Category Archives: Self-Effectiveness

Mindreader Sally Hogshead shows me my value so I can define my personal anthem

Sally Hogshead says she can help up to fascinate people with the perfect words in 9 seconds. As I have traditionally steered away from vendor presentations at the conference, I rather arrogantly (although privately) put the Award-winning American advertising copywriter to the test immediately by offering her 9 seconds to keep me in the room. I’m still here 🙂 Let’s go for session TU118 of the ASTD2014 International Conference and Exposition

 

Sally Hogshead says that many people underestimate their ability to fascinate people, but that in today’s environment we need to grab people’s attention and show value immediately. She promises me that by the time I leave the room she will give me the perfect words to describe myself. I will walk out of the room more valuable. Sounds nice!

To kick things off, we heard the story of a ride at the Disney Epcot Center where visitors are offered a choice between a green or orange ticket for the ride. If you take the green ticket, you sign up for a safe, easy ride (think kids and grannies). If you take the orange ticket, you are warned about the possibility of injury, adventure and sickness. The people who go for the orange ticket ride were seen taking pictures of themselves about to go on the ride, tweeting and sharing the experience and coming back for more, telling their friends how awesome it was. The green-ticket people just went in and came out. No fuss, no fan-fair, no brand loyalty and championship. But in fact, both had the same ride!

 

The greatest value you can add is to show more of who you really are

Hogshead says that people will pay more for someone they like and trust. The product and the service comes second – what counts is the person you are doing business with, the brand and the perceived added-value. In my role as a presentation skills trainer and with ideas from my life as a marketeer and brand-namer, I think talk about being FAB and showing the real WIIFM. So I’m sold on the importance of (personal) branding already. Our speaker today says that the best high performing people provide a specific benefit, they are worth more than they are being paid and they over-deliver on expectations. And if we know who we are and what value we can add, we can communicate that.

According to our speaker, many of the personality and preference tests on the market focus on who you are and how you perceive yourself. But her company offers a test to show how others see you. With that knowledge, you can choose the right words to show your value. When everyone knows what their highest value is and how to show it, they feel more empowered and work better.

 

At this point, I started to get cynical: On one hand, we need to show our unique value. We need to create a personal anthem (tagline) that shows the benefit of our strengths to the world. But on the other hand, Sally Hogshead says she can help me find me archetype from a pre-set matrix and give me the words to use. Surely if everyone does this, we are going to have every LinkedIn profile looking the same and full of the same anthems?!?? Where’s the uniqueness in that? So I (again arrogantly) challenged Sally on this and this is what happened:

1. She invited me up to the stage. More on this later…
2. She described me to the rest of the participants. Almost perfectly and very complete. We had only met 30 minutes before (my first challenge…. I feel so bad!) but her description was spot on: What turns me on, what turns me off. How I like to interact with people and how I like to add value…
3. She gave me words to use to describe myself: “I’m an innovator who likes to inspire people to find new ways to do things.”

 

49 personality archetypes

How did she do this? Sally’s answer: I gave off very distinct cues (that she picked up on) that fit into her matrix of 49 personality archetypes. 49! Not 4. It was like a magic trick, or mind-reading. She got me in an instant.

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But what about this idea of fascinating in 9 seconds??

To show value to others in 9 seconds, you need to be able to tell how you are the perfect solution to their problem. To get this right, the participants were first offered the chance to take the test on HowToFascinate.com to see which of the 49 archetypes they had. Here’s mine:

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For each of the 49 archetypes, Sally Hogshead’s matrix offers a set of adjectives that best describe you. Her book also offers a set of nouns. Add one of the specific adjectives for your archetype (whichever you prefer) to the right nouns (see the book, page 365) and you have your anthem. Here’s mine:

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(Coming back to what I said earlier, I guess Sally invited me up because when I first met her (coming in the room) she picked up on my prestige quality – I haven’t read the book yet, but I when I hear “prestige” I also hear a need to be in the centre of things….)

So I’m a progressive ideas man. That sounds OK to me. What I plan to do now is to build this descriptor into something a little more sexy, a little more FAB and a little more me.

Watch this space!

