ASAP

As soon as you saw the title of this post, you knew what I meant. An efficient abbreviation borrowed from the U.S. military, ASAP is now generally understood across disciplines and industries. When your boss sends you an email that reads, “I need to hear back from you ASAP,” you drop everything else and attend to the request.

We are a culture that loves to get things done, well, ASAP. Between emails, direct deposits, texts and a myriad of other technologies, we’ve essentially abolished the need to wait for anything. Except at the DMV.

Usually, this works out great for us and for our coworkers and customers. But that’s only when the answer or solution is apparent at first glance. The problem with living in an ASAP culture is that not all of our challenges can be solved with a half-hour meeting and a few three sentence emails.

We work and live in a world where many situations are complex and intricate—whether that’s negotiating contracts and company mergers or trying to come up with a new way to keep the interest of a room full of fifth graders. And, as I’m sure you’ve experienced, sometimes the first solution that strikes you is not always the best solution. ASAP decisions run the risk of completely missing out on a factor or a detail that might further complicate our entire project.

As I thought about this problem I came across an article about Harvard professor of humanities Jennifer L. Roberts. In an art history class Roberts asked each of her students to choose one painting to be the subject of their term paper. Part of completing the assignment was to visit the painting (in person, if possible) and study it for three hours.

As you can imagine, her students were not exactly thrilled at the idea of staring at a single work of art for the better part of an afternoon. And, as someone who is easily distracted by shiny things, I am positive that I would have failed Professor Roberts’ art history class.

However, for the brave souls that did attempt the assignment, something interesting happened. The students reported that as they studied the paintings, they began to notice details that, while they didn’t seem important at first, were actually critical to understanding and appreciating the work. For many of them, this dramatically changed the focus and direction of their term papers. Roberts explained it this way, “…there are details and orders and relationships that take time to perceive.”

Although Roberts is referring to art, I believe the same principle is true in our professional environments. There are details and orders and relationships that take time to perceive. Think about starting a new job. For at least the first two weeks you are overwhelmed with learning how to do your assignments within the context of a new company. You’re learning your way around a new office. You’re figuring out a computer program or network that you’ve never used before. And on top of all that, you’re trying to navigate the interpersonal relationships of your new coworkers. It may take you weeks before you figure out how to use the copy machine!

I believe that when it comes to finding solutions or making big decisions, we don’t need to rush. What if we looked at these situations like one of the art students? You may not have three hours to think about a problem, but I bet you could find ten or fifteen minutes to jot down some ideas. And you may be surprised at the details and relationships that slowly come to light as you put the brakes on for a few minutes.

How to Think Your Way into an Emotional Meltdown

This is a follow-up blog to the wildly popular post from March 18th, 5 Steps to a Complete Emotional Breakdown by Wednesday. Now, if you’re ready for a real game-changer, you’ll love this week’s blog.

As the title suggests, you can trigger your own anxiety attack simply by the way you think. Here’s a few ideas to ponder that will shift you brain into stress mode.

  1. The glass is always half-empty—I would venture that most emotional breakdowns begin with an onslaught of negativity. Sure, things might be stressful at work, but if you keep a positive outlook, you’ll rarely suffer a breakdown. On the other hand, negativity keeps your mind focused on what’s going wrong, what you don’t have, and how unfair it all is—instead of refocusing on what’s going right and coming up with creative solutions.
  2. Forget about how good you’ve got it—After dwelling on negative and pessimistic thoughts, don’t stop to appreciate that you have a job, a family, or good health. Thankfulness improves your mood by lowering stress hormones in the brain, according to a study at the University of California, Davis. Avoid gratitude by focusing on what you don’t have—or finding fault with the things that are going good in your life.
  3. Use the three magic words—Always. Never. Worst. Attach one of these modifiers to a pessimistic thought to catapult your self-esteem and outlook on life to new lows. Now of course, our reality rarely is so extreme as to be “the worst” and we don’t really know that we will “always” get passed over for a promotion because the boss has “never” liked us, but using these three words regardless of reality injects these thoughts with more power and influence in our lives. A few additional magic words—Everything, Nothing and Everyone—the more general and far-reaching the better.

Dale Carnegie says, “ Happiness doesn’t depend on any external circumstances, it is governed by our mental attitude.” In the same way, I believe anyone can turn a fairly good set of circumstances into a nightmare by focusing on the negatives, letting their thoughts run to extremes and believing these thoughts more that they believe any positive thoughts. I hope these tips will get you started.

Who is Your Person?

Have you ever had a day when it felt like the universe had conspired against you? Or like you were the statue the pigeons were using for target practice?

You know what I’m talking about. You were late to work, there were staff issues you didn’t have time to deal with at the office, your flight was delayed and then you presented to several hundred people without realizing your fly was open? (Ok, maybe that last one only happens to me.) But we all have days where catastrophe seems to follow us around like the paparazzi surrounding Lindsay Lohan on her first day out of rehab.

On days like that, I call my Person.

Just about everyone has a Person. The one you know won’t care that you’re angry or frustrated or upset. The one you don’t have to pretend with. Your person might be the only one who knows you’re having a bad day, or they’re the only one who knows why you’re having a bad day. It could be a co-worker, a dear friend, parent, spouse or supervisor. Mine is my wife, Tina.

Tina has the amazing ability to patiently listen to all my worrying, griping about my day, and woe-is-me-style statements, before gently reminding me that the sky is actually not falling just because I had a rough day. She acknowledges my perspective, but also challenges me to question my assumptions, and reframe my view of a situation. She keeps me in reality and in the present moment. I call that feeling  “being centered.” She’s a pro at it. After talking to her I usually feel better, calmer, and not a victim of my circumstances.

