Archive for 2011

How to Be More Present

December 18th 2011

During a book study recently, I had a question or comment from my pastor that really struck a nerve and it left me thinking about it for a while.  It was along the lines of “How do you learn to be more present in everyday life?”  It was a question that I certainly have never really spent much time thinking about it.  I have some of my habits and behaviors that help me stay as present as I do and some of those may be obvious and some not.  I also likely have a number of things that have developed out of those habits that I may not have ever really thought about before.  And of course, there is then the enormous amount of distractions and things that prevent me from being present and only some of those things I purposefully control.

So, I thought I would start on this new topic for me by putting down some of the things that I’ve learned just from recent thinking about the subject regarding being present and some of the advantages of it.

Commit and set a Goal

Being more present or being more anything really in life starts by requiring some new commitment or choice that you want to behave a certain way.  I think this is especially true about being present, since the rest of the world will so easily consume you and keep you from that, it has to be a conscious choice to really let it happen.  Here are just a few ways you might make a choice to act on this.

  • Put attention to small things around you
  • Make unconscious actions something you notice.  Breathing, heart rate, feelings in your toes, the top of your head, your tongue
  • Imaging observing yourself from other people’s point of view, especially strangers or people who don’t know you that well
  • Observe simple actions in others (how they hold their hands, open and closed body position, facial expressions, their breathing rate compared to yours)
  • Match the communication style or behavior style of others (obviously without playing copycat though, you don’t want them to notice and be annoyed)
Picking some of these and deciding what you can do regularly will then give you something to focus on and work towards.  Hopefully every time the situation comes up, you can remember your goal and practice it, which leads to the next element…

Practice by Planning Activities

Plan some regular activity to be a trigger point to become more present.  You can train yourself to use these daily triggers as a reminder for jumping back to the present moment.  For example, every time you get a drink, say hello to someone, stop at a red light, etc.  Other activities that you can plan to practice in is a particular time of day.  For some, this works best by setting aside 10 minutes in the morning or after supper in the evening or some time when you can take a few minutes and simply practice being present in your environment at that time. This combined with the triggers you have for the goals above will really help you find time to repeat and practice being present.

Eliminate Distractions

This seems to be the most difficult part of being present in today’s modern society.  Everything around us is designed to distract us and bombard us with a bit more information.  Whether it is our own mobile devices, our past times like television or the continual advertising we face, everything is hoping to catch just a moment of our time.  These distractions individually are quite small but add them all together and you end up in a day to day cycle of jumping from every little thing immediately to the next, multitasking with ten things on the go at once and endlessly having things to check, read and respond to.  All of these things keep you from being present and can easily be reduced with some dedicated choices and follow through.  That follow through is eliminating some distractions.  I recommend that you really look for some things you can completely get rid of, not just reduce or minimize, but completely eliminate.  Personally, I choose a long time ago not to watch TV, ever.  The commercials and distractions during any show are enough to drive me crazy and can really no longer stand any advertising.  Instead of watching TV, I get some TV series that I like either on Netflix or on DVD, without the commercials.  The shows end up being MUCH more enjoyable as I can watch them whenever I want and without the horrid commercials.  I watch movies as well and don’t miss for a second any wasted time watching TV.  That leaves me a lot more time to focus on other things, think about being present in other activities and it helps to train my mind to find other distractions I can eliminate.

One other distraction I’ve eliminated is answer a phone when I’m in a conversation with someone already.  I want to always focus on the conversation and person at hand and don’t like distractions.  To me, its simply good phone etiquette to put it on silent at all times and never interrupt someone to check or answer your phone.  At work, as an engineering manager, I have a lot of people I am in meetings with each week, my directs, my project teams and the executive team; it makes no difference to me who, I never stop or interrupt a conversation to be distracted by a phone.  Do the same with your friends and family, and the phone can be an easy distraction to eliminate.  Voice mail is there for a reason, use.

Forgot the Past

Next is then knowing to forget the past.  Often, what keeps us from being present in the now, is things we are thinking about that already happened, especially with other people.  You might be wondering about a person’s reaction to something that happened previously, like a comment made, or saying no to that last invite.  If you dwell on those past things you will only make yourself more distant from being present now and so you must let it go and think about the now and what is, at the present.

This occurs a lot because of things that hurt or broke a relationship and it prevents the present from ever becoming dominant, which is what you need for any good relationship to thrive.  Let go of past issues, concerns and worries and think about what you want the now to be like, what could make the present the best and start working toward that.

