Sunday, February 27, 2011

Newsflash: Catch People Doing Something Right

I was in a leadership training class a couple weeks ago, with a facilitator from another company. We spent two days digging deep into one specific model of leadership. The class was relatively interesting and I took some useful notes.

Once thing I wrote down has stuck in my mind and I have been chewing on it since then:

“Catch people doing something right.” - Ken Blanchard

My understanding of this statement was that Ken Blanchard thought that managers – in their quest to manage other people - might be more prone to catch people doing things wrong. In large organizations, this is often the case. Traditional behavior modification efforts – in offices, in schools, at home – can be lumped into two camps – the carrot or the stick. With the stick, you criticize people for doing wrong, and you punish them. With the carrot, you can motivate people with something they want: money, recognition, a larger office, candy, etc. Parents of small children are very familiar with this dichotomy.

I believe that what Ken Blanchard was suggesting was that if we focus on catching people doing the right things in the right ways, and we praise that behavior and recognize that behavior, people will do more of that behavior. He encouraged business leaders to get in the habit of catching people doing something right every day.

I tend to think we should catch people doing something right for a different reason entirely. We should catch people doing something right because it will put us in a better mood. It will make us smile, it will make us happier, and it will make us more grateful for other people. I wrote in my previous posting that whatever we pay attention to in our life expands. If we look for people doing wrong, we will find more people doing wrong. If we look for people doing right, we will find more people doing right. Whatever we pay attention to expands. Therefore, why not spend more energy looking for the positive experiences in our life?

I bought a new car this weekend. The process of buying the car was a thoroughly and completely unpleasant experience. I was passed around between four different salesmen, I was given wrong information, or not given information I requested, and by the time I had decided on the exact car to buy, I was pretty irritated. Finally at 6:00 on a Saturday night I was passed to the finance manager, and he could totally tell that I was fed up. And he turned out to be a very nice man. He was calm, and apologetic, and sincere – not in a slimy way, just in a genuinely human way. He asked if something had happened to upset me, and I gave him the short overview of my experiences. We had a very calm, rational conversation, and I calmed down. He asked about the rest of my weekend, and my boyfriend, and we talked about things other than new cards. He could tell I wasn’t going to buy any of the extended warranties or additional financing products, so he didn’t even bother with his usual sales pitch. And on the one financing option where I was undecided, he was willing to give me another couple hours to decide. He didn’t try to pressure me and he didn’t hustle me, and he was just a very nice person, at the time when I totally needed to be working with a genuinely nice person. Thank you Brian Knight.

He’s someone who I caught doing something right. My sitting here recognizing him for doing something right is not going to change his behavior. What it changes is my attitude about people and my mental state. Instead of complaining about the slimy salesmen, I can be appreciative that there was one genuine man who was helpful and considerate during this process. Reflecting on his behaviors makes me less irritated and more grateful for the kindness of strangers. I for one would rather be in an appreciative state of mind than an irritated one.

After I left the car dealership - at 7:30 on a Saturday night, I then called my insurance agent, fully expecting to leave a message on voicemail. However, their after hours phone service routed me to an actual operator, who spoke English (!) and could actually help me immediately with my questions. The very friendly woman on the phone helped me by explaining the three insurance options I had for the new car, and actually told me that it would be in my best interest NOT to get the most expensive of the three options, and explained why. I couldn’t believe it. With one local phone call on a Saturday night, I got routed to a real person, who could actually help me, and within 10 minutes I had all the information I needed to make an informed decision. Talk about doing something right! That was more than right, that was AMAZING! Thank you Allstate.

So here’s where you can jump into this topic. Write in the comments section where you have caught people doing something right in the past two weeks. You don’t need to list specific names, but describe where/when/how you caught people being helpful.

The other option is to actually get in the habit of doing this on a daily basis. Every day this week, right down one instance where you caught someone doing something right. Bonus points if you take the extra step to actually tell them and thank them for doing something right.

Then at the end of the week, see if your mindset has shifted. And let me know how it goes.

Friday, February 25, 2011

10 Things You Can Learn About Life From My 4 Months of Blogging

1. It’s good to have a specific, objective goal to pursue, where you can easily measure your progress. In 2011 I committed to blogging twice a week, and so far I’m doing well. But I always know how well I am doing against that goal. Do you have a clear goal and a clear way to measure your goal?

