RFS Blog | by Karl W. Palachuk – Relax Focus Succeed. Learn more at www.relaxfocussucceed.com

CAT | Beliefs

Oct/18

8

Do You Need to Be Done?

I realized a while back that I no longer strive to be “done” with a lot of things.

Some things need to be done, of course. But others are never done.

When I’m writing a book or putting together a new presentation, I love the feeling of making progress. I track it on Excel spreadsheets. I post chapters and share milestones. I love finishing the first draft and moving from the “creating” phase to the editing phase. And even though the post-writing phase is a lot less fun, I push through so I can be done. Done done. Really done. Go-do-something-else done.

But there’s a whole different class of things that are never done. For example, I love paying bills. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve always loved paying all the bills and making payroll. There’s a real sense of accomplishment that I can make enough money to pay down all those bills and have money left over. This used to be more fun back in the days when bills showed up as pieces of paper and were paid with checks in envelopes. Now bills show up electronically and area often paid the same way. Money just sort of magically moves around.

Laundry is another thing that’s never done. It’s always nice to be “done” with laundry. But, unless you do laundry naked, you know it’s never done. There’s always another towel, another pair of pants. I knew someone who was so obsessed with having the laundry done that she ran an entire washer and dryer cycle for one single sock. But of course, later that day, there was more laundry.

You can probably think of many things in your life that are never done. Cooking meals, mowing the lawn, cleaning everything, and getting ready for all the stuff you have to do in the next day, week, or year.

We all have never-ending chores. And we like some more than others.

One of the great lessons of my life is that it’s okay to accept that some things will never be done. When I stop mowing the lawn, it probably means my grass is dead. That’s no good. So mowing the lawn forever is a good thing. And, really, paying bills forever is a good thing. The same is true with filing paperwork, vacuuming, and figuring out what meals I’m going to eat in the week ahead.

At some level, I think it’s a universal human trait to enjoy finishing things. I wonder what that sense of accomplishment does to improve our lives or chances for survival. Is there an evolutionary reason that we are motivated to both start and complete projects? I can’t think of any. But I do think this is a universal human trait. I don’t think birds have a sense of accomplishment when they add the last twig to a nest, or fish when they swim to the place of their birth. For them it’s just a thing they do.

So I’ve divided my accomplishments into two types: Those with “Done” as a legitimate goal, and those that will never be done. And I’m at peace when certain things are never done and never will be.

Now, excuse me while I load the dishwasher.

:-)

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There are many fields I wish I had studied more in college. The brain is one of them. Of course, when I was in college, we knew about 1/10th of what we know today.

 

Aside from being an efficient chemical factory for producing hormones that affect happiness, pleasure, body control, and mood, the brain is a masterful collection of information systems and sub-systems. One of my favorite sub-systems is called the reticular activating system. The reticular formation is a set of interconnected nuclei that are located throughout the brain stem. The ascending reticular activating system (RAS) represents a series of connections made between the brain stem and the higher parts of the brain.

The RAS is an miraculous system for controlling habits and perceptions in humans. On one hand, it affects the way you see the world, filtering millions of stimuli into a few things you pay attention to. On the other hand, it reinforces behavior and beliefs. So, for example, we tend to filter out information that doesn’t fit our current beliefs. (This should help explain a great deal of the political discussion on Facebook.)

Here’s the coolest part as far as I’m concerned: the RAS does a lot of work automatically (controlling automated functions of the body, filtering information, helping your sleep, etc .), but it can also be manipulated by your intentions. And when that happens, your intentions can become magnified very powerfully. Here’s what I mean.

Every’s had the experience of buying a car and then seeing that car all over town. Those cars were always driving all over town: You just didn’t notice them because you didn’t care. You have to filter out virtually everything you’re exposed to or you would not be able to function. The RAS does that filtering. At the same time, you can choose to focus on specific things. You can tune into the color blue, or BMWs, or plastic ducks. Most of the time, these “choices” are unconscious. They just happen. But you can make conscious choices to focus on specific information.

Let’s try an example. You may have heard of the concept of block chain. Block chain is a cool new technology for creating secure transactions. It’s going to be widely used very soon. Many companies are investing in block chain. Say the words out loud: Block Chain.

