Category Archives: Self Leadership

Turning Down Time into Wow Time

It’s the time of year when we’re preparing to hit the road, the beach or the mountains and recharge our batteries so we will be able to hit things hard for the rest of the year. Unfortunately, in our “down” time, we often don’t benefit, mostly for a couple of reasons.

   1. We’re still too “wired” to gain much from the experience. Stress isn’t resident at our desks, it lives in us! We take it along–rather than maximizing time off to learn skills to deal with stress in healthy ways.

   2. We don’t plan the time away, so the vacation adds stress (by doing too much, adding to our debt load, or traveling too far for instance).

 I’d suggest 3 goals to make sure your down time is really that.

Reconnect with people (spouse, children, extended family, close friends). Relationships often are sacrificed for work; this is a great time to reestablish bonds.

Refocus on your purpose and passion. This isn’t just about work. It’s some concrete time when you’ll strategize for the long haul, praying and thinking deeply about where life ought to be headed and where it in reality is.

Refine your direction. Midcourse correction think time might just be one of the greatest benefits of down time. No one is aiming precisely at long term vision and goals. In your down time you will discover courage to make necessary changes—courage that’s hard to summon in the whirlwind of everyday.

If those are my goals, what facilitates reaching them while enjoying time away? I’d suggest:   

Unplug with intention. Consider going digital free for a major part of your down time! Studies say that despite the great convenience of connectedness, technology raises stress levels! So, consider going somewhere (a cruise or remote cabin for instance) that offers no or very expensive cell coverage. Make a decision ahead of time that you’re unplugging except for emergency situations.

If you can’t completely get away from your devices, agree with the office (or family members) on how much you’ll be available or at what hours of the day. Set your email with a vacation auto response. Include the contact info of who can help during your absence). Commit with the individuals with whom you’re traveling that you won’t check email more than a certain number of times during the days you’re “unplugged.”

Discuss a “no TV” plan (or other limits on your digital drugs) and discover how much you can enjoy being unplugged.

Unwind with recharging in mind. Figure out how to include some rich times with the people you love and who love you. Ask yourself: what would deepen conversation, add fun experiences and memory-building? Think and plan ahead for both fun and serious times which will build unity in relationships.

Instead of planning to just relax, add some activity or exercise which will charge you physically and mentally. Studies reveal that exercise increases cognition. It stands to reason that no movement and lots of rich food won’t refresh you, nor prepare you for the challenges when you return to responsibilities.

Spend time with activities you deeply enjoy. Example: read something you normally don’t read, but know you’d enjoy. Novels that challenge and free your thinking can be good; “fresh approach” or motivational books will invite reflection. Nonfiction that’s outside your area of expertise or experience will stretch your brain. Plan time reflecting on how things are really going in all the areas of your life. Early mornings alone might be a perfect time for some reflection and reorientation time.

Do some re-capping, listing, journaling. The idea isn’t to fixate on “what’s back home” and what you’re trying to get away from–it’s to download your mind and heart in some kind of orderly fashion, so as your mind won’t be occupied with random thoughts, feelings and ideas. Our minds get satisfied that “things will be handled” when things are on paper. Random thoughts won’t pop up nearly so much then, while you’re on a break.

 Plan for your down time and it will provide amazing benefits.

How could you gain the widest variety of benefit from your down time this summer?

Extra credit question: How can you take some of the above and apply them to some down time every week and every month?

Time Away

Carisa Bianchi said, “When people don’t take time out, they stop being productive.” Do you find the tyranny of the urgent driving you forward, even when you know you need some time out? When that’s the case, creativity, effectiveness and productivity get lost in the shuffle.

What would “time away” look like? And to what ends? 

How could you use some physical “time away”? A friend of mine has the habit 0f, every day, leaving his office and walking to a covered bench outdoors. In the walk and the “bench time” he simply sits, breathes fresh air and gets in 10 or 15 minutes of relaxation. We need physical rest and relaxation as well as exertion and exercise to counteract the tendancy to sit all day. Working out positively impacts the brain as well as the heart; we get de-stressed and a shot of oxygen which we don’t get by sitting. How could you add some physical time out to every hour, to each segment of the day (morning, afternoon, evening) and to your week (month, year)?

