Posts Tagged 'self awareness'

Conservation of Energy


In physics, the law of energy conservation states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant. It can’t be created or destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another. Our understanding of the universe relies on this principle.

It often (not always) applies to people and relationships, too.

If you escalate (cut off in traffic, angry at the gate agent, frustrated at your boss), you’ve just added (negative) energy to a conversation.

If you escalate (enthusiasm, a hug, encouraging words), you’ve just added (positive) energy to a conversation.

Once the energy is added, it has to go somewhere. Often, the person you’re engaging with throws it right back, or even increases it. The problem with taking offense is that it’s really hard to figure out what to do with it after you’re done using it. Better to just leave it on the table and walk away. Umbrage untaken quietly disappears. A talented, mature person might take your negative energy and de-escalate it, or even swallow it and permit the conversation to calm down or end. But don’t count on it.

You can ‘win’ a conversation by overwhelming your opponent with energy they can’t handle. But of course, they’re not your opponent and you don’t really win. Being aware of the energy you add or take from interactions is a sophisticated technique that radically changes the outcomes of the conversations that fill your day. Add the good stuff, absorb the bad stuff and focus on the outcomes, not the bravado. Winning isn’t the point.

Imagine a Future…

Imagine a future

We’re pretty good at playing out the future in our imaginations when things make sense, and there aren’t difficult, unanswered questions at stake.

A way of defining (non-clinical) anxiety is as, “experiencing failure in advance.” If you’re busy enacting a future that hasn’t happened yet, and amplifying the worst possible outcomes, it’s no wonder it’s difficult move forward.

Sadly our culture doesn’t have an easily found word for the opposite. For experiencing success in advance. For visualizing the best outcomes before they happen.

Writing yourself fan mail in advance and picturing the change you’ve announced you’re trying to make is an effective way to push yourself to build something that actually generates that action. One reason this is difficult is that we’ve got a false humility that pushes us to avoid it. The other is that when we’re confronted with this possible success, we have to confront the fact that we’re not there (yet).

Go ahead, write yourself some fan mail, in advance.

Imagining a future without your sacred cows is hard, but necessary if you want to be thorough, and  reasonably prepared. In business this means groping for what you’d do if the environmental conditions you rely on for success changed. Maybe energy prices fluctuate. Or people no longer read things on paper. Or phones have really good cameras in them. Or an app is developed for what you do? Or the means are invented for you to find your own audience, so you don’t have to be selected, etc. What if we cure diabetes?

On a personal level, imagining the future can be difficult because the future is messy and we’re not focused enough to make sense of it all. The past is neat. People who chronicle the past are connecting the dots, editing what we remember and presenting a neat, coherent arc. We can publish the history of Ottoman Empire in 150 pages, but we’d need ten times that to contain a narrative of the noise in your head over the last hour. Even viral videos are easy to describe after they happen. But if these experts are so smart, how come they can never predict the next one?

We’re not very rigorous in our understanding of what we want. Vague wishes and ideals are nice, but they don’t come with a roadmap. It’s not intuitive, and nobody really trains us to be specific about it. We have fantasies about happiness and contentment, families, social events, a loving and supportive companion, and a nice home. But we don’t do the hard work to sit down and map out exactly what all of that looks like and consists of.

Until we are older. By then we’ve been bounced around enough to have a much more grounded understanding of what we want. Here you are. Given that time travel has yet to be invented, your options are to give in to the inertia and play it out, or shake things up to get what you want.

Imagine a future that looks like you getting what you want out of life. Imagine it in detail. What are the principle parts? Can you devise a systematic way to you can start working to move forward on a couple of them? If one is a nice house, then take the time to learn what that costs, what payments are, what your credit worthiness needs to be, and how much of a downpayment you need. You can map it out. Not saying everything is a simple checklist like this, but you can at least figure out enough to increase your odds. Want that loving and supportive companion? Start by being awesome yourself. What does that look like? What steps can you take to be more awesome?

Or…wait around to be selected. But don’t hold your breath on that one.


Fear of Fear

fear of fearMost of the things we avoid are avoided because we’re afraid of being afraid.

The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss – there’s not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether. We avoid the feeling of fear.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

It usually looks higher from up there. When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that our plan is far too risky, or our behavior too weird.

