Saturday, January 29, 2011

Happiness Is...(part 2)

I've been doing a lot of writing lately in the old school style - in an actual notebook. Spiral bound. With a real ink pen and everything. And there's just something I still love about notebooks and paper. Don't get my wrong, I L...O...V...E my MacBook, yes I do, but I can't give up my love for paper. Especially when I'm flying on planes, because it's such a hassle to get the computer out and power it up with such little space. And then you have to power down for the landing, and it's all just so silly.

On a related tangent, I still haven't decided how I feel about ebooks. I know they are the future, I know that people love them and their marketshare is growing dramatically, but they just feel sort of fake to me. It's like a book isn't a book unless I can turn down the pages and put it on a bookshelf when I'm done. I am sure that I will convert eventually but for right now I'm still clinging passionately to the 1500 books in my library (Mad Dog claims that he actually counted all my books and I'll take his word for it).

So anyway, as I was writing in my old school notebook, I was capturing all the ideas I have for this blog and a soon-to-come expanded website. And I'm starting to brainstorm about several recurring series I'd like to organize here in the blog. One of the benefits of being new to blogging means I can totally experiment with different concepts and ideas and hopefully people will give me feedback.

One idea that I keep circling back to is related to a previous post from early January, "Happiness Is." I'm drawn to the simplicity of this concept - basic list making - because I think that happiness is both personal and straightforward. Even though a book search on "Happiness" at Amazon shows 20,820 results, and even though I have a masters degree in what some people call happiness research, I fundamentally believe that we don't need to complicate what makes us happy. I think that if we pay close attention to our lives, and we listen carefully to the individual moments that make up our days, we discover what makes us happy. I happen to believe we could all benefit from paying better attention to what makes us happy. I don't think we always need to search for happiness, as much as we need to remember it, and open up to it, and make room for it. In other words, listen more and chase less.

So I'd like to start a recurring series of "happiness lists" - from myself and other people. Yes I realize that other people publishing online have already taken different twists on this concept, and I'd encourage you to read them also - because there are just so many awesome websites out there today! Here's 3 of my personal favorites that you might enjoy:

The Happiness Project
1000 Awesome Things

With all that being said, here's my next Happiness list. Please feel free to add to the list in the comments, or share your feedback. I'm listening.

Happiness Is...

...Running a bath and getting the water temperature exactly right.
...Waking up in the morning, without an alarm clock, and feeling perfectly rested and alert.
...Finishing a round of golf in the late afternoon, when the shadows are long and the sun turns the mountains dark red.
...The first day of feeling healthy after two three weeks of being sick.
...Waiting for my luggage at baggage claim, and my suitcase is the first one out of the chute.
...Coming home after work to find that someone else cleaned my house.
...When I sit down on the couch and Charly comes over to give me a huge dog hug.
...When Mad Dog gives me flowers for absolutely no special occasion at all.
...Having an impromptu breakfast in Boston with a friend I hadn't seen in 9 months.
...Being in Boston during a terrible snowstorm, and on the day I'm supposed to fly home, my flight is the only flight NOT cancelled.
...Watching our amazing communities in Tucson pull together to support each other after such a senseless tragedy.
...Having a 9 hour work meeting end after 7 hours.
...Watching the sun set over the Tucson mountains, from the airplane as I'm flying home.

What's on your happiness list?

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Are You Serious About Your Life?

I've been doing a lot of blog reading lately, and I’m really impressed by how many high quality blogs are out there. I've also been looking around to hire some people: an accountant, a web designer, an attorney, etc. I’m not planning anything complicated, but I have been researching people, their services, and their philosophies about business.

Something interesting I've noticed is that in the world of small business, people use this phrase a lot: "When you are serious about your business, you .  This is interesting, because it seems there is a real and significant line in the sand between people who are SERIOUS about running their own business, and the people who are less serious about it. It strikes me that this is true about many things in life, not just running a business. Some people are serious about improving their health, and some people are not. Some people are serious about improving their relationships, while other people are not. But in all cases, there seems to be a level of seriousness that defines people who are taking action, versus people who are not taking action but are just doing a lot of talking. Actually, I think that action might be one of the key differentiators that separates the people who are truly serious.

Now that I've reflected on this concept of "seriousness" - I think there are several ways you can tell if someone is serious about their goals, their business, their health, their relationships, or anything else. Here is how I think you can tell if someone is serious about their goals.

Top 14 Ways I Can Tell If You Are Serious About Your Goals

1. You spend more time acting on your goals than you do talking about them.

Did you know there are 100,00 people in the USA who complete a marathon each year, but there are 200,000 who say they are going to run a marathon. Ok, not really – I just made up that statistic. But we all probably know someone who has made a grand declaration but never followed through on it. Hopefully you are not that person. It would be interesting if we could collect data to compare the number of times a week that we think about our goals, versus the number of times each week we take action towards our goals. We probably wouldn’t like the data that was collected. If you are serious about your goals then you are probably too busy taking action to do all that much talking anyway.

