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

Thursday, November 15, 2012

The Meaning of "Mean" (Behavior-Based Communication)

When we communicate with each other, whether it's as leaders, friends, or family, we don't usually name the specific behaviors we see. Instead, people usually offer a summary of those behaviors. We interpret what they're doing, put a label on a handful of behaviors, and use that word or phrase instead of naming the specific behaviors we see.

For example, when was the last time you saw someone be rude to someone else? To be over-technical, you've actually never seen anyone be rude. Rude isn't a behavior. What you've seen were behaviors that you interpreted as rude (interrupting, rolling their eyes, ignoring you, etc). Rude is the label you use to interpret and summarize behaviors you've seen.

And if you've ever tried to tell someone they were rude and they replied, "No, I wasn't." then you've experienced the problem of using labels vs. behaviors when you communicate.

Using labels muddies the message. Instead of saying, "You're being rude", you could have said, "When you interrupted me, that frustrated me." It's much, much harder to argue with the specific behaviors.

So why do we use labels? In part, it saves us a lot of time. "Rude' is a lot shorter than listing out all the behaviors. And, in part, get into the habit of it. We start using labels very early in our lives. My children learned to label other's behavior when they were toddlers. Many times they've reported to me and my wife that a sibling was being "mean".

But we learned early on, that like adults, kids use "mean" to cover a wide range of situations. So when they come and complain to me, I have learned that they don't always have the same definition for "mean" that I do. It could be that their sister came and took away the toy they were playing with. (I'd agree with the "mean" label there.) Or it could be that they tried to steal the toy, but were thwarted. (Their sister wasn't being very "mean" in that case.)

"Mean" doesn't always mean what you think it means.

What happens when you don't use behavior-based communication
• People can dismiss your statements as invalid
• People are unsure of what to do and so do nothing
• People may misunderstand you and guess (wrongly)
• People don't know how to fix the problem
• People transmit your message with very different interpretations

What happens when you do use behavior-based communication
• People can't argue with your statement (you did or didn't do a specific behavior)
• People know exactly how to improve
• People know exactly when they do or do not meet the standard
• It's easily reproducible--leaders who work with you can hold others to your standards exactly how you would have done

This might seem like I'm playing a game of semantics without any substance. But I believe that up to 80% of interpersonal conflict between friends comes from the arguers using different definitions for a word (or phrase) without realizing it.

For example, if I told you my wife said I was mean when we played a board game, what would that imply to you? What do you see happening when you hear me say that? A few years back, we had a real argument following the end of a board game when she did make that claim. I won that particular game. No, I crushed everyone else. It was awesome.

And my wife thought it was mean.

What she meant by 'mean' was that when I pulled ahead and took a strong lead in the game I didn't start throwing the game so that people weren't beat too badly. Instead, I used my strong position as leverage to slow my competitors down even more and win WAY ahead of everyone else.

In my competitive mind, when playing a strategy board game this was only logical behavior. But to my emotionally sensitive wife who measured a successful game by how much fun everyone had, this was "mean" play. We argued for a while before we finally got around to naming the behavior that frustrated her. What could have been a 2 minute conversation became a 30 minute disagreement. When I finally realized what she was really talking about (how I mostly shut down my brother, who was playing the game for the first time) I acknowledged she was right and apologized.

My wife and I were talking in generalized, summarized language which led to miscommunication and frustration.  We moved from saying, "You were mean tonight" to "When you shut down my city even when I was so far behind I'd never catch you it felt like you were trying to keep us from having any fun at all, since we weren't a threat anyway." That was something I could do something about. That was behavior-based communication.

How much conflict could you save in your life if you stopped labeling and started naming specific physical actions? How much would it change your conversations with your kids? Your friends? Your coworkers?

Friday, November 2, 2012

Can I Drive This Truck Over That Bridge? Pt 3 of 3 - Relational Capital & Energy

In the last two posts on this topic (Part 1 and Part 2), I talked about deciding when to deal with conflict by asking the question: Can I drive this truck over that bridge? The truck is the conversation--and the more difficult the issue the heavier the load. This post deals with the last 2 of 4 sub-questions that help me decide when to press the gas pedal and launch into a confrontation.


3. Do I have the relational capital to issue this challenge?
Compare the "weight" of the challenge and the "strength" of the relationship. The stronger your relationships, the heavier the load you can carry on your truck.
One way that helps me is to think about my relationship like a bank account. The more I do to encourage, help, and serve the other person, the more I have in the account. But when I criticize, correct, or hurt the other person, I make a withdrawal. Make sure that you have enough in your account to cover the cost of the conversation. If you attempt too much, your check can bounce, so to speak, and not only do they not change and grow, but they usually charge your relationship an extra fee for reaching too far.

Or, to return to our main metaphor, not only does the truck not get there, it breaks the bridge and crashes into the water. You're worse off than when you started.