2. It’s important to schedule time to focus on the goal. Like many people, much of my week is consumed by work, errands, meals, sleep, and exercise. There’s not a ton of “free time” floating around all week – I wish there was. Blogging doesn’t just happen on it’s own, I have to actually carve out time from my schedule to write. If I’m lazy, nothing gets done by magic. Sometimes I have to choose between sleeping and blogging. 

3. You need to show up. This is more important than actually scheduling time, this is when I actually show up at my computer, sit down, and write. I have to commit to writing, but then I have to show up AND write AND hit publish. It’s not real until I hit publish. 

4. It’s good to let other people’s success inspire you. Letting others inspire you is the opposite reaction of envy. Envy = bad. Inspiration = good. There are SO MANY great writers out there writing. Every day I stumble across another good blog (and dozens of not-so-good ones). So I have a choice – I can tell myself that everyone else is already writing good stuff, or I can get energized by the opportunity to share my own writing with the world. And I have learned so much lately by reading other people. But my reaction to the success of others is a choice.

5. You have to start something to figure out what you need to learn. You really can’t predict what you need to learn, because before you’ve started, you don’t know what you don’t know. After you’ve started doing something, then you know what you don’t know, and then you have to go make yourself better at it. Before I started blogging, I didn’t realize there was an skillset around good post titles. But in fact, some people are better at writing titles than other people. That’s something I’m trying to learn.

6. You have to start something to get feedback from other people. People can’t help you until you’ve actually put something out there in the world.

7. You have to start doing something in order to figure out the difference between good quality and bad quality. For me, I had to do a couple months of writing before I could figure out which blog articles really got me energized and which ones felt flat. Some blog ideas really turned into great articles, and others just never got off the ground. But the more I write, the better I can distinguish the differences between good posts and less good posts.

8. By practicing something, you get data about what’s working. And what’s not working. By data, I mean real information that is useful feedback. For me, I can track how many people are reading my blog, on which days of the week. If I want to get really detailed, I could experiment with publishing at different times of day, with different length posts. But I couldn’t get data until after I started publishing.

9. The more I write, the more I want to write. And the more writing ideas I find every day. I’ve taken to carrying around a leather journal that Mad Dog gave me and I have literally been writing down writing ideas every day. It’s true that the more attention you give to something, the more that part of your life expands. The more I write, the more writing ideas come to me, because I’m paying better attention to everything. These days, everything can be a potential writing idea.

10. The more I write, the more credibility I gain. Now I’m walking my talk, and I’m starting to establish a track record as a blogger. Until I started blogging, I was just someone who talked about writing. Now I’m writing. And that feels good.

Writing this post reminds me of the wonderful verse by the poet Antonio Machado:

“The wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking.”

Whatever you want to do in the world, whatever you want to accomplish, or whoever you want to be, you need to start. Start now. Do something, anything, to get you started towards your goals. I guarantee that siting here right now reading this, you don’t yet know what you don’t know, you don’t yet know what you need to learn, you don’t yet know where you will struggle or where you will succeed. But you can’t know any of those things until you start.

Start now.

Happiness Is... (Part 3)

Looking over at the couch and seeing Charly snuggled up against Mad Dog, both of them sound asleep.

Coming home to a furnace that is working. It's amazing how much we take for granted.

Hugging a good friend I hadn't seen in a long time.

Meeting someone new and having an instant feeling that we'll have a great friendship.

Lifting more weight at the gym than ever before.

Putting a surprise present in the mail to a friend.

Sunshine after a day of clouds.

Finishing a homemade present for Mad Dog.

A window seat in the front of the plane.

When all my flights are on time without any delays.

Taking a leap of faith, and having it all work out better than I could have hoped.

Brainstorming in a group, and blurting out an idea so perfect it gave me goose bumps.

After a rough/long week of work, coming home to pizza and beer.

Receiving an unexpected and very generous gift from a friend.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What Makes Your Neurons Fire?

I took this picture of Charly this week, after Charly had played frisbee at the park for about 30 minutes. Charly LOVES playing frisbee. Charly loves just carrying his frisbee around the park - he once walked 2 miles carrying that red frisbee in his mouth. Charly loves to dream about playing frisbee. Mad Dog and I bought two identical frisbees so we could keep one in each car, so we can at anytime take Charly to the park to play frisbee.

