The Intolerance of Those Demanding…. Tolerance.

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Bit of a political bent to this post. It relates to character, and I hope it won’t appear partisan.

Every day we are treated to politicians of all sides avoiding questions, criticising the ‘other side’ for not doing something while declining to help by making suggestions as to what they would do, attacking the opposing party for something they or their own members have done before, and so on.

These people are supposed to be people of character. They are constantly demanding tolerance of others while manifestly failing to demonstrate their own. They are permanently guilty of everything they accuse the other side of committing.

GET A GRIP!

One problem I see that is preventing the situation changing for the better is the childish manner in which any change of mind is addressed by both the ‘clever’ opposition and the ‘informed and objective’ media.

As soon as any politician gives an inch – even an iota of a millionth of a millimetre – they are pounced upon. It’s a U-turn, or a lie, or disingenuous ( a posh, intelligent, wordy lie). It’s proof that the other side was right and “HAH! We told you so!”

Juvenile behaviour that would be cracked down in a court of law, by a judge who would remind those present that decorum is demanded.

The other thing about politics is how private conversations are conflated and used. Yes, “Look what HE said!” is the infantile, finger-pointy, name-calling style of debate we voters have been stuck with since cameras were allowed into the chambers, and social media became the preferred means of contact.

And today, a Japanese Olympics officer was sacked for a joke made 20 years ago.

TWENTY YEARS. Even the courts acknowledge that what applied then wouldn’t apply now.

What a bunch of intolerant, judgemental, idiotic numbskulls we are becoming.

Are you part of this? If so

LOOK AT YOURSELF.

You are conflating character with judging. You are judging others by others’ standards, which you have adopted because you ‘should’ and not necessarily because you truly believe – or even understand – those ideas.

Dr Stephen Covey once said, “Be a light, not a judge. Be a model, not a critic.”

No, not easy. I have difficulty with it, too. But in the space between stimulus and response, ask yourself – “Is it true? Does it matter? Have I not done something similar in my own life? Should I be judged for my mistakes? What right have I to judge others?”

By the time you’ve gone through all that, you’ve moved on to less ‘judgey’ and more important thoughts.

Have character. Let others have theirs, even if you don’t quite agree with it. And stop showing off, politicians. You’re supposed to be better than us.

Set an example of patience, understanding and intellectual excellence. And exercise the same levels of tolerance you’re demanding of others.

Please.

Two kinds of Character – but not really.

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I’ve stated before that I like to compare Stephen Covey’s material with that provided by other learned people, and here is another nugget I found.

In his book ‘The Only Way to Win’ (Hyperion, 2012) Author and coach to tennis stars Jim Loehr makes the observation that there are two kinds of character, although when he explains he is talking about two types of characteristics.

He writes about Performance Characteristics, and Moral Characteristics. He provides examples of each, suggesting that Performance Characteristics relate to excellence, resilience, perseverance, self-control, bravery, commitment, positivity and so on. Moral characteristics include truthfulness, kindness, honesty, gratitude, patience, respect and so on.

Next, he proposes that the Performance Characteristics are external – they tend to promote and provide external results, results that are dependant upon others in the sense that doing them requires they be done for others, and they require relationships to make them work. They tend to be ‘doing’ characteristics, in that without visible action they have no meaning.

Moral characteristics are internal – they relate to the value we place upon, and the relationships we have with, ourselves. They tend to be ‘being’ characteristics, where their invisibility doesn’t matter because ‘we know’.

The problem, opines Loehr, is that while society rewards performance character, a lack of moral character underpinning it creates the Madoffs, the Epsteins, the Nixons, and so on. Performers are great, until their corrupt morals muck it up for everyone, including themselves.

The Second Resolution, written about in the early 1970s by Covey, speaks of the desire to overcome pride and pretension using Character and Competence. Isn’t Loehr just repeating what Covey says, but in different words? Performance Characteristics relate to Competence, while Moral Characteristics relate to Character.

I am not saying Loehr poached Covey’s idea! What this reflects is two things – first of all, great minds always come to the same conclusion when independently exploring the same material. And second – it underpins the fact that the findings are correct, universal, external and timeless truths.

Loehr applied his philosophy to developing moral character in his tennis prodigies as much as he ever did their tennis competence. In fact, moral character was his main focus. John Wooden, famed US Football Coach, did the same with the young people he coached. Both created winnners, but winners with a higher purpose than self- aggrandisement.

Are you a winner? If so, great. But if you are a winner at someone else’s expense, shame on you. I’m not saying competition isn’t good – it is. When I suggest ‘someone else’s expense’ I am talking about whether your objective is ‘Me Me Me’ or a genuine effort to be better so that others may be entertained, or so that your greater purpose can be achieved, e.g. teaching others. Andre Agassi ( a Loehr trainee) said that it wasn’t until he decided to use tennis as a means to find efforts to teach others and develop young people, his game was never right. In fact, he credits his resurgence with that realisation – that serving others (moral) was a better motivation than any self-serving goal (performance).

In essence, the Moral (Character) serves the Performance (Competence), but it is the former which matters most of all. If Agassi hadn’t been tennis seed No 1, then his later revelation would still have made him a great teacher.

You don’t have to be famous to be successful. But you really do need to ‘be’ your best, perhaps more than ‘doing’ your best.

For more about The Three Resolutions, listen here:

Or read the book, available from Amazon HERE as a hard copy or HERE in Kindle format.

Podcast Paradise

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Last week, I had the honour and privilege of being interviewed by author and charity chief Rob Parsons OBE, head of Care for the Family (www.cff.org.uk) and author of classic books, including Heart of Success and The 60 Minute Father. The interview covered the fields of The Three Resolutions and time management, both of us having written and/or spoken on the latter theme.

Please try it as a commute-filling piece of informative entertainment. This is the download link –

https://we.tl/t-kjDoV5lXsG

Or you can listen HERE –

It was an excellent experience – and I am double checking that no answers began ‘So’, or ‘Yeah, no, I mean.’

My thanks to Rob and the team at CFF for this opportunity – a very impressive set up and I encourage those with an interest in family-related matters to visit their website and take advantage of what is on offer.

Listening requires Discipline, too.

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One competency that people often lack is the ability to listen. I recall as a husband and as a school pupil the accusation that ‘you never listen’, but I don’t recall the lessons in listening that accompanied literacy and numeracy. Do you? Do you remember being taught attention management as a listener rather than as a teacher? Nope? Me neither.

Listening is a skill. The ability to not just hear what is being said, but also to see how it is being said and to understand why it is being said are the three elements of good listening. They are summarised in the expression that good listening requires HEART – an ART of using the EAR to HEAR what’s in the HEART. Yes, I know – ouch. Yet perfectly apt.

The ability to truly understand through listening is therefore a competence, one that can be studied, learned and finally applied. But all of that competence requires something else, something that underpins all learning.

Discipline.

Not just discipline required to apply oneself to the learning of the competence, though. That’s only half the story.

Discipline is also required to actually apply that learned skill at the appropriate moment. It means pausing in the gap between hearing someone say, “I want to tell you something” and the knee-jerk “Not now, I’m busy” which we tend to apply.

Not as easy as learning about how to listen, I’m afraid. We all live in our own world, and other people’s need to intrude upon our inner peace (i.e. while watching Line of Duty) tends to lie secondary to what we have ‘going on’ in our own heads. It takes discipline to decide to be present for another person. Until that discipline can be applied, all the listening training in the world won’t make you a great listener.

It’s easier to pause and listen to someone important to you in an intimate sense – immediate family, best friends, and so on. It’s also arguably easier to listen at a time of crisis, because the crisis is salient, it’s ‘in yer face’ and can’t be avoided.

But there are times when someone needs to be heard, but there is no obvious sense of urgency and so the moment is missed because the intended listener hasn’t developed the skill, and discipline, to be (a) willing to listen and (b) able to see that listening is needed now.

Next time someone seeks to attract your attention, pause and ask yourself – am I ready and willing to take the time to understand why this person wants me at this moment? That pause will inevitably result in better communication, even if the result is to arrange a better time for the conversation – the individual knows they have been and will be heard if the counsellor actively acknowledges that there is a conversation required.

