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

Friday, July 27, 2012

How To Determine the Long Term Potential of Any Relationship (And Make It Better)

Great conversations provide the spine of every great relationship. Whether it's a romance, a mentor, or a childhood best friend--every relationship is defined by and sustained by great conversations.

The quality of your conversations is the primary measure of the quality of your relationship.

Even something as powerful as sexual attraction can't hold a candle to the value of conversations. Great marriages are built on great conversations--with attraction added on. Though there certainly are physical aspects to attraction, sexual desire can grow from an environment of great conversations. Arranged marriages worked for centuries because of this principle.

But great conversations don't necessarily flow from fierce physical attraction.

I'm not saying ignore attraction, but I am saying that it can't sustain a relationship by itself. Improving your conversation depth and frequency will improve your love life. But new excitement in your love life won't do much for your conversations.

Want to build a long lasting romance? Find a great conversation partner--who you think is hot. The best prediction of whether you'll stay together is in evaluating your conversation quality. (By the way, couples who speak with contempt to each other, regardless of how attracted or "compatible" they are, have been shown to have a 90%+ chance of breaking up within 5 years.)

Best friends that grow up together or share life together are valuable and precious relationships. They usually form through doing fun activities together. But by themselves, shared experiences create only a shallow relationship. If you want lifelong friendships that make you a better person, someone you can laugh until you cry with--or just cry with, then you need to get good a great conversations.

My best friend for 15 years was someone who lived out of state. He shared my life--and changed my life--through the power of great phone conversations. Our friendship was more meaningful and deeper than most of the people I shared day to day life with.

List 3-5 relationships in your life.
On a scale of 1-10, how is the quality of the conversation each relationship?
On a scale of 1-10, how frequent are the conversations in each relationship?
What's one thing you could do to move the score up just 1-2 points in each relationship?

Monday, July 23, 2012

You've Probably Underestimated Your Intelligence

You're probably smart in ways that have never been recognized. Ignore the test scores you got growing up. They weren't fake, but the typical view of intelligence is too limited and those tests left a lot out. I think a more accurate approach comes from Howard Gardner, Harvard professor, called the "multiple intelligences theory". In short, it goes like this:

Intelligence measures how well your brain functions. While being able to do math and having strong literary skills (reading/writing) are certainly important aspects of how our brains work, the brain does far more than that. In fact, he identified seven basic types of brain function:

Math Smart - Analytical/Mathematical Intelligence
What you think it is--math, numbers, patterns, etc.

Words Smart - Verbal/Linguistics Intelligence
Also the usual stuff we're tested on--vocabulary, use of metaphor, etc.

Music Smart - Musical Intelligence
This is the ability to decipher sounds into patterns, create new patterns, etc. It's doesn't necessarily mean you have the ability to play instruments well. That requires both musical intelligence and the next category.

Sports Smart - Bodily-Kinesthetic Intelligence
It's a detailed awareness of your body in space and the ability to make all those parts do what you want. Yes, sports require strength & fitness, but what makes someone a great athlete are the split second reactions and complex coordination--those are brain functions, not leg or arm functions. This is one of those areas where we label people as unintelligent when it's just a different kind of intelligence that our tests are geared towards.

Picture Smart - Visual/Spatial Intelligence
Visual artists often excel in this area, though they also need body skills to create the art. These are also the people who can look at a pile of luggage, look at the trunk of the car, and figure out what pieces need to go where--before moving them. They can rotate shapes in their mind or tell how far/deep something is by looking at it. We all do it some, the better you are the more intelligent you are here.

People Smart - Interpersonal Intelligence
This is the ability to read the thoughts and feelings of others--and know what to say or do to get the reaction you want. Often the class clown--who may not do as well in the traditional categories--excels here but doesn't get credit for the intellectual feat this is. One of my college roommates is a genius in this area (he's also very smart in other areas). You couldn't know someone like him and not realize how smart his brain is in that area.

Self Smart - Intrapersonal Intelligence
This is the ability to know what you're feeling and thinking, know why, and be able to control and shape your own thoughts and feelings. Often overlooked, this is a key intelligence that, I think, sets a ceiling on your ability to use your other intelligences.

Closing thoughts
You can be high or low in each of them--there is no correlation between them. We all have our own unique profile.

