Your Best Day

Remember how you felt the day that really great thing happened? The “you” that felt that way is still here and it might be easier than you think to tune into that feeling again.

Change On Purpose - Tim McDonnell - Your Best Day

Photo by Tim McDonnell (Downtown Phoenix, 2004)

Lots of pop culture mavens have exploited this idea since, but I think it was psychologist Abraham Maslow who made the first useful examination of what he called peak experiences. What I find most likeable about Maslow (besides the fact that he smiled in his pictures – Adler and Skinner scare the hell out of me) was that he seems to have been the first in his field with the presence of mind to start asking what’s right with people. Everybody else in his line of work routinely calibrated their ideas of mental health on the sickest, most impaired sad sacks they could find.

You have to admit, scientific or no, it’s a refreshing approach.

Maybe science had nothing to do with it. Maybe he just got sick of listening to all his patients’ weepy stories about why suffocating misery was their only real option in life. I once knew a divorce lawyer who was tired of his job for the same reason, even with the Oprah money he was raking in every month.

To grossly oversimplify the idea that unfolded from Maslow’s approach, it seems that the collective layers of our sensory and response systems are wired to filter for either pleasure or pain. They’re not very well adapted to processing both at the same time.

This process appears to be influenced by awareness and habit.

The easiest analogy that comes to mind is the childhood fascination I had with AM radio. One of my favorite Los Angeles stations would sign off around sunset, and every so often… if the atmospheric conditions were just right… the signal from KCBS in San Francisco would come through above the static.

Even though it can be tough to do without patient practice, trustworthy evidence supports the idea that we can tune in to one signal or the other simply by making a conscious choice. I’m not talking about extreme cases like when you’re being water-boarded by the TSA – just the assumptions we make about the bobbing surf of everyday life. When peak experiences feel rare (like that stray signal from KCBS popping in) our natural tendency is to assume that they’re less REAL than the rest of our life experience.

What Maslow found was that the opposite is also true.

For me, this is the “goosebump” extension of Maslow’s original discovery; peak experiences are never really “off” or gone, nor are they any less “real” than our other daily experiences. We’re just looking away from them most of the time. Our minds are hard wired to sort for sameness and with a little persistent effort, it’s possible to recalibrate our nervous systems and increase our access to the physical and emotional states we associate with peak experiences.

Try it and see. It’s especially valuable to share these stories out loud with a friend, but journaling works too. Just to get you started, here are a few suggestions:

  • Any public recognition you’ve received, going all the way back to grade school
  • Any point in your life where you may remember feeling deeply in love
  • Any day at work where things just seemed to click and go your way
  • Any goal you’ve reached or challenge you’ve overcome just by sticking with it
  • Any pleasant surprise or unexpected joy or encouragement that’s come your way

These are the moments when we’re spontaneously filled with what author and philosopher Colin Wilson calls “peculiar self confidence.” Suddenly we’re able to see… and value… the self evident beauty in the most ordinary things. Our energy feels up to any challenge.

This is why our habitual stories matter so much.

Which ones are we rehearsing the most? The victories or the defeats? In his new book The Honeymoon Effect, Bruce H. Lipton, PhD expands on this idea with practical strategies for accessing this state more consistently.

As you look through your own list of peak experiences, please consider this; right now you are still every bit of the person you were on your very best day. In fact, you’re now all of that and more. As Colin Wilson says, the experience itself really doesn’t matter… it’s what you KNOW about it that matters. The conscious practice of tuning in to peak moment feelings increases our capacity to create more of them.

Your input matters – please join the conversation: What are some of the peak experiences you can recall? How would you describe the “you” that triumphed in those moments?

Your New Best Friend

Life has taught me this. As far as I can tell, living alone turns out not to be the same thing as being lonely. Just recently I’ve been making friends with what “IS” and we’ve been getting along pretty well so far.

Change On Purpose - Tim McDonnell - Your New Best Friend

Photo by Chance Agrella, courtesy of FreeRangeStock.com

Have you ever lost money or time on things that turned out to be not so important after all? I have. In fact, I’ve thrown away a LOT of time and money I’d love to have back just “holding on” to things… furniture, jobs, memorabilia, people, beliefs, identities… all of which ended up having far less impact on my quality of life than I ever believed they would.

Over the past eight years I’ve changed homes about six times. Along the way I lost more money and stuff than I care to account for. In that same period of time I’ve landed and lost a couple of dream jobs, broken ties with some old friends and gained new ones that I hope will never go away.

