One Hour Weight Loss

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How did you make your last decision? Was it done with focus, clarity, and comfort that you had enough of the right information? Or, did that decision have company? Were you distracted with the email that you got from your partner about the pending investment decisions? Messages with conflicting data for the report that’s due by end of day? Texts from your 10th grader with a few words about obscure after school plans? If you’re like most of us, you carry around more than you need to respond to incoming requests at lightning speed. How much of this data is helpful? How much is unnecessary cognitive weight that dilutes your thinking and slows your responses? In an effort to get more done, you get less. In an effort to go faster, poor decisions make you go slower. The paradox of our time warped present is that we truly must go slow to go fast; to drop the weight of the unnecessary to gain focus on the critical.

Maybe you object. What choice do you have? The flood of data and speed of communication is overwhelming. Daniel Forrester, in his book: Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking offers startling insight into the speed of information development. According to Forrester (2011), there is enough data created every 15 minutes to fill a new Library of Congress. The speed of information and a natural bias toward action are a dangerous combination. Our brains don’t process as fast as the data coming in; connections are missed, context is lost. We feel rewarded for the speed of our decisions, even when it means they are poor ones made when we are tired, distracted and ill informed.

Forrester  (2011) uses an interesting example of the benefits of staying present and clear headed. He cites results of soccer goalies defending against penalty kicks. Goalies who move to the right to anticipate the ball stop the kick 12.6% of the time. Goalies who move to the left to anticipate the kick stop the ball 14.2% of the time. But goalies that stay present and waited for the ball to actually be kicked before reacting had a 33.3% success rate. Even with this available success pattern, how many times do goalies stay in the center and wait for the ball before reacting? A little over 6% of the time.  As Forrester points out, the pull of fast overcomes the probability of wrong.

What about us? How many balls did we miss because we jumped to respond before we knew the direction of the kick? And, what do we do about it? Fortunately, some of the most successful people in history, including our present, show us the way. They reflect. They pull back. They ponder.  They wonder. Forrester offers great inspiration if you, like me, often find yourself caught up in the excess weight of too much incoming data to step back. He cites Thad Allen, the Admiral called in to clean up chaos in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf Oil spill, who rides his bike to work for 45 minutes of quiet thinking time. General David Patraeus, in the midst of commanding two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, cleared his calendar for an hour a day to consider what he knew today hat he didn’t know yesterday. Or, how one of the great innovators of our time, the man in many ways responsible for the speed up of our world in the first place, Bill Gates, takes weeks to go “off the grid” to read, write and reflect.

Moments of greatness are possible when we, too, put down the excess mental weight and clear our heads to make better decisions.

  • Keep the first 30 minutes of your morning and the last 30 minutes of your day clear of meetings, emails, and conversations. In the morning, write down the things you want to learn during the day. At the end of the day, reflect on what you did learn.
  • Do one thing right the first time. Multitasking allows you get two things done simultaneously. Increasing amounts of research shows it probably means you didn’t do either well or efficiently.
  • You still need recess. Find 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes in the afternoon to clear your mind. Read something not related to your immediate task. Listen to music. If you sit most of the day, stretch or take a walk.


You may be surprised at how much cognitive weight you can drop in an hour by clearing the clutter. Be inspired by leaders like Admiral Allen, General Patraeus and Bill Gates who reframe mental cleansing time as productive time because it provides the space for better decisions. Drop the clutter, then feel how much lighter you’ve made the burden of your day.

Source: Forrester, D.P. (2011) Consider: Harnessing the Power of Reflective Thinking. New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

Who Do We Think We Are?

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I recently attended a joyous family celebration; a happy occasion that reunited far-flung friends and family members to celebrate a long marriage. It was the type of occasion that invited reminiscing and retelling old stories- not unlike class reunions, alumni events, or catching up with colleagues at a conference. The memories and stories shared at reunions comfort because they reinforce who we are – except when they don’t.

Our biographies consist of the stories of we tell ourselves. Our stories come, for the most part, from our interpretation of experiences. Perhaps a memory of struggling through algebra reinforced through stories about your multiple tutors creates the belief that you’re not good at math.  Or, winning the science fair and a tales of your preference for books over parties cast you as the class nerd who is better at code than small talk. We make sense of our experiences by forming beliefs about ourselves and our relationship to the world- beliefs reinforced by the telling and retelling of our stories.

