Author Archive | Jean Moroney

Three Observations About Accepting Facts

Recently, I’ve done a lot of thinking about what it means to accept facts. I see this as a topic for psychology, which presupposes a particular philosophical point of view.

Realists point out that if you want to live in the world that exists, you need to accept facts. Idealists point out that you can change the world that exists–if you take the appropriate action. These two perspectives needn’t conflict. They can be integrated if you agree that you need to accept the facts now, in order to identify effective action to take now, which will change the situation in the future to more resemble your ideal. That is my view (which I got from Ayn Rand).

On the surface, it had always seemed obvious to me that you should accept facts–until I saw some situations in which it seemed I wasn’t doing so. For example, I would repeat a failed approach to persuading someone of my view, expecting a different result next time. Or I would acknowledge a specific lack of skill, without changing my approach to achieving goals in that area. Or I would find myself stewing over a fact that I wished weren’t true.

I now see all of these as examples of not accepting facts. I have a lot more thinking to do about this subject, but I thought I’d share three observations.

1. What does it mean to accept a fact?

Short answer: It means that you factor that information into your thinking, your expectations, and your planning.

For example, I have accepted the fact that I get sick more easily than most people, and that as a result, I need to maintain certain regimens of self-care involving diet, exercise, and sleep.

Let’s take sleep: I often need 8 hours of sleep, and my bare minimum is 7 hours in bed. If I get less than 7 hours in bed, or I get only 7 hours for several days in a row, I get sick with alarming predictability. The form of illness varies. I might catch a cold. I might be felled by a migraine. Or I might just be pinned in bed with vertigo. But the correlation between a short night of rest and lost work due to illness approaches 100%.

I’ve accepted this fact. I plan my life to ensure I get enough sleep. If I wake up too early, I stay lying flat in bed for at least 7 hours, even though I am awake, to guarantee I get 7 hours of bed rest. With this policy, I have radically improved my overall health.

If I had written this newsletter a month ago, I would say that this policy is an absolute, and I never make exceptions. But an exception happened last month.

With Hurricane Irma approaching, we had not expected to evacuate our home in Naples, Florida. But as the forecast got worse, and certain facts about staying became clearer, we concluded we should leave. This meant loading up the cats in the car and driving out the driveway at 9:15 p.m. to drive to Atlanta. Time was too tight. We could not wait until the next morning to leave.

It was clear I would not get my needed sleep that night, I knew I would sleep only for an hour or two at a time, taking breaks in driving. However, I went into the trip with my eyes open. I thought it likely that I would be sick for a couple of days afterwards and be unable to work. That was the price I would pay. It was more important to get to a safe place.

When I got to Atlanta, sleep was my priority. (I believe I slept for 15 hours.) I also took it easy for a couple of days, without expecting to work, because I knew I had reduced my reserves. I was pleasantly surprised that I did not get sick. But that was because I fully accepted the facts about how easily I get sick–I factored that information into my expectations and planning, and I was able to mitigate that risk.

2. What does it mean to refuse to accept a fact?

On the surface, it seems odd to think of not accepting a fact. What would that even mean? Facts are facts, independent of you. They are true, no matter what you do or say. They are facts, whether you “accept” them or not.

Here’s what failure to accept a fact looks like: You obsess about how you wish the fact weren’t true. You don’t want it to be true, and therefore you think about how bad it is, or how you wish something would change. You do this instead of factoring that information into your thinking, your expectations, and your planning.

This often happens in response to undesirable facts about other people. For example, there is more than one person in my life who is an advice-giver. Let’s make a composite and call him Sam–the paradigm advice-giver. He assumes that if I am unhappy or confused about something, I want advice. That is his go-to response to me, regardless of my intent. Indeed, sometimes he gets angry or frustrated, because he assumes I want him to solve my problems (which I don’t).

In fact, often I want only a sounding board–someone to ask me a few questions to help draw out my own thoughts. I might be unsure what the real problem was, or why I was feeling what I was feeling. In these situations, questions from a different point of view can be helpful. But this alternate purpose for the conversation just doesn’t occur to Sam. Ever.

