Yesterday, I went to prison.
I had never been to prison before, but I’d seen the movies. I knew of the cut-throat underworld where the convicts are barely kept in line, and even then, only by the sheer will of armed guards. And eventually, all hell breaks loose. Sometimes a bus carrying convicts would pass me by on my way to work, and I’d shudder thinking of the Con Air escape scene.
So you can imagine just how scared I was. The compound was surrounded by long chain-linked fences covered in way too much barbed wire. I mean, that has to be too much barbed wire, right? As soon as I stepped on the grounds, a guard yelled at me. I asked, what for?, and got no answer. I was wrong and didn’t know why. Reality hit me. The time for judgement had passed. In this place, I couldn’t defend myself.
Upon entry to the facility, I passed through three separate rooms where I was scanned, searched, and frightened ever more. Some of the guards handling me looked young, like in their early twenties maybe. I scanned their belts and couldn’t find a gun. How were these guards going to protect me?
Before leaving one room, I’d worry about what I’d find in the next. Finally, I went through the last door, and entered a large room that was my destination. It was filled with men in blue jumpsuits. Not in line or in handcuffs, but roaming freely. The guard that brought me in left through the same door we entered. One of the men in a blue jumpsuit approached me, a grin stretched across his face, and he said,
“Hi! My name is Waldo. What’s yours?”
That, I didn’t expect. I had to repeat my name after swallowing the lump in my throat. He smiled wider and introduced me to his blue-clad friend, Dante, who would be the host for the event.
The visitor’s room slowly filled with “outsiders”, as people from the street are called on the inside, who came for a Spring graduation at the Dade Correctional Facility. A seemingly ironic ceremony for a class with life sentences.
It was an networking event unlike any I had ever been to. Inmates genially approached outsiders, striking up friendly conversations, filling the air with laughter. The air was also filled with live music performed by the all-inmate band, The Skinny Lizards. After a few minutes, I was more comfortable, and I was also having more meaningful conversations than at any other networking event before.
“Before I got in, I thought it was gonna be like in the movies. Dog eat dog. Every man for himself,” said Luis Araceno, a young-looking inmate. “But it wasn’t at all like that. Yea there are some guys that still try to be slick, but there were a lot of older guys learning and trying to do good, so those were the guys I hung out with.”
Finally, the event got started. The people that had brought the educational program to the prison introduced themselves. Exchange for Change trains inmates to write letters, stories, and even poetry! And that was what the graduation became. A poetry slam by the inmates of Dade Correctional Institution.
For over an hour, the mic echoed…
“There aren’t any bad guys. Only bad choices.”
“Get out of the prison of your mind.”
“It’s me that has to save myself.”
“Take responsibility for your choices.”
“Don’t blame anyone else.”
Over and over, these ideas reappeared, coloring the philosophy of the inmates in the program. Ideas of self improvement, emerging from within the prison. Selfishly I thought, “These guys won’t read a blog called Best Damn Me. They’d write it!”
They also took turns honoring a hero of theirs called Louie Hernandez. Louie is an inmate, published author, spoken word champion, and has been honored by outsiders for his inspiring words the way they would a songwriter. One inmate shared a memory of Louie when his family visited the prison after getting his outside recognition. He didn’t tell Louie’s family that he thought that Louie was one of the most honest and courageous people he knew, like he thought they must know. Louie told him, “You should have. They don’t know me like that because that’s what I became in here.”
Louie wasn’t at the ceremony because he is in the hospital. After fainting in the middle of the lunch line, they discovered that he has cancer. At least one person at the event, a UM professor, wondered whether the facility’s healthcare could use some help, an active question in the sociological field. Louie’s unfinished story brought tears to the eyes of outsiders and inmates alike.
After the poems were shared, outsiders were invited to the mic. One by one, they said…
“There is so much talent in here.”
“There is so much hate out there, and so much hope in here.”
“You’ve inspired me.”
Afterwards, I understood why I was so scared about going to the prison. Like Luis Araceno, I had learned about what prison was like from movies. Mayhem looming just above order, hanging by a thread. I had no idea how wrong I was. Now when I see a bus from the correction facility, I think of the guys I met in prison, and I thank them for teaching me that I can’t judge a book by its cover… and that I shouldn’t believe everything I see on TV.
