The Marriage Investment

Wedding silhouette

I sat in the front row last Saturday at my son’s wedding.  Tim and Lucy stood before us, promising to love each other no matter what.

Lucy’s parents sat across from us on the other side.  I wondered what was going through their minds as they gave their daughter to this young man.  I couldn’t ask because of the language barrier.

But I could see in their eyes the trust they had built in Tim during a six-year, long-distance courtship.

He had flown to Guadalajara to ask for their permission to marry her.  It’s not common for a 33-year old man to do that, but he wanted to do it right.  He respected them enough to ask.

As I looked across the courtyard at her dad, I’m pretty sure I knew what he was feeling.

It was the same feeling I had years ago when Brian asked me if he could marry my daughter.

Wedding silhouetteWhen Brian took me out for coffee, I knew it was coming.  We sat outdoors on metal chairs next to the noisy parking lot, and he talked more than usual.  He played with his coffee cup, but didn’t drink anything – so I knew he was nervous.  It was a warm evening, but I sensed that he was sweating more than I was.

I loved that boy.  Still do.  And I’ll have to admit, it was fun watching him squirm a bit.

Finally he asked.

I don’t remember exactly how he asked, but I remember how I responded.

“Brian,” I said, “I just want you to know what you’re asking for.”

He got really quiet.

“Let’s say I started investing my money.  I studied how it worked, and learned about the market.  I invested a little bit every day, and was always careful to make the wisest investments possible.  I kept track of my portfolio, and kept adding to it for the next 20 years or so.  I wanted to get the greatest possible return on my investment, so I followed it carefully.  The economy would go up and down, and I never knew what would happen – but I made adjustments during those times to make sure it would pay off.”

I continued: “And let’s say it worked.  After all that time, my portfolio had grown to be worth a fortune.  The value to me was great, because I had put so much energy into it.  I had become wealthy.”

Brian kept listening, and wasn’t playing with his cup anymore.

“Now, you come along and say, “Hey!  I really like what you’ve done with your money.  Can I have it?  I’ll take good care of it!”

I asked, “What do you think I’d be feeling?”

He knew where this was going.  He said, “You’d have to really trust me enough to handle it, and care about me enough to give it away.”

“Exactly,” I responded.

“I don’t have that kind of financial portfolio.  I’m not wealthy.  But I’m rich, because I’ve invested in my daughter for two decades.  The payoff has been huge.  She’s my portfolio, and she’s worth more to me than you can imagine.”

“That’s what you’re asking for.  You’re not just marrying my daughter because you love her.  You’re asking me to trust you with my investment and hand it over to you.”

We talked for a while longer.

I said “yes.”  Brian started breathing again.

Almost fourteen years later, I’ve seen that it was my best investment move ever.

That’s what I saw in the eyes of Lucy’s dad last weekend.  He’s poured his life into his daughter, and he’s rich because of it.  Now, he’s trusting my son to manage his portfolio.

It won’t be perfect.  It won’t be easy.  But my son is a good manager of emotional investments.  This is the first time he’s had a chance to use those investing skills in a marriage relationship.  He and Lucy will work on that portfolio together.

He’s keenly aware of the value he’s been trusted with.  And he’s shown himself to be trustworthy.

It’s a reminder to me of the portfolio I was given 37 years ago by my father-in-law.  He trusted me, and I’ve worked hard on his investment.

When the payoff comes, everyone wins.

I love this type of investing.

How’s your portfolio?

Writing in Circles

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

I’ve been getting emails from a number of you saying, “Hey!  Did you quit blogging?”

That’s nice.  Ask most bloggers how many readers they have, and they can’t tell you.  You might have hundreds or even thousands of subscribers, but that doesn’t mean those people actually read what you’ve written.

I’ve heard that for a typical blog, you’ll get about one comment or email for every 130 people who actually read it.  I don’t know how accurate that is, but it’s interesting.

I get a lot more emails than comments.  I can understand that, because a lot of people want to connect without having the whole world know about it.  That’s usually what I do.  Maybe it’s an introvert thing.

