Hello great people,

Last year was … finishing things.
This year is … cohesion.

Last year, 2007, my goal was finishing things, and in the spirit of David Seah’s GHD resolutions tracking, here’s a countdown of whether I did or did not finish things in three domains – editing, teaching, and coaching:

1) Editing.
Positive Psychology News Daily
Finishing things – I wanted to get pos psych news out to the world, and luckily – so did about twenty other writers – thus, I launched the website and ran it throughout the year. There is a lot more to build out, but the things we have so far are:

  • 203 articles published last year
  • over 30 amazing authors
  • over 10,000 unique visitors per month
  • incredible articles – I mean incredible! Here’s the Table of Contents.

Also, PPND owes a great deal of thanks to Dave Seah, Kathryn Britton, and Timothy So – brainstorming, site design, great discussions. Mucho thanks.

UPenn2) Teaching.
Finishing things – I taught for the first time at an Ivy League institution. I wanted to do this, and I put together a good course outline, and gave it my all over the semester. Being an Instructor at UPenn was fabulous – I prepared heavily for each conference call, and so did the students. Over the nine conference calls and many papers, it was just thrilling to have ideas turn into chatting companions. I enjoyed grading papers! The ideas were interesting enough.

Senia.com Positive Psychology Coaching3) Coaching.
Finishing things – There is a system of skills that I have been presenting to my coaching clients. I work primarily with entrepreneurs and people changing jobs. My main system is targeting-assessment-practice. My more detailed system, and the one that I have been increasingly presenting to clients, is personal fitting of tools to their situations. I am making this increasingly process-rich, as opposed to job-shop, and am really excited when these Senia positive psychology coaching tools work best for my clients. Furthermore, my clients are an incredible group of people, and I have been thrilled to be working with them in 2007 and 08.

Coaching achievements by clients in 2008:

  • Businesses started by my clients: two.
  • Jobs attained by my clients: eight.
  • Promotions gained: two.
  • Higher salaries attained by practiced negotiation: three.
  • Clients who increased their exercise regimen significantly: twenty.
  • Clients who aimed to lose weight – and did: two.

p.s. Since I’m writing this – oh! let’s say “a few” – a few days after the New Year, I think it’s only appropriate that I’m emailing you from near Sydney, where among the earliest of the New Year celebrations occurred: New Year 2008 starts in Sydney (just watch the first 20 seconds – notice the fireworks off the bridge – I am going to walk UP the arch of that bridge next week!).

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. :)

What if tonight while you were sleeping, a miracle occurred? And that which appeared to be a problem went away.

How would you know in the morning that the miracle had occurred? What would now be different?

Try this with a friend. Each of you tell each other what problem you’d been having. Then ask each other, “What if a miracle occurred, and overnight it went away? What would be the immediate signs the next morning that it had gone away? What would the world be like? What would you feel like?”

Try it. This one works best when I don’t explain it but you just give it a shot.

Also try it here in the comments – what would the world feel like today if something wild had occurred during the night and your problem suddenly went away?

Wonderful Friday to you!

I first heard this question in the context of appreciative inquiry at a conference a couple of weeks back.

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.”

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.

“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

Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment.
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

If that’s true, then you should jump into the experiments… so double up on courage, and treat all of life as an experiment…

Courage is rightly esteemed the first of human qualities… because it is the quality which guarantees all others.
~ Winston Churchill

And once you have that courage, get EVEN MORE COURAGEOUS because you’ve got nothing to lose by flaunting it all …

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

Michael Felberbaum writes about the article from last week’s Harvard Business Review (HBR) about how great leaders think. Michael says that the HBR article argues that if you have one ok choice, it’s better to create a second choice for yourself, and then choose between the two choices becuase choosing between two will give you a better result than going with one ok choice when it may be the only option. Michael writes about a hidden benefit that may come out of expanding one choice into two choices:

If we follow this “rule” of finding at least two good options, I think we make better decisions. I have been piloting this for myself in trying to resolve some decisions I’ve lingered on for a while about a book I’m working on. I was trying to find an ideal solution. Instead I’ve found two workable options. Amazingly, I think a third option will emerge from those two and it will be closer to my ideal. I’m finding that the benefit of this “rule” is to fully engage creative decision-making which involves comparison, contrast and cost/benefit trade-offs.

I like two ideas especially in what Michael writes:
1) that he expects that once he engages in two ideas, a third better one will likely come along
2) that he enjoys comparing, trading-off benefits/costs between the options

I think of this comparing and contrasting as “negotiating with yourself.” You need to up the stakes. You need to get to a higher level of challenge, and a potentially higher level of flow (ideal combination of skills and challenge).

If you have one choice, you probably haven’t gone as deeply or as far as you could into many domains. You may likely not have pushed yourself as hard as you could have. At least getting two options allows you to negotiate with yourself – to play the game of, “did I push hard enough?”

Remember the Dunkin Donuts commercial with the angel and the devil? Well, it’s time to push myself harder. It’s time to negotiate with an angel version of myself and a devil version of myself.

Get two ideas, and the world already expands! That’s why I think Michael believes that once you have two, a third will likely come your way… because you’ve already proven to your brain that there’s more than one, and maybe it keeps looking (automatically) while you relax.