Saturday, December 31, 2011

The dream that creates possibility

Dream girl by @Doug88888
Dream girl, a photo by @Doug88888 on Flickr.
Accomplishment begins with goals, and heartfelt goals begin in the form of dreams.  When asked to create a list of your dreams, it might be easy for you to think of the things you want to own - a particular car, a vacation home, a favorite collectible to complete your set.  It might be fairly simple to come up with places you'd like to visit - Paris, London, Hong Kong, Australia, the Caribbean. 

Your list becomes more exciting as you remove the limitations of current finances, spousal approval, vacation time available, etc.  And often the emotional attachment generated via a thoroughly envisioned dream list spurs the very actions that help the dreams move from fantasy to real-time experience.

There is one category for your dreams that is often missed, though, when the lists are being compiled.  What would you do to become more valuable to yourself? 

Notice that the question asks "valuable to yourself".  Your dream inventory is all about you - not about the expectations of other people in your life.  What is it that you expect of yourself or would want yourself to become, given an opportunity to change?  In what do you place value?  Do you dream of yourself as
  • More educated?
  • More physically fit and healthy?
  • More patient?
  • More generous?
  • Happier in your relationships?
  • Producing more financial stability and security?
Opportunity is created by these dreams, because every step you take to become more aligned with your undiluted self is a step that increases your creative subconscious.  Once you decide to invest yourself in one or more of your dreams you will start to notice the connections, the objects and openings in your surroundings that can take you closer to the outcome that so far you have only dreamed about.

Starting from the place of dreams and choosing to move toward making them real does require some trust in yourself.  Some people stay in the dreaming place because they say their imagination is so satisfying that they don't feel the need to take action.  It's quite possible that what's really going on is that they fear that they will disappoint themselves if they don't manage to manifest the dream in its fullest envisioned form.  And of course when they sit there content to fantasize, they ensure that they will not help the dream fulfill itself.

Some of the things you want most in life are the natural outcomes of action.  They don't drop into your lap from out of the blue.  What can you do or how can you be in order to increase the likelihood that your most cherished results will come to you?  It's said that "to have, you must become."  It is equally important that the definition of the "musts" come from you, in alignment with your values and beliefs.

Right now, today, is the perfect opening for you to create the potential for fulfillment and accomplishment.  Start dreaming.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Capturing the magic

christmas lights by Reno Tahoe Window Cleaning & Christmas Lights
christmas lights,
a photo by Reno Tahoe Window Cleaning &
Christmas Lights on Flickr.
It's time to stop for a moment and capture the magic.  Walk among the brightly lit trees.  Sit by the fire and read a favorite bedtime story to the little ones who can't quite seem to go to sleep this Christmas Eve.  Share a cup of tea, a cookie, a hug with someone you love.
Christmas is a commemoration of the beginning of a great gift - that of a life sacrificed for the sake of all humankind.  All.  Humankind.
They are here and you are here, with the opportunity to connect.  You can set aside differences, irritations, squabbles, stressors - and capture the magic.  You don't have to wait to be the recipient.  You can be the giver, and make the magic yourself.
Christmas is more than the lights, more than the foods, the gifts, the scurry, the expectations.  It's about the magic of the unexpected - and centuries ago the unbelievably fragile appearance of a profoundly powerful being who changed the world for people everywhere.
Whether you think you're finally done with the chores or not - Listen.  Sing.  Laugh.  Give.  Be.  Merry, Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Check please!

Popeye the sailor's friend Wimpy became famous for his catchphrase, "I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today."  He LOVED hamburgers, and would figure out any way possible to get them - preferably with somebody else picking up the tab. 
In Wimpy's era nobody was really talking about the impact of his "hamburger today" on his somewhat cushiony physique.  Besides accumulating his IOUs with friends and strangers alike, he piled up debt payable to himself - Wimpy owed his own body more than a few fast-paced laps around the neighborhood.

J. Wellington Wimpy (that's his full name, you know) epitomized the philosophy of short-term thinking.  He wanted what he wanted, and he wanted it now.  He'd deal with the consequences later.  He was focused on hamburgers that he could eat immediately.  Period.