2. You hire people with expertise who can help you.

Going back to the marathon example, if you are a first time runner, you might want to work with a running coach or fitness trainer. If you are planning to grow your business, you might need the help of a marketing expert. When I was training for triathlons, I hired an online coach to develop my weekly training schedule. When you are serious about something, you know there are a lot of smart people with a lot of relevant expertise, and you are willing to hire those experts to help you.

3. You write out a schedule, with specific deadlines, and milestones.

If you are serious about your goals, then you should do know what you will accomplish and when you will accomplish it. If you can’t figure out any important milestones because your goals are too nebulous to create a schedule, then you are probably just daydreaming about your goals. You’re not serious. When you are serious, you know your specific products and deadlines. When I set out some of my 2011 goals, I identified specific milestones, with dates, and I committed to blog twice a week for 52 weeks. Even when I don’t really feel like it, I have a schedule to keep.

4. You set aside money to invest in your goals.

You really only have two things you can invest: your time and your money. And when you are serious about something in your life, then you are willing to invest money in it. Furthermore, you think about those dollars as an investment, an investment in yourself. Because you are investing in yourself, you are happy - even thrilled - to write that check. When I was doing Ironman triathlons, I made to make some significant investments: in a bike, in race registrations, in running shoes, and dozens of other things. All those things cost money. And they all showed that I was serious. This year, I invested money in new office furniture and I am THRILLED to have spent that money.

5. You set aside time to invest in your goals.

You really only have two things you can invest: your time and your money. And when it comes to accomplishing your goals, time is usually more valuable than money. Your time is scarce, and you probably have dozens of other priorities competing for your time. What’s that phrase about the urgent usually takes precedence over the important? Well when something IS important and you SERIOUS about your goals, then you set aside the time. Every day and every week. Time to run, or time to write, or time to spend on date night with your sweetheart. If I want to know what you are serious about, then I should be able to figure it by looking at your schedule for the past month.

6. When something else comes up, which would qualify as an EXCELLENT and justifiable distraction, you don't let yourself get distracted.

Let’s be honest here, there are dozens of awesome distractions available to us every single minute. The internet has enabled entirely new levels of procrastination. Even when you set aside a regular schedule to start that running plan, there’s always something else that might come up: that emergency at work, or the dog needs to go to the vet, or you suddenly ran out of milk, or your best friend decided to stop by and wants to go to happy hour. If you are serious about your goals, then you resist the distractions and focus on your plan. You will say no to your best friend for happy hour that night and you’ll schedule happy hour for a day when you won’t have to skip your 5 mile run. When you are serious, then NOTHING gets in your way and your friends will understand. That’s why they are your friends.

7. You ask for help from other people, because you know that you can learn from them.

When you are serious about your goals, you don't get jealous of other people. You have no need for jealousy, because you know you are on your own path and you will get to where you want to go. Which means that you are eager and curious to learn from other people. When you are serious, you want to soak up all the knowledge and wisdom that you can from everyone you know. When you are serious, you ask for help, you listen to what other people have to say, and you are appreciative of their support. When you are serious, you know that you won’t succeed alone. I recently scheduled a phone call with a good friend who just happens to develop websites. I picked her brain and I learned a ton, and she gave me lots of ideas to consider. When I was first buying a road bicycle, I asked for help from a friend of a friend I barely knew. But she was willing to help and even went bike shopping with me. Most people are willing to help, you just need to be willing to ask.

8. You don't use the word "maybe."

There is no ambivalence about your goals when you are serious. You might say something like "I am going to do xyz." You never say things like "I might run a marathon if I can find a good coach, and some running partners, and if I can find the time to train." Nope, that won't work because you have things backwards in that sentence. IF you are serious about running a marathon, THEN you WILL find a coach, and you WILL find running partners, and you WILL find time to train." When you are serious, there are no maybes. If you are serious, then you don’t flake out. Please: Don’t be a flake!

9. You don't get fazed by rejection or disappointment.
When you are serious, you are committed for the long haul, and you don't get fazed by short term obstacles or let downs. You find a way through the disappointment and you keep moving forward, you don't get stuck. You know that obstacles are just there to test your commitment and help you uncover what is most important. When you are serious, you will NOT be deterred. If you are training for your marathon and it’s raining on Sunday morning when you are supposed to run 12 miles, well then you go run those 12 miles in the rain. Or the snow. Or the mud. When you serious, you don’t let little silly things like weather get in your way.

10. When you describe your goal, you hold your head up and you make eye contact.

This reflects your commitment to the goal, and your faith in yourself. Body language speaks volumes, and when you are serious about your life, your body language indicates this. If your voice quivers or you can’t make eye contact, then you need to practice being serious. Look yourself in the mirror and practicing saying your goal out loud. Practice saying it to the person next to you on the airplane – practice saying it to the mailman or whoever, but when you say it out loud, say it like you mean it. Say it with your whole body.

11. You learn how to use the tools that you will need for your goals.

A golfer knows the difference between her driver and her 7 iron and her sand wedge. A cyclist knows how to change a tire and adjust their brakes and align their saddle. A runner knows the different between a tempo run and an interval run and a recovery run. Every sport and every discipline has its own tools. If you are serious about a goal, you’ll figure out which tools you need to learn and you’ll learn them. When I was first learning about cycling I sat through a 2 hour class about how to repair my bicycle chain. At the end of that class I concluded that the best way to fix my bicycle chain would be to hitch a ride home and take the bike chain to a bike shop. But hey, I learned how to use the chain tools, and then I memorized the phone number to the bike shop. My point is this: when you are serious about a goal in your life, then you will get smart about the tools you will need.

