Validation

How often do you affirm other people? I mean, honestly recognizing qualities and positive traits—some amazing skill or ability they have. I’m guessing not very often.

Yesterday, I spoke to two friends. One of them I’ve known since 1988 when we were both new meter readers at our local power company. The other one, I met in February, the weekend we held Mark’s Celebration of Life at Brown.

The former knew Mark from the age of five and saw him grow into his teenage years. We’d lost touch as Mark got into college. But with true friends, a sabbatical isn’t a deal breaker.

My old friend was crushed when he learned Mark was killed. I’d called him the next day because I knew he’d find out and I wanted him to hear from me. He’s been there for me over the past eight months.

My newer friend and Mark were colleagues at Brown. Both navigated the school’s Literary Arts program together, earning MFAs. They are also poets.

We’ve been calling every other week and have deep and meaningful conversations about life. Yesterday, we were talking about how rare it is in this life to receive validation.

It’s interesting that our current president is a man who has made his way to the top by doing the opposite—tearing down others and seeking to destroy them. That says a great deal about the value that Americans place on catching others doing good and authentically recognizing that. Continue reading

When Disaster Strikes

When loss hits you, your world is turned upside down. Whether the loss involves death, or in places hit by hurricanes and other kinds of disasters where people are displaced from their homes, stress and the subsequent emotional and physical effects target the victims.

A key element in ensuring health and harboring the hope for longevity requires learning to manage and mitigate stress. That’s easier said when you are observing stress from a distance. When you are in the midst of swirling waters either literally or figuratively, remaining detached and free from roiling emotions and a knot (or pain) in your gut is nearly impossible.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in humans. While now personally acquainted with the personal variety, natural (and national) ones are often magnified by the media. They serve an important function for programmers—ready-made stories that fill hours of air time, with advertisers happy to fork out marketing capital to capture fixated eyeballs.

Speaking of capitalizing on disaster, our sitting president is someone who has done well capitalizing and exploiting the misfortunes of others. I’ve mentioned Sarah Kendzior before. She nails it in this article by Nancy LeTourneau on our Exploiter in Chief being our “ultimate disaster capitalist,” a master at reveling (and profiting, handsomely) when others are in the midst of chaos and suffering. Make sure you click on the links provided in the quoted snippet, too. This isn’t false (or “fake”) propaganda, but a telling measure of the man we elected as our 45th president. He’ll surely find a way to profit from the fates of those in Houston like he has throughout his business career. That’s the Trump MO.

Trump spent his business career eagerly anticipating both social and economic disasters. “I sort of hope that happens because then people like me would go in and buy,” Trump said of the housing crash in 2006. Before that, Trump spent decades exploiting the damaged economies of towns like Gary, Indiana and Atlantic City, leaving them as bad or worse off than when he arrived.

America’s 4th largest city, underwater. [Aaron Cohan photo]

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21 Days

There is an oft-quoted time frame that’s become accepted in many self-help circles, and among those coaching others to make changes in their lives. We hear over and over again that for something to take root and become habitual requires a minimum of three weeks, 21 days, or something longer—like a month. Where did this come from?

One never knows for sure, but the interwebs coughed up the name Maxwell Maltz.

In the preface to his 1960 book Pycho-Cybernetics, Maltz (a plastic surgeon turned psychologist) wrote about how “it usually requires a minimum of 21 days to effect any perceptual change in mental image” following plastic surgery to get “used to a new face.” Apparently, when an arm or a leg are amputated, the “phantom limb” can persist for about 21 days, also.

Dr. Maltz highlighted a number of other phenomena that clock-in around 21 days, or three weeks, to take root.

James Last, a writer focused on “behavioral psychology, habit formation, and performance Improvement” mentions that it was Maltz’s book that influenced a host of self-help gurus, from Zig Ziglar to Tony Robbins. Last equates it to that game we played when we were kids, “Telephone”—where a story gets started and by the end, Maltz’s “a minimum of 21 days” has now been turned into a gospel aphorism that “it takes 21 days to form a new habit.” Continue reading

Most People Don’t Follow Through

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You’ve heard that one before, haven’t you? While clichéd for sure, it speaks to a universal truth—people like to talk, but they’re even more enamored with procrastination. But intentions by themselves don’t result in success.

Even though my blogging has been consistent over the years, I don’t always feel like putting up a post. Since I’ve selected Tuesday and Friday as days for fresh content, I have a commitment to making that happen. I’ve self-imposed these deadlines to ensure that my blog doesn’t end up like so many other vacant storefronts out there by bloggers who thought it would be cool to blog and then got waylaid by boredom, or difficulty, or the myriad of excuses that people use to not do what they need to do.

James Altucher mentions the importance of being consistent and persistent. He’s speaking about podcasts in his case, but I think those traits are applicable to just about any task-oriented endeavor. You’ve got to commit to making it happen, and then you need to follow it through—not once, or twice, or for a week—but time after time, for a year, five years, and even longer.

Practice makes perfect.

Practice makes perfect.

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Fame is Overrated

Because I follow a few people via Medium, I now get a daily email and digest of content published on the platform. Most of it’s crap, but a handful of stories stand out and I’ll read them. Like this one, about a musician, Mike Posner.

