Are You an M&M or Chocolate Covered Peanut?

February 28, 2007

I lived in London for 4 years. I found the British to be a bit more proper and reserved than the typical outgoing American. In an effort to explain the differences between these two cultures, I sometimes use my favorite dessert metaphor: chocolate.

The British are like M&Ms. Their tough outer coating (“stiff upper lip”) hides a richness and depth. Although it may take a little longer to get to know a Brit, once you do, you get to know them profoundly. That’s why many remain close friends even after many years and great distance.

Americans are more like chocolate covered peanuts. Although we are known for being friendly, sometimes getting through our tough inner core – and getting deeply connected – may be a bit more difficult.

Of course these are generalizations. Everyone is an individual. But it can be interesting (and fun) to consider which chocolate treat best represents YOUR personality.

Are you an M&M with a protective layer that covers a lust for intimacy? If so, you probably make a great friend. However, you might find that letting your guard down from time to time will enable you to connect better with others on first impression. A key to living goal-free is becoming a people magnet. If you are perceived as standoffish or protective, attracting others into your life may be a challenge.

Are you a chocolate covered peanut, showing the world your outermost social layers, only to hide your inner-most feelings? If so, you are probably a good people magnet. You might even be the life of the party. But you may also find deep relationships more difficult. This may serve you fine in the short term. But you may find that over the long run, you feel something (or someone) is missing from you life.

Are you a peanut M&M, hard on the outside and hard on the inside, with only a small layer where you let people in? This is not an ideal personality style for every day living, unless you truly prefer solitude – or should I say being alone. However, everyone goes through a peanut M&M mood from time to time. I get grumpy and want to be left alone. This is fine. But if you are like this all of time, you won’t be just goal-free, you’ll also be friend-free.

Are you a chocolate covered raisin; a total mush-ball through and through. This can be a great personality style. You attract AND retain relationships. You can be both a great friend and the life of the party. But remember, there is a time and place for exposing your soft inner core and vulnerabilities. If you are too open, you may sometimes scare people away.

Of course this is not a scientific study of personalities; it is primarily intended to be fun. However, this may shed light on why your relationship are the way they are.

Regardless, a recent study found that chocolate contains more than 300 chemicals that can both induce relaxation and elevate your mood. So go ahead and enjoy some chocolate. Doing so will have you care more about the candy in your mouth than the candy that matches your personality.

P.S. If you want to determine your personality style, be sure to check out Personality Poker.

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Goal-Free Time Management vs Covey

February 25, 2007

This past Friday I gave a Goal-Free Living speech in Chicago for a group of meeting planners. At one point, someone in the audience asked for my perspective on Covey’s goal-based time management concepts versus the Goal-Free Living compass-driven approach. As I was once an instructor for Covey’s “Principle Centered Leadership,” I felt quite qualified to comment.

To download this 4.5 minute clip from my speech, right click and “save target as”: goalfreelivingcompass.mp3 (4 Meg)

P.S. The woman who asked the question came up to me afterwards and said that my explanation resonated with her and that it explained why she has struggled with Covey’s approach.

P.P.S. The UPS story is only a joke. It was told to me by an employee there over a dozen years ago when they were my client. Although it is a very old joke, it makes a simple yet powerful point.

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How To Be Goal-Free When You Have Obligations

February 22, 2007

“How can someone be goal-free when they have obligations?” This is a great question and one of the most frequently asked in regards to leading a goal-free lifestyle. The essence of Goal-Free Living is about being present and having the life you want now. But when you have obligations, it may often appear necessary to sacrifice present moment happiness in order to satisfy established commitments. Fortunately, this is not true. You simply need to shift your relationship to commitments by using three simple concepts.

  • External Integrity vs Internal Integrity
  • Positions vs Interests
  • Choosing When You Have Only One Option

External Integrity vs Internal Integrity

If you never commit to anything, you never have to worry about keeping your commitments. However, this is neither realistic nor desirable. I have often heard the misconception stated that Goal-Free Living is a lifestyle to support “commitment-phobes.” In reality, it is quite the opposite. Being goal-free is about the ability to powerfully commit to each and every moment. This starts by ensuring that both internal and external integrity are in alignment.

For many, integrity means “being your word.” I refer to this as “external integrity.” Very simply put, you do what you said you would do.