Not easy.

But try.

Win-Win NEEDS the Three Resolutions

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You are familiar with the expression Win-Win, are you not? It’s a management go-to term when you are engaged in some kind of negotiation. Of course, in most negotiations the term is interpreted to mean that ‘I will win most and you will win some’. For example, the nice double-glazing salesman my father played, whose opening gambit for doing our whole house was £10,000, but when he wasn’t getting anywhere with that dropped straight to £6,000, at which my Dad suggested the salesman had (a) just tried to con £4k out of him and (b) better leave while he still could.

Another example – when someone with a purpose on television says ‘we need a debate’ may imply they are seeking a win-win solution to the issue at hand, but what they really mean is they want a debate where the other side does what they want done. My evidence – politicians stating that the other side should ‘show leadership’ by doing what they’re told.

Readers of the classic Seven Habits of Highly Effective People will know that a true Win-Win means that both sides seek out a solution that is better than either of them foresaw when they began the relationship, or they just don’t do the deal. That takes courage and consideration – the courage to stand for what you believe while also being considerate of the other’s needs and perspectives. It’s not surrender – it’s a deeper discussion.

It also means applying all of the Three Resolutions. It takes self-discipline to not blindly default into seeking what you want at the other’s expense, and it means denying yourself your initial victory in preference for consciously seeking a better one. It takes character (knowing what you value and being unwilling to compromise your principles) and competence (specifically the intellectual capacity to negotiate, to understand conceptually within the practices and legalities which cover the matter at hand, and the technical ability to do what is agreed). And it requires that you know your purpose and are willing to serve the other party and their stakeholders as much as you wish to serve your own.

This isn’t just a business related idea. This applies to all interpersonal transactions, from deciding on a family holiday to getting a stubborn teenager to clean her room. (That adjective was redundant, really, wasn’t it? They’re all stubborn.)

It means being proactive. It requires a momentary pause between the stimulus of getting your needs met and starting to demand them, instead using the pause to ask ‘how important is this relationship’? It means deciding that you want to consider your ultimate objective from the broader perspective of a whole-life view and any future dealings. It means giving thought to how you want the project to progress, and whether carrying it through is ethical, and won’t compromise your values and external principles.

Nope. Negotiating from a desire for all involved to benefit is definitely not easy. But it all starts with your being the kind of individual who is conscious of the above principles, and sufficiently proactive as to notice when they need to be applied. Instead of jumping straight to the default ‘win’ programming that we tend to adopt as we grow up – and learn from our ‘betters’.

Next time you want something that involves someone else, ask yourself – “Am I disciplined, congruent, competent and service-orientated enough to take the time to find out how I can be a part of making this a mutually beneficial project?”

If the answer is No, even in the moment, then decide to wait until you are.

The results will be truly extraordinary.

For more on The Three Resolutions, got to Amazon and buy the book.

Tidy up, before you kill someone.

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I don’t know many successful people – and by that I mean people I respect and who deserve their success – who surround themselves with clutter. It might be an amusing comedic meme for a character in a film or programme to be successful and yet live in a pile of clothes and dirty dishes, but I can’t say I’ve ever seen that in reality.

The successes I respect tend to exists in an organised environment, indeed often minimalistic. One place for recording everything that requires a decision, immediate referential filing for items once read and digested, immediate planning for an action resulting from input, in the appropriate place and for rediscovery at the appointed time.  A clean, tidy, organised and clutter-free workspace, usually paralleled by an equally open personal space.

I wish I had that.

Unfortunately, like most people I live with others. Others who have not delved as deeply into the benefits of self- and space-organisation as I. Those whose idea of being organised means having just the one pile – in each room – of ‘whatever it is they might ever need’. But it’s in the one place so they’ll find it if they have to.

#except they don’t, because they forget which pile/room they left it in.

And at the risk of talking out of turn, the people who live like that tend to be indisciplined, overweight, unfit and flighty. Everything last minute, and everything an inconvenience. That may not be abundantly clear with young people whose metabolism is yet to disappoint, but after 40 all that indiscipline suddenly manifests itself around your waistline.

Which raises the question – which came first, the disorganisation or the indiscipline? It’s a good one.

But there is a chap called Peter Walsh who opines that fat people are fat because they hoard stuff. Caveat – he’s not saying that is the primary or only reason but hear ‘him’ out through me. He does suggest that when we hoard, we create an environment that owns us, rather than an environment that we own. As the less disciplined see their environment take charge of their lives, they surrender to it. When it finally takes command, their preferred coping mechanism is – you guessed it, comfort eating.

It’s hardly scientific, but he has demonstrated on Oprah how finally regaining control of the environment they lost, resulted in losing the weight they had gained. (I am particularly proud of that sentence. 😊 )

I am engaged in clutter clearance now. And it is fun watching how quickly I decide to dump something, while others’ stuff awaits assessment – for days. And how the moment I clear four square feet of space, one of my children needs something stored ‘just for a bit’ and it gets filled again.

Keeping an ordered environment takes discipline, but there are peripheral effects on your physical and mental health – and that of the people around you who, like me, wish to heaven that you’d get your ‘arris in gear and throw some cr4p out.

Rant over.

Exercise the First Resolution on your personal and professional environments. I guarantee you’ll feel better, unless you live with a hoarder. Then it’s a case of controlling any homicidal tendencies you may have.

Relationships Fund Dentists, You Know.

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I would love the patient of a saint. It would be a characteristic could be humbly proud of (it is possible), but of late I find that my patience patina is wearing thin. I shan’t go into why, but suffice to say the expression ‘gritted teeth’ comes to mind because – I think I’m gritting my teeth. Nevertheless, I am trying to keep my counsel because of the relationships involved and the potentially negative and expensive consequences of just telling it like it is.

Which raises the question – is it better to be completely open to the point of bluntness (that’s an oxymoron if ever I wrote one), or hold back because one isn’t walking in the shoes of the people who ‘need telling’? The former approach could be said to be the most honest, but the latter the more respectful. A principled decision is called for in every different case.

There is no blanket strategy. You might argue that there is but have you ever opted for a specific approach only to discover that the facts and assessments that led you to use it – were wrong?

The only advice I can give – and which I would dearly love to consistently apply myself – would be to us the space between stimulus and response to really, conscientiously dig deeply into the situation, and act accordingly. Think broadly and deeply – what do you know, what do you think you know and can find out, and what is the situation as seen from the other side. Just asking those questions can truly serve your strategy for dealing with the event.

But there is another assessment I would invite you to consider.

If your selected approach requires careful wording and you can’t think of the words – consider letting it go.

It is easy to think you’re using the right words only to wonder why the other person didn’t hear what you said, but instead heard what they decided you meant and the situation worsened rather than improved.

And here’s the rub – sometimes they won’t tell you what they thought they heard; instead, they’ll go off and report their inaccuracy to someone else, and it all goes Pete Tong. Of course, that ‘someone else’ will be their friend, therefore on their side by default. They rarely go to an objective listener.

This whole idea is a ‘soft skill’ that requires wisdom, considered thinking and occasionally resignation to a situation.

Which means being willing to surrender, to leave things as they are while mitigating the potential risks of staying silent on the matter.

Which is bloody stressful, my teeth can tell you. Ask my dentist.

For more on good Character as a specific, rather than accidental life choice, read The Three Resolutions.

I beat The Stig. And learned a life lesson

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Last week I suggested I would monster everyone at a racing circuit Track Day. How did it go?

I arrived at Castle Combe and immediately realised (a) I was possibly the oldest driver there and (b) mine appeared to be the only unstripped, unchipped and unmodified car there. I was surrounded by Caterham 7s, quasi-sponsored trackday specials and even a Radical racing car. I knew I was toast.

But I really enjoyed myself. Although I was often a mobile chicane (except when I overtook a string of four slowly driven, identical Honda coupes) I was able to drive to ‘my’ max.

I discovered something apposite to life. Being the slowest (ish) car there by virtue in part of my being bog standard, I frequently found myself alone, which meant no-one was getting in my way, which in turn meant that I could perform without others influencing what I could and couldn’t do.