What if Wimpy had taken a longer view?  Certainly the Popeye cartoon wouldn't have been as funny on his account, but putting that aside, what would be different?
  • Would Wimpy occasionally substitute a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for his beloved burger in order to conserve cash that he would then deposit into a savings account?
  • Might Wimpy have taken a spin on his bike to offset the excess burger calories, knowing that he was determined to achieve a Body Mass Index of 25 before he turned 40?
  • Would Wimpy have paid people back for his prior burgers before requesting money for another one, knowing that it was more important to maintain his friendships than it was to have a hamburger today?
These ideas sound absurd placed in this context.  Wimpy is an archetype, an exaggeration that makes the point.  But the point is still there.  Long-term goals, when you have committed to them and have written them down, help you to choose NOT to engage in the potentially destructive behaviors that bring you only temporary satisfaction.  Ultimately the short-term rewards will not outweigh the long-term consequences.  At some point the check will have to be paid.

And you thought being wimpy only meant having a slushy tossed in your face or your cafeteria tray knocked onto the floor by a bully...

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

'Twas the week before Christmas...

Santa!!! by BeliM
Santa!!!, a photo by BeliM on Flickr.
'Twas the week before Christmas
And all through the house all the creatures were scurrying - yes, even the spouse
All the stockings were hung by the chimney with care
In hopes that some Twix bars soon would be there
The children were bundled and playing outside,
And newly bought presents had places to hide,
And gram with her hot tea and I with my frappe
Had just settled down for a long Winter's wrap.
When all of a sudden there came such a clatter
I sprang from my chair to see what was the matter!
Away to the slider I flew like a flash
Bumped into the island and knocked down some cash!
The sun on the drifts of the new-fallen snows
Put a glare in my eye and a sneeze in my nose.
Then what to my tearing-up eye did appear
But my snow-coated kid and her snow-crusted peers.
With loud screechy voices so lively and quick
I had a brief urge to lurch out with a stick!
More rapid than eagles the kiddos they came,
And I whistled and shouted, addressed them by name -
Out Britney! Out Tanner! Out Molly and Billy!
Out Sarah, Out Conner, Out Darcy and Willy!
To the back yard you go - you can't stand in the hall.
Now dash away, dash away, dash away all!
You know how it goes, you work year after year
To make Christmas exciting and full of good cheer,
But the week before Christmas is a time when you're stressed,
And you might not feel patient or be at your best.
I will have to say that I felt a bit badly
To drive out the children and do it so gladly
I found myself dwelling on tasks to be done
Instead of on Christmas, on making it fun.
So Gran and I hid all our gifts and their wrapping
And we went to the slider and started a tapping.
The kids, still snow-covered, still playing out back
Called "Sure Mom, we'd love to come in for a snack!"
We handed out cookies, and brownies in bunches,
We plied them with junk food and spoiled all their lunches.
Their wet clothes all tumbled to dry in our dryer
And we camped out on pillows in front of the fire.
When snowsuits were dry we sent all the kids packing
With packets of cookies for later-day snacking.
We hugged every child as they headed outside,
And we noticed our holiday hearts op'ning wide.
When the wrapping was finished and chores were all done
And I peeked in the door at my small sleeping one,
I knew that I made Christmas merry alright -
Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The value of the person in front of you...

