Tag Archives: wisdom

3/30/2020 – Retraining the Mind in these uncertain times

“Peace is the result of retraining your mind to process life as it is, rather than as you think it should be.”

~ Wayne W. Dyer

Last week I really tried to scrutinize what my normal routine had been for the first 2.5 months of this year, before it was derailed by the coronavirus’ impact on our normal way of life, and examine what could be improved and adapted to this new lifestyle we are all suddenly living. It was a good exercise, and one I’m not certain I’m finished with yet. In fact, I think this is a good thing to do every few months, in order to constantly check your direction to make sure you’re sailing on the correct course.

Lately I’d been understandably feeling a little demotivated and out of sorts. The current state of things had made it much harder to see the light at the end of the tunnel of work I usually find myself in, and the unexpected obstacles seemed almost insurmountable to me reaching even my short term goals. I didn’t have a plan for any of this. It was the perfect time to take a step back and reevaluate.

While I can’t say that I’ve “figured it out,” I can say that I’m slowly identifying small changes I can make to help me regain my previous momentum, but also more importantly, help me slightly alter my mental perspective. More specifically, rather than solely focusing on the output and outcome of just work, I see that it may be even more important for me to be focusing on the state of my mind and it’s comfort level, both in and outside my work.

There is probably a deeper dive somewhere in here about mental health and stress management, etc. but I want to keep this fairly surface-level and action oriented for the purpose of this writing. I’ll leave the rest of that other stuff to doctors and scientists. But the thing I’m after here is trying to ratchet up the acuity with which I direct at my own state of mind by reverse engineering the things my mind takes in and puts out, and evaluating how I can better manipulate those things to achieve a more satisfied, peaceful state of mind. Especially in these crazy times we’re living in right now.

For example: It can start as simply as examining the measure of success of a thing. Previously, my measure of success may have been the creation of a plan or document, or a completed contract, or a closed sale, etc.  Notice a theme there? All of those things indicate some level of finality, something I cannot easily achieve in the current state of business. Under my old way of thinking of success, my inability to achieve any of these milestones would cause me to feel a sense of failure in my work, which would in turn add to the sense of futility or lack of direction I had been feeling in recent weeks.

Conversely, in my current state of action, instead of focusing the measure of success on something that can be defined by finality, I’ve begun shifting my source of satisfaction to the quality of work I’ve put in. Instead of just “checking boxes” off a to-do list, I’m focusing more on how that box gets checked, and afterward my brain is deriving a sense of satisfaction from that, rather than a sense of incompletion. I guess this could be more simply wrapped up as a “quality, not quantity” approach, but it feels different to me, mentally. I don’t think it’s as simple as switching lanes, I think it takes genuine mindfulness to appreciate the difference, instead of just going on auto-pilot.

Following that same line, I’ve also decided to start meditating every day. This is something I’ve attempted to do before, but have not always gotten the same amount of value that everyone else around me seemingly gets. By default, I may be one of the lucky few that doesn’t easily get overwhelmed by my thoughts, or consumed with anxiety, so the sense of peace that should come with attempting to calm the mind isn’t usually as pronounced for me, unfortunately. However, with the amount of “waiting” that seems to exist within any meaningful business action currently, I see the value in taking the time to exercise this discipline with that time, instead of planning too far ahead. 

My hope is that I will learn something additional and unexpected while I commit just 5 minutes a day to attempting to quiet the mind and let everything else talk for a bit. Perhaps, just maybe, retraining my brain a little to focus on more important internal successes instead of quantifiable external successes might grant me something more valuable and more peaceful in the long run.

3/16/2020 – The Loudest Voice in the Room

The last week has been quite the wild ride, no? But instead of the crazy roller coaster ride that takes you up and down and all around, this is more the kind of roller coaster that just takes you straight down.

I didn’t really know what to write this morning (which is why I’m late sending this out). Coronavirus panic and concern has been unavoidable. There isn’t a social media platform or news outlet that isn’t completely plastered with news, advice, statistics, and general content related to this global pandemic that has suddenly gripped the entire world and awakened us to a new reality. You just can’t seem to get away from it, and it is becoming obvious: Things are going to be different now.

I spent some time yesterday reflecting back on just how surreal this whole thing has been over the last couple months. Particularly in the last week, the havoc has been remarkable. Financial markets have been decimated (my stock portfolio is basically toast), the travel industry reeling, the service industry and all its employees suddenly not sure how bills will be paid, all sports industries canceled indefinitely (it seems in retrospect that this component seemed to suddenly wake americans up better than anything else. Leagues like the NBA should be commended for such quick movement, while other organizations like, say, our President and his team, should be ashamed for their incompetent, and even reluctant inability to take action.), and so much more have all been thrown into a dreadful uncertainty of what the foreseeable future looks like. It really is a crazy thing we are going through right now. A true black swan event. Something that I certainly have not seen in my entire life, and in fact the successful investor Warren Buffet even said it took him 89 years to see something like this happen. It is unprecedented.

As I’ve watched and read and listened to people talk about and dissect this worldwide crisis that is playing out before us, I’ve paid close attention to people’s response mechanisms with a passively observant curiosity. I wasn’t even aware I was doing it until yesterday, as I reflected back upon the last week. Two things struck me:

Firstly, I was struck by how little we still know, and how that is currently affecting us as a people. Not that the scientific community “doesn’t know anything,” quite the opposite (in fact, if you’re looking for a really good central resource, check out this Google Doc my friend Marcus put together, pulling info mainly from Johns Hopkins, instead of the conjecture being passed around on Facebook). I’m more referring to the eventual outcomes of the disease and this “containment phase” we must endure, and the fallout of the economy and residual effects to communities worldwide. It is strange that such a faceless villain can wreak so much disruption, and leave us with such a heavy sense of unease and uncertainty.

