Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Opposite of Frustration

If I ask you what the opposite of frustration is, you would probably answer that the opposite of frustration is complacency or acceptance. Because really, frustration is just another form of irritation – you are irritated because something isn’t exactly the way you want it to be. Said another way, frustration is the gap between your desire and current reality. What you want is not exactly the way something is. The chasm between these two is what generates frustration. So the obvious opposite of this situation would be to simply accept what is, and give up wanting it to be different. Give up your desired outcome, and you will stop being frustrated.

But I don’t believe that acceptance is the only antidote to frustration. In fact, I think the real opposite of frustration is curiosity.

By definition, you get frustrated when life isn’t exactly the way you want it to be, the way you expected it to be, or the way that someone else promised you it would be.

You want the house to be quiet, but the TV is blaring.
You want to fall asleep, but your mind is racing so much you can’t sleep. 
You want to drive quickly to work, but there is TRAFFIC all the way there.
You expected the new dog you adopted to be house trained, but he is not.

These are all situations where something is not exactly how you want it to be.

Your most likely response is irritation and anger. But these do nothing to change the current reality. Reality is reality, and the dog and the traffic and your insomnia don’t care if you are frustrated. Your frustration does nothing to change the situation.

The alternative I would recommend – the opposite of frustration – is curiosity.

Instead of getting angry and impatient and grumpy, try getting really curious.

Get curious about WHY.

Why is traffic that way? Why is the dog or your neighbor behaving a certain way? Why haven’t your expectations been met and what were your expectations anyway? If you can’t sleep, what was different about your evening before you went to bed? There are dozens of questions you can think of when you become sincerely curious.

This afternoon we were driving home from golf and Tucson traffic was a mess. For absolutely no reason, at 1:00 on a Sunday afternoon, traffic was backed up for almost a mile. I found myself getting irritated as we sat at a red light for several cycles without moving anywhere. We were not moving at all. I hate not moving in traffic. But because it was a Sunday afternoon, not a holiday, and I could not figure out why traffic was so bad, I decided to get curious about what could be causing this traffic. Eventually, at the second intersection we came to, I discovered that there was a cop car blocking the intersection, even though there was no accident. Therefore, I concluded that there must either be a funeral procession or a parade or some other type of escort. Once I came to that conclusion, I got curious about which way the procession was moving. Then I could determine the best way for us to drive an alternate route. Eventually we drove east a little bit out of our way, but as we did, we discovered a VERY LONG motorcycle parade and I became very grateful that we had taken action to drive the alternate route. If we had stayed where we were, we would have been there a very long time without moving.

After you get curious about WHY things are the way they are, then you can become curious about WHAT and HOW. What would have to change for you to be less frustrated? How would things have to be different for you to relax? WHAT actions can you take to lessen your frustration? WHAT options are available to you that would help you change the situation?

Can you drive a different route? Can you take your new dog to a dog trainer? Can you unplug the TV or turn down the volume or donate it to charity?

WHY questions won’t guide you about how to change the situation. But WHY questions can help you better understand the source of your frustration. Then you can follow these with WHAT and HOW questions, which will help you identify actions that can help the situation.

Here's the recipe:

1. Realize that you are frustrated. Yes, this requires self awareness.
2. Get curious about WHY you are frustrated – name the specific desire that is different from the current state reality. Identify the specific gap.
3. Get curious about WHAT and HOW you can take action to change the current state reality.
4. Repeat.

This sounds pretty simple. And the basic concepts are simple. But the execution is harder, because it causes us to shift our emotional state from frustration to curiosity.

Therefore, you should start trying this process in order to practice. Luckily, almost every day offers us opportunities to practice. The next time you are frustrated, decide instead to become curious.  It's healthier for you and it will lead to a better outcome...

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Importance of "AND"

I am an idealist. I was a peace corps volunteer. I was a high school teacher. And I fundamentally - wholeheartedly - believe in possibilities. I believe that people are full of possibilities and I believe that our lives are full of possibilities. And you can call me na├»ve, but I believe that we should be able to include everything that matters to us in our life – I believe there is room for everything that we value, no matter how disparate those things might be.

In other words, I don’t believe we should have to choose between things that matter to us. There is room for all of it and we should not have to choose between.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between doing work we love or making good money.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between work or family.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between our spouse or our parents.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between travel or family.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between loyalty or honesty.

I don’t believe we should have to choose between being an artist or having a family.

I fundamentally reject the notion that someone should ever have to make any of these difficult choices. Living in a world of either/or is limiting, and constraining, and unnecessary. The world is large with possibilities and either/or thinking makes the world seem far too small. Unfortunately, either/or thinking is far too common, and people spend too much energy trying to make decisions between things. And some people spend their energy actually encouraging people to make choices between things.
Instead of living in a world of either/or, we should become skilled at designing ways to include option A AND option B.

Said another way, I believe we should start with the principle of AND.

We should do work we love AND make a great income.

We should balance the time we invest in our work AND the time we invest in our family.

We should develop our family life at home AND find time to travel.

We should be loyal to people we trust AND be honest.

We should create art AND spend quality time with our family.

In other words, we should find room for all of it. If we accept the premise that there is room in our lives for everything that matters, then we need to become skilled at what I call life design. We need to get good at “designing in” everything that matters to us – this is a skill that can be learned.

If we believe that there is room for everything that matters, the question then becomes: “How do we make it all work?” And that’s an excellent question to explore. Once we get really curious about HOW to make it all work out, then we might explore how other people have made it all work. We might research options or talk to other people who seem to be role models at life design.

When I was in high school, one of my friends was really into BMX bikes. I was vaguely aware that he traveled to a lot of bike events, but I was more concerned with how we were going to get through geometry class with a passing grade. I really didn’t know any other adults who rode BMX bikes, so I assumed the BMX thing was a passing fad.

Anyway, thanks to Facebook, I caught up with Todd Lyons, and discovered that he has spent the last 20 years creating an amazing and unique life around BMX. He moved to Southern California, became famous in the BMX world, made a bunch of money, and turned his passion into a career. He is now the brand manager at a bike company and from his online journal he seems to genuinely love everything that he is doing. But more than anyone else I grew up with, Todd did a kick ass job of creating the life he wanted – because he designed in everything that he wanted in his life. He didn’t leave anything out and he didn’t settle. His life is completely unlike anyone else I know, but it is completely true to Todd.

You can read more about Todd here:

I’m not suggesting that you live like Todd. I’m not suggesting that you live like anyone else. Instead, I’m suggesting that you live exactly like the person that you are. I’m suggesting that you live the best, most passionate and complete life that you can imagine. Even if it is unlike anyone else that you know.

There is room for everything that matters. You just need to believe that everything is possible and then get busy figuring out how to design your life in a way that works for you. No one else is going to do that for you. But life is too short to live a life that doesn’t fulfill you. There is room for work AND family AND adventures AND art AND love AND passion AND…. 

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Downward Spiral - or "This Is What Happens In My Head"

I fully realize that I want the focus of my writing to be on the positive: what is working well for me, strategies that sometimes work well, and other optimistic possibilities. I believe that what you pay attention to increases, and I truly want to focus on optimistic life strategies. I recently read a statistic that after controlling for all other factors, “up ending” movies make more money than “down ending movies” – which just goes to show you that people want to be entertained by positive stories.

But some days I just can’t find my way from where I am to the positive upbeat ending. Sometimes I just can’t get from here to there. Today was one of those days.

I had the alarm set for 5:00 am so we could get up and leave the house by 5:30 am for the Sunday morning golf round. The weather report predicted ridiculously cold morning temps in the 40’s, with a high of 56 degrees. So I had picked out several layers of clothing, along with ear muffs and gloves.
At 3:30 am, I awoke from a bad dream. I was anxious, my heart was racing and I could not get back to sleep. Instead, I lie there and stressed out over several different issues; my anxiety just kept circling between two primary issues that kept me wide awake. Finally around 4:45 I drifted off and awoke late – at 5:30. So I rushed to dress, make coffee, feed the dog and get out the door. Mike and I managed to leave by 5:50.

