Being IS Going – Car & Driver Part 1

Not long ago I published a piece about being present in the moment. Being fully present wherever I am has been something I’ve put a lot of effort into, tremendously impacting my well being. It’s a mindset — a mind reset in my case  — that requires work.

A lot of us are conditioned and encouraged to be thinking of what’s coming next. The entire concept of achieving goals requires envisioning and moving away from your present state toward something else, in the future. Existing passively in the current moment, by contrast, seems lazy. Without motivation. Going nowhere.

For me, this misconception was one I had the hardest time overcoming. My 21st century, goal-oriented and ambitious western mind had difficulty reconciling reveling in the present with growth and achievement.

Here’s the thing, though: being present is not a passive state. No, it’s actually quite the opposite. To be present is to actively be aware, to experience, analyze, appreciate, and be with purpose and whole consciousness.

Yes, accepting situations for what they are, not constantly struggling against them, is something that comes with being fully in the moment, but that acceptance is still different than missing the moment altogether because you’re rushing through it.

It’s like driving a car. Ashley and I took a trip to Atlanta last week, and while driving the four hours back, this occurred to me.

When you are driving a car, you are present inside the car. The car is on the road (hopefully), so, yes, you are also on the road, but where you really are is in the seat, inside the car, behind the wheel. The car might be going 60 or 70 miles an hour, but your actions aren’t super-fast. With me?

So let’s relate the car to your life. Or your career, or your relationship(s). The “car” can be anything you’re involved in that is in motion. The distance the car traverses is like the passage of time. Your life moves on similar to how a car moves down a highway. Cars move toward destinations. So do our lives. Sometimes we call the destinations goals.

When you begin a drive, you usually have some idea where you want to go. Sometimes you don’t; life can be like that too. Either way, the whole reason we find ourselves behind the wheel is because we want to go somewhere. Although the car is the means we use to get there, the car won’t take us there on it’s own. We have to drive (at least until we all get those cool Google cars). And driving is an action which requires at least some degree of awareness.

As a driver, the more aware you are — the more present at the wheel — the more likely your trip will successfully reach its destination. Absolutely, we can encounter other things on the road — other cars, weather conditions, deer, and stuff — outside our control that might affect the drive, but being fully present as the driver of our car, gives us the best chances to avoid or deal with such things. Similarly, continuing the analogy, by being present where you are, fully involved in this moment, you are actually more likely to guide your life to the goals you have before you.

We all know or at least have heard that distracted driving is a serious issue. Paying attention to your phone or other things instead of driving can cause accidents and harm. Sure, we may have all had those experiences where we get someplace and don’t recall the drive. It can happen. In life, we can also reach positive results without knowing how we got there. We can also, though, wreck possibilities and miss opportunities if we aren’t alert.

Being present doesn’t prevent moving forward. It’s actually your best and easiest way to help you do just that, successfully.

A Personal Vision Statement

One of the first things I noticed on LinkedIn.com this morning was a short video by LinkedIn CEO, Jeff Weiner, addressing Personal Vision Statements.* Comparing them to the vision statements of companies or organizations (their “true north”), which can inspire their employees, he suggests individuals can also create such statements to guide them and define their actions.

I’ve given thought to such a thing before, but I was inspired today to nail down a definitive statement to claim as my own. This is what I got:

“To graciously, thoughtfully, and with fullest honesty live and give to others.”

Originally I extended it to include “…in such a way to give back greatest value for the life I’ve been given,” but not only did that make it too cumbersome, it’s also redundant. Giving value (purpose, reason) back is the whole point of a vision statement.

My vision statement may not read particularly specific, but it is an edited version of the following points I wanted to include.

  1. To give value, demonstrating good reasons for living and for other people to care about or even pay attention to me,
  2. …primarily by giving graciously of myself, my talents, my experience, and my concern to others.
  3. To be thoughtful in all things; what I say, what I do, and how I respond.
  4. Not just thoughtful, but honest. Honest in communication with others, but more importantly honest by being true to myself. To be real, to not hide my true self or my abilities out of fear or other unworthy reason. To conscientiously be the real me to best help other people.

Of course, coming up with such a statement is one thing. Putting it out here is another. The real test, though, is acting on it and living up to it.

 

*Thanks for sharing this, Richie Norton!

What I Don’t Know About Being Present in the Moment

The single most profound adjustment I’ve made in my life in the last few years has been learning to be present in the moment. And I still don’t entirely know what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was influenced by Eastern philosophy at a kind of early age. “Going with the flow” was my lifestyle choice for decades. In a way, I’d been practicing for — albeit not actually practicing — mindful presence most of my life.