Thanks for reading
D

Dr Jack Groppel: Micro-bursts to create fully-integrated energy

Dr. Jack Groppel says that where we all find ourselves today is where sports was 50 years ago. 50 years ago, if you were in sport and wanted to rest, people looked at you like you were weak. If you drank water to rehydrate, you were weird. The sports world has come a long way, but the business world has not. Welcome to ASTD2014 session M314

Groppel says that human beings and organisations are multi-dimensional, fully integrated energy systems. Without energy, nothing happens. So the question is: How do you bring you best energy to work to get the best results?

I’m the sports world, athletes spend almost all their time training and practicing, and very little time performing. An NFL football player doesn’t play any games between February and August. But he is training, conditioning and practising! Think about yourself at work: You are probably spending ALL your time performing!

The key to being extraordinary, says Groppel, is to manage your energy, not just time. Much of what we think about in personal effectiveness is about getting there on time and meeting deadlines.. But it should be about energy management.

There are 4 types of energy

There are 4 types of energy we need to consider: Physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. And it’s like a pyramid, or hierarchy, starting from the bottom up. If you don’t have a good quantity of physical energy, you can’t have good emotional energy. No emotional energy, no mental energy. No mental, no spiritual…

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Groppel says that it is a skill to develop these energy types and that in the business world, we need to help people to develop these skills.

  • Physical energy is about food, movement fitness, hydration, rest and sleep
  • Emotional energy is about optimism and positivity
  • Mental energy is about having laser focus, rather than being scattered and multi-tasking
  • Spiritual energy is purpose driven, connected to something that really matters to us. Whatever it may be.
  • So what can we do to get more energy?

    The basic pitch today = micro-energy bursts. Groppel talked about what happens in tennis. For a professional tennis player, apparently only 35% of the game time is spent playing the point. The other 65% is between active tennis-playing (moving to the other side or end of the court. Pausing between plays, games, sets, matches…). What are tennis players doing during that 65%? According to Groppel, the are micro-resting, dealing with emotions, focussing and aligning to purpose. Literally? They put their racket into their non-playing hand, they breathe in deeply 2 times, they make a point of facing and processing their emotions…. If you can implement such micro-bursts in your working day, Groppel says you will improve the 4 types of energy.

    Here are some easy to implement micro-energy bursts that Groppel has been testing in various organisations and that his studies have proven lead to better productivity, engagement and results….

    Physical micro-bursts to improve mood, creativity and problem solving, and increased blood and oxygen flow to the brain:

  • It’s not about just taking a break. Groppel suggests that from time-to-time, we should just stand up and walk on the spot for 30 seconds. You can even keep working if you want.
  • Have a walking meeting
  • Use the stairs
  • Emotional micro-bursts to disengage from the working moment and improve mood + positive emotion:

  • Conversations with a loved one
  • Talking with children. Think about it: Did you complain or did you ask “Hey. How are you doing?”
  • Telling a joke or reading or watching something funny
  • Looking at a picture of your kids
  • I asked Dr Groppel what we could do to micro-burst at a mental or spiritual level. He said that calling loved ones (for example) will have a spiritual impact if you are strongly attached to family-values. Reading inspirational materials might also ouch on the spiritual level. He added that changing tasks might help to bring more mental focus and I imagine that meditation or some form of mindfulness might have the same impact.

    So, the challenge is there: If you believe these 4 energy types are worth investing in, do it! Find ways to micro-burst and just do it!

    See also www.GlobalAllianceHP.com

    Huffington says it’s time to shut down, tune out and live better

    Day 2 of the ASTD 2014 International Conference and Exposition is about to kick off with the first of our keynotes. After being literally herded into Hall C, an approximative 6-to-9000 people are hear to find out exactly what Arianna Huffington‘s now famous 19 accents sound like. Huffington is a media guru, founder of the world-famous Huffington Post and has recently written a new book: “Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder”. Today, she is going to tell us to turn off…

     

    Taking the immediate opportunity to get back at Joel McHale’s poke earlier this week, Huffington cuts quickly to the chase to tell us that she is here to help us understand how to deal with life better. Following-on from Tony Bingham‘s kick-off speech, she insists that everyone has their own story about when things go wrong and we need to think about this if we want to learn and grow.