The event was truly transformational. Never have I seen or heard of the outside community connecting with prisoners like this before, and I was lucky to be a part of it. I was ready to go back outside, and share my amazing experience with everyone.
Robert Pirsig is best known for his best-selling book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. It voiced the anti-establishment sentiment of the generation of hippies, asked their unasked questions, and went on a journey to find an answer.
Robert Pirsig died yesterday, April 24th 2017, at the age of 88. His book inspired millions of readers, myself included. This previous post on gumption is inspired by his book. So here is my personal recommendation of his famous book.
To whom do I recommend this book and why?
To anyone who grew up in the modern Western world where success is the life goal but isn’t adequately defined in non financial terms. If you ever say things like, “This sucks, but it’ll be fine after…” If you reject the default way of life, materialism, consumerism, and the common life plan whose steps are, “go to school, get a job, get married, have kids, retire, and die. Oh and stay out of trouble.” If you reject all this, but still seek an alternate way of life.
Without spoiling anything, the story digs deep into the question, “How do you live a good life?” by asking another, “What is good?” Robert explores answers to this question starting from the modern technological age and far back to the ancient Greeks. He won’t say how one should or shouldn’t live their life, a refreshing difference from typical how-to books. Instead, he tells a story, based on his own, and along the way, he brings up ideas and questions that the reader can use for themselves on their own journey.
The tale is winding and scenic, just like a cross country motorcycle trip. It doesn’t rush from one action/drama-packed scene to the next. Instead it gives the reader time to digest to an idea before travelling to the next. Therefore, it may be well-enjoyed if it’s not hurriedly read in search of answers. Afterall, the answers will come from the reader. Instead the book sets the context with ideas and questions that may help one find answers, and it may be reused in pursuit of answers across other areas of life.
Robert addresses many of the feelings and questions we may have in face of our society’s glaring contradictions. How can we stand for individuality if our institutions inhibit individual reasoning and expression? How can we try to make things better without first improving ourselves? It’s his unique exploration and response to these feelings and questions that makes the book so fascinating.
I highly recommend the audiobook. I listened to it slowed down to 85% while on my own road trips for a really worthwhile experience. Let me know if you try it, too!
This is for anyone that wonders, “What’s wrong with me?” Maybe you feel stuck or inadequate. You try to force yourself to do things you should do, or be how you should be, but you can’t. So does it mean you’re just lazy, stupid, stubborn, or all of the above? I don’t think so.
On Name Calling
If you work a lot on some things and not others, then you’re not lazy. So don’t believe it. Also, you’re not stupid if you’re capable of learning, and surely there is much you’ve already learned in life. These names are confusing and frustrating. They are a weak attempt to explain our experience by blaming ourselves.
“I have been called a lot of names in my life. Some positive, and some far less than positive, and I can never recall learning anything valuable by somebody telling me what I am.” -Marshall Rosenberg
Here’s a simple idea. When we call ourselves names, we feel bad. When we feel bad, we get stuck, or we avoid things. To get unstuck, we call ourselves names and hope it pushes us out of the hole, but it’s just a vicious cycle.
Ultimately we reduce ourselves to a label, and we then focus so much on that label that we forget we were trying to understand something bigger than ourselves in the first place. Resist the tendency. Dare to go further to find understanding. There may be an explanation that doesn’t depend on our supposed inabilities and that better explains what’s happening.
What you’re feeling is not senseless. It is for a reason. Your subconscious is hijacking your conscious mind hoping you’ll shut up and listen to what’s within. What is it saying?
Maybe that you’re bored, and you seek cultivation over grooming. Maybe that you sense a conflict of interests, and you have a need for consistency. Maybe that the task seems meaningless, and you desire to live a meaningful life. Behind every negative feeling, there’s a fear, and behind every fear there’s a sweet intention. Connect with the intention instead of the fear.
Why do I pretend to know this?
This has been my experience. For two decades, I taunted myself, “What’s wrong with you? Don’t fuck up!” I had learned these words from others that would see me stuck, and wanted to push me. While probably well-intended, in the end it was crippling.
So much I taunted myself, that I began to taunt others in the same way. Eventually I saw them using the same words to taunt others still. What I didn’t see was whether in-between they had learned to taunt themselves, too. It’s a vicious cycle that spans generations.
It’s true what they say. To love another, we must first love ourselves. Put another way, if we think it’s OK to hurt ourselves, then it’ll be OK to hurt others.
