Edit the script

I was there again…

Sitting by the East River, a warm July breeze on my face, whipping myself up into an anxious frenzy about what I thought someone else was thinking about me. Again. What the hell?

I’ve gotten quite good over the years at this very thing, constantly running through in my mind a conversation someone is either having, with themselves or with someone else, about me.  And it is always negative, and it usually is about what I’m either doing wrong or not doing.

“What’s Dan actually doing?”

“Why did Dan do it this way? What was he thinking?”

“Do I/we really need to keep working with Dan?”

They all really are the same internal Dan voice asking the question: “Am I good enough?”

It’s a script I’ve seen before.  It’s one of my favorites, I think.

What’s funny to think about, as I sit here now and relive many of these anxious moments, is not ONCE has the other person / people even been in the same ballpark with their thoughts.  In the moments I’ve had the courage to share these anxious thoughts with them, they can barely keep their surprise from their face.  It’s like we were living in two different worlds. (It’s worth noting, that there is such great relief in just expressing these fears to the other person, even before they assure you those are just your thoughts and not theirs).

But what popped into my mind on this warm July evening, while soaking up the alternating East River smells of ocean and rot, was very different.  I was thinking of my daughter, Emmeline, who by then was barely 3 weeks old.

“Is this the example you want to set for her?  Is this what you want to teach her?”

It was a new voice within me, one that felt stronger and more secure than I am used to.  It was a voice I had no choice but to listen to.  Maybe it was my first real chance to realize that I had an opportunity to not just be a dad, but to actually BE a Dad.  This meant being an example, a teacher, a person living with a new approach guided by the life lessons and work of 32 years. Not a person who succumbed to their unproductive internal scripts again and again.

Almost like the flip of a switch, I felt the internal dialog of doubt quiet.  It knew it was now falling on deaf ears.  I still spoke to the other person, expressing these anxieties, but not in pursuit of their assurance but in pursuit of growth.  Growth in a friendship and a partnership, but also growth within.

I know I can’t save my beautiful daughter from her own unproductive scripts, her own monsters in her head, that’s just part of the human experience, but I can sure as hell save her from mine. I’m her Dad.

 

I’m a lucky Dad..

 

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Special Friends Day (and “Power Grandpas”)

My niece Olivia at work

 

I was nominated for “Special Friends Day,” about 2 weeks ago for my niece’s school and, well, since I’m not crazy, I accepted.  OK, I wasn’t nominated, nor was anyone else, it’s just a day for grandparents or relatives to come in and spend some time with the kids at school.  Nonetheless, I was thrilled and honored for the “nomination,” and grateful I was able to spend some special time, one on one, with my niece, Olivia.

During the snacks and stories, all the kids sat around in a big circle enjoying pizza and drinking some water while one of the teachers read stories.  I couldn’t help but notice one of the other special friends standing right in front of me, likely a Grandfather, who was very well dressed in an expensive suit.  He just seemed irritated, and was constantly checking his phone, like he had an itch he couldn’t stop scratching.  I noticed this and thought it was a little rude, but it didn’t really bother me that much.

But at one point his special friend, his grandson, announced he was out of water.  The teacher, who was reading a story to the other 30 kids, didn’t immediately notice the child’s call for water.  Without skipping a beat, the “power Grandpa” huffed and puffed in disgust when his grandson was not immediately serviced and went to the front of the room to refill the water, his grandson’s water, with a look of extreme irritation on his face.  I immediately felt anger bubble up within me…”Who is this guy?” “Who does he think he is?”  “Does he think this is a 5 star restaurant?” I was amazed at how quickly I went from just enjoying being a part of my niece’s world to feeling angry and somewhat disgusted.  An almost 180 degree change in my mood in the moment all without a word from “Power Grandpa.”  But that was my fault, my own doing, not his.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 
― Viktor E. FranklMan’s Search for Meaning

I first read Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” in high school and I have to admit it didn’t really stick then. I marveled at his story, and his incredible will to learn, to recognize and hold his great power within truly horrible conditions (For those who don’t know, check out wikipedia link).  But in recent years his words and lessons have resonated more for me.

