Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Children learn what they live.

Post 456 - An ancient Chinese proverb says, “A child’s life is like a piece of paper on which every passerby leaves a mark.” Children also learn what they live … this is the name of the following piece which Dorothy Nolte wrote in 1954 to fill a weekly family advice column in a Torrance California newspaper. It went on to become a child-rearing anthem for parents around the world and has been reprinted in over thirty languages.

Dorothy Law Nolte Ph.D. (1924 – 2005) was a writer and family counselor, the mother of three, grandmother of three, and great grandmother of five.

Children learn what they live.

If a child lives with criticism
He learns to condemn.

If a child lives with hostility
He learns to fight.

If a child lives with ridicule
He learns to be shy.

If a child lives with shame
He learns to feel guilty.

If a child lives with tolerance
He learns to be tolerant.

If a child lives with encouragement
He learns confidence.

If a child lives with praise
He learns to appreciate.

If a child lives with fairness
He learns justice.

If a child lives with security
He learns faith.

If a child lives with approval
He learns to like himself.

If a child lives with acceptance and friendship
He learns to find love in the world.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The science of kissing.

Post 455 - A passionate kiss burns 6.4 calories per minute. Scientific research now shows that puckering up affects more than half the motor-function area in the brain. According to a report featured on the Discovery Channel, "There are 500 kinds of kisses identified throughout history. For instance, there's the Swissbat kiss, where one person rolls their tongue counter-clockwise, while the other person moves their tongue clockwise." And so on .... Here are some other kinds of kisses that you may not be that familiar with - I found them in More Creative Dating by Doug Fields and Todd Temple:

- Peaches: As you say the word peaches, your lips come together for less than a second.

- Prunes: Here, the movement of the lips during the kiss roughly approximates that caused by saying prunes. This is longer than a peaches kiss.

- Alfalfa: Hold your tongue with your fingers and try to say alfalfa - bet you can't do it. You can't give an alfalfa kiss without using your tongue either.

- Glass; This kiss is most commonly used when you're separated by a pane of glass - such as when you're in a hurry and can't roll down the car window. If you're in the middle of a glass kiss and the other person pulls away, blow air into the window and make your cheeks swell.

- Noisy: A kiss that makes noise isn't that unusual, although it's sometimes considered rude.

- Thrown: Seen mostly in parades and silent movies. Can be painful if you don't loosen up your arm first. Bob Hope believed that people who throw kisses are hopelessly lazy.

- Blown: Similar to a thrown kiss but used at close range or to avoid interception.

- Hand: Another member of the thrown kiss family. After the kiss is placed on the hand, it's then applied to the other person's face. This has the advantage of being more accurate than a thrown or a blown kiss.

- Dark: Kissing in the dark can be a problem for people with a bad sense of direction. One way to deal with this is to hold the other person's nose in your fingers and then kiss just below the hand.

- Grandma Bunny: These are the kisses you get from older female relatives. Bunny refers to the soft white hair grandmothers have above their lips, which they often moisten before kissing.

Despite Victor Hugo’s comment that, “A compliment is something like a kiss through a veil,” it seems that to most people, a veiled kiss is better than no kiss at all. Life is short, so break the rules, forgive quickly, kiss slowly, love truly, laugh uncontrollably, and never regret anything that made you smile.

Monday, March 29, 2010

How to protect your time.

Post 454 - In a study conducted by Microsoft Corporation, researchers taped 29-hours of people working and found that, on average, they were interrupted four times each hour. That's probably not very surprising. But this part is surprising: 40% of the time they didn't resume the task they were working on before they were disrupted. And the more complex the task, the less likely the person was to return to it. That means we're most often derailed from completing our most important work. The greatest single killer of our time is other people stealing it.

David Cottrell of Cornerstone Leadership shares the following tips to help you guard your space and keep your work day flowing without interruptions:

- When someone drops by your open door unannounced, take command of the visit by standing up, walking towards the door and meeting the visitor as he enters. Thus, with everyone standing near the door, the visitor is unlikely to settle in for a long conversation.

- Don't go along with small talk. Immediately ask the visitor, "What can I do for you?" This gets him straight to the reason for the visit - and if there isn't one, then move him right along with a minimum of chit-chat.

- If the visitor rambles on, take command in a respectful way. Signal the end of the conversation by saying, "One more thing before you go...." Then make your point and thank him for stopping by.

- If all else fails, move away from your office as if you're going to a meeting or to the restroom. Smile and say, "Let's talk about this later. Give me a call and we'll set up an appointment." Then wave and walk on.

- Remember "Hey, got a minute?" is a question, not a demand. Reply by saying, "Sure. I'll come to your office at noon and we can talk then." If you can get into the habit of scheduling appointments in other people's offices rather than your own, you'll have greater control over the length of the meeting.

- Consider rearranging your office so it's less likely to invite interruptions. Move your desk so it doesn't face the door. People are less likely to interrupt when they can't see your face.

- Get rid of extra chairs. You can always borrow one if you really need it.

- Limit the number of pictures on your desk. The more pictures, the more distractions for the drop-in visitor to talk about.

- Hide any candy dishes - they're major interruption magnets.

- Keep track of who's interrupting you, why they're interrupting, and when they interrupt. If it's your boss, explain your predicament and see if you can schedule one-to-one sessions (in his office) regularly during the week to deal with many issues at once rather than randomly as they come up.

- Be very aware of your own interrupting style. Use the previous approach in handling interruptions with your staff as well.

- Develop a one-page check-list and put it as a visual aid on everyone’s desk. In it, estimate the cost of unjustified interruptions. Suggest that before people interrupt, they ask questions such as:
– crucial or not crucial?
– nice to know or need to know?
– is now the right time?