The trouble with creating stories of who we are and what we can do based on interpretation of experiences is that we may just get it wrong in the first place.  When left strictly to our own devices, we may be the worst interpreters of data from personal experiences.  (There is lots of interesting research on this point.  If you want to check out just how off base we can be, see out Edward Adelson’s work at MIT on the brain and cognition at http://web.mit.edu/persci/people/adelson/illusions_demos.html for some neat tests. )

Left unchallenged by those around us, our misguided interpretations become our stories, and our stories become our beliefs. People become comfortable with our biographies, and may invest in them.  As Kathryn Shultz (2010) writes in Being Wrong, “If we often form beliefs on the basis of communities, we also form communities on the basis of our beliefs.”  A community built up around what we believe becomes a fortress for its protection. If you doubt this strength, watch for it in conversations. The next time you see heads nod when someone claims: We’re not good at X. Remember when  (fill in the blank) or You can’t  (fill in the blank). Once…. you will have seen the power of communities supporting stories, true or not.

Communities and support networks are enormous sources of strength, love and support. They hold our biggest cheerleaders. But, they may also hold stories about us that have never been right or are long rewritten. Moments of greatness are possible when we test original interpretations and update the image.

  • Think about beliefs holding you back from a goal. Test your assumptions about these beliefs. Did you get it right?  Is it still true?
  • Change your story as you change yourself. Put “ I used to be….” in your vocabulary. “I used to be bad at math, but I’ve worked on it and am better.” “I used to be uncomfortable at events, but have found some that I really enjoy.”
  • Advocate for people when you experience their positive change. This is especially important when the person is not present. Offer a new ending to old stories, such as “I’m proud of how well he’s done on….” or “She’s really grown into a great…” 

Whenever we get the chance, we must relish in the camaraderie and support from those who care about us. Just make sure we bring the most recent release of our stories.

A Bike Ride Through Life

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Remember the first time you rode a two-wheel bike? I do. I even imagined how it would be during  trial runs with training wheels. I saw myself racing down the street, legs pumping for speed, deftly making turns into circles.  Just like all of the other kids.

The day the training wheels came off was a big day. Heart pumping, palms sweating, I hopped on. I pushed off. I fell down. Hopped on again and got a gracious assist of a push-off. The bike was moving. Now what do I do? How do you stop it, again? How do I keep it straight?  How much do I move the handles to turn? The wobbling, shaky 20 ft. ride to the end of the driveway was nothing like what I imagined it to be.

My wounded pride and I got back on the bike the next day, and the day after. Every day until I took for granted that I could hop on a bike and pedal away.

My first bike ride, and perhaps yours, is the perfect metaphor for the learning process. It requires stepping up, letting go, trial and error. And falling. Lots of falling and getting back up. Peter Jarvis, professor of adult learning at The University of Georgia, describes the sensations produced by the first bike experience as “disjuncture.” It is the state of disequilibrium in a novel experience that shakes us out of our comfort zone.  It demands our attention. It is the feeling that our current knowledge or previous experiences  (our self “biography”, according to Jarvis) isn’t helping. We become uncomfortable . Disjuncture motivates us to learn so we can close the gap from being uncomfortable to comfortable.

So, we become better with the new thing.  We find our way. We practice. We commit it to memory. We take for granted that we know how to the thing that once made our palms sweat. Part of “take for granted-ness” is good, as we’d be really frustrated learning how to figure out how to speak, read or write every day. But too much “take for granted-ness” puts us in a comfort zone where we don’t do new things. We don’t experience disjuncture. We don’t have to learn. We become, as Jarvis describes, “trapped in the bars of our own minds.”

Even if we could arrange our careers to stay comfortable with what we already know and are good at, those things will change. We can stay in the same job, but it changes as we work with people from different cultures. We can sell the same products, but evolution in user needs will force them to change. We can work for the same company, but it may be sold to new owners. Even the things we try to keep the same will change, creating discomfort from that old friendly source.

The nature of disjuncture is sometimes you go to it and sometimes it comes to you. Reframe it as a friend instead of a threat. It’s the shake out of  “take for granted-ness” that alerts us that things have changed. The good news is that we can change, too. We already know how to learn; recognize shake-ups as the motivation to do it.

Moments of greatness are possible when we choose the vulnerable step out of our comfort zones.

