Sound, Fury, and…Nothing

“Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps
moving but does not make any progress.”
― Alfred A. Montapert

Years ago, I came up with (I thought) the pithy and clever: “Never confuse activity with productivity.” I read a lot, so when I later came across the quote at the top, I felt properly chastised. My ingenious observation was a bit too similar to Alfred Montapert’s to be called original. By the way, that was not the first time this has happened, so I’ve learned not to be too cocky when I spout wisdom at the top of my lungs.

I see examples of these two concepts getting confused all the time. I worked recently with a salesperson who measured his sales efforts by how many lunches he hosted–dinners and happy hours were simply a bonus. By that standard, he was pleased to inform anyone who would listen that he was an amazing talent. The company was very lucky to have him. Now for any of you in Sales, this next factoid will be quite amusing–he completed three full quarters with no, and by “no” I mean NOT A SINGLE, sale. Moreover, he only worked on three deals overall in that entire time. Two out of that three were, in theory, going to be quite large. Though even by very generous estimates, if everything worked out, and all three closed, he would still not have satisfied his quota. To all the rest of you who are NOT in Sales–he had zero plan to become anything but unsuccessful according to the standard of Sales–SALES NUMBERS.

Should he not have noticed this? Shouldn’t that not have made him shift gears, adjust his strategy? No, because he wasn’t pursuing the standard I just shared. He was focused not on results but on all the activities in which he engaged. He was busy, and in his definition of things, that always leads to success. This is merely an example, not intended to bash someone for being dense. He was caught up in his activity, his ability to demonstrate that he was busy the entire time. This isn’t much different from the absent husband who works very long hours in order to avoid dealing with his family. He perhaps can’t relate to his kids, nor his wife, and has no idea what being a good husband and father means. So he creates his own definition, one that is favorable to his circumstances. He may rationalize that he is earning more money so the family can have more than it needs. Yet do you really think his kid wouldn’t trade boarding school for a few games of catch after school?

There are many other examples, and our purpose here is neither to pick on hard workers nor on professionals who crave the more social portion of their job. For that guy I mentioned who measures his success in the quantity of lunches, happy hours, emails, dinners, golfing events with customers, he satisfies a portion of his own personal needs by hosting events that he can call professional relationship-building, or connecting with a customer. Though customers aren’t averse to getting help when they need to buy something. Customers, myself included, look to sales professionals to help us narrow down our choice when we know we need to make a purchase. In that scenario, when the product is timely and necessary, I would be irritated by a salesperson who, instead of addressing my problem and helping me, simply wanted to take me out for drinks. Once my problem is solved, and everything is running fine, then sure, let’s have a drink to celebrate, or to commemorate how effectively we worked together. But to have drinks before is just a waste of my time, and in many cases, the problem unattended becomes worse.

What I typically recommend is that, before we craft our own success criteria, we determine who has the authority in that situation. If we’re talking about your success in reducing your number of strokes in your golf game, then yes, you are the authority. You and your score card. But if you’re working to become a better partner to your spouse, or parent to your kids, you are not the only authority there! It’s time to sit down with your partner, or your whole family, if appropriate, and have a very open, honest conversation. They will tell you what they need, what they wish they could have. They will happily tell you what, if you could deliver, would make you a more successful partner or parent. In a similar way, your boss at work will tell you what is expected of you in that arena, and to use the same language as above, what, if you do it, will make you a more successful employee. Maybe you happen to have a job whose focus in treating customers to meals or drinks. In such a case, the answer you get may be the activities my salesperson example chose. But if that’s not so, and the answer involves actual work, and efficacy in doing so, then it’s time to look at the criteria the authority has shared with you. At that moment, once you have that information, it’s time to make a decision: Do you want to be more successful or not? It’s not as stupid a question as it may sound–most of us have, built into ourselves (though yes, it can be changed!) a value for “How successful I should be”. Our unconscious minds are very obedient to our instructions, and will not allow us to exceed that level. So even if someone says that they wish to set a land speed record, make their first million dollars, reach the NY Times Best Sellers List, whatever that ambition, a quick series of pointed questions can reveal that inner value. Whether they would ever permit themselves to achieve the stated level of success.

So once you’ve decided, yes or no, to become more successful, it’s about strategy, which is another discussion. But arbitrarily choosing success criteria, when you don’t have sole authority in your arena, is unlikely to work well for you. Your words and actions can instead come across as a lot of sound and fury, a mad flurry of activity…signifying nothing, with results that leave you wanting.

What a fortune cookie can teach us, part 2

Early on in my marriage, my wife and I both broke open our fortune cookies, following a very enjoyable Chinese delivery meal. Yes, we had to silence our inner wannabe food connoisseurs, but it was good–and it ended with fortune cookies, which has to count for something

We had the same fortune… I spoke in part 1 of this topic about shifting context to create a more useful belief. By way of full disclosure, I am no expert in fortune cookie manufacturing. I don’t know how many distinct fortunes are created per batch of cookies, and what are the actual odds of two people getting the same one. A cynic might say that all the cookies in the batch had the same fortune, but let’s face it, fortune cookies are fun! Though I don’t know anyone who changes his plans for the day based on the faux sage advice printed on the little strip of paper, they are a fun way to end the meal, and I would argue a legitimate part of the appeal of Chinese food. Maybe it’s the just traditional joke of adding the phrase “…in bed” to the end of each fortune as we read it aloud for one another. But what fun would it be if in fact all fortunes were the same? (There might be a great anti-socialist joke in there somewhere, but I’m not sure…)

So instead we shift context and had fun with the fact that we got the same fortune. Couldn’t it be that out of the billions of potential fortunes, she and I just happened to get the same one? While romantic and cute, couldn’t that also be construed as meaning that our fortunes were parallel, identical, and somehow meant to be together? Now is there any way to prove such a thing? Of course not. But that’s the chorus you keep hearing – a belief is meant to drive you toward what you want, away from what you don’t want, and to give you all you desire. If the belief is likely to at least contribute to these things, we would say it’s useful. If on the other hand it deters you from these things, we would say it is not useful.

Therefore by playing with context a bit, and looking at things a little differently, we managed to find something pleasant in the meaning we created for ourselves out of that event. Remember, two identical fortunes doesn’t inherently have any meaning at all. What matters, the meaning, comes from what we assign to those facts.

I worked recently with a customer who seemed to believe that chaos was a functional business model. Okay, I’m exaggerating — I’m sure that from his perspective, his process made perfect sense.

However I’ve always believed that while there’s nothing at all wrong with short-term goals, when they interfere with our long-term ambitions, we have a problem. I’ve known plenty of companies who seem to embrace a truly quarterly mentality. That is, even if your company isn’t publicly traded, you likely grasp the importance of a successful quarter. Right? But what if, to achieve a successful quarter, you burn the bridges you’ll need to cross next quarter? And the next? And so on? I’ve seen companies who actually encourage their people to think this way! And note the first part of this discussion — the quarter does matter. A lot. But so does the next one.

Business in  this way is similar to other aspects of our lives. Treating your intimate relationship with a next-quarter mentality as described above will make your partner really happy with you right now. But lays the foundation for discontent as you try to build a future together. So even if you’re not actively participating in the corporate world, keep reading — this almost certainly still pertains to you.

