1% Better Everyday

I once read an interview of an athletics director as introduction to their new university community. The person was someone whom I didn’t know personally, yet respected from a distance for not only their professional advancement, but their commitment to personal integrity and honor. As part of the interview process this person was asked about their philosophy for how they saw the operation was going to proceed under new leadership.

The answer was 1% better everyday.

In a large, established organization, change doesn’t happen quickly and this leader recognized that fact. Change is inevitable, however, and this person also recognized that as well. With the right channeled, controlled change, a little at a time, big changes result. Just a little at a time.

KAIZEN

This approach of getting better 1% everyday at life and work is called Kaizen, a Japanese word meaning continuous improvement.

Seth Godin called it the drip. Drip by drip, a little at a time things change until all of a sudden you realize how different things from when you started.

Both get at the same idea…the fact that big results can come from the small, continuous improvement of something over time. In finance, 1% compounded over time would yield incredible results, even if only for a short amount of time…and remember, you have your entire life ahead of you to start this 1% change in thinking and behavior.

DOUBLE DOWN

Do you recall the “penny” question from middle school or high school math class? If asked if you could have your choice of a million dollars at the end of 30 days or a penny doubled every day for 30 days, which would you choose? There’s not a correct answer, but if you’re going for the most money you should have chosen the compounded penny because that results in almost ten times more money. That’s a big change in a short amount of time.

This approach to self-improvement is not about a destination, it’s about just being better than yesterday and not as good as tomorrow. If you fall short on something, you’re never very far from getting back to where you started if you only focus on the process. If you focus on the process and the daily steps toward getting further along, then your dreams become goals become reality.

1% better everyday. It’s a lofty ideal, but what else do you have? You have today. And that’s good enough for me.

Go Forth.

Happy New Year

I think it’s wonderful how excited everyone gets at the start of the new year. The energy, the enthusiasm, the hope for making the next 365 days better than the last. Every year we talk about how much we want to achieve, how much we want to change, how much better for ourselves and others we want to be. Any my hope is that we actually do what it takes to achieve that change. Hope without action is just that, hope. Not change.

Action is what creates change. Newton said it well, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”

Energy is neither created nor destroyed, it merely changes form. Food going into your body gives you energy to move and live and breathe just as gas in a car gives it the ability to drive. Reading books creates new connections in your mind, as does prayer and meditation. What are you going to feed yourself these next 365 days in order to achieve the goals and outcomes you want for the future?

Without small, dedicated action on a daily basis nothing great was ever achieved; and that’s what it takes. Small, dedicated actions and decisions. Every. Single. Day.

Set the goal, figure out what you can do on a daily basis and start there. The big goals are too overwhelming when trying to accomplish all at once. Start small and big things happen. Call it the snowball effect. When you see an avalanche you get overwhelmed with the power and greatness of it all. But how did that avalanche begin? It probably took much longer than you realize…with one snowflake. Over time, more snowflakes accumulate, pack in deep and keep packing until all it takes is a small puff of wind or a pebble to set the entire thing downhill. And how did it all start? One tiny snowflake, barely big enough to feel on the tip of your nose.

So start today, January 1, 2017, or whenever you happen to read this and do one small thing, every single day. Just one small change. That’s it. Develop that new habit. Just one at a time.

Try this one on for size:

One serving of vegetables at any meal. Veggies. Every. Single. Day. Veggies on the side, salad, casserole, more stuff on your burger. It doesn’t matter how small, it matters how often. More vegetables will give your body more nutrients and minerals that will give you the strength to take the next step on your journey.

As the saying goes, “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

Here’s to a wonderful new year and all the best to you and yours. Go Forth.

Haircuts are Psychological Tricks

I got my hair cut yesterday. For me, haircuts are usually a trip I make about every three weeks. Sometimes I “feel” like I should get my hair cut more frequently, say every two weeks, just so that it never really looks any different and so I always look “clean cut” and fresh.

