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?…
August 10, 2011
Many years back, I led classes on Stephen Covey’s “Principle Centered Leadership” for Accenture’s managers. Over 75 percent of the attendees said that achieving balance in their life was their number one reason for taking the course. This is not surprising given the fast pace of life today. But what does balance mean?
Balance implies two opposing forces that reach equilibrium. This is not easy to do. Remember when you were a kid trying to balance with someone else on a seesaw? Either you were up or you were down. But rarely were you balanced. In life, either we are working hard or playing hard at any given moment. But we rarely are in balance. And when most refer to work/life balance being out of alignment, it is typically not because they are enjoying too much play and not enough work.
Maybe balance is not the solution. So what’s the alternative? Integration.
Find ways of integrating your work and personal life together. In doing this, you free up more time, you gain new interests, and your life becomes whole rather than piecemeal. One simple example is that of a professional speaker who loves golf. He now includes golf lessons as one of his client offerings. He gets to do what he loves while making money.
This concept applies to increasing time for relationships. Find ways of doing things together with your partner: Hobbies, interests, chores, or even work. A husband and wife I know never had time for one another. But when they learned about integration, they began to get actively involved in each other’s interests. He now takes cooking lessons with her, and she goes golfing with him. They created time by integrating their activities, enabling them to have more time for their individual pursuits.
How can you begin to integrate the pieces of your life?
First, look at what things interest you most. Next, ask how you can shift your daily schedule to embed these activities into what you do regularly. This will require some creative thinking. Finally, have the courage to ask for what you want.
Many years ago, I decided I wanted to be a professional speaker and an author. Instead of leaving the security of my consulting job, I decided to shift my responsibilities to include writing and speaking as part of my job. Unfortunately, this role did not exist. I needed to create a position that was of value to the organization—and then have the courage to ask for it and make it happen. I did and my idea grew into a 20,000-person organization. As part of my job, I wrote a book that was sold to 40,000 consultants and clients. I was giving as many as 100 speeches a year to tens of thousands of people. This eventually led to a book deal with a major publisher, which I used to launch my professional speaker career.
I know of a young couple that radically integrated their passions with work. Gary is a door-to-door salesman. While enjoyable for him, admittedly his job was not his passion. His passion is travel, and like most Americans, he squeezes this love into one, maybe two weeks over the course of a year.
One night, after a particularly difficult day on the job, Gary and his wife Deb, engaged in a conversation as to how he could create more passion within his career. It was unacceptable for them to wait for retirement or a windfall of money to land in their account. They wanted to live their dreams now, while they could.
July 4, 2011
While speaking at a conference on “happiness at work” in Copenhagen, I met Cathy Busani, the Managing Director of Happy, a training and consultancy business operating in the U.K. Although they only employ 30 people, Happy has won wide recognition for its innovative approach to management and to customer service. I was intrigued by her philosophy and asked her five questions about happiness at work.
Q: Why is happiness at work important? What evidence do you have that it improves business performance?
A: We believe that if your people are performing their best, then your business cannot fail to perform at its best. And people perform their best when they are happy and feel good about themselves. Therefore, ensuring this is the primary job of every manager. We feel so strongly about it, we ask our staff to complete a “happy check” every few months, which asks questions like “How do you feel walking in the door in the morning?” (from Depressed & Despondent to Eager & Excited) or “How stressed do you feel at work?” (from Very Stressed to Never Stressed). Making staff happy is a serious business!
Q: I heard you say that in happy organizations, the employees pick their boss and not the other way around. Can you say more about that?
A: We believe the people who manage staff should be in that position because they are great at it, and not just because they are great at their core job. Therefore, we believe people should have the right to choose who supports, nurtures, coaches and challenges them. If they do choose this person, they are much more likely to value that relationship and get the most from it. So throughout your career at Happy, if you want to change who manages you, you just have to ask. In most cases, we find people don’t change managers, partly because we have picked managers for their people skills. However, sometimes a change is requested. For example, one person chose a new manager because he had taken on a new role and felt the new manager would challenge him more. On another occasion, someone asked to change her manager because they had become friend’s with their current one and this was causing some issues between them.
