Archive for March, 2010

Get Stronger Using “Yet”

"The Future," Robert Aiken's statue outside the National Archives, reminds us "The Past is Prologue."

Your history is history.

As you continue to grow, there will be times you are confronted by the events of days long gone. Greeting those memories can be frustrating and painful.

Play your cards right and it is liberating.

There are two options when the time comes: 1) sink into the emotion or 2) raise your heart understanding it’s “prologue.” Picking the first forces you to slide backwards, to regress into your failures and slink back to darkness. Choosing the second puts you in a position to use preceding circumstances for elevation.

The difference is the color of your belief.

How can you tell what hue you’re in? Simple: your words. What do you say and think? Is it a reflection of shadowy past or bright future?

I received an email from a student apologizing for her score on this week’s quiz. I’d hardly got home from class and found the message had already arrived. She explained she’d studied the wrong material and dropped a bomb. Mind you, I had yet to even look at anybody’s answers, let alone grade them.

I sent a quick reply to assure her it was perfectly fine to have an off night. Who hasn’t walked into class, sat for an exam and been thunderstruck by the realization you reviewed other stuff?

“It seems I fall short more than just sometimes,” she said.

She’d actually done pretty well, especially considering she’d gone over different information. I told her so and wrote something back everyone must learn:

“You’re very capable and you put in the work, two things that–coupled with sheer determination–will make you successful in this class and life.”

When you focus on what you’ve done, you’ll keep yourself from doing what you can do.

Here’s a simple way to give your statements a lift: rephrase your sentences in terms of “yet.” In the early days of building faith in yourself, and as you continue growing upward, using that little word breathes possibility–even conviction–into what you tell yourself and everyone else.

Here’s are some examples:

“My business failed.”  OR “I’ve yet to build my best enterprise.”

“I’m cursed when it comes to relationships.”  OR “I’ve yet to find the right person.”

In both cases, the latter acknowledges rough times while also exhibiting confidence in an upcoming positive result. Though there is work to do, you have strengthened your resolve to travel a higher path in the future.

You must live today for results tomorrow instead of being weighed down by yesterday.

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Average People Live Average Lives

I love educating people.

I’ve been a college professor since March 11th and have found a bit of a rhythm in front of the students. Apparently there’s some rumors floating around the small campus, as everyone I meet says “I’m hearing about you.”

One student continues to ask for cheat sheets on exams or looks for reasons class is more challenging in her situation. I’ll be honest, I’ve yet to really make a connection with them, but I’ll tell you this:

She’s terrified.

She listens to me talk for over seven hours per week, blazing through complex systems of the body in a couple hours…or less. When the class takes their first exam next Tuesday I’ll have covered more than half of the textbook…in three weeks. This is the definition of “accelerated program.”

It’s supposed to be hard.

Being in the health care field requires a lot of knowledge. The human body, with all its strange and lethal conditions, can shift at a moment’s notice from “recovering” to “dying.” Understanding all the signs and symptoms is a challenge, but it’s the price of helping keep people alive.

There’s a decision to be made.

Each student has chosen to enter (or re-enter) school and take on something new. They are availing themselves of an opportunity to grow beyond their past and I admire that deeply. Many are overcoming challenging home lives or rough neighborhoods.

There comes a time when you must choose to be a victor or a victim, where you can look at someone else and say “They have it easier” or stare in the mirror and commit to doing what it takes. You can lament the difficulty and tell yourself it’s always going to be like this or grasp possibility and build something amazing.

I heard a simple truth from a friend yesterday: “Average people live average lives.”

If you want to continue along the path of your parents and friends, that’s fine. If you want to be extraordinary, it’s going to take some effort to break the chains and elevate yourself.

It may take more work than you thought, but it must be done if you want to move up.

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The Most Important Multitasking: Aiming and Planning

In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.
Dwight Eisenhower

General Dwight Eisenhower talks with members of the 101st Airborne.