How could you use some mental “time away”? Most of us so engage with the “mental” in business and work that we’d rather escape it when we’re “away”. The need here is breadth and variation. So how could you stretch your mind by something different than what occupies it day by day? How about a documentary you’d normally not choose? How about tackling a project outside your expertise? What value would there be in reading and discussing a serious book with your spouse?

How could you use some spiritual “time away”? The spiritual area of life often occupies the bottom of our priority lists because we don’t recognize: we are spiritual creatures. Because that’s true, it stands to reason that ignoring this vital area creates deficits in how we function, relate and live. In what areas of the spiritual life could you get stretched? Are there disciplines you’ve always wanted to pursue (prayer, meditation, reading Scripture daily)? Is there someone with whom you could interact or who might mentor you?

How could you use some relational “time away”? When I think of significant friendships I used to enjoy (ones separated by long distance and time) I realize again the power and value of real friendships. For me (and most men?) they are rare — but all the more necessary. Relationships bring balance into our lives; they are the source of much “added value” to each person. Relationships help us avoid pitfalls and do well in life. So what would time away look like? A long lunch in the middle of a busy week to bounce ideas off a friend? Date time each week with your spouse to communicate, dream and make plans? An annual vacation with close friends you don’t regularly get to see?

How would you benefit if you’d choose one or more of the above and carve out even a bit of time for them? Here’s hoping you get some serious time away this week in one or all of the above categories!

Are you listening to me?

Jim Collins records some profound advice he took to heart, offered by the legendary John Gardner. He told Collins, “It occurs to me, Jim, that you spend too much time trying to be interesting. Why don’t you invest more time being interested?” 

In life, business and relationships, a common temptation of goal-centered individuals is to forget the power of listening, a crucial element in expressing interest. Listening as much as any other skill communicates, “I care.”

Good listening requries that I:

Be quiet. Mark Twain wrote, “If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear.” Yes, as employer, parent or even spouse, maybe you know more or have more information. But, when the other person is talking, just listen. Don’t think about your response, don’t interrupt, talk over them or finish a sentence. When the person is finished ask questions which clarify, say, “tell me more about…” Don’t respond if you don’t hear accurately what’s been said.

Ask questions. Questions which center on, even repeat terms or phrases the speaker has used demonstrate good listening without my own agenda becoming the focus. Ask good questions, and then again, be still!

Put the speaker at ease. Give them full freedom to speak. Focus like a laser on their concerns and issues. Respond with nods, gestures or terms which encourage them to continue. Maintain appropriate eye contact. Actively jettison distractions (close the door, turn off your cell phone). Avoid any indication that says to them: “I’m in a hurry” or “I’ve got more important things to do.” If needed, talk about how much time is available in advance, not during the other person’s communication.

Empathize. Actively look at things from their perspective. Don’t “own” the opposite view or immediately hear them from the idea that your leadership or ideas are being threatened. If you hear something you disagree with, wait to discuss it until you’ve heard the whole of what they’re trying to say. Assume that you don’t know best!

Listen for more than words. Volume, tone, key words and emotion convey the real message as much as the initial few sentences. Ideas get buried with verbosity if a person feels ill at ease or has a hard time talking to you. Realize they may feel the need to cover their message with “acceptable” terms. Observe gestures, facial expressions, and eye-movement that says more than what is expressed.

Who in your sphere needs you to express interest?

My Final Weight Loss (part 4)

In earlier posts, I discussed my motivations to get started, pairing vision with goals and incorporating a program which supports real life. Here’s the final fundamental for me:

 Pursue health with support, encouragement and accountability.

 I knew I couldn’t do it alone. There are plenty of people who are highly disciplined – who can take a book or program and work it, all by themselves. I had to admit, that wasn’t me! Even today, after years of success under my belt, I need reminders, ideas and renewed motivation. I very rarely miss a weekly meeting (led by my wife, an added bonus!)

