Three Thoughts

These past several weeks have been very interesting times for most of us around the world. We’ve learned new phrases like “flattening the curve” or “physical distancing” that have changed the way that we view the world and interact with each other. In many ways, we’re living in a completely new world now that the coronavirus has entered our lives.

As someone who lives alone, one of my biggest fears was how isolation could lead to loneliness. And to be fair, there’s definitely been a little bit of that. Not having someone physically by my side to hear out my anxieties and fears has been kind of difficult. At the same time, I’ve felt incredibly grateful for the friends and communities that I’ve been able to connect with virtually for keeping me feeling loved and appreciated. It goes to show how much we are social creatures after all and how important it is to tend to the relationships we have in our lives and not take them for granted.

Here are three thoughts from April that I’d like to share with you.

Community is about giving

Many of us belong to different communities in our lives. Whether that’s our group of friends from high school or our colleagues at our workplace or connections we’ve made our local gym/studio/class/etc. In many ways, the communities that we belong to give us a sense of our identity. For example, attending a local improv class gives us a sense that we can be open and funny with others, or going to a CrossFit gym means we care about our fitness and health. While both of those examples might be true, I don’t think it’s the whole story.

In the book, The Courage to be Disliked by Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga, a philosopher and a young man spend five nights discussion and debating the meaning of life. In the fourth night the conversation turns to community,

It is when one is able to feel “I am beneficial to the community” that one can have a true sense of one’s worth”…it is about having concern for others, building horizontal relationships, and taking the approach of encouragement. All these things connect to the deep life awareness of “I am of use to someone,” and in turn, to your courage to live.

The Courage to be Disliked (pg. 189)

The philosopher strikes an important point here in that it isn’t enough just to belong to a community but it matters if you’re contributing to making it stronger. Only when we decide to actively participate in a community do we feel a stronger tie to our identity and our ikigai.

One thing I’m thinking about more often these days is how I can strengthen the bonds to the communities that I belong to. How can I carve out more time for friends and family members? How can I reconnect with friends that I’ve lost touch with? How can I strengthen the existing communities I’m a part of by starting something, improving something, or providing feedback to? How can I expand my thinking from just my local community to something more global?

I don’t need to answer all these questions right now but they’re good ones to start pondering.

Practice more loving kindness

Yes, the concept of “loving kindness” may seem a warm and fuzzy, but I’ve recently come around to embracing this idea after listening to Tara Brach’s book, Radical Acceptance. Through a mixture of personal stories and Buddhist teachings, she shares ways that we can come to love ourselves as who we are wherever we might be in our journey.

As I’ve reflected on this topic, I’ve begun to realize how fundamental practicing loving kindness with ourselves can be. Without the ability to love ourselves, it becomes very hard to encourage, trust, and love others. If we can find ways to be more self accepting of both our virtues and flaws, we might be able to live a happier life.

One way to practice this is through a quick morning meditation. Take 5-10 minutes every morning and repeat a simple mantra, “May I be happy. May I be healthy. May I be at peace.” If it helps, hold one or both of your hands over year heart to feel more connected with your body. Then expand your radius of loving kindness by thinking of someone else you wish happiness, health, and peace. Finally, you move onto wishing this to the world around you.

If you asked me even a year ago if this was something I was interested in, I probably would’ve said no. Not because I didn’t need to have a daily practice like this but because I don’t think I fully loved myself as much as I do now. If you feel discomfort doing a meditation like this or even contemplating doing it, there might be something there for you to explore.

For those interested in loving kindness meditation, Oak is a beautiful, simple, and free app that can help you get started.

Journaling to clarify your thinking

The final thought I have is around journaling. The benefits of journaling have been covered quite extensively and I’m sure many of you have tried journaling before. I’ve been an inconsistent journal for the past few years but have really enjoyed the process when I did get into a regular rhythm. When I did fall off the horse, it was typically because I felt daunted by either A) the blank page or B) (ironically) the limited space available with certain journal templates.

I’ve been trying a different approach this time borrowing some wisdom from Michael Bungay Stanier’s book, The Coaching Habit. In the book, Michael shares 7 key questions to help people be a bit more “coach-like” in their conversations with others. By sticking to questions as the “coach”, the idea is to help the other person uncover their real challenge and come up with their own solutions.

One of the biggest benefits I get from journaling is the space it creates for me to clarify my thinking, and that’s exactly what a great coach helps you do. Great coaches don’t tell you what to do – they create the space for you to figure out what you need to do and give you the confidence and courage to follow through. While journaling in itself might not replace a great coach, it can at least get you started with articulating your thoughts.

