Igniting Your Creativity

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In the span of 24 hours I saw three articles on how to spark your creativity cross my Facebook news feed.  Let me save you the time of reading them all yourself and tell you exactly what they have in common.  I’ve also summarized each article below for your convenience.

Observe + Process
All types of creative people seem to agree that intentionally making the time to stop, look around, observe your surroundings, and take notes on life is an important part of sparking creativity and new ideas.  But there is a 2nd step that is equally important.  Creative people find a space, usually alone, to process and synthesize all that they have observed.  Not only does this allow time for your mind to slow down after being stimulated by new input, but it creates a place for your mind to make connections between otherwise disparate objects/people/ideas, thereby creating a new idea.

Daydream + Play
Creative people often advise others to intentionally carve out time to let your mind wander and play.  Not only is this a creative exercise itself, but it often distracts the mind from your “normal work” which is usually when breakthroughs occur.  Have some fun with it, stare at a wall or a tree or the sky, let your mind go for a walk and see what happens.

Joy + Passion
Creative people tend to engage in activities that bring them joy and that they are passionate about.  They do these things, not for money or recognition, but because it puts them in what is known as “flow state” where they lose all track of time.  Finding internal motivation (vs external such as money) to fully engage in an activity is a quick way to ignite creativity.

Breaks + Change of Scenery
Both creative people and researchers will tell you that taking regular breaks is an effective way to reduce burnout and creative blocks.  Next time you are feeling stuck, or you want to fire up the creative juices, consider walking away from your desk or studio or wherever you normally work, and get outside.  Change your vantage point and your perspective, literally, and you may find a new idea to work with.

Here are the summary lists from each article on how to spark creativity:

10 Steps to Grow & Unleash Your Creativity
according to Chase Jarvis, elite photographer, SXSW speaker, also recognized for his writing and directing
Read the full article by clicking here

Note: words in parentheses are my own brief descriptions of the content

  1. Pursue a Creative Craft (intentionally engage your mind)
  2. Find a Space (to “sample the mayhem” and “then synthesize”)
  3. Play (take regular breaks)
  4. Find a Tribe (of like-minded individuals to share ideas)
  5. Show Your Work (not just the final product)
  6. Imperfection + Iteration (don’t let perfection hold you back)
  7. Put More of You Into Your Work (don’t be afraid to use your own voice)
  8. Doubts?  You’re Doing it Right (taking a little risk is a positive sign)
  9. Make Something Every Day (stay creatively active)
  10. You Have Nothing to Lose (remembering that you are going to die is the best way to avoid the trap of believing you have something to lose)

10 Creative Rituals You Should Steal
by Sean Blanda, Managing Editor and Producer of 99u
Read the full article by clicking here

Note: words in parentheses are my own brief descriptions of the content

  1. Take a Quarterly Vacation (change your environment and get out of town)
  2. Hold a “Retroactive” After Projects (debrief and download your experiences with others)
  3. Write Every Day (writing forces you to locate your clarity – “The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.” ~Mortimer J Adler)
  4. Create an Interesting People Fund (set aside time/money to meet interesting people)
  5. Keep “Tear Sheets” to Get Inspired (take breaks when you are stuck, revisit beautiful things you’ve saved)
  6. Nap Every Day (protect your time, say no, and stay rested)
  7. Envision What You Will Be Remembered For (use a creative writing exercise to create a vision of what you want)
  8. Brainstorm at the Bar (don’t do the “think-work” in the studio – that’s a space for the work-work)
  9. Get Out of the Building (don’t stare at a blank page – get out into the observable world)
  10. Engage in “Morphological Synthesis” (force yourself to think outside the normal boundaries of things)

18 Things Highly Creative People Do Differently
by Carolyn Greggoire, Features Editor at the Huffington Post
Read the full article by clicking here

