[It may look like I've stopped blogging, but in fact I've just been focusing on my other blog (an art blog), which is where much of my interest lies these days.]
Yesterday I suddenly realized I was in a bad mood. When I thought about it, it came to me that I was cranky because it's been so hot and humid for days now. I was literally letting the weather rule my life, because I was letting my thoughts about the weather color my mood.
A bit of meditation allowed me to consider how lucky I am to have air conditioning in this heat, and then I began to think about all the other things I have, and all the things so many people do not have. Synchronistically, I stumbled on this post today, and it really put things in perspective. You will not hear me complaining (much!) about the heat now. Yes it's hot and humid, yes, I dislike it, and yes, I still have a wonderful life.
If you are having a hard time at work for whatever reason, consider a quick look at the post I've linked to above. It's brief, and may just help you to "get a grip" with its wise perspective.
Yesterday was a cloudy, glowering, blustery day with the threat of rain. A perfect day to sleep in, or nap.
Instead, I spent the afternoon watching a friend learn how to fly.
She was taking her first lesson on the trapeze. What an adventure! She is someone who truly knows how to take wise risks.
The video below is only 30 seconds long, but it's fascinating. It's only her second time in the air, and her very first lesson.
I'm in awe...
Another first-time student there was a white-haired grandmother, "M," also taking her first lesson; M has a 9 year old granddaughter who is afraid of heights, and she wanted to show the granddaughter how to work with that fear. I videotaped her as well, and sent her the video to share with her grandchild. M will continue taking lessons. And so will my friend in the video above--she's already in the process of signing up for the next flying class.
As I watched, excited and inspired, I thought about how there are many kinds of risk-taking required of all of us, not just this kind. My own risk-taking comes in other forms; I was certainly not built to try flying! But what is portrayed in the video underscores what is required in taking any risk, what is required of any kind of creative endeavor:
1) Daring to try something new.
2) Doing clear-eyed research (she carefully checked out this organization before signing on to take a lesson).
3) Showing up, even if you're frightened.
4) Learning from the wisdom of experience (the teachers).
5) Wearing a safety harness (if possible) until you know what you're doing.
6) Learning about timing, learning about momentum...in the air or on the ground.
7) Leaping off, even when you're scared and don't know what will happen. EXPERIENCE is the real teacher.
8) Accepting feedback on how it's going, and modifying what you're doing if you sense the feedback is right.
9) Practice, practice, practice.
10) Knowing when to stop; don't over do. (She reached a point where she was too exhausted to continue, and although the lesson could have continued, she wisely called a halt--meaning she still had enthusiasm and motivation to go back and keep working on this as she gradually builds up stamina.)
Daily life is a risk. We constantly face small risks at work and at home (in some parts of the world, the risk of daily life is immense;we are the lucky ones). How we tackle risk, and how we react to the results--success and failure--is how we learn. Ray Bradbury once said, "You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." Scary stuff, yet we do it daily.
I'll be thinking about all the implications for work and for life, for creative endeavors, and for all forms of learning. Where am I taking risks in my life, and am I being wise in the risks I take?
How about you?
At the moment, I'm on vacation. It's summer. It's relaxing.
Wait a minute...if I'm on vacation, why am I writing this?
Ever since I ceased working full-time, earlier this year, in order to focus on starting a part-time business, I've noticed just how busy I've been keeping myself.
Don't get me wrong. I worked really hard when I was working full-time, including regularly putting in many extra hours. I rarely took lunch. When I stopped, I thought I would take a few months off and chill.
It began well; I went on a week-long meditation retreat just after I left. So far, so good. In the protected, structured space of the retreat center, I assumed I would wind down. I did, a bit. But in retrospect, I treated that retreat as if it were my "job" for a week--I worked at it. (I'll treat it very differently next time)
Next, I began creating a website, doing all of it myself--a steep learning curve for me as I'd never done this before. For a while, I worked on this project seven days a week. I revised, I tinkered. I thought about it incessantly. I viewed other folks' websites. I couldn't keep away from the task for long. Finally, I had it done.
Ahhh, I thought. Now, I can take some time off.
But I noticed something odd: It was so hard to just stop.
Most Americans have real trouble with downtime. We can't put down the electronic devices that tether us to work. (Enough media attention has been given to that so I won't discuss it here.) But even when we aren't "connected," we have to be doing something...anything, it seems at times. Otherwise, many of us (most?) become jittery and restless.
