Thursday, December 23, 2010

The New Year: Looking Back, Looking Forward

As we bring each year to a close, it is important to reflect on what we’ve accomplished and learned, and to create intentions for what we want to be/do/have in the coming cycle. This can be done at the calendar year and/or the solar year (your birthday), since recognition of what it took to get us here is just as crucial as planning for what we want our lives to be in the future.

This is not about creating “resolutions,” as I believe they set us up for failure and feeling sh**ty about ourselves. The resolutions people make are usually about fixing themselves and their lives, based on “there is something wrong here” or even worse, “there is something wrong with me.” We are powerful, creative, resourceful beings that are traveling paths that bring wisdom crucial for our ongoing development as humans and titans in our own corners of the world. Shoulding on ourselves has no place here.

I created a three-part exercise called Looking Back, Looking Forward that is about clarity, choice, commitment, creation, and celebration. I believe it important to set yourself up to win by 1) creating closure for the ending year and celebrating all we did and did not accomplish and learn, and 2) designing a living, breathing plan you will continually revise and update throughout the coming year.

So, let’s get started. You can do this on your own, or may consider working with someone close to you for part or all of this exercise to capture things you may be forgetting and to brainstorm out-of-the-box ideas. Whether flying solo or with another, find a quiet spot to write or type without interruptions. This may be in your home, a peaceful location where you feel calm and centered, or even a coffee shop. Breathe, relax, and reflect without judgment.


We so often want to charge ahead into “what’s next” without taking the time to consider all that it has taken to get us here. Who were we being that allowed us to create the successes and lessons? What did we do that gave us all we have? If we don’t take the time to acknowledge this, we miss out on honoring ourselves and our actions…and feel like we are always pushing ahead toward an elusive finish line that never shows itself.

Reflect. Begin by reflecting on what you have accomplished and learned this past year, so that you can powerfully complete it with honesty and celebration. Consider these questions:
  • What did you accomplish that you intended to accomplish?
  • What did you accomplish above and beyond what you intended?
  • What didn’t you accomplish that you intended?
  • What did you learn this year?
  • What would you like to be acknowledged for and by whom?
Below are some topics that you may want to include so that you can broaden your scope beyond the usual sectors of career, money, and health. Try to write down at least 2-3 items in each of the following areas, but you may find yourself putting down dozens of successes and lessons:
  • Career: your real expression, not necessarily your “job”
  • Money: includes both your finances and your “job,” if it’s not your “career”
  • Health: mental, physical, emotional
  • Relationships: friends, family
  • Love: romance, partnership, dating
  • Personal growth: learning, development, expansion
  • Spirit: relationship to self, universe, higher power
  • Community: contribution, involvement
  • Physical environment: home/work space, clutter, living location
  • Fun and recreation
  • Time/energy management: how you spend/utilize your time, what you say yes/no to
  • Communication: style, frequency, with/to whom
  • Miracles: something amazing and unexpected…
Celebrate. Then choose to celebrate the year in some way. It can be something like purchasing a gift for yourself, or it can be an action that doesn’t cost a dime. Whatever way you choose to recognize what you have achieved, the most important part is you consciously take the action with celebration in mind. Some examples may be taking a bath, making a toast or a special meal at home, or even going for a long walk.


Instead of focusing on the usual corrections and repairs, get clear about what you really want, not what you feel you should want. Base it on your values and sense of personal purpose/meaning -- and then set objectives and intentions for what you want to do/have and who you want to be in the coming year. These include tangible goals, objectives, and activities, as well as intangible intentions around who you want to be. Don’t be afraid to dream big. This will always be a working draft document, and can/will be revised throughout the year.

Then write down, in each of the areas listed above, a few intentions and objectives for the coming year. Some will be continuations of what you have already been focusing on (keep smoke-free, maintain my yoga practice, continue practicing patience with my kids), and some will be brand new (be open to taking risks, take a vacation, launch a blog). Don’t get too bogged down in the “how” just yet. Just allow yourself the space to be creative and think outside the “fixing” and away from the "more, better, different" point of view. What does your heart truly desire?

Some tips:
  • Create concrete SMART goals that include both a clear, concise description of what you want to create/accomplish, as well as a time-frame or “by when” date.
  • Be realistic by setting achievable goals. Winning the lottery, for example, is out of your grasp.
  • Describe your goals in specific terms. Instead of "I don't want to be lazy," opt for "I want to exercise regularly" or "I will cut down on my television watching." Consider boundaries and what you may want to say "yes" and "no" to.
  • Break down large goals into smaller ones. For instance, commit to losing weight by resolving to join a gym and improve your eating habits.
  • Find alternatives to a behavior that you want to change, and make this part of your plan. For example, if you want to quit smoking, but have smoked to relax yourself, consider: What other forms of relaxation are available to you?
  • Above all, aim for things that are truly important to you, not what you think you ought to do or what others expect of you.

You have reflected on the past year, you have celebrated and put it to bed, and you have created intentions and objectives for the coming year. The next step is: action. Remember, these are not New Year’s Resolutions; rather, they are part of your short and long term plans based on who you are and what you really want. Now is the time to jump in. Here are some suggestions for initiating and keeping your goals alive for yourself:
  1. Just pick something and start. You will not take on all your goals at the same time. Pick the top 3-5 that you can start making a dent in right now, and begin practicing. You may even want to take on the easiest ones first, so you can experience immediate success to get you motivated.
  2. Declare it. By keeping key friends informed of what you are doing, you are setting yourself up with a support system. Share your successes and challenges. This will not only help you, but will also motivate others and help them feel like they are not alone.
  3. Partner with someone. Create structures or commitments to help keep you accountable. Find a workout buddy. Partner with someone to help you keep smoke-free. Hire a coach. You don’t have to go it alone!
  4. Use your calendar. Make sure you have time and space set aside in your day for your activities, goals, etc. If a competing priority comes up, reschedule that time – don’t just cancel it. By carving out the space, it is more likely to stay top-of-mind and you are more likely to do it. Also, plan your procrastination if that is a problem area for you.
  5. Baby steps. Break your goals down into small chunks. For example, if you want to lose weight or gain strength, set some targets for the next 3-6 months, then work backward to determine how you will achieve that target. Put in some milestones. Create some structures. But most importantly, don’t get overwhelmed by the bigger goal; remember that you only need to focus on TODAY.
  6. Revisit frequently. Make sure you keep your Looking Forward plan in front of you, and update objectives and dates as needed. You can even do a Mid-Year Review to reflect on the first six months and revise your plan for the second half of the year. It is all about keeping this alive for yourself. When you do your Looking Back, Looking Forward next year, it will not only be an easier exercise (since you've been keeping track all year and will have a lot to report!), but you will have a whole year of successes and lessons to draw from for creating the following year's blueprint.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Morning Workshop

Each morning, it is important to set the tone for your day by having a set of practices that clear out the junk from your mind/body/spirit and create intentions for what is to come. This is about self-care, and it needs to go beyond just the physical preparations of making coffee, eating breakfast, showering and primping. And it need not take more than 20 minutes, depending upon the kinds of activities you want to set up and begin practicing. I call this “My Morning Workshop.”