There. I’ve told you almost nothing about block chain. But I’ve planted the seed in your consciousness. You’ve probably heard the phrase block chain before, but you have not paid attention to it unless there’s a reason to. Now, I’ve dragged it out of the background fog and into the forefront of your attention. Watch over the next 1-2 days and you will probably see or hear the phrase block chain. This phrase has been floating around, just outside your consciousness. Now it will become more visible for a short time.

“Short time” is key here. If you have no reason to pay attention to block chain, this raised consciousness will fade quickly – precisely because it has no value in your life.

Now consider something else. Perhaps you want to grow your business, lose weight, learn a new skill, get your garden into shape, or any other goal. If you take time to bring that goal into your conscious brain, the RAS will recognize that it has value for you . . . and begin focusing on it more and more. The RAS becomes an amplifier for your goals.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had a “great” business idea that flashed into my head. I took time to sit down, write out notes, make some drawings, and maybe even do some calculations. In other words, I focused very heavily on this idea for an hour or so. And guess what? All day the next day, it seems that every conversation helps promote that idea. People pop into my head that might be able to help me. The radio has a story about something that affect this. And so forth.

The point is: Once I choose to give an idea a certain amount of attention, the RAS helps me give it more and more attention.

Now, if you practice this regularly, your RAS will help you amplify your focus. But only for a short period of time . . . until you continually choose to focus more. If you keep focusing on the subject again and again, your RAS will renew it’s attention more and more. It’s a lot like cramming your way through on online course. You can ignore it for awhile and your brain will have no reason to put attention on it. But when you buckle down and study every day, your brain redoubles your efforts . . . and begins working on the problem in the background when your are not even aware that your brain is working on your behalf.

All success comes back to the concept of focus. In my book Relax Focus Succeed, I say that you get better at whatever you put your attention on. Other people have said things like, “Whatever you put your attention on expands.” That’s absolutely true. You can spend your days responding to the random stimuli of the universe, or you can choose to focus your attention – And your good friend the reticular activating system help you focus even more.

:-)

 

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In his book Good to Great, Jim Collins starts with the premise that Good is the enemy of Great.

The argument is that it takes a lot of hard work and organization to create a good company, hire good employees, have good policies, etc. And once all that hard work is done, people have a natural tendency to feel good about the good company they have created. And so they stop trying to improve beyond the “good” they have.

In order to achieve greatness, companies need to move past the good. They need to strive for greatness and not be satisfied with Good.

In this video I discuss how you can apply this to your personal life. After all, many of us have achieved many good things – personally and professionally. But if we’re happy with that, we might miss the opportunity to take ourselves to the next level and become Great in some areas of our life.

You know the things you do well, and the things where you are really good. You might even have a few things in your life where you know you’re great. Now, consider where else you can move from good to great in your life.

:-)

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Jan/17

21

Rude vs. Unsafe?

A recent trip to Key West, FL, highlighted an interesting truth about branding. In the big picture, branding is about every single thing your business does. It’s not just your logo or your slogan. It’s how you deliver service, how you treat people, how you manage money, how you maintain systems, etc.

In Key West, there are no good options for taxi service. There are two primary companies – pink and yellow. There are smaller companies, but it might be a long wait for a cab. There are no Uber or Lyft services.

The “pink” cab company has a very abrupt (sometimes rude) dispatcher. When you call, she grumbles one word: “Cab!” No matter what you say, she has a standard second response: “How many?!?” which she delivers as if she’s pissed off that you’re bothering her. Her third and final interaction is always the same. She barks the order “Stay there!”

So a typical interaction for a jovial vacationer goes like this:

“Cab!”

“Good afternoon. We’re at ABC store on Duval Street. We would like to get a cab.”

“How many?!?”

“There are two of us. We’d like to go to . . .”

“Stay there!”

Then she never hangs up. You can just here her answer the next call: “Cab!”

Note: the actual cab drivers for pink are generally friendly. The cabs are new-ish and in great shape. They tend to be boxy and a big hard to climb into if you have old knees. But it’s a very pleasant ride.
After a few cab rides, we decided to try yellow. Much nicer. The dispatcher is clearly in a good mood. Sometimes they even ask if it’s our first day in Key West. They are engaging.