12. You start collecting critical data about your goal in order to track progress.

You can keep a list, or mark up your calendar, or find any way that works to track your progress on a regular basis. Ben Franklin had 13 virtues he wanted to improve in, so he created a daily matrix and scored himself on that matrix at the end of every day by how well he demonstrated those virtues. He tracked this for years. He was serious. No matter what your goal is, I’m sure you can figure out some data that you can track in order to measure your progress. And when you are doing great, be sure to give yourself a gold star.

13. You are disciplined about what you do every day.

If you are serious about your goals, then you will figure out a daily routine that supports your priorities. Some people I know exercise every day as soon as they wake up. Some people use the first 30 minutes of their day to write, or meditate, or walk. One person I know runs outside every day at lunch, no matter what. Routines are powerful things, and if we are serious about our goals, we will design a routine and stick to it. I had a friend who was committed to developing a better relationship with his kids, because he found that he was coming home too stressed out from work to be present with them. So he created a new routine where his entire drive home was silent – no radio, no music, no cell phone. Just 20 minutes of silence in the car, so when he arrived home he was relaxed and happy to play with his kids. Our routine doesn’t have to be complicated, but we do have to be disciplined about it.

14. At the end of the day, you did something you are proud of.

Maybe the best thing you did last week is you walked 3 miles. Or maybe you went to the gym every day, or you interviewed for a new job, or you bought a new computer or you paid off a debt or you sold a piece of your art. But if you are serious about your life, then you should have done something that moved you closer to your goal. And don’t discount your tiny accomplishments, because one small action every single day adds up over time, and we all have to start somewhere.

Now what do you think: Are you serious about your goals? If you aren’t serious, then why not, and what would it take for you to get serious?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Life Lessons From The Dog Whisperer

“Dogs are a vehicle to reconnect with a balanced state of mind.”

- Cesar Millan, aka “The Dog Whisperer”

Here at our house, we have a slight addiction to the Dog Whisperer – the show on the National Geographic Channel.  It features Cesar Millan, the superstar dog trainer, who I SWEAR is actually half dog, half human.  Cesar has an absolutely unique ability to connect to dogs, to understand what is going on with them, and then to help modify their behavior.  It’s sort of spooky how quickly he can “listen” to the energy of the dog and diagnose the situation.  However, most of his interventions focus on changing the behavior of the humans.  As he says on his show, “I rehabilitate dogs, and I train humans.”  In that way, Cesar is really just like a therapist, he helps people understand what is going on with their dog, but really he helps them understand what is going on with their life. 

As a side note, Cesar’s personal story is also amazing – he was an illegal immigrant who came across the California border and was basically broke and homeless when he first got a job washing dogs in Los Angeles.  His life story has just taken off since then. 

This past week we were watching one of the brand new episodes of the Dog Whisperer.  It occurred to me that while Mad Dog and I have very different perspectives on the world, we both have learned a tremendous amount from Cesar - it’s one of the things we agree on more frequently.  And I think that Cesar is an example of the fact that we can learn a great deal about how to live our lives from some of the most unexpected places.  So without further introduction, here are the top 6 life lessons we can learn from the Dog Whisperer. 

Lesson #1.  Most dog problems are fundamentally people problems. In order to modify the dog behavior, Cesar first has to understand what is going on with the human.  

What this means for everyone:  Whenever we examine a "problem" in our life - we need to look at everyone and everything around the problem.  Sometimes what we perceive to be the problem is really just the SYMPTOM of something else that is going on.  Dog misbehavior is a symptom of some other imbalance in our life.  If our child, or our coworker or our spouse is “misbehaving” – what else is going on that would cause that symptom?  We have to start with the root cause of the problem, not with the symptom.  

Lesson #2.  Most problems are related to the energy that we project.  Dogs just pick up on the energy we project.  They don’t understand our language, they only understand our energy.  When a dog is behaving poorly, we need to first identify the energy we are projecting that they are reacting to.  What's going on with our energy that is impacting the dog?

What this means for everyone:  Sometimes, we need to ignore the words and the language that someone says, and pay attention to the non-verbal dynamics that are doing on between people.  If we turn off the sound, and listen with our whole body, we can learn to hear what is really going on with our energy and the energy of the people around us. 

Lesson #3.  When a dog has learned a pattern of bad behavior, we can use the "power of the pack" to reteach them how other dogs behave better.  Cesar will frequently take the dog away and have them come live with his pack of dogs so they can learn new behaviors.  Sometimes, we are not the best teachers, but we need to figure out who else to use to teach (other dogs).  The re-training doesn't have to come from us, and sometimes it comes fastest from a group of other dogs.