Waiting

When I arrived at the barbershop yesterday, there were a few guys there waiting, so I had some time to myself to either watch the TV they had turned to an NFL preseason game, listen to the conversations the barbers were having with the clients, read one of the magazines on the coffee table in front of me, play on my phone or just sit there and think quietly.

I started my wait time by playing backgammon on my phone until the battery died. There was about 7% left, so I was able to get through one game before if finally turned off. Since I didn’t have that as an option any more, I just sat there staring through the TV more than actually watching. Mostly I was just making it look like I was paying close attention to the commentators when I was really just daydreaming and let various thoughts wash over my mind like gentle waves at the beach.

Dirty Thoughts to Consider

Something that came to mind as I was sitting there was how I always consider reading the periodicals on display for people to peruse when in a public waiting area. Sometimes there are some interesting or new or very niche magazines in the stack of too many to count which really piques my interest. Just as I reach out to grab one and think there’s something I might like to read, I stop myself dead in my tracks…and I think about how many bacteria and virus cells might be living in those pages.

Have you ever thought about how many people touch those things in their life in the stacks or on the common table? Even greater than the number of people thumbing through the pages of People, Time and the Wall Street Journal are the number of hair particles, dead skin cells and more types of bacteria than you really want to know about. That’s why I don’t read magazines in public waiting rooms – too much of a risk at getting myself sick.

Take it One Step Further

Think about how few people wash their hands on a regular basis. Or even how many people actually wash their hands after using the restroom. I work in a public facility and am constantly disgusted about how many men DON’T wash their hands after doing their business in the restrooms. They finish up and walk right out. Eww. Now think about that guy and at least 20 more that day alone that got their hair cut before you that didn’t wash their hands and then come along wanting to see how J-Lo’s new bikini body is looking just as much as you do. Gross.

Here’s my advice:
Don’t read public magazines. If you do, wash your hands immediately after doing so.

Back to Daydreaming

So I’m sitting there, daydreaming, waiting to get my haircut thinking about why I’m getting my haircut. So I think to myself, “Self. Why are you here? For whom are you getting your haircut?”

I look at myself in the mirror only about maybe 10-15 minutes a day, tops. A few minutes in the morning to brush my teeth and shave and a few minutes in the evening to brush and floss again. That’s it. Not all of the restrooms I use throughout the day have mirrors in front of the sinks, so if they do, add another few minutes for hand washing after I use the restroom during the day.

That means at most, I look at myself in the mirror about 20 minutes every day. That also means that I am NOT looking at my self about 98.6% of the time. Accounting for a good night’s rest of 8 hours, I’m only awake for 16 hours. 20 minutes out of 16 hours is 2.9%. That means that on an average day, I’m NOT looking at myself 97.1% of the time. To say this differently, other people have the potential to be looking at me 97.1% of the time.

So why am I getting my hair cut?

Good question.

Answer: So everyone else who looks at me thinks I have an awesome haircut.*

But it’s not REALLY for everyone else, there are a few reasons why I like getting my haircut.

1- I like my hair short. It’s easy to clean, easy to maintain and allows sweat to easily escape my head, allowing my body to cool itself more efficiently.
2- I like how it feels getting my haircut. For at least 20 minutes every three weeks or so, I have to sit in a comfortable barber’s seat and remain still. Except for the guy trying to talk to me over loud clippers, it’s a somewhat peaceful, meditative experience. I also like how it feels to have my haircut. It’s sort of like a weird head massage in a way. And if I sit really still. close my eyes and focus, I can actually feel my hairs being cut. It’s a really cool feeling.
3- I want to look presentable and professional to other people, based on what I consider to appropriate social norms for hygiene.

Psychological Aspects

Aw ha! Now we’re getting somewhere. Number three above is me trying to please other people because I want to be accepted in the social circles in which I’ve placed myself. People are judgmental. They judge books based on their covers. It’s true. It’s nearly impossible to not do that. We’re always trying to assess new things and people by our senses and for most, the first sense is vision. We judge what we’re looking at just as soon as we see it. If I never got my hair cut and had dreadlocks that smelled really bad, in some situations, it wouldn’t matter how wicked smart I was or how intelligently I speak (see what I did there), I’d be written off completely. Not by all, but most would scoff at my appearance and turn the other way. In other social circles, I’d blend right in with dreadlocks and be welcome as an insider. It’s all relative.