How often is that true? How often is what you are doing in terms of personal performance influenced or even impeded by the actions, inactions or rules created by others – and created in their interests rather than yours?

I’ll leave you to ponder that one, and then move on to suggesting that being ‘at the back and alone’ with no-one in your way may just be the best time to learn – about yourself, about your capabilities, and about your potential.

When unfettered, we can occasionally go further than we think. Like on track, we can focus forward rather than backwards. We can try things out and see what occurs, without the external critics that point out how ‘they could’ve done better’. We discover, for ourselves, where we can do better, where we have pushed too hard, where we make mistakes – and we tweak our self-expectations and behaviours with a view to overcoming or managing our former limitations.

I am confident that my next experience, in June, will show an improvement in terms of car control and speed management around a strange circuit – I’d visited last week’s on a prior occasion – and I’ll be willing to push a little harder.

Yes. Sometimes the tortoise beats the hare not because it’s smarter but because it took time to learn.

And I beat Top Gear Stig’s lap time. By four seconds. Admittedly he was in a Vauxhall Astra Diesel and I had a Focus ST but I’ll take the win.

The Rookie Badge of Shame.

Advanced Driving Makes Me A Better Grandad.

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Do you put as much into your pastimes as you put into your work? Alternatively – do you put as much into your work as you put into your extra-curricular activities?

The Three Resolutions ethic suggests that you should seek to be equally competent in both, and that the levels of competence you seek should be the highest possible. Note that is use the word ‘seek’ – it would be unfair to suggest that you all have the time and resources to succeed at the highest level, in everything, all of the time. But you should do the best you can with the time and resources available.

Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, touched on this. He suggested that many people think in silos, not deliberately but because that’s just the way society developed, in that there is a time for work, a time for play, a time for worship, and so on. Each was seen to be separate from the other. But in the 21st century, those boundaries slipped away. Now you have a work AND personal social media strategy to consider, work is a 24-hour focus (you are contactable constantly, and shifts and home-working are common), and self-directed personal and professional development is the norm. and you have to manage it, not your supervisors.

Next Monday, I will be engaging myself in my hobby, advanced driving. Not on the road, but on a racetrack. I’ll be driving my own road car, but I will be unfettered by speed limits. My intention, therefore, is to go as fast as I can and out-drive other people in faster cars. My experience in more controlled conditions has been that there are many folk out there with spectacularly powerful and beautiful motor cars who have no idea how to drive them the way they were intended. In two racetrack experiences, despite being up against Teslas, Jags, Porsches and BMWs, my Ford Focus has been let by and I’ve been passed once, because the instructor told me to let someone by when we were held up by a Tesla.

Yes, I’m clearly boasting. But it illustrates, to me, how some people aren’t seeking, or don’t appear to be seeking, the excellence that their resources will allow them to demonstrate. They’re settling for less than they can be. Yes, there may be other factors at play – I might just be reckless in exploring the outer limits of my ability and they have too much to lose – but as an illustration this example has merit.

How good are you at what you are not being paid for – and could you do it better?

I also write, I am a public speaker, and I am a cyclist, and in all three I try to be as good as I can get within the parameters that life presents.  I also try to be a great grandad and husband. No resources needed there, but ‘me’.

Strive to learn, strive to be your best. Returning to the Covey description, when we exceed expectations and capabilities in one are of our lives we can also improve our abilities and capacities in the other areas. Every improvement in one area creates improvements elsewhere.

But you must take care not to be like the excellent lawyer, who goes home and questions her family, seeking evidence for everything they tell her. Horses for courses – it’s the mental approach to excellence I’m proposing, not the ability to use the wrong tools in the wrong situation!

I do try to be ‘my best’ in everything I do. I frequently disappoint. But by seeking excellence in everything I am easily better than I would have been if I hadn’t even tried.

And another hint – if you teach as you learn, you actually create a personal and social obligation to be better all the time. Which those you serve will love.

What are you worth? And are you willing to pay it?

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I’d be interested in your response.

I suspect there are two directions in which readers’ minds travelled when they read that question. For some, and not necessarily for bad reasons, their minds went to their financial status. Their answer may have been ‘none of your business’, but since that wasn’t my motive it doesn’t matter. Others would have proudly stated their net worth, the value of their possessions and the consequences of their life’s work, their inheritance, their future anticipated wealth. A figure, preceded by their currency of choice’s symbol, be it £, $or €.

But that’s not what I asked, even if the words implied it. What I meant is…

“What are YOU worth?”

To put it another way – what is the price of your personal integrity? What boundaries are you willing to cross, and what borders represent the spot where you will fight and die – metaphorically, perhaps even literally?

And, perhaps more to the point, just how firm are they? Which, if any, are a bit rubbery depending on the circumstances? Which values might bend in the wind? And..

Have you bent any, already?

I’m not talking about other people’s values and standards – for example, those imposed upon you since you entered a profession, association, relationship or otherwise. (For example, where the ethical standards you subscribed to have now changed with the influence of excessive political correctness, as opposed to reasonable adjustments which probably didn’t contravene your values in any case?)

I’m writing specifically about whether – or not – you follow the advice of a US politician who reportedly stated, “I have a firm set of principles by which resolutely stand, but if necessary I can change them.”

That is your true ‘value’. Whether you are willing to stand by your principles in the face of challenge, or excuse a failure to do so. Not money. Integrity.

Perhaps – and now I get truly controversial – you have another form of incongruence which I perceive (I could be wrong so I am being careful with my words) exists in the world today.

I am thoroughly bored with the virtue-signalling I see around me. People who have never given a monkey’s about ‘social justice’ now routinely reposting and liking SJW memes. Celebrating things they never celebrated before. Companies banging on about social justice, when really all they want to do is sell stuff. And, more often than not, failing to recognise that if there’s one thing people really know about their motives, based on the evidence around them, is that it is Profit, not Principles that direct their spouting.

I firmly agree that people should absolutely stand by the values in which they truly believe. I might not like Greta’s approach, and I question its psycho-sociological origins, but at least she believes in what she is doing, and is doing what she believes in.

But don’t pretend to stand by Values imposed upon you by others, because you’re afraid to either oppose, or at least be neutral about them. Stand by them if you believe in them, but don’t pretend you give a toss when you really don’t. Or worse, if you do so only because you fear being seen to question them.

It’s a Circle of Influence ‘thing’. If you think that reposting and liking woke posts makes you a good person, stop and take a good hard look at yourself. You’ve stood for nothing. You haven’t put yourself at risk in any capacity. You haven’t demonstrated the vulnerability that true congruence can represent. Worse still (for the particularly vociferous), the manner in which you intolerantly oppose what you perceive to be ‘intolerance’ says more about you than you think. You’ve pandered. You’re wearing a badge someone else paid for.

And people can see it. They see behind your fearful façade.

And that, readers, is how they know your true value. Your character speaks louder than your reposted memes.

Think on that.

Stephen Covey taught me Scepticism… (bear with me).

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I have always been ‘intelligent’ in the sense I could pass examinations, but I don’t think I became really intelligent until I started studying the works of Stephen Covey. He didn’t make me any cleverer in IQ terms, but he did open my eyes to a new mental approach to things. He showed me how people – you, me and an awful lot of politicians and celebrities – are psychologically flawed, and in recognising those flaws I realised just how much what we are told is ideologically biased. Not necessarily on a political ideology – just a set of ideas about which the speaker feels certain, even though they have no empirical, objective evidence for the firmness of that certainty. It is, to use a Markleism, a ‘lived truth’ and is therefore subjective.

I hear a ‘fact’ now, and I realise that it is rarely factual. It is routinely an opinion. It is an opinion honestly held in the sense that the person stating it (usually) genuinely believes it, but it is rarely an absolute, objective truth. I now question everything I hear, because I know about Values. They believe what they are saying because they want it to be true. And anything which challenges that ‘truth’ is not only wrong, it is an absolute lie!

