Saturday, November 21, 2015

How far have you stretched this month?

There are weeks and months when it feels we are called to stretch our consciousness to extremes. We encounter fear and sadness and excitement and laughter all within a short walk of each other. In the back of our minds, all the regular concerns about work and family and life keep running.

The statue of Jesus as a homeless person outside Regis College

Waiting for Santa Claus to come
I took these pictures last Sunday morning. They ended up being thematic. All day inside the training we encountered the same strange mixture of excitement and connection and old grief and new confusion. It's the nature of the work that people find they are ready to deal with stuff they have left just outside their awareness while they got on with their lives.

Life is this crazy mixture and we either stretch to reach all of it or shut ourselves off from information that we could use to make better choices. If you ignored all the world's crises this week because they are overwhelming and discouraging, you might be making the best choice you can with the resources you have. Yet you know that some part of you is tracking the news and incorporating it into your expectations of the world. This is how priming works. If advertising can get into your head, then tragedy can also find its way to your edges. And so can families playing street hockey while they wait for Santa to arrive.

At the gym, you might stretch out to prevent injury. But if you over-stretch, you'll cause injury instead. When you know that life is pulling your attention in radically different directions, you are stretching. To avoid over stretching, you need to pay attention and you need to create small parts of your day when you simply shut down and notice what you are feeling. 

Your social media feed will urge you to respond to everything - now! The media will provide an endless stream of information that is out of your control without being outside your awareness. You can try to outrun information, but it's hard to outrun the part of you that's noticing. You can try to stretch to understand it all, but the differences are so wide. You'll be in danger of over-stretching.

Or you can just notice that you are not immune and you are not in control of anything except the choices you make. You can choose to stretch and then rest, knowing that the rest is as important to developing your potential as the stretch is. It's not so much the middle way as the moment of stillness while you choose a new direction, the moment when all is possible and no stretch is required.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Engaging the monkeys in a conference room

Carole Luft opens Leading Words

On Saturday, we held an unusual conference. Although it began much as every conference begins (with a welcome from a podium), there had been an unusual amount of hugging as people found their seats. Scattered around the tables were monkeys–monkey cutouts, monkey stickers, monkeys sitting in the fancy chair at the front. Everywhere were reminders of what the Buddhists call Monkey Mind. And our goal for the day was to get the monkeys to focus, engage, and show their most loving, cooperative, and ingenious selves.

What do you think of when you think about monkeys? Do you imagine playing, shrieking, mischief or cuddles? Do you think of mindless activity or of a sudden, focused interest in a puzzle to be solved? All of these are typical of monkeys. All of these are typical of the monkeys in your mind–the troop of ideas, emotions, biases, memories, and hopes that are in perpetual motion as you try to focus, to think, to make decisions.

What would you do to control a troop of monkeys? Do you imagine that threats would be effective? Probably not.  Instead of force, you would want to engage the monkeys, to make them want to play nicely together. I have never been alone in a room full of monkeys. But I have been in a room full of dozens of small children. And I watched them gather, and still, and focus and cooperate because I had something they wanted. I had a story.

The next time you stand at a podium, ask yourself: what will engage the monkeys in the minds here? If you feed only the logical monkeys, what will the other monkeys do? You've seen experiments where only some of the monkeys get fed. That never leads to focus: it is more likely to lead to chaos. It's important to feed all the monkeys: the ones that feast on numbers and logic and the ones that feast on social connection, on purpose and on play.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Is time management really energy management?

Do you have enough energy for what you want to do?

So many people are busy managing their time, and yet they can do nothing to change the number of hours in a day or days in a week. The calendar programs and expert tips all talk as though 5 minutes were always 5 minutes. And yet, you have experienced 5 minutes as an eternity and 5 minutes as a heart beat. In NLP, we would say that your state determines how much time 5 minutes contains.

When people complain they don't have enough time, I wonder if they are really saying that they don't have enough energy. It's a much different question and harder to solve with an app. It would mean that instead of auditing how productively you spend your time, you would need to understand your personal economics of energy.