Really? Is it helpful and healthy to keep busy every moment?
I'm entirely open to the possibility that for some people, the answer may be yes. We are all wired differently, I know.
And yet, for most Americans, I do wonder about our inability to slow down and drift for a bit each day. I'm not talking the whole of a workday; I'm talking about taking an actual lunch hour, taking a walk at lunch, taking a break when we truly are doing something other than working or being online...daring to simply stare into space for five minutes.
“What is this life so full of care,
And what about evenings and weekends? Where have they gone? Why are we all working all the time? I know all the stock answers about constant pressures at work, the need for some of us to work two or even three jobs just to keep our heads above water, how after work it's all about the family. These are all very true, but still...Why can we not take a minute or two just to clear our minds periodically, just to be quiet, just to "do nothing?"
Here is a very useful article from Scientific American on the benefits of slowing down and doing nothing occasionally. It's a long article. It's worth reading. Why not allow yourself the time to actually read it, not just skim it? All the latest neurobiological research is validating that "doing nothing" for a while is great for health and can actually make us more productive--and Americans are certainly intent on being productive.
Consider this quote from the article I just referenced above: "...A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future."
We all have trouble slowing down. I'm working on it. I'm reminded of older family members, in the past, sitting on the porch--remember porches?--and staring into space for a just a little bit. I remember how, when I would sit with them, I would be restless and itchy. And yet, I know that it would inevitably refresh me. And the more often I would participate, on family vacations, the less restless and less "itchy" I would be, just sitting.
So think about it: Sit on your porch, or take your dog for a walk, or have an actual lunch with someone you enjoy and don't talk about work. Do that yoga. Or go for a run. Work on your quilt. Read a trashy novel, or a good one you've long wanted to devour. Have that pool party. Put your phone/tablet down as you watch your kid's softball game. Just be. Just sit. Just be fully present for a few minutes a couple of times a day. You'll be surprised at how hard it is, and how rewarding.
It's what you need.
You know it.
Even if it's uncomfortable to allow yourself to do it at first, you'll get used to it.
Plug in to yourself, and recharge; you'll be much more productive.
"Fun, fun, How can you have fun? Just sittin' doing nothin' when there's nothin' to be done." Dr Seuss (in a cartoon)
I frequently read and enjoy this blog, and one of the most wonderful things about it is their excellent, easy-to-refer-to illustrated graphics. Scroll down just a little bit to see their latest nifty graphic on "Curious Listening: The Foundation of Relationship Building." If you have any trouble reading it (you can "save as" a jpg if you wish), scroll down a tiny bit more and you'll see it all laid out in the blog itself.
Look in their archives--they have a couple of other wonderful graphic illustrations on other effective communication topics.
Well worth your time. Enjoy!
Sick of hearing about "the mindful revolution" and mindfulness in general? Feeling like this is just the latest fad? I don't blame you...and I'm a mindfulness practitioner. But I do worry that all the publicity about it right now could turn folks off. As someone who was forced, early on, into a religion that didn't make any sense to me, I truly abhor "conversion" talk. Some of the publicity borders on that.
That said, there is so much to recommend becoming more aware in our lives...at work, and at home. There is so much to recommend being able to choose our responses rather than being driven by knee-jerk reactions, which we often wish we could take back later.
The secular version of mindfulness (you do not have to be a Buddhist to be mindful) has nothing to do with religion and everything to do with becoming more effective in all aspects of life and work. Equally unusual these days, it reminds us to slow down, and reminds us that a whole life will speed past us if we do not learn to focus on each moment.
Any type of coaching or counseling will ask you to become more mindful--whether or not that term is used. If you want to change a behavior, the first step is thinking through what needs to change and why. Next, when are you exhibiting the behavior you wish to change? When does the behavior come up for you? What would you like to do instead? And so on...all these steps are actually aspects of mindfulness.
It's not just sitting on a cushion and meditating. There are many ways of becoming more aware, moment by moment, that we use to deepen our sense of aliveness and increase our choices.
Here's a thoughtful short piece about what's wrong and what's right about the current mindfulness craze. It's very much worth reading if you're on the fence about exploring why mindfulness might be relevant for you, both at work and at home.
As a long-time career and leadership coach, I can't count the number of times I've heard managers and employees describe their work colleagues as family, and tell me, "It's like a family here," or "My boss told us we're a family..."
