'm looking at.

I just learned this important lesson, so I hope some of you have your own ideas how to place things in perspective. Two strategies work for me. The first is taking a step back. This means putting down my pen, or pushing back from the computer and looking objectively at what I need to accomplish and how vital it is to life, business, the world, my survival, (you get the picture). Most of the time I find I've placed too much emphasis on the task and I've found I can finish it much quicker because I've placed it in perspective. The second strategy I use is asking someone else for their perspective on the task or issue. Many times others have great insights into what I'm trying to do and I'm learning to value their opinion. Sometimes they can see beyond what I'm holding right in front of my face.

Our world seemingly insists that everything is important. That is not true. Stepping back, or gaining the perspective of someone else allows you to move forward much more rapidly and accomplish tasks or overcome challenges. The key is challenging the idea that everything is a mountain. Most of them really are molehills that are right in front of our face.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Why Are We All So Busy?

Recently I've noticed a trend. Whenever I ask one of my friends or acquaintances "how are you doing?" inevitably they tell me how busy they are. It seems that everyone I speak with is overwhelmed with demands at work and demands at home. There is little or no time to enjoy what we work so hard to acquire or build. Especially in the North East US everybody seems to be in a rush (just drive any of our roads). And I'm in the same boat.

Sometimes we need simple reminders to slow down, to enjoy life. This morning I came across this article by Sean Doyle. He writes brilliantly about the challenges we all share and how to back off the pace a bit. I couldn't have written it better, so here is the link to the article. Enjoy.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Look For The Helpers

"Look for the helpers. The world is full of helpers."   Mr. Rogers

We live in a world of contradictions. There is violence and peace; anger and love; builders and destroyers; the selfish and the selfless. Our 24/7 news cycle highlights the darkest of these comparisons and leads us to picture the world as a selfish, frightening place and we might think our only reaction is to defend ourselves and take as much as we can. Yet watching the video of the senseless bombing yesterday at the Boston Marathon the reaction of many of the bystanders near the center of the bombing was amazing.

The first responders were not the only ones running toward the blast. The videos clearly show other people coming to help immediately, even some of the runners. In the confusing aftermath, people comforted the injured, helped them to safety and then went back to help some more. Contradicting the selfish, cowardly acts of the perpetrator were many men and woman willing to venture into harm's way to help others.

Too often we fall under the darkening spell of 24/7 news where we hear of every act of violence, senselessness and selfishness in the world until we can be overcome with fear or even worse, we become inured to it all and only want to protect ourselves.

Mr. Rogers is right. The world is full of helpers. Most people want to do the right thing, to live the best they can and to enable others to do so. Why isn't this news? Because we just assume that is what we should do as human beings; help others.

So today, look for the helpers and thank them. Better yet, be a helper. It will change someone's day and in a small way it will change the world for good.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Choose Your Energy

Yesterday, as Jan and I commuted into New York City to facilitate the third day of our Positive Leadership series, I looked around at the other commuters on the subway. Of course as a traveler I know that it's important not to look like a victim when traveling around any city. But the next time you are on the subway, bus, or walking through your city or town note what you see. What I saw was mostly negative or slightly bored expressions and it made me wonder: is this the energy we are bringing into the workplace?

Be honest. What kind of energy do you bring into a room? Is the energy positive or negative? I'm not talking about being so cheerful you make people cringe as you walk into the room. But do people cringe when you walk in from fear of your negative energy or worse, your wrath?

You might protest that you work in toxic environments with people you'd rather not associate with. Yet, even in the midst of really negative work spaces we have the choice of what we bring to the situation and to the day. We can choose to be victimized by the negativity around us, or choose to stand in our own integrity and live and act the way we want to.

Positive energy is important to how we are perceived by those around us. We might think that by being stern and authoritative we project a leadership quality. Yet Alex Pentland in the research he did at MIT on charisma discovered that one of the most important elements of charisma was projecting positive energy and being energetic about what you do.

