The key to mindfulness is choice. You can choose anger, acceptance, denial, frustration, love, affection, judgment, humor, empathy, disappointment, kindness, etc.
Becoming aware that you have a choice can be a 2-sided coin:
This is where regular practice comes in.
If choice is ever present, you can't be perfect the first time or even the thousandth time. You're liberated from the belief that you'll get there, because there is now.
The practice of continuously choosing is the process of mindfulness. You always have a choice now, and in the next moment, and the next, and so on.
In fact, it feels almost unfair that we have to choose all the time. So unfair that it's hard to take seriously, and we laugh at the option. And our attitude becomes relaxed and easy, making the attitudes of those around us easy, and the domino effect takes over.
Knowing that we have the choice to define and redefine ourselves moment to moment is awesome to consider. And even if you consider it seriously, you'll simply end up smiling.
A few links that inspired this post:
Seth Godin: Attitude is a skill
Greater Good Podcast: Srikumar Rao on Happiness at Work
"Thou Mayest" passage from from East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
I'm offering FREE coaching during the week of Monday, October 26th to Friday, October 30th.
It's a no-strings attached, open-ended 30 minutes on the phone where we can discuss stress, productivity, leadership, mindfulness, work/life balance, resilience, meditation, or whatever else you'd like to work on right NOW.
Email me with 3 dates/times that fall during October 26th-30th if you're interested. More details next week.
I am excited to continue publishing articles for Conscious Magazine. Below is an article initially meant for business owners that applies across the board to anyone who hopes to uphold a set of values in their work.
There's a code at the Open Society Foundations (OSF) that reimburses employees for bringing a housewarming gift if they choose to stay at a friend's house during their work travels.
A simple alpha numeric code allows the company to make an act of gratitude possible for saving money for lodging.
OSF doesn't have to do this, most companies don't.
But an alpha numeric code serves as a reflection of their code of values. Values passed on to employees to continue or defend if they move to another company or start one of their own.
In order to bring your values to life and make them actionable, you must first define the code you want your company to live by.
Start with your identity as a company:
These examples are based on real-life companies that I have encountered or worked with.
When you step back from the situation, the blind spots seem remarkable, but when you're deep into running a business, it's easy to overlook your most important value-based codes.
Take a moment to check in with what your organization represents today and what you'd like it to represent tomorrow. Discuss openly with your colleagues what you'd like to prioritize.
This is not one person's decision, but rather a collective agreement on what you hope to espouse in the world.
Codifying those values into your business makes them a reality.
What identity does your organization have or hope to represent? How does it align with your core professional and personal values?
Share your thoughts with me over email. (These emails only come to me and are never shared with others. In fact, they often help me come up with ideas for future posts I can share with a broader audience.)
When I'm having a really busy day, my basic bodily needs go out the window.
I don't go to the bathroom as often as my bladder wants me to, I ignore eating for long stretches of time, I don't get out of my chair for hours on end, I don't get outside to breathe the fresh air, I don't touch my water bottle though it's right in front of me, I don't even close my eyes because I am staring at the computer so intently.
The after effects of this behavior vary from minor irritability to an all out crash where I need to pee, eat, drink, and take a nap as quickly as I can, in any order possible, or even at the same time.
How do you avoid crashing during a busy day?
Prioritize one aspect of your life. As a starting point, pick from the categories below:
Keep in mind one of my favorite Stephen Covey quotes:
"The key is not to prioritize what's on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities."
For example, if you prioritize your body, it takes care of the majority of bodily functions you've been ignoring.
Now, if you prioritize your mind, you can avoid it from shutting down.
If you prioritize your heart, you keep kindness, friends, and family at the top of the list.
If you prioritize your spirit, you may seek meaning, purpose, or fulfillment every day.
Make your own "no matter what" list
For you, some of the bullets above may be more appropriate in one category over another.
It's up to you what you choose to prioritize. You can define your "no matter what" list however you like, but you need to define it in a way that makes sure that it's a priority in your life.
The hope is your work, hobbies, friends, family are all part of the body, mind, heart, spirit balance, but that isn't always the case. Situations--money, obligations, needs--don't always allow for it.
But you can work up to it slowly.
Eventually, by prioritizing all four categories, you achieve a balance that feels right for yourself, even if not your situation.
What do you prioritize in your life right now? How do you make it a habit? What is your definition of balance? Share your thoughts with me over email. These emails only come to me and are never shared with others. In fact, they often help me come up with ideas for future posts.
I can jump on a 2 foot high box from the ground with both feet planted because I can visualize myself doing it. Being able to see the process and the result is why I don't catch my foot on the box and fall forward.
I can also see myself clearing the edge of a 2.5 foot high box without falling, though it starts feeling a little out of my reach. If it's a 3 foot high box, I can't see myself completing the jump and that's when uncertainty sets in.
