Pursue individuality and community

Information about June 21-22 Lead Well workshop

A major part of the human experience is the search for both individuality and community.

These two aspirations may seem to be polar opposites, but they are complementary, even interdependent. Until I know who I am and accept myself for who I am, I will have difficulty knowing how I fit into community.

Pursue individuality

You are unique. Nuanced. There is no one on earth like you.

I’ve coined a term to describe this distinction—your Signature Soulprint.

The term is a slight variation of a familiar word—fingerprint. Our fingerprints are used to determine and affirm our unique identity. There are 14 billion+ index fingers in the world, but yours is distinct; one square inch of flesh distinguishes you from all other humans.

If you are that unique physically, imagine the complexity of your soul. Hence the term Signature Soulprint.

It’s difficult to live authentically if you don’t know who you are. That sounds almost too obvious but, sadly, many people never develop a clear, accurate understanding of themselves, so authenticity eludes them. Knowing who you are and accepting who you are brings peace and contentment and will help you live a fulfilling and effective life.

“Know thyself” was the inscription over the Oracle at Delphi. It was, and is, good advice.

I’ve just published a book that will help you discover who you are and the unique way that you have been created. Click here for information about the book, Signature Soulprint.

Pursue community

We were created to relate intimately with other people. A “Lone Ranger” mentality might have worked for the masked man but it doesn’t work in real life. Simon and Garfunkel had it all wrong when they sang: “I am a rock. I am an island. And a rock feels no pain and an island never cries.”

Take the initiative to develop a social environment in which you are relating intimately to others. Develop a group of friends who care for one another and meet each other’s needs. Establish relationships that are mutually beneficial.

The nuclear family is our first experience of community in life: our mother, father, siblings, and extended family should create a safe and fulfilling social environment. But sometimes families are dysfunctional and cause more pain than comfort. So develop friendships that meet your need for intimacy. You had no choice as to who your family members are, but you can choose your friends.

Becoming aware of self

When a word begins with the prefix “self”, you usually want to avoid exhibiting the behavior it describes. Don’t be self-fish, self-centered, self-reverential, self-absorbed, or self-serving. But there is one “self-word” that you must vigorously and continually pursue—be self-aware.

First, you need to discover who you are and how you are unique among all the humans who have ever lived. Then you need to be mindful of how your self relates to other people. How should you act in any given context? How should the real you interact with others?

Discovering your Signature Soulprint will be a continuous, lifelong process. You are so complex and there are so many subtle nuances to consider, it will take the rest of your life for you to gain clarity.

Establish your individuality and live in community with others. Sadly, many people never achieve either of these aspirations and fewer still master both.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Click here for more information about the June 21-22 Lead Well workshop.

Think carefully about how you frame issues; consider how to take advantage of default settings

In his must-read book, What Intelligence Tests Miss, Keith Stanovich shares this insightful information.

“Researchers Johnson and Goldstein found that 85.9 percent of individuals in Sweden had agreed to be organ donors. However, the rate in the United Kingdom was only 17.2 percent. What is the difference between the Swedes and the British that accounts for such a large gap in their attitudes about organ donation?

“The difference had nothing to do with internal psychological opinions. The difference is in the form of a particular public policy. In Sweden (and others countries like Belgium, France, and Poland) the default policy is that everyone will be an organ donor – one must take action to opt out. In the United Kingdom (and other countries like the United States, German, and Denmark) the default policy is that no one will be a donor – one must take action to opt in.

“In both scenarios, people have a choice as to whether or not they will donate; free will is not being denied. The difference is simply in how the original proposition is structured.

“Interestingly, Johnson and Goldstein discovered that roughly 80 percent of all people prefer to be organ donors. The actual number of donors is determined simply by how they are approached.” (page 203)

Here are some examples of how carefully framed options could benefit individuals and society.

  • Believe it or not, some people turn down their employer’s offer to match contributions to their 401k retirement account. Organizations could make employee contributions the default setting, requiring individuals to opt out if they don’t want to participate. (Social Security is a similar plan, except for the fact that individuals cannot opt out.)
  • Some states have a vaccine immunization requirement for children. Parents must opt out if they do not want their children to be vaccinated. (Why would any parent resist medical care for their children?)
  • Most software updates are automatically sent to users, who then have the choice to download or not download.
  • Some makeup companies are adding sunblock to their products. If consumers don’t want that added benefit, they can choose not to buy the product.