What this means for everyone:  Sometimes, we need to find the right peer group to interact with when we want to make a life change.  Sometimes, we just can't make changes all alone, it’s just really really hard.  We should learn to USE the positive power of peer pressure to make positive changes in our life.  We need to find the right people who can teach us what we most want to learn and then surround ourselves by those people so we can learn from the right pack. 

Lesson #4.  Dogs have the potential to help humans heal their own challenges.  The dog is really just a mirror for what is going on with the human. 

What this means for everyone:  Anything – absolutely anything - in our life can help us heal and grow, if we open up to the possibility of that.  Our dog, our spouse, our manager, our child, our client or our neighbor - all of these people in our life can help us grow, IF we open up continually to our own growth.  

Lesson #5.  There is no magic wand.  Even though Cesar can come in to a home and diagnose the problem, the human has to do the real work to create the transformation and change the dog’s behavior.  Cesar can't do the work for them.  

What this means for everyone:  We have to be committed to our own change and know what we want to be different in our life.  When Cesar comes in to help someone, he always asks something to the effect, of "how can I help you" - and "what would improvement for your dog look like" -- so the human states right up front what is important to them.  Cesar then focuses his effort around helping them make that specific change. Similarly, we have to know what we want in our life and we have to be willing to "do the work" that is necessary.  

Lesson #6.  Transformation is always possible.  Cesar never ever gives up on any dog.  Sometimes, he gives up on trying to help the humans, but overall, he believes in the extraordinary potential of every dog.  Every dog is worth helping and every dog is capable of change. He particularly loves the big, powerful, aggressive breeds, possibly because they are so frequently misunderstood.   

What this means for everyone:  We should never give up on ourselves.  Change is always possible.  We just need to try different approaches and be clear about what outcomes we want in our life.  

Cesar has one goal he shares repeatedly on nearly every show – this is his description of the ideal state of every human being: “Calm, assertive, energy.”  If humans project calm, assertive, energy, then their dogs will respond very well to that. So will all the other people around them. 

So this is my wish for everyone this coming week – may you all experience calm assertive energy, and may you all experience a balanced state of mind.  

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Epic Adventures Ahead in 2011

There are people in this world who like to invest their time and money in buying things.  Things for the house, or things to wear, or things to drive, or things to hang on the wall.  I love buying things as much as the next person: I love my golf clubs, and my pink bicycle, and my MacBook and iPod and my running shoes.  I also really love our new comfy couch and awesome office furniture.  Did I mention that I love my paper shredder?  I also love to buy luggage and backpacks.  So yeah, I like having cool things that serve a functional purpose.

But I also love having great experiences.  These are intangible things that are fleeting:  going to a concert, running in a race, taking a trip.  At the end of the experience, all you have are your memories of the experience and maybe some decent photos.  I happen to believe that these memories count for a lot in life.

When I am old and grey, sitting in my rocking chair on the front porch, I want to have good memories of great times.  If my memory holds up that long, I want to remember back to the epic adventures that I had throughout my life, adventures that I shared with the people that I love and care about.

Which is why I have made some important decisions this week, some of which I’ll need your help with:

1.  I’m going to ride my bicycle 620 miles from San Francisco to San Diego in October  
2.  I’ve committed to raising $10,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation
3.  I’m going to organize and host a golf tournament – as a fundraiser

Yes, all three of these decisions are related.  Let’s start with the bike ride. 

A friend of mine celebrated his 40th birthday by riding his bike from Canada to Mexico.  He took a month to do it.  I always thought that sounded like a fun adventure, but I can’t figure out how to take a month off to do that right now.  And 30 days is a LONG TIME on a bicycle.  However, I do like the idea of planning a memorable adventure to celebrate a birthday – somehow that just seems appropriate. 

I first heard about this ride last year after another friend completed this ride last year – she described it as one of the most memorable experiences of her life.  When I researched more about this, I realized it was perfect for me, because (1) It’s a challenging bike ride, which will require significant training, (2) It’s a beautiful and scenic ride, all along the California coastline, and (3) It supports an organization and cause that is totally aligned to things I truly believe in.  The ride takes place over seven days – we start on October 15 in San Francisco, and finish on October 21 in San Diego.  Just 2 days before my birthday! 

The bike ride is a fundraiser for The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF).  In case you’re not familiar with CAF, they provide opportunities and support to people with physical disabilities so they can pursue active lifestyles through physical fitness and competitive athletics. CAF believes that involvement in sports at any level increases self-esteem, encourages independence and enhances quality of life.  This organization enables people with physical challenges to participate and compete in the sports the rest of us take for granted.  What I love about their mission is that they are NOT just helping people with disabilities live typical, ordinary lives.  They are actually helping the challenged athletes become remarkable competitive athletes.  Athletes who do marathons and Ironmans and compete in races around the world.  These are not people who consider themselves "victims" - these are people who lost a limb and then decide to compete in a marathon or a bike race. These are people who are setting an example for everyone about what it means to live with courage and hope.  

