Remove Complication and Just Have Dinner

Mom making her dinner selection.
Mom making her dinner selection.

I’m one of those people who tends to like to mull over questions, problems and issues for a while as I try to sort them out. This is both blessing and curse in that I enjoy the thinking process, but it’s obviously pretty easy to slip into a mode of over-complication. Thinking is great, but not if all you do is think and never act – that’s the great corporate maxim of paralysis by analysis.

Perhaps the greatest issue of overthinking problems is you get brutally self-involved, something I view as a borderline high crime for myself because it’s inherently selfish. I’m a firm believer that we were meant to live our lives interacting with our fellow man… and that we should do our best to make that successful.

I think that’s why during a particularly stressful run of late, I did something to remove complication and do something so incredibly simple:

Stopped what I was doing and had dinner with my Mom.

And suddenly, life got a lot more simple. I chatted with her earlier in the day, she talked about how Dad was going to be at a golf event having dinner and then a few hours later it hit me… why don’t I just take her out to dinner?

While I am tempted to go into some kind of deep review of our dinner, what we talked about, how good the food was (it was awesome, quite frankly) and such, I’m not going to do so. Because that’s not the point and would cause me to slip back into the overanalysis world anyway.

Instead, I urge anyone who feels in the midst of their own drama (whether external or self-created) to stop what you’re doing, find someone you care about and just share a meal where you try to listen more than talk (I was only semi-successful in this regard, but I tried hard). That’s it. No fancy self-reflection. No working through a success matrix from your favorite improvement web site. No matter how busy you are. Stop. Get out of your own way. Focus on someone else.

Remove complication and just have dinner.

Sometimes it’s just not that hard.

Proactive, Reactive and My Sketchy Science

The video from my last post about being more active/proactive in my life has been rattling around in my head ever since I recorded it in Shanghai.  For one, that concept of being proactive really locked into something I had been feeling for a while without expressing as well as I could – namely, that I had been letting life happen to me without taking an active stance on what I wanted out of life.

But the second reason it really hit me didn’t become clear until I was looking through my notes in Evernote on the flight back home.  I came across a note from September 5, 2010 from when I was reading Stephen Covey’s classic book “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“.  I couldn’t believe the serendipitous timing of recording that video and then seeing this exact note a few days later:

The ability to subordinate an impulse to a value is the essence of a proactive person. Reactive people are driven by circumstances, feelings, conditions , environment. Proactive people are driven by their values – carefully thought about, selected and internalized values.

As a person highly focused on my own values and trying to live them as best I can, it seems the concept Mr. Covey described in his book never really left me, but had decided to lurk for a while in the back of my mind, waiting for the most opportune moment to rise again… or at least to be kicked to the front of the line by some catalyst of thought.

So what’s the point of all of this?  Simply this: My own personal level of happiness and satisfaction is highly correlated (and maybe even directly tied) to how active I am in living to my values.  If I am reactive (or worse still… inactive) about all of this, I am far less happy.

Prowler pushes = 100% proactive.

I realize that there is much of this that isn’t earth-shattering news on the level of Kanye West and Kim Kardashian dating.  I mean, that’s just important stuff for all people of the world to ponder deeply.  Anyone could easily say, “Really Kev?  You are a values-driven person and you aren’t happy when being focused on your values?  How is that surprising in any sense to you?”  And anyone who did say that would be pretty on point in asking those questions.

But here’s where I think it gets interesting and something I return to again and again – it’s very easy to let the daily buzz of life, work, busy-ness, family, friends, baseball games, hustle, bustle, goat farming, charity work, car maintenance, yard work, laundry, assimilation to the Borg and whatever else takes up your day to draw attention away from what is truly important.  It doesn’t excuse losing sight of what’s important, but it does one hell of a job explaining why.