So here’s a simple template that I use every morning using a few of the questions from The Coaching Habit.

What’s on your mind?

This is the Kickstart Question. It’s an opportunity for me to share one or two things that are at the top of my mind.

And what else?

This is the AWEsome Question. (AWE standing for “and what else”). It’s about digging deeper into the one or two things that I started with.

And what else?

This is (you guessed it) a repeat of the AWEsome Question, because rarely does what I’m really excited/concerned about come out after the first AWE.

What was most useful here for you?

Finally, this is the Learning Question and an opportunity for me to reflect on one thing that I might take with me for the rest of the day based on the entry.

For the past 5 months I’ve been sitting every morning with these questions and it’s been a really useful experience. Never have I enjoyed journaling more than I do now because I know it’s an opportunity for me to clarify my thinking and be my own coach.

I hope these three thoughts have sparked some ideas for you as well. If you enjoyed the post, please leave a comment or share your own thoughts. I’d love to hear from you.

Ordinary Courage

A few weeks ago I wrote a post called Start With Courage a phrase that I learned from Michael Bungay Stanier. It’s a beautiful phrase that compels us to begin the interactions we have in our lives with courage. Building on top of that, Brené Brown’s definition of courage in which “speaking from our hearts is what I think of ordinary courage” makes this concept of courage a little bit more attainable.

If we can find a way to make courage a little bit more ordinary, maybe that will help lower the bar for us to be more courageous everyday? And it doesn’t have to be glamorous either. Courage doesn’t have to come from a sudden willingness to put the Superman cape on. Sometimes we just need to cobble together just enough courage to take action. Just enough courage to move the boulder up the hill and let it roll down the hill.

In physics, there’s the concept of potential energy and kinetic energy. Potential energy is when an object is placed in a position in which energy is created upon motion. Think: a boulder at the top of a hill or holding a ball on the edge of a bridge.

Summoning enough courage to address a situation – whatever that might look like for you – is a bit like building potential energy. You may need to talk to the right people to give you good advice or read books on the topic or practice/write/journal what you’re going to say. That potential energy then becomes the fuel you need to turn into kinetic energy. Once you summon enough courage to create potential energy, the stored energy gets released and you build momentum. And once you have momentum, a lot of positive things can build on top of that.

In what parts of your life can you be more ordinarily courageous? How can you cobble together just enough courage in aspects of your life that you’d like to change? Courage doesn’t have to look glamorous. You need just enough to create motion and you might just discover how you’re becoming a different person just by taking action.

The Value of Contentment

Recently I’ve been feeling this rush to get to places, do things, and be more productive. I think that’s a normal reaction for us to feel given the world we live in today. So the idea of “slowing down” feels a little foreign. With everything moving so fast, it seems like the natural thing is to keep up and speed up. But what if we did the opposite? What if we deliberately slowed down? What if finding joy in our lives comes from finding contentment in what we already have?

It’s a little scary to feel like you’re going to be left behind, and at the same time, what’s the use of hurrying up if you don’t know where you’re going? There might be more value in slowing down, finding joy in what we already have, and taking the courageous first step to a destination you want to go in.

It’s Your Personal Legend

In Paulo Coelho’s classic book, The Alchemist, Santiago, a shepherd turned adventurer encounters an ancient king who encourages him to pursue his “personal legend.” For Santiago, his personal legend is pursuing a dream he had of treasure he found near the Egyptian Pyramids. He encounters many trials and tribulations along the way that almost prevent him from adventure. Many of these trials are moments of bad luck or chance encounters with people who are also on their own journeys in life. He receives different pieces of advice and opinions about how to lead his life and he almost stops his journey multiple times along the way.

Luckily, he’s able to continue listening to his heart and not give up his journey – his destiny. It’s a remarkable story with so many relatable lessons about courage, love, and belief.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the book is the concept of a personal legend. We all have one. We may have stopped listening to it a long time ago by stopping to listen to our hearts but it was once there. We all have that dream – whatever it is for you, specifically – to pursue, but whether it’s comfort, fear, uncertainty, expectations, etc. we decided to forgo it for what we have right now.