Ignore the Future

On the flip side of the past, often the future is what blocks us from being present and it surfacing because of thinking about what might happen, or what a person may think if you do or say a certain thing.  The social ties we have often block being present because we know someone else might say something or hear something about what we are doing now.  Being present helps leave those concerns out of mind and let the moments and the people immediately around you be your focal point.  Enjoy what is right there in front of you and let the future be an unknown, something to experience when it gets here and don’t concern yourself so much with unlikely consequences.  You obviously can’t always be in the moment and thinking in the present or your future could slip past without ever having plans or hopes fulfilled, but ignoring the future when you want to enjoy the present is one of the best things you can do.

I hope this article left you thinking as well about how to be more present and living in the moment and its likely an article I should right more on.  I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the topic!

Posted by Mike King under Learning | 14 Comments »

Learning to Say No

November 25th 2011

I’m a very direct person when it comes to how I communicate and saying ‘no’ has never been that difficult for me. However, that is not the case for most people and I have had to coach several people on learning to say no to prevent themselves from being overwhelmed or burdened by requests from others they regretted taking on. There are a few ways to make saying no easier and the first thing to remember is that the whole reason it might seem uncomfortable to say no is entirely in your own mind.  The reason people ASK for things IS to give you the opportunity to say no when it is the right response for you using used cell phones.  Remember that and take a look at these additional techniques.

Change How You Delivery a No

Saying no to most people may seem to harsh and often they are simple too uncomfortable with the words.  You can soften and change the delivery of a ‘no’ by a few things:

  • give an explanation – this helps associate logic with the response (some p
    eople value that)
  • say you want to, but simply cannot or are unable to at that time
  • No thanks, I’m simply not interested.
  • Well I’d love to, but I don’t have time this weekend, sorry.
Saying no doesn’t have to be a negative thing or in any way rude.  Be polite yet clear that you are saying no and deliver it in a way that is more comfortable for you.  If you think back to all the times you have agreed to something and later regretted it, you will find it much easier to remember that you should be willing to say no.

Say No When It Truly Matters

When first learning to say no, it might be very difficult to have that response for everything you want to actually say no to.  There are certainly things you value your time for more than others and its these most important things you value that will help you say no when requests come piling in for your time.  Perhaps its your time with your family you value most, perhaps its your activities, a special event; whatever it is, remembering to keep time available or that important item will help you identify which requests you should start saying ‘no’ to.  The ones that will impact your important time the most, the things that truly matter to you, those are the ones you need to start saying no to first.

Look at your priorities and ask yourself if the new request is more important than those top priority items you want to keep time for and ask if you can fit it in without loosing the time you need for what truly matters.  If either are at risk, it might be a good time to say no.

Keep Previous Commitments

For me, commitments mean a lot and I intend to uphold every commitment that I make.  It builds trust with others when you do what you say and you gain a lot of confidence when you are able to actually deliver the things you promise.  That trust can be something you hold a lot of value in or it can be something you put at risk.  When you are asked for a new commitment, often there is a previous commitment at stake and some risk you won’t have the ability or time to uphold both.  My advice is to keep the first one, keeping that trust and learning to say no to next conflicting request.  Over time, if you are able to maintain commitments and keep that trust with others, the times when you need to say no because of another commitment, become much easier and authentic.  In other words, people will believe you have a legitimate reason and won’t second guess you or think you are just making excuses.  Saying no becomes a lot easier when you have something such as trust at stake and you want to uphold for your character more than some new one off request.  Also, when you know you are going to carry through on any commitment you do make, even something that doesn’t conflict know with an important task, you will know that it might get in the way of something new that comes in that will be more important.  If you already committed to do the first thing, you won’t leave much room for new additional requests that might be more important to you.  Keep this in mind as well and learn to say no when when something isn’t a priority for you and you think it will create a conflicting commitment.  Keep your previous commitments and build that trust with others by doing what you say you will do and sticking to your promises.  If that means you need to say no more often, then at least it is a very good reason to do so.

Don’t Mask It, Use the Word No

Sometimes its hard to say no because you are too subtle, or only hinting that you might say no. Many people won’t take no as an answer or will keep pressuring you if you are not clearly saying no.  Once you’ve had some practice saying no in the other methods in this article, it becomes even easier to start using the word no directly.  Its OK to be direct sometimes as it prevents people from pushing harder or making assumptions that you might change your mind or commit with a bit more nagging.  When you really do want to say no, you should really use the word directly in your response and not mask it behind a maybe or I’ll get back to you.  Simply be polite and say no.