 When my wife and I restarted Weight Watchers, we were signing up for an atmosphere of learning, challenge, encouragement – and not a small dose of accountability. There’s something about stepping on a scale with someone on the other side of the desk that gives enough of a dose to make me want to do well! Their statistics actually say that there is a great difference in weight loss when people actually come every week to face the scale. A favorite phrase from our first leader was, “the scale is not about failure, it’s just feedback.” It’s that small dose of accountability that sort of sums up my choices for the last 7 days. It’s a gentle reminder that weight and health aren’t about hoping and dreaming that I’ll “get there” – it’s about measuring how well I’m doing with new habits.

 Weekly meetings offered us insights from fellow travelers. Some had been “at goal” for months or years and continue to come to be encouraged and encourage others. They’re great teachers and idea generators. The meetings offer insights into the program, into food, into navigating the minefield of a food-obsessed culture. They also provides the encouragement of “good job!” at the scale and in the “celebration time” in the meeting (applause for losing another 5 pounds, getting to 10% goal and the like).

 The other huge part of the final fundamental – my wife and I worked the program together. Two people agreed on and pursuing the same goal is powerful. We started together, continued going week in, week out, when there were “ups” and when there were “downs”. We stayed on the pursuit of health at home; cooking better, agreeing on which restaurants we’d no longer frequent or which foods (French fries for instance) we’d never order in a restaurant.

 Support, encouragement and accountability made the difference when I was motivated; they were more critical when I wasn’t. We challenged either other saying: “we can do this” or even “remember what we decided.” (see the post from 7/7/12: Can you motivate others?)

 So, if you’re ready to embark on a healthy weight loss journey, I’d tell you: get the support, encouragement and accountability you’ll need. Get it before you begin. It could be a spouse, friend, sibling, parent/child team. It can come from a coach as well. We get excited everyday to offer just those elements to our clients. Call us and we can discuss your vision and goals.  

 Thanks for reading my account. I’d love to get your comments!

My Final Weight Loss (part 3)

Incorporate a program that supports real life!

I’ve talked about what got me moving toward health and healthy weight – then about my vision and different kinds of goals.

Then I had to think about the approach or program to use. We live a food culture of extremes. At one extreme is our obsessed with food; at the other, an obsessed with losing weight. The time of the year often finds us drifting from one to the other! It’s as if we lope from the latest fad restaurant (or our favorite fast food fixes) to the newest kind of gym, or supplements or shakes and cleanses, or best-selling diet book, hoping “this one” will finally do it for us!

A few times a year, over the decades, I experienced the desire to lose weight. Every infomercial sang to me its enchanting tune that goes something like, “We guarantee that in 30 days….” The variations are endless. Come here. Inject this. Buy this equipment. Drink these 800 calories. Order your frozen dinners here.

I had my own versions. Nothing from this food group. No sweets for a month. Fiber capsules before every meal! The vast majority of programs function on some level of deprivation. I knew deprivation! Deprivation by nature and definition always left me wanting — for more! I’m 6’1” – sometimes I was actually active. I needed fuel! And without exception, deprivation diets over the years had the same impact on me. Depleted, hungry, sometimes irritable, even light-headed. I’m convinced that my body physically and mentally rebels at deprivation – and cravings then begin. It certainly seemed that way after a few dozen failed experiments!

We chose Weight Watchers. We’d been before (just hadn’t continued after some initial progress). Why Weight Watchers? One fundamental: they encourage you to learn to make good choices about real food in a real world everyday. They know you have work, play, kids, busyness, buffets, break room treats, meetings and travel. As a pastor I had breakfasts and lunches with people, meetings and potlucks to sort through. We had people in our home for meals and went to others’ homes.

A “real life” program is one that doesn’t just “work” for the first month or two. It leads you to engage in new choices and habits for a lifetime. I learned the power of healthy choices. I tracked what I ate. I fueled up and stayed fueled up with healthy snacks during the day and evening. We learned again how good whole foods taste. My wife and I cooked healthy food for adult children and many others and watched them eat it without reservation. I learned to navigate the minefield of restaurants and menus on the American food front. I learned that health is a long-term (lifetime) of daily choices. I’d been making some good, some not so good choices, for 5-plus decades. It was time to get real; Weight Watchers helped us at the beginning and still does (my wife Patty now leads WW meetings!). Inputs from a variety of sources propelled us forward toward a lifetime of better health. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s going to support real life!  

The final installment next: Pursue health in the context of encouragement, support and accountability.