That’s my assignment going forward – the mindfulness on this.  It’s actually something that is ascending to the level of a truism in the Pantheon in my head… that when I am being proactive and really mindful of expressing my values through my actions, I am 100X happier.  When I don’t, I find myself flopping around like a fish on a dock.  Not a pretty picture.  Another truism is that if I get sick with a cold or any other nasty little bug, it’s almost always during a period of higher-than-usual stress.  It’s uncanny.  Hmm… the funny thing may even be that I have higher-than-usual stress when I am not proactive about my values… never even thought of that.

So there you have it, my friends!  Be proactive in your values or catch colds.  Irrefutable science… just without all of those pesky double-blind studies in peer-reviewed journals to muck up all my fun.

The Power of Fun and The Joy of Beginning Anew

Hope you enjoy the video – trying to mix up the content here at ol’ Fierce and Mighty.  I do a lot of public speaking for work and, honestly, I enjoy doing it.  If y’all like it, I will do some more.

And if you are interested in nominating me for the Hartford Courant’s Webster awards for best blogs in Connecticut, please do click here.  You don’t need to be from Connecticut to nominate, but you do to win.

For a quick overview of the training talked about in the video above, it may look a lil’ bit like this:

Sunday: OFF

Monday: Lifting

Tuesday: Conditioning

Wednesday: Lifting



Saturday: Lifting

The lifting will obviously be 3 times per week, but the overall split is 4 days (hence I will not have Mondays set as “Bench Press” or the like).  The split will be using the 5/3/1 template and will look like this:

Day 1: Deadlifts

Day 2: Overhead Press

Day 3: Cleans and Squats

Day 4: Bench Press

come-at-me-broThe conditioning could be any of the following: Prowler, car push/pulls, hill sprints, sprints, biking, playing hoops, playing soccer, etc. – essentially, whatever I feel like.  This is getting back to the fun of it all – I mean, God forbid I enjoy this stuff.

Where I plan on changing things around the most will be what I do after the big lifts.  I’ve realized that I like my training best when it works towards me being quicker, more mobile and more athletic.  Hence, there will be some typical core lifts, but also more kettlebell work, turkish get-ups, tire flips and so on.  And clearly, A LOT more stretching and mobility work.

Bottom line: It’s time to get back to doing this to enjoy it again… enjoy the process, enjoy the work, enjoy the craft of lifting.  It’s been my rock and it’s been good to me – time to get back to that place again.

And in the words of the most confident anteater of all timer… COME AT ME BRO! (Seriously… that never gets old for me).

You’re So Positive, That It’s A Negative

0762412550 Back in 1952, a Protestant minister from Ohio published a book whose title, over time, has become a catch phrase unto itself.  That man was Norman Vincent Peale and the book is The Power of Positive Thinking.  It’s almost become a cliché unto itself in terms of people talking about how to get through difficult times – “Be positive!  You know – the power of positive thinking!”  It’s also one of those things that someone can say to you when you’re mired in the midst of a complete bog of suckdom that makes you just want to go upside their head.  Oh come on!  Don’t act like I’m alone on that one.

Anyhoo, as someone who does my best to maintain a good frame of mind (with varying degrees of success, admittedly), this piece over at Psychology Today’s blog (brought to my attention by the good folks at Lifehacker) jumped out at me a bit.  While I am certainly a fan of trying to keep things in perspective and seeing the good, even in bad moments, I’m always intrigued by those who cut across the grain.  People who challenge commonly established dogma tend to intrigue the hell out of me.  I’m not always going to agree with them, but I will certainly try to take a few nuggets from whatever they may have to say.  Except for those dudes who are obsessed with the whole Mayan calendar and 2012 nonsense.  Dude… please.  Take it down a few notches.

The point of the blog piece by Srikumar Rao is simple: when we constantly put events or situations we encounter into the black and white buckets of “good” and “bad”, we will end up on the losing end one way or the other.  Why?  He explains:

No matter what happens to us in life we tend to think of it as "good" or "bad". And most of us tend to use the "bad" label three to ten times as often as the "good" label. And when we say something is bad, the odds grow overwhelming that we will experience it as such. And that is when we need positive thinking. We have been given something bad, a real lemon, and we better scramble and make some lemonade out of it and salvage something out of this "bad" situation.

How tiring and tiresome!

