Are You Awake?

Are you awake?  After Stopping and Noticing, a third behavior that I emphasize for leaders is going All-In.  For me that means being fully present in the moment.  The Sisters of Mercy had as a charism, Presence which we can all aspire to.  It involves much more than doing what the text books on communication describe like maintaining eye contact, acknowledging with ‘uh huh’ and the like.  There’s nothing wrong with those things but being All-In begins with a decision to dedicate every ounce of yourself to every interaction you have.  Tuning out distractions is important and anticipating what those distractions may be in order to consciously enter the moment should happen in advance of going All-In.

Maybe it helps to use more familiar language, like paying attention to what is before us at the moment.  This is the heart and soul of the gift of Stopping.  It is, says David Kundtz, “the trait that defines the Stopped person as aware of what is going on right now.”

Apply this idea to something that happens to most of us who work a Monday through Friday job.  I’ll call it the Monday morning mantra and it goes something like this:

Worker 1: “Good morning!”

Worker 2:“Good morning.”

Worker 1:“How was your weekend?”

Worker 2:“Nice.  We went to the lake and it was beautiful.”

Worker 1:“Great.  We are going to Singapore next month.  It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime.  Here, let me show you our itinerary…”

This simple example highlights a type of distraction; we’ll call it ‘one-upsmanship,’ that any of us might fall prey to.  Being all in—paying attention—involves respecting another enough to stay with them in the conversation.  It means not being busy trying to figure out how I can steer the exchange in a direction that makes it about me.  Effective listening is the result of developing openness to really hearing the other person.  Instead of thinking of what you are going to say in response as someone speaks to me, I listen and am receptive to the other person.  I take in consciously what they say and how they say it.  In this way, I am much more likely to respond in a manner that affirms and encourages.

Considering the fact that many of the conversations we have at work and home have far more import than the Monday morning mantra, the ante is upped considerably and the degree of presence that we demonstrate will make a huge difference in the outcome.

Try going All-In, today.  See if it doesn’t make a positive difference in the lives of those you care about.

Noticing–An Exercise

As we plunge headlong into the holidays, what better to think about than exercise! Over the course of the next two months we’ll be presented with non-stop opportunities to indulge our feasting fantasies while, at the same time, face the challenge of moving our bodies enough to burn of the added calories. What does this have to do with being intentional about Noticing?  Nothing, really…or everything!

It seems to me that by Noticing more, beginning with acknowledging the obvious opportunities that we have to immerse ourselves in holiday celebration, thanksgiving and reflection, we can enjoy everything about this beautiful season, including the food!  By being more intentional about noticing the sights, sounds, smells and emotions of the holidays, we don’t have to make it a ‘one-trick pony’ of over indulging in any one thing.  So, I’m offering a suggestion–an exercise in noticing–that may help now and in all that you do after you achieve your goal of (fill in the blank) during the holidays.  This isn’t a physical exercise like going to the gym or jogging through the park. In fact, it’s an exercise that begins with stopping.  That’s not so bad, is it?

Recently, Cathy and I have been shopping at antique stores, second-hand shops and vintage/retro outlets.  If you’ve ever been to these places, you know that they are rich in variety and usually packed with lots of stuff.  You also probably know that the sheer magnitude and diversity of choices can be overwhelming.   I am usually just looking for something specific like a new-to-me pair of cufflinks.  Cufflinks are small.  Usually, they are in locked cases that can be just about anywhere in a store.   In my ‘hunter’ mode, I enter, scope out the layout of the place and zero-in on likely destinations for said cufflinks.  In the process, I miss virtually everything else in the store.  I’m practicing the art of reduction, excluding everything around me in order to see one thing.  It’s only by accident that I notice other items that may be of interest and value.

That process of exclusive observation is one that I believe is practiced far too frequently by way too many of us—men and women, alike.  At work, we focus on the complaining employee, the dirty corner, the one wall that has a mark on it to the exclusion of all that is working well and looking good.  At home, we pay attention to the kids playing their video games, the crying child, the dirty dishes, and the unmade bed to the exclusion of the smiles, banter, comfort and love that pervades everything before us.  Here’s an exercise that will help you get out of the ‘reduction’ process and into what Winifred Gallagher in Rapt refers to as Top-Down attention.  As you’d guess by now, the exercise begins with Stopping and it works wherever you want to practice it.  The technique doesn’t require a lot of additional time but promises to change your perspective instantly!

