Thursday, April 3, 2014

What's working?

Another thing I learned from the training from Verus Global ( that I took a few weeks ago is to focus on what seems to be working.  What strategies or techniques are getting me what I want?  At work, dealing with a challenging relationship, am I getting better responses with emails?  Text messages?  Phone calls?  At home, are some strategies leading to harmony while others lead to conflict?

This is an important subset of positive thinking and focus.  It isn't gratitude.  It isn't thinking of all the good things that have happened recently--all the good outcomes.  It isn't optimism.  It isn't imagining myself achieving my short and long term goals.  It isn't affirmation--thinking about my best qualities to strengthen my self image.  All of these are extremely important aspects of positive thinking.  They all support mental health, happiness, and success.  But this isn't what it means to think about what is working.

Thinking about what is working is the aspect of positive thinking that focuses on PROCESS.  What METHODS are working. What HABITS and APPROACHES are getting me what I want?

This is where I think about my volunteer work and say, "Good things seem to happen for my neighborhood when I ask for help from Cincinnati government officials."  I think about a very tough relationship at work and realize, "He cancels our meetings, gets irritated by text messages or phone calls, but I've had SOME luck with short, polite emails.  Need to do more of those."  At home, I think about balancing my personal goals, my volunteer work, the needs of my wife, and the needs of my kids.  Then I realize, "There's more harmony when I start each weeknight or each weekend day with an all out focus on wife and family.  Afterwards, I sense that my family feels supported, and that they believe I have 'earned' time for my other priorities.  As long as I cycle back and forth between full focus on their needs and full focus on my own needs, everybody seems happy."

Awareness of what's working and what isn't may be easy for some people and difficult for others.  For me, it is NOT automatic.  It's an awareness I need to apply consciously and with effort.  But when I do it well, I find that it makes life a lot easier.  Becoming aware of and emphasizing those things that are working is like becoming skilled at finding shortcuts--finding the easy way out--so that I can get what I want in life with less effort and struggle.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Relishing Conflict

My last post was about the commitment I've made to getting something positive from every interaction.  The commitment was inspired by the training I received from Verus Global corporation ( that was founded by the authors of "Stomp the Elephant in the Workplace" and other books about creating a positive culture at work or at home.  Of all the interactions I've had since this training, there is one kind that appears over and over again that starts off as stressful but ends up as constructive if I handle it correctly.  This is the interaction that occurs when someone objects to one of my proposals.

It happens with my wife, my kids, my volunteer work, and it happens over and over and over again at work.  I have an idea.  I mean well.  I think it's a fine idea.  But someone shoots it down.  Sometimes they aren't very nice about it.  They not only shoot down the idea, but sometimes they seem to be questioning my motives or even my integrity.

I generally find myself welcoming these objections.  I know that almost always the other person means well.  Even if, in some cases, they could have found a nicer way to make their point, almost everyone I know at home or at work who disagrees with me is usually primarily driven by some value, belief, or principle they truly believe.  If I sense sarcasm, it might be my imagination, but even if it isn't, the sarcasm is secondary. What is usually primary is that the other person just doesn't agree.  And if I focus on that core motivation--honest disagreement--then there is a huge opportunity to move ahead.

It's even better if the other person's comments are public.  Because now it's time to react.  If I look past any sarcasm or any words that "hooked" me emotionally, I can re-evaluate my position.  If I still think I'm right, I can explain my position respectfully and persuasively and gain more support from the group that is involved in the discussion.  If, instead, the other person has taught me to see things completely differently and I'm now aligned to their point of view, I gain trust with the group by humbly telling this to the other person and thanking them for their input.  And if, as is usually the case, I find myself with a new proposal that blends both of our points of view, the other person becomes an ally and the group respects the compromise that we've developed.

I've seen this happen dozens of times in the last few weeks.  For example, I'm the President of the community council for my neighborhood in Clifton, and there were over 100 emails going back and forth about my proposal to declare to City Hall what was the "best use" of a vacant property.  This was controversial because an overly aggressive definition of "best use" could scare away so many developers that the property would remain vacant for years.  But every negative email felt to me like an opportunity to bring the group together on a final resolution.  With each objection, the resolution was "tweaked" until finally I felt it was far more effective than it would have been without all the conflict.  I actually found myself looking in my Inbox and feeling glad whenever there was another objection.  I'd often feel a sting if I felt there was some sarcasm or anger in the objection, but the sting was not as strong as the feeling I had that by the time I responded we'd be in a better position than we were before someone said, "NO!!!  I DON'T AGREE!!!"

Sunday, March 2, 2014

No Bad Conversations

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:  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

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

Multitasking at its Best

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.
Multitasking is bad mainly when I'm taking on multiple tasks that each demands concentration.  When I drive in an unfamiliar city while talking on a cellphone and trying to appreciate music on the radio I've taken on 3 tasks that demand conscious effort, thought, and concentration.  When I'm at my desk at work and keep jumping back and forth between emails, phone calls, and working on a presentation, I do all of these things poorly.  This is the kind of habitual multitasking I hope to weed out of my life in the weeks or months to come.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Changing the Past, Present, and Future before Breakfast

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 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?