I am particularly inspired by their program “Operation Rebound” which provides sports opportunities and support to our troops and veterans of any branch of service and first responders who have served honorably and have suffered permanent physical injuries. They award grants to help the veterans with event travel, lodging, entry fees, training and equipment. You can read some amazing stories about these extraordinary veterans here:

Each year, CAF organizes this bike ride as a fundraiser - called the Million Dollar Challenge (MDC).  They limit the ride to 100 participants, each of whom agree to raise $10,000 for CAF.  This means that I actually have three ambitious activities ahead of me this year:

Step 1:  Figure out how to raise $10,000
Step 2: Do all the necessary bike training to prepare for a long and hilly bike ride
Step 3: Actually finish the 620 mile bike ride

Which brings me to the immediate task I now have in front of me:  organizing a charity golf tournament in order to help raise money for this event.  Luckily, I know people who know people, and I’ve already been able to confirm a date and location for the golf tournament:  Saturday, May 7 at Oro Valley Country Club.  The registration fee will be $100 per person, and that includes golf, cart, and lunch.  It’s really an awesome deal on one of the MOST beautiful golf courses in Tucson.

So now you are probably all inspired and you want to know what you can do to help.  Right?  Here’s what I need right now:

* Golfers.  My goal is to register 100 golfers for the tournament.  If you want to play, just let me know, I’ll start collecting registrations soon.  Even better would be if you recruit a group of 4 of your friends to play on a team.
* Sponsors.  If you would like to donate raffle prizes for the tournament, or your business would like to help sponsor the event, just let me know.  I’m open to all suggestions about sponsorship.
* Volunteers.  I’ll need 3 or 4 people to help with registrations on the morning of May 7, from 7:00 am to 9:00 am. 
* If you have no interest in golfing, or sponsoring a golf tournament, but you just want to contribute, that’s great too!  Here is my personal fundraising page, where you can make your tax deductible donation online:

Now that all the logistics are out of the way, you might still be wondering why I’m going to all this effort.  I mean really, why not just enjoy 2011 from the comfort of my new couch?  Why make such a big time commitment to fundraising and training and cycling?

Because my theme for this year is “Love, Act, Publish” and this totally aligns with that theme.  Now that I’m finished with Ironman triathlons, I’m done with graduate school, and I’m finally moved into this house, well, I have some choices in front of me.  I can choose how to spend my free time, and what to organize my time around.  The year ahead is still sort of a blank slate, and I want this year to be about things I love.  I love riding my bike, I love inspiring people, and I love helping people see the connection between physical health and psychological well being.  This bike ride connects all three of those things. 

As for the “publish” part of the year?  Well of course I also plan to write about this epic adventure.  I’m not just going to write about my own personal experiences, I also want to write about the challenged athletes.  I intend to write and publish profiles about people who are inspiring, people who exemplify determination and grit and grace.  I have a lot of ideas for how I can write about this project, and I’m really excited about all the possibilities. 

When I look back on 2011, I don’t want this to be the year when I sat on the couch. I want to look back on this year and be proud of what I accomplished and I want to savor some amazing memories.  I think I’m off to a good start. 

Now tell me, what will you look back on and remember about 2011?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Will You Kill Your Fantasy?

Somewhere recently (I wish I could remember where)... I was reading about the idea of personal dreams, fantasies, and goals.

It’s very common for people to carry around the idea of a "life fantasy" - ways in which they would like to dramatically change their life. Because when people are not entirely happy or satisfied, they tend to daydream or fantasize about making significant life changes. Some common examples of these include:

- Someday I want to sail around the world
- Someday I want to quit my job and completely change careers
- Someday I want to teach math to 5th graders
- Someday I want to move to Key West
- Someday I want to publish a book
- Someday I want to open up a restaurant

Of course, there are a million variations on this list, but the point is that when people are unhappy, they tend to spend time dreaming about an alternative reality.

The concept that I had never considered before, the one that caught my attention, is that in order to for our dreams to become reality, we have to become willing to actually kill our dreams.

Killing the dream can be very hard for people, because the dream has been such a longtime companion - the fantasy has been like a security blanket, because it has always been a constant imaginary escape hatch. And that long time dream has been very familiar and comforting.

Whenever work sucks, or family sucks, or a relationship sucks, or the weather sucks, you can comfort yourself by fantasizing, "Well this is just temporary, because next year, I am going to____________." You can minimize your dissatisfaction by thinking, "Well sure the job stinks right now, but someday when I get to sail around the world, then I’ll finally be happy.”

That my friends, is how we rationalize our own misery. That is how we justify our own dissatisfaction. And then we go back to daydreaming about that round the world sailing trip.

The problem arises when we get so comfortable with our daydream, we are not willing to make it a reality, because that is akin to bursting the bubble, to setting fire to the security blanket. The daydream, the fantasy has been our most reliable security blanket, and really, who wants to set their security blanket on fire?

In order to change our reality, we have to be willing to kill our imaginary fantasy, the one that has kept us comfort for the past ten years. And that can be a very hard thing to do.

Which is why many people never do it. Most people don't change careers, sail around the world, move to Key West, or open a restaurant. Most people just daydream about it. And talk about it. For decades, they dream about it.

Then when they are 70 years old, they are still daydreaming about it. And that daydream has become the most familiar, comfortable, friend to them. The daydream has been a permanent substitute for the real thing.

