Find Your Zen Place

I look back at each day and consider what I learned from it. Then, I share each day’s lesson on this blog. Here is today’s…

*********

I never thought I would love Stand-Up Paddleboarding. I never even considered it as a hobby, but now I am a total fanboy of this leisure sport. I figured out why.

When I am on the water, I find it easy and natural to do what I struggle to do as a novice with meditation. I can shut everything out and focus on being present. The rest of the world sort of fades into the ether while I am on my board, staring at the water and shoreline for the next interesting creature, plant, or nook to explore.

In those moments, I am not calculating how to improve processes, not budgeting, not worried about personal issues or struggles, not thinking about relationships, not even wondering if my hair looks alright. I am just watching for cool fish, colorful birds, or amazing ecology in action. I can’t even name half the fish or birds I see. I don’t care. I am just enjoying the moment every time I get out there.

I don’t know what your little place of zen is, but I encourage you to find one if you don’t have one. After a few hours of Stand-Up Paddleboarding, I always feel refreshed, relaxed, and ready to let the world back in.

 

Share

Camera Shy

Today’s Lesson: Don’t get so caught up in capturing the moment that you forget to live in the moment.

*****

There are definitely times when I think, “I should have taken a picture of that!”. Often, this happens after I finish a uniquely tasty meal or when Nicole and I are at the beach.

We have been excited with our new Stand-Up Paddleboard hobby and there was one day where we saw, all in the same day: a school of jumping fish, a crab, an array of stingrays (a completely white one, a bunch of baby rays, and the biggest live stingray I have ever seen–probably 3 feet from wing tip to wing tip), hermit crabs, a baby shark, a dolphin, and a big shark zipping through a school of fish for lunch (which startled me so bad I nearly fell off my board!).

It would have been great to have pictures or video of all those things (especially the shark, dolphin, and giant ray–so cool!). I likely would have dropped the camera anyway and I would have been so excited to capture the next moment that I would not have noticed the one I was in. In other words, I would have been more focused on capturing the moment than actually living it.

It would be nice to post some cool shots online (well, most of them would have been blurry shots or only have captured the tail end of something) or have some record of the moment. On the other hand, how much would I have missed from experiencing conversation, the surprise and excitement of sighting something new, the looks on Nicole’s face, and the sheer joy of living, if I was busy fiddling with my phone camera settings or mounting the GoPro just right?

I like looking at pictures but I would rather have lived the memories (of the moment, rather than the memories of me trying to capture the moment).

Share

How To Have A GREAT Weekend

Today’s Lesson: Less planning equals greater possibilities.

*****

I don’t know about you but weekends are serious business for Nicole and me. And that is the problem. We often plan our weekends like military extraction operations.

Our list of must’s typically includes mission-critical tasks like laundry, groceries, cleaning, grooming, taking out trash, changing litter, making meals, preparing for the coming week, clothes shopping, etc. That is before anything is planned for fun or relaxation, which sometimes feels like added chores anyway (we have to be at the movies by 10, so we can have lunch at 1, to get to the beach by 3, and leave by 6 to get to the grocery store… you get the idea.).

I have found sometimes the planning leads to paralysis-by-planning. Nothing seems to get done and we are more tired at the end of the weekend than when it started. Of course, I know we are not alone.

Here is a little trick I have found works wonders (but it is REALLY tough to adhere to). Whenever I plan my weekend like this, it allows for spontaneity, adventure, and fun, and somehow the mission-critical stuff is still accomplished (or, it turns out, some of it is not actually critical and finds its way postponed into next week).

Plan no more than 3 things each day. Pick the truly “must be done” things. “Wash the car”, for example, is something that is convenient to do on weekends but not critical. If it gets done, fine. If it does not, people will judge you about your car but they were going to judge about something anyway. At least you will already know you have a dirty car.

Keep the tasks simple–so simple you can remember them all day. Saturday: Pay bills, vacuum, groceries.

Do the crucial stuff first. If nothing is more important than making sure your budget is done on Saturday, then just do it first thing. When you put it off, you waste energy worrying about it, which means when you get to it, you have less energy and focus to do it right.

