Monday, January 27, 2014

Here Comes the Judge

Can you hear it? Does it get louder every time you try doing something creative and new? You know what I mean, the thought that says "you're not good enough," or "this work is crap, no one will ever read it or want to see it." That's the Judge. Many people I've spoken with struggle with these thoughts that hinder or stop any kind of creativity or new actions. They agree that when they try something they can hear this voice inside their head condemning their attempts or worse yet, laughing at them. It's time to bring the Judge out of hiding and deal with him.

I've dealt with the Judge all my life, in every new endeavor, every new creative effort. There is this thought that my work is never good enough, people don't want to see it and that I'm wasting my time. Sadly I've noticed that the Judge has not grown quieter over the years even after three books and other successes. It seems that he is now emboldened and he has taken on a new tack: "nothing you create will live up to what you've already done so you might as well quit while you are ahead." Sound familiar?

I'm use to the Judge, the nagging voice telling me to "get it right." I even would say to people "I am my toughest critic." Midway through last year I let the Judge win. Telling myself and others I had writer's block, I stopped writing anything. I stopped being creative in my work and bascially just went with the status quo. But I'm also aware that when we engage in negative behaviors we do so because we gain something from them. So I had to ask myself the question, what do I get out of listening to the Judge? And the answer came back loud and clear, safety. When there is nothing new or creative no one can critize or challenge me. I can't underperform precisely because I'm not in the arena. And so for about six months, the Judge succeeded.

So, for those of us who have the Judge in our lives how do we eliminate or at least control him? Create an advocate.

For me, there was tremendous clarity about what I gained by not writing or creating. I gained safety. But what did I lose? I lost the joy and spontaneity of creativity, the exhilaration of the process of creating. I love the feel and sound of new thoughts and the possiblity of the worlds they hold. And I lost the moment when even one person resonated with something I wrote or said.

That's too much to lose.

And so I began thinking of how I feel when I create. I remembered what it is like to let loose. I savored even picking up my fountain pen and filling it with ink before writing (yes, I still use a fountain pen). And I starting hearing the voice of the "Advocate." The Advocate is the voice that encouages me to let go and trust my instinct. The Advocate laughs, as I do, at the sheer joy in creativity. The Advocate comforts me when the fear of something new creeps up by reminding me how often I've been there and have chartered the rough waters successfully. Now I'm starting to realize how loud the Advocate's voice can be.

So I don't know if I'll ever banish the Judge. The old curmudgeon does make me aware of my work and pushes me to be better. But I want to allow the Advocate to speak and speak loudly on my behalf. Because there is nothing like being creative. It unleashes the best of us. What we have to do is overpower the Judge.

Monday, January 20, 2014

New Year's Resolutions Are Not Dead Yet

The day has passed. Yes the world-wide day when most of us have abandoned our New Year's resolutions. At this point, we don't even look longingly back on what "might have been" but hope for better things next year. But wait! There is hope for us yet. Those longed for dreams of weight loss, exercise, writing, new work etc. still have a heart beat and can be resurrected. And all it takes is a little rethinking.

New Year's gives me hope of all the things I can accomplish. An unblemished canvas, it stretches languidly off into the 365 day distance with promises of a new start. Yet a mere 20 days later and the canvas seems grittier, dirtier and the few brush strokes on it lack the importance of impending brilliance. So what can we do?
1. Stop looking at the entire year (or the next five)

For many of us the daunting task of remaking our lives or at least some part of them shuts us down. Looking at the height we wish to achieve or the goal to accomplish just seems to much. So, the first thing some of us need to do is stop looking at the entire goal. Of course it's important to identify where we are going and why, but once that's done many of us have to get the larger goal out of our mind because it will paralyze us.

2. Choose the one thing that makes the biggest difference.

Dr. David Cooperrider asks the question "what's the smallest thing you can do to make the biggest difference?" That's a powerful question because I know I normally go for the biggest thing I can do. But Cooperrider is right. If we focus on something small, we can accomplish big things. We must break our goal down and down and down until we understand some of the behaviors that lead to that goal. For example it might mean getting up 30 minutes earlier to walk or write. Rerouting our trek to work so we don't walk by the Dunkin Donuts shop. Or just taking 10 minutes to look at the sky and think. What's the one behavior, the one thing we want to focus on?

3. Only work on the "one thing"

The greatest athletes in the world only focus on improving 1% at a time. According to Dr. Greg Wells they concentrate on one movement, one muscle, one action until they get it just right and then they move on. For us, it's about focusing on our "one thing" and getting it right. Focusing on our "one thing" can change behavior long term and help us achieve larger goals.