Attaching emotion to an argument colours it, so when I hear emotion – anger, passion, hate, fear – then I also hear bias. And just because I disagree with you doesn’t mean I am right, either. Objectivity requires acceptance that you may also be biased.

Covey taught me many things, but one of them was to see things not through ‘my eyes’ but through ‘principles’. The main principle of debate and learning being – ‘have we heard ALL the facts?’ So I accept nothing, believe no-one and check everything.

For example, when I hear someone on one side of the political divide start insulting the other,  I remember Desmond Tutu’s advice that when in debate, instead of raising your voice, raise the quality of your argument. Try explanation and a quiet, considered voice – and I’ll hear you.

When I hear ‘There is no evidence to show …….. (whatever the speaker does not wish to believe)’, I ask, “Have you even looked?”

When I hear ‘something terrible IS going to happen’ (e.g. Brexit), I recall Hyrum W. Smith (author of What Matters Most) saying ‘ Results take time to measure’ and recognise none of us can tell the future. Try ‘might’ happen – and I’ll listen.

When I hear ‘you MUST do it this way’, I look at the background material and frequently find that ‘this way’ is not the ‘only way’. Indeed, it is occasionally the wrong way. Question what you are told – even if the answer remains the same, you will understand it to a far more informed degree.

When I hear talented actors, who I’ve watched grow up from their first childhood films to mature individuals, telling me their opinions about politics I ask, “When exactly did you do your—–ology degree?” They have a right to an opinion – but all too often they have no ‘authority’ behind it. (And as I get the impression that ‘creatives’ are almost consistently left-wing, I also ask how that stands up, statistically?).

And when I hear an academic’s opinion that is based on their expertise, I remember that they may have found the evidence they sought, but was it objectively tested? And you can get a degree with a 40% pass mark, by the way. Having letters after your name may just be confirmation of a bias!

In essence, what I am promoting, here, is to live a life of healthy cynicism, where you question what you hear – even your own experiences. The last thing this world needs is to move from objective reality to ‘lived truths’.

Listen, but assess. Could they be wrong – because if they are and you act on that, you’re wrong too.

Are you just a By-Line?

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Is your LinkedIn ‘blurb’ the whole extent of your existence? Is your quirky, deeply-considered and often trademarked tagline the result of deep introspection, or just a marketing tool for making you special? I’ll be blunt – I suspect for many it is the latter. It has a genuine purpose, and you’ve put a lot of thought into it. But the motivation may not be ‘right’.

We are not a job title, quirky or otherwise. We are far more than any professional trademark can ever describe with any accuracy. What is more, what we are we are all The time, whereas the registered trademark (is it really, or have you just popped an ® by it?) is, at best, nothing more than who we are at work.

We are whole human beings, and our senses of being, purpose and relating should be reflected in a set of self-defined guidelines that, if we are to be seen as having true integrity, must be executed with consistency.

That is why I wrote The Way – Integrity on Purpose. It is a deep-diving guide to identifying, defining, designing and executing on a personal credo that is about as comprehensive as I could make it. It is a book that provides counsel on self-analysis to the point at which you – yes YOU, not me or anyone else – decides what your are for in your personal, interpersonal and professional lives to the point at which you are congruent in the way you ‘are’ at all times, instead of different people in different situations.

It is also the route I took to deciding to write and (try to) live by the contents of my magnum opus The Three Resolutions. It is also the foundation to my ability to roll with the several punches I have suffered over the years in terms of cancer, professional challenges and occasional failures.

To be frank, and some psychologists would agree, material and counsel of this type is what can turn someone from feeling ‘meaningless’ to ‘purposeful’ – and we know the devastation that can occur when that gap isn’t addressed, don’t we.

If you have any sense of self-doubt – any at all – then reading this book will, I firmly believe, at least point you towards a bespoke solution for rediscovering a sense of purpose and inner peace.

It’s not about having a registered trademark to hide behind. It’s about having a set of standards to which you hold yourself, all the time and everywhere.

Go and explore the index. See if there’s something there for you – or for someone you care about.

Don’t just be a By-Line. Seek a “Be Line.”

Get Better. At Everything You Reasonable Can.

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What are you good at? Outside your profession, that is?

And another question – how good are you at that ‘other thing’? And a final one – How good could you be at that thing?

There is a book out there called ‘The One Thing,’ by authors Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It’s a fine book, very easy to follow and (one might argue) twice as big as it needs to be to explain its main idea. It promotes the idea that you should focus on your ‘One Thing’ and (to use their words) to do so to the extent that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary. And there’s my issue.

I don’t know anyone who does One Thing.

To be fair, Keller and Papasan are mainly asking you to address the One Thing that will make you successful and most people see that as a professional aim, and therefore seek it out in one area of life – the money-making, success-orientated part. The authors do acknowledge and promote using that question in other life areas, too. Which is where my point in this blog comes in.

First of all, I believe most people have a number of things they want to do, some of which they discover along life’s (DON’T SAY JOURNEY) path. BUT there is a tendency to seek high levels of competence in only one or two. I believe it is possible to have high levels of competence in all of them. Indeed, if you consider some important roles, it is essential to be optimally competent. Do you want to be a ‘passable’ parent? Thought not.

So secondly, I believe that it is a good idea to study, experience and apply yourself to your ‘other interests’ to the highest practical degree. I say ‘practical’ because you can’t work for a living AND study for a degree in every interest you might have. That’s impractical. But you CAN seek out experiences, and practical learning, in your fields of interest. For my part it’s in public speaking and advanced driver instruction. There have been other interests as well (investigator training and writing) which took up time, but time well spent as my competency in each area developed through osmosis. I learned as I ‘did’. That’s not as fast as 100% focus one can apply to a new career, but it is effective. And here’s the thing.

What I learned in every different and distinct role, I have discovered can be applied in all the other roles, too. My legal training helps me deal with life’s challenges because of a forensic, logical approach. My learning the art of manly and sporty lycra-wearing has made me fitter and more able to ‘work’. My studies required and developed my writing ‘ability’ such as it is (your assessment….) My desire to train required I learn to speak in public so I ‘got gooderer’ at that.

There are people in the world who can learn, qualify in and apply some serious disciplines. I’ve known medically-qualified barristers, and that is some time- and mental commitment! I’m jealous of people who can achieve this level of competence but I’m not suggesting we can all do that. But we can find something we like to do and seek out the ability and knowledge required to be the best we can be at whatever that is.

Look at your work and hobbies. Are there things you can do that will make you even better at doing them? Courses, reading, experiences you can have that will make you better at, and therefore enjoy those activities.

Go to it. Maximise your application of The Second Resolution and become a better person on your own terms.

Make the Hard Choices

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When I set out my plan for what is my 60th year, one of the tenets I elected to live by was the expression “Make the Hard Choices.”

What is a hard choice? In a nutshell, a Hard Choice has to be made when, in Three Resolutions terminology, one often has to choose between a short term preference, or a ‘fight or flight’ kind of response, where the immediate temptation is to take the easy option. Or one really thinks about it.

I have made several hard choices over the fairly recent past. Two stand out because the first impacted the latter. In 2019, I was accused in my workplace of some thought crimes. One was a silly joke I made, which in the current climate really was silly. The rest of them – well, let’s just say I dispute either the recollection, or the existence of the event. My Hard Choice was – fight, or flight? During the internal hearing, where the number of pages exceeded the number of days I’d worked, I found myself wondering if the next allegation would be that my striped tie was phallic in nature. I decided that the relationship between the people involved was such that, for the sake of the organisation, I would resign. I didn’t need the money, nice as it was. The organisation didn’t need the bother and, quite frankly, neither did I. So I left.

Two years later, an agency with which I am registered asked me if I wanted a role with that organisation. As I am lockdown-bored, I suggested that if they’d have me, I was willing. The agency said they’d contacted them and they were okay with me, “Would you like an interview?”

I actually panicked. I had the shakes, concerns about ‘them’, concerns about the work.  My blood rushed to my head; I was mentally all akimbo. And then my mantra kicked in – “Make the Hard Choice.” I replied, “Yes.”