Along with Viktor Frankl, Stephen Covey discusses this notion quite a bit.  Covey rightfully points out that our minds are constantly receiving outside stimulus and often times we’re simply responding without any awareness. What makes us different from animals, he says, is we have a very real choice in the gap between stimulus and response. We can choose how we respond, how we perceive the stimulus in our own lives and yet we rarely do.  I certainly let PG (Power Grandpa) trigger a grumpy response in an otherwise happy moment.  I forfeited my choice.

It’s important to point out that having this choice doesn’t mean we can’t ever be annoyed with the PG’s of the world.  I mean the guy was being a bit of a jerk, so being annoyed is probably warranted in that situation.  But it is even more important to understand that I was part of that situation, an active and responsible party, and I was choosing to be bothered by him.  I could have gone a different direction.  I didn’t have to allow his behavior to affect me, and could have easily ignored him or dismissed him.  I could have given him a pass…maybe it was a rough day, or a rough week, stressful work situation or a rough moment for an otherwise friendly guy. Who knows?

Ultimately I’m grateful for my little PG interaction as it served as a real life reminder…in each moment, the choice is mine.

(I have said many times before…I’m trying to write more.  I felt more compelled to write this post as I’m working on my own little short list of “Things I’ve learned” for my soon to be born son or daughter, who is due any day now.  I will write weekly, with some baby disruptions, going forward.)

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I took Facebook off my phone

Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook
Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)..Not all his fault

 

I took Facebook off of my phone a few weeks ago and not only do I not miss it, I feel so much better it’s gone.  I have to wonder, does constantly checking in on Facebook make us depressed?

First let me say, I’m very grateful for the life I have here in NYC. But I’m definitely guilty of comparing myself, my place in life to others, especially those I know well.  I’m sure we’ve all heard that the easiest way to make yourself feel terrible is to look for ways other people are “better” than you.  There are ALWAYS people who are wealthier than you, more successful than you, in better shape, funnier, etc and at times a quick glance at Facebook can make it seem that everyone is out living a happier, more fulfilling life. In the old days you had to randomly bump into that friend from high school who seems to be doing very well, or hear about the “big successes,” through friends or family. Today it can seem everyone is living “better” than you while you scroll your iPhone in the bathroom, perhaps in the middle of a day where you feel especially unproductive or ineffective.  You feel depressed.  “I’m nowhere near where I should be,” you might say to yourself.  Or “Why is everyone else happier than me?”

We’re far more likely to share our victories and excitements than our struggles, our pains, our down moments.  As a result our Facebook streams tend to be filled with the good moments of others, and the more people we add to our stream the more it seems everyone else is attending a party we weren’t invited to.  Couple that with the fact that we’re constantly checking Facebook on our phones throughout a normal day, and you have the recipe to make yourself feel like crap at lunch on a Wednesday.  Or at least I know that to be true for me at times…and it turns out I’m not alone.

According to this recent post in Psychology Today, it seems others have felt this way:

 

  • Over 33% of Facebook users report feeling unhappy during their visit (1).
  • Envying Facebook “friends” is the major reason for the unhappiness (1).
  • People who browse but do not actively communicate on Facebook are particularly vulnerable to feeling unhappy (1)(2).
  • The longer the hours spent on Facebook, the higher the likelihood of believing others are happier (2).
  • The more we amass Facebook “friends” we don’t know, the higher the likelihood of believing others are happier (2).
  • The more we interact face to face with friends, the lower the likelihood of believing others are happier (2).
  • Facebook comparison may be especially impactful for women (3)(4)(5)(6).

I don’t blame Facebook for the fact that at times I choose to process my friend feed this way.  And there’s no doubt that I do get a lot of enjoyment out of using Facebook, but I now see that the constant checking is very bad for me. It is best as an active browsing experience on my computer instead of an impulse on my phone.  I took Facebook off my phone a few weeks ago and I feel better.