The Three Minute Noticing Exercise:

  1. Stop–1-3 minutes, tops
  2. Observe–Without turning your body, employ all of your senses to take in what is before you.  Do a count:  1, 2, 3, etc and with each number in the sequence, shift your eyes to something different and focus there for 3-5 seconds.  Count  to 11,shifting to a new object with each count.  Continue counting: 12, 13, 14, etc but now notice objects illuminated by natural light or in shadow.  How is the light adding dimension to the object or the people you see?  Remember, you’re staying still, turning your head and adjusting where you’re looking with your eyes.  Continue counting to 19 but now, pay attention to colors and, possibly sounds. When you reach a count of 27, stop.
  3. Notice–What did you see?  This isn’t about memorizing every object or listing the specific things you saw. Rather, it’s about what your expanded vision of the space enabled you to appreciate.
  4. Record what you Noticed–I recommend recording what you saw and noticed in a little notebook or something else permanent.

At first, were you overwhelmed by the thought of noticing so much in one place and from only one perspective?   From a top-down perspective, is what you saw pleasant? Interesting? Alarming? Fun? Encouraging?  Is there action that you might want to take as a result of noticing so much in such a small space and timeframe?  Thank an employee; congratulate the kids for their good behavior; Hug your spouse for making this space so warm and inviting; buy something–other than cufflinks?!

This exercise doesn’t take long and it’s guaranteed to encourage you.  Expand your observations by asking, ‘what will someone else notice if they are viewing the exact same space as you but from a different vantage point?’ When I ask this additional question, I’m reminded that my view, while valid and important, isn’t really complete if I don’t get input from others.  In all cases, Noticing is hugely important and this exercise will help you see into a world filled with opportunities to celebrate, improve, serve, worship and lead more joyously.

Try it right now.  It really doesn’t matter where you are.  I’m in a Starbucks and I just did it. You can be in a conference room, living room, office, mall or forest.  It doesn’t matter. Just stop, count and notice. Make some notes. As the Southwest Airlines ad says, “You are now free to roam the about the planet”, having been enriched just a little by Noticing the space right in front of you.

When the World Says, “Don’t!”

When I describe the concept of Stopping, I say that we live in a world of constant motion and ‘busy-ness.’ Everything is a blur. I show participants photographs that I’ve taken with my camera’s shutter speed set a little slower–but not much. Even if the shutter stays open a tenth of a second longer, the image I capture is not sharp and may even be unrecognizable. That’s perfectly analogous to our lives. Even when we think we’re slowing down, our interactions, communication and attention is not as sharply focused as it could be if we came to a complete stop.

Stopping is intentional. It takes courage. In stopping, we are doing something seemingly counterproductive and certainly counter-cultural. I’m borrowing the following from Dr. David Kuntz, author of Stopping-How To Be Still When You Have to Keep Going.  It’s a list of assumptions that we hear (and say?) about the concept of Stopping:

  • Leisure is a luxury you can’t afford
  • Pleasure-seekers end up in hell (love that one!)
  • To get ahead you must work more hours
  • You have to keep up with the Joneses (oops)
  • Doing nothing is slothful and lazy
  • If it’s faster, it’s better
  • Growth is always good
  • Money is always the bottom line
  • More is always better than less
  • Play is only for children

Everything in the list above contributes to our living a blurry life. If we Stop and think, we know these statements are not true. But that’s the point: We have to STOP and think!  I was able to do that this past weekend while attending a ministry of writing colloquium at Earlham School of Religion in Richmond, IN. I basked in the warmth of stories told and poetry read. I cleared my head and, with the help of some really capable leaders, was able to think and write.  During worship Saturday morning, in a time of stillness, I was given a poem that came so easily that I was caught off guard.

Stopping is good even if only for a moment. Ignore the world’s demand and just say I WILL!

Socrates Would Like the iPhone

The iPhone 5 has been out for about a week now and, according to reports, over 5 million have already been purchased.  That’s good for Apple and for all of us techno-geeks that love new gadgets.  It’s faster, lighter and allows owners to take really cool panoramic photographs!  I won’t be buying the new phone but only because I have the 4S and my contract with AT&T isn’t ‘up’ yet.  Yes, I’m one of those techno-geeks and I love all of my gadgets!!  But I am also more aware than ever that the central reality of having all of this connectedness is that I am more deeply imbedded in the CROWD than ever.  The crowd surrounds me, informs me, distracts me and entertains me.  The crowd includes close friends and family along with people I never physically see.

Why would Socrates love the iPhone?  Because he was a connector.  He cherished his friends and was intensely curious about their lives.  He lived in and was energized by life in the city.  The city in Socrates’ day was where learning happened!  So, when his friend Phaedrus suggested that he join him on a stroll outside the city walls, Socrates was incredulous.  ‘Forgive me, friend,’ says Socrates.  ‘I am devoted to learning; landscapes and trees have nothing to teach me–only people in the city can do that.’  Well, who am I to argue with Socrates?!  But, he’s dead and I’m not so I am going to assert one thing about the importance of separating ourselves–whether by going for a walk outside the city or simply turning off some of our gadgets–from the crowd periodically.  

