On Truth and Possibilities

Brown skinned feet with red toenails on green grass.
Me, enjoying a moment of sunshine and introspection.

Just told the truth about something. Risked quiet criticism disguised as questions, but told the truth all the same.

In the past I might’ve eventually gotten there. Perhaps.

It would’ve taken forever to word it the right way, couching it to ward off potential negativity. I might’ve given a partial answer, obscuring the whole truth for an unsatisfying omission. But the truth was the truth. My truth. One I’ve known for a long time, but didn’t have, or create, an opening to share it. And finally here was my chance. I took it.

I mentioned Brené’s work yesterday and I think it’s part of the reason I responded as I did. She encourages you to be courageous, and embrace vulnerability, “the feeling we get when we feel uncertain, at risk, or emotionally exposed.”

As a thoughtful, shy, introverted adult, I think a lot, but I don’t share my thinking much. Only with those who know how to listen. Really listen. And in the past couple of years, I’ve become even less inclined to share for one reason or another. But this practice of silence has resulted in a diminished quality of life – wasting time on things that don’t bring me joy, and don’t create value. Sure, there are times when such work is required, but if a few moments of vulnerability can remove hours of meaningless shit, well isn’t it worth the effort?

Not too long ago, I might’ve said no. Might’ve found that toiling away on nonsense was worth the safety, the security, the silence of certainty. But we live, and hopefully, we evolve, and when the time is right, we make new choices. And when the risky, scary moment ends, possibilities begin.

Don’t Stop Before the Home Stretch

Once the weather is a little warmer, I increase my monthly running goals from 35-40 miles a month, to 50. I set and hit 50 this March and planned to do the same for April. As it turns out, I traveled in April, and was off my usual schedule for the better part of a week. 

This was the longest run of my trip.

I embrace flexibility with my goals – not to let myself off the hook, but to adapt with changing circumstances. It’s not always practical or necessary to reach every goal “no matter what!” Especially in this case, where the purpose of the trip was to unplug from the grind and connect with my boo. Rather than Herculean efforts to rise by 5am and run 4-5 miles, we slept in most days, I ran a little here and there, and that was that.

When I returned home, I immediately adjusted my expectations and changed my goal from 50 miles to 40.  I got back in the mix and resumed my schedule. This included my usual short to medium runs during the week, and long runs on Saturdays.

This weekend’s long run was longer than usual. I crossed the finish line with 7 miles.  When I finished today’s run, my last of April, I knew I had surpassed 40 miles for the month. Imagine my surprise when I discovered my final tally was 49.4. That’s right – almost 50!

I hopped out the car, took a sip of water, and jogged a quick loop in my neighborhood to get the last little bit.  Although I don’t “stress” to get my goals, I do “stretch” to get them. To be honest, adding that additional 5 or 10 minutes wasn’t a real stretch but it was the home stretch. And I had almost missed it!

It was a good reminder to keep my goals and the progress toward them in sight. Because I took for granted that I would definitely meet the easier milestone, I almost missed my ideal.

It’s great to be flexible and make adjustments as needed, but that doesn’t mean I need to be careless or lose site of the bigger picture.

Are any of your goals are closer than they appear? Don’t sell yourself short. Take stock of your progress and keep striving. The home stretch might be just around the bend.

You Can’t Run Hills Everyday

Man running outside just before dusk.

Think of a moment when you were full of energy. You were clear, focused and productive for a time – a day, a week, maybe longer. What had you done in the hours or days leading up to that moment?

It’s likely that your clear, focused burst of productivity was after a period of rest. Or it may have come while you were working on something associated with your higher purpose. You may have engaged in something that stretched you and then turned to an easier project.

If any of these ring true, it’s not on accident. You reaped the benefits of managing your energy.

According to Loehr and Schwartz, performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy. They elucidate four principles for energy management:

  • PRINCIPLE 1:Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
  • PRINCIPLE 2Because energy capacity diminishes with both overuse and under-use, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal.
  • PRINCIPLE 3To build capacity, we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way elite athletes do.
  • PRINCIPLE 4Positive energy rituals — highly specific routines for managing energy — are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance.

One can understand that elite athletes must have a reservoir of energy, must be able to call on that energy in times of need, and must be disciplined to replenish that reservoir so it’s available when the time comes. Loehr and Schwartz lend this framing to a concept they call the “corporate athlete,” – busy executives who must also perform well, consistently and under pressure. Beyond the time and the know-how, energy is the key.

Being able to recruit energy when needed is essential to attaining the ideal performance state (IPS). This is where the management of energy comes in. Managing your energy means intentionally moving between states of stress and recovery.

