This thought will help those who are self-conscious

Plus - the best article I read this week

This post will be good news to everyone, except narcissists. 

Good news: When you’re in public, people don’t notice you as much as you think they do. 

We often think people are observing us when they’re not. We worry about the clothes we wear because we think people notice; they don’t. We’re overly self-conscious about how we act; no need to be. 

Social scientists call this the “spotlight effect.” It’s our tendency to think we’re being noticed more than we really are. 

Dozens of studies in social psychology have supported this phenomenon. In one test, psychologists asked some college students to wear bright yellow Barry Manilow t-shirts to a large introduction to psychology class. After the class, they asked the students who wore the tacky t-shirt to estimate how many of their classmates noticed them. Then the researchers asked the students in the classroom how many had noticed their classmates wearing the t-shirts. Few students had noticed those wearing the t-shirts; those who wore the t-shirts greatly overestimated the number of people who had noticed.

So what explains the “spotlight effect”? Scientists conclude it is the result of egocentrism. We all are the center of our own universes so it’s hard to develop an accurate evaluation of how much we are noticed. The “spotlight effect” manifests from the innate tendency to forget that although one is the center of one’s own world, one is not the center of everyone else’s. This tendency is especially prominent when one does something atypical. 

The spotlight effect does not necessarily imply that we are arrogant or value ourselves more than others, but that our perception of the world is primarily from our own perspective and even what we think other people think of us is self-imposed. 

Don’t confuse being self-aware with being self-conscious. The former is good and necessary for emotional health and proper social interactions. But the term self-conscious usually describes someone who is ill at ease or uncomfortable with himself/herself as an object of the observation of others. Symptoms of being self-conscious include: getting angry or hostile when embarrassed; avoiding social experiences; blaming others for one’s mistakes; blaming yourself for other people’s mistakes; low self-esteem; and feeling agitated, anxious, depressed, or nervous based on what you think other people think of you. 

There’s no simple solution to our struggle with being self-conscious; it’s a complicated issue. If you struggle inordinately, visit with a trained counselor.  

This post simply offers insight that might bring some relief: people are not noticing you as much as you think they are.

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

You should be committed to lifelong learning. Otherwise, you’ll become quickly outdated and out of sync. This article, from the October 13 edition of the New York Times, underscores the point. It’s titled 60 Years of Higher Education – Really?

Join me on an unforgettable journey to the Sacred Valley, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon Rainforest

Peru - May 6-15, 2020

In the past ten years I’ve led groups of friends on annual trips to Paris, London, Europe, the Mediterranean, Baltic States, Russia, and North Africa. We’ve never had a malfunction or bad experience; just memorable, life-enhancing moments.

I invite you to join me on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to one of the great historical and geographical countries in the Southern Hemisphere—Peru. We’ll start our trip in Lima, then travel to Cusco—the gateway to the Sacred Valley and home to the Inca civilization. We’ll visit Machu Picchu, one of the wonders of the ancient world. Then we’ll travel to the Amazon Rainforest and spend three days at the Inkaterra Reserva Amazonica lodge in the diverse Puerto Maldonado area. (In 2013, it was selected by National Geographic Traveler magazine was one of the world’s 25 best eco-lodges.) We’ll travel on airplanes, trains, buses, vans, boats, and shoes.

Mary and I took this trip in July, 2018. It was one of our favorite trips of all time (we’ve been to 47 countries). We always felt safe, the accommodations are elegant and authentic, the food is world-renowned, the geography is diverse (metropolitan Lima, the Andes mountains, Amazon Rainforest), and Peruvians are friendly—the trip was incredible.   

It’s been said that one of the joys of traveling is not only where you go but who you go with and who you meet along the way. This tour group will be limited to 50 interesting ladies and gentlemen who travel well—friends of mine who enjoy exploring great places. 

Travel takes time and money, but it’s worth the investment. You’ll be stretched and challenged, and you’ll learn more about the world in which you live and the life you live in the world. 

I hope you’ll join me on this memorable trip to Peru. 

Here’s a brochure about the trip. PeruBrochure2

Don McMinn

Question: Questions about the trip? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

A good technique for resolving conflict and misunderstandings

One short phrase from the New Testament can help maintain healthy relationships both at home and work. It provides a quick and sure way to clarify misunderstandings, resolve problems, and properly express anger.

Speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

There are three parts to this precept and you’ve got to get all three right or it doesn’t work. It’s like a recipe with three ingredients—each is essential. 

So let’s consider each part. 

