Being IS Going – Car & Driver Part 1

Not long ago I published a piece about being present in the moment. Being fully present wherever I am has been something I’ve put a lot of effort into, tremendously impacting my well being. It’s a mindset — a mind reset in my case  — that requires work.

A lot of us are conditioned and encouraged to be thinking of what’s coming next. The entire concept of achieving goals requires envisioning and moving away from your present state toward something else, in the future. Existing passively in the current moment, by contrast, seems lazy. Without motivation. Going nowhere.

For me, this misconception was one I had the hardest time overcoming. My 21st century, goal-oriented and ambitious western mind had difficulty reconciling reveling in the present with growth and achievement.

Here’s the thing, though: being present is not a passive state. No, it’s actually quite the opposite. To be present is to actively be aware, to experience, analyze, appreciate, and be with purpose and whole consciousness.

Yes, accepting situations for what they are, not constantly struggling against them, is something that comes with being fully in the moment, but that acceptance is still different than missing the moment altogether because you’re rushing through it.

It’s like driving a car. Ashley and I took a trip to Atlanta last week, and while driving the four hours back, this occurred to me.

When you are driving a car, you are present inside the car. The car is on the road (hopefully), so, yes, you are also on the road, but where you really are is in the seat, inside the car, behind the wheel. The car might be going 60 or 70 miles an hour, but your actions aren’t super-fast. With me?

So let’s relate the car to your life. Or your career, or your relationship(s). The “car” can be anything you’re involved in that is in motion. The distance the car traverses is like the passage of time. Your life moves on similar to how a car moves down a highway. Cars move toward destinations. So do our lives. Sometimes we call the destinations goals.

When you begin a drive, you usually have some idea where you want to go. Sometimes you don’t; life can be like that too. Either way, the whole reason we find ourselves behind the wheel is because we want to go somewhere. Although the car is the means we use to get there, the car won’t take us there on it’s own. We have to drive (at least until we all get those cool Google cars). And driving is an action which requires at least some degree of awareness.

As a driver, the more aware you are — the more present at the wheel — the more likely your trip will successfully reach its destination. Absolutely, we can encounter other things on the road — other cars, weather conditions, deer, and stuff — outside our control that might affect the drive, but being fully present as the driver of our car, gives us the best chances to avoid or deal with such things. Similarly, continuing the analogy, by being present where you are, fully involved in this moment, you are actually more likely to guide your life to the goals you have before you.

We all know or at least have heard that distracted driving is a serious issue. Paying attention to your phone or other things instead of driving can cause accidents and harm. Sure, we may have all had those experiences where we get someplace and don’t recall the drive. It can happen. In life, we can also reach positive results without knowing how we got there. We can also, though, wreck possibilities and miss opportunities if we aren’t alert.

Being present doesn’t prevent moving forward. It’s actually your best and easiest way to help you do just that, successfully.

What I Don’t Know About Lasers and Prisms

Focus and prioritization appear to be hot topics in popular media right now. Isn’t it interesting how we still need reminders about subjects long accepted as principles of success?

The knowledge that multitasking is contrary to effectiveness is no secret, yet many people continue to operate as if they are somehow the exception to the rule. Kind of like how we all know overly processed fatty foods aren’t the healthiest choice, but we rationalize our fast food purchases as being an exception to our supposedly wiser normal eating behaviors. All three times we do it during the week.

As Brendon Burchard says, “common sense is not common practice.”

Attempted multitasking and being busy for the sake of being active as opposed to working exclusively toward a defined goal might cast illusions of productivity, but, as illusions, they aren’t real. Like oasis mirages in the desert, they won’t end up helping you survive, no matter how good they might look.

Thinking of illusions and seeing things, consider this: lasers and prisms both manipulate energy (light), but the way in which they do so is dramatically different. So are the results. Practically opposite.

This is such an obvious metaphor I’m certain thousands of coaches and instructors have utilized it. It’s a good one, though, and worthwhile. And since it seems we could use reminders,  lets’s go over it again.

