Sit There. Do Nothing.

What do the Seattle Seahawk players and the managers at Aetna Health Insurance have in common with the Dalai Lama?

They meditate.

Really.

They sit on cushions, close their eyes and go “Om.”

Why, you might ask, would burly football players and corporate execs bother?

Because they’ve discovered the power of mindfulness.

This is not some new fad. The ideas of meditation and mindfulness have been around since before the time of Siddhārtha Gautama, Shakyamuni a/k/a the Buddha, more than 500 years before the birth of Christ. What is new is finally a mainstream recognition that these ancient principles have a powerful impact on the way we live every day of our lives… and the way we conduct our businesses.

Culturally, we’re told that in order to get ahead, we need to work longer and harder and faster; we’re taught that busy is good; that faster is stronger; and that the more that we can do and be and accomplish, the more successful we will be. (All of which is bullshit.)

Part of this, of course, has come as a ‘gift’ of the technological revolution. With computers and laptops and tablets, we are (we think) capable of productivity beyond anything the Buddha could have comprehended. But here’s the rub: We’re not built like computers; we don’t have the capacity to be ‘always on;’ and despite vehement beliefs to the contrary, we can’t focus on multiple things at the same time. We just can’t.

We work in pulses. Most of us are not capable really of more than 5 high-quality hours of work a day on any given objective. We are scientifically incapable of multi-tasking. And we need our sleep.

And, in order to be truly successful, we need to be mindful; we need to slow down and get clear.

Meditation and mindfulness have been shown, though countless peer-reviewed studies, to dramatically improve:

➢ Cognition
➢ Attention
➢ Focus
➢ Memory
➢ Emotional wellness, and
➢ Physical health.

And at the same time, to significantly decrease:

➢ Stress
➢ Symptoms of depression, and
➢ The sense of always being scattered and distracted.

All of which, of course, leads to deeper presence, keener engagement, enhanced mastery, … and yes, greater productivity and profit.

Now, I can teach you all of the intricacies of meditation and mindfulness… I have been a Vipassana practitioner for 20 years… and the benefits have been staggering. But intricacies are unnecessary to get started. All you need to do is step back, step out… and get quiet. A regular 5 to 10 minutes a day can shift up your entire game. images-2

Close your eyes and breath. It’s that simple.

So convinced of the compelling science and the significant benefits, Mark Bertolini, Aetna’s chief executive, incorporated mindfulness and meditation into his corporate wellness program. And the Seattle Seahawks, to improve the emotional health of their players, brought in Pete Carroll to teach them to get quiet and focus their attention.

The Dalai Lama, of course, had an earlier heads up on all of this.

So whadda think? This is a pretty simple success strategy. If doing less would get you more, wouldn’t it be worth a try?

Stop, Drop & Roll

Sometimes the optimal success principle, the very best action strategy, is to take no action. Do nothing.

I had a coaching client whose business was collapsing around him. His knee-jerk reaction was to borrow more money, hire some high-paid consultants, and staff-up with personnel. All of which accelerated his calamitous decline.

My advice: Stop. Don’t move. Get clear.

Respond. Don’t react.

We tell our kids when they’re young that if they get lost, they should “stay put,” don’t wander, “hug a tree.”  That wandering just might get them more lost.

The same is true in business and in life. Wandering around without a clear sense of direction will get you lost.

Decisions made and actions taken in the face of panic and fear are almost always faulty.

A buddy of mine tells an interesting story: He was being trained for special ops in the military. One of the final exercises, which he had to ‘pass,’ was to survive for 5 days on an island while the enemy hunted for him. Off the boat, he scrambled up the beach and into the woods while being shot at. So frightened, all he could think of doing was to dig himself a hole, crawl in, and cover himself with dirt and leaves. His comrades, of course, bounded off, utilizing all of their newly acquired tools, techniques and strategies. My friend lay quietly as the enemy passed by. stop-drop-roll

In the end, my buddy was one of the very few who survived.

Because he stopped; because he did nothing.

Stopping is an action strategy, a success principle. Often the most powerful one you can employ.

Action without clarity, without vision is an invitation for disaster, or, if you’re lucky, simply a waste.

Stop. Drop. Roll yourself into a quiet place.

And get clear.

 

Time Management For Losers

A guest post this week from the inestimable Ann Sheybani…

A long time ago, when I was selling photo copiers for a living, I met an older woman who gave me a piece of advice I will never forget.

“Darling,” she said, smoothing back her hair with steady hands, “there’s a time and a place for everything. You can’t do it all at once, no matter what they say.