William Powers, whose work, Hamlet’s Blackberry, I cited in an earlier post, offered this bit of wisdom:

“Everyone needs to create a gap between themselves and the screen–the gap that opens up when you turn it off.  When you do that, something miraculous happens.  You regain the best part of yourself and the best part of life, the human part.”

Enjoy your gadgets.  I certainly do.  But remember to take a little time (Stop) and regain (Discover) the best part of yourself and life…the human part!

My Anchor

I’ve been reading a broad spectrum of writers and philosophy lately.  I like the diversity of thought and am challenged by the new ideas.  However, I realized recently that I’ve allowed myself to be distracted somewhat by these sources.  I’ve strayed from what a Methodist Minister once described to me as the ‘bull’s eye of my faith:  Jesus.  Among my recent readings has been a priceless work entitled Falling Upward by Franciscan Priest, Richard Rohr.   Here’s how he addressed the bulls eye:

If I dared to present all these ideas simply as my ideas, or because they match modern psychology or old mythology, I would be dishonest.  Jesus, for me, always clinches the deal and I sometimes wonder why I did not listen to him in the first place.

So, I just wanted to get that ‘out there’ in case you wonder about my heart.  It’s with Jesus, now and always.  My writing will not always or even frequently reference this in such a direct way but it’s important to me that you know where I’m coming from.  Since Jesus always ‘clinches the deal,’ when it comes to STOPPING (even and especially for ‘the least of these’), NOTICING (even and especially the sick and unlovely) and goes ‘ALL-IN’ (even when that meant going to the Cross), I will listen to Him first and forever!  By the way, he PLAYED, too!


Get Positive!

In Hamlet’s Blackberry, William Powers writes, “In order for a ritual to succeed, people have to believe in it…but belief can’t be imposed by the world at large or higher-ups in management.  It has to come from within. To change a given habit, people must believe that by changing they’ll gain more than they would by sticking to their old ways.”  He goes on to write about Benjamin Franklin’s ‘Virtues’ which were Franklin’s attempt to develop a sort of rigor around improving his life behaviors (which weren’t always terribly salutatory). And then Powers notes something exceptionally important:  “The virtues on [Franklin’s] list are positive goals…In effect, when he looked the list over, he would think: ‘Yes, I want to do all these things; they serve my interests.'”

In my teaching and writing about Discovery Stopping, I emphasize the importance of being fully present to those with whom we live and work.  In Hamlet’s Blackberry, which I recommend to those interested in a thoughtful treatise on the many sources of and possible solutions for interruptions in our lives, Powers isn’t unrealistic about the important role that technology plays in our lives.  What I enjoyed about the book is that he puts technology-based interruptions into a context of history going back all the way to Socrates, Plato and Seneca!  However, he takes a long time to get close to offering thoughts that helped me consider possible solutions and this section on Franklin inspired many notes about applying my Stop/Notice/All-In/Play (S.N.A.P.) principles to daily life.  In short, I was reminded to keep it positive!  Make behavior changes that not only positively impact others but also ME!
When I am “all in” or fully present with my wife, children and colleagues, they feel valued and I am more likely to enjoy the experience with them.  Think about being all-in with (fill in the blank).  You’re not only hearing the words they speak but also seeing the twinkle (or vacancy) in their eyes and most importantly, ‘hearing’ the message in the space between the spoken words.  When I get it right, I walk away from an all-in experience like that feeling really good!  I am better prepared to take action, plan, think and improve.  Having been fully present in the moment has given me an emotional and practical boost!
So, don’t beat yourself up or let others do so when you realize that you’ve spent more time tapping on your device’s screen than listening or being there for someone else.  Rather, turn your intentions into goals that will change your behaviors into ones that will be constructive and positive for others and for YOU!  I have ideas for incorporating this concept into practical steps and will share them in future posts.

‘Chance’ Meeting

Talk about Noticing!  Only my Wife can go to wash her car (the old fashioned way!) and have a deeply meaningful conversation with someone who until that moment was a total stranger.  Here is her account of yesterday’s ‘chance’ encounter:

I frequently wonder about those daily encounters we have with people and how they might affect our lives in the future.  It seems God is always at work, and it is what we do with what he puts in front of us that makes us who we are.  There was a lady drying her Suburban as I pulled into the bay to dry the VW.  I said “you’ve got that looking really good…I’ve had Suburbans and they are great vehicles” began a chance meeting, and then wondering where (if anywhere) it might lead.  We were discussing the attributes of the Suburban (i.e. hauling various finds) when she explained that she uses her Suburban to haul furniture. She is an artist and through the downturn of the economy, she has had difficulty selling her canvas paintings.  She explain though that she woke up at 3am one morning to realize that she could put her paintings on furniture. Meet Cindi.  She shared with me that she had been a victim of domestic violence and how at 42 she is finally seeing that she is a person with talents and abilities.  Having been married at 18 and her divorce sounding recent, her abusive relationship had left her with very little in the way of self esteem.  Today, I found a woman excited about her life and where it was heading, and by sharing a little of her story she was more empowered and that empowerment is contagious.  She also shared that she was learning as she meets people and tell them what she’s doing, wonderful things happen; like the lady she met at the laundromat who is giving her some furniture to paint.  As she drove off, she waved out her window and wished me well, I did likewise.  People touch our lives, and we touch there’s and sometimes we never realize it.  I had asked for a card and she gave me two.  Her furniture business is call New Life Furniture Art.  Hmmm.  New Life multiple meanings.  Nice to meet you Cindi.  Hope our paths cross again.