Let’s therefore treat this discussion in a very generic way, as though we’re not really talking about corporate performance at all. Because we’re not. Consider this possibility – you are planning everything you are going to have, enjoy, participate in, contribute to, for the next year. Here’s the kicker – you have to plan it out, quarter by quarter.  Would you slash-and-burn your way through the first quarter, having a FANTASTIC, by whatever standard makes sense, quarter? (High fives all around! Bonuses, perks, “SPIFs”, and other positive reinforcements all around!)

But wait, there’s more…did we lay any foundation, sow the seeds, for the quarter that follows? Did we even have a plan for the full year? I’ve been surprised at how many professionals don’t.

The point is that if part of our desperate, mad dash to have a great quarter kills our future potential, interferes with, or prevents our having, a long-term plan, we have shot ourselves in the foot. Sure, we’ve gotten some great pain killers to help us through it, but that won’t help when the race starts back up next quarter and we’re metaphorically wounded.

How about you? Is your current plan, whether professional, personal, spiritual, solely for the short-term? Worse, does it kill future potential just to maximize the return this quarter?  Only the naive don’t realize that American business has changed a great deal in the last decade. But relationships still matter. A lot.

Especially…in bed!

Deletions Matter

There is a fundamental linguistic challenge at the heart of this one. In hypnosis, a concept called “deletion” is a very useful device. It references an implication, one the unconscious mind is too clever to miss—though is not overtly stated. If I tell you, “Today, I’m doing okay,” on the surface, I’m simply telling you how I’m doing today. But look at the implication: I am only doing okay today. Meaning that “doing okay” is a new thing for me, specifically as of today. Bear with me, this is going to illuminate something in a moment. Nitpickers of the world may be tempted to tune out, but the unconscious mind is a very interesting thing…it notices and uses such phenomena. All the time.

The deletion, in hypnosis terminology, is that yesterday, and possibly every other day before that, I was anything but “okay”. It’s possible to use this kind of language to imply very clearly a good many things without explicitly saying them. When someone makes the statement, “police lives matter”, or as it is more commonly stated, “blue lives matter”, he isn’t just stating the overt meaning that the lives of police officers are important, that they matter. The deletion is that other lives, besides those of police officers, do not matter, or perhaps matter, but less than those of police officers.

Is this beginning to make sense? The unconscious mind picks up on these subtle implications, affecting us and how we feel about a statement, even if consciously we take the statement exactly at face value. Keep in mind that the person making the statement might be savvy and is using this to its full effect to influence us. But it’s also possible that the speaker is trying to make an entirely different point, and this deletion is unintentional. The challenge for us as speakers is understanding that whether we intended to affect our audience thusly or not is irrelevant. In Neuro-linguistic Programming, there is a truism which states: “The meaning of a communication is the message received.” Which is to say, what you meant is often irrelevant. What really matters is how it was taken. Yes, that gives us a lot of responsibility as speakers or writers. But it also means that when our audience takes something in a way we had not intended, it is on us to clarify.

So what was the deletion here? “Black Lives Matter.” Suggesting that other lives do not. Or that black lives matter more than other lives. This might not offend you if you are black, but to anyone who does not identify as black, it hardly facilitates friendship and understanding.

Based on all I’ve learned about the BLM movement, I feel I can safely say that this deletion was not intended by anyone in that mainstream movement. Sure, fringe elements always appear in such situations, and they tend to spout off inflammatory, provocative statements that not only disagree with the core of the moment they claim to represent, but even create problems for that movement. It’s important not to confuse a lunatic fringe with the movement itself. Otherwise you are forced to treat peace-loving Muslims the same as you do insane jihadists–or endtimes fanatic Christian extremists the same as mainstream Christians. They are not the same thing, and historically, never have been.

Particularly considering all the frustration and turmoil the non-black response has caused, I can’t imagine this ever having been intentional, at least from the mainstream, serious-minded BLM adherent. It’s just not a likely strategy to be successful in furthering the black concern. That concern, as stated by the BLM movement itself, has nothing to do with comparing the value of members of different races. But instead a response to what portions of the black community feel is an implication that black lives do not matter. Where did this come from? A perception that when a white police officer fatally shoots or injures a black person, there are few, if any, consequences to that officer. I get that there are multiple perspectives involved. A kid playing with a water pistol being shot by a cop is not the same thing as someone taking a shot at a police officer and that cop returning fire. Sure, there are examples of both of these scenarios. The bigger concern for BLM revolves around how quickly any inquiry into whether the officer was justified is closed in that cop’s favor. From some people’s perspective, when a black person is shot and killed by the police, and there is no investigation beyond a day or two’s inquiry, before the cop is cleared of responsibility, it might seem that the message is that the black person’s life was inconsequential, didn’t matter. BLM sprung out of this perception and asserts that every death is a tragedy, and that yes, black lives do matter.

Now consider that many non-black people live in much more homogeneous areas. For instance, several years ago, I lived along the border in South Texas. While there are black people, Oriental people, and a few Indian and Pakistani people, the vast majority of people you will meet there are Hispanic. There are a few Caucasians, but we are the minority in that part of the country. The point is that down there, it’s unlikely that you will happen upon a black person very often. So if you live there, your representation of black America is what you see on the evening news or read about on the web.

Now combine living in such an area with the deletion inherent in the statement, not necessarily the movement, “black lives matter”. Are you beginning to see how people in such a situation may feel at least slightly threatened by that statement? Can you imagine a Caucasian or Hispanic person hearing that deletion and saying to himself, “What? You mean my life doesn’t matter? Or at least not as much a the life of a black person?” In a less homogeneous location, where someone can just ask a black friend if that was the meaning, this sort of misunderstanding might not happen so easily. But in South Texas or, for example, Vermont, most people living there simply aren’t likely to know a black person locally. They are left to draw their own conclusions, and when the statement confronting them features a potentially threatening deletion, we are unsurprisingly left with hurt feelings and misunderstandings. Add to this the fact that some white people (present company excluded) feel threatened by what they perceive to be racism directed at them, in the form of unfair advantages granted to minorities, and you have an anti-BLM sentiment that is largely based on a misunderstanding.

Wait. Racism directed toward white people? Yes, some white people, largely not understanding things like Affirmative Action and scholarships awarded specifically to students of a particular ethnic group, feel that such programs and opportunities are discriminating against them. While technically, they do exactly that–using race as a differentiation that can disqualify an applicant, the question is why does it differentiate, not so much that it does in the first place. For instance, a diverse workforce promotes opportunity for all, so Affirmative Action has a basis in fairness, even though on the surface it may seem discriminatory, while promoting diversity in the workplace. Likewise, scholarships for underprivileged students do discriminate against the affluent, and those for black, Hispanic, or other ethnic groups do discriminate against Caucasians. However the theory underlying these is that the affluent, as well as Caucasians (and of course, students who are both affluent and Caucasian) do not need assistance paying for college. The why, its proponents argue, justify any perceived discrimination.

Yet whether or not you agree that the “why”, the reasons underlying such differentiation, is justified, you no doubt can imagine how a deletion like “black lives matter” (the phrase, not the movement) could seem threatening to non-blacks.

This is unfortunately at times exacerbated by isolated cases in which some black people feel protective of the movement. An associate of mine, feeling very threatened by BLM, shared a Youtube video that supported his fear. In the video, a white person took a “Black Lives Matter” sign into a parking lot where he encountered white people. He had an associate film him as he asked whites for their opinions, and though none expressed interest in what he had to say, no one threatened him either. For contrast, he took an “All Lives Matter” sign into a neighborhood and as he was similarly filmed, asked blacks for their opinions. He was threatened and at one point attacked for the sign, which his attacker said, showed disrespect to the BLM movement. My associate used this video to support his believe that BLM is a racist movement, promoted by unapologetic racists. The actions of a few, when salient, often are incorrectly attributed to the entire group, and this is no different. Sure, some blacks on that video were violent and angry. Sure, some members of the BLM movement may promote violence or anti-white sentiment, though they do not represent the movement itself or the majority of that movement’s members.

