Month: September 2014

Habit Creates Ignorance

Are you Awake?

Are you Awake?

As many of you know, I work at a software company, Church Community Builder. We were recently in a meeting deciding how to communicate something to our staff and I suggested we use our own software and proceeded to explain how that could work. I felt so confident, I had created message threads like this many times, maybe even hundreds of times. Turns out I was wrong.

Over the years, I have been in the habit of working in our churches’ software and logging in with very high administrative privileges. On our internal software, we all have permissions as a regular user. My habit of being an administrator made me ignorant of how our tools actually worked. I felt so confident…I was loud, positive, and wrong. Luckily the team extended me some grace and gently reminded me why my idea would not work as I had described.

When Habits are Harmful

We often think of habits as synonymous with disciplines – the daily activities I have put into my routine to make me better and stronger. Someone might say they have a habit of doing pushups every day before they read their Bible. Wonderful habits. Many years ago, a friend of mine defined habit as, “an unconscious routine performed without thinking.” Yes, I know..’unconscious’ and ‘without thinking’ are pretty similar. I think he stated it that way to make his point. Once something has become a habit for you, you stopped thinking about it and you are no longer making real decisions to do it, or not do it. At that point, I believe the habit is no longer serving you well. I prefer to live consciously and choose each action and decision as best I can.

Live Awake

Much like the software example above, another unconscious habit I have developed is driving home from work. Many times I have arrived home and have no recollection of driving at all; I was effectively asleep the whole way. To avoid that, I have decided to change my route home from time to time. I choose a new route and pay attention to the buildings and signs and turns and bumps in the road. That allows me to stay awake and alive. Interestingly, I find myself feeling more alive when I get home and I can better serve my family. What can you do to live awake?

  • Change your Routine. As we repeat a pattern of behavior, we are strengthening the synapses related to that thought. Great for practice, but remember the other synapses in your head are decaying at a similar rate because you are not using them. Change something. The route to work, the hand you use to brush your teeth, the order you put your socks and shoes on. (Do you know how you put your socks and shoes on, or has ignorance grown there?) Change something and watch your brain come alive.
  • Change your Language. Words are the programming language of the brain and body. The words we use matter. Learn some new ones. Subscribe to the Word of the Day emails…and actually use that word in a sentence that day. If accountability helps, set up a competition with a friend in the office – who can use it (correctly) first?
  • Let them Decide. Next time you have a meal out, let the other person decide where to go. Not only is that nice to them, but also can encourage flexibility for you. Rather than your regular place, experiment a little. If you are feeling really bold, let others decide what you will eat as well. Ask the server to bring what they think they do best.

All these changes might be great, it might be horrible…doesn’t matter. The goal is to open up your world to new experiences and live more consciously each day.

Dan Millman tells a story of living awake:

The old man I call Socrates, my old mentor, was watching me in the gymnasium one night and I had done a full-twisting double somersault or something like that off the horizontal bar and I had stuck my landing, which is a good thing. I landed perfectly and I kinda went, “Yes!” And then I said, “That’s a good time to stop the workout.” So I ripped off my sweatshirt and I threw it in my workout bag.

And we were walking down the hallway afterward. And he turned to me and said, “You know, Dan, that last move you did was really sloppy.” And I said, “What are you talking about? That was the best move I did in two weeks.” He said, “Oh, I’m not talking about the dismount. I’m talking about the way you took off the sweatshirt and put it in your bag.”

He was reminding me again that I was treating one moment as special and another moment as ordinary. So he echoed that oft-repeated phrase, “There are no ordinary moments.”

Your Next Move

This one is simple, and not easy. Change something so you may live more conscious each day. Ask yourself what are those habits so deeply ingrained you have become ignorant of how the rest of the world works. Test new options and decide how you will behave next time.

Defeated? Keep Moving

Never Give up

When I was a much younger man, I played soccer. I started when I was six and my Dad coached the team. At that age, I am not sure we should call it “soccer” as much as “22 person amoeba crawling in the grass with no discernible purpose” but that takes too long to say. One of the first lessons I learned was to “play to the whistle”. In soccer terms it means keep playing until the ref stops you, regardless of what happens. If you think you have been fouled, keep playing. If you think the ball is out, keep playing. Over the 15 years I actively played, I remember winning several goals, and several games, because I kept playing. Now in life there are many times I think the play is over, and I have to keep playing.

