Feb 242017
 
David Brooks' other books include The Social Animal and Bobos in Paradise.

America, God bless her, is all about capitalism, competition, and a definition of success that often leaves the successful, at least the financially successful, wondering if this is all that there is. America’s scorecard is too often the resume version, the version that focuses on winning “the game”, conquering, accomplishment in the here and now, and financial windfalls. It is not surprising that happiness is elusive, and is just as elusive to those who have landed the outsized windfalls as to the ones that have much less worldly stuff.

I have written about the rules of financial success (they aren’t all that hard to understand) and the pursuit of happiness, which I believe has gratitude at its foundational roots.

Here is another take, a viewpoint that I think makes a lot of sense. Are you living with your eye on your resume or your eulogy? I believe there should be balance, with a substantial bias toward the latter, if you hope for true success. Enjoy this thoughtful and brief five minute TED talk:

I.M. Optimisman

Nov 122016
 

Our recent election was a war of ideas but, more importantly, personal mindsets. Many of the ideas were half-baked at best, but they were ideas to improve the country that we should consider and debate.

What was most interesting to me was to observe the mindsets of people as they debated the virtue of their candidate’s ideas. Some were all in on one side or the other, some were all out, usually making their minds up based on the personalities and news headlines about Clinton, Trump, Kaine, and Pence, but few actually seemed to evaluate each policy proposition on its individual merits and chances of success.

That led me to this interesting video, which has nothing to do with politics but asks us to examine our our own mindset. I think the current political battleground is a perfect backdrop to grow in our understanding of self. It is a good, short watch:

As I have noted in past posts like this one (question everything), I believe in the value of the scout mindset Julie Galef outlines.

Be optimistic, while questioning everything in the quest to think and understand clearly.

I.M. OptimismMan

Nov 102016
 

I have often argued that change is good, and fear of change is irrational. Our election was actually a referendum on the appetite for level of change that America was ready for, cleverly disguised in less than like-able candidates, frequent surprise revelations, personal attacks, and a homogeneous media establishment that lost all perspective drinking its own Kool-aid, losing touch with the voter.

Republican U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks about the results of the Michigan, Mississippi and other primary elections during a news conference held at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Florida, March 8, 2016. REUTERS/Joe Skipper TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTS9XHP

We will be better off trying new things, renegotiating new trade agreements, removing excess regulation, and focusing on jobs, the economy, healthcare, and security. Everything is on the table. Progress happens when you embrace change, strive to do your best, and fine-tune everything.

Most importantly, America now has a moment of Republicans controlling the House and Senate. Stagnation should be gone, at least for a few years. Its an opportunity to be bold and fix a number of things for the better, to earn the trust of America to keep going when the next election time arrives.

Don’t believe me that change should be embraced? Answer this simple question: Will you pay more or less if you shop and fine-tune your insurance coverage every six months, or simply stay with State Farm for two decades, sending them check after check?  Re-negotiation and re-visiting deals, policies, taxes, and government incentives, once you have the hard data from previous and recent results, makes a lot of sense.

Those who embrace change with optimism, win in life. Sure, you make a few mistakes along the way, as that is the price of trying new things. Perfection and risk avoidance are not the real goals – both lead to stagnation and a result far from perfection. In the end, you end up in a much better place, no matter if we are talking about your personal career or if we are talking about Uncle Sam’s place as the leading country in the world.

I’m an economically focused voter: Less taxes works. Less regulation works. Making our companies more competitive world-wide, works. Bringing overseas cash home to America will result in more investment here. Investment leads to more jobs. Lets actually do stuff and try stuff, not just talk about stuff.

A lot of people who voted blue are despondent, but I believe we must become American first, not politically partisan first. Washington has been constipated for far too long, not fixing anything. Trump was not my first choice, but lets support change, experiment, and see what works. Trump was elected by the same democratic process that elected over 200 years of presidents. We live in the greatest time ever. Pessimism has been the religion in DC for the last 12+ years. I believe a lot of people will be optimistic because they think Trump will change things. Optimism builds on itself. Lets start working together now.

I am truly optimistic today!

I.M. OptimismMan

PS> Happy Birthday U.S. Marine Corps. We love and appreciate all you do to ensure our freedoms.

 

Oct 162016
 

I have always believed that we create our own realities. Seeing is not factual, because our brain adds filters: few people understand that we are the ultimate authors of what we see. I believe we can decide how we think and what limitations we decide apply to our own lives.

