A Seemingly Contrarian Take On Staying Fit

Livvy After WalkWow, I just kicked some serious ass and want to tell you about it. It took me 24 minutes and 31 seconds to walk 1.53 miles around the hood with my dog. During this brutal journey I maintained a 16 minute per mile pace, an average heart rate of 110 beats per minute, and burned 118 calories. And yes, I’m being facetious, but only partially so. Admittedly my old-school self wouldn’t have regarded this as any form of workout. I mean, how many of you go on Facebook and read frequent accountings of grueling CrossFit and OrangeTheory Fitness workouts? Yet almost nobody shares their tale of the walk they took.

But my new-school self considers a simple walk THE cornerstone for great physical fitness. Take a look at some of the most healthy, vibrant and long-lived people on the planet. They don’t go to SoulCycle or kick boxing classes. Nope. Now you may think their antiquated way of life is contrarian but it is actually anything but. In fact it’s THE way ‘we’ operated for most of our human existence on this planet. These Blue Zone communities around the world comprise people who simply ‘move’ for many hours each day. Of course I recognize you probably put in a 60 hour workweek, have children, and even more onerously, a freakin’ spouse to love and nurture. And so let me suggest to you the three underpinnings of a core, minimalist fitness program that will take you less than 60 minutes each day, will not drain you, and won’t require weight machines or free weights. And then I’ll tell you who I plagiarized this from.

BASIC MOVEMENT AT LEAST FOUR TIMES PER WEEK
Consider briskly walking for a minimum of 150 minutes per week. How about starting your work week with a brisk 30 minute walk and doing the same on Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday or Sunday, take a brisk 60 minute walk. During your treks you can listen to podcasts, crank up some Sturgill…whatever! Notice I keep repeating the word BRISK. You’ll want to walk as rapidly as you can without breaking into a jog and with no hard landings on your heels. No, you don’t have to engage in speedwalking or some ‘silly walk‘ variant.

What kind of pace am I talking about? Simply do what I do. Play an internal soundtrack in your brain of “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Keep your posture upright, those shoulders confidently flung back and your abs nice and tight. You can certainly walk more if you’d like to. Case in point: Before taking my kennel-coughing dog out for her constitutional, I started the day with a brisk three mile walk. Although my wife won’t agree, waking up at 4 a.m. has its benefits.

In addition, you get extra credit for even more walking and for biking instead of driving to complete food market runs and other short-haul errands during your week. And mowing your own lawn. And weeding your own garden. And I think you get the point so let me stop sermonizing.

BASIC STRENGTHENING TWICE PER WEEK
Fire your trainer. Why? Because you can get and stay plenty fit by selecting a few simple body weight exercises that strengthen and sculpt your physique. Have those old Beach Body infomercials convinced you of the need for “muscle confusion” gained through an ever more complex sequence of weight exercises? Homey don’t play that. Do you think our ancestors worried about muscle confusion? No! They simply lifted, pulled and pushed stuff. Yeah I’m sure there was plenty of bare-handed killing of wild beasts in there as well, but I digress.

My weekly regimen includes pull ups, push ups, squats with no weights and sit ups. For one of my two strengthening days I simply rotate between these exercises, i.e., 5 pull ups, 12 push ups, 20 sit ups, 12 squats — rinsing and repeating for 30 minutes. You should be moving through this sequence at a fast enough velocity to get your heart rate up. Think more about a fairly but not fully intense High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workout. Huffing and puffing versus gasping for air indicates you’re at the right level. I typically finish up with 30 weight assisted dips and 30 Australian push ups, both of which take no more than six minutes.

On the second strengthening day I simply complete as many pull ups, squats and push ups as I can for 10 minutes each with a bit of a break in between. I then finish up with a five minute ab workout. During the weekend I’ll quickly work in some side planks.

ANAEROBIC ACTIVITY ONCE PER WEEK
Once per week I concentrate on really getting it up. Oh come on! I’m talking about my heart rate. The 20 second ‘all on’ and 10 second ‘off’ nature of a four minute Tabata interval, in which you repeat this cycle eight times, is virtually unmatched for kicking one’s ass. Lately I’ve been using battle ropes for my Tabata. When my hip is more compliant I like doing burpees because afterward when I don’t have a heart attack and die I feel pretty f’ing victorious. Other Tabata variants include sprinting on a field, jumping rope, busting out on an elliptical machine…anything that involves most of your body and enables you to enter an oxygen deprived mode at a full exertion level. During a typical Tabata workout I’ll complete two intervals with some ab work in between.