Whether you are at a business function, a holiday gathering, or a chance encounter at the market, you have an opportunity to make a real connection with the person in front of you.  In the current emphasis on networking to find new business opportunities, connections are important, even critical.  But in the process of pursuing them, some people take a short-sighted view and wind up shooting themselves in the foot.
Imagine a businessperson strategizing before a Chamber of Commerce meeting.  He calls the Chamber office to find out who has registered for the event, and assembles a hit list of the best people to meet.  On the day of the event the salesperson makes a beeline for those individuals, exchanges cards with them and agrees to talk the next day to set up an appointment for one-on-one conversation, checks them off on his list and moves on as quickly as possible.  He completes his checklist and leaves the function, satisfied with the strategic and focused technique that he used that day.
Wait a minute, though.  There just might be a couple of things wrong with this picture, and perhaps the salesperson might want to use an alternative approach the next time.  Why?
Whose agenda is it anyway?
When this salesperson is charging into the function on his way toward Mr. or Ms. Prime Prospect, he is on his own agenda.  How many people are attending this gathering in the hopes that this guy or someone else will zoom up to them with a sales agenda, take their information and run off?  Probably none are there with the goal of being sold.  If this is a business function it's likely that they have goals of their own.  If the salesperson doesn't recognize that and view each contact as an opportunity to help the other person fulfill his or her agenda, the salesperson is likely not creating the kind of positive impression that will ultimately result in an authentic business relationship and a new customer.  He might even create negative buzz that causes people to avoid him in the future.
One degree of separation...
One (or more) of the people attending the function is not a power name, but is married to one of the best potential prospects for this salesperson.  One might live next door to him or her, or coach kids' soccer alongside the prime contact.  If the salesperson doesn't take time to make connections with multiple people,  even seemingly random ones, he will miss the powerful relationships that don't appear on a registration list.  Some of the people he wants to meet aren't at the event, but instead have sent proxies.  These proxies might not be able to make a "yes" decision, but they certainly can be in charge of a "no".  They have the power to filter the salesperson out of the running before the ultimate decision maker ever even finds out about him - and a piece of their decision to pass him along or toss his business card is their impression of the manner in which he treats them.

Intrinsic value and serendipity...

In all of this agenda-driven networking, where is the value in meeting someone interesting who is an avid fisherman, and whose passion is hand-tying flies?  How would this salesperson ever find out about a charity in his community that raises money for an issue that's close to his heart?  When would he have a chance meeting with somebody who knows his long-lost friend from high school or college?  That person across from him doesn't have to serve his sales purpose in order to be valuable to know.

It's who knows you...

It's said that it doesn't matter who you know - it does matter, though, who knows you.  Your reputation precedes you, working for good or for ill depending upon the foundation that you've laid during your interactions with other people.  Overnight success is not overnight.  It is the culmination of a lot of little actions, of a lot of little moments when you make the decision to do, or not to do, to connect authentically or not, with this person or not.  Let's say it straight out - if you're under the impression that it's all about you and your goals, it's not.  And overpowering self-interest in your approach to another person comes through like a bad small wafts right through perfume.

Successful and sustainable business results from an equitable exchange of value.  What value are you bringing to the table, to them?  Are you objectifying other people, seeing them only as stepping stones or stumbling blocks on your way to success?  Or allowing yourself to be open to all the ways in which you might relate with one another? 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Is your advice any good?

advice both by lomokev
advice both, a photo by lomokev on Flickr.
Do you keep your own counsel, or do you look for advice from time to time?  Once you've gotten it do you follow the advice, or do you go your own way (or even do the opposite of what was recommended)?

One of the fundamental principles of effective coaching is that only the client can determine what is the "right action" at any point in time.  That's why trained coaches tend not to make recommendations.  They would have to be inside your head with your background and experiences, your values, your degreee of risk tolerance, your emotions, etc. even to come close to paralleling your decision process.  In addition, an advisor is taking on some of his or her own risk if you do as advised and get a less than desirable result.  A coach will tend to guide your thinking out loud via a questioning process, to help you gain clarity, rather than tell you what to do.