Q: I love what you say about failure. Not only do you embrace it, but if someone is not failing enough, you assume something is wrong. How do you practically apply this in your organization?
A: We strongly believe that in order for there to be innovation and creativity in the culture of your business, people should “celebrate” their mistakes. In other words, try something out—if it goes wrong, adapt it and learn from it, but don’t try to hide it. We don’t actually throw a party when someone makes a mistake (and we don’t condone somebody getting the same thing wrong over and over), but everyone is very open and non-judgmental. We believe if you haven’t made any mistakes in your first three months at Happy, you aren’t really trying very hard.
Q: In your company, everyone knows what everyone makes, from the managing director down to the janitor. What are the advantages of this? And has it ever caused any problems?
June 27, 2011
Let’s face it, sometimes you feel horrible. You feel like the universe is conspiring against you. It could be caused by an upsetting event, such as the end of a relationship or the loss of a job. Other times the feelings are elusive and unexplainable, thus attributed to the alignment of the stars or a chemical imbalance. All you want is to feel better.
Friends and coworkers may tell you to snap out of it, or find a meaningful project. As well meaninged as this advice may be, it can have a tremendous impact on your ability to effectively move forward.
Think about it. If you are angry and focus your attention elsewhere, do the feelings really go away? No. You are simply diverting your attention temporarily to avoid the experience. Even if you are not focused on the upset in the moment, you can rest assured it is still there. And it will be until you deal with the underlying issue.
Most people combat undesirable feelings by consciously or subconsciously creating a goal to feel better. However, consider the old adage, “The more you try to change things, the more they stay the same.” Trying to feel better will most often be a futile attempt.
I believe in living in the present. Although you may have to embrace something that you don’t really want, the more you deal with the now, the better the future. In college, there were moments when I would feel a little melancholy—it was typically due to women problems. Women were more important than grades. I didn’t do particularly well with either. For these occasions of sadness, I made this mix tape, aptly titled “The Depression Tape.”
When I felt down in the dumps, I would put that tape in the stereo, open a bottle of wine, turn off the lights, and allow myself to experience my sadness. Eventually I would fall asleep. When I awoke the next morning, I felt like a new man. The experience was very cathartic.
I have since learned to turn this approach into something a bit more, um, healthy. I have replaced the wine with journaling (better for my liver) and substituted the wallowing with a healthy dose of embracing the pain.
May 13, 2011
People often live by the saying: if you want to get something done right, you need to do it yourself. While I have heard people toss this phrase around like a badge of honor, there is no philosophy more toxic for an organization, especially small businesses. Businesses of any size are complex and it is unrealistic to think that a small number of individuals will have all of the necessary expertise. So how do you determine where to focus your attention?
To illustrate an example of what not to do, let’s take a look at how I used to run my own business.
When sales were slow, I would put all of my energy into selling. Once the sales pipeline was full, I would then focus 100 percent of my time conducting speeches and advising clients. This meant, of course, that my sales pipeline would eventually dry up and I would need to refocus on selling once again. At some point, I would realize that my products were no longer innovative—and no amount of selling will increase sales. Therefore, I would shift my efforts and deep dive into R&D mode, creating a new book, speech or product. And the cycle would continue over and over again.
This is what happens when you do everything yourself. It is inefficient. And worse, it is exhausting.
If you are a small business owner, you need to focus on the activities that are at the intersection of your passions, skills and value. That is, what do you love to do, what are you good at, and what creates value for others. For everything else, find suitable partners who can help you execute.
Start by making a list of all of the activities that your business needs to do: new product development, sales, marketing, customer service, order taking, fulfillment, IT, HR, etc. Go to whatever level of granularity feels right.
