Meditate on positive thoughts

Have you ever wondered why negative events seem to impact us more than positive events?

  • The comment “You’ve gained a lot of weight” will hurt us more than the comment “You look nice” will encourage us.
  • We remember the course we failed in college more than we do the ones we excelled at.
  • The feelings of anger we have toward a driver that cuts in front of us will stick with us longer than the joy we have when viewing beautiful wildflowers on the side of the road.

In their must-read book, The Net and the Butterfly, authors Cabane and Pollack explain why negative things “stick” quicker and last longer than positive events, and what we can do about it.

“Negative things produce more neural activity than equally intense positive things. We are quicker to recognize the negative in our world. The amygdala, the fire alarm of your brain, uses two-thirds of its neurons to look for the negative. These negative things get stored into memory almost immediately. Positive things need to be held in awareness for twelve seconds to transfer to longer-term memory. This is why gratitude, meditation, and loving-kindness are necessary: we need to focus on the good for our brain to be able to truly remember it. As Rick Hanson puts it, your ‘brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones.’”

One good remedy for this biological predisposition toward the negative is to systematically and regularly meditate on positive thoughts (and, according to the authors, do so for at least 12 seconds). I’m going to do that right now by meditating on the following thoughts:

  • Several months ago, I visited my favorite edifice in the world—St. Peter’s Basilica.
  • Last week I spent an entire morning with my favorite little person—my grandson, Benjamin.
  • I have so many good and faithful friends. I’ll think of a few right now: Dean, Chuck, Mike, Wayne, Jonathan.
  • My fig tree is blossoming in the backyard.

The apostle Paul said it this way: “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” A simple but highly effective exercise. It was good advice when it was written two thousand years ago, and it will benefit us today.

Meditation on positive thoughts.

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Pursue win-win situations

I enjoy cruising because it’s a win-win situation; it works for me and it works for the cruise line. I recently paid only $1,350 for a luxurious, 16-day transatlantic/European cruise (Miami to Rome) which included all meals, lodging, transportation, and entertainment. One evening, as I was munching on a filet mignon, I wondered, “How do they make this work, financially?” I don’t know, but obviously they do, or they wouldn’t be in business.

Both I and the cruise line benefited from a win-win scenario.

Often, we’re trapped in a zero-sum situation—in order for someone to “win,” someone else must “lose.” But there are also positive-sum situations in which everyone “wins.” Let’s pursue those.

How and why do we often succumb to a win-lose mentality? Perhaps through our exposure to athletics, where there’s usually an emphasis on winning or losing. Or perhaps we’ve been taught that to be successful in business, I must win and the competition must fail.

But with proper thought and structure, most experiences can be designed to be mutually beneficial.

  • Employee/employer relationships should be a win-win relationship.
  • Products and services should seem right and fair to both the seller and the buyer.
  • Close relationships should be balanced and mutually advantageous.
  • When conflicts do arise, the conflict resolution process can aim to accommodate all participants.
  • Effective networking is predicated upon being mutual beneficial.

Almost all productive social behavior is based on win-win scenarios.

I’ll close with a cute story about a bet between a boyfriend and girlfriend regarding a Brazil vs. Argentina football match.
1. If Brazil wins, the boy will kiss the girl.
2. If Brazil loses, the girl will kiss the boy.

Now that’s a win-win situation.

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Use focus groups and test

Recently, I was on a European cruise on which every passenger was given a nice faux-leather case in which to keep your stateroom keycard. (See picture above.) Though a nice, generous gesture, it quickly became a fiasco.

The flap that prevented the keycard from falling out contained a magnet; the magnet demagnetized the keycard, making it inoperable. When I approached the front desk, the attendant quickly took out a pair of scissors, cut off the flap, and declared, “now it will work”; and created me a new keycard. I’m not making this up: a few days later they gave everyone a second, identical case.

Often, I try to recreate in my mind how something like this could have happened.

So … members of the cruise line’s marketing team are sitting around a table brainstorming on how to create value-added giveaways. Someone thinks of giving each passenger a faux-leather keycard case. Everyone likes the idea, someone is assigned the task of getting the object manufactured, and they break for lunch.