Unfortunately, the yellow cabs are typical American cabs: Old, no shock absorbers, not particularly clean, and the seat belts don’t always work. Bottom line: It feels unsafe. One driver was particularly crazy. The island is only two miles by four miles, so you don’t really need to speed through the side streets or run lights.
After a few rides with each company, we would ask each other, “Who should we call? Rude or Unsafe?” We had narrowed down our options to one word for each company. And our experiences were quite consistent. In fact, one time we called the yellow company by accident. Thinking we had called the pink company, I commented on how congenial the dispatcher was. Then yellow car rolled up and I checked my phone. Ooops.

Eventually, we just decided that it was easier to put up with abrupt/rude than dangerous/unsafe.

And both companies are good examples of why Uber and Lyft exist!

:-)

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Dec/16

19

The Value of Free is Overrated

I’m amazed at the behavior differences between giving something away for free versus charging something – anything.

My city recently passed an ordinance (and the State of California did as well) that requires stores to charge ten cents for grocery bags. Now, people can either bring their own, buy an expensive bag, or get a cheap bag for ten cents. When you think about paying $50 or $100 or $150 for a shopping trip, spending a few cents on bags seems irrelevant. But the change in behavior has been dramatic!

There are basically three approaches to the change. First, many people don’t take bags at all. They just put all the stuff back in the cart and then transfer it to their trunk. Some of them do this because they forgot to take bags from their car into the store. So they end up bagging their own groceries in the parking lot.

Second, many people buy fancy bags with handles that can be reused indefinitely – for $1-$3 each. In other words, they avoid paying ten cents by paying three dollars. Then, as often as not, they forget these bags in their trunk and buy more. Or bag their groceries in the parking lot.

Third, some people simply pay for the bags they use. After all, with a shopping cart full of groceries, the price you paid this week versus last week could easily go up or down one dollar in total. So the cost for two or three bags at ten cents each is lost altogether in the mix. Personally, I would have predicted that most people would fall into this category. In fact, almost everyone is in one of the first two categories.

With the cost of little things like chewing gum and candy at the checkout lane, you would think people would spend zero effort worrying about a ten cent bag. But that’s not the case at all. An entire industry of exotic reusable bags has sprung up. People’s behavior has changed overnight.

One of the things that always irritated me with the old system was that too many bags were used. Baggers double-bagged a lot when it wasn’t necessary. Now we’ve gone in the other direction. Paper bags that cost ten cents are jam packed to the rim with cans and bottles that are far too heavy for the bag. I have to tell them to use more bags and try not to sound like a jerk when I say that I’ll spring for the ten cents!

 

Professionals and “Free” Events

I attend a lot of meetings. The common wisdom is that you have to register a lot of people for free events – because 30-50% of those who registered will not show up. This is true even if there’s free food. Some events just have coffee and donuts. Others have actual meals. Some include breakfast, breaks, lunch, dinner, and a reception. Still, fifty percent of those who registered don’t show up!

At the same time, events that cost money are well attended. People rarely pay to get into an event and then fail to show up. Some are still no-shows, but it’s more like one percent, not fifty. Hence one of the new trends for “free” events is to charge a fee like $99 before the event – and you get it back when you attend. This has worked well for some organizations.

I belong to a local business Meetup (see www.meetup.com). It was growing and growing every month. Eventually, this free event grew to have 60-70 people at every meeting. As you can imagine, there aren’t many free meeting spaces that large. So eventually the organizer decided to charge $5 per person so she could rent a meeting room and have a guaranteed meeting place each month.

Attendance dropped to about a dozen people the next month! I was amazed. These are business people who were unwilling to invest $5 in their own business – even though everyone raved about how great the meetings were. Over time, people came back. But the nature of the crowd changed.

The crowds grew back to about 40-50 people per meeting. But the people who showed up were much more professional. After all, they were willing to invest a little in their own business development!

Just charging “something” gets you a more serious following than charging nothing.

 

The So-Called Internet Economy

One of the great fallacies of the new-ish economy is the idea that you can build an audience with people who get stuff for free and turn them into buyers. This strategy has proven false again and again.

