October 22, 2012
In my book, “Goal-Free Living,” I talk about the importance of Seeking Out Adventure. Trying new things is one avenue for enhancing your creativity. As Steve Jobs once said, “Creativity is just having enough dots to connect. Dots being ideas or experiences.” He claims that people who are more creative have had more experiences. Well, my sister has decided to be proactive about seeking out adventure. But for her, it is not just about becoming more creative. It is about enhancing her life. It is a form of self discovery. I asked her to document and share her perspectives in a guest blog entry. So, with great pleasure, I would like to give you Deborah Shapiro’s new game…
Stepping out of a relationship is challenging, at least for me. And after the conclusion of my most recent relationship there was a debilitating void. I began to realize that my life’s activities had revolved around the individuals I had been with. Once alone, I had no idea what to do with myself. Our friends were the same. Our activities revolved around what he liked to do and I was happy to accommodate as I cared more about who I was with than with what we were doing.
I was left with an existential crisis on my hands. Who am I? What are MY passions? What are the things that bring ME joy and happiness? Why do I feel so alone? I had no idea how to answer these simple questions that someone at the age of 45 should have long discovered.
After much consideration what I saw was that I needed to take different actions to have the life I so desired; actions that would disrupt a very predictable future reminiscent of my past.
So, I decided to play a game.
The Rules: Since I didn’t know what I really enjoyed doing nor understood where my passions lie, a fitting game to create was to take on a new activity every day. The intention was for me to experiment with a whole new set of actions or do those things that I hadn’t done in a while. I would create a running list of items as they surfaced and would tick them off at the appropriate moments.
One of the essential rules created was that I would suspend all judgment of whether I would like the activity or not. How could I know if I liked something if I hadn’t ever done it? Additionally, I am at a different point in my life. If I had tried something previously with limited success, perhaps now would be a more fitting time.
The Results (so far): Although it has only been a month since I started this game, the results have been staggering. Life altering, to be frank.
Look at all these friends!
Due to the nature of the game, I had to reach beyond my traditional circle of friends so that I could be amongst others who were willing to participate in those activities I had identified. In doing so, my circle of friends has grown exponentially. My once quiet phone is now ringing off the hook with amazing individuals. And surprisingly, those that I had thought were “not my type” have ended up being some of my most cherished friends.
This realization created a new rule: In addition to not filtering activities based on my preconceived notions, I will no longer limit who I will do them with.
I had always thought that, at my age, people would already be settled into having a set base of friends with little room for newcomers. But what I have discovered is that there are many others out there as hungry as I to forge new friendships. I was feeling alone. But, in the wake of this new game, I find it somewhat comical as to how anyone could feel alone amongst a population of close to 7 billion. I was responsible my loneliness.
Look at all these things to do!
Equally as comical, is the fact that I had ever said, “I have nothing to do.” Because of this game, I have been trained to listen for any activity that could present itself. Ideas are literally EVERYWHERE. You just need to listen for them.
I’ve gotten ideas from Facebook, the news, passing conversations with neighbors. The best source? My new friends. They know of and are excited about my game and want to join in. There has been a recent onslaught of emails and texts containing ideas from trapeze lessons to swing dancing, hot yoga to paddle boating.
These activities have always been there, the difference is that I am now listening with intent. But more importantly, I have a structure in place to fulfill on these events. Without that structure, an idea would be just that…a nice idea.
Every day really IS a new day!
In searching for something new, I started to see what wasn’t. My life. I began to recognize that I had a pattern for doing virtually the same thing, the same way, every day. I wake up. Brush my teeth. Make coffee. Clean the house. Go to work. Send emails. Make dinner. Watch TV and then go to bed. No wonder why people are dissatisfied with their lives. In my case, I had unwittingly created routines that had me condemned to a life of ordinary.
So I started to look at how I could adjust some of these patterns. How about tea instead of coffee? Or taking a different route to work? Maybe listening to a different genre of music or watching a new show on TV. How about eating something exotic for dinner? Or writing a handwritten note to a friend instead of sending an email or text?
I have long complained that technology has made life impersonal. I have just begun to see that I am the one making it impersonal, not technology. Just because it is easier to send an email or text, doesn’t mean I have to.
By making these small adjustments, I saw that every day is truly my own creation! My life was stagnant, because I was making it that way. That is the good news – bad news. However, seeing this now opens up the opportunity for me to create my days any way I desire.
