Thoughts & Observations, Uncategorized

Reasonable Expectations

For a long time, I set my expectations about certain things a bit too high.

When I thought about getting in better shape, I pictured myself both doing yoga every day and hitting the gym to jog and take classes with names like “Ass and Abs” seven days a week.

When I thought about meditating, I pictured myself spending at least 20 to 30 minutes sitting peacefully on a cushion every single day.

In some ways, I thought that if I couldn’t push myself to do things in that much of the extreme, then they weren’t worth doing – they weren’t going to have an impact.

The problem with those expectations, though, was that there was no way for me to actually meet them. I would attempt something, inevitably fall short, feel disappointed in myself, and then give up (or sometimes not even try in the first place).

We think that the point of setting high expectations it to push ourselves to do our best: we thrive on stories of people accomplishing the unreasonable and then push ourselves to get to that unreasonable place immediately.

But the truth is that there are a very few people who accomplish what seem like unreasonable feats from the very beginning.

Running a marathon seems like an unreasonable feat to me. And many people make it look easy when they are actually running the marathon. But by the time they have made to that marathon they have often practiced for months or years. And they most likely didn’t start out running 10 miles every day. They might have started with a simple goal of jogging a quarter of the way around a track.

When I realized that my unreasonable expectations were backfiring and  were actually causing me to get nowhere with some of the things I wanted to do, I sat down and made a chart of the things I wanted to incorporate into my life (meditating, yoga, running, etc.). Next to each thing, I listed my unreasonable expectations: One hour of yoga seven days a week! Classes at the gym five days a week! And then I made another column where I wrote the reasonable counterpoint to all of my unreasonable expectation: yoga two times a week (and even 15 minutes counts), jogging three times a week, etc.

Once I shifted to reasonable expectations, something magic happened: I actually started doing all of these things. In the past six weeks, I went from doing none of the things I wanted to do to meeting all of my reasonable expectations. I’ve lost weight, I’ve seen my muscles start to come back, I’m jogging for longer than I thought I could, I’ve been meditating every day,  and just in general feel better.

And to think that I was depriving myself of all of those things because I felt that the only type of goals that created impact were the unreasonable ones.

Here’s to being reasonable every once in a while.



The Energy of Full Engagement

When we’re engaged in any activity – whether it is checking email or eating dinner with the family – we often find ourselves feeling like we should be doing something else.

By thinking about whatever else we feel like we ought to be doing, we aren’t fully engaged in the moment.

We might think that by not being fully engaged (letting our mind wander to our to do list, for instance), we conserve energy.

But the problem is that emotions like guilt and anxiety (the emotions that cause us to pull away from full engagement) drain dramatic amounts of energy, as does the process of multi-tasking.

If we spend the time we’ve decided to spend on email feeling guilty or anxious about all of the other work that we have to do, doing our email will make us more exhausted then if we had been fully engaged.

If we instead fully commit to whatever we are doing in the moment, and tell any thoughts of guilt or anxiety that come up that they can wait, we are actually more likely to have the energy to eventually tackle all of the things that we want to.

Thoughts & Observations, Uncategorized

This Is Every Day

January 1. It is absolutely a day for fresh starts. For rethinking the way you see and interact with and approach the world.

But so is every other day.

So is ever hour, ever minute.

No matter how last year ended or this year begins or how you’re feeling two months from now, you can always make a different choice.

You can choose in an instant to be the type of person who always gets up for someone on the train who looks like they need a seat much more than you do.

You can decide on a Tuesday morning in March that you are going to be a person who meditates.

You can choose to become a runner tomorrow morning even if walking up the stairs makes you lose your breath today.

You can decide at 5:56 p.m. to respond to the person who was just rude to you with a smile, even if you’d usually come back with a frown.

None of this change requires a long list of resolutions.

It just requires that you not allow who you’ve been in the past to cast the only vote on who you’ll be in the future, and that you be aware that you can make a new choice more often than you think.


