Sunday, March 2, 2014
A few weeks ago, during a training class, I was challenged to get something positive out of every interaction, every day. Some interactions might not feel good. There may be anger, disappointment, conflict, and stress. But the challenge is to always get something positive out of the experience, to grow in some way and help the other person grow. In the words of the trainers, to somehow use the interaction to "activate potential".
The training was called "Pathways to Leadership". It was facilitated by trainers from Verus Global. Here's a link to their website: verusglobal.com. Verus Global is led by Craig Ross and Steve Vannoy, co-authors of several books including Stomp the Elephant in the Office.
Verus Global doesn't use the term "no bad conversations". That's my description because it resonates with me. Verus Global uses, instead, the term "Best Ever Principle", which they say is to use your "ability to realize and activate potential in every interaction, every day." As soon as I heard about this concept, I kept thinking about how I could possibly do this in the more difficult interactions in my life. Making a phone call to someone who I know is angry. Responding to an email that is needlessly insulting. Dealing with sarcasm. Meeting with someone who usually will not listen. Confronting someone on a team who is not doing their part. These are the conversations I've routinely avoided, even when they are the conversations I need to have to make progress.
I think the trainers are correct. It IS possible to find a way to grow in these interactions. If nothing else, there is the growth that comes from calmly expressing what I feel and what I believe with the best possible intentions and growth that comes from listening intently to the other person's point of view. Moving past any negativity while seeking to understand the other person and always seeking to make the situation better. I can't imagine many situations where this approach would fail to lead to SOMETHING positive.
So, for the last few weeks, I've mentally prepared myself to get the best out of ANY meeting or phone call, especially the ones that could be difficult. I've kept the "Best Ever Principle" in mind when responding to a nasty email or getting ready for a potential conflict. And it's worked very well so far.
Sunday, February 9, 2014
The opposite of multitasking is to settle your body, settle your mind, settle your environment, and settle your attention on what is left. Settle your attention on the emotions, thoughts, and bodily sensations that remain. When you think about something you need to get done at work today, you say, "Ah! Thoughts about work," and then return your focus to the present moment. If any other thoughts arise, you again notice this but gently return to the present.
In short, the opposite of multitasking is meditation.
Saturday, February 1, 2014
Sometimes when I'm working through my emails, and I'm ONLY working through my emails, I'm STILL multitasking. It LOOKS like I'm focused. I'm not texting, not instant messaging, not on the phone. The TV is off. Stereo is off. And if you could read my mind you'd see that I'm not even THINKING about anything except the emails on hand. So how can this be multitasking?
Anyone who is multitasking is really doing one thing at a time. What makes the activity "multitasking" is that the person is, by choice, switching back and forth between tasks far more often than necessary at the expense of their concentration, focus, and effectiveness. If I multitask with email, I choose to switch from one message to another far more often than necessary and often end up with little progress getting through my inbox.
Here is an email. What should I do with it? Delete it? File it? Respond to it? Figure out a future task to address the email and record this task in planner? If I switch to a new email before I've taken the time to finish this process, I've chosen to switch my attention too soon. I'm most likely to do this when its hard to decide what I'm going to do about an email. But each new email presents a new situation on a new subject with new people involved. It's a tough adjustment to make and if I needlessly jump quickly from one to the next, this is no different from needlessly jumping back and forth between work emails, texting, creating a report, and planning for the weekend. I'll only succeed at ridding myself of multitasking if I take email multitasking as seriously as other more blatant multitasking habits.
Saturday, January 25, 2014
Everything I've read says multitasking is bad, and I'm sure it often is. In fact, I've decided to make it a priority to reduce how often I multitask. I've learned from books such as Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength, by Roy Baumeister, that it's best to focus on changing just one habit at a time, even if it takes a few months. Last year I first focused on driving down the number of emails in my inbox that were distracting me like a huge pile of unread paper mail on a desk. After forming new email habits, I shifted to forming a habit of consciously relaxing at least 10 times per day, even if just for a minute or two. Now I've decided to, much more often, choose mindfully as my day progresses what is my current top goal, the number one activity to which I want to devote my attention and to stop trying to do so many other things at once that I do none of them well.
But do I want to get rid of ALL multitasking? When I use the treadmill in the basement, I love to turn on the TV, log into Netflix, and watch an action movie, comedy, or other "guy flick" that I'd never be able to convince my wife to watch. I'm doing two things at once: exercising and watching a movie. But I'm enjoying it much more than if I just walked briskly while staring at the wall. Similarly, I love to listen to Audiobooks while driving to work. Two things at once. Is it multitasking? Even if it is, where's the harm?
There are purists who would say that even this multitasking is wrong. When driving, drive mindfully, with precise awareness of how the car responds to the steering wheel, taking in all the sights and sounds--going beyond paying enough attention to go from Point A to Point B and, instead, making the drive an opportunity to be present, to be mindful. Another form of meditation that leads to relaxation and calm. When walking on the treadmill, feel the muscles, the accelerated heartbeat, the deep and fast breathing. Feel the sweat.
Of course driving and exercising CAN be forms of meditation. But do they always need to be? I use other times during the day to meditate, but if I didn't listen to audiobooks in the car, I'm sure I'd never find the time to listen to them and I'd miss out on my favorite way to educate myself.
I've been trying to figure this out today: when is multitasking bad and when is it perfectly OK? I now have a theory that feels right to me:
- Multitasking is fine when your highest priority task is the only one that is consuming most of your concentration, attention, and effort. If you can do other things at the same time with little to no effort, then it can be OK to multitask.