At the golf course, it was cold and dark – the lights weren’t even on yet. The grass was cold and crunchy and I bought tea to try to warm myself up. Then I went to the driving range, where I discovered that it was truly going to be a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. Everything about my golf swing was off – and several bad habits had set in. That was a premonition of the bad round ahead.

From the first swing of the first hole, nothing was working right. Part of the problem was that I had taken a golf lesson yesterday, so I had several things in my head that I was trying work on. Problem was – I had TOO MANY things I was trying to work on, and I had several bad habits I was trying to correct. My mind was too full of too many corrections and in my state of overwhelm, nothing worked right. I was golfing worse than I did during my first ever round of golf. I had regressed past the point that I thought was possible.

The first hole was a disaster, followed by an equivalent disaster on the second hole. By the third hole I wanted to cry and by the fourth hole I wanted to quit.

By the fifth hole, I had lost all ability to think rationally about my golf swing, and by the sixth hole, I had lost all ability to think rationally about my life. Because by then, the downward spiral had set in. The downward spiral is not pretty, but it’s a fact of my life. The downward spiral is what I call it, but psychologists would call it “cognitive distortion.” Whatever you call it, this is what it looks like:

1. Wow – my golf swing really sucks.
2. Wow – whatever I try to do to improve my golf swing ends up making it worse.
3. Wow – none of the drills I usually try are helping.
4. Wow – I didn’t know that it was possible for my golf swing to be this bad.
5. Wow – this is really embarrassing – I spent money on golf clubs and golf lessons and this is how I am golfing? This is hugely embarrassing. I can't even hit the ball.
6. Wow – nothing I have tried is working, I guess nothing is ever going to help me improve. I am just hopeless.
7. Wow – this is beyond embarrassing, now I am really slowing down the other guys I am golfing with – this must be getting annoying for them. They are being really polite to allow me to keep golfing with them.
8. Wow – this must be frustrating for Mike – he’s been so patient teaching me how to golf, and I have regressed so much so quickly. He must be really disappointed in me.
9. Ok now I really feel bad for disappointing Mike so much and being so lame. I can’t even follow the simple advice he is trying to give me.
10. I’m not just a bad golfer, I’m a bad girlfriend. He’s being patient and supportive, and I’m over here having a pity party for myself. I’m so ridiculous.
11. I’m not just a bad golfer, I’m a total failure. I can’t do anything right.
12. Now I’m not just a failure, I’m not even good company, I’m no fun to be around, I take myself too seriously and I can’t even snap out of this bad mood. Why am I even out here?
13. Come to think of it, I’ve never really been good at any sport I’ve tried, and I don’t know why I even bother to try. Why have I wasted so much time on this?
14. Actually, it’s not just sports I’m bad at – I’m no good at my job, I’m a lousy friend, and I don’t know why Mike even puts up with me.
15. I’m so self-absorbed that a stupid thing like my golf swing can set me off into this bad mood – this just demonstrates what a bad companion I am. I wouldn’t blame Mike for breaking up with me, because I am no fun to be around.
16. I wish there was just one thing in my life that I was good at – I seem to be bad at every sport I try, but I’m just too stubborn to quit them – I guess I should just stop being stubborn and let myself quit, because I’ve certainly not improved at any of them.
17. I wouldn’t blame Mike for breaking up with me, because I have so many ridiculous issues, and I can’t even think logically about sports, or my life.
18. Come to think of it, why does Mike even spend time with me? How does he manage to put up with me?

This isn’t exactly the end of the downward spiral, but I think this is a sufficient description. The point is - it’s unpleasant, it’s illogical, and it’s circular. It just feeds on itself and once you are in the spiral you can’t break out of it.

Now that I have this incredibly useful masters degree in psychology, I can label my downward spiral as a “cognitive distortion.” Specifically, my thinking is distorted in four primary ways:

1. Magnification. In my mind, my golf swing becomes INCREDIBLY BAD and terrible. My terribleness becomes intensified and I emphasize the badness, and I what is sort of bad becomes REALLY REALLY BAD. The badness becomes intense and magnified. Today I even started figuring out exactly how bad my drives were, according to my average yardage.

2. All-or-nothing. I lose sight of anything good about my golfing. For example, I ignored the fact that my putting has been awesome. ALL of my golf is ALL bad, ALL of the time, and there is no room for anything good to enter my thinking.

3. Generalizing. My badness and poor ability crosses over from golf, to everything else in my life. I’m a bad friend, bad girlfriend, etc. I’m just generally bad at everything in my life, and I start seeing this pattern everywhere in my life.

4. Jumping to conclusions. Because I’m golfing bad today, I will always golf badly, and I will never improve. Furthermore, Mike will continue to be disappointed in me, and he won’t have any fun being around me, and then the next thing you know, I’ll be living alone in a studio apartment without any friends or a job.

The real fact of the matter is this: Mike was patient with me, he was supportive and he did try to help me. Even after he split a huge hole in the seat of his pants, he tried to make me laugh about it, to distract me from my own misery. But when I’m in the downward spiral, all I can do is wallow in my pity party and keep going around and around in the circle of distortions. 

As I discovered today, recognizing the distorted thinking is just not enough to change it.

So what did I do? I got quiet, I stopped talking to anyone, and I just suffered through the rest of the round of golf. I didn’t quit, but I wasn’t having any fun. But I avoided any arguments with Mike, and I tried to keep my misery to myself. For today, that was enough of a victory.

When I got home after bunch I decided that I needed a nap – because I recognized that having only about 4 hours of sleep might have been part of my problem. And I recognized that just like a person trapped in quick sand – sometimes the best thing you can do is just stop moving. Sometimes the only thing I can do is to stop making the problem worse.

So I took a long nap and now I’m writing this horrible self-indictment in an attempt to purge the downward spiral from my very being.

The downward spiral is a not something that I ever want to repeat.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


“Things should be made as simple as possible, but not any simpler.”

- Albert Einstein

Typically if you want to change something in your life, you will start by deciding to add something new. A new goal, a new process, a new exercise routine, or a new diet. These are all additions to daily life. If you want to get fit, you might join a new gym or hire a new trainer. These are all new additions in your life. You might establish a new daily meditation habit, or you might start going to a new church.

If your goals are business oriented or financially focused, you might hire a business coach, or a financial planner. You might establish a new savings account, or join an investment club.

These are all comfortable, typical steps for you to take, and they are likely to have a positive impact.

However, there is another approach to take to personal change, the opposite approach. Instead of adding something new to your life, you can start by getting rid of something. By getting rid of something in your life, you create more space in your life. Space for something new.

There are so many things in our lives that take up space and energy and attention. And so many of these things just waste our time and energy. These can be physical things or non-physical things.

So my advice for personal change is to start by getting rid of clutter. Find the clutter and get rid of it. Be rigorous and be thorough.

In my house, there are many forms of clutter, of which I am the prime owner and offender. I have books taking up space in almost every room of the house. Not just individual books but stacks of books. Yes, I have stacks of books in multiple rooms. Then there is the paperwork. Receipts, invoices, warranties, confirmations, and other various types of paper. HOW do these things multiply so quickly? Then there are the magazines and catalogs that NEVER stop being delivered.

Then I have all the clothes and shoes, for various sports and climates. I think I have currently have exercise clothes in five rooms of our house. I am not proud of this fact, but this is a fact. Don’t even ask me about how many types of socks I have, but at least they are semi-organized according to sport.