Either way, it’s nice when somebody connects because they miss reading your stuff.

I guess it’s like having somebody who shows up at your house a couple of times a week, and all of a sudden they’re not there for a while.  If it’s somebody you like, you miss seeing them.

So, you deserve a response.  And my apologies for not letting you know sooner.

I haven’t quit. But have pulled to the side of the road to finish up a book I’ve been working on.  I have a September 1 deadline with my publisher, and I don’t miss deadlines.  So I’ve had to put my writing energy there.

Stressed writerI miss writing this blog, though.  I’ve discovered that I often don’t know what I think about something until I write about it.  You’ve been gracious to ride along and chat with me.

My personal deadline for finishing the book was July 31, which would give me a month to tweak and polish.  I finished with a couple of days to spare.

As I finish polishing each chapter, I let my wife read each one.  Diane is great at seeing what works and what doesn’t, and she’s honest enough to let me know.

I gave her the first three chapters after they were ready.  Last night I asked her at dinner what she thought.  I assumed she would make a comment like, “Where are we going to put your ‘Book of the Year’ award?”

She didn’t say that.  She was hesitant, and gracious.

She said, “You know how, when you’re speaking in front of a group, and you don’t really know what you’re talking about, how you start talking in circles?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“Well, you’re writing in circles,” she said.  “I can’t tell where you’re going.”

(Not exactly what you want to hear when you’re three weeks from your deadline.)

I asked, “So, how far into it did you get lost?” (hoping it would be at least in Chapter 3.)

She pointed to the middle of the first page.

(I know my editor reads this blog.  She probably just passed out . . . or went for a 200-mile bike ride to recover . . . )

The good news?  That’s exactly what I needed to hear.  Diane gave me some great input, and it made sense.  I rewrote the entire first chapter this morning, and she said it worked.

The bad news?   Well, I really don’t think there is any.  Without input, I’m writing in a vacuum.  With input, I know which way to go.

So, it’s back to work.  Three weeks left, and I need to stay focused (especially since I’m still traveling and leading seminars, and my son is getting married in Guadalajara two days before my deadline).

Thanks for riding along, and for the encouragement along the way.  I’ll drop you a note early in September, and we’ll pull out of this rest stop and get back on the road together!

Is it Better to be “Nice” or “Kind?”

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

“Do you want to get to the end of your life and have people just say, “He was NICE?” the speaker said.  “Is that what you want on your tombstone?”

“NO!” he continued.  “You want to make a difference!  You need to be strong and confident!  You want to be forceful about making change! You don’t want to just be NICE!”

I was probably about 10 years old at the time.  But I remember thinking, “What’s so bad about nice?”

Even at that young age, I had met a lot of forceful, confident people.  I admired them, but I wasn’t drawn to them.

The people I looked up to the most were nice.

My dad was nice.

I wanted to be like my dad.

Drinking fountainAs the years passed, I realized that you could still make a difference and be nice.  In fact, it was one of the most powerful ways.  The most influential people I knew were some of the nicest people.

But I also realized that it went further than that.  “Nice” was a foundation, but there’s a deeper dimension.  It had to turn into “kind” before it started making a difference.

Some people get stuck at “nice.”  They focus mostly on getting people to like them, trying to get validation from others.  They don’t express negative emotions, because people might not think they’re “nice” anymore.  It’s a needy, self-focused perspective that focuses on how they come across to others.

They want to make sure people like them.

“Kind” comes from confidence, giving to others just because they care – not because of what they get in return.  They don’t stuff their feelings, because they want to be real with others.  They’re not afraid to tackle the tough issues that lead others to become their best selves.

Kind people are nice, but nice people aren’t always kind.

Last year I had surgery for a hernia.  I was still experiencing severe pain after a few weeks, so I told the surgeon – who was a very nice man

He said, “Well, of course it hurts.  I knocked you out and cut you with a knife.  You think that’s not going to hurt?  And you paid me a lot of money to do it!”

He cut me because it would heal me.  That’s kindness.

