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…..

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.