Why do I say this to you?
I want to break that cycle. Compassion, like courage, isn’t a trophy, earned once and forever sits on your shelf. It’s a commitment to an idea, that pain should be met with care, and it is only alive while in practice.
It took someone that I trust to tell me, “you’re being too hard on yourself,” to interrupt that cycle. My shoulders got a bit lighter, and my stomach went into freefall. That’s how I knew it was significant. Since then I’ve practiced that mindset, but it’s not easy to let go of an old habit. Not without a new one to hold onto.
So here’s an alternative. Next time you call yourself a name, instead name the fear. Then seek the sweet intention, and ask yourself how else you may support it.
Try the alternative
Maybe you avoid trying something because you’re afraid of failing. If you fear failing, then it might be because you care a lot about the thing you’re avoiding. If so, try asking yourself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Or, “How can I make it easier to succeed?”
Maybe you taunt others because you worry about them and so you’re trying to push them to be better. How else can you help them to be better? Maybe you can ask them what they need.
Whatever the case, try the alternative…
- Don’t name yourself. Name the fear.
- Find the sweet intention behind the fear.
- Try another way to support the intention.
“We must love and cultivate error: it is the mother of knowledge.” Friedrich Nietzsche
Mistakes are great teachers, particularly big mistakes, because they hurt. They force you to look at them really hard, pay attention, and remember the lessons we are able to extract. The more we believe this and are able to extract those lessons, the less regrets we have to carry.
Next Stop: Berlin
Sometime around 2007 I was in Europe on a business trip with some stops for pleasure. While on a train from Frankfurt to Berlin, I suddenly realized that I had made a mistake. I had gone to Frankfurt with some people I was trying to bond for some professional possibilities, and they asked me if I wanted to go to the next city with them. I said no, because I had planned to go to Berlin. But then on the train, it suddenly hit me, I should have said yes.
How could I be so short sighted that I didn’t realize the huge chance I was presented with? I could be on my way with them, potentially becoming closer in our relationship, and who knows the amazing things that could have come up from that. We could have been planning the coolest projects together! But instead I was going to Berlin just because everytime I’m in Europe I like going to Berlin. I didn’t have any real plans, not even have a place to stay!
I was so overwhelmed by my massive mistake, that I felt like I should jump off the moving train. I started having what felt like a panic attack. Eventually I sat down again and tried to calm down. I thought: maybe I’m overreacting. It’s true I might have missed out on an awesome opportunity and I’ll never know, but I’ll sure be missing out on other opportunities if on this trip I’m just thinking of what I missed in some hypothetical scenario that is already gone. After all, any choice we make has an opportunity cost. So let’s focus and try to discover what is the opportunity we might have here, right now.
I started by asking myself, why did I want to go to Berlin in the first place? Why does this city attract me so much that it made me unconsciously choose it over the other invitation? I thought, “Every time I go to Berlin it’s the same thing. I don’t have a particular reason. I don’t have a place to stay. I wonder around the streets. I meet people and ask them what parties are going on that night.
Then I remembered that a few cities ago I had bought a book called “Temporary Spaces” that featured pictures and small interviews about nightclubs and parties done in very raw spaces, and they usually were improvised and temporary. I realized that was part of the key of what I loved and why this was happening. I never enjoyed clubs that are run by some corporate dude designed to make me spend a lot of money on drinks, or for guys to spend a lot of money getting me drinks in hopes to get me drunk and naked. Instead this other kind of “self generated” scene, where the ambience were raw and genuine, where people were like tribes, that was something that I felt fervently attracted to. These places that are usually hard to find for outsiders, not advertised, sometimes don’t even have a clear sign on their door, and finding them tends to lead to a night of adventures and unforgettable stories.
And then it hit me. I could have my own Berlin. I grabbed my notebook and started designing what I called the War Club. I drafted how my perfect club would be, and wrote down all ideas of how to make it in my hometown of Buenos Aires. A lot more things made it to my notebook during that train ride, and many of them translated into real life soon enough. Concepts for my new club, phrases that turned into popular slogans and made it onto T-Shirts, and lessons that I would never forget. I went through such an array of emotions, from that initial desperation, to turn it into this excitement that I feel when I have a new idea, and the future seemed to open up in a million possibilities.
