Stay Connected by Disconnecting

July 5, 2008

While here Malaysia, my BlackBerry was stolen.  It reminded me of something I wrote in my book Goal-Free Living:

Every day we are presented with numerous opportunities, but they often pass us by without our even noticing. In order to find these hidden opportunities, you must be sensitive to the environment around you. Sometimes this means disconnecting to stay connected.

Technology can be a wonderful boon to humankind, but sometimes we abuse it in ways that prevent us from really participating in life. For example, I have a BlackBerry phone. My original thinking was that this would free me from my computer and allow me to stay connected. Yes, it does allow me to stay connected electronically, but it also makes me disconnected from what I should really be doing—being present.

I once was having lunch with a colleague. Although my BlackBerry was sitting on the table with the ringer off, based on the color of a flashing LED I could tell if I had any new e-mails. I was waiting for an important message, so I was constantly glancing at the flashing light to see if it turned red. I received an e-mail every few minutes from someone—either a real person or spam. I did not receive the e-mail I was so eager to get until hours later. In the meantime I was completely detached from the person I was having lunch with, missing an opportunity to really be connected. This is how staying connected can interfere with being connected.

I wrote that in 2005.  Unfortunately, my CrackBerry addiction has actually worsened since then.

Now I am being put to the ultimate test.  My BlackBerry is missing and there no cost effective way for me to replace it until I return to the states in 3 weeks. I was able to buy an inexpensive “regular” phone with a local Malaysian number.  But my US mobile number will remain in suspended animation until I return.  No one will be able to send me text messages or leave me voicemails.  I will only be able to check email from my computer.  No more checking email every 30 seconds like I did with the BlackBerry.

I feel my withdrawal symptoms kicking in already.  It takes 30 days to break a habit.  Maybe this is my chance to break my CrackBerry addiction.  Maybe this is a chance for me to “stay connected by disconnecting.”

In addition to my other speeches in Asia, I will also be speaking tomorrow at the MPH bookstore in the Mid Valley Megamall in Kuala Lumpur.

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Quote from Fritjof Capra

February 25, 2008

A person functioning exclusively in the Cartesian mode may be free from manifest symptoms but cannot be considered mentally healthy. Such individuals typically lead ego-centered, competitive, goal-oriented lives.

Over preoccupied with their past and future, they tend to have a limited awareness of the present and thus a limited ability to derive satisfaction from ordinary activities in everyday life. They concentrate on manipulating the external world and measure their living standard by the quantity of material possessions, while they become ever more alienated from their inner world and unable to appreciate the process of life.

For people whose existence is dominated by this mode of experience no level of wealth, power, or fame will bring genuine satisfaction, and thus they become infused with a sense of meaninglessness, futility, and even absurdity that no amount of external success can dispel.

From “The Turning Point: Science, Society and the Rising Culture” (1982) by Fritjof Capra, author of “The Tao of Physics”

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Play Like The Patriots?

February 5, 2008

Readers of my blog know that my “theme” this year is Play Like the Patriots. For those of you who missed it, my beloved team was defeated by the New York Giants in a major upset Sunday night in the Superbowl. After winning all 18 games this year, the Patriots lost the big one. I expected all of my New York friends rub this in my face a bit. They didn’t let me down. Heck, I’d probably have done the same thing had we won.

One blog reader, Toli, commented:

“Stephen, you know I love your stuff, but you must reconsider something: live this year like the Patriots? Which means, basically doing your best and then failing to achieve at the most important moment? This is why I side with the Giants: achieving your goals is always messy, but you get there in the end.”

Thanks Toli, that made me smile!

Although (I assume) you are just poking fun at me, let me provide 3 reasons why I stand by my theme.

1. I said “play like the Patriots” not “win like the Patriots.”

In life – and in business – there aren’t “Superbowls” that determine winners (and losers). Success is not decided by one outcome or game. It is much more complex than that. Unlike sports, the season never ends. It is a continual journey of improvement.

[Read more]

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Can You Judge a Book By Its Cover?

February 1, 2008

In a previous blog entry, I discussed an Economist article that showed:

  1. There is a perception that particular traits are important to good leadership, namely competence, dominance, and facial maturity. Likability and trustworthiness are not.
  2. Just by looking at a picture, we can get a sense of someone’s leadership qualities and hence their personality.

In that earlier blog entry, I focused primarily on point #1 and its relationship to the Presidential elections.

Today I want to talk a bit about point #2. The correlation between looks and personality has always been an interesting topic for me.

I remember a friend of mine from high school. Everything about him screamed “nerd.” He wore polo shirts buttoned to the top (back when this was not popular). His hair was greasy and slicked to the side. He always walked around with a stack of books in front of him. And yes, he wore a pocket protector with a myriad of pens. It may come as no surprise that he was the captain of the math and chess clubs. His looks matched his personality.

This made me wonder…which came first: his looks or his personality/interests.

Do nerdy looking people choose nerdy endeavors? Or do people who enjoy nerdy endeavors groom themselves to look the part?

What’s the Causality between Appearance and Personality?

[Read more]

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Goals That Work

January 21, 2008

I recently received an email from a reader of this blog. He describes what he calls a “loophole” in the goal-setting process: either you achieve a goal and then invalidate it with counter-productive behaviors, or you see that a goal won’t be achieved so you give up totally. He then describes what works (something I suggest on this blog): setting a theme. Here are his thoughts.

I am still setting goals on Very difficult except for shopping list type goals like “buy a new hat”.

I’ve been sleeping 12 hours per day. I had set a goal to get up at 6am and have an afternoon nap. I’ve been doing exactly that, except I go back to bed at 7am until 11am! The other day I set a new goal: “have a morning productivity score of 80/100.” This all-or-nothing goal didn’t work because as soon as I knew I couldn’t reach 80 I let the whole thing go and scored 25.