Offer a Suggestion or Another Option

Finally, another great way to learn to say no is to offer another suggestion or option when you are not willing to take on the request.  You can say no to what is asked directly, but then still offer something in return if you are not yet comfortable saying no and leaving it at that (Brother MFC 9970CDW).  You might offer another time that works better for you, you might offer to help for only a portion of what was asked or perhaps you can do something in another way, or lead them to someone else who would not want to say no and be more interested.  Whatever the request, if you do have something else to offer as a suggestion, it can make saying no yourself much easier to do.  I’m certainly not recommending that you deflect requests to other people so you can get out of it, I’m only suggesting to offer a better or more likely solution, which might be someone who is more interested, or it might be something else they could do as an alternative.  What ever else you come up, keep it helpful and genuine.  Offer the other option while you firmly say no to the original request and only offer an alternative that you would want to commit to, otherwise it is still best to simply say no and leave it at that.

Posted by Mike King under Relationships | 13 Comments »

10 Ways to be Performance Oriented

November 19th 2011

One more of the traits I referred to and read about recently in “The Good Among the Great” that I wanted to explore in more detail is Performance and Process Oriented.  I especially value the performance oriented and while I know the process piece is associated with that, to me it is a subset of performance.  This article explores how to put performance as a focus in much of what you do.joy

Work for Joy and Not for Money

Performance occurs when you are happy doing the job you do.  Study after study shows that money does not bring happiness to life or a workplace and so you have to find joy in what you do to truly perform at your best.  Finding ways to enjoy your work are important regardless of what you do with your used cell phones.  At the same time, I don’t think you need to quit your job or find a new career that is more satisfying just to have a joyous reason to work.  Every job has its joys or satisfactions and it requires the person doing them to discover them.  In whatever job you do, you can either choose to complain about it (which many people seem to do in work) or you can find ways that you can value the work, the results you get and make the job more enjoyable.  Perhaps this is through the people you work with, adding some humor or fun to the culture, making some friendly competition or self challenges to make the work more than just showing up for a pay check.  If you don’t enjoy your job now, ask yourself, “Will it really make a difference to liking your job if you get a 10% raise?”  Probably not, however, it will make a BIG difference if you can positively change the culture, make work more fun, know and have fun with the people you work with or simply love the results you can produce in that job.  The great part of having more joy in the workplace, is that you will still end up having better performance which will always lead to that better pay in the long run anyway.

Value The Journey more than The Achievement

Being performance oriented often leaves people solely focused on a outcome instead of truly optimizing the process or journey towards that achievement.  While obviously results are an important aspect of any performance oriented person, they are not the only thing that matters.  The methods, the journey and the process used to get to that outcome is often more important since it is where the learning occurs along the way.  The journey is where the experience is really coming from, not the end result and that experience is what you will remember and be able to repeat.  If you achieve something and don’t know how you achieved it, does it really have any value?

Study The Results of Everything You Do

performance

So, if you look at the journey or your performance and not only the results, it helps to pick apart the results and examine them to help uncover the truths of why they work or how you got them.  Of course the journey is part of this to know the process and methods, but the results are often not as obvious as they might seem at first either.  What impact does the result actually have?  Does the result reach other people, other areas or aspects of that job that you didn’t intend at first?  Are those positive or negative results?  What about the repeat-ability of your results, is there someone else who you could teach or help achieve the same thing?  Can you repeat them yourself?

Reflect on Your Talents and How to Use Them

Something leads to great results and sure the journey is part of that, but often that journey is shaped by a talent that you have.  Do you know what your greatest talents are and is it clear to you when you are using them and how to make them more effective? Being performance oriented will require you to use all of your skills and talents.  Reflect on them to figure how you can use them more?  You are way better off spending your time on your strengths and talents than you are on weaknesses when you are looking to be performance oriented.  Weaknesses may be an area you want to improve on to help get results, but every hour spent using a talent will always get you more than an hour spending working on a weakness.  That is exactly why you would call it a weakness in the first place, you are not as good at it!