A few minutes ago I was watching a spectacular sunset on the patio of yet another brand new apartment. Melting in my hand was a frosty margarita made from ingredients I brought with me from three states away and two moves ago – net beverage cost, almost free.

Most of the money I “need” to stay afloat for the next couple of months is out there in “receivables” and I’ve been stressing heavily about it today. But I as I watched the clouds change color and flash from the inside with lightning that’s on its zig-zaggy way to San Antonio, I was also given a blinding glimpse of truth.

I’m really okay.

In this moment, nothing is lacking that I honestly require to be okay:

  • I matter to people who matter to me
  • My body is whole and I can move around at will
  • I have made incredible memories that no one can take away
  • I have three beautiful sons who are all healthy and relatively happy
  • I feel great and there’s more beauty around me than I can possibly take in
  • Everything I require to live well is within walking or biking distance of my home
  • No matter how long the receivables take, I can survive for right now on what I have
  • At my lowest point, I have more comforts than most other people in the whole world

Life has invited me to let go of things that I had been clutching pretty tightly. I miss my Mom. I miss the library I was collecting for nearly forty years. I miss the inheritance I threw away on things that are now mostly all gone. The thing is, as I watch the sunset and look around at what I still “have” it’s clear to me that I’m more than just okay.

In fact, I’m blessed.

In retrospect, I think it was the clutching that actually cost me more than the material losses themselves. Before now I had never really considered that cost or how much energy it took – energy that could have gone into other things and better experiences. The endless “holding on” was blinding me to what was in front of me – available to me – as if clinging to the old was cutting me off from the flow of the new somehow.

The whole universe works in waves… sounds, colors, tides, seasons.

It should have been obvious to me before, but now I get it. It seems the point is to quit struggling so hard against the part of the wave we’re actually on in the moment. Up. Down. It’s all relative and it all goes in cycles, around and around.

Do I still have goals, dreams, aspirations?

Sure I do. That’s vision, not resistance. But when I look around and ask myself what’s truly LACKING in my life at this moment, the honest answer is NOTHING. As I learned reading Beachcombing at Miramar, we’re all cosmic beachcombers in a Richard Bode kind of way. Whatever washes in on the next wave is right for me, right now.

The secret I’ve discovered is that when I take the energy I used to waste on resisting what is and pour it into all those goals, dreams and aspirations instead, they seem more within reach than ever before. I’m slowly learning to float with it all like a feather and deal with life as it really is – instead of the way I wish it would be – and we’re becoming good friends.

Your input matters – please join the conversation: Have you ever had an opportunity to make friends with what IS? How did the experience of resistance versus acceptance make a difference in your life?

 

 

 

The Lie Of Perfection

It’s the reason I don’t dance much. It also might be the reason you don’t do certain things you’d like to be doing. Somewhere along the way we’ve been tricked into believing that things have to be perfect, and it’s a lie.

Change On Purpose - The Lie Of Perfection

Photo by Chance Agrella, courtesy of freerangestock.com

What is perfect, anyway? By whose measure and from what point of view? My first job out of college was working as a bank teller. The first time I had to write a three line memo to a customer about something that happened to their checking account, I was paralyzed with dread. It took me all day to type and retype that thing and I filled a two foot wastebasket with crumpled pink rejects. In the end, the customer didn’t really care and the first one would have done the job. I wasn’t really making it better.

I was only making it different.

I’m not suggesting that there isn’t room for pride of craftsmanship in our lives. There are times when that’s important, but it’s not everything. It’s a safe bet that you’ve experienced this yourself without even realizing it. How many times have you been left unmoved by a musical performance that was technically perfect but emotionally empty? Contrast that with the number of times you’ve been moved to tears by someone who barely sings in the shower croaking out The Star Spangled Banner with all their heart at a ball game? For surgery and parachutes, perfection is fine. For everything else, give me authenticity.

  • There’s a right time and place for specialization and attention to detail
  • Things have a natural level of completion that’s appropriate to their purpose
  • If you’re doing something for you, then someone else’s idea of perfect doesn’t matter
  • Too often we think “not ready” when what we really mean is “not worthy”
  • Too often we lose sight of “meaningful” by worrying too much about “marketable”

For many years I’ve allowed the lie of perfection to rob me of time and opportunities by holding onto work I could have released a lot sooner. If you want to read an especially liberating book on this subject, I recommend Do the Work by Steven Pressfield. He’ll convince you that you can lay your pencil down and say “ship it” a LOT sooner and a lot more often than you think you can. Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way will also help you see that your creativity is welcome in the world, exactly as it is right now.