Successful people manage to stay on task, whatever the distractions. Rod Serling, (The Twilight Zone), once observed, “It's difficult to produce a television documentary that's both incisive and probing when every twelve-minutes one is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Being Boring, a poem by Wendy Cope

Post 453 - Here's another clever poem from Wendy Cope (I posted her poem 'Flowers" last month). Cope (1945 — ) was raised in Kent, England, where her parents often recited poetry out loud to her. She has published several volumes of poetry including Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis and Serious Concerns. She has a remarkable talent for parody and for using humor to address serious topics. Her earlier poems were written when she was living alone in London without a partner and feeling very alone and isolated. But she then met the poet Lachlan Mackinnon and moved to live with him and his three children in Winchester. And she reports she's much happier there. She says, "Of course misery writes more good poems than happiness, but happiness does write good poems now and again."

Being Boring by Wendy Cope

'May you live in interesting times.' Chinese curse

If you ask me 'What's new?', I have nothing to say

Except that the garden is growing.

I had a slight cold but it's better today.

I'm content with the way things are going.

Yes, he is the same as he usually is,

Still eating and sleeping and snoring.

I get on with my work. He gets on with his.

I know this is all very boring.

There was drama enough in my turbulent past:

Tears and passion - I've used up a tankful.

No news is good news, and long may it last,

If nothing much happens, I'm thankful.

A happier cabbage you never did see,

My vegetable spirits are soaring.

If you're after excitement, steer well clear of me.

I want to go on being boring.

I don't go to parties. Well, what are they for,

If you don't need to find a new lover?

You drink and you listen and drink a bit more

And you take the next day to recover.

Someone to stay home with was all my desire

And, now that I've found a safe mooring,

I've just one ambition in life: I aspire

To go on and on being boring.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

How do you use your time?

Post 452 - Each day blesses us with 24-hours. That's 1440-minutes. No more, no less. Time is relentless. Unlike other resources, it can’t be bought or sold, borrowed or stolen, stacked up or saved, manufactured, reproduced, or modified. All we can do is make use of it. And whether we used it wisely or not, it nevertheless slips away.

If you want to know how effectively you're managing your time, try answering the following questions:

- Do you have - in writing - a clearly defined set of lifetime goals?

- Do you have a similar set of goals for the next six-months?

- Have you done something today to move you closer to your lifetime goals? Your short-term goals?

- Do you have a clear idea of what you want to accomplish during the coming week?

- Do you concentrate on objectives instead of procedures, judging accomplishment rather than activity?

- Do you set priorities according to importance, not urgency?

- Do you delegate as much work as possible?

- Do you delegate challenging tasks as well as routine ones?

- Do you delegate authority as well as responsibility?

- Do you prevent subordinates from delegating upwards those decisions and tasks they find difficult or stressful?

- Have you taken steps to prevent unneeded publications and information from intruding on your time?

- When wondering if you should keep something, do you follow the principle: "When in doubt, toss it out?"

- Do you force yourself to make minor decisions quickly?

- Do you always set deadlines for yourself and others?

- Are you on guard against the recurring crisis, taking steps to make sure it won't occur again?

- Have you discontinued any time-wasting routines or activities lately?

- Do you try to live in the present, thinking of what can be done now rather than rehashing the past or worrying about the future?

- Are you continually trying to implement ideas that will help you make better use of your time?

I suggest taking this quiz every six-months. And if any of the answers are no, stop and figure out what you can do to correct the situation. The price of using your time effectively is eternal vigilance - however, the rewards are well worth it.

Planning how to use your time wisely takes time. Everything else takes longer.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How to make the most of your opportunities.

Post 451 - If we’re casual about what we do, we risk ending up a casualty. Many people spend so much time talking, grieving and being angry about the closed doors in their lives, they don’t see the open doors. Les Brown, a human-potential expert, says our trials and disappointments can take us to a door of discovery and greatness if we follow these suggestions:

- Be Thankful.
There's no better opportunity to receive more than to be thankful for what you already have. It’s easy to think about what’s missing and to ignore what you have. When you develop an attitude of gratitude, you begin to view things from a positive light and start working toward making something constructive happen. Giving up should never be an option.

- Be Thoughtful.
When things go wrong, don’t go with them. As you look at yourself, you have to harness your will, you have to be grounded, you have to pause and look inside. You have to clear your head and give yourself permission to accept the reality that’s happening. And then turn the page and start working toward where you’ll go from there.

- Be Active.
Keep moving. Start with small steps and build from there. When you’re not active and you’re not engaged with life, you’ve a tendency to worry and regret and to entertain other less-than-positive emotions. It’s very important that you start moving and working and doing things that can help you make some headway. The more active you are, the less chance you have of getting depressed, angry and immobilized by fear.

- Be Connected.
Often, people fail because they can’t see the picture when they’re in the frame. They think there’s no way out. These people are disconnected and feel isolated and desperate. But interacting with others provides a number of benefits, including helping to find new paths and new ideas to explore.

- Be Patient.
Don’t expect instant results. Plug away carefully and consistently, and keep believing that things are going to get better even though you can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. We’re living in a microwave society where we expect instant results. But the real world doesn’t always work like that. Patience and a spirit of expectation and trust will help you work to reach your goals and dreams.

Mario Andretti reminds us that, “Circumstances may cause interruptions and delays, but never lose sight of your goal. Prepare yourself in every way you can by increasing your knowledge and adding to your experience, so that you can make the most of opportunity when it occurs.”

According to Eric Chester, the seven As - the core values that lead to success at work, are:

* Attitude – stay pumped, positive and enthusiastic, even when you have to do the crummy jobs.

* Attendance – You can’t succeed if you don’t show up. Be there, and be on time.

* Appearance – Your image is important to you. Your company’s image is important to its owners. So look and act like a professional when you’re on company time.

* Ambition – Learn all you can and do the absolute best that you can in everything you do. Be a relentless learner and a determined achiever.

* Accountability – There’s no right way to do a wrong thing. Never let anyone or anything sway you from doing the right thing.

* Acceptance – You don’t always get to pick the people you work with or work for. Whoever they are, accept them as your teammates.