4. Does my client have the energy to implement this change?
Change requires energy. Have you ever started working on a new habit, only to quit 3-4 weeks later? It's likely that you didn't change your mind--you still wanted to make the change. But you ran out of the energy to keep working on it.

For years, I tried to implement morning exercise habits and never made it past 2-3 weeks. I wanted to do it, but among my mistakes, I didn't pay attention to the energy required.

This is one of the reasons that I'd recommend tackling one issue at a time. It is possible to convince someone who trusts you to attempt to change far more than they have the energy to actually pull off. You'll get the truck up the bridge, but crash with success almost in your grasp.
In the end, like a real truck driver, you don't get paid for driving almost the whole way and losing your cargo in the river. You drive the truck so you can get to your destination, not just to see what happens. How often in your confrontations have you driven a truck into the river? Which of the four supporting questions is the one you most often forget?

What's the one change you can make to increase your chances of truly helping others grow when you offer challenging feedback?

Monday, October 29, 2012

Can I Drive This Truck Over That Bridge? Pt 2 - Heavy Loads & Permission

Confrontations don't have to be so risky. In my last post, I challenged you to think about when you confront, not just whether you're right. And I revealed the question that has made a huge difference to the confrontation conversations in my life:

Can I drive this truck over that bridge?

In the last post, I offered some principles that change how you think about hard conversations. In this post, I'm going to dive deeper into the diagram and help make it very clear how to when it's the right time to confront.

Specifically, there are four questions I ask. Their answers add up to the final answer to the big question above:


1. How challenging to the other person is the issue I'm bringing up?
The more emotionally difficult the issue is, the "heavier" the load in your truck and the stronger your bridge (relationship) needs to be.
In general, start with the easiest issues and as you experience success your relationships and their maturity grows. You can then work your way up to the heaviest issues.
Also, I strongly recommend taking one load at a time (dealing with only one issue). We all have multiple areas of our lives that need improvement and change. But the best people developers I know accept us before we fix all our issues AND therefore have the freedom to challenge us to work on only one or two substantial changes at a time.

2. Do you have permission to proceed?

Just because you see an issue doesn't mean you are allowed to address it. And just because you have permission in one area of life, doesn't mean you have it in another. Correction without permission feels like an attack. Ask permission and respect their answer. (Note roles like being a boss or a parent have built in permissions--even obligations--to offer challenges. The other 3 questions need to be addressed, but this one should be clear for them.)
Note: Sometimes you have to proceed anyway. There is a place for major life interventions, when someone is about to ruin their life long-term. It's like trying to jump the truck over the bridge. Oh, and it's about as easy to do successfully as it would be to really jump a huge 18-wheeler over a bridge. Do it only when you really believe there is no other choice and the rest of their life hangs in the balance.

In my next (and final post on this diagram/metaphor), I'll cover the last two sub-questions.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Can I Drive This Truck Over That Bridge? Confrontations- Part 1

Confrontation conversations are hard. They rarely go well and most people don't like them. But what if you could dramatically increase your success rate?

Most advice on this focuses on what to say. This is important, but not the whole picture. I used to believe that the truth was sufficient all by itself. If I shared truth in love, then the confrontation should be successful. But it didn't always work. In fact, it often didn't work. Something beyond the content of my correction made a big difference. (Of course, that's assuming I was always right--which would be bad assumption.)

This post is about a part of the confrontation that most people don't think enough about. Not only do you need to think about what to say, you need to be mindful about when you say it. Even the most carefully crafted conversation can go wrong if you do it at the wrong time.
I use this question to decide when to confront: Can I drive this truck over that bridge? 

There are some special relationships that I think have special rules, such as marriages or your boss--and yes, those are supposed to be two different relationship categories. :) But for the vast majority of relationships, I think about a truck on a bridge.

First, take a good look at this diagram--which not only has a truck and a bridge, but a cute bird. (It's a picture with something for everyone.)

  • The truck: the issue/problem you need to talk to the other person about
  • The bridge: the strength of your relationship with the other person
  • Driving the truck successfully across the bridge: the other person receives your challenge and growth happens (enter the cute birds singing)
  • Driving onto the bridge, the bridge breaking, and the truck crashing into the river: the other person rejects your correction--no positive change and a good bit of frustration on both sides
Big Idea 1: Having a hard conversation is about helping the other person grow.
It's not about venting your emotions so you feel better. Success--getting to the other side of the bridge--is helping them change and grow, not you feeling better. Usually, the better job you do blowing off steam and feeling vindicated, the worse job you've done helping the other person grow.

Big Idea 2: Readiness is defined by the other person, not yourself.
You've prepped your content and are eager to correct--but it's not about your readiness. Yes, get that ready. But then pay attention to their state of mind and your current relationship with them.

Confrontations are much more successful when they are about helping the other person, not making life easier for you. 

