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Strategic Thinking: Does That Make Sense?

Summary: “Embrace unbiased thinking.” 

It appears that as humans we have a “makes sense” switch in our brains. Here is the way it works. First we decide what we think about an issue and take a position on it. Then we run our decision through some sort of mental process to gather information in support of our position. Often, when we first stumble across any evidence that causes us to think, “That makes sense,” we abandon any further exploration, store our position in memory for possible future use and move on to the next thing.

Once such a decision is stored in memory, we develop strong mental filters that allow new information in support of our position to easily enter our minds and block information that does not support our position. We, in effect, create our own extremely biased internal mental pundits similar to the folks you see and hear blathering on endlessly on CNN, Fox News and other radio and TV shows.

Of course, there are at least two things seriously wrong with this approach. First, a person should probably refrain from deciding on a position before looking at any evidence and second, it is not a good idea to stop exploration after encountering the first bit of supporting “makes sense” evidence.

For example, two items that serve the same purpose cost $5 and $10 respectively. If you are a price-sensitive buyer, you might quickly conclude that the first item sells for half the price of the second item; therefore it makes sense to buy the $5 item. However, if your frame of mind is cost sensitivity rather than price sensitivity, you might explore further and discover that the second item will easily last three times longer than the first item. Based on this new information, it makes more sense to buy the second item.

So, how can we avoid this type of mistake in running our businesses and lives? Here’s an idea. When you have important decisions to make that will strongly impact your long-term success, ask the best minds in your company and among your friends to consider both sides of the issue and prepare for a debate-like discussion. However, do not tell them which side of the debate they will be asked to specifically defend until you meet to discuss the issue.

Researchers have tested this idea by giving people a proposal and asking them to read and draw conclusions on its fairness and prepare for a discussion. If they were told which side they would argue beforehand, they read it quite differently than when they were not told which side they would be defending.

This sounds like an idea worth trying in your business to settle differences and creatively explore options related to products, service, hiring, incentives and many other aspects of a typical business. Maybe it can help you and your employees avoid the “makes sense” thinking trap. And it seems like an idea worth trying in your life in general.

For extra credit, make sure the front-line people who will actually have to execute any strategy are included in the discussion.

Joyfully participate in life today!

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Sifting – Chapter 16: Locus of Control

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 16: Locus of Control

Bob: Sift?

Sift: Hello, Bob.

Bob: I don’t want to be addicted to busyness anymore. I like the way I feel now – more grounded, centered, and focused. What else can I do to nurture this feeling and eventually be more like this all the time? Does that make sense?

Sift: Yes, Bob, that makes sense, and there are many things you can do to maintain these feelings. One of the next best steps you can take is shifting from a predominantly external locus of control to a predominantly internal locus of control.

Bob: I think I know what you mean. I need to stop letting external influences, especially other people, dictate how I think, feel, and act, don’t I? I need to stop caring what everybody else thinks of me?

Sift: Not exactly. I am only suggesting that you tip the scales in favor of valuing your own opinion related to the choices you make in life as much, or more, than the opinions of others. It is fine to listen to others, and even be influenced by others, as long as in the end, the choices you make are your own and you take full responsibility for them as being your choices. Failure to fully transition through the passage from adolescence to adulthood often causes people to maintain a predominantly external locus of control long after it is necessary or useful.

Bob: Huh?

Sift: In terms of one of the normal passages of life, people spend most of their formative years in a “What does everyone else want?” mode of operating. In other words, they predominantly seek and receive a lot of external guidance when making choices. This is totally appropriate when you are younger and helps you learn how the world works, especially if the authority figures and teachers in your life are grounded, centered, and wise. But that is not always the case. Sometimes, through their words or actions, they teach you things that will not serve you well as an adult. Often in such cases, people are just passing on illogical or inappropriate ideas that they learned from influential people in their lives. For this reason, it is a good idea, as an adult, to sift through all the significant lessons you learned as a child and adolescent that might not be serving you well in your current circumstances.

Bob: How do you know if they are serving you well or not?

Sift: If ideas and beliefs that drive your actions generate joyful feelings and productive results, they are likely serving you well. If they generate ongoing patterns of sadness, fear, anxiety, frustration, or failure, it might be time to question, and perhaps alter, your beliefs. Remember, your emotions are an excellent source of internal guidance.

If things in your life progress as they should, you eventually transition to more of a “What do I want?” phase of life. This should not be a self-centered phase; it is more a matter of taking full responsibility for your life and deciding what you want to do with your time, talent, and energy that will serve you and the world. The world, in this case, means any element of your world, your family, your employer, your community, or the world at large.

Bob: So what do you mean when you say some people fail to make the transition?