This week I read a great article in the beautiful online magazine Fearless that profiled the author and consultant Pam Slim. I love Pam's work, and I love what she had to say about doing more of the things we love. The way she describes it, we really need to know what makes our neurons fire, so that we can design our lives to do more of those things. In other words (1) figure out what makes our neurons fire, then (2) spend more time doing that, so that (3) our lives will be fuller and happier and more meaningful.

Playing frisbee makes Charly's neurons fire. When Charly plays frisbee, he completely loses himself in the activity, he is completely focused on the frisbee and finding it and bringing it back to me. He will literally play frisbee until he drops from exhaustion. As you can see from the photo, he plays until his tongue hangs out. He plays even though he has a mouth full of grass, and he's tired and thirsty. These things don't matter because he's having pure fun. Frisbee makes his neurons fire.

I think the concept of neurons firing is a great and simple way to think about our life, our passion and our work. Instead of trying to figure out the BIG perfect career, we can start by focusing on the smaller, daily details. We can start by being aware of the day to day activities that make our neurons fire. And sometimes, the neurons don't fire in the office - sometimes they fire at the dog park. Or on the hiking path or the running track or in the kitchen when we are baking. Or making soup.

When our neurons fire, we get excited and we get creative. When we get excited, we get energized and motivated and we pour ourselves into our work.  And our work doesn't feel like work because it feels like play.

When that happens, our emotional excitement is contagious, and our joy spreads, because people want more of what we are doing. They want to know what's making us so happy.

Just the simple state of our excitement, joy, pleasure and contentment is enough to make people want to work with us, to spend more time with us. Our joy can make people want to buy our products or hire us or refer us. I don't mean for this to sound simplistic, but when we are happy, people want to connect with us more. When I played frisbee with Charly at the park this week, I had 3 people come over and ask if their kids could throw the frisbee for Charly. Of course I said yes.

Start by figuring out what makes your neurons fire. Make a list of the times during the past 6 months when your neurons fired, and you felt excited and energized and creative. When did you feel like Charly playing frisbee? Then do more of that and see where that leads you. Be open to whatever shifts. And if playing frisbee is what makes your neurons fire, then go do that. And if you want to call Charly, he'd love to play frisbee with you, anytime. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Do You Want The Rest Of Your Life To Be Like Today?

I used to daydream about my life and my future in large, grand visions about the future. I used to think about what I wanted my perfect, ideal job to be, where I would work, and how I would define my life and my role. I didn’t think much about any details, I simply thought about the big picture. And my dreams weren’t ambitious in traditional terms, I never wanted to chase a paycheck or an important title. Instead, I daydreamed about travel adventures and art.

However, I have gone through some important shifts during the past couple years and now I spend more time thinking about the daily details of my life. Instead of wondering about the big picture, now I spend more time reflecting on the small things. Now I spend time every day examining and questioning the daily details of my life. I do this because examining the daily details can help us figure out our bigger picture values.

The question I ask myself most frequently now is this one: “Is today how I want the rest of my life to be?”

When I’m driving to work every morning, I wonder how I feel about commuting to a large corporate office. Do I want to work in an office with 1000 other people? When I’m having lunch in the company cafeteria, I wonder: Is this where and what I want to be eating? When I’m in meetings, I wonder: Are these people I want to be spending my time with? When I drive home at night, I wonder: Is this how I want to feel after a long day of work? Am I driving home to meet someone I want to have dinner with for the next fifty years? When I look at my calendar for the day ahead at work, I ask myself: Do I believe these are important projects to invest my time in? These are just a few of the daily questions I ask.

When I hear about other job possibilities in other cities, I wonder: How would my daily life be different in Dallas or Miami or Atlanta? Would I be able to ride my bike, and run with my dog, and eat dinner on my patio?

All day, every day, I can ask myself reflective questions that help me evaluate my level of satisfaction and also help me design my future. It doesn’t matter if I like the answers to my questions, the point is that by examining the answers, I can get smarter about what makes me happy and satisfied. The answers to all these questions can reveal so much about our most genuine desires.

When we look at all these answers together, we can determine what we are organizing our life around today, and what we WANT to organize our life around in the future.


People organize their life around VERY different things. The thing you organize your life around is that thing that is most important to you, it’s the thing that comes first before everything else.

You can organize your life around living in a geographic location.
You can organize your life around your art. 
You can organize your life around your sport.
You can organize your life around travel.
You can organize your life around a financial paycheck.
You can organize your life around another person or people.
You can organize your life around working outside in the sunshine.
You can organize your life around a medical condition.
You can organize your life around using your strengths.
You can organize your life around your hobby.
You can organize your life around your passion.
You can organize your life around your purpose.