Big Idea 3: You can never MAKE someone change.
No matter how well you prepare for confrontations, you will not achieve 100% success. You do have the responsibility to do your part well. But perfection on your part does not remove their part--personal choice. Even Jesus, the perfect man in my faith, had one of his hand picked disciples (Judas) choose not to reconcile in the end. Allow others the same right you want for yourself. Don't try to choose for them. And don't make other's choices your measure of success. Take responsibility for handling your part well--their response is between them and God.

In the next post, I'll show you some "sub-questions" I use to really decide whether I can drive the truck over the bridge (and I'll talk more about the details of the diagram, like the pillars on the bridge).

Monday, October 15, 2012

4 Life Changing Lessons From How Felix Baumgartner Survived An Impossible (World Record) Skydive

Over this past weekend, Felix Baumgartner took skydiving further than it's ever gone before--literally. He jumped from 24 miles high (no, that's not a typo), was in free fall for almost 4 1/2 mintues, and broke the sound barrier (fell/flew faster than Mach 1), before opening his chute only a few thousand feet from the ground.

He did what had been impossible. In fact, others have died trying to break the previous record (a jump from about 20 miles high).

His motto (seen on his website www2.felixbaumgartner.com) is: Everyone has limits--some people just don't accept them!

What limits have you accepted for your life? What's keeping you from acheiving your dream--from doing what seems impossible?

What if you didn't let those limits define you anymore? What would you do if you knew it would succeed?

I had lunch last week with Alonzo, a new friend, who never believed he had what it took to go to college, let alone have the career he wanted. Then a man he respected told him he could do it, and now he's about to graduate from college and is choosing which grad school to attend (he's got some great options lined up). His life is totally changed because he  redefined his limits.

Another friend of mine told me two weeks ago about her husband's new career. In his 50's, he decided to become a lawyer--a longtime dream. It's too late, others said. She didnt expect him to finish law school. Not only did he finish law school, but he applied to work in the District Attorney's office in a large city--and got the job. He's living his dream more than 30 years after it was "too late".

Stop accepting your limits!

But this isn't just an inspirational moment. Learn from how Felix pulled off the impossible. It really can happen.

1. He planned and planned--he didn't jump and then think.

He first mentioned this record as a goal in 2005. Seven years later, he was finally ready. He set a huge, crazy awesome goal and set out to work towards it properly. Surviving the jump was a key element the dream. :)

Planning is not the opposite of pursuing your dreams. In fact, the best dreamers harness the power of practical planning to their dreams. When practical planning rules, you may not do all you can. But when practical planning serves the dream, it's powerful and freeing.

Just because your dream is far away doesn't mean you don't start working on it today. What would you love to do so much you'd work on it for years?

2. He learned from the best--he didn't isolate himself and try to do it alone.

Felix worked with many experts to build the baloon he jumped from, his suit, etc. But he only wanted one person talking on the radio headset he wore during the jump: the previous record holder. Now in his 80's, Joe Kittinger was not just included, but became Felix's key partner.

Who has done something similar as what you dream about? How can you learn from them? Can you enlist them to help? You might be surprised at how many people who've lived their dream are happy to help others do the same. Ask.

3. He used the latest tools--he incorporated cutting edge technology.

From the balloon to his suit (based off the NASA spacesuit) to the GPS chip in the chest of the suit, Felix harnessed the latest technology to make his dive possible and more meaningful. You don't always need more technology, depending on what your dream is, but don't overlook how a recent breakthrough in another area could change what's possible in your dream.

Even small changes can up in the end. What technology or methods related to your dream can you research to see what's changing? The internet makes finding out this information easier than ever--take advantage of it.

4. He practiced--a lot.

Felix had spent over 2500 hours in freefall before making this dive--and it may have saved his life. The first portion of the jump, instead of getting into a tight "delta" position for a controlled fall, he tumbled wildly. He experience allowed him to stay calm and get control before it was time to pull the chute. Also, he wouldn't have broke the speed record if he wasn't in the right position.

Start building your skills now. When your big opportunity comes, you need to be ready.

Twice, I've changed my entire career. I did the second change with a new wife, smal children, and little money. If you plan and work well, the impossible is within reach.

Monday, October 8, 2012

How Doing Less Can Help You Do More

I haven't posted much here lately. It wasn't because I decided to do less blogging. It's because I forgot a crucial principle for productivity.

I didn't pay attention to my stop doing list. See, for every new activity and goal you choose to pursue, you have to stop doing something else. And if you don't deliberately manage that, it's possible for really important things to accidentally end up with less time and energy. My life got overfilled and something I care about, but has no immediate consequences, spilled out.

In my case, I got a new phone last week. And not just a new phone, but I switched to a new smart phone with a totally different platform. I "had" to spend a lot of time loading apps and setting my greeting and picking a cool background. Where did I get all that extra time? I did less blogging.