So if we say something is bad, we are highly likely to have the experience of that event being bad.  We will then likely feel compelled to make something good of that situation… and now the pressure is on.  It’s certainly an interesting view.

Personally, I’m not sure I would view this as a stressor, but more our natural reaction of “Well, I don’t like bad… so how do I find something of value in this moment?"  Where’s the silver lining?”  I know I do this, but I am the first to admit it’s about 1,000 times easier doing this when viewing a tough event a friend is enduring as opposed to turning the penetrating eye of clarity upon myself.Good to Great

This recalls for me an excellent portion of Jim Collins classic book, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap… and Others Don’t.  One of the points Collins seeks to make about companies who are able to transition from being merely good to being exceptional is that they need to be committed to succeeding, but all the while, they must squarely confront the brutal facts.  In order to illustrate this story, he discusses a meeting he had with Admiral Jim Stockdale, the highest ranking officer kept as a POW in the infamous Hanoi Hilton during the Vietnam War.  Listen to this clip of Collins explaining his meeting with Stockdale:

It’s a powerful and challenging thought: the ones who didn’t make it were the optimists.  Stockdale was able to survive because he was 100% resolute in his belief of prevailing, but he did that in light of the brutal facts of being held prisoner in an absolute hellhole.

Maybe you really can be too positive… but only if you do so in an utterly blind belief about your circumstances or why you are seeking to be positive in the first place.  The “Stockdale Paradox” is a notion I find truly appealing and defining because it’s sort of like optimism with a truly wicked chip on your shoulder.  In an odd way, it’s part of what has inspired me to push through some challenging times the last few years… that life may be giving me a lot to handle… but I’ll be damned if I let myself relent for a moment because I will come through.

Two Roads Merged in New England

My daily commute to work is always a bit of an interesting experience and often a lesson in human behavior, as I’m sure it is for just about anyone who needs to take to the highways to reach their place of employment.  There is one spot in particular that tends to draw the greatest opportunity for analysis of my fellow rat-racers.

I travel up an in-state route that ends near Hartford before merging into Interstate 84 where I then go on my merry way to work.  Near the end of that route, there are several off-ramps and the one most people are seeking is the 2nd from the left to go to Interstate 84, just like me.  The far left lane is for people seeking to go right into downtown Hartford.

Well, that I-84 lane tends to back up with more people than the other lanes.  So guess what happens?  You can see this coming right?  People will swoop into that far left lane with next-to-zero traffic and then at the last minute, re-merge into the I-84 lane, effectively bypassing the line.

My friends, I can assure you that the level of obscene gestures, steering wheel pounding and horn blaring that occurs is quite the visual treat.  People completely lose their minds when that lone maverick comes flying into that lane at the last second instead of dutifully waiting in line with the rest of us.  And in the interest of full disclosure, I too have been one of those “AWWW COME ON!” yellers who have been cut in front of.  It’s a natural reaction.

This morning when one of the maverick mergers jumped the line the umpteenth time, it made me think a little bit.  What pray tell?  Why, I’m ever-so-glad you asked!  OK, you didn’t really and I basically forced you to ask by reading that, but it’s my damn blog, skippy.  Pipe down.

First, I really don’t understand why the 2 minutes of saved commute time to so incredibly important to the maverick mergers.  Honestly.  You truly don’t get anywhere that much faster anyway and you’ve just succeeded in pissing off a whole trail of strangers for no good reason.Traffic Jam

Second, the level of reaction that people give to these maverick mergers (and again, I have been guilty of this before for sure) is also pretty puzzling when you get right down to it.  While someone may have broken some great unwritten rule about properly waiting your turn, is the level of aggravation and stress hormones subsequently pumping through your veins worth it?  I mean, your commute was probably slowed by what?  10 seconds?  And then you start off your morning completely bent out of shape for some goober you’ve never met and really has no impact on your life except for his wanton disregard of the highway line merge “rules”.