For example, you said that you would attend a friend’s Tupperware party Saturday night, but now you have a better offer. Cancelling your original plans would show a lack of integrity. The same is true with the commitment of marriage. We make a vow to love, honor, and cherish till death do us part. But sometimes seemingly better offers come about that make us question or reconsider our original commitment. Pursuing a path of infidelity or stopping the marriage prior to the originally negotiated date of “death do we part” is again, a lack of integrity.

External integrity is important. It is what keeps society together. However, it is only half of the equation.

When faced with a commitment, have you ever said “yes” to requests when you really want to say “no?”

This leads to the second half of integrity – “internal integrity” – which is “your word being you.” This is about making commitments that are truly in line with your personal compass. Obvious as that may seem, most people at one point or another commit to things that are not consistent with their values or interests.

You say “yes” to attend your friend’s Tupperware party because you want to support her, even though you would rather be doing something else. Or, after feeling pressure from your significant other, you decide to make the leap into wedded bliss so as not to run the risk of losing your mate. It is in these cases where internal and external integrity are out of alignment, making the commitment feel burdensome.

Do you want to be happier? Make commitments you are willing to keep AND that support your values and interests. This is not always an easy task. It may involve leaning how to say “no” constructively. Or better yet, it may mean generating creative solutions that meet the needs of both parties.

Positions vs Interests

I recently attended a class on negotiating, where two types of negotiating were discussed: position-based negotiating and interest-based negotiating.

Position-based negotiating is when you negotiate over one particular desired outcome, such as the specific amount of money you are willing to pay/receive for a given item. This type of negotiating is one dimensional and leaves little room for creativity. This treats negotiating like a goal. “I want x dollars, and I am going to do what I can to get it.”

On the other hand, interest-based negotiating focuses on the intent behind the goal. What are the wants, needs, and desires that led to the creation of the goal.

Why is this important? If you are in a situation where you made a commitment that is no longer in line with your interests (or never was to begin with), do not view your options as simply black or white: “stay married OR get a divorce” or “go to the party OR do not.” Instead, try to understand the intent behind the original commitment to see if there is another way to satisfy the other’s true need while maintaining your internal integrity.

You no longer want to go to the Tupperware party. Ask your friend why she wanted you there. Maybe it was because she wanted someone to serve food. Or maybe it was because she needed someone to manage the guests. Maybe there is a way you can meet her needs and desires, without actually being in attendance at the party. Or perhaps you only need to be there for the first 30 minutes for your friend to feel satisfied.

Or, your marriage is no longer working for you. Rather than assuming divorce is the only solution, dig deeper. Explore hidden beliefs/assumptions about how you think your marriage should look. There is no one right model for a marriage. Explore the interests, needs, and desires of you and your spouse. Maybe your assumptions – such as how much time you should spend together, what tasks you should perform, or how you should prioritize your financial investments – are not true. This isn’t a negotiation, but rather an exploratory discussion.

Focusing on interests means of finding creative solutions where both parties are willing to change the terms of the commitment so that everyone is happy because it meets the “intent” of the original commitment. Maintaining commitments as they currently exist is a goal. Instead, strive to honor the “intent” of your commitment while meeting the needs of all parties involved. Doing so, you may find that you can develop a win-win solution.

Of course, this is not always possible. There are times when you must honor your commitments, on their original terms. In this situation, the solution is to “choose when you have only one option.”

Choosing when you have one option

This is one of the most powerful concepts, because there are times in life when you don’t have a choice – other than one option. When you can learn to embrace that option – powerfully – you increase your resilience and happiness.

When my wife asked for a divorce many years back, I did not want the marriage to end. Although I pleaded my case, her mind was made up. I would have preferred to make the marriage work, but MY only choice at that point was divorce. Rather than hoping, wishing, and dreaming it could be different, I “chose” divorce and got on with my life. I embraced the one and only option I had.

Conversely, if you no longer want to be married but feel the need to honor your obligation, your only option is to choose marriage. This means giving up the right to wish it were different. You should no longer daydream about how life could have been. You can’t be jealous of others who have the life you (think you) want. When you wish for it to be different, you are not “present” in the marriage. If you can powerfully choose and embrace your one option – marriage – then you can begin to create a new relationship that works for all parties.

Or, back to our Tupperware party example. You agreed to go to the party to be supportive. Afterwards you had regrets. You wished you had said “no.” You start thinking up hollow excuses to get you out of the situation. Doing so would be a lack of integrity. Instead, if you are going to go, choose that option. Stop considering the possibility of bailing out. Don’t “want” other options. Want what you have. Embrace your choice. Doing so will almost always change your attitude about the situation. Therefore, when you do go to the party, you can be “present” rather than having your mind wander off and wish you were somewhere else.