Why we feel defeated

In real life we feel discouraged from time to time. I get discouraged when I make mistakes I think are unrecoverable, usually pertaining to hurting someone’s feelings. I get discouraged when I feel like my goals are unachievable. Now, I don’t need the goals to be easy, just possible. I get the most discouraged, even to the point of feeling defeated, when I realize, “I have no value here”. Maybe I think I have skills or insight, but those are not recognized. Maybe the landscape has changed so much I am out of date and irrelevant. Maybe I have failed to nurture the relationships required to have any credibility or influence here. When those happen, I am tempted to give up.

How to keep moving

Although there are times we are all discouraged and even defeated, we hope that is not a lifestyle. If it is, then you may require a larger change. Consider changing your situation (new job, new location, new community, etc.) or asking for help. When your discouragement declines into depression, counseling is a wonderful outlet to sort out the malaise. In regular times, though, here are some ideas on how to keep moving.

  • Stay in the game. We just finished the World Cup recently and I was amazed how many of the goals I watched were not made on the first shot, or even the second. Sometimes just a few more seconds of play can make the difference. For us, that means show up to work. Go to that meeting. Come home for dinner. Even if you don’t care or don’t want to go, there may be just a few more seconds of play before you get that shot at a goal.
  • Do something useful. Structured Procrastination is your friend. We all have that list of stuff we thought was a good idea at the time, but have been too busy to get to. Go do something on that list, regardless of how important it is. Maybe that means you clean out a file drawer, or sew that button on your old shirt. In my experience, doing something – anything – useful gets me back in gear to do the important stuff.
  • Share your hurt. Go cry on a friend’s shoulder. Get a beer together and talk about everything wrong with the world and your life. Grab a coffee and complain about your boss, or your marriage. Put time on the calendar, with someone else, and release all that pent up fear and frustration with no expectation of a solution. This is not a lifestyle choice, just an event with a friend who can tolerate you for an hour while you spout all the stuff you can’t say in your professional environment.
  • Read your love letters. Go through your file of love letters from past friends, colleagues, and clients. These are all the quick notes you have received in your career saying, “you are awesome”. Reading through some of these is encouraging and a reminder that you really have value in this world. What? You don’t have such a file? Go build it.

These are four easy activities to keep your head above water and get you moving again. Once you are moving, then let God direct your steps. In my own life, I have found great direction when I am in motion and very little guidance when I am stuck and stationary.

Your Next Move

If you are feeling discouraged or defeated today, refer to this list and pick one. Whichever one you chose, comment on whether it helped or not. If today you are feeling pretty good, then build the infrastructure to do those things – build an action item list of things you might want to do someday, nurture a relationship you can call on, and start your file of love letters. Trust me, build the file. Start today.

I won’t help you

don't be disappointed if people refuse to helpWhen I was in high school, I learned a few programming languages. In one class, we were given a new assignment nearly every day. Whenever I would get stuck, I would ask the teacher for help. His answer became very predictable.

He who learns for himself learns seven fold of he who is told

Argh. Look man, all I really needed was a simple answer, not a philosophy lesson. As it turns out, he was right.

Get the Answer, or Learn to Learn?

In the moment of feeling stuck, having a leader unwilling to bail you out is so frustrating. Looking back, I value those people the most in my life, whether they be teachers, friends, mentors, or strangers. As a result of those frustrating moments, I have developed an attitude in life of, “I can figure this out…I can learn this if I just ask the right questions.” Of course, that doesn’t always work, but it gets me a lot further down the road than waiting for someone to give me the answer. I have adopted a similar strategy now that I have others to lead.

Why You Should Frustrate Them

As I have watched people on my team, or my family, get frustrated with me, I have had to reflect on why I am doing this. Is it just because I am mean?