The idea of the original internet bubble of the 1990’s was that a product or service would take over a market by giving everything away for free. Then, once they dominated, they would start to charge. One by one, virtually everyone who tried this failed. Look at the grocery bag example.

Even if something is pretty much required, there are people who will work really hard to avoid spending even ten cents on it.

Today we see a lot of online products that have a free version and a paid version. The free version has advertising, or nags you all the time, or is missing the coolest features. Still, 70% of people who download apps never pay for anything. The crippled, nagging, advertisement-riddled version is good enough for them!

Personally, I avoid free products. For tiny payments (ten cents, ninety-nine cents, of even $19.95) I get the real deal. The developer gets a little money so they can stay in business. I have someone to contact when things go wrong. Personally, for me, the tiny bits I pay give me a much richer experience.
Where do you draw the line? When is the free version “good enough” for you?

And more importantly, what does that say about your bigger picture of the world?

Something to think about.

:-)

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Jul/16

21

Reduce Travel Stress

My latest RFS video is posted now.

I recorded it while traveling. It was a very stressful travel day for many people. It was the day Southwest Airlines’ computers failed and they had to ground their entire fleet for some time.

Even under normal circumstances, many people create travel stress because they start with a crowded schedule. They leave no room for error. That’s great in a perfect world. Well, I assume it is, but we don’t live in a perfect world.

Learn how you might add an attitude of Slow Down, Get More Done into your travel.

 

Like it if you like it!

And please subscribe to my channel so you don’t miss any future videos.

:-)

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Over the last year I’ve consumed a large number of books on habits. Creating habits, breaking habits, good habits, bad habits, etc.

3d-businessman-with-the-brain-exposed_M1KbxcAOIt’s interesting how much we focus on the physical side of habits. For example, in your morning routine. You probably do the same things in the same order almost every day of your life. SO: Adding a new habit to that routine is difficult. You’ve created a box of time and packed it full of things that need to be done within that time. So it’s hard to wedge one more thing into the box.

Those things are physical. Get up. Got to the bathroom. Make coffee. Brush teeth. Activity. Activity. Activity.

Mental activities are also habits. And one could argue they are harder to recognize and harder to change. It takes a certain mindfulness to examine yourself in real time and explore what you’re thinking.

For example, when I’m given advice to change something in my life, I am immediately resistant. It doesn’t matter whether the change is large or small. It doesn’t even matter if it comes from a stranger or a trusted friend who is extremely knowledgeable on the subject. The strange thing is: I’m surprisingly open to recommendations and criticism. Even in my mastermind groups, I have to remind people that I’m far more open than I appear to be.

So my first reaction is resistance, followed by contemplation when I’m alone and don’t have to worry about the responses of others. Then I try to look at the advice I’ve been given. And very often I take that advice. But I still acknowledge my mental habit of resisting as a first response.

Think about your mental self-talk. Is there a lot of “I’m not good enough” or “I need to change …” talk inside your head? Those are patterns. They are habits of thinking. Spend an hour trying to keep track of where your mind wanders and your first responses to things. After all, you’re awake most of your life and your brain is always working. What’s it working on?

Mental habits are hard to change. Unlike physical habits (which are also hard to change), mental triggers are harder to spot sometimes. If a driver cuts you off and you become angry or judgmental, it’s easy to see the trigger. But what about if you’re just walking down the street or driving peacefully and your brain starts chattering on about all the problems in your life? What was the trigger? How do you step back from the current mindset and try to find the trigger?

When changing a physical habit, we first recognize the trigger. For example, stepping into the line at the grocery store. Let’s say that as soon as you do that, you start eyeing the candy bars and virtually always end up throwing one in the cart. Recognizing that trigger can help you choose to attach a different activity as your response. Maybe you’ll grab sugarless gum. Maybe look at the magazines instead. Or maybe you’ll go in the quick-check line with no candy bars.

The point is, you recognize the trigger-response-reward and begin building a different habit. You start to lay down a different response and reward.

Now consider a mental example. What triggers judgmental attitudes? What is your mental response? What’s the reward? It takes quite a bit of work to identify your responses and rewards – especially if they are purely mental.