* Appreciation – It’s the customers that ultimately sign your paycheck. Be grateful and give them your absolute best.

The real opportunity for success lies in the person and not in the job.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The importance of developing effective leaders.

Post 450 - President Obama's recent interventions to push the healthcare legislation forward has caused me to pause and reflect anew on the power and the processes of leadership. I was reminded that conflict and disagreement are inevitable, specially when contemplating significant change. And this is usually a good thing - you actually don’t want total buy-in. The only way you’ll get total buy-in is if people think they're not going to have to change their behavior.

When you're running a business, conflict, like any other key business process, has to be managed. You can do this in three ways:

- Acknowledge its importance. Don’t worry if people are upset with each other – they’re supposed to be. That’s what generates new ideas and that's what it’s like to manage change.

- Don’t tolerate personal attacks. There are protocols for the expression of honest disagreement. Teach them and enforce them.

- Provide support by having trained coaches and facilitators available. Encourage people to ask for help: “We’re planning a meeting and we think it could get hairy. Let’s get a good facilitator to design an appropriate process and lead us through it.”

However, always remember you can never sell the soft stuff on its own merits. You have to make the connection to the company’s bottom line.

When you’re developing effective leaders, you’re likely to encounter three pitfalls:

- Pitfall number one: High achievers tend to be mavericks. They’re not patient people. Americans measure and reward individuality. We under-use group measures just as the Japanese over-use them. It’s important to understand that achievers didn’t necessarily get where they are by being patient, by being good team players, by being great listeners.

- Pitfall number two is not having tests to ensure that the people who get to the top can manage in a collaborative way. Make sure that even if people make their numbers, they‘re not going to get promoted unless they have the right values for the culture you want to promote. Here, it’s important to evaluate people using 360-degree appraisals because colleagues usually know a lot about each other, but seldom get a chance to tell.

- Pitfall number three is when senior executives ask those around them to “be like me.” People tend to gravitate to those they feel comfortable with. Philip Wrigley, the longtime owner of the Chicago Cubs, once said that when two people in a business always agree, one of them is unnecessary. Rather than looking for people who will always agree, you have to look for what the situation requires. General Patton may have been a very good choice for storming Berlin, but maybe the person you need by your side on a daily basis isn’t a General Patton. Rather, it’s someone who can make sure the troops are supported and the supplies keep coming.

Although there are fewer managers in today’s downsized world, the importance of leadership never goes away. The old, elitist perspective reserves leadership development for those at or near the top. If managers continue to think in this outmoded way, the people who can really move the business forward won’t have been taught the skills they need to do so.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Some more universal truths about life and love.

Post 449 - Here are some assorted aphorisms to get you started on a new week:

- Words that soak into your ears are whispered, not yelled.

- Don't corner something that you know is meaner than you.

- Most of the stuff people worry about is never going to happen anyway.

- Don’t interfere with something that ain’t bothering you none.

- Forgive your enemies; it messes up their heads.

- Life is a lot simpler when you plow around the stump.

- Letting the cat out of the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back in.

- A fool is someone who looks at your finger when you're pointing at the moon.

- Don’t accept your dog’s admiration as conclusive evidence that you’re wonderful.

- It’s better to be a failure at something you love than to be a success at something you hate.

- If you take too long to decide what to do with your life, you'll find you've already done it.

- The only way you can coast is downhill.

- Don't be afraid that your life will end; be afraid that it’ll never begin!

- With love and patience, nothing is impossible.

- The only person who is with us our entire life is ourselves. Be alive while you’re alive.

- Don't spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.

- That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, this you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.

- Desperation is like stealing from the mafia: you stand a good chance of attracting the wrong attention.

- Women and cats will do as they please, and men and dogs should relax and get used to the idea.

Can you share you own favorite?

Friday, March 19, 2010

The Magic Box, a poem by Kit Wright.

Post 448 - Poet and children's author Kit Wright was born in 1944 and educated at Oxford University. He lectured in Canada, before working as Education Officer at the Poetry Society in London (1970-75) and was Fellow Commoner in Creative Art at Cambridge University (1977-9). He was awarded an Arts Council Writers' Award in 1985.
His books of poetry include The Bear Looked Over the Mountain (1977), which won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Alice Hunt Bartlett Award, and Short Afternoons (1989), which won the Hawthornden Prize and was joint winner of the Heinemann Award. His poetry is collected in Hoping It Might Be So: Poems 1974-2000 (2000). His latest book of poetry is The Magic Box: Poems for Children (2009). He currently lives in London.

Wright doesn't make great claims for poetry. Against the notion of William Carlos Williams that it's tragic that some people live and die oblivious of the consoling power of poetry he writes:
When they say
That every day
Men die miserably without it:
I doubt it.
I have known several men and women
Replete with the stuff
Who died quite miserably enough.

The Magic Box by Kit Wright.

I will put in the box
the swish of a silk sari on a summer night,
fire from the nostrils of a Chinese dragon,
the tip of a tongue touching a tooth.
I will put in the box
a snowman with a rumbling belly,
a sip of the bluest water from Lake Lucerne,
a leaping spark from an electric fish.
I will put into the box
three violet wishes spoken in Gujarati,
the last joke of an ancient uncle,
and the first smile of a baby.
I will put into the box
a fifth season and a black sun,
a cowboy on a broomstick
and a witch on a white horse.
My box is fashioned from ice and gold and steel,
with stars on the lid and secrets in the corners.
Its hinges are the toe joints of dinosaurs.
I shall surf in my box
on the great high-rolling breakers of the wild Atlantic,
then wash ashore on a yellow beach
the color of the sun.

I really love the imagery in this poem. What six things would you put in your box?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Twelve ways to deal with a hangover.

