Why You Should Keep Readers Guessing

Harsha Chigurupati wants to make your spirits functional. 

Don't you want functional spirits? 

Functional spirits potentially help billions of people. 

At this point, you're probably wondering "what the hell are functional spirits?" And that's precisely what you should be thinking. Congratulations. 

You might feel a little frustrated--maybe even angry at me, the writer. You might be thinking, "why doesn't he tell me what a functional spirit is?"

And I will, dear reader. I will. In just a moment. 

But there's great benefit in keeping you in suspense. Benefit for both of us. 

For you, it make this story more interesting. For me, you will remember both the phrase "functional spirits" and its meaning better. Because you're wondering what I mean by "functional spirits," your brain will celebrate when you get it. That celebration will include a little shot of dopamine, the reward chemical. Dopamine makes you feel pleasure, like when you eat something good, win a prize, or have sex. And when you discover something gratifying, like the meaning of "functional spirits." 

Discovery is the key here. When suspense is satisfied, you feel more powerful. You've discovered the missing ingredient. It helps when you, the reader, had a hand in unveiling the truth. Like putting the final piece in a puzzle. A mental puzzle. 

Harsha Chigurupati invented a technology that eliminates most of the physical harm from drinking. In other words, Harsha's made alcohol work for us instead of against us. His spirits function for humanity's betterment, thus (you're way ahead of me) functional spirits. 

You won't forget that term now. You might even find yourself using "functional spirits" in conversation. Or you might modify other nouns with "functional" in the next few days. Functional bread. Functional shoes. Functional pets. You'll apply it to anything that works for you instead of against you. 

Alcohol gets us buzzed, but it messes with our livers, our genome, and with all of our cells because of oxidation. But functional spirits protect our cells and our livers. They're functional. They serve a purpose without the detriment. 

Now you've learned three things in one post: functional is good, delayed gratification aids memory, and alcohol infused with NTX protects your liver and other organs from damage. Good reader.

Feel smarter? I thought so.

The Sum Of Your Life Will Be a Legacy. Dare To Look At Yours?

At the funeral mass for a nasty, stingy, mean-spirited, reviled parishioner, the priest asked someone from the congregation to recall at least one positive trait of the departed.

makes_eat_time

Silence.

“I can’t believe that a man can walk the earth for seventy-plus years and not touch a single person in a positive, loving way,” the priest said.

Nothing.

“I know many of us had our differences with Mr. Gilford, but this is his funeral mass and we are Christians. I won’t continue until someone says a kind word about our departed brother.”

A few coughs echoed through the church. Some people nervously paged their missals. 

After a few minutes of quiet, a man in an old, gray overcoat rose slowly to his feet. He cleared his throat and said, “The brother was even worse.”

What Will They Say About You?

Will people line up to share your wonderful life stories at your funeral? Will they show up at the funeral home out of love and loss or out of a sense of obligation—to be seen? Or only to comfort those you leave behind, silently joyful that their lives are now free from the burden of . . . you?

5 Signs of Abundance

Scarcity sells. Scarcity is fear--the fear of loss, on the mild end, to the fear of death, on the extreme.

Mahonia Golden Abundance

 

Modern society promotes the idea of scarcity in all things. Businesses stress scarcity—scarce jobs, scarce resources, scarce opportunities, scarce money.

I say “nonsense.”

The guy who sells you scarcity sells lies.

Life is abundant.  The universe knows only abundance.  Only stupid humans can look around and see scarcity. Only governments and the UN would stoop so low as to create scarcity for political purposes.

The idea of scarcity draws out the worst in people. Fearing shortages and limitations, we stockpile, we steal, we deny, we cheat, we hoard, we lie.  Scarcity inspires wars of conquest and the building of empires.

Lisa Bloom, the Story Coach, reminds us today of a beautiful Jewish holiday celebrated today and tomorrow.  Shavuot 2011 runs June 7 through June 9.  In Bloom’s words:

It is Shavuot, the festival that celebrates the first fruits and the revelation of the Torah (the five books of the Old Testament).

It’s like we are granted the most unbelievable abundance and then given guidance as to how to live it!