If you’re interested in exploring this, I recommend a two-step process. First, spend some quiet time each morning thinking about thinking. Relax, quiet your mind with a few deep breaths. Then just pay attention to the thoughts that wander into your brain. When you recognize a thought, label it. For example, say the word Happy. Then set that thought aside and wait for the next. Label it. Perhaps Hungry or Tired or Frustrated. The interesting thing about our brains is that they never stop. There will always be another thought. It might be a memory, a plan, a worry, or a distraction because a bird flew by.

The goal is to teach yourself to identify your thoughts. You have millions of them every day. And if you’ve never spent time recognizing them, then you won’t be good at it. So the first step is to identify the kinds of thoughts you have. What does a positive thought look like? Or a negative one. Or a self-blaming one. etc. All of that work takes place while you are sitting quietly, trying to simply observe your self.

(The oft-quoted numbers of 50,000-80,000 thoughts per day are literally just made up numbers that got repeated again and again. We don’t have a way to measure how many thoughts we have. But even a little research suggests that it’s much higher than the mythical number.)

The second step is to practice labeling your thoughts as you go through your day. When that driver cuts you off, what goes through your brain? You clearly have a choice about how you react. Your thoughts and reactions are not outside your control. BUT you do have a mental habit of response. Without thinking about it, you have laid down a pattern of response.

You can literally observe yourself as if you are outside yourself. Watch the driver cut you off. Then STOP your brain from responding. Now choose. As you watch yourself respond, try to identify the reward. How does anger or frustration or judgement serve you in this context? What’s the reward? And remember: In the world of the mental, the reward is probably mental. Satisfaction, self-righteousness, fear, anger, pity. Something inside you gets value from a specific mental response. What is it?

Once you recognize the trigger, response, and reward, you can decide whether you want to keep responding in that way. It may be that the answer is yes. It may actually make you feel better and contribute to your happiness. If that’s the case, you are now more fully aware of that.

But if you want to change your response, you also have that choice. For example, you could simply choose to be amused by the driver who cuts you off. Maybe you’ll enjoy pondering whether you’ll catch up to him at the next light. Now you can start to build a new habit. When someone cuts you off, you can slow down a bit and choose to be amused. Your reward is tiny bit of happiness. And if the drivers where you live are anything like the drivers where I live, you’ll have lots of opportunities to practice your new pattern of trigger-response-reward!

One of my favorite sayings is Slow Down, Get More Done. This is another example of that. After all, if you choose to, you can choose how you respond to every little thing in your life.

Habits got you where you are. Habits will get you wherever else you want to be.

:-)

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I had a conversation with someone the other day about meditation. He expressed a very common belief: I tried that and it didn’t work for me.

I couldn’t help wondering, “What do you mean by try?”Yoga Pose

Whether it’s meditation, exercise, playing the piano, learning a new language, or anything else, you can’t try once. Trying has to mean that you give it a real effort. If I try to do something once I am virtually guaranteed to fail (or be very bad at it). You can almost never do something right the first time.

On the flip side, if I work at something for an hour every day, I am virtually guaranteed to get good at it. That’s true of speaking a new language, learning a new exercise, wood carving, or anything else. You get good at whatever you put your attention on.

I’m a big believer in daily meditation. And guess what? I have trouble quieting my mind – even after sixteen years of meditating almost every day. I have trouble slowing down. I have trouble emptying my mind. I have trouble sitting still. I have trouble getting comfortable.

BUT I know how. I know what it feels like when my mind begins to calm down. I recognize that because I’ve experienced it thousands of times.

Another friend of mine posted something on Facebook a few days ago. He was starting a new I.T. project and referenced one of my books on project management. He referred to the “muscles of success” regarding projects. Those are the good habits that keep your project on track, on time, and under budget. Just like anything else, consistent activity becomes a habit – even making a profit!

Take stock the next time you decide to “try” something. Trying once is essentially useless. If you’re gonig to try, you need to commit to enough attempts to actually understand and make a little progress. Don’t quit after one attempt and say you tried.

:-)

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If you’re like me, you can get the same advice over and over for years and it doesn’t sink in – until the time is right. That’s why I read all the “success” literature I can. I read to keep thinking about changes in my life until it’s personal for me.