I used to get frustrated and angry by Sam’s untimely advice, and even stew over how little visibility I got from him. I wanted him to be different. This is, of course, completely counterproductive. Other people are not under your control.

I finally accepted the fact that each of my “Sam’s” automatized response is to give advice, and I now factor that into my expectations and choices. Now when I want something other than advice, I make an explicit request. When I explain to a “Sam” that I’m not asking him to solve my problems, I’d just like to use him as a sounding board, he is quite willing to take on that role. As a result, what used to become an unhelpful, mutually frustrating conversation now becomes now mutually friendly–and very helpful.

Given that life is so much better when you accept facts about other people, what stops you from accepting them in the first place? I think that when you stew over an unpleasant fact about someone else, wishing it were different–though it is obviously out of your control–you are avoiding experiencing grief.

I would prefer to have confidentes who could anticipate my emotional needs all of the time. It would be a wonderful support to me, especially when I’m tired or stressed out. That’s when the extra energy needed to make my intentions clear can feel like a burden. I wish my “Sam’s” were more observant and sensitive in these situations. Having imagined what it would be like if Sam were different, I feel sad that I don’t have that support in those particular situations. I mourn the absence of that value.

Mourning the lack or the loss of a value can be quite painful. But it clarifies what matters to you, it resets you emotionally, and it leaves you free to find a different way to gain or keep that value that matters to you. That’s what accepting facts about other people helps you with.

3. What does it mean to accept yourself? Is self-acceptance a value?

This is a hard one–because although you can’t change other people, you can change yourself. I think “self-acceptance” means accepting your own mental state–which doesn’t mean you won’t change your mind in the future.

For example, one morning last week while in NYC, I found myself on the verge of tears for several hours, off and on. Clearly I was experiencing grief. The teariness was a loud warning bell that I had lost some value. I tried various emergency introspection techniques. These quick techniques often help to clarify the situation and bring me back to emotional center. In this case, they didn’t. I came up with a dozen or so hypotheses for why I was distressed, but none of them seemed to be “the reason” that brings clarity and closure in these situations.

Had I been at home, I would have dropped everything and worked through one of my in-depth introspection exercises to get to the bottom of the issue. These exercises are amazingly effective–they always lead to a significant insight. However, they take about 3 hours to complete. I was attending a workshop at the time, so I had neither the time nor the privacy to work through the steps. I kept trying the quick techniques, but I was getting nowhere.

Instead, I got increasingly upset that I was upset. I did not want to be on the verge of tears during the workshop–I was embarrassed to be so emotional. I knew that being upset with how I was feeling was a totally counterproductive vicious cycle.

At a break, I went outside so I could be alone to try to compose myself. It was while I was outside, wishing desperately that I could sort out my emotions, that it occured to me that I needed to accept my mental state.

Whatever was going on, it was not something that I could resolve during the time that I had available. I concluded that I must be facing a bigger and deeper issue than it seemed on the surface. It would need more time.

With this clarity, I immediately relaxed. I had a choice: I could leave the workshop and work it out, or I could put the issue aside, and come back to understand it at some time in the future. If I took this second option, I would need to recognize that I was emotionally vulnerable in the meantime, and be appropriately gentle with myself.

I chose the second option. By accepting my emotional state, I stopped trying to “calm down” and started noticing all of the little things that were triggering me. I didn’t take them too seriously, because I knew I was in an emotionally vulnerable state. I assumed that they were disproportionate responses. So, all I did was file them away mentally for future reference.

I still haven’t had a chance to sort out the deeper issue, but I have a mental file folder filled with relevant data. Sometime a similar issue will come up, and what I observed in this case will help me untangle both incidents at once.

In this case, accepting that I couldn’t change my emotional state at the moment helped me stop trying to do the  undoable. I could focus my attention on what I could do–and that cleared my mind and made me more effective.

The bottom line from these three observations: In each of these cases, the facts that I accepted were facts about consciousness–mine or another person’s. It’s not so hard to accept a fact like “the store closes at 11.” It’s hard to accept facts when it seems like they involve your power of choice–and you could change them to meet your needs. But we often overestimate what is in our power at a given moment.  But that is another topic for another time…

October 6, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Empathy Bath

When you are chilled, a hot bath brings your temperature to normal. When you have a fever, a cold bath can bring it down. When you are tense, self-doubtful, jittery, or otherwise triggered, an “Empathy Bath” can bring your emotional state back to neutral.