Accepting and being pleased with the present wasn’t natural for me, though. Even acting on impulse more often than not, I was nearly always more interested in the future than the current moment. Those impulsive decisions were more about getting somewhere else, creating new stories to tell, than celebrating where I was.

Generally, I lived expecting things, including myself, to be better and better in the time to come. Generally.

I suffered plenty of worry about the future too, though. Tons of regret, guilt, and issues from the past as well.

I’m no expert on being present, but I’ve learned a lot and become pretty good at it. Good enough to be happier than ever before. While I’m still developing stronger habits and skills to improve my mindfulness, here are a few things that I can share:

1. It ain’t easy. But it’s easier than you think.

Being present in the moment is challenging for us modern folks. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to tweet or post or ha ha emoji to. Distractions are distracting. Then there are responsibilities. Stuff’s got to get done.

There’s just not enough time in the day, right?

It’s true that being present takes time. In fact, it’s all about time. But the present is never the present long.

Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about silver medal winners in the Olympics that illustrates how fleeting the present moment actually is.

This cracks Ashley up every time. How long is the present? “Now. Now. N-n-no, now.”

You might want to enjoy more than .03 of a second at a time, but, you know, the present moment IS only a moment. A few seconds pause is all it has to take to acknowledge what’s going on around you and how you’re feeling. In the time it takes to read the subject line of an email, you can re-center yourself and appreciate the moments you’re living in.

ferris-life moves pretty fast

2. Being here, now doesn’t prevent you from being there, later.

In fact, I believe it provides powerful help to get you where you want to be.

This may have been the greatest misconception I’ve had to deal with. I’ve mentioned how I’ve always been sort of future focused. I believe in goals and taking methodical steps to achieve them. Settling for the present, it seemed to me, was at odds with ambition. Even going with the flow at least meant going somewhere.

I just made the point that the present moment can be an exceptionally brief time. Thing is, the present isn’t just that one moment that’s here then gone. The present continues to be the present, stretching on into what had been, a second ago, the future. In my mind, to concentrate on each moment as it comes meant not concentrating on the times yet to be. Like a twist on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I mistakenly assumed truly being in the ever changing moment meant never moving.

As with Zeno’s paradoxes, though, common sense and experience proved the theory wrong.

Being present is not being stagnant. Hardly. Being present is, believe it or not, an action. It’s not doing nothing. It’s being fully aware of… being. It means connecting to the truth of a situation, taking in reality as it is. It also means connecting with the truth of yourself.

Having that awareness of who you are, what your strengths and character are, being grounded in reality — that centers you on your best path forward. Outside influences will still require reaction, but a present state of mind can help you maintain focus. And that will keep you moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

3. Living in the present heals.

A couple years ago I struggled with a dangerous bout of depression. I was lucky to get some good help, starting with my loving fiancee and a couple of doctors. It took several different steps to escape that awful situation, but you probably don’t have to guess what I’m going to tell you was one of the most important.

In my case, the state I was in had roots in serious regrets about my past AND anxiety about the future. While there was a lot of good in my life at the time, I was also experiencing a horrendous time at work. I dreaded every day.

My present was terrible. Why would I want to dwell in it longer than necessary?

Because, more than anything else I did, that fixed me.

Focusing on the present helped me finally let go of the past.

Taking a minute to focus on my breathing calmed my anxiety.

Allowing full awareness of what I was experiencing at the time, of what people were actually doing and saying, of what I was feeling and thinking cleared up apprehensive assumptions and misjudged motives.

Reflecting on the present instead of the past opened my eyes to possibilities.

Greatest of all, being truly open to the reality around me helped me realize all the reasons I have to be grateful and happy.

Enjoying the present is great when the present is good. Even when it’s unpleasant, centering yourself in the actual here and now is healthier than getting lost in imagined fears.

What I Don’t Know About Earworms and Subliminal Influence

If you don’t think you can be influenced by things in your environment you don’t pay attention to, let me ask you: have you ever had an earworm — a song stuck replaying in your mind? Sure you have. And have you wondered why that song? Have you ever had one that wouldn’t stop repeating that you don’t even like?

I found myself the victim of that this morning. Caught myself mentally humming a song I hear overhead at work, one I don’t like at all. I’m not even sure what the song is or who performs it. All I know about it is it’s outside my taste range. Bad enough I have to hear it at the workplace; why in the world is my own brain torturing me with the melody today?

Even though I didn’t think the mystery song had made an impression on me, and even though I very much don’t want it to stay with me, evidently I’ve heard it enough that it did.

So what other background noise are we absorbing throughout each day that can sneak up on us later?