Consider what you need to give yourself a real jolt of focus, energy, and enthusiasm. What makes the most sense for you based on how you usually wake up – reflective, jubilant, morose, anxious, physically keyed up or worn out? Do you need to calm your mind, clear it out, or give it a jump start? Would you benefit from taking stock, wringing out stress, or asking for guidance and support? What do you need to make your day one for winning, not dragging yourself through or racing to an artificial finish line?

Consider what you might want to include in your Morning Workshop. Here are some suggestions of things that work well. There are also additional suggestions in the blog post on self-care.

  • Stretching
  • Yoga exercises
  • Going for a walk or run
  • Light weight training
  • Deep breathing
  • Journaling
  • Morning Pages
  • Speak affirmations
  • Deep breathing
  • Setting an intention for who you want to be today
  • Planning out your day with your calendar/to-do list before you jump in
I’d like to share what I am currently doing each morning to help give you an idea of what this could look like. My current Workshop centers on the mental and spiritual (and breathing) to help me calm and focus; I save my physical exercise for later in the day. Yours will look different, depending on what your needs are. Don’t be afraid to mix it up as your needs shift, but be consistent with doing something every day.

My Morning Workshop (under 20 minutes total)
  • Breathe deeply – throughout
  • Light a candle, focus on my breath, and meditate – 10 mins.
  • Speak a spiritual treatment (a form of affirmative prayer) – 3 mins.
  • Gratitude practice (“I am grateful for X, Y, Z”) – 1 min.
  • Speak my current affirmations while breathing deeply – 2 mins.
  • Set my intention for the day (“My intention today is to be [calm, patient, focused, forgiving, etc.]”) – 30 secs.
  • Speak my closing thought (“I love what is. Today, amazing things will happen.”) – 10 secs.
  • One final deep breath – 10 secs.
Remember, you can (and should) change it up as needed. The main thing to remember is to honor yourself by committing a little time each day to doing it – even if you only have 5 minutes to get present to yourself and your day before diving in. But try to be consistent by doing it at a similar time each morning, and every morning. I can promise that after the first couple of weeks of consistently practicing this, you’ll start finding yourself more calm and focused -- not only at the start but more often throughout the day.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

A Win-Win Sales Approach

To many, sales can be a stressful (or at least uncomfortable) process – whether you are in business for yourself or someone else, or are the one being sold to. But the sales process is necessary in every profession. Your version of selling may involve internal customers (such as, seeking buy-in from your team for your ideas) and/or external customers (enticing others to purchase your widgets, services, or expertise). And in some cases, you are using a version of sales in your personal life when you are attempting to persuade and influence people toward or away from a particular position (or even a restaurant choice!).

For years, I have been using a simple sales approach that has been very effective. It incorporates authenticity, integrity, self-confidence, workability, and even appreciation. It is also focuses on peace and ease where both parties walk away feeling like it’s a win-win, and each feels honored and respected in the process.

I was recently participating in a DailyOM self-study course called Heal Your Money Karma (by Spencer Sherman and Brent Kessel). In one of their lessons, they outlined a sales process called “Earning More with Less Effort.” As I was reading it, I was nodding my head repeatedly saying to myself, “Yes, yes! I already do that! This is exactly like my own sales process!” Because there are so many parallels, I have incorporated some of their points into the following process:

The 6-Part Win-Win Sales Approach
Step 1: Get Clear
Before you can pitch anything, you need to know what you are talking about – so that you are clear and confident when you speak. Take the time to think through 1) what is most important for you to communicate to others (i.e., your intentions, your features or approach, the fee structure, etc.) and 2) who your market is (i.e., who you will (and want to) be talking to, and what’s important to them). The clearer you can be for yourself, the easier it will be for you to be present and authentic with people.

A note for entrepreneurs: I highly recommend a book called Book Yourself Solid by Michael Port, for getting clear about the who, what, how, where, and why.

Step 2: Determine Level of Interest and Fit
When talking with a prospect, it is important to be unattached to the outcome and to put your attention on them. Rather than focusing on “getting them” to be a client or a customer (or a convert to your idea or point of view), focus on identifying mutual interest and fit. Does it make sense for you to work together? Emphasize that your intention is for it to be a win-win for you both. Ask probing questions and above all else, do more listening than talking. Your objective is to identify whether partnership and collaboration are possible, and whether there is alignment in each party’s wants, needs, and values. It’s about both what’s in it for them AND what’s in it for you.

Do you feel like there is interest and fit on both sides? Perhaps you need to ask the question. If you are clear it is there, you can move onto step 3 to deepen the discussion around what is possible in the partnership. If interest and fit aren’t there (on either side), refer them elsewhere, and ask if they will refer you (if appropriate). There is no need for worry or disappointment; there are plenty of others out there that will be a better fit for you both. You want to honor both party’s time and energy by assessing fit relatively quickly.

Step 3: Be Transparent and Authentic
If you both decide there is interest and fit, it’s time to dig a little deeper and talk about the particulars of working together. Understand where your client is coming from. Again, ask questions and do a lot of listening. What they say will inform how you choose to present your product/service/idea, with the intention of giving them the information they need to make an informed decision. It is important to be transparent and authentic, because anything that even remotely stinks of coercion or deception will be in the space. We’ve all been in those conversations where we know there is more going on behind the scenes – and that leaves us wanting to run for the hills.

