Friday, June 26, 2009

Rearranging the furniture

The new furniture is finally in the house, although it won't be perfectly in place until the boys take some of the old furniture to their new homes in September (I hope - I really hope!). Fitting it in has required taking apart two of the most over-stuffed rooms in the house (the dining room and the office) and deciding what parts need to be brought back together and what can be used by someone else and what is just junk. The deciding line is not always clear.

I hate throwing away anything that still serves its original purpose. It seems unfair to me that something that still works should end up in land fill. Yet there are lots of things that would work for me but are not quite appropriate to send off to someone else. Like about a million pens and pencils and various craft supplies. There's no reason to keep them and not much reason to throw them away. So I pack and store and hide and defer.

It's easier to do a clean sweep. It's easier to say: I haven't used this for a year so it is gone. Or to say, I can always buy a new one later. It's easier to throw it all away.

Except that I do not like to face myself as an unquenchable source of junk. It's not that I am afraid of future scarcity: it's that I am afraid I am careless of the world around me.

So it will take several weeks for me to winnow the boxes and papers and supplies and arrive at exactly the office I should have to do exactly the work I need to do. And in those weeks, I will resolve not to buy any more pens.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Are you happy right this minute?

I remember one day at Sandbanks Provincial park when my oldest son was about 4 years old. He followed a monarch butterfly on the beach with complete delight. He sat so still to watch the butterfly, it landed on him for just a moment - a moment that remains in my mind more than 15 years later.

You might expect me to say that happiness is like that butterfly - something we pursue just so that we can wonder at the grace of its movements and the brushing of its wings against our skin. I almost expect it myself.

Instead, I am going to say that I was happy in that moment of watching my son watching the butterfly, all of us joined in a delicately synchronized chain of focus. My son was free to watch the butterfly because I was watching him. I saw the butterfly because I had, for the moment, the eyes of a delighted, delightful child. Perhaps even the butterfly was pleased in some butterfly way by being the focus for the such engaged attention.

Happiness is hard to hold - except in memory, where it lives with the clarity of blonde curls on the beach, as bright as the afternoon sun on the water.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Hope and Productivity

Hope is not a business word: it's just that no business runs without it. When organizations and individuals lose, misplace or abuse their hopes, they also stop being effective.

Can I prove this through statistics? I probably could, given the resources of a large university business department. In this blog, I can prove it through your own experience: identify a time in your life when you lost hope, and notice how effective you were. Identify a time in the life of an organization of which you were part when that organization lost hope, and notice what happened to its results.

Hope does not guarantee great results; great results nonetheless require deep and sustained hope.

The dictionary definition of hope includes two elements: a desired outcome and a sense that it is possible. Hope is not a substitute for logistics. Hope is the foundation on which we build ideas into results.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Out of your mind?

I'm pulling together the thoughts for a new e-book: Out of Your Mind - Turning Ideas into Results.

It's always interesting to work backwards. Have you ever walked through a house that was for sale or past a car in the parking lot and wondered what kind of person actually picked that colour? Everywhere we go, we see tangible results that started in someone's (often quite strange) mind.

When we say that someone is "out of their mind" we are not usually complimenting them for turning theories into practice. The truth is probably that you have to be a little bit crazy to get great results. How else would you bend the rules on what is possible to create something that only seemed impossible? How else would you usefully confuse the representation in your mind with the thing that you were representing so that what you imagined seemed like part of the world we call "real"?

It's a little bit scary when we pull ourselves out of our minds and experience someone else's reality. Perceptions feel distorted; cause and effect is hard to track. It's hard to tell the difference between an idea and a result when you get out of your own mind and into someone else's thinking. We give up control and understanding in order to gain experience and, we hope, a little wisdom.

Where do you go when you go out of your mind?

Friday, June 12, 2009

The way to improve your blog

I read a tweet that started "The way to improve your blog" and my writer's mind completed the phrase with "is by blogging." It's hard to get better at DOING by THINKING. The way to improve a skill is to practice it.

So here I am, blogging instead of reading about blogging. What are you doing by reading this? Are you changing something in your mind that will allow you to move ahead? You came here looking for something: how will you know when you find it?

If you just wanted to do something you would be doing it.

Check in with yourself. I am noticing that my day started at 5 am and ended about 11:30 pm yesterday and I am actually just tired. There's lots clicking in the back of my mind, but it's taking some energy to pull a little piece of that to the screen. The wisdom of my body is saying I need a workout and a rest so that I can be at my best for this weekend's training. Later, I can make some calls and draw energy from the need to listen well.

What will you do to make this Friday afternoon productive?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

What can you do in ten minutes?

The answer to the headline question in my experience is sometimes much more than you think you can do and quite often a little less than you plan to do. It's hard to hit your mark for very short time frames.

Why is it worth becoming more intentional about how much fits into ten minutes? Think about all the people who would gladly share ten minutes with you if they were sure it would really be only ten minutes. Then think about all the spaces in your day when you could get something done - if only the "something" would fit into ten minutes.

What each of us can do in ten minutes will depend on our personal way of organizing our thoughts and our communication. The point is not to achieve what someone else could do in ten minutes but to become intentional about achieving our own ten-minute goals, especially when they are communication goals.