Let's say for a moment that regardless of the circumstances you're still going to make your own call.  There's still a place for outside information.  Some of the worst decisions made are those made with a blithe disregard for facts and precedent.  This may come as a shock, but you don't know everything yet.  If this isn't a shocking revelation to you (as I'm sure it's not), where do you go to gain insight before you act?
  • Uncle Henry - a friend and colleague describes Uncle Henry as the person who considers himself omniscient on topics from high-return investments to lawn mower repair. Listen to Uncle Henry and you'll be the blind following the blind.  You probably won't have to ask for his advice - he'll make a peremptory strike, so his insights will be readily available to you whether you want them or not.
  • The Old Salt - This person has been around forever, and they have done it all.  They probably created some of the processes you're using for your work right now. They may be very attached to the "way we used to do it" in the good old days, so their advice will be well-steeped in tradition if not overpowered by it.  If you need a new answer the Old Salt may not be the one to give it to you.
  • The Theoretician - This person is well-educated but possibly not yet fully tested in application.  They will advise you based upon the book answer.  You know that sometimes the guiding theoretical principles will help you - but in other cases the quirks and twists in the situation at hand require you to adapt the theory in order to apply it.  Purity of concept may not equal effectiveness in action.
  • The Success Story - You may not be the first one following this path.  You can look around for people who are already achieving the kind of results you want for yourself and your company.  Understand, though, that their ingredients are different than yours are, so like the conversations with The Theoretician, you will have to glean what is applicable and toss what is not.  You won't be as successful dressing up as them as they are themselves - you will be the most successful wearing your own clothes.
  • The Peer Partner - The challenge sometimes is in finding this person, because they might not be inside your company.  This peer partner relationship is one of reciprocity - they help you and you help them.  Because it is a relationship you will have to invest something of yourself in order to obtain optimal benefit.  This is not a one-way street where all of the arrows point to you.  In addition, this person may have some of the same struggles that you have.  It's probably a good idea to look for someone with whom you have rapport, but who has strengths a bit different from yours.  Otherwise you'll both be advising with the same set of blind spots.  If this person is outside your company and you become trusted sounding boards for one another you can derive great value at a low risk.
  • The Mirror/Sounding Board - This is a coach in its fundamental form.  You talk, they listen.  They ask you questions, you answer, and through your answers you develop your own advice.  You hire this person, so there is no requirement of reciprocity - it IS all about you - so it is efficient.  In addition, a good coach will engage a process that will help you uncover the questions you haven't thought of asking.  You might be looking for advice on issue A, but really issue A is only a symptom of root cause X.  The coach can help you get past curing symptoms so you won't have to handle them over and over again.
When considering the topic of advice, you might choose to plunge forward without seeking any.  You might be asking (or hearing from) the wrong person.  Your performance is the sum of you AND the other resources you can bring to the table.  Your trusted advisors, when chosen carefully and in alignment with your goals, can help you make dramatic improvements in your results.
Summit provides coaching process and structure that enables motivated individuals and work groups to become more skilled, more goal-directed, and guided by habits of thought that support their chosen strategic direction.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

A holiday pause that refreshes...

Yes, you're probably bustling around, shopping, concert-going, baking, socializing and doing assorted holiday activities.  Just stop for a minute, take a deep breath, and watch.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ending and beginning

The End, Begin and Endless by Iam sterdam
The End, Begin and Endless,
a photo by Iam sterdam on Flickr.
Retirements, graduations, births, deaths, Fridays, Mondays - all are endings, and all are also beginnings.  Your perspective on what comes after is what gives them either their finality or their promise.

Take Beth, for instance.  In two weeks Beth is ending her full-time employment for a fewer work hours and a more flexible schedule.  A nurse by training, she has had her 90-something mother living with her for years, and she has a special needs adult daughter.  She has hosted a series of exchange students.  All the while Beth has been holding an Executive Director position at a local senior center. 

People and their needs aren't Beth's only passion.  Golden retrievers are also close to her heart, and she provides foster care for rescued goldens until they can be adopted by forever families.  At any one time she might have three or so of the big, beautiful (bigtime shedder) dogs in her home, and she walks and plays with them when she's not at work.  Beth also enjoys horseback riding, but she hasn't had the time to ride very often with everything else she has going on at work and at home.

When asked how she feels about retirement, about taking a back seat and moving to a part time support role in her nonprofit, Beth doesn't see it as an ending.  She sees it as a beginning - to a new chapter in her life, a time when she will have the time to savor the things that she enjoys and to take the opportunity to rediscover some of the activities that have fallen to the wayside with her busy schedule.  Sure, she will lose some of her contact with colleagues and work friends with whom she has developed relationships.  But that's not her focus.  Her eyes are pointed forward.

