Take good care of your ego

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 2 min.

Many good teachers, friends, and colleagues make the mistake of attacking the ego. They see it as a low, bad part of each of us. They encourage us, maybe with their words and certainly with their attitude, to fight the ego and all its manifestations.

This is dangerous and unhelpful. Your ego–to the extent it really exists–is part of you. Any form of judgment, attack, battle, denial that you launch against your ego you actually launch against yourself. You really can’t separate one part of you from another. At some level, attacking the ego will feel bad and reinforce unhelpful behaviors.

A more constructive model, perhaps, is that of habitual thought. To see how this works, temporarily set aside the idea of an “ego.” Then explore a powerful facility we all share: habitual thought. This is the ability to create habits of behavior and thought that, once set, “run in the background” to use a convenient computer analogy. This facility lets us do complex things like walking and driving a car without thinking about it consciously. It also lets us build routines to navigate the emotional and intelletual complexities of life.

Problems happen when the routines that worked long ago stop working as we mature and grow in life. Examples: as a younger person, I formed the following habits of thought. Each one served me well at the time. And each one, left unexamined, can create unneeded friction on my road to greater happiness and success.

  • “In social situations, I’ll be outgoing and talkative.”
  • “I will be my strongest critic; this helps deaden the pain of others’ criticisms.”
  • “I avoid work that somehow feels tense.”

The solution to my no-longer-supportive routines and yours is not beating ourselves up for having them; they have served us well. We just need to replace them with more productive ones.

So, in your quest for success and happiness, care for yourself. Go calmly, assertively, and with great love for all of you.

The Universal Productivity Trap

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 3 min.

Take a moment. Notice the big pile of tasks you have to do. Go ahead, take a look. I’ll wait.

What happened? Look closely because it was likely fast and subtle. Though the sequence of thoughts and emotions you had is unique to you, you probably landed on one of two common reactions. You either had an impulse to start working on the tasks or the desire to push away from or numb yourself to them.

In our headlong rush to get stuff done each day, we damage to our own effectiveness when we dive into our tasks. We push ourselves to get stuff done. Because it is so common, let’s call this the “Universal Productivity Trap (UPT).” We’ll explore the trap (in both its main and alternate forms) in this post then see the ways out of the trap in another post.

Are you in this trap?

Most people will say, “Oh, yes, that’s me. I do that.” If you put in long hours at work, want more work-life balance, have minor or major stress-related health issues, if you feel bad, or if you ever wonder, “Is this all there is?” then you are likely in this trap.

Another form The alternative to the main form of the UPT is called “stalling.” Instead of rushing ahead, we stop acting. We put our head in the sand. Or we get busy doing something to distract ourselves from our list of to dos. This version of UPT has been called laziness, slacking, and “a sure sign of poor birth.” 🙂 Most of us experience both forms of UPT at different times. The mechanics and ways out are the same regardless of which version you’re noticing.

How it works

Here’s how the UPT typically works. It happens mostly through habitual (usually subconscious) thought.

  • We start our day by noticing the list ever-growing list of things to get done and, in one way or another, panic. (You might object to the word ‘panic.’ The neurochemicals rushing though your body when you notice the list, though, would say it’s an accurate word.)
  • We believe (that is, we use a thought habit that has worked for us in the past) that the way out of this panic is to get into action. So we plunge in. (Or, we choose to stall. See above.)
  • As we work through the day, we and others generate more things for us to do.
  • Instead of having a sense of relief because we managed to get something done we get more panic from that growing list.
  • We experience even more panic because we suspect that there are things to do lurking in our inbox, in our meeting notes, or from recent conversations.
  • We go to bed exhausted and/or panicked. We wake up the next day and repeat the process.

Escaping the trap

There are at least three escape routes from the UPT.

Each escape route uses the mantra, “Slow down to speed up.” If you are in the “must push harder” form of the trap, slowing down probably sounds like the last thing you’d want to do.  If you are in the “let’s avoid this” version of the trap, “speeding up” doesn’t sound appealing to you.

None the less, these escape routes work and are simple to use. The most difficulty you’ll have is believing you’re allowed to use them.

More about these escape routes in the next post.


The Long View

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Success, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 1

“When you’re going through hell, keep going.” -Winston Churchill

That Which Was is big.
That Which Was is no longer acceptable.
That Which Is Coming looks and feels great.
Evolving That Which Was takes time and focus.
Creating That Which is Coming takes discernment.
This long view helps my energy.
The good news is I am not in this alone. Not by a long shot.
That Which Is Coming is going to be awesome.