It is very simple. Every day we choose the clothes, the shoes and perhaps the coat we wear. We also choose the attitude. More than the clothes, the attitude makes the man or woman. So think about that tomorrow morning as you prepare for your day. The attitude you choose and the energy you convey can make your day, along with those around you.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What, Me Worry?

As a young teen I was a fan of MAD magazine. Their picture of Alfred E. Neuman with his motto "What, Me Worry?" always made me smile. Back then I worried a lot. I worried about the life ahead of me, what I would do with my life, who I would become, how much money I would make, and who would love me. There is even a line in one of my journals (yep, I kept diaries since I was 10) that I was worried about the devaluation of the dollar. No kidding! My friends and family still kid me about that one. But I've given up worry along with guilt and it feels great.

Now before you worry about me, I'm fine. I still feel both worry and guilt. I believe they are necessary for normal psychological functioning. They are warning signs that there is something we believe we have left undone, or some way that we have injured someone else. (I know those are simplistic definitions, but let's leave them for a bit). So, as far as warning signs go, we need worry and guilt in our lives.

However, when the smoke alarm goes off in your house what do you do? Well, I look for the source of the smoke (usually overcooking), determine if there is a real fire, get rid of the smoke and turn off the alarm. Probably the last thing you do is keep feeding smoke into the alarm, letting it shriek and replacing the batteries when they run low. Yet many people I've spoken with over the years deal with worry and guilt like that. They feed the worry and guilt constantly neither dealing with the problem, nor silencing the alarm. They can go on like this for years. 

Somehow many of us have come to think that by worrying or feeling guilty we are doing something. That is not true at all. We are just letting alarms go off, but not dealing with the issue. Once I realized I was simply perpetuating an alarm by wallowing in worry or guilt I determined to start dealing with the issues. 

So, now I listen to myself carefully when I worry or feel guilty. Then I determine what part of the issue is under my control and what part is totally out of my control. It has taken me many years, but I've finally learned to let go of what I can't control, and focus on what I can control. Next, I take action; I do something to eradicate what I'm worried about or I take an action that rectifies what I feel guilty about. 

This discipline requires practice, but it is well worth it. Understanding worry and guilt as warning signs takes a lot of their power away and places them at our disposal rather than debilitating us. More importantly in this entire process, you feel more of a sense of control and that, more than anything, can eliminate both worry and guilt. 

I no longer worry about the devaluation of the dollar. There's nothing I can do about that. But the other warning signs that pop up, worry about business or guilt about not calling a friend, I can deal with. Worry and guilt are good emotions to have, but only for a short period of time. Take some action and turn off the alarm. Your life will be much more peaceful. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Don't Underestimate Your Ability to Change the World

Last week  I met a group of heroes. They did not wear capes or tights and they didn't use false identities. What amazed me was that they don't consider their duties heroic. To them it is all in a day's work. These are the men and women who work for the Henry Street Settlement in New York City. After hurricane Sandy hit New York City blacking out most of lower Manhattan, these people fanned out to check on the seniors they knew and cared for. Sometimes walking up 30 to 40 floors they brought food, medicine and comfort. They painstakingly escorted or carried some of the seniors out of these buildings and relocated them in housing that had electricity and running water. From the time Sandy hit until all their seniors were safe and cared for they worked ridiculously long hours even though many of them had no electricity or running water in their own homes. Yet, none of them thought what they did was heroic.

In keynotes, conferences and workshops we consistently find that people easily identify individuals they believe are great: noting everyone from Mother Theresa of Calcutta, to their parents, or an aunt or uncle. They identify the characteristics they believe these individuals possess and easily list characteristics of greatness. Research on heroes, as noted by Scott Allison and George Goethals in Heroes: What they do and why we need them, list "hero" characteristics as being "smart, strong, selfless, caring, charismatic, resilient, reliable and inspiring."

Here is where it gets interesting. When we have people look at the characteristics of greatness or heroes and ask them if they've displayed any of the characteristics, they respond with silence. We could attribute this lack of response to humility, or it could speak to a larger challenge: we can't see ourselves as heroes or great individuals. That is beyond us.