A laser amplifies light by focusing it tightly. It creates a highly focused, direct, powerful beam with awesome capabilities. A prism, on the other hand, refracts light. It bends and spreads the light’s wavelengths, creating a spectrum of color. It’s pretty to look at; it can make an interesting display that captures attention because of all the different colors. Each color, though, has only part of the energy the beam of light entering the prism has.

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We all have the ability and the choice to likewise use our personal energy. When we want to accomplish something, we can either concentrate our effort — focus — to be powerful like a laser beam, or we can spread our internal resources broadly… and create the opposite effect.

We didn’t get to play with lasers when I was in grade school (what a shame), but we did have magnifying glasses. Same idea on a simpler scale. We’ve all used a magnifying glass to concentrate sunlight and burn something, right? That doesn’t happen when the same sunlight goes through a prism. You won’t be setting any fires with your energy spread out.

When you have a goal, you’re likely to accomplish it quicker, with greater impact, by tightening your focus. Move toward that one goal directly. The shortest distance between two points is, after all, a straight line.

We’re all faced with having multiple goals, though, aren’t we?

Probably not. Not as many important ones — the “needle movers,” as Christine Comaford-Lynch calls them — anyway.

You might have many interests, you might have several good ideas you’d like to pursue, but trying to address them all at the same time can lead to frustration. Which of those ideas are going to make the greatest impact? On you, your mission, or the world? Whatever the scope of your endeavors, analyzing your options to direct your energy toward one at a time is likely to increase your effectiveness and personal satisfaction.

A multitude of great thought leaders have addressed the necessity to prioritize and narrow focus. Recently, Greg McKeown coined the term Essentialism for the discipline of “making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution.” Identify and eliminate the trivial for the sake of doing what’s vital.

Consider your work. What keeps you busy, and what actually matters? Are they the same? Even close?

You’ve probably heard of the Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule. It’s generally acknowledged that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. Read the other way around, 80% of what most of us are doing is ineffective, inessential, or, at best, not immediately bearing fruit.

Do you really want to spend the greatest percentage of your living and working hours NOT moving toward goals?

What’s the fix? Self-awareness. Analysis. Clear goal setting and defined actionable steps. Review the tasks ahead of you, the things on your to-do list. Are they important and necessary? Will they propel you in a positive direction? If they meet that criteria, prioritize them by recognizing which are MOST likely to have the GREATEST impact on helping you achieve your goals. Then get to work, and dedicate your best energy toward completing them without distraction.

It’s not always an easy exercise, but it always — ALWAYS — pays off.

By the way, do you know what the term in physics is for the process in which lasers create laser beams? Coherence. So by contrast a prismatic display not only lacks focus, it’s… incoherent.

Really helps to make the point, right?

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What I Don’t Know About Duckies and Distractions

Productivity is important to me. I think it’s because I know my time is limited, and I want to make some impact while I’m around. So I generally intend to make smart use of my time, get good things accomplished, move forward in one way or another.

I’ve been working to develop better habits to help with my focus, but, you know, sometimes things come up that interrupt my flow. Not that I’ve ever wanted to be all work and no play — far from it! — but I can’t help feeling some personal disappointment when I know I’ve wasted time.

It’s not always easy to be aware of distractions or just how much time they can take up. One nudge off course can lead to lots of twists and turns before you get back on the right path. So being cognizant of what you’ve spent time on is the first step to finding your way back.

For me, one of the worst distractions is social media. Facebook, specifically. I know I’m not alone. I’ll decide to check in, see what’s happening, find out if anyone’s tried to contact me, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up scrolling and scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, letting precious minutes add up to precious hours. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater. If I was, there’d be no problem. I believe there are benefits to social media, not least of which is being in touch with good people. Most days I see or read something that improves my life in at least a small way. To get to those gold nuggets, though, I do find myself sifting through a lot of silt.

While I’m not always happy that I let myself get detoured so easily, I am happy to know what it is that distracts me. Because I know it’s something totally under my control. I allow things to distract me; I can choose not to let them as well.

I know people have lots of suggestions to solve my particular issue. Delete the Facebook app! Set a timer! Unfollow people and pages that clog up your feed! Just don’t use it at all! At one time or another I’ve either considered all these options or actually done them. What’s worked the best for me, though, is listening to Ernie.