For me, the moral of the story is that on both sides of this unhappy tale, there’s a lot of needless stress and agita.  My goal going forward is to care a little bit less about someone cutting me off at the last second to merge after not waiting in line.  Buddy, if you need to get going into work in that much of a rush, be my guest.

Me?  I’m just going to enjoy my quiet drive, watch the commuting humanity and hope for the occasional blog post inspiration.  Heck, where do you think this one came from?

Toxic People and the Superfund of Life

I’m not sure if it’s El Nino or global warming or the Winter or some mysterious cosmic force only foretold of by Dionne Warwick and the Psychic Friends Hotline, but toxic people have been on my mind.  Some of these have been people I have had the dubious pleasure of interacting with, but more often than not, it’s been friends of mine dealing with this abomination of the human spirit.

In thinking over this phenomenon, I tried to look to the cultural giants in human history for guidance.  There is certainly nothing new about the existence of toxic people – they have certainly existed for probably about as long as human beings have walked the earth… and at least as long as MTV has decided to collect them for the purposes of reality TV.

So I quote the bard:

You’re toxic I’m slipping under
With a taste of a poison paradise
I’m addicted to you
Don’t you know that you’re toxic

Yes Ms. Spears… yes.  I do know this, but it was never going to work out between us in the end.  We come from two different worlds and… umm… wait, where was I again?

Oh yes, toxic people.  I think there are essentially a few different ways to handle this bane of human existence:

  1. Avoid them. Like the plague.  Seriously.  Certain people out there will just suck the life out of you every time you interact with them.  It’s just their nature (or maybe their nurture if they grew up oppressed by a toxic parent).  In the end, they are just not worth the time, aggravation and drama.  And ohhhhh, the drama!  The drama queen/king is really one of the more common forms of toxic people running around.  Sure, there are people out there who look to tear you down with biting comments, but they are more rare than those who seem to have a parade of complete disaster trailing in their wake.  They make me smile and chuckle softly to myself because their dead giveaway to their drama-dom is the line “… and I cannot figure out why all this stuff happens to me!”  If they repeat that a lot… flee.  The reason that all that stuff happens to them is because they subconsciously enjoy the drama (it gives them attention) or they constantly make bad choices that bring it upon them.
    But what if they are your family member or co-worker or boss?
  2. Address the drama: Family members.  This is trickier, obviously.  It can be a little easier with family members because… well… they cannot really fire you from being related to them.  I think in this case you just need to ask more gently when they are in the midst of a drama meltdown “Huh… well, why do you think this is happening to you?”  They may have no idea they are creating their own drama and you need to ease your way into discussing this with them.  If you go this approach and it stays the same or, God forbid, gets worse, then you will probably have to default to tip #1 more often than not.  As harsh as that sounds, think of it this way – if you have brought the issue up with your family member and they continue the behavior and you end up absorbing all the stress, how fair is that really to you?  I know you love them, but a little tough love through the absence of your presence may begin to snap them out of it.
  3. Address the drama: Your boss.  A boss is a harder one because you don’t want to derail/ruin your career or lose your job by ticking off your boss… and if your boss is a toxic person, this is a definite possibility.  I ain’t gonna lie to ya.  The first and clearest option to me is to complete kick ass at your job and be sure you can prove you kick ass at your job.  Why?  Because a toxic boss who likes to pick away at you or create havoc for you will have a difficult time refuting cold hard facts of your complete awesomeness.  Is this easy when you work for a toxic person?  Hell no!  But it’s what you truly need to consider because there are 2 primary benefits of doing this beyond having material to use with your boss if the gauntlet is thrown down: (1) You are making yourself more marketable and prepping your resume for your next step; and (2) Other people in your company/organization/department will begin to notice you are really good which can ease your transition to something new.  You cannot underestimate the power of this second point, especially since other people where you work likely can tell you work with a toxic boss.