What am I?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 1

Good architects use me.

Good software designers use me.

Good economists use me.

You probably do, too

I help you get a handle on complexity so you can make effective improvements.
I help you organize, test,  and validate your approach.
I help you communicate and teach ideas.

I am not alone; I share my role with my brothers and sisters.  And I am to be shared.
I am like a compostible pot.  My ultimate job is to anchor something new then melt away. I love to make room for my progeny.

What am I?

I am a model.


Optimism is Dead, Long Live Optimism!

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 6 min.

“Positive thinking,” “affirmations,” and “optimism” have developed bad names for themselves. As we commonly understand them, these approaches aren’t very useful and can be downright dangerous. I suggest a change that will let us get more of what we want in life and business.

Before you get too alarmed, I am not, of course, crossing the aisle. I am not becoming a card-carrying member of the Pessimists United club.

Instead, I advocate for refreshing our understanding of all things positive so we can all benefit.

The Problem

Why do we choose to use optimism, positive thinking, and affirmations? There are several reasons. First, we think that optimism will get us more of what we want than pessimism. Second, it feels better (at least at first) to think positively about something than it does to wallow in negativity.  Third, we value optimism. We want to encourage others to be optimistic; we want to be seen by others as optimistic.

And there’s nothing wrong with any of that.

The problem comes in the application. Too often we try to use optimism, positive thinking, or affirmations as a salve to soothe negative, painful situations. Without intending too, we cover or “paper over” the negativity. We seal it in, so to speak. And under the protective seal of a positive thought, the negativity keeps it’s prime position in our psyches. There it influences our mood and outcomes; it pushes us away from what we really want. (See the table below for some examples.)

The Non-Solution

Pessimists have know this for a long time. They accuse us of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. They tell us to “face reality!” And to the extent we are pasting over our negative thinking with positive thinking, they are right.

When we paste over the negative with the positive, it can be disheartening when the positive things we want don’t happen. Pasting over can be dangerous, too. Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, asked Vietnam POW and torture survivor Jim Stockdale which people didn’t survive the camps. “Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists. … [T]hey died of a broken heart.”

The answer, of course, is not to be pessimistic. Nor is it to be “realistic” when “realistic” is just another word for pessimistic.

The Solution

The way to fix this problem is simple: first uproot the negative thinking or beliefs then adopt the positive ones.

Easier said than done, right? Negative thinking can be hard to uproot for two related reasons.

  1. Addressing negativity feels bad and we avoid it. We’d much rather not think about it or deal with it. Even if you’re pessimistic, you use negative thoughts to avoid even worse feeling thoughts.
  2. Because it feels bad, we build up habits of avoiding or ignoring negativity. Many of our negative thinking habits have been with us for a long time. As with any habit, we first build them because we think they’ll be helpful to us. Habits are hard to change.

Despite how difficult is seems (am I being too optimistic here? 🙂 ), we can use the bright light of our attention to fix this.

Here are the steps:

  1. Address the negativity. When you are in any situation you want to change, pause for enough time to address the negative thought or feeling you have about the situation.  (See examples below.) Feel it in your body. There may be tightness or a weight. And it may trigger a desire to fight or flee. It feels bad, doesn’t it? And feeling it didn’t kill you either, did it? (I sometimes find it helpful to thank the negative thought for helping me clarify what I want and don’t want.)
  2. Name the negativity. What is this thought? Putting a name on it increases our access to and control over it. Don’t believe me? Ask a taxonomist.
  3. Find a slightly better thought. Generate a thought that is even a tiny bit more positive than your negative thought about the situation. You’ll know you’ve found one because it will feel better. This works better than a typical positive affirmation; it will be a thought that is particular to you and your situation, that you believe, and that won’t be too big a leap from the negative thought. Tip: if you can’t find such a thought, try “I’m sure others have been in a similar situation and worked it out.”
  4. Hold both thoughts for moment. Use the phrase “Even though” to start uprooting the negative thought. Say, “Even though I have believed <<insert negative thought here>>, I know <<insert positive thought here>>.”
  5. Repeat. If you want, continue to uproot the negative thought by finding more and more slightly more positive thoughts until you reach a big, positive, optimistic thought that feels good and will support you getting what you want.


Here are some examples. Though they may or may not match your situations, they’re useful to see how this fix works.