I had not planned to write about gratitude and abundance, but I realize that it is not just about awareness.  It is a practice on a daily basis that is so relevant to my business as well as my personal life.

For Christians, the Feast of the Pentecost occurred on Shavuot.  I read last night that the two holidays—Pentecost and Shavuot—are unrelated.  I don’t buy it.

At Pentecost, the Apostles gathered to celebrate Shavuot but in great fear after Christ’s Ascension. The Holy Spirit came to them in the physical form of tongues of fire. The Apostles received an abundance of graces, including the gift a being understood by speakers of any language.

As our economy heads back toward the doldrums, it’s easy to believe that only economic abundance counts. But we’d be wrong. Economic abundance is a side effect of living a life of authentic abundance.

To help, here are 5 signs of abundance we can all see every day:

1. Love abounds.  I get a coffee at the McDonald’s drive-through every day. Two of the drive-through operators who began working there about a year ago were never too friendly. A man at the first window, a woman at the second, scowled and barked orders.  Instead of returning their hostility, I decided to smile and treat them with tremendous respect.

Today I noticed how their attitudes have changed.  Big smiles, a friendly, “How are you today? We missed you last week,” from the woman.  I figure that they were scared when they started a year ago. I hope my smiles helped them learn to enjoy their jobs knowing at least one customer wouldn’t bite their heads off for a small mistake.  This is love, in its simplest form. It’s free, and it knows no bounds.

2.  Gratitude abounds.  Lisa Bloom writes about the power of gratitude.

When you are truly thankful, appreciate what you have and when you believe that we live in an abundant universe;

-          you are a positive and powerful force in the world

-          you attract more of the same

-          you are happy

-          you are fulfilled

-          you are at peace

-          your ideal clients will find you

-          your business will thrive

Saying “thank you” costs nothing. And you can never run out.

3.  Beauty abounds.  Yes, it’s 97 degrees in St. Louis, and our air conditioner is out. But so are the blooms and the green leaves and the turtle that our Yorkie-Poo talks to. We are lucky enough to have a swimming pool that cools us in beautiful water amid towering oaks and walnuts.  No matter where you are, nature abounds, even in the cracks of the sidewalk.  Life emerges from odd places, which is beauty itself. If you think there is no beauty around you, look into a child’s eye.  Look long and hard. You will find beauty. And you’ll never run out.

4. Happiness abounds.  If you’re looking for happiness, you’ll never find it. It’s already in you. Release it by smiling or laughing. You don’t need a reason. Happiness, once released, infects others and bounces back at you. If you choose happiness, your happiness will only increase. If you demand others give you happiness, you’ve started on the deadly road to scarcity.  There’s no limit to happiness once you’ve unleashed it.

5. Prosperity abounds.  In America, the number one health problem facing the poor is not starvation, but obesity.  Only a remarkably prosperous civilization could face such a challenge.  Think of all you have without contrasting it against the wealthiest person in the world.  Turn off the television, because it skews reality.  (Television programs—all of them—are designed to make you buy more, not to appreciate what you have.)  Instead, compare what you have to what you truly need.  Chances are, if you’re missing anything, you’re missing things that can’t be bought—like love, gratitude, happiness, and beauty. Appreciating what you have will only bring more of it. And there’s no limit on appreciation.

Happiness Equilibrium

Which would make you happier:  winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed? way-to-happiness-01-af 

Stupid question, right?

In a two-part study published in 1978, Brickman, Coates, and Janoff-Bulman compared lottery winners’  levels of happiness to a control group. They did the same for a group of paraplegics. 

One year after the event—either winning a lottery or becoming paralyzed—all three groups reported the same degree of happiness.

How Can This Be?

Happiness seeks equilibrium.  When you’re poor, you find happiness in little things: a sunset, a child’s report card, catching a fish, watching puppies play. Win a million dollars a year for life, though, and those little things seem mundane. A new BMW, which was once a pipe dream, is now six-months old and feeling . . . well, old.  Expensive clothes and exotic vacations become the norm. Quit your job and you also lose a sense of accomplishment.

Contrast that with the paraplegic.  Reduced mobility eventually breeds appreciation for what’s here right now. The paraplegic becomes grateful what wasn’t lost—memories, family, friends, the way the cat moves across the deck when he thinks no one’s watching.