As you pursue big goals and tackle huge obstacles, it’s critical to have a Person who centers and encourages you like Tina. Your Person is more than someone you vent to, your Person is someone who is unafraid to shift your focus and give you a not-always-gentle shove in the direction of your goals.

Some of the most successful people in the world have a Person. You may not have heard of Don Graham, Ed Roberts or Gopal Krishna Gokhale, but you might be familiar with their “mentees” Mark Zuckerburg, Bill Gates, and Mahatma Gandhi. A Person understands the challenges of your day-to-day and the best ones will encourage you to create solutions instead of focusing on problems.

Sharing your goals and struggles with a Person can help you make huge strides towards achieving those goals.

When considering who might be a good person for you, outline what it is you really want from them—Stress management tips? Encouragement for a new idea? Insight on parenting? Spiritual growth? This will help you narrow down which people in your circles might make a great Person. Don’t restrict yourself to people in your school, company, or circle of friends. Your Person might be a CEO in another industry that you know from church, a neighbor who is very involved in a social project that inspires you or—gasp!—a family member.

Unsure if one of the people in your life is your Person? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Can I be authentic about what I am thinking and feeling with this person?
  • Do they listen to my point of view?
  • Does this person challenge me to think about a situation from a different perspective?
  • Does this person suggest taking steps forward, and celebrate when I do?

If you can answer YES to these questions, perhaps you have found your Person.

5 Steps to a Complete Emotional Breakdown by Wednesday

We’ve all got a little stress in our lives—and research actually shows that to be a good thing. But I’ve learned over the years that stressors at work or home can quickly go from productive to paralyzing. Here, I’ve gathered a few tried and true practices that could trigger a total breakdown in a zen master.

  1. Sleep Less- If you want to be more stressed, this is the easiest way to get there. Sleep deprivation causes the brain to raise the stress hormone even if there is not another stressor present. And, since sleep is the time that the brain uses to store and discard the day’s memories, you’ll be scattered and forgetful after burning the candle at both ends.
  2. Get an Extra Shot of Espresso- If you’re feeling a little sluggish after Step 1 (and believe me, you will), it’s ideal to try to jump start your brain with a boost of caffeine from another cup of coffee, Diet Coke, Red Bull, or one of those energy drinks with names that sound like heavy-metal rock bands. For more stress, this is perfect. Caffeine releases adrenaline, so your body will react to any stressor with a more dramatic response than you may anticipate.
  3. Be Available 24/7- It can be difficult to keep the anxiety going after 5 or on the weekends, so make sure to constantly be checking email, texts and phone messages for a new “hit” of stressors during the time others might use to unplug and recover. You may want to sleep with your Blackberry turned on right next to your bed, so even in the middle of the night you are ready for a new stressor to interrupt any chance of decent rest and get your exhausted and over-caffeinated brain churning.
  4. Ask “What If?”- These two little words are almost guaranteed to reignite any stressor—old or new—in the brain. By focusing on all the possible problems in the future and old problems and concerns from the past you effectively prevent your mind from working on solutions and taking action in the present. With any kind of decision-making this will amp up your stress level in mere minutes.
  5. Become a Lone Ranger- Realizing that others care about you and are willing to help you achieve your goals will strengthen your relationships and personal confidence—significantly lowering your stress. If you’re sharing your stressors with someone who can supply you with a new perspective, support, and encouragement, you may actually avoid a breakdown altogether. Instead, it’s best to keep your anxiety to yourself and try to tackle all of your problems without any outside help.

I don’t know about you, but my pulse is already feeling a little faster after reading through that list. And guess what? This is only part one! Stay tuned for How to Think Your Way into an Emotional Breakdown.

Bullies: Their Message Hasn’t Changed

BullyingAn article in The Atlantic called “How To Stop Bullies” caught my attention this week with a MIT professor’s insight on cyber-bullying. Cyber-bullying, has been described as a “new” kind of bullying using technology and including things like hurtful emails, texts, and embarrassing pictures or fake profiles. While the medium that bullies are using to spread messages of hurt and hate may be new, the messages are not, explains Henry Liberman. Using software designed to filter negative and offensive content by looking for key words in postings, he and his team discovered that 95% of bullying comments fall into 6 categories, post after post. Ready for them?

  1. Appearance
  2. Intelligence
  3. Race
  4. Ethnicity
  5. Sexuality
  6. Perceived acceptance or rejection

Humans have essentially been using the same kinds of insults since we came up with cave paintings.  In fact, in the past few years archaeologists have discovered that the ancient city of Pompeii is covered in graffiti.  Call it the Twitter of antiquity. And our austere Roman forbearers weren’t all debating the merits of democracy and coming up with epigraphs. Here’s a few of my favorite messages (and their English translations).

“PHILIROS SPADO.”

“Phileros is a eunuch.”

“OPPI, EMBOLIARI, FUR, FURUNCLE.”

“Oppius, you’re a clown, a thief, and a cheap crook.”

EPAPHRA, GLABER ES.”

“Epaphra, you are bald.”

Look around the web and you’ll find even more examples that would put a modern-day truck stop bathroom to shame. Amazingly, long after Pompeii was buried beneath lava, the Roman Empire was decimated by Huns and the original Latin ceased to be used, these words have been discovered, translated and analyzed. I wonder—if your tweets, posts and blogs were discovered 500 or even 50 years from now–what future researchers would say about you. Would your online persona reflect a more modern, enlightened being or a tech-savvy caveman, trading in his chisel for a keyboard?

Looking at the lasting effect of words, whether they are carved into a wall or posted in a digital space, I hope we can join together in a conscious evolutionary leap forward.  Can we begin to litter social media with positivity, encouragement and kindness? Imagine what would happen if we did.