Post 447 - "Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I'll grant you the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel doesn't go nearly as well with pizza," according to Dave Barry. Somehow, hangover cures seems an appropriate topic for the day after Saint Patrick's Day. Here are twelve proven ideas to remedy this condition:

1. Rest is your best friend to give your body time to recover. In order to stay in bed and sleep, call the office and tell them you have the stomach flu. You'll probably sound so bad on the phone they'll believe you (unless they saw you at the bar last night). If drinking is interfering with your work, you're probably a heavy drinker. If work is interfering with your drinking, you're probably an alcoholic.

2. Replenish your body with fruit juice and water.

3. Avoid caffeine. A weak cup of coffee may be OK but a lot of caffeine will continue to dehydrate you, the opposite of what you want right now.

4. Drink lots of orange juice for Vitamin C.

5. Drink a sports drink like Gatorade.

6. Eat mineral rich foods like pickles or canned fish. In Poland, drinking pickle juice is a common remedy.

7. Drink a Bloody Mary. While partaking of the “hair of the dog that bit you” may sound logical, it’s only a temporary remedy at best. Try a Bloody Mary instead. While your blood is dealing with the new alcohol, it's ignoring the old and the tomato juice and celery are full of vitamins.

8. Take a shower, alternating between cold and hot water.

9. Try Alka Seltzer Morning Relief.

10. Drink a lot of water and get some exercise - any sort of physical activity will do. It takes willpower to move around when just standing still seems like a challenge, but friends tell me it works.

11. The side effects of aspirin, Tylenol and ibuprofen can be magnified with alcohol in your system. Aspirin's a blood thinner, just like alcohol, and Tylenol can cause more damage to your liver. Ibuprofen can cause stomach bleeding, so be cautious when reaching for the quick relief.

12. Take a little extra multi B vitamin and drink a lot of water before going to sleep.

When I was growing up in Ireland, I was told that one cure for a hangover was to bury the ailing person up to the neck in moist river sand. I can't say I ever tried it however.

Are there any other suggestions out there? I'd love to hear them.....

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The life of Saint Patrick.

Post 446 - The Patron Saint of Ireland is thought to have been born in Roman Britain to wealthy parents around the year 385. He was captured as a teenager by Niall of the Nine Hostages who was later to become the High King of all Ireland. He was then sold into slavery in Ireland and put to work as a shepherd. He worked in terrible conditions for six-years, comforted by the Christian faith that many of his people had abandoned under Roman rule.

Patrick had a dream that encouraged him to flee his captivity and to head South where a ship was to be waiting for him. He traveled over 200 miles to Wexford town where, sure enough, a ship was waiting to enable his escape. Upon arrival in England, he was captured by brigands and returned to slavery. He escaped after two months and spent the next seven-years traveling throughout Europe searching for his destiny. During this time, he studied at the Lerin Monastery in France and returned to England as a priest. Again, based on a dream, he became convinced that the Irish people were calling out to him to return to the land of his servitude.

He traveled to the monastery of Auxerre in Gaul where a mission was being prepared to go to Ireland. To his great disappointment, Patrick wasn't selected to go. Instead, a monk called Paladius was selected, but he died before he could reach Ireland. So, a second mission was organized. Patrick was made a Bishop by Pope Celestine in 432 and, together with a small band of followers, traveled to Ireland to commence his missionary work. Once there, he confronted the most powerful man in Ireland, Laoghaire, The High King of Tara, because he thought that if he could gain his support, he'd be safe to spread the word of God throughout Ireland. To get his attention, Patrick and his followers lit a huge fire to mark the commencement of Spring. According to tradition, no fire was to be lit until the King's fire was complete, but Patrick defied this rule and invited a confrontation with the King.

As a result, the King set out to make war on the holy delegation. However, Patrick calmed him down and convinced him that he had no intention other than that of spreading the Gospel. The King accepted the missionaries, much to the dismay of his own high priests, the Druids, who feared for their own power and position in the face of this new threat. They commanded that Patrick make it snow. He declined to do so stating that this was God's work. Immediately it began to snow, and only stopped when Patrick blessed himself.

In an attempt to convert the King to the Christian religion, Patrick picked up some Shamrock and explained that there was but one stem on the plant, but three branches of the leaf, representing the holy Trinity. The King was impressed with his sincerity and granted him permission to spread the gospel, although he didn't personally convert to Christianity. Subsequently, Patrick drove paganism (symbolized by a snake) from the land of Ireland. He was tempted by the Devil while on a pilgrimage at Croagh Patrick. For his refusal to give in to temptation, God rewarded him with a wish. Patrick wished that the Irish be spared the horror of Judgment Day and asked that he himself be allowed to judge them when that time came. Thus was born the legend that Ireland will disappear under the sea seven-years before the final judgment.

Patrick died on March 17th, 461 at the age of 76. Downpatrick in County Down is thought to be his final resting place although it's not known for sure where he was buried.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Learning how to meditate.

Post 445 - Meditation is a holistic discipline by which the practitioner tries to get beyond the reflexive "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual goals — from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind. Henepola Gunaratana is a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk who came to study in the US in 1968 and has since earned bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees in philosophy at American University. Writing in Mindfulness in Plain English, he provides the following insights about how to meditate. He says when you meditate, what you’re looking at is you, and what you see depends on how you look. Therefore the process of meditating is extremely delicate, and the result depends absolutely on the state of mind of the meditator. He suggests the following attitudes as essential for success.

1. Don't expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Treat the whole thing as an experiment and don't get distracted by your expectations about results. And don't be anxious for achieving any particular result. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction. Let it teach you what it wants you to learn. Awareness through meditation seeks to see reality exactly as it is and this requires a temporary suspension of all our preconceptions and ideas. So store your images, opinions and interpretations someplace out of the way for the time being. Otherwise you'll surely stumble over them.

2. Don't strain. Don't force anything or make exaggerated efforts. Meditation isn't aggressive. There's no violent striving. Just let your effort be relaxed and steady.

3. Don't rush. There's no hurry, so take your time. Settle yourself in comfortably as though you have a whole day. Anything really valuable takes time to develop. Patience, patience, patience.