Learn From your Mistakes

I am amazed how many people seem to be afraid to make mistakes, want to hide mistakes they do make, and don’t seem to tolerate others making mistakes.  These are not the behaviors of performance oriented people, as hiding and avoiding mistakes is something that limits people from learning from them.  Obviously making mistakes  on purpose is not valuable here, but tolerating mistakes for what they are and then maximizing them by learning from them is incredibly valuable.  Ask yourself why the mistake happened?  Can you avoid it from happening again?  What did you learn from the mistake and can you share that or teach it to others?

Create Experiences Over Acquiring Things

The materialism and disposable world we have created is shifting people more and more towards what they want instead of why they want it.  Acquiring things is often at the top of people’s goal lists or wish lists and it happens more and more as people achieve more.  To be truly performance oriented however, one has to care more about the experiences they gain and wish for over the things they might be able to acquire.  Every thing (even a status item or symbol of prestige) is still for the purpose of the feeling it gives the person.  That is even more true with experiences that don’t come with some item or thing.  The stuff we accumulate often holds us back from being able to do and experience more.  If you want to be more performance oriented, you must think about and shift from acquiring things to creating experiences.  It is the experiences you will remember and value years later and its the experiences you can share with others on a personal level.

Change What Doesn’t Work Quickly

performance oriented

Many people get their mind set on something and keep being persistent, without exploring new options.  Persistence has its merit when it is the only option to accomplish something (like my article on perseverance climbing a mountain) but most of the time there are alternatives choices and methods to get a similar result from.  This is why it is good to react when something doesn’t work and to change it before wearing yourself out or wasting too much time on the wrong thing.  If you can change something that is not working quickly for another method, this is much better than just continually pushing through when there is tiring resistance (either skills, circumstance, etc).  Optimizing the way to get results is important to do at all times, so change what doesn’t work quickly and you will certainly find the optimal path and be more performance oriented.

Kill Distractions and Find Solitude

Distractions seem like they have become part of everyday life now for most people but the truth is that they are chosen by people and it is quite possible to choose to eliminate distractions just as easily as it is for people to choose to have them.  Whether it is how many times a day you check your facebook page, whether or not you stop a personal conversation to answer a phone or simply how you fill your productive and spare hours with extra things like music, a bit of web surfing or checking your email 25 times a day;  all of these are distractions you choose to have or allow.  If you want to be more productive identify the distractions that don’t help you and choose to kill them.  Maybe for an hour to start, a day or if you are determined, forever, but no matter the time frame you have to choose to kill the distraction to gain performance.  Combine that with some solitude where you can actually think about your life and the things you need to accomplish and you suddenly find yourself more performance oriented with an ability to get a lot more done in the same period of time.

Take Risks and Ignore Conventional Thinking

Performance oriented individuals are those who are willing to take risks and they know that a risk is often necessary to take a leap forward instead of always playing everything safe and conservative.  Often conventional wisdom or wisdom of crowds forces conventional thinking that keeps us from trying something new, being creative or experimenting with some idea that might fail.  Without the guts to take the risk, we limit every possibility of it working and kill what might have turned out to be an amazing ideal if only it was acted on.

Relationships Must Come First

Last but certainly now least in this list of being more performance oriented is relationships.  Relationship are absolutely crucial to great success and are one of the strongest areas to help accelerate and connect a person for success. Whether it is for support and empathy from people we know, trust and love, or connecting businesses and networks of business people towards win win situations, no matter what the performance you are after, relationships will help it come faster, make it easier to enjoy and share, and empower you with more passion and emotion than when others are not involved with you.

Posted by Mike King under Success | 16 Comments »

17 Ways to Be More Realistic

November 13th 2011

One of the traits I referred to and read about recently in “The Good Among the Great” was to be more realistic.  Being realistic however, is not always that easy.  There are many things that get in the way of being realistic and hopefully these can help you avoid them and to be more realistic.  Be no means are any of these intended to cause complacency or to stop dreaming, they are more a matter of being realistic to help enable more things in life and easier connections and relationships.  I have always been one to encourage everyone to step out on the skinny branches of life to be adventurous,to have fun and to push the limits of what others like to think possible.  Doing those things while being realistic is certainly possible and here are some ways I think you can do to learn this!be more realistic

Imagination That is Never Acted On

The imagination is a wonderful thing and can let a person dream, create a hope or idea that is otherwise impossible.  It lets you be creative and it lets you explore life in your mind before you suffer any consequences.  However, using your imagination too often and coming across as a dreamer, you can create a reputation of someone who is too “out there” or dreamy without a down to earth approach.  If you act on your imagination and put some of the dreams you share into reality by doing them and living them, you can not only enjoy the things you imagine but others will believe what you imagine is inf act possible.  So, act on your dreams and make your imagination something you and others will see as reality!