That evening I got to Berlin, and I left my bags in a locker at the station. I went to wander around the streets trying to spot who could unlock my next adventure, judging by their dress codes and styles, like a cool hunter. I met some people that took me to an awesome party in some warehouse. Then I sneaked into a hostel room with a new friend that I never saw again, just to sleep a few hours of the morning and then go back to the station to head to the city that actually was on my work-related itinerary.
Never for a moment in my life have I regretted anything that came out from that train ride and that “wrong” decision. Instead, changing focus from despair of missed opportunity to what new opportunities have opened up, has been a great tool to use ever since.
Before you go…
Do you have any stories of mistakes opening up to opportunities? I’d love to hear them! Please share them in the comments or DM.
Sometimes it seems all too easy to lose gumption and get into a bad mood and too hard to get out of it. Over time I’ve worked on being more aware of an imminent bad mood and the slippery slope that takes me there. Below, I’ll share a system that helps me avoid and recover from bad moods.
What is Gumption?
You might call gumption your energy level, mood, ability to focus, good or bad perspective, or all of it. When you have gumption, you are ready and willing to take on the challenges and opportunities that you face. Instead, feeling down, bored, upset, tired, etc. are all signs of low gumption. The word came back into style thanks to Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
“A person filled with gumption doesn’t sit around dissipating and stewing about things. He’s at the front of the train of his own awareness, watching to see what’s up the track and meeting it when it comes. That’s gumption.”
Robert Pirsig – Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
I’ve tracked when my gumption drops over time using the Best Damn Me Tracker, and I noticed that my gumption is predictably low at certain times of the day, like when I’m tired before or after sleeping, or when I’m drained at the end of a work day. Realizing this has helped me better prepare in advance to avoid getting down.
Signs of low gumption
We all have our tells that our gumption is drained. When I’m bored or nervous, I’ll crave snack food. If I’m frustrated, I’ll complain about every little thing. Often times, I won’t realize that I have low gumption until I catch myself reaching for cookies or complaining out loud. The best is when I catch myself having negative thoughts since that is one of the first signs for me.
When I lack gumption it’s much easier to think negative thoughts and notice the fault in everything. I may think that everything sucks, and then notice things that suck, which reinforces the idea that everything sucks. Thus a feedback loop is created causing my mood to worsen with each passing experience. Which brings me to the next point.
Get out of your head
I try to remember to not take every thought that passes through my head too literally. Many times a regret, or even a suicidal thought, may just be a bad mood speaking up. If I engage with the negative thoughts, I drive myself into a worse mood. In Eleanor Longden’s Ted Talk, she shares her story of when she became schizophrenic and over time learned to used the voices in her head. Despite their forceful commands, she learned to take them as cues of how she’s feeling and act on those cues instead. You can find the link to her talk below.
Now, low gumption doesn’t mean that you’re in a bad mood, but you are more susceptible. So if you mind your gumption and do something to recharge when it’s low, you can save yourself from an oncoming bad mood.
Listening to music helps me to block negative thoughts. Easy activities like washing dishes or walking the dog lets me focus on something else that also gives me a small accomplishment. I can then build on that small win with another easy success to get enough momentum to get out of a bad mood.
Drink a potion
Sometimes I like to imagine that I’m a character in a video game and that when my gumption is low, I need to take a potion to recharge. So I’ve asked myself, “What are my potions?” And I’ve got a simple list of potions that help me recharge, including…
- Taking a nap
- Dancing or singing to a favorite playlist
- Laughing with a friend
- Getting something small done for a pet project
- Listen to a podcast or audiobook
You can try making your own list of recharge potions so you know exactly what you can do if you catch your gumption slipping.
Allow for spontaneity
The other day I was driving with my partner when she started talking about wanting to move to China. By now, I know that for her “I want to move to China” really means “I’m feeling bad”. On the drive we saw a Greek festival that was happening, and so we took it up as a random adventure. It saved the day. In the end, she didn’t even remember why she was upset.
When I notice that I’m starting to feel bad, I remember that it might just be low gumption and that I can do something quick to restore it. I’ve found being on the lookout for a spontaneous adventure is one of the best tricks. The surprise of it all so fully captures my attention that I may quickly and totally forget why I was upset to begin with!
Many times I get down for silly reasons, like getting bored at work. If the reason is indeed silly, then the previously mentioned techniques could work very well. But if there’s something wrong that is important to me, then the bad mood may keep coming back.