What do I mean that seeing isn’t factual? First, here is a simple example:

What do you think this stock is about to do? What does your gut feel tell you? (This is not a trick question so please don’t overthink it)

2016-10-16_0943-stock

OK, keep your answer in mind.

Now look at the picture below:

What can you deduce about the man in the picture?  Write down the first couple of words or bullets that come to mind.

Issac

I believe what we see is highly influenced by how our self image has been programmed by our life’s experiences, completely removed from the visual images streaming onto your retinas from reflected light. This is true in every facet of our life, for every visual “fact” that we think we see. When we face a change at work or school, we either welcome it or fear it, and those perspectives taint what we do, how we do it, and the results of those actions. When we face a challenge, we either believe we will adapt, overcome and thrive, or we believe we will fail or side-step the test. Because our lives are a cumulative product of thousands of daily decisions, consciously deciding our own perceived mental “reality” is crucial. This is a continuous process: we must choose our perspectives and understand our own biases, proactively dialing in our mental filters as we wish them to be.

Here is a great speech by Isaac Lidsky that is well worth watching (less than 12 minutes). I promise that it will help you see your own reality more clearly than you did yesterday:

issac-lidsky-1200x630

Have you chosen to be an optimist, one that believes your goals can be achieved? Is the next project that you face seen as a crisis or is it a golden opportunity? How are you playing the game of life, no matter what cards you hold in your hand today? Do you embrace change in a positive light? Your mental state matters more than what you see with your eyes.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. Here is the rest of the story on the stocks above:

2016-10-16_0943-stock2

Were you right or wrong? Here’s the truth: there was no visual evidence either way on the first chart, yet we all saw something in the picture that was not there. That is my point about our own mental lens. Don’t believe “just” what you think you see. Know thyself.

Aug 252016
 

Hollywood says that it portrays better equality in the movies, but in truth, they are handily flunking the test. The message in well over 85% of movies is male, and violent, and the prize is the girl at the end of the movie. When a girl is featured, she is usually a warrior dealing out violence as well.

Parents of girls have to see the issues and messaging clearly and do their best to compensate because Hollywood is not helping, or changing anytime soon. An excellent observation in the TED talk below is that this imbalance has an enormous effect on boys as well, and how they view and treat women.

This video by Colin Stokes is well worth your twelve minutes:

colinstokes

Lets make this world better for our daughters than it is today. Every step matters.

I.M. Optimisman 

PS. Here are the previous three articles in my Have a Daughter series:
Part One   Part Two   Part Three

Aug 152016
 

As you can imagine, I, OptimismMan, am a great believer of the power of positivity. But I have to confess that I have had my doubts about dedicating time to social networking and gaming, as both of these clearly seem to conflict with all my theories on investing one’s time instead of spending it in foolish ways. I’ve also explored what people regret when they are dying for clues to how to be brave and live better.

So then I stumbled into Jane McGonigal, a game designer who argues that gaming can play a role in avoiding the most typical regrets of the dying. I believe in questioning everything, so today, I’m simultaneously questioning her game-centric conclusions as well as my previous thinking, wondering if the time “spent” gaming might actually be more of a time “investment” than I ever appreciated. I don’t have a conclusion just yet — maybe I never will — but I suggest watching her excellent talk and thinking about it for yourself, especially if you have a kid that spends a lot of time gaming right now:

2016-08-21_0757-jane

Interesting, right?

I.M. OptimismMan 

Jul 222016
 

Do you prefer to be told what to do, or sold on the wisdom of doing something?

Imagine that your doctor tells you “lose 20 lbs by the end of next year…” and then walks out the of room. How much commitment would you feel?

On the other hand, imagine that your doctor shows you three new studies that are very convincing showing, given your family history and DNA testing, that losing 20 lbs is very likely to add 5+ years to your life and cut your chances of heart failure by 50 – 70%. Imagine the doctor taking time to explain the new information clearly, giving you the studies, and answering all of your questions, not dashing out the door to meet the next patient.

I think all of us agree that being sold — understand the “why” — makes a positive outcome much more likely.

parenting-telling

So why do parents often “tell” their kids what to do, instead of selling them on the wisdom and logic (and potential consequences) of a given path or choice?  

I believe that if you parent like you might not be around next year, you would take the time to always explain the “why” behind every directive and sell the benefits to your kid. This should be confused with everything becoming the kid’s personal choice — that is a quick train to nowhere good as kids don’t have the life’s experience to always make the wise decision — but investing your time to “sell” will yield many of the long-term outcomes and smart decision-making that you hope for.