Playing a game has changed my life
Why has playing a game been so effective for me?
In games, there is no right or wrong. There is nowhere to get to. YOU create the rules so you can change them at any time. You can even stop playing if you want. (But why on earth would I want to?!)
And because I had no preconceived notions of how the game would go, I had no expectations for the results. If I had established a specified outcome, a defined place to get to, I would have created a pressure for myself to achieve that goal, making the game feel more like a burden than a game.
This has me really wondering: How much could life differ if we all lived it like a game?
It has only been three weeks. Imagine what I will discover over the next year or 5? How will the rules change? What new insights are in store? Time will only tell.
Oh, you are probably wondering what passions I have discovered. Only one thus far. I am passionate about trying new things. Come play!
May 15, 2012
While on vacation recently, I thought to myself, “This is perfect.” The weather was nice. We had a great hotel room. The food was wonderful.
Was it really perfect? Were there nicer rooms, better food, and warmer climates? Indeed. Comparatively speaking, it was not truly perfect.
But perfection in such matters is a state of mind. A situation is perfect purely by declaring it so. There are no absolute measures of perfection for things like vacations.
Unfortunately, instead of appreciating what is, many look for the flaws.
Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.
Think about your life. Where are you least happy? My guess is that your dissatisfaction is often a result of comparison.
Where you are today compared to…
- where you want to be in the future (aspirations and goals)
- where you were in the past (reminiscing about the “good ol’ days”)
- where you thought you would be already (your expectations and those of your family, society, and others)
- where others are today (comparison; keeping up with the Joneses)
Let’s take money as an example. Studies show that it’s not the “absolute” amount of money you have that matters. It is how much money you have “relative” to what you want. Your financial aspirations are driven by how much others have, how much you think you should have, how much others (e.g., a spouse) expect you to have, and more. Even if you are successful in hitting your financial goals, the more you make, the more you adapt, and therefore more you want. Higher income levels provide only fleeting happiness, and is typically replaced by the desire for more.
Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.
Our expectations can be about anything:
- How many twitter followers we have compared to others (or how many we think we should have).
- How much publicity we get compared to others (or how much we wish we had or have received in the past).
- How many accolades we receive compared to others.
- How many prospects return our calls compared to our expectations or past successes.
- How nice our hotel room is compared to our expectations, other available rooms, or what we think we deserve.
- How much food we have compared to how hungry we are, what others have, or our subconscious desire to stuff our face. (eat blindfolded and be fed by someone else; you will have a deep appreciation for the quality and quantity of the food not matter what it is)
- The type of work we do compared to what we think we want to do, what others are doing, what society says we should do, or what our families tell us they expect
And the list goes on and on.
Nearly every area of our life has subconscious beliefs and associated desires. The issue arises when we subconsciously say to ourselves, “It shouldn’t be this way.”
…I should have more hair (in others words, I shouldn’t have as little hair as I do).
…I should weight less.
…I should make more money.
…I deserve to be treated better.
…I wish I had a different job.
…Why does everyone else have more than I do?
Some people have an “I” problem (thanks Terry Brock for that expression).
And some people want to save the world, and that causes dissatisfaction.
…We shouldn’t have war.
…We shouldn’t have poverty.
…Why can’t we all just get along?
Expectation is the source of dissatisfaction.
A Reflection of Perfection
Each year on New Year’s Eve, I choose a theme. It is a one-word mantra that drives everything I do during the year.
The word for 2012 is “perfect.” That is, everything is perfect by declaration rather than as defined by some arbitrary criteria.
I am absolutely convinced that anyone can, in any moment, consciously declare that everything is perfect. It is exactly as it should be. It can take conscious effort to have things feel perfect; it is not always easy. But it is possible. It is having a deep appreciation for what is rather than what we want.
Perfection is NOT positive thinking. It is exactly the opposite. Positive thinking is not about acknowledging what is in the moment. Positive thinking is about replacing your true feelings with an artificial thought.
Perfection is the acknowledgement of what is now. If you feel sad, that is perfect. If you are in a difficult situation, that is perfect. This present moment cannot be any different than it is. So why try to change it? It is futile. And why try to feel positively about it if you don’t? Embrace the situation – and your feelings about the situation – exactly as they are.
There have been many moments over the past 6 months when I paused and brought conscious thought to how perfect a situation is, even when it didn’t seem so.