My husband at that time was working at the University of Connecticut as a temporary professor. One of the perks as his spouse was the ability to take free classes, which I thought I should avail myself of. I was feeling a thousand years behind the curve because I’d just returned from living in Iran, and I was beginning all over again. I was banging on doors from 9 to 5 in a 70-mile territory; I had two small children at home, a marriage on the rocks; and I was convinced that I should drive an hour each way, maybe three times a week, to further educate myself.

So, there I was at a print shop, waiting for my sales appointment, when I ran into the elegant older woman who gave me that advice, who told me I should give myself a break and forget the classes until my kids were older.

What she’d done after her children had grown made her words memorable. She and her husband sold their house, moved to Switzerland, and studied together at the Carl Jung Institute. At 60, they moved back to the U.S. and opened a booming psychiatry practice. In each of the stages of her life, including the one as a Mom and housewife, she’d felt happy and fulfilled.

I think our generation struggles so with the Super Woman mindset: This notion that we should be able to do it all, have it all, be it all, then balance it all, NOW, NOW, NOW, in order to be enough.

We consider ourselves fucking losers lazy if our house isn’t spotless. If our children aren’t adorably talented, our career impressive, our abs six-pack-alicious, our sex-life worthy of Penthouse. If we don’t have a couple of side businesses, a book on the bestseller list, and a circle of hilarious friends who meet for brunch on Sunday mornings wearing Gucci.

It’s why we keep looking for THAT ONE time management secret that will help us pack it all in.

I believe we can have it all, just not all at once.

This coming from someone who operates a couple of businesses, climbs big mountains, runs ultra-marathons, writes, speaks, coaches, and travels the world like it’s my job.

We’re human beings AND there are only 24 hours in a day. Something has got to give. Let me be more precise: Something WILL give.

I’m highly suspect of people who claim to have all aspects of their life totally under control. I tend to chalk up much of that bullshit to spin. I wonder how they managed to cover up their stint in rehab, or their gruesome 3rd divorce, or the fact that their kids haven’t spoken to them since 1996, that sort of thing. But that’s probably just me being bitter.

I do believe that you can have a lot more, and that there are some really valuable tricks of the trade when it comes to having it all—secrets that are worth bending an ear for: drawing boundaries, saying no, asking for help, delegating, repurposing, drop kicking perfectionism, and so on, and so forth. (I mean, I coach on this topic.)

But I really think the only way to forgive ourselves for not winning the Master of the Universe Award is to set some priorities, priorities based on our highest values, and let the other stuff go to hell, at least for the time being.

Otherwise you walk around in ratty pajamas all day feeling totally defeated, and hopeless, which is so not how you want to do this gig.

My kids are grown and out of the house. I’ve done the heavy lifting there. And it’s true, what that wonderful stranger said, I have time, now, to pursue all those things I was chomping on the bit to do. All those things that would have felt unbelievably overwhelming way back when.

I still have to choose, EVERY SINGLE DAY, what I’m going to focus my time and attention on, and what will get waaayyyyy short shrift. So, sorry, if you’re looking for balance, it ain’t here.

  • Today I’m writing, and my house looks like looters have ransacked it.
  • I’ve been focusing on building a business or two, and my memoir is gathering dust in the bottom drawer.
  • I bought a house in Ireland, and my marathon training is spotty at best.
  • I’ve conducted some great on-line writing courses, and my friends can’t remember the color of my hair.

But that’s OK. Because I know that the in-basket is always full, and that there’s a season for everything.

And that it’s not a crime to use cliches. Thank God.

 

This is my garage. It needs help.

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Visit Ann’s popular website at:  www.annsheybani.com

 

 

 

 

 

Be A Slasher

One of my least favorite questions in the entire world, asked at nearly every business meeting, networking function, and social gathering, is, “So, what do you do?”

As if what we “do” – for work – defines us.

Of course, for many folks, it does define them. What they ‘do’ is all they are.

It is their identity; their stature; their worth; their significance; the entire core of their being.

They are their job. Their job is their life. There is nothing else.

That leaves some folks feeling frustrated, lost, trapped… and sad.

Boomers are particularly plagued. And men. They (we) were raised with this model: Go to school, work hard, really hard, get a job, a ‘real’ job (ya know, the one with the benefits), toil for 40 years (with the requisite perks and promotions), retire, move to Florida, and die. Deviation from this model meant (still means) something went horribly ‘wrong,’ accompanied by a concomitant sense of failure, embarrassment …and shame.

A “doing” that defines their being. For all time.