Speak

If you’re upset at someone or think there’s been a misunderstanding, talk—initiate a conversation. Being mute will not solve problems and there’s no virtue in ignoring difficult issues or avoiding unpleasant discourse. When you’re upset at someone, there are two extremes to avoid: don’t be a stuffer or a spewer. Stuffers don’t say anything; spewers are quick to speak, but what they say and how they say it is often offensive. This verse is an antidote for both extremes. 

Speak the truth

When engaged in a peace-seeking conversation, be careful to speak only truth. Most of us wouldn’t tell a bold-faced lie, but we may be tempted to distort facts, exaggerate facts, make assumptions, or only speak part of the truth (naturally, the part that substantiates our position). Instead, we must speak only the truth and all the truth. This will require pursuing facts to verify truth; investigate until you’re convinced you have good facts regarding the issue.

Speak the truth in love

Some people, armed with the truth, think they have a “007 license to kill”; there are no restraints on how and when they express themselves and no concern for the impact their words will have on the recipient. But this verse governs and restricts our speech such that we must frame our words in love. This will impact when we share, how we share (tone of voice, body language), and even our motivation for speaking.  

Begin by considering your motivation for initiating the conversation. Are you motivated by love for the person you approach, or is your intent to belittle, embarrass, or insult? Perhaps you’re just wanting to vent because it will make you feel better. Proceed only when your motivation is pure.

You’ll also need to consider how “in love” might be defined by the person(s) you speak to–what is his or her individual criteria for what “in love” means? For instance, someone’s preferences may be expressed as: “I don’t mind you bringing up a potentially difficult subject, but,

    • Not as soon as I get home from work.
    • Not in front of the kids.
    • Don’t raise your voice at me.
    • Allow me to share my side of the story.
    • Not when I’ve just returned from a business trip.
    • Not in front of the entire staff.”

Before you engage with an individual, consider how he or she would prefer to be approached so you can customize your conversation to accommodate his or her individual preferences.  

Most misunderstandings and minor conflicts can be resolved through civil discourse. Ephesians 4:15 offers a good template.

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

Domains of knowledge and ignorance

While differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal. —Karl Popper

Donald Rumsfeld was the U.S. secretary of defense under both presidents Gerald Ford and George Bush. One of his claims to fame was to distinguish different kinds of knowing and not knowing. He said:

“There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.” 

I want to add one phrase to his statement and comment on each one.

There are known knowns. Things we know that we know.

I know how to tell time, that I live in the 21st century, how to drive a car, that chianti wine is made from the Sangiovese grape, basic math, etc.

There are known unknowns. Things we know we don’t know. 

I don’t know how to speak Mandarin, overhaul a car engine, understand the Higgs boson, or perform an appendectomy.  

There are unknown knowns. Things we think we know but we don’t. (My sentence.)

In their good book, The Knowledge Illusion, Sloman and Fernbach make an unassailable argument that all humans know much less than we think we do; we all suffer from the illusion of understanding. For instance, how does a flush toilet really work? Or a speedometer? A quartz watch? We’re familiar with these items but we have no clue how they work.

There are unknown unknowns. Things we don’t know we don’t know.

To me, this is the most frightening and exhilarating truth. Frightening because I’m unaware of threats and compromises that may assail me. Exhilarating because there are infinite realms of knowledge that I can explore, enjoy, and benefit from. We are all unique in what we know, and similar in our infinite stupidity. 

Rumsfeld’s statement was in the context of military threats and opportunities, in which most unknowns are seen as dangerous and threatening. But in a civilian context, unknowns can represent an infinite source of good and beneficial knowledge.

An important prerequisite to lifelong learning is to become progressively convinced of our unfathomable ignorance and to develop a keen desire to pursue the unknown.

Since 2006, a course entitled Ignorance has been taught at Columbia University. Guest scientists are invited to speak about what they don’t know. The course focuses on things that are not in textbooks and thus teaches students to think about what is unknown and what could be known.

If I lived in New York City, I would enroll in this course.

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

Things found “along the way”

But she sensed that she had stumbled into the most important work of her life. —Nancy Koehn, describing Rachael Carson (Forged in Crisis, page 412)

The first time I came across the phrase “along the way,” I was studying leadership, specifically, the topic of vision. I read: Vision is often found “along the way.” That is, in the normal course of life, we can observe things that we can adopt as vision for our own lives and organizations. If we’re observant, we can benefit from the experiences of day-to-day living. It seems like an obvious, simplistic observation, but we seldom take full advantage of it.

