Like Judi says here:

“Some people think planning and flexibility are two sides of a coin. I disagree. I think in many respects planning can enhance our flexibility. I’ve always experienced this in Software Development. …

I recently experienced it in my personal life. We go to the Indy 500 every year with a large group of friends. We have been doing this for 14 years, so we have the routine down. This year we had quite a few curve balls thrown at us, and because we had done this so many times before, and planned well, there were no issues. … Because we had a plan to start with, it was easy to adjust.”

Judi also wrote in another post that she had a 3-step daily method for blog writing at one point this summer:

  1. Spend 10 minutes writing a new post, and leaving it in your “Drafts”
  2. Spend 10 minutes editing yesterday’s post
  3. Spend 5 minutes commenting on someone else’s blog

What I like most about that is there is progress on every level. #1 – Progress in starting something. #2 – Progress in finishing something. #3 – Progress in connecting with bloggers.

It’s a routine, and it’s a routine that moves things forward.

When I coach people, I nearly always make sure to have all the stages of this process: we start with some physical warm-up, then decide on an agenda for the call, then touch on general and specific topics, and we end with actionable steps for the week. It’s a routine. It’s a ritual. It holds a lot of pieces in it. We’re always working on physical and work-focused goals. And we’re always consciously or unconsciously measuring those goals. We always have actionable steps. Nearly always have some mind exercise and some body exercise.

Small steps, Ellie, small steps.

Prize goes to the first person to guess where that quote is from without searching for it online!

I routinely think:

  • What is the next big win?!?!
  • Where can we do new, interesting things?!?!

I think about this for my career coaching clients – “Where can they have the most impact? Where can they move to what they most want?”

I think about this for myself – “What’s the most effective thing for me to do this week to move forward for next week? What can I do tonight that’ll make me better during the hoops game? What can I do to make the most exciting experience ever for this community I’m working with?”

Margaret Greenberg showed me some interesting keys to progress recently. You may remember Margaret from her Margaretisms. You may also have seen her journalistically-marvelous article on Toyota’s positive business practices in today’s Positive Psychology News Daily.

Margaret and I and two colleagues did a radio program together a few weeks back. I had sent out the questions for us to answer as a group. One afternoon, Margaret had a little extra time, and she replied to each question in detail, and sent them back to me. “So what?” you might be saying. “Big deal? She prepared for the program.” Yes – a month in advance!

So what happens in your brain when you complete a step of a project?!

Well, ACTUALLY, that was the subject of my Masters thesis at UPenn in ’06. What happens once you get some movement towards a goal is that the goal moves to your subconscious thought. And then, it actually PROGRESSES within your subconscious thought – as long as you have helped it out and put it there with enough ammunition – with enough detail and information for your brain to be able to mull over that thought. Some of that thinking continues to go on under your conscious level.

A lot of that thinking is called Level D thinking, and often when your consciousness meets some of those thoughts that have culled from the subconscious progress of the thought – often, then you have an intuition about the problem at hand.

So, one of the things that Margaret is doing by allowing herself to prepare for something early is that she sets her subconscious brain to help her think about those thoughts. She also REMOVES STRESS at the last minute. Finally, she allows herself to do projects that are very good, and thus actually get them done rather than seeking perfection. Have you heard the phrase, “The great is the enemy of the very good”?

I was once riding on an Amtrak train a decade ago, and came across an article that was titled or subtitled, “Discipline Gets You Freedom.” And I thought about it then, and still believe it now. It’s what gets me to the finish line – the discipline, the slow and steady.

And to me, that means something very practical:
* Doing something for 15 minutes to two hours each day.

That’s it. You may remember it from these posts on how to accomplish anything and on expertise being trainable. Literally, that is the slow and steady. Doing it each day.

So here I am again. :)

I’ve been giving some thought to why I think self-regulation is so important, and it comes down to one simple thing:

What are you telling your body? “I care” vs. “I don’t care?”

When I …

  • Haven’t sorted my laundry
  • Haven’t done the dishes
  • Haven’t exercised
  • Haven’t had fresh vegetables
  • Haven’t had enough water and feel dehydrated
  • Haven’t accomplished my goals

… then I feel pretty terrible.

And why is that? Why do I feel terrible when I’m not doing small simple things? Because those little things are signs. Those little things are signs just like Bandura’s mastery steps are signs… if you want to become an expert at something, practice, practice, practice. Each time I have a clean kitchen and watered plants and have done exercise that day, I FEEL GREAT THAT DAY.

They are all little markers in my progress. All these little accomplishments are reminders of my self-valuable habits. They’re reminders of which habits are useful to me.

It’s like me speaking to myself and saying, “Body! I’m the boss here.”

“Who, you, up there? Nah, I got you beat. I just throw a few TV shows and heavy food at you, and you’ll dose off.”

“Yes, you used to, you did, but now I’m in charge, cleaning things up, exercising, keeping things orderly and on time. Sorry, body, you better shape up.”