Situation Possible “Pasted-Over” Positive Thoughts Possible Underlying Negative Thoughts Possible Initial “Even though” Positive Thoughts
The state of the economy threatens my company’s revenue and and my job It’ll be okay. The most successful people thrive regardless of the economy. I can’t afford to lose my job. Even though I fear losing my job, I know I can handle it if it comes.
My boss (or peer) gets rewarded for bad behavior (e.g. politics). I’ll just take the higher ground. Karmic justice will prevail. You have to be nasty to get ahead. Even though I now think you need to be nasty to get ahead, I know plenty of people who are nice and succeeding.
Too much to do; deadlines galore; boss keeps asking for more. It’ll get done. We have plenty of time. We may have to work a little longer some days. If I don’t do everything my boss tells me to do, I’ll get criticized, called out, demoted, passed over for promotion, or fired. Even though I fear what would happen if I don’t get it all done, I know that getting it all done is actually impossible. And it’s not necessarily desirable.
I want more money. Money will come if I stick to what I love and am good at. The Universe is abundant. There’s something wrong with me; I don’t deserve to have money. I can only work hard. Money only comes with struggle. Even though I think I’m not worthy enough and money can only come after much struggle, I know these are just thoughts and that in time I can shift these thoughts to something that supports me better.


What about you? Have you noticed positive thinking backfiring on you? Post a comment to contribute your example to the list above.

How are you feeling?

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 2 min.

“How are you doing?” “How are you feeling?”  “How’s it going?”

Though these questions are part of our common greetings to each other, they are also an unusually important questions to consider more deeply. That’s because how you feel, how you’re doing, how it’s going–in short, your mood–dramatically affects your success.

Your mood is the sum of your dominant-at-the-moment thoughts and feelings. When you are feeling good, you can give most of your attention, time, and effort to whatever is important to your success. Your mental focus is high and you become very productive. Also, your ability to influence people and situations increases.

When you are feeling less than good, you siphon time and energy from what you really want to be, do, or have. Like a computer that is running unwanted programs, a negative mood sloooooowwwws you down. In a negative mood, you focus your “internal CPU cycles”–usually out of habit, not intention–on things like fear, uncertainty, doubt, worry, anger, etc. The time and energy spent on these distractions aren’t available to spend on what you really want. Your negative mood lowers your ability to influence. And it has a way of spurring more negativity and negative results.

We have an odd resistance to focusing on our mood. It’s fairly easy to notice a negative mood and shift it toward the positive. For some reason, though, we are more comfortable with our habitual though not-so-productive thoughts and feelings.

Of course, you can shift your mood, often quickly. As with any habit, it’s best not to attack, stop, or change a mood; you would subtly strengthen it. Instead, replace it: acknowledge the negative mood then take steps to choose a positive one.

Reality, in three acts

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 3 min.

Want to become really, really effective and satisfied?  Good. Then you really, really need to get a grasp on reality.

Reality…as in “the universe we live in,” “everything,” “the whole enchilada.”

A British scientist says that we as people are not smart enough to understand the universe. He may be right.  Every attempt to describe or model the reality we live in falls short.  And I don’t have The Answer either. But that doesn’t stop us from making good use of these models to be happier and more successful.

One is particularly useful: the 3-part nature of things.  Described in many traditions and philosophies, this model says “reality” as we typically know it comes from somewhere else.

Same Play Through History

Below are some of the common formulations of this model.  Since the names aren’t as important as what they point to, resist the temptation to get hung up on them.

  • All Possibility, Quantum Field, Physical Reality
  • Spirit, Mind, Body
  • Higher Self, Conscious Self, Basic Self
  • Super Ego, Ego, Id
  • Father, Son, Holy Ghost
  • The Fields, The Towns, The City.
  • The Tao, The Interpretation, The 10,000 Things
  • Be, Do, Have.
  • The non-local, the mind, the local
  • The Indeterminable Source, Thoughts and Actions, Results and Things
  • Where the thought came from, the thought about the thing, the thing.
Applying This Model

Normally, we act as if the world worked with just 2 of the 3 parts: the “Thoughts and Actions” and the “Results and Things.”  We think about and act on our world to affect it. Nothing really wrong with that.

But there is more. Grasping the “whole enchilada” of reality means adding the 1st part.  The 1st part is the source of the others.  No matter what you want to call it, the 1st part offers the possibility of a new way to generate the results you want in your career, organization, and life.

