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Posts tagged personal growth
Why Flow Matters

One of the better books I've read in the last few years is Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. It's a doozy. The author, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, does a fantastic and thorough job of showcasing how doing something that's a bit of a challenge makes you happier and more successful. This is a welcome idea in an age where everyone is telling you to chase your passion (including yours truly). Ultimately, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi states that we're happiest and best when we are pushed and we overcome some kind of obstacle. Of course, we must find this delicate balance of the "right" amount of challenge at work and at home, otherwise we can get very discouraged very quickly. In fact, the right challenge can give your life deep and incredible meaning.

His idea of "flow" is what's commonly meant when it is said that an athlete is in "the zone." Action and awareness merge such that nearly everything comes naturally.

Flow is a thick read, but well worth your time. Here are some quotes for you:

About Life and Leisure

  • A joyful life is an individual creation that cannot be copied from a recipe.
  • The information we allow into consciousness becomes extremely important; it is, in fact, what determines the content and the quality of life.
  • There are two main strategies we can adopt to improve the quality of life. The first is to try making external conditions match our goals. The second is to change how we experience external conditions to make them fit our goals better.
  • Because enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules, and challenge well matched to skills, there is little opportunity for the self to be threatened.
  • Compared to people living only a few generations ago, we have enormously greater opportunities to have a good time, yet there is no indication that we actually enjoy life more than our ancestors did.
  • A person who rarely gets bored, who does not constantly need a favorable external environment to enjoy the moment, has passed the test for having achieved a creative life.
  • Purpose gives direction to one's efforts, but it does not necessarily make life easier. Goals can lead into all sorts of trouble, at which point one gets tempted to give them up and find some less demanding script by which to order one's actions. The price one pays for changing goals whenever opposition threatens is that while one may achieve a more pleasant and comfortable life, it is likely that it will end up empty and void of meaning.
  • Activity and reflection should ideally complement and support each other. Action by itself is blind, reflection impotent. Before investing great amounts of energy in a goal, it pays to raise the fundamental questions: Is this something I really want to do? Is it something I enjoy doing? Am I likely to enjoy it in the foreseeable future? Is the price that I - and others - will have to pay worth it? Will I be able to live with myself if I accomplish it?

About Focus and Self

  • The mark of a person who is in control of consciousness is the ability to focus attention at will, to be oblivious to distractions, to concentrate for as long as it takes to achieve a goal, and not longer.
  • Every piece of information we process gets evaluated for its bearing on the self. Does it threaten our goals, does it support them, or is it neutral? News of the fall of the stock market will upset the banker, but it might reinforce the sense of self of the political activist. A new piece of information will either create disorder in consciousness, by getting us all worked up to face the threat, or it will reinforce our goals, thereby freeing up psychic energy.
  • It is not possible to experience a feeling of control unless one is willing to give up the safety of protective routines. Only when a doubtful outcome is at stake, and one is able to influence that outcome, can a person really know whether she is in control.
  • Optimal experience is a form of energy, and energy can be used either to help or to destroy.
  • When adversity threatens to paralyze us, we need to reassert control by finding a new direction in which to invest psychic energy, a direction that lies outside the reach of external forces.

About Why You Shouldn't Watch So Much TV

  • In the roughly one-third of the day that is free of obligations, in their precious "leisure" time, most people in fact seem to use their minds as little as possible. The largest part of free time - almost half of it for American adults - is spent in front of the television set.
  • Although average Americans have plenty of free time, and ample access to leisure activities, they do not, as a result, experience flow often. Potentiality does not imply actuality, and quantity does not translate into quality. For example, TV watching, the single most often pursued leisure activity in the United States today, leads to the flow condition very rarely. In fact, working people achieve the flow experience - deep concentration, high and balanced challenges and skills, a sense of control and satisfaction - about four times as often on their jobs, proportionately, as they do when they are watching television.
  • The flow experience that results from the use of skills leads to growth; passive entertainment leads nowhere.
  • Most jobs and many leisure activities  - especially those involving the passive consumption of mass media - are not designed to make us happy and strong. Their purpose is to make money for someone else. If we allow them to, they can suck out the marrow of our lives, leaving only feeble husks.