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” ~ Leonardo da Vinci

A few days ago I noticed a sign at the entrance of my neighborhood market. It’s the big billboard thing with all the smiling managers’ pictures on it. This is for real – there’s a guy in my grocery store they call a “Shelf Edge Manager.” I found myself smiling about it all the way through the store. Can you imagine asking him for help in the wasabi aisle? “Whoops… sorry… can’t help you. Not on the edge. Wait here while I call for backup.”

I’m just having a little fun at his expense. If I met him in person, I’m certain he’d turn out to be a really nice guy and that his title has lots of meaning in the grocery world. Still, I wonder if we’ve allowed too much specialization to creep into our working lives. Sometimes, the more we zoom in on the details, the more we risk losing our connection with the whole and the reasons WHY we’re really doing things.

Here’s something amazing I read in a reply to a blog comment I left the other day. This was from Tanya Lee Markul, co-founder of Rebelle Society, and I thought it was profound: “…we’re sort of taught that there’s only one winner, that there’s room for only one person with talent, that most of us don’t matter. It’s all a farce. How do we break ourselves free? We have to get creative…”

Look, here’s the whole truth about the lie of perfection.

You can do what you can do today. Tomorrow you’ll do it differently, but you’re ready now. You’re worthy. You matter, and so does your work. Write. Paint. Sing. Play. Dance. Invent. Design. Combine. Imagine. The world depends on your creativity the way trees thrive from the carbon dioxide we exhale. We really can’t wait for you to share it, so put it out there.

Question: What would you try today if you didn’t have to worry about perfection anymore? (hint: you really DON’T have to worry about it anymore)

Be The Ball

I’m not proud of this, but it’s true. Once in a while when there was an Excel® report I didn’t like doing, I just quit sending it in. I don’t recommend this practice as an advancement strategy, but it did free up a lot of time for things that were more fun.

Change On Purpose - Be The Ball

Photo by Geoffrey Whiteway, courtesy of freerangestock.com

Whether you’re a student, a freelancer, a homemaker or a corporate officer, you’re going to have days when you feel like you’re too busy mopping to shut off the water. It’s the creeping overwhelm of complexity. Looking back on my own years in corporate life, there’s one important question I wish I had asked myself a lot more often.

Why am I doing this?

For a few years I actually got paid to help my coworkers ask that question and it was one of the most rewarding career experiences I’ve ever had. Every time Tom Peters came out with another book, I devoured it from cover to cover. There was a time when having a “Quality Manager” like me in a senior leadership role was considered a differentiator. Now it’s an entry level expectation that every big corporation and solo-preneur out there is committed body and soul to creating a “wow” experience in every encounter.

It’s a worthy goal, but on a practical level, how do you really do that?

I found the answer in that scene in Groundhog Day where Bill Murray tells Andie MacDowell to “be the hat.” I couldn’t find it anywhere, so I had to settle for the Caddyshack clip where Chevy Chase says, “be the ball.” Whatever. It’s a comical way to think about a shift in perspective that can actually deliver profound results.

Whenever you look at a task you have to perform and feel that sense of overwhelm creeping up on you, sometimes it helps to be the ball – to actually move yourself to the point of view of the thing you’re working on. You don’t have to consider yourself a “business” person for this to work. It can apply to any personal task at hand too.

The answers to these questions can help you make some important decisions:

  1. Who is this for and what will they do with it when they get it from me?
  2. Who touches it before me and what happens to it before it gets here?
  3. What does this have to do with my central purpose here?
  4. How might my feelings change if I imagined myself as the object of this task?

If you’d like a fun kick start into this way of thinking, you can’t go wrong with The Other Side by artist Istvan Banyai. The images in this book will open up a way of seeing that could change the way you look at everything. In the technical world I worked in, being the ball meant actually following an object or document from point to point through an entire process. When was it really being improved? How long was it just sitting in somebody’s inbox doing nothing? How could we take the parts that didn’t add value out of the process by letting go of some of our rules and assumptions about how things are always done?

