12 years

This blog turns 12 years today. WordPress reports 1.25 million words shared over 5,224 posts at an average 240 words/post.

What it doesn’t (and can’t) report is the transformative effect writing these words has had on me.

I’ve taken away many lessons from this experience over the years. But, if there is one that sticks out today, it is the power of forcing ourselves to pause and reflect – every day.

Daily habits have a way of inspiring a sea change in us. They do this by helping us build discipline, confidence, and integrity every day we recommit to them.

And, when these habits involve a touch of self-reflection, they end up doing so much more. By pushing us to be a bit more thoughtful on one day, a touch more grateful on another, and a tiny bit more focused the next, they have a compound effect on our life that far exceeds the sum of all those tiny daily pushes.

Or, as the quote by late English poet John Dryden goes – “First we make our habits, then our habits make us.”

This habit has definitely made me.

Thank you to you for all the encouragement along the way that has made this journey feel so much more sweeter and rewarding.

Losing our sense of smell

We recently heard from someone about his experiences after losing his sense of smell for more than a year following a viral infection.

He recounted challenges – both big and small – that fundamentally changed how he approached life. For example, he was once the last person to react to a fire because he couldn’t smell any smoke.

Through this journey, he came to appreciate just how much our sense of smell helps us make sense of the world.

Stories like his are a powerful reminder of just how fortunate we are when we have a normally functioning body.

Our default state is to take all of what we have working for granted.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

Kids and instincts

Kids have strong instincts. Some have these about food, others about people, and some others about activities.

These instincts aren’t always useful. Sometimes, it stops them from trying new things. And, in other cases, it gets in the way of them staying safe. But, they’re strong and right more often than kids get credit for.

So, a big part of their journey through toddler-hood and early childhood is to learn to open themselves up to suggestions and nudges that go against their instincts. As they do that, they learn to try different experiences and, if all goes well, hone their instincts.

The hard part about being a parent (or coach) through this process is to encourage malleability without resulting in them losing trust in those instincts.

Bad coaches sow mistrust in these instincts. Good ones attempt to work around them. Great coaches, on the other hand, build on the foundation these instincts provide.

Years on the job vs. Experience

It is relatively easy to rack up years on the job. A year, two years, and a decade can flash by.

Experience, on the other hand, is so much more than years on the job.

Experience is the pattern recognition that comes from having worked through a broad array of problems. It is the collection of the mental models that you develop after having synthesized every experience to complement that breadth with depth. It is many inches wide and, yet, somehow many miles deep as well.

A simple proxy for experience is the presence and constant accumulation of skills. Another telltale sign is the presence of rigor, synthesis, and obsession.

When you live the same year many times over, you rack up years on the job.

When you compress three years of learning into one, you gain experience.

Inches and tiny margins

I experienced an incident recently which reminded me of the tiny margins between success and failure.

It brought back a scene I’ve watched many a time – Al Pacino’s last minute speech to his team in “Any Given Sunday.” Here’s a transcript of his note on inches.

You know, when you get old in life things get taken from you. I mean that’s…part of life. But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff. You find out life’s this game of inches. So is football. Because in either game, life or football, the margin for error is so small — I mean one-half a step too late, or too early, and you don’t quite make it. One-half second too slow, too fast, you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.

They’re in every break of the game, every minute, every second.

On this team, we fight for that inch. On this team, we tear ourselves and everyone else around us to pieces for that inch. We claw with our fingernails for that inch, because we know when we add up all those inches that’s gonna make the fuckin’ difference between winning and losing!

It’s been more than a decade since I first heard this. It struck a chord then.

And, after many more experiences that have reinforced how much inches and small margins make a difference, it strikes an even deeper chord now.

Lessons on shifting energy

Our energy during the course of a day is among the single biggest determinants of our contribution to the people, problems, and organizations in our lives.

Sometimes, we begin days with negative energy. And, in other times, we may even have days when we start strong but find ourselves derailed after a poor meeting or bad situation.

I’ve learnt two things about such days.

First, it is possible to shift our energy from negative to positive. The single best way to do that is to work either with people or on problems that inspire positive energy. And, of course, if we can combine both, that’s golden.

Second, if we aren’t able to find inspiring people/problems, the single best thing we can do is to finish the day as early as possible. Attempts at salvaging a bad energy hardly ever go well.

Take a break instead. Go out for a walk, spend time with people that matter, and get a good night of sleep.

Tomorrow will work out better.

Changing how we think about great listeners

There was something about definitions of great listeners that I’d heard in the past that didn’t feel right to me. And, after a few attempts at attempting to synthesize my point of view, I gave up.

A share from a colleague that I came across yesterday renewed my interest in the topic again. She shared this quote from an HBR article on great listeners – “While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines. They are someone you can bounce ideas off of — and rather than absorbing your ideas and energy, they amplify, energize, and clarify your thinking.”

The full article is here and has more interesting detail. However, I think the above quote captures the essence of the post. And, as I was reflecting on it, I realized the source of the disconnect.

First, I’ve never thought of myself as a sponge. So, on occasion when I was described as a good listener (emphasis on “on occasion” – it isn’t a regular event :-)), I couldn’t quite understand why the person at the other end described me in a way that was inconsistent with my self image.

And, second, I find sponges frustrating to speak to. I don’t care about being interrupted as long as the discussion is energizing. The best discussions in my mind are often riffs that involve building off each other’s best ideas and energy to create something better than either could have imagined.

This articulation of what good listeners do has helped bridged the gap between these disconnects. It is going to inspire more thinking (and writing hopefully) in the coming days.

For now, it is safe to say that it has shifted my perspective on how I think about being a good listener.

The “marathon, not a sprint” refrain

“It is a marathon, not a sprint” is a refrain I’ve heard and read a few times over the past weeks in reference to the widespread COVID-19 lock downs.

Of course, it is one thing to hear and read something and quite another thing to accept and absorb.

I went through that process during the middle of last week. I think it was caused by a piece of news that laid out what the rest of the year likely entailed. Unlike similar pieces that had little impact, this one started that cycle of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Perhaps I was finally ready to face facts.

For a full 24 hours that followed, I felt as though the wind had been knocked out of me. Everything I did happened at 0.5x speed while I processed what I was feeling.

Then, the fog lifted and I realized I had moved to acceptance. I had a good work-from-home set up pre-COVID but had been coming to the realization that a couple of upgrades (chair, webcam) were going to be helpful.

But, more than anything else, the biggest shift I needed to make was mental.

In our attempts to find some semblance of a routine with work and the kids, I had postponed processing this. I think I clung onto some vague hope that we’d get back to some semblance of what I called “normal” in a few weeks.

But, normal isn’t going to be what it used to be – for a while at any rate. :-) And, hope is not a strategy.

So, it was time for a much needed mental reset.

Chocolate comfort

We’ve had a curious dietary change since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown. Every night, after dinner, we look forward to eating some chocolate*.

As a result, I think we’ve had as much chocolate over the past 2 months as we’ve probably had in the last 2 years.

My best explanation for this is that this is our source of comfort at the end of the day.

This new end-of-day ritual is a daily reminder that we’re going through an unusual time, a reminder to be kind to myself along the way…

I hope you’re doing the same and staying safe and sane.

*white chocolate in my case as I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t like the taste of cocoa powder/solids :-)