Keep a list for spontaneity. It sounds counter-intuitive, but we share a list in Google Keep. Whenever we drive by a sign or place and remark, “Oh, that looks cool. We should check that out some time…” it goes on the list. Then when we find ourselves bored, saying “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?” We consult the list and pick something. The list is always growing so there is always something to do! There are parks, stores, events, bike trails, beaches, all kinds of things on our list. We don’t consult it very often (we usually know what we want to do) but it comes in handy on occasion.

 

I find this method of not cramming a long wish list into the weekend helpful but the hardest part is remembering to keep the weekend simple. Allow breathing room. The space between chores is where creativity, spontaneity, and even romance can occur. Otherwise, you are only extending your work week… and it is good to have a day off once in a while.

Share

You Don’t Know Me (And Neither Do I)

Today’s Lesson: It’s tough to see I to I.

*****

“…And that is why I am who I am.” Our friend finished sharing some very moving and important details about his childhood. It was the kind of story people write books about, that later become screenplays, and eventually turn into inspiring and uplifting academy award-winning movies.

I do not know many people who do not have amazing life stories that could become movies. In fact, just think about how often you hear the phrase, “My life could be a great movie…”. Everyone’s life could be a great movie, and I believe all those movies would be great. We all have struggles, challenges, trials and tribulation to overcome (often as children) because there is no manual for life. We each have to figure it out the hard way.

When we hear a close friend’s intimately protected back story, we are often surprised. Sometimes that friend is no longer who we thought they were, in the light of new details. It is like we don’t even know them.

Here is the real kicker, though. We don’t know ourselves, either.

When I look back at my life, I remember (and this is being very generous) maybe one-fourth of my own history–you know, the history that I lived.

I do not remember most of yesterday. I remember waking up, going to work, coming home, and going out to dinner but I do not remember every word of every conversation or every visual input that affected my attitude, or each billboard that subtly coerced me into trusting a brand name, or even every detail of my friend’s story. I remember the highlights but, as they say, the devil can be in the details. It is the minutiae and messy morass between the big plot turns that build character, that make me who I am.

In essence, I am missing most of who I am. Sometimes an old friend will share a story about me that I do not remember. I can not scroll back through my entire history. Truly, I only know the highlights–bits and pieces of stories I have heard and told over and over.

In other words, we are, at best, only the Cliffs Notes version of ourselves.

We should not fret, therefore, when we think we know someone because we remember a few major dots in their life but have forgotten most of the lines that connected them.

In the end, isn’t it better to be surprised once in a while… even when we surprise ourselves?

Share

Silence Is Golden

Today’s Lesson: Just because it is trapped in your mind does not mean it must escape your mouth.

*****

I had a great zinger to end the argument. I knew what I would say to point out the other person’s flaws and send a fierce jab back, making them regret even talking to me.

Almost in the same moment, though, I realized I actually like speaking with this person and I like it when people want to speak to me. Why would I want to make someone regret that–particularly someone who matters to me?

I knew how to cause maximum damage here but I realized it was not a contest to see who could hurt each other most.

But… man, it was a really good line! They walked right into it. Like, the kind after which you would expect to hear your juvenile friends exclaim, “Ooh, burrrrn!”. What if I missed the opportunity to land this killer blow? What if the other person walked away feeling superior or just confident they had a valid point?

I thought about it (quickly). If I kept my barb to myself, it would change nothing as far as the facts were concerned. I would not sway any opinions with my whip-crack remark. All I would do is make the other person feel defensive and hurt and that would breed further hurtful words between us, maybe even some we would regret.

I dropped the line. My sub-conscious kept prompting me to spit it out–to fight back but my conscience won this one. It had to keep winning it for the next half-hour or so. I kept wanting to spit acid at my friendly adversary and I kept having to remind myself it would not help. A better path was to speak kindly, deflecting instead of defending, asking instead of attacking, and acknowledging their feelings while working through the issue with compassion.

The argument never blew up. We brought it in for a soft landing together, and I realized later it took greater strength and virtue for me to keep my angry words inside than it would have to prove myself right… at any cost.

Sometimes, saying the right thing… means saying nothing at all.