During my interview it became clear that my past hadn’t been passed on. So I told the interviewers (as an answer to the question as to whether I’d ever made a difficult choice, ironically enough). No point in hiding what they needed to know, after all.

Those examples represented the making of a ‘hard’, Hard Choice. But I have made another one every morning this week. To get out of bed and exercise first thing, or (weather permitting) to go out on long/hard road cycling expeditions. Some people love doing that – I am less enamoured. But as I lay there in the morning gloom (roll on Summer), I remind myself – Make the Hard Choice, and I rise, dress, set up my tablet and watch Talk Radio and other videos as I use up the calories I will take on later in the day.

You may have a range of Hard Choices to make. Divorce, marry, date, dump. Take or refuse an opportunity. Eat a salad or a cake. Give up a vice or accept the consequences. Write that e-mail, or delete it once drafted.

Of course, some of your hard choices may affect others. Promotion/resignation affects those who rely on you for survival, after all. Facing or escaping a danger may result in the difference between saving a life or making sure you stay around for your loved ones. (I’ve often wondered why, when they DON’T leap into danger, coppers are often criticised. If it’s courageous to throw yourself into a river to save a stranger, it is ‘normal’ and expected NOT to.)

What Hard Choices do you make? If there aren’t any, are you living to your full potential? There is no doubt in my mind that it is the Hard Choices that bring out the best in us. And sometimes, that choice may seem self-centred – but might actually contravene our values in preference to the needs of other people.

Even the ones who tell tales about you.

You’ve Fallen – What Now?

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“You may have a fresh start any moment you choose, for this thing that we call failure is not the falling down, but the staying down.” Mary Pickford

Every now and then, even the best have a poor day. An actor fluffs a line, a singer misses a note, Tiger Woods misses a road. These days of woke, a slip of the tongue causes offence and you are the one in the wrong, undermining hundreds of years of basic law about intent being the important element of a crime, not the ‘feelings’ of the other party. People are losing jobs because of momentary lapses of judgment that have nothing to do with their actual job performance – and often because the ‘offendee’ has an agenda (newspaper sales, TV ratings, they want your job, etc.), and not because they were genuinely offended.

And you’re cast down. Do you stay there?

It’s entirely up to you.

Here’s some advice for those who fall. Get up and start again from the First Resolution. Re-establish the disciplines that made you the success you were until only moments ago. Address the mistake by deciding either to never repeat it or to stand by it. Depending on your perspective and the nature of the event – you decide. If you were guilty, in part or in full, accept your tort and never do it again. If you weren’t, be steadfast and step away from the situation before it worsens.

Then look at the Second Resolution: revisit your sense of character, a massive element of which is Integrity. What does your conscience say about your ‘offence’? Was it wrong – if so, decide never to do it again. If not, conclude others were in the wrong and move forward. Examine your professional competencies: which ones weren’t what they could have been – if personalities were involved, what did you miss? Who did you fail to judge accurately? What nagging doubts (‘yellow alerts’) did you ignore? What action did you fear to take? It is rarely your professional competency that fails – it is almost always relationship-related – people, in other words.

Finally, consider the Third Resolution: can you still follow through on your sense of purpose, even if it is in a different way? Who can you serve, instead? What skills do you have that haven’t been compromised or lessened by your fall, that can be put to good, or even better use?

This* happens. But only death can really stop you doing something meaningful with your life. Anything else is a temporary distraction if you decide that to be so. The world is full of recovery stories – write your own if you need to. Use the philosophies available through the many books on purpose, discipline, and so on. Discover an alternative route to the end that what you lost was intended to provide.  

Apply The Three Resolutions.

Get Better. BE Better.

Starting the moment you get over what happened.

*An anagram

Emotional Control – and Two Fights.

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Years ago during my policing career, two colleagues arrested a criminal who had a reputation for violence. On arrival at the Custody Unit car park, and just outside the Unit entrance doors, the officers alighted and invited the detainee to get out of the car. (It was before the use of vans was routine.) He declined their invitation.

Using ‘minimum force’ I used a technique I had learned in training, I put the blunt end of a pen against his earlobe and putting the two between my fingers, squeezed. He got out, at which point my two colleagues pinned him against the wall and tried to cover all his limbs and torso at the same time. I observed two things – one, he was trapped, and two, he wasn’t actually resisting any more.

“Flipping heck Dave, help us!” yelled one of my mates.

“He’s not resisting anymore.” I calmly responded. And he wasn’t. he meekly accepted his fate once the two sweating coppers eased off and the rest of the process went easily.

For 24 hours the two colleagues thought ill of me. The following day, they apologised. The emotion of the moment had taken over.

Another day, same unit. A well known and truly violent prisoner, with a history for acting up in the Unit, was asked to remove his clothes for forensic examination. Predictably, off he went. Yelling, demanding, threatening. It was going to take the world to get his kit off.

“Oy, ******,” I shouted. “WHAT?” he replied.

“Has behaving like that ever actually worked for you?” I asked.

A moment passed and he started undressing.

I’m no saint. I lost my temper now and then. Which doesn’t make today’s lesson less impactive, it merely reinforces it.

When emotions are high, when stresses are present, when losing your temper and abandoning all emotional control is ooohhhh so easy,

Don’t.

There are two reasons for this. First of all, it makes you feel good afterwards. Your keeping control is emotionally satisfying.

But second, it means you keep control and are able to deal with the event better. While I’m not proposing you will ever need this advice, my experience has always been than in a fight it’s the one who loses control that loses. I was attacked many times during my career but I always (somehow!) managed to keep my cool – even when a criminal bit into my leg and I let him stay there because it meant he wasn’t running off – and I literally tied them up in an effective controlling hold because they had lost control and I hadn’t.

You may not be involved in fisticuffs, but the same advice applies to those verbal confrontations we all, occasionally, find ourselves starting or trying to finish. Maintaining emotional control is key to resolution, and it is a truly empowering characteristic that those who wish to be principled leaders should seek to adopt.

All it takes is a moment to decide – who’s in charge here? Me or my emotions.

Choose ‘me’.

Buy this book – Be Like Russ.

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Why did you pick up a personal development book?

You are on Amazon or you are in a bookshop, searching in the business or self-help section for one of a few reasons.

  • You’ve tripped over it by mistake. Could be serendipitous, and you’ve accidentally discovered something that piques your interest.
  • You have recently been introduced to the concept of personal development and are exploring available options. You are looking to be better than you perceive you are. This is your first foray in the well of wisdom. Good luck. There’s plenty to see, here.
  • This isn’t your first self-help book. You are an avid reader of this kind of material. You’re addicted to researching the solutions that all your previous reading hasn’t provided. I feel your pain, because I have been there. Like me, you’re into ‘shelf-development’ by accident.
  • You are already successful by all ‘normal’ societal measures but there’s something that you either can put your finger on and you think an answer might be found within these pages, or you can’t put your finder on ‘it’ and you hope to realise what it is as you progress through the chapters. You’d be surprised how many potential readers come under this description.

But do you want to buy and read it, yet? No?

Let’s explore further.

Do you know someone who you think represents your ideal? And why do you think that person is your ‘ideal’?

I had someone in mind when I wrote that question. He was a consummate professional, arguably a leader in his field even though when I really knew him he held low rank in the organisation for which we both worked. He was at the same time one of the most caring supervisors and individuals I had ever known. His name is Russ. I hope you know someone like that.

If you really study people like Russ, you will notice certain things. You’d probably notice that they possess six character traits, and in my book The Three Resolutions I argue that those six traits come under three pairings. Mastery of those pairings will enable you to emulate your ideal and thus become someone else’s representation of ‘great’. Oddly enough, if you look at disgraced celebrities and politicians you will notice the lack of some or more of the same six character traits that make for true greatness.

Do you want to know what they are? Better still, do you want to possess them yourself? Good. But wait a little longer before making the commitment.

What if I said this was a book on ‘the simple, quick way to success?’ Would you buy it then? I certainly hope not.

We should all strive to be the best at what we can do. That is the objective of much of the personal development literature out there, but I think there is one problem with a lot of it.