In order to make our life extraordinary, we have to be willing to kill the daydream, kill the fantasy. We must light the match and set our security blanket on fire.

In order to create the exact life that we want, we must have the courage and the faith to say goodbye to the daydream and let go of the fantasy.  This isn't easy, but it is necessary.  

Sunday, January 9, 2011

What Are You Searching For?

One day last year I was riding my bike up Sabino Canyon early in the morning before work.  We live just about one mile from the canyon, and it’s a perfect hilly workout location for running or cycling because it’s short and paved.  It’s 3.7 miles up into the canyon, and 3.7 miles back down.  You cross 7 brides along the route.  Yes, there’s always the risk of snakes and mountain lions, but I prefer to live with a little danger.  So there I am, riding along, and suddenly this awesome perfect happy song came on my iPod and I found myself sort of dancing on the bike pedals and shaking my hips.  The exact song wasn’t important, but if you must know, it was “I Don’t Feel Like Dancing” by Scissor Sisters.  Anyway, there I am, dancing along on my bike, flying on this downhill section in this gorgeous canyon, just after sunrise, and everything is perfect in the world.  

And then this thought came into my head:  “Why don’t I have more happy music on my iPod?”

I immediately realized it is because I don’t actively search for happy songs.  I don’t intentionally filter on happy, upbeat music.  I have never typed “happy music” into the search bar on iTunes.  What I do instead is this.  Every few months I’ll go into the iTunes store and search the top music charts in every genre to find new music that is fast enough to workout to.  I’ll pick some country, some rock, some alternative, some dance, some rap, and some pop.  But I really just try to find songs that are not annoying, are not slow, and have a consistent beat that will distract me while exercising.  But I’ve never once tried to search for, or select for, music that makes me smile.  Which is why I don't have more upbeat music on my iPod. 

Then it occurred to me that in our current online world, almost everything can be searched.  Our email, our music, our photos, our videos/movies, websites, virtually ALL OF IT has the ability to be searched.  And searching is just another form of filtering – we are always either filtering in content or filtering out content.  And every time we apply a filter to information, we shape the reality of our results.

This is true in life as much as it is on Google or iTunes or email.  The filters that we apply to our daily lives shape the fabric of our daily lives.

We have the ability to filter in or filter out people, coworkers, news, movies, television, neighbors, and animals.  The fact that our daily lives are full of so much information, so much stimulus all day every day, means that we are always constantly filtering in and filtering out.  Most of the time we do this unconsciously - we don’t even realize we are doing it. Yet, the very act of filtering determines the content of our days.  We can choose to filter in “optimistic people” or we can choose to filter in “cranky people.”  We can choose to search on “supportive friends” or we can choose to search on “geographically close friends.”  I can choose to search on “new popular music” or “upbeat happy music.”  The choice is always mine, even though I will frequently forget I have this choice. 

The point is that we always have the ability to actively choose our filters – with the people in our lives as well as the content on our computer screens and the music on our iPods.  By choosing our filters well, we can create the lives that we most want.  I can have happy music on my iPod if I decide that’s what I will load.  We have the capability every day to actively shape the nature of our reality, if we choose to.

So be conscious of what you search for every day, because as Mark Levy says in Accidental Genius, “You discover what you search for.”    

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Happiness Is...

If you happen to have stumbled onto the Internet lately, you might have noticed how many people are blogging/writing/publishing about the subject of happiness. There are hundreds or thousands of books/consultants/researchers/webcasts/videos out there circulating on the web. There are numerous debates about the nuances between happiness and life satisfaction and engagement and flourishing and well being.

The research can be useful and it can be absolutely overwhelming.

Which I why I think sometimes it helps to start at the personal level.

In my previous posting I mentioned that writing prompts are a very useful tool for opening up our thinking, for generating possibilities and thinking creatively. There are 2 great books I’d recommend if you want to learn more about writing prompts. Accidental Genius, by Mark Levy, and Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. Since they have written so eloquently about this subject, I won’t repeat their insights here. I will just summarize Mark Levy’s advice that you make your writing prompts short and open ended. I will offer a few of my favorite writing prompts, which can really spark some creative thinking:

- I’d love to learn about….
- If I wasn’t afraid, I would…
- If I didn’t have to work, I would…
- If I was guaranteed success, I would….

These are all great prompts, because you can come up with many many different answers to these – there is no one best answer. The more answers you can come up with the better. And one answer might lead to another and another.  A really good way to use these is to take one prompt and write about it for a specific time period – say 10 minutes or so. Another alternative is to come up with a high quantity of different answers – say 25 answers to 1 writing prompt. There are multiple ways to use writing prompts, but the most important criteria is that you write fast  - without thinking - and you don’t censor yourself.