Recognize Needs over Wants

The materialistic disposable world constantly sends us a message of how we are inadequate and need to have so much more.  Seeing past this to separate the things you actually need in life from all the distractions and status objects will help you to be a lot more realistic with your lifestyle.  Change your perspective to the money you need to earn from the amount you want to earn and suddenly everything becomes a lot easier.  You do make enough, you do have enough and no, you don’t need to have that upgrade, the latest device, that new sports car or that 12 room house for you and your spouse.  If you put attention to your needs and needs of others, suddenly there is an immediate realism where the extras do not get in the way to complicate things.

Control Your Extreme Opinions and Thinking

I know from my work that I am regularly faced with evaluating and judging solutions for a problem with software engineering problems.  For me, it is easy to be skeptical of systems and people and I used to express these opinions far too quickly.  Combining that with any amount of exaggeration and you have an extreme opinion that doesn’t typically sit well with others and they think you are being extreme, not realistic.  Its quite easy for other people to be the complete opposite where they are so optimistic that they fail to see some of the obvious risks, again being far from realistic.  It helps to control these extreme opinions and thoughts to present each side when appropriate but not to bombard people with one side of that scale.

Share Your Action Plan

Sometimes a goal may seem unrealistic to others and an easy way to change this is to show them an action plan that gives some evidence that the plan is not only well thought out, but realistic considering some work and effort has gone into putting it into action.

Give Things Time

Most people want to rush everything, have everything right now and to be successful immediately in everything they do.  Perhaps its fortunate, although most don’t see it this way, that things do in fact take time to happen or to learn.  The journey of life teaches us that nearly everything takes time, yet people are more and more demanding and unreasonable when it comes to waiting or developing something over time.  Whether this is a kid asking for some new toy, a new graduate or worker expecting the CEO title to come simply by asking, or salary and jobs to come simply be a desire for them.  The fortunate part I mentioned is that those who realize things take time, they can have the patience and dedication required to get those things others simply demand.

Make Fair Judgments and Considerations

Decisions we make and the how we express our thoughts of others quickly affects what others think of us.  Especially when it comes to being realistic and reasonable.  If we are careful and fair in the judgments we have and mindful in what we consider, we will be considered a lot more realistic than if we make quick or rash decisions without any deliberate consideration.

Pause and Think Before Reactingbe more realistic

Not only the way we think and make decisions affect how realistic but we, but even more so, how we react to situations.  Being realistic requires not blowing up in anger, reacting childish when things don’t go your way or reacting emotionally that would be considered over reacting.  If we can stop and think about our reactions before expressing them, we can eliminate a lot of dangerous things that might otherwise be said or done.  This will result in giving some time to think about a response being having it, which will then be much more realistic than a reaction not yet thought about.

Put Yourself in Someone Else’s Shoes

You have heard this saying a thousand times and it couldn’t be more true when it comes to being realistic when dealing with other people.  Whether its a close relationship, on the job or a political decision, often putting yourself in someone else’s shoes is enough to get you thinking about more than one perspective, and it helps you be realistic.

Be Humble in Your Approach

Humility comes after many other good traits and being humble in your own behaviors helps to ensure you do not put your own perspectives and worth above that of others.  It is to ensure you see yourself and others equally and this can make many situations and decisions much more reasonable.  Knowing you are enough as you are, and that others are equally important can help you consider everyone in discussions, in decisions and in life.  Being humble is a great way to be more realistic as well.

Use Active Listening

Similar to many other items in this list, short sighted views are often what lead us away from realism and towards fantasy.  If you are willing to listen to others, and really stop to actively listen, there are always things to learn from others to help us be more realistic.  Whether it is a best friend sharing a concern about an idea, or a family member pointing out some way they were hurt by you, if you stop to listen, you can get off your own path and put others first.  Even a fantastic idea that you might have will have a number of things to consider once you actively listen to others upon sharing the idea, and it can shed some new light or risks on the plan that you could easily of overlooked yourself.  These additional perspectives are especially useful in work decisions and listening to others and getting some collaboration to help can make you be more realistic.

Ask More Questions

Assumptions are what lead us all to jump in early, take on more than we can chew, think ourselves to be more capable than we are and generally get us into trouble for unseen risks.  All this can be avoided by asking more questions.  Whether this is for a project in your work, a home renovation, a new relationship or commitment in one, or simply an everyday decision, asking more questions before jumping in can help avoid all these pains and to discover something that would otherwise surprise us.