    Huffington says that some years ago, she suffered a burn-out due to overworking and sleep deprivation. Falling to her desk and splitting her eye, she realised that things had to change. The traditional dual-values of money and power are not enough. We need more. We need four things…

     

    Sleep and rest

    Sleep deprivation lowers our immunity and reduces concentration and performance. Athletes are now starting to monitor sleep and make changes that can improve performance. But Huffington wonders why businesses haven’t latched on. We need a sleep revolution if we want to live better. She tells us that her book has some simple steps we can implement to deal with our sleep-deprived “run, run, run” behaviour.

     

    Quiet time

    In today’s fast moving world, there is little opportunity to take time out to quieten our minds. We are bombarded with email and media, meetings and work. And we worry. We judge ourselves. Huffington tells us that we are constantly haunted by the little voices in our head. If we want to realise that those voices are not who we really are, we need to meditate, or at the very least take time to concentrate on our breathing. If we do this, we will more quickly see who we really are, what we need to change and how to make it happen.

     

    Stop multi-tasking

    Huffington mentioned a colleague who arrived one day at the office to realise she had forgotten to put on her skirt. She added that her own mother scolded her for reading emails whilst talking to her kids. Everyone has their own story.

    Multi-tasking is in fact “task-switching”, says Huffington, which is one of the most stressful things you can do. This has finally been validated by modern (read: Eastern) science and we need to take action (or not!) now. One thing at a time please!

     

    …and, actually just stop, completely!

    We cannot always be “on”. Life is not work. Congratulating people for constantly working is like congratulating them for turning up to work drunk, says Huffington.

    So: Turn off the lights, shut down the computer and go home for dinner with your kids.

     

    Thanks Arianna. I think I’ll stop blogging now 🙂

     

    See also:

     

     

    Jeff Dyer on “Discovery Skills” and what makes an innovator

    As ASTD TechKnowledge 2014 kicks off, President and CEO Tony Bingham introduces Jeff Dyer to the stage. Jeff is author of the book “The Innovators DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovator“, PhD, teacher, researcher and prize-winner. His book has been cited over 10000 times. Today he will give us the keys to unlocking our own innovation DNA…

    In classic presentation style, Dyer starts by quoting Dilbert, or rather, Dilbert’s manager: “Good managers hire people who are smarter than he or she is.” The paradox here is evident. If it’s true, this means the top managers must be the dumbest in the office. But if it’s false, then we are hiring dumb people! So what should we be doing? How can we unleash the talent of innovators?

    Dyers first question is the perrenial “nature/nurture” issue: Are we born more intuitive and creative, ready to challenge the status-quo? Or is this something that is learnt?

    According to research in psychology, about 80% of our raw intelligence is genetically based. BUT this raw-intelligence is the standard common-sense, knowledge-acquiring intelligence. But when it comes to the creative stuff, what really makes people able to change and do new things, only 1/3 of that “intelligence” is innate. Studies show that family culture, corporate culture, education no experience are what have the more impact on our ability to innovate. So we can learn it. Jeff Dyer has been trying to find out how…

    Quoting studies on strong innovators and pulling together other research from diverse sources, Dyer tells us about the five things that count most to make an innovator.

    The first of these is associative thinking, the ability to put things together that didn’t otherwise occupy the same space. Associative thinking starts with the ability to recognise opportunities that can bring some value to another situation, or another problem. Like the iPod dial that Dyer tells us was inspired by traditional dialling locks. Or how under-the-arm deodorant designers looked to ball-point pens for their ability to let liquid flow from a source. This ability to synthesise things is born out of experience (I’m already starting to worry about my kids standardised education programme) and so we need to build diverse experience to bring out innovation.

    Testing our ability to think differerently, Dyer tests his theory that if we force associations we can come up with new ideas. He asks the audience: “How could a microwave design feature improve a dish-washer?” Several answers came from participants. What I found interesting was the reaction of the audience to my own suggestion to make the dishwasher shake food molecules of the plates. It made sense to me, but other participants laughed. Foolish boy! Is this indicative of how innovators are viewed in their organisation? (see Jef Staes‘ work on the percentage of people who say “NO” to new ideas…)

    Dyer adds that there are four other things you need to get good at creating new ideas: Questioning, observing, networking and experimenting.