A lot of the books have a tendency to over-promises and under-deliver. They offer ‘massive’ success, ‘greatness’, an ideal that is all too often defined as rich, famous and accompanied by the lifestyle of millionaires. Which is not to say that isn’t a worthy ambition and that you should never, ever pursue such a goal.

Unfortunately, the sad, sobering truth is that we can’t all be at the top of our respective field, even if we can strive towards that goal. We can’t all be celebrities because don’t all have voices like Katherine Jenkins or Andrea Bocelli, we can’t all act like George Clooney or Tom Hanks, and we can’t all write like J.K. Rowling and Lee Child. We can’t all be immensely rich because there’d be no-one left to do the work that we do. Economics would make all millionaires ‘poor’ if that was even possible. We can’t all run the organisation we work for, because there’d be nobody in the shop floor making the widgets we need to sell in order to pay our salaries.

Which is not to say we can’t try. And I will argue that we all have an inkling of what is required, but many of us tend to avoid actually doing it.

The six character traits under the three ‘headings’ are easy to understand, I assure you. The challenge is that they can be surprisingly hard to do. True greatness doesn’t come about through just pottering at something – it takes some effort, at least. I can’t make it easier to do, sorry and all that. Any author/ trainer/coach who says s/he can, is a liar. A charlatan. A snake-oil salesman.

But what I can do is make it easier to understand the traits, systematically help you see how they inter-relate, and motivate you to do something about what you discover.

Are you willing to consider doing that? To putting in the effort to understand and then actively apply what you read?

Still not convinced? Okay, let me try another tack. What if you don’t buy this book, don’t study its content and leave your success to accident, to other people’s design, or to fortune? What do you think will happen? Could you win a lottery if you haven’t bought a ticket? Can you get a job you haven’t applied for? Can you have a beautiful garden you don’t plant, nurture and maintain? In fact, can you get anything meaningful without taking action towards that end? Without at least doing something? Everything in life requires input if we are going to get output. Everything.

The fact is that while there’s not enough room for everyone to be at the top because the bar is always rising (and what represents talent changes with the mood of the client!), there is no need to be despondent because there is one thing at which we can be best, and once we achieve that we can all have the potential to go for the bigger things.

The one thing at which you can be great is – being the real, best, most competent, nice, disciplined, healthy, slim, helpful, dutiful and ultimately Russ-like ‘you’.

And that’s where The Three Resolutions come in. I invite you to read about them while you’re stuck indoors – and before you’re set free and accidentally default to how things were before.

Vietnam and The Three Resolutions

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For the past 8 days I have been dutifully watching a PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War, covering the 1961-1973 American involvement in what had hitherto been a French problem. And the overarching message that I have received has been – if they’d just applied the Second and Third Resolutions, maybe the lives of 282,000 US/South Vietnamese and other allies’ service personnel, 444,000 North Vietnamese/Viet Cong soldiers, and  627,000 civilians, would have been saved. Not all, I suspect – if North Vietnam had simply been handed control there would no doubt have been the kind of casualties usually associated with a communist takeover.*

Why would the Second Resolution have saved them? Character.

You see, the recurring message of the testimony and evidence produced showed (a) how often the US authorities admitted, in secret, that they were fighting a losing battle from when Kennedy was still alive and (b) that the self-interest of Presidential re-election was the focus of some of their decision-making. They even produced evidence that Nixon sabotaged peace talks as a way of supporting his efforts to replace Lyndon Johnson in the 1968 elections. How many of his citizens dies because of self-interest – because of a lack of character?

Which also brings up the Third Resolution. The other factors that killed countless people was unbridled ambition on the part of the leaders of both sides. The North could argue that they wanted to unite their country under one flag, albeit a communist one. The American evidence was clearly that, rather than acknowledge a huge error and step back from it with careful consideration as to how, they just threw people at it to avoid having to admit to a mistake – even someone else’s! Just to maintain power 6,000 miles away.

When I saw how many soldiers died taking ‘strategically important’ hills, only for the victors – survivors – to leave them once they got to the top, I was grateful that my children never volunteered to join the Forces, and simultaneously even more respectful of those who do.

I have always been willing to acknowledge and apologise for my mistakes. Even when my efforts have been rebuffed, and lies told about my errors, my disappointment has been more about another’s unwillingness to accept my apology out of self-interest, than it has been about the negative personal consequences.

Saying sorry often takes courage. It means acknowledging imperfection, it means risking a reputation – it means being vulnerable. Acknowledgement of a genuine effort to apologise is the least one can ask for.

But as Vietnam shows, stubborn insistence on ‘being right’ when patently ‘doing wrong’ in an effort to hide being even more wrongis dangerous to everyone involved.

Particularly for those who didn’t realise they were being misused by the players in the game.

Tell the truth. Live the truth, Acknowledge the truth.

Whatever happens.

*Turns out there weren’t any massacres. Just big re-education camps. Honest.

Handforth and the Third Resolution

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As I write this blog, the Handforth Council Planning Committee video is viral, the major press has got wind of it, and it has apparently chosen sides. Having been party to many a committee meeting myself, I thought I’d explore the concept from a Third Resolution (service) perspective. The question so obviously arising from this amusing event is – why do people choose to serve?

The most attractive and most frequently given answer will be ‘I want to serve the association, public, country, community’ (delete as applicable). For many, that is true. I know I wanted to serve my own Institute when I volunteered. Which was not necessarily my only motive, and therein lay the crunch.

In my opinion, when volunteering there is also the ego-driven desire to be/do something of importance. Don’t judge – there is an element of ‘What’s In It For Me’ in everything we do. That is a psychological truth. If there was nothing at all in it for you – what possible reason would you have for doing it? My evidence? ‘I want to be a nurse’ is a worthy vocational ambition, but years later ‘emptying Gladys’ colostomy bag’ loses its edge. You still do it because it serves your greater vision, but you’d be equally happy if you didn’t have to. We want the good stuff of the service we provide, and we endure the bad. Which is why there is no such job as ‘colostomy bag emptier’. No-one wants it. But they will do it as part of work they do want. You wanted the overall job, and to serve. You do the bad because it serves something else that IS in it for you.

The problems arise when instead of serving in order to get ‘something’, you start to serve with a view to making that service – serve you. Instead of giving to the cause, you start to demand that the cause gives to you – not just emotional contentment and a sense of purpose (which is why you started), but everything. The cause/organisation you serve now belongs to you, and you demand to direct it.

When I watched the Handforth video I found myself asking questions the press seemed to have ignored. Why was this ‘volunteer’ running the Zoom meeting and deciding who was in charge? Was she there because she wanted to serve – or because she didn’t like what she (or someone else) was hearing and wanted to stop it despite really having no business doing so? Watching the earlier part of the meeting suggests at least some internal politics at play.

If someone turned up in your meeting and declared she was running it because a third party ‘asked her’, what would your response be? If s/he rejigged the agreed agenda, added bits in and threw the Chair out because he wasn’t content to allow the hijack – would you go, ‘Fine, no problem’? And what if it was clear that half the attendees seemed to be either in on the hijack or willing to endorse it? (Which, if that was the case, would explain the anger displayed by the Chair/Vice-Chair particularly if it was happening ‘again’ and they’d had enough of it. Half a story is not a whole story.)

The Third Resolution is intended to counter the Restraining Force (possibly) demonstrated in Handforth. (And I emphasise – none of us knows the whole story, so that’s a big ‘possible’.)

That RF is UNBRIDLED Aspiration and Ambition. Note the importance of the adjective ‘Unbridled’ – aspiration and ambition in an individual is laudable until it becomes self-serving, and serves the individual at the very expense of the body being served. My observation of the meeting – which is admittedly subjective and may be misinformed – was that someone appeared to be interfering in someone else’s game, as modest and (in fairness) emotionally cool as she appears in the video, and perhaps shouldn’t have. I have done some research and have some questions but – not here. 🙂

So was she there to serve? And if so, serve whom? Only the parties involved know the whole truth. But if I wanted to serve the local authority I’d seek election or employment. And I’d only do it because I wanted to serve, even if I wanted to progress and serve from the top. Ambition good, unbridled ambition, bad.