My Final Weight Loss (part 2)

As I said in the first post, I was motivated; my “light bulb was on”.

But then what? How could I (and how can you) keep motivation going in a tough area like weight loss? Four fundamentals began working for me. The first one today.

Think through, and write down, a mix of goals (short-, mid-, long-range) alongside your long term vision.

Many people approach weight loss with just one goal in mind. “To lose the weight.”  There’s another version that’s even less effective. It’s some version of “I want to lose 20 pounds before the wedding/reunion/vacation, etc.”  The first goal is too fuzzy; it just won’t take you very far toward a healthy weight. The second revolves around an event — an event which, as it fades in your rearview mirror, will likely take your goal with it! A key problem with the second kind of goal is, we’re just wanting to “look good” (for others, or for the pictures). Once that “limited vision” goal is achieved, the desire well may be to go celebrate!! In my case, celebrating would have meant plunging into the old food habits!

Habits aren’t sustained if clear vision and appropriate goals don’t support the habits!

My vision was that my wife and I attain the best state of health we could reach for the rest of our lives. A fundamental commitment we made to each other with regard to Weight Watchers was “we will not quit.” We agreed this time we’d stick, even after we had early good results (or even if we didn’t some weeks!) We were on this journey toward health for all of life. We wanted to feel better, sleep better,  move better and enjoy physical activities. So we studied and read about the benefits of appropriate weight and good food. We read about the liabilities of some of the things we’d been eating! Our vision became more and more compelling. We watched shows like “Biggest Loser” to stir motivation. Those activities buttressed the vision and kept us wanting it!

As the vision developed, I had appropriate goals. Weight Watchers encourages steady — not steep — weight loss. Most “diets” revolve around some version of deprivation. A couple of problems with deprivation: one is the rubber band effect. We “bounce back” toward consuming what we missed during the deprivation phase. And two, healthy habits are never developed. You can’t live “real life” with “real food” with that approach (more about that in the next post). What I experienced was not deprivation! I quickly discovered that whole foods not only tasted good, they satisfied much longer and did not leave me hungry like “diets” do.

My weight loss goal was a half pound to 2 pounds per week! The philosophy I heard was, “you put the weight on over many years. The body is unlikely to allow you to suddenly reverse those decades in a few weeks or even a few months.” Eating is a highly complex human behavior. So my goals were often simple short-term ones, like “the next 5 pounds in _____ weeks” or “20 down by the end of the year” and so on. It was slow but steady. Many weeks I made it; sometimes not. There were plateaus; but again, there was no magic date looming in the future. (Once, after a cruise and an “up” day at the scale, I reminded my wife, “That’s just a snap shot, not the whole movie!”)

And there were sweet mileposts all along the way. The pants I had to donate; going from XL shirts (or bigger) to L’s; a lady at church asking my wife, “Is Dean sick? He’s really losing weight!”

At one point I even had a goal for someone else (something we coaches don’t recommend!). Mine was, I wanted to hear my doctor say something good without me fishing for his comment. This was the physician who earlier prescribed for me a blood pressure med for my borderline hypertension. Then came the day when he took me off of the drug! And he said, “This is really good; it’s so rare for people your age ­­– with most, I’m adding drugs, and here I’m taking you off of your only one!”

So, your vision will move you and excite you about a long term objective. But you need to remind yourself of it often — I certainly did, in restaurants and at people’s homes  for lunches or dinners; when we traveled; when I was faced with a plate of cookies or brownies at a meeting. You simply have to have the vision in front of you often: so…picture yourself fit, trim, moving, exercising well, feeling great, fitting into new clothes…whatever it takes to keep you going. Think of the powerful health benefits you gain for yourself. Weight Watchers leaders often say, “nothing tastes as good as being healthy feels.” I love that!

So, if you’re at the starting line, think long-term with a powerful vision, and rehearse it often to yourself.

Then, add short-, medium-, and long-range goals; as you reach them they will propel you forward!