Why is this a challenge? Because our actions depend on how we think of ourselves and our abilities so if we believe we cannot make any difference in the world we won't make any. However, if we realize that we have shown some of the characteristics of greatness or heroics, then that behavior and those characteristics can be repeated and we can ultimately help a lot of people we might otherwise have ignored.

None of us need a cape or tights (I've heard they're hard to keep clean) but we need to realize that we have powers and abilities that can positively affect others around us. By at least acknowledging them in ourselves we can develop and grow those abilities so that everyone benefits.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Are You Happy? Who Cares

Today is United Nations World Happiness Day. UN World Happiness Day  I didn't know that until I logged into Facebook this morning and someone posted it on their timeline. I'm not a big fan of focusing on happiness (and I'll get to that) but having a day to bolster happiness throughout the world might be a good thing.

For me, happiness is a byproduct, not the goal. I'm happy when I help others, when I finish writing something I'm proud of, when I connect with my friends and family and hear they are okay. Happiness isn't something I directly seek, but it is an emotion that tells me I'm in a good place. The challenge is that happiness is so fleeting and subjective. I can be very happy one minute and then, after someone tells me bad news, I'm depressed. This doesn't seem to be an end goal worth focusing on, and studies show that individuals who focus on achieving happiness tend to be less happy than others.

So the answer is to shift the focus! Stop thinking about your own happiness. 

 Recently I was in Dunkin Donuts with my business partner, Jan. We take turns buying coffee and it was her turn. As the woman rang up our order Jan said "and I'll pay for his order too" indicating the guy behind us. What ensued after the shock was an immediate refusal to allow her to pay. Then he reluctantly accepted (we are very suspicious in the North East). And finally he got to a point where he was really happy and thanked Jan profusely. The people behind the counter were also incredulous. However, what surprised me more was how it affected my mood. I only witnessed the generosity, but for a few hours after that I felt very happy and blessed.

Here is where real happiness begins. When we help others, all the studies indicate, we are happier for a longer period of time and the happiness is more substantial. When we have purpose and meaning in our life and work (usually meaning we are contributing to something bigger than us) we are happier and more satisfied with life. When we are doing things for others and are not so self focused, we are happier.

Are you happy? Who cares? It's fleeting any way. However, ask yourself  "are the people around me safe, comfortable, and able to offer their best at what they do?" When you focus on them and help them enjoy the best life they can have, you will find yourself enjoying life more and you will be happier than you have ever been. So, perhaps there is a point to World Happiness Day, even if it's only buying someone else a cup of coffee and making them happy.

Monday, March 18, 2013

When The Going Gets Tough

Yesterday I was at the gym early in the morning for what I thought would be a quick workout. I was a little tired from the week, but wanted to do something to keep healthy, so I found myself there at 8:30 trying to break a sweat. Yet what happened over the next two hours surprised me. Yep, two hours! Now let me clarify something. I don't like lifting or working out in a gym. If there is a basketball game or a tennis match I can lose track of time and play for hours (or as long as my body holds out) but I don't really like just working out. So what happened?

Much of the time I am at this particular gym there are very few people there. I plod through my workout, some days feeling more energized, but most of the time I am watching the clock waiting for when I believe I've done enough. Yesterday there were a few people who I'm come to know in town and it seemed like everyone was in a mood to connect. I found out about birthdays and facial accidents (one guy accidently shaved part of his beard off). We laughed. We talked about weather and basketball. As this occurred I moved from equipment to equipment and worked harder than I have in many months. It was all because of my friends.

Studies at the University of Richmond show that when friends are with you, you judge challenges to be less difficult and therefore you are more likely to complete them. They also discovered that the pain centers of the brain don't register pain as much when you have a friend with you.

So often in our desire to change habits, optimize behavior, or achieve something, we believe we have to "go it alone." Yet, when the going gets tough, the tough get a friend. It lessens the challenge and we are more likely to succeed. Besides, when you achieve your goal, there is someone there to celebrate with.