Dream, But Dream With Intention

Similar to the imagination above, dreams let us hope for something greater or something we desire.  Dreams are great but they are not enough if there is no intention of fulfilling them so you must put some intention into that which you dream about in order to make those dreams more realistic.  If you are moving towards a dream, it gets more and more realistic, so be intentional with what you dream about!

Do What You Say You Will Do

People who are realistic are often considered very trustworthy. One way to be very trustworthy is to consistently stick to your promises and do what you say you will do.  From returning phone calls when you say you will, to being on time when you make a commitment, to holding true to a life long spousal promise, doing what you say you will do can be almost at any size, but will built trust and leave people knowing that you are realistic with what you tell them, since you can be trusted.

Ask For Help

Most people like to think they can accomplish everything on their own and that they don’t need help and yet they often can see when someone else is struggling and not asking for help?  Its strange that we let this ego block us from simply stopping and asking for help.  When you do though, especially when everyone can see it already, you admit the need and asking for help makes you seem believable and realistic to see that yourself.  When you put on a facade that you can do it all yourself, you destroy that perception others have and your own truth of being able to handle it on your own.  Usually this leaves some casualties or negative consequences you never intended.

Be Authentic

One of my favorite subjects is authenticity.  It applies here in being realistic because others can easily detect a change in behavior or personality, even when we can’t see it ourselves.  Sometimes we act differently in each circle of our life and that gets exposed by people who cross those circles.  That can destroy our authenticity and we cannot be believed as a realistic person if we are not consistent.  Being real requires that we are consistent all the time and so being authentic about ourselves and our true selves, if crucial to be more realistic in life.

Expose Some Emotion

Everyone has their slip ups, bad days, loss of control and the odd ‘Monday’ that gets the best of them.  Its OK to let out some emotion from time to time and show that we are excited, hurt, upset, joyful, anxious or nervous about something.  These expressions show variety and the ups and downs of life.  If we are always controlled, balanced, non-reactive and seemingly ‘stone faced’ to events around us, its hard to understand that this kind of person is even aware of everything going on.  Some reaction is often better than no reaction at least in extreme circumstances and without it, we can seem distant or disconnected from reality.  Its OK to be expressive at times and just let out some emotion.

Admit Your Mistakes or Failures

And finally, one final way to be more realistic is to not protect your blunders, your mistake and failures.  If you only ever expose your best side and hide the messy journey it took to get their, people can have a very hard time relating to your story and in some cases, your success.  Be quick to admit your mistakes, sharing how they happened and how you learned from them.  Don’t be afraid of failures, just use them to your benefit and to benefit others by avoiding the same.  All your accomplishments and your character will be much more realistic when you are willing to admit your mistakes.

 

Posted by Mike King under Learning | 6 Comments »

Finding Happiness in Authenticity

October 29th 2011

This week I have a wonderful guest post by Jesse who takes on the challenging topics of authenticity and happiness.  If you like this subject, I recommend you also check out my review of and buy Daniel Gilbert’s book, Stumbling on Happiness

I always thought that there was a formula to life, a recipe that if you got just right would result in success.  And I thought I’d know success when I found it.  I’m not even referring to financial success, although that’s always nice.  I guess I’m referring to a kind of happiness, though not the kind of euphoria that most folks seem to mistake for happiness generally.  As I began to get older, I started to realize that many of the people I’d been emulating all along didn’t have the answer.  In fact, nobody I talked to seemed to even have formulated the right questions.

I think this is a feeling many people have, especially if they tend at all toward introspection.  And we’re natural imitators.  It comes out of our early social construction I suppose.  Even our basic likes are borrowed.  You may love baseball, but you likely inherited that from your father or older brother.  When we start digging into the things that compose our “self” it can look like a layering of borrowed likes.  I think that this is what people are referring to when they say they need to go “find” themselves.  I think it’s really just a longing for authenticity.  What is it that you really like?

In the search for personal authenticity (it’s like buying dodge ram parts), it can be helpful to ask yourself what you really like.  We become so accustomed to acting in non-authentic ways that by the time we’re adults we’ve created a subterfuge that even fools ourselves.  But do you really like reading Tolstoy novels?  Or are you happiest reading cheesy detective novels.  We convince ourselves constantly that we like things because we intuit throughout our lives that liking certain things commands more respect from other people.  Reading Ulysses always commands more respect than admitting a fondness for old comic books.  But I would suggest that we would all be happier if we were less interested in pretension and more focused on what we really truly find pleasurable.