State anything up-front that you believe may cause concern, get in the way, or become a deal breaker. If you voice it, you are more likely to remove the emotional charge or fears that could be in the space if you were to keep silent and wait for it to become an issue. These may be issues around personal style or approach, concerns about company size or competitor differences, or even worries that gender may get in the way. Sherman and Kessel use this example:

A Sikh colleague of mine starts his sales conversations by telling the prospect "I’m concerned that my turban might get in the way of our doing business together." This statement is instantly disarming, and it takes his ethnic and cultural difference out of the equation.

Step 4: Discuss Money Sooner Rather Than Later
If you feel weird about discussing money, so will your prospect. This is something worth working through, as you will get in your own way, and will likely bring unconscious stuff into the space. When it comes to costs and fees, it’s better that you bring it up before your prospect does. Because money is such an emotional conversation/issue for people, you are more likely to take the charge out of it if you have an open dialogue about it. I recognize that issues of worth may come into play here, but the more you practice speaking with confidence (and without apology!), the easier it will become to talk about it. And the sooner you state your fees/price, the less likely you will feel later to discount. Sherman and Kessel have this to say:

Say it outright: "My fee is in the X-thousand dollar range; is that a barrier to us working together?" Or, in the case of a non-monetary transaction: "I have a 30-minute presentation; I’d like the audience’s full attention. Will that be a problem for you?" For the most part, buyers will say it is not a problem or there is no barrier because they’re intrigued to hear what you have to offer.

Step 5: Have an Open Dialogue
You are probably getting that sales is about asking the right questions, giving the prospect (and the sales process) space to breathe, and allowing the conversation to go where it needs to without being attached to the outcome. Of course, you will benefit from creating the intention of making a sale – but it must be a win-win for both parties. At this point, you have explained who you are, what you offer, your fees/prices, and any concerns you wanted to address.

Now is the time to ask the prospect about any concerns or need for additional information or clarification. Let them talk, and be sure to really listen on all levels. Share how you will answer their issues, and ask if your response addresses their concerns. Don’t say anything; just wait for the “yes” or “no.” If it’s a “yes,” you can move on to the next step. If it’s a “no,” perhaps you didn’t really understand their issue or need more information. If you don’t have a solution, be sure to say so. Better to be up-front about limitations, than to over-sell and not produce on the other end.

Step 6: Determine Next Steps
In the spirit of being bold and confident, particularly after having this robust discussion, you will want to ask the question: “What do we do next?” Ask this only if you are clear that YOU want to work with them; otherwise, you will want to tell them that you don’t believe you are a match. Through this whole process, you want the prospect to feel free to make whatever choice they need/want to make without fear of your reaction. Don’t help them or offer suggestions, nor should you pressure them in any way. As you probably already know, people have a hard time saying “no,” so you want to empower them to make the best choice for them.

In some cases, the prospect will say: I’m ready to sign/buy now. You’ve got your deal, and based on your particular offering, you’ll know what steps are necessary to seal the deal (draw up a contract, set up delivery, etc.). In others, they may say “no” (for whatever reasons they have). If this is the case, ask for a referral to others who may have an interest in your service/product/idea.

In other cases, they may say they need more information, or time to think about it. In this last situation, it’s up to you what you want to do. If they need more information, help them get it. If they are still researching (comparing competition, etc.) or need more time, you can either 1) choose not to wait, say it’s not a fit, and ask for a referral, or 2) set up a follow-up date. In my business, it is not unusual for a prospect to say they would like some time to think (or check their budget, etc.) to which I respond: “Not a problem at all, but I do request that we check-in X days from now so we can close the loop.” People appreciate that and feel they are being respected. And you are respecting yourself too.
At the end of the day, remember that this is about providing impeccable service (even if you are selling a product or idea), such that the prospect feels heard, understood, and honored. Many referrals come from people who had a great experience with you, even if they didn’t actually make the purchase (at least, not yet!). I’ve certainly had many people refer me who were never my client because they enjoyed our interactions and my no-pressure, unattached approach. And I’ve had people call me two years after meeting me saying they were now ready to work with me.

Remember that the key to successful sales is focusing on the win-win. Know your stuff, be authentic and transparent (integrity and trust-building), keep the process low-key (no high-pressure!), ask good questions (listen more than you talk) and address concerns directly, and be unattached to the outcome (there are plenty of prospects out there). Whatever the result, both walk away feeling like they won because coming to an agreement to work (or not) together was a collaborative process.

Following the six steps may not end in a sale for you every time, but it might result in a future business (a “no” now may be a “yes” later). And you never know who might refer you, simply because of how awesome you were to interact with.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Relationship Compact: Define and Redefine

As people, we evolve over time. And so must our relationships if we want them to keep pace with our own growth, change, needs, and priorities. We have a variety of people in our lives –- family, friends, community members, work colleagues, clients, acquaintances, people who provide us services, and the list goes on. Each relationship has a different compact, whether explicit or implied, and it is important to understand the agreement and refresh the terms as needed.

This is much clearer in working relationships, as more often than not there are defined expectations for the roles we are supposed to play. As service providers, we often set forth the terms in a contract so both we and the client are clear about what will and will not be provided. As managers and employees, our annual performance appraisals are based on how we measure up to the competencies defined for the role and organization, to the job description that outlines the requirements of the position, and to what our boss (hopefully, collaboratively) defines as objectives for performance and goals.

However, in personal relationships we are often operating in the dark or from habit. Expectations from family relationships are typically outdated –- based on unspoken “rules” created when we were very young. In friendships and romantic relationships, we often fall back on old patterns of behavior from past experiences, and sometimes keep people in our lives well beyond the relationships’ expiration dates. When we meet new people, we see them through filters and place them in certain categories and classifications that direct us toward how we will choose to interact and bond (or not) with them.

So, what do we do about this? How can we refresh our present relationships? For new connections, how can we set clear, healthy boundaries for ourselves and others at the outset that will serve as strong foundations for the future?

