Archive for May, 2012

Traveling with small kids is both fun and challenge. I do my best to maximize the former and minimize the later. Sometimes, the optimization process comes with a surprise as it happened during my last flight.

It started well as we arrived at the airport 3h before the departure. We suddenly had too much time, so we decided to run the kids around the airport to let them get rid of extra energy. It was a good move 😉 Then we had a meal and still plenty of time to go through the security. Since we were not in hurry, we ended up late in the final queue to enter the plane. As a result, we had little choice in choosing good seats (yes, it was a budget airline). We took the only possibility which offered us neighboring seats, somewhere in the middle of the plane.

It first seemed to be a good choice, but it soon became less obvious. The reason was a very noisy couple in the opposite seats. Since the plane was nearly full, there was no chance to find quiet neighbors. We could only let things evolve naturally and participate in the events. As it turned out, they were interesting.

Imagine a couple, a lady and a man, say 30-35 years old, who look and behave like rebellious teenagers. Loud and colorful attention seekers. Imagine strong make-up, tattoos, earrings, headphones in the ears and them singing aloud to the music, making noises and commenting loudly on everything in the news and around, including passengers and stewardesses.

The lady clearly wanted to be in the center of the attention, talking louder than everybody around, even interfering with safety recordings. Stewardesses approached her a number of times, asking her to be quiet. Each time she managed to become silent for 20-30sec to only comment louder soon after. It was both annoying and hilarious for the other passengers.

If this was not enough, soon the lady nonchalantly took an electronic cigarette out of her bag and started smoking. OK, it was not a real fume or course, but nevertheless I was annoyed. I don’t like cigarettes and I don’t feel comfortable when I see somebody smoking in the front of my kids even if  it seems not to be a cigarette. I must admit that there was no detectable smell, but it still made me feel uneasy.  When I was about to asked the lady to stop smoking, one of the stewardesses took an action.

What followed then was a series of discussions between stewardesses and the lady. They tried to stop the lady from smoking while she was vividly defending her stand: the electronic cigarette was not a cigarette and could be smoked on airplanes. The were some loud arguments, complains and the citations of the airplane rules. She was very stubborn so the stewardesses had to use smarter and smarter strategies to make her stop. And in meantime she continued smoking, of course.

On the top of that she made  discussion of which meals and drinks she would buy. After satisfying her hunger, she decided not to smoke any more, of course commenting loudly on injustice and the policy at the airplanes.

By that time I was already fed up with the whole situation especially that keeping my children occupied at the seats was challenging enough. 

Surprisingly, however, after some more minutes, the lady became quiet. She started to observe my kids and became interested in them. And in the following 15min she fully transformed herself into a new being, it seemed. She became a calm and charming lady, a lovely child carer, engaged in various plays with my son.

It was surprising, to say at least.

She was very enthusiastic, cheerful and simply fun for my son, applauding him for little progresses he was making in the plays. He simply loved interacting with her. In addition, she easily connected to the other two and was able to play with all of them on various levels.

It was a big surprise to me to see how easily she connected with the kids. She simply entertained them for the rest of the journey. There was no barrier between her and them. Everything was fun, easy, natural, as if effortless. The connection was just there.

During that time my son considered her as his best friend and had difficulty to say goodbye when we arrived at our destination. There were multiple hugs and kisses between them two. Quite amazing.

We learned she was a mother of two, having her four-day holiday away from the kids, first time in some years. She simply wanted to get crazy on her holiday, as she said. 

The moral

What is the moral of this story? A simple one is this: appearances are deceptive

Yet, there are two more important learning points.

First, what we see on the surface does not determine the quality of the inside.  Therefore, let us remember about the treasure each of us holds inside. A treasure that can be discovered, awaken or transformed when the right moment comes.

Secondly, what we perceive as a potentially negative feature, say a loud and childish behavior, has a complementary aspect which is positive, i.e. say easiness to connect with kids. Next time when we are willing to stigmatize an aspect of others, let us pause for a moment to find out what may be a hidden treasure beneath.