Note: words in parentheses are my own brief descriptions of the content

  1. They Daydream (make time to allow your mind to wander)
  2. They Observe Everything (take notes on life)
  3. The Work the Hours that Work for Them (9am-5pm is not the agreed upon hours of creativity)
  4. They Take Time for Solitude (take time to synthesize what you observe and listen to that inner voice)
  5. They Turn Life’s Obstacles Around (use post-traumatic growth to learn from setbacks)
  6. They Seek Out New Experiences (stay open to new experiences, places, people, and ideas)
  7. They “Fail Up” (failing fast is one agreed upon way to be creative and succeed)
  8. They Ask the Big Questions (stay curious and explore)
  9. They People-Watch (observe other humans expressing themselves or interacting can generate new thoughts)
  10. They Take Risks (to create without risk is impossible – sharing something new is inherently risky)
  11. They View All of Life as an Opportunity for Self-Expression (imagine your life as one big canvas for art – the way you express yourself daily is the paint)
  12. They Follow Their True Passions (find activities that are intrinsically motivated, not by money or recognition)
  13. They Get Out of Their Own Heads (try to think as if you were someone else or as if you were seeing something familiar for the first time)
  14. They Lose Track of the Time (engage with activities that both interest you and challenge you to achieve “flow state”)
  15. They Surround Themselves with Beauty (nature, art, fashion, etc tend inspire new thoughts)
  16. They Connect the Dots (look for the connection between two otherwise disparate things)
  17. They Constantly Shake Things Up (create a diversity of experiences)
  18. They Make Time for Mindfulness (use meditation to relax, focus, and find “center” again)

Managing People: Expectations

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A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of business clarity.  This post is the first in a multi-part series about effectively managing and leading others.

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I have managed employees for well over a decade.  I have encountered naturally talented employees, and employees that just work harder and hustle more to make up for whatever talent deficiencies they might have (I actually put myself in that category).  I have managed those that seem to “get it” and those that seem a little lost and confused.  I have managed introverts, extroverts, analyzers, intuitive-types, the organized, the creative, and any other possible variation or combination thereof.

I have learned, through much trial and error, that proper expectation setting is the first step in a four step management process that yields the most productive, efficient, successful, and happy employees.

Step 1:  Expectation Setting

Step 2:  Rhythmic Communication

Step 3:  Focus Through Accountability

Step 4:  Autonomy, Pride, and Compassion

Having coached and managed for a long time, I have come to understand that adults, despite the beautiful and strong facades we have built over time, are really just big kids with money, responsibilities and the ability to drive.  We all have a need to feel secure, cared for, believed in, and connected with others.  And ultimately, much like children, deep down inside we crave to belong and to please others.  Don’t perceive this a weakness, but more of primal instinct.

As a manager, the single biggest gift I can give to a new employee is a list of expectations.  To be able to clearly state what I expect of them in a general sense, with some specificity around goals, gives them the opportunity to do or complete what I expect.  That clarity of what their purpose is (within the context of a job/career/position) provides a kind of calmness, understanding, and confidence that “if I do what is expected of me, others will be happy and I will be secure.”  It’s a win-win.

Alternatively, I fail as a manager if I cannot provide clear direction to an employee.  If someone is left guessing, or left to figure out what to do or where to go, it creates an inherent sense of uneasiness and instability in their personal and professional lives. 

Additionally, not knowing where you stand with someone is equally jarring and anxiety producing which is why rhythmic communication is the next step.  More on that in the coming days and weeks ahead!

Do you have thoughts on expectation setting and managing others?  That’s what that little doohickey is for below.  Leave a comment!

How To Get People To Follow You

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Within just a few short weeks of beginning the strategic planning process with a new client, the leader asks me a question. 

follow-us“How do I convince my people that this stuff works and we need to make some changes to the way we do things?”

The question can take many similar forms:

  • How do I get more buy-in from my team?
  • How do persuade them that _____________ is a good idea?  (e.g. daily huddles, more accountability, etc.)
  • How do I show my people that what got us here won’t get us there?

I like to return the question with another question:  “Well, how did I convince you that this (coaching, strategic planning, etc.) was a good idea?”

The answer is simple and we’ve all heard it before:  WIIFM.  What’s in it for me? 

When presented with change, employees ask themselves the WIIFM question – sometimes consciously, but usually not. 

When I present the Velocity Leadership Success Model to a business owner or executive leader, I clearly educate them on how using our system will benefit them personally and professionally.  I do this through a number of mediums include written words, diagrams, assessments, etc.  However, the most powerful tool I have at my disposal is my enthusiasm for helping them grow their business and my confidence that the system works. 