    Really good innovators use a couple of specific question styles to find new ideas:

    First of all, we need to force constraints in our questions to push us in a new direction. Tim Ferriss asks his readers these types of questions, for example: “What work would you do if you could only do one thing, or for 1 hour?”

    Another type of question is the “blue sky” question: What if ALL constraints were removed? If anything could work?

    Dyer suggests that these kind of questions will yield more creative answers. But more importantly, he says that effective brainstorming starts with question-storming; finding the right questions to brainstorm.

    The next behaviour Dyer talks about is observing. Like the great Sherlock Holmes, we need to be able to see the details, the connections and the big-picture.

    Innovative people see things other people don’t necessarily see. Like anthropologists, they have their eyes wide open. Dyer says that they are looking for surprises. They are looking for the details that others might miss and focused on the jobs to be done, rather than the tools that are used. Like all great product developers (and sales people) they are tuned into the desired end-result, rather than focused on the way it is currently being attacked. Looking from all angles, innovators observe what is going on and think differently about what is required to make improvements.

    Dyer quotes a great example here with the “GE Adventure Series CT scanners“. Traditionally, MRI scans have been designed with one thing in mind: Scanning the body, looking at the details. But for the user, this can be extremely scary. For kids, it requires going into a new scary environment under stressful circumstances and being asked to be extremely still. Tough one! What have GE done? They have brought a little Disney to the experience. Check the link….

    Observation in itself is an awesome tool in the organisation. But Dyer says it is not enough. If we want to have awesome observations, see new things and get new ideas, we need to literally step out of the box and into new environments. Enter the power of networking.

    Effective innovating networkers seek out support and answers from diverse environments, cultures and functions. Dyer asks us to think about the 5 people in our network we go to when we have a problem. After 60 seconds he then asks:

  • Do you have people on your list that come from different companies?
  • Do you go to kids or old-age-pensioners?
  • Do you go to people who were born and raised in a different country to you?
  • Do you go to people from different functions or levels of the organisation?
  • Finally, Jeff Dyer tells us that if we want to innovative, we need to experiment. We need to try things out. We need to dare to try things out. In the terms of Jef Staes, we are talking about the pioneers who are willing to take the risk and see if and how things work. Innovators are not sure things will work, but they are willing to try. If organisations want to do things differently, they will need to be willing to run pilots and be open to failure.

    So, do want to innovate? Or help others develop their own innovation ability? Think about developing associative thinking, questioning skills, observing, networking and experimentation. Give people the time to innovate, to go out and think differently.

    And if you are wondering if you are a innovator? Go take the test…. http://bit.ly/ASTDTK_2014

    Good luck!
    D

    Time doesn’t only fly when you are having fun – focus on what brings you energy

    There is an idea that “time flies when you are having fun”. 

    * (see below post for disclaimer)

    But time flies for other reasons too: When you are stressed or under time-pressure, when you are doing addictive chores, when you are asleep…

    So don’t think that just because time flies, you are having fun.

    I have spent a lot of time flying through time not having enough fun, so my first New Year’s resolution for 2014 is to regularly re-do an exercise proposed by Marcus Buckingham in his book “Go Put Your Strengths To Work”. It’s simple and you can do it too…

     

    Step 1: Note what gives you energy

    As you go through your working day, any time you are having fun or feeling energetic, make a note of what you are doing. Use seperate post-it notes of bits of paper for each idea – this will help when you get to step 3 later.

    I have already noted the following in the last few days:

    • Chasing new ideas, researching things that get my attention
    • Blogging and writing ideas in order to try and communicate them well to other people
    • Hospitality and welcoming people

    ..and the last time I did this exercise, I had also noted:

    • Developing a presentation for a large audience
    • Speaking to a group of people about a topic on which I am an expert
    • Editing an article to ensure the minimum effective dose of content
    • Consulting with new potential clients, by phone or face-to-face, asking questions in order to understand their situation, values and needs

     

    Step 2: Note what drains your energy or makes you unhappy

    As with step 1, any time you feel drained or unhappy in what you are doing, note it down. Again, use separate notes.