Letting go, saying goodbye and moving on are a lot easier when you have a clear vision of your desired future.  Of course it's impossible to predict what will come, but the beginnings that accompany the endings bring with them the opportunity for creation, for invention.  It's your choice to take whatever action wil help to manifest that which you want more of in your life.

How often have you considered what might be possible in your life?  What skills, pastimes, people, or opportunities have you placed on the back burner or even stopped considering because you have assumed that they are not in the cards for you?  Are your assumptions valid?  Do you really have no time, not enough money, not enough skill, or not enough support from your loved ones?  How do you know? 

You can create for yourself something to look forward to.  Sit back and dream a little bit.  Write your ideas down so they don't get lost in the shuffle of every day, and then set some time aside from time to time to review them.  There might be some beginnings out there for which it would be worth ending something to pursue.  You might have the opportunity to take the chance to live your ideal life - but you may need to be the one to take the first step.

As for your assumptions about your limitations or restraining factors, are your dreams important enough for you to figure out how to go around, over, or through the obstacles that are currently in your way?  Will you look back later disappointed that you squandered too much time on a track that was not taking you where you want to go?  Perhaps it's time to think about a new beginning.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Witnessing a Christmas surprise

Christmas Surprises by ~RichArtpix~
Christmas Surprises,
a photo by ~RichArtpix~ on Flickr.
Whether you're a kid or not, whether you celebrate Christmas or not, you know what it's like to wish very hard for something.  That something is in the front or in the back of your mind all day long, popping periodically into the foreground, and you can't let it go.  You notice it everywhere, and you talk about it constantly. 
Well, such a wish came true last evening for 11-year-old Jay, and his friends were there to see it.  Jay's wish wasn't a big deal and it didn't cost a lot of money.  He wished for his parents to put some Christmas lights up on the outside of their house.  "Our house never looks like Christmas!"  he complained.  "Do you put up a tree?"  he was asked.  "Yes," he replied, not all that thrilled.  "Do you decorate the inside of your house?"  Again, "Yes."  But Jay added, "Nobody can see it, though.  I want people to drive past our house and see our decorations.  I want it to look like Christmas."  Okay, there's the nut of the matter.  Christmas that people can see is what's important to him.
While this conversation was going on, Jay and his friends were driving around looking at attractive Christmas displays in various neighborhoods, and it seemed as though the sight of the other families' lights was only increasing his resolve that his house wasn't up to snuff.  "Are there spare decorations in your house?" his friends asked him.  "Could you ask your parents whether you would be allowed to use them to decorate your house?"  It was evident that the wheels were turning inside Jay's head - his big brown eyes wrote the inner workings of his brain in bold red letters.  "Maybe," Jay responded.
It was getting late and the Christmas light joyride was coming to a close.  Jay never let up on his expectation of visible Christmas spirit.  Then his friends drove down his street, passed the screen of evergreens and turned into his driveway.  "Hey!"  Jay exclaimed.
While Jay was gone from his house his Dad had strung lights all along the garage and porch of his house.  A big "Season's Greetings" now was projected on the front wall of Jay's home.  Jay's dad peeked out the front door, phone in hand, ready to capture Jay's Christmas surprise.  As Jay leaped out of the car door his dad emerged from the house, grinning.  "Wow!  Dad!  You put up all of these lights!  I didn't know you were going to do that!  It looks awesome!"  Jay continued to chatter, leaping into the air before tackling his dad with a bear hug.  And his friends drove away, glad that they had the opportunity to see Jay so overcome with excitement and happiness.
You can see Christmas surprises every evening on TV  between Thanksgiving and December 25th.  Sometimes the stories are more dramatic than this one, with kids returning from the brink of death to see Santa and then miraculously become healed of an uncurable disease.  You read in the newspapers about impoverished children who might not receive a single present that would serve as a sign that someone loves them.  But last evening Jay showed his friends the joy of an everyday Christmas surprise that is accessible to everyday people.  His wish was no big deal, and had nothing to do with spending a bunch of money.  All he wanted was a few Christmas lights.  And his dad came through for him.  And as a result, Jay's dad will likely have a Christmas that's at least as merry as Jay's will be.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Are you hoping for instant pudding - instant results?