Sift: Some people never make it to the phase where they become more self-directed and autonomous. They never take the time to fully examine their beliefs and make sure they are their own beliefs. They never transition and adopt more of an internal locus of control. They, in effect, borrow their beliefs from others, most often their parents or main caregivers, and live their lives on a foundation of borrowed beliefs, rather than beliefs they have fully processed and accepted as their own.

Bob: What kind of beliefs are you talking about?

Sift: All your beliefs. For example, your beliefs about relationships, marriage, money, religion, politics, parenting, trustworthiness, abundance, scarcity, and everything else that relates to the major choices you make in life.

Bob: These are things I can explore in my journal, can’t I?

Sift: Yes, that is a very good idea. Reflect on these issues. Explore them in your journal. Talk with trusted advisors and friends. Do whatever works best for you to fully process beliefs that you learned from others.

Bob: Make them my own if I plan to allow them to influence my choices, right?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: Sift, let me see if I understand you correctly. Are you telling me that as an almost 40-year-old adult, I have not fully transitioned into adulthood?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: Wow, that’s an eye-opener. So I need to develop a more internal locus of control?

Sift: Right, if you truly want to remain grounded, centered, and focused, that is a great place to begin. Bob, there are two more topics closely related to this topic and your question that I think we need to explore.

Bob: Even without knowing what they are, I can already tell you, “Yes, I want to explore them with you. What are the topics?”

Sift: I think it would be helpful for you to understand strokes and psychological tapes.

Bob: I’m in! Let me make a few notes in my journal to remind me of some thoughts going through my mind right now, and then let’s talk all about strokes and tapes.

Sift: Take your time, Bob.


End Chapter 16

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Make sure your beliefs are your beliefs (and not borrowed from others). 

  1. What does it mean to have a predominantly internal locus of control?
  2. Does having an internal locus of control mean you should never care what anyone thinks of you?
  3. What are some of the main benefits of having an internal locus of control?
  4. Are your beliefs regarding marriage, relationships, money, religion, politics, career, parenting and others significant areas of life really yours?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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Sifting – Chapter 15: The Power of Journaling

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 15: The Power of Journaling

Bob: Sift? Are you there?

Sift: Good morning, Bob.

Bob: Considering my circumstances, it is an absolute mystery to me how I slept so well last night. What are you doing to me to make that happen?

Sift: I am not doing anything. It’s because of what you are doing. Restful sleep is often, but not always, one of the benefits of clear thinking and the by-product of longer periods of mind-body synchronization.

Bob: Huh?

Sift: Bob, your mind is capable of being in the past, present, or future. Your body, or physical being, can only exist in the present. Therefore, the only place your mind and body can be in sync is in the present. Synchronizing your mind and body usually helps you feel more focused, grounded, and centered. These feelings, in turn, help your body and mind function at their best in both waking and non-waking periods. You spent a lot of time with your mind and body in sync yesterday for the first time in a long time.

Bob: Oh, that’s the “staying in the present moment” thing that people talk about? So, I need to always stay in the present moment?

Sift: No, there is significant value in mentally reflecting on the past and future. You can learn from the past and gain inspiration from the future. Problems only arise when you spend too much time out of sync with your body. Therefore, it is a good idea to spend most of your time in a present-oriented frame of mind.

Bob: I wrote in my journal this morning. Three pages!

Sift: Tell me about it.

Bob: To be honest, I didn’t really want to do it at first. I actually felt some discomfort that I did not have any meetings or work activities planned for the day. However, once I relaxed and got started, things got interesting. It was almost as if thoughts were flowing through me and onto the pages. I felt more like a conduit for the thoughts than the source of them. The thoughts seemed to randomly jump from topic to topic and across time periods. Actually, some of the thoughts were strange – thoughts about very specific childhood experiences, my college dorm room, my bills, people I haven’t thought of in years, my grandfather’s watch, smoke inside my body, a strange kite made of dollar bills, and other weird things like that.

Sift: What was the main feeling you experienced when you were journaling?

Bob pauses and thinks for a moment.

Bob: Well, I felt, for lack of a better word, a sense of cleansing. Does that make sense to you?

Sift: Yes, it does, Bob. Will you try something for me right now?

Bob: Sure.

Sift: Relax, close your eyes, and breathe like I suggested before. Inhale deeply and exhale slowly for a minute or so. When you finish, tell me what went through your mind when you were doing this.

Bob: Okay.

Bob pauses and opens his eyes after 37 seconds.

Bob: Sorry, Sift. I got so relaxed. I know I probably took much more than a minute.

Sift: That’s all right, Bob. You did fine. What was going on in your mind once you got into the rhythm of breathing? Did you experience any mental imagery?

