Thursday, April 10, 2008

Commentary: "I Am" Vs "I Do"

Imran Rahman has a superb post at Dream Manifesto entitled “Two Simple Habits for a More Fulfilled Life”. It starts with a great quote from Aristotle: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.” The entire post is a must-read, but I think Rahman’s core concept is crucial. There is a difference between “I am” , which can be almost anything: a lie, an inflated self-concept, self-deception, a relic of misplaced, overindulgent parenting, or a vow that is not ever meant to be kept, and “I do”, as in “I pretty much do the same productive (and hopefully not unproductive) things day after day, week after week, year after year”. “I am” is waiting to be proved or disproved, "I do" is petty darn obvious to anyone who has known you for more than five minutes.

For instance:

I do… perform a Weekly Review every..well..week, thanks to David Allen’s Getting Things Done.
This has led to much more serenity in my life. I know where things are filed. I know what is coming up for me next week, next month, in 6 months, etc. I know what my projects are, and what is the most important project to be doing right now.

I do... have a “Mindfulness List”, which I read every morning. Things to keep in mind. What I should be eating (and not eating). How I should be exercising. Reminders to try (sigh) to stop judging people so much. Reminders that “peace” is more important than winning an argument (sigh, again).

I do… Use checklists. Since I do a lot of trading, it is important to get it right over and over again. Exactly right. Some of what I do is very sequential and I have often got the steps wrong. The checklist is a lot better than my memory, and the results of the procedures are very satisfying.

I do… (thank-you Mathew Cornell
) keep a giant Personal Information Manager spreadsheet with every important site that I may want to revisit someday, or that I may want to refer a friend to. This has been extremely helpful.

I do… "debrief” myself after a particularly jarring trading experience, and I re-read these debriefs on a monthly basis, adding them to a “Lessons Learned” file. Thank you “Murph” Murphy .

I do… Write up monthly and yearly “Highlights” so I remember what worked, and what didn’t, reminding myself that assertiveness works and anger doesn’t, that praise always works and criticism never does, and, very often, reminding myself (with some surprise) that life is pretty good, and that I am truly blessed with wonderful friends and family.

These items have progressed from being what I do to being what I am. Five years ago I was not doing these things, and, thanks to this blog, and my intention to learn and grow, now I am doing these things. Aristotle was right. I now “am” these things as much as any other description of myself. And I like these things because I chose them. I chose them and I choose to keep doing them. Perhaps choice is partially the difference between the “I am” and the “I do”. Between “I can’t help what I am” and "I CAN help what I am". Of course, these actions I repeat so often are all means to an end, but they are also a “carving out” of the self. A rejection of entropy. A stand against chaos. Out of all the things I could be doing: sleeping, watching TV, engaging in “pity parties”, eating chocolate sundaes, I CHOOSE TO DO THESE THINGS INSTEAD. These items separate me from mere impulse. From unconsciousness. From drift (hah! Not enough). They make me who I am. They are who I am.

Who are you?

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Monday, April 07, 2008

Commentary: Are you "Too good" for Motivational Tapes?

Are you too good to listen to motivational tapes? Too cool? Too smart? Too successful? Immune to that kind of sincerity and challenge? That first question occurred to me for two reasons. First: I have a bookshelf full of motivational tapes (my favorite is Brian Tracy), but I had not been listening to them much lately. Around New Years, I put on some of Brian’s tapes again, and really enjoyed them, and, of course, focused on them with a whole new set of reference experiences than I had possessed a few years back. Secondly, I was enjoying an excellent Harvey Mackay podcast, when he mentioned the most interesting thing: Tiger Woods, he said, had been listening to motivational tapes since age six!!! I looked it up on the Internet. It apparently is true.
I have had a reasonably successful life, although I won’t be on the cover of Time anytime soon. But, looking back, I can trace some profound differences between my life and those of others I know, right back to those motivational tapes. To those tapes I owe the concepts that financial independence is/should be a major goal in everyone’s life; that a “workaholic mentality” is fit and proper , and not to be scoffed-at and snickered-at by folks who are “too smart” for that sort of thing. Or what about the idea of taking time every morning to do visualization, affirmations, and a review of your major goals? These behaviors are not “natural”. I learned every one of them (and dozens more) from motivational tapes.

Now, as I look around me, I wonder “why isn’t ‘X’ working harder? ..doesn’t he know he won’t be able to work forever?” Or “Why is ‘Y’ getting their investment advice from a talking head on CNBC instead of delving into what makes people really rich?” You see people literally shooting themselves in the foot looking for quick bucks. Equating income with wealth (and going broke in the process), and living in quiet despair, when merely putting on a tape or a CD could begin a transformational process, both inside, and, later, outside, that would imbue their lives with prosperity, excitement, and peace of mind far beyond what can be achieved by stumbling around, dreaming, whining, and, most likely, losing.

I challenge anyone who wants to accomplish more in life, who may feel that he/she is getting “passed by” in the great parade, to spend one year listening to the likes of Brian Tracy, Jim Rohn, Harvey Mackay, or Dennis Waitley. You will immediately find that your daily actions have implications you never dreamed of. You’ll find you have “permission” to work harder, save more, dream bigger, move beyond the constraints of your peer group, and develop respect for individualism, determination, and excellence, instead of “getting along”, moaning about “the rich”, or looking for the next easy way out of a jam.

Some people had this kind of mentoring in their family. I , for the most part, did not. In the marathon of life, I was not first out of the gate. But my “coaches”, the above masters of personal success, really got me into some kind of shape. I am eternally grateful.

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Success Book Reviews: Boothman on Rapport

Nicholas Boothman's How to Make People Like You in 90 Seconds or Less Less is one of the most astoundingly applicable personal-development books I have come across. Within days of finishing this short volume, I found that I was able to build rapport with others much more easily, and, indeed, I found that people I had just briefly met were positively glowing by the end of the conversation. In conversations with people I already knew, I frequently found that people did not seem to want to stop interacting, and that people were telling me much more personal details about themselves than I had been accustomed to hearing.

On the surface, the book appears to be a succinct review of certain features of NLP , Neurolinguistic Programming , a psychological discipline related to how humans “encode” their reactions into the state of their bodies. A simple example might be how difficult it is to feel sad while consciously smiling. But Boothman, who has used these techniques extensively in his role as a professional photographer, has been able to capture and translate NLP theory into easily-remembered routines that anyone can apply to build rapport with others.

I also found myself surprised at how often I was failing to apply his techniques: when you notice, for instance, that you are not making eye contact, or that you are subtly pointing your body away from the person you are trying to build rapport with, you realize what mistakes you my have been making for years. In my case, perhaps my whole life.

I don’t want to give away the whole book, so I will refrain from discussing the many techniques Boothman offers, but I do want to mention the question of authenticity. Are we being “authentic” when we practice these techniques? Well…I was a lot more “authentic” when I played piano badly, than when I learned to play by instruction. But the real goal was not "authenticity, but rather to use technique to bring out the more important values in the music. And that is what is going on when we apply Boothman’s techniques. The goal is not the technique, but the communication that arises from employing the technique. Sure…I would be more “authentic” using the limited vocabulary I had when I was three years old, before I was “educated” in more advanced forms of language. But it is the very advancement in technique that allowed me to communicate better. For my money, I have no interest in “being my old self” if I can accomplish more by adding new, effective behaviors.

And, believe me…Boothman’s techniques are awesomely effective. Read this book.

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