This regimen adds up to 250 minutes per week. Add in some daily stretching and the full tally will be about 3.5% of a week – approximately six hours. I know you may not think you have time for this, but if the net result is exuding more energy and vitality, becoming more productive, and living a longer and higher quality life, I think it’s worth giving up some screen time and useless news ingesting.

Lest you think I came up with this novel fitness approach on my own, let’s give credit where it is due. The philosophy comes from Mark Sisson, one of the giants in the Paleo movement. Although I no longer follow a purist Paleo diet, there are many logical principles for everyone to consider from this “primal” lifestyle, including Mark’s excellent primer on exercise. Dig a little deeper on the Daily Apple site to learn about the potential pitfalls of what he calls “chronic cardio.”

Who’d have thought you can become a serious bad ass simply by walking, briskly of course?

PHOTO: The dog gives it her all during our walks. The aftermath is often not pretty.

On Slowing Down and Detaching

the-straight-storyLast February and March I reached the peak of training for another half marathon. And I seemingly had slayed the injured hip dragon that has crept into my skeletal structure every year or two from overtraining.

Hmmm….not so fast.

As my long weekly Saturday run climbed from 10 to 11 and then 12 miles, which is where I would end it before tapering. Well, I never made it to the taper stage. With increasing intensity, my hip pain resurfaced until early morning on March 31st I hobbled for five extremely painful miles.

The next morning I got on a plane to Boston with my wife and daughter. By the time my feet hit land I was limping badly. During the next few days of intermittent late season snow storms I could barely walk. My in-laws have very steep stairs in their home, a harrowing adjustment after negotiating the easy climes of our ranch house in San Carlos, California. Witnessing my grimacing attempts to slowly negotiate each steps while grabbing onto the side rails was not a pretty sight.

And so by force I slowed down. Way down. As my planned half marathon was taking place on April 10th, I then had to detach from the notion of competing in that race and from running for an indefinite time afterward.

For someone who enjoys being outdoors before most anyone else is and cranking up his endorphin levels while listening to indie rock, slowing down is challenging. Detaching is that much more difficult, particularly given my addictive personality. For the first few weeks I literally felt like I was in mourning. My emotional and mindset compass was way off.

And yet just a few weeks later I’m adjusting well. My pain is now mostly tolerable. I’m walking a few brisk miles every day instead of running four times per week. While tt is slow going, I have more time to think, to listen and pay more attention to audiobooks and podcasts, and to take in my surroundings. I’m also biking more frequently on short runs to grocery stores and to my volunteering gigs at a nearby high school in Redwood City and middle school in San Carlos.

I’m enjoying this slowing down and detaching process. Case in point, I wonder if and when I’ll get back to running. My aim at this point is to get back into it with short and slow jogs this July. But I’m not so sure. By slowing down and detaching I feel better – less forced, less grinded down, and more even keeled. I haven’t gained measurable weight even though I’m burning far fewer calories. And I’ve become comfortable with the typical runners’ anxiety associated with having to begin training from ground zero yet again.

And so now let’s talk about you. Are there opportunities for you and your family to slow down and detach? Is it signing up for one less sports activity even though you are convinced your kid will love youth soccer? Is it not running hurriedly from one scheduled  event to the next all weekend long and instead engaging in creative free play time?

And what about you at work? Do you need to detach from responding to emails and texts within 60 seconds of receiving them? Do you need to detach from attending every meeting you’re invited to? Do you need to detach from multitasking during the meetings you do attend in order to be more focused? Do you need to work more slowly and with fewer distractions in order to ensure the quality of your deliverables is consistently higher? Do you need to detach from idle workplace conversations? And not that I subscribe to your being aimless and goal-less, but do you need to detach from your obsession with getting that promotion on your terms and time frame? In short, where can you slow down and detach in order to gain more ‘flow,’ attain greater peace of mind, and become more impactful?