It’s all a matter of choice. Powerfully embrace your responsibilities, not because you have to, but because you want to. Doing so can make any commitment a thing of passion.


Consider these three concepts while making and keeping commitments. Make commitments that are in line with your compass – and then honor those commitments. However, if your interests change over time, “renegotiate” the commitment such that all parties feel whole and complete. And in those cases where changing the terms of a commitment is not possible, powerfully embrace your original obligation with no regrets. These three steps can help anyone live goal-free in a life filled with obligations.

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Money Can and Can’t Buy Happiness

February 17, 2007

In past blog entries, I discussed my studies on money and its relationship to happiness. My conclusion: making more does not necessarily increase your level of happiness – but it can.

If you want to plow through a 50 page research study by Stutzer and Frey on this topic, you will gain an in depth understand of why this is so.

Here’s my interpretation of what they discovered:

It’s not the absolute amount of money you make that matters. It is how much money you make relative to “your financial aspirations,” which are sometimes driven by how much others make. Unfortunately, the more you make, the more you adapt, and the more you want. Higher income levels provide only fleeting happiness, and is typically replaced by the desire for more.

Ok, these are my words. Here is the conclusion by Stutzer and Frey in their words:

In line with common thinking, it is found that, at a particular point-of-time, and within a particular country, higher income is associated with higher individual happiness.

In contrast, higher per capita income in society seems not to raise reported satisfaction with life in rich western countries. Even at an income level half that of the United States, there are only small effects of higher average income on subjective well-being.

Both observations can be explained if individual aspirations are included as an argument in people’s “utility functions”.

Income is understood to affect individual well-being relative to people’s aspiration levels, whereby processes of adaptation and social comparison form people’s aspirations. We argued and provided evidence for Germany that, on the one hand, individual adaptation to changes in one’s own income is incomplete and thus allows for positive effects of higher income levels on subjective well-being. On the other hand, complementary processes of social comparison lead average aspirations to grow overall in line with average income.

What does this mean relative to Goal-Free Living? Make enough money to cover your needs and most basic desires. Then “want what you have” (secret #4 from Goal-Free Living). If you can’t pay your bills, then some discipline might be what is needed. However, if you are making 10% more than you need, your desire for more may be thwarting your happiness.

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The Search for Mr. Adequate

February 15, 2007

Last year, I attended a “Renaissance Weekend” (these are private retreats for the accomplished leaders, and not Renaissance Festivals). One of the people I met was Susan Silver. She is special. In addition to being a wonderful human being, she’s had a successful TV writing career amongst her many accolades. But these days, Susan has been a bit “goal-less.” I asked her to write some thoughts on the topic. Take it away, Susan.

Susan SilverI, who had been a super achiever (television writer with lots of credits like The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Bob Newhart, and Maude) had recently been taking it easy. Ok, I became a lazzzzzyyyyy girl. But you can only lie in bed reading and daydreaming so much! But how to get oneself up and going in some direction? That’s what I needed to know.

Goal-Free Living was the answer – it freed me to get up! I had been focusing so hard on having to find one thing that I must do now to match old success, that I did zero. When Steve explained, and I read his book, it made a lot of sense. I chose some “aspirations” – like getting out of bed – and yes, I accomplished them! I am having a lot more fun these days and am really guilt free too. That’s sometimes hard for a Jewish girl, but I’ve done it!!

Last week Steve came to New York City and we went to lunch. He then generously offered me a “coaching session” so that I could continue the journey out of the house. Lo and behold, in one hour he had given me so many ideas that I am now the Energizer Bunny.

Here was one of his simple, yet out of the box (or in my case, out of the bedroom) ideas: I said I’d just discovered coffee as a really good way to get going in the morning. So he suggested that it would be great to combine this with one of my “aspirations” – finding Mr. “More than Adequate” (I write a column called “The Search for Mr. Adequate” on every Friday). Now, instead of brewing my own cup, I go out to a coffee shop once in a while and take a note pad to interview men. This provides great material for my column. And who knows, maybe I will even meet Mr. “The One.” It was so simple. Why didn’t I think of it myself?

He also asked what I am passionate about. I realized I’ve found myself a Presidential candidate to be excited about, for the first time in years. So I signed up for Barack Obama’s campaign.

In one week I’ve gone from rarely leaving the house to being one busy girl! I’m being driven by passion (and caffeine) rather than goals. Thanks Steve!