Evaluating conversations and input when we’re actively listening takes effort and skill. What about when we aren’t so aware of what we’re hearing?

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Psychologists have been aware of subliminal effects on behavior since the 19th century. There is a wealth of proof that incidental exposure to images, phrases, and sounds have an influence on mood, thinking, and our actions. Concerned? Don’t get too worried yet.

As in most things, awareness is your greatest asset. The more aware you are of your surroundings, the greater you ability to react in a positive, healthy manner. And even though we’re ironically addressing stuff that’s by nature difficult to be aware of, knowing there’s the possibility of picking up signals you might not want in your psyche gives you great advantages. You can be prepared.

There are (at least) two things that should encourage you:

First, although some unrecognized messages can find their way to you, nothing has greater control on you than YOU and your mental strength. As in other aspects of dealing with life, you choose how you behave, react, and perform. Outside stimuli shouldn’t be ignored, but your attitude toward them is your own to develop.

Second, with the knowledge that subtle triggers can affect you, you can arrange for positive subconscious cues to help you remain strong, healthy, and happy. Put the psychology to work for yourself. Reinforce good thoughts, beneficial emotions, inspiring ideas, happy memories, and encouraging targets that motivate the best in you.

For example, where I work I have to use several passwords to access systems and applications numerous times each day. While adhering to good security practices, I make make my passwords some sort of positive message to myself — variations on “PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) all day,” for instance. So every time I nearly mindlessly type in the password, I get a tiny reminder to keep the chin up. Believe it or not, even doing it as long as I have, the little phrases hidden in my passcodes still often spur a good pause and smile. And the smile itself serves as a reinforcement to happiness.

Other folks have recommended setting reminders on your phone or other device to alert you periodically. Set messages to yourself like “you’re awesome” or “remember to be grateful” that you’ll see a few times a day. If you can’t count on anyone else, you can at least be your own cheerful coach.

Obviously, the more you can structure your environment to prevent unpleasant signals and exude beneficial ones, the better. When in situations where that’s limited or not possible, there are still steps you can take to prime your subconscious the way you want.

Remember, you may not always have control of your environment, but you do always have control of yourself.

Two more suggestions:

1. Watch and carefully choose your own language. Keep it positive. Not only will that broadcast good vibes for other people in your area, but it effects you as well. The concentration and attention to selecting verbiage increases your awareness of all the communication occurring at the time, not just what you’re saying. Also, your voice is the one you hear loudest, and if you speak consciously, you effectively “hear” the words twice — once as you prepare to say them and then again as their spoken out loud.

2. Allow yourself moments of reflection throughout the day. Doesn’t have to be full out meditation, although that’s certainly optimal. A simple few seconds to objectively recognize where you are and what you’re doing is all it takes. Awareness is an asset, remember? Take a pause, ask yourself whether your behavior has been what you want it to be? Are you being true to your best self?

You might realize in these moments how things or people you’ve come in contact with during the day have influenced you. Might give you cause to be grateful, which is great! Might reveal an opportunity to correct the path on which your day has turned. That’s also great. And you might find that nothing has interfered with you achieving all the things you want. In that case the self check-in gives you a great opportunity to high-five yourself!

Lastly, remember there are lots of good messages we pick up without realizing it, too. Don’t shut yourself off from all outside stimuli. Be open to new messages. You never know where your next favorite song will come from.

 

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What My Dog Showed Me I Didn’t Know About Relating to People

I never expected to be so fortunate as to spend time with a great teacher every day who not only gives me daily encouragement and excellent lessons but makes the learning incredibly fun. I am talking about my dog, of course.

I love my dog. He really is my best buddy. As much as we relate especially well to each other, I recently noticed how much time we spend trying to figure out what the other is doing and thinking.

I see it from him all the time, watching whatever I’m doing, or what Ashley is doing with curiosity in his expression. He’s a smart guy, and like a lot of other dogs I’ve known is either psychic to some degree or just picks up on instinctual signals, so he knows in advance when we’re going to take a walk. Of course, he knows when we go to the fridge or certain cabinets, we’re likely getting some food. A whole lot of the rest of the time, though, he looks like he’s wondering what we’re up to.

We play a lot. He likes toys, and a lot of our play involves them. Sometimes he’ll come up to me with a toy, but once he gives it to me, he acts uninterested in it. I don’t know why he does that for sure, but I like to think he’s giving me something he knows he has fun with, and he thinks I’ll have fun with it too.

I’ll never really know why he behaves in certain ways. Smart as he is, he’ll never know why I do everything. Our brains are different, our worldviews worlds apart. But even though we will always see the world differently and we will never totally understand each other, that hasn’t kept us from sharing fun and won’t keep us from taking care of each other.