For sure, it is there. 

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Other inspirational or educational posts:

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learning_from_mistakes 

Let me first clarify what I mean by a “bad idea” here. “Bad idea” means ineffective, at best and stopping progress, at worst.

“Learning from mistakes” is an expression strongly rooted not only in our language, but also our thinking. It is accepted as a sound piece of advice for some or a trivial colloquialism for others. The idea is that we make mistakes and we have to learn from them in order to improve. We consider it as a truth.

Now is the time to challenge it. Or at least, challenge what we understand by this expression.

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You and I make mistakes in our lives. They are inevitable. We made them in the past, we are making them now and we will make them in the future. No doubt about it.

Mistakes are simply misguided actions or poor estimates in the given context or situation. They may involve experiencing borderline cases, crossing the edge or making wrong judgements.

Mistakes have an important role in the learning process and I don’t want to dispute that. They are a part of the feedback on the progress we make. They are however not the foundation of our success.

When is learning from mistakes ineffective?

If you constantly focus on your mistakes and how to improve them, you focus on what does not work. In other words, you concentrate on the problems and not the solutions. This is a trap that one falls into – the trap of losses, misses and the don’ts. What you focus on, takes your energy and expands. If you concentrate your efforts on what doesn’t work, you provide fuel to recreate the very conditions of such situations.  Whether you like it or not.

Imagine this. You want to go shopping. You make a list of all products you don’t want to buy. Does it help you to know exactly what you need? Does it help you to make a smooth buy? Nope. There are plenty possibilities of what you may consider buying even if you precisely know what you don’t want.

Imagine this. You are a teacher at a college or university and you teach a group of students. At the end of the semester you prepare a questionnaire to find out how they benefited from the course. What would you ask?

Would you focus on finding out what they didn’t like?
or
Would you focus on finding out what worked for them?

In all cases of teaching there are usually a few unhappy no matter what. Would you adapt your course, examples and exercises to satisfy the disappointed few or would you rather expand with doing more of what worked for the 90-95% of others? Paraphrasing, would you focus on multiplying your strengths or on improving your perceived weaknesses?

(By the way, a great question to ask in such circumstances is this: “What did you like the most and how can I improve it to make it even better?”)

Imagine this. You are starting a business. One of the advice you will get is to fail often and as fast as possible. This is the idea of learning from mistakes in the context of business. If you follow such a process, however, you will become an expert in the land of unsuccessful approaches. But… Will you know what makes it all work?

The implicit assumption behind “learning from mistakes” is that if you know what doesn’t work, the opposite will pave you the road to success. The reality is not that straightforward, however. Oftentimes, it is a unique combination of strategies, approaches and particular details that fuel progress and create a formulation for success. Such a mixture cannot simply be discovered by negating the things that don’t work.

Do you see where I am leading to?

Knowing what does not work, helps you very little to find out what does, despite what you may want to believe.

Understanding own mistakes does not necessarily lead to progress. They may, in some circumstances, but they usually do not.

Persistence

Take a 9-12 month old infant who learns to walk. Have you ever seen one? Although infants find unique ways to master this skill, they all share one thing. They are persistent and continue doing what they are strong at (or what works for them), no matter what.

Some of them, like my oldest, practiced crawling in a free-style movements and supported standing (i.e. standing up by a table, chair etc), until one day he simply felt ready to walk. His first steps were not just a few, but a 20m straight walk, instead. I was shocked as he simply walked a distance.

My other child was forcing me to hold his hands in order to exercise walking with him until he was ready to do it by himself. Over and over again. Although his first steps were a few only, soon they became many. He demanded help and he received it.

Both children spent somewhere between 5 to 8 weeks on daily practices. Until they succeeded.

The point I want to make is this. Oftentimes, persistence (or perseverance) coupled with a simple strategy is much more effective than multiple approaches, all abandoned too early at the level at which we could perhaps judged them as mistakes or failures.

