“There Are No Problems, Only Solutions…”

Today’s Lesson: You get what you take.

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John Lennon may have just been sitting there doing time, “Watching the Wheels go ’round and ’round…” but he nailed it with the title of this post.

Have you noticed that problems are like gifts? We give them to each other. Sometimes we receive good ones and we are excited to try them on but a lot of the time they are more like another bottle of cologne you already have four of, or the wrong size paisley-patterned sweater from otherwise well-meaning people.

What we forget is that gifts must be accepted. If we do not accept them, they go away (and sometimes stop being offered altogether). In other words, we think problems happen to us but actually we pick our problems.

That is why on Monday someone can cut you off in traffic and you feel enraged, blare your horn, and curse them (until they look directly at you–then, you pretend you are focused on the traffic light ahead). Yet, on Tuesday, someone can cut you off and you simply swerve out-of-the-way and move on, listening to your favorite song. No problem.

On Monday, someone offered you the gift of a problem and you generously accepted it. On Tuesday, someone offered you the same problem, but you graciously declined it.

People offer you problems all the time. We love to give our problems away. Sometimes we are even offered the same problem over and over (my cat kindly offers me the problem of barfing up hairballs at 4 in the morning every few nights).

All of our problems are the same way. We only have the problems we accept.

When you feel overwhelmed, frustrated, confused, lost, stressed, or depressed (or all of those at the same time), consider what problems you are generously accepting and what ones you should graciously decline.

Maybe it is time to politely inform Grandma paisley is not your style and you actually wear a different size than when you were twelve (or that you have stopped celebrating holidays altogether).  She may not like your attitude but… well, that’s her problem.

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Do It Now.

Today’s Lesson: If something is wrong, fix it now. Why wait and let it fester?

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Do it. Do it now.

This is a simple, powerful lesson I was reminded of by Noah Kagan (the #30 employee at FaceBook, #4 employee at Mint, and founder of SumoMe) in an interview he had with Tim Ferriss (4-Hour Workweek, 4-Hour Body, and more). If you want to hear the full interview, which is totally worth it, you can check it out here.

I learned this lesson first from my Dad, who taught me how to clean house and live like a civilized, cultured man of reason, even when I was young, stupid bachelor striking out for the first time.

He said, “When you see something wrong, just fix it. Do it now. When you a dirty a dish, wash it right away. It is easier to wash one dish than to look at a whole pile of dishes and feel defeated before you start. After you brush your teeth, grab a dishcloth and wipe the sink handle and bathroom mirror real quick. When you see some clutter on the counter, just move it to its place. Don’t wait for it to grow. When you are done doing your business on the toilet, just grab a piece of toilet paper and wipe the rim before you flush. Don’t wait until it looks like a toxic spill area to clean it.”

Dad, and Noah, are right. My bathroom, kitchen, desk, car, and everything else I have stays clean and organized. When I see a problem, I do not wait to resolve it. Sure, everything can wait until later, but of course, it will stay on my mind until later, too. It will add stress that would not be there if I took care of the problem right away.

Not only will a problem grow in my mind until I become angry or distressed about it, but almost certainly it will grow in real life too. One dirty dish becomes three which becomes ten which becomes thirty, etc. I wash dishes at the same time I make dinner so I do not have to face a pile of dishes after a satisfying meal.

As usual, this applies to other areas of life. In every leadership position I have held, when I first built or took over a team, they were surprised by my responsiveness to their needs and requests. Of course I am responsive! I don’t want to deal with the same problem later and ten times larger!

Try it. If you see the toilet paper roll is almost out, don’t wait for someone else to deal with it, even if it is “their” responsibility. If someone left the cap off the toothpaste, just put it back on instead of letting your anger at their irresponsibility fester and grow. If you dirty a dish, wash it. If you see trash on the floor, pick it up and toss it in the garbage can. If you see a speck on the mirror, wipe it. If your boss asks for something, get it done now. Don’t wait until it is due and try to cram it in the last second with slipshod results.

Just handle it. Become known as a person who gets things done now. Right now. See where that takes you…

Do it. Do it now.

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No Pressure

Today’s Lesson: Stress is relative but my life is not relative to yours.

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Over the last few months Nicole and I have uprooted our lives, leaving everything behind in Grand Rapids, MI and moving to Tampa, FL.

It has been an amazing adventure so far but not without obstacles and remarkable stress. In some ways, we are not even the same people who started the journey. We have a new home with new furniture and new surroundings, new jobs with new work commutes, new cities to navigate, new weather, new sleep patterns, even new clothes. Everything is different and presents new challenges.

The funny thing is, when I feel the pressure mounting I am also reminded we are living with much less stress than many, if not most, other couples. Many of our stresses are temporary and will subside over time (we will grow used to the city, our new work teams, our clothes, etc.). Not to mention we basically live on Vacation (meaning we live where most people go to get away from it all), with sunny weather almost every day, palm trees, and beaches at hand. We don’t have kids, or a mortgage, or even car payments to worry about (yet… we will probably upgrade our cars this year).