About Work

  • Flow is important both because it makes the present instant more enjoyable, and because it builds the self-confidence that allows us to develop skills and make significant contributions to humankind.
  • The reason it is possible to achieve such complete involvement in a flow experience is that goals are usually clear, and feedback immediate.
  • Any skill worth developing requires that one invest psychic energy in it at the beginning.
  • Why are some people weakened by stress, while others gain strength from it? Basically the answer is simple: those who know how to transform a hopeless situation into a new flow activity that can be controlled will be able to enjoy themselves, and emerge stronger from the ordeal.

About Relationships and Community

  • Quality of life depends on two factors: how we experience work, and our relations with other people.
  • Every relationship requires a reorienting of attention, a repositioning of goals.
  • A true friend is someone we can occasionally be crazy with, someone who does not expect us to be always true to form. It is someone who shares our goal of self-realization, and therefore is willing to share the risks that any increase in complexity entails.
  • A person is part of a family or a friendship to the extent he invests psychic energy in goals shared with other people.
  • A community should be judged good not because it is technologically advanced, or swimming in material riches; it is good if it offers people a chance to enjoy as many aspects of their lives as possible, while allowing them to develop their potential in the pursuit of ever greater challenges.
  • Contrary to what we were led to believe, it is more satisfying to help another person than to beat him down, or that it is more enjoyable to talk with one's two-year-old than to play golf with the company president.

About Writing

  • The point of writing is to create information, not simply to pass it along.
  • Having a record of the past can make a great contribution to the quality of life.  It frees us from the tyranny of the present, and makes it possible for consciousness to revisit  former times.

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10 Things You Can Do To Live Longer

If you want to be happy and healthy for longer, try any of these things, all proven to help you live longer:

Shorten your commute

Doing so by 20 minutes lessens your risk of heart attack by 300%.

Smile regularly

Frequent smiling could add seven years to your life.

Volunteer

Lending a hand to genuinely help others can help you live longer.

Get married

Being in a consistent relationship for a long time can help you live longer.

Walk daily

Walkers live longer.

Work standing up

Sitting for more than six hours a day increases your risk for cardiovascular disease.

Have a close group of friends

Close ties with friends can boost your health.

Drink wine or coffee

Moderate drinking of either could help lower your risk of death.

Get religion

Going to church or spiritual gatherings could help reduce your risk of death by 20%.

Stay positive

A positive attitude and sense of humor can help you live longer.

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Freedom From Worry

"If I had just a little bit more money..." "If I win the lottery..."

"If I get the promotion..."

"If I get into that school..."

"If my idea hits..."

Complete those sentences however you like. At the heart of each is the notion that with a little (or a lot of) cash, the right opportunities, the stars aligning, or things going in our favor, we'll be set.

But what is "set"? Is there a certain amount of money we can have and then want no more? A certain pedigree, title, or recognition?

In my experience, each is ever-changing. Get a million bucks and then you'll be restless until you get a million more. Rise to run the company and then you'll itch to start your own and grow it bigger.

What we're all chasing is freedom from worry. We believe - for some reason - that if our bank account is big enough or our house is in the right city or if we meet the right person that we'll never worry again. Each night we'll lay down and while darkness settles in, our minds won't race with "what if?" questions about our lives. Certainly, at some point, worry will leave us and we'll be blissfully at peace with the world and our place in it.

Oh how I wish that were the case!

Get as much money as you want; it won't prevent any nasty disease from creeping in and ruining you. Find the right person; they don't come with an iron-clad guarantee and that they'll be around forever. Land your dream job; any company can go bust.

Does that cloud have a silver lining or is that its gray underbelly, waiting to burst and drench my parade?

None of us can live without worry. There's always something. The best we can hope to do is manage it, keep it at bay enough to enjoy our picnic in the sun. Sure, rain is possible, and if it falls, we'll pack up and dance barefoot while getting soaked, creating a memory that can't be duplicated or taken from us, captured in our hearts to draw upon when we're lonely or sad or bored so that we can remember the day when we laughed and did the Charleston, drenched, making the most of a bummer of a circumstance.