On Guilt and Abundance

At an event recently, I joined a conversation just as a woman was talking about how she had shifted from a deep place of constant unhappiness to a place of relatively constant happiness…but that she now often felt guilty about it. She would look around kind of thinking “who I am to feel this happy?”

This got me thinking about how so many of us have a general reaction to abundance (or potential abundance) that includes a strong feeling of guilt.

And in some ways, I think that is why there are many of us who may hold back from seeking anything more then what we already have.

We sense that we should be grateful. That we shouldn’t be greedy, that we should make sure that everyone has a share.

And this true when it comes to sharing a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with your best friend at school, or sharing emergency food rations after a disaster.

But not everything has such a direct correlation between what you get and what someone else has.

You holding back on celebrating and increasing your own happiness doesn’t directly make all the unhappy people in the world a little bit more happy.

You holding back on asking for a raise doesn’t directly put money in a poverty stricken family’s bank account.

You treating yourself poorly does not directly ensure that everyone else in the world is treated just a little bit better.

Holding back on celebrating your happiness, asking to be paid what you deserve, and treating yourself well probably does more to contribute to (or at least not change) the world’s problems than it does to make them better. We solve the problems of the world not by holding ourselves back from seeking these things in the first place, but by using them to exponentially increase what we have available to give back and contribute.

Which reminds me of this quote that I love by Marianne Williamson (often mis-attributed to Nelson Mandela):

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”




When It’s Unmistakably You

When I look at some of the amazing things that my friends produce – from the most recent hand-drawn newsletter made by Mathias Vestergaard that just showed up in my inbox, to the thoughtful blog posts and videos by Ishita Gupta that always get to the heart of what holds so many of us back, I’m struck by their intelligence and their generosity of course, but also by something else, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on until now.

And it is this: their words and their work feel like them. They are unmistakably them. If anyone else tried to step in and do exactly what they do, it wouldn’t feel quite right, something would be a bit off.

The power of finding that authentic space from which to create is exponentially more powerful than working from a space outside of the realm of what is truly you.

Thoughts on Life, Uncategorized

The Power of Making

We are all both consumers and makers.

When we are kids, we do significant amounts of both – we observe and consume the world around us, taking it all in, and we create: building forts, cutting out snowflakes, shaping playdough.

As we grow up, we often lose our making and creating side, in favor of spending more time consuming and observing.

But making has a unique power.

It reminds us of our agency and our usefulness, that with our own hands we can build something valuable.

And it also connects us with a sense of inspiration outside of ourselves, a sense that we are connected to something much bigger than our own individual being.

And both of those things feed directly into the sense that we are living a meaningful life.


On Friction and Habits

Sometimes replacing one point of friction with another can help make an old habit go away and a new one start to take hold.

I have been a bit of manic exerciser in my adult life, alternating between periods (read: years) of absolutely no exercise, followed by intense periods of often twice daily workouts and back-to-back dance classes, followed again by a long period of almost complete inactivity.

Enter Glennis.

Glennis is that new point of friction.

A few weeks ago, I signed up for Sessions, a program designed to slowly but surely help you replace old exercise habits (or lack thereof) with new ones. Everyone who signs up gets a virtual coach (a real person who calls you and texts you but doesn’t necessarily live nearby). Glennis is my coach.

It is Glennis who I think about when I lay in bed at 6:40 a.m., having that frequent internal debate about whether I should stay right where I am or get up and go to yoga.

It used to be that there was more friction in getting up. I had to extract myself from bed, put on my yoga gear, gather my stuff, and head out the door. And therefore I would usually stay in bed.

But now there is Glennis. There is more friction, more work to do, if I stay in bed then if I get out. I think through the fact that if I don’t do yoga that morning then I’m going to have to tell Glennis, feel disappointed in myself, and reschedule yoga for another day.

There is more friction there than in simply getting up and going, so I go.

