How Fear Can Deceive Us

false-fear-illusion

With our fears logs can become alligators (picture by Thomas_G via Pixabay)

Wow, it’s been weeks since I’ve written a post here. If you haven’t been following me on Medium, I recently started writing there more regularly as part of Jeff Goins’ 500 Word Challenge. So far, so good on what was Day 20.

Today my friend Bill Belew wrote on his forum about having an up and down week. My response is that it happens and that besides this being a sign that we’re still alive, it’s also how we’re hard-wired.

For a while the motivational / self-help myth told us that if you place a frog in boiling water it’ll simply jump out. However, if you place it in water that’s room temperature and slowly turn up the heat, the frog won’t notice until it’s too late. There’s plenty written to dispel this, and others trying to prove it..

But the lesson is still valid, I think.

Human beings do tend to worry about things that are more in our face. It’s what sells newspapers, and why the “silent killers” like heart disease and diabetes remain the leading causes of death.

Recently, we lost several celebrities – David Bowie, Alan Rickman, Glenn Frey, and Animal. Okay, maybe not the last one..

I have to admit that I can’t remember the last time that I listened to Bowie or Frey.. sometimes life happens, sometimes things surface to the top of our attention and then drift back down.

Don’t worry – this isn’t going to be a sermon about how “life is short.. let’s make each moment count..” However, it’s true that if we’re not careful, neglect is easy but the price we pay down the road can be much more expensive.

Losing my car was painful. For a while there was a $200 or so repair that a local garage suggested. I was always too busy or couldn’t be bothered. Who knows? Maybe it was inevitable that the transmission would fail; maybe not.

Being without a car in southern California is much more painful than, say, the San Francisco Bay Area or other cities like New York. Yes, I do think that it’s also a blessing and curse thing. In the classic cost benefit analysis let’s not forget to look at the price paid in the long run, not just the immediate future.

That’s why sometimes we undervalue the benefit of saving 5 minutes a day and forget how it can lead to creating hours or days of opportunity. It’s easier for us to focus on what in our face and miss the hidden costs / opportunities.

 

Where’s My Little Pony?

I’ve written before about my Navy experiences during the Reagan era.

One of the favorite jokes of Uncle Ronny, aka the Great Communicator, was a joke concerning twin boys. It went something like this..

pony-kid

Photo: erA_Blackout via Pixabay

Worried that the boys had developed extreme personalities – one was a total pessimist, the other, a total optimist – their parents took them to a psychiatrist.”

“First the psychiatrist treated the pessimist. Trying to brighten his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with brand-new toys. But instead of yelping with delight, the little boy burst into tears. ‘What’s the matter?’ the psychiatrist asked, baffled. ‘Don’t you want to play with any of the toys?’ ‘Yes,’ the little boy bawled, ‘but if I did I’d only break them.’”

“Next the psychiatrist treated the optimist. Trying to dampen his outlook, the psychiatrist took him to a room piled to the ceiling with horse manure. But instead of wrinkling his nose in disgust, the optimist emitted just the yelp of delight the psychiatrist had been hoping to hear from his brother, the pessimist. Then he clambered to the top of the pile, dropped to his knees, and began gleefully digging out scoop after scoop with his bare hands. ‘What do you think you’re doing?’ the psychiatrist asked, just as baffled by the optimist as he had been by the pessimist. ‘With all this manure,’ the little boy replied, beaming, ‘there must be a pony in here somewhere!’”

excerpt from How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life by Peter Robinson (source: Got to Be a Pony There Somewhere)

Going without a car in Southern California sucks – there’s no getting around it. This isn’t New York where you can jump on the subway or grab a cab. It’s not Chicago where you can take a bus for anywhere not covered by the Loop. And it’s certainly not San Francisco where you can juggle between BART and Muni to get to just about anywhere you need.

It takes almost an hour to get to Union Station in down LA by Metrolink. Then, if you need to get anywhere significant like Hollywood or Santa Monica.. well, expect significant delay..

Yet, it’s forced me to work on my online business of content marketing – to simply sit down & write.

Now when I go somewhere, there’s still a good deal of walking. So I’ve raided the public libraries for plenty of audio books and supplementing this was Audible.com. Try Audible and Get Two Free Audiobooks (totally worth it!! check it out and let me know what you think!)

Gratitude is about learning to dance in the rain instead of waiting for the storm to pass. It’s easy to be thankful when things are going well, it’s harder to remember to be grateful.

Some of the greatest triumphs in history have come out of our darkest hours. Ryan Holiday shares many such stories in The Obstacle is the Way.