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Letter From a Cancer Survivor

February 12, 2007

One important concept of Goal-Free Living is being present; being focused on where you are now rather than worrying about the future. In the process of giving up control, greater – and unpredictable – things emerge. This often gives you a deep appreciation for what you have…even when you don’t have your health. Here is an email I received from a reader, Yanthe, in the Netherlands.

I always had a pretty ordinary life; went to college, to university (picked a study that would secure me a job), took a job I didn’t like, was stressed out all the time, and dreamt about winning the lottery which would surely give me a great life.

Then I was diagnosed with cancer, which turned out to be even better than winning the lottery. At first I was feeling sorry for myself and obviously very worried. Then this huge gift was bestowed on me while reading in a book about enjoying the now; to enjoy the good things in my life…now. I thought “Yes, I can do that. I can enjoy my husband’s company now, this very minute.” I looked at my husband sitting beside me, and there was this huge transforming moment in which I suddenly wasn’t conscious of anything else except being happy with my husband being in my life. My attention was completely focused in that singular moment, and I just knew that I would have a great time if I now enjoyed all that mattered in my life. And I did.

This experience showed me how absolutely astonishing life is. Just looking at simple things would bring tears to my eyes out of sheer beauty. It turned out that the little things like enjoying a meal with my father-in-law, or the sunshine in the morning, were actually the big enjoyable things. And the things I had always thought were big important things were actually the things that mattered least. I remember taking a shower one morning and shampooing my bald head (due to the chemo) and feeling totally and utterly happy with me, my life, and the way it was unfolding. My only job was to enjoy it, and everything else would just turn out fine…and it did. Doctors were surprised at how strong I was, and that I had even been camping for 2 days when I was supposed to be too tired to do anything. I had the time of my life…and I got well.

A year ago I lost my job, which turned out to be a great gift as well because it gave me the chance to set up business as a photographer, a desire of mine.

I like the whole “Goal Free Living” concept because enjoying the now plays an important role in it, taking the time to enjoy the things that really matters most, is really very liberating.

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Skeptical About Skepticism

February 8, 2007

I recently went to a “skeptics” convention in Las Vegas. When I checked in, it looked like I was signing up for a Star Trek convention. There were some, well, interesting people. In total, there were 800 attendees discussing skepticism in all areas, from psychic abilities and conspiracy theorists to environmental concerns and biases of the media. There were some top notch presenters, including big names like Penn & Teller, Matt Stone and Trey Parker (of South Park fame), Adam Savage (from the MythBusters). They were all great. There were radio personalities, scientists, professors, authors, paranormal debunkers, and so many more.

This was my first time to this event. The conversations (in the class and late night in the bar) were fascinating. No topics were taboo. And opinions were flying. What become apparent to me was that on the whole, the group could be described as “dogmatic atheist libertarians.” Some had moved from skepticism to cynicism, no longer remaining open to new perspectives. Although there were many parts of the conference that resonated with me (most in fact), I had some perspectives that ran contrary to the herd. I liked to tell people that I was “skeptical about skepticism.”

Skepticism is defined in the dictionary as: the method of suspended judgment, systematic doubt, or criticism.

This feels awfully negative to me.

To me, skepticism should mean “critical thinking.” It implies remaining open to any possibility, while not accepting things at face value. It is about applying science and reasoning, recognizing the limitations of those disciplines. To do this, you must avoid both dogmatism and blind faith – two opposite ends of the spectrum. What is the difference between dogmatism, blind faith, and critical thinking?

If you are in a conversation with someone and you are dogmatic, you will immediately shoot down any perspective that is contrary to your own belief. Your knee-jerk response is, “No.” You go on the offensive and put the other person on the defensive. This does not help further the conversation.

Conversely, if you blindly accept what others say, your immediate response is “Yes.” You become a sheep following the herd. You don’t question the other person’s perspective. Again, this does not help further the conversation.

The critical thinker would ask, “Why?” “Why do you believe that to be true?” Try this with friends, colleagues and family. You will find it opens up a whole new level of conversation. This is where true learning and dialogue take place.

I encourage you to apply critical thinking to all areas of your life. This is an incredibly useful skill to learn, and one that few people practice. I believe that critical thinking combined with creativity, leadership, and social skills are the cornerstones of a successful and passionate “goal-free” life.

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Quote of the Day

February 6, 2007

Creativity is just having enough dots to connect… connect experiences and synthesize new things. The reason creative people are able to do that is that they’ve had more experiences or have thought more about their experiences than other people.

Steve Jobs, CEO Apple Inc.

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