And that leads me to the second thing that has stuck out to me: our behavior in that unease. Through conversations with friends, silent observation on social media, and the rest of the cacophony sounding off on the subject, 2 response patterns seem to emerge the most obviously:

  1. Defiance and denial. This behavior is marked by those who minimize the danger and refuse to adjust behavior. Things like “We’re all gonna get it anyways” and “It’s no different than the Flu,” and similar statements are frequently expressed.
  2. Total panic, overwhelming stress. Doomsday prepping, irrationally buying toilet paper, getting worked up to the point of exhaustion, are all common for this behavioral response.

Obviously neither of these are healthy, nor are they responsible. Neither of these behaviors are well informed, well researched, or well balanced strategies. But they seem to be the loudest. It begs the question:  Why do we rush to assess judgment in uncertainty?

I’m sure there is a psychological explanation available in this somewhere, that people have an instinctual need to comfort themselves in confidence during crisis, even if it is constructed from a false sense of security. But I’m no psychologist, so I’ll spare the speculation.

But there’s a less obvious third behavior that remains patiently silent. Waiting, watching, collecting information, self-educating, this person doesn’t make declarative or ignorant proclamations on social media or amongst friends. In contrast, they cautiously prepare while also maintaining a cool head by not allowing emotion to get the best of them.

Unfortunately this third person doesn’t use the soapbox approach by trumpeting their thoughts outward, so they get drowned out by the other two response types. It is the unfortunate reality of modern life, and it often feels like there is a severe lack of reasonable thought out there. 

So how do we address this? How do we find a way to bring more reasonable thought to the forefront and fade ignorant behaviors to the background?

In times like these, I think it is important to take an honest accounting of our own behaviors and assess. In the last few weeks, if you’ve behaved like one of the first two behaviors, don’t feel any shame, just change your behavior. It’s not even a difficult change:  If you’re not an expert, just quiet your desire to speak up, and make room for those who actually are experts. It’s that simple. Don’t contribute to confusion, panic, or ignorance.

And if you are someone who has been patiently observing and educating yourself, keeping quiet, keep doing what you’re doing. And perhaps try your best to gently let others know what they are doing or saying is not really helpful in as peaceful a communicative effort as possible. Be an example of patient confidence in a world of chaos. Show people a better way.

As a species, we need to get better at living with uncertainty. We don’t have to immediately possess the answer to everything. Arrogant confidence is not a strength, it’s a weakness.  It’s okay to say “I don’t know,” it’s okay to acknowledge gaps in understanding or skill, in fact it is crucial to success. It is imperative we learn how to shut up and wait.

We’re going to eventually get the answers and the security we seek, and we’re going to get through this together. We just need to maintain composure, be patient, and make room for wisdom to be the loudest voice in the room.  And no, that wasn’t a social distancing joke ;-p

2/24/2020 – And Remove All Doubt  

There’s an old saying I’ve been thinking about recently. It is often incorrectly attributed to Abe Lincoln or Mark Twain, but the actual author is unknown. It goes like…

“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and remove all doubt”

~ unknown

In my readings on Stoicism lately, a quote with a similar meaning from Cato the Younger was the focal topic (though not quite as humorous). I have been trying to meditate or use these words as a mantra as much as possible. It has a slightly different angle, but similar purpose. Here are those words:

“I begin to speak only when I’m certain what I’ll say isn’t better left unsaid.”

~ Cato the Younger

Anyone who knows me well has undoubtedly seen me dig my heels in on something at some point, and if i’m being honest, such moments will not be included in my lifetime highlight reel. My opinionated nature is something that can embarrass me or get me into trouble from time to time. But those passions have also led me to some of the most satisfying moments in my life as well, as the commitment and effort driven by my passion makes the victory that much sweeter in the end when the path isn’t easy.

As I’ve begun lately to commit to the effort of self improvement, finding a more graceful middle ground of these two extremes without dimming the fire has been at the forefront of my mind. Over the last month, I have focused simply on shutting my mouth and listening more, but that is only part of the equation.

In another recent reading from “The Daily Stoic,” the topic was “You don’t always have to have an opinion,” and the central idea was learning the discipline not to give control to your opinions, particularly negative ones. This is accomplished simply by observing an idea, acknowledging its existence without assigning it any personal meaning. It is a strange exercise, and one that goes against every modern human instinct, but it is surprisingly beneficial, as it allows one to collect more information and learn more than is possible when one quickly wades into battle with an opinion.

But when combined with Cato’s words above, it has proved to be a powerful combination of self-analysis and evaluation of my words and how I use them. When I combine the importance of delaying the selection of my opinion with the evaluation of whether or not I am *actually* changing anything by speaking the words in my head, a sobering humility is the first result. This discipline forces you to place an actual value on your thoughts, and to censor yourself if that value is not greater than the value of silence.

But there are also other unexpected outcomes. You begin to really listen a lot more. And you begin to collect much more information. You suddenly have more space to analyze the words of others, and you are often able to pull out truer motivations than what others’ words are even directly conveying on their own. 

Another outcome is the leveling up of one’s contributions. The self-regulation of one’s contribution sharpens ideas to a point where only the best efforts are offered, enhancing the efficiency and output of the quality of work at hand. Everyone benefits from this practice, in multiple ways.

In today’s world of always-on, extremely loud, and overly aggressive in-your-face opining on display at every social media platform or publication available, this discipline may be more valuable now than ever before in our history. And while I may only be at the beginning of this practice, I know this work is worth the effort, even if I fail often. 

Or, as Ernest Hemingway once wrote as advice to his friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald: 

“I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.”

May we all be so eloquent, so as not to remove all doubt.