Thank you, Cathy. After 32 years, you continue to amaze and inspire me!

None Other Than…

…the venerable Harvard Business Review has lent credibility to my thesis of ‘stopping’. Here’s an excerpt from their blog post on Listening:

Slow Down. There is a reason that, over the years, you have lost your ability to listen. It feels too passive, like the opposite of action. It’s much faster to move to a decision based on the information you already have. But in doing so, you miss important considerations and sacrifice the opportunity to connect. Understand that as you begin to change your listening style to a more empathetic one, you may often feel inefficient. It takes time to truly hear someone and to replay the essence of their thoughts back them so that both parties are clear on what was said. The payback is dramatic, but it comes over the long run.

Here’s how the article concludes:

Truly empathetic listening requires courage—the willingness to let go of the old habits and embrace new ones that may, at first, feel time-consuming and inefficient. But once acquired, these listening habits are the very skills that turn would-be leaders into true ones.


The article references the fact that one of GE’s four key leadership traits is that of being a “humble listener!” I love that!

The link to the entire HBR blog article written by Ram Charan is under my “Blogroll” on the right-hand side of this page ===>

On Optimism

Matt Ridley, author of the best-selling book The Rational Optimist, had his work summarized by the Reader’s Digest on March 21, 2012, and updated on Saturday, April 14, 2012, in an article titled “17 Reasons To Be Cheerful.” Here is his reason No. 17 that stated “optimists are right:

For 200 years, pessimists have had all the headlines — even though optimists have far more often been right. There is immense vested interest in pessimism. No charity ever raised money by saying things are getting better. No journalist ever got the front page writing a story about how disaster was now less likely. Pressure groups and their customers in the media search even the most cheerful statistics for glimmers of doom. Don’t be browbeaten — dare to be an optimist!

I know that I’m not as optimistic about things as I was when I was younger.  Today, I use words like ‘realistic’ and ‘pragmatic’ more than I ever used to.  However, not too far beneath the surface so as to be completely lost, I still look at folks and think they mean well and do good.  I am intentional about noticing the nice things that people do and the very good things that happen in our world.  To do this requires Stopping, though.  I have stopped watching Cable TV with its non-stop negative news.  I have stopped following politics closely because politics is the farthest thing from anything approximating reality.  I have stopped looking at the homeless as ‘losers,’ which they most certainly are not.  In fact, on that last item, I have gone way outside my personal comfort zone and sat with folks on the street to engage them in conversation.  It’s my way of bringing this concept of ‘Noticing‘ to reality.

So, to be an optimist requires a few changes–most of them pretty easy to implement.  Stop.  Notice.  And, for the record, I believe in you, your service to others, your love of family, country and God.  I just do.  No apologies from this optimist!

Sense of Wonder

The title of Rachel Carson’s classic work, The Sense of Wonder, made me think, what if we approached our life’s work not with the anticipation of challenges, deadlines, profit, and problems but rather with WONDER?  Perhaps, like Carson, we would begin our day’s journey of service to others as a walk through a vibrant forest full of sights and sounds that evoke awe and a sense of wonder!  It’s not so hard to be inspired by the wonders that surround us in nature.  Visualizing a serene body of water, perhaps a slow moving stream, we don’t think of the volume of water, erosion or floods.  Rather, we hear the musical tones of its flow and delight in the deposits of cool spray on our faces.  In a word, it’s wonder–ful! (Click ‘Tonto Stream’ under Blogroll)

Patients in hospitals are not ‘admissions,’ ‘visits’ or ‘frequent flyers’ but rather ‘souls’ with stories to tell.  And if we, whom they have entrusted their whole self to, approach with wonder, how much more likely is it that healing–their’s and ours–will happen?

There are many lists of things to do to improve the patient’s perception of care (perceived but not necessarily real).  In my vision for the future, we will approach souls with the sense of wonder reserved for the highest form of God’s creation.  And we will step into these precious lives, walk alongside them quietly and create the opportunity of healing!

“The lasting pleasures of contact with the natural world are not reserved for the scientists but are available to anyone who will place himself under the influence of earth, sea and sky and their amazing life.”

–Rachel Carson

The Sense of Wonder

Is that a mountain stream that I hear in the distance?