Social Influences

We’re conditioned as children as to what’s acceptable in society and what’s not, and sometimes that just depends on where you come from…For the most part, there is a standard of appropriate appearance and hygiene and everything outside of that is “different”.

So why do I get my haircut? I just want to fit in like everyone else, while at the same time expressing my own uniqueness within that construct. Groomed might be one HR standard for hair guidelines. Vague enough to allow some creative expression, but firm enough to enforce.

I like getting my haircut. But sometimes the pleasure of the experience is diminished by the necessity of having to do something for other people that I just really don’t want to do.

You didn’t know a haircut could be such a psychological conundrum did you?

Go Forth.
And get a haircut!

Personas and Masks

I’m an inquisitive and observant person by nature, although the observant part ebbs and flows… Regardless, I like to observe and ponder the things happening around me and why things are they way they are.

Business Marketing

In business, particularly as it applies to marketing, we talk about personas. A marketing persona in this regard is the collection of traits, qualities, buying habits, demographics and psychographics that make up a company’s ideal customer. Every company should know who their ideal customer is based on whatever it is they sell or offer and many have entire departments committed to figuring that out, constantly researching and crunching data in order to pass that on to everyone else so they can adapt what they’re doing for better business outcomes.

The thing about personas though is that people change and can manifest more than one at a time…in the same space.

Masks

We often hear the expression of wearing masks or hiding our true selves…well, I think we have many selves or parts to our identity and each part expresses itself differently at different times…or even different parts being expressed at the same time. Often, these parts are related to various points in our maturation where we adapt our experiences to who we are and who we think we should be.

This whole idea of personas hit me like a brick when I saw people who I know in a certain capacity act completely different than what I was familiar with from my personal interactions with them. Perhaps I don’t fully know these particular individuals, which is certainly true in some fashion (can you every REALLY know someone?), but it was quite obvious they were acting different from normal.

The Situation

Imagine yourself in a room that includes a person with their spouse, children, siblings and their parents. Now imagine yourself as that person. You live with your spouse or partner and surely you’ve got some sort of routine and a regular way of going about your days with an understanding of how to act in that relationship.

Next, consider how you act with your siblings…likely that hasn’t changed much, regardless of your age now. The attitudes, the sensitivities, the jealousy, the bad memories, the great memories, all of it. The eldest siblings probably mentor or give advice and the youngest siblings are probably jokesters just trying to figure stuff out. The middle siblings are either aloof or jealous, looking for something they feel like they’re not getting. These are only a suggestion of what family sibling dynamics are like or can be, so just work with me on this example.

Now, consider how you acted toward your parents…what was that like? What were your parents like toward you? Always hovering, watching, waiting? Or did they leave you alone to do whatever you wanted to do?

How were you with your parents? Were you a submissive child, always obeying your parents, looking constantly for their approval? Or perhaps you were rebellious and always looking for a fight and going against what they said?

It was really interesting for me to see what it was like for different family members to interact with each other as adults. It seemed quite clear to me that people just fall instantly back into their personas when interacting with various people….acting in the only way they know how when with people they know from different parts of their lives.

If they were talking to siblings, those dynamics instantly became apparent and each person almost instantly fell back into sibling role….then in the very same room they switched back to “parent mode” when talking to their own kids and yet a completely different tone of voice was heard when talking to their spouse. This actually happened and yes, it was that distinctive to me.

People are complicated and certainly none of these things can be seen or understood in only one interaction, but after a considerable amount of time observing and thinking about what I was witnessing, it became quite clear to me that many, if not most, people revert to whatever really lies inside themselves…or their masks.

You hear this all the time in thoughtful analysis of online commentary and self-identification. People only put online what they want people to see or know about themselves, without sharing the whole picture. There are certainly many reasons for that…a blog post for another time perhaps.