(to steal from that Psychology Today article ending)

Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.” – Steve Jobs

 

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A bookend to my day

English: An anxious person
English: An anxious person (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

As someone who works a lot from home with an awesome (but mostly distributed) team, I have often felt as if the work day really has no end.  I don’t have a set time I stop working, although my wife will often stop me, and my work will often flow right into the night.  Even when I stop, no matter how many todo items crossed off my list, I have great anxiety of not doing enough.  This anxiety has nothing to do with the amount of work I do or did, and everything to do with how I end my days…I  don’t.  But I’m working on it…

On the recommendation of Jay, I read the quick (and surprisingly easy read) book: “18 Minutes,” by Peter Bregman.  There are lots of useful productivity thoughts and tips in here, but one thing in particular stuck for me.  I can’t say it was anything new, but for some reason it made more sense to me.  In the book he talks about his approach to an end of day review.  It’s basically something you schedule (so it happens), where you take 15 minutes to review the day and plan for tomorrow. This is a routine that I’ve tried before with limited success.  But this time it made much more sense to me.  Why?  Because of the questions he suggested you ask yourself during this review process.  Here are a few:
  • How was my day?  What successes did I experience?  What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today?  About me?  About others?
  • What do I plan to do differently tomorrow?
  • Who did I interact with?  Anyone to update? To thank?
You might be thinking, “whoa, that seems like a lot to do in 15 minutes.”  It’s not really, and the answers to the questions are very helpful in both reviewing your day, and setting you up for the next day.  So what does my process look like?
  • I set a daily calendar reminder for 5pm – 515pm for my daily review period.  This is not the end of my day, but it’s often a good time to do this process.  I have enough time after to tie up some loose ends, but I’m deep enough into my day to truly do a review.
  • I have an Evernote notebook for “daily todos,” where I keep a separate note for each day.  At the top of the note I have the following questions:
  • How was your day?  This is just a quick review, a place where I can write about things that impact me in a particular way.
  • What did I learn today?
  • Anyone to update or thank?
  • What can I do differently tomorrow to be more effective and productive?
I then copy that note to a new note with the day’s date.  I update and edit my todos for the next day.  The following morning, I’ll do a quick glance at the todos and pay particular attention to my answer to the question: “What can I do tomorrow to be more effective and productive?” when planning my day.

I’ll be honest and say I still have many days where the only time I check the todo notebook is in the morning and in the evening, but I’ve found that just the process really does help my days in a number of ways.  The most important is that my anxiety about still having more to do has lessened significantly.  It seems that by going through this process, I have a clear ending to the day.  It’s almost as if I’m telling my brain “OK, you’ve concluded the day in an organized way with the loose ends at least accounted for.  Relax.”   It really is a great bookend to my work day.

 

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Regret minimization framework

Jeff Bezos – Regret Minimization Framework

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately, and thankfully Bezos clarified my thoughts in a very nerdy, but helpful way: The Regret Minimization Framework.  Simply put: Imagine yourself sitting in a chair at 80 looking back on your life, how can you ensure you have as few regrets as possible?  This long-term view is remarkably effective at washing away some of the short-term concerns (as he described in video, it made it easy for him to walk away from Wall St bonuses to start Amazon) which often hold us back.

 

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Focus on what you can control

(from Behavior Gap)

I’m currently reading (and enjoying) The Extra 2% by Jonah Keri, which combines a lot of my favorite things (baseball, business, innovation, etc) into one package (although it frustrates me as a Reds fan to have a guy like Dusty Baker running our team instead of Joe Maddon, but I digress).  In the book, particularly from Maddon, there’s quite a bit of discussion about focusing on what you can control, not on outcomes.  From a baseball perspective this means as a pitcher you focus on throwing the ball to the glove, not throwing the ball to prevent home runs.  Or it can mean as a hitter, working on your swing instead of trying to hit home runs.  These are simplistic examples, but I’m sure you get the idea.

I realize in my own life there’s quite a bit of head space taken up by anxieties, fears, and even excitement around outcomes that I have very little control over.  There’s no easier way to get yourself worked up than to become focused on and attached to outcomes that you simply do not have control over.  I think as difficult as not becoming attached to outcomes is figuring out what exactly you should be focused on, and what is really inside of your control.  I’ve been defining things in my control as things I can do everyday (and utilizing a habit development tool like tdp.me to track this).

In Charlie Munger‘s amazing book, Poor Charlie’s Almanack (I  intend to blog about this book), he mentions multiple times throughout the book about his own obsession with the power of compounding, not only as it relates to finances but also to personal learning and development.  His practice and his focus is very simple:  How can I become a little bit smarter about the world today than I was yesterday?  I don’t know the outcome, I don’t know if it makes me rich or broke, but I know I can control this, do it everyday (by reading, writing, speaking with and learning from others), and I know it will help me take a step forward in the world.  It’s working on my swing instead of just trying to hit home runs.

