Tag Archives: General

Seven Tools for Personal Transformation

5 Apr

Evolution of a young plant

This is my shortlist of tools for personal transformation.

1.) Seek Truth
If we are interested in personal growth, then we must cultivate a love of truth, which means observing ourselves and learning that there is a difference between what we think and what we are (“the map is not the territory”). When we seek truth we stand outside of ourselves and evaluate our feelings, our relationships, and our assumptions. As we seek truth, we look for that small light peering through a crack in our stories and we scratch at it. As we learn to accept what is real in the present moment, we are more able to accept whatever arises in us, because we know that it is not the whole of us. While our automatic reactions can derail our search for the truth, acknowledging their presence brings us closer to the truth. When we are willing to be with the whole truth—whatever it is—we have more inner resources available to deal with whatever we are facing.

2.) “Not Doing”
The process of spiritual growth sometimes seems paradoxical because we speak of struggle and effort as well as of allowing, accepting, and letting go. The resolution of these apparent opposites lies in the concept of “not doing” or what I’ve previously called “radical acceptance.” Once we understand “not doing,” we see that the real struggle is to relax into greater awareness so that we can see the manifestations of our own shadows. By neither acting on our automatic impulses nor by suppressing them, we begin to understand what is causing them to arise. Not acting on our impulses creates openings through which we can catch glimpses of what we are really up to. Those glimpses often become some of our most important personal transformation lessons. At first, we may need to intentionally set aside time to practice “not doing,” but over time we may find this practice more fully integrating into our day-to-day way of being (as a friend of mine once said, “the point of basketball is not the timeouts”).

3.) Cultivate a Community
The more support we have for our personal development, the easier our process will be. If we are living or working in a dysfunctional environment (family, community, work, etc.), personal growth is not impossible, but it is more difficult. Most of us cannot leave our jobs or our families so easily, even if we are having difficulties with them, although we can seek out others who give us encouragement and act as witnesses to our growth. Beyond this, we can find groups, attend workshops, and put ourselves in situations that foster the other six tools listed here. Getting support also entails structuring our days in ways that leave room for the people that nurture us. It’s likely that you already have some people like this in your life, but if not then you can easily seek them out. Just remember that support comes to those who offer support (universal law of karma), so you’ll have to risk being vulnerable.

4.) Learn from Everything
Once we have involved ourselves in the process of personal growth, we understand that whatever is occurring in the present moment is what we need to deal with right now. And whatever is arising in our hearts or minds is the raw material that we can use for our growth. It’s common to flee from what we are actually facing into our imagination, romanticizing or dramatizing our situation, justifying ourselves, or escaping into distraction. Staying with our real experience of ourselves and our situation will teach us exactly what we need to know for growth. As we seek truth, we must also be willing to learn from it and develop a “learning orientation,” which means that we look for opportunities to  grow rather than opportunities to accomplish. When we learn from everything we’re free to take chances and make mistakes.

5.) Find Self Love
It has been said many times that we cannot love others if we do not love ourselves. But what does this mean? We usually think that it has something to do with having self-esteem. Perhaps, but one central aspect of a mature love of ourselves is caring about our growth sufficiently not to flee from the discomfort or pain of our actual condition. We must love ourselves enough not to abandon ourselves—and we abandon ourselves to the degree that we are not fully present to our own lives. When we are caught up in worry, fantasy, tension and anxiety, we become dissociated from our bodies and our feelings—and ultimately, from our true nature. True self love also entails a profound acceptance of ourselves—returning to being present and settling into ourselves as we actually are without attempting to change our experience. It is also aided by seeking the company of people who possess some degree of this quality themselves.

6.) Use Your Body
When we think about personal transformation is it easy to intellectualize it and get wrapped up in the changes that happen emotionally, but we must not forget that physical changes often accompany any changes that happen inside. Some people may start with physical work (exercise, diet, yoga) and find that other areas of their life get better, while others may find that as they do interior work, they are starting to feel better physically. The point is that our interiors (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, attitudes) and exteriors (neurons, brainwaves, cells, body) are linked to each other, so if we’re going to endeavor towards personal transformation then we must account for and activity engage the physical body.