Perhaps my favorite writing prompt is this one:  Happiness is…
This is just so simple and personal. I wrote about this on the plane last weekend. Planes are great places for thinking and writing, because of the lack of distractions. Here are some of my answers:

Happiness is:

…Coming home to Charly and his tail wagging after work.
...Coming home after a long trip and realizing exactly how much I love my life I’m coming home to.
…A hot shower with good water pressure.
…A hot shower after a great workout.
…A hot stone massage.
…The finish line after a long race.
…Laughing with Mad Dog at one of our insider jokes.
…Making up new nicknames for each other with Mad Dog.
…Finding the perfect Christmas present for my best friend.
…Welcome home kisses in the airport.
...Snuggling on the couch with both Charly and Mad Dog.
...Playing frisbee with Charly on the soccer field and watching his ears flop as he runs.
…Scoring par on the golf course.
…Finding golf shorts that fit right and are on sale.
....Doing pullups without any assistance.
…Running with Charly at sunset.
…Running with Charly at sunrise.

These are just a few examples. By writing fast and furious about this topic can you really uncover what brings you joy, what makes you smile, and what makes you happy. 

So try this now – pick up a pen, or open a new document and write out at least 25 answers to this writing prompt: Happiness is…

Since you probably noticed that several of my answers are about Charly, here is a link to my favorite photos of Charly from 2010. I hope these make you smile.

As I continue posting on this blog, I plan to include a new category of posts that I will label “Happiness Is.” Because as we all know from the happiness research, whatever we give attention to in lives will expand. I for one would like to increase the attention I give to happiness in my life.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

The Problem With Resolutions

The problem I have with new years resolutions is that people tend to treat them like a wish list you’d give to Santa. You write them down, mail the list to the North Pole, and then hope that Santa brings you what you wished for. As a grown up adult, the probability of success with this strategy is very low. By February you’ve given up on the resolution and by March you probably can’t even remember what you wished for in the first place

That’s not to say that the new year cycle is all bad. In fact, there’s several things I really love about the new year:

REFLECTION. I think it’s valuable, healthy and productive to do a “year in review” – to take stock of the past year, to determine what went well, what didn’t go well, and why. This can be more than just an evaluation, it can be a meaningful learning experience to identify important personal lessons that enable future course corrections. This is sort of like the “After Action Review” that the Army conducts. For more information, there are a ton of resources about this online.

BIG(GER) PICTURE THINKING. I think it is also really important that we regularly take a step back from our daily lives, to get out of the mundane, trivial, daily details that tend to consume us. When we take a step back, we can spend quality time thinking about what is most important to us, where we are headed, and what we want the next few years of our life to look like. I think that most of us don’t do this enough, because it’s so easy to stay mired in the daily details. However, if we don’t take the time to plan and design our lives, we will have given up our power to shape our lives. We have to be intentional to create the life that we most want.

PLANNING. While I am not fond of wishful thinking and vague resolutions, I am incredibly fond of the planning process – both high level and detailed planning. Sending wishlists to the north pole might have a low probability of success, but detailed planning has a much better success rate. If there is a specific goal you have in your life, then HOW do you plan to achieve it? What specific steps will you take; how much time and money will you invest; who will you ask to help you; and what milestones will you use to measure your progress? Planning all of these details serves a very valuable purpose. Then you can turn your plans into specific commitments, and commitments are far more powerful than wishes. 

PRIORITIZATION. In the world of triathlon, triathletes often compete in many races each year. However, in order to prioritize their training cycles, they need to choose which races are most important, and plan their training phases around those key races. During any given year, a serious triathlete might race in 4-10 races, on average. However, only 1 or 2 of those races can be their “A” race for the year. The annual training phases are all planned around these A races, and the training is intended to achieve maximum performance at the A races. Then there could be another 2-3 “B” races – these are races where you want to do well, and you will do some amount of focused training. Finally, you can have 4-6 “C” races – these are really just races that are used as training, and they can be optional in case of injury or other challenges. The reason I find this model useful, is that this can also be applied to annual personal goals. At the start of the year, we might come up with a list of 12 things we want to accomplish: lose weight, find a new job, try a new sport or hobby, etc. However, it is completely unrealistic to think we’ll accomplish every goal we have. Which is why prioritization is so important. Pick 2 goals that are your A goals. Pick 2-3 others that are your B goals. Then make everything else a C goal. This way, when it’s March and you’re busy and stressed out and overwhelmed, you already know which goals are most important, and which ones can be put on hold. News flash: you will not achieve all your goals for 2011. Therefore, figure out NOW which ones are most important, which ones you will refuse to abandon.

While there are a gazillion books, websites, podcasts and other resources that will be touted this new year season, there are really just two activities that I’ve seen that I really like, and I plan to use for myself in the years to come.

1. PICK 3 WORDS. Instead of making a list of 20 goals, pick 3 words that will be your theme for the year. A theme gives you an overarching focus that will guide the entire year. This can be useful for setting the tone and helping your prioritize your focus for the year.

My 3 words for 2011 are: LOVE, ACT, PUBLISH.

LOVE: I want to do more work that I love, with people that I love working with. I want to follow my passions more, follow my intuition, and let love guide more of my work. So no, this doesn’t have to do with my love relationship – that is already going very well. Love for me in this context is about creating more of what I love in all areas of my life.

ACT: I’ve been talking about things I want to do in my future, and I have lots and lots of creative ideas and lots of lists that I keep track of. But I really want to act on more of the ideas, and implement more of them, more quickly. Act for me is about more frequent and consistent execution and implementation.