I.M. OptimismMan

Jun 082016
 

I sometimes hear people say that they are out of fresh ideas to overcome a challenge. When I later ask them about how much they read (books in particular), I invariably find that the answer is that they are heads down busy and haven’t cracked a book in months or years. I have yet to find a person that is both a) out of ideas and b) an active, avid reader.

dots

I also have noticed that whenever I read, a multitude of ideas, often unrelated to the material I’m reading, flood my consciousness. I believe invention is rarely a net new construct on a blank sheet of paper. I believe invention and developing ideas is a matter of connecting the dots of your previous experience and understanding with new input that changes the perspective and creates new connections. The book is a catalyst that changes thinking and structures in your mind.

woman1600

TV and movies don’t have this same positive effect because you don’t use your imagination, your mind’s eye, to visualize what you read in a book. Visual medium makes it too easy, letting your brain rest and just lay there on the couch. Brain research has shown that neural activity is less while watching TV than while sleeping. Bottom line, don’t be surprised if you have few new ideas while placated by the pacifier of television.

Try reading a quality book for 20 minutes each day for a month, while jotting down any fresh ideas that you have during those 30 days. I suspect you will find a remarkable difference. Build a lifelong habit of reading and learning: it will serve you well.

I.M. OptimismMan

 

PS. Keep a log of TV time and reading time. Its a great reality check of time spent vs time invested.

May 032016
 

Everything is become more complicated and interconnected. When faced with a difficult decision, almost everyone adds more detail, weighs more aspects, analyzes the problem to the n-th degree, and creates complexity. I personally work to sell solutions that create timely, valuable, and actionable insights from data, a topic that is truly large, complex and ever-growing, given the explosion of “big data” as zillions of devices connect to networks and every aspect of business becomes digitized by computers. The result is thousands of topics from hundreds of vendors and millions of powerpoint slides.

Every data analytics vendor dilutes its message with every word added to every powerpoint slide. Every company uses the same buzz words, every slide says much of the same, and the final slides always says the preceding 100 slides prove that this vendor’s specific solution is the best decision.

I believe there is great opportunity for a bold optimist that decides to zig when everyone else is following the zagging herd: simplify the message while everyone else complicates it.

If I was the customer, I would limit each presentation to 30 minutes, with 20 minutes of presentation and 10 minutes of question and answer. I would limit each vendor to the top 5 reasons their solution is best for my company. I would limit the number of powerpoint slides to 10, and the number of words per slide to 20.

bruce-lee-simplicity

Would less be better? Of course it would, because each vendor would be forced to distill their message to the essential. The customer could better compare each vendor’s solution at its core essence. TED presentations are phenomenal and each is limited to 20 minutes.

This applies to all aspects of life, and it offers you great opportunity to shine. If you are a lawyer, are you better off with a rambling 40 minute final argument or a 5 minute hard hitting one? If you are a teacher, is it best to spend hours on one topic or boil it down to the essential while students are still paying attention?  If you are a preacher on Sunday, will the congregation pay better attention to 40 minutes of fire and brimstone… well, you get the picture. I have found that if you “train” your target audience that your message will be short, they will pay close attention because they appreciate your approach.

Anyone can become the Master of Succinctness with effort and expertise. People love those that can make their point, with impact and simplicity.  Less is more, when done well. Your career will flourish. I’m still amazed that the Gettysburg Address was less than 300 words, yet most big data analytics slides have 100 words of broken English on each.

I.M. OptimismMan

PS. In case we forget, here is the Gettysburg Address, all 272 words of it…

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

Apr 032016
 

Success is empty and hollow without sincere, good friendships. The problem of course, is that most friendships are not true lasting friendships; rather, they are shallow friendships of convenience that do not weather the storms, the misunderstandings, the disagreements, the years, or the separations. A friend is not a friend if they only show up when they need your support.

As with all worthy pursuits in life, great friendships require optimism and action. To have great friendships, you must invest valuable time and positive energy. Even the most beautiful flower withers without water, food, and sunshine.

Consider my top ten thoughts about friendship:

True friendships are one of the best measures of a person’s net worth.

A person is rich if he has three true friends to count on, no matter what happens over the coming decades.

True friendship always is based on true understanding of each other. Friends strive to understand and to be understood.

Do not plunge into friendship quickly. Be nice to everyone but intimate with few. Make sure those few have passed many tests.

Trust is essential. It is worse to distrust your friend than to be deceived by her.

You must seek, you must invest the time, you must plant the seeds and nurture the saplings of friendship, dozens or even hundreds of times, to earn one true lifelong friend.