Like most people, I don't sit around for hours a day looking for something to do. My days are full of tasks and people and entertainment. So all that phone setup time came from somewhere. Oh, and the week before that I spent my blogging time working on editing the rough draft of my new book.

Every new idea for something to do has to be evaluated not just by how good it is by itself. But you need to think about what you'll have to stop doing in order to make time for this idea.

Do you have dreams and goals for your future, but they never seem to move closer? Want to write a book? Or run a marathon? Or start a company? Maybe your key next step is not to come up with a new idea on moving forward. Maybe what you need to do first is clear up some energy and time by stopping doing something.

What could you do less of in your life to make room for more valuable activities? What could you outright stop?

Here are some of what I stopped doing to make room for actions I value more:

I stopped watching or reading the news. If it's crucial, others will tell me about it. Or I can go look up that particular issue. (Google News Alerts are awesome for this.) Otherwise, 95% of the news is learning about things I can't do anything about.

I stopped watching TV shows live (I only watch them on DVD or via instant streaming). No waiting for commercials or having to sit down at an exact time. I don't even have to finish the show if I'm tired or have other things to do. Watch as much as I want and then pause and come back to it. (Netflix and DVR technology make this option super easy to do and not very expensive.)

I stopped listening to music on the way to work. I have hundreds and hundreds of CDs (and have them all loaded digitally on the cloud, too). But I wanted to read more and discovered audiobooks. So, I made the choice to "read" on the way to and from work instead of listen to music. (Audible.com offers "memberships" that allow you to purchase book credits for $9ish rather than the $20ish listed.)

IMPORTANT--I'm not saying everyone needs to stop these things. Given my particular list of options, they were good choices for me. I don't miss the things I stopped hardly at all. I and certainly love what I'm doing instead. But you don't have to make the same choices I did. You have a different set of dreams and options. I list these examples only because they are assumptions that many people hold on to--you have to do these things.

What "of course I do this" could you stop doing? What would it allow you to start doing?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

How To Upgrade Your Life Overnight

You can improve your life dramatically in multiple areas with nearly instantaneous results by change just one thing. I'm talking about enhancing your energy level, boosting your fat-burning metabolic rate, supercharging mental creativity, extending patience with others, broadening your sense of humor, making it easier to be more spiritually holy--even increasing your memory capacity.

One change can literally do all that--and a bit more. I'm completely serious.

All of these elements of your life depend on the quality and quantity of your sleep. Change how you handle that part of your day and you will instantaneously change your life.

Certainly, there's more to being creative or being patient with others, for example, than just sleep. But your sleep does set a ceiling for all these areas. Think about it.

When you are thoroughly exhausted, it's very hard to do life well. But it goes beyond that. Many, many of us have forgotten what being truly rested feels like. The vast majority of us have trained ourselves to expect a life lived with less sleep than we actually required. In fact, it only takes about 2-3 weeks of consistent living to cause your brain to settle on a new "normal". It will then stop complaining about the sleep it's missing. That doesn't mean it doesn't need that sleep. It just learns to stop complaining about it--to stop sending the signals that demand more sleep or else.

(Our brains are phenomenally adaptive. We underestimate this capacity in so many ways--but that's a whole other post or two.)

Scientists have done many sleep studies that put volunteers in a room without windows, clocks, watches, etc. They are provided with entertainments, food, etc--just nothing that let's them know what time it is. The idea is to see how people sleep when the only boundaries come from their body. Among the many things learned, every single participant says at the end, "I had no idea what it was like to truly feel rested! I haven't felt this good in a very long time."

How much of life are you missing out on? How long has is been since you fully and deeply slept? When did you train your body to stop complaining and tough it out?

Buy a better bed. Seriously. You spend more time on your bed than anywhere else in your life. It doesn't seem that way since you're mostly unconscious while you're there. But it's the most used and most important furniture or appliance item in your house. As one of my mentors says, "Buy the most expensive bed your conscience will allow you to buy." It's worth it.

By the way, there are some really great ways to avoid paying full price on name brand beds, but still upgrading your sleep dramatically. For example, you could put a memory foam bed topper on your normal mattress instead of buying a new memory foam bed ($170 instead of $1,500).

Sleep more. Many people talk about 8 hours of sleep as ideal. But sleep studies show that the ideal length of sleep for 95% of people is just over 9 hours of sleep. Oh, and studies also reveal that sleep loss is cumulative. So if you miss a few hours here and there, you can literally catch up by sleeping a few hours longer on the weekend.

Of course, if you wait too long--2 to 3 weeks for most people--your brain gives up trying to recover and creates a new normal. For some of you, it may take you 2-3 weeks to retrain your brain to get used to sleeping properly. That was also in all the sleep studies--everyone goes through a readjustment period where they slowly learn to sleep a full night again.