4. Don't cling to anything and don't reject anything. Let come whatever comes and accommodate yourself to that, whatever it is. If good mental images come, that's fine. If bad mental images come, that's fine too. Look on all of it as an equal experience and make yourself comfortable with whatever happens. Don't fight that which you experience, just observe it all mindfully.

5. Let go and learn to flow with what comes up. Loosen up and relax.

6. Accept everything that comes up. Accept your feelings, even the ones you wish you didn't have. Accept your experiences, even the ones you hate. Don't condemn yourself for having human flaws and failings. Learn to see all the phenomena in the mind as being perfectly natural and understandable. Try to exercise a disinterested acceptance at all times and about everything you experience.

7. Be kind to yourself. You may not be perfect, but you're all you've got to work with. The process of becoming who you will be begins first with the total acceptance of who you are.

8. Question everything. Take nothing for granted. Don't believe anything because it sounds wise and pious and because someone said it. See for yourself. That doesn’t mean that you should be cynical or irreverent. It means that you should be empirical. Subject all statements to the actual test of your experience and let the results be your guide to truth. Insight in meditation evolves out of an inner longing to wake up to what's real and to gain liberating insight to the true structure of existence. The entire practice hinges on this desire to be awake to the truth.

9. View all problems as challenges. Look on negatives that arise as opportunities to learn and to grow. Don't run from them, condemn yourself or bear your burden in saintly silence. You have a problem? Great. More grist for the mill. Rejoice, dive in and investigate.

10. You don't need to figure everything out. In mediation, the mind is purified naturally by mindfulness, by wordless attention. Habitual deliberation isn't necessary to eliminate those things that are holding you back. All that's necessary is a clear, non-conceptual perception of what they are and how they work. That alone is sufficient to dissolve them. Concepts and reasoning just get in the way. Don't think. See.

11. Don't dwell on contrasts. Certainly, differences exist between people, but dwelling on then is a dangerous process and can lead directly to egotism. Ordinary human thinking is full of greed, jealousy and pride. A man seeing another man on the street may immediately think, "He's better looking than I am." The instant result is envy or shame. A woman seeing another woman may think, "I'm prettier than she is." The instant result is pride. This sort of comparison is a mental habit that leads directly to ill-feeling of one kind or another - greed, envy, pride, jealousy, hatred. It's an unskillful mental state, but we do it all the time. We compare our looks with others, our success, our accomplishments, our wealth, our possessions, or our I.Q. and all these lead to the same place - alienation, barriers between people, and bad feeling.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Focusing on the realities of the universe.

Post 444 - Since we live close to La Jolla's beautiful Coast Walk, parking in front of our house is a constant parade of visitors. These visitors continually leave their garbage on our sidewalk before they drive away so we have the dubious pleasure of picking it up and disposing of it. Orange peel, beer cans, hamburger wrappers, cigarette packets, Starbuck containers, water bottles, etc., etc.

I read somewhere that in a lifetime, the average American adult throws away 600 times his or her weight in trash. If you add it up, this means most people will leave a legacy of 90,000 pounds of garbage! I suspect the pressures of daily life make us largely unaware of the direct impact we have on our environment. We read about global warming and such, but we don't think much about our contribution to the litter that's all around us.

Knowing the decomposition rates for trash can help sharpen that awareness. I'd like to see the following examples posted prominently in public places, especially at beaches and parks where large numbers of people congregate:

Orange or banana peel - 2-5 weeks

Newspaper - 6 weeks

Apple core - 2 months

Plywood – 1 to 3 years

Wool sock – 1 to 5 years

Milk carton – 5 years

Cigarette butt – 10 to 12 years

Plastic bag – 10 to 20 years

Leather - 50 years

Plastic bottle – 50 to 80 years

Disposable diaper – 75 years

Tin can – 100 years

Beer can – 200 to 500 years

Monofilament fishing line - 600 years

Glass bottle - 1 million years

Stryofoam – never

Most of these numbers apply when the items are exposed to sunlight and air. Put them in a landfill and chances are they won't break down for many generations in the absence of light and oxygen. For example, newspapers dumped in landfills have been known to be still readable many years later.

Because of our new "hobby" of picking up and disposing of other people's trash, we've become much more aware of the sources of environmental pollution and what we can personally do to lessen it. We're working to change our way of life to one that doesn’t have as much of a negative impact on the earth. When we went to the desert last week, I was reminded of what Rachel Carson wrote many year ago; "The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe, the less taste we shall have for destruction."

Friday, March 12, 2010

A poem about Saint Patrick, by John Cotter.

Post 443 - Saint Patrick’s Day (March 17th) is a public holiday only in Ireland and on the British Carribean island of Montserrat, where it honors both the Irish settlers who arrived in 1632 and a failed slave uprising in 1768. I remember it best growing up as a candy and chocolate holiday - a one-day reprieve from the forty-days of fasting during the season of Lent! When our kids were away at college, I composed a poem every week for each of them to celebrate significant family events and to share philosophies about life. Since I was born and educated in Ireland, Saint Patrick's day has always been a cause for a celebration in our house and I thought it deserved a poem of its very own. I found this again the other day, so please indulge me if I share it with you.

A poem about Saint Patrick by John Cotter.

Saint Patrick was a normal guy
A bit like me and you,
And he ended up in Ireland
In the year four-thirty-two.

He was hung-up on religion
From the stories I hear tell,
'Cause he didn’t want the Irish,
When they died, to go to hell.

So, he traveled through the countryside
Converting all the kings.
To hear the places that he went,
I’m sure that man had wings.

He loved the birds and animals
But snakes he couldn’t stand,
So he prayed to God to take them,
And they exited the land.

Please remember this, your heritage,
On March the seventeen.
Celebrate the fact you’re Irish,
And dress up in something green.