 In the interests of balance, I might do a blog on emotionally-controlled addressing of interference and trespassers…….

It’s never too late – nor too early – to learn

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Ordinarily I write my blogs on the day I post them. I wrote this one five days ago, because I knew I’d be busy this morning. I mean that morning. I mean …. Oh, you know.

I knew I was busy on the morning this post would appear (that’ll do) because of my adherence to my personal value relating to ‘intellectual pursuit’ in that I had booked to attend a webinar. To be frank, it’s a webinar the content of which I already know and I could probably plan and present it myself (although the presenter is doing a bang up job). It’s on a subject I’ve studied for decades, hence my apparent over-confidence.

But I have always been of the opinion that ‘competence’, the ‘working’ half of the Second Resolution, is not something you achieve once. Competence is an ongoing obligation, and as competencies develop so does my need to maintain some kind of currency with the latest thinking on the subject at hand. It ahs been said that competencies have a half-life of about two-three years, meaning in that period you’ll lose half your usable ability if you don’t maintain some kind of continuing professional development. I know from recent experience that the procedural changes in the organisation I left in 2014 and to which I returned 18 months later meant that I was way behind in some respects. A steep learning curve was a pleasant surprise!

Many people rue additional training, while some welcome it. I find that the first group is split into people who hate it whatever it is, while some (cough) just detest such training if it is unnecessarily frequent or poorly delivered.

(Did you know that on the first anniversary of the day they are taught how to hit people with a metal bar, police officers are deemed to have forgotten? The same with First Aid. Complete mental collapse in some areas of their work that many apply frequently but on day 366 – all forgotten. Yes, I am being a bit sarcastic and there are valid exceptions.)

In the main, however, frequent attendance at training courses will at best enhance your professional (and personal*) competencies and at worst reinforce the ones you already possess.

So why not approach imposed training as something which will serve you in some way, and proactively seek out training in areas which until now you may have felt unnecessary – or better still, something you want to do just ‘because’.

When the lockdown finishes you will no doubt get the opportunity to return to a community college, further education facility or other provider who will teach you something you will need to know, or will want to know.

I know I will be.

( *I’m booking some ‘relationship’ courses even though I’m approaching my 40th wedding anniversary. Can’t be too careful…….)

For more on principle centred leadership, ready my book The Three Resolutions, available HERE.

My Biggest Mistake

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One of my deepest regrets in my professional life relates to a character flaw I had (have?) which was an unintentional, and oddly counter-intuitive effect of having studied the field of personal development, particularly the writings of leadership thought-leader Stephen R Covey.

Those who knew me best overlooked that flaw and saw something which I seemed determined to hide but (at least for them) shone through the cracks in the illusion I’d somehow managed to create.

It was this. Having discovered a sense of self-direction borne of the personal development world, everything that got in its way was annoying. And even if I didn’t say so out loud, which I occasionally did, then I would still somehow manage to communicate that frustration.

For example, in a busy CID office I walked in one morning to the news that my DI had selected me to investigate a vulnerable missing person. He was vulnerable by definition (over 65) but there was no actual fear for his safety. Anyway, that day I had a plan, and the news wasn’t welcome. I rang the DI, who wasn’t in, and left a message about how I was going to comply with his request and ‘then do some proper police work’.

Apparently, I went viral.

Good boss, raised it with my immediate supervisor and I went to apologise. (As an aside, that’s what I mean by ‘people who knew me well’ were able to make allowances.)

With 20/20 hindsight I wish that instead of having a ‘plan’ priority I’d had an ‘excellence’ priority, instead. That instead of moaning and whingeing (while still doing a great job) I did an excellent job in good humour, welcoming the trust and the challenges that were being offered to me. Perhaps I would have achieved just a bit more professionally – I did specialise and I did well, but much later on my hubris – and perhaps unwillingness to absolutely follow the change in political ‘line’ – bit me on the bum.

The same applied at home. If I had a plan and something interrupted it, instant strop. If someone doesn’t do what I ask (reasonable though it may be), I mention it DI-style. Not good for relationships, even if the penalty isn’t quite as drastic as a job loss, for example.

The point is – instead of pausing in the Stimulus-Response Gap and considering that a request was reasonable, do-able, developmental and relationship-building before welcoming those opportunities, I chose conflict. Imagine that – I chose conflict. How dull am I?

After all I have studied, agreed with, understood and desired to apply, I still find a tendency to bite. Not as much as I did, but too late to do anything about those mistakes I made, and to have another chance to learn from them.

Time is a bitch. It won’t move in the direction I need it to.

Anyway, apologies to the offended. It wasn’t personal unless I made it plain that it was.

The message?

Now is the time to adopt a considered, conciliatory approach to work, impositions, interruptions and people. The alternative isn’t worth the lack of effort. (It does make sense.)

Have a great week, everyone. Even those who offended me. Because now – I understand.

Failure is Meaningless – AND Meaningful

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Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist, victim of the Holocaust and author of the most impactive book on a purpose-driven existence (Man’s Search for Meaning), wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.” In the same vein, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

How true is the life philosophy that such sayings promote? To be frank their veracity can probably be underlined by the fact that so many writers on the subject of personal development and the associated psychologies quote them. But their popularity does not necessarily make them right, any more than Lady Gaga’s views on American politics have a sound academic base because she writes nice songs.*

What is your experience?

My own life is a series of successes, followed by severe disappointments followed by bounce-backs followed by plummeting failure and back again. In fact, if I delve too deeply into my history I’ll probably depress myself – which is okay because I’ll come right back in any case. History says so.

Seriously, most successes have a history of failures to look back on. (Some successes still have those failures to come!) Two good example are Abraham Lincoln – many, many failures in terms of his political ambitions before becoming arguably the greatest US President to date – and Winston Churchill, who was up and down like the proverbial whore’s drawers (best simile I could find, sorry) between:

  • entering Parliament, becoming Home Secretary and being hauled over the coals for personally attending a siege,
  • later First Lord of the Admiralty, resigning over Gallipoli and sending himself to the Western Front,
  • then being constantly carped at over his warning about a famous German painter and decorator before
  • finally being given total command over Britain’s defence during WWII, then
  • voted out of power immediately after victory before
  • becoming PM again at the age of 77 before finally retiring from politics at 81.

Churchill could really have been forgiven for thinking, ‘Bugger all this’ instead of more famously deciding to ‘Keep Buggering On!’

Both these famous men, along with the likes of Gandhi, Malala Yousufzai, Britney Spears, Drew Barrymore and Robert Downey Jr, are testament to the fact that if you have a deep, meaningful reason for doing what you do (and a talent for it that people recognise and appreciate) then the occasional setback – even the really embarrassing ones – need not be your Final Act.

The examples I use – celebrities and politicians – may not have had to deal with quite the levels of Nietzsche’s ‘what’ that Frankl suffered (concentration camp bereavements and horrible experimentation visited upon his person) but ultimately they had a sense of purpose that drove them through the pain and back towards success. As some sage put it – “When you’re going through Hell, keep going.” (I’d say Ducky from NCIS but I think he pinched it).

I’m still really awaiting my next comeback after my last setback, but it’ll come. Meanwhile I have a sense of meaning that revolves around my grandchildren and their parents. (Is that order somehow symbolic?) I am lucky in that income isn’t a big issue – not rich, but secure – and maybe one day all this writing will ‘pay’ off. But if it doesn’t I’m still going to try.

I’m going to try because The Third Resolution drives even the biggest failures towards optimism. It drives me and it serves others – even if they haven’t been served yet. They’ll come around when they need me.

Which reminds me, the grandkids are coming around and I need to brace myself……..

*She may well have a degree in politics but THAT will be why her views have strength, not because she has a Poker Face.

The Daily Win.

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I’ve said it before, so I’ll say it again. All those Californian, rich(ish) personal development speakers and writers and their ‘Rise at 5AM and exercise’ freaks are invited to come and live where I do in South Wales, where it’s easier to pick up the dog eggs in the garden at 6AM because they’re rock hard with ice. Where the idea of a home gym is fine if you live with a spare room big enough for a running machine or static bike, said room being centrally heated to at least ‘bearable’ for that early effort. And where going to bed early so as to get a decent kip before getting up at 5AM isn’t easy because the road and neighbours aren’t 100 yards away and are living their noisy lives while you try to drop off. And fitness clubs remain an expensive luxury.