Studying the various formulations of this model, it seems that tapping the 1st part allows us to create most anything. What does it look like? It’s best described as a calm, confident, and positive expectation that things will work out as desired.

How do you tap it?  How do you know you’ve tapped it?  Those are naturally really tough to describe.  People have tried many things to tap the 1st part: meditation, visioning, dreaming, praying, dancing, exercise, reading, doping, drinking, singing, and chanting.  I recommend simply observing your feelings.  When you feel good, you’re tapping it.  When you feel bad, you’re not.  Build the habit of always seeking to feel good.

Two Simple Habits for the Ultra-Busy

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Do=Natural flow of action, Leading, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 5 min.

How is your week going?

No, really. How is it going? On a scale from “Calm waters, smooth sailing” to “Rough Chop” to “Gale” to “Tempest”, how effectively are you sailing through your week?

Chances are that most of you—most of the time—will say, “Gale,” “Tempest,” or “What word do you have for something worse than a tempest ‘cuz that’s where I am?”

We live every day with wave upon wave of tasks, competing priorities, and interruptions.

And that sucks. It feels bad, it saps our energy, and lowers our productivity. It’s also a downward spiral; the more storms we experience, the more behind we feel, the more we push, the less energy we have, the more we don’t get done, the more storms we have.

For those of you who manage a team, you’ll recognize that this is not just a personal issue; it affects teams and entire companies the same way.

GOOD NEWS: Two simple habits; you choose when to take them on.

(Of course there’s good news!)

What doesn’t work is trying to fight the storms by working harder, going numb, blaming, or hiding. There will always be new waves of tasks and interruptions and they’ll wear you down.

What DOES work is learning to surf these waves. And you are just two simple habits away from hangin’ ten.

If your frustration with the way things are is high enough, grab these two habits and run with them; they’ll change everything.

If you’re not ready, bookmark this post for a time when you are ready, when the way things are is no longer acceptable.


If you start your workday by diving in to your work, you’re setting yourself up for failure. Instead, invest a relatively minute amount of time to plan you day and your week. When you do, you’ll put yourself above the waves.

This type of planning gives you the proper perspective to know what your will work on given of all the things your could work on.  It also gives you the information you need to decide in the moment whether to allow this next interruption or that request.

Set aside time–maybe 40 minutes–before each work week (e.g. Friday night, Sunday night, or Monday morning) to review all your projects and commitments to know what you’ll select to work on and what goes to the back burner. Set aside 10 minutes or so before each work day (either that morning or the night before) to select what you’ll work on that day and adjust your weekly plan based on what’s happened.

Have with you the lists of your projects/commitments/appointments as you do this planning.

For more information about this habit, see this article in Fast Company: http://www.fastcompany.com/article/work-smart-how-to-avoid-the-busy-trap?partner=homepage_newsletter

For more help, email me with your questions or post a comment below.

HABIT TWO: Be here now

This habit is about changing your state of mind–your attitude–instantly and often as you can.

If you see this habit as less practical and even a waste of time, give me a moment to explain. It’s actually a surprisingly powerful and productive tool.

This is deep topic that we can spend our lifetimes learning about. For now, let the loosely constructed logic below point you in the right direction. If you’d like to learn more, email me. You can also skip this logic and go right to the practice that follows.

  • Performance in our jobs and life comes only from action.
  • Our state of mind affects our ability to perform, to act well.
  • Without focus or training, our state of mind comes from our habitual thoughts and emotions.
  • We build our habitual thinking and emotions from very early on life. They are there for what was a good reason.
  • Some of these habitual thoughts and emotions are no longer useful; they really detract from our performance today.
  • The thinking and emotions more in conflict with our performance today can be categorized as “regret about the past” or “worry about the future.”
  • We may not think we are regretting or worrying. Typically we react to the word “regret” and “worry;” looking deeper, we see we indeed are expending too much time and energy on the past or the future.
  • The best barometer for measuring whether we’re too focused on the past or future is how we physically feel. Tense, nervous, ill, numb, in pain, and excited are some of the usual signs.
  • Regretting the past or worrying about the future pulls our focus from the ONLY PLACE EVER WE CAN PERFORM: here and now.
  • We can tell we are in the here and now when the physical sensations disappear or diminish.
  • We can’t force ourselves to be here and now. Forcing creates an ugly reaction of not-here-and-now.
  • We can release ourselves by simply observing. Naming what we are thinking, feeling, doing drives a wonderful wedge between us and our habitual thinking.
  • Regular observation gives us the ability to catch ourselves caught up in habitual thinking and emotions and release ourselves without much effort at all.
  • Regular observation is like building a muscle. As we strengthen our observation muscle, we naturally have more energy and focus to act well, right here and now.
Practicing Habit Two
  1. For the next 24 hours, notice your thinking and emotions. Just name them and go no further; resist the temptation to describe, evaluate, judge what you notice. One easy way: quietly say to yourself as often as you can today, “This is me thinking_______.” Or, “This is me feeling_______.” Or, “This is me______.” Examples: “This is me thinking this meeting is a waste of time.” “This is me reacting to my colleague’s comment.”
  2. Extend this practice by making a commitment to it and using the habit builder to make it stick.