7.) Have a Practice
Most transformational teachings stress the importance of some kind of intentional practice, be it spiritual (meditation, prayer, relaxation), physical (weight-lifting, running, yoga), or intellectual (reading, writing, Sudoku) or some combination of them. The important thing is to set aside some time each day to reestablish the scaffolding that you need to support your growth. Practice interferes with our deeply ingrained habits and gives us opportunities to wake up from our trance. Eventually, we understand that every time we engage in our practice we learn something new, and every time we neglect our practice we miss an opportunity to allow our lives to be transformed.

One major obstacles to personal transformation is the expectation that we attain results. The ego seizes on breakthroughs and wants to recreate them on demand, which often only furthers the illusion that we can control everything. The reality is that we are always growing and changing whether we want to or not. The key choice we have to make is whether we want to grow elegantly and intentionally or just get dragged along for the ride.

The Key to Happiness -Build a Boat

1 Apr

If you observe a truly happy man, you will find him building a boat, writing a symphony, educating his child, growing double dahlias or looking for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert. He will not be searching for happiness as if it were a collar button that had rolled under the radiator, striving for it as a goal in itself. He will have become aware that he is happy in the course of living life twenty-four crowded hours each day.

– W. Beran Wolfe 

“Ta-dah!” How Clowns Handle Mistakes

6 Mar

The following excerpt comes from the amazing book Improv Wisdom (2005) by Patricia Ryan Madson. 

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Matt Smith, a wonderful Seattle improv teacher and solo performer, taught me a liberating game that can be used as a response to a personal screwup. He calls it “The Circus Bow.” Matt claims this is how circus clowns deal with a slip in their routines. Instead of shrinking and berating himself silently with, “Oh, no, I really blew it!” the clown turns to the crowd on one side and takes a magnificent bow with his hands extended and his arms high in the air, proclaiming “Ta-dah!” as if he had just pulled off a master stunt. He then turns to face the other side of the audience and repeats the bow, “Ta-dah!” Doing it in both directions allows him a 360-degree view of where he is. 

The virtue of this is that it pulls his attention out into the world again, looking around and standing tall. This engaged and forward-looking vantage point is an excellent place to be after a blooper. It is more common to focus inward when a blunder occurs. “How could I have done that?” The body shrinks and withdraws. Instead, a mistake should wake us up. Become more alert, more alive. Ta-dah! New territory. Now, what can I make of this? What comes next? 

…Jim Thompson, author of Positive Coaching…encourages his athletes to play aggressively, to really go for it, and when they do make a blunder in practice to silently say “Ta-dah!” In no time all of his players were not only mumbling it under their breath, but running full tilt down the court shouting “Ta-dah!” with arms outstretched and big smiles on their faces. 

…The next time you notice that you have made a mistake, done something that feels silly or dumb, do the circus bow. Raise your arms in the air, smile, turn left and right. Say, “Ta-dah!” brightly. Then look around and see what needs to be done next and do it. (excerpted from pages 106-109). 

Hooke’s Law of Personal Transformation

17 Jan
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“I’d like to stab you.” – R. Hooke

Robert Hooke’s death in 1703 probably made a lot of people happy (including his contemporary Isaac Newton). Historical accounts reveal a scientific genius who was also “evil,” “cantankerous, envious, [and] vengeful.” The type of bully academic who inspire student caricatures and ignite red-faced fervor in their intellectual counterparts. Now, you’ve probably never heard of Robert Hooke and undoubtedly his sour reputation bears some responsibility. Yet, among all of his achievements there is one in particular that bears some resonance with me; Hooke’s Law of elasticity. It states…

“Hooke’s law of elasticity is an approximation that states that the extension of a spring is in direct proportion with the load applied to it. The elastic limit is the maximum stress or force within a material that can arise before the onset of permanent deformation.”

Imagine taking a spring from a bed. That spring can be stretched and it will return to its original size. Stretch too far though and you surpass its “elastic limit” and the spring will never return to its original shape. The spring is designed to absorb stress  – pulling and pushing – within a limited range and it can do it over and over and over and over again. Give it too much stress though and the entire system is transformed.

This is exactly what happens to us. Our perceptions, beliefs, attitudes have been designed to ensure that we can absorb stress. They operate within a limited range, but within that limited range can handle the day-to-day pressures and challenges with extreme efficiency. Always rebounding to the shape that we were before. However, when we experience something, a thought, an idea, that does not fit our within our capability? We are stretched beyond our elastic limit. We do not rebound. We are changed forever.

Everything we think, feel, believe serves a purpose. Like springs, our minds are designed to absorb stress. But then we get our ass kicked. We get stretched too far and we cannot return to the same shape that we were. This is the moment of transformation.

Two Types of Goals: Temporary vs. Historical

4 Jan

Donald Herbert wants to be successful. He wants to have plenty of money, a happy family, a healthy body, and a career that gives meaning to his life. Donald is like a lot of high achievers in that he wants the whole package. But not all of Donald’s goals should be weighed the same. He wants to own a nice house AND he wants to complete his master’s degree (something he always regretted not doing). My argument is that these goals are of a fundamentally different nature and that if you don’t understand the difference you could be setting yourself up for failure.

Wakehurst_Place_Mansion_1,_West_Sussex_-_Aug_2009

You can lose this.

This isn’t going to be a long post and I’m sure there is more research I could put into this, but for now I just want to make an important distinction between what I call “temporary goals” and “historical goals.” Either one my be driven by extrinsic or intrinsic motivation. Either one may be Donald’s way of gaining pleasure or avoiding pain. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the goals themselves.

The fact is that some things can be taken away from you…somethings can’t. You may want to have lots of money, but you can lose money. Once you achieve “having lots of money” or “owning a Lamborghini” it’s possible that someday in the distant future, you could lose your wealth. Contrast this with something like education. Once you achieve getting a college degree you have it for the rest of your life. Once you climb Kilimanjaro, you will forever be a person “who climbed Kilimanjaro” and no one and no future event can change history.

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You can’t ever lose this.

This is often the reason why athletes would rather win championships than break records. In the future, records can be broken…championships live forever (“former record-holder” just doesn’t have the same ring to it). So, when you are mapping out your life plan, don’t neglect the temporary goals…because they are often the most important (physical health, family health, financial health, etc.), but make sure to also include some historical goals as well.

Being able to look back and say, “I did this and no one can take that away,” is a great feeling especially when you feel like you temporary achievements are starting to backslide. In many ways, historical goals are about getting credentials. You might have read all of the books, but without a degree it makes it hard to communicate your value.

Here are some examples of good historical goals:

– Winning a contest

– Getting a degree

– Getting a certificate (not a certification which has to be renewed)

– Running a marathon

– Getting a patent

– Publishing a book

– Winning awards

– Traveling

Productivity Hack #1 – Stick to a Routine (Here’s Mine)

3 Jan

Productivity is a hot topic and there is going to be a lot of crap floating around about it. Well, I’m not one to let that opportunity go by…so, here is my crap advice: stick to a routine. Obviously, it’s important to stick to the RIGHT kind of routine (even a couch potato is very consistent) and while there is a lot of helpful ideas out there, I’m going to stick with the ones that I actually use myself. In my opinion, there is nothing more important than my routine. Here is my typical day…

– Wake up around 4:15-4:45 am.

– Turn my Up band to awake mode.

– Bathroom. Read book or read news on iPhone.

– Kitchen. Drink big glass of water.

– Get ready for gym, leave house, return home for wallet.

– Workout. Weights and cardio on alternating days. I still follow Body-for-Life workout primarily.

– Come home. Eat Diet-to-go breakfast. Drink more water. Take vitamins. Make coffee.

– Read. I usually have about 5-7 books that I’m reading. Almost all non-fiction. I usually complete about 2-3 a week. Recent examples, Drive by Daniel Pink, The Alchemist by Pedro Coelho, The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks, Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, The Power of Full Engagement by Loehr and Schwartz, Real Happiness by Sharon Salzberg.

– Shower. Get dressed. I work from home mostly, so this part can vary depending on appointments.

– Home office. Pick up notepad and review/add to it. I follow David Allen’s Getting Things Done approach. I organize my tasks through Google tasks, I use my calendar only for things that are happening that day, and I use a basic legal pad for my daily stuff and ideas. As I go I write down stuff for the next day meaning that I can pick it up in the morning and pretty much get started. Usually I do a review and add to it.

– I typically work from about 6:30 am to about 9:30 am without a break. My wife is often up by this time so we have breakfast.

– Back to work from about 10:00 am to lunch time, which can vary. I usually try to get through everything that needs to get done by lunch.