The next installment: Use a program that supports real life

 

My Final Weight Loss (part 1)

When my wife talks about motivation (some have it, some don’t) she says, “The light bulb has to go on”. That means, without the right combination of motivational factors, in areas like weight loss, things may start well, but all too often there’s no follow through. It had been that way for me most of our married lives, when it came to my weight. Over the years, I had gone up and down, but in the last decade, the trend was decidedly upward! At 6’1” I finally topped out at somewhere north of 270 pounds.

I managed to hide some of it on my tall frame, but certainly not all of it (not that hiding it is a good thing). But one day, the light bulb burned! Looking back, there were multiple factors. Like many people my age, there were the common growing health concerns (borderline high blood pressure, heart “flutters” and other symptoms related to stress).

I was in my late 50’s. Suddenly one day, I realized that within a decade of the age I was right then, my mother had confined herself to a wheelchair, largely due to weight. Other family medical history was not good. So I took a look back and gained motivation.

I also took a look in the mirror. That was a reality check. I was a pastor – I stood in front of people every week as a teacher – and an illustration of…of what? I was certainly not an illustration of self-control, nor of being a good steward of the body and health God had granted me to that point. I also took a look at the future. Healthcare was the topic on the national scene and it became clear to me that whatever the future of healthcare in the United States, we had one choice: as we faced our senior years we should aim at being as healthy as we could be!

I picked up the phone and dialed my wife. When she answered, I said, “We need to go back to Weight Watchers.” She told me later, “I rolled my eyes when you said that.” Nevertheless, we went. We started the journey, not simply to lose weight but toward being “as healthy as possible for our lifetimes”. We’ve never looked back.

Having lost and kept off about 57 pounds what would I recommend to anyone wanting to pursue a healthy weight loss “for the last time” — getting rid of excess pounds and keeping them off? I will offer you four fundamentals over the next few posts – I’d love to get your feedback on your own journey.

“…something else is more important.”

Ambrose Redmoon said it — “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.”

Progress invariably demands some form of courage. It may not be courage as we’ve thought of it before, but consider how often we stop short of what we really want —

  • To start the business long envisioned
  • To step up in the relationship where there has been passivity
  • To get serious about God and spiritual life
  • To get off the couch and pursue a lifetime of health
  • To get freedom in finances 
  • To pursue leadership opportunities

We stop short because the “something else” of Redmoon’s statement is not in view. What I don’t envision clearly, I will not value greatly. 

The need, as January begins to wind down, is a “vision” inventory. It’s taking some time, perhaps on a weekend to begin to list, qualify and describe what’s of greatest importance, to rehearse for myself, why these people and values are important — then of course, to set out the courageous stands or acts or habits which now will begin to support those values. 

As coaches, we go through the same process ourselves, regularly! And we’d be honored to spend some time with you (at no cost) to ask some of the questions which will help you get to what’s of supreme importance to you, in this year and for the sake of planning. Call us jot us a note today.

Creativity Unleashed

I’ve been fascinated by Eric Hoffer’s thoughts on “alibis” — what we would call an excuse.

Hoffer wrote, “There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day: we have to prove that we are as good today as we were yesterday. But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life. Moreover, when we have an alibi for not writing a book, painting a picture, and so on, we have an alibi for not writing the greatest book and not painting the greatest picture. Small wonder that the effort expended and the punishment endured in obtaining a good alibi often exceed the effort and grief requisite for the attainment of a most marked achievement.”

It’s so often stunned me that humans will expend seemingly unlimited strength of mind and creativity to excuse what is often a simple dodge of responsibility. What’s sadder, in the case of many excuses (and that to which Hoffer alludes) we fail others and certainly fail ourselves when we default to offering up a cheap “word of dodging” rather than a what might have been the product of that strength and creativity.

If you know there’s more in you than the average effort, the average process and the average product which have been flowing from your work, shoot us an email or call us. We love to help creative people really succeed!

 

Feedback: Breakfast of Champions

It was a phrase I heard at Weight Watchers: “The scale isn’t failure, it’s just feedback.”

If you’re on the road to weight loss and have a week or two of making choices which don’t support your goals, “the scale” – that weekly weigh-in at Weight Watchers – might look like something to avoid!

Coaching is all about feedback. Catalyst Coaches offer to clients an encouraging environment in which they can clearly see if  their recent choices moved them closer to their goals or not.

Feedback can be embraced!

Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson said it like this: “Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”