Post a comment below with your questions, observations, or improvements to these habits.

Real change is fast, not slow.

Posted Leave a commentPosted in Career, Leading, Will=Our inner game
Reading time: 4 min.
How Long Does it Take?

How long does it take…

  • …to turn around the culture of an organization?
  • …to find your ideal career?
  • …to reform a criminal, change the dynamics in your family, turnaround a business, change a habit? achieve peace in the land,or have balance and satisfaction in your life?

Months? Years? Lifetimes? Strings of attempts ending in failure or at least less-than-hoped for results?

Perhaps. Or perhaps there’s a way to speed things up. Let’s first look at what blocks real, lasting change.

Why change fails or lags

Most change fails because we act at the wrong level. We work the symptoms, not the causes.  We get trapped, for instance, in the drama about things or by the discomfort of looking too deep.  This is true for us as individuals or in organizations.

Getting trapped like that not only delays change and presents hard work, it reinforces the belief that long and difficult is the way of things and that the next change will be long and difficult, too.  More insidiously, we can believe that there’s something deeply, fundamentally wrong with us or our organization.  Look closely, and you’ll see this belief hiding and driving people and organizations everywhere.

Real change is just one thought away.

Here’s how to make real, sustained change quickly.  It starts with just one thought.  Find the right thought at the right level, investigate its truth, and choose a thought that supports your goals.

We tend to start looking at the symptoms; these are our “first thoughts” about the situation.  To go deeper ask two sets of questions:

  1. Where do you or your organization say, “That’s impossible.”?  These indicate you are bumping up against a too-limited view of the world and yourself/your organization in the world.
  2. What question is too painful or sensitive to ask or answer?  These indicate the thought that you or your organization can’t handle reality.  This type of thinking block has power when you don’t investigate them.  They lead to avoidance and stagnation for fear of the consequences.  Far better to jump into the jaws of these questions to realize they are toothless and timid.

Once you’ve found the thought, ask yourself, “Is it true, 100% true?”  Typically it’s not.  Acknowledge your tendency/habit to think like this.  Then decide, “What thought would better support me or us?”

Career Example

Situation: A friend wants to change careers, doesn’t know what he wants, it tired of not knowing (and not having any income) and isn’t taking any action. He’s been struggling for more than a year.

First thoughts: “I am a procrastinator.”  “This is hard.”  “Maybe it’s not meant to be.”

Underlying thought: “I don’t act so others won’t criticize.  I’m afraid of criticism; others will say I can’t have what I want or that I’ve screwed it up.”

Is this true? Pausing here for a moment, he sees it’s not true.  Those he fears would criticize merely express their own lack of direction and certainty.

Better thought: “I see my tendency to avoid possible criticism.  I act anyway to discover my SweetSpot and bring it life in my work.”

Organizational Example

Situation: A company that has enjoyed a large, protected market is now facing stiff competition from new and powerful entrants.

First thoughts: “We can’t change our stripes fast enough to react to these guys.  Our way of doing business is so ingrained and the politics amongst the players inside [think along the lines of management-union divisions] are so bitter that we can only make cosmetic changes; we fiddle while Rome burns.”

Underlying thought: “We cannot change anything because the other party is so unreasonable and so greedy that they rather let the whole thing go to hell rather than change.”

Is it true? Reflecting on the fact that both groups have the same thought about each other, they agree that it might not be true.

Better thought: “Though we’ve fought each other for years, we see there’s probably common grounds for cooperation AND even a possibility that our current organization gives us unique power in the marketplace.”

What’s your thinking?  How long will it take you or your company to change?