Licking the Earth

When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. For instance, success in all of its various guises, being known and praised, ostensible pleasures like acquiring money or seducing women, or traveling, going to and fro in the world and up and down in it like Satan, explaining and experiencing whatever Vanity Fair has to offer. In retrospect, all these exercises in self-gratification seem pure fantasy, what Pascal called, ‘licking the earth’.

Malcolm Muggeridge

Do you like Cake? Delaying gratification

“Delaying gratification is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by meeting and experience the pain first and getting it over with. It is the only decent way to live.” ~  M Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled

A financial analyst was locked into a cycle of procrastination.

Peck asked, "Do you like cake?" She replied that she did.

"What part of the cake do you like better, the cake or the frosting?"

"Oh, the frosting!"

"And how do you eat a piece of cake?"

"I eat the frosting first, of course."

Having gained this insight, Dr. Peck started probing her work habits. Invariably she would devote the first hour or so of each day to the most gratifying and easiest of her tasks and the remaining hours never quite accomplishing the more onerous chores. He suggested that she force herself to do the objectionable tasks during the first two hours, then enjoy the remaining time.  

There is a critical moment early in your day when you make the decision as to whether you will plunge into the difficult tasks in front of you or not. Don’t allow yourself to decide – just act.  When taking the easy road is not an option, and you just plunge into the difficult tasks, you save yourself time and energy.. and make it easier to avoid those detours.

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.

Saying "no" to 1,000 things

People think focus means saying yes to the thing you've got to focus on. But that's not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I'm actually as proud of the things we haven't done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying "no" to 1,000 things.

Steve Jobs 

Writing your Own Eulogy

A visualization technique that asks people to write their own eulogy. It’s a technique that Daniel Harkavy, CEO and executive coach at Building Champions and co-author of Living Forward, has been teaching executives for over 20 years.

Harkavy’s tip is to write your eulogy first as if your funeral was today and everything you’ve accomplished so far was all you ever would. “Picture your memorial service as if it were being held right now. Your casket is sitting center stage, and as you look down the center aisle you see the first three rows, usually reserved for those with whom we were closest. Who’s sitting there for you?” he asks. “Most likely your family and dearest friends. Now keep looking down the aisle, and now you’re looking at rows 10 through 20. Who’s sitting there? Probably acquaintances, clients, customers. What did you give to the people in these rows?”

Harkavy says when he walks clients through this exercise during his speaking engagements, they usually all say the same thing: “We gave them our best!” He then asks them what they gave to the people sitting in rows one through three–and their answers usually amount to “We gave them our leftovers.” In other words, their work-life balance is out of whack.

“When you go to write your eulogy, you need to be brutally honest. Don’t pull any punches. You want to really feel this,” Harkavy says. “What would those closest to you say about who you were, how you lived, and what you had to give them, and why would they say that?”

Michael Grothaus writing in Fast Company

What are you willing to Give up Sleep for?

Our sleep habits both reveal and shape our loves. A decent indicator of what we love is that for which we willingly give up sleep.

My willingness to sacrifice sleep reveals less noble loves. I stay up late later than I should, drowsy, collapsed, on the couch, vaguely surfing the internet, watching cute puppy videos. Or I stay up trying to squeeze more activity into the day to pack it with as much productivity as possible. My disordered sleep reveals a disordered love, idols of entertainment or productivity.

My willingness to sacrifice much-needed rest and my prioritizing amusement or work over the basic needs of my body and the people around me reveal of that these good things—entertainment and work—have taken a place of ascendancy in my life.

Tish Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary

Defeating Procrastination

Procrastination is a side effect of the way we value things. Task completion (is) as a product of motivation, rather than ability. In other words, you can be really good at something, whether it’s cooking a gourmet meal or writing a story, but if you don’t possess the motivation, or sense of importance, to complete the task, it’ll likely be put off.

Getting something done is a delayed reward, so its value in the present is reduced: the further away the deadline is, the less attractive it seems to work on the project right now. 

People who characterize themselves as procrastinators…discount the value of getting something done ahead of time even more than other people. 

Procrastination, in psychological terms, is what happens when the value of doing something else outweighs the value of working now.

This way of thinking suggests a simple trick to defeat procrastination: find a way to boost the subjective value of working now, relative to the value of other things. You could increase the value of the project, decrease the value of the distraction, or some combination of the two.