Here are two suggestions.

Make sure your “along the way” remains fresh and invigorating.

It’s easy and convenient to settle into our personalized “dog-runs.” Day after day, we do the same things, drive the same routes, talk to the same people, read from the same sources…and our “way” becomes predictable, non-stimulating, even boring. We are anesthetized by the common. Our minds enter a mental school-zone. 

It’s tempting to reside in these ruts but they can lead to atrophy and stalemate. It takes initiative and effort to press into new areas. 

This is one reason I’m a huge fan of international travel; travel far from your bailiwick and you’ll be forced to see things differently. Additionally, make new acquaintances; read a book written by someone you fundamentally disagree with; visit art museums; once a month, take a field trip to a place of interest you’ve never been to.

When you’re “along the way,” observe and learn.

Just being in an invigorating environment doesn’t guarantee we’ll benefit from it. We can sleep-walk through stimulating environs just like we do in our dog-runs. The phrase is “things found along the way” which suggest that we must be searching, observing, seeing connections, notating, and writing down impressions. 

It’s been said that all good ideas are borrowed and all great ideas are stolen. I don’t totally endorse the statement, but I understand its veiled meaning. Some of my best ideas have been birthed “along the way.” I had the vision to write a book while looking at an advertisement on a New York City subway; I had the vision for Lead Well while reading a business article in a Geneva airport; I started a successful concert series based on an experience at another venue.  

View life as one continuous Easter-egg hunt. You’ll be delighted at what you can discover.

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

Fine-tune your work habits

We human beings must also be human doers. We need to be productive. Most of us have jobs which require results, but even if you’re retired or in a situation in which your spouse provides the household income, you need to be useful to the world. Your sense of well-being is highly dependent upon consistently engaging in meaningful work.

Here are some suggestions on how to plan your work and maximize your efforts.

Do things sooner rather than later.

My boss is a famous author so he’s often asked to autograph his books. One day I walked into his office early in the morning and he had 50 books on his desk that he had been asked to autograph for our graduating seniors. He had just received the list of names of the graduates that morning. He said, “I’ve learned that when I’m asked to do something like this, it’s best just to do it quickly; get it done. I have a week to sign these books, but I’m doing it now.”

All work can be placed on a timeline. Sometimes immediate action is required but usually there is a longer timeframe in which work can be done. In these instances, you might as well do the work sooner rather than later. 

    • We know that IRS tax returns are due on April 15. Why not complete your return in February instead of waiting till the last moment?
    • Your car is running rough. Why not take it to the shop today?

I lead the worship ministry at my church so every seven days my team and I are responsible for a 30-minute Sunday morning music set. The demand is constant and predictable: every seven days, 52 times a year. Early in my ministry I only worked a week or two in advance on the services, which created unnecessary hassle, tension, and less-than-desirable results. Now, we plan at least six months in advance.

Procrastination is seldom beneficial. Do things sooner rather than later.

Start with the most important, largest, and hardest tasks.

Prioritize your work: start with the most important things you need to do, the largest projects, the hardest tasks and those tasks that you are reluctant to do. Here are some examples:

  • Most important—if my company doesn’t sell our products and services, we’ll go out of business. I need to focus on sales.
  • Largest project—I need to get started on planning for my company’s annual conference.
  • Hardest project—I must migrate to a new software program and I don’t know how to do that.
  • Project I’m reluctant to do—I need to confront a team member about his attitude.

Start on these tasks. Work on one until it is finished or until you can’t make any more progress, then move to the next task and do the same. Keep cycling these projects through your work-flow until they are finished. 

Finish small, simple tasks throughout the day, enjoying their brevity and simplicity. 

Our daily to-do list normally includes simple tasks that don’t take much time (call the pharmacy and order a refill; respond to email; set a lunch date with a friend; walk the dog). Finish these simple tasks throughout the day; they will give relief from working on larger, harder, and more tedious tasks. You can even use them to “reward’ yourself for having prioritized more important items, and, they’ll help keep your momentum going.

Build a reward system into your workday. 

Make deals with yourself that will reward you when you complete major tasks: “If I concentrate on my work for the next two hours, I’ll take a 15-minute break to play with my dog, or talk a walk, or get a cup of coffee, or read a book.” Put those carrots in front of the horse and he’ll run faster and farther. 

Prioritize your work and do it sooner rather than later.

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

Why can’t we control our speech?