Listening, remembering, understanding, empathizing, collaboration, and forgiveness are critical ingredients of friendship. People that only talk of themselves barely rank as acquaintances.

Keeping your friend’s secrets secret, even if she did not ask you to, is priceless.

Friendship requires that you tell your friend the truth and your sincere opinion, not what he wants to hear. 

True friends love their friend, no matter her faults, frailties, and blessings. A true friend only wishes for the best, no matter the situation.

Is there a good friend that you have neglected over the last few years? Today is the day to pick up the phone and rekindle that connection. We are all too busy — that’s not an excuse. The paperwork can wait. Don’t let him or her get away for lack of effort and optimism at your end.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 252016
 

Differentiation is important. People decide who they want on their team, who they hire, who they promote, who they buy from, who they associate with, and who they become friends with, based on what they perceive makes a person special and different than the rest. Personal differentiation is driving force behind who gets elected, who a person marries, who succeeds and who flails about.

What makes you special? What makes you better than the average guy? What makes you stand out? How do people describe you to a stranger? What quality will make you a success over the long-term?

For some, their differentiator for personal success if obvious. Kevin Durant’s height, athletic ability, and basketball IQ made his destiny as one of the best players in the NBA simple to see, even as early as high school. Sure, he made smart choices that helped, he had determination to persevere, he envisioned his future and did what was necessary to make it happen. But his differentiators are God given and quite obvious to all, especially the ones that had to guard him.

Most of us are not freaks of nature endowed with superhuman hops. We are born much closer to average than being an extreme outlier in terms of ability. In statistics, outliers are stats that are so far outside the averages and the normal bell curve that the data points look like bad data. Mozart was an outlier in musical ability. Einstein was an outlier. Wayne Gretzky is an outlier, as are Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps.

So what can the rest of us do to differentiate ourselves?

The answer is far simpler than you think, although not necessarily easy. Far too many people search for natural traits that they were born with, rather than decisions that they can make and stick to. The trick is to find an area of life where few people make the right decision, the decision that could help them immeasurably over the long-term.

Uncompromising personal integrity is one such magical ingredient: the differentiator that can serve as the bedrock to build a great life of success. Unquestionable integrity is a choice that anyone can make, but in truth, exceedingly few people do. Yet, when a company is looking for a leader to be in charge of a division, integrity is one of the most important criteria that it looks for in candidates for the position.

We live in a desert of integrity.

One aspect of integrity is telling the truth. University of Massachusetts researcher Robert Feldman conducted a study that was published in the Journal of Basic and Applied Psychology. Robert asked two strangers to have a conversation for about 10 minutes. The conversations were recorded. Afterwards, each person was asked to review the recording. Before doing so, the research participants told Feldman that they had been 100% honest in their statements. However, during the review, the subjects were surprised to discover all the little lies that came out in just 10 minutes. According to Feldman’s study, 60 percent of the subjects lied at least once during the short conversation and in that span of ten minutes, subjects told an average of 2.92 false things. If 60% lie when it does not matter in just ten minutes time, it seems logical that more than 85% will lie when there are greater incentives and the outcome really matters. A recent study of dating websites found that 81% of people lied about themselves while seeking a new mate and another found that 91% of college grads lied at least once on their résumé. Our world is a desert of integrity indeed.

Another aspect of integrity is whether or not people steal or cheat when they have a good opportunity. The fraud prevention industry has long held to a general rule of thumb called the 10-10-80 rule. Chain retailers with experience of millions of employees believe in it. The rule says 10% of people will never steal no matter what, 10% will steal at any opportunity, and the remaining 80% of employees will steal or not steal, depending on how they evaluate a particular opportunity and their chances of getting caught.

Integrity is greater than simply being perfectly truthful and not stealing, although these two aspects are black and white and therefore simpler to measure. Keeping your promises, doing what you say you will do — no matter what it takes — is the fundamental core basis of integrity.

The choice of integrity is available to you and completely up to you. Your past matters not. You can make the wise choice to live a life of uncompromising personal integrity from this day forth.

I believe that integrity should become your #1 differentiator. Choose to become remarkable: becoming remarkable is not a birthright. Less than 10% of people demonstrate integrity in their daily lives by avoiding all deceit. When you add in doing exactly what you said you will do, keeping all your promises large and small, you will discover a world few people know and understand: you will become a person who is destined for success. Others will inevitably learn that you are the rare person who they can count on in good times and in bad, the person who will do his or her very best, the person who will do the right thing every time when put in positions of greater responsibility.