    My own ideas:

    • Working with particular people … I noted their names, but won’t share here 🙂
    • Raising invoices
    • Writing administrative emails to tick-off silly little tasks in preparation for a training or conference
    • Booking hotels, flights and travel

     

    Step 3: Categorise wherever possible in order to see the thin-red-line

    If I remember well, Buckingham proposes to do the exercises (steps 1+2) for about a week. At the end of the week, see if you can find common points between the different notes. Spread them all out on a table and re-arrange them in order to see how they fit together.

    This should give you an idea of what really turns you on … and off.

     

    Step 4: The hardest part = Create strategies to maximise the energisers and minimise the drainers

    Although I won’t get into this here and now, if you have an idea of when turns you on and what turns you off AND if you are truly willing to invest in your own happiness (so that time flies) then you must work on this step.

    Bear in mind that there is always a way to improve your working experience, even if you don’t work for yourself. If you are not sure how to actually make it happen, consider the following ideas to get you started:

     

    I know very well that this last step may seem a bit dreamy and some people will read and think “It’s not that easy” but that doesn’t mean the exercise is worthless in itself. Think about what gives you strength, what drains your energy and then make the choice to have a Happy New Year!

     

    Thanks for reading,

    D

     

    ps

    * The idea that “time flies when you having fun” is almost true, but in fact there is a mistake in this phrase which is both philosophically interesting and also, I believe, quite dangerous for the fast-moving, entrepreneurial, recognition-seeking type of folk (like me) that are rather desperately on the road to dissatisfaction and burn-out.

    In fact, time doesn’t fly when you are having fun. It stops. It disappears. This is important because our obsession with time as an entity or currency leads to lots of attempts to save it, redistribute it or make it move faster or slower than it actually does.

    But even my previous paragraph is faulty, because there is no such thing as time. At least not as it is intended in the phrase “time flies when you are having fun”. In that phrase, the time referred to is “clock time” and in reality, we just stop thinking about “clock time” when we are really having fun. We live in the moment, without regard for what will come later or what came earlier. That is indeed why it is fun. Because we are truly alive in the “now” instead of “thinking” and getting caught up in other ego-led desires. And when we do start thinking about it (“clock time”) again, we see that it has flown by. We are much “later” than we thought.

    If this little philosophical suffix interests you even in the slightest, read “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle.

    9 competences you need in your workforce today and tomorrow

    If you are looking to hire someone to join your company or to develop existing people who will regularly bring added-value (in the long-term), you need to think about more than technical or functional skills. In my opinion, the 9 following competences are absolutely key to sustainable success in today and tomorrow’s business environment…

     

    THE CONSTANT LEARNER

    It has been said for decades that the only constant is change. Clearly that hasn’t changed. If we cannot be sure about what tomorrow looks like, then the following three competences are important:

    • Open-mindedness is the ability to receive and treat new information without overbearing prejudice. Many of us spend the majority of our waking lives on autopilot, doing things just like we did yesterday, set in our ways and thoughts. Open-minded people are able to put their own convictions on hold and see things differently in order to deal with new ideas. They are conscious of their own habits and convictions, they listen well and they tend not to mix up their own perception with reality.
    • Self-learning is the ability to define, follow-up, deliver and evaluate learning goals in an autonomous way. Today’s workers must be able to acquire and assimilate knowledge, learn new skills and question their own attitude without the necessary intervention of a learning department or teacher. Specific skills here include goal-setting, self-coaching and identifying infinite learning opportunities.
    • Problem-solving skills and scientific reasoning are required in order to figure things out where no answer currently exists. Workers must have the ability to correctly assess and define a problem. They must have a minimum of business acumen and creativity to propose multiple hypotheses and a sufficient scientific process to create “experiments” that will allow them to isolate, test and understand problem causes and potential solutions.