Now let’s talk about electronic clutter. My hard drive is nowhere near organized, and I have photos still to be downloaded from 3 separate cameras. These are just electronic version of clutter, because they are not organized. Oh, and actually I still have files on two separate laptops, one of which needs to go away sometime soon.

So let’s review my house: books, paperwork, catalogs, magazines, shoes, exercise clothes, laptops, digital photos. This is nowhere near a complete list, but just a decent start.

These are the things that get in the way of what I want most in my life. These are the things that keep my energy blocked, that keep me distracted from what I really want to focus on.

If I were to practice what I preach, I would focus all my free time over the next days and weeks to GET RID OF THE CLUTTER. So this is what I shall do.

If you would like to join me on this journey, there are numerous online resources that can provide organization ideas and tools. But don’t clutter up your thinking by googling “clutter.” Just decide to get started.

Make a list of what you are going to tackle and give yourself a deadline to get rid of the clutter. Pick a room or a closet or a cabinet. Then go purge. And you will find out how amazingly free you can feel.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Energy of Indecision

“Decisions are more difficult than actions. Decisions paralyze people. Actions are easy. Decisions paralyze people because decisions require change.”

-- Robert McKee

Sometimes in our lives we get stuck. Sometimes we find ourselves in a rut, unable to move forward or turn right. Sometimes we find ourselves awake at 2:00 am, analyzing the options, imagining the different possibilities. There are many important choices that keep us awake at night. These could include any of the following:

- Job A or job B
- House A or house B
- Career A or career B
- Retire or work
- Relationship or divorce
- Move or stay
- Drive or fly

Every time in my life when I find myself stuck, it is because I have not yet made a decision. When I find myself awake at 2:00 am, it is because I have not yet analyzed my way to a decision; I am still in limbo and I don’t yet know the right path forward. Every time this happens I have the exact same dream: I am driving a car and I cannot keep my eyes open - they are incredibly heavy and remain closed - so I'm absolutely panicked as I try to drive my car with my eyes closed.

During the past two years, I have had to make several challenging decisions, challenging because there was no obvious right answer and I had to feel my way to the best outcome. But in each of the different situations I found myself anxious, stressed out and tired, UP UNTIL THE POINT OF DECISION. After the decision was made I immediately became energized, excited, and motivated.

I am comfortable with action, I enjoy implementing action, making phone calls, doing online research, scheduling reservations, or movers or dogsitters. Action is great – I love action. But action only comes AFTER the decision. And it can take a lot of extra wasted energy to get to the decision.

Which is why it is very smart to reduce the amount of indecision in our lives. Indecision drains us and keeps us stuck. Decisions move us into the future.
This is why I encourage people who want to become fit to sign up for a training class at a regular day and time. This is why I advise triathletes to plan their training schedule for the entire week or month ahead. Because then you are only making ONE decision instead of thirty separate decisions.

I read a statistic that people who plan to exercise 7 days a week are far more consistent with their training sessions, as compared to people who plan to exercise 4 or 5 days per week. This is counterintuitive – you would think the more frequently you exercise, the harder it would be to fit in that many training sessions, and the greater the opportunity for scheduling conflicts. You would think that people who plan to exercise 7 days per week would have some margin for slacking off built into their training plan – those are the people who could afford to skip a few sessions.

Instead, the reverse is true. People who plan to exercise 7 days a week actually do exercise 7 days per week. But the people who plan to exercise 4 or 5 days per week actually only exercise 2 or 3 days per week.

The reason is because the 7 day a week people only had to make ONE decision. They decided ONE TIME that they would exercise every day. However, the 4-5 times a week people had to wake up and decide EVERY DAY if they would exercise that day or not. So they had to make 7 decisions per week. And every decision provided them an opportunity for laziness and slacking off. Every individual decision increased the risk to their plan.

When I was active with the Tucson Tri Girls triathlon club, I organized an annual December “runathon” challenge. During the month of December, the participants would agree to run at least 2 miles EVERY single day of the month. Most people would typically run 3-6 miles per day, but 2 miles was the absolute minimum. Of the people who signed up, between 60-80% completed the challenge. What this challenge did was it changed people’s daily decision from “Will I run today?” to instead become “When will I run today?” And that simple shift helped people train far more consistently. They made one decision about their December running, instead of 30 separate decisions.

What’s the lesson in all of this? Reduce the number of decisions necessary in your life. Reduce the energy you waste before making decisions. Then you can move forward with action and action will get you the results you really want. Analysis never will.

Realtors have a phrase to describe desirable properties: Location, location, location.

My new motto is going to be this: Decide, decide, decide.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Who's In Your Pace Line?

Frequently when people talk about the skills of leadership, they talk about vision, courage, alignment, execution, and other important aspects of leadership.  Seldom do experts talk about the energy that leadership requires. Please note that when I talk about leadership, I’m not just referring to leadership in the traditional business world.  I’m really talking about any type of leadership, business, community, or social leadership, including the fundamental leadership that is required to create and lead your own intentional life. 

I find it interesting and ironic that we rarely talk about the energy of leadership, although leadership is such a physically and emotionally draining activity.  To state the obvious, leading requires much more energy than following.

In this way, leadership is similar to cycling.  In the world of cycling energy management is extremely critical.  Which is why cyclists frequently ride in packs, and most serious cyclists become skilled at drafting behind other cyclists.  It’s no secret that when you are on a bike, it’s much easier to ride behind someone as compared to riding in front of someone.  When you are drafting, the ride can be between 20-40% easier in terms of energy required.  And that’s just physical energy.

Let’s pretend that you and 5 of your closest friends are going out for a long bike ride, and you all want to be as fast and efficient as possible.  You would all form a pace line and each of you would ride single file, about 12-24 inches behind each other.  Being this close together means that only the first rider is paying attention to the road, while all the other riders are hyper focused on just the person in front of them.  Because when there’s only 18 inches between your front tire and your friend’s back tire, you need to pay close attention to what they are doing.  Crashing in a pack on a bike is generally a bad thing.  As a group you will determine a fairly fast pace that everyone can maintain over a long distance.  Let’s pick a speed like 22 mph.  In order to maintain this pace you will all have to take turn pulling the line.  When you are pulling, you are really working hard -- you are doing the hardest effort.  But because you are doing such a hard effort, you’ll only pull for a short period of time, let’s pretend it’s 2 minutes.  So for 2 minutes, you are hauling ass, pulling the line to keep the speed of the whole line at 22 mph.  Then after 2 minutes, you will drop back to the very back of the line, inside the draft zone, where it’s 20-40% easier, and you’ll recover.  The next person who was behind you will pull the line for 2 minutes, and then fall back to the tail of the line.  And so on.  If you have 6 people in your line, you’ll end up pulling hard for 2 minutes, recovering for 10 minutes, and then repeating this pattern over and over again.  This will enable the entire group to average 22 mph.  By comparison, if you were riding alone and doing all your own pulling, you might only average 17 mph.  By following such a consistent pattern you will maximize your recovery time, and conserve your energy in order to ride farther and faster than you could alone.

When I used to do long training rides in pace lines, I found it interesting that when I became tired, I ‘d still have the physical energy necessary to pull the line, but I no longer had the emotional energy required to pull the line.  Pulling the line required many different leadership skills, beyond just brute energy and willpower. 