So, how can you gain more buy-in from your team?  Try answering some of these questions first:

  • What am I really asking of them?
  • Why is it important to me?
  • What are the questions/fears they might have when presented with change?
  • How might the change adversely affect them?
  • How might the change benefit them?
  • How can I use my gifts/strengths/energy/enthusiasm to educate them?

Once you have a deep level of clarity on these questions, it’s time to tap into your enthusiasm for where you want to go and share that with your team.  Your people need to clearly your see your vision in order to help you get there. 

As my friend and entrepreneur, Scott Offerdahl says often, “I’m a great listener but a terrible mind-reader.”  Don’t expect your team to read your mind.  Share the vision of the benefits of change.  Share the reason behind your motivation.  Share your enthusiasm and optimism for what is to come. 

Consistent communication around where the company is headed is essential.  If your team isn’t sick of hearing about your vision then you haven’t said it enough.  Everyone on your team should be able to recite the vision.  Everyone on the team should be able to clearly articulate where the team is going, and how they plan to get there.

It’s this level of clarity, focus, communication, repetition and enthusiasm that will get you results. 

Leadership Success Model

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At Velocity, we have been working on packaging the value we offer to entrepreneurial clients into a tangible model that can be easily understood and followed.  

The Issue
In our experience working with entrepreneurs, there are a few pain-points that seem to be consistent, and it is these areas that we seek to address with our clients.  Here are some of the common challenges that small business entrepreneurs and leaders are facing:

  • Personal:  Feelings of being overwhelmed, stuck in the weeds, and/or no life/work balance
  • Interpersonal:  Lack of defined vision and alignment among team, and not maximizing talent
  • Business:  Lack of strategic planning process, culture of accountability, and goal execution

In working with entrepreneurs specifically, we hear from them that they can’t get their employees to care as much about the business as they do.  More clearly, they believe that without the level of risk that the entrepreneur is taking, the desire to succeed is not the same.  

The challenge of work/life balance is shared among entrepreneurs and executives alike.   As a result, many leaders suffer from pendulum swings in both arenas in an effort to try to keep up at both work and at home.  Of course, this just means that the leader is not achieving maximum results in either area and is usually experiencing unhappiness or stress in both areas.

The Solution
The 5-Step process we call the Velocity Leadership Success Model can be summed up with the acronym S.O.L.V.E.

S:  Survey & Analyze
O:  Open & Aware
L:  Learn & Grow
V:  Visualize & Execute
E:  Experiment

Each step has a number of components which are described below.  The steps cascade with one flowing into the next, and evolve from a personal development phase to a business development phase.  Each pairing of steps constitutes a phase as described here:

S + O = Personal Development Phase
O + L = Leadership Development Phase
L + V = Team Development Phase
V + E = Business Development Phase
E + S = Development Renewal Cycle

The flow of each step and how the phases are laid out can be seen with this initial visual draft of the Velocity Leadership Success Model.  A full-size version is available if you click on this image.

VLSM

Personal Development Phase
The first two steps of Survey & Analyze and Open & Aware, or the Personal Development Phase, are the critical first steps that we take with the entrepreneur or business leader to get on solid ground before we charge off into any new business directions.  Often neglected and devalued, the Personal Development Phase affects all aspects of leadership and will ultimately define the business.  Equally important is the impact that this phase has on the personal happiness, well-being, and balance of the leader.  Skipping or rushing this step is a common and detrimental mistake many leaders make as the absence of self-understanding is often filled with stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, and poor performance.  Here are the components of each step:

Step 1:  Survey & Analyze

  • Complete the Velocity Leadership Intake Form
  • Begin initial weekly coaching sessions
  • Complete assigned Leadership Assessments:
    • Leader Life Review
    • Leader Strengths Survey
    • Leader Success Survey
    • Leader Values Assessment
    • Leader DiSC Assessment
    • Energy Leadership Index

Step 2:  Open & Aware

  • Develop Personal Core Values
  • Understand Signature Strengths
  • Increase Conscious Thought Monitoring
  • Build a Vision for Personal Growth
  • Develop Personal Leadership Goals
  • Analyze Desired Business Goals
  • Make a Commitment to Owning Outcomes