I was nearly thirty when I realized that the education and resulting career path I’d chosen weren’t the result of pursuing what I really liked.  I quit my job and went back to college and got a degree in English literature.  I realize that most folks can’t just quit a job for four years to pursue a degree that may not have huge economic potential.  But if you’re doing something you don’t love and you really wish you’d studied history instead of accounting, you can still do it.  Pursuing your original authentic academic interests with online education classes at home in academic areas in which you always had interest means that you can enrich your life without drastically changing your routine.  Just because you chose an academic major at eighteen based on income potential, or because your parents wanted you to study medicine or law, doesn’t mean it’s too late to pursue your authentic interests.

There’s a phenomenon that happens to folks as they grow older that’s common enough that we have a name for it in our culture.  The “mid-life crisis” as it’s called I think is just a belated response to a longing for authenticity.  But a new convertible or some other material acquisition is unlikely to solve anything—although this seems to be a popular way to self-medicate.  And it’s understandable.  Those of us that have come of age anytime after the post World War II economic boom have been raised in a society driven primarily by consumerism.  It makes sense then that we tend to believe, whether or not we’ll actually admit it, that the ability to consume can make us happy.  And the ability to consume is measured in dollars.  We may not verbalize it, but we’ve internalized consumerist attitudes and tendencies so completely that it still forms our underlying attitudes about success and happiness.  And that can form a real roadblock to encountering one’s personal authenticity.

It’s sort of a shame that so many of us don’t encounter true personal authenticity until fairly late in our lives—if ever.  I had a conversation with a young man—fresh out of law school—recently and I asked him about happiness.  What is it that would make him truly happy?  He told me, with no hint of irony, that a $200,000 annual salary by the time he was thirty would be his true measure of personal success.  I asked him about happiness and he responded with a definition of personal success.  It makes me wonder if we’ve created an entire generation of individuals who’ve tied their ideas of happiness so completely to a vision of financial success that any hope of real personal happiness is almost impossible to achieve.

Finding authenticity isn’t always easy.  It’s an inward journey that requires introspection and personal searching.  And those things can be difficult to engage in when we’re surrounded by the accoutrement of postmodern life.  It’s easy to get sucked into a lifestyle where multi-tasking and work has crept stealthily into our personal lives and we have increasing difficulty staking out time that’s truly ours.  I work as hard as I can at my job.  And there are times that I bring work home with me.  But I try to make that an exception.  I’ve begun to get better at defining the difference between success and happiness.

It’s a gradual process.  But it’s possible.  And it’s a journey.  A year ago I began to fall into the habit of working about an hour later every day at my office because of a high priority project.  I’d shut my laptop and drive home, give my wife a peck on the cheek and then promptly open my laptop to do a few more work-related items.  Guess what?  My project was completed on time and under budget, but I continued bringing work home.  I was letting my job deprive me of what makes me authentically happy—the simple routine of spending time with my wife and reading in my overstuffed chair while she putters around the house doing what makes her authentically happy.  And I’m not reading Tolstoy anymore either; I’m reading Mark Twain.  I like it.  I like it a lot.

Begin Your Own Quest Toward Finding Happiness in Authenticity

If you find the idea of taking a journey toward authenticity and inner happiness appealing, there are concrete steps you can take to get you started.  It’s not a bad idea to take some time to unplug from your normal hectic workweek schedule to pursue some solitude and quiet introspection.

Unplug for a Weekend

This is tougher than it sounds.  Spend a quiet weekend without your usual distractions.  Shut off your TV, close your laptop and turn off your mobile phone.  This may sound easy, but we’ve become so used to over-stimulation and the postmodern barrage of electronic gadgetry, that a shift into uninterrupted solitude can be unsettling.  My father used to refer to these kinds of weekends as “hermit weekends.”  That’s a good way to think of it.  If your surroundings are quiet enough that the loudest sound is the clock ticking on the wall, you’re off to a good start.

Self Examination

Start thinking about what you used to prize more than anything else.  I’m not talking about anything work-related either.  What did you used to be passionate about?  What did you enjoy more than anything else before you became consumed with measuring happiness by financial success?  These are usually simple things.  For some people it may be a form of communing with nature.  Quiet walks, kayaking, hiking in the great outdoors through riotous autumn colors and the smell of wood smoke.  Whatever it may be for you, focus on it and identify it.