Take the ten-minute challenge. At least two or three times today, catch yourself with just ten minutes and use one of those minutes to focus on making the most of the other nine. When you know what you want, ten minutes is quite often enough time to make tangible progress. I turned my ten minutes into this blog entry - what will you have to show for yours?

Why food, exercise and sleep are your business

My personal trainer, Dan, is making an heroic effort to understand that his job is not to push me. His job is to help me withstand the negative effects of stress so that I can work better.

Apparently, it's an odd concept.

We experience stress as a physiological phenomena. We know we have too much stress when we hurt or malfunction in some noticeable way. Our heads ache, our backs ache, our stomachs ache. We shake or crunch or grind our teeth. We respond in tangible ways to whatever input is creating metaphorical pressure.

So why is it strange to manage stress by changing physiology?

It's not entirely strange, of course. It's often-preached; apparently, it's practiced less. One reason for this might be that we assume that problems should be solved in the same realm that created them. If we are stressed by work, we assume the way to manage stress is to change our working conditions. If our thoughts create our stress, our thoughts should also allow us to relax enough to perform at our best.

We miss the part where our bodies (senses and physiology) were involved in the thinking that created the stress response. We carry our bodies wherever we go. We use our senses even when we are asleep. Our bodies are our selves - they are the things that create the experience of stress and they can be the things that give us sufficient strength and flexibility to withstand stress and achieve our goals.

Your body works with your mind. If you want to improve the partnership, take a look at eating, exercise and rest. If you're not getting the right stuff in the right amounts, make some changes. If you are managing people who are stressed, consider your influence over their physiology.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

A state of relaxed focus

Full disclosure to readers of this blog: I am well-known for helping other people to relax but I am not especially good at relaxing myself. Since the winter, I have had monthly sessions with my friend Kathleen at Action Hypnosis. She does an amazing job at putting me into a state of completely relaxed focus.

It's true that I cannot hire Kathleen to follow me around to keep me relaxed and it is also true that quite often I need to be able to relax, focus and DO something. These are two of the reasons people quite often use to keep from doing something that will allow them to relax. It's not practical if it is not instantly transferable.

Here are three reasons it is always both practical and transferable:

1) Every state we create in ourselves is the product of choices about intention and attention. Making the choices gives us more flexibility and reliability in making them again in new contexts. (You have to practice if you want to play - even if what you want to "play" is a state of relaxed focus).

2) Every state of relaxation is an opportunity to make progress somewhere we are stuck. Eurekas and AHAs love relaxation and are allergic to needy, desperate people. If you relax, they will come. Especially while you think you are not thinking at all.

3) It's important to have strong experiential markers of the difference between who we are when we are relaxed and who we are when we are stressed out. We only get those markers by relaxing intentionally and noticing how we do it.

It's a sunny Saturday afternoon. Relax. It's the best way to get things done.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Relaxed and ready

Doesn't it sound easy? Research says that the best state for performing hard things is relaxed and ready.

Wish it were easy.

It's not as hard to relax, even under pressure, as you might imagine. We have pills and substances, distractions and entertainments, deep breathing and exercise. We have ways to relax.

The problem is maintaining relaxation as we get ready. Get ready. Do you hear the tension? It's not a bad tension, just a contracting of the muscles as they prepare for effort, a slight holding of the breath. Get ready. Get set. The anticipation builds. Anticipation feels a lot like pressure. It's contagious.

You might only need a few muscles, probably only need some balance and a clear head. And yet. Get ready. Get set. You're just sitting there reading this and your breathing is starting to change. After all, if the adrenaline doesn't start flowing, how will you know you're really ready? If you're not on the edge, how will you see both sides?

Get ready. Get set. And you tense a little more. You shouldn't. You know I'm just playing with you. But now your mind is making connections. You're asking yourself: "Am I ready? What's coming next? Am I sure I'm ready?"

That's why we need to practice. That's why we need discipline and its best friend, will power. That's why we need to repeat to ourselves: Breathe. Relax. Be loose. Work only the part of your mind that needs to be working.

Let go of the tension in your neck, in your jaw, around your eyes. You know that none of that is preparing you. Look at the task ahead and relax into it. Find the flow.

Take some training in finding and supporting your best performance state. Then practice it. Over and over again. Until it feels as natural as it is.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Why training can't wait

You're at a crossroads. It's time to make a choice. You need to know now.

You're in the middle of a process when you hit an unexpected bump. You need the skills and resources to manage it now.

You've been thinking about this problem for years. It runs around and around your head and your life. You're stuck. When do you need to get moving again?

The answer should be now.

You need new learning now, now when you are stuck, now when conditions have changed, now when you need to make decisions. You need to think better, and that means you need to take time and apply effort to change the way you think.

If you think that learning will wait until conditions improve, or the weather gets better (or worse) or the economy gets better (or worse), think again. Yes, you will still gain value from training later - and you'll need it because you will have passed up the opportunities you could have been developing now.

There are good reasons to put off making decisions. There are good reasons to delay processes until conditions change. There are good reasons to explore a problem until you've learned from it.

There are not many good reasons to put off good training. If you can only fine-tune one element of your business, fine-tune your thinking.