At any rate, I just think it’s really interesting to see people I know from one aspect of their lives, interact with other people they know from other aspects of their lives. Think about that for a minute…are you different with different people in your family? How do those relationships different from co-workers and regular friends or other social circles?

A thinking exercise for you. Go forth!

You Deserve to Be Happy

Happy New Year
Happy new year! You deserve to be Happy.

Happy New Year! It’s that time again – where we hope and dream and think about all the ways we wish we and the world around us were better. Or fitter. Or different. Or…anything other than what we are right now. Why can’t we just be happy?

Why are we so unhappy with ourselves? Why do we always want something to be different? I think a healthy sense of wanting to be improved is important and necessary for personal satisfaction, but to just throw your hands up in disgust with your life as it is now is absurd.

I still remember the feeling of when I first realized that I deserve to be happy and I deserve the people and the things around me. (It wasn’t that long ago…maybe a year or so after many months of thoughtful reflection and prayer) I also still remember the feeling of walking around everyday not believing that I deserved everything that I had in my life – both the good and the bad. Sometimes I need to be reminded of that realization that I deserve to be happy. I’m not a vain person, but with so many people with so much less than I have and so many stories of suffering I felt uncomfortable with the blessings I have. In response, I try to live a life of gratitude and service to others in any way that I can. I want to be happy.

Over the last few years, I’ve tried very hard to think critically about living a “minimalist” lifestyle and have actively tried to pursue such a way of living. Now some of you may scoff at that, but please read on and hear me out. To me, minimalism is not about trying to be cool and stand out from everyone else to show off how great you are because you don’t have any possessions and live in a tiny house with everything organized perfectly in its own little space (although I do love that idea). Quite the contrary actually, minimalism is the act and process of decluttering your life from all the extraneous so that you can truly cherish whatever is left – both possessions and relationships. If your way of being a minimalist is living in a tiny house, go for it! You deserve to be happy.

Minimalism is the act and process of valuing the most important things in life and eliminating everything else. We all need some material possessions to survive, especially clothing and housing. But after those and a maybe a few other small items, not much else is necessary to survive. Society will tell you otherwise, but look inward and your soul will tell you the truth. Sure there are chemical reactions that happen inside the body that trick you into thinking you need all that stuff, but once your shopping hormones settle down, something inside tells you otherwise. You’re still not happy.

The same goes for relationships. It’s very easy to get tricked into thinking that because we’re “friends” on social media, that means we’re actually friends in real life. The nature of online conversations have been well documented as being only surface level and lacking genuine interaction. At least as far as my own social feed goes, most of what I see are game scores (both sports and video variety), fashion (don’t judge), internet memes and pictures of people posing in ways they would never do in real life (maybe I don’t really know them after all…case in point. what?). Sure you might know someone, maybe you even met once before, or maybe you’re just stalking them like any celebrity, ever. Either way, most of the people on your friends list you probably don’t have a deep friendship with and likely never will. You’re still not happy.

So why are we unhappy? I have no idea. It might be all the stuff getting in your way. It might be a few toxic relationships weighing heavy on your soul. It might be that you have no true relationships and everything you live is on the internet. Sure there is a lot of pain and suffering both personally and globally to make us so, but what else?

Ultimately, we have the freedom to choose our own thinking and choose our own happiness. And that’s what I’ve learned and hope to pass on – that happiness is a choice. You have to choose to seek that which will make you happy – and the answer usually isn’t easy to accept.

Will minimalism make you happy? Maybe. Hopefully it might lead you to think critically for yourself about the things you possess and what really matters and what doesn’t.

Getting in touch with the Creator and Spirit will help, and those answers don’t come in our time.

Prayer.

Meditation.

Either way, I think we all deserve to be happy. We all deserve to have friends. And we all deserve to be unhappy at times just so we can appreciate the happy feelings and empathize with those we find who aren’t happy.

Happy new year. Here’s to your happiness journey in 2016.