     

    FUNCTIONING WELL IN TODAY’S UBER-SOCIAL ENVIRONMENT

    In today’s working environment (the “New World of Work”) the possibilities are endless. We can gather and share information from and to everywhere in a click. We have unprecedented access to other people. We are mobile within markets and across functional and geographical lines. The following three competences are all about getting and giving the best in that environment:

    • Personal Knowledge Management is a collection of processes that a person uses to gather, classify, store, search, retrieve, and share knowledge in his or her daily activities. Faced with the enormous noise of information coming in from everywhere in multiple formats, today’s workers need to be able to make sense of it all and put the noise to effective use for herself and others, today and in the future.
    • Networking skills allow workers to effectively analyse, evaluate and improve their own networks in order to receive and give more value. With a clear long-term mission and good social skills, effective networkers can assess, create and maintain well-functioning networks. They know the right people (who know the right people..) and can establish trusting useful contacts over a variety of face-to-face and virtual platforms in order to achieve their goals.
    • Commercial communication and personal branding. As businesses become more “intrapreneurial” and workers get involved in more cross-functional, multinational projects, the ability to understand the situation, values and needs of other people and position oneself and one’s work “commercially” in terms of benefits is key to being accepted and being useful. No-one can sit back and say that “sales” is for someone else. As Daniel Pink has said, to sell is human and we’re all doing it, whether we know it or not. The product/service branding approach of matching key messages to target audiences can today be equally well applied to individuals – effective personal branding helps other people to see your own value more easily.

     

    BRINGING VALUE TO THE BUSINESS

    A constant learner who is able to function well in an uber-social environment is not worth anything if he doesn’t really understand how business is happening and what can be done to achieve goals. He needs three additional competences:

    • Business acumen or business intelligence is the first foundation for adding value to an organisation. In the past, only the management needed to worry about the universal drivers of cash, profit, growth, people and assets; everyone else could “just” focus on his job. But as environments, people, projects and processes change rapidly, there is more need for workers who truly understand their own work and how it influences the bottom-line and delivers on company strategy. If you don’t understand the core factors that make your business successful, you will not be able to identify opportunities, solve problems or articulate solutions that bring any value.
    • Strategic thinking is the ability to identify priorities based on current position in relationship to the end-goal. Technical or tactical experts tend to have a good grasp on which is the best way to achieve a certain action, but strategic thinkers more easily identify those actual actions which really need to be taken at this time. Although top-management may be responsible for defining the company strategy, each individual needs himself to be able to regularly and effectively assess their own position (in terms of S/W/O/T etc..) and look for recurring themes and priorities. In this way, they can strategically choose relevant action and next concrete steps.
    • Proactivity is the ability to stop, think and choose, rather than simply reacting to circumstance. A close-cousin of both strategic-thinking, open-mindedness and problem-solving ability, proactivity requires self-knowledge and a specific attitude, in addition to specific knowledge of the environment and mission. Faced with unacceptable results, the proactively-reactive person will assess the situation and processes/programs in order to create change which he or she believes he can orchestrate. And the truly proactive person will “in advance” take the initiative to assess risks to the mission and think about how to do things differently and how to have a maximum impact.

     

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    Default to believe, then conditioned for stability

    When we are young we believe anything. If, like me, you have small children you have already seen this in action. They will believe literally anything. They can believe anything.

    This inherent naivety or open-mindedness is key to development. Without it, we cannot discover or learn anything new. We need first to be able to treat new concepts before later discarding them as “wrong” or ill-fitting to our own reality.

     

    As we grow older, we develop the capacity to distinguish fact from make-believe. We know (spoiler alert!) that Father Christmas probably doesn’t really come down the chimney and we congratulate ourselves on our ability to be reasonable.

    But being “reasonable” is in itself the first pre-requisite for being closed-minded and too much of it leads to lack of innovation and inability to change. Copernicus was unreasonable, as were the people who wanted to put a man on the moon and anyone who thought a computer-game couldn’t load faster than a Commodore 64 did it.

     

    So why do we trade pure open-mindedness for “reason”, new for old and creativity for stability?

    I suspect the answer is about security or “blending-in”. and it is highly linked to values. Classical schools still today prefer to teach everyone to the same curriculum and anyone who doesn’t fit in has failed. Seeing things differently is not the point. Most corporations don’t do much better. Idioms like “if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it” and the wish to maintain current processes in the name of “quality” and customer satisfaction are designed to ensure that things get done the same tomorrow. Attached to our own ideas of what is “good”, we start to live on autopilot.

     

    Wouldn’t a little more childishness do some good?

     

     

    Goal-setting alone goes nowhere

    This is an angry blog-post, fuelled by failure and feeling lost.
    Trying to “get what you want” and “achieve goals” has driven me mad.
    At the age of 35, I’ve had enough.

