Gas Up Along the Way

I love learning!  Like most people reading this blog, I consider myself a life-long learner and enjoy the process of learning new ideas and skills.  At the end of every year, I want to be able to look back and say that I know more now than I did last year at this time.  Life is more exciting and fulfilling when I’m continuously learning.  What’s not to love about learning?  Well…

Whenever we decide to embark on a new undertaking, one of the first things we do is learn as much as we can about our new adventure.  That makes sense, right?  Any time we pursue something new we need to gain knowledge to identify the path we need to take in order to get started.  At the very beginning, learning is a crucial step. The problem occurs when we have gained sufficient knowledge to get stated and instead opt to postpone action in order to pursue additional learning.

I look at learning like putting gas in a car before a cross country road trip.  Before hitting the road we drive to the gas station and fill the car with gas.  Once the tank is full, we’re ready to embark on our trip.  Do we have enough gas for the whole trip?  No.  Will we need to acquire more gas along the way?  Of course.  Do we have enough gas to begin our journey right now?  You bet!

Wouldn’t it be ridiculous to sit at the gas station after filling the car and think, “You know, I should get another gallon of gas and carry it in the trunk, just in case.”  Imagine doing that and then thinking, “I should probably fill up another couple of gas cans to have because I don’t know what I may encounter along the way.”  Suppose this train of thought played out multiple times.  At the very least, our trip would be significantly delayed.  At worst, we’d never embark on the journey we’d planned.

The answer:  Hang up the pump, put the car in Drive, and get moving!

Likewise, continual learning in place of action, when we already have the knowledge we need to get started, can thwart our efforts to move ahead.

So what keeps us from taking the knowledge we’ve acquired and putting it into action?  Why do we get stuck in the mode of, “Ready… Aim… Aim… Aim…” without ever getting to “FIRE!”?  There could be several reasons such as:

  • Fear of the unknown.
  • Getting outside our comfort zone.
  • Lack of commitment to our goal.
  • Self doubt or discouragement from our own negative self talk or from others.
  • The thought that learning is less threatening than taking action and risking failure.

When you  notice that you’re postponing action in favor of more learning, take a moment to ask “Why?”  Ask this question until you get to the root cause that’s keeping you from that first step.  Once you discover the “why”, acknowledge it, commit to taking the first step, and then do it.

I heard a great quote recently that says,

“Too much learning and not enough doing will turn you into an over-educated under-achiever.”

I don’t want to be like that.  I want to learn with the intent of putting that learning into action to make life better for myself and for others.  Yes, we need to be continuous learners, but not at the expense of taking action.   Once you’ve gained enough knowledge to take that initial step, get started!  Move ahead as far as you can.  When you get to the point where you need more knowledge, pull up to the “gas pump” of learning, “gas up” for the next leg of your journey, and then continue on.

Cause something to happen by putting your learning into action.  Put your dreams in Drive and get moving.  You’ll always be able to “gas up” along the way.

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The Garden of Your Mind

Have you ever thought of your mind as a garden?  I would argue that each of us carry the most fertile plot of land we will ever own, right between our ears. Our minds are capable of producing a harvest greater than that of the most fertile soil or the most efficiently run farm on the planet.  So how do we leverage this valuable real estate we’ve been given?  Are there some “gardening tips” we can apply to the garden of our minds?  I believe there are.

Much like a conventional garden, which produces its crop based on the seeds the gardener sows, our minds also produce a harvest based on the seeds we plant in it.  However, seeds planted in the mind come in a different form than seeds that are planted in the ground.  Seeds for the mind include things like:

  • Books we read
  • People we hang around with
  • Podcasts, blogs, people, and websites we follow
  • Movies and TV programs we watch and the music we listen to
  • Groups we associate with

Anything we see, hear, or experience is a potential seed falling on the fertile soil of our mind.

So when these seeds are planted in our minds and take root, what do they produce?  They produce:

  • Mindsets and paradigms
  • Thoughts
  • Ideas
  • Attitudes
  • Beliefs and ideals

The bigger questions we should be asking ourselves are, “What kind of thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and attitudes is my mind producing?”  Are they positive, and taking me in the direction I want to go in life?  Do they encourage me and make me want to learn, grow, and stretch to become even better than I currently am?

What if they’re not good?  What if your thoughts, ideas, beliefs, and attitudes are negative, leaving you feeling defeated, discouraged, frustrated and fearful?  If this is the case, I’d suggest looking at the seeds you’re allowing to be sown, and take root, in your mind.

It is impossible for a gardener to plant seeds of corn and yield a crop of anything other than corn.  Since corn is what the gardener planted, a harvest of corn is what they’ll reap.  If the gardener wanted carrots instead, they should have sown carrot seeds rather than seed that produce corn.  The exact principle is at work within our minds.  If we fill our minds with seeds of positive input, we’ll get a harvest of positive thoughts and ideas in return.  On the contrary, fill your mind with seeds of negativity and defeat, your thoughts and ideas will be negative and defeating.