Leadership Development Phase
The second two steps of Open & Aware and Learn & Grow, or the Leadership Development Phase, is the time when the leader gets to exercise the skills learned in the Personal Development Phase by engaging his or her team to improve themselves.  Leadership can be defined in many ways, but one common description from many entrepreneurs is that true leadership allows others to believe in themselves so that they accomplish more than they ever thought was possible.  This is where the rubber meets the road between the leader and the rest of the team.  Here are the components of each step:

Step 2:  Open & Aware (see above)

Step 3:  Learn & Grow

  • Assess Team Members
    • Life Review Assessment
    • Strengths Assessment
    • Energy Leadership Index
    • DiSC Assessment
    • Professional Development
      • Understanding Interpersonal Communication Styles
      • Manipulating Personal Attitudes for Success
      • Improving Culture Through Communication, Accountability, and Focus
      • Individual Coaching for Team Members

Team Development Phase
The third pairing of steps consisting of Learn & Grow and Visualize & Execute, or the Team Development Phase, is the time when the leader engages the team beyond just personal development and includes them in the strategic planning process of the business.  Through a process of guided discovery, alignment, momentum, accountability and focus, the leader is able to create buy-in for company objectives that his or her team helps to create.  When a team is as invested in the success of the business as the leader, rapid growth is possible. Here are the components of each step:

Step 3:  Learn & Grow (see above)

Step 4:  Visualize & Execute

  • Professional Development for the Leader on the Topic of the Strategic Planning Process
  • Monthly Strategic Planning and Accountability Sessions
  • Weekly Pulse Checks with the leader by Phone
  • Creation of a One-Page Strategic Plan for the Quarter
  • Commitment from both the Leader and the Team to defined Meeting Rhythm
  • Build a Culture of Accountability that Drives Results

Business Development Phase
The fourth pairing of steps consisting of Visualize & Execute and Experiment, or the Business Development Phase, is the mature time of the planning process where the leader truly stops working in the business and starts working on the business.  Here, the leader can take a step back and see the whole forest (not just the tree blocking their view), and make strategic decisions about the direction of the business based on real data and live experience in the field.   Here are the components of each step:

Step 4:  Visualize & Execute (see above)

Step 5:  Experiment

  • Survey & Analyze Again to Determine Gaps in Performance
  • Determine What’s Working and What’s Not in the Quarterly Plans
  • Determine Who’s Working and Who’s Not and Build Plan for Next Steps
  • Provide Additional Professional Development to Address Culture or Skills
  • Provide Additional Coaching as needed for Team
  • Schedule Additional Quarterly Strategy Sessions

The Inspiring Speech Phenomenon
As a leader, have you ever attended a seminar or learning event where you heard an inspirational speech from another leader or entrepreneur where you walked thinking, “I need to immediately do that in my business!”?  And after getting back to the office and sharing your excitement, did you catch any of your team rolling their eyes?  And after a few weeks, did the “best idea you ever heard” lose its luster?  This is what we call the inspiring speech phenomenon.

By following a process that takes a leader from personal and leadership development to team and business development, we eliminate the inspiring speech phenomenon.  What you are left with instead is proven methods in the science of well-being, scientific assessment results, meaningful professional development curriculum, and the buy-in from your team on a strategic plan for your business.

 

Business Clarity

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Earlier this week, I discussed the importance of personal clarification on topics that help leaders have a consistent, authentic approach to their vision.  Click here to read more about the areas of life one must be clear about in or to be productive, happy, and successful. 

If the business leader is not clear on their personal items, they will ineffectively lead their teams by being inconsistent and unclear.  They will often produce mixed messages because they lack clarity on who they are or where they are going, often becoming distracted on their journey.

These mixed messages and personal unawareness make way for constant distractions all day long for your team.  A lack of clarity on the questions below means more struggles and less traction.

Points of Business Clarity:

Is your team clear on…

  • the roles within the company and who does what?
  • the “why behind” company goals and initiatives?
  • the company’s 5-year stretch goal?
  • the company’s vision for the future?
  • the company’s annual goals?
  • the company’s quarterly themes?
  • their daily/weekly activities and how it ties to annual goals and quarterly themes?
  • the company’s strategic planning process?
  • everyone’s communication and decision making styles?
  • the company’s culture?