You start with a basic raw ability, but can increase your capacity in all of these areas. You're not fixed at a certain level. (More posts later on the recent breakthroughs on how to literally increase your IQ.)

IQ tests only cover 2-3 of the 7 listed here. As a result, many people can spend their lives believing they aren't intelligent when they just didn't have a test to measure your type of intelligences. What's your profile? What have you undervalued about yourself?

Friday, July 20, 2012

A Life-Changing Question & The Power of Pre-Measuring

One of the most powerful questions I've ever been asked (and find myself asking others) is: How will you know when you've been successful?

Whether you're talking about a relationship, a business project, or a vacation, this question stimulates the kind of thinking that changes your life. And at the heart of this question lives this principle-- measuring your life changes how you live.

The truth (that many don't realize) is that we're all measuring our lives already. When we think about our lives--our social events, relationships, career, etc--we all make judgments about determine whether something was successful or not, whether we are pleased with how it's going. But most of us don't know what will satisfy us until after it's over and our choices are already made.

Why not do that thinking in advance and write down the success goal? Don't wait until after you've made all your choices to figure out exactly what you were hoping would happen. Don't just post-measure, pre-measure.

Your chances of achieving success are much, much greater if you know exactly what you're aiming for. If you don't what success looks like, you don’t really know whether your actions are getting you closer to success or not.

2 practical tips as you practice identifying your various measures for your life:

1.Don't be afraid to be creative in how you measure. Smiles or sighs can be as helpful as dollars or  inches--in some cases much more so. And keep trying new ways of measuring. Creating insightful success measures is as much art as science and can take a lifetime to master. Just get started now.

2.If your goal involves more people than you (i.e. a vacation), share your measure with the others and get their measures. You may be able to accomplish more than one goal, but you may need to adjust your measures to create the best experience for everyone. Never assume that your measure is obvious to the others.

So...what does a successful day look like to you? How will you know if today has been successful? How will you measure that?

Monday, July 16, 2012

3 Painful Costs Of Following My Blog's Advice (Be Warned)

There is risk if you follow this blog's advice. I'm preaching the pursuit greatness--being ambitious, if you will, about living an exceptional life. But, in fairness and full disclosure, I should mention the downside of my advice. There is a substantial downside to this journey.

What if you spend years of time and effort and end up with what can only be described as a "regular" life? Discovering you've failed after all that sacrifice would be very painful, even tragic.  What would it say about you? What about all the hours you could have enjoyed the easier path? What if, after all that sloughing through the hard road, you discover it takes you to the exact same destination as the easy road?

After all, the only way to avoid all disappointment, of course, is to lower your expectations.

In addition whether you succeed or not, This choice could have serious social costs. Being intentional about living differently will cause some people to see you as arrogant. Who are you to think you're exceptional? What kind of judgment are you making, simply by how you live, on all those who don't choose this path? How many of your friends won't want to walk this path with you? How many of those friends are you willing to lose? Even if you want to do this, maybe only a limited, under-the-radar approach is best? I mean, what's the point of exceptional living if it's done alone?

And it's more than just making it harder to connect with your friends. The more unusual your life and success, the more people will actively work to keep you down. Australia calls it the Tall Poppy Syndrome. In a field of poppy plants, the metaphor goes, it's the tall ones that get cut down to size. Americans might call it the lawn mower principle--only the grass that dares to grow beyond the other blades get cut back to a more socially comfortable size. While I'm far from world-class or famous, in a few areas of my life, just the small amounts I've stepped forward has drawn this reaction. It's not fun to deal with.

My response to my own questions (why this isn't my last post on pursuing greatness):

First, the risks are real. If you're not willing to pay a price, you'll never have anything other than hum drum. I will not blow off these costs with clever, witty remarks. However...

While I can't guarantee greatness if you make the effort, I can guarantee that your life will be more meaningful and satisfying if you make some effort than if you don't. Greatness is not an all or nothing game. You can at least be more great than you are now. Besides, who said fame and greatness were synonymous. No one, including you, will know the true legacy of your life, so don't judge your success by whether others consider you exceptional or not.