Use this powerful tool: frame carefully and take advantage of default settings.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Have good manners

Friends and good manners will carry you where money won’t go. Margaret Walker

“Manners are the lubricating oil of an organization. It is a law of nature that two moving bodies in contact with each other create friction. This is as true for human beings as it is for inanimate objects. Manners—simple things like saying “please” and “thank you” and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family—enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this.” Peter Drucker

You don’t need a certificate from the Emily Post Institute to know what good manners look like.

  • Say “please” and “thank you.”
  • Don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  • Open the door for other people.
  • Don’t interrupt people when they are speaking.
  • Don’t text at the dinner table.
  • Write thank-you notes.
  • Don’t eat before everyone is served.
  • Only use your phone in appropriate settings.
  • Be gracious in entering and exiting a conversation.

Mannerly conduct can preserve the integrity of relationships at home and at work. Good manners make people feel appreciated and respected and show others that you care about them. Manners take the rough edges off social interactions and make it easier for everyone to feel comfortable.

Pier Forni, a professor at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, says that manners are like traffic lights for life. “The rules of good manners are the traffic lights of human interaction. They make it so that we don’t crash into one another in everyday behavior.”

When we are unmannerly we appear crude, awkward, self-centered, and entitled.

Your mood should not dictate your manners. Be mannerly regardless of how you feel emotionally. J.D. Salinger wrote, “I am always saying ‘Glad to’ve met you’ to somebody I’m not at all glad I met. If you want to stay alive, you have to say that stuff, though.”

Demonstrate manners; it’s the right thing to do, and you’ll be more successful in life.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Food – one of life’s great connectors

Sobremesa – (n) the time spent around the table after lunch or dinner, talking to the people you shared the meal with; time to digest and savor both food and friendship.

There is something profoundly satisfying about sharing a meal with other people. Eating together is one of the oldest and most fundamental unifying human experiences. It can simultaneously fulfill physical, emotional, and relational needs.

It will help establish and deepen friendships

If I share my food with you it’s either because I love you a lot, or because it fell on the floor and I don’t want it. (That’s a joke.) Truly, I can’t think of another setting that’s better for solidifying friendships than gathering to eat. It slows down our pace, narrows our space, focuses our attention, and creates a relaxing ambience—all of which are beneficial for deepening friendships.

It’s good for business

Since humans first walked the earth, we’ve known that sharing a meal can be good for business. For instance, a recent study revealed that it doesn’t take much to get a doctor to prescribe a brandname medication—just a free meal. The study found that U.S. doctors who received a single free meal from a drug company were more likely to prescribe the drug than doctors who received no such meals. Meals paid for by drug companies cost less than $20 on average [Even Cheap Meals Influence Doctors’ Drug Prescriptions, Study Suggests, Peter Loftus, WSJ, June 20, 2016].

I’ve never understood why some organizations are so stingy with the amount of funds allocated for business meals. I once worked with a group of six senior executives at a $75 million dollar a year business. They were frustrated that the CEO, in order to save money, eliminated their budget for business meals, which saved the company a whopping $24k a year. I suspect that poor decision cost the company ten times that much in lost revenue.

It engenders good will

Treat someone to a $15 lunch and they’ll be your friend forever. Well, that’s an exaggeration; but it is true that even a small amount of money and time will generate a lot of relational capital.

A weekly family meal can become a wonderful family tradition

I enjoy watching the sitcom, Bluebloods (on CBS). It follows the lives of three generations of New York City police officers. In every episode, there’s a scene showing their weekly, Sunday afternoon family meal in which they gather around the dinner table to talk, argue, laugh, and pass the potatoes. Every family would benefit from this tradition. [Note to my family: Are you reading this post?]

I double-dog-dare you: initiate and host meals and enjoy the sobremesa.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

“I’m glad…” – benefit from the power of gratitude

Thanksgiving is a natural response to life and may be the only way to savor it. Douglas Abrams

My daughter and I were in the midst of an unenviable task: move the contents of one storage unit (which included a hundred boxes of books) to another storage unit several blocks away. The job wasn’t as unpleasant as chewing on cut glass, but it was close to it.

