“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…”

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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.

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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.

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Start a good habit; stop a bad habit

I love this video. It’s fun to watch and illustrates a potent truth: small, repetitious actions (I call them habits) can accumulate and create major outcomes.

Habits can be our friend or foe. Good habits help us perform beneficial tasks regularly and efficiently. Bad habits keep us ingrained in undesirable behaviors.

So take an audit of your behaviors and make some changes. I suggest:

List all of your habits, placing them into one of two categories: good or bad.

Good habits might include: personal hygiene, exercise, weekly lunch with friends, reading, writing notes of appreciation, prioritize nightly dinners with family, take stand-up breaks at work every two hours, eat smaller portions, only check email three times a day, regular times of reflection.

Bad habits might include: eating too much, talking too much, not listening, worrying, being pessimistic, being tardy, procrastination.

Many of us will be surprised at how few good habits we have.

When attempting to change your habits, start small and go slow.

Don’t try to overhaul a lifetime of bad habits or instigate a barrage of good ones—in one week. Start small and go slow: work on starting one good habit and canceling one bad habit over the next several months.

Attach your new, good habit to an existing good habit.

The probability of your new habit finding purchase will increase if you do it before or after an existing habit. Build one upon the other. For instance, after you brush and floss your teeth each evening, spend two minutes memorizing important thoughts.

Share your aspirations with a friend and ask her to hold you accountable.

Your success rate will increase if you go public with your intent and ask someone to hold you accountable.

My response to this post

Good habit – Every night before I go to bed I watch an episode of a TV series on my iPad. It helps me relax. I’m currently watching Blue Bloods, a CBS series about a multi-generational family of cops in New York City. My new habit is: before I access the Netflix app. I will open up the Evernote app, where I keep a list of things I’m learning and memorizing, and spend 15 minutes studying.

Bad habit – Sometimes I repeat myself in conversations. I’ll say something and then seconds later, say it again. That’s unnecessary and probably irritating to those I’m talking to. (Those of you with whom I have conversations, hold me accountable.)

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

Diversify

I want to live so that my life cannot be ruined by a single phone call. Federico Fellini

I avoid using clichés, but here’s one that expresses exactly what I want to say: Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.

Don’t place all your resources in one (or a few) person, thing, or place, or you could lose a lot with one bad turn of events.

Minimize exposure by spreading out your assets.

Diversify in many areas of life:

Relationships

If you are overly dependent on one person and that person exits your life you may feel out of kilter. But multiple close relationships will ameliorate single losses.

Don’t expect any one person to meet all your needs. Have many friends. Don’t let one person control your sense of well-being. Don’t be co-dependent.

Financial resources

Don’t put all your financial resources into one instrument. Mary and I keep about 45% of our financial assets in the stock market (several different index funds), 35% in real estate (our home), and 20% in bonds, CDs, and cash.

Sources of engagement

Peter Drucker encouraged people to “live in more than one world.” He was a professor, management consultant, writer, expert in Japanese art, and more. It is an invigorating approach to life; it will make you a more interesting person—and if one area of your life falls apart you’ll have other areas to focus on.

Sources of income

Two-income families benefit from income diversity. I also recommend that individuals have multiple income streams. Find a hobby or develop a skill that you can monetize, or get a second job.

Compartmentalize

We set ourselves up for disappointment when we allow the various parts of our lives to “bleed over” into each other such that when one area is stressed, our entire system is strained. To a certain degree, this is to be expected because most areas of our lives do overlap and intertwine.

But it’s advantageous to compartmentalize your life such that one area will not inordinately affect all areas. For instance, if your entire life centers around your job and your job goes south, so does your life. But if your job is just one part of a multi-faceted life, you’ll not be unduly affected; you can be unhappy at work but overall happy in life.

Diversify and compartmentalize.

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Leaders: There’s a difference between being an achiever and a leader; be both

Information about March 29-30 Lead Well workshop

One can’t lead unless he can leverage more than his own capabilities. Scully

There is a significant difference between an achiever and a leader.

  • An achiever gets the job done.
  • A leader gets the job done through other people.

This is huge; don’t miss it.

