The Big Muscle

As I was walking into work recently, I noticed our facilities guy Ralph rolling a large filing cabinet around on a small square wooden platform that had a caster wheel on each corner.  While on this platform, the large cabinet was obviously easy to move around.  I was intrigued with how Ralph got the cabinet onto the platform in the first place.  In my mind, I was thinking of how he might have done this, but it seemed like that it would have been challenging and involve some degree of brute force.

My curiosity finally won the day and I asked Ralph how he was able to get the big cabinet up on that tiny cart.  Ralph explained his method and how easy it was, using some leverage and surprisingly little effort.  After he finished his explanation, he looked at me smiling, pointed to his head and said, “You’ve got to use the big muscle first.”

I love that saying.  It’s so simple, yet so true.  Ralph was stating the obvious, though often forgotten principle, of first thinking about what you’re doing and creating a plan before just diving in and forcing something to happen.

I must admit that I don’t always remember to do this with tasks at hand either physical or mental.  So often, I attempt to cause something to happen by physical force or will, without first coming up with a logical approach to accomplishing the task.  Have you ever rushed into a task like that, without a first thinking about what might be the best approach?  I hope I’m not the only one.

As you face new tasks this week, take a few seconds to stop and see whether you would benefit from using the big muscle first.  If you’ve successfully completed the task a million times before, you can probably go ahead and jump right in.  However, if you are presented with a task you’ve never done before, or done very few times, it would most likely be beneficial to use the big muscle first and get a plan of attach in place instead of just diving in.

Give it a try.  See if your tasks don’t become easier to complete by using the big muscle first.  It’s just waiting to be put to work!

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Expect to be Successful

Earlier this week I was talking with a colleague who was telling me how they wanted to start riding their bike to work when the weather began getting nicer.  I was impressed with his declaration and told him that his plan sounded like a great idea.  After which he said, “Yeah, but I probably won’t actually do it.  I’ve already got my excuses lined up.”

His comment surprised me.  As I thought about it more, I wondered how often I’ve sabotaged my own efforts to get begin something by having a similar mindset.  If I’ve got a list of reasons or excuses why an endeavor will fail before I even start, how could I ever expect to be successful?  What’s the point of even trying?

It made me think of all the doubt and negative self-talk we can experience when undertaking a new endeavor (or just going through life) and how, just like my colleague’s comment, this kind of talk can sabotage our efforts, dash our initiative, and place a heavy lid on our potential.

Have you ever experienced this kind of action-stopping self-talk?  If so, here are some tools to help you combat this toxic way of thinking in the future:

  • Be mindful of your attitude, thinking, and the language you use.
  • When embarking on a new undertaking, see yourself being successful.  Tell yourself all the reasons why you will succeed.
  • When you think of potential barriers, think also of how you’ll overcome them.
  • Believe you can achieve the goal you’ve set out for yourself.  Not just an “I think I can” mentality, but rather know that you will be successful.  Remind yourself of this often.

We’ll never cause something to happen by holding a mindset that has “already lined up our excuses” for failure.  Remove that kind of thinking from your mind and replace it with thoughts of persevering, overcoming, and achieving your goals.

As many psychologists and speakers have said, we tend to move in the direction of our dominant thoughts.  Let’s all make sure our thoughts are taking us in a direction we want to go.

Cultivating Fallow Ground

Every day I read the chapter of Proverbs from the Bible that corresponds to the day of the current month.  I do this because Proverbs is filled with such practical wisdom and guidance that I can apply in my life the same day I read it.  On February 13th this proverb struck me like it never has before:

“The follow ground of the poor would yield much food…”   ~ Proverbs 13:23 (ESB)

Fallow refers to something that is resting, inactive, or used.  As I read this Proverb, I though not about a fallow or inactive plot of land, but rather about how our thinking, talents, and abilities can also become fallow.  I also thought about how, if I changed my thinking or utilized my talents more, I could be producing greater riches in my life, and not simply from a monetary standpoint but from a productivity and fulfillment standpoint as well.

So why do we allow our thinking and talents to become fallow?  I think it comes down to 3 basic reasons:

  • Fear of rejection.
  • Fear of breaking out of our comfort zone.
  • We try to avoid the struggle and unpleasant feelings and experience that can come from stretching our thinking and offering our talents.

Fallow thinking holds us back, and keeps a lid on our potential and the contribution we can make to our careers, families, and communities.  If your thinking has gone fallow, even if only in a certain area of your life, be encouraged.  Just like a fallow plot of land only needs to be cultivated and tended to begin producing a rich harvest, our thinking and talents can also become productive by simply deciding to begin cultivating them.

Here are 3 steps you can take today to cause something to happen to cultivate your fallow thinking or talents:

  • Identify your talents and offer them in service to others, either paid or unpaid.
  • Change your thinking toward a positive bent.  Instead of initially focusing on the negative or allowing your thoughts to park on what is negative, be mindful of cultivating thoughts that are positive and action oriented.
  • Think of the simple things you need to do that day to move you in the direction you want to go, and then do them, no matter how small.  Do at least one small action per day.