As a runner, I balance long or intense runs with days of rest. True story – as I write this, my legs are burning from today’s hill workout. If I try to repeat hills again tomorrow and the next day, I risk declining performance and injury from overtraining.

I need to allow my muscles time to recover via rest and/or cross training. Moreover, I need to provide my muscles the right nutrition, including water, to aid their recovery. If I do this, I’ll be in great shape when it’s time to tackle those hills again, and I’ll have better results on my easier, flatter runs.

The same is true at work. There are always proverbial hills to run, often without the attendant moments of purposeful recovery. In fact, many of us work until we quite literally can’t work any more, akin to an athlete passing out or suffering a serious injury due to overtraining.

Loehr and Schwartz recommend rituals that promote “oscillation,” which is the purposeful dance, or ebb and flow of stress and recovery.

The four sources of energy (Principle 1) are physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. In the last article of this series, we’ll explore each of these in more detail. Until then, what are some rituals you’ve tried to help you intentionally flow between exertion and rest?

Optimal Performance Starts with Energy, Not Time

Time is a precious resource. If we took a poll on Twitter or Facebook, you would find few of your friends disagree with this premise. We get mad when others waste our time. We get disappointed in ourselves when we waste our own time. We do everything we can to rearrange our day to maximize our time. We use apps, we take classes, we label tasks as urgent or important or neither or both. We set alarms. We do everything to prioritize and manage our time.

But have you ever put the same amount of effort into managing your energy?

Even if you manage your time well, you must have the energy to do what needs to be done.

We’re busy all day, trying to create work/life balance even though we check work emails on our phones until late at night. We rush to have meaningful conversations that don’t go well. We over-schedule ourselves, overstuff our to do lists. And when it’s all said and done, another 24 hours has come and gone with little to show for it. How do they do it? We ask of our uber-productive faves. They launch projects while we drown in adminstrivia. We think if only we had more time, we could accomplish more and be more satisfied.

I offer you an alternative view.

Energy is the Key

What if the issue isn’t time—or time management. What if the issue is really energy? A focus on energy compels us to reconsider much of what we’ve believed about organizing our lives.  Even if you manage your time well, you must have the energy to do what needs to be done, to think in the complex ways you need to think.

Let’s ponder two new thoughts:

  1. Energy is the fundamental currency of high performance.
  2. Performance, health and happiness are grounded in the skillful management of energy.

According to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, in The Power of Full Engagement, the skillful management of energy—individually and organizationally—makes full engagement possible. To be fully engaged in our lives, we must be physically energized, emotionally connected, mentally focused and spiritually aligned with a purpose beyond our immediate self-interest. This is a phenomenal insight many of us haven’t fully considered.

Everything we do requires energy. As obvious as this is, we fail to take into account the importance of energy at work and in our personal lives. Without the right quantity and quality of energy, we are compromised in any activity we undertake.

Dragging to the Finish

Energy management is different from energy boosts.

Think about it for a moment. If you have everything planned out in meticulous detail, but you’re dragging with 10 hours left before bedtime, how engaged will you really be in those activities? How productive or fulfilled? How likely are you to accomplish what you’ve planned, before you give up, shut down and try again tomorrow?

No, I don’t want you to increase your caffeine as a way to “boost” your energy. But in my next post, I will offer some guidance to help you become more effective at managing your time by starting with your energy.

Until then, I’d love to hear about your strategies for managing your energy. Is this something you’ve considered in the past? What works for you?

Journaling is a Dialogue with Yourself

A great dialogue can unfold when you seek to truly understand your partner. If you go into conversation with an open mind, ask meaningful questions and listen deeply, you can come away with powerful insights about the topic (and the speaker). With this framing in mind, I offer that the most meaningful journaling is really conducted as a dialogue. With yourself.

Previously, I mentioned the importance of making journaling a routine. But what exactly are you putting on the page?

Just as there’s no singular way to engage in conversation, there are just as many possibilities for journaling.

Positives

In her 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Want to Be an Outstanding Leader? Keep a Journal, Nancy Adler suggests leading your reflection time with some positive takeaways:

  • What was I thankful for today?
  • What did I do well today?
  • What did I learn today?

Responding to questions like these helps put your brain in a positive state of mind. The brain is easily threatened. Threat dampens your creativity, decreases your understanding of options, and leads to reactive, rather than proactive thinking. When you reduce threat and increase positivity, you increase your field of possibilities, engagement and motivation. In short, you raise your confidence and productivity.

Self Awareness

  • What made me laugh today?
  • What upset me today?
  • Did I feel successful today?
  • Did I disappoint myself today?
  • What inspired me today?