First, when you pulled the line you had to be hyper vigilant about moving cars, traffic lights, potential pedestrians, animals and any other moving obstacles.  Anything that was moving could potentially interfere with your pace line.  Traffic lights that changed suddenly could require a sudden stop in the pace line.  Potholes could create havoc for the line, as could puddles, branches, and the worst possible obstacle – sand.  Sand could make wheels spin out of control and sand was just always bad news.  Second, you had to be super focused on maintaining an even and consistent pace.  If the goal pace for your line was 22 mph, you didn’t want to range between 19 and 25 mph, you wanted to stay right at 22 mph.  Changes in speed could also create crashes and irritated riders, so maintaining a very even pace was important for everyone.  Third, you needed to be able to quickly use a hand signals to warn the person behind you of any debris in the road.  You needed to be able to swerve quickly to miss debris, but also signal to the person behind you to tell them you were going to be swerving.  In summary, when you pulled the line, you had to constantly scan your surroundings for risks and challenges, you had to respond quickly, and then immediately warn everyone about your response.  To behave otherwise would result in irritated and or injured riders behind you.

When I was training for Ironman and doing 80 mile, 90 mile and 100 mile training rides, it was always easier to ride in a line with my friends.  Not only was it more efficient, but it also made the time pass faster because I was constantly changing position in the line.  I enjoyed riding in a line except when I was toast.  When I was toast, I just couldn’t summon the emotional energy necessary to pull.  When I was toast, I just wanted to hang my head in defeat, I just wanted to wiggle my nose and be home already.  I also witnessed this same phenomenon in my friends.  Some days someone would just burn out, and they wouldn’t be able to do any more pulling at all.  Even the strongest riders I rode with had days when they burnt out and we’d have to pull them on home.  It happened to everyone eventually.  The benefit of riding in a group was that you knew if it happened to you, you’d always have others who could pull you in to home; you’d always have someone else you could follow.  No rider was ever left behind.

Which brings me back to leadership.  Most leadership roles are not as well organized as a pace line.  Leadership doesn’t always rotate on 2 minute intervals and it doesn’t require 18 inches of space between tires.  Leadership isn’t about dodging stray dogs or snakes in the road. 

But leadership does require more physical and emotional energy than following.  Leadership does require you to scan your environment, decide how to respond, and communicate your direction.  Leadership requires you to pull others behind you, others who are perfectly happy to cruise inside your draft zone.  Leadership is more physically demanding than following. 

And so when I speak with people about leading more effectively, I want to know how they are managing their time and energy to build in recovery time.  I want to know how they have selected their target pace, and how well they are sticking to their target pace. 

More importantly, I want to know about their pace line.  Who are they riding with, and do they trust the other riders in their pace line?  I want to know if they are riding with people they feel comfortable following.  I want to know if they are riding with the right group, a group that will also maintain the target pace, avoid obstacles and eliminate crashes. 

I want to know if they are riding with people who will carry them home when they burn out and their head is hanging down on their handlebars and they are too tired to talk.  I want to know that the pace line has their back.

Every cyclist has bad days.  Every leader burns out.  These are guaranteed occurrences.  So I ask you, who’s in your pace line?  Do you trust them enough to follow them?  Will they help you perform better than you would have done alone?

If you want to be a strong leader, either to lead yourself or others, then follow Lance Armstrong's example and make sure you have a strong pace line.  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What's Your Anchor?

How do you know what you are capable of? I’m wondering about specific skills – like running or lifting weights, or other specific tactical skills. If you are trying something brand new for the first time – how do you know your starting point? Take for example, running. If someone asked you “How far can you run in 10 minutes without stopping?” -- How would you know how to guesstimate your answer? Would you guess how far you used to run 10 years ago? Would you ask how far your coworker or neighbor ran in 10 minutes and base your answer off of that? Would you ask how far the fastest person ran? Or perhaps you’d ask about the slowest person. This is what psychologists and economists call anchoring. Your starting reference point is the anchor that you start with, that you compare things against. Economists LOVE to conduct experiments where they manipulate your anchors in order to change your behavior.

What I’m really curious about is this -- what is your default frame of reference when something is new to you? On what anchor do you base your estimate of your own capabilities? Are you aggressive or conservative? Ambitious or cautious? Do you start out with high expectations or low expectations for yourself?

If you understand these things about yourself, you will better be able to understand how to motivate yourself to take action. By knowing this, you can better structure your life and tasks in order to accomplish your goals. If you know you are competitive, you can set up situations to compete. If you are easily intimated, you can allow yourself to practice in private. If you need to build confidence, you can schedule lessons with a trainer to learn a new skill. If you have very little fear, you can go sign up for a 10k race and just run it. No matter your personality type and your approach, knowing your personality type will help you manage your own strengths and limitations in a constructive way. In other words, you can use yourself to help yourself. But first you have to know yourself.

I have to confess that I am a competitive person. I really really don’t like this about myself and I wish this quality of myself was different. But this competition thing keeps showing up, in several different areas of my life. My starting anchor tends to be “Whatever the other person accomplished.” Whatever she did, I can do better. Or longer.  Or faster.  Even when I started learning to golf for the first time last year, I immediately wanted to golf as well as my family and friends. My anchor was how well other people golfed.  Whatever their score was, I thought that should be my score.  Golf doesn't work that way however, much to my continuous frustration.

This morning, I was traveling for work and visited a CrossFit gym in Houston. This was a brand new gym I was unfamiliar with, and I got lost on the Houston freeways two times trying to find it. But I found it, and after I arrived I saw there were 20 people who showed up for the 6:00 AM class. Yes, I was intimidated, since everyone else knew each other and I was used to much smaller classes. No matter though – the class immediately began and soon we were all throwing heavy weighted balls high against the wall. After 50 throws of the weighted ball, we ran around the block and then stretched and then did the main workout: 4 rounds of the rowing machine (500 meters) + 10 pushups, as fast as possible. After 15 minutes I was hot and sweaty and tired and ready to fall over. I thought the class was over, but no such luck. After a three minute rest, then came the informal competition: handstands against the wall. There were 10 people in my group, and once we were all doing handstands against the wall, the clock started. The challenge was to hold your handstand longer than everyone else.

Now if you had asked me before class how long I could do a handstand, I would have had NO IDEA. I really had no possible frame of reference, I had no anchor. I had never tried to do an endurance handstand before. As soon as we started, I kicked my feet up to the wall and waited. Almost immediately, a couple people had fallen over. Within 20 seconds, another couple people were down. Then another few people were down. By the one minute mark, there were only 2 of us left. Me and another woman in a green shirt. She was about 10 yards away from me, but I could turn my head sideways to see her. And if you had asked me at that point, how long I could hold a handstand, here’s how I would have answered: “I have no idea how long I can do a handstand, but I guarantee you it’s at least 3 seconds longer than she can do.” With only one other woman left, there was NO WAY I was going to fall over first. I was just that stubborn. Even though my arms and shoulders were in major pain and I could no longer feel my hands, I was not going to give in, I was not going to get beat. After another ten seconds, I was in agony. I wanted to come down, but I refused. I saw all the guys standing around watching us, and there were only the two of us left. I wondered if it was possible for my arms to simply collapse on their own.

Finally, the woman in green fell over. Immediately, the trainer came over to me, to encourage me to keep going. But I was done. Within about five seconds of the other woman quitting I came down. I had no more reason to stay up and I was in pain, so I came down. My stubbornness only lasted as long as there was someone else to beat. As soon as I was the only one left, I had no reason to keep on enduring the pain. As soon as I outlasted the competition, I could quit.

Now I know with 100% certainty – I need other people to motivate me. I need other people to challenge me. I need to train with people who are faster and stronger than me. I will push myself more when surrounded by others, than I will when I’m alone. I may not like this fact about myself, but this is the truth. And by knowing the truth about myself, I can use this truth to organize my training in order to get stronger.

No more working out alone in my garage gym. No more solitary runs or bike rides. If I really want to get fitter, I need to train with people who are faster than me. I might not be able to hang with them all the time, and I might be the one who falls over first, but by training with stronger people, I can put my stubborn nature to good use. Even the things I don’t like about myself can be used for positive benefit.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Changing Some Things Around Here

There are two important facts that I've been thinking about lately.