Elliot Berkman and Jordan Miller-Ziegler

 

A 'Not-to-Do List'

New Year's Eve is time to resolve what you want in the year ahead. Rather than creating a list of resolutions, Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, sits down and does the opposite. Before setting down any strategic objectives, he comes up with three corresponding things to stop doing. So if he decided he wanted to read more, he first determined to unplug the TV.

He suggests you ask yourself what you're:

a) passionate about

b) good at

c) able to make a living doing.

Then consider how you're spending time. How much of it falls outside those three factors? If the answer is most of it, a not-to-do list could be a valuable tool.

Who comes out on top?

To understand a company’s strategy, look at what they actually do rather than what they say they do. The same logic applies to one’s life. For example, ambitious people will reliably tell you that family, or being a mother or father, is the most important thing in their lives. Yet when pressed to choose between racing home to deal with a chaotic pre-bedtime scene and staying another hour at the office to solve a problem, they will usually keep working. It’s these small, everyday decisions that reveal if you’re following a path to being the best possible spouse and parent. If your family matters most to you, when you think about all the choices you’ve made with your time in a week, does your family come out on top?

Clay Christensen, How will you Measure your Life?

She lost everything

Those flames are shooting out of what was once my kitchen
Exactly one week after I moved out of my Atlanta apartment and drove to another state with all my belongings, the woman who took over my lease called me. She had lost all her everything in a massive fire that morning. The apartment was in an old house--which burned to the ground.

I didn't really believe her. I thought she was exaggerating. Until I spoke to my former landlord and saw a video posted online by one of the Atlanta TV stations. Flames could be seen shooting out of my kitchen window. There were shots of dazed tenants standing in the street watching firefighters snuff the smoldering remains. 

The fire started directly below where I used to sleep. Would I have been awake at six in the morning when it started? The woman who took my spot just happened to be awake at that early hour and got out before the blaze took everything she had—except for what she had in her hands.

If I had stayed another week in Atlanta, what would I have picked up as I rushed out of the house? And if I had been there and not woke up when smoke filled the apartment—was I ready for the end of my life?

Stephen Goforth

She lost everything

Those flames are shooting out of what was once my kitchen
Exactly one week after I moved out of my Atlanta apartment and drove to another state with all my belongings, the woman who took over my lease called me. She had lost all her everything in a massive fire that morning. The apartment was in an old house--which burned to the ground.

I didn't really believe her. I thought she was exaggerating. Until I spoke to my former landlord and saw a video posted online by one of the Atlanta TV stations. Flames could be seen shooting out of my kitchen window. There were shots of dazed tenants standing in the street watching firefighters snuff the smoldering remains. 

The fire started directly below where I used to sleep. Would I have been awake at six in the morning when it started? The woman who took my spot just happened to be awake at that early hour and got out before the blaze took everything she had—except for what she had in her hands.

If I had stayed another week in Atlanta, what would I have picked up as I rushed out of the house? And if I had been there and not woke up when smoke filled the apartment—was I ready for the end of my life?

Stephen Goforth

So much straw

It is said that on 6 December 1273, while he was celebrating mass, a great change came over Thomas Aquinas. At the age of 49, his Summa Theologica ("Summary of Theology" – nearly 1300 pages) unfinished, he stopped writing. To his faithful secretary and companion Reginald of Pipersno, he said, ‘Reginald, I can do no more; such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now, I await the end of my life of my works.’ Aquinas died three months later.

All our talk about God is halting, partial, hopelessly inadequate. This does not mean we should not hold firm beliefs about God or do the best job we can as philosophers and theologians. It simply means that no matter how much skill or effort we bring to the job, God always remains in part a mystery. The gap between God and our ideas about God was, we believe, salvifically narrowed by God’s revelatory initiative, but not closed.

Like Aquinas, all Christians can see that human talk about God ultimately comes to an end. It’s best efforts are like straw.

Stephen T. Davis, Logic and the Nature of God

The Law of Priorities

The most remarkable aspect about John Wooden--and the most telling about his ability to focus on his priorities--is that he never scouted opposing teams. Instead, he focused on getting his players to reach their potential. And he addressed those things through practice and personal interaction with the players. It was never his goal to win championships or even to be the other team. His desire was to get each person to play to his potential and to put the best possible team on the floor. And, of course, Wooden’s results were incredible. In more than 40 years of coaching, he had only one losing season--his first. And he led his UCLA teams to four undefeated seasons and a record 10 in NCAA championships. No other college team is ever come close.