Our world doesn’t reward slowing down and detaching. More-Faster-Better is our current and somewhat paradoxical mantra. And yet irreverent, inner directed and positively guided contrarians have an uncanny way of kicking ass, taking names and feeling more fulfilled over the long term. Don’t trust me? Just ask this guy.

Or maybe I’m completely full of crap and have been listening to too much Simon & Garfunkel.

But I don’t think so.

(Photo: The Straight Story)

When Will This Ridiculous Mindfulness Fad Go Away?

Business people meditating outdoors.

I mean seriously, it seems like we’re in high froth mode with all of the mindfulness nonsense clogging our airwaves and brain pipes these days. Have you not witnessed the growing plethora of meditation apps, complete with monthly subscriptions to receive the latest guided recitations on your iPhone? Oh, you don’t like meditating? That’s OK. You can become a more mindful parent. Oh, you’re not a parent? That’s OK. You eat food, right? Well, you can certainly eat more mindfully. Now, if you think I’m not going to go there, let’s mindfully correct that perception and talk about pooping, because yes, someone has actually written an article about mindful pooping.

And I’m sure you’ve all heard of the ABC reporter dude who had a nervous breakdown on the air and then found his way to sanity and a “10% happier” state of mind through meditation. He now has a podcast surging in popularity on the InterWebs.

Enough! When will this nonsense stop??!!

My hope? Never. Because I’m convinced that a growing and enduring collective consciousness around being mindful with an aim toward doing more good in the world is the only thing that will save us in the long term. In fact, the only aspect of today’s mindfulness boom I have an issue with is certain millenials claiming that the non-woo-woo version of mindfulness only became popular about 10 to 15 years ago. You know I love you Minimalist guys you and can’t wait to see your new documentary when it comes to San Francisco later this month. But may I respectfully suggest you stop spreading this fiction? Data point number one: Herbert Benson is a penultimate western medical doctor who became a bestselling book author by calling attention to the many health benefits of meditation, backed up by medical research, 41 years ago, in 1975. Data point number two: UMass Medical School Professor of Medicine Jon Kabat-Zinn gained international notoriety 26 years ago, in 1990, by writing about how a non-spiritual form of meditation practiced daily at his stress reduction clinic outside of Worcester, Massachusetts measurably reduced chronic pain levels in patients experiencing a range of maladies.

As for the ABC reporter dude, he is Dan Harris. Mr. Harris’ no woo-woo pitch on the benefits of a regular meditation practice is clearly aimed at attracting a much larger following than might otherwise consider taking up meditation. While I don’t get intimidated by bearded sages with flowing beards who smell like incense, I imagine I’m still in small company. Incidentally, it’s early days for Mr. Harris’ new podcast during which he interviews a wide range of guests, most of whom meditate regularly. But I highly recommend it.  As is the case with any podcast, different guests will “speak to you” more than others. The second episode featuring the amazingly authentic Rivers Cuomo from Weezer did it for me in the most positive of ways. And while we’re talking about the allegedly woo-woo loathing Mr. Harris, as it turns out he is a self-proclaimed practicing Buddhist. Nice!

Let’s talk about some bennys of becoming more mindful. Reduced blood pressure. Increased peace of mind. Enhanced ability to focus and concentrate. And for those who develop an intention toward being more kind to themselves, the people they encounter in every day life, their work colleagues, their fellow presidential candidates (ahem!) and the strangers they no longer troll on the Web — we have the potential to direct humanity in a slightly kinder direction. Given that the Dalai Lama says, “My religion is kindness,” wouldn’t you like to help spread that vibe, including in a non-denominational way? You can begin to do this with an act as simple as listening more attentively, pausing and responding in your everyday conversations instead of cutting off in reaction mode.

This doesn’t mean you have to give up your edge, your dynamism, and your aim to excel and in so doing increase your net worth to $100 million. But don’t you think you can still do these things without constantly interrupting and intimidating people in meetings, engaging in road rage antics on your drive home, and sending ‘group flame’ emails at 1:27 a.m.? And let me repeat a key benefit of incorporating a regular mindfulness practice: enhanced ability to focus and concentrate. I’m convinced that in our age of ever-increasing distractions, excelling in this one area will set you apart.