1. The very act of observing something changes the behavior of that something. Observation by itself influences behavior.
2. In research study after research study, people who have a strong social network are more successful in accomplishing their goals. They also live longer, and are physically healthier.

I've been thinking about these in light of my own health/fitness goals. I've been doing CrossFit at home for the past year, but it just hasn't been the same as when I went to the CrossFit gym and did the classes. CrossFit is an interesting phenomenom, in that the "group culture" of CrossFit is almost as important as the physiology of it. CrossFit gyms have popped up all over the country over the past 4-8 years, and strong social networks have emerged around these barebones gyms. CrossFit isn't just about working the intense routines, it's also about doing it with others, so that every workout is a peer challenge.
I like to tell myself that I can push myself as much at home as I did in the class, but this just isn't true. Because the fact of having someone watch you workout, by its very nature, changes the way you work out. Being observed raises the ante.

So... tomorrow morning I am going back to the world of gyms. I'm going to try a new gym that does CrossFit classes early weekday mornings - they have a 5:00 am class and a 6:00 am class. This gym is only 8 minutes away from our house, so I can't complain about the inconvenience.
I think this is a turning point for me and I'm cautiously optimistic. I'm also curious to see how much peer pressure will cause me to push myself more.

Stay tuned for a full report tomorrow.

What We Can Learn From Serial Killlers

Mike and I are currently addicted to the show "Criminal Minds." Previous additions include: The Wire, and The West Wing. We get the DVDs from Netflix and avoid all the commercials. We just finished the second season - the show is about a team of psychologists in the FBI, who profile serial killers. We like it because the story lines are pretty interesting, the characters are intriguing and quirky, and the whole show is just very well done, although it is a little dark.

One recent episode profiled a very bizarre sociopath. He was bizarre for many reasons, among them the fact that we kept a rib bone from every person that he killed. But apparently sociopaths completely lack the ability to feel any real emotion, especially love and empathy. One could wonder about the relationship between lack of emotion and lack of morality - does one cause the other? - but that would be a tangent. The interesting comment was made by the FBI team lead, during the investigation. Someone had been speculating about the "trigger" that caused this particular killer to start killing again after a break. The FBI team lead speculated that it was probably something in his environment, and he went on to explain that, "Genetics account for about 1/3 of our behavior, our cognitive psychology accounts for about 1/3 of our behavior, and our environment accounts for about 1/3 of our behavior."

I found this simple summary to be so useful, especially in light of so many recent discoveries about genetics. The more we learn about our genetics, the more confusing it can be to understand how much of our behavior is fate, and how much is open to willpower. The whole concept of "gene expression" is so intriguing, and I believe we are just scratching the surface of neuroscience. Furthermore, there has been a host of research lately, demonstrating the important of early childhood environment for shaping behavior later in life.

So I find this explanation to be right on the money, and more nuanced than the typical nature/nurture debate. It's more useful and accurate because it separates our psychology from our environment. I think of the 1/3 that is our cognitive psychology to be the most interesting 1/3 shaping our behavior, because I think we understand it the least. I also call this 1/3, the "ability the reframe" things in our life. This is how we think about things that happen to us, and how we think about the things that are important to us. Simply by changing how we think about things can change things. This can be the simplest thing, but in reality it is the hardest. It's hard because we don't understand how to do it, and we don't think of it as a skill that needs to be learned.

But I think cognitive psychology skills ARE skills that we could all teach, and learn, and practice. Not just for people who are experiencing dysfunctional behavior, but for everyone. If we could think about thinking as a particular skillset, we could practice it, and we could improve at it.

Unfortunately, our thinking habits are largely invisible to us, and so we overlook these habits.

But if we want to change our behavior, this is the aspect over which we have the most influence.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Dear Charly...

(After a two week vacation, the blog is back in regular business!)

Dear Charly,

I just want to say thank you. Thank you for EVERYTHING.

Thank you for NOT pooping at the dog park today, because I didn't have a bag to pick it up. Your dad kept encouraging you to poop but he was just stirring up trouble. Thanks for keeping it all in tonight!

Thanks for being so high energy that you take me running every week. I really enjoy our morning runs, and I really love the new jogging dog leash that connects you to my waist so I can run without holding your leash.

Thanks for playing in the pool with your dad. He smiles more when you two are swimming in the pool than any other day of the week. I think your dad likes swimming with you more than you do.

Thank you for not having stinky dog farts - we love the fact that you don't smell bad like a doggy dog.

Thank you for snuggling next to me on the couch. I love having your head on my lap while you sleep.

Thank you for not jumping up on our bed, but sleeping next to us in your dog bed. That works out so much better for us.

Thanks for gaining weight. When we adopted you, you were pretty scrawny and recovering from health problems. But now you are strong and healthy and you've put on muscle and your coat is shiny and thick. You have recovered so well from your "life before" and we're glad you are healthier now.

Thank you for keeping me company when I'm working in the office. It's nice to have you next to me.

Thanks for taking your dad for morning walks. I'm always inspired when he gets up before dawn to take you to the park. I think his day turns out better after your morning walks. He really loves you.

Thank you for hanging your head out the window when we ride in the car. The picture of your face out the window represents pure bliss and happiness, which makes my heart happy.

Thank you for behaving so well at the dog park. Even when the other dogs took away your frisbee and then they tried to steal your ball, you avoided a fight. You were very diplomatic and well behaved - yeah!

Thank you for sleeping at your dad's feet in front of the TV and keeping him company when he watches golf. He likes it when you keep him company.

Above all, thanks for making us a family. We love watching you sleeping on the couch, sleeping on the floor, we love swimming with you, walking with you and running with you. We love coming home to you after our wonderful vacation. 1 + 1 + Charly = family.

Thanks for coming into our life. We're so glad we can give you a better life and we're grateful to you for making our life better. It's only been three months, but time flies when life is good.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Workout - 8/30/10

Had a great Monday morning workout. Ran 25 minutes with Charly, with his new leash, which goes around my waist. Since his leash is now connected at my waist, I no longer have to hold his leash in my hand while I run. Good times! I liked the new leash, and so did he :-)

Then I did a 20 minute CrossFit workout, which kicked my ass. Did a variation of another workout, so I improvised. In 20 minutes, I had do as many rounds as possible of the following:

10 Push Press - with 75 lbs on the bar
10 Pull ups
10 box jumps

I finished 6 rounds within the 20 minutes, and then I collapsed. You would think I would be stronger by now, but at least there is satisfaction in just finishing a good workout.

Another week off to a good start.

Workout - 8/29/10

Sunday = Day off! Woo hoo! Since I had worked out 6 days in a row, I took Sunday off, and helped Mike start celebrating his birthday....!

We golfed early, had a birthday breakfast, then a nap, then swimming in the pool, and then a really nice pasta dinner - yummy! Watched a movie after dinner.

It was a totally mellow, calm, wonderful Sunday.

Total workout time for the week was around 6.5 hours. Pretty solid, and consistent. I'll take it.

Workout - 8/28/10

Yes, I really did workout on Saturday - I did a 90 minute bike ride. Started around 8:30 am - it was warm, but decent out, I was able to avoid the heat. Nice ride, nice morning.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Workout - 8/27/10

I REALLY did NOT want to workout today. Really I didn't.  It was my Friday off from work, so I used the morning to sleep in and read and laze around the house.

Finally at 11:00 am it was make or break time. Workout or no? It was already 90 degrees, so running was out. That meant CrossFit.

I picked an oldy but goody CrossFit workout - called "Fight Gone Bad." The CF workouts with names are particularly bad - this one is so named because by the end you will want to collapse on the ground, as if you'd just lost a bad fight.