Current Relationships
  1. Take an inventory of your current relationships. Start with the key people you have the most vested interest in: specific family, friends, colleagues, etc.
  2. For each person, ask yourself which ones are and are not working well, and why? Which ones have run their course? Be honest.
  3. For each person, reach out to create a conversation with the intention of having a frank discussion to refresh the relationship and define/redefine the compact. The post “360 Feedback from People in Your Life” can support you in how you go about setting these up, and what questions to ask.
  4. Commit to having regular check-ins on your relationships. We do this at work; why not do it with the people in our lives.
New Relationships
  1. When you meet someone, be open to seeing them for who they really are, not just what we want them to be. Be transparent and authentic in how you interact with them, so they can get to know you without the mask of “looking good” or “being likeable.”
  2. Get crystal clear about what you want in your relationships at this juncture. Not what you used to want, or what you think you should want/have. Be present tense. This might change in one month or six, but it’s important to be conscious of your current wants/needs.
  3. Understand your values, and identify whether this new person meshes up with them or not.
  4. Set boundaries for yourself. Where appropriate, be explicit about setting boundaries with them. For both self and others, these parameters might include: time, what you’re willing and not willing to do/give, what you want/need, and how emotionally/mentally available you are.
  5. Commit to yourself to have regular check-ins so that you can keep the relationship current.
This might seem really methodical and perhaps even contrived, but it really does work. While each discussion will look different and may not go to the lengths I mention above, at very least you will have put some thought into your relationships. Where you take steps to have discussions, you will open up dialogue and space for the relationship to breathe. You will also set some boundaries and commitments to one another that allow for greater transparency and authenticity in your interactions. Finally, you will model a really fantastic process and set of behaviors that others may feel compelled to bring into their own lives.

We are not built to operate in isolation –- we are social animals. It is important to make investment in the people that mean a great deal to us on both the personal and professional levels. Take the time to get clear, be courageous, and get in conversation about your relationships. It will have a ten-fold return.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Self-Care: Pause and Refuel

When you don’t focus on making self-ishness a priority, you run the risk of burning yourself out. You experience greater anxiety and stress, are less productive and effective, and are more prone to health issues. By taking some time every day that feeds your body, mind, heart, or spirit, you are not only giving yourself the sustenance to keep going, but are respecting and honoring YOU as someone who deserves attention and nurturing.

It all starts with making your well-being the first priority – before anyone else. If you don’t fill your goblet first, you won’t have much left over to give to others. Healthy doses of stress (eustress) are a normal part of life, and help us to push ahead with impact and velocity. However, when we experience high intensity and long durations of stress (distress), our physiology moves into a “fight or flight” mode. Over prolonged periods, our physical and mental health deteriorates, and our heart and spirit scream for relief.

To drive this point home, take a moment to consider yourself in the following situations and pay close attention to how you feel. Take note of your breathing, your posture and facial expressions, and the thoughts and feelings that go along with it.
  • Driving your car in rush hour
  • Getting a last minute work assignment
  • Misplacing something in the house
  • Having something break while you're using it
  • Dealing with incompetence at work
  • Planning your budget
  • Being blamed for something
  • Waiting in a long line at the grocery store
Did you notice yourself tensing, getting irritated, or even saying, “That drives me crazy when that happens!”? When we are not practicing self-care, we are more prone to over-reacting versus taking a step back, breathing, and practicing patience. If you actively find time to reduce “distress,” you will feel less inclined to jump to hyper-emotional reactions. You will find yourself more able to choose responses that best serve you and the people around you.

You don’t need a lot of time to practice self-care. It can range from taking some deep breaths in the midst of stressful situations, to stepping away from your desk for a 10 minute break to re-center yourself, to carving out an hour or two to do something creative, relaxing, or even invigorating like a long run.

Here are some examples of self-care. They are broken down into categories, but any of these suggestions would affect all areas of body, mind, heart, and spirit.
  • Take a walk
  • Get some exercise or take a yoga class
  • Soak in the bathtub
  • Sit in the sun for 15 minutes
  • Take a nap or go to bed early
  • Get out into nature
  • Make one improvement in your diet
  • Get a massage
  • Drink lots of water throughout the day
  • Say an affirmation
  • Read (or listen to) a book for pleasure
  • Write a letter or email to a friend
  • Make a list of your short- and long-term goals
  • Sign up for a class
  • Do some journaling
  • Write a short story or poem
  • Plan your day in the morning, and review at bedtime
  • Hire a coach to help you make self-improvements
  • Listen to music you love
  • Do something creative - take pictures, paint/draw, be musical
  • Play with your child or pet – or play by yourself (operative word: play)
  • Have a heart-to-heart conversation with a close friend
  • Hug someone or ask for a hug
  • Acknowledge yourself for accomplishments you’re proud of
  • Feel your fear and take an action anyway (the definition of “courage”)
  • Write a letter to someone who has hurt you, and don’t send it
  • Visualize yourself in a peaceful place
  • Do something of service for another
  • Connect with Nature
  • Meditate
  • Pray or go to spiritual services
  • Practice daily quiet time (in whatever form)
  • Practice daily gratitude (name 5 things you’re grateful for when you wake or retire)
  • Learn about a religion or spiritual practice different from your own
  • Give a gift to someone anonymously
Practicing self-care is well worth the time, energy, and effort. You'll be more present, happier, healthier, and ultimately more effective in all that you do.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Communication: Defining Roles and Asking for What You Need

How many times have you been in a conversation with someone and thought to yourself, “Ugh, I really just want to share this and not have them try to solve the problem”? Or, on the flip side, “Hmm, I don’t know how best to support this person right now”? In both cases, whether you’re the one sharing or the one on the receiving end, it’s important to get clear about what’s needed in the moment for the conversation to be useful. Here are some recommendations on how best to do this:

When Sharing
When in the position of having something to share with someone – whether it’s venting, seeking counsel, brainstorming options, etc. – it’s key to get clear from the beginning what you need and to ask for it. For instance, if you really need to get something off your chest and you just want to be heard, then say: “I am going to share something and I just want you to listen.” In this example, you let the person know what you need (to be heard) and what role they can play (listener, and nothing more). Another example: “I have been dealing with a challenging situation and want to get your objective input on how best to approach it.” Here you are saying that you need input and suggestions, and the person can be prepared to have his/her ears and thinking hat on simultaneously.
When Receiving
When on the receiving end of communication, it is helpful to establish what role the person wants you to play. This may happen at the beginning before they start sharing, or after they are finished sharing and you are preparing to respond. In either case, I find it helpful to say: “Do you need me to listen, or are you looking for a response from me?” You can ask: “Who do you want me to be here… a partner, a friend, a manager, a coach, an objective 3rd party…?” This helps guide how to listen, as well as allows you to offer the kind of feedback (or not) they are looking for.