Self-awareness questions give you the chance to be a truth teller. You can acknowledge the good, the bad and the ugly, and your true thoughts and feelings about it all. You can improve your emotional intelligence by assessing your responses to various circumstances. You’re not judging yourself, you’re simply learning more about yourself. Gaining self-awareness helps you to become more intentional over time.

My Leadership

  • How am I leading?
  • What do others think of my leadership?
  • Am I reflecting my personal values?
  • Am I supporting my organization’s values?
  • Were my people better off today because of me?

Questions like these allow you to assess your impact and how it can be improved. Again, this is not the time to beat yourself up. Based on your observations, interactions, gut feelings and so on, what did you notice or learn about your leadership today?

My People/My Team

  • Who needs my attention?
  • What might my team be feeling?
  • What techniques/support/resources worked best?
  • What techniques/support/resources didn’t work?
  • Who has been consistently dependable / non-dependable?

Answers to these will shed light on how to manage talent better.

My Goals

  • Did I get closer or farther from my goals today?
  • What can I do differently?
  • What did I prioritize today?
  • What were the results?
  • Are my goals still appropriate?
  • What is the purpose of my work?
  • What fulfills me?

In particular, when I felt my time did not reflect my priorities or values, I reflected on questions like this quite a bit. It helped me to be more proactive with prioritizing and scheduling. It also led me to do some exploration of my values to find out how I could express them more at work.

My Day

My current favorite is the quick run down. I do a check on the day and set an intention for tomorrow:

  • What were my goals for today?
  • What went well?
  • What didn’t go well?
  • What will I do differently tomorrow?

The categories and questions here are just a guide. I recommend you try journaling a few days and then decide what kinds of questions are most meaningful for you.

If you’re stuck and feel unsure how to begin, you can simply ask yourself one question: What happened today? As you answer, really listen. Pay attention to yourself. Just as in a dialogue, you’ll naturally pose relevant follow-up questions. After a few days you’ll have a good idea of the questions that will make journaling most meaningful for you.

The most important thing is to start. 

On Leadership Journaling

Black woman writing in a diary on a wooden desk.

In today’s digital world, there’s one analog practice I cherish. Journaling.

Now to be fair, you can journal on your phone, tablet or computer, but I’ve long found that my best thinking comes when I make time to put pen to paper. This age-old practice isn’t just for personal insights and daily documentation. It’s also a great tool for leadership growth as well.

On first thought, it may seem counter-intuitive to suggest leaders find time to journal, of all things. The business climate changes day by day and there’s pressure from all directions – superiors, stockholders, customers. You have to be ready, agile, quick. But you also have to be visionary, innovate, creative and smart. And that’s where journaling comes in.

Nancy Adler, an expert in arts-inspired leadership, writes:

Extraordinary leadership requires seeing before others see, understanding before others understand, and acting before others act.”

Wise leadership requires careful reflection of evolving ideas and feelings that may be forgotten from one day to the next. Mental processing is difficult enough without the added distractions from push notifications, information overload and more. Let’s face it – deep thinking seems impossible when you can barely keep up with email!

But we encourage leaders to try journaling as a way to retell, review and understand the events of the day. Just the act of recording what happened and what you thought, felt, or noticed will give you perspective over time.

Journaling allows you a moment of quiet honesty in a busy life. You’re not sharing your notes with direct reports, peers, or anyone else. You’re writing for you, so you can tell the truth as you know it. Document ideas you want to revisit, research or refine. Acknowledge, observe and work through feelings, gut reactions, and hunches.

Not only does journaling prevent your important mental notes from being lost, but it also improves your thinking. Research funded by the National Institute of Mental Health found that settled brains are better at processing and problem solving. Journaling quiets the mind so you can think more clearly in the moment. I sometimes refer to it as meditation by writing.

Take a few minutes to document and digest your day.

Additionally, research sponsored by the National Institute of Health found that replaying experiences in our minds is a great tool for learning. As you relive thoughts and feelings while journaling, you reflect on them. Such reflection is a key step in increasing self-awareness, as well as better understanding the world around you.

Dan Ciampa, author of Right From the Start: Taking Charge In a New Leadership Role (Harvard Business Review Press, 1999), believes journaling what’s working and what’s not throughout the day is great for learing. There are lessons in your successes and mistakes, and with a little practice and diligence, you can discern when and how to implement positive changes. 

Balance Begins in the Brain

I’m busy. And even though you’re reading this, you’re probably busy. Who isn’t? But in all that busyness, are you able to be about your business? In other words:

  • Are you productive?
  • Are your important tasks prioritized?
  • Is your thinking clear and sustained?