The risk of ‘mindfulness’ is that it’s an abstract term, akin to the abstract definition of the term ‘happiness.’ Or is it? Try this on.

“Mindfulness is a way of paying attention moment-to-moment to what’s happening within and around us without judgment. So, said differently, when we attend to the moment-to-moment flow of experience, and recognize what’s happening…fully allowing it, not adding judgment or commentary, then we are cultivating a mindful awareness.”

Living in and experiencing the now, recognizing it, and being non-judgmental in the process. That’s pretty cool. I don’t know about you, but I could stand for a whole lot less inner dialogue ‘commentary’ and opinionating pulsing through my mind each second. To me that is mindlessness and our world certainly doesn’t need any more of that. Incidentally, this definition of mindfulness comes from Tara Brach, a Buddhist meditation teacher, clinical psychologist, and bestselling book author with a very popular podcast – no subscription required. Oh, and to add some corporate cred, yeah…she spoke at Dreamforce last Fall. Just scroll to 7:30 right here. Be patient. Tara speaks slowly and intentionally. However, it’s well worth taking in what she has to say.

Here’s another powerful quote.

“When we operate from the perspective of mindfulness, we see that we are not our thinking. We discover that we can observe and listen to thinking with complete objectivity, as though it’s on a heads-up display. When we see and listen to thinking objectively like this, it can no longer consume our attention against our will. Although this is a very subtle shift, it is the shift that fundamentally changes the functioning of the mind.” – Matt Tenney

And if nothing else, just breathe. In and out. Slowly. And mindfully focus simply on your breath. Because that’s pretty much everything.

Stop Trump Now!

 

Dump Trump

Last Saturday out here in greater San Francisco land, my wife, daughter and I drove from the mid-Peninsula up through Sonoma Wine Country to attend a wedding in Kenwood. After 80 minutes of traffic heaven got us to the other side of the Golden Gate Bridge, we came upon a MINI Cooper with a large cardboard plackard attached to its rear bumper. From a few car lengths away, all one could see was a giant red STOP sign. As we got closer the bold black type underneath became legible. It read “Trump Now!”

I immediately thought to myself that this kind of behavior duplicated widely is a sure-fire way to ensure Mr. Trump’s ascendancy to the presidency. I know the dying news media cannot help themselves in their obsession with Trump. They need the eyeballs and know that more Trump coverage is the way to get it. Do I think if they ignored him, he’d pretty much go away? Yes I do.

Say what?

By way of explanation, I am one of those so-called whack jobs who believes strongly in the Law of Attraction – that what you think about is what you bring about. There are a lot of us cult-like followers in your midst. We just keep our mouths shut nearly all of the time in order to not subject ourselves to ridicule or incarceration.

But wait, I’m going to get weirder on you. I am absolutely convinced the universe doesn’t recognize the terms ‘no,’ ‘stop,’ or ‘war on,’ among other expressions that convey what we are against versus what we are for. When we repeatedly say, “Stop gun violence now!” the universe hears GUN VIOLENCE. When we repeatedly yell, “War on drugs!,” the universe hears DRUGS. When we gain a few pounds and repeatedly exclaim we want to “lose fat,” the universe hears FAT. When we repeatedly complain, “I am poor,” the universe hears POOR. In all these cases, the very thing we don’t want is inevitably what we get more of.

“What you think about expands. If your thoughts are centered on what’s missing, then what’s missing, by definition, will have to expand.” – Wayne Dyer

Yes, I know. Weird, weird, weird. But I believe this to be true. In fact I am convinced it IS a law.

So what are we to do in order to work with and not against this ‘law?’ Instead of focusing on what we don’t want or on what we’re fighting against, we can simply emphasize what it is we do want with clarity. Instead of using the term ‘gun violence,’ we can declare a manifesto for peace on our streets. Instead of vilifying drugs, we can herald an era of clean living. Instead of bemoaning our fat, we can laser-focus our minds on becoming lean and mean.

Lest you are thinking I’m talking about the often-criticized adoration several years ago with “The Secret,” not for a second am I expressing any credence toward a belief you can simply visualize each day for a year about owning a Tesla Model S, and POOF, the Tesla – complete with ‘Auto-Pilot’ and a pre-installed home charger – will appear in your driveway. Nope, this is about setting aggressive positive goals, taking massive amounts of action, getting comfortable with extensive delays of gratification, and course-correcting as we march along our merry ways.