Don’t let your mind or talents lay fallow a moment longer.  Put them to use today and set yourself up for a fruitful harvest in the future.

Are You Open to New Thoughts?

Have you ever encountered a fact that aligns perfectly with something you strongly believe?  I have.  And when I do, I usually am left thinking how great the author of the particular thought is.  It’s a different story when we hear a fact that is completely contrary to, or pokes holes in, a strongly held belief or opinion we possess.  We are likely to reject the information as a weak argument or as being outright false.  Why is that?  Is it just human nature, or is there more to it than that?  The answer is… “Yes”.

It’s called “Confirmation Bias”, and we all suffer from it. Confirmation Bias means that we tend to believe facts and ideas that support our opinions, and discount or completely disregard any facts that do not.  It makes sense when you think about it.  When we hold a strong belief or opinion about something, we’re not going to be super-eager to accept someone else’s idea that is contrary to our own.  Instead, we look for things that support what we believe, because we don’t want to be considered wrong in a belief we hold.

The concern with Confirmation Bias is that if we’re not aware of it, our thinking can become narrow, thus limiting our potential for growth and understanding of new thoughts and ideas.  If we are totally resistant to hearing any new thought that is contrary to our own, our thinking becomes stagnant and we severely limit our existence to the small world of our never-expanding beliefs and opinions.

How can we cause something to happen in our lives so that Confirmation Bias does not restrict us to the pre-determined parameters of our current beliefs and opinions?   Here are some ideas:

  1. Be aware of the existence of this bias as you go through you daily life and begin to be mindful of when you may be reacting to it.
  2. Learn to become open to hearing and considering the “other side” of an argument.  This doesn’t mean that you have to jettison your current beliefs in favor of what the other person is saying.  But at least be open to hearing contradictory facts and beliefs and in order to make informed decisions about what you believe and why you believe it.  Who knows?  You may even be exposed to a new idea that supports further supports your current belief.
  3. Be curious and growth minded.  Become interested in the beliefs of others any specifically why they hold those beliefs.  You may not agree with their belief, or even the reason that they hold it.  However, you will come away with a greater understanding of the person and what motivates their currently held opinions.  This is a key step to productive and meaningful communication.  Not to mention, it’s just fun to do!

Start today to be aware of Confirmation Bias, and how it shapes our beliefs and the beliefs of those we interact with.  By doing so, you’ll be increasing your ability understand and relate to those around you on a deeper level.

Know What You’re Getting

I was talking with a friend this week who was sharing his thoughts on the state of his chosen profession as a chemist.  He was obviously discouraged as he told me about the lack of appreciation, the challenges, and the perceived lack of respect for the profession.  He truly believed that there are no opportunities for chemists in today’s environment and how it would be a grave mistake for young people today to pursue a degree in this field.  He even told how he discouraged his son from choosing this major, although from my friends’ account, his son sounded quite gifted and interested in chemistry.

Afterward, I couldn’t help thinking about my friend’s conversation(s) with his son, giving him his opinion about the future of the field of chemistry.  I believe my friend was trying to help his son make a good choice, but I kept thinking how his opinion about chemistry would shape the life of his son as he chose another career, based on someone else’s opinion, rather than on his on likes and passions.

I’m sure we’ve all experienced something similar.  We receive an opinion from someone we know or trust, and we then make decisions based that opinion.  This can be especially true when the opinion comes from someone close to us.  It can be comforting to get someone’s take on a decision we’re facing.  However, I think it’s imperative that we are discerning enough to know what we’re getting from others and whether it is worth acting on.  More specifically, we should be able to determine if what we are getting is merely an opinion, or if it is real wisdom.  So what’s the difference?  I looked up the definitions of opinion and wisdom, and came up with the following:

OpinionA belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty.

Wisdom:  Knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.

As we know everyone has an opinion.  These opinions are based on the person’s experience, beliefs and thinking and are often presented as indisputable fact.    Wisdom, on the other hand, is based on timeless principles that are proven true time and again.  While opinions can be valuable, if I’m making a big decision, I want make that decision based on wisdom, rather than merely someone’s opinion.

We don’t want to give up what we’re gifted and passionate about because of someone else’s opinion.    Therefore, we need exercise discernment to know whether what we’re getting is an opinion or wisdom.  If it’s an opinion you’re getting, take it with a grain of salt and determine to make up your own mind on the matter.  However, if it’s wisdom you’re getting, perk your ears up, pay attention, and look for ways to apply the wisdom to your situation in order to cause something to happen in your life.

Begin paying attention to your conversations this week and in the future in order to more accurately assess whether you’re getting opinions or wisdom.  Not only will you’ll feel liberated by being able to tell the difference, you’ll also be better equipped to make wise decisions in your life.