I’d never heard of Posner, actually—at least not until I read his post.

Like a lot of young performers that ascend fame’s ladder, the ride to the top changed who he was, or at least magnified things about him that he found he didn’t like. Of course, the ride back down celebrity’s hill can be equally as dramatic (as well as ego-deflating). To his credit, Posner possessed some measure of self-awareness and took time to reflect and reconsider. Not every young man facing the crash-and-burn of his career would have had his presence of mind, and taken steps to right himself.

After he had a worldwide hit in 2010, with a song called “Cooler Than Me,” he ended up being dropped by his label. Five years later, he had to redefine and yes, reinvent.

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Routines

Success is often attributed to developing certain habits. I think there is something to be said for developing traits that are replicable. That’s what we know as discipline.

There are a host of books that serve as guidelines for developing these routines designed to lead to successful outcomes. Here’s a recent one that comes to mind. Then there are the standards that have stood the test of time.

In my own life, certain rituals have evolved and have become ingrained. I rarely vary from them.

Getting up early is one of them. If I’m not up by 5:30 every morning, something’s certainly amiss. Many mornings, like Mondays and Fridays (my swim mornings), I’m up at 4:30, if not earlier. 5:00 a.m. is my preferred alarm clock setting.

Here's someone who was an advocate for routines.

Here’s someone who was an advocate for routines.

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Fasting From the News

I don’t enjoy this time of year. I’ll likely elaborate on my holiday melancholy next week, with a Christmas-themed post. Lack of December daylight doesn’t help, and neither does 50 degree, Seattle-type weather.  Sometimes it takes effort to ward off the gloom.

Compounding the holiday humbug I’m feeling, the news—especially the binary back-and-forth among people of good cheer this political cycle—it seems downright maniacal. In fact, if I believed in evil in the “principalities and powers” sense outlined in scripture, I might assign it to the work of the dark one.

Despite decorations, demonic spirits masquerading as politicians, and winter darkness, nothing can stop the JBE from cranking out content—whether writing for hire, or remaining true to his Tuesday/Friday blogging routine.

Sometimes when things aren’t working, it’s important to change it up. Nothing worse than maintaining routines that deliver negative results.

Beginning last Friday, I decided to limit my news consumption. Other than 5 minutes with the morning news team at WMTW-8, mainly for my daily weather fix, I’ve been in the midst of a news blackout. Dr. Andrew Weil deems these self-imposed withdrawals, “news fasts.”

The news today can't be trusted.

The news today can’t be trusted.

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Your Belief System

The person you are now was being developed many years ago. As a baby, people would smile at you and “coo” and you were already learning to perform for others, giving them what they wanted (and maybe more important, expected).

Over the years, all of those subsequent interactions formed the “print” of who you are; in essence, your self-image. The problem with that image is that it is based on the attitudes of others. The benefit derived for them is in who they think you are and the role that you’ve come to accept and play for them.

I’ve written often about reinvention here at the JBE. That journey continues, but I think I’ve arrived at a point where some newfound clarity was needed (and was missing).

My own lessons learned during the K-12 years and after—when I went off to college to play baseball, mainly—eventually led to a dead-end. At that point, I had to turn back, retrace my route, and find a different off-ramp, and a new road forward. that took place over a two-decade period.

There is a certain sameness that Americans crave and pervades life as we know it. I guess that’s why I’ve felt out of sorts for much of the past 10 months. The need for people I used to know to rush along with the rest of herd makes it hard to reconnect with most, if not all of them.

When my former boss died, I felt an obligation to reach out to former colleagues and people he knew in the workforce development world where I once resided, and where my mentor and I first met. Just like him, I’ve come to see that many of these former colleagues are pretty shallow; mere cardboard cutouts masquerading as human beings. I just shake my head thinking about some of the disingenuous email replies and responses I received.

I’ve intimated in this space that 2015 has been the most challenging year since I’ve been freelancing. It’s running neck and neck with a few other years back in Indiana, for most challenging ones in my life.

That being said, getting clear on some important things might just be the gift I wasn’t expecting from my year of adversity. As the dross has fallen away, I’m recognizing that I’ve gotten away from some basic values. I also recognize that there’s no value in forgetting the labor required to remove previous obstructions—I need to stay true to who I’ve become and not revert to the place where I was before.

So, can you define your core values? Also, are you where you want to be in your life? If not, why not?

It’s possible that you also have some work to do.

Finding Balance

Do you remember walking the balance beam in elementary school? While the beam was only inches off the ground, it was daunting for some, more than others. The students who were able to walk the length of the beam were able to focus on the task at hand and concentrate.

Could genetics be in play, here? It’s possible.

A person’s balance is enhanced by three things: the part of the inner ear called the vestibular system; sensory nerves in your muscles, tendons, and joints; and your eyesight. People with better balance are likely able to coordinate these three things. Balance is likely a combination of genetics and also training.

I’ve never been very good on a skateboard. I also wear glasses, so it’s possible my balancing abilities are negatively impacted by my eyesight.

I was never very good on a skateboard.

I was never very good on a skateboard.

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