I.M. Optimism Man

Feb 132016
 

Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Four words that have survived since the mid-1300’s. Why? Truth thrives.

I have often written about the extraordinary opportunities available to all of us. We live at an extraordinary time, a time of fantastic and rapid change, in the best country in world. I believe that the opportunities to achieve whatever one wants to achieve in today’s America are limitless.

Yet, I know a lot of people that look at the same things I do and simply don’t see it the same. They see scarcity where I see abundant opportunity. It has taken me a while to figure out why but I believe I now understand. There are three fierce guard dogs at the gates of opportunity, and it turns out that most people see the snarling beasts, they miss seeing the gates, let alone the rainbow and waterfalls in the garden on the other side.

The guard dogs are risk, sacrifice, and faith. One or more of these prevent many from jumping on thousands of golden opportunities. Today I’ll spend a few minutes discussing the first one — risk.

Young adults have a great advantage over most of the working population. If they grew up in an optimistic home, they believe they can conquer the world, they have little if anything to lose, they don’t yet listen to (or at least adhere to) the often faulty, limited “wisdom” of their elders, and they have had few disheartening experiences. There is good reason most tech start-ups are fueled by young adults.

As we get older, we tend to take less and less risk. This risk aversion invades most of the facets of a person’s life: financial, emotional, professional, psychological, personal, you name it. Yet the core truth of “nothing ventured” rules nearly every facet of life.

By the time people hit their 40’s, most don’t want to take any chances. This is a terrible mistake that shackles one’s life. Without accepting risk, all you can expect is a lousy return following the path of the risk-free herd. When you embrace good risks, you expand your possibilities and your life.

Overcoming the fear of risk is possible and comes from learning and understanding probability better than the average person. Risk is simply half of the equation: once a person learns to evaluate risk clearly, in relation to probable return, she can start making educated decisions regarding the worthiness of any endeavor. These three guard dogs start to look much more lovable.

It is easiest to understand risk vs. return in simple betting. If someone offered you 3:1 odds on the flip of a quarter, it becomes a good bet – in other words a risk worth taking, because the quarter flip will win 50/50 over time. On a dollar bet, you would get paid $3 the 50% of the time that you win, but lose only $1 the 50% of the time you would lose.

The same is true in life. If you invest $1,000 in a growing, successful company that has a current P/E ratio of 10, a historical low for the stock, because of a short-term sell-off, while all its close competitors have P/E’s of 25 – barring any skeletons in the closet, you generally have taken a good bet – odds are much better that your stock will appreciate to $2,500 (probably more (because I’m ignoring earnings growth over time in this example)) rather than falling to $500 in the future. You can further mitigate the risk by investing $1,000 in 10 companies in similar situations – even if you are wrong on 5 of 10 — and 3 of them get halved while 2 tread water and stay at the price paid — if the other five do move up to their historical P/E, your final tally would be $16,000 on a $10,000 in investments, or a 60% return. If you leave that $10,000 in a money market account at Bank of America, you will earn less than $5 per year in this crazy near “interest-free” financial climate.

Yet many people never overcome the fear of risk. My suggestion is start small and gain momentum gradually. A big misconception is that those who take risks are fearless. Not true. People that take prudent risks, after weighing the probable rewards, are courageous and smart.

I really like John Wayne’s definition of courage….the Duke said “Courage is being scared to death – but saddling up anyway.

It is incredibly important that a person learns to embrace prudent calculated risk during his entire life, learning from experiences as he grows older. There are always risks worth taking, and when you are 40, 50, or 60, you have a much broader base of experience, connections, and resources than when you were but 22. The idea is not to put more than you can afford to lose in any one investment or idea.

My discussion took a financial turn because it is easy to illustrate with numbers, but taking prudent risks is just as vital on your emotional, professional, personal, and psychological facets of life. If you come up with a great idea that is worthy at work, take the risk and land a meeting with your own CEO. Pitch it! You might just make Executive VP after all. Go to that job interview. Ask that girl out. Go ahead and volunteer when they ask. Speak up at the community meeting. Try helping out at the local soup kitchen or Meals-on-Wheels or Big Brothers Big Sisters — seriously! Start that little business on the side and stick to the project to the finish line. Always remember that it helps to fail spectacularly from time to time in order to become extraordinary in the end.

The great Wayne Gretzky is right when he says “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Michael Jordan put it this way: “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

What have you ventured this month? What have you ventured in 2015? Take more risks to be all you can be!