Share

“There Are No Problems, Only Solutions…”

Today’s Lesson: You get what you take.

*****

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.

Share

Remember When We Met Tomorrow?

Today’s Lesson: The future is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

*****

You have known your spouse, best friend, or sibling for a long time. You know them better than they sometimes know themselves. Except you do not know them at all.

A funny thing happens when we learn someone’s habits and thoughts over time. We begin anticipating their thoughts and habits. We think we know what they are going to say next. We know how they will decide. We know what they will order when out for dinner. We know what movies they will like. We think we even know what people they will like.

Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we miss the mark. Our accuracy is not important. When it comes to the most intimate and important people in our lives, what matters is we have stopped dealing with them in the present. Instead, we are always anticipating their future selves. We are having conversations with the people in front of us, but from the future, because we think we know what they are going to say. We choose not to ask certain questions or broach topics we know will anger them, for example. Or we correct them before they make a mistake (“Don’t forget to…”).

We assume past performance indicates future probability.  

As you might have guessed (based on my past performance), I am about to assert this is not an effective approach. Congrats–you got it right this time.

The problem is, our present is always changing. “Now” is already gone. “Now” used to be now but now it is Now, and now “Now” is gone again. Yet it is always now.

Because “now” is always changing, this means the past is always changing, too. The people we think we know so well today are only echoes of the people we knew before. We relate to our friends and family as if they are never-changing yet they surprise us, at times, with what we think are out-of-character decisions or pleasant surprises. Shocking revelation: they are never out of character! They are just different people than when we first met them.

The other problem with dealing with future echoes of present people is we limit them as people in the present. We take away possibilities for their future, like putting up detour signs on roads they could have traveled. We decide their future for them when we finish their sentences. We dictate their life and who they should be when we “know” their reaction to our past self. We even start conversations with, “Promise you won’t get mad”… how can anyone know if they will be mad 5 seconds from now?

I am terribly guilty of all of this. I am a chronic interrupter, for example. I finish sentences, thoughts, or words for people all the time and I know it is a terrible habit. I might interrupt because I think I know where people are headed in a conversation, or I believe my time is more precious to me than theirs is to them so I try to usher their brains along and move us to the next topic faster. Maybe I am merely impatient. I know the general idea of what is being said and the remaining context, to me, is drawn-out filler around what I already knew or decided. I am not sure why I interrupt but I am sure it is not always received well.

One of my personal challenges this year has been to listen to people until they are done speaking. It takes a great deal of effort for me because I have found people often pause to collect more thoughts rather than to invite my turn at speaking. I suspect much of my life has been only hearing and responding to half of conversations. Imagine that! Going through your life only able to speak half sentences because no one lets you finish a thought!

Maybe that is why I became a writer–so I can complete a full thought out without being interrupted by people like me!

I know no one is supposed to say this, but I do not mind telling you it is excruciating for an impatient person to listen to others muddle all the way through their thoughts, but I recommend trying it. I have found (and I think you will, too, because I know you are working on being more patient) that dealing with people in the present instead of dealing with their future echoes opens doors I never knew were there.

Listen without an agenda or worrying what to say in return (because otherwise you are planning the future). See where a conversation takes you. It might lead to a future you never saw coming.

 

Share

Your 3 BIG Goals for the Rest of the Year!

Today’s Lesson: Goals do not have to be lofty to be effective.

*****

I gave myself three HUGE goals to accomplish for the last half of this year. I think these three goals will transform my life and help me continue growing as a fully functional self-actualized human being. They are some of the hardest goals I have set and, honestly, I have been avoiding two of them for more than a year. Here they are:

1. Climb a tree.

2. Read fiction.

3. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard.

 

I know, right? They don’t sound like much but that is okay. We have a lofty-goal addiction in society now. We are supposed to set outrageous, audacious, practically unattainable goals and go after them with tireless passion and endless energy. Except, of course, that does not work, not for most of us. Most of us are tired, stressed, and dealing with the outcomes of years of bad choices. “Changing the world” is not on our bucket list. What many people miss is if you focus on yourself, you will affect the world. YOU are part of “the world”. Let’s scale it back and start focusing on goals that sound small but have huge impacts. For example, why did I choose my three huge (but small-sounding) goals? Here is the breakdown, as I see it:

1. Climb a tree (even if only 10-feet off the ground).

I hate exercise. Lifting something up and putting it back down 20 times feels dumb and boring to me. However, I love activity and I have been learning a lot about “load balancing”. This is essentially the idea that we are designed to experience different loads on our bodies (think of an active child sitting on the floor, then running across a field, then picking up rocks to explore what is underneath them, then climbing a tree, etc…).