The first doubt is mental.
Seeing others clear 3, 4, or even 5 foot high boxes helps because then I know it's possible. Perhaps after months, maybe years of training my legs, I may be able to get there, but I will first and foremost need to see myself doing it without falling for it to be possible.
Success in other areas
Same goes with running a mile, or being a CEO, or starting a company, or cooking a Thanksgiving meal, or hiking the Grand Canyon. If you can see it, you can do it.
If you doubt yourself, there's two options available to you:
Option 1 - Training so you can see
This is a more linear approach to doing what you want. Say you want to get a promotion to a managerial level. You're not sure about your leadership capability though, so you read books, take a management class, practice delegating, learn how to motivate and question, and in general get better at managing people and projects. Over a period of time, you can see yourself being a manager because you've trained for it.
Option 2 - Seeing so you can train
Now take option 2, where you see yourself doing the thing you want to accomplish and figure out how to train accordingly. Using the same example of getting promoted to a manager, you start visualizing yourself leading people and projects. You not only mentally picture the reality, you also write down what it would be like to act as a manager versus an employee. You walk into the office and look at your projects with a managerial hat on, thinking, "What would a manager do?" You observe other managers you admire and mimic their habits and behaviors. Over a period of time, you feel confident that you can be a manager because you've been seeing yourself do it.
What's the real difference?
In both cases, there's practice and training involved, but from a slightly different perspective. You're still learning to be a manager, just from a different vantage point.
Option 1 helps you train separate from your day-to-day until you feel ready to apply your training in your life.
Option 2 helps you see how to train within your day-to-day and feel out the difference immediately in your life.
One option is no better than the other, but typically we assume option 1 is the only option. Some of us come across option 2 and find it to be non-linear, and perhaps even a little strange. That's true of any new practice. It feels odd at first until you try it a few times.
Option 2 will happen anyway
In fact, there comes a point in option 1 when you've trained enough that you can start seeing yourself moving to the next level. The visualization becomes a reality in your mind at some point, and you feel like you can take a leap of faith, especially if it's adding inches to your box jump.
You can't tell why you feel that you can do something you thought you couldn't do before, but you just know.
Option 2 simply starts at that inflection point. It assumes you're there already and asks you to train in a way that fits that new imagined reality.
This works for things you do not want to do as well, such as habits you want to break, or behaviors you want to change. You have to be able to see yourself notdoing them in order for them to be real.
As Seth Godin puts it, imagining is usually the first step.
Which option do you usually choose? Does there come a point when you can see yourself doing something you hadn't done before? How does that change your ability to do it? I'd love to hear your perspective, so email me your thoughts.
Lately, I've found myself taking the longer route home.
It's longer by a minute or so, and goes through a residential neighborhood with large trees that hover above the road, hanging their leaves in a makeshift canopy. I take a turn around a stone wall with foliage growing between the gaps in the stones. The houses in the area have an aesthetic that reminds me of my childhood home, evoking calm and comfort.
This sounds idyllic, and yet until recently, I had been taking the faster route home because of my love of efficiency. This route takes me through a more commercial area on a tight road where I have to be cautiously careful to drive within the lanes. I make a turn near a gas station, having to smell the fumes of gasoline as I drive by.
There's a stark difference in scenery when I choose destination over the journey, but a part of me just wants to get home sooner to relax in a place I find calm and comfortable. Sound familiar?
I recently read a line in a novel that pointed out another approach:
"It is not the destination that matters, but how one arrives there."
In a more direct way, it echoes the famous quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson:
"Life is a journey, not a destination"
When I am in destination mode, "there" is more important than "getting there." But even after I walk in the door, oftentimes I'm still prioritizing speed. I'm ready to get out of my work clothes, start making dinner, plan my evening, do some chores, and anything else that gets me "there."
It takes a while till my home environment slowly seeps into my bones and ushers in the relaxation I so thoroughly need.
Knowing that the need for efficiency is still in my system, I sometimes meditate when I get home or listen to music I find soothing, or just lie in bed for 10 minutes. All are techniques that work, and all are coping mechanisms that avoid the root of the problem - my belief that the destination is more important than the journey.
When I'm in journey mode though:
I'm just enjoying the process of getting there.
I still want to get home, but not at the expense of enjoying the journey. I might be five, or even ten minutes late, but what difference does that make in the scheme of things if I walk in more relaxed, happy, easy-going? Isn't that why I was doing all those relaxation techniques when I got home anyway?
Choosing journey over destination becomes an attitude.
In the summer, I favor the journey most of the time. In the winter, when both roads are equally dreary, and a warm home is calling to me, I find myself taking the faster route. But, when I think about it, the quality is embedded in the shorter amount of time it takes me to arrive. The journey still matters.