  • It is fun to watch you struggle. Ok, that sounds sinister, but what I really mean is that I love to see people dig deep and create some new thinking patterns that will get them out of this situation. While they struggle, stay close and nudge them along…without giving away too much.
  • I care more about you than the answer. This is the big one. As a leader, it is my job to grow people more than anything. It is not my primary role to grow the business, take care of the customer, or ensure profitability. Those things are important, but all secondary to growing people to be better, smarter, faster, more confident, and more valuable to the world. The best way I know how to do that is to help them learn to learn. When I feel bad about watching someone wrestle with a problem, I have to remind both of us, “I care more about you, and your ability to learn, than I do the time it takes or quality of the solution.”
  • It exposes my leadership failures. Yay! Let’s all look at how I have let you down and failed to equip you…what fun. Although not always pleasant, exposing where I have failed to communicate, teach, guide, or lead helps me to learn in the situation. At the highest level this has taught me that every time a protegé is struggling, I have something to learn.

Part of my philosophy of leadership is a job well done renders me useless. I want to invest in people and the process so thoroughly that I am not required to solve a problem. They have the tools they need to do a great job. This is often referred to the “hit by a bus” strategy. I love to be called on because I am the best one to solve a problem. I get very discouraged when I am the only one who can solve a problem.

Your Next Move

Look for opportunities to promote the ability to learn in those around you. Choose one problem this week and change the way you help. Walk them through learning rather than give them the answer. If you get push back, send them here to read this.

Planning Takes Too Long

Planning takes too long, let’s just get started.


I use OmniPlan for the Mac for my project planning

When we start coaching a new church to implement a change, we make a plan. Usually this is a pretty detailed plan with lots of tasks, dependencies, dates…the whole bit. We often get feedback that this planning process takes too long and they just want to get started. In my mind, planning equals speed. I know that sounds contradictory, but the key is whether you are in a hurry to start, or to finish.

What’s the Hurry?

If you are in a hurry to start a project, then planning is indeed a waste and should be ignored. However, let’s first ask what is driving us to be in a hurry. Here are some common reasons that we hear:

  • I have to show ____ I am making progress.
  • If we have a plan, we will be forced to follow it and I want to be more flexible.
  • I am new here and I need to show them I know what I am doing.
  • You just can’t plan this type of work.
  • I am an action-oriented person. All this talking just wears me out.

None of those hold water in my mind, they are excuses. When exploring a brand new thing nobody has ever done, the plans are a lot more vague and loose. In fact, sometimes projects are entering into such an unknown territory there is no way to make a meaningful plan – so don’t waste a lot of your time. However, if you are motivated by the end of the project, the results part, then planning that project out really increases speed to finish.

How Does Planning Make us Faster?

Below are four key benefits to a solid plan.

  • A good planning process clarifies the direction, the scope, and the value of a project before you begin. How many times have you started a project that seemed like a good idea, then realized half way through you can’t even remember what you were trying to accomplish? Planning allows you to firm up those reasons and success criteria early. Sometimes creating a plan helps you to realize the project isn’t even worth doing….before you started working in earnest. Great savings. The last thing any of us need in our busy lives is a project we shouldn’t be doing.
  • My personal favorite, a good plan helps us to stay focused. I get so easily distracted, I need tools to help me only think about what is relevant right now. Back to the house: spending days working on the color of the curtains is not time well spent while trying to rough-in the plumbing and electrical. Stay focused on the work at hand, and know that other thing is in the plan and will come up at just the right time.
  • A good plan helps us to avoid rework. “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing over again.” While I have always enjoyed that adage, It bothers me that we behave that way so frequently. Think of the time and costs associated with having to go back and redo something…that time could have been saved with a good plan. The more we do work in the “right” order, then the dependencies flow nicely and we don’t have to go back and fix things. Think of building your new house: pouring the foundation before you have decided where the bedrooms go would be a real mistake. You would have to tear it out and pour more concrete later when you really had a design.
  • A good plan shows us progress. A plan with some milestones in it allows us to track our progress. That progress status is used for three things that tends to increase motivation, resources, and speed.
    1. Communicate with the organization. “We are 30% done on this and we estimate being complete in October”. This builds clarity and reminds others you are still working and progressing.
    2. Celebrate. “Yahoo…we reached the end of the design phase!” This helps to lift spirits and keep the motivation to focus on the work.
    3. Compete. “We still need Bob on our team. Look at all he has done and what other tasks are assigned to him.” In this world of limited time and resources, we often have to fight to keep the resources we secured at the beginning of the project.

Your Next Move

Be willing to focus on the outcome you want before starting. Think of that project you are hesitating to start. Make a quick plan… at least enough to get started.

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