Foundation

The key point about learning is the same as about concept learning. You need a solid foundation first.

How do you build your foundation? By collecting your positive examples which are used to build your first concept. Studying the examples and experiencing the successes behind them will help to refine the concept further on.

With respect to life it means that you focus on your talents, gifts, model cases, nearly-ideal examples, successes and everything that works for you or others involved.

Mistakes is everything where you sucked at, what others judged as wrong, inappropriate or unsuitable. They serve as an important feedback for the re-formulation of your concept. This is a crucial difference with respect to the usual understanding of the “learning from mistakes” mantra.

Mistakes are necessary for the testing of the boundaries. They allow us to re-define clear (or crisp) edges of the concept we are learning. But in order to make use of the mistakes successfully, we need to have the concept formulated first. And such a concept can only be built by using the positive examples – essential for our learning. This brings us to the final thought here.

Mistakes are not for the learning of a concept/skill but for re-learning of an already formulated concept/skill, especially with respect to the boundary cases.

Finally

Any time you want to learn a new skill or start a new enterprise, learn from successes of yours or others and focus on what works. Build your concept first before you begin testing the boundaries. Only then mistakes can be used effectively.

What does it mean?

If you begin your relationship, make it successful.
When you start your business, make it work.
When you lead a project, bring it to conclusion.

Commit to make your efforts success first before you allow yourself to fail.

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Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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more with less 

The mantra “be more with less” or “less is more” resonates perfectly with the idea of conscious living.

Not surprisingly, it has become one of the two challenges I work on this year. It is a huge challenge for me as my natural inclination is to elaborate, which usually mean to do more than less.

Over the years it has become clear to me that practising “less”: owning less, doing less and becoming less, is a necessary pursuit on the path of personal growth. “Less” coincides with the ability to choose. Consciously.

In this post I present three cases where less is more important than more.

Stuff

I grew up with the idea that “more is better”. I used to imagine how easy was the life of rich people, who were living happily with the abundance of goods. Yet, I knew that there was a limit to such happiness. As a child I was touched by a Greek myth about the king Midas. He was supposed to be a happy man – able to turn everything into gold just by touching. It seemed perfect in a while until his beloved one turned into a gold statue as well. Clearly, it was too much.

Even with this story in my mind, I still imagined the life was easy for wealthy people. Many years forward and I now understand how (too much) goods and stuff become limitation instead of liberation. The overwhelming stuff stops being enjoyable. Moreover, it becomes a hindrance for development.

A huge house surrounded by a large garden and a few cars may sound great but there is a hidden price to it. You need to take care of your large possessions. If you don’t do the daily/weekly/monthly maintenance, cleaning and repairs yourself, somebody else has to do it. And such services need to be supervised as well.

As a stuff collector, you need both space and place for your valuable clothes, shoes, toys, books, computers. technological gadgets, videos and other things. Stuff multiplies fast and needs extra maintenance.

Basically, more stuff means less of your precious time. This is the time you could spend in nature, relaxing, exercising, reading, learning or enjoying activities with your family or friends. Or whatever else you would choose.

More stuff = work + headaches
Less stuff  = breathing space + expanding mental space + creativity

Take the challenge.

I am not a minimalist and I don’t aspire to be one. But the overwhelming stuff makes me learn to say “no” before the new stuff arrives. Learn it too.

A good challenge is to get rid of 20% of your stuff: clothes, shoes, books, old gadgets and equipment, furniture and so on. You can denote these to a charity, sell on Ebay, give away or recycle. Possibilities are plenty.

An even greater challenge is to get rid of 50% of your stuff. You can perfectly live on less.

If you are nostalgic about your stuff because it holds precious memories, I have a great solution. Photograph your stuff, one by one and store the photos on a hard disc. Hold a picture of every thing in your mind, thank for the precious memories and set them free. Let the stuff start a new cycle of life.