“Empathy Bath” Tactic Overview

What: An “empathy bath” is a systematic process for introspecting the broad range of potentially conflicting emotions you are feeling, in order to regulate your emotional state.

When: Use it when you are tense, jittery, or otherwise emotionally triggered, and need a quick way to get emotionally centered.

How: For each family of emotions, speculate on why you might be feeling those feelings (both positive and negative). Give your reason in a full sentence.

Why: The 8 families of emotions cover all of the basic value-judgments that might be in play. By asking why you “might” be feeling each emotion, you can reveal not just acknowledged feelings, but also suppressed or slightly repressed feelings. By looking for both positive and negative versions of each family, you naturally balance disproportionate emotional responses.

Step-by-Step Instructions

1) Briefly describe the situation that has you emotionally upset.

2) For each of the following basic emotions, speculate on why you might be feeling this feeling in the current situation and why.

Anger: Who did what that they shouldn’t have?
Gratitude: Who did something nice for me?

Fear: What bad thing is going to happen?
Relief: What bad thing is no longer going to happen?

Desperation: What good thing is never going to happen?
Hope: What good thing will happen eventually?

Guilt: What do I wish I had done differently?
Pride: What am I glad I did the way I did?

Frustration: What is giving me a lot of trouble?
Confidence: What am I doing with ease?

Desire: What am I longing for?
Aversion: What am I trying to get away from?

Joy: What have I succeeded in getting?
Grief: What have I lost?

Love: What person or thing or idea stands out as a positive here?
Hatred: What person or thing or idea stands out as a negative here?

3) After you have finished naming all of the feelings, you may be grounded. If so, sum up your situation in a sentence. If not, you can get further grounded by challenging first thoughts or clarifying your motivation.

Tips

  • Write out each reason in a full sentence, so that you can judge whether it’s true or false.
  • For best results, check for the feelings in the order offered, which goes from easiest to hardest, most negative to most positive.
  • Don’t skip any feeling. Imagine why you might feel it, even if you don’t think you do.

Example

Situation: Someone just cut me off making a turn.

Anger: He should look where he’s going.
Gratitude: I’m glad the guy behind me saw me brake.

Fear: I almost had an accident.
Relief: Thank goodness I was able to react in time.

Desperation: These lousy drivers should be taken off the road.
Hope: Maybe defensive driving courses can help.

Guilt: I was a little bit distracted.
Pride: I’m glad I don’t text while driving!

Frustration: My heart is still pounding and I can’t seem to calm down.
Confidence: I’m glad that I have good reflexes.

Desire: I really need a little peace and quiet.
Aversion: I don’t want to discuss this with anyone.

Joy: I guess I feel good to be alive.
Grief: This reminds me of my friend who died in a car accident.

Love: I loved my friend.
Hatred: I hate people who are reckless about endangering others.

Summing Up: I need a little time to catch my breath and just appreciate that I’m okay.

Additional Comments

I developed this process for people who were inexperienced in introspection. It is not the fastest process–it takes 15-20 minutes to go through. If you are in a hurry, the AND List is the fastest way to calm down.

After using it, I discovered that it had the added benefit of revealing value-judgments that I would not have identified if I just introspected feelings I was already feeling. As a result, it is a great first aid process when you are emotionally overwhelmed.

 

References for Members of the Thinking Lab

  • For steps to challenge first thoughts, see the Three Pass Review
  • For steps to clarify your motivation, see   the Goal-Clarification process
  • You can give someone else an empathy bath, but then I recommend that you identify not just their feelings and the idea that seems to be behind it, but the deep rational value at stake. (See this discussion of  deep rational values aka universal values.) Otherwise you risk reinforcing their old baggage.

July 31, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Using “Small Moves” as Leading Indicators

In recent years, I’ve incorporated ideas from The Twelve Week Year (by Brian Moran) into my routines, and found them very  helpful.