    It may have started with my parents, who either pushed me towards goals or didn’t stop me from my own endless pursuit of the achievement of goals. It continued in school, where top grades were sought out for no reason but their own apparent top-grade value. And since day one in the corporate world, it has been shoved down my throat by Covey-inspired managers …and later reinforced by performance bonuses and general back-slapping. It hasn’t stopped. Goal, goal, goal. Do, do, do. Achieve, achieve, achieve.

    But in a world where it is “good” to achieve targets, I fear that this achievement itself has become some kind of altar at which people like me pray. But where is the god of purpose for which this altar was erected? Without that, the prayer of achievement loses all sense.

     

    When you get into the process (and life) of setting goals and achieving targets, it is fun. You can put ticks in boxes and say “I succeeded”. If you have an app like “Lift” you can share your goals and your success with other people, who will congratulate you for being like them and achieving what you all set out to do.

    But I wonder how many people installed “Lift” and did like I did, just browsing though the habits and goals to choose from and picking things that sounded cool, then setting their goals? Or sat down on New Year’s Eve (or performance-review day) and asked themselves “What goal can I have for next year?” Like an achiever’s buffet-bar. Eat all you can.

    In my own case, with the “Lift” app, it would surely have been better to actually have a real goal in mind (or better yet, some sense of purpose) before downloading the app and then use it’s social reinforcement mechanisms to help me get it done. But that’s not what I did. I heard about an app that let’s you share and track goals and thought it would be “good” just because it helps you share and track goals and because that is in itself a “good thing”. I think I am obsessed with (or at the very least, attached to) achieving. And apps that help you achieve are “good”. But what am I actually achieving? What is it all working towards?

     

    And so I write this angry post: Goal-setting and achieving targets is bad. Dangerous. Goal-setting should be a means to a purposeful end, but for workaholic, other-oriented, self-esteem-seeking people like myself, it becomes the end in itself. And it is an end which goes nowhere when you lack any sense of what is “good” or purposeful outside of the goal itself.

     

    As of today, instead of setting goals outside of myself for things to get, be or do I am going rather to focus on looking inside and stripping away everything I don’t want to get, be or do. I have always been told that I should create smart goals that are positive and focus on what I want to achieve. But since I now reject goals and don’t really know what I want to achieve, I will just be negative. I will instead focus on what I don’t want and just see where that takes me. Instead of trying to make a pretty garden with no clear vision of what “pretty” is, I am just going to focus on pulling out the weeds.

     

    Maybe when everything is stripped bare and I’m left with nothing to be, have, do or achieve, I’ll know who I really am, what I really want and what can be done.

    I suspect that then I will probably no longer care about goal-setting and achievement.

    Just the garden itself.

     

     

    Gardening for happiness

    A young woman was dissatisfied with her garden. She didn’t find it pretty.

    One day, she stumbled upon the local garden centre and went inside.

    Hearing her unhappiness, the garden centre employee proposed: “Why don’t you add some flowers?”

    So the young lady bought roses and begonias, daffodils to plant and many other varieties of colourful flowers. She went home and planted them and waited a while, but even when all the flowers were in bloom, she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.

     

    Some time later, she went back to the garden-centre. A new employee suggested flowers and the young lady explained what she had already planted. In reply, the new employee said: “Perhaps you could put a bench and some other furniture and ornaments?”

    So the young lady bought a bench, an ornamental watering can, some solar-lighting and many other things to fill up her garden. She went home and put everything in place, sat back and looked at her new garden. But she still wasn’t satisfied. She still didn’t find it pretty.

     

    In despair, she drove back to the garden centre the next day, only to find it shut. As she walked back to her car, she stumbled upon a little old lady and explained her situation. She told how she didn’t find her garden pretty, how dissatisfied she was and all she had done with the flowers and the ornamental furtniture.

    The lady replied: “Why don’t you try a little weeding ?”

     

     

    Experimenting with Dice Life

    I am always “Dan Steer”.
    My preferences, habits and “personality” are recognisably quite stable: “Dan Steer”.
    As I go through life, those things can change. Sometimes slowly and occasionally, or sometimes might I prefer something radically different. I might break an old habit or seem to be happy or sad. But the thin red line remains “Dan Steer”.
    Can this be changed?