Ideas

One of the breakthrough in my life concerned ideas. I used to think that great ideas were special and belonged to a few chosen ones. With time and experience I’ve understood it was not true.

Generating ideas is relatively easy. You can observe it in any brainstorming session. Ideas are simply shared and belong to the Common Space. We may paraphrase Plato to say that the ideas live in the Cave of Shadows and we simply discover them. Alternatively, we may say that ideas are inspired from God so they come from a single Source.

Yet, we often think that a particular idea is ours. It is both true and false. The idea is ours in the sense that it is proposed through us, but it is also not ours because it is not totally exclusive to us. Oftentimes the same or very similar idea it being proposed, discussed or executed by other individuals at the same time. This is particularly noticeable in science, but I’m sure that you can recognise this phenomenon in your daily life as well.

The consequence is this observation is far fetching. We merely discover ideas (and perhaps share them with others) but we don’t own them.

Such a concept is is a hard pill to swallow for some. They will guard their best ideas, tricks and practices with life. They want to keep the ideas confidential, hidden or patented as it is a common practice of some companies or corporations.

The point is this. There is abundance of ideas, thoughts, concepts and books, easily available. Just look over the internet and you will find a plethora of ideas. Free. How many of them have you executed?

The simplest ideas are often neglected or discarded, because they are either old or known. Nothing exciting in them. Alternatively, ideas are neglected because they require focus and discipline.

Isn’t that interesting that successful professionals thrive on simple ideas, perfected over time? Think medical doctors, engineers or researchers who constantly improve their solutions.

Isn’t  that interesting that the most successful brands describe narrow niches (=ideas)? Think Coke, SunwarriorBlendTec, Lexus, and so on.

Isn’t that interesting that successful companies offer either a limited choice of products or a limited and specific service? Think AppleEvernote37signals or FedEx. 

More ideas = confusion + procrastination + difficult choice
Less ideas  =  clarity + execution

Guard yourself from the flood of ideas. The more ideas around, the bigger the overwhelm and the harder the decision which one to execute. You may easily spend ages trying to find the best idea.

The truth is this: the best idea is the one which is implemented.Why? Because a direct experience will teach you much more than any thinking or reading.

Take the challenge. Limit the number of ideas to consider for any decision taking. Choose the most appealing one and execute it with devotion.

Time

We often think of time as if it was our resource. Yet, we can neither buy time nor generate it on request. Time is limited, yet we often live in an illusion that we have still plenty of time to do many things. This makes us careless with respect to how we trade our time (and effort) for money (call it job or business), or how we let the time pass.

When we look at people who suddenly discover that they may live one more year at most because of a terminal illness, we will often observe the following. After the initial shock, disagreement and rebellion, there comes a moment in which the person accepts his/her fate. There is nothing more to loose but everything to gain.

The time limitation sets the person free. He/she can now take actions and decisions which were perhaps postponed until some day in the future. Such people often spend their last months of life in the most active ways, renewing relations, repairing mistakes and following passion. Some become healed and continue such a practice for years.

Time is limited. If you knew you would die in a year, how would such a perspective have changed your life? Which decisions would you take today? Which job would you commit to? Which experiences would you choose? Which discoveries would you make?

While such a perspective may seem as too far fetched for some, think about time in a different way.

Your time is precious. There is no other today as this day. When this day is gone it will never return again. The challenge is to be the one you want to be and to do the important things.

When you give yourself less time for specific tasks and challenges, you will force yourself to become more creative in order to meet the time constraints. It may not work perfectly the first time, but you will become more resourceful when you use this strategy on daily basis.

More time = indecision + procrastination
Less time  = action + creativity + resourcefulness

Take the challenge.

  1. Every day determine your most important (one to three) tasks for the day, tasks which contribute to the growth and well being of yours or your family/friends. Commit to them with 100% effort. They really need to be done!  
  2. Use the Pareto rule and Parkinson’s law to do the most important things in less time.
 
 How can you become more with less? It is only through a conscious choice and dedication.
 
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Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.
 
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