The Pursuit of Happiness Drives Progress

So why do we strive for happiness? Because “we are wired to pursue happiness,” according to Nancy Etcoff, a positive psychology researcher at Harvard. This pursuit provides little, temporary bits of happiness. That drives us to work harder.  In the process, we learn that by making others happier, we tend to earn more happiness ourselves. This social aspect to happiness drive community building. 

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And by “work harder,” I don’t necessarily mean at the office.  Mother Teresa worked harder at her pursuit of happiness.  Parents learn that spending more time with their children enriches both lives.  Writers write; readers read. Both get bits of happiness from the book.

Why Is This Important?

I can think of two reasons why it’s important to understand that happiness naturally tends toward an equilibrium. 

First, this knowledge teaches us that it’s good to pursue happiness. It makes nihilism infeasible and unjustifiable.The fact that we can earn bits of happiness by pursuing happiness is fantastic news. In short it means that living works.  Keep doing it.

Second, it allows us to take risks.  If happiness were an absolute, then we’d be foolish to gamble whatever happiness we now have.  One mistake would mean a permanent loss of happiness.  But that’s not the case. Even if we suffer huge setbacks like paralysis, we can still achieve happiness—the same degree as if we’d won the lottery.  This news allows us to live more robust lives.

What are you doing to pursue happiness? How will this news help you overcome some fear and try something new?

How to Ignore Critics

This fantastic quote comes from Nasim Taleb (author of The Black Swan) via Timothy Ferriss (author of The Four-Hour Work WeekI). 

Robustness is when you care more about the few who like your work than the multitude who hates it (artists); fragility is when you care more about the few who hate your work than the multitude who loves it (politicians).

Dazzling, really.  Imagine what we could accomplish by ignoring the haters.

Our little Yorkie-Poo, Stella, likes to lie on her back, legs splayed out. We laugh at here immodesty, but she cares nothing about our criticism. She is open, free, and cool. She cares only for our affection which the greatest cynic could not contain.

How do we channel the artist’s robustness and flush the politician’s fragility?

Ignore the Critics.  Few brands are hurt by things others say about them as they are by the things they say about themselves. I have never really been hurt (feelings aside) by what others have said about. But boy would I like to take back some of the things I’ve written, said, or done in reaction.

Listen Less.  I unsubscribed to my Google Alerts for my name, my blogs, and my books. I blocked Twitter accounts that regularly criticize me. I pay almost no attention to facebook.  The only time I hear the bad things people say are when someone else brings it to my attention, or on the very rare occasion that hater has the courage to say it to my face.  By blocking out the senseless negativity, I am a much happier, more productive man.

Keep Moving. The enemy will inflict the most damage when you’re pinned down, because a stationary target is the easiest to hit.  So keep moving.  “Damn the torpedoes, Smedley; full steam ahead.”  The universe hates it when people successfully resist entropy by creating something wonderful or doing something meaningful.  That’s where the criticism comes from.  Keep moving and the universe (and your critics) will spend their ammo shooting where you’ve been.  Let them.

Pray for the Haters.  They’re miserable. The people who ridicule and attack you are unhappy. They deserve your prayers.  “Bless them, Father, for they know not what they do,” is simple enough.  I like to add, “Same goes for me.” 

Try these tricks if you find yourself the target of verbal attacks.  They’ll help you focus on your fans and ignore your critics.  It’s liberating.

3 Quick Ways to Make Collaboration Work

She looked confused by the question. 

“I just wanted to know how you develop ideas in the War Room,” I repeated.

The young woman looked past me, over my right shoulder, and out the window toward a tree-lined parking lot. Her pupils focused on a distant object, then on something inside her head.

“We don’t really develop ideas, I don’t think. We just talk about what’s behind schedule and how we can get more resources.”

So a group of people who work together every day do nothing but fight a plan? That’s not collaboration so much as group torture. 

The idea of a war room, or massive collaboration room, sounds appealing, and for over a decade we’ve been told that rampant collaboration will solve the world’s problems.  And yours.  “None of us is as smart as all of us.” Whatever.

But as I look around the office and around my life, I find problems have persisted despite massive collaboration.