In the history of martial achievement, decision-making on the fly is often touted as one of the keys to victory. The leaders whose names live on through the ages–Alexander the Great, Genghis Khan, Napoleon Bonaparte–all had a knack for shifting men and materiel quickly in the fog of war.

Even with rapidly advancing technology, warfare will always be about completing objectives via swift adaptation.

Life is the same way. In the fury of day-to-day routines, we often lose sight of larger goals. Unlike the military, which has a command structure allowing officers to oversee dozens (or millions) of enlisted men, our brains must stop to refocus on the big picture from time to time in order to make it happen.

Blending an aim with a plan is crucial.

Every skirmish in history has been fought with a mission in mind. Without a greater purpose, soldiers would give up or retreat at the first hint of resistance. Having a target provides the impetus for action and galvanizes you when the going gets rough. There will be far more days of slogging through mud than skipping through meadows.

The dogged pursuit of higher ground is what separates you from the uncommitted and unwilling. Knowing you must finish your task, regardless of the challenges you face, gives importance to your endeavor. Your certainty will allow you to find the means to perform, even though it may be different than you expected.

The method must be flexible.

Any commander will tell you there are times of doubt where one misguided strategy causes an entire operation to collapse. The ability to chuck an ineffective policy in favor of new tactics is the hallmark of success in swiftly changing situations.

There is tremendous value in planning. When done in groups, it creates an exchange of ideas and insights to shape the ideal path. And, in the event of failure, it leaves a trail of fateful decisions that can be avoided in the future.

However, strict adherence to one design will make the road much more difficult to travel. Misguided approaches have lead to downfall over and over again.

The plan changes but the aim doesn’t.

Life is a long campaign through a series of battles. Of course, it is impossible to win or make perfect choices every time. Without something to strive for and the determination to do whatever it takes to get it, you end up oppressed by the overlords of “what might have been.”

What are you aiming at and how do you plan to get there?

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1 Difference Between “Trying” and “Doing”

Master Yoda instructs Luke Skywalker in the ways of the Jedi.

Sometimes understanding flashes into your mind in a second.

In one my favorite moments from The Empire Strikes Back, Luke Skywalker is learning the ways of the Jedi from his Lilliputian master, Yoda. The venerable instructor is an expert at using the Force and is guiding his charge towards the realization of his potential.

As most teachers will tell you, there comes a time when you must push the student beyond their perceived limits, like a mother bird kicking a baby from the nest so it will learn to fly. In this scene, Yoda has asked young Skywalker to lift his aircraft from the muck he crash landed in.

When he fails, Skywalker turns in frustration to Yoda and asserts moving the ship is “totally different” than picking up some rocks and floating them from one place to another.

Yoda calmly tells Skywalker it’s “only different in your mind.”

Filled with doubt, the young man shrugs and says, “All right. I’ll give it a try.”

“No! Try not. Do or do not. There is no try.”

Yoda’s stern reprimand is repeated often. Gurus of all kinds spout the mantra as if eleven words from a puppet could provide the impetus necessary for you to rise up from the mire and strike out with renewed vigor in pursuit of your dream. The contention is simple: acting produces results…but no one ever tells you why.

As is often the case, the statement is given little consideration beyond superficial profundity.

“Ah,” the disciples nod, “that is wisdom. You can see it, plain as day.” Many go on without a second thought, blindly accepting what they’re told as they are herded to the next lesson. They have given authority to the leader because of wealth, health or stealth. Some, though, are left with unasked questions or unsatisfying answers.

What makes “trying” so different from “doing?”

The words are brief, yet tell opposing stories. One is shaky, the other firm. The first is worried, the second focused.

They are separated by expectation.

“Doing” imparts confidence. It is faithful to the result, determined to finish the job regardless of how many times it takes. It is awaiting a known outcome.

Trying is uncertain. It anticipates failure as much as success, if not more so. It finds the insurmountable challenges instead of believing in possibility.

As the scene comes to a close, Skywalker tells his master “You want the impossible” icily and walks off to slouch in defeat a few yards away.