Re-think Your Goals

Start thinking about the goals you have in place.  What are they measuring?  Are they motivated by consumption?  Do they revolve around material acquisition?  If you find yourself answering yes consistently, that’s a great first step to identifying self-built barriers to experiencing real happiness. Begin a process of changing goals from strictly material ones to “happiness” goals.

Substitute Old Goals for New Goals

Shift goals and personal drive away from material goals toward person-centered goals.  Personal happiness isn’t the only thing sacrificed on the altar of materialism and conspicuous consumption.  The happiness of family members and bonds between spouses and children tend to be casualties of consumption-driven goals as well.  The goals we have shape our outlook and activities.

Focus On Relationships

If you’re focused on constantly working overtime to boost income for a new house or new car, you may want to reexamine your motives.  Are these things necessities?  Or are you single-mindedly pursuing the accoutrement and trappings of success?  If a new home isn’t a real necessity, you may find that experiencing simple happiness is a lot easier if you work less and spend more time with family members instead of co-workers.  Unhappiness often results from neglecting relationships.

Re-define Yourself

We have a unique way of defining ourselves in Canada and the United States.  I first noticed this when traveling through Europe.  When I asked people what they did—a common question here in North America—they tended to respond very differently than I was used to.  They didn’t respond by giving me their profession.  Instead they responded with the activities that made them happy.  So rather than saying they were surgeons or lawyers, they might say they were mountain bikers or rock climbers, triathletes or poets.  These folks did not define themselves by their professions or by how they made their incomes.  They defined themselves by their sources of great happiness.  Just changing how you define yourself can make a huge impact on your happiness.  Defining yourself as a parent instead of a stockbroker will inexorably begin to shift how you perceive yourself and what your priorities are.  If you undertake some serious introspection about authenticity and happiness—and realize it requires a journey—you’re on the right path.  The beautiful thing about a journey toward happiness is that it’s really never too early or too late to begin.

Jesse Langley enjoys spending time with his family, watching athletics, and writing about professional and personal development strategies.  He writes regularly for Professional Intern

Posted by Mike King under Success | 7 Comments »

Book Review: Acting Up Brings Everyone Down

October 24th 2011

The Impacts of Childish Behavior in the Workplace

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Author: Nick McCormick

His previous book, Lead Well and Prosper was a big hit with me and I’ve used it for training several people in my workplace on good management and leadership behaviors that are easy to implement and measure.  This led me to be really excited about McCormick’s new book.  So, this book is a look at many of the actions that employees often carry out in the workplace, that really stem from childish behaviors.  They are examples of some of the low level thinking that goes on in the workplace not for the best possibility for the organization, but typically for some behavior learned long ago and still carried into the workplace years later.

Overall, I think McCormick has a nack for making things in the workplace a lot simpler than many people first realize and he has done this again very well with his outline of a behavior in each chapter.  The chapters and content cover the majority of the poor things you might see in a typical office where behavior is something not managed well or where there is truly a lot of dysfunction and little positive teamwork and accountability.  I have the joy to say I just don’t have to face many of these in my work and so, ready through them, I really had my doubts if these are typical in business or not, the text certainly says so and I hear it all the time from friends at other work environments.  I’ll continue to have that luxury in my work and enjoy the lack of these childish behaviors.  For that reason, I lowered my star rating as I personally just didn’t find much value here, and it seems to highlight behavior that I can’t believe is more easily eliminated before getting the level often written about in the book.  The cartoons, while amusing add to the childish message and I thought they were over the top, losing some of the credible seriousness a business book should have.

So, keeping that in mind, there are certainly a lot of things to learn from if you have a workplace or work environment where people do act childish, there is fighting between people and groups, and where the power plays and politicking resort to childish levels.  Excuses and blame games are two of the topics, another is covering up mistakes, as well as taking more than your share.  All of these childish things are described in a work context but as the childish act and story.

McCormick has 14 short chapters in the book, one per topic and at the end of each, he outlines very clear dos and don’ts, similarly to his last book, which I really like.  These do reinforce his points in each chapter and make the book very easy to learn from and actions to take away.  So, its a very short and easy read, and simple to understand so if you face childish behavior in your workplace, then perhaps this book is the perfect guide for you (and maybe for some of the others acting childish as well!).

Posted by Mike King under Book Reviews | 7 Comments »

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