3 rounds - you do each set for 1 minute, and you do as many reps as possible within that 1 minute:

Wall ball throws
Sumo deadlift high pulls (I did 55 lbs)
Box jumps (18" box)
Push press (I did 75 lbs)
Rowing machine (my watts averaged 135, 134, 142)
1 minute rest

(repeat for a total of 3 sets)

In the "real" CF gyms, you are supposed to keep track of your reps and total the final number - highest number is the best. But for me, when I work this hard, my brain stops working and I lose track of reps. Let's just say that I worked hard and collapsed at the end.

Total time was only about 20 minutes - but it was INTENSE. Here's the photo of my sweat mark on the mat when I finished.  Can you say "ready for the summer heat to be over"? Seriously, August must be the worst month in Arizona.

Workout - 8/26/10

Normally, I have a standing work meeting every Thursday morning, which required me to be in my office by about 7:15 am. Which means I don't workout those morning, since I have a 35 minute commute to work, that would cross the line into "WAY TOO EARLY" for exercise.

But this week, that meeting was cancelled! And since Mad Dog is used to walking Charly on Thursday mornings, I used my morning time to sneak in another bike ride. Yeah! 80 minute ride, up and down some hills.

Since we'd had a REAL monsoon the night before, the desert was clear and crisp and it was gorgeous out.  Yeah for Thursday bike rides!

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Keep Calm & Carry On

I just read a great blog posting about this phrase "Keep Calm & Carry On." I had no idea that this was a war poster in England - you can see the graphic here:
In any case, Steven Pressfield has a terrific treatise on how this mantra can be an antidote to our creative resistance, insecurities and doubt. As he explains, both artists and entrepreneurs can expect to find sticking points - times when we get stuck and want to quit. All of these common sticking points are predictable and can be overcome with discipline.

I guess I need to work on my discipline. Because I am FAR too prone to getting stuck...

Workout - Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Morning workout was pretty nice - somewhat cooler after the rain we had last night.

30 minute run with Charly - today I did sprints - 6 fast intervals with rest inbetween

(Charly did great with all that sprinting)

25 minutes Crossfit: 4 rounds as fast as possible:

20 Kettlebell swings
10 pullups
10 pushups
run 200 yards

Time was 22:56

Overall, a good workout - lots of sweating. Once again, the rest of the day was downhill from there...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Workout - Tuesday, August 24, 2010

I actually got OUT OF BED at 5:05 this morning. Whew that is early!

Was on my bike outside by 5:30 am, and rode a good 70 minutes. Nice morning, not much traffic, did a hilly ride with some good tunes on the ipod.

Was a good start to the day, which just went downhill from there...

Monday, August 23, 2010


Awesome quote from The 4-Hour Workweek, by Timothy Ferriss:

"Being busy is a form of laziness - lazy thinking and indiscriminate action."

"Lack of time is actually a lack of priorities."

(page 75)

This book is really going to change my life - I can already tell.

Productivity Issues

Newsflash: I spend too much time online being unproductive. As do most of us. I'm easily distracted and immensely curious, so I can spend hours browsing from site to site.

I'm doing 2 things to combat this.

(1) I have downloaded to track where and how I spend all my computer time. It seems like a great free application, which will give me plenty of data about exactly how unproductive I am being. Great.

(2) I'm going back to making lists. Lists for the week and lists for the day. This keeps me focused on just those things that I need to get accomplished. I need more focus.

Bonus Points: for my upcoming San Diego escape vacation, I'm toying with the idea of not taking my macbook with me. 8 whole days without my laptop? That would be really hard, but maybe it will shift my focus. Because I'm realizing that while I'm taking IN a whole lot of information online, I'm spending much less time doing productive work that results in output.

Too much input = not enough output.

Herbert Simon (winner of nobel prize in economics) says this all better than me:

"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence, a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."

The short version of that quote = a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention.

This describes so much of our modern world.... we have a poverty of attention.

Workout - Monday, August 23, 2010

Morning workout:

1.  30 minute run with Charly.  

2.  20 minute CrossFit workout.

CrossFit - 3 rounds of the following:

- 10 full cleans (75 lbs on bar)
- 10 wall ball throws with 16 pound ball
- run sprint (about a 2:00 interval in the neighborhood)

Workout was good - I was DRENCHED by the end.  Decided to break down and buy a runner's leash for Charly, so I can connect his leash to my waist instead of having to hold his leash while I run.  We'll see how the new leash works out. 

Workout - Sunday, August 22, 2010

No workout on Sunday. Second miss of the week. In my defense, I was up at 4:45 am to go golfing. And after golfing, I had a long "to do" list.  At some point in the afternoon I had to choose between nap or exercise. The nap won out. No regrets about that.

Total for the week was just about 7 hours of exercise. Not terrible but not outstanding. But a good start, and I won't complain.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Workout - Saturday, August 21, 2010

Saturday was rough - had so many opportunities to NOT workout.  But I did - I pushed through the excuses!  Did a 2 hour bike ride, all along the north side of Tucson.  Fair number of hill climbs, and since I didn't start until 10:00 am, it was HOT and HUMID.  Yucky.  But I had good tunes on the iPod and it was a nice day.  Also forgot sunscreen, so I got some sunburn on my shoulders.  

Yeah for weekend exercise. 

Friday, August 20, 2010

A Few of My Favorite Places

Several people have asked me recently which blogs I read. I read a lot, and I don't have them all bookmarked on the same computer - that would require some degree of organization that I don't currently demonstrate. That would also be the same degree of organization that I WISHED I demonstrated. Not enough hours in the day....

Instead, I'll share a few of my favorite blogs each week - this way you can check them out a few at a time.

Some of my favorite blogs involve very regular daily postings. As in posting every day or almost every day. Impressive. Two of these blogs are:

1000 Awesome Things:

TXS, A Thank You Note a Day:

My favorite weekly blog is Post Secret - updated every Sunday:

I guess I could try to organize my blog links and finally get around to setting up an RSS reader. Jeez I feel lazy....

Workout - Friday - 8/20/10

Great workout this morning.

45 minute run with Charly.

CrossFit workout - 4 rounds as fast as possible:

20 box jumps

10 thrusters (70 lbs) (weight lifting move with olympic bar)

50 squats

Time was 21:05. I can feel my legs tonight - sore already.

Workout - Thurs - 8/19/10

No workout Thursday - went home sick from work and curled up in a ball on the couch and went to sleep after work.  I'm going to call these kinds of days, "Girl Days" and just leave it at that. 

Some days are just this way. 

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Workout - August 18, 2010

20 minute run with Charly, + 20 minute CrossFit workout.

CrossFit = 25 each of the following (as fast as possible):

Wall ball throws
Kettle bell swings
Weighted lunges
Box jumps

Time: 17:48

Then I did another 5 minutes of lifting.  Off to start the day....

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Workout - August 17, 2010

Cycled for 80 minutes this morning before work - a fairly hilly ride.  Don't know my mileage, since my bike computer has been missing for the past year.  Don't know my heart rate, since I've stopped wearing my heart rate monitor.  I've become such a total slacker!

It was a beautiful sunny humid Tucson morning.  Good tunes on the ipod and a good start to the day.

Still on track to the weekly training plan....

Monday, August 16, 2010

Workout - August 16, 2010

45 minute run with Charly + CrossFit

CF Workout = 10 rounds for time:
10 heavy deadlifts (100 lbs)
10 pushups
10 box jumps

Time = 23:12

Sunday, August 15, 2010

2 awesome things

Awesome = having at least one day each week where you can turn off all the alarms and just sleep until you naturally wake up. That way, you can wake up whenever your body has had enough sleep. It's a natural way to catch up on lost sleep and replenish the body. No alarm clocks is just so wonderful.

Awesome = cold stella draft on a hot summer day. Just perfect.