Since human beings are pretty incapable of making choices today based on potential benefits in the future, that extra little bit of friction to prevent me from making a decision that seems inconsequential now but is not great for my long-term health makes all the difference.

Even though my going to yoga does have something to do with the benefits and the fact that I really do enjoy it, the truth is that the main reason I go is because it’s easier than not going.

Most of the time we stick with habits because they are easier to do then they are to not do. If you tip the friction scales, even just slightly, in the favor of the new, healthier habit, everything can change.


From My Column: Leave Your Problems at the Door

Originally published by The Press Enterprise in 2010 (so it refers to my experience at my previous organization – but still super relevant!)

In the past two years, I have watched members of my staff go through tremendous personal hardships: life-threatening health crises, divorces, home foreclosures, layoffs of spouses, financial hardships, and horrible relationships. The quantity and severity of these challenges seems greater than anything I had previously witnessed in my seven years of managing employees. Driven by a tough economy and unforgiving housing market, many people are truly at their breaking point.

The reality is, however, that many of our employees were often quietly at their breaking points in the past. It’s not as if employees went from having no problems whatsoever to having suitcases full of challenges they lug with them everywhere. The bad economy has made things worse and impacted more people, but it does not account in totality for the tremendous increase in challenges I have witnessed.

What accounts for the rest of the increase? The fact that we dramatically changed our organizational culture for the better and that I know and understand more now about our staff as complete people with lives and families and challenges outside of work then I ever did before. In my early days of being in the workforce, I was taught that it was expected that when you arrived at work, you parked whatever personal baggage you brought with you at the door. You just found out that you are getting divorced? That’s nice. Leave that issue outside of the office. You just found out that your house is being repossessed and you have to move in three days? That’s too bad, but leave that problem at the door.

I understand where that concept of keeping life challenges away from work may have originated. It is important for all of us to be able to compartmentalize some our challenges so that we can continue to move through life and get done the things that must be done – doing our jobs, taking care of our kids, getting dinner on the table. We can not afford to let ourselves wallow day in and day out in a pool of our problems. In many cases though, that concept of setting your problems aside to get work done has been taken to the extreme and it has turned into an expectation that we all have a super-human ability to not let our personal challenges creep into our work.

When the culture of our organization started to change a couple of years ago, we built those changes on a foundation of trusting our employees. From that trust stemmed much closer relationships between coworkers. Instead of feeling like people we just happened to work with, our coworkers started to feel like friends and family. When a coworker truly becomes your friend or feels like a family member, you tend to share much more of your life with them, both the good stuff and the bad stuff.

I personally know much more now about my employee’ health issues, relationship challenges, and financial problems than I ever did in the past. Some people might say that is not a good thing, that it muddies the waters and makes it difficult to manage because there might always be an excuse to not hold someone accountable for their work. I guess I just see my role a little bit differently.

I absolutely believe in holding people accountable for their work, but I also believe that there are times when employees need help and support and an open ear more than they need a slap on the wrist for not performing up to their usual standards. If I can help someone talk through a challenge or give them a place to vent, then I have helped them as a person, not just as an employee. That person will go back out into the world – whether they are sitting at their cubicle or playing with their kids – and hopefully be in a better place than they were before they talked to me.


The Challenge of Density in Leadership

I was listening to an interview recently with Susan O’Connell, the President of the San Francisco Zen Center, and she was asked a question about how things had shifted once she was appointed to the role as President of the organization.  

Her answer brought forth a word that I had never connect to leadership previously: dense. 

She described how it wasn’t really that the work of being President was necessarily more difficult then work that she had done previously, but that it was that the role was more dense: that every decision she made, every word she spoke would quickly carry more weight and touch more people then it had before she was officially titled as the leader. 

Because even if you insist that people don’t treat you differently or listen to you differently, there is something about the title that causes a shift. 

And yes, that shift can create stress (and this is a great thing to keep in mind when things are seeming inexplicably stressful), but that shift also creates an amazing opportunity positive impact and change.