In my coaching, I meet many folks who are tired of what they ‘do.’ They want desperately to break free of their ‘personal hell;’ their ‘rat race’…. To be more. To discover a richer, fuller, more satisfying life, a life that resonates more deeply; work that makes their hearts happy; a way of being in the world that makes their spirits soar.

And they have no idea where to start.

It starts with:

Stopping long enough to open up a space within ourselves for hope;
• Giving ourselves permission… to imagine, to dream again; and
• Having the courage to say ‘no’ to what’ s not working.

It’s about being playful about possibility. It’s about a willingness to experiment, and bravery enough to try things out. It’s about having the audacity to step out from behind a role; the courage to face the fear of our own nakedness; and the resolve to dust ourselves off and begin… again and again and again.

It’s about being willing to let go of a ‘role’ in order to embrace a life.

And it’s scary shit.

When I walked away from being a full-time lawyer, it nearly paralyzed me. (Still does from time to time.) Being a lawyer was a safe secure identity… an accepted role. An ‘important’ one even! Who am I without that mask? An adventurer? A photographer? A speaker? A coach? What does ‘doing’ all those things mean? Are they as ‘significant’ as the role I played? And if I’m many things and not just one thing, am I really ‘serious about what I ‘do’? And who am I now in the ‘pecking order’ of folks who continue to ‘do’ just one (really) ‘important’ thing?

Of course, now I’ve met a slew of folks who ‘do’ so many cool things: Folks like me who are coaches/speakers/authors/mountain climbers/ocean sailors/adventure photographers; accountants who are recording artists; runners who are dental hygenists; doctors who play in rock bands; lawyers who are triathletes. Folks whose eyes sparkle when they tell you what they ‘do.’

Each of us possess so many gifts and talents that are uniquely ours to share. Gifts that no one else can give. To define oneself as a single activity is not only an anachronism. It denies the world the richness of who we really are.

Gail Sheehy, in fact, suggests that “a single fixed identity is a liability today.”

We – all of us – are complex. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to own that complexity, to stand authentically in every facet – every ripple – of who we really are? Wouldn’t that be freeing? Wouldn’t that be fun?

It feels scary to loose oneself of what one ‘does.’ But it is no longer expected or required that you ‘do’ just one thing. fonts-slash

So who do you want to be? What slashes do you want to add to your identity?

A guitarist/sales person/bike rider? A lawyer/rower? A water- colorist/psychologist? A rabbi/comedian? Or maybe an entrepreneur/inventor/writer/printer/politician like Ben Franklin?

We get to choose.

Brene Brown, in her beautiful book, the Gifts of Imperfection has the perfect answer to the question ‘what do you do?’

She responds by asking, “How long do you have?”

Don’t Lean

There seems to be a lot of “leaning” going on these days.

Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In is #1 on the list of New York Times Bestsellers. Sandberg says that women unintentionally hold themselves back from successful careers; that they need to be more proactive, more assertive; that in their pursuit of corporate success, they “need to sit at the table, seek challenges, take risks, and pursue their goals with gusto.”

On the other hand, Elaine Pofeldt, writing in this month’s issue of Money magazine, warns that too much ‘leaning in’ may be exhausting. She suggests that if we want more fulfilling lives, maybe we should “lean out,” get off the treadmill, leave the high-powered job and pursue work that is more satisfying and rewarding.

I wonder if we should be doing less leaning and more listening.

Recent figures suggest that nearly 70% of folks are unhappy with their work.

Maybe the old metrics of success aren’t working.

Maybe the answer is not to lean in… or to lean out… but to get clear.

Again.

Reclaim what is was that quickened your heart; discover again what ignites your spirit.

When we’re little, we have such grand, clear visions for our lives: what we want to be, what we want to do, where we want to live, where we want to go and who we want to do it all with. And then somewhere, often, the cart goes off the track. We get sucked down rabbit holes in our careers and our personal lives… and one day we wake up wondering how we got ‘here’ and whether it’s ‘too late’ to change course.

It’s never too late to change course.

As a coach, I work with folks who feel so trapped.

But we are the jailors and we hold the key. keep-calm-and-don-t-lean

Stop looking for the answers outside yourself, among the gurus and the pundits. Turn down the volume. Get quiet.

Ask yourself these questions:

• What are the circumstance of my life asking of me right now?

• What is it that I really, really want?

• What is my heart calling me to do?

• What excites me?

Where would my gifts shine most brightly?

What would be “too much fun” to do?

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life,” Steve Jobs once said. “Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”

You don’t need to lean. Stand tall. Listen to your heart. It always knows the way.