Tag Archives: Motivation

And it was sweet

In High school English, our teacher had us read dozens of Indian Animal Parables. You have probably heard the one about the blind men and the elephant. That’s a classic. There is another one I’ve always remembered that was more meaningful to me. It goes:

A man was walking in the wilderness and realized he was being stalked by a tiger. He was near a cliff with a vine hanging down to the ground, so he starting climbing down the vine, knowing the tiger could not follow. He was about halfway down with the tiger staring at him hungrily when a lion at the bottom of the cliff noticed him. The man was trapped dangling on the vine, a lion below and a tiger above. Two mice, one black and one white, started to crew through the vine above him. There was nothing else for him to hang onto. It was then that he noticed a strawberry plant growing on the cliff with one ripe strawberry on it. The man picked it and ate it and it was sweet.

Yes. That is the end of the parable. We leave the man hanging from a cliff over a lion with strawberry juice dripping down his chin. I always assumed he died shortly after the story ends but that isn’t the point of the parable. The man, even in the midst of a calamity not of his own making took the time to stop and enjoy that which was sweet. The strawberry was probably even sweeter to him knowing the doom that awaited him. While we may not find ourselves dangling from a vine with two predatory cats looking to make a meal out of us, at least not twice, we all find ourselves obligated to times and places we don’t want to be and doing things we don’t want to do. We should pull as much joy, learning and growth from those situations as we can.

I told this parable to my class the other day. My course (marketing foundations) is a required course and the majority of students aren’t marketing majors. If it were up to them, they wouldn’t take ANY marketing classes. Unfortunately for them, it is required. While I try to make it as interesting and valuable for them, I encourage them to taste the strawberry while they are there.

What’s your destination?

What is your destination?  Do you know?  Are you letting the the route dominate your mind and forgetting what’s really important. And I’m talking metaphorically.

I’m a planner normally.  Well by comparison to my wife, I fly by the seat of my pants but by most standards I’m a bit obsessive with plans.  When my wife and I vacation, we know where we are going to stay and have the hotels booked in advanced.  We know the things we want to see and I’ll have their websites, locations and hours tucked away in my files.  We have a pretty good idea of where we will eat by meal.  Once we start the vacation, many of our plans go out the window as we adapt to the flow of the vacation.  Winston Churchill once said that, “Plans are of little importance but planning is essential.” Whenever you need a good quote either Churchill or Mark Twain typically come through.

Why am I telling you about our vacation planning? Sometimes having a plan can be detrimental to achieving you goal. Sometimes you keeping working the plan even though the situation has changed. In our vacation planning, our goal isn’t to get to the top of the Washington Monument. It is to enjoy ourselves, to bond with the kids and to taking a break from our normal stressors. Making it to the top of the Washington Monument is an exciting thing but with the kids would rather just play in the pool, that may be a better path to our destination.

I’m reading, “Take off your shoes” by Ben Feder. He is telling a story of taking a sabbatical from a high power executive career. The main purpose is to reestablish family relationships and connections. On their way to their destination, Bali, they took a two week safari in Africa. Ben talks about getting anxious that the safari is delaying his family from their destination. He was getting fixated on his path, not his true goal. Bounding with his family could be done in Africa as easily as Bali.

The lesson is to not let you plans and planning to get in the way of your goals. Focus on what is important to you. Situations change and so must your plans.

Discover vs Defend

I’m reading “How to have a good day” by Caroline Webb. It is too early in the book for me to be able to recommend it but I do enjoy her initial philosophy, namely relying on research and science. While the book title makes it seem like it is about making any day a “good day,” it does seem to be focused more on business professionals and how to have a good day at work.

One thing that jumped out at me early on is her discussion of the discover-defend axis. Basically, this is a manifestation of a primitive part of our brains. We are either in discover mode or defend mode. Discover mode is when we our brains are looking for opportunities for reward. Defend mode is the classic fight-flight-freeze response. Generally speaking, when we are afraid, our brains stop looking for opportunities. Instead it looks for safety.

How does this relate to having a good day? When workers are afraid and are in the corporate version of fight-flight-freeze, they become less creative and unwilling to take risks…….even risks as small as speaking up in a meeting. I can see this in my own work. When there is one or two senior people in a meeting who are intimidating or have a tendency to forcefully challenge other workers, many people in the meeting go into fight-flight-free mentality. People are less likely to explore creative ideas. Solutions become “safer” but not better. People are less likely to point out holes in the plan for fear of being singled out.

So how to turn this information into a “good day” and to make your company more creative and efficient? Carefully choose when to challenge people and when to be supportive. The goal for some meetings, especially early in a project, benefit from risk taking and creative output. For these meetings, don’t let the tone become intimidating or challenging.