No amount of potions can truly fix a chronic problem. In fact, continuously using recharge potions to feel better instead of facing a true problem will render them useless due to diminishing returns. In fact, one may start abusing them and mistakenly start believing that they need that potion to feel better. That’s called learned helplessness, and it may end up being a harder problem to solve than whatever the original issue was.
In my video game life, facing important issues are what I imagine to be boss battles. You usually can’t get past a level without beating the boss of that level, just like you can’t get over a chronic bad mood without facing the real issue behind it all. I’ve got a list of steps for boss battles, too. It includes…
- Journaling / Talking to a close friend
- Making a strategy on how to face the boss
- Putting the strategy into practice
- Reflecting on that practice to either change the strategy and try again, or celebrate a success.
Try making your own list so you know just what to do when it’s time to get serious!
Before you go…
Do you have your own ways to keep your gumption up? Please share you story in the comments below 🙂
Embrace the Struggle
Many times thinking of our Big Goals can be overwhelming. Seeing life in terms of whether we are successful or not can cause anxiety and make some people feel defeated if they feel they are not in the place they wish they were or are comparing themselves with their dreams or other people around.
The point of life is not really success, but evolution. Seeing life as a continuous opportunity for growth instead of a race to an end destination help give meaning to every step we take.
We probably all know, have heard, or read a lot of the busyness trap. How do we differentiate real progress from just busyness?
Neil Gaiman says in his graduation speech ”Make good Art”, that what worked for him was imagining his major goals in life as a mountain. He defined on the summit his goal to be a writer, and then he just made sure to walk in the direction of the mountain. When in doubt, he evaluated if what he was doing was taking him in the direction of the mountain, or away from it.
Visualize the Mountain
See the summit? That’s your main goal, your ideal life. Now define the mountain. Everything it takes to get there is part of the progress.
Set your Milestones
Break down big goals into specific actions. If you are not a runner and you want to run a marathon, set achievable milestones, like running around a block once, and then twice, and so forth. Remember that every journey starts with a single step. So take those steps and use the momentum to keep going.
If you’re on a long journey, it’s easy to get bored and wonder “Are we there yet?” Usually this happens because we lose track of our progress. So track it!
Depending on what your goals are, there are many ways to measure progress. It can be with tracking apps, spreadsheets, or writing on a notepad. The point is that it is easy to keep up with, and it’s readily available every time you need it. That’s why for most of us apps are the go-to choice.
At Best Damn Me we’ve tested and used many different tracking apps, and we are developing one to fit our own needs. A very customizable app to track virtually anything. If you are interested, let us know in the comments if you’d like to be informed when it’s released or if you want to beta test it.
A healthy morale is paramount over a long undertaking. Taking some time to celebrate what you’ve accomplished in a day, or a couple hours of work, will help you start again the next day. It makes sense because if we believe that it’s about the journey and not the destination, then we should be celebrating the success of each effort, and not save it till the very end. Do this enough, and you might find yourself having so much fun that the weight of the effort gets a little bit lighter.
Evaluate the Walk to the Mountain Together
I like doing this often, breaking down the strategy for every new big goal, introspecting on my own goals and also discussing with my team, both in professional and personal life. Every month I get together with my team to discuss how we are doing, and to see if we are still going in direction of the mountain, or if we somehow got diverted along the way. We try being as open and honest as we possibly can, with ourselves and each other. We check if something is not working and are able to make adjustments to the strategies when necessary. Doing it often enough prevents us from straying too far from the path.
If you’re working on a solo project, you can meet with a friend that helps keep you accountable to your goals. You can examine and, if possible, visualize your data to figure out what is working and what isn’t. It’s an easy way to see if you’ve actually stuck to your goals for that period, and correct course if not.
Evaluations are also a great time to remember to celebrate each accomplishment. Enjoy this worthwhile experiencing! After all, that is your life. A continuous growth, with some moments of looking back, and hopefully recognize that what sometimes feels like a struggle, are also the signs of a life worth living.
If you are anything like me, when you get excited about an idea, you start the research process. You can spend hours on Pinterest. You’ll read blog after blog. You probably have so many tabs open you can’t even read their names. You’ve added a hundred more books to your Amazon wishlist. Before you realize it, there’s a ton of detailed research but no real execution.
Indulge in research feels safe. It’s easy to convince yourself that there is actual progress in learning or finding inspiration, but that first step into doing is never taken. Eventually you feel frustrated because your projects don’t see the light of day.