While we’re going down Strange Avenue, I don’t believe opposites attract, just as I don’t think that focusing on what you don’t want or on what you fear yields any type of ‘success’ in getting what you do want. People often laugh at how my wife and I couldn’t be more different, yet they have never heard the two of us discuss our aligned values, nor listened to our frequent conversations on shared passions like personal development and spirituality.

As another example, let’s talk about that wedding we attended up in wine country. It was alcohol free. The food served was vegetarian only. In attendance among people of every age were a range of spiritual seekers, successful small business entrepreneurs, and an extremely large Italian family. Everyone seemed to be healthy, at peace, happy, and wishing nothing but the best for the bride and groom. Yes, I know it was a wedding after all. But I have rarely attended a large gathering with a happier and mellower vibe emanating from a herd of more like-minded people. I’ll admit that initially breaking the ice without the pleasurably numbing effects of booze was a bit disconcerting. But the resulting dinner conversations were deeper and more meaningful.

And as far as Donald Trump is concerned, I’m not focusing on him at all. I don’t read articles about him, watch TV coverage on him, get involved with discussions or debates about him, et cetera. And by now I’m hoping you know why. To repeat, it’s because this attraction thing is a law. Got it? Get it? Good. Now let’s focus on what we want. End of sermon.

FOOTNOTE: Check out how this ‘law’ operates in your workplace. Observe who hangs out with whom, what the topics of discussion are among different groups of people such as those colleagues who aren’t engaged in their job, who the highest performers hang with and who they tend to avoid. At your j-o-b as in everywhere else, the ‘law’ of like attracting like is always in operation. The more aware you are of this, the better armed you will be to become more intentional in your thoughts, behaviors and actions in order to make this principle work for you.

Here Is What’s Scarier Than Terrorism

MeatballMarinaraActually, there are a number of phenomena that concern me more than terrorism. Global warming would easily be in my top five. But my most immediate fear here in the United States? That’s easy. Distraction.

Just this morning on my way back from the gym I saw the aftermath of a three car pileup on a wide, flat and easy peasy main thoroughfare in my hometown. Nobody was injured. All three drivers were in clear view. The weather was perfect. The sun was not blinding. There could only have been one issue. Distraction.

I live less than one block away from an elementary school. To the immediate right past one house there is a four way intersection with four stop signs. To the left about 400 yards down the street is another four way intersection with four stop signs. This morning I was on the street speaking with my neighbor when I witnessed an all too frequent sight – someone driving at least 25 miles per hour with their face buried in their smartphone as said car was in full movement. Distraction.

My neighbor then told me about her former boss, who several months ago had purchased a completely souped up high-end Mercedes. Two weeks after she left the dealership she was broadsided and left badly bruised. Her car was totaled. Once the police arrived the other driver admitted he was on his smartphone. Distraction.

But wait, here’s one more. Last summer I saw someone drive down our street seemingly using their legs to steer because they were using their two hands to eat a bowl of spaghetti. I’m not kidding. Distraction.

According to the CDC more than 2,920 people in the US are killed each year due to distracted driving. Basically we have ourselves a 9/11 event here in America every year. But unlike the real 9/11 or last week’s events in Brussels and Lahore – to name just two incidents, nobody seems to give much of a shit about distraction. Sure, AT&T may have its ‘It Can Wait‘ social media campaign and you might see a bumper sticker here or there, but I don’t hear our presidential candidates talking about this one. And traffic tickets issued for being caught using a smartphone while driving are akin to a hand slap, i.e., a fraction of the cost of your typical speeding ticket. Police officers I speak with in our small community readily admit there is not a whole lot they can do to discourage drivers away from this deadly habit. What bugs them most are folks who catch a minute or two with their device at a traffic light. Most of these people slowly or perhaps never put their phone down when the light turns green. Distraction.