When I was a young dad I was lucky to enjoy a good bit of children’s music. I think a lot of folks are familiar with the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. If you aren’t, it’s been around since 1970 (I just found out it was even nominated for a Grammy in 1971!) and is sung by Ernie to his favorite bathtub toy. In the late 80s a new song debuted on Sesame Street with a pretty good message:

“Put down the duckie” started popping up in my head when I caught myself wasting time on something a couple months ago. I’m not sure exactly what brought it to mind. It may have been because I got sets of rubber duckies for my co-managers for Christmas. What I found, though, is that it helped. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for me, having a mantra, if you will, silly as it is, that I actually said out loud, got me back on track with a smile.

Social media isn’t the only duckie I have to set aside for a while in order to get things done. With all the good new comic related TV shows, TV has become a real temptation these days. Sometimes I don’t realize something’s a duckie until it takes up a certain amount of time. It’s a challenge, since I’m also working on being more present and giving people more focused attention. Whatever distractions you find impeding your productivity, maybe Hoots the owl’s advice will work for you, too. You don’t have to totally eliminate entertainment or non-productive stuff from your life. Just put it down until you meet whatever goals you have set for yourself.

 

What I’ve Gained From Journaling

Like meditating and exercising, maintaining a daily journal is something I’d seen recommended for years. It’s nothing new. I know some people have been doing it for decades. The popularity of the practice seems to have really picked up in the mainstream over the last couple of years, though. Maybe it’s Shawn Achor’s doing. So in this case I’m kind of following the trend, not at the forefront of it. I’m well okay with that, since writing in my journal nearly every day has made a tremendous difference in my happiness, my attitude, my behavior, and my mental health. In short, it’s just about improved everything in my life.

There are bunches and bunches of well-researched articles listing the many benefits of positive journaling, like this one, this one, and this one. I appreciate the fact there is real science and documented results behind the promotion of a healthy journaling habit. I’ll leave it to you to research and read those details. What I know most about and aim to tell you about are the specific ways keeping a journal has helped me.

Most obviously, it helps develop a writing habit. This result will be more important to some people than others, but I do believe everyone can benefit from improving their experience with writing. Even if you only use bullet point notation, which I do sometimes, the process of organizing your thoughts and selecting words that make sense as you put those thoughts on paper sharpens communication skills. For me, it’s trained me to be able to sit and write at least a little something every day. Writing for no other expected readers than myself has also trained me to let the words flow, to get my thoughts out without pre-editing or stopping to correct myself. I’ve learned to be content with what I write without feeling I need to edit and revise everything endlessly.

It’s a meditative practice. Taking a few moments to pause and be still while reflecting on life and things has helped me focus. I notice I feel more centered afterward, and that feeling lasts into the next day (at least).

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My current journal. It’s almost full. The next one is waiting behind it.

My journal is an excellent way for me to document things I’ve learned throughout the day as well as my own achievements. It’s a record of progress. Much like an exercise journal or diet tracker, the journal is a device that allows me to recognize accomplishments I’ve made that make me a better person. It also gives me opportunity to review my goals and intentions. Sometimes that leads to admitting I could do better. That’s still learning. Still improving. If I have made progress, I feel good. If I have had opportunities to improve, I feel motivated.

Also, the process of  writing down lessons I’ve learned reinforces them for me. There’s science that explains this, too. Basically, bringing the learning experiences to mind repeats the events once, then, with the action of writing it down, I “tell” it to myself, repeating it, effectively, two more times. Putting these experiences in my journal, reliving them, secures what I’ve learned in my memory.

Repetition of other positive experiences — people I’ve helped during the day, people who have helped me; pleasant moments, even meals, enjoyed; recognition I’ve received, and gratitude I’ve expressed to others or they’ve shared with me — increases my happiness in the same way. And here’s something: those good, happy memories are doubled, because now I not only have the memory of enjoying it the first time, live, but I also have a happy memory of remembering it and recording it and feeling good about it a second time. So what was good the first time around is doubly good for the feeling of joy the memory of it can bring.

And what wasn’t good the first time around? Surprisingly, when looking back, even experiences that seemed negative or exceptionally stressful tend to not be so terrible once I’ve got past them. I caught part of an interview on NPR a couple days ago where retired paramedic (and now author) Kevin Hazzard talked about having to deliver babies:

“It’s one of those things that it’s not good until it’s all over with. Don’t forget, these are people who are enduring a natural childbirth, so they aren’t happy to see us. There’s no joking with a woman who is way deep into a natural childbirth and is going to do it on the living room rug. She’s not in the mood to smile or necessarily even be cooperative. … All of a sudden there’s this child and everybody is smiling. … It wasn’t one you always looked forward to, but it was one in the end that everybody always seemed to enjoy.”

Now, I ain’t delivering babies, but tough things I go through in a day generally turn out like that. Not so scary once it’s all over. Sometimes there’s even a positive result. Journaling has helped me maintain perspective, and appreciate just about all the things I experience.

Similarly, journaling trains the brain to look for positives, and, when looking back on the day, to realize how good the good things were and how minimal and unimportant the negative things were. Or how they weren’t negative at all. Since I’ve been journaling, I find myself applying this knowledge as I go through the day. I’m more open to opportunities and much less worried about challenges as they come up.

Another way keeping a journal increases my personal joy is by providing a mechanism for me to recognize how fortunate I am. It provides a medium for expressing gratitude, if only to myself, so I stay cognizant of how much there is that’s good in my life. Bringing these things to mind, it then spurs me to act graciously, with compassion, humility, and appreciation of others.

Through the benefits I’ve mentioned, my journal has become an incredibly effective tool for self-coaching. It’s like talking to yourself, you know. I think I read it’s even more effective than speaking affirmations to yourself, because of the repetition involved. When writing it down, your brain thinks the positive thought once in order to write it, then again as it reads it back. I write in my journal, celebrating life, detailing accomplishments and goals, and it encourages me. “Wow! Look what you’ve done! Look where you’re headed! You are one lucky guy! Stay strong, man. You can get where you need to be.”

 

What I Might Know About Being Productive. Also Crunk Witch and Brendon Burchard.

It’s 10:00 in the morning already, my day off from work, and I haven’t got much done yet. That’s not totally true. I prepared Ashley’s lunch, played with our dog Milton, made a second pot of coffee, did some bookkeeping, and watched the most recent episode of Supergirl. I’m surprised how much I enjoy that show. This episode was particularly good.

Being productive is kind of a big thing for me. Relaxing and enjoying time is too, but getting things accomplished makes me happy, and with limited time to do stuff, I am somewhat driven to try and make the most of it.

I generally make a to-do list of sorts for each day. Got a few things on a list for today. Here I am sort of doing one of them: blogging. Not about anything important, really, but doing it anyway. After this I’ll work on a section of Brendon Burchard‘s OCourse, Your Next Bold Move. Then there’s housework and errands. I expect I’ll find some time for reading and resting a little.

I’ve found the Next Bold Move course to be extremely helpful. If you feel you need clarity or some extra motivation to move to a higher level of personal performance, I recommend it. Looks like it’s still available if you want to sign up. I know I hype Brendon Burchard a lot, but I really have grown from things he’s taught in his books and videos, and I want to share good things in case anyone else can benefit the same way.

One of my favorite musical groups, especially live, is playing at the World Famous Milestone tonight, so I’ll be going out later. Crunk Witch put on a terrific show. They really give their all at every performance. Totally fun. If you’re in the Charlotte area, I can’t recommend going to see them tonight enough. If you aren’t in the area, maybe you can catch them at one of their other tour stops.

Crunk Witch Heartbeats

The show tonight is packed with other good acts, too. No doubt it’s the work of Wyley Buck Boswell, who always does an incredible job booking fantastic shows. Human Pippi, IIOIOIOII, Height, and Gavin Riley Smoke Machine — each act worth the price of admission alone — are all playing. Amazing. I am so frequently in awe of and very grateful for the number of great shows available to us here.

Okay, time to get active addressing that to-do list. I hope you have a good day, whether that means being productive or not. There is productivity in being still and in enjoying rest, too, of course. Either way, have a good one.