Well I’m happy to share with you that this condition is actually curable. Yes! There is hope for us research addicts, to direct some of that energy into actual productivity.
Do research, find some actionable items, try applying something, continue research.
A way to do this is to set time blocks. You can do research for 30 minutes and then implement what you’ve learned until you feel stuck again. You can use an alarm to remind you.
For example, if you are doing research because you want to write a blog post on a subject, after the set time block, start writing, even if you feel you are not ready. You can start by just drafting a few thoughts or some possible titles. Sometimes starting will make things flow, and you will be able to go for a while. Sometimes you will feel stuck. Try another approach, and if you are not flowing, go back to research. Again when the alarm sounds, try again.
Whatever you do, don’t be too hard on yourself if it’s not “perfect”. Eventually you will have something on the page, and that is enough to celebrate and work with. I’m using the writing example because that is what I’m doing right now, but really it can be anything. If you are doing research on decluttering, after collecting a few perspectives, go and get rid of something! If you are researching on dog training, alternate by doing some tricks with your dog.
2. Lower your expectations
Done is better than perfect.
This one might sound hard for type A personalities, but no kidding, people like Tim Ferris and Seth Godin preach and practice this. It’s also one of my favorites. It’s a way of MVPing any idea.
MVP (Minimum Viable Product) is a term that got very popular lately, mostly in the startup culture, but it applies in many cases. It’s basically the minimum effort that would show your idea to be able to get real feedback. So instead of trying to do the best possible version of your idea, you just do enough to test it. This way you avoid investing a ton of effort into something that doesn’t work or nobody wants.
It also helps by lowering the pressure, since you are working not for the final version but for an OK provisional version, you are able to move on more easily, and you don’t have to be perfectly ready for it, therefore you can cut a lot of the research and focus on implementing and getting other people’s opinions.
3. Get out of your head
Beware of Impostor’s Syndrome.
If you are staring at a blank page and that makes you jump into a research binging, that could be because you feel unprepared, and some type of “Impostor’s syndrome”. This is kind of similar to habit #2, except a lot more focused on you personally.
You may be thinking, “Who I am to be talking about this? Why would people listen to me?” You constantly feel like you are going to be judged, based on everything you don’t know, or the mistakes you might make, instead of the value you might be delivering. This paralyzes you and your value is never shared. Take comfort in knowing that highly successful people suffer from this, too.
You most likely won’t become an expert on a subject just from non-stop research, but it sure helps to feel prepared enough. The point is to not do research for the sake of research. So if you feel like you are getting stuck there and are not able to get into doing mode because of these kind of fears, it’s probably some performance anxiety or impostor’s syndrome.
Ask yourself if you would judge so hard someone else as you think they would judge you. We tend to exaggerate how important we are, for better or worse. It might help if you stop thinking about what other people will think of you, and instead focus on delivering value. Dropping your ego and remembering that it’s not about you but about your message may allow you to flow and actually enjoy what you are doing.
4. Allow your subconscious to take over
Intuition is the seat of creativity.
After a while of researching there is a ton of information spinning around your head, and you might feel like there is still so much more to learn, but it’s possible that you are not allowing anything to really sink in. If you still don’t know how to start, try trusting your subconscious and let it do its work.
In western societies we tend to think that knowledge is only gained through focused rationality, but we forget of other, sometimes even more important tools, like “sleeping on it”. Hemingway made a habit of stopping his writing mid-sentence, relaxing for the rest of the night, and would wake up with a fresh set of new ideas.
Particularly if you are feeling overwhelmed by information, I would recommend scheduling a break. Interrupt research and do something that completely takes your mind off of it. Go for a jog or walk, play with your pet, take a nap, or meditate. Whatever you do, avoid thinking of the research topics, or whatever problem you are trying to solve via research.
5. Emotional Resilience.
Hey boy, fetch!
I share the office with my partner’s dog, and every few hours he comes to me with his favorite toy asking me to chase him. I usually tell him I’m busy, but he doesn’t understand human languages, so he keeps insisting. And he usually wins. I chase him all over the office until he gets tired I get tired. But every time, even after I complain, I come back to my desk with renewed energy and new perspectives.
This works for playing with pets and kids, or taking a break to share some love with your romantic partner or friends. And if you don’t have access to any of that, there are always cat videos on YouTube! Just keep this one time-blocked too 🙂
6. Change perspective
There is always a bigger picture.