In exactly the same way, the whites who are distrusting, fearful, and angry toward BLM do not represent the rest of us. Understanding that BLM is not about minimizing the importance of non-black lives, many of us appreciate that BLM is simply trying to assert that the killing of a human being is never unimportant. Always being a serious matter, the race of that victim does not change a thing. I get it. Most of us do. Though as we try to explain this to the vocal white minority who don’t yet understand, it helps to know why they are concerned in the first place.

Outside of the deletion suggesting that any non-black lives don’t matter, many people have applied this deletion to specifically a black versus blue question. Meaning that we’ve now seen a similar objection to “Blue Lives Matter”, itself a response to violence against police officers.

The lesson for us as communicators is to note how a deletion can drive a wedge into what is already a divisive issue, and make it very difficult for opposing sides to come back together and heal. By identifying, for instance, that the deletion exists, those establishing a movement could opt for a less ambiguous name, which invites controversy. Though on the other side of the discussion, once we spot the deletion, it is also on us to be bigger than the hypnotic language, big enough to bridge the deletion, keep the flow of communication going, and work together to solve what we all agree are problems facing our multi-colored, multiracial society.

Writing on the Wall

Perhaps the most common theme in this site is to pay attention. In NLP, we speak of “sensory acuity”, maintaining a sharp awareness of our surroundings, scanning for opportunities, threats, any relevant details. It also refers to perceiving as accurately as possible those details. Though bias is inevitable, we strive to capture details with as little prejudice as possible.

Years ago, I was in a customer’s conference room, and as I waited alone for my customer’s team to arrive, I was surprised to find the whiteboard filled with plans, proposed budget amounts, time frames, and other details relevant to my visit. I’ll intentionally keep the purpose of my visit generic so more among you can relate to the situation. What’s important is that I had enough information before me to adjust my pitch as I desired. I may have been there to discuss widget A, of which I presumed the customer needed 1,000 units.

Too bad they weren’t interested (or so they had said) in widget B which was twice as expensive (good for me), but also four times as efficient as widget A (good for them). The problem was that no one would tell me how much budget they had for widgets that quarter, so I had to go on what little information they would provide overtly. By reading the board’s contents, I saw that actually they had plenty of budget to afford 1,000 units of widget B! As mentioned above, they would only really need 250 units due to the increased efficiency. Even considering that widget B was twice as expensive, which meant they could afford 500, twice as many as I thought they needed. It’s important not to oversell in the sense of delivering more than the customer needs or wants. Customers are as smart as we, they will figure it out and lose their trust in you as their “trusted advisor”–a loss that no amount of commission is worth. However it’s different if you advise them to over-purchase, as in stocking spare units for when primary units fail, to provide an immediate replacement, without the lag until warranty replacement can be completed. If the customer understands they are purchasing spares, they are in on the decision, and will not blame you (or lose their trust in you) when they look at all the unused widgets in their store rooms.

Greeting the customer when their team arrived, I began with their needs and why those needs mattered. (Sometimes we have a need, but the reason isn’t defined or perhaps agreed-upon between the affected departments–so the “why” is sometimes all-important.) It turns out that they had a massive need for a widget of some kind–either A or B would do–and they knew they needed “at least” 250 at this site…and another 250 at another site. Another among their team reigned that first fellow in, saying, “we’re not here to discuss the future site, that’s a quarter away.”

I now had a vast amount of information, plenty with which to help them achieve their goals, while simultaneously increasing my sales. I had a particular reason to promote widget B, incidentally, as there was an added incentive to sell these over other widgets in our product line. This is common in Sales, and this quarter, if I could sell 250 units of widget B, it actually benefited me more than selling 1,000 units of widget A.

What we worked out was purchasing 500 units of widget B, half delivered within thirty days, the other half the first day of the following quarter. Billing was also staggered to accommodate the customer’s quarterly budget allocations. However since the sale itself occurred this quarter, I got credit for, and the incentive for, the entire lot this quarter.

I would call that a win-win, as the customer was certainly pleased, and I certainly appreciated earning the added incentive. The customer had enough money to buy spares and in this case, they didn’t have one-for-one replacements (i.e. 500 for each site), though they chose to purchase a few. With some of the additional budget, however, they purchased services from us. Further, their whiteboard revealed a project about which I’d known nothing about previously. We had a conversation and they were surprised to learn that we offered that product as well, call it “widget X”. Since they had money left over, they bought several of those widgets as well.

It was still a win-win: my company sold twice as many units of widget B as I’d expected to, plus we created a deal for multiple units of widget X, truly a bonus. There is also something my company achieved in that meeting that is often overlooked: we claimed more of that “spend”, the budget, than we had expected. Meaning that amount was no longer available for a competitor to claim. We in essence “blocked” the competitor. From the customer’s perspective, they dealt with one vendor instead of two, a stated goal of theirs, for both widget B and X. Further, they got ahead of schedule for their alternate site: they hadn’t planned to acquire widget B for that site until the following quarter. Now they could cross this project off the list and begin planning the others.

All of this was possible because I looked for clues in the environment, indications of what they were working on, planning both now and in the future, and scanned for opportunities for win-wins. It really is important, by the way, to resist the temptation to sacrifice all for the quarter. I’ve known sales teams who would, let’s say, stretch the truth, in order to close a deal that was either premature or not in the customer’s best interests. As mentioned above, customers look for a “trusted advisor” among their vendors. To achieve that coveted status, you must level with them. You cannot be dishonest or deceptive with them–they will figure it out, and once that happens, your hard-earned status (or progress toward earning that status) of “trusted advisor” is gone.

I’ve learned first-hand the value of that status. I’ve had customers invite–no, that’s not strong enough a word–demand–that my company represent itself in bids against much larger and better-known firms. I had very self-assured salespeople from household-name companies scoff at this, demanding to know why some little company they’d never even heard of should be in the same room as them. A customer actually said, “Because Chris is our trusted advisor. We need to know what he recommends.” (I wasn’t present for that discussion, but both that competitor who asked the question, and members of the customer’s team who had been present, told me about it.)

Nothing moved forward until my company also had a bid in place, much to the irritation of our much bigger competitors. To be honest, we didn’t wind up winning the whole project–our “widgets” frankly weren’t as full-featured as those of our competitors and would not have served the customer best. We admitted as such (retaining that “trusted advisor” status). Though the customer was so pleased with us that they awarded us the entire services requirement, which is generally more profitable than the product sales. It certainly was in our case, and we were thrilled to get it.

Two interesting things came out of that project, besides this article: we added new products to our repertoire, ensuring that we would next time have the same product offering, and not miss out on that portion of the project, and I was headhunted aggressively (albeit unsuccessfully) by two of the competitors, including the one awarded the products portion of the deal.