- I can drive to work on Auto-Pilot. When I'm driving to work and listening to an Audiobook, I can apply most of my mind to the Audiobook and still find my way to work
- I can walk on a treadmill mindlessly and focus my mind entirely on the movie I'm watching.
Tuesday, December 24, 2013
One of my favorite iPhone meditations is the "Six Phase Meditation" that is part of the Omvana app. I think what makes this meditation stand out for me is that it guides me to take the time to look, in a healthy way, at my past, my present, and my future. Here is a link to the Omvana website: omvana.com
Omvana collects many, many meditations, but I think that some of the best are created and read by Vishen Lakhiani, the CEO of Mindvalley, the company that creates the app and the website. In the "Six Phase Meditation", he first guides you to appreciate the PRESENT by relaxing the body and becoming aware of your consciousness and connection to everything around you. Next, you enhance your memories of the PAST by thinking of things you are grateful for and by bringing to mind anyone you are angry at and practicing forgiveness. All you have from your past are your memories. Focusing on gratitude and forgiveness strengthens your best memories while your worst memories are allowed to wither and fade into the background they deserve.
Lastly, Lakhiani has you imagine your perfect FUTURE. First, he has you look out 3 years and imagine your life at work, socially, spiritually. Next, he has you look at TODAY. How would your perfect day unfold?
Any iPhone meditation gets stale if you use it daily. But I've found it useful to frequently do an abbreviated "Three Phase Meditation". I might only spend 5 minutes, but it makes a big difference for my past, present and future. I try to do this before breakfast.
In that 5 minutes, with now iPhone app, I'll first spend a couple of minutes tuning into the present. I might just relax in a comfortable chair, scan my bodily sensations from head to toe. Or I might do a "progressive relaxation", tightening and loosening muscles from head to toe. Or I might imagine golden light entering my body with every inhale and cloudy, grey negative energy leaving my body with every exhale (another Omvana meditation). Or all three.
Lastly, I like to imagine how my day will turn out. Especially before breakfast. Early enough to make an impact. Visualize being relaxed at all times. Visualize getting 2-3 big things done. Visualize some fun, some good experiences with family and friends. I don't need to, every day, visualize the future 3 years out as in the Omvana meditation. But who doesn't have the time to picture how we'd like THIS day to turn out?
Sunday, December 15, 2013
I see a connection between Charles Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and a book I just read about the psychology of time. In the "Christmas Carol", three ghosts help Ebeneezer Scrooge develop a new perspective on the past, the present, and the future. The book I just read and wrote about in this blog last week, Philip Zimbardo's The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time, is also about people's perspective on past, present, and future.
As I described last week, you can take Zimbardo's test for your own time perspectives at this website: Time Perspective Inventory. What do you do if your perspective on the past, present, or future is not positive enough? This week I'll focus on the past.
If you don't like your past, CHANGE it! Zimbardo points out that your memory of the past isn't some kind of perfect record of everything that happened. It's filtered by what you focus on as you recall the past. Do you focus on the good things or the bad? Ebeneezer Scrooge focused on certain aspects of the past. He needed the Ghost of Christmas Past to point out things that happened but that he'd failed to notice. Just as the Ghost changed Scrooge's perspective, we can change our own perspective by changing what we spend time remembering about the past.
Gratitude is key. Recalling, frequently, good things that happened, things we are grateful for allows us to rewrite the past. By focusing on our recent good fortunes, we create positive feelings about our past. It's probably a good idea to do this for both the recent past and the more distant past so that our overall feelings about our lives are as positive as possible. I've often heard that these memories of good events have more of an impact if you also conjure up the feelings you had at that time, the feelings when your wife did something nice for you or when you got good news at work. This changes your experience of the past not through distortion but through selective focus on real events and real feelings.
Sunday, December 8, 2013
I just finished "The Time Paradox: the New Psychology of Time", by Philip Zimbardo. He's the Stanford professor who did the famous experiment in 1971 with students pretending to be either prisoners or guards. As described in this link (Stanford Prison Experiment), the experiment was aborted in 6 days because the guards became sadistic and the prisoners depressed even though they know it was make believe.
For the last 30+ years, Zimbardo focused his research on the psychology of time. What are people's attitudes toward the past, present, and future? Is there a way to measure these attitudes? What attitudes or perspectives are healthy and which are unhealthy?
Zimbardo developed a test that you can take in about 10 minutes for free at this website: "Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory". Everyone in our family took the test as I was reading the book. It gives you a score in each of 5 areas: 2 related to the past, 2 to the present, and 1 for the future. And it gives a ballpark "ideal" score for all of these.
My results? Good, low score for "Past Negative". I don't dwell on regrets. But not high enough for "Past Positive". Based on my score, I don't have enough warm memories that I enjoy reliving. I never felt that this matters too much because I focus on present and future, but the authors describe lots of positive benefits to occasionally reliving memories of family, friends, and fun to build roots, traditions, connections, and community. If you don't do this habitually, they say that you can strengthen this part of your time perspective through gratitude journals and simple practice recalling good things from the past.
Good, low score for "Present Fatalistic". I don't feel at the mercy of fate. High score for "Present Hedonistic" but not high enough. Zimbardo would say I need to party more. More focus on fun, joy, pleasure.
High score for the fifth and final category "Future". So this helps with goal setting and planning. But my score's a bit TOO high according to them. They say that if your score is too high, you might have a tendency to accept too many responsibilities, too many projects. I'm sure my wife and kids would agree. Zimbardo's recommendation if your "Future" score is too high? Just say no.