I've done it myself.
I've had colleagues (and a few managers) whom I felt were like family. And in fact, there was both closeness and trust; I do have former colleagues/managers whom I regard as lifelong friends, and those friendships have stood the test of time. I value them.
But "like family"? Not true, and not smart.
They were first and foremost professional colleagues. Fortunately for me, they developed over time into good friends as well.
Perhaps there are exceptions--I can believe that; but referring to work as family can be downright dangerous to your career. Managers and colleagues leave, and/or retire or get laid off, and that changes everything at work. Or you leave, or you may be laid off...by that same manager who said you were family.
Actual family-owned businesses I've seen have had some distinctly UN-"family"-like issues in the workplace.
Considering how dysfunctional many real families are, is this a metaphor you want to continue using for your relationships at work?
Why does this matter so much? Here is an absolutely compelling short article from HBR to say why the "family" analogy is not a good one for work and career. Read this and give it some thought (even if, like me, you are not a fan of sports analogies, they are perfect for making the authors' points in this article). It matters. A lot.
If you've ever been curious about meditation...if you roll your eyes when someone raises the topic...if you've tried it and quit...or if you believe it's a bunch of woo-woo bull-crap...then this is a book well worth reading.
My favorite introduction to the book occurs when Steven Colbert hosts Dan Harris, the author, on his show. Colbert flashes the book at the audience and proceeds to read the entire title and subtitle out loud, after which he quips, "...I'm afraid that's all we have time for..." (That 6 minute, wonderfully skewed interview can be found here if you'd like to see it)
The Colbert interview emphasizes the genuine humor with which the book is written. It's a frequently laugh-out-loud funny while simultaneously almost disturbingly honest book by a die-hard skeptic--a hard-charging reporter, competitive on every level. This is a guy who has been a war correspondent, a veteran journalist, a network news anchor, and someone whose cynicism about almost everything, especially meditation, was (and frequently still is) bone-deep.
Which makes his experimentation with meditation unlikely, and his experiences with it absolutely riveting.
But...why bother to read it, other than for fun? What does this have to do with work?
Harris is, in his own words, a "maniacally hard worker," and incredibly driven and passionate about his career. And as he describes in the book, he had quite an ego at work and frequently snapped at colleagues and bosses in ways he later lived to regret. Some of his work deeply affected him in negative ways; he returned from covering wars in the Middle East and, like so many soldiers and journalists, couldn't adjust well to civilian life.
This is a chronicle of how he was finally convinced to try meditation--something he'd always made fun of--and the effect it had on every aspect of his life, including his career.
The book was a page-turner; I couldn't believe how honest he was about his propensity for being judgmental about everyone and everything...only to later discover just how wrong his judgments were. I could relate. Throughout the book, he has the courage to share his private (often unkind) thoughts about the people he meets...only to later understand the falsity of those private thoughts, and even what drove them. I could relate to that, too.
"Taming the voice in his head," which immediately has the effect of taming some of his anxiety and problematic behavior, is only one of the benefits of his meditation practice.
Let's face it; most of us have unkind, judgmental thoughts but we keep them to ourselves, most of the time, in order to keep things smooth on the surface. Harris allows us to peek into his thought processes before he ever began to meditate--thoughts which are common to us all and highly ego-driven, and the results are not pretty.
The story of his fast-rising career is fascinating, as is the account of how he stumbled into a meditation practice. As the book jacket will tell you, he had to do something after his war-related PTSD and drug use led to an on-air meltdown witnessed by millions of people, and threatened to end his career.
What happens once he begins meditating is intriguing, funny, and provocative. He covers the emerging neuroscience research on meditation in highly understandable terms. He brings a journalist's investigative perspective to various teachers and gurus he interviews along the way. His comments on them will surprise you. Agree or disagree, you're sure to be interested in what he has to say on some of the more well-known teachers in various meditative traditions. He also discusses his own insights through his own practice, talks about how his practice begins to dramatically and positively affect his life and work, and makes a strong case for why this could be true for everyone.
Best of all, it's clear that if a guy this astoundingly busy can make time to meditate, so can most of the rest of us.
He's an excellent and highly entertaining writer. I have to say I loved this book. I could relate to so much of it from my own experience. It clearly underscores how and why mindfulness meditation can increase effectiveness for anyone, in any type of work, at any level.