Which brings us back to the initial point. Customers will share some of their information with you, consciously. You can gain this intelligence by simply sitting and chatting with them about their projects, their needs, their concerns. But there is almost always a wealth of other information available for the perceptive individual. It may be the body language of your customer as you discuss upcoming projects, slips of their tongue–mentioning an upcoming opportunity long before they are ready to announce it, or their leaving the plan, budget, or just the brainstorming that will lead to a plan, on the whiteboard. If you look for opportunity, you will find it. Though it’s vital that, unless you don’t care about a long-term relationship with the customer, you utilize this new information ethically, using it to craft win-wins, never exploiting your customer with the intel. Because all the advance information in the world won’t help you if the customer just doesn’t like or trust you. And as in my case, if the customer does like and trust you, they will look for ways to bring you the needed information. Be ready. Keep those senses sharp, and live up to the responsibilities of being a trusted advisor.

Oh, and–make sure you close the deal.

 

 

The Wealth of Possibilities

“Wealth inequality” has become a buzz term in the United States recently, and as we head into an election year, it seems that each candidate whose ambition is pushing him or her toward the White House has something to say on the matter. I appreciate that for many people this is a very sensitive topic, and I begin by saying that I respect all of the opinions I have heard. No, I don’t agree with many of them. But that’s not important. Whenever a large group of people come together to form a society, whether in a geopolitical sense, a social sense, a professional pursuit, shared spiritual or religious convictions, perhaps even love or loyalty to a sport or a particular sports team or athlete, there will be disagreements. This can be, if managed well, very healthy, and lead to the kind of diversity that increases our society of survival. It’s been said before: If all of us were the same, we would not all be necessary.

As someone who believes in the potential we all have within us, and wants very much to see what our species, our planet, can achieve if we only learned to leverage each of our strengths rather than fighting over them, I believe that we should all strive for Excellence in whatever form that appeals to us. My own notion of Excellence is not at all compartmentalized. It’s a holistic notion of greatness that includes being a great thinker, friend, spouse, student, problem-solver, parent, mentor, professional, creative force, et al. I don’t see any reason to limit this, and please keep in mind, this is my own notion of Excellence. Yours may differ, and yes, that’s okay.

Within my own belief, and my own definition of Excellence, we are charitable and loving, though we also teach, we inspire. To paraphrase the old parable, we can just give fish away…but to teach each person to fish is far more useful. And in my view of Excellence, much more so. Albert Bandura, the phenomenal psychologist, showed us that humans, as some other animals, can learn observationally. We don’t merely learn from books, though I love that method. Nor do we learn exclusively from classes, though I’ve loved and been grateful for my education. Bandura noted that we can observe someone performing a task, then mimic it. A belief that, it seems, would support us in such an endeavor might be, “If anyone else can do it, so too can I!” Then as we observe someone else performing a task, we can mimic it, learn what they did to make it possible, what skill they had to teach themselves, which we then can, through duplicating their actions and practicing, we in turn can teach ourselves. NLP calls this “role-modeling” or often simply “modeling” for short.

All that said, what would you wager I would say about “wealth inequality”? I respect that many living things are suffering from a lack right now, and I urge everyone reading this to search their hearts to find some way they can help others. Yet I feel that the phrase “wealth inequality” misses something, loses sight of the very meaning it’s trying to convey. “Wealth inequality” doesn’t mean that different people earn different amounts. That would be “income inequality”. Therefore higher income taxes, and increasing restrictions on capital gains taxes, two frequent weapons bitter people often reach for when seeking to “punish the rich”, don’t solve anything. We are, rather, talking about how some of us have more than others right now. And a larger implied question – Is that fair?

Can you think of, in a capitalist society, why you might have more than I? Or we both might have more than someone else? Or that there’s someone in New York right now who has more than all three of us, times ten? Here are a few explanations that came to mind, and I’m sure you can think of several more:

  1. Specialized skills and/or training that makes one professional in demand more than others – Doctors are good examples of this. Someone must work very hard and endure very high stress to eventually become a physician. Then the fear of malpractice lawsuits is so great, many physicians pay more for their malpractice insurance coverage than many of us earn in a year.
  2. Willingness to work longer, more challenging hours, to earn more, when others would give up – Nearly every field has examples of this one. She’s the woman in your department who always offers to pick up extra hours of work during holidays, the man who takes on a second (or third) job to earn more.
  3. Strategic thinker who decides he or she wants to create wealth, focuses on what is needed and does that, with commitment and drive. While I’ve seen examples of this in many fields. this type of person tends to be drawn to fields with a high return and often high risk, such as investment banking or stock/bond trading.
  4. Somewhat related to numbers 1 and 2, some people decide what it is that others will pay them to do, or to teach them to do. Seminar leaders, trainers, authors, and the like are all examples of this. If one person determines how to make his marriage successful, he and his spouse get to enjoy that happy marriage. But if he realizes that there is an epidemic of weak relationship skills in our world today, he might decide to take his strategy and communicate it, teach it, through books, instructional videos, and seminars.

This is just four of the examples that came to mind. Notice how, other than a degree of overlap, most of these are quite different from one another. Though what they do have in common is drive and a desire, what I jokingly refer to (please forgive me) as the Double D’s. Each of these people really wanted it, and was determined to achieve it. They likely will go about acquiring wealth very differently, but with enough desire and drive, many will receive their goal, their intended outcome, wealth.

There isn’t really as much opportunity inequality as once plagued our world. Between grants, loans, endowments, any among us can get the information we need, the funding, the chance to succeed. Face it, with the emerging ubiquity of information, it’s just no longer true that you must afford an Ivy league education and two to four years of Graduate school in order to be successful. Inner city youth can visit a public library, use the Internet there, and find the “how” to match their “why”. What do I mean? Consider the four examples I listed above. Each has a reason, a purpose beneath the action. Perhaps it’s as simple as wanting to acquire wealth for themselves and their families. Generally, we don’t work really hard just to get crisp paper or shiny precious metals in hand. These things mean something to us. That’s the reason we do it, our “why”. For instance, a gentleman falls into the first category, he wants to become wealthy so he studies to become a heart surgeon. These are the “what” – what he wants. But if you press him for why this is so, it may reveal that he was gripped by poverty as a child, and suffered greatly that he could do nothing to help his ailing father and mother, swearing that one day he would change the situation. Even if it would be too late for his parents, he can make sure that his wife and children never suffer under the crippling yoke of poverty. Now that, my friends, is a why. The next piece to his puzzle is how he is going to go about gaining this wealth. He might choose medicine, then specifically surgery, as he learns that these professionals tend to be paid very well. He may even lack the aptitude or head for such medicine, but if the why is compelling enough to drive him, it will sustain him through the challenging steps in the process. So he now has his how as well.

So too can any of us answer these questions. A kid notices, for instance, that professional athletes tend to earn the kind of money he would like. He may work hard, finding his what and why until realizing that, regardless of how hard he practices, he still doesn’t seem to be developing the necessary skills quickly enough. If his why is strong enough, this will not stop him. He’ll simply look for a new how. He may notice that  he is good at persuading others, and looks into how that might prove useful. He may find that he is a gifted salesperson and by practicing the skill, he over time begins to develop the wealth he seeks. Or perhaps he also decides that medicine is the field for him. Perhaps he doesn’t have any money at first. Perhaps his parents, assuming he has both of them also have no money. Does he need to give up on his dream, his desire? Of course not. If the why is compelling enough, he won’t be able to let it go! He may begin researching scholarships, grants, and student loans to fund his education.

