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

CAT | Patience

Reality is an interesting concept. Sometimes I think I’m the master at being mis-understood. Why? Because I work a lot with people who aren’t like myself. They interpret the world differently than I do.

Reality has three components:

– Events, actions, or statements
– Context (other things going on more or less at the same time)
– Interpretation

The most important of these is the last: Interpretation. This is true because the interpreter takes the input and the context and “translates” these into her reality.

Notice, also, what’s missing: Intention. The intended reality is important to the person who wishes to be understood, but plays no direct role in whether or not he is understood.

– – – – –

A few months back, my daughter moved away to college. So I moved out of the big, big house into a small apartment. In the big, big house I had a walk-in pantry that was larger than the entire kitchen in my apartment.

The first time my daughter came to visit, she looked at some Cup-a-Soups on top of the refrigerator and said “Oh my God, are you living on ramen noodles?” I said NO, I just didn’t have any other place to put them.

The next time she came to visit I had just been shopping. There were some granola bars on the kitchen counter. And she said, “I hope you’re not living on granola bars.” No. Of course not. But the cupboards are full and I don’t have any place to put them.

You see, my reality didn’t really figure into her perception of my reality.

I always think it’s interesting to contemplate how we all interact with one another even though we have completely different understandings about how the world works. Sometimes it’s a miracle that we “communicate” at all.

As I mentioned, I always lose the battle of relying on what I *intended* someone to see or hear. I didn’t mean to insult you, but I did. I didn’t mean to suggest something, but I did.

The only salvation I have on this front is that, over time, people learn that I’m well-intentioned. So when something could be interpreted more than one way (in their opinion), they begin to give me the benefit of the doubt. Whew!

Just remember that we’re all interpreting our world. And we don’t always realize it.

So try to be generous and kind as you translate your environment into meaningful information.

Most people are well-intentioned most of the time. Assume so and the world will be a better place.


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Last week my daughter Victoria (age 17.9 years) embarked on an adventure. The plan was to spend three days in New York City just seeing the sights, then hop over to England and Scotland for a week. She has two weeks for Spring Break and this is her senior year.

We had plans for the first night and the last night in the UK, but nothing in between. We had Britrail passes and tube passes, so we were set to just go. Our plan was to wake up every day and figure out what to do that day.

In this modern era it is very easy to hop on the internet and find a hotel at a good price on short notice.

Note: This approach takes a certain willingness to believe that you will be okay and that things will work themselves out. I have been cultivating that spirit for some time.

Meditation helps, as does an actual commitment to being a low stress person.

I believe you can always choose how you will respond to your environment. Sometimes it’s easier than others. The more planning you have, the easier it is. But, as the saying goes, sometimes life gives you lemons and you have to make lemonade.

So here’s what happened to our vacation plans.

After three fun days in New York City, we went to the airport to catch an all-night flight to England and arrive at 8:30 AM. But my daughter could not get on the airplane because of a problem with her passport.

Stop. Vacation gone. Plane departing in two hours. Fix it or forget it.

At this point some people would add: Panic.

I was a little panicky, of course. But I decided a long time ago that I’m not the kind of person who blows up, yells and screams, abuses the person behind the counter, etc. I tried to stay calm, gathered the information I could.

It quickly became clear that I could not solve this tonight and we were going to miss the plane. Period. Nothing we could do about that. We could contact the passport office in New York or Connecticut. Quick phone call. NY was a seven day wait. No good. Connecticut might get us in within 8 business hours in an emergency. And might get a new passport within 8 business hours. But that means 1-2 more days in NYC with 1-2 days sitting around a government office, just so we could spend a day flying to England to continue the vacation.

We decided to do England another time. The next question was: Do we go home or reboot the vacation?

Important factor: My daughter only gets one spring break her senior year in high school.

So where do you want to go? The entire East Coast is at your disposal. Or we could rent a car and drive home, seeing the sights. Or take trains and see America. Or whatever.

We decided to catch the next flight to Florida and spend time in the sun. Went online and booked one-way airfare. Cheap, even at the last minute. Thank goodness for the Internet.

Total elapsed time since vacation destroyed: about 60 minutes.

Was I happy about the situation? No. But I had decided to NOT panic, NOT make it a disaster, and NOT focus on what I can’t control.

Yes, it will cost a lot of money. But we can use those Britrail passes another time. And we had almost no other out of pocket expenses except airfare. Called the airline and cancelled. They’re rebating a good portion of what we paid.

And here’s the key: We can’t control what we can’t control!

The mindset of not wasting energy on things you can’t control is a mindset that you can practice. You can create that approach to life.

The mindset of creating lemonade when life gives you lemons is a mindset that you can practice.

You get to choose how you will respond to the world.

I hope that my daughter will love the new vacation we are creating and that she will always take the attitude of slowing down and looking on the positive side when things go wrong.