Then, for each activity, rate its passions, skills and value quotient from low to high: high passion activities are those you love to do; high skills activities are those where you have the necessary expertise to execute effectively; and high value activities are those that are strategic to your business.
The result gives you seven different targeting strategies:
Strategy 1: Target high passion/high skills/strategic activities
This is the sweet spot of your business. “Target” these areas and put most of your energies here. If this is your core business, then you have chosen wisely.
Strategy 2: Outsource low passion/low skills activities
If you neither like nor do an activity well, then outsource it to someone who enjoys it and has the skills to execute it at a higher level. This can be done through bartering, hiring employees, using contractors, summoning friends and family, revenue sharing or other creative collaborative strategies. Employ this strategy regardless of the value dimension.
Strategy 3: Minimize low passion/high skills/strategic activities
If you don’t want your job to become work, you probably want to outsource these capabilities as well. If you are starting out and finances are an issue, you may want to continue doing these activities for now then outsource at a more appropriate time. Given that they are strategic in nature, someone has to do them as they are critical to your businesses success.
Strategy 4: Learn high passion/low skills/strategic activities
If you love doing these activities, then you may wish to acquire the necessary skills. This can be done through a variety of means including training, mentoring or researching. If you anticipate a steep learning curve, consider finding a partner during the learning process who possesses these talents. This will help you move forward while gaining the necessary skills.
Strategy 5: Extend high passion/high skills/tactical activities
If you are passionate and skilled in a particular area and it is not currently strategic (i.e., tactical), consider how you might “extend” that capability. How can you make this a strategic part of your business? How can you create extraordinary value for customers by leveraging this expertise? Perhaps one way is to offer this service to others who are in a similar business. For example, professional speaking is my core business. However, something that I am both skilled at and passionate about is securing business with large corporations. I could offer this as a service to other speakers as a source of additional revenue.
April 20, 2011
My friend Susanne and I were recently playing a trivia game, a game in which she excels. However, at one point, she got a couple wrong answers in row. “Urgh,” she blurted out, “every time I have a gut answer and change it, it was actually correct.”
This made me curious. Malcolm Gladwell, in the book Blink, said that we make our best decisions in a blink of an eye. Was this true in Susanne’s case? Or was her mind playing tricks on her? To test this out, we did a little—admittedly unscientific—experiment.
We turned to a set of trivia questions where you had to guess the year that different events took place, like the year President Ford survived two assassination attempts (1975), or the year Pete Rose set a National League consecutive game hitting streak record of 44 (1978).
For our experiment, we took 10 questions. I would read aloud the name of an event (like the signing of the SALT II treaty) and Susanne would instantaneously give me her “gut” answer. I marked those down She would then take a bit more time to apply some analysis and come up with a final “logical” answer. In this case, the correct answer is 1979.
Out of 10 questions:
- One of her “gut” answers was closer than her “logical” answer—but only by one year.
- Four responses were unchanged after applying further reasoning. This means that 40% of the time, her “gut” answer and “logical” answer were the same.
- Five times, when she changed her “gut” response, her “logical” answer proved to be closer to the real date, often significantly closer.
What does this mean? Well, given that our study was not statistically valid, not much. However, it does highlight an interesting point.
Humans get attached to things—in this particular case, it was Susanne’s gut responses.
Furthermore, when we change an answer that was originally correct to give a final answer that is wrong, we kick ourselves. The irony is that we are much less likely to remember the situations where our gut answer was wrong and our final answer was correct.
This correlates to a study done with college students who were given a multiple-choice exam. The test administrators developed it in such a way that they could track when a student changed an answer.
After the students received their results, the examiner asked if, when the student changed a particular answer, whether they believed that their first answer was correct more often or not. Nearly all of the students believed that their first answers, or “gut” answers, were in fact usually correct, and that when they changed their response they more often got it wrong. This was similar to Susanne’s initial belief.
However, the study showed that the students’ final answers were more often correct than their gut answers— and by a wide margin.