I don’t like arguments…at all. They make me uncomfortable. As a result, I have very few. But sometimes they happen. I remember one such situation a few months ago. Although at first I wanted the “conversation” to end, I paused and thought to myself, “this is perfect.” I then listened to what the other person had to say from the perspective of contribution. I learned a lot about the other person and myself, and it brought the two of us closer together. It turned out perfectly.
Adversarial conversations can be perfect. They are only problematic when they “shouldn’t be this way.”
Of course a gap between the current state and our desired future state does not always cause dissatisfaction. Sometimes they can be a source of motivation. But even in those situations, our future aspirations can be a distraction that causes us to miss the beauty of the here and now. We get so focused on where we are going that we speed past where we are.
Creativity happens in the present moment. People who are more aware of “now” are more creative.
Perfection (and the associated creativity) today leads to perfection (and more creativity) tomorrow. And eventually you have one long streak of perfection.
And to me, this sounds perfect.
P.S. One of my favorite songs right now (I discovered it after I declared my theme, which makes the song even more perfect) is Perfect by Jami Lula. I highly recommend it!
February 6, 2012
It is the Monday after the Superbowl. While scanning the TV stations and flipping through the radio channels this morning, it seemed as though everyone was discussing and analyzing (and analyzing and analyzing…) the football game. Everyone is a Monday morning quarterback.
Come on, get a life! Stop living your life through someone else.
Tom Brady does not care about your life. Why should you invest so much emotional energy in studying his?
Instead of being a fan of someone else’s life, be a fan of your own life.
Be a Monday morning quarterback on what worked and what didn’t work last week…for your business. Study your statistics to decide if you are moving in the right direction. Invest in you and your greatness.
I invest my money in me: my education, the development of my business, the hiring of the right talent, personal development, etc. I rarely invest my money in what others are doing. In fact, I almost never buy stocks. If I invest in me and my business, I am confident that in the long run I will have a higher return on my investment.
Start investing time, money and emotional energy in you and your business.
Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy watching the New England Patriots (even when they lose). It is entertaining and inspiring. Their drive and determination always jazzes me up and has me perform better in my life.
But I would not call myself a fan of any sports team.
I prefer to be fanatical about my life; doing what I can to make it as amazing as possible.
[end of rant]
February 1, 2012
NOTE: This article is on the American Express OPEN Forum with the title “How to Make Goal-Setting Work for You.” But the title I really wanted was “Goals Are Stupid.” I’ll let you decide if they are or not.
We are a society obsessed with goals. Nearly everyone sets them. In fact, we just finished the most popular goal-setting day of the year: New Year’s Eve. This is when we establish our annual objectives, called resolutions.
Even though goal-setting is in vogue, is it good for us? Maybe, but not necessarily.
After studying goals for nearly 10 years, I have seen that for many, this ritual can lead to both failure and disappointment. Why? Goal-gurus often use words like “achievement,” “success” and “potential.” They position these concepts in a way that sounds appealing. “Get a better job.” “Make more money.” “Find the perfect partner.” Although our culture has placed a high value on success, money, status and fame, none of these are what we really want. I believe the ultimate goal for human beings is “happiness.”
So, what is it that makes people happy?
A few years ago, I commissioned a statistically valid study that uncovered some startling figures:
- 58 percent of people admit to willingly sacrificing their happiness today in the belief that when they achieve their goals they will be happier. This means that over half of all goal-setters believe that happiness only exists in the future when they achieve their goals.
- Sadly, according to the same study, 92 percent of people fail to achieve their annual goal—their New Year’s resolution. And it appears that this failure rate applies to all goal-setting.
But what about the 8 percent who achieved their goals? Clearly they must be happy with the results. But surprisingly, 41 percent of those who achieved their goals found that the accomplishment did little to improve their happiness. In fact, they were left disillusioned, dissatisfied and worse afterwards. Why? Many realized they inadvertently set the “wrong” goal. What’s the response? Set yet another goal, and allow the vicious cycle to continue.
If you do the math, this means that only about 5 percent of goal-setters both achieve their goals and are happy as a result. And many of those “successful” 5 percent become acclimated to the fruits of their labor and the happiness wears off. The more money you make, the more money you want. The bigger your house, the more space you desire. The more successes you obtain, the more success you want.
This acclimation perspective is supported by Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, in an interview in the January/February 2012 Harvard Business Review. He says:
“A recent study showed that very few experiences affect us for more than three months. When good things happen, we celebrate for a while and then sober up. When bad things happen, we weep and whine for a while and then pick ourselves up and get on with it.”