Right now, I am organizing my life around being in Tucson, with the person I love. That comes first. Everything else can be designed around that, because the other things have more flexibility. I love the lifestyle I have in Tucson – rarely do I have to drive on the freeway, frequently I exercise outside, I appreciate the landscape and the mountains, and I value the diversity of people who live here. I like that this town is casual, the opposite of pretentious, and it has its own character. I like living someplace with character and mountains in all four directions.

Less important to me is trying to maximize my paycheck, living close to family members, travel, or working outside. I am moderately focused on incorporating my passions and my purpose in my work, but that part is growing every day.


The things that matter to me now are different than they were ten years ago. Which is true for most people. What you care about at age 25 is different from age 40 and very different from age 55. It’s natural for our careabouts to change each decade.

These days, I have learned that my daily environment matters. I want to see sunshine; I want windows and space and daylight. I don’t want to spend hours a day in my car commuting to an office. I do want to spend time every day exercising, and I want to have time to play with my dog, and I have to have time for all the important relationships in my life.

I’m also discovering that it’s important for me to have autonomy over elements of my work. I want to make choices about the types of projects I work and who I spend time working with. More importantly though, I really want to feel that my contributions are making a difference for someone in the world.

Dan Pink writes in his new book Drive, that the workforce today values three critical things and he even has an acronym for it: AMP. People desire Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.
  • Autonomy to determine when, where, on what and with whom they work. 
  • Mastery to learn and develop themselves to become competent. 
  • Purpose to align their work with a broader purpose, to make a contribution. 
I definitely value all 3 of these things and it’s safe to say that I want to organize more of my life around AMP.


The questions I’ve listed above have been helpful for me to evaluate the elements of my life. Constantly asking myself questions has helped me reconsider my values and priorities, and it’s helping me design my future.

My hope is that by asking yourself these questions, you can make new discoveries about yourself, your values, and the quality of your daily experiences.

Don’t get caught up and overwhelmed asking yourself the BIG life questions. Instead, try asking yourself the smaller questions, because those are easier to answer and smaller to tackle. 
  • Were you excited about your day when you woke up this morning? 
  • Were you happy to see the people you saw today? 
  • Did you spend time with the important people in your life?
  • Did you find yourself smiling or laughing today? 
  • Were you relaxed and content when you were at home? 
  • Do you wish that the rest of your life would be more like today? 
There are no wrong answers to these questions. But the quality of our days will determine the quality of our lives. So I hope that asking small but important questions can help all of us make our own best choices - every day, every month, and every year.

Friday, February 11, 2011

What Do Surfing and Chess Have In Common?

I have never in my life played chess and I really don’t feel like I’m missing out on much. I have however spent about eight wonderful weeks of my life surfing in Costa Rica, and I enjoyed every minute of it. Even when I was getting absolutely pummeled by the waves. Surfing is like golf that way: even a bad day surfing is better than a good day in the office.

While surfing is a very complete physical activity, chess is the polar opposite – it’s a completely intellectual activity that requires no physical activity. It turns out you can play chess online and apparently there are a lot of people who do this every single day. Who knew? The online chess games even have a system for ranking the ability of every player, based on wins, losses, and overall skill level. This makes the world of online chess a very awesome place to conduct scientific research, because there is a lot of data about individual performance being accumulated on a daily basis. Rather than bringing chess players into a psychology lab, the online gaming environment can become the psychology lab. Which is exactly what a handful of researchers have done.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is a VERY well known psychology researcher who coined the idea of flow. He theorized that people are happiest when they are in a state of flow, and then investigated all the elements of flow. The flow state happens when someone is fully immersed and engaged in what they are doing, and they lose track of time. There are actually nine specific components of flow:

- There are clear goals identified for the activity
- A high degree of concentration is required
- There is a loss of self-consciousness
- One’s experience of time is altered
- There is direct and immediate feedback regarding performance
- There’s a balance between ability level and challenge
- The person has a sense of control over the activity
- The activity is intrinsically rewarding
- There’s a lack of awareness of bodily needs (hunger, sleep, etc.)

