[Warning: If you are interested in a calm, comfortable life, this blog will be counterproductive for you.]

Monday, April 13, 2015

I Finally Saw The Grand Canyon and It Wasn't What I Thought

Yesterday, I was flying to a conference and the pilot announced we were flying directly over the Grand Canyon. I've never been to the Grand Canyon and got excited.

This is what I saw. From that height, seeing the Grand Canyon was actually boring. I don't think that was Grand Canyon's fault, though.

The 22,000 foot view isn't always the best view. People are often told not to get stuck in the weeds--and that's true. But you also make mistakes when you get so high level you can't see the details.

1 - Every grand dream needs to result into a specific step you can take next week. I know many people who have had dreams for their life that never left the "someday" category. I lived this way for years, dreaming about writing but never actually writing. Books don't just happen, they are the fruit of many small choices to write one more sentence.

2 - How you say something matters. "I want to get in shape" does not have the same power as "I want to lose one inch off my waistline by the end of next month." Being more specific is like sharpening the edge of your sword.

3 - Leaders who cast vision and set culture can't ignore the day to day details. Your noble speech and innovative ideas have to translate into the computer systems and financial incentives and dress code of your organization (to list a few examples). Your people live on the "ground" of your company, not 22,000 feet in the air. 

Maybe I was sensitive to this because I when we flew over the Grand Canyon, I was working on a round of final edits for my leadership book about a leader who ignores the details (and pays for it). But this experience reinforced one of the big insights that has shaped my life:

Every great idea eventually degenerates into hard work. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

3 Options When Facing Social Pressure

Most people first notice the power of peer pressure around age 12. And for a while it pretty much rules our lives--these are often our hardest years.

"Social pressure is the mother of all stupidity." --from Crucial Accountability

And peer pressure doesn't go away at the end of high school. Truth be told, we aren't so very different than we were in junior high. Most of the same longings, fears, impulses and questions burn inside of us. But we do have one key difference: We can be aware of peer pressure. We don't have to be ruled by it.

Three options when facing social pressure:

1) See it coming--and fight it. Decide what is most important and go for it. Don't ask around to see if others approve. And for the really big stuff, be prepared to leave people behind if they don't want to go with you. Some things are too important to subject to a popular vote. You'll never regret doing what's right.

2) Harness it for your own benefit. Surround yourself with people who value what you think is important. Create peer pressure to do the right things. Want to be a better parent? Hang around great parents as much as you can. Exercising friends can inspire you to finally exercise, too. 

3) Find another source to satisfy your longings. The bad news: Those longings that woke in you as a child aren't going away. They are who you are at your core, shaping your life in ways often overlooked. The good news: There are healthier ways to satisfy every longing. And nothing frees you from peer pressure like having your heart be extravagantly loved by God. A Twinkie isn't so tempting after I've eaten an epic Easter dinner.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Seeing Your Own Culture Is Like Seeing Your Own Posture

Culture: The assumptions and habits of a group. Your organization's culture (whether your job, church, family, or group of friends) is the unconscious thinking (the assumptions) and unconscious actions (the habits) of the majority of the people.

Your culture promotes some people to power and marginalizes other's opinions. Your culture makes some decisions happen fast and makes some complicated and slow. And all cultures have this impact--not just good or bad cultures. The question is which people and decisions are impacted, not whether people or decisions are impacted.

The first step in shaping culture is moving it from unconscious to conscious awareness. Before I can shape my culture, I must be able to truly see my culture. Too often it's like seeing your own posture the way others do. You have to do extra work and use extra tools to get a clear look at yourself. If you don't understand what's going on and why, you can't change it.

Can you clearly describe the culture of your organization? For example...

What topics does the leader NOT want to talk about?
Who are the heroes?
How is conflict viewed?
What exactly does "on time" mean? 15 min early? Right as it starts?
What roles are seen as most and least important?

These are just sample questions to get you started. Getting clear on you culture might require a lot of thinking. But it's so very worth it. The culture you have is already shaping everything else.

Being ignorant of your culture doesn't keep it from shaping you. It keeps you from shaping it.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

5 Ways To Grow Faster By Increasing Self-Awareness

Increasing your self-awareness is like pouring jet fuel on your personal growth. It requires the courage to take an honest look at who you really are, not who you want to be. But let's assume for this post that you are brave enough to really see yourself as you are (which is a big assumption).

How do you learn more about who you are? If the core problem is that we are biased to only see what we want to, how do we get around our blind spots?