Don’t get me wrong. I strongly empathize with any and all victims of terrorism. But apparently if you live in the States your chances of being killed by a terrorist are 1 in 20 million. Yet unlike terrorism I don’t see any of CNN’s screaming anchors getting us into a full-on lather about the risks of choking to death on a meatball sub with melted provolone cheese and spicy cherry peppers. Yeah that’s right. You have an exponentially greater likelihood of getting killed because you choke on food: 1 in 4,404. (sources)

And so here you are, perhaps still reading this, wishing I would stop sermonizing because: a) who the feck do I think I AM I anyway? and b) you live in a big city and don’t even own a FECKING car. OK then.

Well in all due respect, can you please just shut the FECK up for ONE MINUTE. Let’s assume you work in a hustling and bustling tech company. During the course of your work days you attend a lot of meetings – so many in fact that it’s seemingly impossible to get all your deliverables completed. The solution is easy. You and most everyone else attending your meetings spend a measurable amount of time multitasking during said meetings. As one person speaks you can hear the clicking away of multiple keyboards, almost like an old school teletype newsroom sound effect.* The end result: lower productivity. The cause: Distraction.

Or perhaps you spend a measurable amount of time at the office on social media or gossiping. Come on. You think nobody notices the time stamps on your Facebook posts? Really? Distraction.

Talk to the most senior HR executive at your company and ask what keeps her/him up at night. Their answer will likely be, ‘lack of employee engagement.’ Distraction.

The opposite of distraction is focus. And one’s ability to focus for prolonged periods of time increasingly sets her/him apart in every walk of life. I think of the leaders I have worked with whom I have most admired. All of them had an ability to curb distractions and aim their minds and actions toward a single activity. Sure, one may surmise they can do this because they ARE executives with quiet offices and strong, able-bodied EAs who keep people like you and me away from them. But then, how did they rise toward the top in the first place? Hint: It wasn’t because of their masterful ability to respond to emails while ambling down the freeway in their Tesla.

The ways to curb distraction are straightforward. Mindfulness. Awareness. Single-task focus. Intention. You can build these muscles up by meditating. Just listen to your breathing for five minutes. And then do a meditation-like thing throughout your day. How?

When you are driving, drive.

When you are walking, walk.

When you are in a meeting, participate fully in the meeting.

When you are with your kids in the park, be with your kids in the park and not on a conference call.

If you need to de-stress at work leave your cubicle and take a walk. Anywhere. And yes, leave your smartphone behind for 15 to 30 minutes.

Let’s take individual responsibility. Let’s own this.

End of sermon. Now please leave a buck in the pail so I can buy the iPhone 7 when it ships in the Fall. Distraction.

*Yeah I just checked. New York’s 1010 WINS Newsradio still uses the teletype sound effect in the background even though they got rid of their teletype machines more than 25 years ago.

No More School? Thank GOD!

desk

Man, did I used to think like a bonehead. Back in the day I couldn’t wait to finish college. My narrative went, “16 years of formal schooling is more than enough. Get me out of here!” As I began  my senior year my father began pushing the notion of an MBA on me. Although I took the GMAT, that was as far as I went with it. I simply had no interest. It was time for me to get some education in the school of professional life.

Fast forward four years and I was transitioning careers from recruitment advertising – a now largely defunct field – to high tech communications. I retook the GMAT, and this time it felt different. I wanted to get an MBA. My intention was to round out my liberal arts undergrad degree and simply gain more of a business grounding I could leverage during my career. I pursued a part-time degree at Boston University and in 1994 got me my MBA. And THEN my learning was blissfully over. Thank GOD! Except that I really enjoyed the process, the learning and the camaraderie with some unique classmates who had very different backgrounds and work experience from mine.

Oh wait. After getting my MBA, I met my wife. We were professional colleagues, or should I say I was her manager for the storage subsystems division of one of our clients at a public relations firm. It turns out we had at least one thing in common. We each owned a copy of “Unlimited Power” by Tony Robbins. If you turn the clock back 22 years Tony had a much smaller following. His domain was largely late night infomercials, QVC, and…oh yeah….he DID work with Bill Clinton. Oops!

Tony turned both my wife and I onto continuous learning and growth for adults – the concept that personal development, aka the opportunity we have to take control of the wheel and become better versions of ourselves – was key to improving our sense of fulfillment in life. We both discovered that Mr. Robbins was a gateway for us to gain wisdom and practical counsel from other thinkers ranging from old school Western sages like Peter Drucker to new age spiritualists like Wayne Dyer.