My top takeaway from this book is the idea of setting quarterly goals rather than annual or monthly goals. When you set goals you intend to accomplish in 12 weeks, every week matters. It’s easier to stay focused on them and get them done. The 13th week of the quarter is used for reflection and planning.

The second crucial takeaway from this book is the idea of setting “leading” indicators.

When you set a goal, you also need to set metrics to tell whether you are on track for completing it. For example, I’m writing a book, and a standard metric would be pages written in a day, or chapters written in a month.

The problem with most metrics is that they are “lagging” indicators. They are backward looking. They tell you what happened in the past. If you don’t get the number of pages written in the time allotted, you know you failed. The poor performance on the metric just makes that explicit.

What is needed to keep on track is leading indicators. These are metrics that predict whether or not you will succeed.

So, for example, for working on the book, that might be hours spent during the week writing. If all that is needed to finish the book is to put in sufficient hours, then hours will predict your eventual success on the book.

If you get low scores on leading indicators, you know you haven’t been putting in the effort where it needs to go.

On the other hand, if you get high scores on your leading indicators, but you don’t actually accomplish the goals on schedule, it turns out that you don’t actually know what exactly is needed to achieve the goal.

For example, I learned that I need about twice as much time writing during the week to make the kind of progress on the book that I want to make (About 20 hours a week rather than 12.)

The trick is to figure out the leading indicators that in fact predict success. After having used the “12-week year” method for about six months, I can tell you that it’s not so easy. Time on task is not always a good leading indicator!

What’s helped me to set “leading indicators” better is the ideas from Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold. Her book is on habit change. Her thesis is that you should change habits by finding the small action to focus on that will make it easy to change a whole pattern. So, for example, to get more organized, she set up a routine of always putting the keys in exactly one place. That anchored many other small actions, making her whole day smoother. By focusing on crucial small actions, she was able to make significant changes in her routines.

I applied this idea to my productivity. My “lagging” indicator for productivity is the number of “pomodoros” (concentrated 25-minute segments) that I work each week.

Sometimes I do well, sometimes not so much. Looking it over, I decided that the biggest problem was that when I was tired or having trouble, my breaks would drag on too long. I would slip  down a slope of reading “one more page” in the newspaper, or watching “one more show” on TV, or reading “one more chapter” in a novel.

Since I am also trying to root out the duty premise, forcing myself to go back to work was not an option. At these moments, I was not willing to end the break. But I needed some way to change the dynamic of the break.

I came up with a simple change. Before I read any page of the newspaper, or watch any show, or read any chapter in a novel, I first read at least one paragraph of Ayn Rand. Then when I get to the end of the page or chapter or program, I need to read another paragraph of Ayn Rand to continue.

Reading Ayn Rand is also a break–but a more intellectually stimulating one.

If I’m tired, one paragraph is about all I’m good for, and I usually realize I need a nap, not a pleasure break. That’s a much more effective use of time.

Usually I read a lot more than one paragraph of Ayn Rand. Sometimes that becomes my entire break, and I go back to work. Sometimes I take the pleasure break when I finish, but it has a different quality. I’m more energized for it, and it’s always shorter. I never get into the vicious cycle of “not feeling like” getting back to work.

Now, my leading indicator for productivity is: do I read at least one paragraph of Ayn Rand before any of these three “break” activities? This turns out to be an excellent predictor of my actual work.

This particular intervention works for me, but it is idiosyncratic. It’s just an example a small concrete action I took to take to change a pattern.

The moral of the story is: if you are not achieving a goal on the time scale you have set, trace back to find the pattern of failure. See if you can find some small action to break that pattern. Then turn that new action into a metric–a leading indicator of whether you will achieve your goal on schedule.

 

July 11, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Admit You Have No Plan

In a one-on-one coaching call a few months ago, Roger (not his real name) reported that he was being pulled off course into doing unimportant work. I asked him if he was taking a few minutes to plan the day in the morning.

We had previously discussed how to plan the day in 10 minutes. First you identify the top 3 things you need to finish today. Then you look at your calendar and see how to fit them in. If they don’t fit in, you need to change your expectations or change your plan.

