Slipped Up? Good For You!

Missed TargetBoy, did I slip up this week!  I failed to maintain both my June and July resolutions.  I’m catching up today, but wow, I mean, it can really feel like failure when you miss those targets, can’t it?

The question, though, is: what do you do next?  When you hit a snag in your work, a failure to perform to your expectations, a flaw in your plan, or a submission to temptation that knocks you off course, what do you do next?

If you’ve slipped, that’s good news.  It means you’re human, and it gives you a chance to learn something about yourself.  What’s your Kryptonite?  What temptation are you likely to give in to?  What are the limits of your stamina, or tolerance, or courage?  Just where are the rough spots you’ll need to watch out for?  One of the best things you can do when you slip is to ask, “what can I learn from this?”

The most common reaction, unfortunately, is to write off the whole affair.  In other words, if you slip on your diet because you were out with friends and couldn’t resist sharing the cheesecake, or if you skip a litterbox cleaning because you’re exhausted from an unusually active day, it’s easy to just give up altogether on the diet, or on your resolution to keep the litterbox clean.  When you feel like a failure, it’s almost inevitable that you will act like one.

Instead, what if you looked at it more like a speed bump in your path?  You slowed down for a moment, but then you can just get right back to what you were doing.  It may mean you’ll take a little longer to get where you’re going, but your trip might be that much richer and more memorable because you slowed down for a moment along the way.  And when you do attain that goal, or continue to provide improved health, lifestyle or living conditions for yourself, you’ll enjoy it that much more, knowing that you’ve overcome obstacles to get there.  The hardest-won prize  is often the most precious.

And while I don’t recommend allowing circumstances to become excuses, there are some reasons you may temporarily choose to let a resolution slide.  One example of such a reason is that children grow up fast!  Mine is already grown, and I know from experience that when there are opportunities to share and enjoy life with your children and other loved ones, you may, with proper conscious forethought, choose to suspend your resolution temporarily in order to take advantage of those opportunities.

It goes back to Minimal Effort(tm) Rule #1 which is: Know Your Priorities.  Your resolutions are important, and too much straying would not be in your best interest.  But if you have a higher priority, it may sometimes interfere.  Don’t let your highest priorities slide in favor of lower ones.  Ever.

The trick, of course, is to be very aware of, and very clear about, what your priorities are.  Many people choose what they call the “three-legged stool” — God, Family, Work.  I know others who have at least one more high priority to add to that list, and some very successful and happy people I know have a different list altogether.  Don’t feel compelled to use someone else’s idea of a priority list, but a model to start from is not a bad idea.  Spend quiet time thinking about your priorities and come up with your own list.  Then keep it firmly in mind when making choices about how to spend your time and energy.  Don’t waste either one on low-priority things unless all your high-priority things are taken care of.

I slipped up this week, and at first it felt like a failure.  But now that I think about it, I had a higher priority for my time and energy this week.  I am incredibly grateful for the experiences and opportunities I’ve had this week and wouldn’t want to have missed them, so I will take the energy of that gratitude, get caught up from where I slipped, and get right back on track.

Here’s to another great week!

Laura

 

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Pets Teach Good Habits

Here’s something a bit lighter for you today. It’s about cats, but if you’re a dog person it mostly applies to you too.  I’m now convinced that being a pet “Mom” or “Dad” is a good thing in many ways, for the human, the pet, and the world in general.  Here’s one of the reasons I’m so convinced:

http://misanthropology101.wordpress.com/2012/07/17/good-habits-my-cats-have-taught-me/

This assumes, of course, that you’re a reasonably decent person who cares about others and doesn’t abuse, neglect, or otherwise mistreat the animals and people in your life.  I’m seriously considering making pet ownership (with the result of a healthy, happy pet) a requirement for the next guy I date.

If nothing else, you should click the link to see the adorable picture of the author’s two cats.  Enjoy!

Laura

Mini-Vacations for Maxi-Effectiveness

This is the time of year when we typically plan family vacations lasting a week or more, and often these include travel and extensive planning and preparation.  It’s a great idea to get away with your family, and I heartily approve of exposing kids to new experiences away from home.  But what about the rest of the time, when you are not on vacation?  How stressful is your typical day at work? When you take a break, what do you do? Refill your coffee cup and head back to work? Chat at the water cooler? Take a quick trip to the bathroom and return by way of the candy machine? Go outside and scream at the top of your lungs?