Yoda quietly hunkers down and raises the ship from the depths of the swamp. The lesson is punctuated by a simple exchange:

Luke: “I don’t…I don’t believe it.”

Yoda: “That is why you fail.”

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The Power of Everything

Life-saving Experience

Go to a busy hospital if you want to live.

According to a study published in New England Journal of Medicine, your chances of surviving the big three–a heart attack, heart failure or pneumonia–increase appreciably when you walk (or are carried) through the doors of an active emergency room. Your likelihood of living beyond the 30-day mark in some cases jumps 10%. At the brink of life and death, that’s a big deal. There’s more, though:

Patient satisfaction rates are higher, too.

It seems the knack for nailing the diagnosis and carrying out treatment becomes smoother as visit numbers go up. The staff delivers the correct medications, finds the appropriate specialists and moves the patient to the proper areas swiftly. Administrative hiccups are minimized and the delicate ballet of a hospital stay briskly passes from admission to release.

Why?

In a word, “experience.” Seeing hundreds of cases with a similar presentation helps doctors and nurses identify issues quickly. When every moment counts, the collective memory of successes and failures guides efficient action. A veteran professional spots the nuances on the fine line between “critical” and “stable” to prevent a “turn for the worse” and produce a “pull through.”

There’s a reason it’s called “medical practice.”

From the beginning, practitioners in every discipline are exposed to laundry lists of signs and symptoms for every condition on the planet. After that, it’s time to confront defeat. Everybody dies. Managing the emotions of losing out  and understanding what was missed is the core of working in healthcare. Without the wisdom of hindsight, the next patient’s odds of making it plateau at best.

If everything went perfectly, you’d never improve.

The mental torment of falling short, when it spurs thoughtful consideration of performance, is the chisel of your greatness. Each disappointment is a hammer stroke, chipping away piece after piece, until you are the phenomenal work of art you were made to be.

Each event, regardless of the outcome, shapes your future.

You learn based on punishment and reward.When you apply information gained through hardship, you determine the value of the happenings of a day. Utilizing that knowledge to identify similarities and avoid the missteps you’ve made before is what leads to success, whether at a bedside or in a boardroom.

You’ll recognize opportunities and threats easily. You’ll select a path faster than before. You’ll move confidently in the face of crisis, then act to prevent recurrence. You’ll feel assured, galvanized by the education you’ve received on the sharp edge of your mistakes. You’ll make better choices.

Before you know it, you’ll save your own life.

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Learning How To Win

Kevin Durant leads his young Oklahoma City teammates against more veteran teams like the San Antonio Spurs.

“They’re learning how to win” is an old sports cliche.

It seems to be repeated most during basketball season and I was reminded of it Monday night as I watched the highlights of the Spurs-Thunder game on SportsCenter. After having a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, the young Oklahoma City team let the veteran Spurs squad back in the game and ended up falling when a last-second three-pointer missed.

The theme of repeated defeat before grand victory is common throughout athletics.

Larry Bird’s Celtics beat up on Michael Jordan’s Bulls for the better part of a decade. Tim Duncan’s Spurs overran Kobe Bryant’s Lakers several years after Shaquille O’Neal left. The younger players faced disappointment after disappointment before getting their hands on the prize.

It’s a part of life, too.

Regardless of your path, whether star player or lowly employee, you’ll face obstacles on the ladder of achievement. Doubts will surface before you try, you’ll wonder if you’re really capable while making the effort and then feel the sting of sadness when your actions are in vain.

You will have dozens of letdowns before you get what you’re after.

Remind yourself it’s OK to fall short. (Well, unless you’ve chosen a career jumping across canyons.) In the moments after things go awry, it’s critical you take time for two things:

1. Analysis
Every franchise has meetings between players, coaches and general managers after a season is completed. This period of reflection allows everyone to determine what led to defeat and correct it. After all, the most successful teams realize winning is more about mental toughness and calm execution in tight moments than good fortune.

When the initial shock of your setback wears off, take time to ask yourself a few questions:

“What can I do differently? Is there something I can tweak for better results?”