We can't truly ever live without worry, but perhaps we can find joy in its midst. The fragility of human relationships exists to remind us that these things aren't to be taken for granted, ensconced, buffed, and fit for a mantle to only be gazed upon when things are going well. The reality that any of our connections can fall to the floor should spur us to take care of each, to nurture and cradle them so that we can understand and appreciate what it is we're holding. And while it can still fall and shatter, it may be less likely to do so if we're careful, courteous, and conscious with what it is we have and cognizant of how beautiful and delicate these treasures of people are.

Worry is like a brake, then, there not to keep us idle, but to help us go as fast as we can, knowing that we will be able to slow or stop when our speed has reached a point that it can be dangerous. With time and wisdom, we can tap the pedal to call our attention to the proper guardrails and lanes so that we don't veer off aimlessly into a direction we shouldn't be headed.

No amount of anything will free you from worry. But the right amount of life will have you living fully despite worry's troublesome presence. Worry wasn't meant to drag you down. It was meant keep you grounded so you could flap your wings with rapturous joy when you get the chance to fly.

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What Michael Grinder Taught Me About Public Speaking

One of the highlights of my brief time with CAMPUSPEAK thus far has been attending their every-other-year conference, Huddle. This is a chance for all the speakers on the roster to get together, learn from each other and from experts, and become better at what they do. Keynoting the event was Michael Grinder, someone who bills himself as a communications expert, particularly when it comes to non-verbal communications. And in just five minutes, I'd learned more from Grinder than I had in my hundreds of times on stage.

Many times, we think that the bulk of our impact as speakers comes from our words. Michael showed us otherwise. Sure - words matter, but so do all the things we do when not saying something.

Here's a sample:

  • The first thing out of Michael's mouth was, "The first thing you need to know about me is that I love my wife." This floored the audience. Here was a guy hired to come teach and he begins with his values? But what a way to start it was. Instantly, Michael became someone we admired and trusted, which is important for an audience. A personally invested and connected audience is one that will listen.
  • Michael then carried on along this line, reminding us that it's imperative we know the difference between life as a speaker and life as a husband, wife, or whatever else we are when not on stage. He said, "No matter how good a problem solver you are at work, that's not lovable at home." In other words, most of the time, our loved ones aren't looking for us to spout wisdom; they just want us to listen.
  • "If you're in a bind, stop making statements and start asking questions." This is good with an unresponsive audience or when things get tense at any job.
  • "Make sure your audience walks away with value, not just adrenaline." Great speakers don't just pump their audiences up; they give them something to use.
  • "Influence is not just about power. It's about permission." People need to willingly give us their attention if we're to be successful.
  • "Brilliant communication gets people to be accountable to themselves." This is what is 'motivational' many times about speaking. You're motivating people to believe in themselves, work hard, and be their own coach and hardest critic.
  • "Leadership is comfort with uncertainty."
  • "If you want to help something you say sink into someone's long-term memory, increase or decrease voice volume from the baseline." A whisper can be as effective as a shout.
  • "Speaking 'techniques' are like a match. They aren't ethical or unethical in and of themselves. How you use these techniques determines whether or not what you're doing is ethical." If you're great at speaking, those skills can't and shouldn't be used to manipulate. There's no real impact there.
  • What makes a great speaker isn't whether or not they can employ great skills; it's when they choose to use them.
  • "Our perception of ourselves is the number one thing that gets in the way of our professional development." We can all get better.

What's the best speaking advice you've ever received?

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"Those imperfections are where the beauty lies."

This month's Garden & Gun (by far my favorite magazine) has a profile piece on Capers Cauthen, a furniture craftsman based in South Carolina (link not available). He's known for making fantastic tables and other items out of reclaimed wood. In the middle of the article, Cauthen said why he likes working with old wood:

Those imperfections are where the beauty lies.

Truth from a carpenter.

That thing you hate about yourself? That part of you that you think is ugly, useless, outdated, or less than fantastic? Look again. There is beauty there.

The things we don't like about ourselves can often become the things others adore. Beauty is firmly in the eyes of the beholder; let someone else find the beauty within you, draw it out, and make something fantastic out of what you once thought wasn't good for much.

Something is not beautiful because it's perfect. It becomes perfect for us once we realize it's beautiful.

What's Your Lens?