John Maxwell, The 21 irrefutable laws of leadership

why we do it

Nikki was driving through the Rocky Mountains with her daughter when their truck hit black ice and flipped over the guardrail. Nikki was knocked unconscious as the vehicle rolled over four times and landed on a barbwire fence. When five-year-old Mary couldn’t wake her bleeding mother, she didn’t sit and cry. Mary crawled out of one of the broken windows and climbed 150 feet to the road where she waved down at a passing truck. As emergency workers cut the roof off the truck to get Nikki out, Mary waited in one of the rescue vehicles. She asked a paramedic if her mother was dead. It would be three days before Nikki would wake up.

When Mary was later asked why she went for help on her own, the kindergartener said, “I needed to save my mom because I love my mom.”

Nikki and Mary recovered from their injuries at home. Mary was given an award for bravery.

Stephen Goforth

The Main Thing

Every morning just look at your calendar and ask yourself one question: “What’s the main event today?” I’m going to see six people. I’m going to do seven things. But of the six people I see and the seven things I do, what’s the main event?

In other words, what’s the most important thing I’m going to do today. Don’t make everything the main event because I’m not going to be good all day. I’m not going to be able to hit a home run every time I swing the bat. I’m going to have some fouls and I’m going to have some strike outs.

When you decide your main event, spend most of your time, most of your energy, most of your focus on it. You know what I know about life? You don’t have to be good at everything, you just have to be good at the main thing. If you’re good at the main thing, people will pay for you to do it again.

John Maxwell

Immediate Living

Consider the difference between the person who has been toiling in the hot sun and is desperately thirsty and the wine connoisseur who wants to sample a new pinot noir from California. Both have a desire to drink something liquid, but the resemblance ends there. There desire of the first person is rooted in the raw structure of the body, which needs and craves water. No reflection or education is needed to have such a desire. In order to appreciate the difference between a pinot noir and a cabernet sauvignon, However, it may be necessary to have a cultivated taste, with an imaginative grasp of the vocabulary used to describe the subtle “notes” of the wines. The person who simply wants to get drunk every night as well as the person who prides himself on his refined and elegant taste in wine… are focused solely on the satisfaction of the desires the person happens to have and are thus in one sense “immediate.”

A person may know a great deal about ethical theory without having much in the way of ethical character. It is possible, then, for a person to be well-developed intellectually but existentially not developed at all, and therefore still immediate.

C. Steven Evans, Kierkegaard: An Introduction

seeing who's a winner

What matters most in a music competition—the music, right? Before you answer, consider this study: Some volunteers were asked to guess which performers won classical music competitions after listening to audio of the contest. Others were given audio and video of the performances. A third group got the video with no sound. Despite not hearing a note, the last group, going off of video without audio, guessed the winners better than the volunteers who could actually hear the performances. These volunteers were not just music fans—they were amateur and professional musicians. Both these volunteers and the actual judges of the contests allowed the visual image to outweigh the music itself when judging its value.

Researcher took the study one step further by trying to figure out what made the difference. If you think it was the attractiveness of the performer, think again. The social cues related to passion and creativity provided the biggest indication as to which performances would be judged award winning.

Often what we say we value (in this case, the music itself) takes a backseat to what we really value (the performer's visual presentation flare and appearance).

Details of the study are in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. You can read it here.

Stephen Goforth

Method over Goals

Little by little, preoccupation with method, technique and procedure gains a subtle dominance over the whole process of goal seeking. How it is done becomes more important than whether it is done. Means triumph over ends. Form triumphs over spirit.

Method is enthroned. Men become prisoners of their procedures, and organizations that were designed to achieve some goal become obstacles in the path to that goal.

A concern for “how to do it” is healthy and necessary. The fact that it often leads to an empty worship of method is just one of the dangers with which we have to live. Every human activity, no matter how ennobling or constructive or healthy, involves hazards. The flower of competence carries the seeds of rigidity just as the flower of virtue carries the seeds of complacency. “There is a road to hell,” said John Bunyan, “even from the gates of heaven.”

John Gardner, Self-Renewal