For example, this morning I realized I was tight on time for some urgent work, so I arranged to walk during a phone appointment to squeeze my exercise in, and I postponed a routine check-in with an assistant to a less busy day. I also gave up on getting a particular item done today.

When I asked Roger whether he was planning the day, he became thoughtful. He said he’d found planning the day very useful, but he hadn’t been doing it recently. Why not? Probably because his top priorities were not so clear. Likely, this made planning the day a little off-putting, so he was tempted to jump into clearing email or the like. Once distracted, he never got around to prioritizing and planning.

This is a great example of a difficulty holding context. As soon as we discussed the situation, Roger was convinced that planning the day would solve his problem. He was sure he could figure out his priorities if he tried. He just needed some way to make sure he remembered how important it was to do it. He needed to keep that value context activated.

Here’s a great way to do that: Mark off a part of the whiteboard near your desk for the plan for the day. Put the date at the top, and the plan below. On any day, as soon as you notice that the information is out of date, erase it, write the new date, and “No Plan.” Like this:

No Plan

Alan Lakein says, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” If you know how helpful daily planning is, seeing “No Plan” on that whiteboard puts you in instant conflict. It reminds  you that  you haven’t identified how to achieve your top priorities today.

Roger and I both implemented this idea. Here’s how my plan evolved Monday:

Monday - No Plan

Monday - No Plan

Notice I didn’t plan the day first thing. I prepared a Thinking Lab class instead. I know that when the muse is with me, it’s better to do concentrated thinking. If I look at my to-do list too early, I destroy the creative process.

Jumping into creative work sometimes led me to forget to plan my day. Now that my whiteboard says “No Plan,” it doesn’t.

As an aside, notice that on this day, my initial beliefs about my priorities were all wrong. When I took 10 minutes to plan the day, I figured out what they really were.

If you don’t plan the day as often as you wish, I highly recommend this strategy. You can buy a little 8×10″ whiteboard to prop up on your desk. It will give you a visual reminder of how important it is to plan your day.

The key that makes the whole thing work? When first you see it’s out of date, erase yesterday’s material, write today’s date, and admit you have no plan.

July 6, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

The Real Value of Small Steps

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” The importance of taking small steps is well known. It’s the most likely advice you’ll get if you’re bogging down on something. “Try taking a small step.”

And yet, I have often found this advice unhelpful. I’m sure that is partly because I break down tasks into smaller steps all the time–almost automatically–so I don’t normally need to be reminded about this.

But when I have bogged down or gotten stuck–and did need some advice–smaller steps themselves rarely seemed to help.

For example, in the past I’ve tried to take a “smaller step” in writing and had it backfire. I recall one time I was having trouble getting my head around a chapter, so I decided to review some notes from previous days. Though this seemed like a very small step, somehow it was not a good next step, and my head was spinning after 15 minutes. I needed to take a nap to recover normal mental functioning after that allegedly “small step.”

Moreover, I’ve often found that small steps didn’t help me when the task was not motivating. When you resist doing some unpleasant task you think you “should” be doing, a small step is supposed to get you “over the hump” so you’ll do the unpleasant task. But I would see this as manipulative–which made me resist taking the small step!

In these kinds of cases, even if you carve out small steps, you wind up slogging forward, forcing yourself to pick up one foot after another. That is the kind of struggle and strain that I am opposed to on principle.

But on the other hand, there is something very important about taking small steps, and I think I finally understand the true reason why small steps can help you when work is bogging down–and why it didn’t help in those cases.

Small steps reinforce your freedom of choice–if you are only committing to the small step. Once you’ve taken it, you get to choose freely again whether you will continue or not. No harm, no foul if you don’t.

Here’s a simple example of what I mean. A male friend of mine doesn’t like to shave. But every day, when he confronts the choice to shave, and doesn’t want to, he asks himself if he’d be willing to just do a quick electric shave for 20 seconds so he doesn’t look unkempt. More than 99% of the time, he is willing to do that. Usually, at 20 seconds, he wants to spend a little more time finishing off his shave. But he knows he is free to stop, and perhaps 3% of the time, he does stop. In this way, he has a good shave almost every day, without ever forcing himself to do something he doesn’t want to do. Even though he doesn’t like shaving.