Many people have honed their “get it done” skills; they live disciplined lives and are able to accomplish immense amounts of work. They are achievers. Give them a job and they’ll get it done. I admire these people, but I don’t consider them leaders, because leaders accomplish work through others.

Peter Drucker illustrates this difference by challenging us to think of which pronouns we use when given work to do: “The leaders who work most effectively, it seems to me, never say ‘I.’ And that’s not because they have trained themselves not to say ‘I.’ They don’t think ‘I.’ They think ‘we’; they think ‘team.’ They understand their job to be to make the team function.”

When you are given an assignment or when you have a vision to fulfill, what is your first thought? “I can do that.” Or, “I need to put a team together.” As Drucker says, leaders think first of accomplishing work through their team. Leaders use plural pronouns when planning work.

No doubt, a good leader must also be an achiever—you must possess the skills necessary to accomplish tasks. When a leader doesn’t know how to get work done, he loses credibility with his team and progress suffers because he doesn’t understand how work is accomplished. So for a leader it’s not “I’m either an achiever or a leader” but “I am both an achiever and a leader.”

There’s even a difference between a leader and an achiever with helpers. Some high achievers will surround themselves with a group of assistants and helpers whose job is to help the achiever be more efficient, but this is still not the exercise of leadership. For instance, a dentist may have a staff that assists him in his work—a dental assistant, dental hygienist, receptionist, x-ray technician—but all the work centers around the dentist. A leader will empower others to conceptualize and perform work on their own.

The ability to get work done through other people is fundamental to leadership. In fact, if you’re not doing that, you’re not leading.

As you reflect on your past, have you functioned more as an achiever or a leader?

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

Lead Well Workshop – March 29-30 Click here for more information about a life- and career-enhancing workshop. It will change your life.

Anticipate Pyrrhic victories and know when to avoid them

Information about March 29-30 Lead Well workshop

A Pyrrhic victory is one that inflicts such a devastating toll on the victor that it is tantamount to defeat. Someone who wins a Pyrrhic victory has been victorious in some way. However, the heavy toll negates any sense of achievement or profit.

The phrase Pyrrhic victory is named after King Pyrrhus of Epirus, whose army suffered irreplaceable casualties (including most of his commanders) while defeating the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC and Asculum in 279 BC during the Pyrrhic War.

In both of Pyrrhus’s victories, the Romans suffered greater casualties than Pyrrhus did. However, the Romans had a much larger supply of men from which to draw soldiers and their casualties did less damage to their war effort than Pyrrhus’s casualties did to his.

King Pyrrhus lamented, “If we are victorious in one more battle with the Romans, we shall be utterly ruined.”

A similar expression is “winning a battle but losing the war,” describing a poor strategy that wins a lesser (or sub-) objective but overlooks and loses the true intended goal.

Here are some examples of Pyrrhic victories in everyday life:

  • “Winning” obedience or compliance at home or work but sullying relationships.
  • “Winning” an argument but harming another person’s dignity.
  • Maintaining relational peace but never solving a serious, persistent problem.
  • Accomplishing a goal that violates one of your primary values.
  • Earning an advanced degree or climbing the corporate ladder but in doing so, harming family relationships.
  • Gaining another person’s respect or acceptance, only to discover that you have violated your values and beliefs.
  • Winning a lawsuit but at too high a financial price.

Some people stubbornly cling to their goals, unaware of the downside of their tenacity. Often, it’s best to punt.

Recently, I was substantially inconvenienced when a major airline mishandled my luggage. What should have been resolved in 18 hours took eight days. The debacle adversely affected my expensive trip to the southern hemisphere. When I returned home I was determined to pursue justice and proper compensation but got nowhere in my attempts. I thought about suing the airline, but quickly realized that my attorney-for-hire would battle a huge, well-funded legal department. If I did “win” the case I would actually lose because of my financial loss. I took a deep breath and dropped the issue.

Perhaps Kenny Rogers got it right when he sang,

You’ve got to know when to hold ‘em
Know when to fold ‘em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run

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

Lead Well Workshop – March 29-30 Click here for more information about a life- and career-enhancing workshop. It will change your life.