Another recommendation is to ask permission from the person before giving your input. For example, you could say: “I have some thoughts about this. May I share them with you?” Or, “I have a few suggestions… are you interested in hearing them?” In these cases, if the person really is not interested in getting feedback, they can say so. Even if they are not sure they really want feedback, if they gave you permission to do so, they can’t hold it against you because you prepared them for it.
Communication is challenging. We all have varying degrees of experience, training, and facility with it. Consider whether you need to take steps to improve your skills in this area and seek it out. Listening in particular is an area where most people could use an upgrade. Objectively assess yourself (or ask for feedback from others) and determine where some training would be beneficial.

At very least, if you can get clear about roles and what each party needs when communicating -- and actually have a conversation about it -- it can be a much more positive, productive experience.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Planning Your Procrastination

Throughout my life, I have been challenged by that pesky practice of procrastination. I know I'm not alone. Whether private or public about it, so many others have the same issue – for a variety of reasons, with a variety of results. However, with some thought, it’s possible to work with your tendency to procrastinate so that it doesn’t completely derail your effectiveness… or piss people off.

It's helpful to understand why you procrastinate, then recognize how your energy works, to determine how best to cease or employ this practice. Each situation may have a different reason for it, so it’s important to anticipate early-on if procrastination is going to enter into the picture. Don’t make yourself wrong for your tendency to do it, so that you can be objective in understanding what’s behind it.

Some do it because they are avoiding a task or project that is either difficult (outside their abilities or comfort zone) or uninteresting (perceived as dull or menial). Some set themselves up to fail because of fear of failure or success – in both cases, based on indulging or fighting their inner critic. While others, like me, get a lot of juice from the focus and adrenaline rush generated leading up to completing a task before deadline – and actually feel the pressure helps them produce better work/results (which may or may not be true).

Whatever the reasons, there is nothing wrong with procrastination per se. However, it has an impact on you, others on the team, the people in your life, and on the final result. Your health can be affected, when your mind/body try to recover from the burst of energy and resulting exhaustion. You find yourself stressing and agonizing in anticipation of doing the work, and can debilitate yourself. You may also feel guilty whenever you are doing anything but the procrastinated work – and take yourself out of being present and enjoying those activities.

For others, those who are forced to endure the “madness” as you rush to finish something can get angry and resentful. Team members who do not procrastinate or who have a different form of it may not be able to adequately complete their parts of the project – impacting not only your relationships, but the final product. And that end result may not actually turn out as good as it could have, particularly in cases where the project would have benefited from time for reflection, development, evolution, and/or review/revision.

A Personal Example
When I was in school, I would do things the night before. Over time, I learned that it was a losing proposition, even if I managed to pull out good grades from my severely flawed process of procrastination. It took me recognizing the negative impacts it has on me mentally/physically to alter my process. By the time I was in grad school, I knew my process and embraced it. Yes, I tend to do things closer to the deadline, but by being honest with myself, I was able to create a workable process that allowed me to produce better results, with less stress – while still leveraging that focused burst of energy. I could account for others on the team, and not upset the people in my life by being a crazy, stressed out nut around deadlines. It just took a little introspection and planning.
Planning Your Procrastination
  1. Assess. At the outset of a task or project, ask yourself: What is the likelihood I will want to procrastinate on this? Be honest with yourself.
  2. Scope. If there are concerns you will procrastinate, consider how long it will take for you to complete the task or portion of the project. Generally speaking, things take longer than we believe they will. Reflect on past experiences doing similar work and take into account the variety of bumps that can occur along the way (people not getting you what you need in time, technology issues, learning curve, etc.) – and plan that into your time.
  3. Plan. Determine what the deadline is and work backward, building in buffer time in case your assessment of how long it will take is flawed. If the project involves other people, and they need your portion of the material for their part, use that as your deadline so they can incorporate your piece at a time that is workable for them. Be sensitive to others’ needs here so you don’t make enemies in the process.
  4. Schedule. Put the relevant dates on the calendar, and most importantly, block out time in advance of the deadlines so that you don’t give it away. This is crucial because if you know you are going to do the work last minute, you will not want to have other things going on that will get in the way from you getting it done.
Obviously, the ideal is NOT to procrastinate. But, the reality is, you probably will. So, while you work through whatever issues you have that cause you to procrastinate, you might as well set yourself up to win by planning for it. You and the people around you will be less stressed, you’ll get better results, and you just might learn something in the process.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Gratitude: What's Present vs. What's Missing

So many of us strive for being/doing/having more, better, and different. In other words, our focus is on not enough, not good enough, or something’s wrong. Relating to ourselves and our lives from a place of lack is a debilitating, as it has us go to wanting to fix and change. While it is okay to desire improvements, it’s equally important to recognize and appreciate what’s really great about our experiences and our worlds.

It is not about what’s missing, but what’s present. When was the last time – especially when things felt like they were not going your way – that you looked to what is so awesome about your life it brought you to tears? There is something really powerful in what I am talking about. That there is beauty in our lives every day, every moment… even when we feel that it’s not as good as it could be.

Similar to my recent post on winning, we get to say whether our lives are working or not. It’s all a point of view, and an opinion that we get to choose. When I work with my clients on the Wheel of Life, I often get levels of satisfaction of less than "5" (on a 0-10 scale) in one or many sections of the Wheel. When I see that, I will inevitably ask, "What makes that a #?" and they will rattle off a list of all that’s wrong with that sector of their lives. When we reorient the question toward what’s working, present, and wonderful, the number goes up.

It’s all perspective and we get to define and redefine the scale at any time. Being challenged around money could be a "0" or could be a "5" when we look to where poverty/homelessness would fall on our scales. In fact, I would assert that our day-to-day challenges could still regularly yield a level of satisfaction to over 5 in any/all areas of the Wheel if we shift where we place our focus.