(Even though I can’t tell what’s going on in his mind, don’t think I’m presuming too much by saying he takes care of me. He most certainly does.)

So that’s one lesson my dog taught me. Whether he meant to or not, he’s helped me see how this dynamic holds true in interactions with other people, too.

There was a time when I got worked up wondering why people behaved the way they did. Working with the public, there were numerous occasions each day for people to act curiously. Particularly when another person’s actions affected me negatively, I’d try to figure out why. Worse, sometimes I’d make assumptions, believing I had an understanding of their mindset.

That was a frustrating, less rewarding time.

The truth, as my dog has helped me see, is I don’t and never will truly comprehend all the experiences, emotions, thoughts, and motivations that lie behind other people’s actions. What he’s also helped me realize is it doesn’t matter at all whether I do.

Oh, I absolutely do advocate for understanding. The more we know about each other, the better we all are. I love learning about other people, and strongly believe the more I know about someone, the better we can relate and help each other. Communication is a wonderful and necessary thing.

I also believe, however, that I don’t HAVE to know why someone does something in order to react positively, with consideration, respect, and a desire for mutual benefit.

I’ve mostly stopped trying to figure out why my best bud does things that seem weird. Likewise, I try not to spend energy analyzing why people act the way they do. That energy, seems to me, is better used ensuring we share good times together.

 

What I Don’t Know About Duckies and Distractions

Productivity is important to me. I think it’s because I know my time is limited, and I want to make some impact while I’m around. So I generally intend to make smart use of my time, get good things accomplished, move forward in one way or another.

I’ve been working to develop better habits to help with my focus, but, you know, sometimes things come up that interrupt my flow. Not that I’ve ever wanted to be all work and no play — far from it! — but I can’t help feeling some personal disappointment when I know I’ve wasted time.

It’s not always easy to be aware of distractions or just how much time they can take up. One nudge off course can lead to lots of twists and turns before you get back on the right path. So being cognizant of what you’ve spent time on is the first step to finding your way back.

For me, one of the worst distractions is social media. Facebook, specifically. I know I’m not alone. I’ll decide to check in, see what’s happening, find out if anyone’s tried to contact me, and if I’m not careful I’ll wind up scrolling and scrolling through my news feed mindlessly, letting precious minutes add up to precious hours. Now, I’m not a Facebook hater. If I was, there’d be no problem. I believe there are benefits to social media, not least of which is being in touch with good people. Most days I see or read something that improves my life in at least a small way. To get to those gold nuggets, though, I do find myself sifting through a lot of silt.

While I’m not always happy that I let myself get detoured so easily, I am happy to know what it is that distracts me. Because I know it’s something totally under my control. I allow things to distract me; I can choose not to let them as well.

I know people have lots of suggestions to solve my particular issue. Delete the Facebook app! Set a timer! Unfollow people and pages that clog up your feed! Just don’t use it at all! At one time or another I’ve either considered all these options or actually done them. What’s worked the best for me, though, is listening to Ernie.

When I was a young dad I was lucky to enjoy a good bit of children’s music. I think a lot of folks are familiar with the Rubber Duckie song from Sesame Street. If you aren’t, it’s been around since 1970 (I just found out it was even nominated for a Grammy in 1971!) and is sung by Ernie to his favorite bathtub toy. In the late 80s a new song debuted on Sesame Street with a pretty good message:

“Put down the duckie” started popping up in my head when I caught myself wasting time on something a couple months ago. I’m not sure exactly what brought it to mind. It may have been because I got sets of rubber duckies for my co-managers for Christmas. What I found, though, is that it helped. Your mileage may vary, as they say, but for me, having a mantra, if you will, silly as it is, that I actually said out loud, got me back on track with a smile.

Social media isn’t the only duckie I have to set aside for a while in order to get things done. With all the good new comic related TV shows, TV has become a real temptation these days. Sometimes I don’t realize something’s a duckie until it takes up a certain amount of time. It’s a challenge, since I’m also working on being more present and giving people more focused attention. Whatever distractions you find impeding your productivity, maybe Hoots the owl’s advice will work for you, too. You don’t have to totally eliminate entertainment or non-productive stuff from your life. Just put it down until you meet whatever goals you have set for yourself.

 

What I’ve Gained From Journaling

Like meditating and exercising, maintaining a daily journal is something I’d seen recommended for years. It’s nothing new. I know some people have been doing it for decades. The popularity of the practice seems to have really picked up in the mainstream over the last couple of years, though. Maybe it’s Shawn Achor’s doing. So in this case I’m kind of following the trend, not at the forefront of it. I’m well okay with that, since writing in my journal nearly every day has made a tremendous difference in my happiness, my attitude, my behavior, and my mental health. In short, it’s just about improved everything in my life.