What if every activity consumes energy but some activity also produces energy? You know this is true. It always takes energy to get started. But sometimes you are so engaged in something that you become more energized as you go along. Your energy may temporarily require a rest, but overall that activity may linger in the background and keep you motivated for days. You can think of things you love to do that have this effect on you: when you do them, you are energized by your activity.

When you were very busy doing things that produce energy, you would have the focus and motivation to move through many events or interactions in a single day. Each moment might open up into flow and allow you to accomplish more thinking in less clock time. You might find that you were able to hold the bigger picture well enough to think in patterns instead of pieces. Others would be amazed at how fast or deep you were able to go.

If your calendar seems too full, maybe it's not your time management at fault. We all know people who are very busy with very little on their schedule, and other people who always have time to connect although the don't have time to list all their activity in a calendar or an app. If your day feels overwhelming, perhaps it's not the number of activities that is the problem. Perhaps you haven't scheduled enough activity that generates energy.

Monday, September 28, 2015

If you can own it, you can carry it

This post will surprise some of you. I often talk in metaphors because they are a very compact form of communication. A metaphor uses something known to explain something new or intangible. In a very few words, you can sketch in a web of relationships and meanings. Although many people don't know the word 'metaphor' very well, they use metaphors unconsciously. It may be that metaphors are hard wired into our brains.

image credit: Criss Cross via free images (license)

Sometimes the wires get crossed.

One of the great achievements of human beings is that we figured out how to own more than we can carry. There was a time when a person could own only what they could move around on their own. That was a long time ago. Now we own houses, cars, furniture, and overstuffed backpacks. We own more than we can carry.

This is fine until we use our stuff for a metaphor of our internal experience. We are afraid to face many elements of our experience because we are conditioned to believe that it's possible to own more than you can carry. But the stuff of experience is not like the stuff you can put in a garage. We are already carrying all of our own experience, even the parts that are stuffed at the back of our mental closets where we can hide them and even, for long periods of time, forget them. We can carry even the parts of ourselves we are trying to disown.

So if you can own that part of yourself, you can carry it. You might need to strengthen some emotional muscle to carry it without pain. You might need to build some flexibility to move easily with it under different conditions. But if you can own it, you can carry it.

Your emotional baggage is always carry on. And it's always labelled so clearly that it will be returned no matter how often you "forget" it in the boarding lounge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What's the Point? Without purpose, it's hard to do good work

I met with two business people this week. Both were the kind of people you would want working on your team: professional, committed, interesting. And both of them were engaged in work that had only the fuzziest of purposes.

It makes you wonder how much our economic reality would change if we gave everyone the benefit of a clear, compelling purpose for their work. It's hard to be productive when there is no clear criteria for knowing you have done a good job and no real (I mean something you can see!) result for doing the work. No matter how much you want to work, a 'why' makes a big difference.

It's my pet peeve with people seeking training. "We are interested in some training in NLP," the voice on the phone says. And my instincts say "run!" Because people who won't commit to a purpose are unlikely to achieve a purpose and 'some training' is not a purpose. I ask them "what will change if this training goes as well as it can possibly go." Most of the time, there is an uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line.

It would be nice if all employers gave each employee a sense of purpose and clear criteria against which to evaluate their own performance. Since that seems unlikely, the next best thing is to own your own work. "I was tasked with finding X" is not a compelling reason to do anything. Find a reason that makes senses to you, a reason that will move you toward your own bigger picture goals or that will satisfy your own values.

This isn't just a matter of 'feeling better' when you have a reason for the work you do (although there's evidence that is important). When you are clear about what you want to change in the world as a result of your work, your whole mind becomes involved in making that happen. You're not just motivated to work harder: you're motivated to work smarter. You make connections and innovations because your brain is all fired up.

Get yours fired up. Find a reason for your work and make it vivid and compelling and tangible.