Workout of the Day = None

It's day 1 of this new habit thing and I didn't exercise. I stink. At least I'm being honest. The truth is, we didn't get home until 4:00 and then we had to put back all the furniture (after having the house painted), I had to pick up Charly, unpack, do laundry and it was 104 degrees out. So I'm lame and I didn't workout. In order to atone for this, I just sat down and figured out my workouts for this entire week. Here is the plan:

Monday:          Run 45 minutes + CrossFit 30 minutes (5:30 am)
Tuesday:         Cycle 90 minutes (5:30 am)
Wednesday:   Run 30 minutes + CrossFit 30 minutes (5:30 am)
Thursday:        Spinning class at the gym 60 minutes (6:00 pm)
Friday:             Run 30 minutes + CrossFit 30 minutes (5:30 am)
Saturday:        Cycle 90 minutes (6:30 am)
Sunday:          rest day / golf

Total for all this is 7 hours. My triathlete friends will probably scoff at such a light schedule, but hey it is what it is. I typically start the week of well, but then as work gets busy and I get tired and the heat continues, it gets easier to hit snooze in the morning. But no more snooze! I'm going to be consistent and workout every day this week and I'm going to post all about it.

Here's to consistent habits!

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Goals Versus Habits

"A goal creates achievement, celebration and good vibes on the day it is ticked off. A well tended habit creates consistent, incremental and exponential success over a lifetime."

- Peter Shallard

I have worked with people for many years to figure out their goals, and then work to accomplish those goals. And I have spent decades pursuing my own goals. What I've learned from all my experiences is that habits are far, far more important than goals. And our goals are truly MOST effective, when we use them as motivation to establish consistent HABITS. 

When I set myself a goal to do an Ironman triathlon, the fear of that ambitious goal caused me to get my butt out of bed and train every morning. For four entire years. During those four years, I tracked all my workouts, I totaled all my mileage and training hours and heart rate intervals. Yes, I spent a lot of time exercising/training, but I also spent a lot of additional time PLANNING my exercise, and setting up tools to establish consistent habits. When I crossed the finish line of my first Ironman, it was somewhat anti-climactic, primarily because I felt that I had already accomplished what I set out to do, way before I crossed the finish line. I had become healthy, fit, and strong, during those four years of training. Every morning that I got up out of bed to run or bike was a success for me. The goal almost became an after-thought, because it was the actual habits that had changed my life.

Goals are useful if they lead us to design and implement good habits. But habits are what actually create change in our life. Habits are what actually create and generate the life that we want.

Whenever I coach people, I try to work with them to establish habits that will establish consistent patterns in their life. Some people understand this and embrace this, while other people resist this. Many people understand this concept intellectually, but are not ready to actually commit to new habits. These are what I call FLAKY people. There are a LOT of flaky people in the world - people who like to talk about their goals, but are unwilling to establish good habits.  I'll have another entire post to share soon exploring this flakiness.

I don't want to be a flaky person. And I want to exercise more consistently for the rest of this year. Since I don't have an Ironman goal to motivate me, I need some other motivation and accountability. Therefore, I'm going to commit to post my daily exercise on this blog every day for the next 60 days. I'll post my workout after it is complete and if I miss/skip a workout, I'll post that too. This should keep me accountable to people other than myself. I'll consider this an experiment in public accountability.

My goal is to exercise 6 days a week, with a combination of cardio workouts and CrossFit workouts - at least 3 CrossFit workouts a week. My target will be 6 hours of exercise per week.

Of course I'm starting this commitment today, when I'm "on vacation" at a luxury resort, without any running shoes or exercise clothes. I did get a full body massage, which I'm going to categorize as preparation work, to get ready for more regular training. I heart massages.

So officially: no workout today *** since I don't consider golf to be exercise.

The habit experiment starts today.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Who Are Your Heroes?

I recently read an interesting blog post about ambition among writers. The gist of the posting is that idol worship / celebrity worship / hero worship actually disrespects the people being worshipped. Furthermore, worshipping others can be of way of denying our own strengths. The full posting can be found here:

His thesis is that icon worship is a form of creative resistance. When we endow others with exceptional powers/talents/skills, we avoid embracing those powers/talents/skills within ourself. And this is a form of creative resistance.
I absolutely believe this is true. I can think of many examples where people assign power/talent to someone other than themselves, as a way of avoiding self responsibility.

However, I also believe that there is a value in hero worship, if used in the right manner. When we really sit down and thoughtfully reflect, in order to figure out who our heroes are, we can identify those strengths/talents/skills we value, we desire, we want to be better at. Think of it this way - our heroes can be thought of as the people we want to be when we grow up. And if we know exactly who we want to be when we grow up, we are better equipped to become that person. I'm not talking about mimicing someone, I'm talking about being truly, incredibly authentic. I'm talking about being militantly true to our own talents and values.

I actually have a folder of bookmarks that I have labelled "heroes." Over the past few years, I have been compiling a list of links to people I respect for their professional and creative lives. Not necessarily their accomplishments, those are less important to me. I've been focused on the lifestyles, These are people who have established positive creative habits, people who have worked in diverse industries, people who have invented their own career path, people who have created new networks. By making a list of people I highly respect and am inspired by, I can analyze what they have in common and where their paths diverge. It's like having my own imaginary group of mentors.

When I have more time this week, I'll share that list of bookmarks. The caveat is that my list of heroes will be different than anyone else.

I believe that figuring out who we respect and knowing who inspires us, can provide a shining light to illuminate our own best path.

Do you know who your heroes are?

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How Long to Trust?

Our new dog Charly - is a wonderful chocolate lab. He's about 3 years old and we're really proud of two things: we have successfully taught him not to jump up on the bed, and we have taught him to swim in the pool. Ok, so we bribed him with the swimming thing by using his favorite pink basketball as bait. But it worked, and he's now a great pool dog. Right now he's sound asleep, worn out from two different swim sessions today. You could say he is dog tired :-)

Charly was a rescue dog - he was rescued from Nogales, Arizona. He was in foster care for about a month before we adopted him, and he had suffered from several health issues. Ear infections, skin infections, you name it. He still has one cut in his ear that is 95% healed. Now he's also trying to recuperate from "Happy Tail Syndrome" - because he's wacked his tail so hard he's created two bleeding sores on the tip of his tail. Apparently this is common, but if we can't get it healed, we might have to amputate the tail. Oh, the perils of being a happy dog!

Anyway, the point of this background is that we don't know what Charly's life was like before us. We just know it was rough. He was scrawny and underweight when we got him, and his coat was really thin. Now he's a healthy weight and he's strong from twice a day walks. He's got a good life here, a great life really, and we love him.

However, sometimes when Mike goes to pet Charly, and he has his hand raised to do the petting, Charly will flinch and pull away. This drives Mike crazy, because he has never ever even come close to raising his hand against Charly. It also makes us sad. Because we can only assume that someone else did raise their hand against Charly, for why else would be flinch from us?

The thing I wonder, is not what happened to make Charly flinch, but how long will he need to live with us until he can learn to trust us completely? How long will it take him to unlearn the flinching? I don't need to know what happened to Charly - I can only assume bad things happened, but I want to generate trust with Charly. I want him to forget the bad stuff and learn to trust us, so he can relax.

How long will this take and is it a function of time alone? Or is there anything we can do to accelerate this process?

Of course, the corollary question is about people - and how long does it take people to relearn trust after they have been hurt? I'm not referring only to physical pain, but also emotional pain. I know a lot of people who have been hurt, or disappointed. And I wish there was some way to accelerate the trust process. I know there is no formula for this, and I'm not wishing for one. I'm just wishing I could do more to accelerate this process. It's hard to just be patient and wait. I'm an active person and I always want to know what I can do. Doing is easier than waiting.