Lately, I’ve been feeling a pressure on myself to pursue my personal legend. To keep building this blog and my podcast. But I feel like I’ve been doing it for the wrong reasons. Having launched the blog and the podcast, and now that it’s “out there” in the world I feel this pressure to deliver a product/outcome/result to people. It’s sucked all the joy out of this process for me as this internal pressure has mounted on myself. The whole point of this project was to pursue my own personal legend – not to make something for other people.

It might sound a bit selfish but I don’t think it is. When we pursue our personal legends we’re doing work that matters to us. That will allow us to show up as our fulsome selves with others whether that be our friends, family, or even strangers. To not pursue your personal legend is a bit like sacrificing yourself for the sake of others. You’ll end up bitter and disappointed that you never even tried going on the journey and that’s bound the impact those around you.

I’m committed to writing this blog and producing my podcast for myself because it’s my personal legend. It’ll happen bit by bit over month after month over year after year but the goal here is to not let myself give up on what my heart wants. And neither should you.

I wish you all the best in your pursuit for your personal legend. As the ancient king in the book says, “maktoub” (it is written).

Start With Courage

Author and professor, Brené Brown, has a beautiful definition for courage:

“Courage is a heart word. The root of the word courage is cor – the Latin word for heart. In one of its earliest forms, the word courage meant “To speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Over time, this definition has changed, and today, we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But in my opinion, this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad. Speaking from our hearts is what I think of as ordinary courage.”

Brené Brown

I love this definition, but, of course, it’s easy to say but hard to do in practice. When we speak with friends or colleagues or even – maybe especially? – family members we often hold back or filter what we say. We hold back what we’re truly feeling for the sake of not rocking the boat. By holding back our thoughts that might help others understand us a little bit better, we’re losing the opportunity to gift others a bit of ourselves.

I’ve always had challenges with opening up. Maybe because of the culture or environment that I was raised in the idea of maintaining peace and outward harmony was more important than telling the truth. It’s often in childhood that we’re taught the behaviors that will keep us safe and in the good graces of our parents. However, as I grew older, I realized that not being able to summon the courage to speak my truth became a hindrance in my personal and professional lives.

To me, “Start With Courage” is about speaking your truth. It’s something I try to work on everyday. Whether it’s with my clients that I work with that need to hear about an opinion I have on an approach they’re taking or with my friends & family that need to know how I’m truly feeling about something that happened in the past. It’s liberating when you can make courage a starting point and not just a once-in-a-while thing you do.

The Power of Words

Words have a powerful impact. The words we choose can make or break a conversation or a relationship. If we don’t choose our words wisely, we might get stuck with a certain frame or pattern of thinking. So it helps to regularly revisit the words that you’re using in your life.

When it comes to choosing the right words, you really need to follow three simple rules:

1. Simple

Can you explain it to someone without going into a five-minute explanation? Do most people not need a dictionary to understand what you mean?

2. Meaningful

Does it connect with your (or a) larger purpose? Will it make a positive impact on yourself or others?

3. Fun

Does it have a hint of joy and playfulness to it? When you say the words, do you look forward to it?

According to research, the average person speaks at least 7,000 words a day. Sure, a lot of these words are going to be filler and connecting words to express a big idea, but it’s easy to get lost in all these words. So, with the words that you keep close to you, the ones that really matter, choosing them wisely become crucial.

How will you choose your words a bit more wisely? What words would you like to reframe in your life?

Build Your Tribe

One of my core principles that I’m focused on this year is “build the tribe.” To me, this means building the community of people around me. Finding ways to support them and encourage them to be the best versions of themselves.

Many of us are lucky enough to be surrounded by people we like to spend time with. These will likely include friends, family members, etc. Of course, these are folks who are in your tribe and you should take care of them.

At the same time, I’m also challenging myself to think of my tribe in a different way. I’m trying to think of “the tribe” as anyone I have the pleasure of coming across in my life. If you happen to enter my “life radius”, you’re part of my tribe and I’ll do my best to support you.

In a way, this completely changes your outlook on life. You slowly begin to see people as fellow human beings not just strangers, or worse yet, someone out to get something from you. Sure, there’ll be bad apples along the way but they’re rare – most people do mean well. And it’s a sign of emotional maturity when you can see that all of us carry some pain around with us and recognize what’s more important is acknowledging the potential that they have.

So, how can you build your tribe? What small acts can you take everyday to support the people who are in your life?

Something as simple as a quick text message might do to reconnect with someone or find a time for coffee/lunch to chat face-to-face. It can be a random act of kindness for a colleague or a stranger you bump into the line at the coffee shop. The more generous we can be with our tribes, the more we’ll end up getting in return.