And so it is that nowadays I constantly ask, “What is there that’s new for me I can learn that is relevant to my goals, hobbies, or philanthropic pursuits?” You see, it’s more than a professional game. It’s a life game.

That said, when I entered the professional workforce there were – to name just a few examples – no laptops, graphically-based computing interfaces, smartphones, Internet, apps, or the code that powers all this stuff. But we sure did have fax machines. Six minutes per page. Wow man!

My point is that the failure to constantly acquire professional knowledge and develop new skills we can apply to our vocations renders us obsolete ever more rapidly. As the late Nathaniel Branden stated aptly in “The Six Pillars of Self Esteem,” which he wrote more than 20 years ago:

“In a world in which the total of human knowledge is doubling about every ten years, our security can rest only on our ability to learn.”

This is all well and good, but is there a way to LEARN how to learn more effectively and efficiently? Veterans of MOOCs (massively open online courses) may be rolling their eyes by now, because they know the perennial number one MOOC is called, “Learning How To Learn.” Available  for free on Coursera and taught by Dr. Barbara Oakley and Dr. Terrence Sejnowski, it is a quirky, somewhat geeky and yet altogether enjoyable four week adventure that teaches several key skills for increasing focus and retention and blasting away procrastination, reinforced by an abbreviated ‘101 level’ tour of the human brain. My favorite elements were the overview of focused versus diffuse modes of thinking, working versus long-term memory, and chunking. While the course is largely oriented toward students, those of us who consider ourselves students of life and who don’t have a degree in psychology or neuroscience will find plenty new to absorb here. The tips on improving reading comprehension alone are worth the price of admission, which again, is free provided you don’t want a completion certificate.

Taking this course and conducting some long excursions on the Nets woke me out of an admittedly drooling slumber. Although I have been well aware of the coming disruption in higher education caused by companies like Coursera, Udacity, Khan Academy and others providing low or no cost courses in  a range of disciplines, I had no idea how close at hand we are, as in right now. These are great times for the young ones in our world, including the huge numbers of whom are hard pressed to pay for an old-school education at a bricks and mortar institution.

Why this long dirge on continuous learning? Four weeks ago I wrote about “winning” and equated the concept less with the sports or business arena and more with becoming a better version of ourselves. I both highlighted and reinterpreted a powerful model from Derek Sivers with four steps that build upon each other: managing and directing your thoughts proactively, adding value and contributing to others, mastering ‘people skills,’ and engaging in continuous learning. During the last few weeks I expanded on the firstsecond and third principles.

Continuous learning and the willingness to evolve and adapt closes the loop. Without this we become sort of like that client my wife and I worked together on back in the mid 1990s.With it we can feed our ‘winning machines’ on an ongoing basis and gain the potential to become like some other company you may have heard of. Sure, you may come close to the brink once or twice, but there is nothing we all love more than a strong and enduring comeback.

I rest my case.

How To Work With Difficult People

Angry Muppet

Three weeks ago I wrote about “winning” and equated the concept less with the sports or business arena and more with becoming a better version of ourselves. I both highlighted and reinterpreted a powerful model from Derek Sivers with four steps that build upon each other: managing and directing your thoughts proactively, adding value and contributing to others, mastering ‘people skills,’ and engaging in continuous learning. During the last few weeks I expanded on the first and second principle.

This week we tackle the topic of mastering people skills. Of all these concepts, this is the most challenging one for me to grok. Therefore, since I have a long way to go on this front, I think I’ll write an article about it. Yeah that’s right.

And as I scratch my furrowed brow, I recollect a course I took as part of a management training program fifteen years ago while working at the former Inktomi Corporation. Titled, “How To Work With Difficult People,” it was taught by Stan Slap, a then locally well known HR-corporate development training guru in the Bay Area who has since gone onto the big time with books like Bury My Heart at Conference Room B.

While my memory on the details is fuzzy and possibly inaccurate, I recall that we took a Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) evaluation. In his classically irreverent style, Stan laced us with his interpretation of the details and effectiveness of the MBTI. Yet during almost the entire course we never touched upon how to actually work with difficult people until the very last day.