I’ve personally discovered that surfing is the area where I experience flow the most often. My goal is very clear: catch the wave and stay standing up on the surfboard. I have to really concentrate to catch the wave at just the right time at the right speed. Then I have to concentrate to find the right position on the wave. I definitely lose any sense of self-consciousness. My sense of time is clearly altered – riding a wave for fifteen seconds can feel like twenty minutes. If I fail at the task, I know it immediately as I crash and go tumbling into the wave. I have control over how I position my body and the surfboard. I also lose awareness of bodily needs such as food and meals. In other words, surfing in a guaranteed method for me to experience flow. When I first read about flow, it provided a complete explanation for why I love surfing so much, and why some people quit their jobs to become a poor homeless sunburnt surf bum.

The bottom line is that most human beings all like to be in flow, and people are generally happiest and most productive in a state of flow. Who wouldn’t want more flow in their life?

What’s important to know is that in order to achieve a flow state, a balance must be struck between the challenge of the task and the skill of the performer. If the task is too easy the person will be bored or apathetic. If the task is too difficult, the person will be frustrated. So the skill level and the level of the challenge must be well matched. When that match is made well, the person experiences flow and life is good.

It’s probably best to think about this related to sports. Think of yourself skiing down a hill. If you are a skier, there are certain runs you go down that really challenge you just the right amount so you have to concentrate and your senses are heightened. If the hill is too easy, you coast down without much challenge. If the hill is too hard, you will probably crash and burn. But when the hill is JUST the right amount of difficulty, you have to concentrate and focus. Then when you conquer the hill, you feel a strong sense of exhilaration. That is flow.

Back to the research about chess. In the experimental laboratory known as online chess, the researchers decided to survey chess players immediately after each of their games, to determine how happy and satisfied they were with the chess game they had just completed. Over some period of time (days or weeks) they collected all this survey data and analyzed it, along with all the player rankings and scores.

You could theorize the chess players were happiest after they won their chess game. But you would be wrong. The chess players were consistently happiest after they had finished playing an opponent 5-10% better than they were, as measured by overall player ranking. Regardless of whether they won or lost, they enjoyed the game the most when their opponent was just slightly better than them. Why? Because that presented the most energizing and engaging challenge, and that amount of challenge was consistently satisfying. That amount of challenge created a state of flow.

This research then, provides evidence for the fact that we need the right amount of challenge to experience flow and happiness in our life. When I am surfing, I need to find waves that are not too small, but not too large. Because even if I crash after taking on a tough wave, I’ll still feel satisfaction and happiness from the challenge. And with every crash, I’m continuing to get better and improve my surfing skills. In other words, there’s also a probable correlation between learning and happiness.

This research makes me wonder, where in your life are you pushing yourself to a 5-10% challenge? Where are you feeling energized from the stretch? Are you feeling bored and complacent from being too comfortable? Or overwhelmed by too much challenge?

My hope for you today is that you have some area in your life where you are experiencing flow, some area where you are feeling just the right amount of challenge to promote your own growth, your own learning and your own happiness.

You don’t have to go surfing or place chess online. These are just two examples and there are a million other opportunities for you to find flow.

But don’t settle for comfort and complacency when something more satisfying is possible. Just go find flow wherever you find it.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What If Everything In Your Life Is A Test?

This has been a very odd week here in Tucson,in several different ways. We’ve had record cold weather - as in EIGHTEEN DEGREE WEATHER, which caused hundreds of pipes to freeze and break all over town. Many businesses were closed and many people were without water. And well the gas company ran out of gas, can you believe that? Thursday morning, we lost gas to our house, which meant no heat, no hot water/showers, and no oven gas. So what was life like here? A cold house, without showers and without hot food. That equates to NO FUN and plenty of crankiness.

We were in good company with our lack of heat – 14,400 homes around Tucson did not have heat this week. The worst part of the problem was that the gas company had to physically come to our home to reconnect our gas service, which meant that not only was our home only 54 degrees, but we had to STAY in our home for 2 days and wait for the gas company. If the gas company came by and you weren’t home, they would not reconnect your gas service. How twisted is that?

This situation created several personal challenges for 3 days:

- The unpleasant experience of sleeping when it was 54 degrees
- The inconvenience of having to go to my gym for hot showers
- The crankiness of Mad Dog who was NOT a happy camper without heat
- The schedule challenge of having to be physically at home for 2.5 days
- The challenge of cooking food without an oven

Don’t get me wrong, I fully realize that many people have much greater challenges and this was only a very minor hardship we experienced. However, this caused me to think about how people react to much greater challenges on much longer timeframes. And I realized that each and every challenge we experience could actually be used to test our commitments, to see how serious we are about our life and our goals. For example:

- Even though I hated the cold weather, was I still committed to living in Tucson?
- Even though Mad Dog was cranky and grumpy, could I still be patient and love him completely?
- Even though I couldn’t cook my planned meals, was I still committed to eating healthy?
- Even though I couldn’t shower, was I still committed to exercising?