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Shona dhaoibh (Happy St. Patrick's Day to you all).‎

Strange as it may seem, the first national Saint Patrick's Festival in Ireland wasn't held until 1996. In 1997, it became a three-day event, and by 2000 it was a four-day event. By 2006, the festival was five-days long. Last year's five-day festival saw close to one-million visitors taking part in festivities that included concerts, outdoor theater performances, and fireworks. Over 675,000 people attended the 2009 parade.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Some more feedback about feedback.

Post 442 - Dick Cavett once remarked that "It’s a rare person who wants to hear what he doesn’t want to hear." Yet, giving and getting feedback plays a key role in open communication. It's a way of seeing the impact on another of what we say or do. Learning about how we come across to others can help us choose alternative ways of behaving. Negative feedback can be destructive and encourage defensiveness.

Feedback is constructive if:

- it's asked for rather than imposed.

- it's well timed. Feedback is most often useful when it's given immediately after the incident in question. However, it's best to wait if the recipients are angry, confused, upset or defensive and not inclined to listen.

- it's not saved up and given all at once. This is usually accompanied by a buildup of feeling that's hard to separate from the message.

- it's checked to ensure accuracy and clarity.

- it's validity is checked against the perception of others.

- it's intended to be helpful to the recipients and meets their needs rather than just the needs of the person giving the feedback.

- it's specific rather than general. Examples of specific statements and behaviors are most useful.

- it leaves the recipients free to do whatever they want with it.

- it describes the recipient's behavior and its impact on others without making any judgments about them as a person.

- it's given in a climate of trust with a feeling of caring and support.

- it focuses on issues the recipient can do something about.

- if it's negative, it's proceeded by positive feedback.

- it's best received non defensively. A good rule of thumb is when receiving feedback, ask only clarifying questions.

- the recipients have an opportunity to say what they think and feel about the feedback when it's all over.

Don't assume your high performers know how good they are. Instead, use these tips to give them the feedback they want and deserve:

1. Identify development areas.
There may only be a few and you may need to work hard to identify and articulate them, but help your stars understand what they can get better at.

2. Show your appreciation.
Failing to say thank you is a simple and common mistake. Your star performers need feedback and praise just as much as everyone else.

3. Give feedback often.
Don't wait for review time. High performers thrive off feedback and if you have some working for you, it's your job to give it frequently.

"Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but those who hate to be rebuked are stupid," according to the Bible, Proverbs 12:1

Monday, March 8, 2010

Knowing how to listen.

Post 441 - Listening isn't like the mail. What you receive isn't necessarily what got sent. Here's a checklist to monitor your current listening habits:

- Are you waiting impatiently for the other person to shut up so you can talk?
- Are you in such a hurry to offer a solution that you don't wait to hear the problem?
- Are you listening only for what you want to hear?
- Are your prejudices interfering with your listening?
- Do your thoughts wander while the other person is talking?
- Are you memorizing the details but missing the big picture?
- Do you just pretend to listen?
- Do you try to find out if arguments reflect a real difference of opinion or just how the issue is worded?

Plutarch advised, "Know how to listen, and you will profit even from those who talk badly." If you want to improve, here are the ten commandments for good listening:

1. Stop talking.
You can't listen if you're talking. Hidden in the word listen is the word silence.

2. Put the talker at ease.
Help the talker feel free to talk by creating a permissive environment.

3. Show that you want to listen.
Look and act interested. Don't continue reading your mail. And listen to understand rather than to oppose. Check regularly for understanding.

4. Remove distractions.
Don't doodle, tap your pen or shuffle papers. Will it be quieter if you shut the door?

5. Empathize.
Try to put yourself in the speaker's place so you can see their point of view. Don't just hear what's being said. Watch nonverbal cues that could indicate what isn't being said. Often what isn't being said is as important as what is.

6. Be patient.
Allow plenty of time. Don't interrupt. Don't start to move towards the door or begin to walk away.

7. Hold your temper.
An angry person usually gets the wrong meaning from what's being said. Remember Mark Twain’s advice: "When angry, count to ten. When very angry, swear!"

8. Go easy on argument and criticism.
If you put the speaker on the defensive, they may clam up or get angry. Don't argue, because when you do, even if you win, you lose.

9. Ask questions.
This encourages the talker to continue and shows that you're listening.

10. One more time, stop talking.
This is the first and last commandment because all the other commandments depend on it. Nature gave us two ears and only one tongue, which should remind us to listen twice as much as we talk nearly every time.

Here’s a funny story from John who was the shoe-shine man at Warner Brothers. He said he thinks that out everyone he’s met over the past 50 years, Charlton Heston was the nicest. And he said that although everyone told Charlton to be meaner and less of a gentleman, Charlton just kept on being nice. John said that, in that context, “Real men don’t listen.”

Friday, March 5, 2010

Love After Love, a poem by Derek Walcott.

Post 440 - Derek Alton Walcott is a Caribbean poet, playwright, writer and visual artist who was born in Castries, Saint Lucia in 1930. After studying at St. Mary's College in his native island and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Walcott moved to Trinidad in 1953, where he worked as a theater and art critic. For many years, he divided his time between Trinidad and Boston University, where he taught literature and creative writing. In 2010, he accepted an offer from the University of Essex to become the new Professor of Poetry of the university, from which he received an honorary doctorate in 2008. Walcott's other honors include a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, and the Queen's Medal for Poetry. He's an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992.

Walcott believes that “The English language is nobody's special property. It’s the property of the imagination: it’s the property of the language itself.”

I've always had a particular liking for the following poem.

Love After Love by Derek Walcott.

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your mirror,
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Thinking about improving communication.

Post 439 - Most of the organizations I work with start off by reporting problems with communication. "We know that communication is a problem, but the company isn't going to discuss it with the employees" - a quote from a switching supervisor at AT&T's Long Lines Division. That didn't sound like a very promising strategy to me.....

Here's a comprehensive list of communication characteristics compiled by therapist and author Phil Rich. Take a look and see what resonates for you.

Ineffective Communication:

* Indirect - doesn't get to the point, never clearly states the purpose or intention.