I.M. Optimism Man

Jan 242016
 

Time is very valuable. How we invest it, matters. Time is scarce and fleeting, our most precious resource. Unfortunately, most of us choose not to manage our time well.

By the very nature of our hectic existence, each of us has very little “prime” time in our daily life. By prime time I mean time where we are at peace but alert, focused, our senses heightened, our thoughts clear and distraction free. In this state, a person is able to create new things, distill true meaning, plan with clarity, and make important progress on strategic projects.

The world around us conspires to grab a person’s prime time hours for use on other people’s urgencies and agendas — I call it the great Urgency Conspiracy. Many people deny that they are firmly in the grip of the Urgency Conspiracy but most people are infected. Although some people won’t make the effort, I recommend that you track how you use your time over the next two weeks and dutifully record what happens, half hour by half hour. If you complete this experiment, I believe you will come to the following conclusions:

  1. Few events are pre-planned unless it is a meeting with other people.
  2. You spend your best prime time hours on other people’s agendas right now.
  3. You spend very little time – if any – thinking strategically.
  4. You use very little time – if any – improving yourself and your capabilities and knowledge.
  5. You invest very little time – if any – making progress on something that remotely could be considered an important longer-term goal or mission.
  6. You tend to over-promise and over-commit to the point of capacity. When something goes wrong – and something often does – you sacrifice any personal time you have to make up for the shortfall in available hours.

We are surrounded by a multitude of outside influences. This is not new, as people were surrounded back in the 60’s 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s too. However, in the last decade, there has been a massive, unhealthy shift in people’s expectations of real-time / right-now urgency and immediate response on all matters, many of which are not urgent at all. The acceleration started with overnight Federal Express and fax, then came voice mail and paging, then e-mail, then instant messaging, and now instant Twitter and Facebook and especially SMS texting have changed everyone’s real-time expectations. The more one participates in the real-time world, the more it accelerates. The urgency conspiracy is spreading like a contagious airborne virus. It truly infects those who are proud of their multi-tasking abilities. The word of the day, every day, is busy.

Sadly, when we occasionally receive a gift of unexpected free prime time, we are usually not ready to do something good with it. Instead, we grab the smartphone and log-on to check e-mails, surf websites, check out Facebook to see what our buddies are doing or eating, or read newsfeeds. When was the last time you saw a news story, or a tweet, or a Facebook entry that actually changed your life and mattered 3 weeks later? When was the last time you read a text message that mattered 3 weeks later? We have become junkies for real-time but mostly useless information.

Our fast-paced lives can be compared to professional sports. When you have the ball, the defense is right on top of you, giving you no time to think, no time to look up, no time to make a good pass. The best pros, the select few with long all-star careers, are the ones that find tricks that can create some time and space to set up the creative play that winds up scoring and winning the game at the critical juncture.

You must reclaim your prime time in your daily life and invest it wisely. Most of us will never have more than a couple of hours each day of prime time. But if you make space to think, if you set appointments on your calendar to not get interrupted while you work on the important project that matters to you, you will find that you will accomplish your strategic goals and create things of lasting value, instead of just staying busy on faux urgent matters.

Building a good habit takes 12 sincere weeks. Start small — reclaim 30 minutes of prime time each day by making an appointment with yourself — 30 minutes is surely not too much to ask. Plan those 30 minutes at a time (mid-morning?) when you are typically fresh, alert, and attentive. Pre-plan what you will work on during that 30 minutes of prime time and focus on this one objective. Put the smartphone on silent for that 30 minutes. Disconnect from all your usual sources and feeds. Leave the office if you have to, or at least close your door. If you follow this habit for one month, you will discover pre-planned prime time is not only possible, but critical. Then step up to two 30 minute appointments, pre-planned each day, for the next month. See how far investing time wisely can take you.

A person that reserves and invests just one hour of prime time each day will complete a novel in less than a year; or create a great new web site; or develop a new app while learning javascript; or build a pretty little gazebo in your backyard; or learn to fly a plane; or record a video blog for your kids when they are grown and you are gone; or begin to speak French. What can you create or accomplish, of lasting long-term value, if you stop living exclusively to the busy busy drumbeat of other people’s urgencies?

I.M. Optimism Man

PS. If you enjoyed this article, please read my related Red Pill Clarity post from early 2011.

Dec 262015
 
robert-waldinger

People, especially young people, are predictable when asked what their important goals are in life, goals that specifically will help them achieve happiness. Invariably, money and fame appear at the top of the list.