As it turned out, I failed at several of my commitments this week – because of this situation I skipped the gym and ate some junky food - like pizza (because it could be delivered). However, I think I succeeded at still loving Mad Dog – I knew that I could still love him and be patient, even when he was grumpy. And for the most part I adapted to the schedule challenge – Mad Dog and I just took turns staying at home waiting for the gas company.

But I realized that almost all challenges we face could be reframed in our life to be viewed as tests, that are simply put in front of us to test how serious we are about our commitments, our goals, and our values. Challenging situations can be used to test us. And they can prompt some powerful reflection in our life. Think about these examples:

- If your exercise partner calls you before your morning run and cancels on you, will you STILL keep your commitment to exercise every day? Or will you use that opportunity to hit snooze?

- If you start your own business and you have a few slow months, and your primary customer cancels their contract, are you STILL committed to building your new business?

- If you are committed to saving 10% of your salary for your retirement fund, and your best friend invites you on a Caribbean vacation, will you STILL keep your commitment to saving 10% of your salary?

- If you are committed to your spouse/life partner, but he or she goes through a rough couple months, causing them stress and irritation, are you still sure you are committed to them?

- If you are committed to cutting sugar out of your diet, but you go to a work meeting where they are serving your very favorite, all time favorite cookies, are you still committed to not eating sugar?

It’s so easy to make a commitment when the situation is cooperating and things are running smoothly. But what about when things are NOT running smoothly, will you still be committed? Do you care enough about any goal in your life to persevere NO MATTER WHAT? Will you allow the challenges you face to reinforce your commitment instead of derail it? I think it’s important that we be aware of our TRUE level of commitment to our goals.

I realize now that if I was 100% committed to my own fitness, I would not have skipped my CrossFit class this week. If I was 100% committed to eating healthier, I would not have ordered pizza when the oven was off. I let the gas situation derail my weekly structure. And while there is something to be said for being flexible and adapting to a situation, I could have adapted AND exercised. But I didn’t - I caved in and used the excuse to be lazy. 

This just shows me that I need to increase my commitment to my fitness and my nutrition. My commitment was insufficient to outweigh the weather challenges. 

However, my commitment to Mad Dog was strong and consistent. The crankier he got this week, the more flexible and patient I became. And loving him didn’t feel difficult or challenging at all, I felt content to balance out his irritation. If this week was a test of my commitment to our relationship, I was 200% committed.

But I think this week has shown me that every challenge can be a gift, when we think of each challenge as a test. If you think about it, everything in our life can be viewed as a test, because everything that happens in our day can be viewed as something which either confirms we are “on track” with our life, or we are not. When we are on track with our life then nothing can derail us because we won’t allow it.

And if everything in our life is a test, then every reaction matters, and every response we have can teach us something. Now the question becomes, are we paying close enough attention to realize when we are on track with our life?

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

How Do I Love CrossFit? Let Me Count the Ways...

Have you ever felt the need to collapse after a simple seven minute workout?
Have you ever exercised so hard that when you collapsed on the floor you left a sweat stain the exact shape of your entire body?
Have you ever done so many pullups that the skin ripped off the palm of your hand?

If you answered yes to these questions, then you might be familiar with the insane world of CrossFit. CrossFit is one of those things in the world that you have to experience to really understand it, because it changes the way you think about the world and your physical capabilities. CrossFit is not a casual part time hobby. Either you do CrossFit or you don’t. Yes, it does sound a little bit like a cult, and yes, there are some people who act like they are in the CrossFit cult. But the cultists are the minority.

Like most significant things in my life, I can’t remember when exactly I first heard about it. I joined my first Crossfit gym around November of 2008. I trained there until March of 2009, then stopped because of my Ironman training. I built a CrossFit gym at home and trained in it from 2009 – 2010. Then around October of 2010 I joined another gym again, mostly so I’d have other people around to challenge me and push me.

And having other people around has made all the difference.