As for Charly, I will just continue to love him, and continue to hug him. I'm not going anywhere, and I have plenty of love to share.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Every No Can Lead To Yes

There are some people in the world who have a hard time saying no to anything. We all know these people who overcommit, who say yes to everything and are always exhausted and stressed out. In coaching school we learned all about how saying no is an actual skill that can be learned. Saying no means to decline something, and declining can require strength, courage, and grace. Some people are afraid to say no, for different reasons. They might be afraid to disappoint someone, they might be afraid to miss out on something, they might be afraid to close the door on possibility.

Over the past few months, I've had two opportunities where I said no. These were job opportunities. I took my time thinking about each one before I said no, and during the decision phase, I realized that saying no to each opportunity was actually helping me to say yes, to something very different.

I think people are afraid to say no to options, because saying no can actually help you find your yes. Every no closes a fork in the road. As each of the forks in the road closes, it gets easier to see which fork remains open. In other words, saying no can give you clarity about you should be saying yes to. Saying no helps illuminate the alternate route. Saying no helps you focus on yes, and it gives you clearer vision. Saying no to option A can lead you to say yes to option B.

Therefore, we should all practice saying no more often. Because saying no can lead you to your next yes.

In addition to the recent job opportunities, I can think of three other times in my life when saying no helped me say yes.

1) When I left Honduras in 1999, I knew that I was saying no to living overseas any longer. I wasn't sure what would come next, but leaving Honduras was like shouting a big loud "no" to the universe. No more living overseas. Once I said no to Honduras, I was able to get busy figuring out what to say yes to. That departure from Honduras was one of the largest turning points in my life, and saying no to overseas led to the opening of many other doors.

2) When I left the teaching profession in the year 2000, I was saying no to many things. I was saying no to poverty, no to low teaching standards and standardized tests, no to frustration and disappointment. As much as I loved education, and still consider myself an educator, I was incredibly dissatisfied working in the public schools. Once I said no to the public schools, my career trajectory changed significantly. Now, 10 years later, I'm still an educator, just in the corporate setting. And saying no to the public schools was necessary for me to create an alternate path I could say to.

3) About five years ago, I said no to a certain career path. I had been offered a few job opportunities, which would have taken me into a new career. Every time someone talked to me about this specific type of job, I wanted to puke or poke nails in my eyeballs or run screaming away into the desert. Several people had confirmed my strong potential for this career path, yet it held absolutely no interest for me. It wasn't aligned with my natural interests and passions. I knew I was absolutely capable of doing the job, I knew I could be great at it. And I was certain that I would be miserable. So after saying no to two or three of those opportunities, I knew I had to find my yes. I had to find something that I DID want to pursue, something that I could excel at AND care about. So I did just that, I went and created my own yes at work.

The act of saying no can be a signal that you need to find your yes. The act of saying no can mean that you need to go create your next yes. In my life, saying no tells me that I need to go find my yes and if I can't find it I need to create it.

Since I've said no to two job opportunities during the past couple months, I've been busy figuring out my next yes. Figuring out my next yes is about more than just my job. It's about my whole lifestyle and my future path. This next fork in the road is going to be big, it's going to be important, and it's going to shape my life.

Despite the uncertainty of everything right now, I can take comfort from my past experiences. Every time I have said no to something, I have been led to a better yes. Every time I trusted myself and listened to myself, and followed my heart, it has led me somewhere positive.

No can lead to yes. Declining something that is wrong can lead to something that is right. Have faith, and practice saying no.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


I am far too tired tonight to write a long post. So I'll keep it simple with a great song lyric from The Indigo Girls:

The greatest gift in life is to know love.

Bonus points to anyone who can name the song.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


I have worked at a large corporation for the past 9 years and I have never really given much thought to the world of entrepreneurs. However, a few months ago I started paying more attention to the world of entrepreneurs. I subscribed to INC magazine, and I've been reading more books and profiles about them. It has been a huge realization for me to discover that this lifestyle is for many people an intentional choice about how to design their life. For many people, being an entrepreneur is more about designing their life than it is about designing their work. And as I gain more scars from the corporate world each month, I'm coming to appreciate the freedom and autonomy that entrepreneurs experience. The freedom they have could be worth the risks.

Here are a few quotes I read recently that struck me as insightful and eye opening.

"Being an entrepreneur can represent a means of exploring the world, one that is just as profound as religious inquiry or Greek philosophy or New Age introspection." - Tim O'Reilly

"Right now, I have this tool that I can use to make stuff happen. If I sold it, I'd just have money."    - Tim O'Reilly

"Above all, life entrepreneurship is an adventure. It doesn't just arise from need, but from desire --to be something more, to create something new, to explore beyond the usual boundaries. It's an appeal to all of us to become our best selves...
...the opportunities for challenge, contribution and fulfillment are there; we just have to grab them."       - Warren Bennis

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Joy Costs Pain

I HIGHLY recommend this book: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, by Donald Miller.  Go read this book.  Rather than describe the story, the characters, the plot, I'll just share some of the best quotes.  Enjoy.

"A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it."

"I've wondered though, if one of the reasons we fail to acknowledge the brilliance of life is because we don't want the responsibility inherent in the acknowledgement.  We don't want to be characters in a story because characters have to move and breathe and face conflict with courage.  And if life isn't remarkable, then we don't have to do any of that; we can be unwilling victims rather than grateful participants."

"Once you know what it takes to live a better story, you don't have a choice.  Not living a better story would be like deciding to die, deciding to walk around number until you die, and it's not natural to want to die." 

"Our interaction with each other, with the outside world, and with intangible elements such as time made us different people every season... people get stuck, thinking they are one kind of person, but they aren't... the human body essentially recreates itself every six months.  Nearly every cell of hair and skin and bone dies and another is directed to its former place... we were designed to live through something rather than to attain something, and the thing we were meant to live through was designed to change us.  The point of a story is the character arc, the change."  

"A character is what he does."  

"People love to have lived a great story, but few people like the work it takes to make it happen.  But joy costs pain."  

"Robert McKee says humans naturally seek comfort and stability.  Without an inciting incident that disrupts their comfort, they won't enter into a story.  They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon.  A ring has to be purchased.  A home has to be sold.  The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen."  

"The great stories go to those who don't give in to fear."

"It made me wonder if the reasons our lives seem so muddled is because we keep walking into scenes in which we, along with the people around us, have no clear idea what we want."

"The world needs for us to have courage.  The world needs for us to write something better."  

"The ambitions we have will become the stories we live.  If you want to know what a person's story is about, just ask them what they want.  If we don't want anything, we are living boring stories..."  

"You didn't think joy could change a person did you?  Joy is what you feel when the conflict is over.  But it's conflict that changes a person... you put your characters through hell.  You put them through hell.  That's the only way we change."  

"When something bad happens to you, you have two choices in how to deal with it.  You can either get bitter or better."

"I think this is when most people give up on their stories.  They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies.  But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought.  They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward.  None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger.  They take it out on their spouses and they go looking for an easier story."

"The story of the forest is better than the story of the tree."  

"A good movie has memorable scenes, and so does a good life."  

"A good storyteller speaks something into nothing.  Where there is an absence of story, or perhaps a bad story, a good storyteller walks in and changes reality.  He doesn't critique the existing story, or lament about his boredom, like a critic.  He just tells something different and invites people into the story he is telling."

"The trip taught us that we were all neighbors, that my life is connected to everybody else's, that on person's story has the power to affect a million others."

"It's interesting that in the Bible, in the book of Ecclesiastes, the only practical advice given about living a meaningful life is to find a job you like, enjoy your marriage and obey God. It's as though God is saying, Write a good story, take someone with you, and let me help."  

"It's a good calling then, to speak a better story.  How brightly a better story shines.  How easily the world looks to it in wonder.  How grateful we are to hear these stories, and how happy it makes us to repeat them."