Bob: Yeah, I did. I experienced a visual image of taking in pure, clear air and exhaling dark, black smoke. As I continued to exhale, the smoke got lighter in color. When I stopped, the smoke was still dark, but more gray than black.


Sift: Okay, why don’t you turn that visual image into an exercise and repeat it from time to time. Especially anytime you feel sadness, anger, or anxiety. Also, do the same thing with other thoughts that show up in your journal. Focus on the thought, and breathe in and out deeply and slowly, while thinking of the thought.

Bob: How do I know which thought to choose?

Sift: Tell me, what does the word resonate mean to you? What does it mean to resonate with something?

Bob: To me, that means something that provokes some sort of interesting, usually pleasant emotion, or curiosity.

Sift: Good, that’s the process you can use to choose your thought. Browse through your journal and pick a thought that causes you to experience a sense or feeling of resonance.

Bob: Okay, and doing this will help me discover my calling or next adventure in life?

Sift: Bob, do you remember when I talked about looking at this process as a puzzle or combination lock?

Bob: Yes.

Sift: Think of journaling, and all the things you experience as a result of reflecting on your journal thoughts, as pieces of the puzzle. There is no one way to discover your calling, and the same ideas will not work for everyone. Sometimes, a single idea or process makes things fall in place quickly; sometimes, it takes a combination of ideas over a longer period of time. I am going to talk with you about many things that will help you, or prove to be obstacles, to zero in on your calling. You decide which ones you want to try, which ones you do not think will work for you, and which potential obstacles you need to address. For example, you do not have to keep journaling after trying it a few days if you do not feel it is helping. However, I do strongly suggest you continue writing in your journal because, in your case, you accomplished in one try what many people take days or weeks to accomplish.

Bob: What is that?

Sift: You got to the point where you were experiencing a sense of flow on your first try. That probably means you have many thoughts and feelings that need to be processed or resolved. Journaling is one way to process such things. In any case, you choose the ideas you want to pursue. Other people respond more to meditation, yoga, breathing techniques, or other activities that counteract the urge to fill the day with busyness.

Bob: I absolutely want to keep journaling. It was interesting and I enjoyed it. It was quite a radical departure from my normal routine of rushing around to get ready, gulping coffee, fighting rush-hour traffic, and such.

Sift: Good, how you begin your day often sets the tone for how the rest of your day will unfold. Journaling and similar activities help retrain your nervous system to embrace a more productive pace for life. People often get addicted to busyness and need some process to help them settle in to a better pace. And pacing your life appropriately is one of the keys to becoming more grounded and centered. The irony is that you will accomplish much more in a typical day when you slow down a bit and pace yourself correctly.

Bob: I will keep journaling and experiment with some of the other techniques you mentioned.

Sift: Good, here are a few suggestions for your journaling. Keep letting your thoughts unfold naturally, if they will. If you ever get stuck, write about four things: people who have influenced you; events – good and bad – that somehow shaped your life, especially events that turned out to present fork-in-the-road choices or decisions for you; things you want to do, be, or have in the future; and things that create a sense or feeling of gratitude.

Bob: Influential people? Do you mean people like my parents?

Sift: I mean any influential people in your past or present world – parents, relatives, siblings, caregivers, teachers, coaches, bosses, coworkers, friends, or anyone else who influenced you in any way. Don’t force these topics. Again, if you can’t think of anything else, start with them and let your thoughts go where they want to go.

Bob: Sift, this is just a structured process to help me get better at slowing down and reflecting on important things, isn’t it? It will help keep me from getting too caught up in the busyness trap, won’t it?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: I’m going to get a cup of coffee and then I want to talk more. Sift, thanks for helping me!

Sift: Okay, Bob. It is my pleasure, and I appreciate your curiosity. I’ll be here when you are ready to continue.


End Chapter 15

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: It’s a good idea to develop your own way, or ways, to process the events of your life.  

  1. Do you believe you should always try to stay in the present moment? Why or why not?
  2. Why do you think the process of journaling is beneficial for many people?
  3. Who were the influential people, and what were the significants events, that shaped your current viewpoint of the world?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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A Cooperative Advantage in Business: Barn-Raising Mentality

Summary: Replace schadenfreude with a barn-raising community spirit.” 

Think like farmers for a minute. It has often struck me that if you want to develop practical solutions to problems, you should try to think like farmers. That’s because in general farmers are no-nonsense, practical-minded folks. Don’t get me wrong, I like out-of-the-box thinking as much as the next guy. However, there’s a time and a place for all kinds of thinking and when you need to solve a real-world problem quickly, you might want to try thinking like a farmer.