The only downside, to me, was his unrelenting cynicism and judgment toward those who could best be described as New Agers. During the course of the book, he recognizes how unfairly judgmental he is toward whole swaths of the population, and opens his mind to many different types of people as a result (descriptions of how this happens are both honest and funny).
But not for this one segment of the population; at the end of the book he is still talking about them in scathing terms and blames them for why meditation isn't more widely accepted. While I understand the point he's trying to make about the need to describe mindfulness in ways that will make it more credible to folks who aren't New Age-y, I found it surprising that this one slice of the population was continuously verbally tarred and feathered. Odd, considering he's willing to at least listen to everyone else, knowing that he doesn't need to agree...just listen. But his mind remains closed to this population, whom he always describes in the most sarcastic and mocking terms.
I saw a recent clip of an interview with Harris for the August issue of Mindful Magazine. He says he now believes that once he's done with his journalism career, he will probably teach meditation. For a guy who is still hard-charging, skeptical, and competitive (now in a "2.0" manner; he hasn't lost his edge at work, that's certain), this was surprising and delightful to hear. See a short excerpt of that article here.
By the end of the book he is summarizing all the ways meditation has helped his career (and the rest of his life) and giving some shrewd advice as to how it could help anyone be more effective.
If you find yourself "reacting" at work in knee-jerk fashion, rather than making thoughtful choices--or if you just want to become more conscious at work--please consider reading this book.
A very provocative and helpful book, well-worth reading. Berger previously wrote a book called Glimmer: How Design Can Transform Your World, and realized while writing Glimmer that the most creative designers he met were coming up with their fresh ideas by asking questions.
Fascinated, he created a blog which gave its name to the current book (it comes from an e.e. cummings quote, "always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question" ) and set out to interview some of the most creative and innovative business and educational leaders around the globe. The book is drawn from the blog and from those interviews, along with substantial input from his blog readers.
One of the things I loved about the book was the number of resources he mentioned along the way--more about that in a minute, and the many wonderful questions he poses throughout. Numerous examples of the sheer power of questions, of when and why we tend to stop asking questions, and of how to ask better questions, make for an intriguing read. It will make you think closely about how you can incorporate more and better questions into both your daily life and your business life.
Resources he mentions include:
A More Beautiful Question (the blog that started the book)
The Right Question Institute - they've developed a strategy for teaching question-asking in schools...a lost art, alas
Here's a short list of books that he references, all of which sound worth reading:
Here's a very interesting article on the power of active reflection to improve work performance. The "field experiment" at the end of the article is especially telling. Locate the article here.
How can we make this happen in today's crazy-busy workplace? I believe it's possible, and would have major benefits to us all.
What a hilarious and inspiring business book. It's more than a business book, actually, as Biz Stone, the author (who is the creator of Twitter), passes along advice that goes beyond business and touches any type of creative work.
Business books often leave me yawning and rarely enthrall me, but this one is a well-crafted charmer--and had me laughing out loud.
It’s a serious book about making money and experiencing success. At the same time, it’s a very funny book about putting values before profit, about being compassionate, about listening well to others, about learning from your clients, and about being mindful.
In short, I loved it. And I’m recommending it.
In the first chapter, he discusses how he went from a failed start-up venture directly to unemployment and living in his mother's basement. To deal with such humiliating circumstances, he amused himself by creating a blog based on a fictional alter-ego ("Biz Stone, Genius" which then morphed into "Genius Labs").
Acting out of his fearless, totally confident Genius persona on his blog, and making up outrageously whimsical statements about what he was doing, he unconsciously came up with ideas that eventually led to the concept behind Twitter...but that was a few years down the road. First, the blog attracted readers, one of whom eventually paved the way for Biz to end up working for Google (notorious for their grueling selection process). The story behind how he landed that job is hilarious, not for the faint of heart, and an approach that would not work in all workplace cultures. But it was exactly the kind of behavior that lent itself to the culture of Google at that time.
By the end of the book, he is no longer calling himself a genius. Neither is he denigrating himself in any way. How he gets from Point A, being the Genius, to Point B, an becoming an advocate for compassion in business, is a completely fascinating story with great career lessons for everyone who reads it. (A quote from one of the last chapters: “Global empathy is the triumph of humanity,”) And it’s such a readable book—smart, warm, funny, and packed with provocative stories, questions, and information. Some highlights: