If you stir muddy water, it will become murky and dark.
But if you allow the water to settle, the debris will eventually sink and you’ll be able to see more clearly.
The same is true of each of us.
There’s a lot to be stirred up about right now. And perhaps that’s why it’s more important than ever for us to find our calm.
Though our current Covid-19 response is leading us to drive less and stay home more, many of us are having difficulty finding places of peace and stillness. You might feel like you’re working more than ever, now that the lines between work and home are completely blurred.
Throw a kid or two into the mix whose routines (and lives) have been completely upended and you have a perfect mix for chaos.
And of course, there is the ever-present temptation to grab your phone or iPad or fire up the television to tune into the latest news or binge watch those shows on Netflix you’ve been wanting to see.
In addition to our external distractions there is the internal commotion of our never-ending thoughts, worries, and preoccupations.
It’s enough to make your head spin.
But perhaps there is hope amidst the chaos…
I recently read that for the first time in thirty years, the Himalayas are visible from northern India. Air quality has improved in several areas of the world, including right here in the United States. These improvements are said to largely be a product of the coronavirus response that has led to fewer emissions.
What if in addition to cleaning up our air we could find a way to clear our heads as well?
What if our future depended on it?
In such an unpredictable time as this, one thing is fairly certain: there is no more “business as usual”. Even after our social distancing and stay at home mandates have been lifted, things are likely to be different moving forward than they’ve ever been in the past.
Out of necessity, much of life as we’ve known it has had to change – often for the better. Many of the ways we have always done things will likely no longer be effective (or even relevant).
We have the opportunity to reinvent ways of working and being that weren’t serving us all that well and chart a new course into our future.
Now more than ever, we must cultivate the insight necessary to know what we need to do next.
And insight is a product of slowing down, quieting our minds and tuning in to ourselves and each other. It requires us to cut through the noise and create space for new ideas to land.
The best way to do that is to practice presence.
What exactly is presence?
The word present derives from the Latin past participle praesse meaning “to be before one”, from the roots pra – pre + esse – to be.
Presence is a state of being that’s achieved when we are truly in the moment, allowing it to unfold without judging it, labeling it, or getting lost in our thoughts about what it means or what we believe should be happening.
Presence allows us to cut through the clamor of our preoccupations, worries and fears so that our true selves can emerge. It is a gateway through which our intuition and inner wisdom enters and expresses itself.
A moment of presence is a state of grace that can produce great insights that help us to truly learn from our experiences, make the most of our opportunities and rise to our challenges in creative ways.
In moments of presence, we know who we really are and what we are truly capable of.
Have you ever noticed that people tend to match each other’s intensity and tone when they are together?
Comments about trivial matters are often matched with similar banter. Expressions of fear or dread often elicit responses that are equally charged, and expressions of anger have a way of provoking reactions that people later regret.
In a similar manner, moments of presence when shared with others can evoke powerful responses that can be revealing and transformational.
This is because when you are truly present with another human being you create a space that allows that person’s true self to come out as well.
This is why the best leaders have learned to become comfortable with silence. They listen more than they talk, and to allow themselves to become instruments that help others to recognize their own greatness – not necessarily through anything that say or do, but rather through moments of presence that are created and shared with others.
So how does one cultivate a moment of presence?
It is really rather simple, though far easier said than done.
1) The first step is to be still.
That’s right. Sit still. I know it goes against everything you were probably taught about getting things done and being useful. But do it anyway.
You can practice now, while you read this. Become aware of your breathing, of the space you are sitting in, of the weight of your body and how it feels in this moment. Feel the life inside you and trace it to each part of your body. Listen to the sounds around you. Take a deep breath. Let it out slowly.
2) Become aware of your thoughts.
Observe the activity of your mind as it continues to process whatever is there – thoughts like, “this is silly, really – I have way too much to do to be sitting here, doing this…” and “I have to remember to call so and so back today,” and “What did my [boss, colleague, friend, etc.] mean when he/she said…”.
Recognize that you are not your thoughts, but rather the thinker of your thoughts. Simply watch them parade around, without getting sucked into them. Feel how much bigger you are than all of that. Continue to breathe it in.
3) There really is no step three.
Simply continue to repeat steps one and two, immersing yourself more deeply into the experience with each breath.
You don’t need to do this for an extended period of time, unless you want to. Often even a couple of minutes are sufficient to bring you to a more intense state of awareness and aliveness.
In these moments of presence, you will experience things on a different level – one that allows you to respond from a deeper, wiser part of yourself. And when you are with others, you will bring out that deeper, wiser part of them as well.
The wonderful thing about practicing presence is that it creates a fertile landing place for creativity and new ideas. The more often you do, the more frequently you may find yourself receiving inklings (often when you least expect them) about solutions to even the most confounding of problems.
Presence is incredibly powerful to practice with others as well, and a wonderful thing to engage in with the family members in your home (who you are likely seeing more of than ever before). The process is the same, except that you expand your awareness to take in the other person as well.
First, put your phone down. Turn off your IPad, computer, television and/or any other device that could potentially steal your attention and focus.
Then, look into the eyes of the person in front of you, and listen to what they are saying. But listen to what they are not saying as well.
Presence is more about being than doing. So, allow yourself to truly BE with another, devoid of judgments, labels, and agendas. When you listen from this place, you are like water to a thirsty plant, allowing others to open up and soak in needed nutrients.
And in this space, they may just find the answers they seek as well – not because you are giving them, but because you have created a space that is illuminating for everyone.
For more on practicing presence, cultivating insight, and reinventing the way you live and lead, check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius. Registration for the fall session will open soon (and if you join the waiting list, you’ll have first dibs on the limited seats that will become available).
Image by Gordon Johnson from Pixabay.
As we ponder what 2020 will bring, an adage comes to mind: the only thing that’s certain is change.
You can plan and prepare all you want, but the best way to be agile in a shifting environment is to stay connected to the undercurrent of emerging events and patterns – and utilize ingenuity to find the best way to rise to the coming challenges and opportunities.
And, whether you realize it or not, we’ve all been conditioned to tune out or disregard this vital source of intelligence.
The reason is, these days the speed of change (and innovation) moves very quickly …
And it becomes far too easy to rely on plans and approaches that were designed in the past, using old ways of thinking.
In the end utilizing information that is no longer relevant comes with heavy opportunity costs.
Albert Einstein once said “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift, and the rational mind it’s faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”
This seems especially true in corporate America, where systems, processes and standard operating procedures are often revered as a means to minimize risk, variation and chaos and exert control over our environment. People go to great lengths to plan and research best practices, set guidelines in place and create controls that ensure people follow them.
And when it’s time to execute – you put your head down and run from one thing to the next, juggling multiple priorities and putting out fires, only stopping to troubleshoot when things don’t go to plan… There never seems to be enough time to pause long enough to determine whether the path you’re running on or the tactics you’re engaging in will get you to where you want to go.
After many conversations with colleagues and clients, it’s a clear consensus that real leaders are ready for a revolution of sorts. It’s time to capitalize on the opportunity to create positive change at all levels of an organization, from top down, to bottom up, because…
If the route you’re taking isn’t aligned with your desired destination, moving faster won’t do you any favors. And relying on your plan to tell you where to go next won’t either.
When you put more importance on the tactics than you do on the strategy and cling to a plan without continually reevaluating it, you have sacrificed the strategic in the name of the operational.
As an executive coach, this is one of the major challenges I work with executives to overcome. Operational is clean. It has defined edges and finite solutions. You can check the boxes and feel a sense of closure and control with an operational approach.
Strategic on the other hand can be a bit messier. It involves stepping into uncertainty to address challenges and opportunities that are new and unfamiliar. There is usually no one right answer. It often involves taking steps out of your comfort zone. And it requires that you slow down instead of speeding up, something that most of us tend to resist because slowing down flies in the face of what we’ve been conditioned to do.
To avoid this discomfort, many executives prefer being busy to being strategic. It gives them the illusion of being productive and the burst of adrenaline that is a nice (yet ultimately unsatisfying and addictive) placebo for real progress.
But busyness isn’t going to help you hit the target necessary to advance your business. Because until you slow down long enough to assess your environment and allow your intuitive mind to partner with your rational mind, you may not even realize what your true target is, let alone how to get there.
Malcolm Gladwell echoed the wisdom of Albert Einstein his iconic book Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. He wrote, “The key to good decision making is not knowledge. It is understanding. We are swimming in the former. We are desperately lacking in the latter.”
Knowledge is the product of absorbing information. Understanding is the product of insight. And insight comes from the integration of information with experience, from slowing down long enough to practice reflection and discernment.
And that’s an important key to successfully navigating the changing landscape of “business as usual”.
We live in an age of information. You can find an abundance of resources – articles, books, dissertations, webinars, workshops, best practices, etc. on any given topic. This information tends to be descriptive of what worked in the past to address the challenges faced by people and organizations whose situations are rarely identical to our emerging challenges and opportunities.
Acting on information without discernment is like taking someone else’s prescription given for a diagnosis that you aren’t entirely certain matches your own.
And yet all too often we move full speed ahead with seeming solutions that don’t really address the true underlying problems (and often make the problem worse). Ask yourself how many times have you’ve overlooked, disregarded or suppressed inklings or rumblings that told you something is just not right.
It happens to the best of us, because we get so attached to our plans that we resist (consciously or unconsciously) anything that could potentially interfere or slow us down.
Sometimes the inklings come from within, accompanied by a sense of incongruence. It might feel as if you are wearing someone else’s clothes while trying to convince yourself that they fit just fine, even though they are way too tight. But in the name of efficiency (and because you think slowing down to address it is a luxury you can’t afford), you press on anyway.
Other times the rumbles come from others within the organization, people who aren’t so attached to the predetermined plan, who are a little closer to the real problems and issues and have a sense of what needs to be done to address them. And they are all too often shushed by others (usually a few levels above in the hierarchy) who measure performance based on how well predetermined plans are implemented and adhered to.
So how do you turn this short-sighted, self-defeating old way of thinking dynamic around?
Here are five practical tips to get you moving in a new, more progressive and productive direction:
- Carve out time regularly for yourself to reflect, integrate and think strategically. Block this time on your calendar and hold it sacred in the same way you would a meeting with your boss or your most important customer. It doesn’t have to be a large block of time. The important thing is to slow down long enough to consider how things are going and to determine whether your approach is aligned with your desired goal. Identify what, if any, tweaks to your plan are necessary, and write down your ideas.
- Put just as much weight on the questions as you do the answers. Ask, “What are the problems I am/we are trying to solve? Could they be symptoms of a larger issue that has not yet been addressed? What are we seeing? What are we not seeing? How can we get the information and knowledge necessary to truly understand the problem and what needs to be done to effectively address it?”
- Encourage dialogue. This is a big one. Give people who are closest to the challenges and issues that are being addressed an opportunity to communicate with those who have the bigger, more strategic picture. Take steps to integrate top down and bottom up approaches by creating a forum for discussing emerging patterns, trends, problems and opportunities and dialoguing about what the best approaches and solutions may be.
- Welcome and embrace dissent. This may not be comfortable at first, but the more you can encourage people who have concerns with the current course of action to speak up, and give them opportunities to constructively express those concerns, the more likely you’ll gain the support and momentum you need to move forward. When you value people’s perspectives and contributions by listening with an open mind and a willingness to act, you’ll also have access to information that will dramatically increase your chances of success.
- Use discernment. When looking to best practices or considering recommendations from experts, determine whether they are truly a good fit (and to what degree they should be tweaked or tailored to meet the specific needs of the organization) before they are implemented.
The tendency to act operationally instead of strategically and overlook, disregard or suppress the very insight that will lead you to the best solutions and innovations, is only one of many common practices that are being challenged and improved on within the emerging real leader revolution. The focus of these new conversations and perspectives is helping both executives and the organizations they are a part of to unleash unprecedented performance, make a bigger impact and enjoy a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment in their work and their lives.
This translates into increased profitability, greater market share and stronger relationships with customers who become their biggest advocates.
If you are interested in learning more about how to liberate yourself and your organization from unproductive, self-defeating and potentially damaging ways of doing business as usual, visit www.RealLeaderRevolution.com and download your free copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto.
“What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?”
~ Robert H. Schuller
I have come across the above quote often and pondered it reflectively. It inspires me to think big – contemplating all the many things I have dreamed of creating or being a part of. I often feel compelled to make a list – and have done so many times. I encourage my clients to do this as well.
But the most interesting and show stopping part of that quote for me is the idea of “failure”.
It’s easy to think of shooting for the moon when the idea of crashing down to the ground doesn’t enter the picture. We can dream and scheme all we want, but in order to make our dreams real, we must take action. And when we do, this idea of failure seems to have a way of creeping in despite our best attempts to move forward in spite of it.
Failure means different things to different people. But I think the most debilitating thing about the idea of failure is having to experience or endure some kind of pain – pain of rejection, embarrassment, loss, financial ruin – not to mention its actual physical variations.
The interesting thing to me about pain is that – thankfully – it is usually finite. It comes and it goes. And while we don’t always have any control over whether we experience it, we do seem to play a part in how long it lasts and how uncomfortable it gets.
As a kid, getting immunizations was terrifying. I remember how worked up I would get before the needle even came close to my skin. And I’ve watched my kids do the same thing – even screaming or wailing before contact was ever actually made. But a few seconds later, the injections were completed before the kids even realized it.
They got off the exam table and immediately went onto other things – except perhaps when one of them needed a little more sympathy and deliberately focused on the site of the shot and the blood on the bandage – prolonging the unpleasant experience and making it into something far more painful than it really needed to be.
I think we do the same thing when we contemplate the pain that accompanies what we believe would be “failure”. Our minds have a way of making it far more ominous than it ever is in reality. And if we happen to find ourselves experiencing it, we can also fall into the trap of unwittingly making it more uncomfortable than it really needs to be.
But we can also exercise resilience and determination in our ability to bounce back and focus on something that will allow us to move forward in spite of an otherwise unpleasant experience.
Because what it really comes down to is what your experience – regardless of the way it turns out – has given you, rather than cost you. People who have accomplished extraordinary things in the world are the first to tell you that what many refer to as “failure” has plagued them time after time – and many will tell you those experiences were prerequisites for their success.
What differentiates them from those who allowed “failure” to defeat them is that they picked themselves up, figured out what they could learn, and moved forward armed with a new awareness, a new understanding, and a renewed commitment to their greatest dreams and visions.
I think we all need a shot from time to time. A shot of humility, compassion – and humor. A shot that will only serve to make us stronger, more determined, and far more resilient than we were before. What great thing can YOU achieve today, knowing that you simply cannot fail?
If you’re ready to play a bigger game, consider enrolling in the spring 2020 session of The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius. It’s an exclusive thirteen week leadership development program that will help you push through the resistance and sidestep the pitfalls that keep you from unleashing GENIUS in yourself and those you lead — and unlock extraordinary performance in yourself and other while experiencing greater joy and fulfillment both on and off the job.
For a limited time, you can lock in the 2019 prices before they go up in 2020. Give yourself an early holiday gift that’ll help you usher in a bigger, brighter 2020 by claiming one of the ten seats that are now available.
My recent article, “How to Meet Change, Challenge and Uncertainty with Courage and Grace” discussed the importance of shifting from a reactive mode that is (often unthinkingly) triggered by fear and conditioning to the conscious, thoughtful, and intentionally constructive response that is characteristic of Real Leadership.
Today, I’d like to give you a concrete tool for helping you do just that – one that I often share in my presentations and workshops and also work with participants in The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius program to apply. It’s called Using the Wisdom of Hindsight in the Present.
Are you in the midst of some kind of change or challenge right now? What is occupying your thoughts and energy these days? Think about it until you can come up with a concrete example of something you may be struggling with – or simply in the process of working through.
See if you can tune into the way this challenge is leading you to feel. Frustration? Uneasiness? Doubt? Worry? Can you put your finger on what is most unnerving about the situation at hand?
Now, think back to another time that you have felt this same way. A time when you had to work through an earlier challenge. One that was perhaps equally difficult and/or anxiety provoking – or even worse than the issue you are currently facing.
Can you recall what you were thinking at the time? What were you telling yourself? What questions were you asking yourself? What worries were plaguing you? What doubts were eroding your confidence?
Imagine that you can go visit that younger version of yourself and share some advice. What would you tell yourself? What do you wish you would have known back then that you know now? What encouragement would you provide? What would you tell yourself to stop, start or continue?
You may want to pause for a moment and write that advice down.
Chances are the advice you would give to your younger self is pretty darn good guidance for you now. Rainer Maria Wilke once wrote, “The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
What if the very experiences you have had over the course of your life happened in perfect order to prepare you for what you would experience in your future?
What if those challenges that that left you stumped or feeling uneasy or pushed you to your edge served the purpose of helping you to discover in yourself a strength you didn’t know you had – and develop a muscle that would allow you to lift heavier weight and move bigger mountains?
Much of my work as a coach is helping people connect the dots of their own experiences in ways that help them see they have exactly what it takes to successfully address and rise above their current issues and obstacles. It is not uncommon for people to realize that what they thought was unchartered territory at its core is in fact something they are not all that unfamiliar with.
Even something you may have written off as “failure” may reveal rich insights and answers if you take the time to identify what you learned in your past that you can potentially apply to your present.
Most of us don’t pause long enough to realize the ways life has prepared us for what we face. We are all too quick to want to forget about the frustrations and anxieties of the past rather than leverage them in ways that allow us to learn and grow. And when presented with what feels like an insurmountable challenge, we tend to think we need to speed up rather than slow down.
So, you have to make a deliberate, concerted effort to turn that pattern around.
When you do that using The Wisdom of Hindsight in the Present process, you’ll begin to recognize that the biggest source of anxiety and frustration is largely based on conjecture and hypothetical situations.
You’ll also realize as you examine your past, that you likely have concrete data – evidence-based proof that you have what it takes to successfully navigate through uncertainty, to think on your feet, and to find solutions where it appeared none existed.
In so doing, you’ll shift from doubt to confidence – from what you don’t know to what you do know. And you’ll focus on what is in your control to influence rather than all the things that are beyond it.
From that mindset, you are infinitely more likely to access the courage, confidence, ingenuity, determination and resilience necessary to be successful in any situation. You’ll be more likely to see solutions to the problems that once confounded you – and to lead and inspire others to do the same.
This is the essence of Real Leadership.
If you are interested in learning more about Real Leadership and how you can unearth it in yourself and your organization, download your copy of The Real Leader Revolution Manifesto, my most recent white paper on how to stop doing business as usual and start liberating the power of the human spirit to achieve unprecedented and sustainable success.
Not all that long ago, I went through a period where I felt overwhelmed and stuck. Beneath my frustration was curiosity about where it was coming from and what was the best way to move beyond it.
One day, as I was watching my young son do his homework, I had a fascinating and frustrating insight.
This kid is really smart. And his homework is just not that hard for him. He could finish it in the time it takes to make a peanut butter sandwich. But seconds after he would pull it from his backpack a whole new dynamic came into play. It was as though a huge brick wall suddenly erupted from the page and grew a hundred feet tall.
He’d sit and stare at his paper. He’d complain about all the work he had to do. He’d worry that he wouldn’t be able to do it right (or at all). And then he’d become completely fixated on any little thing that captured his attention. A bug. A drop of water on the counter. The way the numbers on the digital clock change with each minute. And hours could go by before he had even touched his pencil to paper.
After watching for a while, I heard myself telling him, “In the time it takes you to moan and complain about it, you could have it done! You can get through this easily – you are so smart!” But nothing I said was getting through.
And then I realized that my son was a mirror image of me when I get overwhelmed.
It’s not that what must get done is all that difficult.
It’s that my mind had a way of magnifying things several times their normal size so that it felt like I must tackle Mount Everest when in reality I only needed to take a little walk around the block. I told myself stories (sometimes consciously and other times unconsciously) about how hard things will be or how long they would take – especially things that were new to me.
And then I’d fall into my old, familiar pitfall of trying to make everything perfect. Before I even realized what was going on, I felt totally exhausted and depleted. And then I needed relief—even just doing something that’s easy—so I could check a box and feel like I had accomplished something, anything.
Once I realized where my son got it, I decided to stop trying to teach him and let him teach me.
In addition to showing me what was standing in my way, he reminded me that all the words in the world don’t make a difference when you are trying to teach someone to do something you have not yet mastered. Kids learn through action, not words. And so do adults.
I knew that to help my son (or anyone else for that matter) in even the smallest way, I had to get busy working on myself. And then a new question arose: how can I overcome a lifetime of perfectionistic patterns that keep me from doing what’s necessary to achieve my grandest visions and goals?
With that question at the top of my mind, I went for a run. As with just about any of my runs, the first few minutes were tough. I was tired and stiff. It wasn’t fun. But I just kept going. And then I fell into my zone. My legs felt lighter. My breathing evened out. My head started to clear. I was actually enjoying myself. I ran a little faster and a little harder. It felt good.
And then I had a second, equally powerful insight.
To break out of the perfectionism trap—to get out of overwhelm, to free myself from my own self-imposed prison—I simply needed to get into action. Even one tiny step toward my desired goal would help – though at first it may be uncomfortable, messy, and far from perfect. And then I could take another, and another and another, until l finally I reach my zone.
Over the last several months, I have found that the more diligence and effort I put into those first few steps, the more quickly I get through that “warm up” period and into a place where I can make some real headway – and even have some fun in the process.
So that’s my simple plan for getting and staying unstuck. And when I need a little more motivation and inspiration, I just go hang out with my son for awhile.
“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.” ~Albert Einstein
Overwhelm is just one of the many states that keep us from taking action toward our goals and visions and doing our best work. If you are interested in learning more about how to find your optimal zone of performance so that your work becomes less cumbersome and more enjoyable, check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius, kicking off the week of September 23rd.
This 13-week leadership development program will help you find and stay in your optimal zone of performance so that your work becomes less cumbersome and more enjoyable. It’s designed to help high achieving professionals get better results and make a bigger impact while enjoying their lives more – both on and off the job.
Registration will close soon. Save your seat today!
“Chaos often breeds life, when order breeds habit.”
~ Henry B. Adams
Like many of us, I grew up thinking that things happened in a linear way.
First this, then that. One building block upon another in a definite order. Cause and effect. But over the years, I’ve noticed that life isn’t always like that.
Often it seems life is a series of random events that don’t seem to make much sense.
But when you have a larger vision and experience that vision as though it has already happened, you can begin to see this apparent chaos in a whole different way. Often what we experience is a chain of seemingly disjointed events that are in reality very connected.
Think of watching a movie of a glass shattering, only in reverse motion.
Pieces fly together from all directions in a disjointed fashion and assemble into a perfect whole. Each piece is absolutely necessary, though, in and of itself, incomplete and inconceivably connected to a larger picture.
We will experience ups and downs and travel roads that deviate from what we anticipated.
Nevertheless, these seemingly divergent paths may in fact be prerequisite to experiencing the totality of our vision. At times the healing process entails pain, discomfort or other symptoms. While we may point to these as signs of illness, we could alternatively consider them evidence of our recovery.
Seasons will change, and so will we.
A phase of growth and expansion is often preceded by a period where things unexpectedly fall away. We can look at the void as a loss, or recognize it as the space necessary for new creations to take root and flourish.
We may not initially realize the significance or relevance of our chaotic experiences.
But in hindsight we often realize the importance of enduring specific challenges, setbacks, delays, or what felt like irrelevant nuisances. These obstacles give us a greater perspective on who we are, deeper appreciation for where we have been and where we are going, and compassion for others who have experiences similar to our own.
As we rise up to these little challenges, we find strength we didn’t know we had and realize we are far greater than we thought we were. And as leaders, we can help others appreciate and leverage their own chaos as well.
Appreciating the perfect order unfolding in our lives more of an art than a science.
Most of us never really take the time to recognize it. If you are interested in leveraging the seeming chaos in your own life and life’s work, I encourage you to consider enrolling for the fall session of The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius, kicking off the week of September 23rd.
The program is filling up – and it is a great group of people so far! Enrollment is limited – click the link to save your seat.
Every once in awhile I treat myself to a massage.
It is especially enjoyable when my muscles are sore. I make a special effort to be as aware of every little sensation as I can – so that nothing escapes my perception. I want to completely immerse myself in the experience and enjoy every second of it.
And when I do this, I have often felt as though it might be possible to slow time down. While this is likely not possible, I do think being intensely present allows us to fill each second of our time with more awareness, more enjoyment and more of life’s sweetness than ever.
I contrast this to how I have felt at the end of a long day.
Faced with somewhat banal or unpleasant activities as being stuck in traffic, cleaning up after our dog or cat, or getting a cavity filled, I’ve found that I can disengage altogether and occupy my mind with other things. And when I do, things seem to have a way of speeding up. The whole experience becomes distant and a bit blurred. I can drive all the way home and not be able to recall a single landmark I passed along the way.
Knowing I can slow down or speed up time for myself like this is interesting to me.
But what is even more intriguing – and somewhat unsettling – is the thought of how much of my life is spent somewhere between these two extremes, on a kind of auto pilot. How many times when talking with a friend has my mind been somewhere else – reviewing my “to do” list, thinking of what I could cook for dinner, or even determining what I want to say next?
How many times when my kids came proudly marching into the house to show me their latest artwork did I half-heartedly glanced up from what I was doing and offer feigned enthusiasm? What I missed in those moments is something I can never get back.
I used to think it was vital to capture special times on film.
When my kids were young I was intent on capturing photos and video at the kids’ recitals, ball games, or during vacations and holiday dinners. Then one day I realized I was so caught up in getting the perfect shots that I missed those precious moments altogether. And it’s never quite the same when you watch the replay.
So I started resisting the urge to reach for my camera.
Instead, I made it a point to simply immerse myself in whatever was going on. And I believe the quality of my memories has improved significantly – even if I don’t have a lot of photos or videos to show for it.
What if we lived more often with the presence of not wanting to miss a thing?
How much stronger would we connect with each other? How much more of our special moments together would we actually experience and enjoy? How much more trust could we inspire and cultivate? How much more joy could we create?
How many more problems would we solve with solutions that addressed those little things that previously escaped our awareness and came back to bite us? How much more of our very selves could we bring to everything we do and everyone we are with? And how much better the world would be because of it!
Perhaps as we become more aware of the degree to which we are really showing up, we can begin to gauge how much of our lives we are truly living. And then we can consciously create – and enjoy – lives worth living for.
Conscious living is akin to engagement, a topic about which much has been written over the last several years. It is the lifeblood of not only enjoying our work and bringing our very best to it, but also to creating thriving organizational cultures that lead people to come alive, attract raving customers and allow people and organizations to stand out in the marketplace.
If you are interested in increasing your own level of engagement and learning how to help others do the same, consider joining me in the fall session of The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius. Registration is now open!
This 13-week leadership development program is designed to help high achieving professionals bring out their very best performance in such a way that fills them up rather than depleting them – and allows them to make a bigger impact doing meaningful, inspiring work while leading others to do the same.
The program will kick off in late September and go through early December. Enrollment is limited, so save your seat as soon as you can.
Is there something vital that you’ve been meaning to get to that seems just out of reach? A juicy project, initiative or undertaking that you’re passionate about – that could potentially make a big impact on your career, in your organization, or simply on another human being?
If you’re like most people, the answer is yes. We all tend to have something relatively important we’ve been putting off – for lack of time, energy, focus (or a combination of all three). Sometimes it keeps slipping because other people’s projects and requests tend to take priority.
But more often than not, these critical tasks and projects are in a perpetual state of incompletion because we simply have not gotten serious about carving out time (and energy) to do them. They tend to have a few things in common:
- They require you to think creatively – to bring into form something that did not previously exist or to solve a problem that doesn’t have easy answers.
- It seems the time it will take to do them is greater than the time you have available.
- The thought of jumping in makes you mildly uncomfortable, leading you to be all too inclined to put other things ahead of them.
I know, because the article you are now reading fell into that category for me. So, in effect I am writing this as much for my own benefit as yours.
Below are three simple tips to help you get off the dime and get those essential projects rolling.
(1) Make the decision to stop talking/thinking/planning and start DOING.
The word decision derives from the Latin “decidere”, which literally means “to cut off,” from de- “off” + ceadere “to cut”. Making a decision means cutting yourself off from other options. In the words of Mr. Miyagi from The Karate Kid, “There is no try, only do.”
Sometimes you can kick start yourself by using this logic in reverse. What if the option you cut yourself off from was the completion of this important task/project/initiative? What would be the impact on your life if you did not do it? How would you feel? And what would the effect be on others?
If you were to flash forward another week/month/year/decade, and you still hadn’t done this thing that has likely been gently (or not so gently) nudging you forward, would you be okay with that?
Conversely, what is there to gain by going all in? How would you benefit? How will the work you are on the verge of doing enrich the lives of others or make a difference in a way that matters? Flash forward and imagine that you have completed it. How would you feel? And what kind of impact would it have on the world around you?
William James once said, “Nothing is so fatiguing as the eternal hanging on of an uncompleted task.” Sometimes the very incompletion of a task that has meaning and significance for us is more exhausting than the energy required to actually do it. So, make the decision today to cut yourself off from other options and move into action.
This leads us to the next tip.
(2) Block time and hold it sacred.
Now that you’ve made the decision to get that precious piece of work done, you must dedicate time to do it. Contrary to what you may believe, you don’t necessarily need to have large, uninterrupted chunks of time to make progress. Even the smallest of actions you can take will begin creating momentum that will move you closer to your finish line.
Break bigger projects into smaller milestones and get into the practice of using whatever time you have to take action toward your goals. Challenge your assumptions on how long things will take to get done. Interrupt that chatter in your head that has you believing you don’t have time to make a dent in something by simply moving into action in spite of it. Just get started.
Reserve larger chunks of time by scheduling meetings with yourself. Consider sending yourself a meeting notice, complete with a subject line and an agenda that spells out your objectives in the body of the message. This will serve to direct your attention and focus to what you have the power to accomplish in the time you have reserved.
Regard these meetings you schedule with yourself the same way you would a meeting with a client or your boss. If despite your best efforts, something else must be scheduled in its place, don’t just delete it from your calendar. Find an alternative date and time in the same way you would another appointment that you are committed to.
If upon looking at your calendar it seems there is simply no time available, challenge yourself to use the discernment necessary to create it. What can you delegate, defer or dump? How can you simplify the things that may not require as much time as you thought they would? What things are you involved in that in the scheme of things really aren’t true priorities?
Now that you have allocated time to work on those precious projects, let’s talk about how you can create the kind of space you’ll need to make good progress on them.
(3) Maximize your FOCUS and PRODUCTIVITY.
During the time you have set aside to do that important work that has previously eluded you, it is likely there will be a multitude of things competing for your attention. We are conditioned to believe that taking time for ourselves is indulgent. But in many cases, it is the most generous thing you can do because it allows you to engage in the kind of work that is of greatest service to others.
Despite that fact, many of us are all too quick to defer those projects that bring us the greatest joy to meet the urgent requests of someone or something that is demanding our attention.
Sometimes that is an actual person standing in front of us, but often it is the little ding that tells us an email has landed in our inbox, or the ring of the phone that we are conditioned to answer without even thinking, or the lure of social media or internet surfing that sucks up immeasurable amounts of time that we’ll never get back.
So, it is essential to consciously and intentionally eliminate distractions and create the kind of setting that is most conducive to enhancing your focus and productivity. Close your Outlook or Gmail and your browsers as well. Make the decision not to answer the phone.
Shut your door (if you have one) and/or communicate with others to manage their expectations about when you will become available. If you have the option, you may even consider going to a remote location like a coffee shop or restaurant where you are less likely to be disturbed.
Notice what environment leads you to find your zone of productivity. Some prefer a completely quiet space, while others enjoy ambient sounds around them. Some like music in the background or the sound of water.
Set a timer and designate anywhere from thirty to fifty minutes to do a “sprint” of work followed by a five to ten minute break that allows you to relax, take some deep breaths, move your body, get a drink of water and/or rest your eyes. Research shows this practice will dramatically increase your productivity (and I have validated that through my own experience as well.)
One of my favorite apps is Focus at Will, which offers a variety of background music and sounds that are designed to keep your brain at the right focus level by increasing beta and theta brainwave activity. The program allows you to set a timer, at which point the background sound will stop signaling time for a break.
A few words on why your most important work shouldn’t wait another minute…
We are all conditioned to move so fast from one thing to another checking boxes that it becomes all too easy to sacrifice the strategic in favor of the operational. Those juicy projects and creative visions that beckon to us in our quiet moments are vital not only to our sanity and sense of meaning and purpose, but also to the very future of our organizations and the lives of the people they serve.
The most extraordinary leaders (at all levels of both small and large organizations) heed these calls to break out of business as usual by tending to work that has real significance. In so doing, they experience the rich rewards of fulfilling work that makes a bigger, more sustainable impact in the world.
If you would like to learn how to break out of business as usual to do YOUR best work – in a way that fills you up AND allows you to move the needle, consider joining me in the fall session of The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius. Registration is now open!
The program will kick off in late September and go through early December. Enrollment is limited, so save your seat as soon as you can.
You’re busy – scurrying from one thing to the next, tending to the most pressing needs of the day. The starting gun goes off in the morning and you are off and running. It might feel like a race that you just can’t win, despite the fact that you are moving faster than ever. And the closer you get to the finish line, the farther it seems to recede into the distance.
But every once in a while something breaks through that beckons to you.
Maybe it’s the thought that life and work could be better, easier, more satisfying, less stressful. Perhaps you’re ready to take things up a notch – play at a higher level, make a bigger impact, finally wade through the minutia and get to the juicy stuff that you’ve been pushing to the back burner until all the other urgent stuff gets done.
But you may not know exactly where or how to start.
You might feel like you don’t have the time to do anything different even if you did. And until you have what you think is an executable plan, you could be inclined to continue to just do what you’ve been doing – even though it isn’t really getting you where you really want to be.
If you feel that way, I encourage you to watch the below video.
Because the place to start something new – something that feeds you and unlocks your potential and opens new doors of possibility and purpose for you – is in your mind. And despite how busy you are or how little time you have, the technique I’ll share with you in the video is something that is not only doable, but world changing.
You can break that cycle of running yourself ragged to enjoy greater effectiveness and fulfillment. Watch the video below for an example of how it’s done. And then try it for yourself.
If you want to go deeper and learn more about how to not only dream big but also bring those dreams to fruition (and overcome all the obstacles that have kept you from doing so in the past), check out The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius.
Registration for the fall session is NOW OPEN! Enrollment is limited – so save your seat as soon as you can.
Supercharge Your Summer: Three Strategies for Vacationing that Replenish You and Skyrocket Your Performance
We all know we need vacations.
Time to rest and recuperate, enjoy our loved ones, and have some fun. But all too often, vacation creates stress for high performing executives who dread coming back to loads of email and other work that has piled up, and spend their time away preoccupied and worried about what’s happening at the office or getting sucked into email and phone calls.
It’s not uncommon to come back from vacation feeling like you need another vacation.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. If you approach your vacation with the same level of thoughtfulness and intention that you do with any project you undertake, you can create experiences that not only revitalize yourself and enable you to reach a new level of performance, but also increase the strength and effectiveness of your organization.
Here are three strategies for accomplishing this:
(1) Make the decision to completely disconnect.
We all know our electronic devices need to be recharged to work properly.
And it’s a no brainer that they charge more efficiently when we are not using them. However, we often fail to grasp that to replenish our energy, creativity, resilience, determination and focus – we too need to go offline.
It is often our underlying (and unexamined) assumptions that keep us from truly relaxing.
We are conditioned to believe that the harder we work, the more successful we will be, and that taking our eyes off the ball (even for a day, let alone a week or more) can lead to things spiraling out of control. As a result, many of us have a hard time letting go. We approach our vacations with one foot in and one foot back in the office, checking our phones and becoming preoccupied with work. In this state of mind it’s easy to get sucked back in to anything that appears to be less than optimal.
Few of us realize that this belief itself is the problem.
It is often the assumption that we cannot afford to let go that leads to most the stress, pressure and overwhelm we encounter when we return from our much-needed breaks. Like our cell phones, which are constantly searching for a signal and downloading messages, we too are expending energy even as we try to recharge it. In addition, this belief leads us to become far more susceptible to distractions that take us away from what we are doing in the moment. It also keeps us from doing the preparation necessary to ensure that others can handle things without us while we are away.
Once you realize this underlying belief is the culprit, you can substitute it with a new truth.
Chances are that voice in your head that compels you to check your phone will continue to speak. But when you begin to see the fallacy in that assumption as well as the pain it creates, it doesn’t have as much of a hold on you. You can begin to entertain the possibility that disconnecting will truly serve you (and your organization) and act in ways that make that true. And when you fully commit to a vacation that allows you to go offline, you are better able to prepare in ways that make that possible, which leads to the next strategy.
(2) Prepare people in your organization to handle things in your absence.
Most executives would benefit by delegating and empowering others more in general.
Often senior leaders find themselves unable to act strategically because they get bogged down in operational tasks that they really shouldn’t be involved in. So, creating a plan to prepare others to run things in your absence will yield dividends for you (and your organization) long after your vacation is over.
Take some time to identify what is most likely to hijack your relaxation, and plan accordingly.
Identify people in your organization whose skill, experience and passion are a good match for things you would normally handle yourself. Then take the steps necessary to bring them up to speed and put them in charge while you are away. Create and communicate guidelines that will help them know what to do in situations that would cause you the greatest stress, so they can make solid decisions without you. Taking these steps not only helps ensure consistency and effectiveness while you are away but also develops key players on your team that, given the right opportunities, can make a bigger impact.
When you return, follow up to help your people integrate what they have learned and build on it.
In addition to increasing their own capability, their fresh perspective may yield insights into how things can be handled more effectively in the future. Additionally, the confidence you place in your staff can go a long way in making them feel valued and appreciated. As a result, you’ll open doors to new levels of performance that benefit your entire organization.
(3) Set and communicate boundaries and expectations in advance.
Most of us are accustomed to setting up automated “out of office” messages in our mailboxes.
But we often fail to communicate and manage expectations in advance. As a result, people can feel caught off guard and demanding of your time while you are away. Or, you can feel inclined to respond to something that really isn’t all that urgent, out of fear of damaging a relationship or letting a ball drop.
Take the time to talk with others about your intention to completely disconnect while you are away.
Make it clear that you do not intend to check email or handle phone calls. Remind them of the guidelines you’ve set on what to do in your absence. And clarify your intention to use this time to replenish your reserves so that upon your return you can more effectively serve them.
When clients understand that you have taken steps to ensure they will be well cared for and know who in your organization to contact for what, they are much less inclined to interrupt you. If you discuss in advance what things can be done before and while you are gone and what is better delayed until your return, you will be able to leave with the peace of mind that everyone is on the same page.
Don’t underestimate the power of your example.
Leaders set the tone in organizations more by what they do than what they say. And if you interrupt your vacations to get involved in work, others are likely to feel compelled to follow suit. As a result, the energy of your team wanes, tempers flare, and performance begins to decline. People work harder than ever but don’t seem to get a lot done, or they burn out altogether.
When you apply these strategies, you’ll exercise true leadership – showing others how to truly revitalize themselves and their performance by modeling it yourself.
If you want to learn to infuse your work year-round with the same freshness and inspiration you feel after a good vacation, consider joining me in the fall session of The Pinocchio Principle Unleashed: The Real Leader’s Guide to Accessing the Freedom & Flow of Your Authentic Genius.
Registration is now open! Enrollment is limited – so save your seat today.