“Stuff” happens in life. You can make yourself miserable and dive into the well of dispair, or you can pick up the lemons and start making lemonade.

Daily quiet time, meditation, and prayer go a long way to making this possible.

Status Report: We just finished three days in Orlando. We’re working our way through the Disney parks. On Sunday we’re heading to Church (It’s Easter) and then off to Daytona Beach. We got a nice hotel ON the beach for $46/night. Thank goodness for the Internet.

We’ll head home when we had planned. It won’t be the vacation we planned, but it’s been a Great vacation and a great adventure so far.


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Nothing Grows in a Straight Line – Even People

No one is surprised when they see that plants don’t grow straight. Plant a squash or a vine and see what it does. If you want it to grow straight, you’ll need to use tent stakes to staple it’s tentacles to the earth.

If fact, it’s almost laughable when you see what people do with trees and bushes. In the “wild” they’re wild. They have a beauty and spontaneity of their own. But under the skilled hands of humans they spend most of their lives staked down and roped into place. They look alike, similar, and uniform — and boring.

But somewhere along the road we get the idea that other things should grow in a straight line. The economy should go up and up and up. Better every year. Faster. Richer.

And when the inevitable slowdown or “crash” happens, we step back and tell each other that it had to happen eventually. You can’t go up forever. House prices can’t go up forever. Stock prices can’t go up forever. Profits can’t go up forever.

Businesses have good years and bad years. Things go up. Things go down. Sometime things even go sideways.

And what about we humans?

Well, we certainly don’t grow in a straight line either.

When you set a goal, you’re eager to go right to it. And we all know you need to focus on that goal and always be moving toward it. But then you find out that there’s a stumbling block or detour.

Very often it’s the case that we need to stop and go get some education. Learn how something works, or who the players are. And while this detour is necessary, we’re not very patient with it because it draws us “off course.”

The truth is, when you’re evolving as a person or a business, you’re only off course if you lose sight of the ultimate goal. Side tours and missteps are part of the process. You can never go in a straight line. The longer you live (or are in business), the more you believe this truth.

In my business we have a philosophy about major projects:
“Something’s going to go wrong. We don’t know what it is, but we’ll find it and fix it.”

Basically, our philosophy is that we’re going to be 100% successful. Why? Because we never lose the big plan.

As individuals we would do well to take the same approach. You might think you’re going to go down a perfect path to a perfect goal. But you won’t. You can’t. Life steps in . . . and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

We’re all going to grow in a twisting, turning, slanted way. Accepting that will help us to understand the path we’re on, and to forgive ourselves when we realize we’re not growing straight. Keep your “eyes on the prize” as they say and you’ll eventually grow to where you need to be. But don’t insist on a straight path or you’ll spend a lot of energy worrying about the path instead of the goal.


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I’m a big fan of Quiet Time. That might be meditation, prayer, or just sitting in the back yard watching the birds as the sun comes up.

And I’ve written on several occasions about how I’ve solved problems through Quiet Time. But some people confuse these activities.

Meditation/Prayers/Quiet Time is not an active attempt to solve a problem. It is not intended as a time for you to sit down and think about your problems or attempt to come up with an answer.

Quiet Time is a process of training your mind to escape from the noise of everyday life. Stop the whirring engine that’s constantly juggling problems from work and home. Stop worrying about finances. Stop planning the next picnic. Stop analyzing the news.

Stop twittering and instant messaging and the “always on” communication.

Let me give you two relevant quotes:

“Accessing wisdom requires little more than the confidence in knowing that when you quiet your mind, your mind isn’t turned off.”
–Richard Carlson

“One of the strange laws of the contemplative life is that in it you do not sit down and solve problems: You bear with them until they solve themselves.”
— Thomas Merton

We all get overwhelmed from time to time. I’ve been working through some problems in my personal life recently. And after years of spending time praying and meditating, I find it hard to do sometimes.

Problems beg to be solved. But at some point, your conscious mind has done all it can do.

It takes persistence and practice to sit down and NOT think about problems. The closer you can get to thinking about nothing, the more your mind has a chance to put all the puzzle pieces back together.

When you try really, really hard to solve a problem, you add force and tension to the issue. Relaxing and taking a step back will allow that tension to subside.

It seems to me that many problems exist because I have build a shell around myself. I have a public image, or a boss image, or a parent image. I want certain things to happen, even if I can’t articulate why.

And that shell is not ME. It is just outside of who I am. Many “problems” are really just a realization that there’s too much space between the real me and the shell I’ve built around myself.

As a result, problem solving doesn’t consist merely of action on my part, but of a realization that I need to relax and let that shell dissolve. What’s left is me. And I’ll build another shell. If I’m lucky it will be a lot closer to who I am than the last shell.

. . .

And all of this is a lot harder than you might think!