So, it's not over yet. The canvas of the year is yet to be painted. We just need to remember, it's just one brush stroke at a time.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

There is No Such Thing as Free Choice

For years I've defended the notion that we have free choice at every moment in all of the decisions that we make. Just this past week, I facilitated a workshop on "Achieving Personal Greatness" and I convinced the 30 professionals in the room of the free choice they always have. Now I realize I'm wrong. However, knowing that we have no free choice makes a huge difference if we are to succeed at almost anything.

For example, a minute after I started writing this blog I realized that today is recycling day. So, let me ask you, do I have a free choice as to whether I take out the recycling or not? The answer is no, my choice is not free. Every choice comes at a cost and when we understand the cost and the benefits that is when we truly have full control of our lives.

To use my example, the recycling has piled up in my basement since Christmas and is impeding clear access to the basement door. The recycling truck sometimes comes very early in my neighborhood. However it is raining right now and I'm comfortable in my room. Other factors include the societal imperative to recycle to save the environment. Also I have my personal standards of efficiency and order. On the other hand, I'm not dressed yet and I'm comfortable at my desk. However, you might still be thinking I'm free to make a choice. No, I'm not. I have to pay a price for that choice and therein lies my power.

If I choose to stay at my desk, I pay the cost of an impassable basement for at least another week. If I choose to take out the recycling I pay the cost of an uninterrupted morning at my writing desk. On the other side of the decision if I take out the recycling I gain peace of mind and my basement back again. If I stay at my desk I gain a finished blog and some personal journal time. Hence, there are costs to every decision and benefits to every decision, they are not free.

Why does this matter? When we make any decision, but especially life decisions we can often feel we are not "free" to make the decision because of society, family, previous commitments or peer pressure. Many times people say to me "I can't pursue my goal because of ..."  Essentially we end up blaming someone or something else as to why we can't or won't do something. That's where we err.

When we blame someone or something for why we can't do something we give up the most powerful ability we have as rational human beings: our power of choice. The choice might not be fair, or balanced; the pressure on us might be extreme to choose one way or another, but we always have a choice in everything we do. It is just that the choice will not be free. We have to decide if it is worth the cost.

But that is what is so freeing and so frightening. Once we realize the cost of choice and that we have ultimate control then we are totally responsible for our life. That is immensely empowering.

So, the next time you have to make a decision, think carefully about it. What is the cost you pay for your choice? What are you letting go, or putting aside; what value are you upholding against another? And, of course, what is the benefit you are gaining and how does it stack up against the cost? Knowing that your life is directed by you is an amazing and scary thing.  But at least you know your life is yours because of your choices.

As for the recycling, I took it out.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The Anatomy of a Selfie

2013 brought us the height of the "selfie," a self-shot photo of oneself in a specific place, doing something interesting, or just making a face. The ultimate online scream "LOOK AT ME." Selfie even placed among the most popular words of 2013 and also one of the most argued about. Yet if we look beneath the surface of this simple act of self-portraiture, lies a culture heading in the wrong direction.

The main focus of the selfie is ME. There is no doubt about that. I am the center, I am the subject, verb, adjective, adverb in this photographic sentence. All that remains around me is commentary. Look how well I am doing. Look how much fun I'm having (and you're not). Look how good I look. Even, look how stupid I look. But the main point is ME. If this were only an assignment for a single class in self-confidence, self-awareness or self-photography it might lie passively online consumed by friends and family and quickly forgotten. Yet I believe there is a stronger tie to where our culture is going and this is only a symptom of a larger sickness.

Western societies right now are in the grip of a weltanschauung (or world view) of ME. Walking through a bookstore yesterday (yes, there are a few left) I noted that the self-help section was prominently displayed and very extensive. Yet there is not a "world-help" or "community-help" section. We scream about individual rights and that is important, but what about the rights of the society? We walk down the street in our own selfie way expecting others to move or acknowledge us, yet there is not that same respect in return.

Small breakdowns begin to occur when ME is the focus. Why should I wait for a red light when I have to be somewhere? Why should I turn off my cell phone on the plane because I'm important and I might receive an important call (or even a not important call)? Why should I obey the law when it's not convenient for me?

A weltanschauung of ME means that society is present for my benefit and those within it are meant to assist me (translate this to "serve me") when I need them to. It means that I will not give up or weaken on anything I believe even for a greater good to the community (note our lack of congress). Laws become guidelines but mostly for others if I can skirt them and not get caught (the spike in drivers running red lights). And mostly life becomes a striving for my success even at the detriment of others (Enron and Madoff).

We live in a world where we have to move together, live together and survive together. Of course, history presents us with plenty of evidence of the danger of only focusing on the welfare of the community to the detriment of the individual. The key is a balance of focus on the interest of society and the interest of the individual. When we work toward balance everyone benefits, not just the few.

So the next time you want to take a selfie, ask someone to take it for you. Someone is always willing to take a few seconds and snap the shot. It only takes a moment to be vulnerable enough to ask for help. And you will have made a connection and possibly a friend.