It has become popular to suggest that the promise of opportunity in America is gone, but it’s the same nihilistic nonsense that longs for “the good old days” as the modern era is somehow not what it’s supposed to be. It’s as great as we choose to make it. It’s in our hands. If we really wish to be wealthy, if we really, really want it, we will find a way. This is still a land of endless opportunity, regardless of what the naysayers want us to believe.

That raises a more interesting question…what if those complaining about income inequality don’t want wealth for themselves and everyone else…? I’ve read some interesting editorials from people who not only are outraged that others, the notorious “one-percent” (cue the old-time, scary horror-movie sound effects), but they don’t actually even want it themselves. They want everyone to have the same amount – and for it to not be enough. That’s a creepy thought to me. I believe that the universe is overflowing with possibility, with abundance just looking for a home. So to me, the thought that we should all shun such abundance, fully embrace a sense of lack, is troubling.

When I’ve called people on that notion, the frequent reaction is that I misunderstand, that they don’t want everyone to have too little, they’re merely upset that others might have too much. Too much, according to whom? If you aspire to be successful in every area of your life, and at the moment, have what you perceive to be too little, what does a billionaire in Seattle or Hong Kong have to do with it? If you follow Jung to the letter, you might believe that the only way those people have their billion is by taking it from you. But that doesn’t even make sense. I myself have contributed to Bill Gates’ wealth in an indirect way. I’ve purchased many copies of Windows and Office for various computers I’ve used through the years. But did purchasing that software take away my ability to keep the lights on? No. It was not a direct correlation. As a consumer, I made an informed decision to buy software that helped me do my job. This in no way prevented me from reaching my financial goals – on the contrary, because I used these things for work, this may have helped me to reach those goals.

All that notwithstanding, there is a more serious point we should consider. Anything we aspire to do or have must be ecological with our beliefs and the way we live. Otherwise, achieving it might jeopardize our comfort, stability, any number of things. For example, if you choose to believe that wealth is an evil thing, the mark of a dishonest or bad person, how likely are you to commit fully to becoming successful and building your own wealth? That incongruity can easily lead one to sabotage our own success. It happens all the time, so my larger concern is that if we say we want success, ourselves, we should be admiring of those, eager to learn from those, who have already achieved our goal for themselves. We should treat them as role models, at least in the dimension that concerns us. I’m not claiming that anyone is perfect, and therefore an exemplar of every dimension of human behavior. But indisputably, some of us do more with what we have than others. Sure, there is genetics inequality and blessings inequality. Some of us are given more by our parents or our creator (I’ll never preach to you what if anything you should believe about your own spirituality, but since many of us acknowledge divine “blessings”, let’s be honest – we’re not all similarly blessed. So opportunity inequality is still worth arguing. Not all of us receive the same opportunities in life. However I would argue, as above, that this playing field has leveled quite a lot in our own country. Money for education, for launching start-ups, for launching a career, is available to each of us, despite our perhaps not having it from the onset. What this leaves, to my mind,  is one that incenses many people, and another that many of us don’t consider. The first is effort inequality. Some of us want “it” more than others, and so we put more effort into whatever that is. Though the other form of inequality is referenced in my list of four items above: strategy inequality. Some of us put a great deal of effort into succeeding, perhaps working twice as hard as someone else. Much like trying to move an enormous boulder blocking our path, however, we might overexert ourselves, straining our backs in an effort to pick the rock up. Though some other fellow sizes up the problem, places a small rock as a fulcrum beside the boulder, then brings a stout tree branch to use as a lever, and with minimal effort, certainly not as much as we invested, and boom! The boulder is moved. That illustrates the contrast between two strategies, and I see that all the time. Someone simply looks at the same problem in a new way and they forge success where many others have failed. And often like in the example of the boulder – with much less actual effort.

So one last question on that – is the person who strained to pick up the boulder and failed somehow more noble or deserving of a clear path than the second person? Should the second person be forced to clear the path for everyone else just because he or she has figured out a successful strategy? These questions might seem trivial or silly, but structurally they face us increasingly in this age where it’s become fashionable to resent the wealthy. I cry foul on the logic and fairness, but there is a larger issue for those of us concerned with personal excellence. Ignore the aforementioned point about the ecology of our beliefs at your own peril. Self-sabotage is easy to do when you hold mixed beliefs, or when your beliefs are at odds with your goals. Take the time to evaluate them both. Verify that one supports the other, there is no conflict, and if there is, any conflict, find a professional who can help you choose which path is ultimately best for you. Life is precious and amazing. There is no excuse to limit your capabilities, your achievement, unless you’re certain that’s what you want to do. But if you do, after careful consideration, choose to fail, please respect that not everyone agrees with that for themselves. We are all allowed to think differently and to choose differently. We have the right to select an entirely different strategy for ourselves and to become magnificent successes. In every dimension, not only financial wealth! We have the right to create great marriages, great careers, great spirituality, great everything, and to not feel as though we should apologize for that. If you embrace this, and the right to become as great as you wish to be, stop hating others who’ve already achieved those goals in their own lives. There’s plenty for everyone – those people are your role models, not your competition.

Motive Experts!

Whether you believe in such concepts as “fate” or “signs from God”, or (substitute your own term for divine intervention or synchronicity), every now and then life reveals glimpses or reminders of the path to which we’ve devoted ourselves.

Keli, my wife, and I were walking into a store not long ago, around sunset. The time of day proved significant because businesses had just clicked on their lights for the evening. I glanced across the street and saw, in bright yellow and red neon lights, “MOTIVE EXPERTS!” Because the sun had not yet set, I could still make out the letters whose lights had burned out: “Auto” immediately before the phrase still illuminated. So the business that actually called itself “AUTOMOTIVE EXPERTS” was inadvertently posing as an excuse depot!

Not that excuses are always bad. I realize that we typically associate “excuses” as being bad things. Similarly, “motives” seem to get a bad rap, as though they only drive illicit actions. I’d challenge you to be a bit more flexible in your thinking about these words because “Fear of Death” is, in my judgment, a legitimate excuse, or reason, to not engage in highly dangerous activities. Likewise, “Desire to become financially abundant or even wealthy” is a pretty good motive for choosing a career path carefully, then working hard.  A very good motive.

Though as I glanced at the half-functioning sign, I pointed it out to my wife and we remarked at to how convenient it was to have a local store providing motives or reasons If anyone was in need of a good motive for succeeding, they had a convenient, one-stop location to visit!

This was actually quite similar to when we’d gone to Las Vegas and been surrounded by ubiquitous “Change Machines”. When I mentioned this to Keli, she reminded me of the actual people walking around, offering change, with labels on their uniforms reading “Change Agent”.

If you’re into hypnosis, you already see the opportunities inherent in such terms.

Even if you’re not yet, just picture a friendly Change Agent walking around, just waiting for the opportunity to help you make that change you’ve wanted. Or if you prefer the privacy afforded by a machine or kiosk, you could simply locate a “Change Machine”.

Not fully ready, but wanting that change to begin now?

It sounds like you might just need a better motive! I’m sure such stores exist in other cities, but if you happen to be in the Austin, Tx area, just look up “Motive Experts” and see if you can’t find the same place we did. (Bear with me, this is hypnosis and/or NLP!) Just imagine yourself walking up to a store with a bright red and yellow neon sign reading, “MOTIVE EXPERTS” Imagine yourself choosing a motive that’s right for you, trying it out, and proceeding right on to your change. Then at that point of course you could enlist the assistance of a Change Agent or just use a handy Change Machine!