“I thought you didn’t really care.”

“News for you: I care.”

I was at a talk a few days ago, and the speaker in his last exercise, asked us to speak to a partner about a goal we want to accomplish in the next 30 days.

September is the time we used to return to school as kids. September is when people return from vacations and buckle down again to work. September is a time for new things, including new projects and new habits.

What is your September goal?

On the day of Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, I wish you to plan even bigger than you imagined before, and to meet with a success unparalleled in common hours, and I wish you comfort in your own approval of all these events. In other words, think big, act bigger.

Don’t be so humble, you’re not that great.
~ Golda Meir

If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with success unexpected in common hours.
~ Henry David Thoreau

A man cannot be comfortable without his own approval.
~ Mark Twain

Why didn’t I post any blog posts last week?
I don’t know. I just didn’t.

It wasn’t that there was more than usual going on last week. It wasn’t that I was holed in a cave allowing myself little access to the outside world. It wasn’t that I was scooped up by aliens.

I don’t know why I didn’t post. And after bragging about being so into the daily postings that I’ll write at 11:58pm, I’ll take the non-postings as well to evaluate them.

So I thought about it, and you’re not even going to believe me. Why – if nothing was especially out of the ordinary – why did I not post even once?

It’s the same thing I’ve been talking positively about in past posts, and now it’s affected me in the downward direction: self-regulation.

I exercised last week half the number of times that I have set for myself to exercise weekly. Half! That’s pretty bad. I exercised two or three times instead of the five times weekly goal. And there hasn’t been another week since Jan 1 when I’ve exercised this little.

So, that’s why. Self-regulation in one area of life seeps into self-regulation in other areas of life. I wasn’t exercising the usual number of times, and other basic plans and schedules went off kilter as well.

Seems pretty boring as an explanation, right? Well, actually not! Not to me.

  • It’s nice that science says that self-regulation in one area seeps into other areas.
  • It’s nice that I see this in my personal experience – when I am self-disciplined in the area of exercise, other things like the food I eat, how carefully I reply to emails, blogging daily, and other organizational matters fall into place. Other people including Penelope with exercise, Mimi with yoga, and E.N. with working out also see this in their personal experience.
  • Furthermore, it’s nice that I see this in my clients’ experience – when they create self-discipline in one part of their life, two weeks later, they’re ready to create self-discipline in another part of life.
  • And finally, it’s also – strange to say – nice that I see the contrary effect in my personal experience as well – when I drop self-discipline in one part of life, self-discipline in other parts drops too. (There’s no study that I know of that looks at the contrary, but it’s kind of illuminating to see this in action).
  • Similarly, it’s nice to see the contrary effect with clients’ experiencewell, it’s not nice! but it’s intellectually intriguing that this works in both directions – when self-discipline drops in one part of life, other parts have a tendency to follow.

In fact, if I were working with Roy Baumeister on research about self-regulation and self-discipline, I might be interested to learn whether the contrary similarly occurs – that a drop in self-discipline in one area seeps into a drop in self-discipline in other areas.

My theory would be that a drop in self-discipline in YOUR MOST IMPORTANT AREA would contribute to self-discipline dropping across the board. And my two most important areas are:
* Sleep
* Exercise
Then come good food habits, organization, cleanliness, cleaning the inbox, and other things. Once the first two are in place, a lot of other things work out too.

What is your most important area that if it’s in balance, other things more easily fall into balance?

Hi, welcome to Friday Questions! Would love to hear your response in the comments, and that’s where you’ll find mine.

Q: What do you hold onto when you’re sleeping?

Have you ever noticed that when you’re waking up, your face may be scrunched up in a thought? Your jaw might be tight or clenched? Your eyebrows may be knotted together? Have you ever noticed some physical reaction in your face as you’re waking up?

Where does this come from – if you have noticed it? What thoughts are bombarding around inside your head like dry rice inside a musical egg shaker? What’s making you tense up your face?

Because that’s what’s happening if you find yourself waking up with your face tensed up – something’s making you think tension-building thoughts.

And then it’s up to you whether those are useful or not useful thoughts. It’s up to you whether those thoughts are productive and more you forward. Sometimes you are in a serious situation in your life in which you may need to focus on situations even during your sleeptime. But often, you’re not in those serious situations.

I’m probably thinking along this wavelength because I just wrote about thoughtless awareness, and am thinking about things that make me aware.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Want to relax more?

To create calmness in your life more generally, start with creating spots of calmness. Find a small oasis of calmness this week. I am actually not at all great at this – at relaxing more, at regular quiet time. I went to a meditation session yesterday, and it was quite wonderful and got me thinking (well, thinking later, actually not-thinking during the session). The opening part was a description of the process. One phrase the organizer said that I really liked – and that is fairly familiar to many meditators – is “thoughtless awareness.”

That you’re aiming to get to thoughtless awareness. That you’re aiming to be extremely, extremely aware of the present moment. And at the same time extremely non-thinking in the moment.