Monday, March 11, 2013

You Need A Cheering Section

There is an interesting phenomenon in sports that also speaks to achievement and success for all of us. Studying the season of any team statistics strongly point to a “home court advantage.” Any team seems to play better when the cheering section is behind them. This is so much of a factor that in basketball, the fans are often called “the sixth man” as though they played the game with the team. But what has this got to do with success and achievement?
Recently the new CEO of Yahoo rattled the working world by calling their employees back into their offices. No more tele-commuting for Yahoo. Her motives focused on the necessity of employees interacting personally to foster innovation. Studies indicate that she is right about bringing employees together. Following her lead, Best Buy and KPMG also ordered their employees back into the office.
Let’s put aside the question of flexibility and work-life balance for a minute. I’m all for flexibility and utilizing the power of technology to complete work wherever and whenever the employee can. (I’ve done some of my best projects sitting on the sand looking at the ocean.) But for a moment, let’s look at some of the positives of working together.
Alex Pentland of MIT studies the highest performing work groups and found that one of the key factors for success is physical proximity. Teams that were near each other, where they could bounce ideas off each other, meet at the water fountain, take a coffee break or lunch together were more productive and innovative. They were more successful. Pentland even found he could identify that how the employees spoke to each other; where and how they stood in proximity to each other, was indicative of how successful the work group would be.
Additionally studies in Positive Psychology indicate that the social aspect of work, just being around other people and interacting with them, can make people happier. We are social animals and we enjoy being with others. The simple affirmation of being recognized as we walk into work, or in a restaurant, or bar, elevates us for the moment as part of a hive.
But we also need to consider the “cheering section” effect. Speaking to many people about their successes in life I realize that its very difficult to “go it alone.” When there are people around who acknowledge what you’ve done, how you’ve contributed and (if applicable) how good your work is, you do better work. It’s like having a “sixth man.”
Yes, there is a freedom that technology allows us so we can work from anywhere. But what are we giving up? We are social animals. We love a hive and to be part of one. So whether your company demands employees return to the office or not, you need to design your own cheering section. Meet at Starbucks with other workers. Take a home worker out to lunch. You will be amazed at the results. And, if you are really serious about succeeding, create your own cheering section. Identify the people who will encourage and help you along the way. Nothing will stop you because you will always have the home court advantage.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Do You Feel Lucky?

"I'm a great believer in luck and I find that the harder I work the more luck I have." Thomas Jefferson.

I don't believe in luck. Well, let me amend that. I didn't believe in luck. The reason was that I wanted to believe I was in control of my present circumstances and my future success. I felt that everything that happened to me was part of my own work and preparedness. Of course, we've all heard the aphorism "luck is the intersection of opportunity and preparation." I was so immersed in this thinking that I stopped wishing people "good luck" and instead I wished them "continued success." Recently I read Great by Choice by Jim Collins where he dismisses the concept of luck being a factor in organizational success. For Collins, success is all about how organizations plan and execute on their plan.

Yet empirical evidence pulled at me. Good and bad things happen to people when other things could or should have. That is really the definition of luck; good or bad. Reading about successful people often reveals they are in the right place, at the right time. Or they happen to meet just the right person to pursue their goal. Or they accidentally discover something while working on a different project. Or they just miss the storm that capsizes everyone else while they sail on to victory. It was a factor out of their control, but they just happened to utilize it. History is filled with great individuals who were "lucky." But is that all there is to it?

 Recently Dr. Adam Grant from Wharton interviewed Michael Mauboussin about his new book, The Success Equation. Mauboussin spoke about luck being the stuff that happens around you (good and bad) over which you have no control. But what he also discovered from studying successful people is that more things go their way (luck) than individuals who are not as skilled or persistent. In other words, Thomas Jefferson could be right that the harder you work the more luck you will have.

Examining my own life I can honestly say that I've been lucky. I've met the "right" people, had the "right" interviews, pitched the "right" solution and often at just the "right" time. But usually it happened when I worked hard at success. What about you? How much has luck played a part in your life and your success? For me, I still want to do more research, but what I'm beginning to understand, as I examine my own life, is that even though I did not believe in luck, apparently luck believed in me.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Are You Living a Life of Creative Tension?