“Are there pieces I’m missing? Should I look into more training or find some support?”

“What did I do well? Can I use some things as the foundation for succeeding next time?”

2. Encouragement
The more difficult of the two, mentally picking yourself up after being knocked down is key to your future. In John C. Maxwell’s book Failing Forward, the primary characteristic he points to as the difference between achievers and strugglers is mindset. It’s simple and challenging, but remembering you’ll recover and create better results is the crucial first step in climbing–or re-climbing–any mountain. Even in your darkest hours, cling to the good and be grateful for it, even if all you can say is “I’m alive and loved.” That’s a start…and a better one than you might think at the time.

Everyone wants to hoist the trophy. You must play to win. Instead of facing an adversary bent on prying the spoils of triumph away from you, realize your only aim is to get the best from yourself. We each have our own blue ribbon to earn and failure gives us an opportunity to improve. Losing is a necessary stepping stone to success and the foundation of record-setting winning streaks.

Even at your peak, you’ll still lose from time to time. How will you use defeat to make sure you win?

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On The Road Again

It’s been four months since I went for a run.

Well, it had been until yesterday. Inspired by the fascinating book Born To Run by Christopher McDougall and the story of the Tarahumara (tah-rah-oo-MA-rah) people of northern Mexico, I picked up a pair of Vibram FiveFingers KSOs and began training furiously last November.

I’d set a goal of eclipsing my personal record of 5:15 in the mile on New Year’s Eve.

I’ve been an athlete all my life and enjoy exercise. I relish the feeling of pushing myself to the limits physically and mentally. I’ve had more than a handful of moments where I asked myself if I was going to die so, just as I always had, I went out and did what felt natural. My body would tell me when to stop.

The thing is, there’s a lot of learning that goes with running barefoot.

From the get-go, my body was completely in shock. I found out very quickly how undeveloped the stabilizing muscles in my feet and lower legs were. I shuffled around like an old man for a couple of weeks as they became acclimated to being used and eventually found a groove. My mileage pushed up and I began to feel like I was getting back into the kind of cardiovascular shape I’d been in before.

Then I injured my foot.

Yes, I’m a man.

No, I did not read the directions.

When making the changeover from Nikes to nothing, beginning on forgiving surfaces (i.e. not concrete) is highly recommended. In all my genius, I had been pounding pavement for six weeks and the little niggle in my left foot became a full-blown “hurting mother.” (Medical term.) I opted to lay off it for a while instead of pressing on to a stress fracture.

After fifteen or twenty days of healing, I was out of the habit and indulging in the holiday smorgasbord.

This brings us to yesterday. I decided to get back on the wagon when one of my best friends told me he’d dropped some weight. (No, we’re not competing for bikini season.) The long layoff had to end, as exercise may be the magic bullet to reduce the frustration of my day-to-day life.

I decided to try ChiRunning, having picked up the book at my local bookstore and read through it a few weeks ago. I will admit to some trepidation at the thought of changing my running style, focusing on moving my feet faster and landing differently.

I was mistaken.

The technique is built around “forms,” simple concentrations that aggregate to create an efficient and effortless stride for mile after mile. I chose to focus on cadence, the pick-them-up-and-put-them-down pace which is the constant in ChiRunning, a staggering 85-90 cycles (170-180 steps) per minute.

It was easier than I anticipated.

Using a simple beeping metronome MP3 I prepared using Audacity, I quickly got in sync with the proper rhythm and went for a few minutes. I took a breather for a couple, then began again, really absorbing the movement and programming it into my brain. I even switched over to my regular tunes for awhile and tested myself to see if I could maintain the “one-two-one-two” tempo.

It felt great.

Despite the fact my core must be strengthened, my legs seemed to melt away. I felt little in the way of knee or ankle pain I’ve had before. My muscles seemed more responsive and snappy with each step, like fatigue was a distant memory. I’m looking forward to putting some miles on this body again.

First time I’ve said that in way too long.


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