Why might it be useful to try a group meditation session, or just to try sitting in a spirit of calmness? Just like Penelope writes this week about losing ten pounds in two weeks and creating those good habits, to create a habit of calmness, we must practice calmness. I especially like Penelope’s words:

If you become more conscious in one part of your life, you will be able to affect positive, conscious change in many parts of your life with relative ease.

In fact, this is one of the largest internalized teachings that I have from the last two years of positive psychology – what is experiential is absorbed, what is mental is interesting. Do you want life lessons to be absorbed or to be interesting?

In other words, the more you practice something, the more you bring it into your life. How? Two ways:

1) The more you practice something, the more those individual practice sessions accumulate, and expertise is a matter of regular daily actions and accumulations.

2) The more you practice in practice sessions, the more you will call on that practice as an automatic habit when you are in the actual situation! The actual situation may be stress-inducing, but the more you have practiced in a safe, training environment, the more you will be able to call on those skills when the stakes are higher.

For example, people role-play how they will act in media interviews, and that’s the right thing to do! I practice with my clients all the time q-and-a to interview questions, and how best to answer certain questions, and that’s the right thing to do! Why? Because in that interview situation, you are going to fall back on something. You are going to reach for something familiar, and why not have that something be a response that you yourself have trained yourself to have? Why not fall back on the well-practiced and comfortable answering that comes from you anyway, just in a pre-interview low-stress thoughtful setting?

At different meditation I once tried, the instructor encouraged us every time we have a thought to say outloud, “thinking.” And to aim for these times of “thinking” to be fewer as we meditate. The reason this worked so well is that it combined thought and physical by having you actually form the word “thinking” and say it softly outloud. It combined experiential. And the more times you do this, the more aware you can become of what triggers the “thinking,” and how to set it aside for the moment.

What other thoughts do you have on how to get to thoughtless awareness? And on whether this state is helpful to practice or not?

“Burp,” says the wagon.

In summary, sometimes a burp is just a burp. Sometimes what a thing is is just that – what a thing is. Sometimes we don’t need to go deeper.

Need to make a decision? Not sure where to start?
I just friend-coached someone through this kind of situation.
Let me give you a hypothetical example:

Suppose Jody says, I just got the possibility to take on an additional project! I’m not sure whether to take it or not.

First, I’d ask Jody, “What is the goal you want to get to?”
Jody: “I want to have a balanced life and feel that my career is moving forward.”
“Great, what are you thinking about doing to get to that goal?”
Jody: “I’m thinking of taking on this additional project – or not taking it on.”

“What’s the best thing that could happen if you take on this project?”
Jody: “It would move my career forward. I’d learn some that I don’t know now. I’d work with a new set of people.”

“What’s the worst thing that could happen if you take on this proejct?”
Jody: “I could have less time for friends and for sanity.”

“What’s the worst thing that would happen if you don’t take on the project?”
Jody: “I could not get offered other projects because people will see that I’m busy.”

“What’s the best thing that would happen if you don’t take on the project?”
Jody: “I could have a lot more time.”

“So, how do you feel? Do you want to take on the project?”
Usually, Jody will have a sense at this point.

Five Questions:

1) What is the goal of the action you may take or not take?
2) What’s the BEST thing that can happen if you DO this?
3) What’s the WORST thing that can happen if you DO this?
4) What’s the BEST thing that can happen if you DON’T do this?
5) What’s the WORST thing that can happen if you DON’T do this?

(You can ask 2-5 in any order). Then, consider that to get to your goal, reading back what you’ve said to these answers, what does your gut tell you is the right thing to do?

Finally, the hesitations you had in #3 and #5…. can you find a way to take the decision you want to take and still address those hesitations?

Try it.
Let me know how it goes!

“There’s a new way of creating in the world. I was just talking to a man who is very driven in his work in the stock market, and he said success is all a matter of will, and I said, no, I think it’s all a matter of belief.

“We talked about the image of sandpipers on the beach: they run up, get all the delicious food in the sand, then run back – and their feet never get wet. They’re always in harmony, and in rhythm with the ebb and flow of the ocean. And what’s happening with women now is they are bringing to the party of life the concept of that ebb and flow with natural law. There’s no willfulness around it. Willfulness is masculine energy, which this society has been built on, but it is not the natural way.

“And that’s what you need to do. You don’t finish the ten thousand things on the list, and then get to you, who is ten thousand and one; what you want to do is make a practice of what centering and what quietude really is. And quietude is actually flowing with the flow – back to the sandpiper again. He’s not frantic, running back and forth; he’s rhythmic with the flow.'”

Viki King

“[O]ur lives inherently have the power and unlimited capacity of a mighty river. … Then through positive energy rituals to train our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities, we will create a dam to harness the power of the river and continually refresh the lake that is our life.”

Dana Arakawa, paraphrasing Greg Martin