Saying ‘no’ at work

Greg McKeown, author of Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, recommends extreme selectivity as a check on your desire to always be accommodating. McKeown likes to ask people to imagine they have no to-do list, no inbox, no schedule of appointments. "If you didn't have any of that, and you could do one thing right now that would help get you to the next level of contribution, what would you do?" he asks. "Maybe all the stuff you're doing should be questioned. Start from zero every day. What would be essential?" People require space and clarity to identify what matters, McKeown explains, and what matters should dictate what you say yes to.

Although it feels good to say yes, be disciplined about the time you give to others. Employees and partners need your help, but mostly they need you to concentrate on what matters.

Leigh Buchanan writing in Inc.

The Freak out Test

If I were feeling really anxious what would I do? If we would pick up the phone and call six friends, one after another, with the aim of hearing their voices and reassuring ourselves that they still love us, we’re operating hierarchically.  We’re seeking the good opinion of others.

Here’s another test. Of any activity you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do it?  If you are alone on a planet a hierarchical structure makes no sense.  There’s no one to impress.  So, if you’d still pursue that activity, congratulations.

If Arnold Schwarzenegger were the last man on earth, he’d still go to the gym.  Stevie Wonder would still pound the piano. The sustenance they get comes from the act itself, not from the impression it makes on others. 

Now: What about ourselves as artists?

If we were freaked out, would we go there first?  If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?

Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Our Difficult Side

Knowledge of our own neuroses is not at all easy to come by. It can take years and situations we have had no experience of.  Prior to marriage, we’re rarely involved in dynamics that properly hold up a mirror to our disturbances. Whenever more casual relationships threaten to reveal the ‘difficult’ side of our natures, we tend to blame the partner – and call it a day. As for our friends, they predictably don’t care enough about us to have any motive to probe our real selves. They only want a nice evening out. Therefore, we end up blind to the awkward sides of our natures. On our own, when we’re furious, we don’t shout, as there’s no one there to listen – and therefore we overlook the true, worrying strength of our capacity for fury. Or we work all the time without grasping, because there’s no one calling us to come for dinner, how we manically use work to gain a sense of control over life – and how we might cause hell if anyone tried to stop us. At night, all we’re aware of is how sweet it would be to cuddle with someone, but we have no opportunity to face up to the intimacy-avoiding side of us that would start to make us cold and strange if ever it felt we were too deeply committed to someone. One of the greatest privileges of being on one’s own is the flattering illusion that one is, in truth, really quite an easy person to live with.

The Philosophers’ Mail

Abandon Ship!

A Chinese general decided to get his troops focused on the battle ahead-by burning the ships in the water behind his troops. They had no retreat. And it worked. Dan Ariely uses this illustration in his book Predictably Irrational, suggesting we hurt ourselves by trying to keep too many options open, failing to make decisive moves forward.

We should approach our battles by throwing ourselves wholly into the war from the start. Go at it as if you have no retreat. According to Ariely's experiments at MIT, your chances of success will go up.

Stephen Goforth

It's all about the long term

If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few (people) are willing to do that. Just by lengthening the time horizon, you can engage in endeavors that you could never otherwise pursue. At Amazon we like things to work in five to seven years. We’re willing to plant seeds, let them grow—and we’re very stubborn. We say we’re stubborn on vision and flexible on details. In some cases, things are inevitable. The hard part is that you don’t know how long it might take, but you know it will happen if you’re patient enough. So you can do these things with conviction if you are long-term-oriented and patient.

Jeff Bezos, Amazon founder

PS: The title of this post comes from the title of the first shareholders letter Bezos' sent in 1997.

Giving your Best

Expecting the best means that you put your whole heart (i.e., the central essence of your personality) into what you want to accomplish. People are defeated in life not because of lack of ability, but for lack of wholeheartedness. They do not wholeheartedly expect to succeed. Their heart isn’t in it, which is to say they themselves are not fully given. Results do not yield themselves to the person who refuses to give himself to the desired results.

A major key to success in this life, to attaining that which you deeply desire, is to be completely released and throw all there is of yourself into your job or any project in which you are engaged. In other words, whatever you are doing, give it all you’ve got.

A famous Canadian athletic coach, Ace Percival, says that most people, athletes as well as non-athletes, are “holdouts,” that is to say, they are always keeping something in reserve. They do not invest themselves 100 percent in competition. Because of that fact, they never achieve the highest of which they are capable.

Norman Vincent Peale, The Power of Positive Thinking

Staying Power

Life is tumultuous – an endless losing and regaining of balance, a continuous struggle, never an assured victory. We need a hardbitten morale that enables us to face these truths and still strive with every ounce of our energy to prevail.

But there is no possibility of sustaining ourselves in that effort if our values and beliefs are so weakened that nothing seems worth the struggle. First and last, humans live by ideas that validate their striving, ideas that say it’s worth living and trying.

John Gardner