What went wrong? Is collaboration just another failed theory from some jerk’s Stanford MBA thesis? Or are we doing it wrong?  Or has a good idea been oversold?

Let’s go with number three.

The Theory Theory:  Collaboration works.  Have you ever seen a 5 on 1 power play in a hockey game?  They don’t have them because one player against 5 will result in a goal in very short order.  Hockey is a collaborative sport. 

The Bad Practices Theory: Now we might be doing collaboration wrong at certain times and places,but I don’t think some bad practices have caused us all to cringe at the sound of the word.  Bad practices tend to resolve themselves because we are social creatures who understand innately how to work with others to achieve a goal.

The Oversold Theory: So I come back to overselling for a couple of reasons.  First, we tend to oversell and over buy every good idea.  Too much of a good thing is the American way. Second, while hockey is a collaborative sport, other activities are decidedly not. 

Creativity requires solitude. So does software design, great writing, and deep thought.  Meditation doesn’t benefit from a dozen people talking about it or doing it together.  (Someone in the room will invariably breathe funny.)  Some things either benefit from or absolutely require solitude, as Leo Babauta points out in this column on ZenHabits.net.

Along with solitude goes participation or collaboration. The thing we create must appeal to others, and others often serve as testers or inspiration for our creativity.  Total isolation will lead to dull results, just as total collaboration will lead to group think and mediocrity.

So here’s three quick ways to make collaboration work:

  1. Schedule two hours of solo work for every one hour of collaboration.  You say you work for a big company that won’t let you?  Push.  You owe yourself and your employer every opportunity to get the most out of your day. But if that still doesn’t work—if you are locked in a room with others for eight hours a day—set aside an hour or two of your own time for solo work and dedicate that time to a particular task. People will want to know your secret, and that’s your chance to change your organization. “If we all had a two hours a day to think and experiment, imagine how productive we’d be.”
  2. Spend an hour alone every morning.  This sometimes requires that you change your sleep patterns, but it’s worth it.  An hour of quiet solitude first thing in the morning—before breakfast, coffee, or shower—can produce powerful ideas and results.  Try dedicating this hour to the single most important thing you need to accomplish.  (h/t Leo Babauta, again)
  3. Practice solitude within the multitude. Just because you’re assigned to a war room doesn’t mean you’ve lost your right to speak.  (If you have, then maybe you need to find a new job.) Raise the idea of 2 quiet hours every day. Push it. Make the rules simple: no talking, no phones, no music.  People may type or think or read, but may not speak. And stay in the room or out, but don’t wander in and out.

As with any practice, the time you set aside for solo work will be as effective as you make it. While meditating and daydreaming frequently add value, writing, drawing, coding, and designing are what someone actually pays for.  That’s why I recommend the two-to-one balance between solitude and collaboration, to allow time for both the thinking and the doing.  Plus the collaboration for the validation and inspiration.

Use the time well, and learn to make your solitude meaningful. It will pay off in buckets.

How to Solve Every Problem

jumping-moon A friend of mine explained an interesting theory to me the other day.

“The natural tendency of the universe is to level everything,” he said. “This entropic force leads us to just ‘go with the flow.’  But what makes us human—what built civilization and made man noble—was when we finally resisted entropy.  When we built a levy to keep our village from flooding, or when we learned to lure and trap, then farm, animals instead of tracking them.  Those were acts of resistance.”

Fascinating.  And it rings true. And everything worth doing meets up against resistance.  The universe likes disorder, and man’s attempts to stand athwart entropy, yelling “STOP!” just piss it off.

But we do it anyway.

And in standing up to the universe, we take a great risk.

Another way to describe this act of resistance is raising standards.  If you’re a Tony Robbins aficionado, that might sound family.  In Awaken the Giant Within , Robbins admonishes us to raise our standards about everything. 

That’s great, but it’s very difficult to successfully adopt more than one change at a time.  So let’s put a little minimalism on this concept. 

The next time you’re faced with any problem, raise your standards. 

The tendency—the way the entropic universe wants you to handle id—is to lower your standards.  Got a lot of student loans?  Take a job the government wants you to take in exchange for loan forgiveness. See a law you don’t like? Complain to yourself.  Don’t like your Congressman?  Deal with it. Someone flips you off?  Flip back and yell.

