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!

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 Thy Self

Pop quiz!  Ready?  The question is, “What is the best use of a hammer?”

Let me guess, you probably said something like, “driving nails” or “pounding stuff”.  In fact, I’ll bet the answer sprang up immediately in your mind as soon as you finished reading the question.  Why is that?  It’s because everyone knows what a hammer is designed for and what jobs it does best.

Here’s another question:  Do you know with absolute certainty what you’ve been created to do better than anyone else? I’m not simply asking what you’re good at, but rather, do you know how you are uniquely skilled and gifted so that you can focus your skills on activities that yield your greatest contribution?

I think that each person has a set of talents and skills that are unique to them.  These skills and talents may not seem like a big deal to the person who possesses them.  That’s because they can execute them with ease, almost effortlessly, and do them better than a large majority of people on the planet.  I also think that people are at their best when they are using their unique talents and skills in pursuit of something they feel passionate about.

Are you currently aware of your unique talents and skills?  Do you know what types of activities excite you to want to use your unique skills?  Are you frequently using your unique skills in these activities?

If you answered “Yes” to these questions, congratulations!  If not, here are a couple of things you can do to gain an understanding of your unique skills:

  • Spend some time taking an inventory of all the skills you possess.  If you need some help, I’d recommend reading Unique Ability by authors Catherine Nomura, Julia Waller, and Shannon Waller.  I’m just finishing it and I’ve found this book to be an excellent resource in this area.
  • Determine what moves you, what stirs passion inside you.  Again, Unique Ability is a great resource.
  • List activities you can you engage in that would be a great marriage of your talents and passion.
  • Cause something to happen by engaging your talents and passion in the aforementioned activity.

Much like a hammer, we’re at our best when we’re doing what we were created to do.  As a result, each of us should know exactly what our unique skills are.  Just as assuredly as we know what a hammer is best used for.

Begin taking steps today to identify and utilize your unique skills and talents in an activity that stirs you.  Not only will you feel great doing so, you’ll also be serving others in a way that only you are uniquely gifted to do.

There’s Only Learning

Like a lot of people, I love learning new things.  There’s something cool about starting out not knowing anything about a topic, spending time learning about it, and then having an understanding that I didn’t have when I started.  What’s even better is applying what I learned and seeing positive results.  That’s the true value of learning.

But what about failure as it relates to learning?  Have you ever thought of failure as a necessary step in the learning process?  No one likes to fail.  It makes us feel clueless, ignorant, worthless, or a whole host of other self-defeating feelings.  I would guess that many people don’t even risk applying what they learn, or even attempt to learn new things, in order to avoid failure and all those negative feelings that come with it.  We potentially miss out on so much because we’re afraid to fail.

What if we change our mindset to view failure not as a shameful and defeating event, but instead see it as a form of learning?  Multiple times in the past several weeks I’ve heard the phrase “There is no failure, only learning”.  That’s powerful!  When we first set out to learn something new, we already know and accept the fact that we are clueless, ignorant, and worthless in that subject.  And we’re fine with that.  Why?  Because we know that is the starting point of all learning.  We show up with nothing.  We also know that, as a result of learning about our chosen topic, we won’t be that way for very long.  As we begin to apply what we learn, we soon find that we are becoming competent, knowledgeable, and valuable in our chosen topic.

Isn’t failure just part of the learning process, helping us discover what works and what doesn’t?  If so, shouldn’t failure be seen as a crucial part of the learning process?  I think so.

Don’t let the fear of failure keep you from attempting to cause something to happen.  See it as a natural part of your learning process.   And always remember, there is no failure, only learning.

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.