If your NLP education is coming along, this makes perfect sense to you. If not, permit your curiosity to guide you and look into learning more. There are several reputable NLP trainers and coaches who can assist you in finding your own Motive Expert and Change Agent. Hint: It actually exists within you right now!

Have fun, and remember: It’s your brain, you can run it any way you want to. And NOW!

Choose to Laugh…or to Cry

 

Robin Williams, dead at 63. He made us laugh and he made us think. In the end, he made us cry.

Much has been written about movie and music stars who seemed to have had it all – fame, success, wealth, sometimes even a good relationship – then who shocked us by taking their own lives. This is tragic, though I don’t want to say what has already been said many times. What I think about as often is the map of reality from which that person lived and functioned. If our map is rich, full of perceptions and beliefs that support us, being happy is just a natural outcome. On the other hand, if we have a map full of self-doubt, self-criticism, self-loathing, and distrust of the good things in our lives, we tend to find ways to be miserable – no matter how perfect our life appears from the outside.

Our Reality Map is something that begins forming, and continually adjusts, throughout life. But we can make conscious choices about which components to keep and which no longer belong on that map. We can, and should, consciously make choices that update that map to maintain its usefulness and functionality.

Don’t believe me? Haven’t you ever stumbled across a very old map, carefully unfolded it, and tried to make sense of it? Even if it covered the same space, perhaps your own town,  it was from another time. Sure, the main roads may still be the same, railroad tracks and bodies of water will likely be the same. But cross streets, highways, and many landmarks will be entirely new, not present on the map. Likewise, some roads may be closed, many landmarks will have been built after the map was drawn. Your life works the same way. Sometimes a set of beliefs and values serve us exceptionally well when we’re very young. Though as we start to grow up, a lot of those beliefs no longer make sense for us. At different stages of life, we may need entirely new beliefs that at an earlier time, perhaps had no purpose.

But we humans are superstitious, and sometimes the new beliefs and generalizations we form are guesses, and have no actual functional value. A bit like the superstar pitcher who wears the same socks for every game that he had worn during his first no-hitter. If socks could lead t0 a 100 mph fastball, science would have figured that out by now. So we waste a lot of energy on map features that frankly aren’t accurate. NLP of course is even less concerned with accuracy in that context than it is with usefulness.

If we make a decision to update our map in a destructive way – to choose a belief, for instance, that undermines our happiness, gives us a shortcut to depression or a sense of helplessness, then we short-circuit our own fulfillment. When we have done this, and perhaps have not yet noticed the likely impact of that choice, it is easy to become distracted. The busier our life becomes, the more people demand our time, the more activity going on, the easier it is to overlook the significance of that choice and to inadvertently choose misery. For a superstar, beloved around the world, portraying joyful characters and making us laugh and feel good, it would be incredibly easy to become thusly distracted.

And yet, it’s never too late, once you realize that you’ve made a bad choice, to change your mind. The difficult part, of course, is that realization in the first place.

Naturally, we don’t want to oversimplify or undermine the tragedy that such people have experienced. Rather, it’s to draw attention to the fact that for every Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, Brad Delp, et al, there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people going through the same experience. There are naturally some things that are not solely controlled by the mind. For instance, when you break a leg, you don’t just want to visualize yoru leg healing and go about your business. You must get the bone set and likely have a cast put on it to protect the healing bone. But once you’ve done that, there is a lot of evidence that the visualization process just mentioned will expedite healing of the leg in the cast.

I appreciate that depression is an illness. There are several treatments that have been proven to have great success in treating depression with a great deal of success. Though again, we must first choose to believe that our situation is treatable, we must choose to commit to treatment, and we must choose to commit to follow through and do all we can to improve. Are you starting to see a pattern here?

Our choices dictate everything in our lives. Sure, some things occur without our actively and consciously selecting them. Though our choices play a role in just about everything else. You may not have consciously chosen to be in a car accident, but you chose to drive at that time. You may not have been distracted with your radio or cell phone as you drove, but you chose to drive when it’s possible that others on the road were thusly distracted. You chose to either wear your seat belt or not. You chose how to respond after the impact. You could choose to panic and struggle to get out of the damaged car, possibly injuring yourself after the fact. You could choose to make the stress worse by focusing on all the negative consequences this wreck could bring? You could choose to have kept your insurance current. When viewed this way, most of us can begin to see how, even when we don’t choose a specific outcome, we choose just about everything else. So our choices always have enormous influence over what we experience.

Things happen in our lives all the time, and if we asked a dozen people we trust to agree upon the objective truth of what those things are, we would, likely after a bit of negotiation and compromise, arrive at a reasonably objective list of events. But that’s where any semblance of objectivity leaves us. From that point forward, and I would argue, well before that point in most cases, we choose what everything means.

What does being paid millions of dollars to appear in movies that will be loved for generations to come mean? Subjectively is that good or bad?

Sure, for some of us that doesn’t sound ideal, but I would dare say that a lot of people would say this scenario is resoundingly “GOOD”.

Next question: what does being world-famous, loved by millions of people, most of whom have stories they can tell you of how your work helped them through a tough time, or inspired them to do something wonderful, mean to you? Is that good or bad to you?

Of course, some people don’t like the idea of fame, but for many of us, that still sounds like a “GOOD” thing.

Next: would it be good or bad to be able to just pick up your favorite book, pack a bag and travel anywhere in the world you want, at any time you want?

If you don’t like to travel, maybe you would be a lone dissenter, but again for most of us, this would be “GOOD”.

I’m oversimplifying the life of a Hollywood actor, of course, and I’m making it sound almost as though they have no pressures, no responsibilities, deadlines, or any other mundane challenges that all people face. And naturally that’s incorrect. Despite all the wonderful things we have in our lives, we will still face challenges, no matter how wealthy, famous, or loved by the general public.

The irony is that when we, on the outside, evaluate someone in such a position, and therefore don’t know their private challenges, we are tempted to assume that life for them is a matter of choosing which Ferrari to take to the film premier? Or should we use a limo? Such choices… I’m being facetious of course, because life is not easy for anyone. We all make continual choices about what things mean to us. One person’s mansion is another’s prison or fortress. What determines which it will be for us? Choices! We must choose actively, in accordance with our individual reality map, and if we share our life with a significant other, hopefully also in accordance with our Relationship Map™ (To learn more about what we call the Relationship Map™, check out www.happinesseverlaughter.com.)

Should we make choices that do not serve us, it’s entirely possible to take those questions above, and where most of us judged them to be “GOOD” things, it’s very simple to turn them “BAD”. It’s all a choice.

This is not in any way to diminish the tragedy of those we’ve lost. On the contrary, it is a warning, a call to choose actively, to actively participate in, and make decisions about our lives and the meaning we ascribe to the events and items in those lives. Let us not allow those tragedies, those losses, to be in vain. Let us allow them to teach us something positive, something healthy, something that perhaps will prevent further such tragedies in the future.

As challenging as this may sound, as overwhelming as it might seem sometimes…

It’s a choice. Choose happiness. Choose success. Choose a great relationship. Choose to choose well!

And one final caveat – choosing is the first step, and we must take it seriously. Yes, there will be work involved, and yes there will be play. But the habit of actively choosing will make this much easier in time. Your future is far greater than you can imagine, right now,  it will be. But you’re heading right for it, so you might as well choose to enjoy it, and to make it as wonderful and fulfilling as you possibly can. Choose to.