As you can see, there are various themes to these tips and avoidance is a piece of it (if possible).  I can see a reaction from people that avoidance is a bad idea because you aren’t really “addressing” the problem.  My response to that?  Umm… yeah, that’s the point.  We are often taught that every problem must be met head on… confronted directly in order to vanquish it like St. George slaying the dragon.  Hogwash.  Why?  2 reason: (1) It’s not your job to fix everyone else in the world, quite frankly.  In addition, toxic people are by their very nature stressful to those around them.  Why seek out stress you really don’t need? My life philosophy these days is to keep things very simple because life adds its own complications just fine without your help. (2) A toxic person has to choose to change.  Yes, your confronting them on it may cause that change, but at some point, it’s like yelling at a wall.  Believe me… I’ve yelled at some walls in my time and they really don’t listen well.  Heck, they may not even listen AT ALL.  Umm… oversharing?

In the end, putting in an effort to handle those people who are toxic is fine… to a point.  After that, let it go and enjoy a life with a slightly smaller slice of happiness.  Believe me, life is much better outside of the Superfund.


The most interesting New Year’s resolution of all

The L.A. Times (those nutty left-wing liberal media, Birkenstock wearing, hemp loving, peace and granola eating kooks that they are) had a crazy notion yesterday in the Booster Shots section of their Web site: using 2010 to focus on being… get ready for it… happy.  Yup, good ol’ happiness.

During my drive into work this morning, I was thinking this one over.  My morning drive used to be music or sports talk radio to speed myself along during the drive.  However, over the last month or two of work, I have instituted the “quiet drive” where I don’t put on any music and just use those 20 minutes or so to think.

My thought from this morning was pretty simple: I truly believe that the overarching goal of almost any human being is to seek out happiness.  That’s it.  Numero uno.  The trick is what approach we each take to get there because obviously, not everyone is happy in this world.

So if you work from my assumption that everyone has happiness as their #1 goal in life (whether consciously or unconsciously), why are so many people missing that target?  Are you just out of your mind Kuzia?

The answer to the second question is a clear and emphatic, yes I am.  For the first question, I think it’s because the paths we each choose to attain happiness either cause us an undue amount of distraction from our final goal or they put off present-state happiness for the magical goal of happiness on the horizon.

Think of a high-powered business executive or doctor or lawyer.  Why do they  spend 60, 70 and 80 hours a week in their jobs with all of the stress and pressure?  It could be because they love what they do, but that’s not going to be everyone (and I would assert not even the majority).  So if it’s not for love of the job, it’s for what the job would enable them to do.  The money that allows them to put their kids through private schools or college or save for retirement.  Each of those goals would be some form of happiness.  “If my child goes to a great college, then that’s going to make me happy.”  OK, they might not think of it in such direct terms, but you get the idea.  It’s always a question of sacrifice for some longer term goal on the idea that the present anguish will yield results that will make those sacrifices worth it.

But does that really happen?  Is it really worth it if you are plugging away for years in something you don’t enjoy?  If you are doing all of this to provide for something for your family (big house, nice vacation, expensive college, etc.) but you are miserable to be around all the time, is that really helping your family out?

Or on the distraction notion.  This is one I know I fall into all the time.  You want to achieve X goal and think you are doing the right things to get there… except you are busy all the time and get pulled into focusing on a lot of separate things in life which may or may not be important.  Then you lift your head up 6 months later, see you are no closer to your happiness goal, make a few snazzy lists and then put your head down again and go through the same cycle.

All of this would seem to suggest that happiness as a goal is a goofy pursuit… that it’s either far too nebulous or achieving it is more a matter of luck.  Poppycock.  It’s neither of those things.

Happiness is a worthwhile goal, but you need to do more to be happy in the present moment (God forbid) while you are pursuing your goals for long-term happiness.  Believe me – I am not at all the kind of guy who does not see the value in near-term sacrifice for long-term gain.  That’s a big part of my life… but does that really and truly mean you have to be in a murky gray sky limbo until you reach that horizon place?  And even worse, think about how any horizon is… it’s never a reachable spot.  Run at it as hard as you want… it always stays the same distance away.

OK, not a perfect analogy if you have a goal as a fixed thing, but you see my point.  It’s really easy to keep putting off any kind of present joy for a never-ending series of horizon happiness points.  And I should know… I do it too.

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