Here’s a more complicated example. I mentioned I had had some problems with writer’s block recently. I had deep resistance to writing newsletters. I dealt with it by giving myself total freedom of choice.

I realized that I couldn’t diagnose the problem unless I tried to write an article. I had 10 possible article topics, all of which I felt blocked on. I decided to pick one and start working on it, to help me understand the obstacle.

But because I was afraid I would force myself to write the article, I had to promise myself that I was only doing the work to figure out what the conflict was. I did not actually have to write the article.

Over two days, I spent 4 1/2 hours of concentrated time working on that article. Every time I felt strain, I switched from my writing notebook to my journal. And after figuring out the immediate problem, I didn’t want to go back to writing. So, I promised myself, again, that I was just doing this to understand the block. I did not have to finish the article.

With this method, I was able to work steadily, willingly, on something I was willing to do (figure out the source of the block) without doing what I was not willing to do (write the article). I did figure out the source of the block, and the next day I wrote an article on a completely different topic using what I’d learned. (I never did finish that test article, and probably never will.)

This advice complements the microresolution literature. (See Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold.) For example, I have recently made a microresolution that I will turn on an exercise DVD every morning. I am not making a commitment to exercise every morning, just turn on an exercise DVD, knowing that I can then choose freely to exercise or not. Likely, I will.

Small steps like these are the means of helping you retain your sense of ownership and control of the task when it is not going well. They permit you to choose freely to challenge conflict as you go, rather than force yourself through the conflict.

As a result, you can use small steps to do unpleasant tasks without feeling like you’re making yourself do them–and without manipulating yourself.

A small, small step in a good direction–with no commitment beyond it–can help you out of inertia. A small step loaded with good intentions for the future will not.

This is a deep change in perspective for me. For years, I have been looking for some method that will guarantee I follow through in the future on an intention I set now. But that is on a mistaken premise. That is taking habit as the model for action.

It is true that when an activity becomes highly automatized (habitual), you need only initiate the first step, and the later steps follow unthinkingly. This is how you can shower and dress in 11 minutes flat, or deal cards while carrying on a conversation, or mow the grass with the same route every time.

But most productive activities (such as writing) require significant volitional control. You cannot succeed on autopilot.

And volition only controls this moment. You can choose only now, so you can choose only your next step.

And when you acknowledge that–when you allow that you can stop shaving, or stop writing, or stop exercising should you so choose–you eliminate all of the artificial conflict created by “duties” and “shoulds” and “musts.” You replace them with a sense of freedom and control over your own actions.

That–the reaffirmation of your own agency–is the motivational value of small steps.

 

July 4, 2017 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

FAQ – What is a Thinking Day?

Power Forward with a Thinking Day

This event is inspired by a “Do It Day” that I participated in a couple of years ago. My mentor declared the date, and everyone in his group cleared the day to work on our businesses. Every hour, on the hour from 9-4, we called into his bridge to report what we had intended to do in the last hour, what we actually did, and what we were planning to do in the next hour. In between, he was available on Facebook to answer questions and send links to resources.

I found this format to be highly productive. It helps you to focus on one project and keep at it for the whole day. I continue to run my own personal “do it days” once a quarter with a friend.

I have added quarterly work days (“Thinking Days”) to the Thinking Lab schedule as part of the major change in the program to promote self-study and self-development.

The the passworded member site for the Thinking Lab includes nine self-study courses, including “Tap Your Own Brilliance,” “Just-in-Time Planning,” “Non-Fiction Writing,” and “Smarter Execution,” plus all the courses on essentialization that I developed from 1998-2002.

Any member of the Lab can work through them at his or her own pace. However, I recognize it takes time and discipline to work through them. Deluxe and VIP members can use their consults with me to structure their approach. But I wanted everyone in the Thinking Lab to have  additional support to go through the classes.

Moreover, I’ve discovered that the only way to properly learn most of these skills is to develop them while working toward challenging goals. You need some real, tangible goal that you are lusting after to see how to use the tactics in your own life.