One Zen story he shares tells of a king who places a large boulder at the entrance to their city. He watched in disappointment as one citizen after another turn away. Others openly cursed their bad luck or halfheartedly tried to go around before easily giving up.

boulder-road

Photo: missyliner0 via Pixabay

Sure that his kingdom was doomed to be conquered by any invaders with such softness, the king finally saw a lowly peasant struggle. Something made this one subject persist until he finally made a lever out of a large branch.

Moving the boulder, the peasant found a bag of gold and a note from the king which read:

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, with every obstacle comes an opportunity to improve our condition.”

What’s Your Red Paper Clip?

For want of a nail, a shoe was lost.. for want of a shoe, a horse was lost.. for want of a horse, a battle was lost..

We’ve heard different versions of this story before – it’s human nature to focus on that missing tooth, or that scab from a recent scrape..

But what about our successes? What about the good in people?
You know, those “Pay It Forward” moments that were made famous by the Haley Joel Osment? (Recently I learned more about the book and author that inspired this movie.)

Now Kyle Macdonald had a crazy idea. He asked “What if I played a real life game of “Bigger and Better”?

Like many creative folks when they started their entrepreneurs journey, Kyle realized that it wasn’t his dream job to deliver used appliances. So, when he came up with a bunch of crazy ideas, Kyle found himself torn between choosing work for the money and actually trying some of them.

A friend reminded him of a game they played in high school where Kyle and his friends would continually trade up items to see what they could get. So Kyle thought maybe he could do this just starting out with one red paper clip.

Well, he did – you can follow his red paper clip journey here.

Ultimately, Kyle ended up with a house, being a mayor for a day and along with his girlfriend citizens for life!

People on Quora ask me all the time about how to get started in business..? What does it take to start your own company? On and on..

Just start with your red paper clip.. be curious.. look for ways to help others.. Like the shepherd boy in the Alchemist see where the journey takes you.

Years ago, I had an idea to start my own business. I made plenty of mistakes but kept asking questions and learning. This led to adventures in real estate and helping folks to buy / sell businesses before leading to commercial field inspections and ultimately teaching others how to start their own home businesses..

So who you were got you here to this point, who you’re becoming will get you where you want to be!

Mosquito Sunset

Happy 4th of July!

Some folks know about my military service. This is a repost of an article from a previous blog where I share some of my Navy experiences.

Sometimes you’re the windshield.. sometimes you’re the bug” – lyrics, Mary Chapin Carpenter song

Standing in formation at dusk outside the hangar, I felt the rivulets of sweat pooling into the delta small of my back. Lines of dungarees – half powder-blue, half blue jean – lined up in neat rows behind me. As the sweltering heat finally gave way to limp stickiness clinging to our skin, the floodlights finally flickered on – and so did the mosquitoes’ taste for blood. Yet, at first everyone seemed to just “grin and bear it.”

The commanding officer (who reminded me of Ned Flanders from the Simpsons) droned on about something that seemed important enough at the time to announce in front of the entire squadron. Meanwhile these flying syringes poked through our starched poly-cotton uniforms to draw blood with their hydraulic pistons, punctuating the agonizing minutes.

What Happens on Deployment, Stays on Deployment

We were well beyond two TACAN’s away from our home base in San Diego. The “two TACAN rule” was that once you were outside of the range of two of these military navigation aids, anything goes.

Such was the “wink-wink, nudge-nudge, need I say more” behind the veneer of Navy “family values.” It was an excuse, of course, for guys to get away with whatever didn’t leave permanent traces that flowers or penicillin couldn’t cure stateside.

At the time all this only mattered a little to me. Only 3 or 4 months ago my marriage had begun to unravel in the middle of our squadron’s West Pacific (WESTPAC) deployment aboard the USS Constellation.

I vaguely remember thinking at the time how radically different my life was turning out from the wife / house / 2.5 kids “fast-track to the space program” life that I envisioned for myself.

Maybe the most surreal moment was seeing our ship on CNN, patrolling during the Chinese missile crisis with Taiwan. Yet, instead of being an ending, somehow it was the beginning – the beginning of how I came to understand that

..life is what happens while you make plans.

Somehow, in the midst of feeling utterly small and alone in a steel city of five thousand, I discovered at the same time a much bigger part of myself.

Funny how there in what Navy pilots describe as little bigger than a postage stamp when landing at night, I realized that in your darkest moments there is grace – a quiet connectedness, even as you lay in your bed wondering what you’re doing in the middle of nowhere. This must be how future travelers will feel shuttling among the stars.

Slowly, it became more and more evident that it was acceptable to break rank and swat your neighbor’s tormentors. Military standards dictated that in formation you were supposed to stand at attention, unyielding as the ceremonial guards keeping watch on the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. (be sure to watch what happens at 4:48 – VERY UNUSUAL!)