So, imagine you’ve got this farm. One necessary structure for most farms is a barn. You need a place to store the hay, keep some of the livestock, and have the occasional Saturday night dance for the community of hard-working folks who need some entertaining relief from the stresses of farming. However, you simply can’t build a barn by yourself and you have little or no money to pay for labor. One practical solution is to schedule an old-fashioned “barn-raising” event.

Here’s how barn raisings work. Members of the community collectively build a barn for the farmer in need. Such barn-raising events were fairly common in 18th and 19th century rural America. Nobody got paid for their labor; participation was mandatory among able-bodied males and – similar to when Don Corleone did you a favor – someday you would likely be called on to repay the favor.

Now let’s see if we can somehow use this barn-raising strategy in the modern workplace. Let’s start with the fact that a workplace is a form of a community. Say someone in your community, not necessarily someone in your department or on your work team, is struggling. For example, someone who heads up sales for one of your major product lines is performing well below expectations. In this situation, here’s what I often see and hear…people in other departments (but in the same community) gossip about it, complain about it, criticize the person, and sometimes even take some measure of delight in the fact that “someone else is worse off than me, or us.”

Rather than giving the struggling person or team a hard time, why not think, “Let’s all schedule a barn-raising event to help these folks out!” In other words, let’s put our heads together and solve this problem for members of our community.

Who knows, if circumstances in the marketplace change significantly, you may be the person in need of a metaphorical barn in the future. Wouldn’t it be nice to think that rather than being criticized and ostracized by your fellow community members during such hard times, they instead banded together to help you through your rough patch?

Why not work toward building a company culture that encourages company-wide help for anyone and everyone in the community who might be in need? In other words, why not develop a barn-raising company culture? Look around you. Who needs a barn? Such an attitude will probably serve you and your organization until the cows come home.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Sifting – Chapter 14: The Busyness Trap

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 14: The Busyness Trap

Bob: So, what is the main obstacle that prevents people from pursuing their calling?

Sift: Busyness.

Bob: Huh? Businesses somehow cause all these problems?

Sift: No, I mean busyness spelled B-U-S-Y-N-E-S-S. People clutter their lives with activities that seem important to them. They confuse frenetic motion and low-value activity with meaningful and purposeful action.

Bob: I totally get that now. I don’t think I would have understood the real significance of what you just said before the call from Mr. Dawson. It’s strange; earlier today, I was convinced that so many things I planned to do this week were so important. And then I got the call from Mr. Dawson, and now none of those things are important. I know I am getting a bit philosophical, but I remember having similar thoughts when I watched the coverage of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. I specifically remember the scene on TV when papers were floating down, zigzagging through the air on the way to the ground. I thought, “Just a short time ago, I’ll bet a lot of people thought those papers were so important, and now they are totally meaningless and insignificant.”

Sift: That’s what happens, Bob. People get caught up in a whirlwind of busyness, and it makes it difficult to discern what is really important and what is not. Unfortunately, sometimes, it takes a disaster, cancer, a car wreck, the death of a loved one, or some similar event for humans to break the cycle of getting caught up in their busyness trap. But that’s not the way things have to work. Do you remember the Pareto Principle you learned about in college?

Bob: Yeah, I think it suggested that you get the majority of your results from the minority of your efforts.

Sift: Exactly. Another way of thinking of the Pareto Principle is that the majority of your efforts do not matter.

Bob: Huh. Interesting. I guess that is another way of saying the same thing.

Sift: You mentioned changing your mind about what was important after the call from Mr. Dawson. Let me ask you a question. How difficult would it have been for anyone to convince you of that before you got the call?

Bob, did you hear my question?

Bob: Uh, yeah. I was thinking about it. That’s an interesting question. My guess is that it would have been almost impossible to convince me of that before the call.

Sift: That is true with everyone caught up in the busyness trap. Therefore, one of the first practical steps you can take – if you desire to get on the right path in life – is to learn to pace yourself appropriately and purposely build some time for reflection into your daily schedule. Speaking of reflection time, it is late and we have covered a lot of new ideas. I think this would be a good time for you to get some rest and process some of these ideas. We can talk more about specific ways to escape from the busyness trap tomorrow.

Bob: Huh? How can I get rest and process ideas at the same time?

Sift: That is one of the purposes of sleep. Your brain works while you are sleeping. It reinforces learning and connects new memories to existing memories and works to make sense of the events of the day. I want you to consider doing something first thing tomorrow morning before we talk again.

Bob: What’s that?

Sift: Do you have any kind of notebook you can use as a journal?

Bob: Sure, I keep a notebook in my briefcase to make notes on follow-up actions.