Just like a garden, our mind requires constant care to ensure that it’s getting proper seeding.  If seeds that we don’t want have taken root, they should be immediately uprooted and disposed of.  Isn’t it interesting (and frustrating) how easily weeds grow?  You don’t even have to plant them and they show up everywhere!  Think of negative thoughts as weeds in your mind.  If you’re being attentive to what you allow into your mind, weed producing seeds can creep in and take root.  Once a weed has been identified in your mind, remove it immediately and plant something positive in its place.  Left untended your mind, much like a garden, will become overrun with weeds.

Let’s be aware of the seeds we’re filling our minds with and the harvest they yield.  If we don’t like the harvest our mind is producing, we need only sow different seeds that will produce a harvest we desire.

What weeds do you need to remove from your mind?  What seeds do you need to begin sowing?  Cause something to happen today, by actively tending to the garden of your mind.

Get Beyond Irritated

ARRRGH!!  Have you ever been so irritated that you just wanted to yell or scream?  (I hope I’m not the only one who’s ever felt like this!)  There are several things that can drive us to become irritated.  It could be a recurring behavior we keep engaging in.  Maybe we’re irritated by a bureaucratic process or organization that seems incapable of providing reasonable value.  Irritations also come from those we regularly interact with or it could even come from within ourselves due to a gap between our expectations and current reality.

It feels safe to say that at some point we’ve all been irritated.  So what should we do when this occurs?  Do we just brush it off and move on?  What’s the proper response to irritations we encounter?  I like the thought I heard on a recent podcast that suggests we get “beyond irritated”.  So what does that mean?

When we find ourselves irritated we have a few choices.  We can remain irritated, or we can use the irritation as a catalyst to spark an action that leads to a positive change or outcome.  This is the essence of getting beyond irritated.

When irritation strikes I’ve found it rather easy just to remain parked in an irritated state.  This seems to be the default reaction for most folks, as it requires zero effort or thought.  We just naturally seem to go there.  However, as noted above, we have a better choice.

This is where we get beyond just being irritated.  No, we’re not taking about taking our irritation to the next level, where we allow ourselves to go completely berserk.  That would be counterproductive.  Getting beyond irritated is a different way of thinking.  It’s using an irritation to spark action to improve the situation, to cause something to happen.  Think of irritation as the event that strikes the match of positive activity.

Looking back, I realize I’ve used this concept, in a small way, in my own life recently.  I use to get to the end of my workday and leave in a hurry in order to catch the bus on time.  It always felt like I was rushing out and leaving things undone, only to be dealt with the next morning.  I would arrive the next day to a messy desk and loose ends from the day before, irritated that I had, yet again, set myself up to have a chaotic morning.  Not only was it irritating, it was not how I wanted to begin each day.  A few months ago I decided to start blocking out the last 10 minutes of my day to assess what I was working on and schedule my tasks for the following day.  That way, I’d arrive the next morning to an orderly desk with a plan for the day ahead.  So far this plan has been working extremely well.  Since its implementation, I have not been irritated by a chaotic workspace.  That irritation has been removed.

What things constantly irritate you?  Is it being out of shape, stuck in an unfulfilling job, poor relationships with those closest to you?  Be mindful when you become irritated.  When you do, very quickly ask yourself, “What action can I take to get beyond this irritation?” and then take that action.

Never waste an irritation by failing to follow it up with a positive action.  If not, you could be leaving a potentially life changing opportunity on the table.

Paint a Picture

I was reminded recently of the power of a picture when trying to convey a concept or a thought to other people.

I work at Xerox as a Business Systems Analyst and last week I was trying to explain to a team of 8 people how I thought some messaging should appear on one of our customer facing web pages. The idea of what I wanted was clear in my mind, but as I was explaining it to others, I could tell they weren’t “seeing” what I was describing.  Although I made repeated attempts to explain more clearly, I still wasn’t getting through.  After the meeting I put together a quick Power Point mockup of what my vision was and emailed it to the team.  As soon as each team member viewed the mockup, they instantly understood how I thought this web page should look.  Everyone had the same picture in their mind.  The picture I wanted them to see.

When we’re communicating with someone, we’re never sure what picture of the topic they hold in their mind.  We can’t really be sure if they are on the same page as us, or if they have a picture in their mind that is completely different from what we see.  It would be nice if we could see the picture someone has in their mind.  Sometimes I wish people had cartoon thought bubbles above their heads so I could see what picture they have and what they’re thinking.  Most times I’m glad our thought bubbles aren’t visible, because I’d probably get my feelings hurt a lot.  J

The best thing we can do to ensure that we are communicating clearly, and that people have the same picture in their mind as what we’re attempting to explain, is to paint that picture for them.  There are several ways this can be done, such as:

  • Create a detailed mockup
  • Write out a rough sketch, chart, or drawing
  • Make a comparison to something they’re familiar with
    • It’s as big as a football field
    • It’s the same color yellow as the McDonald’s arches
    • It’s the same shape as the state of Nevada

(Did you have a picture in your mind of each of those items as you read this?)

What are some other ways we can paint pictures for other people?  Where can you start to paint clear pictures for people you communicate with this week?

As we seek to cause greater things to happen, we’ll need to become skilled at sharing our ideas and visions with others.  Look for opportunities in your communication to paint a picture for your listeners to hold in their mind.  You’ll be thrilled with how effective your communication will be and how your influence will grow.