To ameliorate our sagging enthusiasm, I suggested that we take turns completing the phrase “I’m glad…”

I started with, “I’m glad I’m not doing this by myself.”
Lauren responded with, “I’m glad we’re both healthy enough to lift heavy boxes.”
And on we went:

  • I’m glad it’s not raining.
  • I’m glad we have this time to talk.
  • I’m glad these books we’re moving may someday encourage people.
  • I’m glad we’re saving money by doing this ourselves.

With each new expression of gratitude our work became more bearable and our experience enjoyable.

Expressions of gratitude can change an attitude faster than a speeding ticket.

In his must-read book, The Book of Joy, Douglas Abrams said, “Gratitude is the recognition of all that holds us in the web of life and all that has made it possible to have the life that we have and the moment that we are experiencing. It allows us to shift our perspective toward all we have been given and all that we have. It moves us away from the narrow-minded focus on fault and lack and to the wider perspective of benefit and abundance.” (page 242)

I double-dog-dare you to try this: the next time you coddle a bad attitude, start your own version of “I’m glad…”

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Take time to think

Few people think more than two or three times a year. I have made an international reputation for myself by thinking once or twice a week. George Bernard Shaw

When was the last time you devoted 60 minutes to pure, unadulterated, focused thinking? Well, that’s been too long.

May I suggest:

Discover your ideal time and place to think by yourself

Mid-morning to early afternoon I’m usually in a get-it-done mode which is not conducive to reflection. My to-do list beckons. My best time to think is early morning (5:00-7:00 a.m.) or early evening (6:00-8:00 p.m.). Also, after I exercise, my body is exhausted but my mind is active, so that’s a prime time for me to think.

I think best in a totally quiet, uninterrupted environment. No music, conversation, or extraneous noise.

Think with others

I truly enjoy discussing significant thoughts with intelligent, reflective people. I usually have to initiate this type of conversation—they don’t happen by chance; but if you get the right people talking about an interesting topic the rewards can be good. I have written a post about different levels of conversations Upgrade your conversations; talk about ideas.

What to think about

Explore new thoughts

Don’t just replay old mind-tapes. Once you’ve had a thought, there’s no benefit in thinking it again unless it gives you pleasure (and even then, don’t overdo it). Pursue thoughts you’ve never had before.

Think about how to apply theory to your life

I enjoy learning a new theory/principle and applying it to my life.

For instance, I was recently thinking about what psychologists call a double avoidance situation, where someone is forced to choose between two undesirable alternatives. The classic example is imagining that you are in a tunnel that you need to get out of; at one end is a rabid dog, at the other end is a man with a whip. (Most people feel like the 2016 presidential election was a double avoidance situation.)

Part of my reflection focused on if and how I might be personally involved in a double avoidance situation and if so, how to escape, and how to avoid getting into this type of predicament.

Think about significant thoughts

In my post Embrace significant thoughts, I talk about the value of reflecting on key thoughts. Find a phrase that appears to have depth and take a dive. Several years ago I memorized Federico Fellini’s statement, “I want to live so that my life cannot be ruined by a single phone call” and have ruminated on it often. It has matured in my mind such that I have written a blog—Diversify—that I’ll post several weeks from now.

Where do important topics come from?

In my post Cultivate your intellectual nutrient base I encouraged you to identify sources that nourish the mind. Just as we all have a biological nutrient base—we routinely digest a suitable and adequate amount of physical nourishment—we need an intellectual nutrient base. On a regular basis, feast on proven sources of “food for thought” and you’ll never lack for interesting things to think about.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Don’t be high-maintenance or tolerate those who are

She’s the bride at every wedding and the corpse at every funeral.

High-maintenance people wear me out. I’ve decided that I’m not going to be a spectator or victim of their behavior. Join me in resisting demanding, overly needy, selfish people. Don’t feel obligated to tolerate their behavior or cater to their whims.

Here are some characteristics of high-maintenance people (HMP) that should cause your crap-detector to peak.