 

 

Rough Seas: Time to Adjust Your Sails

It is great to be out there, interacting with the world again. A few months ago, I was involved in a car accident that made a really good point about symbols and how we perceive them. Semiotics, or the study of signs and symbols, could be applied to something as simple as traffic signs and lights. Or even brake lights on the car(s) in front of you! Though afterward, I also got a good reminder of why beliefs are so important.

I was in Tampa and was heading back to my hotel for the night, and I exited the freeway. Ahead, I noticed that the cars had all stopped. How did I notice, when this was still at a distance ahead? The brake lights. Being of at least average intelligence, I saw the lights ahead and realized that all the cars were either stopped or were stopping. I slowed, as this response made the most sense to me. As I drew closer, it became obvious that indeed all the cars were stopped for a stop sign at the cross street. I stopped as well, and waited for traffic to advance.

The Jeep behind me also seemed to notice the significance of the red lights and slowed as well. Strangely, rather than stop, the driver behind me actually tried to pass me on the left. This made no sense to me at the time, as it was a frontage road, I was in the left lane, and traffic was stopped. As I heard the screech of brakes, however, it made some sense (at least later). The car behind him had not noticed the red lights at all and was driving far too quickly into the rear of the Jeep. That driver, in turn, saw that the advancing car would not be able to stop in time and was trying to pull out of the way. He underestimated just how fast Mr. Distracted was going, however, and he only succeeded in making the collision more artistically stimulating. That is, instead of a simple front-end-to-rear-end, front-end-to-rear-end domino effect, he managed to create an interesting pattern: the Jeep angled around my rental car, then as Mr. Distracted hit him, he was pushed alongside my car, enabling the Jeep to sideswipe the left rear corner of my car, while Mr. Distracted still managed to then hit my rear. The resulting collision left cars glancing off in various directions, almost as though Godzilla had picked one up and tossed it into the others.

At the time, I dug my phone out of my pocket and called 911 to report the accident, then the car rental company. It was odd to be coherent, as I was in a great deal of pain at the time. It was later, after the adrenaline had leveled off, that I was diagnosed with a concussion, a relatively common injury. The commonness of the injury, by the way, did little to comfort me. For at least a couple months afterward, I found it impossible to concentrate, work became impossible, and even something like reading a book or watching a movie proved too challenging. Either would result in a severe headache, nausea, vertigo and lightheadedness. I also discovered that it is possible to sleep twenty hours in one day. This is something I never thought possible, and I certainly had never approached such a feat. While healing from the concussion, I decided that it was easy. I’ve since reconsidered it, however, as I no longer can sleep more than seven or eight hours. That magic power vanished as the concussion healed.

I mentioned that a concussion is a fairly common injury. At least for people likely to get struck very hard in the head. For professional fighters and football players, this happens all the time. But the brain is as delicate as it is hardy. That is, the tissue of the brain has proven to be able to recover from a surprising amount of trauma. Though if that trauma is sustained, there is little ambiguity in the outcome. Remember Muhammad Ali’s latter day interviews?

I confess that for a time, I was humbled by the awareness that if I did not make a full recovery, I might not be able to do the things in my professional life that bring me the most joy. It was frightening to imagine not being able to write, or to read and learn new complex tasks.

While following the doctors’ orders, and getting lots of rest, I worked with my beliefs, understanding that our beliefs largely dictate our reality. It’s not what happens to us that matters most, it’s how we respond. A wise man once said, “You can’t control the wind, but you can control your sails!” That’s absolutely true. There will always be people like Mr. Distracted out there, and if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time, you may encounter some heavy winds. But you can adjust your sails, leveraging the winds, or if they prove too unpredictable, draw your sails in until the storm passes. A common example in yachting is heaving to in the face of a bad storm. Too often, we try to control that which we actually cannot. This expends a lot of energy, to little or no effect, resources which could have been used to adjust the many things we can influence.

So I spent a few months with my sails hove to, I healed, maintained a healing mindset, continually coaching myself with beliefs that supported returning to 100%.

Note please that I didn’t do belief work instead of working with medical professionals. Beliefs are incredibly powerful, and can do nearly anything. But if you’re broken a bone, your beliefs aren’t likely to set it or ensure that it heals correctly. I’m not saying you couldn’t do it – only that its success is nowhere near as certain as if you have a doctor set the bone, place it in a cast, and give it time. What I am saying is that the two together are a fantastic recipe for healing.

Another note: Just as I wouldn’t go about healing a broken bone (or a bruised brain, as in my case) with beliefs alone, I also wouldn’t do it with medical attention alone. Any qualified doctor will tell you that once all the medical steps have been taken, it’s up to the patient. If the patient believes that his life is over, he will not heal, the body will not repair, healing tends to be a slow process – and at times doesn’t ever happen. We need both.

So I got checked out of the ER, made an appointment with my own doctor the next day, and began working with healing metaphors, thoughts, and addressing any beliefs that might impede my healing.

Why do beliefs matter so much? There are a thousand theories, but the very least that a common-sense-wielding individual must notice is that a belief limits or permits progress. You can call this progress “energy flow” (which is scientifically measurable, by the way), or “potential”, the metaphor isn’t as important as what we do with it. We look out at our world and decide what’s possible. Why would an intelligent person consistently and seriously strive to do what he’s certain is impossible? Oh, I hear you, Positive Thinkers, Great Achievers: “Nothing’s Impossible”. I get it. But notice that we’re talking about beliefs. It’s not as important whether or not the task in question really is impossible – only that the person in our example believes that it is. Meaning when we decide the boundaries of the possible for ourselves, we are simultaneously allowing ourselves or denying ourselves access outside those boundaries. If we believe it is not possible to have a fulfilling relationship. that all people will let you down, you are not likely to give your all to a relationship. Why bother if it’s destined to disappoint you anyway? Similarly, a person who believes that the amount of money he earns is all that is possible (or deserved, or fair – we all choose our own predicates!), he is not only unlikely to look for opportunities to earn wealth, he is in fact likely to unconsciously sabotage any efforts to do so.

My beliefs said that I not only could heal entirely, but that I would. I’m grateful to be back at 100%, able to work, create, write, read, and to concentrate without the challenges introduced by the concussion.

Please consider this as you encounter challenges in your own lives – storms will come, that’s inevitable. I don’t ask you to deny the storm’s reality, only to take out your umbrella when it rains. And if the seas get stormy, heave those sails in and relax – it will pass, and you will be back to smooth sailing before you know it. Believe it.

And by all means, look for signs around you to indicate what’s going on. Semiotics are there to serve us! Don’t ignore the clouds (or the brake lights ahead) and only discover the challenge when it crashes into you – or you into it.

Ignore Your Senses, Please, the Sign Says Otherwise

I stay in a lot of hotels in my line of work. A lot. And depending on the size of city I’m visiting, the choices for hotels can be either quite robust…or much less so. i was staying in a hotel not long ago where they charmingly misspelled “hotel”, using an “m” instead of an “h”. I was reminded of Olde English towns where you are apt to see signs posted which read, “Ye Olde Taverne” and such. Okay, it wasn’t quite that, but the choices were a bit limited!

As a former smoker, I hold nothing against someone who chooses to smoke. Though like most former smokers, I prefer not to stay in a room that has recently been visited by a prodigious smoker. Naturally, I always request n0nsmoking rooms, and as I reached my room for the night, I was struck by the prominently displayed “No Smoking” sign. Yet as I swiped my magic key card, the door beeped and flashed green at me, and I gently pushed the door open…I was struck by a wall of stale cigarette smoke, a bit like walking into a blues club hours after closing. Without even the soothing strings and pained wails of an old bluesman to make it worthwhile.