Sift: Good, when you get up in the morning, start writing about whatever is on your mind in your notebook. Don’t be concerned with grammar, sentence structure, punctuation, or anything else like that. Write extemporaneously and just capture your thoughts on paper. You can stop in the middle of a thought and switch to another thought, if you’d like. Let your thoughts go wherever they seem to want to go. Try to write at least one page, or for at least ten minutes, if you can. More and longer is fine, but don’t worry about that either. Just keep thinking and keep your pen or pencil moving.

Bob: Okay, I’ll do it. Will you be here tomorrow?

Sift: Yes. If you want to connect with me, you know how to do it now. If you have any difficulty, just relax, breathe in deeply, exhale slowly, and think of me. Then ask a question.

Bob: Got it. Goodnight, Sift. Thanks for everything!

Sift: Goodnight, Bob. You are welcome.


End Chapter 14

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Busyness is usually counter-productive for those who desire to joyfully and productively participate him life.  

  1. Why do you think some people value busyness so much?
  2. Does the 80/20 Rule (Pareto Principle) apply to you, or are you somehow exempt from it?
  3. Do you know people who confuse frenetic motion and low-value activity with meaningful and purposeful action?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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Sifting – Chapter 13: The Source of the Journey

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 13: The Source of the Journey

Bob: I understand the call to adventure, the hero, the herald, and the refusal of the call. What’s the source of the hero’s journey? Where did all these ideas come from?

Sift: The hero’s journey is a highly summarized articulation of the collective wisdom of all those who came before you. Billions of people have lived and died on Earth. As these people learned to deal with the events and people they encountered during their lives, many felt a strong urge to share their wisdom with others, especially their direct descendants.

Throughout most of history, these ideas were passed on to others by word-of-mouth. Storytellers and artists created fairly tales, parables, poetry, and used various forms of artistic expression to share their wisdom. These ideas were eventually incorporated into our mythologies, customs, traditions, and religions. Mythologist Joseph Campbell originally articulated the hero’s journey, the call to adventure, the herald, and many of the other ideas we have discussed. Campbell dedicated his life to the study of all the great religions, mythologies, and other sources of collective wisdom in an effort to discover the common elements of these various sources. The hero’s journey articulates these common elements. The hero’s journey is a template for the journey we call life. It is, in effect, a road map for the journey from birth to death.

Bob: So the hero’s journey offers insights on how to live your life.

Sift: Yes, the hero’s journey addresses the stages you will likely pass through in life and the archetypes you will likely encounter.

Bob: Okay, so if I understand the hero’s journey, I’ll have a better chance of knowing what to expect in life and how to deal with it? What else do I need to know about the hero’s journey?

Sift: Bob, I encourage you to pursue your interest in the hero’s journey and learn about all the stages and archetypes; but you already know enough to begin getting back on track with your life. We can discuss any other relevant elements of the hero’s journey based on your curiosity and the specific questions you ask.

Bob: Okay, I’m curious about a few things. What really kept me from following my calling? And how can I begin pursuing my calling?

Sift: Those are excellent questions. If I understand you correctly, you want to know more about the obstacles that prevent people from pursuing their unique adventures in life? And you want to discuss some commonsense, practical steps you can take to begin pursuing your calling?

Bob: Yes.


End Chapter 13

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: The Hero’s Journey is an excellent source of wisdom/guidance for those who desire to joyfully and productively participate in life.   

  1. How can you use the hero’s journey template, describing the stages of life and archetypes you can expect to encounter in life, to improve your life?
  2. What is the value of knowing, or at least exploring, your calling in life?
  3. Can you think of some the archetypes you have encountered in your life (heralds, mentors, threshold guardians, etc.)?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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There’s No Such Thing As Time Management

Summary: “Be aware…and beware…of how new things affect your time use.”  

Yes, I am being a bit nit-picky, but as the title states there is no such thing as time management. Time flows in a forward direction and does not respond to any human attempts to manage it. Therefore, time management strategies are, pardon the pun, a waste of time.

As an alternative, you might look closely at the ongoing historical tug-of-war between new things coming into existence that free up huge blocks of your time and new things coming into existence that place heavy demands on your time.

For example, on May 10, 1869, at Promontory Point, Utah, the golden spike was driven to complete the rail line between the East and West coasts. Prior to completing this rail line, it typically took six months to make the trip from New York to San Francisco. Soon after the completion of the transcontinental railroad, an individual could make the same trip in about six days. That’s 174 days of free time if you are willing to abandon the Conestoga wagon option. If you decided to travel from New York to San Francisco nowadays, you would have many options. Among the options is United Airlines flight 626 out of Kennedy airport leaving at 10:20 am and arriving at 1:36 pm. If you adjust for the time zone changes, that’s six hours and sixteen minutes travel time. So, from six months, to six days, to six hours to get the same result – getting from New York to San Francisco. These are clear examples of new things that free up huge blocks of time.