  • Excessive and insatiable emotional needs. We all have legitimate emotional needs (attention, encouragement, comfort, respect, etc.) and relationships are deepened when these needs are mutually acknowledged and met. But some people are excessive in their neediness and are never satisfied. Their neediness is like a relational black hole that sucks all the light and energy out of relationships. And there’s seldom any reciprocity; they take but do not give.
  • Extremely picky and hard to please. It takes them two hours to make it through the cafeteria line because they are micro-processing all the options. Their indecision adversely affects those around them.
  • Negative. Instead of owning a pleasant, positive outlook on life, HMPs often reside on the dark side; their default setting is pessimism.
  • Unhappy and hard to please. HMPs are rarely satisfied; there’s always a controversy brewing and something to be upset at. They nurse a low-grade fever of discontent.
  • Melodramatic. We nickname them drama queens (or kings) because they are attracted to drama and if they can’t find any, they create it. They are uncomfortable with peace and calm; they gravitate to, or create, storms.
  • Unorganized. Often, they live disordered lives and expect us to compensate. They expect their lack of planning to be our emergency.
  • Hold grudges and keep picking the scab off old wounds. HMPs have difficulty in letting things go; they coddle hurt feelings and offenses; they would rather keep old wounds and misunderstanding alive than simply forgive.
  • Self-centered and self-absorbed. With apologies to Copernicus, they think they are the center of the galaxy. They act as if the world revolves around them.
  • Lack of self-awareness. All these characteristics are exacerbated by the fact that HMPs are clueless about their annoying behaviors. They either don’t own a mirror or never take the time to look at themselves.

Now, put down your digital device, go look at yourself in the mirror and ask, “Am I high-maintenance?” Or better still, ask those who know you best, “Am I high-maintenance?” If you are, stop it.

Secondly, identify people in your life who are high-maintenance and decide how you’re going to deal with them. Tough-love may be the answer. For sure, as long as you allow them to be high-maintenance, they will be.

Occasionally, everyone benefits from a well-thought-out, intentional thump on the nose.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Exercise more; eat less

The average US adult weighs about 25 pounds more today than a few decades ago. That’s like hanging three plastic gallon jugs full of milk around your neck. That can’t be a good thing.

Everyone should read this article by Mandy Oaklander, published in Time Magazine: Seven Surprising Benefits of Exercise

Instead of beating us over the head (“exercise, you slob”) she presents the happy news that the “no pain no gain” approach to exercise is a myth. Any activity—unloading the dishwasher, mowing the lawn, walking the dog—is beneficial. Just start moving.

The article also reminds us of the multiple benefits of exercise: better cognition, improved mental health, longer life, better overall health—there’s really no downside.

Here’s an article I read several years ago that changed my exercise routine.

It illustrates 14 exercises that use your body weight (no equipment required) and the entire regimen only takes seven minutes (though I have expanded the number of exercises and doubled the time for each, so the workout takes me 30 minutes). Three times a week I combine this routine with 30 minutes on the elliptical machine for a stout one-hour workout.

Though exercise is a deterrent to weight gain, the fastest way to lose weight is to eat less. The best advice I’ve read recently about controlling our consumption of calories is to limit portion sizes.

In his terrific book, What Intelligence Tests Miss, Keith Stanovich writes, “Despite French people eating a higher-fat diet than Americans, the obesity rate in France is only 7.4 percent compared with 22.3 percent in the United States. Rozin and colleagues posited that one reason that Americans are heavier despite eating less fat was because they were routinely exposed to larger portion sizes. For example, portion sizes were 28 percent larger in McDonald’s restaurants in the United States than in France. Portion sizes at Pizza Huts in the United States were 42 percent larger. Across eleven comparisons, the United States portion size was 25 percent larger than in France. Rozin and colleagues have studied the so-called unit bias: that people will tend to eat one portion of something, regardless of the size of that portion, or will tend to eat a unit of something regardless of the size of that unit. [pages 207-208]

I like the strategy of eating smaller portions because it doesn’t restrict what we should eat, just how much. (I like my pizza and hamburgers.)

Exercise more and eat less.

Question: What are your thoughts about this essay? You can leave a comment by clicking here.