There’s a lot of emphasis on work/life balance, how we spend so much time at work or doing work-related tasks, it bleeds into our personal lives. We’re overwhelmed, and out of balance. But work/life balance isn’t the only scale that matters. 

Have you stopped to consider the role of cognitive balance? When I say cognitive balance, I mean the things that help your brain function more optimally. If your thinking is clear, crisp and sustained, perhaps you can more effectively prioritize your tasks – something that requires a lot of mental energy. And if your tasks are better prioritized, perhaps you can be more productive. And if you’re more productive – making good use of your time – perhaps you have more time for that elusive thing called real life.

So how do you start to approach cognitive balance? How can we balance activities to benefit our brain and ultimately, lead more fulfilling lives? Drs. David Rock and Dan Siegel developed the concept of the Healthy Mind Platter™. According to them, a healthy mental diet includes:

  • Sleep time – Time spent sleeping. No really. Sleeping.
  • Physical time – Getting the blood flowing is great for your brain.
  • Focus time – Sustained attention on one task. No multi-tasking or constant email checking.
  • Connecting time – Connecting with other humans or with nature.
  • Play time – It’s not just for kiddos. You need it, too. Be social, and have fun.
  • Down time – Netflix and chill. Or something like that.
  • Time in – Mindfulness. Be here now.

How balanced is your mental diet? What will you tweak or try?

Close the Gap

I love a good beginning.

As far as I’m concerned, any reason is a great reason to start. Any time is a wonderful time.

Today is the first day of the year, the first day of the week and the first day of the month, but none of that really matters.

The important part is, today is the day I’m ready to begin.

It seems I spent most of 2017 dormant. I basically stopped blogging and limited my tweets to greetings and #templebuilding updates. But the truth is, I helped my cousin/big sister land our first federal contract. We also delivered two excellent projects for a corporate client (we’ll finish one last one this month).

The thing I’m most proud of is a creative victory. I took a short story I wrote years ago and transformed it into a chapter book manuscript. I love my book, AMANDA AND MISSY, and I’m looking to get it traditionally published.

I’ve gotten some encouraging passes (nos) from agents, so we’ll see if it finds a home in 2018. It won’t be my best book or my last, and it isn’t the book I wanted to write last year, but I needed to start somewhere to begin closing the gap.

Ira Glass refers to the gap between your taste and your creative ability when you’re first starting out. Some of your early pieces might anywhere from horrible to even good, but they may not live up to your own standards of excellence. Not due to self-disparagement, but because of an honest assessment of where you are vs. where you’d like to be.

The only way to bridge this gap is by doing the work. Learning, trying, producing. There’s no magic formula, there is only doing. And that’s what I’m about in 2018.

I’m actually about many things this year. I’m returning to some old tried and true productivity strategies and trying out a couple of new ones. I’ll tell you more about those, as well as my three mottoes for the winter quarter in future posts.

What are you about this year? What will you accomplish this year? What’s the work you have in store?

On Clearing Space and Creating Victory

Over on PhYINomenal, Sojo’s self care focus for November is Elimination – time to release, remove, denounce, deny and let go. It’s a great time to release that which no longer serves you and invite in affirming energy, new processes, and transformative experiences.

If you’ve never checked out her site, today’s a great day to do it. Get the self care calendar for November and see what simple things you can do to release the deadweight and bring new life.

Over the years I’ve found myself in that place many times. One time in particular, I was stuck, stagnant and depleted. I needed something, anything, that could help me recharge my life and get inspired again.

I finally realized that I didn’t need to look outside myself for the answers. With patience and intention I could create them for myself. And I did. I spent several weeks enacting some simple practices, not unlike the suggestions Sojo recommends each month. And in short order, I found my joy once again.

I wrote about that experience shortly after it happened. I shared my story and my steps once or twice and then forgot about it. Earlier this year I sat down to dish with Sojo about templebuilding (listen here!), and it all came back to me. I even found the guide I drafted years ago and decided I’d put it out in the world. Eventually.

As it turns out, now is the time! I tried to convince myself to wait until next year, or next month, or next season. Later. But it’s always later. So if there’s one thing I’m working to release this month, it’s Resistance and his twin sister, Procrastination.

As a 42-year old woman who has lost both parents (momma 13 years ago and daddy 10 years next month), I know for sure that time waits for no one and tomorrow is not promised.

I’m not expecting my work to reach a million people, but I do hope it can create value in the life of at least one. If you’re looking to revive your inner beauty, and do it your own way, consider using my guide as companion in your walk. It’s available here.

Let me know how you tap into your creativity and create your next victory.