vanilla pudding
Vanilla pudding, a photo by bunbunlife
on Flickr
"Buy now, pay later!" "Lose 50 pounds in 30 days!" "Make a million dollars from your home computer!" "Tighten muscles while you sleep!" If these messages weren't working you wouldn't be seeing and hearing them every day. Everybody seems to want instant pudding - quick results with as little effort as possible.
This is a statement of the obvious, but if you're like other people you probably still allow the hope of instant pudding to bite you in the derriere from time to time.  But when you stop to think about it you know that you're kidding yourself.  There is a natural and predictable delay between action and result. You  don't plant seeds today and see mature fruit tomorrow. It takes sun, and rain, and perhaps a little fertilizer - and then days or weeks for the seed to germinate and grow into its ultimate form. The plant may also need you to do a little bit of weeding along the way to make sure that there's room for the plant that you are trying to cultivate.

In the cases of business or personal growth and change, there's no instant pudding.  You're more like the plant.  You don't casually decide to become a more patient person today or a more customer focused business in your strategic plan and instantly transform into that thing forever after. It takes patience and attention and sometimes a little bit of weeding.  (Maybe even a lot of weeding!) Your growth requires nutrition, a feeding of the information and the contacts and the places of greatest opportunity.  Growth requires a willingness not to quit when there's something important that you're shooting for.
Free Bamboo Stock BackgroundsEtc Wallpaper -  Asparagus Fern Green
Asparagus green bamboo, by webtreats on Flickr
To illustrate the point, here's a story for you:
“God”, I said. “Can you give me one good reason not to quit?” His answer surprised me…“Look around”, He said. “Do you see the fern and the bamboo?”“Yes”, I replied.
"When I planted the fern and the bamboo seeds, I took very good care of them. I gave them light. I gave them water. The fern quickly grew from the earth. Its brilliant green covered the floor. Yet nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.  
In the second year the Fern grew more vibrant and plentiful. And again, nothing came from the bamboo seed. But I did not quit on the bamboo.” He said.“In year three there was still nothing from the bamboo seed. But I would not quit. In year four, again, there was nothing from the bamboo seed. I would not quit,” He said.
“Then in the fifth year a tiny sprout emerged from the earth. Compared to the fern it was seemingly small and insignificant…But just 6 months later the bamboo rose to over 100 feet tall. It had spent the five years growing roots. Those roots made it strong and gave it what it needed to survive. I would not give any of my creations a challenge it could not handle.” He said to me.“Did you know, my child, that all this time you have been struggling, you have actually been growing roots?”“I would not quit on the bamboo. I will never quit on you.”
Instant pudding, albeit quick,  doesn't taste as good as the real stuff that's been made from scratch - boiled, steamed or baked with fresh ingredients. Accomplishment takes time, and in some ways is more rewarding specifically because it hasn't come easily. The most significant accomplishment becomes so in part because it is rare, because few people have chosen to do the things necessary and to invest the time necessary to achieve it. 
If you can persist in tending the seed until it's ready for you and you're ready for it - even when you can see nothing happening right now - you might grow the most majestic plant.  You might find that you have been growing bamboo.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Just going through the motions?

Going Through The Motions by trailerfullofpix
Add caption
A significant number of clients come to coaching because of one of two issues:  managing stress and balance more effectively, or boosting personal  effectiveness and productivity. One of the key components in improving each of these situations is structure - creating reliable, intentional and repeated actions toward a desired end.

Helpful structure vs. too little
Structure gives order and predictability to the day. When you get up, get showered and dressed, eat breakfast and head out to work in the same routine every day you're often halfway to work before you actually have to think in a conscious fashion.
  You don't determine, "Well, I think I'll go to work today" because going to work is a foregone conclusion.  You're on autopilot, which frees up your mind for other activities. Your stress level is relatively low because you're not having to make any decisions other than perhaps what to wear.
When you have too little structure, to little routine in your day, every activity is a new decision, so every move you make has to be based on a consistent intention if you don't want to waste energy or compromise your outcome. If your overall intention is not clear, or if you aren't certain that you're truly committed to whatever your goal is, you're less likely to be faithful about taking action.