I wrote this post while on a transatlantic cruise heading to the Iberian Peninsula. It took seven days to cross the pond. I love the seven days at sea because they offer hours to read, think, write…and to observe people (2,100 passengers and 999 crew members).

One night after dinner, the entertainment staff led a group of about 30 passengers gathered in one of the lounges in a game they called “Yes and No.” The rules were straightforward: individuals could volunteer to have a conversation with a staff member in which the volunteer could not say the words “yes” or “no”; nor could the volunteer shake his head up or down (indicating “yes” or “no” non-verbally). Any communication of “yes” or “no” disqualifed the volunteer. If the conversation continued for three minutes the volunteer would win a prize.  

A typical conversation sounded like this:

Crew member: Hi, what’s your name?

Volunteer: Matthew 

Crew member: Where are you from Matthew?

Matthew: Chicago.

Crew member: Chicago; great city; were you born there?

Matthew: No 

end of game…

I watched 11 people try. They all failed.

Reflecting on the experience, I immediately thought of that bold statement made by the apostle James: “No man can tame the tongue” (James 3:8). In the “Yes and No” game, the only restriction was to avoid saying two words—that was all—but no one could comply. 

A few hours after Mary and I observed the “Yes and No” game, I failed at a similar version of the game. Ephesians 4:29 says “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths” so the rule of that version of the game would be: see how long you can go without speaking an unwholesome word.

Mary and I had a tiff, during which I said some hurtful things…to the person I love the most. I was saddened by my words, I asked Mary’s forgiveness, and I vowed to do a better job filtering my speech.

Why is it so difficult to control our speech? My guess is, our speech is simply a verbalization of our thoughts and often we don’t filter our thoughts before they become sound waves. In James 1:19 we’re instructed to be “slow to speak,” but most of us are fast to speak. One way to slow down our speech is to simply understand that we need not say everything we think, so before we speak, we should take a millisecond to analyze what we’re about to say and when necessary, keep our mouth shut. In other words, before you turn your thoughts into words, run them through some filters:    

    • Are these words appropriate? 
    • Will they express grace and truth? 
    • Is this the right time and place to say these words? 
    • Will I regret saying these words? 
    • Are these words necessary? 
    • Will they be an improvement on silence?

It’s true—no man can tame the tongue—but that shouldn’t discourage us from trying. We’ll never gain total control but we can continually improve. 

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

Sometimes it’s best to start without the end in mind

In Stephen Covey’s insightful book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits is to “start with the end in mind.” Before you begin a project, have a clear picture in your mind as to what the final product will look like. That’s good advice. 

But sometimes it’s best to adopt the opposite strategy: start a project even though you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, in which case you’ll “build the bridge as you walk on it.” 

The former strategy (start with the end in mind) is preferred because you can move fast, not waste resources and momentum through trial and error, easily communicate the project to team members, stay on budget, and enjoy a predictable process and conclusion. It’s a very efficient model. For example, if you’re going to build a house, have detailed drawings about every major and minor aspect before work commences, and the project can progress more smoothly. 

But sometimes you might have a young, unformed idea that you want to pursue (perhaps an entrepreneurial pursuit) and you don’t have a clue as to what the end might look like, in which case, you just need to start. For example, my daughter, Lauren, recently started a new business dealing with environmental sustainability. Her business plan was novel. When she launched the business all she could see were the first few steps (trademark the name, start an LLC, open a checking account, build a basic website, etc.). After that, she just “walked through the fog” each day (for the first few years) until a clear and viable business formed. 

Sometimes you do know exactly what you want to accomplish but don’t know how it’s going to happen, in which case, you also just need to start. For example, when I finished my undergraduate degree, I knew I wanted to earn a Ph.D. so I promptly registered for graduate school. I had no idea how I was going to pay for it, how I would negotiate school with the demands of a young family and work, what was involved in completing the degree, and whether or not I had the moxie to finish. The “end in mind” wasn’t ambiguous, but how to get there was. I naively launched into the unknown and five years later had the post nominal.

Perhaps I’m describing the difference between an explorer (someone who starts without the end in mind) and a pioneer (someone starts with the end in mind). An explorer has a general goal (ex. discover the new world) but is not sure how to get there; he has a compass but no map. A pioneer follows the path forged by the explorer (he has an end in mind), and may even improve the process. An explorer has a high tolerance for risk—failure is an option; for a pioneer, less so.

I’m not advocating that you identify exclusively with one approach or the other. In the course of life you’ll probably engage in both. I have found it helpful to recognize which role I’m adopting because the demands are different.

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