Past, Present, and Future

In the bestselling book, The Courage to be Disliked, a young man and a philosopher have an engaging dialogue about life’s purpose. At one point in the conversation, the philosopher uses a metaphor of an actor on stage to describe how we should view our past, present, and future.

The past is described as what is behind the actor. Since the actor is facing the audience, she isn’t concerned about what’s behind her. The present is described as the spotlight around her; it’s the space around her that she can see clearly. The future is the space beyond the spotlight which is at best a hazy view of the audience or indistinguishable silhouettes.

A stage as a metaphor of our past, present, and future.

The philosopher, in describing the actor on the stage, compares our lives to being an actor on stage. To start, we have no control over the past. It has happened and no amount of reminiscing will change what has happened. The future is also something we don’t have complete control over. We may be able to affect outcomes but the exact shape that the future will take will depend on a variety of things like the choices we make, the people we meet, or the luck we have.

The only thing we truly have control over is the present – the space we can see around the spotlight. This isn’t a new concept, of course. Teachers and philosophers have advocated this approach to living for millennia.

So what do we have control over in the present?

The ancient Stoics would argue that we only have total control over the goals that we set and the values that we live by. These are not affected by external factors. Sure, the outcomes may differ depending on a variety of factors and we may never meet the goals we set for ourselves. But at least we’ll know that we’ve done what we can control in the present.

The Perils of Hedonic Adaptation

You’re probably familiar with the term “hedonic adaptation.” It was introduced by researchers, Shane Frederick and George Loewenstein in 1999, and has been used to describe how people adapt to circumstances (both negative and positive) in their lives after a certain period of time. It’s more commonly used for seemingly positive changes – e.g. new technologies, increase in wealth, etc. – and how we tend to take them for granted after a certain period of time. In a 1978 study, researchers discovered that after an initial period of exhilaration, the happiness levels of lottery winners ended up about where they were before winning. Human beings are very good at hedonic adaptation.

It wasn’t too long ago when our ancestors had to hand wash all their clothes, chop wood to keep warm, or collect water from the well. We take all of this for granted now, of course, and we’re lucky to be living in a time where disease, famine, and war are afterthoughts for most places in the world.

In the consumption-driven society that we live in today hedonic adaptation might just be our biggest enemy. If the value of ourselves and our society is reflected on consumption, there is no amount of consumption that will be enough when hedonic adaptation kicks into gear. If we let hedonic adaptation go without being noticed, we risk ourselves getting stuck on a treadmill of mindless consumption. We will desire more for the sake of desiring more. There’s obvious consequences here around our environment, our cultures, and our individual well-being.

Stoic philosophy has a way to combat this glitch in our psychology: negative visualization. If we imagined losing all that we have currently – our health, our wealth, our relationships, our work – we would be able to create more space of gratitude and appreciate for what we have now. If a father were to imagine losing his daughter, he might spend more quality time with her. If an athlete were to imagine losing her ability to use her legs, she might spend more time appreciating the abilities she has right now.

Sure, it might sound a bit like playing mind games but it works. This also isn’t to say walking around all day thinking about the worst case scenario about everything. It’s about taking a few moments each week to reflect on what you already have so we can keep our hedonic adaptation at bay.

Leadership as a Path to Self Actualization

What if leadership was a path to self actualization?

I recently listened to a podcast episode of On Being with Krista Tippett and, guest, Jerry Colonna. Jerry is a former venture capitalist and a renowned executive coach. In this beautiful 1.5 hour conversation they talk about work, leadership, and self knowledge.

I was particularly inspired by how Jerry described leadership as a path to self actualization. I know, it sounds a bit grandiose, but I think it’s true. When we show up as leaders for ourselves and others our whole perspective shifts. We begin to take ownership of our own actions, we refuse victimhood when something happens out of our control, and we take care of others around us.

Jerry talks about how many of us carry the emotional baggage that we were handed in childhood and how many of us have never learned to deal with it. And that old workplace adage of “leave your emotions at the door” never actually works. We’re human and trying to hide from our traumas – whatever they look like for each of us – is a recipe for disaster.

So why not take this as an opportunity? What if we could use our workplaces as a place for learning and growth? After all, we spend over half of our lives in our workplaces. And to be clear, this isn’t about turning every conversation in the workplace into a therapy session. We’ve still got jobs to do and goals to achieve. But there’s probably some room for all of us to be deliberate in how we show up to become the type of person we want to be.