Well, it turns out that there are few comprehensive studies about happiness over a lifetime. Studies are relatively easy to pull off when they only last a few years. Studying people for a lifetime, on the other hand, almost never happens.

Here is something extraordinary: a study that has focused on happiness and lasted 75 years. The conclusion is well worth thinking about:

robert-waldinger-on-ted

In previous posts, I have argued that, in my humble opinion, gratefulness is the key to happiness. Robert Waldinger makes the case that the quality of your social relationships is the most important key to achieve happiness. Maybe just maybe, gratefulness and great relationships go hand-in-hand and rank as #1 and #2. No matter, the clear point is that money and fame are not answer.

2016 might be the year to take a hard look at your own life. Are you investing the time and energy it takes to build extraordinary relationships?

I.M. OptimismMan

Dec 072015
 

There are millions and millions of pages written about how to succeed. Yet for all this nuance, fundamentals always matter most. A key aspect to success is making lasting, sincere friendships and influencing people is a positive, optimistic way. Leadership and influence is not just about title — true leadership involves having personal influence that transcends position in an organization.

Dale-Carnegie

One of the best works written on the fundamentals of this topic is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People which has clearly survived the test of time. Below is a great reminder that I stumbled upon just today:

dale-carnegie-how-to-win-friends

I.M. OptimismMan

Oct 172015
 

A lot of people talk about achieving ‘balance’ in life. The part that no one seems to mention is that every single decision in life comes with a price, and that balance is an achievement of wise decisions made.

I’m a fervent believer that you must strive for balance: it is far too easy to succumb to the gravity of daily work, so much so that you miss the rest of your life, including your family, your health, and brilliant moments of peace and happiness.

balance-matters

The most difficult decisions wind up costing a lot in time and effect your financial flexibility, ultimately changing your outlook and life’s balance.

Consider this:

1. Every decision has a direct price to be paid
2. There is a domino effect, a likely consequence, that changes what decisions are available to you, next, after the immediate decision is made
3. There are both direct and indirect benefits
4. There is a cost to some other aspect of your life’s balance

Those that foresee these four aspects clearly and are right about what the short-term and long-term domino effect will be — at least 80% of the time — will have a better balanced life.

How can you improve your decision making results? Write the facets of each decision down, with what you anticipate regarding the four points above, before you decide, in your permanent journal. Then, revisit and review on a set schedule (at least once a year) — there is a lot to learn when you see how your own thinking actually plays out. Most people forget the logic that they followed in the past and are therefore doomed to repeat mistakes of judgement in the future. Don’t forget to write down what you learn, as that too changes over time.

Learn to make decisions better. I believe that it can be done.

I.M. Optimism Man

Aug 212015
 

Some people are cheap, some are value-oriented, and some are not careful with their spending habits. I fall squarely into the value-oriented Costco legion. I love getting a great deal but I rarely buy the absolute least-expensive version of a product, believing in the idea that you tend to get what you pay for.

costco

My quest for best-value-for-the-buck is not obsessive because it is invariably tempered by my #1 productivity habit/goal: minimizing the time required and invested in any pursuit. I remain first-and-foremost, a time-focused “how to best invest (and not spend) my time” individual, but I also want to know that I got a great deal.

Which type are you? If you are value-oriented, read on.

I’ve recently noticed a subtle but important mental trap that must be avoided, if you are to maximize value out of any purchase: don’t look back once a decision is made, unless the return policy is still in effect and in serious consideration.

cruise

For example, the water-is-truly-under-the-bridge after you get on a cruise ship for your family vacation. Your goal must transition, leaving the payment transaction in the rear-view mirror and looking forward to maximizing your enjoyment and really experiencing the trip. This will not happen if you continue to question the decision, complain about the price already paid, or cut corners on every discretionary expense that accompanies the primary purchase. If you stay focused on price paid, you will enjoy the trip, or the car, or the smartphone, tablet, or laptop a lot less than you would have, because you will still be polluting your inner zen with a ricocheting thoughts about “should I have made this choice — and — was this a good buy at the price that I paid…” Optimistic value-seekers understand that there are two sides of a purchase and therefore, plunge in with both feet, enjoying the purchase, maximizing their experience, and having fun, without complaints.

My advice is that the minute you are on the far side of any purchase, never look back. Seize the day (or purchase) for all you can get out of it.

I.M. Optimism Man

Apr 022015
 

I posted a large bundle of Warren Buffett quotes last year, but I find this one worth repeating:

Should you find yourself in a chronically leaking boat, energy devoted to changing vessels is likely to be more productive than energy devoted to patching leaks.

buffett-optimist

Where are you patching a boat right now?  Is it chronic?  Are you willing to do something about it?  Why not?

