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How to Use This Blog

Summary: “Use my articles to kick-start conversations.”

Now that I have posted 60 articles on this blog (see the Topics menu above), let me pause a moment and make some comments on how I hope some of you are using, or will use, this blog.

I hope some, perhaps many of you, use these blog postings as conversation kick-starters with people important to you…your boss, coworkers, subordinates, your spouse, a child, friend, enemy, student, or anyone. Maybe you can invite the other person to read a particular blog entry and then discuss it with you. Ask them, “Do you think there is any merit to the idea or ideas presented in the article…does the idea make sense to you? Or, do you think the author is full of crap? If so, why? How does the article or advice relate to us, and our relationship?”

For example, say you have an employee, friend, spouse or child who seems to be struggling a bit with anger issues. And you want to try and help him, or her, if they are open to it. Invite them to read the posting on Anger Trigger Management and then discuss it with you. For what it is worth, the main ideas in the Anger Trigger posting came from a book by R. Douglas Fields titled Why We Snap. The book is 416-pages long. That’s about seven hours of concentrated reading for most people. My goal is to capture the main ideas of books (and videos, and articles) in one page if possible…my apologies to the authors when I am not so successful. I always hope you will read the entire book, but I am aware that many people will simply not hang in there for 416 pages. However, at a minimum, I hope to at least help you and the other person understand the main ideas of the book, or video, or topic and initiate a conversation about these ideas.

Here are some possible applications:

  • Kick-start the employee review/development process (maybe talk about a different topic monthly or quarterly).
  • Kick-start a conversation with a friend, child, parent, sibling.
  • Kick-start a team discussion about an important teamwork topic. Encourage the whole team to discuss the article.
  • Kick- start a conversation with your spouse or life partner about some sort of relationship issue…money, parenting, career, dealing with your parents, stress, happiness, living, dying, everything in between, etc.

Having said all of this, I am open to suggestions. If you are looking for a way to initiate a conversation with someone, maybe I can address the topic on this blog. I am interested in a broad spectrum of issues related to human behavior…maybe I’ll write about it (maybe not). Good luck with your conversations. Have fun!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Conversations About Curiosity

Summary: “Share your curiosities with others to help discover your calling in life” 

I’ve previously written about the value of discovering and pursuing your true calling in life. However, sometimes when I advise people to do that, they tell me, “I just don’t know my calling. How can I go about discovering my calling if I don’t have a clue? I don’t know how to even get started on doing such a thing?” My thoughts are if you explore things you are passionate about, you might discover some interesting connections between your passions and your calling. Frequently when I have such thoughts, synchronicity kicks in and dumps something in my lap that is relevant to my thoughts. In this case, the “something dumped” was Steven Kotler’s new book The-Habit-of-Ferocity (free download).

While reading Kotler’s book, I stumbled across an interesting exercise designed to help people discover, or be reminded of, things they are passionate about. Kotler advises people to begin by writing down 25 things they are curious about. When I tried this simple exercise, I found that there were plenty of strong connections between what I am curious about and what I am passionate about. It strikes me that this will often be the case with humans. Maybe it will help you discover you calling, maybe not. In any case, I think it is a good use of your time. Here are my suggestions:

  1. Give it a try (don’t worry if you can only come up with 6, 16, 19 things, try for 25 but just do your best).
  2. You and a friend, or spouse, or co-worker, relax together (maybe over a glass of wine, or a beer, or coffee, or tea), share your list with each other, and talk about the items on your list.
  3. See if you can help each other recognize trends (ideas that are related to each other).

Perhaps in doing this you will discover more about your potential calling in life. At a minimum you will probably have an enjoyable conversation with the other person.

I’m sort of cheating with this exercise. I know my calling in life…to be a teacher. And I know my main subject…human behavior. Here are a few items that ended up on my curiosity list:

  • What are the payoffs for unproductive behavior?
  • Why do some people tolerate continued abuse?
  • What are some of the best movable jazz patterns on guitar?
  • Why are so many people addicted to busyness?
  • What can people really do about unhealthy stress (in a very practical sense)?
  • How can you best support the success of your adult children?

Do you see a pattern? Except for the jazz guitar thing, most of them relate to understanding behavior. Hopefully, you will see an imbedded pattern in your list. Who knows, maybe you will actually discover your calling. And maybe pursuing this calling will help you joyfully participate in life. Give it a try!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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The Message of Clutter

Summary: “A clean desk is a sign of a centered, grounded, orderly and focused person.” 

I am fully aware that many people believe a clean desk is a sign of a sick mind. The opposing viewpoint is that a person’s external world is a reflection of their internal world. If the latter is the case, a quick look at many people’s workspace suggests that they are secretly (or more likely not so secretly to those around them) experiencing a tremendous amount of internal chaos and disorder.