Which is not to say that exercising is impossible. So far this calendar year, with the exception of the 1st and the 9th, I have exercised daily. Furthermore, with two exceptions, I have done so as soon as I got out of bed. Which, lucky me, is 7.30AM because I ain’t got a proper job.

I have a spin bike, a relatively inexpensive yet reliable (3 years so far) model. I have a mount (thank you Santa) for a 7” tablet through which I watch YouTube videos which inform, entertain or anger depending on the day’s choice. And a garden shed to put it in. There simply is no room in the main dwelling. You see, I am not a financial success like all those 5AM loonies. I am a moderate professional success on that I have always been employed doing work I enjoy, on the public purse in their service. So none of that ‘earn twice as much, work half as hard’ twaddle that Brian Tracy and Jack Canfield promote – which is valid for the entrepreneur or commission-paid individual but not the vast majority of us. If I wanted to earn twice as much as a copper I’d have had to work 76 hour weeks AND ask permission, first.

Each of us loves in his or her own circumstances, which do not necessarily reflect those described by such writers. Some do. Lucky them.

Back to me.

What gets me out of bed at 7.30AM, or more specifically onto the bike at 7.40AM, is The First Resolution. ‘To overcome the restraining forces of appetites and passions, I resolve to work on self-discipline and self-denial.’ I don’t want to ride a bike first, but it would be rude of a promoter of such a concept not to try. So that’s what gets me up. My Integrity. Doing the things I don’t like to do because (a) they serve me and (b) I said I would. If only to myself.

I should also be up front and state that it doesn’t work every day. If I don’t sleep well I’d make the next day worse, not better, if I self-flagellated with exercise before starting work. (I can always exercise afterwards, if I feel up to it.) But here, the point isn’t to apply self-discipline to the point of self-punishment. That’s a route to failure.

But I will also add that doing that exercise first, and educating myself while I do so, sets me up for the day exactly as Stephen Covey promotes in his books. He calls it the Daily Private Victory and to be fair, that’s as good a description of that process as any. It is (as he also puts it) mind over mattress. Long term gain over short term discomfort. Many cliches, all accurate.

I get up. I go out into the cold shed and exercise.

I win. The rest of the day is a breeze.

So much so, this took 15 minutes to write. In the flow. And with integrity – nothing I write is a lie to myself or to my reader. Whoever you are.

Be disciplined. But be disciplined early. Ish.

I never heard David Frost swear.

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We all have an ego. Most of us would prefer to use the expression ‘self-esteem’ because for some reason it lessons any sense of self-importance implied by the shorter word. Ego is a perfectly good term and its strength lies somewhere along a continuum that runs from ‘inert’ to ‘huge gravitational pull.’ I suppose that an ideal strength-level for a reasonable ego would be self-confidence borne of principled competence and character (and thus representative of compliance with The Second Resolution).

Some, however – usually those most vociferous and combative on Twitter in my experience – suffer from an excess, an over-confidence borne from being right, once, then venerated for it regardless of their actual knowledge or character. Or they have truly, expertly specialised in one field only to be asked their opinion on things well outside their Circle of Influence – and they freely give it, uninformed as it may be.

To my mind you can often tell the difference between modest, controlled, ‘self-respect’ level ego and the ‘ooh, look at how clever I am’ ego merely by watching a conversation (verbal or Twittery) take place.

A comment is made, and the reply is:

  • a straightforward attack with no effort to address the argument originally made (huge ego),
  • a question with an evident sub-text (high ego),
  • or a genuine question or provision of alternative, researched facts (principled ego, which is borne of a desire to check or clarify understanding).

 (Another weird one I have seen is when someone genuinely knows something and asks someone else ‘am I right in thinking…..’. That might not seem egotistical on first glance but in that case the sub-text is ‘Tell me again how clever I am.’)

Have you committed any of the sins described, or do you try as hard as I do to be in the third group? I am not always successful. Sometimes I have missed a crucial point and go off on one. But in the main I try to be in group 3, asking questions to seek clarification or providing some kind of reference for my thinking.

Unfortunately there are also those who you know will make their same arguments, or attacks. You know this, in the main, by the language they use about their opponents in the debate. Reference to people they have never met by the various insults available just demonstrate how ignorant, rude and ideological they are. A case in point.

In the 1980s a new, alternative comedy arose. On the face of it, great. No more stereotype humour based on race, religion or mothers-in-law. Meanwhile, lampooning silliness on the part of politicians remained de rigeur. Then the pendulum swung the other way, and now the abuse is directed by name, using words which were banned from use on TV until the late 70s. Politicians are no longer just lampooned for their acts. They are call the c-word. By name. They are fat-shamed, which wouldn’t be permitted against fellow celebs or the public, as a rule.

The comedians responsible for that should be ashamed of themselves. Some of them are exceptionally talented, funny gagsters. But I now find myself turning the off as soon as they start their ideological diatribes, and definitely move on when their personal abuse starts.

I hope their egos can cope. They must need a garage or second home for them.

If your objective has any nobility about it, you don’t need the language. You certainly don’t need the language if your argument has any merit. If you have any character, you don’t need the ego-boost of looking clever by bandying bad language at those who, much as you might think otherwise, can’t hit back using the same weaponry.

Although to be frank, I look forward to the day I hear Boris Johnson call Russell Howard a c**t.

Add a (Little) Discipline…..

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My recent absence from this site is explained by my going on holiday, and I before I went I elected to impose a new discipline upon myself. It wasn’t and isn’t intended to be a long term project, but it was just a ‘see if I could’ idea. The objective was to see if I could go for a 1 mile run as soon as I got out of bed for the 6 mornings away. Seems easy?

For some. For me, I haven’t run a meaningful distance since about 2016 because of recurring leg-related injuries that don’t lend themselves to pounding pavements, (I did a 3-miler a while ago to see if I could – I could, but it caused a week of limping.) added to my discovery of the ‘joys’ of road cycling as a means to exercise and control weight, meant that running is not pleasant. Nor is getting out of bed.

I did it. As soon as I rose each morning, I shaved, dressed and ran out of the door. One morning, because of that day’s plans, I was out by about 6.30AM.

It was hateful, painful even. Some mornings, particularly the latter ones after experiencing the pain from the earlier days, I lay there desperately trying to justify largesse. And, every morning, I remembered two pieces of input. One was that of speaker Mel Robbins, who advises the 5-second countdown to action – decide what to do, and then give yourself 5-4-3-2-1 GO. It can be quite effective.

The other input was my own. I have a mantra that I have discovered makes it easier to do the difficult. In a pre-2021 exercise developed by the late Jinny Ditzler, author of ‘Your Best Year Yet’ (see www.byypro.com) , I identified several ‘rules’ that related to past successes and behaviours that had served me. I recommend it, but use the book – the site, while excellent, is an expensive luxury.

The particular guideline I used to get out of bed and run was ‘I Make, and Act Upon, the Hard Choices.’* Just remembering it can get me going. It gets me going because I came up with it, and past experience tells me that it works. So lying there bemoaning the commitment, I recalled my own advice and got up. 10 paces in, it was all old news, anyway.

So here’s my advice.

Decide upon a short-term imposition o yourself that requires self-discipline. Even if it’s not intended to last it will firm up your discipline ‘muscle’ for those things that will require more effort. It could be ‘drink only water for 7 days’, or ‘no chocolate for a week’, or it could be more ambitious depending on your situation and your particular need. If you’re already slim, cutting out things you rarely use anyway is hardly a stretch. Be bold.

Find something you don’t enjoy, something in respect of which doing it will serve you, even for a short period. And carry out that commitment.

It is yours, after all.

*I’ve used that for a lot of hard decisions, lately.

For more on self-discipline, get the book The Three Resolutions from Amazon HERE – only £9.80 for 300 pages…..