If the team is not clear on these business categories, they will be consumed with distractions instead of opportunities.  Brandon Ames, an entrepreneur from Phoenix is fond of saying, “absent values and vision, you cannot differentiate between opportunity and distraction.”

Imagine each person on your team sitting in their own canoe on a lake, tied to each other by a rope.  They are facing in various directions and you instruct them to start paddling.  What happens?

Not much. 

Or worse – the strongest paddler eventually starts dragging the group in whatever direction pleases them.  In your business, who’s the strongest paddler? 

You are.  Which is why at times it can feel like you are dragging the team to achieve a goal.  You may be asking yourself why this is so hard, or why your team doesn’t care as much about the success of the business as you do. 

Imagine, instead, if when you told everyone to start paddling, they all instinctively turned to the same point on shore and with laser focus aggressively paddled in that direction. 

The key to business clarity and success is alignment, focus, accountability, and rhythmic communication. 

Future posts will tackle these topics.

Personal Clarity

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I often speak with entrepreneurs, realtors, business leaders, and other professionals about achieving more.  Of course, it is rare to find someone that is completely satisfied with the amount or pace of their achievements. 

And when you look at people around you or in the media, you find wide ranges of achievement.  Some people struggle to balance their checkbook, while others own and run 3+ businesses. 

Similarly, some businesses languish for years in mediocrity, barely able to keep the lights on, while others skyrocket to success.

What is the cause of this disparity?

Distractions are the primary reason people and businesses do not achieve the success they desire.  Without a question, to be distracted is the most detrimental obstacle to achieving a goal with any kind of efficiency. 

Distractions come from a lack of clarity around a number of personal and professional categories.  Here are some examples:

Points of Personal Clarity:

Are you clear on…

  • your core values and how to use them?
  • your signature strengths and how to leverage them?
  • your purpose and how to activate it?
  • the activities that bring you joy, happiness, engagement, and meaning?
  • how others’ energy affects you and vice versa?
  • your inner critic’s impact on your decisions?
  • your goals and why you want to achieve them?
  • how your sleep, nutrition, activity, stress an overall health affect your happiness and productivity?
  • what brings you the most satisfaction while you work?
  • what brings you the least satisfaction while you work?

Clarity around these ten issues will provide you with the foundation you need to be confident, happy, and successful.  When you are clear on responses to these questions, you are by default also aware of what a distraction looks like. 

A distraction will feel uncomfortable.  A distraction will feel misaligned with what you know you are supposed to do.  A distraction will be so obvious, you’ll forget how once it was so alluring.

But like anything worth having, gaining clarity takes work and practice.  How can you begin?  If you feel like you are not 100% clear on 1 or more of the above areas, take the Velocity Life Review assessment and receive a free debrief of your results.  This is the first step in gaining clarity around areas of satisfaction and dissatisfaction in your life. 

As always, with awareness comes choice.  Clarity is, therefore, empowering.

Core Thought-Action Model

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It has been said by some that an average adult in the U.S. makes over 10,000 decisions a day. I’ve even heard estimates as high as 35,000 decisions. Research has actually shown that adults will make just over 226 decisions a day about food alone.1 The exact number of total decisions is not clear, but it’s safe to say that we make a lot of decisions everyday (although if you are aware of research that makes it more clear, please leave a comment).

I’m fascinated by this topic because it astounds me. There is so much going on behind the curtain of our mind that it’s hard to keep up with. Having well-defined that you actively use is one way to help you make better subconscious decisions, but about the conscious ones?

More than how my food decisions are driven by more core values, I am now consumed with choice of thought.  Here are two important concepts I have learned while examining my own thoughts:

  1. Since I cannot control the external world around me, including any person within it, my thoughts are, indeed, the only thing I can control.
  2. There is a “secret” pattern flow to be aware of when changing behavior, achieving success, and being fulfilled.

Core Thought –> Core Emotion –> Core Action

While our thoughts drive our emotions, it is our emotions that drive our actions. The key is to understand and examine our core thought at any given time so that it becomes a choice rather than an “external fact.”  By being aware, or conscious, of the core thought inherently makes you able to choose whether to accept that thought or choose another one that is more beneficial to you.