There are bunches and bunches of well-researched articles listing the many benefits of positive journaling, like this one, this one, and this one. I appreciate the fact there is real science and documented results behind the promotion of a healthy journaling habit. I’ll leave it to you to research and read those details. What I know most about and aim to tell you about are the specific ways keeping a journal has helped me.

Most obviously, it helps develop a writing habit. This result will be more important to some people than others, but I do believe everyone can benefit from improving their experience with writing. Even if you only use bullet point notation, which I do sometimes, the process of organizing your thoughts and selecting words that make sense as you put those thoughts on paper sharpens communication skills. For me, it’s trained me to be able to sit and write at least a little something every day. Writing for no other expected readers than myself has also trained me to let the words flow, to get my thoughts out without pre-editing or stopping to correct myself. I’ve learned to be content with what I write without feeling I need to edit and revise everything endlessly.

It’s a meditative practice. Taking a few moments to pause and be still while reflecting on life and things has helped me focus. I notice I feel more centered afterward, and that feeling lasts into the next day (at least).

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My current journal. It’s almost full. The next one is waiting behind it.

My journal is an excellent way for me to document things I’ve learned throughout the day as well as my own achievements. It’s a record of progress. Much like an exercise journal or diet tracker, the journal is a device that allows me to recognize accomplishments I’ve made that make me a better person. It also gives me opportunity to review my goals and intentions. Sometimes that leads to admitting I could do better. That’s still learning. Still improving. If I have made progress, I feel good. If I have had opportunities to improve, I feel motivated.

Also, the process of  writing down lessons I’ve learned reinforces them for me. There’s science that explains this, too. Basically, bringing the learning experiences to mind repeats the events once, then, with the action of writing it down, I “tell” it to myself, repeating it, effectively, two more times. Putting these experiences in my journal, reliving them, secures what I’ve learned in my memory.

Repetition of other positive experiences — people I’ve helped during the day, people who have helped me; pleasant moments, even meals, enjoyed; recognition I’ve received, and gratitude I’ve expressed to others or they’ve shared with me — increases my happiness in the same way. And here’s something: those good, happy memories are doubled, because now I not only have the memory of enjoying it the first time, live, but I also have a happy memory of remembering it and recording it and feeling good about it a second time. So what was good the first time around is doubly good for the feeling of joy the memory of it can bring.

And what wasn’t good the first time around? Surprisingly, when looking back, even experiences that seemed negative or exceptionally stressful tend to not be so terrible once I’ve got past them. I caught part of an interview on NPR a couple days ago where retired paramedic (and now author) Kevin Hazzard talked about having to deliver babies:

“It’s one of those things that it’s not good until it’s all over with. Don’t forget, these are people who are enduring a natural childbirth, so they aren’t happy to see us. There’s no joking with a woman who is way deep into a natural childbirth and is going to do it on the living room rug. She’s not in the mood to smile or necessarily even be cooperative. … All of a sudden there’s this child and everybody is smiling. … It wasn’t one you always looked forward to, but it was one in the end that everybody always seemed to enjoy.”

Now, I ain’t delivering babies, but tough things I go through in a day generally turn out like that. Not so scary once it’s all over. Sometimes there’s even a positive result. Journaling has helped me maintain perspective, and appreciate just about all the things I experience.

Similarly, journaling trains the brain to look for positives, and, when looking back on the day, to realize how good the good things were and how minimal and unimportant the negative things were. Or how they weren’t negative at all. Since I’ve been journaling, I find myself applying this knowledge as I go through the day. I’m more open to opportunities and much less worried about challenges as they come up.

Another way keeping a journal increases my personal joy is by providing a mechanism for me to recognize how fortunate I am. It provides a medium for expressing gratitude, if only to myself, so I stay cognizant of how much there is that’s good in my life. Bringing these things to mind, it then spurs me to act graciously, with compassion, humility, and appreciation of others.

Through the benefits I’ve mentioned, my journal has become an incredibly effective tool for self-coaching. It’s like talking to yourself, you know. I think I read it’s even more effective than speaking affirmations to yourself, because of the repetition involved. When writing it down, your brain thinks the positive thought once in order to write it, then again as it reads it back. I write in my journal, celebrating life, detailing accomplishments and goals, and it encourages me. “Wow! Look what you’ve done! Look where you’re headed! You are one lucky guy! Stay strong, man. You can get where you need to be.”