I took a lot of statistics in graduate school. There was a recurring phenomenon with stats: I never truly, completely understood the math from one course until I had to apply it in the next course. I wasn’t alone in this. Many people found that taking a second semester stats class from a different professor than their first semester helped them understand more. And it didn’t matter which was first or second. It as a different way of explaining the math that made the difference.

hand-drawn-brain-book1kIt’s also the case that the first course prepared our minds for the next. One started laying down the pathways and the next started building the knowledge in a meaningful way. Your personal success is very much like this. You have to lay down the foundation before you can start building. When it comes to changing yourself and your habits, that means you might hear a message a hundred time – or a thousand times – before you decide that you really need to take action.

Success will never come until you internalize your commitment to your own self-improvement. This is because success is hard at the beginning. You have to change your habits, your knowledge, and your commitments. Then you begin the actual work of changing yourself.

Let’s look at how those three things are inter-connected. Knowledge is the easiest piece of the toolkit. You can listen to audio programs and read books all day and all night. You “know” you need to get up early, spend quiet time planning your day, exercise, eat right, set goals, focus on them, and execute.

You “know” all that but it’s all meaningless external knowledge until you make a commitment to change your life.

Some people spend years educating themselves on success but never take action until something suddenly makes sense and then the commitments start falling into place. Others start doing without commitment. In other words, they start following the formula even though they haven’t internally accepted that it really will change their lives.

Believe it or not, this also works. If you get in the habit of getting up early, it will make the habit of quiet time easier. If you get in the habit of exercising, it will make the habit of eating right easier. One by one you can adopt all the habits of success until one by one they are meaninful to you.

Knowledge doesn’t come overnight. Neither do habits nor commitments. But if you practice these things, you will eventually achieve them.

Remember: Nothing happens by itself. You have to work on your success. If you don’t work on your self-improvement, it won’t happen. Period.

Just like athletic development, you need to work on your self-improvement until it becomes real for you. One way to do that is to read and consume self-help books and blogs. The habits you execute without commitment will gradually help you become the person who is ready for success. One by one you will internalize these habits and see exactly how they contribute to your success.

Eventually things will start to click and you will develop a true commitment to each habit. So keep reading. Keep listening. Start doing the things successful people do. The more you do these things the more you prepare yourself for success.

Nothing happens by itself.

:-)

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Very often we use the analogy of paths and destinations as if they’re tied together. You know, “You can’t reach your destination if you’re not on the right path.”

Well that’s just not true.

Trying to walk someone else's path to your goals can never bring success or happiness.

Trying to walk someone else’s path to your goals can never bring success or happiness.

Trying to walk someone else’s path to your goals can never bring success or happiness.

Trying to walk someone else’s path to your goals can never bring success or happiness.

First, the world is a big round ball. So you can go around in any direction and eventually get where you’re going. Second, we get to choose how we travel. Some people never travel by air. They choose trains, boats, and cars instead. Their experience is different but their destination can be the same.

Third, we all have experience with GPS (global position satellites) these days. We can set the device for foot travel, bicycle travel, car travel, or mass transit. In “car” mode we can choose to avoid toll roads or even avoid freeways altogether.

We have the same freedom in choosing the path to our personal success and fulfillment. Often, the advice we hear sounds as if there’s only one path to success: Work your butt off. In fact, recently there’s been a backlash against the advice to lead a balanced life. Some people literally advise you to work yourself at a heart-attack pace until you achieve what you want. Then you can have balance when you get old.

Of course you may never get there (to be successful or old).

I work a lot with technology consultants. I help them develop successful business processes and habits. I’m always amazed at how many ways there are to implement this advice – or ignore it altogether and be successful anyway.

Remember: Success is achieving YOUR goals – not someone else’s goals. Not society’s goals for you. Your goals for you.

A huge piece of that is maximizing what you enjoy. The least interesting goals are money related. Yes, you need money. Yes, you need to save for retirement. But you also need to live for today and find joy and fulfillment in your work and in your play.

So don’t worry about being off the path, or being on the wrong path. Create your own path. Figure out how YOU want to reach your goals. Trying to walk someone else’s path to your goals can never bring success or happiness.

:-)

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