The purpose of a Thinking Day is for Thinking Lab members to concentrate on one project or one issue all day, with the support of the materials in the Thinking Lab plus my real-time coaching. I am on the phone bridge to answer questions and offer coaching and encouragement at the beginning, middle, and end of the day:

10:00 – 11:00 a.m. ET
1:00 – 2:00 p.m. ET
4:00 – 5:00 p.m. ET

In between, I am available by email to answer questions. I  encourage everyone to check-in periodically by email, even if they don’t join us by phone.

What makes or breaks this event for members is their choice of issue to work on.  Hence, I recommend everyone picks a project or skill to work on before the day. They can email me in advance, so I can then suggest one of the self-study courses that would be most appropriate to help guide the work. Here’s the rough correspondence:

  • Plan a complex project: Go through Just in Time Planning
  • Stop procrastinating on a project: Go through Smarter Execution
  • Write something: Go through the Non-Fiction Writing Course
  • Solidify your general skills: Go through Tap Your Own Brilliance or Making Thinking Tactics Second Nature
  • Improve your time management: Go through Evolving a Scheduling Infrastructure
  • Improve your precision: Condensation

Most of these courses are offered as “supervised self-study” on the Thinking Lab site. This means that you need to do one exercise before you get the next. However, in conjunction with the Thinking Day you get complete access to one course all at once. This is another reason to email me in advance–to get access in advance.

Thinking Lab members can read detailed descriptions of the courses at: http://www.yourthinkinglab.com

Anyone who would like to know all of the benefits of the recently upgraded Thinking Lab can read the marketing page:
http://www.thinkingdirections.com/ThinkingLab.htm

New members get a 50-minute onboarding consult with me when they join.

 

December 5, 2016 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Achieve Your Lifetime Goals by Thinking About Them Every Year

“Change your smoke detector batteries when you change the clocks to or from Daylight Savings Time. Otherwise you’ll forget.”

This little trick suggests a way to help you achieve some of the most important goals you’ll ever set: your lifetime goals.

Your lifetime goals are the things you’d like to do, either in the next 3-5 years or just “sometime.” Write a book? Visit Hong Kong? Be on a TV show? The list may be long, as it includes both the fun things and the serious things you want to accomplish.

Perhaps you haven’t called these “lifetime goals,” and perhaps you’ve never tried to write them down. But you have them–everybody has them. They are the goals you daydream about in your spare time, and, if you never pursue them, they are the omissions you regret the most at the end of your life.

To make sure you accomplish them while you’re still on the planet, I recommend you follow a practice like the smoke alarm rule. Choose an annual event as a time to review your lifetime goals to see how you might achieve some of them in the upcoming 12 months.

The annual review solves two cognitive problems.

First, you need to bring your lifetime goals nearer to the top of your mind so that you can spot opportunities for achieving them. You need to make a new list, and review last year’s.

Over the course of a year, lifetime goals fade into the background where they rarely occur to you. So go through your list asking, “can I plan this into the upcoming year?” Even goals you can’t pursue this year will start percolating, and you will be much more likely to notice a new opportunity, if it arises later in the year.

Second, you may need to challenge old assumptions about how and when you can accomplish the goal. Those old assumptions may be subtly preventing you from seeing new possibilities.

The context changes. Old decisions go out of date. New opportunities arise.

Maybe you were waiting until you completed a training program (or your kids did) before starting a business. Did you (or they) finish? Maybe you were concerned about the political situation in Hong Kong or Egypt and were waiting for a better time to visit. Has the situation changed? Yearly is a good frequency to check.

If you don’t revisit your goals, you’ll be stuck operating on old “can’ts” and “won’ts” that are out of date. The things you wanted to do in your lifetime will be buried in forgetfulness.

So, pick a yearly event that works for you. Maybe your birthday is the ideal day. Perhaps the first day of school is the day you get down to the business of planning the year. Or maybe your summer getaway offers the reflection time you need.

Then, think about your goals every year at that time. Because you don’t want to forget to achieve your lifetime goals.

Note: There is a simple procedure for identifying lifetime goals in chapter 5 of Alan Lakein’s  book, “How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life .” See my recommendation: http://thinkingdirections.com/articles6Lakein.htm

 

December 31, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Making Sure Constructive Criticism Sticks

Mark Murphy has a great short article titled “Don’t Make Constructive Criticism so Soft That People Miss Your Message.”

