Listening…Without Hearing

August 4, 2006

Last week I attended the National Speakers Association annual convention in Orlando, Florida along with 1,700 other professional speakers from around the world. When one is held captive with this many orators for an extended period of time, it becomes painfully apparent that speakers do indeed love to speak. A T-shirt for sale at the event captured this sentiment perfectly and read: “Help, I’m speaking and I can’t shut up.” Needless to say, by the end of the four days, I had exchanged more words with more people than I had shared in the previous three months combined.

With so many people milling about, most conversations were brief and fleeting. Even during the more intense discussions, it was difficult to avoid the urge of looking around at the other passer-bys. So many people. So little time.

However, there was one discussion that stood out from the numerous superficial conversations. I was intensely focused on what he was saying and he was even more focused on what I had to share. If people walked by, I never noticed. We hung on each others’ every word.

What was so special about this conversation? Nothing in particular. What was special was the person I was speaking with. His name is Stephen Hopson. Stephen is a professional speaker, author, and an airplane pilot. These accolades are impressive enough in and of themselves. But what makes Stephen truly remarkable is the fact that he is deaf… The world’s very first deaf instrumentation pilot.

Stephen has been deaf since birth and uses lip reading to communicate. While speaking with him, I was intensely aware that I could not look away. If I did, Stephen would be unable to understand what I was saying. As a result, I was always completely focused on him while speaking. I also enunciated my words more that usual. And given this level of attention while speaking, I ended up doing the same while listening (yes, he can speak quite well). I rarely interrupted.

It was interesting, but I noticed that my conversations with others seemed more intense after my discussion with Stephen. I listened to them more carefully and did not succumb to outside distractions. I gave each person my undivided attention and in doing so, I felt a greater connection to the person with whom I was speaking.

Goal-Free Living is about being present. And unfortunately most people are not present to most conversations. Try this experiment. During your next one-on-one conversation, assume the other person can only “hear” you by reading your lips. In doing this, I suspect that you will begin to hear things that you have never heard before. Ironic how I learned to listen from someone who can not hear.

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Slow Motion to Fast Forward Ratio

July 20, 2006

I recently saw the movie “Click” with Adam Sandler. Although it wasn’t a great movie, it did get me to think more about what happens when you make your life about goals.

Sandler’s character (Michael Newman) is given a remote control that allows him to control not his television, but his actual life. He can use the remote to fast forward his life past the parts he doesn’t like, rewind his life to re-live (but not change) past events, and he can run his life in slow motion.

It turns out that Newman’s favorite is the fast forward button. As I watch, he fast forwards past his morning commute and skips past arguments with his wife to the point in time where they make up. He fast forwards past any cold or illness straight to recovery, and skips through the tedious parts at work to get directly to his next promotion. I’m watching this thinking, “Cool. I could really use one of these gizmos.”

But there’s a catch.

When Newman arrives at the time of his promotion, he discovers he’s still not happy. So he fast forwards again. Next thing you know, his life is whizzing by him. Of course, there is the ONE scene in the movie where he uses the slow motion button – when driving past an attractive, scantily dressed woman, who is …well, ah, jogging.

So I am watching this, and I start to wonder how I would use that remote control.

Goal-Free Living is about being present. Savoring the moment. Having the life you want now. If you had a remote control like in the movie Click, how often would you hit the fast forward button? Run your life in slow motion? Or hit rewind, and relive your past?

According to my goalaholic survey of over 1,000 individuals, 61% of the population finds themselves saying, “I will be happy when…” Their happiness awaits them in the future. I wonder how many of these people, if given such a remote control, would use the fast forward button to get to that point when they think they will be happier.

How satisfied are you with your life? One measure of success might be your “slow motion to fast forward ratio.” How much of your day would you run in slow motion? 5 minutes? 1 hour? 3 hours? 24 hours? Never? How much of your day would want to fast forward past? 2 hours? 8 hours (your workday)? 24 hours (skip the day altogether)? The higher the ratio between slo mo and fast forward, the higher the satisfaction with your life. So what’s your ratio? What percentage of the time do you savor the moment versus how often do you want to fast forward your life? Increasing your ratio can be as simple as increasing your level of appreciation for your life the way it is now, rather than believing that it can only get better.

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Three Points I Wish I Made Clearer

June 12, 2006

Once printed, the text in a book never changes. However, the concepts continue to evolve. Therefore, from time to time, I will post my thoughts on how I would say things differently if I were to re-write the book today. Today’s points focus on the clarity of my message; thoughts that are sometimes lost on the reader. To help clarify the points, I am including links to other blog entries that show examples.