I have worked closely with artists for over a decade, as a curator and coach, as well as being an artist myself. Do you know what is a very common mistake? Many artists work on a piece, let’s say a painting, and are sitting very close to it for hours. Then eventually they get off the chair, walk away thinking they are doing a masterpiece, only to find out that the painting is completely distorted, or lacking the expressiveness they were going for. Sometimes they are not even able to see that until someone else points it out.
What happens is that we can get very absorbed into whatever perspective we have, and we tend to miss the bigger picture. When we are doing research we sometimes get stuck into particular perspectives, too.
Trying to put the ideas out into the world, even if at first it’s just calling a friend or trusted mentor, may take you a bit out of your comfort zone, but it makes you organize your ideas to be able to explain them to others. The “outsiders” can usually help you see other perspectives by asking questions or giving constructive criticism, or even acting as a soundboard. There will always be things you didn’t think of. Try to see a bigger picture, and trust me, there is always a bigger picture.
7. Change scenario
Take a walk.
Does it ever happen that you get in front of your computer thinking you’ll do a bit of research, and next think you know the sun is completely gone? You turn on the lights and wonder where the day went, and how you never left your place. Unless you are making progress with your work or are in the zone, it’s time for a change of scenario. If you are at the office, or your home (this is the most dangerous one), go to a coffee shop. Go to the park and try habit #4. In this case, if you are writing, you can take pen and notebook to write, or your laptop. It’s a bonus if you don’t have wifi, so you don’t feel tempted to go back to researching.
Rinse and repeat
These are just some habits I work on. Of course, you can always mix and match between them. I just did a few of these while writing this post!
Do you have any stories you would like to share? Please leave your comments below or send me a message!
If we want to change our response in a given circumstance, it’s not enough to say what we won’t do. We have to say what we will do instead.
I first learned about this idea while learning how to train my dog. The trainer said that when you want to correct a dog’s behavior, you have to not only catch them in the act and say “No!”, but you have to offer them an alternative behavior, like sitting. This makes sense, I thought, and when I tried it, it worked!
Now, I’m not saying anyone should train themselves like a dog. In fact, avoid it if you can! Or at least avoid admitting it because it’s hard to live down the ridicule from family and friends 😕
Instead here is another credible source that echoes the same idea. Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, and the main reason why my family and I don’t fight anymore, describes “positive action language” as follows (watching for 1 minute is enough to get the point).
Here he describes how to make clear actionable requests of others, like I would to my dog, but it also works when applied to oneself. In his book Nonviolent Communication, he says (and I paraphrase),
“I was asked to debate the Vietnam war issue with a man with a different opinion than mine on a recorded program. When I saw the tape I was disturbed by how I was communicating. After watching the tape, I made clear three things I didn’t want to do again. ‘I won’t get defensive. I won’t…’ Two weeks later, I was invited back to continue the debate. All the way to the studio, I repeated the 3 things to myself. When the show started, he came at me the same way he did before, and I didn’t do what I said I wouldn’t do… for about 10 seconds until I finally opened my mouth and then I did it all even worse than before!”
It can be relieving to know that even a master nonviolent communicator can make the same mistake 😌
Theory in Action
Here’s an example of how it works for me. As pointed out to me in my last job performance review, I have a tendency to stop listening to others when I want to make a point. So I remembered the last time I did this to a coworker in a meeting, and I noticed three signs that I was getting worked up and subsequently stopped listening. I would either stand up during the seated meeting, talk faster or louder, or pay more attention to my own thoughts than my coworker’s words. So I made clear my own three things I wanted to do instead. They were…
- If I stand up during the meeting, I will sit back down instead.
- If I start talking faster or louder, I will slow down or lower my voice instead.
- If I notice I’m paying most of my attention to my own thoughts, I will block them out and pay attention to other person instead.
Soon I had another meeting to practice in. I caught myself on all three counts and swiftly implemented my alternate strategies. After the meeting my boss told me, “I noticed you’re listening more!” That feedback is the final piece of the puzzle. Getting feedback, whether from someone else or by reflecting on an experience ourselves, is how we know whether our strategy worked or if we need to revisit the drawing board.
If you give this method a try, or have your own way of adapting your behavior, please share below! We love to get feedback how our posts help you 🙂