Climbing a tree, for me, is a reminder that, even in my forties, I can still be a kid and I can (and should) use my body’s muscles for what they were intended. Climbing a tree is a healthy activity, a fun way to trick myself into exercising, and, frankly, a reminder of what it feels like to climb at tree! Maybe next year, I will try to gather some friends for a game of freeze tag.

2. Read fiction (at least one book, any book I want).

I took this idea from James Altucher. He points out that reading fiction is crucial for leaders and writers. Fiction, especially futuristic science fiction, helps our brains practice envisioning what is possible. It keeps our creative juices going.

Many leaders (myself included) mostly read non-fiction self-help(ish) books written by successful entrepreneurs or other thought leaders. If you are a writer (like maybe someone who posts a blog each day) the problem is you are not reading and learning from great writing. Entrepreneurs are excellent at running businesses or managing teams but most of them are only proficient at writing. It is not their craft, after all. Reading great works of fiction helps you understand what great writing and speaking looks like.

Reading fiction is a crucial skill, whether it is the great literary artists of the past or the great contemporary comic book writers of today! Maybe I will do a little of both, instead of only dedicating my reading time to non-fiction.

3. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard (SUP) and, you know, actually stand up on it. 

Aside from offering a great core workout (which I could definitely benefit from), Stand-Up Paddleboards (or SUP’s) are all about Balance. I am a firm supporter of the famous phrase, “Mens sana in corpore sano” (“Sound mind in a sound body“) or, as the great literary poets of Funkadelic put it, “Free your mind and your ass will follow”. In other words, if you want balance in your life, start by finding balance in your body. This is what so many yoga enthusiasts have figured out and why they are so annoyingly calm when everyone else is stressed out.

There are other benefits to me practicing on a SUP, too. It is an activity Nicole and I can do together–a bonding moment. Plus, we live in Tampa. How cool will it be to stand up on the ocean and maybe paddle to a nearby island? I mean, seriously, that is going to be a memory and experience to talk about many years from now!

 

Those are my three “HUGE” goals for the rest of the year. Achievable? Absolutely. Challenging? A little. Worthwhile? I bet I will learn more from meeting my three goals than most people will learn from outrageous (and useless) goals like, “make a million dollars“, “travel the world“, or “be the best ever… (athlete, writer, fighter, singer, brand, etc.)“.

Once I master reading a book, climbing a tree, and paddling on the water, then maybe we can talk about achieving world peace.

 

Share

Morning Breath

Today’s Lesson: The first breath you realize you are taking today is the best one.

*****

It seems crazy, but for most of our lives we do not realize we are doing one of the most miraculous things in the universe: breathing.

Taking a breath is pretty rare in the universe. As far as we know, there are only a handful of creatures on a tiny pebble of a planet in the backwoods of the Milky Way that can do it. Most of those creatures have no idea they can even do it. Breathing is on auto-pilot for those of us lucky enough to be able to do it, to be able to literally inhale the air around us, to smell it, taste it, process it, keep the parts that nourish us and give the rest back. Pretty incredible.

I have a favorite breath of the day, though. Nearly every day when I pull into the parking lot at work, the sun is about a third of the way between the horizon and its apex. The air is just warming up, and the grass is especially green, having just been washed by morning dew.

Often, in the space between the parking lot and the office there is a moment when I pause, before embracing the day, and take a breath to enjoy the sunshine and (mostly) fresh air.

Even on overcast or rainy days, unless it is pouring, I still pause for that moment. It is not the first breath of the day, obviously, but it is usually the first, and often only, breath I notice throughout the day.

Most days, that one breath is a tough moment to beat.

 

Share

Do It Now.

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

*****

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.

Share