  • Being goal-free is very different than being goal-less. Goal-less is having no purpose or direction in life. Think of it as sitting on your butt eating bon-bons and watching Jerry Springer. This is NOT what it means to be goal-free. Being goal-free is having a sense of direction (not a specific destination), playing full out, and then “meandering with purpose.” Being goal-free does not mean being entirely free from goals. Rather it means being free from the burden of goals that grips so many people. It is about actively participating in life.
  • Although Goal-Free Living is about having the life you want, the real thrust of the book is success…with less effort. When you are consumed by your goals, you focus on the future rather than being present to what is around you. You become stressed. As a result, you don’t perform your best. All of my studies and examples show that people who “try harder” are often less successful in achieving their “goals.” Sales reps who try the “hard sale” are worse sales people (there are several examples in the book). Students who focus too much on grades get stressed and sub-optimize their test performance (and they miss bigger learning opportunities). Athletes who focus on the “numbers” (batting average, goals, the stop watch) often perform worse than those who are “in the moment”.
  • Goal-Free Living is not just about career. It is not about “doing what you love and the money will follow.” The goal-free concept applies to every aspect of life from dating to parenting, and vacations to blogging. By being focused on the present, enjoying what you are doing, and being open to new opportunities, success finds you…in all areas of life.
  • More “Points I Wish I Made Clearer” to come in future blog entries.

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    Goal-Free Parenting

    May 18, 2006

    Here in the United States, Mother’s Day was this past Sunday. In honor of our moms, today’s installment is about Goal-Free Parenting.

    63% of adults say, “I encourage those that I care about to pursue goals that I think are best for them.” Whose life are your children living? One person I interviewed became wildly successful – and just recently emerged from rehab. His career was “chosen” by his parents, and destroyed his life. We are in an era plagued by the demise of imagination in children, squelching it to the detriment of emotional growth.

    Kids today have quickly become the most over micromanaged population of our society. A tongue-in-cheek look into this potentially debilitating trend is the best-seller “The Nanny Diaries” where parents are enrolling not only unborn babies, but not yet conceived babies into “the best” pre-schools in Manhattan, French classes and art history courses. Thus ensuring their future place at Harvard and placement at Morgan Stanley.

    The serious side of this parenting micromanagement is that children are being led through life, living someone else’s goals. Why is it that a 3 year old needs his/her own erasable easel with a weekly schedule that includes Yoga for tots and toddler therapy? At what point will they rebel? Are we not only stealing their innocence but also their creativity and potentially stifling their natural born gifts by forcibly directing them to activities that we as parents want them to engage in?

    The remedy is a more malleable approach to parenting. It is documented that structure provides a great foundation for the development of children, but there must be unstructured time as well. Allowing kids to be kids. Encouraging them to use their own imagination, make their own choices and decisions (even if they are at times wrong) and handling the repercussions of those decisions.

    [Read more]

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    Goal-Free Living Mind Map

    May 15, 2006

    A book reader in Australia, Marie Farrugia, developed a mind map outline of the book for use as an easy reference guide. Click here to download her handiwork. Thanks Marie.

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    Success…Without the Stress

    March 9, 2006

    In Goal-Free Living I discuss a powerful technique for increasing your creativity: standing in someone else’s shoes. The idea being, that when you “make believe” you are someone else, you begin to see the world through their eyes. You become that other person. At a recent speech, one young woman in attendance – someone who recently graduated from high school — shared a personal story that illustrates the incredible power of this approach.

    She told the story of a time when she needed to take an important math test. Math was never one of her strong subjects, so she was concerned. Overly concerned. In the time leading up to the test, she became increasingly stressed with the goal of doing well. This is not surprising. We put incredible pressure on students to perform well on these tests. The stress was overwhelming. Halfway through the exam, she walked out. She could not handle the pressure.

    One week before I met her, she was given the opportunity to take the test again. This time, instead of being overly worried, she decided to turn the exam into a game — a very goal-free approach. She walked into the examination room making believe she was Condoleezza Rice, the United States Secretary of State — a very successful and highly educated woman. Standing in her shoes, she had incredible confidence. Dr. Rice wouldn’t worry, right? So she didn’t worry. The result of playing this game? She received a 90% — something beyond her wildest expectations.

    When we get overly focused on the goal, we create stress. By turning everything we do into a game – something kids do naturally – we create success without the effort.

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    Goal-Free Dating

    February 14, 2006

    Valentine’s Day is here. A time of celebration for some. A day of great emptiness for others. Think about the pressure that men and women 25+ put on themselves when it comes to dating. They have convinced themselves that they will be happy when they are in a relationship. That the right person will “complete” them.

    It’s not only about finding the perfect date, but finding the perfect venue, getting perfect weather, wearing the perfect outfit and having the perfect conversation – one that more often than not ends up being forced, formal and frustrating!

    Well, take a breather from it all, Valentine’s Day or not! Dating is like the romanticism of travel. Prior to a vacation, there is imagery of perfect weather, fabulous food, lots of rest and reading, etc. Fast forward into the trip after two days without your luggage (including your raincoat), the rooster that has perched itself out of your “ground-level-overlooking-the-parking lot-room” window, and you’d like to sic some of your own revenge on this Montezuma person!!

    The solution? Stop romanticizing the future. Live in the here and now. Appreciate yourself first. Then relax about the whole dating thing. Here are a few tips to help:

    1. Stop romanticizing: Instead of going into each date worried about perfecting it so as to secure “this one” being “the one” approach it from the standpoint of a fun meal with someone you may learn a thing or two from and if at the end you have a friendship or more out of it, then it was a success.