In other words, sitting in a chair doing nothing may be the hardest work you do all day!

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Reflective Communications

A few posts back I talked a bit about how the sender and the receiver each affect the messages that pass between them.

If you haven’t read John Gray’s book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus, you should. In addition to explaining some obvious truths about the species, the book is chock full of examples of communications gone bad.

The simplest phrase can get lost in the human communication process.

The sender and receiver each add attitude, mood, experience, and a dozen other factors to every communication we have. It’s one thing to try to communicate feedback. But innocent little phrases get miscommunicated just as easily.

“That’s a good job.”

“What does he mean? Don’t I always do a good job? I’m such a failure that you have to point out to everyone when I do a good job! You never tell anyone else that they do a good job: Are you getting ready to fire me?”

– – – – –

It would be convenient if everyone just believed every word you say with no interpretation or reading between the lines.

But, alas, they have a lifetime of their experiences, plus whatever personal history with you. These things create filters through which all communications take place.

This is true in personal relationships, business relationships, online communications, in groups, one-on-one, and in every other human interaction.

A few years ago our company decided to let clients know that we really appreciate it when they pay on time. As a small business, this makes a big difference for us. So we drafted a memo and sent it on its way.

Wow! What an uproar. Several clients called to complain. They’d always paid their bills on time. They didn’t need to be told . . . etc.

Others didn’t even notice the communication. They said it was like the generic pages full of notices that show up with credit card privacy inserts. In other words, it was meaningless communication.

So how do you learn to communicate with a variety of people?

Most of us do pretty well. But there’s only one way to be sure that your communication is successful: Ask.

That is, simply reflect back to the other person what you heard them say. I try to do this with clients, especially regarding action items during a meeting.

At the end of a meeting, say something like, “Here’s what I understand that we agreed on . . ..”

In conversation, try “I heard you say . . ..”
What ensues is a back-and-forth conversation that may be a little uncomfortable at times. After all, you’re going to express what you heard. The other person may well say No, that’s not what they said.

After a little back and forth, you’ll both agree on what was said and what you each want.

And the next conversation will be a little more comfortable.

It would be great if communication were always perfect, or at least easy. But you have to remember that everyone involved is human.


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A Busy Mind is not a Disorder

Let me be very clear here: I’m not a doctor. I don’t play one on TV. I don’t hand out medical advice. I just find myself thinking about the world around me and I can’t help “thinking outloud” on the web.

I’ve heard the term “ADHD” — Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder — but I’m not entirely sure whether I believe it’s a disorder or just the far end of a normal distribution.

The concept of a “normal distribution” tells us that 68% of something is within one standard deviation of the mean. That means things are bunched up in the middle. The average person is average. The average IQ is average. The average ability to focus your attention on something is average.

95% of the population is within two standard deviations from the mean. and 99.7% of the population is within three standard deviations from the mean.

That means, if you’re outside the “norm” for any given trait or behavior, you don’t have to be very far outside to be very different from everyone else. I don’t know if that’s a disorder.

But if you’re a good notch or two different in a trait that affects lots of other things, then the way you process and interact with the rest of the world will also be different.

Not wrong. But different.

– – – – –

Any trait that’s a bit out of the norm (on either end of the scale) can affect your ability to succeed, learn, get along with others, etc.

I’ve written before about Success and the “Monkey Mind.” Monkey mind is a term we use to describe a busy, fast mind. We have so many thoughts rushing in on us that we can’t straighten them all out.

I am blessed (and cursed) with a monkey mind. When I go for my walk in the morning, I almost always come back with an idea for a new book, a new business adventure, a solution to a problem, etc. The problem is: I have hundreds of ideas per day. When I filter them, I think maybe five are really good ideas. One might be a great business adventure.

But this happens every day. Most of these thoughts don’t contribute to anything. And I already own enough businesses. I’m constantly being tempted away from the business in front of me because the next great adventure seems so exciting.

This monkey mind makes it hard to concentrate, hard to pray, hard to meditate, hard to relax, hard to sleep. I need to shut my mind “off” sometimes in order to relax and actually get something accomplished.

In the real world, there are no bonus points for having lots of ideas, even good ideas.

As a result, people with very busy minds are often less “successful” than people with a more normally-paced minds.

At the other end of the spectrum are people whose minds are less busy than the norm. I’m not talking about people who are “slow” or mentally retarded. Just one or two standard deviations from the norm. They simply don’t have an onslaught of new ideas every day.

In many ways, they are more likely to find success because they are not distracted every day.

Remember, you don’t have to be very different from the great masses to seem very different.

– – – – –

Here’s the thing about success: Whether you have too many new ideas, or not enough, the solution is the same.

To be successful, you need to put your time, effort, and energy into a few key behaviors.

First is Delay of Gratification

Second is Patience

Third is Activity — don’t procrastinate

Fourth is Focus. Focus like a laser beam on your goals.