Practice gratitude. For the next week, identify five things every morning when you wake and five things every evening before you fall asleep that you feel good about, that you are grateful for, that you appreciate, that are working. Use these Wheel-related questions if it helps. Here are five things I woke feeling grateful for this morning:
  1. Career: I get to do what I love every day, because I chose to make it so.
  2. Money: I have abundance/prosperity and all my basic needs are handled. I have the ability, resourcefulness, and desire to continue making it so.
  3. Health: I take care of my body, mind, and spirit every day – and I see/feel the results.
  4. Relationships: I have a lot of love in my life – from family, friends, and from people I know (and don't know) I impact.
  5. Spirit: I feel connected to and One with God/Universe/Source and know I am being taken care of.
It might feel clunky at first. I have a lot of practice with this, so I can get to some juicy stuff pretty quickly. Start by noticing some of the simple things, like gratitude for having a hot cup of coffee, getting a seat on the train, having a job that you like most days, or getting your kids into a bath without a big fuss. As you get in practice of looking for “wins,” what’s working, and what’s present, you’ll find that you are more optimistic and appreciative about yourself and your life.

As a bonus assignment, give thanks regularly to the people in your life... and to life itself... for all that you are grateful for.

Here’s the rub: Life is a beautiful thing we cannot take for granted, as it could be snuffed out at any time. It is important to embrace all aspects of the good and not-so-great as part of the experience, and simply love all that it is, and just as importantly, what it’s not. That’s what unconditional love is all about – loving and appreciating all facets. We are on a journey that has delivered us to this moment for the purpose of learning and growing, but also being conscious and present NOW. Practice being here and paying attention.

I’ll close with a memorable quote from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” And miss what's so cool about it...and about you.

Friday, July 23, 2010

You Win Because You Say So

How often do you find yourself completing something – no matter how challenging – to simply check it off your real or metaphoric to-do list with the thought: "Done. NEXT!”? When was the last time you took a moment to recognize and celebrate an accomplishment – not just the “big, hairy, audacious” ones? Americans in particular are really bad at this. We are always so “busy" running around trying to achieve and “win” (and avoid losing) that we neglect to notice that we are already winning constantly – all day, every day.

It is not just the marathon that is a win (which, itself may be a to-do list item) but the journey leading up to the race that contains a whole array of wins. This metaphor of marathon could represent a big goal or task, like raising a child, starting a business, or quitting smoking. Or it could be smaller, like dusting the living room, choosing a healthier meal option, or remembering to breathe. Each of these accomplishments is a win in and of itself. And each supporting task (and conscious choice leading up to that) is a win too. Not by some arbitrary list of criteria, but because we say so.

Let me say that again: it’s a win when you say it’s a win. It lives in your declaration, and it’s completely up to you (no one else) – if and when you want to recognize it as one. Let’s take a goal and break it down into a list of wins:

Goal: Run a marathon.
  • Making the decision to run. Win.
  • Registering for the marathon. Win.
  • Investigating and booking the travel to get there. Win.
  • Creating a training schedule. Win.
  • Blocking out time in the calendar to train. Win.
  • Getting out of bed at 5am, even though you’re tired. Win.
  • Running 2 miles. Win.
  • Eating more protein. Win.
  • Saying "no" to staying out late with your friends on Friday night so you can get up early to train. Win.
  • Running 13 miles. Win.
  • Running despite the weather. Win.
  • Drinking more water. Win.
  • Getting to the airport on time. Win.
  • Showing up at the marathon. Win.
  • Running the marathon. Win.
  • Celebrating your achievement. Win.
  • …and there are hundreds more…
The thing is: it doesn’t have to be a marathon. It can be practicing patience with traffic (win), or taking a bubble bath as an act of self-care (win), or choosing to return a challenging phone call when all you want to do is avoid the person (win), or getting your desk drawers organized to reduce clutter (win). You get to say whether it is a win.

This week: look for wins every day -- no matter how big or small.

The whole point in this is to practice being conscious and present, to notice how often you are achieving, and to be proud and grateful for all that you are capable of. It’s not just about crossing something off your list, but to recognize how much it took to get that thing crossed off – in who you’re being, the choices you make, the commitment and perseverance, and in the actions themselves.

Living your life to the fullest is a huge win, but the acts of getting out of bed and showing up are also wins.

Monday, July 5, 2010

It’s Time for a Mid-Year Review

We just passed the mid-year mark for 2010. How is 2010 going? Are you where you’d like to be? It’s time to go back and review your goals for the year and celebrate what you’ve accomplished, revise as needed, and create some new ones. If you don’t have a 2010 plan, this is as good a time as any to design a road map for where you’d like this next six months to go.

This is a fairly quick, easy process. Here is a step-by-step guide for getting yourself on track for the second half of the year:

Part I - Put the past behind you and celebrate

1. Reflect on the first half of the year. Whether you created goals or not, you had some ideas/intentions about what you wanted to create this year. Honestly answer these three questions:
  • What have you accomplished that you intended?
  • What have you accomplished above and beyond what you intended?
  • What didn’t you accomplish that you intended?
2. Acknowledge yourself for both what you have and have not accomplished. Celebrate consciously – without judgment or criticism – both your successes and your lessons. Celebration can come in many forms – from the larger (a purchase, an event, etc.) to the smaller (some form of self-care gift, a metaphoric pat on the back, etc.).
Part II - Assess where you are now
Do the Wheel of Life assessment to check in on how satisfied you are with each area of your life. Take a few notes on which slices of the pie need focus, consider what you want for yourself and your life, and create some objectives.
Part III - Plan for the future
1. Create concrete SMART goals that include both a clear, concise description of what you want to create/accomplish, as well as a time-frame or “by when” date.

2. Put the goals in your calendar. For those that you intend to accomplish in the nearer term, block out chunks of time in your schedule for you to take action. If you don’t make the time, you won’t achieve the goals very easily.
For a more comprehensive discussion, review my blog post on New Year’s planning. It has a lot of detail on this process of looking back and looking forward, as well as recommendations for how to get the most out of both planning and execution.

Take the time to do this work. You will not only be clearer about the actions you want to take, but will feel more confident knowing that you have a plan for consciously creating the life you want and deserve. And on December 31, you’ll have that much more to celebrate!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Value of Saying NO

Do you realize how important the word "NO" is in our vocabulary? Do you find yourself resisting the word out of fear of looking bad, hurting feelings, or closing the door on something? Do you find yourself saying "YES" more often -- sometimes to people and activities that may or may not fit your larger vision for what you want to be/do in your life or career?