The point is, from the outside looking in, I suspect it looks like we moved to Paradise but we still find ways to stress out. There are people with much better social position under much greater stress.

I have learned stress is part of life, every life, and it is relative to the life being led. The trick, I think, is to remember it is all temporary, including the life being led.

Recognizing all things must pass, including both the moments on the beach and the moments wishing for the beach, means recognizing it is all part of the adventure and we should cherish the challenges as much as the beaches.

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Do You Know What Your Solar Plexus Just Said?

Today’s Lesson: Your body speaks to you all the time. Listen to it often.

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My hair stylist began by rubbing my neck and shoulders with minty oil. What a great way to start a haircut! Every time she gingerly pressed her thumb or finger in the area between my rhomboids (the “wing muscles” on your back) and spine, I was surprised by how tender the area was.

I have been holding a lot of stress there but I was not aware of it. I should have been. The sore muscles were crying for attention and I was so used to ignoring them that I didn’t even hear them.

If there has been a “theme” to what I have learned in my physical realm so far this year, it has definitely been that I do not listen to my body enough. I ignore my feet when they tell me they are sore and I am abusing them. I ignore my stomach when it says it is full and I am pushing it too far. I ignore my “wings” when they say I am holding onto too much stress and need to stretch and meditate

Our bodies are amazing machines and, like nearly any complex machine, they have lots of “pop-up” warnings, red lights, and system recovery tools. We have to listen and read the signs instead of just running to the next task and thinking we will deal with it later. Eventually, “later” becomes a catastrophic system failure that could have been avoided many times… and that’s bad.

 

Take time at least once a day and listen to everything your body says.

 

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It’s Better Than You Think

Don’t get so caught up in the running that you forget to do the breathing…

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It has been a stressful week. Uprooting our lives and leaving everything behind to make a dramatic (but well-planned) move to Tampa from Grand Rapids was not easy. Despite the welcome change in climate, there is still the pressure of building a new home, of me finding new work, of Rainee (our cat) settling in, and of Nicole and I not having much time to spend together (she has a new job with long hours right now).

Of course, buying all new stuff means having to shop for, and agree on, all new stuff and presently home does not yet feel like “home”. On top of that, Nicole’s had a death in the family last week, causing an impromptu un-budgeted trip back to Michigan. Needless to say, tension is understandably high and finding common ground is not always easy during transitions like this (for anyone).

The funny thing is, I can turn all of this right around and see it for the amazing things in it. There is a great love story here, for one… how many couples have (or take) the chance to say, “What are we doing here? Let’s go somewhere we both want to be and live in Paradise together!”? How many of us have the fantasy of just leaving everything behind and starting over? We totally did that!

I am in a place filled with sunshine, with an incredibly lovely and loving partner, living a life we chose instead of one we accepted. Every morning when I wake up, I open my eyes to a beautiful sunrise and for probably the first time in my life I have an opportunity to be picky about the next move on my career path (a rare choice for anyone, really). I am in great health, surrounded by great friends, in a great environment. In short, stress or no stress, it is hard to imagine life being any better!

Regardless of how good you have it, sometimes you have to be willing to open your eyes to see it.

 

Today’s Lesson:  There is no guarantee life will never have bad days but I see no reason to have to accept more than one at a time. After all, even on the worst day, life, as far as I know, is a lot better than the alternative…

 

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Where is the Off Switch?

In a world as loud and crazy as ours, what can we do to have a moment of peace and live better?

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There used to be more “off” switches.

Before credit cards, when people ran out of cash, we were simply done spending. The “over-spending” and “debt” switches had an Off switch.

When my dad left work at 5:00, there was no email, instant messaging, or text messages to interrupt his evening and rip his attention away from family and hobbies. Work had an Off switch.

Before social media, when your friends worked at night or were out for dinner or drinks, they could not disrupt your plans or your sleep with constant updates and notifications. Socializing had an “off” switch.

The same applies to shopping, traveling, entertainment, education, and nearly everything else I can think of.

Some of us are adapting to an “always-on” society while many struggle emotionally, spiritually, and physically in a world without Off switches.

We have traded our On/Off switches for volume control dials. The best we can do with stress is to sometimes turn it down, but never Off anymore.

I think it is more important now to practice using the volume knobs in our lives, especially with the stressful parts.

Practicing skills like meditation, walking in nature, spending time away from display screens, enjoying a quiet healthy meal, and having ample rest is essential to living well. Note these are definitely skills now (not hobbies or art forms), to be practiced and repeated regularly.

Today’s lesson: With no Off switches left in the world, mastering control of your life’s volume dials can be the difference between living the good life… or living a short one.

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Today’s Lesson: “Overwhelmed” is an Adjective, Not a Verb [140929]

 

We all feel overwhelmed at times.

 

Work, family, and personal stress can mount and sometimes many events cascade and need resolution at the same time.