* Passive - timid and reserved.

* Antagonistic - angry, aggressive or hostile in tone.

* Cryptic - the underlying message or purpose is obscured and requires interpretation.

* Hidden - the true agenda is never stated directly.

* Non-verbal - communicated through body language and behaviors, not words.

* One way - more talk than listening.

* Unresponsive - little interest in the perspective or needs of the other person.

* Off-base - responses and needs of the other person are misunderstood and misinterpreted.

* Dishonest - misleading statements are substituted for true feelings, thoughts, and needs.

Effective Communication:

* Direct-to the point, leaving no doubt as to meaning or purpose.

* Assertive - not afraid to state what's wanted and why.

* Congenial - affable and friendly.

* Clear - the underlying issues are clear.

* Open - no intentionally hidden messages or meanings.

* Verbal - words are used to clearly express ideas.

* Two way - equal amounts of talking and listening.

* Responsive - attention is paid to the needs and perspectives of the other person.

* Honest - true feelings, thoughts, and needs are stated.

Susan Scott, the author of Fierce Conversations, says, “The two greatest communication technologies any of us possess are eye contact and purity of intention.” It's also worth noting an observation by the late eminent British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, who said, “The purest form of communication is to listen without memory or desire.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How to tell powerful stories.

Post 438 - We understand and respond to the world by telling stories about it, to ourselves and to each other. These stories can be in the form of mythical tales or scientific hypotheses, theories and laws. People are hungry for stories. It’s part of our very being. Eric Chester says, “After 23-years as a full-time keynote speaker and seminar leader, I’m 100% convinced that each and every person in my audience will only allow into their brain those parts of my presentation that come riding in on the back of a finely-crafted, well-told story. My stories are the Trojan Horses that burst through the invisible walls people erect to protect themselves from the uncertainty of new ideas or the fear that they may need to make uncomfortable changes to their attitudes or behaviors.”

Stories are effective if they’re genuine, if they tell about experience, if they use self-effacing humor, and if they’re engaging. Often times when you tell a story, it makes the prospect think of a story and they'll most likely reciprocate with a story of their own. If you can get someone to tell you such a story, that’s usually a rapport builder.

Story-telling can be very effective in a sales presentation when you want to get the prospect to relate to your product or service. While facts and figures are easily forgotten, stories are remembered and retold. People buy-in to your proposition when they can imagine themselves using and benefiting from what you’re representing. Things aren’t benefits unless people know they have a need so it’s important to connect new information to what people already know. It’s also important to make your presentation memorable emotionally with examples and stories. People buy on emotion and then justify their action with facts. Give them a catchy headline first, then they’ll find it easier to listen.

Metaphors, stories and analogies bypass the conscious mind and get to the subconscious. We learn when our emotions are tapped, when we connect with others, when we hear their stories. Leaders are teachers who invest a lot of time imparting ideas, values and emotional energy to others by telling stories about their experiences. Abraham Lincoln said, “Some folks say that I tell too many stories, and maybe I do, but I don’t know of a better way to explain what I mean!”

Followers make sense of leaders with stories. Here’s an interesting exercise: Find out what stories are circulating about you where you work by asking, “What’s it like to work with me?” Who should you ask? Make a list of people who care deeply about the success of the company, who’ve demonstrated in the past that they’re candid and honest, and ask them. Tell them why you want this information and what you’re going to do with it. Such as, “I’ve lots of quantitative data but too little qualitative data. Tell me the truth and I’ll do anything in my power to change for the better based on what I hear. I plan to come back every six-months to ask this question again.” Then collect the data, gather up the themes, see the patterns in the stories. Then ask yourself if people could tell only one story about you, what would you like it to be? And act accordingly.

Aristotle’s rule is that all good stories have a distinct beginning, a middle and an end. But, according to Steven Spielberg, people today have forgotten how to be storytellers. He says, "Stories don't have a middle or an end any more. They usually have a beginning that never stops beginning."

Applying these ideas to change theory, there are four basic conditions that have to be satisfied before employees will change their behavior:
a) a compelling story, so employees can see the point of the change and be influenced to agree with it;
b) role modeling, so they can see senior management and colleagues they admire behaving in the new way;
c) reinforcing mechanisms, so that systems, processes and incentives are in line with the new behavior; and
d) capability building, so they have the skills required to make the desired changes.

Managers often tell stories about what’s changed and why others have to change in kind, or what they want to accomplish. However, what motivates them usually doesn’t motivate most of their employees. Research shows that people respond best to stories that address five forms of impact:
* Impact on society.
* Impact on the customer.
* Impact on the company.
* Impact on the immediate working environment.
* Impact on “me” as a person
Change leaders need to be able to tell a convincing story that covers all of these five areas of interest if they hope to motivate employees to change.

Finally, our emotions are governed by the stories we tell ourselves. So, make sure your self-talk is about being extraordinary and focuses on your highest and best use. A lot of self-talk is negative – who I want to be that I’m not, or what I want that I don’t have. Don’t go there.

“Storytelling is a necessary ingredient in living, it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities,” according to Dr. Seuss.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Some guidelines for texting.

Post 437 - Research shows that people take longer to reply to voice messages than other types of communication. Data from uReach Technologies, which operates the voice messaging systems of Verizon Wireless and other cellphone carriers, shows that over 30% of voice messages linger unheard for three days or longer and that more than 20% of people with messages in their mailboxes rarely even dial in to check them.

By contrast, 91% of people under 30 respond to text messages within an hour, and they’re four times more likely to respond within minutes to texts than to voice messages, according to a 2008 study for Sprint conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation. The study also found that adults 30 and older are twice as likely to respond within minutes to a text than to a voice message.

Texting is a good way to communicate because:

* You can really craft your response before you send it.

* You can use emoticons! /(.^.)\.

* If you’re busy you don’t have to respond right away.

* It’s sometimes a lot less scary than calling someone in person.

* A lack of response can be very powerful.