Difficult changes often respond better to a higher level of structure, like short term goals and action steps.  They also benefit from shorter-term progress evaluation.  Monthly assessment might not be enough - you might need a weekly, or even a daily check-in to make sure that you are on track. 

Some leaders resist delegating work because they are concerned about letting go, worried that the person to whom the job has been assigned won't have the foundation (structure) upon which to make sound decisions.  Rules, guidelines, codes of conduct, decision making principles - these are all tools that can be used effectively to create the needed structure.  Using these overweening criteria can help a developing leader handle delegation more effectively.

If you want to make sure that you're doing certain activities regularly and that the Quadrant Two (not urgent but important) items are being addressed before they become crises, create structure by entering official time slots for them in your planner. You make the decision and the commitment ahead of time so your most important tasks are less likely to fall victim to the latest crisis or popular activity.  Just like a budget is to make sure you allow room in your finances for important investments and expenditures, your planner helps to make sure you have reserved room in your life for the things that are important to you.

Sound like a no-brainer?  Perhaps.  But far more people know to do this than actually do it.

Robot syndrome - too much structure
While structure can help reduce stress and establish beneficial habits by setting up automatic action, too much of a good thing can result in your brain being chronically disengaged from the task at hand.  You're just going through the motions.  

Remember the old Dunkin Donuts commercial where it's four a.m. and the donut man sits up suddenly in bed, wide-eyed but unseeing, and trudges off to get dressed for work, muttering, "Time to make the donuts..." After a while under too much structure you might find yourself partway down a routine cowpath and not remember why you're doing it this way. The routine might no longer be the most desirable or the most effective method, but because it's in your structure you're doing it without evaluating it.

Too much structure can also lead to inflexibility and thereby negatively impact your interpersonal relationships. If you find yourself saying (even just inside your head) "yeah, yeah, yeah - hurry up so I can get on with my day," when a colleague or family member is talking to you you're probably placing too much focus on yourself and/or your own tasks. You might have your daily run scheduled for 4:00 p.m., but your eight-year-old might not have scheduled her nosebleed around it.  If you find yourself resenting coworkers or loved ones for imposing on your day, you're treating them as objects or obstacles and dehumanizing them.

You also might benefit from letting go of your structure temporarily when current conditions are outside the status quo. For example, if you're feeling ill, you might feel better faster if you choose to go ahead and sleep in for a few extra minutes. If your child is upset, stop what you're doing and just listen or give them a hug. If it's a holiday, take some time off and get a change of scenery - do something fun.

Structure or lack thereof is a preference that can be an extension of your behavioral style and your values.  But regardless of your default preference, if you are a leader you're charged with accomplishing results.  You will be most effective when whatever you're doing, you are doing it on purpose. Be aware and make conscious decisions. Sometimes that means invoking more structure and sometimes that means tossing your routines aside.  You'll know you've made progress when you get closer and closer to achieving your goals.

Monday, December 5, 2011

There's more than one way to be smart

- Professor-
Professor, a photo by Vit Hassan on Flickr
Good news if you've been disappointed by your results on a traditional IQ (Intelligence Quotient) test: according to the Theory of Multiple Intelligences the test that you took doesn't adequately represent how intelligent you are. Psychologist Howard Gardner posits that there are multiple ways in which to be intelligent.