Goals that have worked are like ongoing themes which are achieved when the first example of the theme is achieved.

One goal was “perform a miracle of friendship.” What I had in mind was that it would take a miracle for someone who wouldn’t make time for me to change their mind. However it was achieved in an immediate, unexpected way. Within a day I remembered a friend who keeps sending me his poetry and that I received some the day before. Previously I found it boring (and the opposite of “bored” in the Thesaurus is “caring”) then I realized I could write and send him a special poem just for him. It rhymed too.

I achieved the goal of performing a miracle of friendship and it will also be an ongoing theme.

This same concept holds true for organizations. Employees are not stupid. They will do what they need to in order to hit their performance targets – even if the end result is detrimental to the overall performance of the business. People are motivated by a clear sense of direction, purpose, vision, or theme. When individuals are incented to “do the right thing” rather than hitting targets, you will find increased creativity, improved performance, and a happier workforce.

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Increase the Price – Increase the Pleasure

January 18, 2008

I wrote a blog entry entitled, “How to Lose a Sale By Charging Too Little.” In it I describe why charging too little reduces the perception of value.

According to a recent Stanford Graduate School of Business study, there are biological reasons why price impacts perception.

Subjects were given a number of wines for tasting and were told their price. Some of the wines were given to tasters more than once, with a different price tag each time.

What did they find?

The same wine, when given a higher price tag, tasted better.

Surprisingly, according to fMRI scans, the pleasure centers of their brains light up more, even though the “taste” centers do not. The body knows the wine tastes the same.  Regardless, it is enjoyed more when it is more expensive.

“We have known for a long time that people’s perceptions are affected by marketing, but now we know that the brain itself is modulated by price,” said Baba Shiv, an associate professor at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and one of the authors of the study.

As the recession looms on the horizon, companies may be tempted to drop their prices to stay competitive. But there may be powerful biological reasons not to do so. Price can drive perception. And perception is reality.

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Turning a Passion into a Profession

January 14, 2008

Boston Sunday GlobeIn yesterday’s Boston Sunday Globe, I was quoted in an article entitled “Turning a Passion into a Profession.” The piece shares the story of people who left their regular jobs in pursuit of their passion. Here was my contribution to the article:

And his approach to realizing his dream was well-conceived because he was not only doing something that created value for himself, but for others as well, said Steve Shapiro, a motivational career speaker from Quincy.

“If you’re serious about pursuing your passion, you have to do your homework and put yourself through training and only make the leap when you’re ready,” he said. “And once you are, you can’t just dip your toe, you have to jump in with both feet.”

Shapiro said it’s important not to get restricted or intimidated by the reality checks that will be thrown at your dreams, but to understand that there will be sacrifices along the way.

The author of the article, Kate M. Jackson, also asked me to write 5 tips for a side-bar. They were not published, so I am including them here. [Read more]

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Turning the Extraordinary into Ordinary

January 4, 2008

As many of you know, my sister (Deborah) and her husband (Gary) sold their house and are now traveling the country in an RV for the next year. Gary sells cancer insurance door to door as they make their way across the states (yes, he knocks on people’s doors) . The idea is to integrate his work with their desire to be on “vacation” every day. They have now been on the road for four months, traveling from Chicago, across to Maine, down the coast to Georgia and Florida.

I bet you think this sounds like an incredible opportunity. It is. But opportunities are not necessarily reality.

Although they created this once in a lifetime trip, they have not capitalized on what is possible.

Old habits have surfaced. Instead of exploring, they have settled into their old habits. Each day in their RV looks pretty much the same as it did when they lived at home: work, dinner, wine, TV, sleep.

In her blog entry on “Turning the Extraordinary into Ordinary,” Deborah describes her daily routine and makes a brilliant observation:

As exciting as cross-country travel could be, has consistency and predictability become more of a priority? Although Gary and I are in the 4th month of our trip, over 1/3 complete, we are still waiting for the trip to begin.”

This is our natural tendency. We seek out the familiar. We play it safe to protect what we have and know.

We are waiting for life to begin. The five most dangerous words are: “I will be happy when…”

We convince ourselves that our happiness lies in the future. That life will be great when we lose 10 pounds, when we get married, when we have more money, or when we have a high-status job.

It’s not true. Happiness lies in the present. Now.

Every day we are presented with opportunities. Most of them are not as obvious as a 365 day vacation. Many are subtle; somewhat hidden from view. Find these opportunities. Take advantage of them. Play full out…today.

Do not wait for your trip to begin.

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See Stephen on Television

January 3, 2008

Tomorrow, Friday January 4th, I will be on Fox 25′s Morning News in Boston. I am scheduled to be on at 8:20AM.

I will talk about my story that appeared in the recent “Chicken Soup for the Soul” book.

In particular I will address my life as a recovered “Goalaholic.” As part of the conversation, I hope to give some tips for how to set goals for success in the New Year without losing yourself (and your family).

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My New Year’s Theme

January 2, 2008

2008 new years resolutionsBy know you know that I am a believer in setting theme-based resolutions. Every year at this time I announce my theme. After considerable contemplation, I have decided on my theme for 2008:


I have been inspired by the New England Patriots this year. They just completed the first 16-0 season in the history of American football. Their success is not by luck or chance. It is due to discipline and teamwork. They live by 7 powerful lessons. This year, I will take take these lessons to heart and play my best game, each and every day. Head Coach, Bill Belichick, once said after achieving a 20 game win streak, “We did not have a 20 game win streak. We had 20 one-game win streaks.” This year I am striving for 366 one-day win streaks.

Please share your New Year’s Theme.

Happy New Year.

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