In a nutshell, CrossFit as a training regime is about developing 10 separate fitness domains: cardiovascular/respiratory endurance, stamina, strength, flexibility, power, speed, agility, balance, coordination, and accuracy. In essence it is about the opposite of specialization; it prides itself on developing “total” fitness.

The way I define CrossFit for my coworkers is simpler: you do really crazy workouts, really fast, with heavy weights until you puke.

Generally, there are 2 types of workouts: there can be a set of exercises that you complete as fast as possible for time, or there is a set time period, and you complete as many exercises as possible within that time period. In either instance, you are doing something intense while you race against the clock.

Which brings me to another of one of the unique challenges that is often overlooked about CrossFit – not only are you doing crazy intense things, but while you are being physically taxed, you still need to keep your head focused to do a lot of counting. And who knew that basic counting could be so hard? Well it turns out that when you’re trying to use all your mental capacity to keep from puking, that counting thing can get pretty hard.

Here’s a few sample workouts CrossFit workouts:

Annie: As fast as possible, do 100 pull-ups, 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and 100 squats.

Helen: Do 3 rounds of this set - Run ¼ mile, 21 kettlebell swings, and 12 pull-ups.

Murph: 1 mile run, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, 1 mile run.

There are a ton of diverse and intense workouts, but they all challenge your body in very unique ways. If you google CrossFit you can check out some of the videos – they are worth watching. If you need inspiration today for your workout, go watch one of the videos.  Go. Now.

What’s most ironic is that while Crossfit is an insanely intense physical challenge, it is the mental challenge that is most beneficial for me. The reason I keep coming back is because Crossfit is training me how to give a complete 100% effort. Not 80% or 85% or 95%, but a complete 100% effort.

As hard as it is to admit, I have rarely in my life ever given 100% effort, because I learned early on in my life that it is safer to hold back. It is safer to keep something in reserve and not be vulnerable. This is a profound life pattern that has shown up many times in my life.

In the world of endurance training, running, and triathlons, it is considered "smart" racing, if you can do a negative split - that means that the second half of your workout is at a faster pace than your first half. A negative split means that you raced "smart" because you didn't overdo it the first half, you didn't wear yourself out too much. You paced yourself appropriately to have enough energy to slightly speed up the second half of the race.

I could always do a negative split in triathlons and marathons, because I always planned my race to run safe. I always had a little extra something left in reserve, just in case.

CrossFit requires the exact opposite of that. CrossFit does NOT reward a negative split - CrossFit requires that you give 100% in every segment, so that by the end of your workout, you are just trying to stay standing. CrossFit workouts require that you give 100% during the first few minutes, and then you just try to hang on to be able to finish the workout. If you come close to puking, then you slow down just enough to avoid puking. That's the measure of a good workout - how close you came to puking.

Although this doesn't necessarily sound fun, it is incredibly important training for life. Because how many of us, in our lives, have trained ourselves to give 100% every minute of the day? How many of us have physically and mentally trained our bodies and minds to push ourselves to the absolute limit of what we can tolerate before collapsing?

After some of my best workouts:

- My legs have been shaking so much I could not walk up the stairs in my house.
- My arms have been so worn out I could now lift them to wash my hair in the shower.
- My hands have been so sore I could not grip the phone for a phone call.

These are signs that I trained to my limit - that I pushed beyond the normal, ordinary physical limits. And how often does that happen in our typical, corporate, ho-hum grown-up lives? 

Plus, I have to admit that doing such crazy workouts changes my perception of what's normal.  Doing 25 pushups just isn't a challenge anymore.  Doing 250 pushups is  a challenge.  Running 1/4 mile sprints isn't a challenge anymore.  Running 1/4 mile sprints while alternating them with heavy deadlifts and pull-ups is a challenge.  Whenever you think something is hard, you just need to go do something much harder and then the first thing won't seem so hard anymore.  In other words, if something seems hard maybe you just need to change the units of measurement of your scale.  Normal is just a relative concept and you can change your perceptions of normal every day.    

The best part of my workout is when I walk out the door of the gym after the workout, knowing it is only 7:00 am, and I have already accomplished something amazing for the day.

CrossFit is a method for training my physical body. But the impact and the benefit for my life go far beyond the physical. At this point in my life, I don't want to play things safe and I don't want to leave anything in reserve. If I want to live my life full out, then I need to embrace the lessons of CrossFit.

Sometimes when we want to change our mental habits, we need to start by changing our physical habits.