In the multiple intelligences paradigm every individual is a unique combination of
  1. Linguistic - ability with words, reading, writing, memorization of dates
  2. Math - reasoning, abstract pattern recognition, scientific thinking, ability to do complex calculations
  3. Music - sensitivity to music, sounds, often absolute pitch, respond well to aural modes of learning like lecture
  4. Spatial - good at visualizing and manipulating objects, may also have a good sense of direction
  5. Kinesthetic - ability with movement and doing, such as dancing and athletics, often good muscle memory and learns best by doing
  6. Interpersonal - ability to communicate with others, extroverts sensitive to others' moods, work well in groups and enjoy discussion and debate
  7. Intrapersonal - process information best alone, self-aware, often an affinity for thought-based pursuits
  8. Naturalistic - the newest (1996) and still under debate - the ability to identify species, nurture and grow things, to see one's place in nature
Educators and trainers have considered the application of multiple intelligences theory in the design of learning methods. For example:
  • teaching children mathematic concepts or spelling via rhythm
  • teaching history by involving teens in a debate to defend or dispute the perspectives of the colonists vs. the British prior to the American Revolution
  • playing music in the background during work sessions
  • learning counting by manipulating objects such as sticks or blocks
If you feel like you're not getting through to someone, consider whether you're framing your message in a manner consistent with their intelligence type. You can get clues to their type of intelligence by observing their natural skills, and the modes through which they communicate to others.  If you think they might be kinesthetic, try demonstrating and then have them practice physically doing something. If they're musical or interpersonal talk with them. If you're not certain about what method might work best, or if your first attempts don't create the results you want, try another mode. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Holiday stress got you down?

Have you designated yourself the official keeper of the perfect holiday season?  Are you feeling buried under the special events, expectations for fabulous gifts that are beautifully wrapped, a clean and gorgeously decorated house, and of course the fashion magazine standard of an festive, toned and sexy holiday personal appearance?
Funny how "the most wonderful time of the year" can leave a person feeling like Ebenezer Scrooge.  But hold on for a minute.  You don't have to go there.  Your holiday season can be as right for you as it is for everyone else.
Time and energy management are huge contributors to quality of life at any time of the year, but they become especially important when the schedule gets busy and the stack of chores grows higher then the snow pack at the North Pole.  Here are some thoughts for you to consider:
  • Identify the one most important thing you want your loved ones to remember about this holiday season, then work toward that end   Notice the word one.  Uno.  The holidays can be such a blur that it all runs together.  What if you were to focus on that one thing - that one feeling or one memory or one special occasion?  Beyond that, good enough is good enough.
  • Identify what is the one most important thing YOU want to remember about this holiday season, and give it to yourself.  Here's betting that you won't particularly care to remember that you screamed at the children because you had piles of wrapping to do on Christmas Eve and they wouldn't go to bed.  Focus your energy on helping your holiday happen too.
  • Separate the "must do" items from the "should do" items and the "want to do" items.  Seriously consider throwing the "should do" items out for now, and focus on the must and want to.  The shoulds are somebody else's holiday, not yours.
  • Consider work-arounds and shortcuts.  Stressful times are not times to be a purist.  Save your time and energy for the loved ones you're going to be spending time with.  If you tend to over-cook, instead of spending the afternoon baking, assemble fancy cookies by embellishing store-bought ones, or pick up a rotisserie chicken instead of cooking it yourself.  Good enough is what you're looking for here.
  • Build in some time-outs.  Just like a car, you will stop running if you run out of fuel.  Sure, feed yourself, but also sit down and put your feet up.  Take a bath.  Take a walk that's not inside a mall with shopping bags weighing down your arms.
  • Stop comparing.  Some of your friends will have more beautifully decorated homes than you, and some of your kids' friends will have bigger piles of gifts than will your kids.  Some will have less, too - only you won't be noticing those.  If you're feeling pressure you're probably trying to meet up to a conglomerated standard that no one person is going to meet.  Not even you.
  • Ditch something, preferably something that you don't really want to do.  How else will you make room for the things that are really important?
  • Spread the work around.  Let your kids wrap presents, regardless of how well they disguise the contents or how much tape they have to use to do it.  Ask for help with the dishes rather than steam and sulk all the while that you're washing, thinking that someone should have offered already.
  • Remember that there are twelve months in the year.  Life is a series of moments.  Sometimes the most significant ones are not the extravaganzas.  Sometimes the overblown expectations associated with Christmas make it hard for the actual Christmas to compete with them.  Life is to be lived in full for more than one special day or one week, or even one month in a year.  Maybe you could even schedule something special for after the holidays, so there's not so much of a let-down feeling when they are over.  Give yourself something to look forward to when the gifts have been put away and the decorations stored until next year.