The result of these behaviors is someone who gets up every day and works hard on the handful of things that really matter. They lead you to work very hard on the things that you know are successful. They keep you from being distracted by new adventures.

The starting place, whether you need to quiet your mind or focus your energy, is daily quiet time. Mornings are best because you focus your energy before you start your day.

So whether you’re smack dab in the middle, or a little bit different from the great masses, the starting place for success is the same: spend some time thinking about where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

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Silas Marner in the Workplace

If you haven’t read the book Silas Marner by George Eliot, check it out. It’s a good Summer read.

The title character is well known for sitting alone in his house, with the windows shuttered, and counting his gold. Night after night Silas Marner counted his gold.

When we read that part of the book, our mind naturally thinks about an old man hunched over his table, counting his money night after night. In fact, Silas doesn’t know that he has many years ahead of him.

As with any good novel, the book has intrigue, crime, emotions run amok, love, and redemption. Silas will lose his fortune, but have his soul reborn due to the love of an abandoned child.

When we employ the imagery of Silas Marner, it’s of someone who has become obsessed with counting their gold. They define success as wealth. And so they isolate themselves from others, afraid of getting too close, concerned that everyone is after their share of the money.

Unfortunately, we have modern equivalents to Silas in the business world today.

Some people, as they become successful in business, also become so obsessed with this distorted view of “wealth” that they close themselves off from their family, their friends, and (in the business world) their clients and employees. They look at their accomplishments and somehow conclude that they got their on their own.

When this happens, they begin to act as if they’re at the end of the story. That there’s nothing left to do but count their gold. But unless they’re on their deathbed, it’s not the end. If you achieve financial success at middle age, you have many years, and many adventures ahead.

In the real world, these folks begin alienating those who would be their friends. They treat every relationship and every interaction as if it were about money. Sometimes business is about money. But when business is only about money, it is very dissatisfying.

I’ve known people who became “successful” in this regard and who changed from being fun to being bitter and alienated. Their children don’t want to spend time with them; their employees can’t stand them and have zero loyalty; and their clients and vendors just seem to go somewhere else one at a time.

In the novel, Silas learns his lessons, re-joins the community, raises a child, and learns that love and human society are more important than gold. In the “real world” I’m afraid that doesn’t happen so much. In the real world, people tend to reinforce their view of the world as they interpret each new experience as reinforcing their old beliefs.

So, what can we do? First, we can try very hard not to let ourselves become like Silas. Success does not equal money. Money is not the measure of success.

Second, we can be a true friend and tell people when they’re heading down this road. That also means sticking in there when they go through a Silas Marner period in their lives. This is tougher than it sounds. Because that period can leave our friend very bitter and unpleasant to be around. We have to be careful not to get sucked into this view of the world.

Third, we can choose to back off. This is hard to do. And it doesn’t sound like being a friend, but if it’s clear that we can’t help, it is sometimes best to isolate ourselves from the negativity.

True success means finding the things that bring meaning and value into your life. It is highly unlikely that that will include surrounding yourself with bitter, angry people, or a pot of gold.

So, finally, the best you can do is to pray for your friend. Whatever other action you take, that’s the one thing that will do some good. And, with luck, they’ll learn to focus on the more positive things in life.

Over the years, in my business life, I’ve dropped a couple of Silas Marner clients. In the business world I can simply choose not to do business with them.

 It’s harder when a friend goes down that road.

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If You Need Patience, Try Gardening

There are many great aspects of gardening. One of the greatest is patience. You simply cannot garden quickly.

In fact, one of the most important skills a gardener needs is the ability to do nothing:

– Don’t prune when it’s not needed.
– Don’t fertilize when it’s not needed.
– Don’t plant when you shouldn’t plant.
– Don’t water when you shouldn’t water.
– Don’t even weed when you shouldn’t weed!

I’m not kidding.

The most important part of gardening is waiting.

You put in your plants, make sure they’ve got what they need. And then you just wait. A garden needs to “overgrow” just a bit before you can start pruning and shaping.

Sometimes you get eager to just do something — anything — in your garden.

But if you go playing around everyday, pruning and digging, pulling and watering, your plants will grow smaller and smaller until they disappear!

I’ve lived in my house for just over four years. I’ve had the pleasure of working on my yard for four summers. And most of that “work” has consisted of putting things in place and standing back to see what happens. I’d say five percent gardening and ninety-five percent waiting.

After two years I liked my yard. After three I loved it. And now, after four, my yard does everything it’s supposed to do.

– We have hummingbirds twelve months out of the year.
– We have butterflies, finches, and doves nesting in our yard.
– We have beautiful flowers with something blooming every day of the year.

In other words I have the garden I wanted.

And I would never have had it without patience.

I can’t wait until next year.  :-)

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