I talk a lot about the importance of creating boundaries in our lives -- with people, activities, commitments -- by saying "NO" so that we can allocate the time, energy, and space to focus on what we really want to be saying "YES" to. This is not coming out of should; rather it coming out of honoring and investing in our vision, values, and mission. My previous post on why it's crucial to create a business plan applies here as well -- not only for business, but for life planning.

Saying "NO" is a source of power and an access to effectiveness. When we choose to close the door on something, we are opening up space for that which is a better fit for what we are creating and committed to. It may be difficult to use that little word in the beginning, but with practice, it becomes easier...and obvious when it's necessary and appropriate.

I had the pleasure of giving a talk on this important topic a few weeks ago at Ines Kinchen's weekly networking group at Flourish Studios in Chicago. I wrote a post last year on "Declaring 'Yes' and 'No'" and am happy to share the content of my talk here.

Consider the following questions:
  • What are the consequences of saying "YES"?
  • What is stopping you from saying "NO"?
  • How is this impacting your available time and energy? …your business? ...your relationships?
Here are some thoughts that are important when considering why/when to say "NO":
  • Make self-ishness a priority to powerfully manage where your time and energy go -- By filling your cup first, you will know how much you have available to give... without resentment, overwhelm, and overextending yourself.
  • Identify and align with your values -- Be certain that you are choosing from a place that is in alignment with what you believe in, stand for, and aspire to.
  • Get clear about what you want and don’t want -- When choosing NO or YES, be sure you are clear about what fits and doesn't fit with your vision, values, and mission for your life and business.
  • Carefully choose your commitments -- If you want to be effective and powerful in all relationships and activities, you must be discerning about what you say "YES" to. If you want to maintain your integrity and a high level of excellence, you may have to say "NO" sometimes so you have the capacity to fulfill upon everything you commit to.
  • Create boundaries in your relationships -- Identify who you want in your life, and what you are willing and able to give to your personal, professional, and romantic relationships.
  • Choose YES -- Don't trap yourself in "should" or "have to." The last thing you need is to feel resentful or obligated. If you feel compelled to say "YES," choose it and commit to it. If you are not going into the relationship or activity willingly and generously, then just say "NO." It won't serve you or anyone to be doing anything you begrudgingly said "YES" to.
Here is a short exercise to help you declare NO and YES to yourself:
  1. Select one area life where you are not satisfied.
  2. Write a complaint or challenge that you believe is underlying your feelings of dissatisfaction. Be specific.
  3. Identify what you want instead. Be specific.
  4. Write a NO statement as a declaration to eliminate what you don’t want in your life.
  5. Write a YES statement as a declaration to support what you really want in your life.
  6. Define a structure that will support you in honoring your NO and YES declarations. It's one thing to make a declaration, but another to design a structure to make sure you can put it into practice.
  7. Repeat steps 1-6 for any area that you’d like to have a breakthrough in honoring your time, energy, or focus.
  1. Area of Life: Career
  2. Complaint/Challenge: My schedule is always packed and I’m constantly running around. I have little reserve time and energy for focusing on the ideas that will make my business really soar.
  3. What I really want is: time to focus on following up and connecting with all the people I meet.
  4. I declare I’m saying "NO" to: giving my time and energy away by over-committing.
  5. I declare I’m saying "YES" to: honoring my values and goals by practicing saying "NO."
  6. Structure: For a week, I will wait at least 30 minutes before committing to anything so that I have time to think about whether saying "YES" makes sense. (Say: “Let me check my schedule and get back to you in 30 minutes.”)
Be vigilant about saying "NO" -- recognizing that it is your key to power, effectiveness, and excellence. Find ways to practice (perhaps by starting small), so you can gradually increase your comfort with NO. By consciously choosing what, where, and with whom you involve yourself, you will have more time and energy to focus on what is most important to your life and career.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

The 6 Cs: The Purpose of a Business Plan

The business plan is an essential tool, not only for the business owner to design the road map for the organization, but for the individual to articulate his or her career path. It need not be a 100-page document with all the "right" words to be effective. In fact, it's better if you keep it clear and concise -- as an evolving representation of your DNA (vision, mission, values) and your plan for moving forward.

This weekend, I will be in Denver co-leading a workshop at the HOW Design Conference called, Chaos to Clarity: Creating Your One-Page Business Plan. I am partnering with Creative Coach RaShelle Roberts for the workshop, and will be joining her team at inVision -- providing coaching to creative professionals. And will of course continue servicing my clients through my own firm, Judah S. Kurtz | Coaching & Consulting.

Here is a sneak peek of some of the content of our workshop. While it is geared toward the design community, this material is relevant for any person -- for both your career and for the design of your business.

The Six Cs: The Purpose of a Business Plan

CLARIFY – To clarify your vision for what you want to create and why. As design professionals, you may just be happy being paid to do what you love. However, it’s important to take this a step further and create a vision for where you want to take your career. Whether you are a business leader, work within a firm, or operate independently, take the time to get clear about where you envision you and your business going. Rather than pushing, you’ll feel yourself being pulled toward your vision.
  • Are you where you’d like to be?
  • Have you defined your vision and mission?
CONNECT – To connect to the values you want to live and breathe as an organization. Feeling solid about what’s important to you and how you want to live out your vision will give you more motivation than you could imagine. When you know what you stand for, your mission will be self-evident. And you’ll know on a deep level when you are on or off your “right path.”
  • Have you taken the time to clarify your values?
  • Are you honoring what’s important to you?
CHART – To chart a map for how you are going to get there. The bottom line is most of you are extremely visual. Designing a plan and writing the important milestones down makes it so much easier to SEE the way. You will also be able to more easily anticipate pitfalls and road blocks that might get in your way as you move yourself from point A to point B. Once you have it all laid out in front of you, you may be able to devise a scenic route or a couple of side excursions to make the trip that much more enjoyable.
  • Do you know what you want to accomplish?
  • Do you know what gets in your way?
CREATE – To create structures that will support you along the journey. Even if you are not a big fan of structure, you can’t deny that organizing your time, energy, and resources makes things so much easier. And your clients love you for it. If you want your vision to happen and your plan to work out, you have to get your ducks in a row. Design systems that work, get the tools you need, and partner with people you can rely on, and set yourself up to win. You may find that when you have structures in place, you have more space and freedom to focus on what you love doing.
  • Do you know what you need to be successful?
  • Have you identified which habits no longer serve you?
COMMUNICATE – To communicate to others the purpose and plan so that they can get on-board. Ultimately, your business is about communication. Your work conveys a message – an image, a brand, an identity. So must your business plan. You want people to get who and what you are about. Clearly articulate your vision, values, mission, and map in a compelling way to generate buy-in, energy, and excitement.
  • Do you know who to share your business plan with?
  • Are you willing to be honest with the people that matter?
COMMIT – To commit to yourself and gain commitment from everyone who has a stake in your success. It starts with you. If you want others to believe in you, you have to believe in you. Get clear about who you are, where you want to go, and how you’re going to get there. Commit to making it happen, follow your plan, and share what you are up to. Your consistency, dedication, and enthusiasm will attract more business than you know what to do with.
  • Do you understand the importance of commitment?
  • Are you willing to do what it takes to make your business really thrive?
The Shameless Plug