Studies of school children showed that for every 15 min of extra sleep, on average, those students earned a grade letter higher. Some high schools in America have are now starting an hour later (expressly to give their kids more sleep) and have seen overall grades jump . Even thirty minutes more sleep will make a difference in your life.

But I don't have time to sleep more! I've got too much to do! (Sound familiar?) However, if you're more rested, you'll not only enjoy your life more, but you'll get more done faster. If your life and job require thinking at all, you'll be more productive. Trust me, I've tried this and it works.

Live Within Your Natural Sleep Cycle. Sleep studies have shown that there are three basic sleep patterns and that they we are all wired with one, much like a personality type: the morning people, the mid-day people, and the night people. Sleeping at the time of day your body prefers will give you higher quality sleep.

Which type are you? Well, you can force yourself to live in any pattern you want. Your job or family life might push you into a particular pattern. But think about what you're like on vacation--when the restrictions are removed. Think about how you sleep when you are fully rested.

Morning people wake up, their brain at full speed, around 5-6am. (Again, think about when you're rested, if you're sleep deprived then it doesn't matter what your natural cycle is, you'll wake up tired.) Their brain is on fire until about 11am, then they are ready for bed around 8-9pm.

Mid-day people, when rested and without any external pressure, like to wake up around 7-8am. Their brain is juiced until about 12-1pm, and they want to go to bed around 10-11pm.

Night people like to wake up around 10-11am. Their brain hits it's daily top speeds around 9pm-1am and they want to go to sleep around 2-3am.

This one is more challenging. You can't always tell your boss or your two year old, "I'm sorry, my natural sleep cycle means I don't have to wake up right now." But any movement you can make to align with your natural cycle will have a big impact with the quality of your sleep--even if you get the same amount of sleep.

Oh, and about 10% of people are morning people, 70% of people are mid-day people, and 20% are night  owls.

Take Afternoon Naps. 95% of us need an afternoon nap around 3:00-3:30pm. (The Spanish and Italians afternoon siestas are totally right.) We just train ourselves to ignore that natural lull and push through it. NASA requires its astronauts to take naps when on mission. They did a study that showed a 26 min afternoon nap improved performance--mental and physical--over 30%. Winston Churchill and Woodrow Wilson both took afternoon naps. (Churchill napped on huge leather couch in his office and Wilson, when he was President of the US, had a nap room next to the oval office and actually changed into full pajamas every afternoon!)

It's hard to find the time for this--I can't do this regularly. But when I have had the chance, I can always feel a huge mental boost. I have even reserved a conference room at work, gone in there and turned the lights off. Then I've laid on the floor for 20 minutes and set my phone's alarm. Or I've gone to my car and turned on the A/C--again with a timer for 20 minutes.

Get Your Sleep Analyzed. There are multiple ways to evaluate your sleep patterns. You can discuss your sleep with your doctor. There are clinics that you go spend the night in and get evaluated while you sleep. And there are devices you can wear at home when you sleep, including the Zeo headband that talks to your smart phone http://www.myzeo.com/sleep/ (prices start as low as $99 for the equipment).

If you are still thoroughly exhausted after sleeping what should be enough, don't ignore what could be a real medical issue. I'm not a doctor, so I can't tell you what symptoms to look for. But I can tell you that in college, one of my roommates discovered he had sleep apnea. It's a condition where you wake back up almost as soon as you fall asleep, dipping in and out of light sleep. You're sleeping, but never deeply. It's a life-crushing condition. Weight gain, mental exhaustion, emotional stress...so much of our lives depend on good sleep.

I had lunch with a friend just a couple of weeks ago and he told me that he'd discovered only recently that he had sleep apnea as well. When he got diagnosed and treated (you can treat it and get real sleep again), his wife said it was like getting her husband back.

Want to change your life  overnight? Get more and better sleep. I know of very little else that can have such a powerful impact on so many things. Don't overlook this crucial aspect of your life. How much of life are you missing out on? What kind of energy and weight loss and relationships are you leaving on the table, so to speak, all because you've trained yourself to expect less sleep than you actually need?

Saturday, September 15, 2012

I Took A Deep Dive & Came Up With A New Book

I haven't posted in a little while. Sorry about that. I couldn't post, though. I took a deep dive this week. No, unfortunately that didn't include any scuba gear--or even water.

I picked a large project and dedicated a big chunk of time only to that. No distractions. No multi-tasking. I did a deep dive into something that really matters to me.

And I made huge progress.

It's far too easy in our always-connected world to put off doing what's truly important and spend the day responding to the more urgent, but less important things. We can get so caught up in what Steven Covey called the tyranny of the urgent that we let the important things slide.

That great new idea for making your work project better, but haven't had time to write it all down. That special trip with your family that you just haven't gotten around to planning yet. Or scheduling in the time to grow yourself and not just keep working...none of them are due today. None of them are jumping in your face.

Not like the hundreds of beeps, dings, rings, and daily tasks that come at us all day long. Those are demanding. And it's a lot easier to just deal with them--to respond. It's hard to ignore all that noise and stay focused on the important, but not urgent things.

I'm not anti-technology. I had a conversation last night with a friend of mine who has family in Egypt. Our ability to talk, even video chat, all over the world at any time of the day is amazing. It's a real blessing. And I run my life with electronic calendars and to-do lists. I think it's a great way to live.

But if you want to take your productivity to the maximum level, you have to set aside time for a deep dive. Peter Drucker said that real thinking work requires at least ninety minutes and at best three to four hour chunks of time. No distractions. No interruptions. Serious chunks of time focused on really important things.

I've found that I can get more done in a three hour deep dive than I can in ten thirty-minute windows. But you don't have to stop at three hours. This week I dove deeper than I ever have, curious to see if it would work.

I took four days off and went to a secluded lake house a mentor of mine graciously let me use. I brought groceries, turned off my cell phone, and for fifteen hours a day worked on my second book. I came in with only an outline and left with a finished rough draft. I didn't leave the house for four days, didn't read a book, didn't turn on the TV...I only ate, exercised, slept, and wrote (and I only wrote the book--obviously no blogging).

I've never dedicated that much time to only one project. And I've never made that much progress so fast. It took me four years to finish my first book, writing in 30 minute chunks in the mornings. I've got a lot of editing to do, so I'm not done yet. But this ultra-deep dive accomplished what could have taken me over a year to do, if I'd have only picked away at it like before.

What are the important things in your life you've been putting off? When can you dedicate 90 minutes to it? Three hours? Is there something so crucial that you'd give it three days? What are you waiting for?

Dive deep, and who know what you might find?

Monday, September 10, 2012

3 Reasons Why I Want To Be A BMW

I recently read a book about BMW (recommended by the Executive VP of Marketing at Chick-fil-A). While technical details were included, it was mostly about their brand strategy--the thinking behind the choices they made, from the technical choices to the marketing and leadership decisions.

I've always thought highly of BMW in general (who doesn't?), but the more I learned the more I've come to see their approach as a great metaphor for living well--at least the way I'd like to define a great life for me.

1. BMW is audacious in their aspiration. (BMW calls their cars the Ultimate Driving Machine.) I think an audacious approach to life helps me keep reaching and growing. I'd love to an Ultimate Living Machine.

2. BMW aims for both understated exterior appearance and best in the world actual performance (in their main line of cars, not the roadsters like the Z4 where they add the razzle-dazzle). Their cars have smooth lines, but not a flashy look. I love the idea of building world class internal elements (my thinking, attitude, character, skills, etc) and yet exercising restraint in my "exterior style" (dressing in the latest fashions or trying to impress people with my grown-up toys). There are many cars who have all the latest bells and whistles in the extra features, but whose engines are unreliable . I'd like to be the opposite of that.

3. BMW defines car performance different than a typical American car company (BMW comes from Germany). Most American car companies value how fast you can go from 0-60 mph in a straight line. BMW more cares about how fast you can go from 60-0 mph, or how fast you can go around a corner and keep the car low and tight on the road. Oh, and they're designed so the car feels smooth and as easy to control at 60 mph and at 160 mph (they do have the autobahn in Germany, remember). They even have an algorithm in the car computer that changes how much the steering wheel turns the tires the faster you go so your feeling of control stays constant. In my life, I don't want to merely run fast and hard--charging at the world. I'd love to live a life that is more responsive to change. I want to be as mature and gently responsive whether the pressure on me is low or very, very high.

In short, I'd like to drive he road of life as a BMW.

What kind of car are you more like? What kind of car would you like to build towards becoming? Why?

Oh, and the book is called Driven: Inside BMW, the Most Admired Car Company in the World by David Kiley.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Books That Could Change Your Life

I read a ton (mostly audio books while I drive, actually) and I get asked frequently about the books I'd recommend others to read. So I have a list (that regularly is updated as I read more, of course). So, if you're looking for a book that could change the way you think or live, here's a list of books that could do that for you.

Important Note: I don’t agree with all of the conclusions or perspectives of these authors. Many of them have a very different worldview than I do. But all of these books are 1) well written/engaging to read, and 2) very thought provoking/mind stretching.