Texting can be a problem because:

* Your text conversation is recorded forever!! And text messages can be traced.

* It’s easy to send the wrong text to the wrong person.

* Texts are often shared among friends - “Look what Elizabeth said about ...”

* It’s difficult to pick up someone's tone in a text – a playful tone doesn’t always come through correctly and sarcasm can be difficult to convey. So steer clear of that when texting to ensure your message will be understood.

* Sometimes you want a response right away but the sender can’t or won’t reply.

Here are a few rules to text by:

* Keep it short and sweet. Get your point across and leave it at that; don’t elaborate on any unnecessary ideas.

* Don't just say, "Hey it's me, so & so, what's up?" You’ll just get the obvious, socially programmed response of "Not much, how about you?" Try to be creative and memorable in your opening message.

* "Text me when you need me." Otherwise, don't bother me. If it's really urgent, make a voice call.

* Texting is considered a casual form of communication and is used primarily to chat with friends and family. To be straightforward and clear, text full words, especially in business dealings. It’s poor etiquette to use texting for important conversations, such as breaking up with a significant other or sending condolences to someone. Also it should never be used to deliver bad news to someone. Such conversations are best done face-to-face.

* Be careful of what you say about third parties as it may be passed on or read or posted by others.

* Be responsive but not rude. If you want to respond to a text, and you're in a conversation with others, ask for permission. Appropriate times to text are when you have some time to yourself, such as in the doctor’s waiting room. It’s also OK to text when talking on your cell phone would disturb others, such as in an auditorium or a library.

* Make sure that your humor is clear and easily interpreted. Always ask yourself, "Is there any way that this could be misinterpreted?" If your answer is yes, then alter it or add to it.

* Don’t text while driving: It’s both dumb and dangerous. Talking on a phone is bad enough. You won't know what hit you - or what you hit - if you’re pounding out a message on your keyboard.

So, if you don’t text already, join the revolution. More than 90% of younger people text, while only 20% of people over 45 do so. And according to a study by German technology advocate Bitkom, people age 14 to 29 would rather give up their relationship partner than their cell phone - by a 2-to-1 margin! That's scary.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Understanding how our brains work.

Post 436 - Research shows the human brain is built to adapt to change and focus on survival. Knowing how your brain functions is an important part of knowing yourself. John Medina has written one of the best books I’ve seen on this subject, called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. Medina is a molecular biologist and director of Brain Center for Applied Learning at the Seattle Pacific University. His "brain rules" are simple to understand and backed by solid research.

Rule #1: Exercise.
Exercise boosts brain-power. Some parts of the brain are just like a baby's and can grow new connections and strengthen existing connections. We have the ability to learn new things our entire life. So much for the "you can't teach and old dog new tricks excuse." Aerobic exercise twice a week reduces the risk of general dementia by 50% and Alzheimer's by 60%. Eight hours of cubicle confinement (without exercise) makes no business sense.

Rule #2: Survival.
As the human brain evolved, "We learned to grow fangs not in our mouth but in the head." The brain is a survival organ; its job is to keep us alive long enough to pass on our genes.

Rule #3: Wiring.
Every brain is wired differently. Various regions of the brain develop at different rates in different people and what we do in life literally changes the way it looks.

Rule #4: Attention.
We only pay attention to things that are interesting and only in 10-minute increments. So when giving a 50-minute lecture, break the lecture into five 10-minute topics starting with an overview of the subject and grabbing everyone's attention using an emotional attention grabber within the first minutes. Then, you have 10-minutes to get your message across. Repeat it often during the next four sessions and you have a chance to get the message to stick. We don't pay attention to boring things. We’re better at seeing patterns and abstracting meaning than at recording details.

Rule #5: Short-Term Memory.
Repeat to remember. Our brain isn’t like computer – it doesn’t have a hard drive to store data. "We now know that the space between repetitions is the critical component for transforming temporary memories into more persistent forms. Spaced learning is greatly superior to massed learning." If you don't repeat something you learned within 30-seconds, you'll forget it within one to two hours. Use a picture to express the idea and the likelihood that your message will stick goes from 10% to 65% over a thirty-six hour period.

Rule #6: Long-Term Memory.
Remember to repeat. There are many ways to retrieve data from long-term memory. However, we tend to mix new knowledge with the past memories so some of our most precious memories may not be very accurate.

Rule #7: Sleep.
Sleep well, think well. "The brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake." Sleep increases brain power. The reworking of the day's residue is the essential function of sleep, and without it learning is nearly impossible. So sleep isn’t a time of relaxation for the brain. In fact, it often kicks it into overdrive. Lack of enough sleep can make you incapable of rational thought and physical action. And I’m delighted to report that Medina shows there’s a biological need for an afternoon nap.

Rule #8: Stress.
Stressed brains don't learn the same way as non-stressed brains. The perfect storm of occupational stress comes when a great deal is expected of you but you have no control over what you need to perform well. Stress damages our blood vessels, leading to heart attacks and strokes.

Rule #9: Sensory Integration.
Stimulate more of the senses. "Our senses evolved to work together - vision influencing hearing, for example - which means that we learn best if we stimulate several senses at once." Smells have an unusual power to bring back memories.

Rule #10: Vision.
Vision is the dominant sense. Our brain controls what we see (and it's not always totally correct). The processes to "see" something are very complex, and most importantly, we remember and learn best through pictures and not written/spoken words. That one insight alone should be enough to make us totally rethink the way we attempt to present to people. Most people lose their audiences after 10 minutes.

Rule #11: Gender.
Male and female brains are different. There’s a difference between the "gist dominated" male brain and the "detail dominated" female brain. There are other genetic and psychiatric differences, however these haven’t yet been scientifically connected to behavior.

Rule #12: Exploration.
We’re powerful and natural explorers. "Babies are a model of how we learn - not by passive reaction to the environment but by active testing through observation, hypothesis, experiment, and conclusion." This is not how our educational system currently works and that's something that needs to be changed.