Those are all examples of lowered standards.  How could you raise your standards for each of these to force a different outcome? 

How about getting a second job to pay off the student loan early?  How about starting a foundation dedicated raising awareness about that law’s consequences? How about supporting a worth candidate?   How about smiling and saying a prayer for the bird flipper?

Do I follow my own advice?  No.  Not all of the time.  I try, but I forget. I’m not as diligent as I should be about raising standards and many other things.

One of the reasons I’m stating this publicly, though, is to put more pressure on myself to raise my standards.  By posting it here for friends and enemies to see, I will have to be more conscious of the need to lift my own standards whenever I’m faced with a problem.

That means every problem, from my emotions to my lawn care. 

Here are three simple questions that help find the higher standard?

  1. What do I believe that allowed this situation to develop?
  2. What would I have to do to make this situation the way I want it to be?
  3. What am I willing to stop doing in order to make it the way I want it?

The answers to these questions will show you the path out of any problem and into a high standard for yourself.  It’s worked every time I’ve tried it, anyway.  I just don’t try it often enough.

 

I would love to hear about your methods for raising your own standards in the comments below.

2 Paths to Focus

target I had a small revelation yesterday: there are two paths to focus.

One path requires constant vigilance against distraction.  This path also demands great awareness, knowledge, and outlandish tenacity.  This is the path we recognize as heroic.

The other path gets less notice, less acclaim. Of those who follow this second path, you never see them trying. These are the “naturals,” it seems. Things come easy for them.

But the second path requires a lot of work, too. 

The first path to focus makes your eye (or eyes) hurt.  You strain to place all of your concentration onto one tiny speck. You squint and squeeze your eyeball. That speck could be a planet billions of miles away or it could be a subatomic particle.  Both require massive, focused concentration. The person who achieves this concentration earns praise as a hero and hard worker.

The second path to focus requires learning to eliminate everything but the target. Instead of mastering concentration, you master release and surrender.  You let go of everything that’s not the object of your study or the target of your arrow. You think, see, and understand less and less until, at last, there is nothing in your universe except you and the target.

Then you release the arrow. It has no choice but to strike the target, because nothing else exists. 

Following the second path to focus will earn less praise for hard work and genius because it looks easy. But when the two paths cross, those on the second path will triumph every time.

How to Be Happier

Happiness is a choice; anger is a tactic. Anger will have to wait for a future post.  This one is about happiness.

So let me ask: would you do something that took less than a minute if that something would make you happier?

Martin Seligman at University of Pennsylvania’s school of Positive Psychology has broken down happiness in more scientifically measurable components:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Purpose

Other research has shown how to increase your happiness score.  Before we discuss that, though, let’s dispel some notions.

When we talk about increasing your happiness, we don’t mean eliminating the bad or troubled things in your life. What we mean is increasing the happiness.  You can be happy despite your troubles—look at Job and Mother Teresa.

Nor do we mean that you will rate yourself as “Hap- Hap- Happy!” if someone asks, “How you doin’?”

Before you wander away, though, consider this: if you do this thing for 30 seconds to a minute every day, you'll be happier than if you don't.

Even better, if you do this for 21 days in a row, the effects will last for six months.

Now, are you ready to be happier? Then here’s how.

Every morning, write down three things you're thankful for.

That’s it.  If you want to get a reminder, register here and they’ll send you a reminder if you go twenty-four hours without recording things you’re thankful for. (Whether or not you make your little gratitude notes public or private is up to you.)

This works by instructing your subconscious mind to notice and note things that are positive.  These could be very little things, like a little boy trying to close the tailgate of a very large SUV, or very big things, like winning the lottery.

As you catalog more and more positive things in your life, you’ll arm yourself with more and more solutions.  On the other hand, if you only recognize problems, then you’re armed with more and more problems.

Try this for twenty-one days.  If you’re not satisfied, post comment.  If you are satisfied post a comment.

BONUS:  If you really want to make a difference, consider sharing the things you’re grateful for.  Tweet them or post them on facebook.  ThankfulFor.com makes this easy.