This morning while reading I came across this quote by E.B. White:

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

That space between seeking to improve the world and seeking to enjoy it is something I grapple with every day. People challenge me that by focusing so much on personal greatness and changing the world I must not be able to relax and be content. The opposite is true; well, at least about the contentment, I'm working on relaxing.

Between improving and enjoying the world is the creative tension which allows for a powerful, fulfilled life.

As I write this there is a crystal clear azure sky as the sun rises over the ocean in Asbury Park. The street below my window is awash in contrasts of color and white from the light snowfall last night. How can you not be enamoured by a world like this? How can you not enjoy these moments, breathe them in deeply into the fabric of your being and hope against hope that you carry them through a modicum of your day?

And then there is the clarion call of positive change. The day rolls out in front of you with endless possibilities to offer a smile or a laugh, to cheer up someone who is dejected and bring out the best in everyone, especially yourself. That challenge is what gets the blood flowing and the heart racing.

To see your hand on the world around you as it moves toward the good is an amazing thing.

So, I don't intend to shirk from the seductive yet challenging world around us and I hope you won't either. It is what gives my life meaning and vigor. To embrace the wonder of this world, yet to desire to improve it for all people is the ultimate greatness project, and it awaits us each day as we rise to meet it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can Ash Wednesday Lead to Personal Greatness?

“Excellence is not an act, it is a habit.” (concept attributed to Aristotle)

Today is Ash Wednesday. For many Christians this means the beginning of Lent and a time to give up some bad habits or to create some good ones. For non-christians it is the day they often see Christians walking around with what looks like dirt on their foreheads. But Christian or not, it behooves any of us to reflect on the habits we have and decide if they are benefiting us. If not, we have the chance to change them.

I’m currently reading

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

and I’m intrigued already. Early in the book it is estimated that 40% of our day is driven by our habits. We don’t think about what we are doing, we are on auto-pilot. These habits develop over time to make it easier for the brain to function. For example, once you master driving a car you don’t really think about all of the various actions involved anymore. (that definitely explains some of the drivers on the NJ Turnpike). But think about it. Arethe habits we have helping to unleashing our personal greatness?

The quote ”Excellence is not an act, it is a habit” is attributed to Aristotle because he believed that the culmination of life should be achieving excellence in all we do. Excellence would bring us a true happiness that no one could take away. Aristotle also believed that it was not one act that achieved excellence, but a lifetime of habits.

I’m not going to write how to change bad habits, or create good ones. At least not yet. But just for today take a moment and think. Are my behaviors, choices, and decisions leading me to unleashing my best? Or are their some bad habits that get in the way of my best? I know I have habits of checking Facebook or emails right in the middle of writing, or eating something so I have the excuse not to go to the gym, or allowing comments to affect my passion and dedication.

The first step in any change is awareness. Identify the habits that get in the way, notice what triggers them and what reward you get out of them. This might be the perfect day to start.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Be Yourself, It's a Great Idea

“Just cut it all off” I said as I walked into the salon. Ray just looked at me and said “you’reImagekidding, right?” Affirming that I was serious, I got my first buzz cut since I was about six. It felt great and is so easy. Friends and family were a little shocked at first, but eventually got use to it. I’ve always been a bit vain about my hair, so I think it took people by surprise, but it was the “real” me coming out. I just love the ease of no hair. 
Psychology Today published an article (I lost the article, so forgive the lack of reference) on regret noting that when people who had terminal illnesses were interviewed they regretted two things. The first was that they had not been authentic to themselves. The second was that they wish they had not spent so much time working. I’ve heard the second regret so often I’m almost tired of it. But the first regret got my attention. 
We live in a society that demands certain behaviors in order to “fit in.” Standards of common courtesy are fine, we need them to function in large groups. However, when the standards and expectations begin to pressure us to act or dress in ways just to please others, we are being pulled away from our own personal greatness. The challenge is trying to understand who we really are and what we really believe. 
I’ve discovered there is only one way to fully understand your uniqueness and live it out. Slow down! Not great advice coming from someone who likes to live at 90 miles an hour. But I’ve found that especially when that little voice of warning, judgement, or fear goes off in my head, it’s time to slow down, not make any quick decisions and think about what is pressuring me to act in a certain way. 
Sometimes I’m acting a certain way to please others, or fit in. Other times it might be that I don’t want to “rock the boat.” Whatever the reason I’ve found that being fully aware of the moment, mindfulness, helps me choose my next step and be happier with it. 
All of us were placed here with unique gifts and talents. We have a powerful, personal impact to make on the world. How great it is when people allow that unique gift to come through. It is something you won’t live to regret. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are You Ready For "Life Storms?"