The cruise line orders 100,000 units (better price in large quantities), which are shipped to the ships, put on passengers’ pillows, and …

Don’t ever launch a product or service without submitting the idea to a focus group. Focus groups don’t need to be complicated or expensive. Simply describe the product or give a prototype to potential end-users and listen to their feedback. (Preferably, members of the focus group should be end-users. A common mistake in business is to create a focus group of buyers, not users. Often, buyers are wholesalers, not end-users.)

But sometimes focus groups malfunction. That’s why there’s no substitute for testing —submit your product to actual experience.

For instance, a focus group might have approved of the concept of the keycard holder, and if a prototype was available, they might have enjoyed handling the faux-leather and thought the magnetic closure clever. But the design flaws would not be revealed until the prototype was put on the pillows of actual passengers.

Use focus groups and test.

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Don’t waste people’s time

Time is a precious commodity. If traded on the commodities market, its value would be incalculable. But alas, time cannot be bought or sold. And while the length of our lives varies and is unpredictable, the number of hours we have in each day is fixed.

Many books have been written on how to maximize your time. Read them and learn. You are the steward of your own time.

This essay focuses on the negative influence that people can have on other people’s time. In other words, if you want to waste your own time, that’s up to you, but don’t waste my time. Likewise, I don’t want to waste your time.

So let’s agree…

Be punctual.
If you have an appointment with someone at 1:00 p.m. and you arrive at 1:05, you have squandered five minutes of her time. To be on time you must be early; it’s nearly impossible to be precisely on time – time is moving too fast. For instance, if a meeting starts at 1:00 you can’t walk in 1:00 – that occurs in a milli-second and then becomes the past. You must arrive before 1:00.

Be organized.
When you are responsible for a project that involves other people, you must be organized or you’ll waste their time. You must predetermine what needs to be accomplished and know the quickest way to do it.

Plan ahead.
Plans exist in the future. The past is history, the present is reality. Always have a plan for what the future can look like.

Be decisive.
Often, it is wise to postpone a decision until it must be made – careful contemplation and monitoring changing variables are good reasons to delay a decision. But when a decision needs to be made, do so.

Be quick, not slow.
By and large, slow is not good. Jack Welch, former CEO of GE would ask his protégés, “Who wants to be slow?” It was a rhetorical question; I hope no one raised his or her hand.
While it’s good to be thorough, careful, wise, circumspect, cautious, and deliberate – don’t be slow.

Monitor conversations and keep them on track.
When you and I are talking to each other, let’s pay attention to what we’re talking about and use our time wisely. For instance, don’t spend time talking about irrelevant topics.

When I was 13 years old, we lived next door to an engineer whose hobby was rebuilding Volkswagen engines. One summer I served as his apprentice, so on warm summer evenings we rebuilt engines in his garage.
One of the first lessons he taught me was, “Don, try to anticipate what needs to happen next and act accordingly – hand me the right tool, fetch the next part to be installed – always be thinking two or three steps ahead in the process.”
That’s a great lesson to learn because it saves time.
Understand what can happen simultaneously and what must happen sequentially, and act accordingly.

Pay attention.
President Reagan was buried on June 11, 2004. It was a dreary, rainy day. Nancy Reagan and her family stood in the drizzling rain to watch the casket being taken from the Capitol Rotunda to the National Cathedral. A young military escort held an umbrella over Mrs. Reagan to shield her from the elements. In a moment of mental lapse, the young man allowed the umbrella to drift off to the side, exposing Nancy to the rain. She reached up, grabbed the man’s hand, and yanked the umbrella back into place.

Ouch. I can just imagine what the young man’s commanding officer might have said to him after the funeral: “Son, your only job of the day was to hold an umbrella over Mrs. Reagan. That’s not a difficult assignment. Millions of people were watching. What were you thinking?”

A Boy Scouts leader used to tell his boys, “If you are early, you are on time. If you are on time, you are late. If you are late you owe everyone ice cream.”

Don’t waste people’s time.

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