Yet, somehow by some unspoken consensus we all agreed that, while it was bad form to relieve yourself of the torture inflicted by these tiny Weapons of Mass Annoyance, it was acceptable to swat those around you.

One or two pats gradually mushroomed into what became a flurry of mercy beatings like the popping of bubble wrap at Christmas until at last we were dismissed. Sighs of relief mixed with bursts of laughter and disbelief, as we made our way back to the shelter of the hangar bay. It felt like a comic scene out of some old war movie, except this was no Hollywood fiction. No, we were far from some South Pacific island, fighting some epic battle for our lives.

End of an Era, Beginning of New

Instead, it was 1994 – the Cold War had ended with the crashing debris of the Berlin Wall, signaling the end of the Iron Curtain era. Reagan’s proud 600-ship navy had been reduced to maybe half of its former glory. To justify its piece of the budget pie, the Navy turned to unorthodox missions like the counter-narcotics operation that brought us here to Ciba, Puerto Rico.

Night after night, our squadron launched the E-2C Hawkeye, otherwise known as the Navy’s AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control System,) on sorties to coordinate various agencies that in theory intercepted the drug runners as they landed their contraband on nearby shores. While occasionally we would hear about a successful bust, it seemed like only days later there would be another story about a bigger bust stateside.

Were we really making a dent on the war on drugs? Any more than the “Just Say No” campaign? Who knows.. Some days you believe you’re making a difference. Then there are others you wonder who is really doing the swatting and who is just buzzing around.

If you enjoyed this story, subscribe to my newsletter to get more or follow on Twitter @tangovagabond

 

Focus on the Journey Not the Destination

“Life is a highway.. I wanna ride it.. all night long” – Tom Cochrane

“I’m just not getting what you’re trying to show us!” I yelled in frustration. It’d been weeks now since I started taking lessons from Miller. He was both a brilliant dancer and teacher. Yet something was just not connecting.

While I had learned the basics from my Argentine tango teacher, I wanted to do the “advanced stuff” – the moves that seemed like all the cool kids knew and kept to themselves. I was ready, or so I thought..

Originally, I had started learning tango as way to improve my aikido practice. But pretty soon I was hooked and never looked back. Unlike swing dancing and other activities, I soon learned that I couldn’t just “dabble” in tango – it was all-in or nothing.

A pivotal moment came early on, when I attended a fairly advanced workshop. Although the instructors themselves were incredibly patient with me, an older Chinese lady pulled me aside between lessons. “Do you speak Mandarin?” she asked in a hushed whisper. Er, yes, why? She then proceeded to berate me in my native tongue, essentially asking what the hell I thought I was doing.

Because of my lack of understanding of the fundamental movements, I had been resorting to “winging it” whenever I floundered with learning a particular sequence. I thought I was being creative, but looking back I have to admit that it was the equivalent of scribbling gibberish in a college level writing course.

Too often we’re more interested in getting to the final destination than the actual journey. In the 1980s kaizen became all the range in the business world, as Americans marvelled at Japanese productivity. Ironically, this process of improvement came from an American (Deming) who taught them this methodology during the post-war rebuilding of the country.

While calling it “kaizen” gave it an Asian mystique that blended well with Eastern philosophy and culture, the scientific methods were very Western. The bottomline was that developing a process of improvement that not only provided short-term results, but also ensuring that success was more than just a matter of luck.

When life forces us into situations where self-improvement is the only way out (like learning to walk) we tend to comply. But other times we resist or avoid it altogether.

Sometimes our personal tastes lead us to have an interest or passion for improving. That was the case of cooking for me. In the age before YouTube and celebrity chefs the only real choices I had available were to find recipes and occasionally catch a public television show with a quirky chef.

Both dancing and cooking involved mastering basics before taking on more elaborate performances. In tango if you couldn’t lead a follower into a cross step, then it was pointless to be shown a more complicated sequence. In cooking if you didn’t know how to prep ingredients, then it was a lot harder to cook even the most basic dishes like an omelet.

Here’s the ironic part – learning to *be* a better dancer also made me a better cook AND ultimately, dare I say, even a better lover in bed. (Come on, ladies, help me out here!)

“How you do anything is how you do everything..”
– Derek Sivers

So, when we focus on the process, success becomes just a side effect of the results. The swordsmen learns to cut through the object. The archer focuses on the draw and lets the arrow hit its mark.

“Goals are for losers” – Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert

Recently, I’ve been reading How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big by Scott Adams where he talks about a key to his success being his own focus on systems vs. results. Adams unabashedly goes through his many starts and stops until finally hitting on his One Thing.

In travel, of course, it is definitely about the journey. Some of the most memorable moments on trips have been the drives or the plane rides.. or often the misadventures when things don’t quite go as planned.

How do you focus on the process, not just the results?

 

Life is Not a Spectator Sport

Photo: Yours Truly aka @jycmba with @joelcomm – really cool to finally meet him in person!

Each painful second pumped blood into his swollen ears, already pulsing red.

Bill raced to find the right sequence of clicks and taps to make the darn thing do what he wanted it to do.

With a sigh he closed his eyes and apologized.

This past weekend @belew and I finally had the chance to meet. He was one of the speakers on Sunday, and in the end everyone gave him one of the strongest applause for this three-day live event.

But things started off rough for poor Bill.

(This is related to the discussion on Bill’s Forum.)

What Bill hoped to show the audience was a live demo of how to get results with content marketing. Something that none of the other speakers could do.

It was a brilliant idea. But there was just one problem – everything was set up on his computer. and without knowing all the details the bottom line was that the AV system didn’t want to play nice with his computer.

So being the entrepreneur that he is, Bill worked to find a solution.

Normally, there’s time but when you’re on stage in front of hundreds (not counting the live audience watching the streaming video) seconds turn into minutes.. which seem like hours..

Bill has apologized profusely for this glitch. I feel like we all let him down.

The speaker shouldn’t have to struggle with a technical issue when we have an audio visual crew PAID to take care of this.

I sat too far back and didn’t jump up to assist because I took the typical passive audience mode we get into.

The host didn’t say anything except an occasional joke to keep things entertaining – he could’ve used his position to ask for help, and I’m sure any number of his staff or even a room full of internet entrepreneurs could’ve helped.

But instead of any of this – the clock kept ticking, and poor Bill was left to struggle along on that big stage under the hot lights, sweating it out –

Oh, yes, you definitely REALLY feel the heat in a moment like this – BELIEVE me.

And that’s the thing.. once the fight-or-flight kicks in, our bodies tense up, our hearts pump more blood and the monkey brain starts screaming at us.

At this point it’s game over for the rational site. The Elephant has officially started her freakout mode. All the Rider can do is hold on for dear life.


Master the Dance Between Elephant & Rider – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

There are way too many stories of bystanders that watch as someone is attacked. It’s too easy to judge, and too easy to say “no, that’s not me – I’d be different.”

But really – how we do one thing is how we do everything else. Too often we sit back and wait for others to act first. I’ve been just as guilty of this as the next person. Being passive is a habit just like procrastinating or leaving things unsaid.

If we’re not careful, habits can be terminal!

gandhi-quote-habits

Habits Can Become Destiny

 

Sunday Thoughts – Going All In On Fear

So, we were heads up – 30 players down to the two of us.

Across the table sat Cindy, seven-time winner of our little home game poker league. Again and again, she’d won first place while I was lucky to take second once in a while.

Without getting too much into poker jargon, let’s just say that we were pretty even at this point chip-wise, or our stacks were nearly even.

So, anything could still happen. And, as anyone who follows the much higher stakes WSOP games on ESPN knows, it often does.

But this was just a semi-friendly (although fiercely competitive) home league. Buy-in’s were $10, but the first place winner often took home more than a $100. Still, there was enough at stake that we took pride in winning.

“I’m all in,” declared Cindy. So, now I was left to decide – do I call and risk nearly three quarters of my chips? Or do I fold.

If I won, I could basically take it all. Then and there.

But if I was wrong, I’d be crippled. And probably just left with struggling to stay in a little longer.

Closing my eyes, I breathed and checked myself. “I call.”

Both Cindy and I were surprised at my call. I had enough respect for her game to know that she didn’t push all her chips into the middle lightly.

Yet, there I was calling her.

Turning over 6-3 off-suit, Cindy half-sheepishly chuckled. She often said that it was one of her favorite hands, even though it’s basically a rag hand (having little inherent value, unlike big poker pairs like Aces or Kings, or even Ace King). Poker players tend to have a semi-superstitious tendency to favor personal “garbage hands.” I had caught her hand in the proverbial cookie jar.

What led me to make that call? Even though my hand (Ace Ten off-suit) wasn’t too bad, it was still a gamble to call an all-in. Normally, I would struggle to make such a call. Yet, this time I made it with little hesitation. Something had changed in my game. I had changed.

 

“Fear is the mind killer.” This is one of my favorite lines from Dune by Frank Herbert. It’s the destroyer of possibility and for an artist, bane of creativity.

I’ve faced many forms and many shapes of fear in my life. Some advocate living fearlessly. Others say just ignore it.

But I say embrace fear, because only then can you really be free.

No, I’m not saying live your life in fear. Nor am I saying being too comfortable or complacent with fear. That’s how accidents happen – that’s just plain carelessness.
Years ago, I was more active in practicing aikido. Unlike other martial arts that profess to be a “mind over matter” form of self-defense but quickly end up being just another use of force against force, this practice stems from the founder’s philosophy.

While other martial art traditions are often hundreds of years old, aikido drew from some of these traditions and in reality is still less than a century old.

Morihei Ueshiba, also known by his followers as “O Sensei,” believed that aikido should be a path to harmony and peace, and its practice embodied this not only in the philosophy but the very technique itself.

For example, unlike judo, karate or kung fu, nothing happens until an attacker attacks. After receiving the energy of the attacker and redirecting it to neutralize the attack, only the force necessary to suppress further aggression is used.

How much is enough? Ah, that’s the art – and the lifetime of practice that come with this art.

But to my moment of truth.. aikido teaches us to resist our “natural” fight or flight instincts. It was the belief of O Sensei that many of our societal woes come from this lack of control over our fear.

If we harness this energy, we embrace the true power that is our very core – love. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s fear – the absence of love.

I know this sounds very touchy feely for a martial art. And at first even I was very skeptical. But once you see the power and beauty of the techniques, it’s unmistakable that you’re seeing something different than brute force.

At the very heart of this art aikido asks you, “What are you afraid of?” and “How can you embrace this?”

In that moment I realized that I was afraid of making a foolish mistake. I wasn’t worried that Cindy actually had a good hand. If I was wrong, so be it.

So, what “clicked”? Realizing that my fear was getting in the way of me making the best decision in that moment. Once I acknowledged this, my inner wisdom – that all-knowing little voice – said to call. And I did.

The hand played out, and somehow I don’t think either of us connected with the board – the rest of the cards which make up your hand in Texas hold’em. Ace high was good enough to win the hand, and thus allow me to win first place for the first time.

 

going all in

going all in

Funny thing – after breaking that personal poker “4 minute mile,” I went on to win first several times. And some other players in the league as well. Maybe I’m being overly philosophical but I like to believe that once we face our fears we give others the permission to do so also.

What about you? How is fear holding you back from making the right call?

Here is more on How Poker Helps Us to Face Our Fears in Business.

How Life is a Poker Tournament

Why Sometimes We Need to Go All In on Fear

Education vs. Creativity

For some time I’ve followed Sir Ken Robinson and his crusade to reform our current education system. If you haven’t seen his TED talk, here is a short RSA version:

One of his main points is that the school system was designed for a post-agrarian industrial system. That is, schools are designed to crank out workers in a factory assembly line fashion. Some rise to the top and become office workers. Others who can’t hack the academic standards become laborers.

Traditionally, it was the artists that suffered. There is no room for creativity in a system that values conformity and mass produced results.

Creativity-Literacy

In fact, Sir Ken talks about a girl who is brought in to see a psychiatrist about her learning disorder. Luckily, the perceptive doctor said the problem wasn’t with learning; she needed to be sent to dance school.

But here’s an even bigger problem. As James Altucher points out in Choose Yourself, the days of go to school, earn your degree, get a job and retire are long gone. Yet many still cling to the belief that this is the way to go.

Here’s some of what I believe schools should teach –

1) how to prioritize & time management – Stephen Covey’s 7 habits should be mandatory reading! But more important is learning how to develop your own sense of what you value – not based on what you’re told; again, following others is a factory mindset

2) how to sell – no matter what you do in life you need to learn how to be persuasive or get across your view, whether it’s applying for college or getting a raise (not even talking about your own business)

3) how to connect – social media is now a fact of life; understanding how to play well with others isn’t just a maxim – it’s now life & death!

4) how to collaborate – it’s only in the traditional school system that teaches working together is “cheating”; in the real world this is essential to success

5) how to be creative – as mentioned.. even Albert Einstein said, “The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.”

6) most of all, how to learn – this may seem to be simply a meta idea but it goes beyond an academic idea; pass / fail is an industrial concept; today’s economy needs more entrepreneurs, and the essence of the entrepreneur’s mindset is try, learn, repeat

No wonder we have a hard time figuring out what we want out of life. Recently, I read Jeff Goins’ Art of Work. He shares not only his own journey but also that of several other ordinary folks who made extraordinary choices.

Basically, Jeff offers that you can live a life of not only with passion, but also with purpose. But it takes the courage to ask some difficult questions – made more challenging by the fact that your current friends not only don’t know the answers but wouldn’t dare ask themselves.Luckily, there’s a community of like-minded folks willing to support you on your journey.

For some time I’ve wondered about this disparity between what we’re taught and what need to learn. It’s been a long road to fill a lot of the gaps on my own. And I wouldn’t say that I have all the answers on what my purpose is.

But I do feel that I have more sense of the direction of my path. And that makes all the difference. So if you’re ready to ask some of these questions, you can grab your copy here.

What do you believe is missing in today’s school systems?

[Post-note: This blog post inspired me to launch a new blog dedicated to creative entrepreneurs on their hero’s journey – http://butterflyformula.com/

You can also follow some of my thoughts on Quora here – http://entrepreneursjourney.quora.com/]

Here’s what tango taught me about creativity.

Sunday Thoughts (03/22/15) – Grateful Selfishness

An old man turned ninety-eight
He won the lottery and died the next day
Alanis Morrissette, “Ironic”

So, we realize having the blessing mindset of “seeing the glass half full” is the way to go. But easier said than done, right?

It’s much easier to fall into the familiar territory of “why me?”

Certainly old habits die hard.

So, what habits do we need to adopt?

Listening to Michael Hyatt’s podcast where he interviews Michele Cushatt, author of Undone, they talked about how the inspiration came from a chapter of her life where everything seemed to be settled into a comfortable, predictable pattern.

Then everything got turned upside down. It began with news just before one Thanksgiving that she had cancer on her tongue (speaking was one of the key ways she made her living). Her plans for enjoying a quiet empty nest life after raising her own kids are suddenly canceled by adopting not just one child, but three.

What struck me was how she simply realized that you can resist and curse your luck, accept things and treat it as fate, or be open to the blessing and unexpected miracle.

Recently, I watched the film version of The Fault in Our Stars based on the book by John Green. It’s a very realistic look at young cancer patients who have a star-crossed love that resonates as a modern Romeo and Juliet.

But these young, intelligent adults Gus and Hazel are neither delusional about their situation, nor are they willing to just give up on life. Moments like sitting in support groups where the leader sings on about “the heart of Jesus” highlight this.

The real tragedy comes when they discover their feelings for each other, only to find that their time will be cut short by Gus’ relapse. Rather than curse this loss, Hazel tells him, “You gave me a forever within the numbered days and I’m grateful.”

“Forever within the Numbered Days – Grateful” Fault in Our Stars John Green

I recalled Cushatt saying the same thing as one of the main “aha” moments she experienced. She realized “gratitude in many ways is my lifeline, because when you’re in a position where you’ve lost so much, where every time you turn around you’re losing something else, it can be very easy to focus on all that’s gone.”

“..The only way to push through grief really is to eventually come to some place where you see what you still have left. So I can either focus on all that I’ve lost or start to identify and recognize what I still have.”

Debbie Ford talks about how when we live within our stories, we are small and fail to see what is possible. But when we live outside and provide some distance, we see things as they are – blessing or curse is a choice.

To be honest right now I’ve struggled with some big setbacks. Even friends and loved ones have simply said why don’t you just get a job. There have been plenty of moments that I want to just take what I can get and accept it.

Yet, something keeps me going. I know that I’m here for a purpose more than filling out budget reports or making sure widgets are delivered on time.

It’s not because I think I’m too good for these things. It’s just this sense that life has been preparing me all along for a purpose beyond these tasks.

And to be honest I’ve fought this and wondered why can’t I just live a pedestrian 9 to 5 life going to the movies on weekends and sipping frappucinos with the family.

That’s the life that I had envisioned for myself. But life is what happens while you make plans, as I often say. We’re not always presented with what we want, but life constantly delivers what we need to grow.

So, in this moment of struggling financially without a car it’s up to me to be grateful that I have two hands that can type, two eyes that can read, two ears that can listen to inspiring music, and a voice to share this message that I seem meant to deliver.

It would be much easier to write this, if I was looking back at my life – “connecting the dots..” – after a prosperous career and successful achievements. The challenge is to live in this moment with gratitude – here. Now.

In the midst of the mess that was dealing with cancer recovery and raising three small children, Cushatt connects to this moment where one of the kids colors the white walls of their house to an article about the age of impressionism, where artists discovered how to create art best viewed from a little bit of distance.

She says she “realized, ‘That’s what I need to do. I’m standing too close to my canvas. I have to step back, and then I’m going to see it differently.’”

Dr. Wayne Dyer talks about how he “was deeply honored to be on a panel with Viktor Frankl in 1978 in Vienna, Austria.. [who] shared with me and the audience his assertion that it’s the ability to see beauty in all of life’s circumstances that gives our lives meaning.  In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, he describes a bowl of filthy water with a fish head floating in it, given to him by his Nazi captors in a concentration camp during WWII.  He trained himself to see beauty in this meal, rather than focus on the horror of it.”

Some can only make themselves feel better by knowing that others are worse off. I find comfort in knowing that we’re each facing life’s call in our own way.

Most of all gratitude is a state of allowing – if we are focused on what we lack or what isn’t working, there can’t be room for anything else. We simply can’t see past that and be open to what is possible.

“Sometimes you have to make room for what’s unexpected because there’s a miracle there,” said Michele Cushatt.

Maybe in the end that’s the ultimate irony – that only by being grateful do we meet our selfish desires and letting the beauty hidden in each moment reveal itself to us.

Sunday Thoughts (03/08/15) – Master the Dance of Creativity

Ok, I’m realizing that procrastination has been masking itself as a desire to get this blog post “just right.” Normally, I believe in launching just before you feel totally ready, because that’s likely to be your best work. But I think this time I’ve gotten caught up in fear disguised as perfectionism.

Sure, tweaks later on always improve things but over-editing can happen as well. We’ve all heard that it really pays in the end to “go with your gut,” because it’s true.

Part of my motivation is joining this challenge of Live Your Legend.  Check it out. If you’ve been putting off sharing your voice and joining the online conversation, then maybe it’s time to take your own first steps into a larger universe!

Well, here goes nothing..

Recently, I joined a Google Hangout to discuss how we want to have more creativity in our lives. Whether your work is already considered creative like graphic design or freelance content marketing, we still want more freedom to work on our own creative projects. (These can be for personal, business or some combination of both, of course.)

In Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard (affiliate link – thanks for your support!) the Heath brothers start with the analogy set out in The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt which points out how our emotional side is an Elephant and our rational side is its Rider.

Perched atop the Elephant, the Rider holds the reins and seems to be in charge.
But their control is shaky at best, because the Rider is so small relative to the Elephant. Let’s face it. Anytime a six-ton Elephant and its Rider disagree about which direction to
go, the Rider is going to lose.

creativity, success

Unless we master dance between Elephant and Rider..

creativity, success, entrepreneur

the Rider is at the Mercy of the Elephant!

 

We’ve all given up on new year’s resolutions – year after year. In fact, the road to hell is really paved with ANALYZE THINK CHANGE.

Instead choose SEEFEELCHANGE.

In short, using the Heath brothers’ approach to bring more creativity into our lives, we have to:

  • Direct the Rider
  • Motivate the Elephant
  • Shape the Path

Direct the Rider

1. Follow the Bright Spots

As the Heath brothers tell us: “Investigate what’s working and clone it.”

We all want to be more creative, but don’t feel like we have time for our personal creative projects.

What are you currently doing where you feel creative? When do you feel more creative? Who do you feel creative around?

Are there places or spaces that feel inspiring? How can you get more of this without
feeling guilty? ..then how can you take what appears to be a negative and turn this around?

Maybe you feel like your work is uninspiring. How can you find ways to do it more
creatively? or more efficiently so that you get to a creative task?

2. Script the Critical Moves

“Don’t think big picture, think in terms of specific behavior.” Saying “Be creative!” – is about as useful as “drive safe!”. Give yourself specific steps you can take to start on the path of change – turn on your alarm clock for an earlier time, plan a trip to an inspiring spot, create the space for yourself to be more creative.

Michele Alise first inspired the Hangout event by inviting others to have their own Creative Friday – a chance to practice allowing more creativity into our lives.

In the Artist’s Way Julia Cameron suggests having Artist’s Date – a weekly solo expedition to explore something that interests you. The key is to woo your Inner Muse the way you would date a potential mate.

3. Point to the Destination

“Change is easier when you know where you’re going and why it’s worth it.” Rather than talk in the abstract (“creativity,” “art,” “success”) be clear what these mean to you. For example, right now completing this blog post is one way I plan to be creative today. Later, I plan to do at least one sketch. This week I may dance some tango.

Philomena Timberlake:
“Since new year I’ve been trying to get up very early.. and I have initial time for
prayer and affirmation, trying to visualize as well. Then I have 1 or 2 hours set aside –
this is before any business or email.. I find it very encouraging because in the past I
tried to do everything else first, and I’d get to the end of the day.. and I’m tired. I
don’t want to sit down and learn or do something creative at that point.”

Willpower is a limited resource. If we don’t tackle the Big Rocks first, we’ll never get
to them.

B. Motivate the Elephant

1. Find the Feeling

“Knowing something isn’t enough to cause change. Make people feel something.”

Too often we set goals like “write 1000 words” or worse yet something vague like “spend more time being creative” But as the Heaths point out – the Rider has very little real control over the Elephant.

This is the key – what you put energy and intention only grows. Whether you use some of these strategies or continue to get frustrated and beat yourself up about it, you will
only get more of either.

One of the other Hangout participant, Philomena remarked, “..every day I manage to achieve this, I feel better for it.. there’s a snowball effect.”

Finally, she noted: “Every day I manage to achieve this I feel better for it!”

2. Shrink the Change

“Break down the change until it no longer spooks the Elephant.” This is a key lesson from the book!

One of the challenges echoed by everyone on the Hangout was that we all want to be creative but don’t feel there is enough time. By taking baby steps we get the Elephant moving in the direction we want, rather than running amok and exhausting the Rider in struggling to steer Her!

Too often we end up feeling guilty and discouraged. “I *should* have it more together,” or I *should* be better at this.” Beating ourselves up is not only discouraging, it can be more
than counterproductive. After a while, beating up the poor Elephant does nothing.

If you can’t do a whole Creative Friday, start with an hour or so. In the words of Arthur Ashe, “Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.”

success-quote

3. Grow Your People

By getting ourselves to make the small changes – we begin to think of ourselves as someone who’s capable of bigger changes..  Through seeing our new identity, rather than “that’s for creative people,” we start to see ourselves as creative.

That’s why the guy on the street yelling at the top of his lungs rarely works, while the born again sinner gladly surrenders to transformation in front of the congregation. Identifying with our peers and feeling a part of the group helps us to go with the flow.

Surround yourself with like-minded people – others interested in being more creative. ”
When we associate ourselves with creative people, rather than think of them as “weird artist types,” we learn to identify ourselves as a creative.

“A rising tide raises all ships,” is the phrase that John Lee Dumas has popularized.

A Rising Tide Raises All Ships

(photo courtesy of Norma Davey)

Shape the Path

1. Tweak the Environment

Once you have the intention to have more creativity in your life, it really is the little things that count. Smokers have been known to quit more easily on vacation than at home where they’re surrounded by all their usual cues.

By making adjustments and tweaks you can make it easier to build more moment. By far the best thing you can do is to clear your calendar for that block of time to practice your craft or go on that Artist’s Date that Julia Cameron talks about in The Artist Way.

Michele Alise: “I set email notifications and turn off social media.. I even scheduled a
coffee break with a friend.. That helps me set the tone for the rest of my Creative Friday.”

2. Build Habits

“When behavior is habitual, it’s ‘free’ – it doesn’t tax the Rider.”

We’ve already talked about willpower being a finite resource. [Success begets success.] Achieving a snowball effect in the direction you want to go is getting the Elephant on your side.

“Can we slim down with time tasks? look at our habits – unsubscribe some emails..” suggest Philomena.

Once friends, family, even colleagues and clients see that you’re committed to your creative time and space, it will no longer be a question whether you are willing to make an exception “just this one time.”

3. Rally the Herd

“Behavior is contagious. Help it spread.” Be the change you want to see in the world, as Gandhi told us. Without being a Creative Nazi or Jehovah’s Witness of Creativity preaching in the streets, show people that it can be done, allow anyone interested to ask their questions, and support those who are open to your ideas.

Surround yourself with people who are not only inspiring but encourage your creativity.
Avoid those who want to rain on your parade by suggesting that you are being selfish.
They are probably either closet creatives or those who feel inadequate in your light.

 

So, here’s a Quick Recap –

DIRECT THE RIDER

  • Follow the Bright Spots
    Find out what’s working and build on that. Big rocks crumble after the steady drip over time, not the waves crashing on the shore.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Point to the Destination
    Don’t pick some uninspiring big goal like “Be creative” that’s bound to leave the Elephant sitting in front of the T.V. with a bucket of rocky road, perfectly pleased with its “creativity.”

FIND THE FEELING

  • Shrink the Change
    Contrary to popular self-improvement wisdom, LOWER the bar. Make it impossible to fail. Small changes followed by small successes build on each other and ultimately lead to BIG successes.
  • Script the Critical Moves
    Identify what new steps are going to where you want to go. Your current way got you here. It’s time to figure out a better way.
  • Grow Your People
    By cultivating a new sense of identity, you stop thinking of being creative as something that others do and begin to see yourself as someone creative.

SHAPE THE PATH

  • Tweak the Environment
    Again willpower is a limited resource. Make it easy on the Rider by greasing the treads so the Elephant starts down the path you want.
  • Build Habits
    Slowly but surely you’ll gain momentum with the small wins. Taking a moment to work on a personal project may lead to a Creative Friday. This may encourage to finally take that sculpting or dance class.
  • Rally the Herd
    Behavior is contagious. Spreading the message will to listen will not only help your cause but before you know it, your baby steps become the start of a movement.