I can cite many similar examples of how we can now accomplish the same result in significantly less time that it took us in the past – if you are willing to abandon our current way of doing things. So, abandoning your current way of doing things seems to be one of the keys to dealing with the unrelenting passage of time.

On the other hand, many new things coming into existence place huge demands on our time (for example, some aspects of social media come to mind). So, being careful about adopting new time-consuming things is another way to deal with the shortage of available time.

As I mentioned, you cannot manage time, however, you can learn to do a much better job of rationally using time. That’s what I suggest to my clients. Abandon your efforts to manage time and look for practical ways to more rationally use time. Start by asking, “What can I abandon to free up huge blocks of time?” Or, what can I avoid adopting that will likely place significant demands on my time? Whatever you do, try to joyfully use your time.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Sifting – Chapter 12: Bob Reflects on His Current Situation

This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 12: Bob Reflects on His Current Situation

Bob: Sift, are you there?

Sift: Yes, Bob, how are you doing?

Bob: I have another question about the phone call.

Sift: What is that, Bob?

Bob: When I hung up the phone after talking with Mr. Dawson the other day, after I had some time to process what he told me, I was surprised that I felt a sense of relief. Is that normal?

Sift: Your response was not necessarily typical; however, it was quite healthy and appropriate. In similar situations, people often respond with anger, resentment, denial, or some other form of negative emotions. This prevents what you just referred to as processing the event, and can cause someone to get locked into one of these extreme mental positions. For example, some people often remain angry or in denial for years after such an experience. Some people remain that way for the rest of their lives. This, of course, takes up a lot of their energy that could be used for more productive life activities and severely inhibits their ongoing potential for learning and personal growth.

Bob: I’m not sure about denial, but my initial response was anger. I still can’t believe what the company did to me.

Sift: First of all, anger is a valid emotion that serves you well in certain situations. All emotions are valid and appropriate in certain situations. It is the fact that you are aware of the emotion, that you take time to process the emotion, and the manner in which you process the emotion, that are most important. Second, the company did not do anything to you. What happened to you was set in motion by choices you consciously made, or made by default, in the past. Remember your ongoing refusal of the call to adventure?

Bob:  Oh, yeah, I guess that is another way to look at it.

Sift: Yes, Bob. The event you refer to as getting fired is neither good nor bad in isolation. It is similar to the concept of absolute numbers in mathematics whereby the numerical value has neither a positive nor a negative sign associated with it. If someone asked you to use the number eight in a formula or equation, you might ask them if you should consider the number a positive eight or a negative eight. With regard to mathematical equations, this is a valid question. However, in real-life situations similar to this, such as getting fired, an appropriate response would be, “You decide whether it is positive or negative, Bob. It’s up to you.”

Bob: It sure looks like a negative event right now. It certainly is going to create some problems when the bills pile up and no paychecks are coming in.

Sift: Bob, I’m about to tell you two things that are very important. Are you paying close attention?

Bob: Yes.

Sift: One, the job of a problem is to get your attention. And two, the job of your emotions is to guide your choices and actions. These are signals that tell you to increase your level of awareness and pay close attention to your current choices. These are the traffic signals and directional signs of life. Sometimes, you need to go. Sometimes, you need to proceed with caution. Sometimes, you need to yield the right of way. Sometimes, you need to stop. And your emotions give you feedback on the quality of your choices.

Bob: Uh, okay. And what do I do when problems get my attention?

Sift: You get still, you get quiet, you reflect, and you ask questions. What is the lesson this experience or feeling is trying to teach me? What can I do about it? Typically, the lesson and solution will fall into one of five categories: more, better, different, less, or some combination of these four actions. For example, ask yourself:

  • Do I need to be doing more of something I am already doing?
  • How can I do something I am already doing better?
  • Do I need to be doing something different?
  • Do I need to be doing less of something I am already doing?

Bob: So, you are saying that getting fired might turn out to be good for me?

Sift: That’s up to you, Bob. When you learn to see and think clearly, you will be able to look back over your entire life and understand that everything that has happened to you, including getting fired, was perfectly orchestrated to help you learn and grow.

Bob: Why is that?

Sift: Because that is the way life works. All the information needed to joyfully participate in life is provided to humans on an ongoing basis. It’s there for anyone who chooses to tune into it.

Bob: And you tune in with stillness, quietness, and curiosity, right?

Sift: Excellent, Bob, you are learning.


End Chapter 12

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Events in your life are learning experiences and the job of a problem is to get your attention.  