So why is it that these students believed that their initial reactions we more accurate?
One reason is attachment. In particular, we feel losses more powerfully than we notice gains. In fact, a recent study showed that a loss of a relationship activates the same parts of the brain that are associated with physical pain. Losses truly are painful.
The students and Susanne felt a “loss” when a correct gut answer was changed. But they barely noticed the “gain” associated with a wrong gut answer that was ultimately corrected. This is a small example of how attachment affects us, however if you really take an honest look, attachment permeates throughout our entire lives.
Human beings are like packrats. We collect everything: ideas, material possessions, and relationships. However, when packrats stumble across something new that they wish to acquire, they will drop what they are currently carrying and “trade” it for the new item. One might say that these tiny creates are free to explore the world unencumbered by the past. This is in complete contrast to what human’s do. It is rare for us to drop something once we have it. We find it difficult to let go.
What can we learn from this?
Take a look at what you have in your life. What are you attached to? Are you holding on to these things just because you already have them? Consider that these attachments may, in fact, be weighing you down and preventing you from being able to effectively operate or generate creative and fulfilling alternatives in your life. I suspect that people would love to reinvent their lives but haven’t done so because they are already invested in what they have.
How can you break free?
Take an inventory of your life: your belongings, your job, your friends, and your relationships. If you were to design your life from scratch, would you seek out these same things and people? Or, would you make different choices?
April 14, 2011
I travel the world extensively. And during these jaunts I am always interested to hear of the differing points of view held by others about American culture. One commonly-held perception is that Americans are self-centered, believing that they are the center of the universe.
There is some truth to this perspective. On the whole, American culture is individualistic.
Studies have been conducted illustrating the differing impact of independent versus interdependent cultures; Americans being independent and Asians, for example, being interdependent.
An article in New Scientist Magazine titled “Self-Centered Cultures Narrow Your Viewpoint” reported that cultures emphasizing individualism fail at being able to infer another person’s perspective. Cultures that emphasize interdependence, on the other hand, are easily able to put themselves in the shoes of others and be more empathetic. A lack of empathy can certainly give the perspective that an individualistic society is self-centered.
To illustrate the difference between individualistic and interdependent culture, the study used the example of a U.S.-based company that attempted to improve productivity by telling its employees to “look in the mirror and say ‘I am beautiful’ 100 times before coming to work.” In contrast, a Japanese supermarket instructed its employees to “begin their day by telling each other ‘you are beautiful’.”
But is being self-centered really all that bad?
Perhaps I can offer up a slightly different definition for self-centered. It depicts a way of being self-centered that might actually be beneficial.
To start off, I am not suggesting that people should be selfish. I think of selfish as being “exclusively concerned with oneself.” And while selfish and self-centered are found to be synonymous in the dictionary, being self-centered—in my opinion—is entirely different.
Centering is what you base your life on—what you focus your attention on.
My parents are children-centered. For them, my sister and I are the most important part of their lives. They live vicariously through us, listening intently as we share our day’s events or track our whereabouts via Facebook.
I have friends who are spouse-centered in that they do everything to please their partner.
Many of my friends are work-centered. Their job is the most important aspect in their life. They get meaning from their career. It is no surprise that men are twice as likely to die during their first five years of retirement, than they are prior to retirement. [NOTE: Being work-centered is different than “marrying your work.”]
Others are service-centered. They give their lives to charity and others. They sacrifice their own well-being for their cause of choice.
In fact, in an apparent attempt to shed the self-centered label, I have seen the pendulum swing so far over in some areas that there has become a complete disregard for one’s own self.
As a simple illustration, several years back, I had conducted a survey for a book that I was writing covering individual’s relationships to goals. The study uncovered that 53 percent of people agreed with the statement: “I sometimes get the feeling that I am living my life in a way that satisfies others (friends, family, co-workers) more than it satisfies me.”
Is this healthy?
This leads me to the benefits of self-centering…