Turns out the more commercial route has an overhang of beautiful lights along the way, so it serves as a replacement for the tree canopy above the cars!
Which route do you choose more often? Destination or journey?
Please email me your thoughts. These emails come only to me and help prompt ideas for future posts. In fact, let me know if there is something you'd like me to write about, in terms of mindfulness, spirituality, or personal growth, and I'll do my best to reflect that on the front page.
Originally published on Conscious.
When you attempt to solve a problem, are you thinking with a clear, open mind, available to any solution that presents itself? Or are you thinking from your own lens of experience, education, and beliefs? Is it even possible to think outside of yourself?
Why is an open mindset so important? Like a marketing company selectively using data from one study versus another to push their product, we are all culprit to lean towards information and people that support our views and avoid those that don’t. This is the exact bias we must be wary of.
We must to be open to the best solution, not just our solution. No solution is completely your own, but you’re in the unique position of being the one to execute that solution.
Being open to even better solutions than the ones you come up with shouldn’t be a dangerous or vulnerable place. You makes things happen, not just their ideas.
We can’t avoid approaching a situation from our conditioning; our accumulated understanding from the past helping us reflect on the present. A businesswoman with an MBA and 11 years of experience in insurance has certain ideas she carries with her. A civil engineer from the Midwest with three kids brings with him a specific way of thinking.
Our jobs even hire us for our past conditioning, reinforcing the idea that what we have done is more important than how or why we’re doing it. We have to be especially alert as entrepreneurs who sincerely believe in the idea we’re developing.
How are we then to approach a difficult, complex, wicked problem from what we know to be an inherently biased perspective? How can we avoid being a hammer looking for a nail when our education and experience have prepared us so well to be a great hammer?
Approach it with the scientific method. Prove yourself wrong. Test your hypothetical solution from all angles. Be completely attentive to what is present before you, attuned to both what you notice immediately and alert to any details available to you, not just the ones you’re trained to see.
You are already the accumulation of your past acting in the present moment and that is unavoidable. It’s when your past conditioning is used as a crutch to support assumptions that make you right that another problem is brought into the equation.
You are not right, rather there is a right solution. Are you looking for it, or looking to be the one who finds it? Please share your thoughts over email.
I've been watching Game of Thrones lately, and observing the different factions rally troops behind a cause with symbols, words, rituals, and hierarchy lets me see the Machiavellian conditioning at play:
It's a show, based on a book, about a fantasy world, in one author's mind.
It lets you see from an objective standpoint the symbols of pride, power, and influence we hold so dearly due to the conditioning of our own culture:
How are our flags different from the GoT banners? How are our rituals and salutes different from the indoctrination in the show? How are our slogans different from the oaths taken by the characters?
It seems that with politics, religion, and money, things quickly get complicated because it's difficult to look at ourselves from an external lens. It's hard to be aware and empathetic when we are directly involved.
One of my favorite quotes is by Upton Sinclair:
"It's difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."
This can either be viewed as a judgment to blame someone for not understanding something, which does little except outsource ownership of the situation.
Or the quote can be used as an observation to help yourself or others become aware of their underlying motivations.
Once you're aware, you can make more informed decisions. That's situational awareness in action.
With this awareness mindset, you tune into the carefully crafted language in media, politics, and religion meant to evoke a certain sentiment, or agenda. You pay attention to the messaging that overlays the root of the problem. You see the conditioning behind the culture.
You see through what is being said to the true intention that lies underneath.
This process invariably starts with questioning what you see:
When you travel, you think of these questions naturally, opening up a novel world, and breaking down what you knew before.
You can also practice this where you live in everyday situations:
You're building an "awareness" muscle that allows you to step out of a situation and look from an observer standpoint at what is happening. You're still involved and connected, in a much more alert and inquisitive way.
As you practice awareness in real-life scenarios, you'll notice being more situationally aware in general.
What are ways you use to objectively observe a situation? How do keep an eye out for blind spots? Please share your thoughts via email. I'm curious about your experiences.
Don't do whatever you were going to do next.
Close your eyes and center yourself. Breathe easily. Stay like that for as long as you want. Forget time.
Don't worry, you won't be here long. There will be a point when your mind will call you out of this short reverie.
That's when you'll want to do the next thing. That's when you'll truly be ready to do it. When you want to.
Not because it's the next thing to do. Not because you were looking for something to occupy your time. Not out of a nervous habit to keep going.
Wait for originality, creativity, ingenuity to strike you. Claude Debussy said: "music is the space between the notes."
Stopping allows you to create the space for your music to enter. Otherwise, you just keep playing without taking a breath.
Try this now. Collect yourself before you do the next thing, so you act as a whole person. Not partially attentive, but fully there.