  1. Why do you think Bob felt a sense of relief after talking with Mr. Dawson and getting fired?
  2. What are some events in your life that seemed to be bad at the time, but later turned out to be good for you?
  3. In what sense are your emotions like the “traffic signals of your life?”


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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Traffic Lights, Choices and Consequences

Summary: “Think about the long-term consequences of your choices…before you make the choice.” 

Most traffic lights use a three-color system – red, yellow and green – in an attempt to control the flow of traffic through an intersection. Red, in this case, is the traffic light color that instructs moving vehicles to stop.

However, have you ever really thought about why most people stop at a red light? Does the color, in this case redness, make them stop? Does the light behind the red lens make them stop? How about the pole holding the traffic light, does it make drivers stop? It must not be any of these things; although all of these things are often present, the fact is, some drivers still do not stop.

So, in the end it is the driver’s choice to stop … or not. The red light is simply an external triggering event that prompts the driver to think about the consequences of stopping or not stopping and then make a choice. The red light has no inherent power or ability to stop anyone or anything.

Another factor that comes into play in this process of stopping people with a powerless red light has to do with the timing of the consequences. If you run a red light, the negative consequences can occur almost immediately. In other words, you might collide with a person going through the same intersection choosing to go on a green light.

I think several lessons are embedded in the “why stop at a red light” story. However, let’s focus on one aspect of this story – the timing of the consequences.

When the consequences are immediate, you are more likely to pay attention and factor them into your choice. For example, many people are fully aware of the almost certain negative consequences of smoking. However, it is most likely that they will not have to “pay the bill” for smoking in terms of the health consequences until some distant future date. So, they light up, have another cigarette, and don’t worry about it. What if every time they made a choice to smoke a cigarette, they knew it might be the tipping-point cigarette that would trigger cancer almost immediately? What if, like running a red light, they might immediately suffer significant negative consequences of smoking that particular cigarette?

Typically if someone asks you at the beginning of your day what you are going to do that day, you reply with a list of tasks, meetings and so forth and so on. Here’s another valid response: “Today I am going to make choices all day long.”

If you want to make better choices, personal or career, think about the consequences of each significant choice in terms of the red light analogy. What if the consequences of this choice occurred immediately? What if my choice caused a devastating car crash? Think about this when you choose what to eat, what to do with your time, what to do with your money, what to say to your spouse, children, coworkers and friends. And by the way…drive carefully!

Joyfully participate in life’s choices today…Chris

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Sifting – Chapter 11: Heroes and Heralds


This posting is part of a series on my book Sifting. If you have not read the previous postings, please visit the menu above (click on Sifting) for a chronological listing of any previous chapters. Thanks!  


Chapter 11: Heroes and Heralds


Bob: Sift, can you feel the heat from the fire?

Sift: Yes, Bob, I can feel anything you feel.

Bob: It’s not colder out there wherever you are?

Sift: I am not out there, Bob, I am inside you.

Bob: Oh, yeah, I forgot. Sift, this is a lot of information to absorb. Can I ask you some questions to clarify some of the things we have talked about?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: Tell me a little about the hero’s journey. Who are you talking about when you use the word hero?

Sift: You are the hero we are talking about now.

Bob: Me? How can I be a hero? I haven’t done anything heroic.

Sift: Everyone is the hero of his or her own journey, and we are talking about your journey. Remember, this conversation was initiated by your question about the purpose of your life.

Bob: So everyone is the hero of his or her own life?

Sift: Everyone has the potential to be the hero of his or her own life. Another way to describe life is to call it an adventure or a journey. I didn’t use the term hero before, but as we discussed, you are most hero-like when you answer the call to your unique adventure and pursue the journey that aligns your life activities with that particular adventure. We also previously discussed that people are designed to be meaning-seeking creatures. Personal experiences give meaning to life. Therefore, people on a hero’s journey seek experiences that give their lives the most meaning. In any particular adventure, the hero is the person who is most active in the adventure, learns the most, and changes and grows the most. The journey is always seen through the eyes of the hero.

Bob: So, the hero could only be me if we are talking about my life, right?

Sift: Right.

Bob: I never really thought of myself as a hero.

Sift: Right now, you are not a hero.

Bob: What? It’s my life! Who else could be the hero of my life?

Sift: You must be on the journey – on the path. You must either know or genuinely be working toward discovering your unique call to adventure.

Bob: So who calls me? How do I find out about my call to adventure?

Sift: The hero is not the only participant in the hero’s journey. There are other archetypes you will encounter. For example, the herald is the archetype that typically communicates the call to adventure by issuing challenges or announcing the coming of a significant change.

Bob: What’s an archetype?