– Eat Diet-to-go lunch. Watch part of a movie, errands, or read.

– I usually work in a little meditation in the afternoon. Not long (or not as long as I probably should). Usually 12 minutes.

– Home office. Check in on emails. Review legal pad of to-dos. Add some more. Cross some more off. It’s pretty much a dance I do all day. Adding and crossing off as my work demands.

– My brain is usually mush around 3:00 pm for anything that I’m not completely excited about (that’s the downside to being a knowledge worker). But by this point, I’ve already put in an 8-hour day.

– The rest of my day is playtime. Although since I love what I do, I typically put in a little more work on the things that I’m excited about. I read some more, go to a movie theater, or just kill time around the house. Occasionally, I meet up with friends, but again, not as often as I would like (9-5 jobs keep you busy!).

– I eat dinner around 6:00 pm. I log meals and exercise on my Up band as I go.

– I usually start to set up tomorrow by about 7:00 pm. I make sure I write down things that need to get done.

– I finish my day by spending time with my family. Reading or watching TV.

– Set Up band to sleep mode. Fall asleep by 9:30pm.

So, there you go. That’s my basic routine. Now, I’m a morning person (and have worked hard to become so), so take from this what you will. In my opinion, my routine is one of my strongest supports. It ensures that I take care of the stuff that is important to me before it becomes urgent. My health, my career, my family, my soul are all cared for. Every day.

Michael Jordan and the Art of Letting Go

28 Dec

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Coach Phil Jackson was nervous. That much was obvious from the way he paced the floor, hands in his pockets. It was game five of the 1998 NBA Finals, but the Chicago Bulls weren’t playing like champions and Jackson was getting damned tired of it. The whole team was stiff and most importantly, their star player, Michael Jordan, was having a bad night (he only made 9 out of 26 shots). For basketball fans, this is nothing new. They know that the game is very “streaky,” which means that past performance greatly affects future performance (even though in theory every possession and every game stands on its own).  And Jordan was in a really bad rut. Jackson needed to find a way to turn him around. Jackson had known that part of Jordan’s problem was that he was very gifted physically, which meant that, at times, he could take short cuts on strategy. Jackson realized that on this night, Michael Jordan was taking a lot of crappy shots. It was like he was trying to win the game through force of will alone (something he had done previously many times), but this time it wasn’t working. They lost the game.

Phil Jackson knew that he needed to help his superstar get back on track and it seemed like the harder Jordan tried to make shots, the worse things got. How was he going to turn things around? He couldn’t actually do anything to make the ball go into the basket…..then coach Jackson had a brainwave. He knew that the game of basketball is about percentages. Despite all of the highlight footage and the dramatic and amazing plays, basketball essentially come down to maximizing your CHANCES. That doesn’t mean that it always goes your way. Like Vegas, the casino will let you win some money, but the odds are always in their favor. The problem with Jordan during game five wasn’t that he was MISSING shots, it was that he was TAKING bad ones to begin with. The key to getting back into the flow of the game was to focus on getting good shots (i.e. open jump shots, easy layups, etc.) whether or not those shots actually went into the basket. Jackson needed to remind Jordan to focus on good shot selection rather than on making baskets. Jordan can score points on really bad even impossible shots and it had gotten him into trouble. He had turned a game of skill into a game of chance.

The next night was game 6 and Jackson and Jordan were prepared. They understood the difference between what they could control (the types of shots to take) and what they couldn’t control (whether or not the ball actually went through the basket). As a result, Jordan was more relaxed and more fluid, but no less determined. The Bulls were going to run their offense the way it should be run. If the basketball didn’t cooperate then there was nothing they could do about that. Jordan stepped out onto the court with the same swagger he had throughout the season. He remembered what he had known all along – don’t let the bad shots get you down. Every play is a chance to start again. Focus on the things you can control and let go of the things you can’t. Play loose. Play free. Play aggressive. Let the game come to you.

In the end, Jordan still missed over half of his shots (57% missed), but he and the team were much more selective. They had put themselves in the position to win which was really all that they could hope for. The final moments of that game, for those who don’t know, have become labeled one of the greatest performances in NBA history (Jordan making a steal with 16 seconds left and then making a shot to win the game), but there is a more humble story behind that iconic shot. Two men…Coach Phil Jackson and player Michael Jordan…learning to let go. 

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