Whatever your break looks like, it’s important to give your mind a break, not just your body.  Yes, definitely get up if you’ve been sitting, and move around.  Walk outside if possible. If your work is physically demanding, then stop and sit down for a few minutes, drink some water and let your body recharge a bit.

But don’t forget to give your mind a break too.  That means you stop thinking about work altogether.  Now, there’s a trick to this.  If I say, “Don’t think about work!” the first thing you’ll think about is… work, right?  You have to focus your attention in a different direction, as if you are tuning your radio to a different station.  For most people, that means we have to deliberately choose something else to think about.

In order to take a refreshing mini-vacation several times a day, choose to think about something that is in no way a burden.  For example, don’t take a break from analyzing last month’s sales figures only to try to solve a different work-related problem or worry about a problem at home.  Instead, think about something you are looking forward to, a fun activity coming up perhaps, or maybe the realization of a goal (not the goal itself or any steps leading to it). Another option is to construct a peaceful place in your imagination and take yourself there for a few minutes.  It can be any kind of place you choose — a beach, a cathedral, a treehouse, a garden, etc.  Imagine how it looks, smells, sounds, feels.  Make sure all your needs are taken care of in that imaginary environment, and no one is asking you for anything.  Then just put yourself in that environment and be peaceful for a few minutes.

This is more important than you might think.  Your mind needs to disengage from time to time in order to deal with what it has encountered so far and prepare for the next round.  Set an alarm on your watch or your computer if necessary, to remind you to take these performance-enhancing breaks.  My personal solution, if you’ll pardon the less-than-polite reference, is to let my visits to the bathroom be my mini-vacations.  Sometimes that’s the only time I can be alone and uninterrupted for a few minutes at a time, and it always happens several times a day, so I don’t forget.  I actually sit on the toilet relaxing my mind in one of the above ways, and when I’m done, I’m ready to tackle all the demands of my day again.  You’d be surprised what beneficial things you can do while sitting on the toilet (guys, if you’re standing, there are just as many options).  In some cases you may have a very brief time for your bathroom break, but take advantage of every second.  Start your mini-vacation as soon as you leave your work, on the way to the bathroom, and don’t re-engage in work mode until the last possible moment when you return to work.

Now, remember, Minimal Effort(tm) doesn’t mean no effort.  This is not an invitation to take many extended breaks that reduce your work performance.  On the contrary, it is intended to help you be more productive while experiencing less stress.  You should be able to accomplish more, better, work in less time and with less stress when you are taking your mini-vacations than when you are just plowing through or flitting from task to task.  As my mentor Bob Proctor says, you don’t have to slow down; you have to calm down.

Oh, and by the way, those family vacations can be pretty stressful themselves.  It’s okay to employ the mini-vacation idea even when you’re on vacation!  Enjoy your mini-vacations and let me know how it’s going.

Laura

 

How’s Your Resolution? Get Focused!

It is near the middle of the month, and time to take a quick check to see how you’re doing on July’s resolution.  While you do that, notice whether you’ve kept up on June’s or not.  I have to admit, I’ve had a hard time keeping up with my June resolution while starting and working on my July resolution.  How about you?  The good news is, the July resolution is going quite well!

Establishing a habit should take three to four weeks, but for some of us, it does take longer, so you may need to be vigilant about your past resolutions when the month ticks over and you start a new one.  Just don’t let excuses get in the way of your older (or newer) resolutions!

On the other hand, some of us get bored or frustrated when we are trying to maintain a habit that doesn’t seem to be having any good effects.  In this case, remember that a seed is growing under the ground even if you can’t see it.  Just trust that something is growing and you will soon see evidence of it.  If necessary, ask someone you trust for feedback (see my posts on getting and giving feedback) to make sure your seedling is working its way to the open air.

No matter what, stay focused on your goal, which your resolution should be supporting, and make sure you aren’t letting circumstances dictate what you can or cannot accomplish.

In my case, it helps a lot when people “like” and share my posts on Facebook or, even better, participate and comment here on this blog.  I’ll look forward to hearing from you!

 

Chocolate For Your Skin! No, Really!

Chocolate Facial

This is totally unrelated to anything else I’ve put in this blog so far, but it’s… well, it’s CHOCOLATE!  And it’s good for you! How can you resist, now really?  When I saw it I decided to share.  Click below to see this sweet tip:

Household Magic DAILY TIPS.

This must really smell great!  I can imagine 15 minutes of chocolate scent going directly from skin to nearby nostrils — oh how heavenly!  Although the mixture would be edible, without sugar it won’t taste all that great.  Of course, I’m not stopping you from making it into a “sugar scrub” (wink, wink).  Enjoy!

Laura

The ‘Busy’ Trap – NYTimes.com

If you’re curious what Minimal Effort(tm) is all about, you’ll want to take a look at this opinion piece from the New York Times:

The ‘Busy’ Trap – NYTimes.com.

It speaks for itself, so I’ll just say that, if you are productive but living and enjoying your life and the people you love, you are living a Minimal Effort(tm) life!

Happy day,

Laura

Feedback Part 3: Giving Effective Feedback

feedback buttonsHave you ever received feedback that shut you down? Caused you to just want to crawl under a rock and die? Completely de-motivated you?  It’s a real shame when this happens, because feedback, even when it is pointing out things that can be improved, can be a great motivator and learning experience when done correctly.  Hopefully, you’ve been able to use my previous posts about receiving feedback to react appropriately when feedback is not the most effective.  But whether you are a manager, a parent, a teacher, a coach, or just occasionally asked for your opinion, you need to know how to give effective feedback.

Your objective in giving feedback is to help the person understand their best strengths, and get them charged up to work on the next thing that can make them even better.  We’ve moved away from the word criticism, because it now carries negative connotations (even though the word itself can be applied to negative or positive feedback).  Remember when we used to get and give “constructive criticism?”  I don’t care how you word it, that always felt bad.  It was nearly always a negative experience because it’s so easy to find something that can be improved, and the criticism, even if delivered with a fair amount of tact, always felt bad.  It was about something that was “wrong” and it was given “for your own good.”  Since when does something done “for your own good” feel welcome?

I now use the word feedback because it is truly neutral.  It tends to conjure up the idea of a mirror reflecting back to you how you are doing, without emotion or judgment.  In Toastmasters, we use the term evaluation.  That is also a fairly neutral term, but does connotate a bit of judgment.  Perhaps this is a good thing, as it reminds us that what we are getting is one person’s idea of how we did, a personal judgment, not an overall immutable Truth.

By the way, here’s my little commercial for Toastmasters: Toastmasters International is the world’s premier organization for learning and teaching vital communication and leadership skills.  It is personal development at its best, happening in a friendly club setting where members help each other learn, grow, and succeed.  If you are not already a member, you should be, and if you are interested in learning excellent evaluation skills such as those I’ll discuss today, this is the place for you.  It’s a lot cheaper than other programs and it’s ongoing, not a finite course.  I’ve been a member for 16 years now, and I still learn something at every meeting.  Click on www.toastmasters.org for more information and to find a club near you.

Here’s an anatomy of effective feedback: it

  1. is relatively brief and to the point.  If you’re speaking to someone with your feedback for more than, say, three to five minutes, you run the risk of having the person tune out.  You may be trying to cover too many points at once.  Rather than helping them improve for next time, you start to seem pedantic and picky, and although you may not see it, the person is rolling their eyes on the inside.
  2. is timely; it happens soon after the event/performance/behavior for which you are providing feedback.  If you wait too long, it is no longer effective.  Memories get fuzzy, bad habits may have formed, or discouragement may have set in.  And you risk violating #1 by having too many things to discuss and taking too long to discuss them.  It’s important to note here that you don’t want to take #1 and #2 too far by giving “hit and run” feedback.  Give them a chance to discuss it with you, ask questions, and explain things you might not have understood.
  3. is tactful; it uses sensitive and respectful language and addresses the behavior/performance in question, not the person or their personal characteristics.  One exception to this (the personal characteristics, not the tact) is in close personal relationships, when you are asking someone to change a habit or behavior that is causing stress in your relationship.  Still, though, no personal attacks; just the facts, ma’am.
  4. is honest; it does not give undue praise or unnecessary chastisement.  In Toastmasters, we avoid the “whitewash” (saying everything was wonderful, don’t change a thing) because we learn nothing from that; and the “bloody dagger” (everything was terrible, or you did this wrong and that wrong, etc.) because we shut down in self-defense and learn nothing from that either.  Worse, we have little motivation to keep going and get better.
  5. is specific; it is not enough to say “that was pretty good, now try again” because it is too vague.  Obviously the person has to try again in order to improve, but knows nothing specific to do differently to make it any better.  “Great power in that swing!  Choke up a bit and try again!” would be a much better example.
  6. addresses what the person did well, as well as what they can do to improve.  We learn from both types of feedback, and we need both.  Even the best want to improve and need some suggestions toward that end, and even the worst have something good that they should keep doing.  It’s important to point out those good things so they’ll keep them and also so they’ll know they’re on the right track at least somewhere.

In Toastmasters we use the rule CRE: Commend, Recommend, and Encourage.  If you’re doing all three along with the above, you’re doing fine.

Finally, I want to point out that unless it is your job or role as an authority figure to provide feedback, avoid giving it — even when you have some great suggestions — unless it is asked for.  Just as you would not want the random person on the street to stop you and tell you those pants make your bottom look fat, you don’t want to be the one with the inappropriate and unwelcome suggestions.  You will never know for sure unless they ask for your feedback, so just wait until they ask and if they don’t, well, don’t bite that tonguetoo hard!

Oh, and by the way, the comment box below is your invitation to give feedback on this post.  Looking forward to hearing from you!

Here’s hoping I see you at the next Toastmasters meeting for developing excellent evaluation skills and much, much more.  “Toastmasters: Where Leaders are Made.”

Done with the advertisement, now on with a great week!

Laura

A Time to Destroy (and Celebrate!)

FireworksHappy Independence Day!  Here in the U.S.A. we celebrate our freedom and patriotism on this day.  Fireworks will be on the agenda tonight just about everywhere.  In some places you can see multiple fireworks shows just standing in one spot!

It’s reminiscent of the words in our national anthem, “the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air” which speak of the destruction and sacrifice that had to happen to win the freedom we celebrate today.  And it’s very much like the Law of Sacrifice, which says that you have to give up something of value in order to obtain something of even greater value.

It’s in this spirit that I say the following: destruction can be a good thing. Often we automatically think of destroying something as a  bad thing and we strive hard not to do it or let it happen.  Yet, we can get stuck if we stubbornly cling to what we have.  Sometimes you have to be willing to let go of something you have, in order to get something even better.  On a small scale, that might mean cleaning out a closet or an attic and letting some old treasures find a new home.  It might mean tearing down a wall in order to make a great new space in your home.  It might mean taking down a dilapidated building to make room for a shining new business or living structure.  It might mean repealing old laws that no longer serve us, in order to allow new, better policies to prevail.  It could even mean the end of a relationship that is not working.

More than anything, though, it’s about how you think. You have to be willing to let go of your old thought patterns in order to build new ones that serve you better.  When you are working on building a new good habit for yourself, you will have to do some demolition of old thought patterns and habits in the process.  Be watching for that moment of resistance when you realize you are going to have to let go of something you thought at one time was absolutely necessary.  It may be a scary or even painful process, but in the end you will have something to celebrate.  And then, maybe there will be fireworks!

 

Technology: Servant or Master?

Still without electricity here, and really appreciating how much more convenient life is when we have it. This reminds me of one of the Minimal Effort ™ rules: Use technology as a servant, not a master.

Your workload can be lighter and your outlook happier when you make good use of available technology, but don’t become a slave to your gadgets. If you can’t get through dinner without your phone or get ready for your day without your TV, you may want to consider your dependence on your gadgets and whether you are the master or the slave.

This could even be the source of a new resolution for you. It’s not too late to join the Resolution Revolution and choose a great new habit to build in July.

If you do, I’d love to hear from you. What’s your July resolution? Post it here and get help, support and accountability.

Now if only my power would come back on…

It’s Resolution Day! No Excuses!

Happy July! Time for a new resolution. What did you pick?

This is “No Excuses Month” in the Resolution Revolution.  It’s usually pretty easy to find a reason why you can’t do something, especially if you find it difficult or unpleasant sometimes. But the good news is that you can usually find a way around your obstacles with just a little resourcefulness. Today’s blog entry was in danger of being cancelled due to no power (and no internet) at my house. But I really want to keep my momentum going and not give in to excuses. So here I am at a local book store enjoying air conditioning and internet access, and blogging on my phone. Oh yeah, and hoping I can get access to one of the few electrical outlets soon, since the phone is my last link to the world and is about to die.

My point is that, instead of saying, “Oh, well!” and using the circumstances as an excuse, you can instead find alternatives and still accomplish your task.

So this month as you are working on your new July resolution, accept no excuses.  Be resourceful and determined, and stay tuned for support and accountability.