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Pedaling at work

Those who know me well, know I’m a big fan of “lifehacking,” which I guess can best be described as utilizing tips, tricks, technology, ideas in different ways to live more effective and efficiently.  Sometimes this means using software like TDP to improve your relationship with your wife or in this case it means using an “elliptical” (when you click the link you’ll see why I used quotes around elliptical) machine under your desk.

The fact of the matter is I sit a lot, especially during the week.  When you work in front of a computer, as most of us do, you spend the vast majority of your time in a chair, staring at a screen (as they say, “Sitting is the Smoking of our Generation.“).  I’ve been obsessed with the Treadputer ever since I first saw it on Brad Feld’s blog over 6 years ago, and told myself I would build one of those, one day when I had more space to work with.  Unfortunately, NYC and space don’t really belong in the same sentence. I’ve also been exploring standing desks as an option to be healthier at work, but having experimented with a few versions, I was never really happy with the experience.  I wanted an option that would be healthier than just sitting, but also was not too disruptive to my workflow, and didn’t take up a ton of space.  Solution?  The Staminia Elliptical:

 

Thanks to Jay, I’ve been using this guy to pedal at my desk for almost a month now and I LOVE it.  I had to swap out my desk chair to fit my knees perfectly under the desk, but other than that I didn’t really have to change anything about my setup.  I can easily pedal while typing and while browsing.  I even pedal while on calls or google hangouts, usually without people noticing.  It’s pretty quiet, although I don’t have a mat for it so it does tend to scoot and occasionally bump into my trash bin making a bit of noise.

I know this is not a full workout or a replacement for one and I also know it doesn’t fully negate the experience of sitting for hours and hours on end,  but it I really love being able to pedal throughout the day for many reasons including:

  • Increased energy.  Seriously.  I no longer drink coffee after 11am, and I’ve found that when I start to feel a little drowsy come 3pm, kicking into an hour of pedaling really perks me up.  
  • Better focus.  I’m not sure why exactly, but I definitely have better focus while pedaling, almost as if moving my legs is just enough distraction to occupy the “monkey mind,” who wants to open another tab.
  • A little sweat.  Yes, even though it doesn’t really feel like a workout, I can definitely get in pedaling grooves where I can start to feel a bit of sweat on my brow.  I like that.
  • Increased heart rate.  I’ve been pedaling for about an hour today while at my desk, and I just measured my pulse at 90 bpm.
  • I just feel better.  At the end of a long day I feel less burnt, and healthier. I  know this is vague, and hard to back up in anyway, but I really do feel better.  That’s worth it to me.
  • I’m burning calories -The digital display says I’m burning 90-100 calories per hour of pedaling.  I’m not sure I really believe that, but I know I’m definitely burning something.

A few things you should know if you are considering one of these:

Pick one up, and enjoy burning a few more calories while being more focused at work….and yes, I pedaled while I wrote this post:

photo (2)

 

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Grateful

To my mother:

It’s been 7 years.  It’s hard to believe that it has been that long, and that it has only been that long all at the same time.   Sometimes I remember things as clearly as if they were yesterday, and sometimes I have trouble remembering even the simplest things at all.  But today, my now annual day of reflection, I feel grateful. Grateful for gifts you have given me.  It’s impossible to list them all, but I felt compelled to list a few:

I’m grateful you taught me to appreciate the moments.  I’ll never forget our walks in the woods, starting with me as a little kid up to a few weeks before you died, and even our last walk about a week before you died.  There wasn’t ever a walk where you didn’t stop to appreciate something, the turtles in the water, smells of fall, the sounds of singing birds, the sun on your face.  I’ve never met someone who appreciated the ocean and the beach like you.  Or someone who could be overwhelmed by the beauty of a starry sky as you were.   I’ll never forget in dealing with a tough break up you telling me, “Notice the depth of your feelings, the complexity of how you feel right now.  I know it’s hard, but that pain has beauty in it.  Notice it.”  Tough for a 17-year-old to hear, easy for me to appreciate now.