Here's an interesting and short video about perspective (h/t: Kottke.org):

When you change your perspective, things can look very, very different. This is what empathy does for us. Just imagine how different our social, political, or economic conversations would be if we could take the position of the jump rope.

Part of what shapes our perspective, however, is our lens. Call it our upbringing, our background, our experience, our preferences - call it what you like. The truth of the matter is that each of us has a different lens through which we view the world. This lens then brings into focus what's important to each of us, thereby setting us out on a desired course.

Literal example: The lenses used by a microscope and a telescope are very different. Depending upon which lens you're using, an item will look very large and you'll notice fine details. Or, you'll see an object closer, something you couldn't really make out before. One will help you see a star better; the other will help you see a starfish better.

Application: Whether your lens is optimism, pessimism, hope, joy, skepticism, or pain (or any of thousands of other lenses), your view on the world will be different. Perhaps I'm not hopeful because I start businesses; I start businesses because I'm hopeful (in new ideas taking root, in the economy, in my ability to create something out of nothing).

Task: Through what lens do you see the world? When you encounter something new (an idea, a person, an opportunity, a news item), how do you respond? Is there a consistent reaction you have?

If you understand your lens, you'll then be able to align opportunities to meet goals and dreams you have. You'll know the right thing to look at in any situation and you'll respond appropriately. In short, you'll be able to navigate life if you know that you'd rather use periscopes than oscilloscopes.

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Understanding Limits

As Sarah Peck so wonderfully points out, cars have brakes not so they can go slow, but so they can go fast. Gravity doesn't just hold us down, it shows us how marvelous it is when we fly.

Heartbreak reminds us that love is so rare, so precious, and so important.

Age reminds us that wisdom comes with the price tag of time.

Winter makes sure that spring burst forth with vibrancy and color when it's time.

The thing that you think is holding you back may seem like a nuisance. But it's also reminding you - showing you - that hard work, dedicated effort, and intelligent action will surely have a reward.

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A Manifesto for the Rest of Us

I have no desire to be location independent. I may like to travel or go on vacation, but using my laptop on the beach doesn't sound fun. I don't want to work just four hours a week. I don't mind work if I enjoy it, use my talents, and am appreciated.

I want a job I love.

I want my kids to admire, appreciate, and adore me.

I want to be around to do fun things with my parents, my siblings, my friends, and my family.

I want to settle down, plant roots, and watch my legacy grow for a while.

Instead of being wealthy, sexy, or hip, I really just want to be happy.

And if I go to the ends of the earth looking for happiness and it turns out that it was right in front of me all along - in the form of stability, family, and simplicity - then that's on me.

What I need then is to find a place where I can use my talents and gifts and be rightly rooted in community.

I don't want to miss out on a great life because the one someone else was living looked more alluring through the rose-colored glasses of the Internet.

Beaches and independence don't have a monopoly on fun, meaning, belonging, happiness, or impact.

Being the master of my fate and the captain of my soul may mean that I decide to leave the vessel in port for a while. Parties happen there, too, you know.

I don't want to miss out on where I am because I'm always thinking about where I should be.

Community can happen in lots of ways, but it happens best when you show up, shut off your phone, and create memories together.

The real journey I'm on is the quest to be me. That's the one I'm chasing; not the one someone else is after.

Here's to the rest of us, the ones who are learning to be our best selves, to be happy where we are, to dream bigger than ever before, understanding that dreams can move us without moving us.

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Is $500 All That Stands in the Way of You and a Dream?

As I meet more and more people who want to chase a dream in order to start a company or live their lives more fully, I also met more and more excuses as to why people don't take the risky leap and chase their passion. Here are some of the excuses that people seem to have on why they can't follow after something:

  • Not enough time
  • Don't know how
  • Don't know enough people
  • No passport
  • Little experience
  • No one will trust them
  • Too much competition
  • Lacking confidence
  • Fear of failure
  • Need money

Most of the things on the list above can be quickly overcome, especially the last one. Many ideas we have for new companies or ways to live a more passionate life don't require millions of dollars, but rather can be started with just an extra $500. And if you think you can't find that kind of cash, then stop complaining and start looking around your house.

To find $500, you could:

Don't think you can do it? Then you may as well admit that your passion isn't as important as TV or clothes. Maybe once you say that out loud, you'll be willing to make the hard decisions to sacrifice what can be sold so you can earn what can't be bought.