We received our results in a paper binder, and Stan also regaled us with a packet of goodies: a pencil with his company logo, a small pad of paper also with logo, and a small mirror, among other items. After we shared with our classmates what MBTI types we were, Stan asked us if, FINALLY, we wanted to learn how to work with difficult people. Of course we did.

He then told us to hold up the mirror and look at ourselves. Stan then yelled out in a combination mocking and serious tone that WE are the difficult people we need to learn how to work with, that WE are the a-holes, so to speak. We burst out in laughter, and yet we all fully ‘got it.’ This was a splash of icy cold water in the face designed to increase our empathy toward others.

The lesson? Our opportunity in working more effectively with so-called difficult people is to first get to know ourselves and our tendencies better, and recognize that in the eyes of at least certain others, we are the ones who are deemed challenging.

While I strongly recommend spending $50 to complete an MBTI evaluation if you have not done so already, the MBTI certainly has its skeptics. My suggestion: let the results guide and help you become more aware of your tendencies. But do not let the MBTI define you. And do not label and limit yourself based on your type. A placard on your cubicle wall with your four letter personality type printed in bold 250 point font? Please don’t do that.

The keys:

  • Increase self awareness – always a great first step – by getting to know yourself better. A great way to do this is to take the MBTI (strongly recommended) or a similar evaluation.
  • Understand your preferences without labeling yourself and potentially limiting your personal growth. Thoughts and remarks like, “Well, that’s just the way I am,” are an indicator of this. Yes, you may have ingrained tendencies and preferences, but you are not a boulder and those characteristics are therefore not set in stone.
  • Accept yourself fully just as you are. This does not mean you shouldn’t strive for continuous improvement and slough off the dead skin you no longer want, but don’t chop off your arm.
  • Appreciate that the world is filled with all kinds of people with their own personality TYPES, some of whom are just like you, and others who are insanely different.
  • Wear their shoes. Think about whatever situation you’re mutually engaged in from their perspective.
  • Accept them as they are, and work to define the multiple elements you have in common or agree upon.
  • Better yet, practice the Golden Rule. Treat others as you wish to be treated.
  • Recognize that you will inevitably screw up. Apologize when you can muster the courage, forgive yourself, and try and do better the next time out.

 

To this last point, there may be those people you find difficult if not impossible to relate with or who you believe detract from your peace of mind, despite your best efforts. It is OK to detach from them, even if they are work colleagues and you do so on a purely emotional basis. But if you find yourself doing this by habit rather than exception, then you would be well advised to revisit that old mirror.

And now, please take a seat on my pleather sofa and let’s dig a bit deeper.

The MBTI is merely a tool. It is a HOW. The WHAT is understanding yourself and others. You want to do this in order to reduce or eliminate the instances in which you get triggered by people. This is because when you do get all fired up, it is most often your issue and not theirs. It could be you are reminded of something you don’t like about yourself or simply because you have festering and yet quite possibly below-the-surface thoughts of insecurity and inadequacy – that you are simply not ‘enough.’

Here is the rub. When you are in the heat of the moment, blurting out that you are an INTJ* to the person you are having a conflict with won’t help you. What can you do instead?

Recognize that you are fully responsible for owning your own energy and try to be as consistent as possible at all times, with all people, and in all engagements. Will you ‘fail’ at this? I don’t know about you but I sure as hell do, and all the time. Oh, and trust me, I have tried and am here to tell you that you cannot change other people.

The great news is you can most certainly change your own thoughts and those seemingly deeply held beliefs you harbor. This includes modifying your own perspectives about other people. Yes that’s right. Just as you shouldn’t label and box yourself in, be sure not to do this with other folks.

Furthermore, and as my wife often reminds me, place more importance on getting along than in being ‘right’ or ‘winning.’ This is because getting along IS winning. It doesn’t mean you have to blindly agree with someone on every point they mention in a meeting. But think about the HOW and focus on that there Golden Rule. You can have differing perspectives without getting all kinds of freaky crazy.

Finally, my wife also wanted me to tell you that if you don’t remember anything else I’ve written one hour from now, simply be willing to fully love and accept all of yourself. Because by doing so and ensuring your own bucket is as filled up as possible, you will be a much more even-keeled person whenever you engage with others, making the planet a better place for all of us. Seriously!

* I am an INTJ.