I’m grateful you showed me growth.   You never stopped working on a better you, and yes you had your many struggles with how you viewed the current you, but you showed me that we can grow our minds, our bodies, and our hearts.  You would probably struggle to agree, but you really grew so much in the last 10 years of your life.  The things you learned, and shared with me on that journey are so much a part of who I am today, including my own work and growth process.

I’m grateful you showed me what unconditional love feels like.  It feels like this tremendous warmth and support, from deep within, that is always with you.  It means you can make mistakes, you can argue, you can get mad, you can screw up, but you’ll still be loved just the same as you always were.  It means you give because you love, not because you want.

I’m grateful you showed me how to have a loving relationship.  I’ve written about this before (here and here), but without your (and Tom’s) work, I would not have the relationship I have with Julie today.  I reap the benefits of this lesson daily.

I’m grateful you showed me childlike curiosity is not just for kids.  You were endlessly curious.  I hated playing Jeopardy with you because you knew everything about everything.  I still have many of your books covering everything from Buddhism to gardening to Astrology.  There were few things (except technology really) you weren’t interested in learning more about, and I’ve never met someone who could get as excited about exploring a new topic quite like you.

I’m grateful for our time together.  It was shorter than I know we both would have ever expected or wanted, but it was not short on lessons, depth, and love.  Today, as any other day, I’m grateful for you.

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How Evernote is making me a better gift giver

Evernote for iOS icon
Evernote for iOS icon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re coming down to the final crunch of Holiday shopping and if you are like me, and you prefer, if possible, to do all of your shopping online then you are just about out of time (unless you also are Prime subscriber and can find that special gift on Amazon).  I’m usually a bit stressed this time of year (as I know a lot of people are) because I try very hard to get someone a gift that shows I know them and care about them well enough to get something they are really excited about.   But I often really struggle with this and ultimately run out of time, often I defaulting to standard gifts.

But this year, I was prepared.  I am using evernote to make me better giver. I created a notebook called “gifts” and whenever I hear someone (my wife, my sister, a friend, etc) say something like “Oh man, I’d really like to go to that restaurant,” or “I’d really love some shoes like that,” I put a note my Gifts notebook under their name.  I have been doing this for my wife over the past 3 months and it made my Christmas shopping for her this year a breeze.   Maybe she will assume I’m a mind reader, but at the very least she’ll love her gifts.

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A great relationship, even better

Sunday
Sunday (Photo credit: ex.libris)

As I’ve written before, I’m a big believer in the notion that great relationships require work.  Good relationships typically don’t go bad overnight, but instead it’s usually a long process of neglect.  I often wonder why you hear (or read) very little out there about putting work into relationships, especially with your significant other.  Shouldn’t we want to put in the work to make the most important (or one of) relationship in our life even better?

I was fortunate to have a front row view to one of the more caring, loving, and thoughtful relationships between my mother and Tom.  They put a tremendous amount of time and work into their connection and it clearly showed.  One bit of work they regularly put in was something they called the “Temperature Report.”  The premise is simple, you set aside a bit of time to connect as couple (just as you may do with your team at work) on several discussion points.  I think at the heart of what makes the temp report work is it prevents simple misunderstandings or even disagreements from becoming very big ones, or as my mother used to say it prevents a “mole hill being turned into a mountain.”  I’ve seen in some places they recommend you do this everyday, and while there’s no doubt that’s achievable, I think you can actually be effective doing it on a weekly basis.  Here’s the basic structure of a temp report:

  • Appreciations
  • Wishes, Hopes, and Dreams
  • New Information
  • Puzzles
  • Complaints with a request for change

(via: Smarter Marriages)

I loaded weekly temp report up into my tdp.me, and on Sunday evening Julie and I sit down with a glass of wine and go through this. It’s pretty quick, and we’ve certainly skipped a few (easy tracking with TDP) and wrestled with a few more, but the results are very clear.  Even with disagreements or misunderstandings the process of discussion and practice brings us so much closer.  I can sense with each week, each practice, we’re strengthening our connection.

I love the idea that a simple practice, a tool to properly track our progress and the application of the content could and will yield lifelong benefits.  Powerful.

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