This formula is applicable in so many scenarios.  Are you dealing with a challenge that you can’t seem to figure out?  Are you dealing with someone at work that is pushing your buttons?  Do you want to start a business (or write a book, or find a life partner, or change careers, or lose weight, or…)?

When reflecting on your challenge, ask yourself the following 3 questions:

  1. What is the underlying thought that keeps replaying in my mind, over and over again when I think about this challenge?
  2. When I have this thought, what feelings am I experiencing?
  3. When I feel this way, what actions do I typically take?

Let’s use the example of changing careers.  It’s not uncommon for someone to be unhappy in their job and want to find a new path.  Often times I will hear something like, “I am so unsatisfied and want to make a change.  But I have bills to pay at home and can’t risk any missed income or a lower salary.  Plus I’ve been in this job for so long that I don’t think I have enough experience to do this other thing I want to do.”

What is the core thought that they are replaying in their mind?

Core Thought(s):  “I don’t have what it takes to make this change happen.  I’m not valuable enough to another company to pay me what I want, and can’t imagine finding a good opportunity.”

Now, if you had this core thought, how would you be feeling?  Here’s how I would feel:

Core Emotion(s):  Helpless, frustrated, dejected.

If you were feeling this way right now, what are some typical ways you might behave?  Here’s what I would do:

Core Action(s):  Take no action, accept my current state of dissatisfaction, complain about my situation.

Now, here’s the power of this formula.  Let’s do a “thought pattern interrupt.”  If you could, what thought would you like to have when thinking about this challenge?  Here’s how I would like to think:

Core Thought(s):  I deliver value to my employer and clients.  I am competent and hardworking.  I deserve to find a career that is both satisfying and rewarding to me, and valuable to my employer.

If you had this core thought, how would you be feeling?  Here’s how I would feel:

Core Emotion(s):  Empowered, hopeful, confident.

If you were feeling this way right now, what are some typical ways you might behave?  Here’s what I would do:

Core Action(s):  Analyze my situation, prepare my personal situation for change, reach out to others for help and connections, do some research, and confidently display my value to others.

By catching the process in the beginning at the core thought, you can completely interrupt the negative cycle and choose new ways to think, feel, and act.

This is the basis for change, for growth, and for fulfillment.  Examine your thoughts…you may be surprised at what you find.

—————-

1Wansink, Brian and Jeffrey Sobal (2007), “Mindless Eating: The 200 Daily Food Decisions We Overlook,” Environment and Behavior 39:1, 106-123.

Thought Monitoring

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It is often said in business that what gets measured gets done, and if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.

I have found the same to be true personally.  Setting a goal for myself requires some baseline, some way to measure progress, and some target to strive for.  For example, a health related goal demands this information.  Let’s say you have a simple goal of losing 5 lbs.  You’ll first need to know what you currently weigh, you’ll want to experiment with new ways of eating or exercising, and then you’ll want to continue to weigh yourself until the 5 lbs is lost.

For outwardly facing, tangible, materialistic goals, this approach seems fairly well accepted.  However, for the inner journey of self-discovery and growth, many people abandon this methodology and leave their development to chance.  In my experience, inner growth requires the same level of measuring, testing, and measuring again.

Why is this very simple and time-tested approach so important?  I must say this 3 times/week to clients, family, and friends:  with awareness comes choice.

When you have the ability to measure where you currently are, you now have information that gives you the opportunity to make a choice.  What’s the choice?  It’s simple:  stay the same, or change.

Going back to my weight goal, let’s think about it more broadly.  Many people want a consistent goal, not just a situational goal.  Every once in a while, you may want to strive for a new level (lose 5 lbs), but I think most of us just want to maintain our ideal weight consistently (I want to be under 185 lbs all the time).  This kind of goal requires frequent monitoring so that you have the information necessary to make adjustments if needed.  And once you have information that indicates you have exceeded that weight, you now have a choice to make:  do nothing or do something.

As I also say a lot, a bell cannot be un-rung.  What has been heard cannot be unheard.  What has been seen cannot be unseen.  You are forced to make a decision.  Taking no action is definitely a decision, by the way.