You can't be friends with everyone. Pursuing exceptional living will move you further away from those who don't choose that path. But it will also put you closer to others who are pursuing greatness as well. In general, that will mean that you will have less friendships (fewer people, sadly, are on the exceptional path than the easy path), but those increasingly few friendship will be increasingly deeper and richer than you've ever experienced. You may even find friends who will go a while down the hard road with you, only to pull back later. I've had this happen, and painful as it is (I'd thought it was a lifetime friendship), there are more (and richer) friendships further down the road. Which kind of friends will you choose?

Finally, the ultimate problem with all these questions--why they fail to convince me in the end--is that they focus on the outcomes, the external measures. Maybe that's what's driving you toward greatness, but I'm not doing this for an external reward. Don't get me wrong--I'd love to have better friends, more grand experiences, more pleasure. But I've found rewards like that to be ultimately shallow--unable to sustain the kind of constant effort this path requires. No, my ultimate project is myself--crafting the best possible person out of the raw materials God gave me. It's my act of worship, obedience, and gift to the world. It's not about getting something back from the world--that's just a bonus I hope for.

In the end, the question is not whether there's a price, but whether the price is worth the reward. I know my answer, but I can't answer that for you. And Jesus said that only a fool starts a project without first counting the cost (Luke 14.28-32).

Friday, July 13, 2012

New Name (And Location) For My Blog

I've changed the name (and the web address) of my blog for two reasons:

On a practical level, Intentionally Exceptional is a mouthful to say--and not that easy to spell, either! :) But more importantly, I'm changing it to Pursuing Exceptional because I think it communicates the core idea of this blog better.

"Intentionally Exceptional" has the implication that we are already exceptional. It has a static feel to it. The old name suggested that we've been intentional about what we wanted, and now we are exceptional.

While that's probably true at some level for many of you, I certainly haven't "arrived" at an exceptional life--I've got much further to go. And while I continue to promote being intentional about how I'm living, I don't plan on ever reaching a place where I'm done improving, learning, growing--pursuing being exceptional.

So, for both ease of use and clarity of concept, welcome to the 2.0 version of my blog--a blog about a lifestyle, about a commitment to pursue greatness every day.

Monday, July 9, 2012

What's Your Time Orientation? (Your Answer Explains How You Live)

Your time orientation dramatically changes how you live your life. So what's time orientation?

Basically, it's whether you focus on the past, present, or future.

Being oriented mostly on the past means paying attention to where we've been. It's defining situations as continuations of a historical story. You can go way far back, or just back to your own personal history, such as your childhood. An extreme example of this is the elderly man or woman who has decided that they're finished--no new contributions to the world and no new experiences--and they literally spend all day remembering their past.

Stop and smell the roses is the motto of this orientation. This orientation places pleasure and peace at the top of the priority list. This thinking results in a focus on the journey rather than the destination.

Future Orientation
Focusing on the future manifests as thoughts about the legacy you're trying to create (not an existing legacy you've already built, mind you--that's past-orientation). It drives people to sacrifice today's pleasures to purchase tomorrow's accomplishments. This orientation emphasizes progress (not preserving the past) and goal setting.

Your Personal Combination
We all consider all three at times, but each person prioritizes them differently. We all have personal histories that define us, and have at least some awareness of global history shaping our identity and our life story. We all enjoy pleasure and have made choices to make the moment better. And we've all set at least a few goals--even if very short-term--and worked to accomplish it. The question is which of these gets the most thinking time (and which gets the least).

If you could put a percentage for each--in a typical week, how much of it do you spending thinking about the past, the present, and the future?

Seriously, take a second and come up with a general number for each category (hopefully adding up to 100%).

This answer isn't just an academic curiosity. Your time-orientation profile, if you will, leads to very different life choices.

Is one better than the other? Depends on what kind of life you want to live.

Pros & Cons of Past-Orientation
Focusing on the past keeps you grounded in the larger story, increasing humility and adding a lot of wisdom from the lessons of history. The Bible does give us a lot of history, not just theologies. The events of the past do matter. But past-orientation can also mire you in illusion of the better days of yore--and equate change into decline. Jesus fulfilled history--and began a new, unprecedented era, too. In literally every generation, there is a cadre of intelligent past-oriented thinkers who bemoan society's fall from past excellence and prophecy we will destroy ourselves. An objective view of history (I think) shows a more mixed reality. We've gotten much better, much worse, and stayed the same--all at the same time. Plus, no matter how old you are, there's more of life to explore and more to contribute, so allowing the past to become all--and shutting down your life--is a great waste of the gift of life you still have.