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You Can Hold More in an Open Hand Than a Clenched Fist

We're too quick to fight. We get defensive too easily when critiqued. Combat seems to be the first option, the default setting on our angrily programmed brains. We want to defend our territory, our opinion, or our reputation from anyone who disagrees, sees differently, or has another idea. It must be exhausting for us to be so mean, to live in a world with a mindset that trusts last, is always skeptical, and rarely gives others the benefit of the doubt. Imagine how much easier life could be if we were able to walk around or run unencumbered by all those chips on our shoulders and monkeys on our backs.

And it's so easy to let go of these things. Our anger can be dropped like a careless dime that slips out of our fingers while we're digging for our subway ticket, landing on the pavement with a dulled clink and then bouncing and rolling towards the grate to be washed away with the day. Let go of your burdens, your anger, your stereotypes, your biases, and your pain. Release them from your clenched fist and greet the world with a vulnerable, empty open hand.

You can hold more in an open hand than in a clenched fist. Try it. Hold golf balls or pens or eggs or dollars. When you freely share - both your joy and your pain - you'll see that everything is more easily carried when others help. But no one can pry your troubles and your elation out of that straining closed fist of yours.

Open up. Take in more. Let us help. Share with us.

No one holds fists. They hold hands.

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What Not To Say

I'm keynoting the National School Foundation Association annual conference in just a few hours, which means I'm in the review stage of getting my speech in order (I'll detail my talk prep process in a future post). But, when it's nearly go time, I like to remind myself of things not to say. In addition to making sure I get rid of the "ums", I also avoid the following phrases. Each is useless and sloppy. You should definitely get rid of these when you speak on stage. If you also eliminate them from everyday use, then bonus points to you.

Things you should never say in a speech:

  • At the end of the day - This is a needless phrase that takes up time and space. If you need a transition, just say "In conclusion..."
  • All in all - When you string these three words together, you're not saying anything. Try it. Use it in a phrase and then use the phrase without. Did you enhance anything?
  • It goes without saying - Then you shouldn't be saying it.
  • One thing led to another - One thing always leads to another. That's how life works. If something is this obvious, you don't have to point it out to your audience so blatantly.
  • To make a long story short - In the history of words, everyone who has said this has done so once their story was already too long. If you find yourself using this phrase, stop talking because chances are good that your listeners have already checked out.
  • It is what it is - Of course it is. It can't be what it isn't. That would defy the logic of physics. It always is what it is, Captain Obvious.

Watch your language the next time you speak and get rid of these lazy cliches to sound more professional and polished.

What else doesn't need to be said ?

What would you add to this list? What lazy or overused phrases need to go?

Don't Rely on Your Natural Resources

Passion is a valuable thing. Many people want to build a career around it, but putting all your eggs in this basket may not be a good move. Passion is rarely learned. You become passionate about something naturally, usually. It's a gut feeling, something visceral and emotional. You need this kind of fire in the core of your being to keep going when the going gets very, very tough.

But, you need more than this. You need to learn and hone skills. You need to get smart. You need to try new things, build new networks, and develop new relationships. You need to try hard things, to challenge and push yourself. Otherwise, you'll just rely on what you're naturally good at or what gets you excited. Sadly, these things may fade one day.

Here's a parallel from the world of geopolitics. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman writes about what makes Taiwan so great:

Taiwan is a barren rock in a typhoon-laden sea with no natural resources to live off of — it even has to import sand and gravel from China for construction — yet it has the fourth-largest financial reserves in the world. Because rather than digging in the ground and mining whatever comes up, Taiwan has mined its 23 million people, their talent, energy and intelligence — men and women.

While many other countries rely on what comes naturally - minerals in the ground - Taiwan has had to rely on education and intelligence. As a country, it didn't take what was given; it went and earned what couldn't be bought.

We must do the same with our careers. If you're lucky to have an innate skill or talent, then milk it for all its worth and earn as much as you can. But, along the way, be sure to combine that gift with real knowledge, new opportunities, and worthwhile challenges. Leverage your passion and your talents, but be sure to grow beyond that so that you can have a bevy of options when you need them most.

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