I wish I could give fair credit for this story, but I don’t recall where I picked it up. It might have been in one of those Tom Peters books or a corporate motivational film. Anyway, a shipping clerk at a big home improvement warehouse switched jobs with a receiving clerk at one of their flagship stores. After spending time in each other’s shoes, they were shocked to discover the number of things they did every day that not only didn’t add value, but often unwittingly sabotaged the person on the other end. The alternate point of view ended up having a transformational impact on how they used their time and energy.

Maybe “just ask why” is the new “just say no.”

There are things that have to be done because they’re important. That doesn’t mean that everything is important just because we’ve always done it – or just because a “boss” says we have to. A lot of our ideas about how hard or important things are have more to do with assumption than observation. I’m not advocating anarchy or sedition here. When somebody squawked about one of those Excel® reports, I got it done, but when they didn’t, it opened up a lot of time for things that mattered in my life.

Questions: How has seeing the other side made a difference in your life? Without falling out of integrity, is there a task you can drop from your life that would free you up for higher value things?

How You’re Like Neil Armstrong

You may never visit the moon, but you could have more in common with Neil Armstrong than you think. Even if that’s only partly true, when you consider how far he went, it might be worth looking into.

Change On Purpose - How You're Like Neil Armstrong

Photo by Beverly O’Malley, courtesy of FreeRangeStock.com

The events leading up to Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon played a big part in shaping my world view. My father worked on the Apollo program, so it was something I heard about a lot, whether I wanted to or not. In July of 1969 my parents and I were glued to the little black and white TV set our apartment kitchen.

There are disadvantages to assigning “role model” status to people:

  1. We tend to project “super human” qualities on them that they don’t really have.
  2. We mistakenly underrate our own abilities by making incomplete comparisons.
  3. We assume they have advantages that let us off the hook for finding our own edge.

Most of what we THINK we know about Neil’s 82 years on earth comes from the eight-plus days he spent in space. He was a fiercely private person and I think it’s disrespectful and pointless to draw too many conclusions about what he thought or felt about things. Still…

Here are some fairly safe assumptions:

  • He took visible steps to find and extend his personal edge.
  • He appeared to make a consistent effort to keep his ego in check.
  • He seemed to care a lot about how his accomplishments would benefit others.
  • He showed discipline in putting his energy and effort into a couple of key strengths.

Even Hobbits pay attention to this, so it must be important.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever been from home? Our idea of distance might be just as relative as Einstein’s concept of time. Here’s proof. When I was in Cape Town, South Africa, I was 9,976 miles from home. It was only 5,472 miles from my house to Tokyo, Japan and just 3,385 miles to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska. Even though they were physically closer, I’ve never FELT further away from my IDEA of home than I did in those two places.

The moon landing is not Neil’s legacy – it’s the billboard that points to it.

When I started researching this, it surprised me to see how much ink was wasted on the “controversy” over whether he said one small step “for man” or “for a man.” Have the grammarians forgotten that he was 238,900 miles from home when he said it? The profound insight enfolded in those few first words spoken from Tranquility Base is the transcendent power of small steps in every human life. The “giant leap” he took us on was ALL small steps. Just like the ones you’ve been taking all along. So, relax. You don’t have to go all the way to the moon to be a worthwhile person.

Here are three ways that you’re already like Neil Armstrong:

  1. Whether or not they were recognized or nurtured from birth, you have innate gifts that will carry you much further in life than focusing on your shortcomings. Okay, Neil found his early. He had a pilot’s license before he could drive. The point is that he stuck to his twin passions of flying and engineering no matter what his job description was. It is never too late to start focusing on your gifts.
  2. Every choice you make carries the potential for a high impact result. That doesn’t mean you’re going to see it immediately. There wasn’t a single defining moment that led to Neil’s becoming an astronaut. It happened because he did small things every day to be in position when the time came.
  3. Not everything Neil did was successful. By taking small steps, over and over again, he learned where his true edge was and ultimately accomplished something that was once considered science fiction. No matter what spills we take along the way, we can always ask more from ourselves next time.

Neil Armstrong didn’t get to the moon in one giant leap. He got there one small step at a time. Like the rest of us, he likely took many internal journeys without ever leaving Ohio. It’s not such a stretch to imagine that some left him feeling farther from “home” than he was in July of 1969. How far are you willing to go to do what you were born to do?

Questions: What personal victories, no matter how small, have you experienced in finding and extending your personal edge? Are you celebrating them regularly?