     

    Having recently re-read Luke Rhinehart’s book “The Dice Man”, I decided to experiment with other forms of Dan Steer (note, no inverted commas here). In the story, the author is fed up with life and bored of always doing the same things with the same people in the same way. So one evening, he thinks of 6 things he might do and decides to toss the die to see what will be his fate. 2 of the options are normal habitual activities, the other 4 are not (no spoilers here… read the book!). When he casts the die, he is instructed to do something new. As the book progresses, the author realises that in fact, he no longer has one stable “him”: He has become a radically new person made up of all kinds of new preferences, habits and “personality”.

     

    The book evokes the idea that people are always capable of numerous actions, preferences, habits and “personality”. But at any one time, we can only choose one approach. We tend to choose the most comfortable for ourselves going towards what we already prefer and avoiding what we don’t. We repeat whatever actions seemed to work before and, mostly, get the same results.

     

    But what about all those other things we could have done? What about the things we didn’t do? Or didn’t think of? By using the random element of rolling a die, Rhinehart does 3 things which are highly important for self-development and happiness:

    • He thinks a little bit “out-of-the-box”
    • He gives himself permission to do other things which come to mind, but might have been too quickly judged or dismissed as “not best”
    • He does not get stuck on deciding what is “best” or “not best” because any judgement he would make would be made by the normal “him” (preferences, habits and “personality”)

     

    So, I’ve been experimenting with this. Instead of living on autopilot with all my normal behaviour, I have started to introduce a little random dice-life from time-to-time. Now, I am not going to list all the occasions I have already played with, but here’s a few things I decided with the die, rather than just doing my normal thing. Recognise that this is a list of inhabitual things, chosen in a new way:

    • I had a bath with bath-salts, instead of reading email
    • I decided that a quote I was working on would be done gently over 2 days, instead of in 1 twelve hour day
    • I read a bedtime book to the girls (normal). The book was chosen by one daughter (she rolled a 5), we read the book on the bed of my other daughter (who rolled 4), with their mum (3) and no-one was allowed to cry afterwards (the die landed on an even number).
    • I worked in the kitchen, rather than my office.
    • My smallest daughter is no longer afraid of spiders. She rolled an even number and just accepted the result!

     

    None of these things are to me particularly remarkable in themselves (except the last… I’ll come to that). But they are all new options. They are all different iterations of Dan Steer, chosen in place of the standard activity of “Dan Steer”. Here’s what would have happened if “Dan Steer” had decided:

    • I would have read email at 20h30
    • I would have attacked a big important project in the usual “Dan Steer” fashion of “go, go, go” and tried to do it all in one day
    • Either I or my wife would have read one of the same books in the same place, while the other one tidied up dinner and the bathroom
    • I would have worked in my office as usual and I wouldn’t have seen anyone between 9am and 8pm.

     

    What impressed me most was my 4-yr old. She used to say that “she” was afraid of spiders. In my mind, this seems as if the first 4 years of her life had decided already decided how the next 80 to 100 would be. In fact, not even the first 4 years of her life, but the last 30-odd years of her mother’s spider-fearing life, handed down through various screams and “go-and-get-your-father” reactions. When I asked her what she wanted to roll the die for, she replied: “To see if I’m afraid of spiders”. I asked her which numbers would be which outcomes and she gave 2 in 3 chances to “not being afraid” and only a 1 in 3 chance to “being afraid”. Then she rolled. The die said “not afraid” so she is not afraid anymore.

     

    What seems so important to be about all this – the reason I am writing it – is the following:

    • In the case of my 4-year old, the options she gave herself and the possibility given to each had an immediate impact on the outcome she got – be careful how you set and weigh the options for things in your own life
    • I am reminded that each habit or belief has grown out of previous experience, or maybe the experience of others – if you want to kill your sacred cows, start by naming assumptions you have and thinking about where (or who) they come from
    • If you do the same things, you will get the same results – if you are not happy with the results you are getting, change some of the inputs, even randomly
    • If you don’t try it, you can’t (dis)like it – who knows what other sides of you you MIT find when you give yourself permission to drop the usual “you

     

    So, go forth and experiment.

    Or, as Rhinehart would say: “Die will be done”