In it, he criticizes the feedback sandwich, which I learned long ago in Toastmasters. It’s simple: when you are giving feedback, first tell something positive, then something to improve, then end with something else positive.

This method is very effective in a Toastmasters setting, where the #1 priority is to keep everyone motivated and enjoying the experience.  In Toastmasters, you are not responsible for anyone else’s improvement. You give suggestions for improvement because everyone in the room is there to improve, and suggestions are part of the program.

But I can see that it would not be particularly effective in a managerial setting, where you are responsible for your team members performance. In those cases, you need to be more direct.

What interested me most is that he linked the method to the serial effect: you remember the first and last things you hear the best. In Toastmasters, that needs to be positive. In business, the need for improvement may be the thing you need to remember!

Again, the article is here.

 

 

December 17, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

The Dishes Won’t Wash Themselves

It is not enough to know that washing dishes is a good thing, that it helps you keep a clean kitchen. The dishes won’t wash themselves.

The same is true of every mental tool. No matter how long you have used a tool and no matter how convinced you are that it works, you still need to make a conscious decision to use it. You don’t get the benefits if you don’t take the action. This comes up often with people who have learned “thinking on paper” from me. They know it’s a good tool, but they don’t use it when they need it. They don’t take the extra step.

The same thing happens with introspective techniques. They help you calm down when you’re upset, but you have to remind yourself to try them. This is true of every tool. I’ve taken Alexander Technique lessons for 15 years, but I still find that I have to remind myself to use the technique when I notice tension in my neck and shoulders.

There is a general principle to be drawn here: having a problem and wanting it to go away is not enough. You need to notice that you’re having the problem, and choose to enact the steps that will solve it.

The tools don’t magically solve your problems. The #1 thing that solves your problems is noticing that you have them, and deciding to try to do something about them.

That’s when the tools come in. The benefit of learning tools—“thinking on paper,” introspection, the Alexander Technique, and others, is that if you notice there’s a problem, you know ready-made steps to help you solve it.

If you don’t know exactly how to solve a problem, “thinking on paper” is often a good general first step!

 

 

November 24, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

Don’t Settle for “Etcetera”

If you’ve been following me for a while, you’ve been introduced to “thinking on paper.” If not, you can read about it and get instruction on it with my Smarter Starter Kit.

With that as the context, a client sent me this note about “thinking on paper” which he said I could share:

Just was doing some “thinking on paper” and came up with something that may be obvious but was helpful for me to realize explicitly.  Your “thinking on paper” should ban the word, “etc.” This is probably implied by the rule to write in full sentences, but I realized it was a way for context to leak off of the paper and disappear into the ether.

One of the great benefits of “thinking on paper” for me is being able to recapture my context.  And I realized when I write, “etc.” I am going too fast and may be throwing away valuable information….

I am so anxious to get on  the path I have chosen and that I am throwing away information I judge as non-essential at the time of the writing.  As such, I may have lost other critical thoughts when I read back through and say, “I wonder what ‘etc.’ stands for here.”  I may have other clues from the rest of the context I have recaptured, but it occurred to me that this was just sloppy, and probably to be avoided.

This is an excellent observation, one that I hadn’t made myself. But it fits with everything I know about “thinking on paper.”

The moral of the story: when the word “etc.” occurs to you, your subconscious is indicating as loudly as possible that you need to make a list!

I have only one quibble with this note and this client.  Please don’t give yourself a hard time when you find a small area to improve! No need to call yourself “sloppy” when you notice something you’d like to do better. Why not call yourself “observant,” instead?

I recommend that you always focus on the positive reason for making the change. In this case, the positive reason is: “If I write out the ideas behind the etc., I’ll have them on paper  where I can see them. Then I can tell whether I’ve got lots of great ideas or I need to do some more thinking.” Giving yourself positive encouragement to do something good is a deeper, more effective form of motivation than giving yourself warnings to avoid doing something “bad.”

 

 

November 19, 2015 in | Permalink | Trackback | Comments

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