When we think about the inner goals we have such as to be happier, to have more balanced, or to have more meaning in our lives, it requires the same level of measuring as any outer goal would.

This brings me to thought monitoring.  While it always amazes me when I speak with clients (or friends) that have no awareness around their thought stream (all of the daily chatter going on in your mind), I have to remind myself that it took me 33 years to even open my eyes to the concept, and yet another 2 years of deliberate focus to get to a place of barely scratching the surface of understanding.

Try this little exercise in what is known as mindfulness meditation or mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR).  Find a quiet, dimly lit, comfortable place to sit.  Sit upright, feet on the floor, hands in your lap and take 5 deep breaths, slowly, and hold the inhale for 3 seconds each time.  Take your time with this, close your eyes and then begin breathing normally.  Try to focus only on your inhale and exhale, noticing the nuance of how you breathe.  Stay with your breath for as long as possible.  When a random, stray, or otherwise invited thought enters your mind, stop. 

How long did you last?  If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t make it past 10 seconds.  Congratulations, you’re normal!

But what this tells us is that these thoughts are flashing through our mind, without awareness or intention, all day, every day, 24-7.  If we are not directing those thoughts, then we are at the whim of whatever subconscious messages our mind is fabricating. 

Why not just trust our mind and our subconscious thinking?  Well, unfortunately that part of our mind is not the logical, educated philosopher that we might be hoping for.  Instead it is akin to a 4-year old on Halloween all hopped up on sugar.  If left unchecked, our mind will run rampant and oftentimes unintentionally sabotage our dreams.  Other experts in the fields of psychology and meditation have called this our “monkey mind,” and one author went so far as to say that our mind is like a “mad, drunk, jumping monkey that has just been bit by a scorpion.”

Hopefully that visual paints a picture of the severity of the issue.  But what can you do about it?

Digital ticker-tape banner in Times Square

Digital ticker-tape banner in Times Square

Try this similar MBSR technique.  Same instructions as before but instead of focusing on the breath, I want you to focus on the thoughts running through you mind.  I do not want you to judge them, debate them, or otherwise analyze them.  I simple want you to recognize and acknowledge them.  Because your thoughts will come fast and furious at first, think of it like watching that digital ticker-tape display banner that scrolls rapidly in Times Square  (or tune into C-NBC and take a look at the bottom of the TV screen).  Say the thoughts out loud (or internally to yourself) as they come and the release them.  In fact, you’ll have to release them because the next one will be coming.  That’s the point.  Do this for as long as feels comfortable, but remember to not dwell on a thought and go down a rabbit hole with that thought.  If you find yourself entertaining a particular thought, just acknowledge that as another thought and move on.

After some patience and some practice, you may begin to notice your thoughts slowing down.  They won’t come as rapidly.  You may even get to a place where you can actually be singularly present with your breath for much more than 10 seconds. 

What’s the next step?  Replacing your unintentional thought stream with intentional thoughts that allow you to choose your own path.  This is an empowering and inspirational place to operate from.  Stay tuned for more…

 

This Is Water

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In late August, 2001, I returned to the United States after 4 months abroad.  Since then, I have learned fascinating things about the way I think.  Or, rather, the way I choose to think.

I remember the moment I chose to quit my two jobs and buy a one way ticket out of the country.  A group of us was sitting under the scoreboard at Orioles Park in Camden Yards in Baltimore.  To my right was a young woman named Kristy.  I chose to engage her in conversation that could be more accurately described as a lamenting monologue about my dissatisfaction with my jobs and my life.

Her response was like a slap across the face.  “Why don’t you do something about it?”

Two weeks later, with a backpack, a passport and no real plan, I was on a plane to Ireland.  My mother’s cousin put me to work on construction sites about an hour west of Dublin.  From there, I traversed the coast of Ireland for 3 weeks, then spent 2 months exploring 11 countries in Western Europe. 

The only people I knew were new friends that I had just met on a bus, a train, or in a hostel.  One day, I would share a baguette and bottle of wine on the steps of the Basilica Sacre Coeur watching the sun set over the Parisian skyline, and the next day I would be walking over the Charles Bridge in Prague admiring the gothic architecture of one of the few cities spared in WWII.  I celebrated the 4th of July with two Aussies in Nice, France.  I slept on a park bench in Pamplona, Spain and then ran with the bulls along the infamous cobblestone streets. 