The word clutter apparently is a derivative of the Old English word clotter. And clotter is also the source of the word clot – to form into lumps and inhibit the free flow of substances. In other words, clutter has to do with things getting stuck, as in the healthy flow of work in and out of your office.

Now let’s talk about first impressions. When you experience something for the first time, your brain is designed to immediately begin recording mental associations related to the experience. In general, there are only two broad categories of mental associations, positive associations (I feel good about this and want to approach or embrace it) and negative associations (I feel bad about this and want to escape or move away from it). Much of this process of creating and assigning a positive or negative spin to these associations is handled by your subconscious mind. Therefore, you (and others) record many of these “approach or move away” messages for future consideration without always being fully aware of doing so.

Enough brain talk – here is a real-world example. Say you are a bank officer with an incredibly cluttered office. The first time a new prospect enters your office they will likely consciously or subconsciously think, “What, this person wants to handle my money and financial affairs? I’m not sure I am comfortable with that.”

Most people spend a lot of time getting their house ready to list for sale. Agents often encourage sellers to fix up, clean up, turn on the lights, bake cookies and do other things to create positive associations in the minds of prospects. If you go on a job interview, I suspect you once again take extraordinary measures to create positive first impressions. And what about a first date, or a school reunion, or any other event that is important to you? Such events are certainly important, and you should try to make positive impressions. But why wouldn’t you do the same thing when it comes to one of the most important ongoing events of your life – events that affect your career?

Maybe it will not matter. We all know plenty of people who have done quite well with a messy office. However, if your career – like the bankers – heavily depends on creating positive associations with your prospects, clients, coworkers and others, you might want to think about maintaining your office or workspace in a way that sends a message that your internal state of mind is calm, collected, centered, grounded, orderly and focused. Perhaps a clean desk is a sign of a sane mind.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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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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Positive Mental Attitude

Summary: “Fake it until you become it!” 

Very few people will probably disagree with the idea that developing and maintaining a positive mental attitude is helpful in sports, business and life in general.

Having a positive mental attitude is, of course, no guarantee of success when so many other factors such as skill, effort and perhaps even a little luck so often come into play in any successful endeavor. So let’s not get all rah-rah and proclaim a positive mental attitude the solution to all problems – but let’s not take the opposing viewpoint and declare it a superficial characteristic of shallow people.

Life is often about simply playing the cards you are dealt the best you can. And a positive mental attitude can help you not only play the cards you are dealt better, it can also help you get a better hand in the future. People love a good “recovery from adversity” story and will go out of their way to give future breaks to those who play a bad hand well.

My main point today is not about whether or not you should try your best to maintain a positive attitude; it’s about how you can do it when you don’t feel so positive. Most people can maintain a great attitude when things are going well. How do you pull it off when things aren’t going so well?

I became interested in this topic when I watched a TED video by Harvard Business School professor and researcher Amy Cuddy. Her talk is titled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” (you can view her 21-minute talk here). Here’s what she said that intrigued me the most. Cuddy talked about the often heard quote, “Fake it ’til you make it” with a bit of a twist. Her advice was to “Fake it ’til you become it.” I like that quote much better.

Most people understand that what is going on inside a person’s head – their mental attitude – is usually revealed by external factors we collectively refer to as body language. Cuddy’s research supports the fact that body language is essentially a two-way street. In other words, if you can somehow get your body to fake the body language of a person with a positive mental attitude, it will eventually help you develop genuine positive feelings.

For example, clenching a pen or pencil between your teeth activates the same facial muscles that are involved in producing a genuine smile. This, in turn triggers internal events that actually make you feel more positive. Keep it up and you are no longer faking it, you actually become more positive. And by the way, a positive mental attitude can be highly contagious and influence those in your circle of influence – including those who can help you be more successful.

Cuddy has other interesting body language strategies. Whenever you feel a bit down, why not put a pen between your teeth and watch Cuddy’s talk?

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Exploring Your Family Tapes

Summary: “The holidays are a good time to explore your family tapes.” 

After you go around the table during Thanksgiving dinner and talk about what you are thankful for, why not have a similar discussion about the psychological tapes that go along with being a member of your particular family.  Here’s an example of what I mean by psychological tapes.

When I was young, neighborhood friends and I would get together to play football, baseball or other games. Often we would play all day, and sometimes we would still be playing when dinnertime rolled around. Occasionally one of my friends would say, “Why don’t you eat dinner with me?” When this occurred, my nervous system kicked into full alert! I would morph into a zombie-like entity and reply in a monotone voice, “No-thank-you-I-cannot-do-that,” and go home. Hold that thought and fast-forward 40 years.