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 152015
 

Can you think differently? Really creatively? Can you ask “why am I doing things this way?” or “why am I doing this at all?” at a truly atomic level?

In many things — business, school, life — we seem stuck on rails, unable to stop doing things the way we have done them, the way they have been done for prior decades — even if we have many proof points that question whether we are on the right track.

One of my most obvious examples is managing public companies for results every 90 days. The “quarterly results squeeze” invariably results in a whole host of problems, including net margin compression, motivation destruction, loss of quality employees, loss of quality in general, investing only for the short-term, and all kinds of foolish wasted time and energy. Yet, almost every public company continues the sad practice unabated. It hits the company that is struggling hardest of all, which helps many good firms auger into the dirt, unable to pull up from the dive.

This TED video is a great test to see if you are able to think differently on a large scale. I believe Ricardo is a wise luminary who tests most people’s ability to take a leap of faith. I’m sure others will see Ricardo as flat out crazy.

ricardo-semler

I think his ideas, ideas that have actually been tested in his company and in education, should be considered, given the dismal results many of our current paradigms in business and education are delivering.

Most importantly, all of us have opportunities to do things differently, to question everything in our own personal sphere of influence. What is a topic in your like that you should ask “why” three times in a row on, and what can you try to do better, to do differently?

Please watch the video, and then decide — are you able to truly think differently, or are you cemented in the status quo? You are not on rails — you can, if you believe that you can. Choice is all powerful.

I.M. Optimism Man

Mar 142015
 

It is way too easy to let other people think — and make conclusions — for you. We are often quick to accept myths, and propagate them to others, as though they were God-given.

Myths are all around us.

We only use a small percentage of our brain. Not true.

Men and women are dramatically different. Not so much. In truth, the differences are actually statistically small when it comes to language ability, spatial reasoning, and many other factors, with a large percentage of women outperforming the average man on all factors except for physical strength (and vice versa on the factors where the average woman outpaces the average man).

Left handed people are more creative. Nope. Visual learners vs auditory learners. Everyone has a major lean one direction or the other, right? No, not right. Mozart makes you smarter. All this is myth because differences that are measured and detected are negligible in scale and biased by the test itself.

Flying isn’t safe. Actually, it is crazy safe. Crashing is not safe — ok, that one is true. Filtering your water or drinking bottled water will make a positive impact on your health. Doubt it, given the water quality in most American cities. Now, if you drink more water because you focus on your water, that’s a different discussion. Location matters: If you are in Africa, water quality takes on a whole new level of concern — filters matter. Vitamins will give you more energy. Unfortunately, not supported by any proof.  Aroma oils, or the SleepNumber bed, will help you sleep.  Only if you believe it, and your belief is what matters, not the pricey bed, oils, and atomizers.

Want another 1,000 myths busted? Watch Mythbusters — I love a show that questions prevailing wisdom.

mythbusters-poster

Unfortunately, few humans do their own research. The wisdom of crowds is perhaps, not so wise. Google makes it easier than ever to try to dig one or two layers deeper — but of course, you have to question the motives and perspective of the articles you find as well.

My point is simple. When you hear a “fact” spoken with great authority, it is wise to question it. I have found that perhaps as many as 1/2 of these facts are tainted, or the differences exaggerated so much so that making decisions based on them is foolish. I realize that I often don’t get to the truth, but thinking it through, the process itself, is always helpful in the end.

One of the “facts” I strongly disagree with is that a person “can’t beat the stock market averages” so therefore, go ahead and invest in mutual funds, invest with (expensive) professional investment counselors and brokerages, and invest in ETFs. The implication is that you should simply strive to be average. The people that push this one make their living by selling their services to you.

normal-distrubution-bellcurve

Stock investing returns, and almost everything in life, follows a normal distribution, a bell curve.

If you find your own way to stay above the average even by a few percentage points, your returns over 20 or 30 years will greatly outpace a person that is dead-on average, or a few points below. I believe that is possible by just paying better attention and following some principles in your approach.

The funny part of the myth is that if most people believe they can’t beat the markets, that actually improves the odds for people that believe that they can.

Investing is but one example. Questioning everything opens up new possibilities and new understanding. It is well worth adopting on every aspect of your life.

Life offers great possibilities to be an outlier if you believe you can be an outlier. But that’s a future post.

Cheers,

I.M. Optimism Man