After I had conquered Europe, I joined some old friends for nearly a month in India.  Two of them were getting married and we had arranged some time to explore the country.  From Delhi to Agra to Jaipur and Hyderabad, again my senses were overloaded with the smells, sights, and tastes of a truly foreign place.

Every day was an adventure.  Every day was full of excitement.  Every day was filled with something and someone new. 

In hindsight, I can clearly see why coming back to the United States was difficult for me.  I did not adapt well.  I was confused and felt lost.  On some days, I had feelings of depression, and on other days, panic attacks.  I turned alcohol and drugs to seek comfort, which of course just makes things worse.  I was more dissatisfied after my trip than before it.  I was frustrated and unhappy that my “regular life” was so boring and routine.

Taking a lunch break from another unsatisfying job, my good friend Dave turned to me and said, “Matt, this is life.  The alarm goes off in the morning, you go to a job, you come home, do some laundry, and go grocery shopping on the weekends, and try to make time for friends.  This is the way it is for most of us and you have to find ways to be happy.”

At the time, I didn’t understand how to think.  I have reflected on my experience over and over again and have even written about it before.  But not until recently, did someone else put that experience into perspective for me.  David Foster Wallace, a renowned philosopher, writer, and teacher gave a commencement address in 2005 that has only recently come to my attention. 

His claim is that a higher education degree does not necessarily mean that we have been taught how to think.  In fact, it is not our capacity to think that is at question, but our ability to choose what to think about.

Having focused on this exact nuance for the last 3 years, I can tell you that being aware of what and how you think is probably the single greatest gift you can give to yourself and others.

I invite you to listen to the full commencement speech below which is a little over 20 minutes.  I will admit that Mr. Wallace’s intellect is impressive and at times his vernacular is a little heady.  Stick with it though – I think you will find his words thought-provoking.

I would love to hear your thoughts – please leave a comment below.

Much love and gratitude,

-Matt

 

Drownproofing

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Eleven miles off the coast of southern California, a man is submerged in water.  His hands are tied behind his back and his ankles are bound together.  It’s dark and the water is cold.  His life is in imminent danger.  He has one objective: to survive.

He has been trained extensively for this exact situation.  He knows what to do, but every muscle in his body wants to do the opposite.  Impulses of fear are flashing through his mind and are resulting in uncontrollable twitches.  In his mind he consciously knows he is under water, but his lungs instinctively want to gasp for air.  He knows he needs to conserve energy, yet his body desperately wants to thrash around violently seeking freedom.

This man is an elite US Marine in training to become a US Navy SEAL at Basic Underwater Demolition SEAL (BUD/s) training facility in Coronado, California.  He is participating in a training program called “drownproofing.”navy-seal-11

As a coach and a friend, I often hear others describe their life as overwhelming.  They use words like “drowning” or feelings of “being under water.”  Understandably, with the modern stresses of life, it is common for many to feel this way.  Perhaps you feel this way at times.

Here are a couple of techniques that Navy SEALS use when they feel like they are drowning.  I think you will find it relevant to your life:

Step 1:  Acknowledge the Situation

Ignoring the situation will not help.  Putting your head in the sand is not an effective survival method.  Open your eyes, look around, and take it in. 

Step 2:  Embrace the Fear

Fear can be paralyzing or, like pain, can let you know you are still alive.  Fear is a great motivator if we harness the energy behind it.

Step 3:  Sharpen Your Focus

Often the result of embracing fear, a heightened sense of focus will allow you to see solutions that once eluded you.

Step 4:  Keep Going and Survive

Never give up.  Keep moving, keep going, keep trying.  The solution is often just beyond what you thought was possible.  It may seem obvious, but survival is paramount.  Do not let any other objective distract you.

Step 5:  Thrive

Once out of imminent danger, what has been learned through the experience makes you stronger, faster, and more resilient in the next challenge.  From fear comes growth.  Through growth, we thrive.

The US Marine acknowledges the situation.  He embraces the fear.  He sharpens his focus.  He does what he has to do stay alive.  He learns and becomes stronger and more ready for the next challenge. 

He will survive.  He will thrive.  What about you?