Ask a little question

I was rereading Zig Ziglar’s Selling 101 on a beautiful but cold Sunday afternoon. If you are in sales or marketing it should be required reading. If you are in any roll where you must influence others (teaching, healthcare, hospitality, parenting), you really should read it as well.

It in first two pages good ole Zig gives a great story. He tells of how Aristotle theorized that two objects of the same material but different sizes would fall at different speeds. Centuries later at the University of Pisa, Galileo proved this theory wrong by dropping two different sized objects off the Leaning Tower of Pisa and they hit the ground at the same time. Even with this obvious proof, the University of Pisa still taught Aristotle ‘s incorrect theory. Why? Because Galileo convinced the University but didn’t persuade them.

What’s the difference? Convincing someone consists of telling or showing them something. Persuading someone consists of asking them questions and letting them figure it out for themselves.

How could have Galileo persuaded the University years ago? He could have asked the students to come up with ways to test the theory themselves.

Why did I talking about a “sales” book on a blog about coaching and personal/ professional growth? Asking a question!!! Because coaching is largely asking my clients questions and then holding up a mirror so they can see their answers. You don’t necessarily need a coach to do that for you. Ask yourself hard questions about who you are and who you want to be.

Wheel of Life

The Wheel of Life is a tool a lot of coaches use to gauge where a new client is and where they need some help.  It is a pretty simple and straight forward tool.  Basically, for each category of your life you rate it on a one to ten scale.  When you plot those ratings on a radial graph, it looks like a wheel.  A well balanced life would look like a nice large wheel.  Maybe not completely circular but nearly so.  If your ratings are vastly different, say one of your categories is at a 3 and the rest are at an 8, that wheel won’t roll very easily.

I’ve seen dozens of versions of the Wheel of Life.  Generally speaking, the wheel uses categories like Health, Wealth, Growth, Career, etc.  All slightly different versions of the similar theme.  This morning I came across www.mindtools.com.  I don’t have personal experience with them but they have an interesting twist to the Wheel of Life tool.  In addition to the more generic categories above, they add categories that many people feel are definitional, for example, father, husband, manager, etc.  I have to admit, I like it.  By including these definitional categories, it really cuts to what matters to many people and that is the point of the Wheel of Life.

What Mind Tools did not do, unfortunately, is take it to the next level.  That is, once you have rated all of your categories, then go back and ask yourself what you can do to improve each rating by two points.  The answer to that question can determine what your short term goals should be.  I like to break that down a step further and add a concept of time to the questions.  For example, what can I do in the next year to improve my ratings by two points and what can I do today to start to improve my ratings.

20 in 20

I’m sure I’ve written about this tool, trick, hack before but it definitely is worth repeating. It is probably the most useful bit of homework that my clients enjoy. Well “enjoy” might not be the right word. Maybe “productive”.

Basically it is a free writing exercise with a few bounds. It can be used to push for creativity or for honesty. It can bring world peace. Ok, that might be a little hyperbole but it is a great tool that can help you push back limitations.

Go to a quiet place with few distractions. Put your cellphone on silent. Set a timer for twenty minutes. On a piece of paper (yes I recommend paper for this task) write across the top the problem you are trying to solve. Well it could be a problem or a challenge or an exploratory question. Then for the next twenty minutes write out as many responses as you can. Aim for twenty responses. To get twenty, you don’t have time to judge, edit or criticize your responses. Don’t put a lot of thought into any response because the clock is ticking. Remember you are not looking for quality responses, just a lot of them.

After the alarm rings, put the paper away without reading it. Let a day pass. Do things that allow your thoughts to flow. Really how many great ideas come to you in the shower or waking from a dream. Then go back to the paper. Read over your responses without editing or judging them. Set the timer for another twenty minutes. Try to add more responses or flesh out the responses you’ve already wrote down. At this point, you are adding, not editing. No criticism.

Let one more day pass. Go for a walk. Now reread all of your ideas. Circle anything that speaks to you. Pick the three best responses. Also pick the wildest response and the most “out there” response. Set your timer on last time. Now take those final five responses and add as much to them as you can. Include things you circled on responses that didn’t make the cut.

This is a great tool for “questions” like:

1.) What do I want to accomplish this year?

2.). Why do I hate my job?

3,) How could I get more customers?

4.) Why is my boss acting like a jerk?

5.) Why should I take this job?

6.) What would make me happy?

As you can see, it has a wide range of uses. It helps you tap into your subconscious and trap your underlying thoughts in writing.