He contends that happiness is not linked to achievement. In fact, he provides striking examples of people who had experienced “horrible” circumstances yet were ultimately happier in the long run. Apparently, we are good at finding the “silver lining.” On a lighter note, he quotes Pete Best, the drummer in the Beatles who was replaced by Ringo Starr before the band became big. He is now a session drummer and said, “I am happier than I would have been with the Beatles.”
Achievement does not necessarily drive happiness—nor does having “more” or “less.” To be clear, I am not advocating that people sit idly while eating bonbons and watching Jerry Springer. A life like this is neither juicy nor exciting and will most likely lead to hedonistic tendencies and a feeling of being lost. You still need to have something pulling you forward; something that gets you energized.
So here is what I am suggesting…
If you enjoyed this article, please press the “like” button on the American Express OPEN Forum website and spread the love. Also, please leave comments there.
September 2, 2011
Imagine the following scenario. You are single and live just outside of New York City. Your employer wants you to work in London for a few years. You are excited about the prospect of living overseas and are interested in the job. Assuming that the costs of living for New Jersey and London are roughly equivalent, which option would you choose?
You stay an employee of the NYC office and are “on loan” to London. You continue to pay your mortgage/rent in New Jersey, but can rent/sublet your place to someone during your absence. The company pays all of your expenses in London: housing, food and travel to and from the U.S. They cover the difference in taxes between the US and UK. Basically you have no expenses for the three years you are there, affording you the chance to sock away 100 percent of your salary. Your stay is temporary. After your time overseas, you will return to the U.S.
You transfer from the NYC office and become an employee of the London office. You are paid in British pounds just like all other British employees and you pay U.K. taxes—which are higher. Although you sell your house in New Jersey and have no expenses in the U.S., you need to cover all of your expenses in London. There is no guarantee of a job in the NYC office should you decide to return to the states.
Financially, option No. 1 is a significantly better deal. But when faced with this situation in real life, I chose option No. 2.
While I recognize that finances are important, I place a higher value on my happiness. And the best way to effectively leverage that happiness is to live life fully immersed in the present.
What does that have to do with my choosing scenario No. 2?
I have found that when we engage in a temporary or transitory activity, the mindset is different than when we are settled into a seemingly more permanent option. Temporary situations can create a “holding pattern” where we wait for a “better” option down the road. Temporary employment is not your real job. Temporary housing is not your real home. These give the illusion of “here today, gone tomorrow.” Why take it seriously? Why invest your heart and soul into activities when you will eventually be leaving. Living in the moment can be difficult when you are waiting for your “real” life to begin.
Although from a financial perspective, the permanent option may not have been a great decision, it was the right one for me. I had the most spectacular three years of my life. London felt like my home. I lived there like a native. I acted as though there was no return to the U.S. This forced me to be present to what I was doing and to take full advantage of England.
I am not sure that I would have had the mental conviction to live in that same manner had I chosen the temporary solution. I may never have felt settled. The thought of leaving might have lingered in the back of my mind, negatively impacting my experience.
Instead, I formed new social circles. I dated. I lived as though I would be there forever. London became my home. A little more than three years later, I was back in the U.S., without a traditional job and salary (this is when I launched my own business).
“Permanent” situations tend to give the illusion of future stability, even though that is an illusion.
Where are you living like you are in a temporary situation?
Have you ever been in a job that you didn’t like? Did you daydream continuously about leaving, yet three years later you are still in the same job? How might your perspective change if you thought this were a permanent option? Perhaps instead of dreaming about the future, you would be present to what you can do today in your job. Look for new opportunities internally. Do the best job you can. Find ways of adding more value. If you are focused on leaving, seeing this job as a temporary option, you will be miserable. And the odds are, you will lose your job because of poor performance. That’s when you will begin to daydream about how great your job used to be.
We see this phenomenon in relationships as well. While there are many reasons why people marry, there is a psychological shift that many undergo upon saying those two little words: “I do.” It creates a more predictable and stable life with a clearly defined future. And many marry for that reason—for the perceived stability they gain. To love, honor and cherish till death do us part. It gives us the appearance of certainty. But of course, that too is an illusion.
How often do you live with uncertainty? How much of that uncertainty is created by you in your mind? How much does this uncertainty ruin your present moment experiences?…