  • Remind yourself of occasions in your life when you successfully learned something from the beginning; perhaps something that is now a strength. When talents become strengths, we sometimes forget that it wasn’t always that way.
  • Do the thing you’ve been putting off because it’s unfamiliar, uncertain or unclear. If you can’t do it all, take on the parts you can master.
  • Find someone for help and encouragement. Perhaps it’s a mentor, a friend or a teacher, but find someone who can show you the way and believes that you can. And when you breakthrough, pay forward his or her favor to someone else.

Remember, we’ll always wobble in the new stuff. But to get better or get to great,  just remember how you learned to ride a bike.

A Little Love for Wrong

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I was in elementary school the first time the feeling hit.   Can’t recall the context, probably multiplication tables or spelling drills. Still, I will always recall the feeling of being wrong. The tightened chest, the gasp in breath, the blood rushing to my face is still vivid. As Kathryn Schulz (2010) describes in her wonderful book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error we can blissfully travel through life being wrong. It’s the moment after we realize you are wrong that is painful. The moment when we feel embarrassed, shamed, insufficient.  It’s that moment that drives us, to avoidance of the feeling of being “wrong” to pursue the warm, comfortable wrap of being “right.” Perhaps you, like me, realized at an early age that being wrong feels bad and being right feels good.

We not only seek the solace of “rightness” for ourselves, we project it onto our leaders. Being right is an expected condition of leadership.  We look for certitude, confidence and strength of conviction in people we select to follow. For leaders, certainty is preferred to hesitation. Determination preferable to review. Declarations are more expected than questions. Because, we have come to expect, leaders must show the way.  Above all, he or she must be right.  We have little tolerance for leaders who are wrong.

What are the costs of the adrenaline rush of feeling right? According to Schulz (2010), there are several. Perhaps the most obvious is that often opinion masquerades as uncontested truth. Right is often in the eyes of the beholder. We can agree on conventionally accepted truths in life, as I learned about multiplication tables and spelling quizzes at an early age. The majority can also agree on moral and civil principles, ranging from the spiritual  (i.e. the bounty of love trumps the harm of hate) to the mundane (i.e. red means stop.)  Conventionally accepted truths might be fewer than we may think, but opinions abound.  Leaders can forcefully present opinion with the conviction of truth, as we will learn again in the next election.

Once we feel right, we nurture it like a newborn. We seek confirmation by looking for information that supports our view and discount what doesn’t. We develop communication strategies to convince others to join us in our rightness.

The need to feel right narrows our circle. We associate with others who reinforce that we are right, because we agree with them and they are right. As Schulz puts it, “If we often form our beliefs on the basis of communities, we also form communities on the basis of beliefs.” The Internet offers plenty of examples of communities formed on the basis of shared beliefs. This nurturing not only strengthens our convictions, but raises the stakes.

The more convinced that we are right, the more frightening the prospects of being wrong. If we can feel this in our gut, imagine the prospects of being wrong for a leader who is the standard-bearer of beliefs for legends of supporters?  The scary prospect of being wrong is one factor that encourages people to hold onto opinions long after their usefulness and at times, long into harm.

Moments of greatness are possible when we are ready to allow ourselves and our leaders to open the door to being wrong.

  • Get to know and learn to like people with different opinions. You never have to agree. But liking someone who sees things differently increases the chances of energetic discussions over personal attacks.
  • Forcefully challenge your views. Take the opposite position to a current belief and argue in favor of it with conviction.
  • Give grace. When you, or someone else, allows for a change in view or an opinion, celebrate it as a moment of greatness instead of a mark of fault.

What’s wrong with being right? Well, nothing.  The benefits of being right, however, accrue to those who actually are right, not just think that they are right.  The conviction has to come from a deep sense of discovery and self-knowledge. And to get to what we believe is right, we might have to admit to being wrong.

It’s a Start

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My name is Susan. I’ve been thinking about starting a blog for a long time; maybe years. So, today is the day I stopped thinking about it and did it.

I care about continuous individual growth and change. In my view, all growth comes from individual choices. Within the storm of everyday lives, we can choose to be great or chose to be less than. Whatever our choice, it ripples out from ourselves to our families, our teams and our organizations. When we chose moments of greatness, our lives will be on an upward slope. And we bring others with us. That’s what I believe.

So, I will share ideas about the choices we all have on a regular basis to be great. Some will be based on my personal experience, including times when I’ve made the right choice and those when I have not. Other ideas will be from the many other people who inspire me. The inspiration comes not only from the outcome, but  through the recognition that they, too, made choices.

I hope that you are among the many who inspire. Your constructive thoughts and choices are invited.