Getting Things Done by David Allen
Influence by Robert Cialdini
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
 (wisdom and decision making)
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell
Talent Is Overrated by Geoffrey Colvin
Brain Rules by John Medina
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Influencer by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, and Ron McMillan
Made to Stick by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Drive by Daniel Pink
Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (parenting)
The Invisible Gorilla by Christopher Chabris & Daniel Simons
The Halo Effect by Phil Rosenzweig
Leadership & Self-Deception by The Arbinger Institute
7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Boundaries by Henry Cloud & John Townsend
Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud
Celebration of Discipline by Richard Foster (Christian living)
The Upside of Irrationality by Dan Ariely

Brain Rules for Baby by John Medina (parenting)
Good to Great by Jim Collins
Great by Choice by Jim Collins
How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins
Mastery by George Leonard
Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely
The Sir Winston Method by James C. Humes (on communication skills, but out of print & hard to find)
Secrets of Dynamic Communication by Ken Davis
Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Glimmer: How design can transform your life, and maybe even the world by Warren Berger
Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
Whole New Mind by Daniel Pink
Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni
Three Signs of a Miserable Job by Patrick Lencioni
Death by Meeting by Patrick Lencioni
Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated by Timothy Ferriss
The Art of Innovation by Tom Kelley
Ten Faces of Innovation by Tom Kelley
The World Is Flat by Thomas Friedman
Anatomy of Peace by The Arbinger Institute
Strategic Intuition by Bill Duggan
Intellectuals and Society by Thomas Sowell
Freakanomics by Steven Levitt & Stephen Dubner
Being Wrong by Kathryn Schultz
Story by Robert McKee
John Adams (biography) by David McCullough
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Sacred Marriage (Christian marriage)
Sacred Parenting (Christian parenting)
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (for those who are writers/thinkers/creative professionals)

Monday, August 27, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt On The Glory Of Failing At Greatness

Define yourself by the great causes you charge at. Focus on your efforts--what you can control--and not primarily on the outcome--what you can't control.

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt
"Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910

How are you trying to make the world a better place? What arena(s) are you in?

Whatever the external results, whatever else others think, let me honor you today for your striving. Keep going. Get up one more time. Because in the end, the only thing you can truly control--the ultimate measure of who you are--is the choices of your soul. And failing while aiming for great causes makes you a better person than succeeding at a self-protecting, safe life.

Friday, August 24, 2012

False Questions (Grammatically Correct & Relationally Wrong)

Uninvited advice comes across like judgment. When people are sharing problems with their loved ones, they may ask for advice. But many times they just want to share. And instead of just listening, we jump in with our advice. Instead, ask good questions. (See my earlier post on this for more on advice & questions.)

But not all questions are real questions. Beware of using false questions and thinking you're doing well in the conversation. I'm not talking about rules grammar--I'm talking about how they function in a conversation. Some questions meet the grammatical requirements, but behave like giving advice. The person asking the false question is clever enough to phrase their advice in the form of a question--but they're still giving advice.

 For the purposes of helping people think better, these questions don't count. They still feel like judgment.

False Question: Have you thought about talking to your boss?
Translation: You should talk to your boss.
Changed to open question (advice removed): What options have you considered?

False Question: What if you just chalked this one up to experience and started over?
Translation: You should just start over.
Changed to open question (advice removed): What can you learn from this situation?

Even when it is time to offer advice, using insightful, open questions to get them to create the solution themselves helps far better than you just telling them. (See my previous post for more on asking open questions.)  Let's say you do have the right solution in mind (which is not a guarantee). If they actually do what you say (also not guaranteed), they won't really own those choices. They'll always see them as the advice of someone else and not their own ideas. Further, they'll become more dependent on you to solve their problems, instead of learning to solve their own. Use (real) questions in place of advice and watch your influence and impact grow exponentially. (I've tried both methods for years--there's no comparison.)

Monday, August 20, 2012

You Can Change Your Brain Dramatically

We've been seriously misinformed. We thought that kids brains could learn very fast, but adult brains don't change very much. We thought that your personality shaped young, but didn't change when you were older. We thought that talent was something that emerged in a child and adults could only work with the fixed set of talents they were born with.

It is true that kids learn fast and personality develops very early and that kids display differing levels of talent. But it's not true that adults can experience the same brain changes--if they were willing to do the work.

It's possible to rewire your brain in dramatic ways.

Some neuroscience breakthroughs in the last decade have allowed us to see the brain in detailed action for the first time. And scientists have discovered the brain doing things we always thought were impossible.

A couple of awesome examples:

There are programs right now that use devices to help people were born blind to see--without fixing their eyes. They help them re-purpose sections of their skin as visual receptors by attaching a black & white camera to their head, then putting a plate with pins on the same spot of skin for a few weeks in a row. The pins act like pixels (i.e. pins press down for dark spots of the image, lightly touch for gray, stay up for white). As long as you use the same section of skin, the brain rewires that section to become a visual center. When they're fully integrated, if you throw a ball at them, they'll instantly flinch. They're literally seeing the world, just in black & white.

(This isn't a theory, this is happening today.)