Several years ago, I was attending a training session with about 90 participants. The session ended at noon and I knew about a dozen of the participants were invited to attend a special luncheon with the speaker afterward. I was not one of the invitees. However, during the morning break I had an interesting conversation with the speaker. As a result of this conversation, he invited me to join them for the luncheon. The zombie-like entity suddenly reappeared and I robotically replied, “No-thank-you-I-cannot-do-that!” At the time, I was studying psychological behavior tapes. These are thought patterns that somehow get programmed into our psyche and strongly influence or control our behavior. I remembered from my studies that if you say ‘yes’ but really want to say ‘no,’ or say ‘no’ but really want to say ‘yes’ to a request, it probably means a psychological tape is influencing your behavior.

In this case, I really wanted to say ‘yes’ and go to lunch, but I had been programmed by my parents 40 years earlier to decline all unplanned invitations to dine. The main deterrent to accepting such an invitation was intense guilt. In the case of the playmate’s invitation, I was told that accepting such an invitation was totally inappropriate and I would, in effect, be taking food out of the mouth of my friend’s family members if I joined them for dinner when they were not really expecting me. I now understand that some families have the opposite tape and believe that when it comes to meals, the more the merrier. Not so in my family.

I bring this up now because however you choose to celebrate the holidays, there is a good chance you will spend some time interacting with relatives. Exploring family tapes is something to do at holiday gatherings. Understanding your traditional family tapes can help you understand and, if needed, alter some of your tapes. Simply recognizing that I had a “decline-all-last-minute-meal-invitations tape” and acknowledging that this was behavior I did not want to continue the rest of my life allowed me to rewrite this particular behavior tape. I’ll now happily accept last-minute invitations.

Here’s the deal on tapes. Some serve you well for your entire life. Some serve you well as children but not as adults. All families have tapes about money, religion, politics, education, marriage, parenting, careers, etc. You don’t really have to discuss them. Just sit around and observe your family members…you’ll see them in action.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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Adverse Childhood Experiences

Summary: “Childhood adversity has been scientifically linked to adult physical and mental problems.”

A while back I read a book about adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) titled Childhood Disrupted by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. It’s probably not a book that will end up in the hands of many business leaders. However, it’s a topic that business leaders need to know more about because ACEs are often among the root causes of many workplace problems. Others need to know about ACEs because there is probably a 100% chance that someone you deeply care about is suffering because of them. Maybe if you understand ACEs, you will have the opportunity to at least point these people in the direction of some help.

Childhood Disrupted lists three broad categories (abuse, neglect, household dysfunction) and ten specific examples of ACEs – physical, emotional and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, mental illness, mother treated violently, divorce, incarcerated relative and substance abuse (here is the ACE questionnaire). These forms of adversity can literally and negatively alter the expression of genes that influence a person’s stress response system, autoimmune system, cardiovascular system and other vital organs and systems (through a process called epigenetics). Ultimately these alterations can lead to various forms of distress, disease and dysfunction. Even identical twins with identical genes can turn out quite differently because of the effects of ACEs and epigenetics.

Look around you; if you are hanging around with nine other people, there’s a good chance that six or seven of the people in your group have experienced at least one ACE. And adult troubles (physical and mental) usually increase exponentially as the number of ACEs increases.

If you have experienced one or more ACEs, you might want to read Childhood Disrupted, or watch some of the excellent videos on this topic. I usually warn people that the first half of the book is full of ACE case studies – and is a very tough read. However, the second half of the book focuses on how people can begin the healing process and reverse the effects of these early life toxic stressors.

Scientists have discovered that it’s possible to pass on the negative effects of ACEs and epigenetics to your children and grandchildren. Say you are one of the folks with multiple ACEs and you do not want to pass on the troubles to your children. Chapter eight is about Parenting Well When You Haven’t Been Well-Parented: Fourteen Strategies to Help Your Children. Whether you need help or want to help others, this is a good investment of your reading time. It is a way to help yourself and others more joyfully participate in life. Not a pleasant topic; but a very important topic!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

P.S. I just remembered that an old book (probably out of print and only available used) called Your Inner Child of the Past by Dr. Hugh Missildine might also be very helpful if you are struggling with ACEs. Reading this book and Childhood Disrupted together could make quite a positive difference.


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Where the Goats Eat the Grass!

Summary: “Communicate clearly using straightforward, simple words.”

Once upon a time long ago, I worked for the CEO (the Big Boss) of a very large corporation. One of my jobs was to develop presentations for him to deliver to employees, customers, investors and others interested in learning more about the company. One day, as he was reviewing a slide presentation, he turned to me with a rather disgusted look, pointed to the screen and said, “What’s that?”

“What is what?” I asked.

“What is that word?” he replied. Apparently, I had used a word he thought a bit too sophisticated. Big Boss said, “You been spending too much time in New York City with them (translated: those) eggheads. Quit puttin’ them kinda words in my presentations.”

You should know at this point, Big Boss was a very well educated, super-intelligent fellow. Although he was from south Alabama, he completed his graduate studies at a very prestigious university … above the Mason-Dixon Line. I suspect he was using slang for effect to make a lasting impact on an uppity fancy-word using subordinate. He then advised me, “When I’m talking to folks, I want to stay down where the goats eat the grass.”

In response, I began laughing hysterically!

Although I am also from a small Alabama town, I was neither familiar with the saying nor the eating habits of barnyard animals. Since Big Boss was very task oriented and detail-minded, he never hesitated to explain his ideas … in great detail. In the interest of time, I’ll summarize his observations related to consumption patterns of farm animals left unsupervised in a pasture.

  • “The cows will eat the grass down to here.” To illustrate, he held his hands about four inches apart.
  • “Sheep will eat the grass down to here.” He moved his hands closer, maybe two inches apart.
  • “But the goats, the goats eat the grass right down to the ground! He then slapped his hands together inches from my face to emphasize his point.

Big Boss rarely left it up to you to grasp the full meaning of his teachable moments. He continued his constructive feedback, “You need to get your head straight, keep your feet on the ground and keep your words on the ground when preparing my presentations. Do you understand?” I understood!

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris


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Tripping Over a Dollar to Get to a Nickel

Summary: “Stop confusing frenetic motion with constructive action.”

My old boss used to love to accuse people of “tripping over a dollar to get to a nickel.” It was his folksy way of saying their priorities were all screwed up. He was usually right…and surprisingly, supported by a bit of brain science.

It’s relatively simple. A specific part of your brain, the prefrontal cortex, serves to help you control impulsive behavior.

  • When you are reasonably focused and calm, this part of your brain is operating at peak efficiency. It keeps you from checking e-mails or web surfing when you have much more important things to do.
  • When you are unfocused, overloaded, rushed or under stress, this part of your brain is dialed back or shut down completely. Unimportant tasks become the equivalent of shiny objects.

The lesson in all of this?

  • Carve out at least a part of your day to slow down and get highly focused.
  • I suggest starting with three 32-minute blocks of time. That’s a total of 96 minutes a day. Remember the old theory – you get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your efforts? Well, 96 minutes of focused effort is 20 percent of an eight-hour workday.
  • Block out all distractions and set a timer for 32 minutes. Stay focused on the “dollars” on your agenda and ignore the “nickels.”
  • Or if you are serious, try focusing for an entire 96-minute block of time.

I admit this is an insanely simple idea – my favorite kind of idea – but it absolutely works. It accomplishes at least two important things, it allows you to get a lot of important things done in a day and it starts creating new and more productive neural pathways in your brain to replace old pathways that cause you to confuse frenetic motion with constructive action.

Stop tripping over shiny nickels! It’s a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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The Drama Triangle

Summary: “Eliminate the unnecessary drama in your life.” 

Consider eliminating or minimizing the drama in your life by learning about something called the Drama Triangle. Years ago, psychiatrist Stephen Karpman came up with an interesting way to look at what is actually going on during frustrating and unproductive human interactions. He referred to his idea and explanation as the Drama Triangle.

Drama Triangles often begin as Drama Duos with two participants, one playing the role of the Victim and another playing the role of the Persecutor. Then it’s not unusual for a third participant to jump into the fray and try to rescue the Victim. We usually think of the words rescue and Rescuer in a positive manner. Not so in this case, since by definition the Rescuer in a Drama Triangle encourages and enables the continued powerlessness and unproductive behavior of the Victim.

Basically Victims feel and act powerless. They are typically defensive, whiney, manipulative, and they avoid taking responsibility, or being held accountable. Victims are the central character of the Drama Triangle.

Persecutors are the perceived cause of the Victim’s woes. However, a Persecutor does not always have to be a person. For example, certain circumstances such as lack of money, a natural disaster, or political issues such as “government regulations” can serve as Persecutors.

Rescuers, often coworkers, parents or friends, inappropriately intervene on behalf of the Victim and further enable their powerlessness. Rescuers also do not have to be real people. For example, alcohol, drugs, or workaholism can serve as Rescuers for some Victims.

A great source for learning all about the Drama Triangle is The Power of Ted (book) by David Emerald (video). It’s a short, easy-to-read book.

Remember, the focal point of the Drama Triangle is the Victim. Although you can’t have a Victim without a real or perceived Persecutor, Victims usually do the most to keep the Drama Triangle going.

As you interact with people, look for signs that the Drama Triangle is forming. Try to become an expert at being the first person to recognize what is going on. If you detect a Drama Triangle forming, review the posting on Behavior Modes Alternatives first, and then try your best to stay in, or shift into, the productive behavior modes discussed in other postings on this blog titled Autonomous versus Victim, Curious versus Critical, Coach versus Rescuer (note that I use the term Critical rather than Persecutor in these postings).

Understanding the Drama Triangle and staying out of it is a good way to joyfully participate in life.

Joyfully participate in life today…Chris

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