Here are five ways to learn more about yourself:

1) Take personality assessments. There are so many of these available. I take at least one new one each year, because they each look at a different aspect of who I am. Some are like getting X-ray while others are like an MRI scan. Google anyone of my three favorites below to take these for little to no cost--or ask me how:

  • Strengthsfinder
  • Meyers-Briggs
  • DISC

2) Send a survey to friends and family. What do you want to know more about? Is it your leadership, your people skills, or even what blind spots you have? Ask the people who know you best. If you want to make it anonymous you can use www.surveymonkey.com to send a free, anonymous survey. It's easy to create one there.

3) Reflect on the most satisfying moments in your life. Think back to when you have been most satisfied in your life. Write down a short summary of each experience. Maybe it was a great vacation or winning a championship or just a great book you read in your bed at night. Look for a handful of common themes. What do these say about what your heart responds to?

4) Think about your heroes. Who do you admire most? What about when you were a child? Who do you want to be like today? Write down the names and the first things that come to mind about each of them. What it is that made them heroes to you? What does that say about what you think is important?

5) Keep a personal journal. The seasons of my life I have wrestled with big decisions, been frustrated, anxious, or unsure, I have kept a journal. I sort of keep one now (you're reading it). But what I'm talking about is a place you can write down your raw thoughts. (Whatever it looks like, I do actually plan and edit these posts.) In my journal I wrote like I was talking to myself, reacting to my day or working through what was bothering me. Something about writing down my thoughts and feelings without any editing allowed me to think more deeply about them--to see them more fully. I can't tell you how many times I'd begin with a question only to end with the answer staring me in the face.

This is just a short list of examples. You can spend a lifetime getting to know yourself better. If you want an exceptional life, you will need to become a true expert on yourself. You are the only thing in your life that you truly control. You are your most important resource. Do you know how you really work? Maybe it's time to figure yourself out.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The Learning Zone

If you want to learn, you have to get in the learning zone...

Where have you gotten too comfortable? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Can You Really Make Your Brain Smarter?

A revolution has been going on in the area of brain science. About 10-15 years ago the idea that intelligence was determined by your genes was challenged. It started with a single research study showing that with a type of brain training people could increase their IQ. And it has exploded to hundreds of studies and dozens of books. Dan Hurley (author of Smarter) waded into the controversies and breakthroughs with one big question driving him: Can I make myself smarter?

Taking us on the journey with him, he explored all the methods for improving your brain. For example:

  • The Mozart Effect (listen to classical music)--proved to be false. Music can put you in a better mood and can help you on a test.
  • Exercise--proved to have real impact. Whether cardio or strength, exercise makes your brain work better. It is a physical organ, remember.
  • Lumosity (brain training games via app/web)--initial studies look very promising. With dozens of games, this company allows you to see improvement in your performance by playing 2 min games day after day.
  • Learning a new language--no improvement in any other area of brain performance could be found. You do know a lot more words, but that seems to be about it.
  • Learning a new musical instrument--seems to impact other aspects of intelligence. Several studies showed that this new skill has some crossover benefits to other skills.

The author picked seven things to try--those the research says have the best shot at improving brain function--and tried them for several months. Some he stuck with (exercise) and some he didn't (meditation). He took a battery of standard intelligence tests before and after...but I'll let you read the ending to see if it worked for him.

For me, there was one HUGE learning from this book. Hurley addressed the criticism that many scientists have made, namely that each of these brain training programs only gets you better at that particular test--that you can't improve overall intelligence, only get better at particular skills. I'd heard that enough that I came to believe it--like the book I read on memory training where a guy learns to remember long lists of numbers, but couldn't even remember lists of letters, let alone have a better memory in real life. Hurley shows that while this does happen when you use special techniques (like the memory guy did), these other approaches do increase overall intelligence.

I'm convinced. We can get smarter.

However, he does a good job explaining that there are limits. Genetics is still the largest factor in intelligence--we don't all start identical. We do get to add to whatever we started with, though. And the studies show that those who started with lower intelligence scores benefit the most from training--they can catch up some on those who started smarter.

Well written and important, if you're curious about the latest thinking on brain science, this is a great read for you.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Analysis AND Action (Better Planning May Be the Problem)

It's seductive to wait and plan rather than step off the cliff. Every day I spend analyzing, planning, preparing reduces my risk, right?

But the learning I can get through action is FAR more reliable than the imagining and assuming I am limited to do when I'm not testing my ideas in real life.

It doesn't have to be a big step. I probably shouldn't take a big step. But taking one small step and learning from it both moves my dream forward and reduces my real risks (through learning).

Likely To Struggle                            Likely To Succeed
Still working on the detailed plan      Action-oriented
Builds the full version first                 Takes small steps and builds on the way
Wants certainty before acting           Looks for growth through unexpected results
Keeps idea private                            Collaborates with many others

What's your next step? Maybe your plan is good enough. Maybe you know enough to take the next small step.