 

No matter how much you have planned for a day, no matter how much pressure you accept from others (and any pressure placed on you must be accepted by you), and no matter how stressed or powerful you feel… you can only accomplish in a single day whatever you accomplished that day.

 

Obviously, you can’t go back and add another three tasks to yesterday. If you do not get something done today, then it simply was unable to fit in today. You chose other priorities.

 

Never stress about what did not happen. You are always doing the thing that is most important to you in a given moment (or else you would be doing something else, right?).

 

The word “overwhelmed” is a verb in the dictionary, but I think that is wrong. “Overwhelmed” is not an action or a state of being. Rather, it is a descriptive word like “green” or “clever”. The distinction is important. By removing “overwhelmed” from your list of verbs (action words) and transferring it to your list of adjectives (descriptive words), you essentially transform it from an inherent state of being to a choice of descriptors.

 

“Overwhelmed” is a choice, not a fact. We demonstrate this all the time, too. If your boss tells you she needs the TPS report by 9 am, you might drop everything to do it, rearranging your priorities. You accept the pressure. If a stranger walks up to you and demands you wash her car, you might laugh at her. No pressure because you would never accept it as a priority in your life.

 

So… the next time you feel overwhelmed, drop the façade. You accepted the pressure. Either embrace the challenge or choose other priorities (of course, that also means you accept the consequences of your choices but that is a different lesson…).

 

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Life Balance [140915]

 

I am a workaholic. I am often chastised for checking email on vacation, responding to messages at all hours, or taking calls during mealtimes.

 

There are plenty of reasons for this… for example, the last time I took a vacation and tuned out work, I was promptly punished by having to work three times as hard to catch up over the next few weeks. My team’s performance suffered as well. I probably have an element of competition and an old school mentality of “the way to get ahead is to work harder than anyone else”, too. This, of course, was great advice when I entered the workforce (before the internet was born) but it is not a good policy now, in an always-connected economy. Trying to out-work your competition today means never not working and is a quick way to a heart attack, alienating family and friends, or worse.

 

I try to find balance between reaching the goals I am paid to reach and reaching my personal goals (which are sometimes the same), as well as maintaining a social circle, relationship, family commitments, and trying to stay reasonably healthy.

 

The way to moving forward is no longer “work hard, get good grades, and save every penny”–all three will lead you to stress and an early grave. Today, the person who achieves the most balance wins. You can not out-work anyone in a 24/7 economy. College has become prohibitively expensive for many people and the return on investment has declined since the dawn of the internet and cheap access to knowledge became prominent. Being frugal in a volatile economy and watching your hard-earned savings deplete and de-value is one of the most depressing things I have witnessed over the last two decades.

 

Sage advice today might sound more like, “Live well, be nice, try new stuff, and spend money on experiences you will remember instead of on toys you will forget.”

 

Yesterday, I wrote about the law of opposing forces and it is interesting, isn’t it, to observe how the world works to balance itself on the macro-scale, too?

 

As the economy declines, stress rises, and the world environmentally shifts, equal and opposite forces also rise to meet the challenge and restore balance. We see more and more people embracing the art of “life-hacking” to enjoy more (money, freedom, time) with less (stress, tradition, obsolete rules). We see a rise in people choosing a vegan lifestyle and trading their chairs for a pair of five-toe running shoes. We see more and more farmers adopting organic, cruelty-free practices and people recycling and reducing emissions. People are abandoning college and lifetime careers in exchange for vagabonding, learning through experience, and leveraging free online learning with practical, hands-on knowledge.

 

All of these things seemed crazy or on the fringe just 20 years ago. People looked at me like I had 3 eyes when I “came out” as vegan 15 years back. Now, I can eat nearly anywhere and almost everyone knows what the word means. I remember discarding everything in the same trash bin when I was a kid and throwing McDonald’s bags out of car windows when we were done eating because… well, why not? And who cared where food came from as long as it was delicious? That “global warming thing” seemed like a debatable idea only ten years ago and cars that run on electricity were still a crazy thing for rich people to most of us. Now all of these things are mainstream, or at least in the realm of “normal”.

 

This is a mouthful of disposition to say the lesson I learned today is the world seeks balance. Whether on the scale of society (we react to global warming with environmental conscientiousness) or on an individual scale (I react to gaining weight by exercising), Isaac Newton’s third law of motion holds true. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”–this is what I call the law of opposing forces. The key, of course, is to shift back toward balance before imbalance gains enough inertia to get out of control (exercise is good when you are overweight and out of balance, but if you are too overweight, then too much exercise at once could give you a heart attack). Incidentally, that is Newton’s first law of motion… “an object at rest tends to stay at rest; an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by an outside force.”

 

 

Newton figured out the secrets of motion and probably had no intention or idea that his theories could apply philosophically to our lives, as well. However, I think the father of Philosophy… Aristotle… had it right long before Sir Isaac Newton. Aristotle gave this advice more than 2 thousand years ago and it is just as true today for a healthy, happy life. He said, simply: “All things in moderation.”

 

 

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