Pros & Cons of Present-Orientation
There's great wisdom here--and great danger. The Bible does call us to abandon worry for the future and focus on today (Matthew 6.25-34). We can't control the future, and we're even discouraged from being too bold in making plans for the future (James 4.13-16). But it also tells us to be like the ant and work hard today so that we're ready when winter comes--the sluggard who only enjoys himself today is treated harshly (Proverbs 6.6-11; 20.4). And at it's extreme worst, present-orientation leads to selfish hedonism, including substance abuse and extreme obesity.

Pros & Cons of Future-Orientation
Defining yourself in terms of your future goals leads to exceptional accomplishments--and high blood pressure. This is the classic type-A personality, always going, going, going and never resting. The same biblical passages apply above, including Jesus' example of fixing our eyes on the future and enduring the difficulty of the moment to accomplish the greater goal (Hebrews 12.1-2). But exclusive focus here can cause you to live without most of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5.22-23), such as love, joy, peace, kindness, and gentleness.

The Best Combination?
So what's the right mix of orientations? My honest answer: I'm not sure. Certainly, we shouldn't get stuck in one mode only--all three should show up at some level. But I'm not sure that the answer is an even 1/3 each, either. In fact, I'd love your opinion on what the best mix is and why.

What's your time-orientation profile? (Mine--for better or for worse: Future, 60%, Present: 30%, Past: 10%.) What do you think is the ideal profile and why?

Friday, July 6, 2012

Your IQ and Your Success (A Lesson From The Mensa Annual Gathering)

I'm at the Mensa's Annual Gathering all week. It's a fun, phenomenally eclectic gathering with presentations from speakers on a huge range of topics (so far I've learned about cryptography, leadership, video game design, etc) as well as social events (game tournaments, organized debates, symphonic music, even a dance).

You might think that a genius convention (to be a bit melodramatic) would be a veritable who's who of successful people. Maybe they're not all famous, but they should all be exceptionally successful, right? Isn't intelligence the key to success in modern times?

Side note: My nerds friends and I got through high school by consoling ourselves that smarts was the key to success in life. This T-Shirt was our unofficial  motto (see attached image).

But that's not what I've found at Mensa--unusually successful people, that is. There are plenty of geeks. :)

I've found witty people, shy people, blunt people, and people who know a disturbing amount of trivia about the TV show Dr. Who. But when I ask about their careers--they're surprisingly regular. For example, while there might be more computer programmers than usual, most of them work for companies as a regular employee and I only met one of them who created any well known programs (he was the speaker on video game design). They hold jobs like IT support analyst or school librarian or airplane pilot. Good jobs that require real effort, but nothing to write home about, so to speak.

But success isn't all about great jobs, right? Maybe they chose slower-paced jobs to have richer internal lives. In a few cases, you could argue that. But most of these people just watch TV in their spare time--oh and they read a lot of books (that stereotype is true). I've learned of divorce, estranged kids, and seen immature egos in action--nothing more than usual, mind you, but that's the point.

Except for a handful of quirks (like constant reading and way too many plaid shirts with suspenders), Mensans look and talk and live just like everyone else.

What I'm seeing displayed is this principle: a great life doesn't come from raw intelligence.

Studies of people's lives do show a correlation between intelligence and a "successful" life--up to a point. Up to 120 IQ, the smarter you are the more successful your career. Note: these studies focused entirely on net worth and prestigious careers. For now, I'll avoid the serious conversation about how shallow and sad it is to defined your life by a career. Even allowing for that shallow measure, after you get above 120 IQ, there's no advantage for being smarter.

Yes, 120 is above average, but it's also well below the genius level. Being smart does provide additional options in life. But by itself it means nothing.

An exceptional life isn't dependent on intellectual horsepower. An exceptional life is built on exceptional choices--day after day for years. Someone purposeful about their life with "normal" intelligence can far exceed the life of a genius who sits, consuming TV and books, waiting for life to happen to them.

Don't wait for success to happen to you. Even being born a genius doesn't make a great life come to you. Go find your exceptional life. Go create it.

(Oh, and we'll have to talk later about the harmfully narrow view of intelligence that most people have. It's far, far more than the math or English abilities most tests measure.)