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don’t see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little risky, or even questionable, but by no means off-the-grid nuts. You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far, especially if you tend to find yourself worrying over what others think.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That’s why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What’s in your head is real to you, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling. And most don’t care about it.

How deep is the water? If it’s over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough, you will swim. And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk? Not actual risk, but the feeling that you’re at risk? What are you missing out on? Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we’ve created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive. It’s easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It’s neither.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.


Crystal Palace


It’s beautiful. Looks fantastic. A great ideal to hold on to.

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our lives into a type of crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste energy whining over slight imperfections, while we’re simultaneously losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk we spend our days in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing. And still fragile.

Growth is messy and seems dangerous. Life is messy and inherently somewhat dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure, and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.


The Critic and the Poop


We’ve all been criticized at times. Sometimes brutally or without thought. The intent may or may not be to help. Keep in mind that there will always be someone around to tell you that what you’re doing isn’t good enough. Feel free to listen to and act on the facts, but you’d do well to filter out the emotional baggage the sender may be trying to bestow upon you.

That’s part of the struggle of choosing your own path. Of course, nobody ever erected a statue for a critic. On the other hand, statues are the ones that get pooped on by passing birds. There is no way to avoid this if you want to get anywhere or do anything great.

It washes off.

Winning Combination


Tom Brady wasn’t a superstar in college. And nobody knew who (coach) Bill Belichick was before they got together. What about: Ben and Jerry. Warner Brothers, Hewlett and Packard, Jobs and Wasniak, Click and Clack. The Wright Brothers. Larry Page and Sergy Brin. The cast of Top Gear or Friends. Simon and Garfunkel. Rush.

All were (or are) great together. Winning combinations.

Here’s another kind of list:

  • Stephen Duffy (Duran Duran)
  • LaTavia Roberson/LeToya Luckett (Destiny’s Child)
  • Michael Dempsey (The Cure)
  • Dik Evans (U2)
  • David Marks (The Beach Boys)
  • Doug Sandom (The Who)

Do you recognize those names? They’ve pretty much been relegated to answers to trivia questions.

History is filled with great partnerships and teams. Groups of people who came together to do something special that the same individuals couldn’t have accomplished on their own. Their power together being greater than the sum of the parts.

Finding a winning combination is magic, like catching lightening in a bottle.

When you find a winning combination, I would encourage you to pursue it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same one your whole life. But it’s so important to see the power in the combo – the team. You can go to new heights, together.

Two Kinds of Argument


Scientific -vs- the other kind. The scientific kind relies on what the facts say. The science can be proven wrong by better science. The other kind relies on what emotions say or pride.

If you need to convince someone who refuses to act like a scientist (listening to facts), making better science isn’t going to help you very much. The person you’re arguing with (who might be a scientist during the day, even, but is merely being a person right now) is not going to be swayed from a firmly held opinion by your work to make better science. It’s more likely that it will take cultural pressure, shame, passion, humor, connection and a host of unreliable levers to make your point.

The easy way to tell the two varieties of argument apart is to ask, “what evidence would you need to see to change your mind about this?”

Don’t argue about belief, argue about arguments. The essence of a belief is that we own it, regardless of what’s happening around us. The key to making a rational argument is that your assertions must be falsifiable.

“I believe A because of B and C.” If someone can show you that “C” isn’t actually true, then it’s not okay to persist in arguing “A”. The statement, “All swans are white” is falsifiable, because if I can find even one black swan, we’re done.

On the other hand, “Aliens are about to take over the world with flying saucers,” is not, because there’s nothing I can do or demonstrate that would satisfy the person who might respond, “well, they’re just very well hidden, and they’re waiting us out.”

If belief in “A” is important to someone’s story, people usually pile up a large number of arguments that are either not testable, or matters of opinion and taste. There’s nothing wrong with believing “A”, but it’s counterproductive to engage with someone in a discussion about whether you’re right or not. It’s a belief, or an opinion, both of which are fine things to have, but it’s not a logical conclusion or a coherent argument, because those require asserting something we can actually test.

You can’t argue with feelings. The key question is, “is there something I can prove or demonstrate that would make you stop believing in ‘A’?” If the honest answer is ‘no’, then we’re not having an argument, are we?

Before we waste a lot of time arguing about something that appears to be a rational, logical conclusion, let’s be sure we are both having the same sort of discussion.

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