I pulled the door closed, called the front desk with my cell phone, and told the very nice gentleman that the room wasn’t acceptable, that I needed a room that did not smell like cigarette smoke. He sounded confused, and insisted that it was a No Smoking room. I agreed with him, that this was in fact what the sign said. However, someone before me had ignored the sign. He said that he would attempt to find me another room, but would get to the bottom of it. I walked back to the office to exchange key cards and he met me, his brow furrowed. He had the look of a man who has been struggling with some very complex math problems. Again he reiterated that it was a non-smoking room. He wanted to see this for himself, brought another key card, and we walked together to discover whether I was playing some cruel prank on him. After he already appeared to have been taunted by complex maths. Sometimes for some people, the torment never seems to end.

We reached the first room, and he gestured to the next door down, handing me the new key card. “But this room as well is non smoking,” he insisted, pointing to the sign. The two signs matched perfectly, making it clear that in fact they both were not to be smoked in or trifled with. I agreed, and invited him to open the door for himself and take a whiff. He did and immediately became distressed. “You have smoked in this room, which is clearly identified as a “Non-Smoking” room!” He was serious, and very upset.

I smiled, pointed out that I had only enough time to get my original key card, walk back to this door, and open it. Hardly enough time to pull out a pack of Luckies, light one up, stink up the room (the smell of which frankly could not be explained by a single cigarette – this room had been slow-smoked over a period of hours). He seemed unconvinced, but I shrugged and said, “I don’t smoke, so the idea is silly. I specifically requested a Non-Smoking room. I take very little for granted, sir, but I do take you at your word – If this is in fact a non smoking room as both you and the sign say, then the previous inhabitant should not have smoked in here. Clearly he did. I still trust you – I don’t think you did it. But someone did. Your nose tells you that right now, doesn’t it?”

Still suspicious, although appearing to see my point (or perhaps making some mental headway with that math problem), he smiled while saying, “Well your new room is next door – we should check it out.” I agreed, and as we opened that door, to nothing but clean air, I suggested, conspiratorially, “If I were you, I’d look through the records to find out who stayed in that room last and figure out who broke the rules and who will pay for the cleaning!”

He grinned, “I will catch the culprit!” He said it as though he fully expected that I now was emotionally invested and would be nagging him daily regarding the outcome.

I pointed out that there was another solution if he were so inclined – to simply make that a Smoking room. He could paint over the “No” on the “No Smoking” sign, find a Smoking room that didn’t smell like it had been used as such, and make that the new Non Smoking room to take the place of the first. He liked this logic, and I thanked him for a most stimulating exploration.

The thing more than anything else that struck me is how he didn’t even initially consider it a possibility that the rule had been broken. The sign was so absolute in its correctness that it almost was more important than facts our senses could perceive. A bit like a “Wet Floor” sign…is the floor in fact wet until the sign is taken down? I would say no, but what if the sign is dictating as much reality to the average person than do their own senses? What could we be overlooking every day in such a world?

At the very least, I would suggest that you we should practice becoming very comfortable thinking for ourselves, trusting our own senses, our own intuitions, and seeking out people who encourage us to sharpen these skills.

As I drifted off to sleep that night, I remember clearly wondering just how often this happens around me that I don’t notice. Sometimes the “sign” or the statement of reality from some trusted authority is much more subtle than this. In such situations, it would be easy to just follow their direction without noticing that direction makes no sense.

Though let’s take it just a step further. What if you made a point of determining what environmental authorities, such as signs or “policies” are dictating the current state of events for you or the people around you? I’m not encouraging anarchy here, only suggesting that we actively perceive our environments. What’s really going on, versus how much of what we believe is happening is just due to our being told that it’s happening?

Here’s an even more interesting thought? What would happen if we all woke up and began using our own senses, and thinking for ourselves? How would the colors of our world brighten? How would our understanding of our surroundings clarify?

And…what could you accomplish if you noticed that your own senses knew more about reality than did a sign that may have been put up months, or even years ago?

It is what it is…wasn’t it — “reality” revisited

In a prior post, I challenged the sacred adage, “it is what it is”, a comforting and familiar expression that reassures us that reality is solid and immutable… Just as it implies that we cannot change things all that much, and it’s best to just accept our lot. Well I’m not done picking on that idea, not by a long shot. Because I don’t accept any of those premises at all, and I urge you to similiarly refuse to be limited by them.

I dare say that there is a darker side to this seemingly innocuous statement… Isn’t “it is what it is” a bit too much like its evil cousin, “that’s just the way it is”, and their more challenged sibling, “you can’t change the world”. So my challenge with this statement isn’t just aesthetic or based on the physics of the matter (which would, you must admit, but fairly hard to disprove). I have a real beef with the limitations that statement imposes on creative beings.

“Reality” has grown complacent with its comfortable reputation as being, well, real. Many of us already know that reality is as malleable as a child’s first mud pie, as elusive and ethereal as mist on a cold morning. If you didn’t know that yet, you are in for a treat – the world is yours to create as you wish. Really. We’ll begin by looking at how the Distortions, Deletions, and Generalizations can be either a sail or an anchor, depending upon how you use them.

But the first key is to recognize that they are within your control – without that, you will be forced to live life as others have shaped it for you. If you’re perfectly happy in all facets of your existence and see no need to go for more, I respect that, and you can clock out. You’re done. Not just with this site, but with learning and growing in general. Drop me an email though, please, as I have yet to meet the perfect person. I’m quite anxious to do so – assuming such a person really does exist!

When I last picked on the adage “it is what it is”, I had morphed it into “it is what I expect it to be”. Evolution doesn’t sit still, however, and I now suggest that it’s more accurate to say, “It is what it will become, now.” Everything is dynamic, so while mathematically “it”, is “it”, this is trying to describe a dynamic system. “It” won’t be the same thing in ten minutes, and perhaps completely different in a week. Like a single drop of water in a stream. To paraphrase Heraclitus, we can never step into the same river twice, as the river itself is always in flux. That definition is also continually changing, and as our own perceptions change it, (and we can radically influence our own perceptions), we are the ones redefining it.

So we in essence own “it”. We can make of it what we want. So if reality is really in our own hands, that we shape it and alter it like wet, soft clay, why don’t we all enjoy the reality we truly want? Three reasons – first of all, most of us don’t yet know that we can do this, that reality is ours to change. Though second, even once we do embrace this enormous power, we have to learn how to do it, we need a strategy and the skill to use this power with precision. But third, we need to take action, engaging our beliefs, challenging the ones that don’t serve us, amplifying or even creating the ones that do, and using our Distortions, Deletions, and Generalizations in useful, supportive ways – not in ways that limit us.

Therefore it’s like most other things in life, simple, though there’s a lot to it, and as you commit to it, and take action with your mind every day, you will get really good at it. We’ll talk later about the second and third reasons, as they are very important to getting and keeping what you want. However let me leave you with the first, and look now at how the river of your awareness has changed. The river kept flowing, it’s very different than it was even ten minutes ago. So while you previously may not have known the power you have to shape reality, now it is flowing on the waters of that never-ending current, toward you. Notice your power. Embrace it and allow your curiosity and desire to drive you toward using it in every moment.

Your happiness is worth it. And happiness is what it is becoming…yours.