Sift: Archetypes are symbolic forms, or forces, that either assist you on your hero’s journey or redirect you, block you, or somehow test your resolve. Archetypes can be people, but they do not have to be people. In your case, the herald has shown up in your life for years in various forms. For example, your herald archetype has shown up as restlessness and various related forms of fear, anger, sadness, or even curiosity. Most recently, your herald morphed into the human form of a Mr. Dawson.

Bob: Ohhh! Ohhh! I get it now! So Mr. Dawson was my herald? The call from him was my call to adventure. It was an announcement that it was time for me to move on. Duhhh! The puzzle pieces are falling into place. Wow, this isn’t just abstract stuff; it’s reality. I’ve been ignoring other versions of the call to adventure for years, and the universe upped the ante on me! This is an example of the “disintegrating or dissolving under unusual circumstances” you mentioned earlier?

Sift: Yes, and that is not uncommon. It happens to most people. They ignore their heralds. Especially people who are very busy and easily get caught up in some of the illusions that society presents to them as important.

Bob: What are the consequences of missing all those signals?

Sift: In terms of the hero’s journey, missing or ignoring signals is referred to as the refusal of the call. That simply means that you were called to participate in a particular journey in life, and you made the choice to participate in other activities that are not in alignment with your calling. In terms of the consequences, they are fairly straightforward and predictable. Little misalignments lead to little struggles; significant misalignments lead to significant struggles. Short-term misalignments lead to short-term struggles; long-term misalignments lead to long-term struggles.

Bob: Most people do not know it, but I’ve been struggling for a long time. So, these heralds have been trying to contact me for a long time, right?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: So anything can be a herald – thoughts, experiences, sayings, people, or feelings?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: Ah – some of the pieces of the puzzle are definitely falling in place for me. So struggles, fear, sadness, anger, and other such experiences, are indicators that it is time for a change – a new adventure? That’s what you were talking about earlier.

Sift: Yes, or it could also mean it is time for some sort of adjustment to your current adventure. The magnitude of the adjustment required, or change necessary, is usually in direct proportion to the frequency, intensity, and duration of your struggles. And when the struggles begin to negatively impact your life in a significant way, it is usually time for a significant adjustment. Once again, short-term, low-intensity struggles only require minor adjustments. Patterns of the struggles and emotions are more important than isolated events.

Bob: Tell me again how can you tell if you are on the right path and going in the right direction?

Sift: Remember, the frequency, intensity, and duration of emotions related to joyful experiences are indicators that you are on the right path going in the right direction. Overall, you feel a sense of well-being. You also feel grounded, centered, energized, and that you are fully engaged and joyfully participating in life.

Bob: Nobody else knows it, but I haven’t felt that way in quite a while. So what happens if you keep on refusing the call to a new adventure?

Sift: The consequences are very predictable. If you consistently refuse your call to adventure, one or both of the following things will typically happen: One, life dries up. Things in your life that were formerly important begin to lose their meaning and no longer hold your interest. Boredom, restlessness, procrastination, and similar feelings begin showing up and they remain present for longer periods of time. Some people try to medicate these feelings with food, alcohol, drugs, spending, accumulation of unneeded possessions, and other forms of excessive or self-defeating behavior. Sometimes, Mother Nature sends messages that it is time for a change in the form of headaches, insomnia, stomach problems, anxiety, heart problems, other illnesses, etc.  Two, the universe, or some mysterious force of the universe that you might now think of as an archetype, will, as you said, “up the ante” and disrupt your current life path. In other words, you get some sort of physical or symbolic kick in the seat of the pants that is designed to kick-start your true adventure – to get you back on the right path.

Bob: That’s why instead of getting promoted to head up the global project, I got fired, isn’t it?

Sift: Yes.

Bob: All that stuff about shutting down the U.S. operations because they needed to allocate capital resources to the emerging markets in China was a way of upping the ante for me, wasn’t it?

Sift: Yes. That particular event will serve as a call to adventure and opportunity for some, and the response to the ongoing refusal of the call for others. That’s the way the world works.

Bob: It looks as if the global company I worked for is no longer a part of my adventure, right?

Sift: Yes, it looks that way.

Bob: I need to think about all of this for a minute.

Sift: I understand. Take your time.


End Chapter 11

Author’s Notes:

Main takeaway: Pay attention to signs that you are being called to a new adventure. 

  1. Why should you spend more time looking inside yourself for answers than looking outside?
  2. What experiences give your life the most meaning?
  3. With experiences, events, or feelings have served (or tried to serve) as heralds for you?
  4. What are the consequences of missing or ignoring your true calling?


 The entire book will eventually be posted on this blog. However, if you want a copy for yourself, or as a gift for a friend, you can find it at this link: Sifting

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