PUBLISH: I do a lot of writing, but I want to do more publishing. Both on this blog and on the book I’ve been working on – I want to put more emphasis on the publication of my writing. I’ve set a specific blogging goal – to put 104 times during 2011. This is specific, and measurable, and realistic – it will just require me to blog twice per week every week of the year. Totally doable.

2. STOP DOING LIST. Peter Drucker coined the term “planned abandonment” and I think this is relevant for individuals as well as organizations. We spend too much time creating our to-do lists, and not enough time on our stop-doing lists. In order to create space in our lives for the things that matter most, we need to prune away the less important things, and the less effective habits. We need to purge, in a significant way. I really really wish that more people would get in the habit of generating stop-doing lists, because this can be so powerful. We have to stop-doing the wrong things in order to have the capacity to start-doing the right things.

There is a great tool I highly recommend called writing prompts. This helps turn off our mental editor and dig deeper into our subconscious mind. Lots of people advocate using writing prompts to generate creative thinking. All you really do is start writing – and keep writing – without any worry for spelling or logic or grammar – or anything else. You just put the pen to paper and you write non-stop. This can be useful for many different projects.

So try this writing strategy: Write for 10 minutes straight - without stopping - about this writing prompt:

The 3 things – that if I stopped doing – would really make 2011 great are……

Don’t censor yourself, just write and write and write. Then see what you’ve written. For me, I wrote about this topic and after reviewing my writing, the 3 things that I plan to stop doing are:

* Stop sleeping as much as I do. I could really afford to sleep less, and take fewer naps on weekends. If I slept less, I’d have more time for the personal goals I have established. I could use that time better. And no, I don’t want to be sleep deprived, but I could be more productive on the weekends. Also, if I eat healthier, I’ll have more energy and be less tired.

* Stop watching so much TV. This is a big one that has crept up on me over the past year. When I’m home alone, I just never turn on the TV – it’s not something I ever do. But Mad Dog tends to watch much more TV – and even when he’s not actually watching, he has the TV on. So when we’re both home, and he’s watching something, I’m inclined to watch with him, just to spend more time together. In order to spend more time with him, I end up watching much more TV than I really want to. So this is something that it would be easy to do less of – I just need to be bold and disciplined to walk away and do my own thing, and not get sucked in.

* Stop wasting frustrated energy about work – and other things I can’t change. If something isn’t going to change, then all I can do is stop wasting personal energy and thoughts about it. Just let it go. I will work my 40 hours, then go home and let it all stay at work. I will stop wasting precious mental and emotional energy about the job. At this point, it is a job, and it’s just a job, so it needs to stay that way.

When I reflect on 2010, it was a pretty good year overall, although a bit of a rollercoaster. Like other people, I tend to group things into categories:  

-- Fitness: I exercised fewer hours in 2010, but I think I exercised smarter.  I didn’t do any races, but I joined a new CrossFit gym and I started pushing myself to get stronger.

-- Health – no news is good news – overall, fairly happy with my health.

+ School – I’m very glad it’s over and happy that I finished.  This was my 2nd – and last – masters degree.  No more formal education for me.  Plus symbol because it’s over, I finished with a 4.0 GPA and now I have the credibility of an ivy league masters degree. 

+ Home – We finally went from 2 houses to 1 – yeah!  We also made a lot of great improvements and upgrades: carpet, paint, furniture, etc.  It really feels more like home now.

? Career/Work – Major rollercoaster.  Learned a lot that I will carry with me into 2011.

+ Love – Everything continues to be pretty great here.  We really make our relationship a priority, and celebrate our anniversary every week and every month.  We really focus on spending time together, laughing a lot, being playful together, and taking care of each other.

-- Finances – Up and down here, mostly due to the 2nd house.  But overall, can’t complain.

-- Social – I didn’t spend enough time with friends, even though I value them, school and work made this challenging.  This will be more of a priority in 2011. 

+ Other – HUGE positive experience of adopting Charly – probably one of the big highlights of 2010.  He came into our life and has really turned us into more of a family and made this more of a home.  He’s a very special dog, and we’re very lucky to have him.  Also spent a lot of time in 2010 learning to golf – which is challenging in all its own ways…

-- Travel – We had some really great trips in 2010 – to San Diego and Phoenix.  We also went to Ohio and Florida to visit family.  But unfortunately we ended the year in the east coast snow storm and spent a week with snow and chilly temps.  Brrrr. 

These are the same categories that I’ve used to do my 2011 detailed planning. Within each of these categories, I have outlined specific goals, with specific due dates that will help me measure progress. I’ll hang up these deadlines around the house, to serve as constant reminders.

Some of the specific plans for 2011 include these:

* Blogging – Publish at least 104 posts during 2011
* Fitness – lose 12 pounds by April 1
* Raise $10,000 for non-profit organizations during 2011
* Career - Set up infrastructure for my personal business
* Social - Set up mastermind group with regular monthly meetings
* Social – invest time and money in specific events to reconnect with people

I realize this is a super duper long post, so I’ll end things here. As you can see, I really do appreciate the value of the new year and taking time to reflect on the past and become intentional about the future. I hope you’ll also take time this week, and this month to consider what’s most important in your life.