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes."  Scandinavian Proverb

As the East Coast of the US braces for a massive snowstorm and all of the weather forecasters become apoplectic in their frenzy, I was reminded last night of some of the important lessons we can learn from dealing with weather. At dinner a friend told us that in his experience "most people came in to the store to buy the essentials only after the snow started falling." By then it was usually too late. 

Let's face it, we all have rough times in our lives; we might call them "life storms". So how do we prepare? Well, just think about a snowstorm. Here is my short list of things to have ready. 

1. Do you have enough food? Food is critical to survive, especially in difficult times. What feeds you during life storms? Do you need creative time, time alone, or time with others? Do you find that books give you support, or do you need time for prayer? Your "food" is whatever sustains you through difficult times, gives you the courage to continue and the desire to see things through. The most important lesson is to have all of this prepared BEFORE the storm hits. 

2. Do you have a safe place? In a storm, most of us can stay in our homes, but we have to prepare them for continued warmth if the power goes off. Where is a "safe" place for you when life storms hit? Do you have a quiet place in your home, office, church or park where you can sit and feel safe? Have a place prepared where you can think through all that is happening. 

3. Do you have the appropriate clothes? I now have a water-proof winter coat that is really warm and I don't worry about the outside temperature. For life storms having the appropriate clothes means knowing the positive attitudes, strengths and skills that you can use in any situation. Taking time to build up your "wardrobe" of positivity allows you to deal with most challenging situations. 

4. Do you have a good shovel? Let's face it, after any storm, it's important to recreate connection with the outside world. In life storms the same rule applies. Who can you call when things are difficult? Who is in your network of family and friends that is your touchstone to the outside world? Keep them close for when you need them. 

Life storms, unlike major nor'easters, often come without warning. There is no better time to stock up and prepare for the next one. And in the meantime, if you are waiting for this coming storm, get ready. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Risk Being "Un-liked"

You may have noticed that I took a little time off from my blogging. Or, you may not have noticed at all. Actually I took time off from all of it; the writing, speaking, and pushing people to move toward unleashing their personal greatness. I was done. Or so I told myself. I'm really good at talking myself in and out of things. This time it worked. I talked myself out of doing what I love to do. And to be honest it wasn't that hard because I convinced myself that no one cared.

Now before you go thinking this is a pity party, it isn't. I'm quite capable of throwing my own party complete with streamers and balloons. And I'm content to enjoy the party by myself; it makes the pity that much easier. No, this is about an important realization for me and I hope for some of you.

What is it that you believe in enough to keep doing when no one is there? What are you so passionate about that when others walk away, you will keep doing it? That is possibly where you will find your personal greatness.

Over the past couple of months, after I stopped writing, I found I couldn't stop thinking about personal greatness. Even though I'd convinced myself that no one cared and it was ridiculous to waste my time on this. I thought I'd move on to other things only to find myself thinking about, reading about and talking about unleashing greatness.

Examining individuals who succeed in almost any field, they willingly pursue what is important to them even when no one else cares, no one is looking and no one is cheering them on. They can't stop. There is almost an irrational drive to pursue something. And this is what sets them apart.

We live in a world of "likes," "followers," and "friends" where we easily judge our work and our lives on how people respond to them. It is tempting to follow the voices. Yet, when you willingly toil on your own; when you believe it something so much that you risk the "un-like" of your friends and acquaintances  you just may have found what you are meant to bring to this world.