Also, there was a group of senior citizens who were experiencing some decline in brain function. Age was blamed by most, but they wanted to test is brain exercise could help. So they split them into a test group and a control group. The test group got a bunch of brain activities (word puzzles, art, math problems, etc)--control group just hung out and did normal life. They were hoping for less brain decline--or maybe even to see some more activity in certain sections. Not only did they get both of those results, they also found that the size of their brain--the mass of cells--increased. They literally grew new brain cells.

Remember when you were told that if you get drunk or high you kill a brain cell you'll never get back? Yeah, they were wrong. Not about the drunk or high killing brain cells, just the growing cells back part. I'm not advocating abusing substances--it's still smarter to never have killed any cells--but society way underestimated what the brain is capable of.

I could go story after story, but the bottom line is this: our brains are the most flexible, adjustable brains in all of creation. It's our great gift and comes with a price. We're born lacking the innate ability of just about every other species on the planet, but we can learn just about anything we choose.

Adults brains--until the aging-to-death phase begins--have basically the same ability to learn and reshape themselves as kids. The forty year old man's brain has the same growth potential as a four year boy.

So why do we observe something so very different? Why are four year olds learning and changing so much and forty years old generally getting set in their ways?

Answer: They brain doesn't automatically grow and change. You have to put it in a certain environment, with particular kinds of activities. Leave us alone and we'll just do what we've always done. Even worse, our learning ability will atrophy--literally the same way a muscle in a cast withers when you don't use it.

[I'll do another post on those learning conditions later.]

But just like your muscle that atrophied, with proper use it can regain it's strength. No matter your age, your brain can reengage as a learning marvel and you can change anything about your life that's brain-related.

Seriously, from music to coordination to analytical details to your personality traits--if you want to do the hard work you can change your brain. There are validated reports of change in personality, IQ, learning disabilities, artistic ability, and coordination. It's still a small percentage of people so far, but it's increasing exponentially every year.

Be warned though. Most of the world is caught in a self-fulfilling prophecy. Adults can't change (they believe) so they don't try to change, resulting in no change, "proving" to themselves that they can't change.

The first step in making major breakthrough is believing it's possible and trying.

What would you change about your brain (either learn or unlearn) if you could? Are you ready to change it?

Friday, August 17, 2012

5 Nuggets of Wisdom from The Legendary John Wooden

I read a book on mentoring/influencing by the legendary coach, John Wooden (his ten NCAA national championships in a 12-year period while at UCLA are unmatched by any other college basketball coach). He was known for more than basketball skill, but living a truly exceptional life. In fact, he repeatedly said that his primary job was making great men of his players--that their great lifestyles were the key to their success.

Here are five of his many, many powerful quotes--statements he lived day after day and repeated over and over:

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

Don’t mistake activity with achievement.

Nothing will work unless you do.

The worst things you can do for the ones you love are the things they could and should do for themselves.

If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

By the way, the book--which I highly recommend--is A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring http://www.amazon.com/Game-Plan-Life-Power-Mentoring/dp/1596917016/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1345201291&sr=8-1&keywords=john+wooden+mentor

Monday, August 13, 2012

How A Switchfoot Song Changed My Life (And Could Yours)

What would you like more of in your life? Take a moment and think of a few things right now.

What would you like less of in your life? Take another handful of seconds and think of a few of these.

What is one step could you take--this week--to live out one thing on your "more" list? Seriously--what's a specific action you could take? Don't allow yourself to be vague.

Also, what's one step could you take--this week--to address one of the items on your "less" list? Again--what is the specific action you could take? Thinking of a tangible action makes a huge difference, so think through your list until you can identify a real possibility.

Now think about your calendar for this week. When could you do one of those steps? If not this week, could you make it happen next week? When--exactly when--could you take at least one of those steps?

Almost everyone I've talked about this in person can answer those questions in a few minutes. We all know what we want more of and less of and with a little thought can figure out how to take a step in that direction.

But the bigger question is: Why aren't you doing it?

Why are you hesitating? You can quickly come up with a change or two you want in your life. So what's keeping you from taking these steps? In this next week, why not do more than think about your ideal life? Why not live it--or at least one step closer to it?

Switchfoot has a song about this that changed my life. "This Is Your Life" has these lines:

Today is all you've got now. Today is all you'll ever have.
Don't close your eyes. Don't close your eyes.
This is your life. Are you who you want to be?

When I first heard their song, I dreamed about being an author--someday. I dreamed about mentoring others--someday. I dreamed about being in shape again--someday. I dreamed about playing more strategy board games--someday. I dreamed about being more spiritually wise--someday.

And (I'll never forget, driving in my car) this song pierced right to my soul and made me realize that "someday" would never come. That if I wanted to write--or be fit or pursue God--I needed to do it today. I realized that who I was came out of today, not what I hoped I'd do someday.

Don't wait for "someday" to start living your exceptional life. Do something now to move a little closer. Because today is all you'll every have--a series of todays.

If you want to listen to the song, here it is. Warning: it could change your life, too.