Based on the number of direct emails I got on my last post, I'm closing comments and asking that you email me your thoughts. I've found the dialog to be very rich this way, and hope you do too.
Originally published on Conscious.
By equating a boss with a leader, do we limit the potential of everyone to be a leader?
A "boss" is just a title, whereas leadership shows up in a variety of forms in all people. By limiting leadership only to the bosses, is the organization limiting itself?
Leaders care about why things get done. Bosses just want things to get done.
Bosses maintain order for the sake of order. Leaders introduce order for the sake of progress.
“What’s this person going to think of me if I don’t get this done?” vs. “What am I going to think of this person if they don’t pick the right thing to get done?”
Leaders facilitate. Bosses manage.
Boil it down to the most basic level, and even “boss” and “leader” are just labels. The true question is this, “Is everyone in the organization facilitating progress towards what matters?”
Is your boss a leader? If not, what can you do to challenge them to be a leader? Since this can be a sensitive topic not easily shared via public comments, email me your thoughts. I'm curious about transforming bosses to leaders from the bottom up and I'd love to hear from you.
"It's supposed to be here!" It's 5:30, and the bus scheduled for 5:20 still hasn't arrived. I keep looking for it every time I see another bus turning the corner. And every time I do, I feel more frustrated.
It's silly really because the bus is going to come when it comes. I have no control over its arrival whatsoever. What I do have control over though is micro-waiting, this short, inconsequential period of time (~10 minutes) that may ruin my mood for the next few hours.
You can even see this kind of micro-waiting in other people just by looking at the angle of their bodies. Most people will be facing the direction the bus will come from. Even though it will stop right in front of them, they still want to see it before it does. The hope, the anticipation, even the worry is displayed in their body language. I see a speech bubble above their heads yelling, "Why isn't is here yet!?"
Waiting patiently doesn't come easy for most of us. It's a struggle because we want control. Our whole day is scheduled because of meetings and deadlines. There are strong expectations to start and end on time, to keep moving onto the next task.
That thing called work, where we create something - produce a media kit, write a business case, design an email campaign, coordinate an agenda, draft a presentation, brainstorm titles, work on the budget - is packed in whenever we can get to it.
Little breathing room is afforded to let time just be. To let ourselves flow with the work, in a rhythm that fits our mood, our creative desires, our energy, and our passion. That cautious care for the thing we're producing that lets us feel like we're making art, not just checking off another item on our to-do list.
Here's how Eckhart Tolle puts it in The Power of Now:
"If you set yourself a goal and work toward it, you are using clock time...If you then become excessively focused on the goal, perhaps because you are seeking happiness, fulfillment, or a more complete sense of self in it, the Now is no longer honored. It becomes reduced to a mere stepping stone to the future, with no intrinsic value. Clock time then turns into psychological time. Your life's journey is no longer an adventure, just an obsessive need to arrive, to attain, to 'make it.'"
And so we end our day waiting for a bus, a subway, or in traffic and we can't let go of what Eckhart Tolle refers to as "psychological time."
Besides, the process of anticipating gives us something to do. The mode of "getting things done," which we just got done with at work, still runs strong in our psyche and anticipation and worry are "actions" of sorts that make us feel like we can will the impossible (the bus' arrival) into being.
What is far easier, and far more peaceful, is to remind ourselves that time doesn't wait for us. That bus will come of its own accord. The traffic will move when it does.
Accept what is.
Observe and pay attention to what is truly happening, not what you want to happen.
Allow me to narrate the "waiting for the bus" scenario as I have done for myself many times before, with the mentality of acceptance, not anticipation:
"I'm done with work. I am outside, breathing in the fresh air. My body is slowly letting go of the tensions of the day. There are other people around me looking forward to their evening. Moms and dads meeting up with their kids after picking them up from day care. Bikers, pedestrians, cars navigating the road. Buses coming and going. And me standing here just looking at the milieu. Oh, there's my bus!"
I'm just there. Not doing, but rather being, in the moment as things happen. It's truly as simple as that. This is how patience emerges to melt away all the micro-waiting anxiety that can build up in mere moments and cause us and others mental strife for hours.
This letting go and transitioning takes practice, and luckily each moment that we wait offers an opportunity to do just that. To try out methods of being patient. It's a mental shift from reacting impatiently to something we can't control to responding attentively to what's before us.
This has real life consequences, since that transition from work to home (or vice versa) truly affects how we interact with those we'll be with shortly. Do we come in with the baggage of the day? Do we pay attention to what is happening to our partners, kids, friends, or colleagues? Can we attend to ourselves and what we need in the transition?
Attention has lasting effects that stay with us moment to moment.
What makes you impatient? How do you handle it? Please comment on this post or simply email me.