    2. Stop trying: When you are on a date, do not worry about the next date. Instead, just enjoy the other person’s company…for that moment. You will come across as more genuine and less desperate. This, ironically, increases your chances of getting that second date.

    3. Stop doing: Instead of signing up for 40 different online dating sites, going on 90 dates in 30 days, ending up broke & miserable – and still without a relationship, let it go. Go to events without the goal of meeting your spouse. Rather go there to have a good time and to meet new people.

    4. Appreciate yourself: One woman I met in my travels “married” herself several years ago. The purpose was to continually remind her of her commitment to doing for herself what she would do for a spouse. She would love, make time for, and respect herself. Only after having this type of relationship with herself could she begin to have a similar relationship with a man.

    This year, have the best time and the best relationships during Valentine’s Day by being goal-free.

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    The Unexpected Exceeds Expectations

    January 30, 2006

    I have been on the road for 3 weeks and am now back in Boston for 10 days before hitting the road again. The tour has been great fun so far! I want to share with you a recent experience from my travels.

    On the morning of Friday, January 20th, I drove 9 hours from Virginia to Hilton Head, SC. Getting there was a 4 hour diversion from my original Washington DC to Atlanta travel plans. But my PR firm arranged for a 30 minute television interview with the local independent station there. The opportunity seemed to justify the extra travel. After the long drive, I arrived at the studios at 4:45PM; 15 minutes before the scheduled start. The studios were pitch black. No one was there. Did I have the wrong date? The wrong time? After a few phone calls, I discovered that the studio messed up. Although they could not pull together a camera crew before I had to leave the next day, they said that would try to pull something together after my Atlanta gigs – on my way back to Boston.

    Instead of getting upset about the mix up, I chose to accept it as an opportunity for something new to show up.

    For dinner that evening, I chose a restaurant where I might be able to meet some locals. I sat at the bar — a nice open space. I started speaking with the woman sitting next to me, Kerrie. We hit it off and went for a drink afterwards. We agreed to get together and paint the town red when (if) I returned for the TV shoot. Now I had a reason to return; I was glad for the mix-up with the TV studio.

    Fast forward to Wednesday, the day I drove back to Hilton Head from Atlanta. As I made the 4 hour drive, I got a call from Kerrie. She needed to leave town unexpectedly; she became an aunt a month earlier than anticipated. We would not have a chance to get together.

    Again, instead of getting upset, I decided to find other opportunity.

    Kerrie & I talked about going to a piano bar that just opened up the month before. I decided to go there on my own. I had an amazing time. Scott, the piano play is incredibly talented. The people in the bar were so much fun. I hung out there until 2AM having the best time. As the bar was closing, Scott asked if I would be interested in golfing the next day. I was, and so we did. It was a spectacular day on an Arnold Palmer designed golf course, which we had to ourselves. Heavenly. That evening I returned to the piano bar to listen to wonderful music and hang out with my new friends.

    If I were in Hilton Head solely for the goal of doing the TV show, I might have been disappointed (we did tape the show upon my return). Or, if I gone back with the expectation of getting together with Kerrie, I certainly would have been disappointed – we never did meet up. However, in spite of all of that, it turned out to be the most fun I have had in a long time! New opportunities appear when we are not too attached to our original goals.

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    What’s Your Theme For the Next Year?

    January 2, 2006

    In an earlier blog post, I discussed setting aspiration-based themes rather than goal-based resolutions.

    What is your theme for the next year? In 2006, mine was “impact” — making a difference in the world.

    Friends of mine had generosity, partnership, grace, health, “me”, new beginnings, adventure, and unpredictability.

    Please post your theme as a comment. Thank you for sharing your inspiring stories!

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    Goal-Free Creative Blogging

    December 7, 2005

    A friend of mine, Jason Bates, mentioned that his approach to blogging is very goal-free. Here’s what he said:

    When I started blogging, it took real effort. I had set myself a goal of writing a blog post a day, and so I spent a good deal of time sitting at a keyboard thinking “What should I write.” I had this idea that I had to know what I was going to write before I wrote it. So I’d do a little ‘essay plan’ and then translate this into something that was more polished. I soon discovered that this wasn’t only a boring process for me, but it was also (from my lack of readers) pretty boring for people to read… it seemed to lack spark. I turned in despair to a friend who was a successful blogger who gave me this advice:This is a wonderfully creative way to write. Rather than thinking through the structure and content intellectually, you allow the words to flow in unpredictable ways.

    “If you don’t surprise and entertain yourself with what you are writing… your audience won’t be surprised or entertained either! It doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be you!”

    Wow! It really hit me… and that day I started a blog post with a thought, but no idea as to where it would take me, and that’s how I’ve written ever since. When it’s going well, the words just flow out of me… surprising me with the unexpected direction. But, you know, I’ve realized that I am blogging now because I enjoy it, rather than to “look good” in front of my audience. It’s a very different feeling!

    Of course I have to spell check, and reword sometimes… but that’s just cleaning up the insights that appear, it’s a million miles away from planning the piece from the start.

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