I look forward to discussing this rich topic with you further. I'm also happy to work with you individually on defining your vision, mission, values, milestones/goals, and plan for action -- as part of your planning process for your career and/or business. Feel free to contact me for a FREE 30 minute consultation to discuss what you are creating, answer your questions, and see if we are a fit.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Gift Is Our Different-ness

We all battle feeling insecure, inadequate, and flawed. We all still strive to look good -- both in our appearance and in how our actions are perceived by others. We all work so hard to either blend in or stand out – depending on the areas where we feel weakest or strongest. But at the root of it all, we just want to feel loved and appreciated for being ourselves. I recently told a client, “It’s actually not about looking good…it’s about being authentic.” We can waste our energies on fixing our different-ness, or choose to honor and celebrate our unique voices and expressions as a gift.

I have a love-hate relationship with the show Glee. I have found it juvenile and clichéd at times; at others, I have found it to be an inspiring beacon of hope for people of all ages that rolls up High School Musical, the after school special, and Reese Witherspoon’s satirical Election all into one. Recently, I’ve been swinging back in the direction of loving the show because of the Kurt Hummel character -- an out gay teen (who’s only 20 in real life) that has traveled a very similar road of self-discovery that so many of us (gay and straight) have had to travel in discovering who we really are and whether we want to be true to that or not. And not compromising when it becomes difficult.

I came out in 1992 when I was in high school to my family and close friends. Back then, it was not as “easy” as it is today. We didn’t have Ellen, or Kurt Hummel, or clubs in middle school to provide us with positive messages that showed us we are not alone. What we did have was AIDS, gay characters that were the punching bag or murder victim, and the birth of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy. Gays were not very visible, and society preferred it that way at the time. Everything was telling me to stay in the closet and hide my different-ness. But I couldn’t, and I didn’t.

Instead, I forewent the straight-to-college path that so many of my friends did. My journey of self-discovery has taken me around the globe, through undergrad and two graduate programs, and led me to the creation of a unique, pioneering business where I get to be all of me – without apology. In fact, every one of my life experiences to date has been essential to the work I do because my own introspection, growth, and healing contribute directly to the learning and success of my clients and the people in my life.

This blog post is not about gays or coming out. It’s about listening to your inner voice – that wiser self – that knows who you are and wants it to be expressed. It’s about recognizing that you have something unique and beautiful to bring to this life experience, to this planet, and it is your duty to live it fully. Being gay is only one slice of who I am. I am a violinist, a son and brother, a misfit (and “Gleek”), and a voice that guides and teaches. This world would not be the same without me, nor you. It is important for us all to realize how we make a significant and important impact through a diversity of roles, thoughts, experiences, and expressions.

Who are you?
Are you a devoted and loyal friend? A loving Mom? A brilliant admin assistant? A painter or writer? An unapologetic lover of kitsch? A cancer survivor? Are you all of these things and more? You came to this life for a reason, and it is your job to discover what purpose you are here to fulfill. Dig in, do the work to discover who your authentic self is, and do us all a favor: Let your freak flag fly. Recognize that you are the same as everyone else… different… and that’s what makes us beautiful.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Love Has Many Languages

Are you aware of how you prefer to express your love? Do you prefer to say it or show it? How about others in your life – how do they demonstrate love? Do you crave something they don’t seem to provide, or vice versa?

Everybody is different in how they like to give/receive love. A friend of mine and I were talking about our differences in this area, and she mentioned The 5 Love Languages, a book by marriage counselor Gary Chapman. The five languages are as follows:
Words – compliments; affirmations; “I love yous”
Time – full, undivided attention; carving out quality time
Gifts – thoughtful, heartfelt gestures
Acts – deeds and actions; doing a service for another
Touch – physical expressions of affection and caring
I found this concept fascinating, as I consider: who am I? I am a person who focuses more on time and words as my expression. I have a lot of people in my life, and only so many hours in the day. To top it off, I’m an introvert (an outgoing one!) that needs alone time to recharge my batteries. Therefore, I make an effort to create space in my calendar for people I care about – whether it’s seeing them face-to-face, having a conversation over the phone or instant messenger, or emailing/writing a letter to check in and share a bit of my life with them. This is my language of love.

Where the challenge comes in is when I feel like others don’t get my language, and do not honor my time or recognize the gift I’m giving by making space for them. However, I am guilty of doing this to others as well by not recognizing that perhaps their language is different than my own.

When I sit down and think about my family and friends, I can see distinct variations between our expressions. Some like to say “I love you,” while others put a lot of thought into carefully chosen gifts that really speak to my heart. I have friends who are affectionate and give the best hugs ever (the deep, soulful kind)…and others who quietly do things for me as their way of showing their love. Those who speak my language tend to carve out time for one another and honor it like I do.

The cool thing about realizing this is: I can now recognize that not everyone is alike in how they express themselves. I also realize not everyone will get my language of love – and I can at last not take it personally when they don’t show it in my “native tongue.” However, having this new “tool” will also allow me to consider when I might want to speak another’s language so that they can get the experience of feeling loved.

Consider for yourself: what is your love language and how is it similar to and different from the people in your life? By discovering this, you may actually feel greater appreciation for others’ expressions and reorient your expectations. As they say, expectations are premeditated disappointment. So, why not put energy into recognizing each other’s language as valid, versus wanting a native French speaker to communicate only in Japanese and being tripped up when they don’t or can’t?