Niceness wouldn’t make the cut.

My dad was nice.  But he was also kind.  He was always uncomfortable when he had to steer me in better directions, and didn’t do it very often.  But he did it anyway – and always in the nicest way possible.

Everybody’s going through something tough. Niceness is pleasant, but kindness helps them get through it.

Be nice to them.  Really nice.

But not at the expense of being kind.

“Nice” gets people to like you.  “Kind” makes a difference.

How Mayonnaise Can Save Your Marriage

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

There’s a glass bottle in our cupboard that contains homemade salad dressing. It’s a combination of olive oil and flavored balsamic vinegar that we pick up at a local specialty shop. The owner showed us the appropriate ratio to use to get the best results.

Whenever we put in on the table, the oil is floating on top of the vinegar. We have to shake it up to get it to mix. But we have to drizzle it over the salad quickly or it separates again. Sometimes it mixes well, while other times it still seems to separate again the moment we stop shaking it.

I figured it had something to do with the different types of vinegar. There had to be something that made some mix better than others. So I did a little research.

In the process, I learned a new term that I had heard, but never understood: emulsification.

I turns out that when you shake the oil and vinegar mixture, it breaks the liquid into tiny droplets. The droplets aren’t really mixing; they’re just hanging out temporarily, like people who just walked into a crowded event with thousands of people.

It looks like they’ve combined. But eventually, the droplets rejoin their friends in small groups and the liquids separate again.

But there are things called emulsifiers that can slow that process down considerably. Emulsifiers are different types of food you add to the mix that keeps those droplets separated longer. They work at the molecular level (which is why it’s off my radar – my high school chemistry teacher suggested I find a career in writing).

It turns out that certain herb-based vinegars blend better, because they coat the molecules so they don’t reattach as easily. That’s a simplistic perspective, but it explains why some salad dressings stay mixed longer than others.

But my favorite discovery was egg yolks. One description said that the molecules in egg yolks have sort of a head and a tail. One end is attracted to water molecules, while the other end is attracted to oil molecules. So they act as a bridge between the two to hold them together. It’s kind of a chemical matchmaker to keep totally unique types of molecules connected.

imagesMayonnaise is a great example. If it didn’t contain egg yolks, it would separate in the refrigerator over time. But with the yolks, it’s filled with tiny matchmakers that hold the whole thing together. That’s why we don’t have to stir mayonnaise each time we use it.

OK, maybe mayonnaise isn’t the healthiest thing in the fridge. But it’s a great metaphor for relationships.

Here’s my take on it:

There are “salad dressing relationships” and “mayonnaise relationships.”

Salad dressing relationships consist of two unique people trying to blend together. They live in the same bottle, and they’re trying to become one. But their different temperaments, personalities and interests drive them apart. They try to find common ground, but end up irritating each other. Over time, they get used to it and take each other for granted.

They’re together, but living separate lives.

Mayonnaise relationships have the same unique people trying to blend together. But somehow, it works. Their relationship is stable, even in the middle of the tough patches in life.

They have emulsifiers.

What are the emulsifiers that make the difference?

  • Unconditional commitment – Something powerful happens when there’s an atmosphere that says, “You’re stuck with me . . . I’m not going anywhere.” Those are phrases that need to be verbalized often, not just assumed.
  • Courtesy – The closer a relationship becomes, the more important it is to monitor respect for each other. Courtesy is the “golden rule” in practice, valuing others in the same way we want them to value us.
  • Mutual benefit – When conflict comes or we need to solve a problem, it’s healthy to look for solutions that benefit both of us.
  • Ownership – Healthy people take ownership of their emotions. If we blame someone else for the way we feel, we’ve given them control of our emotions. We can’t stop the feeling, but we can decide how we’re going to respond.
  • Identity – Marriage is a team sport – a single unit made up of two unique individuals. They each make a unique contribution that’s distinct from the other members of the team, but they work together to accomplish a common purpose. The strength of any relationship is the distinctness that each individual brings.

They say that the only things that would survive a nuclear blast are cockroaches, Spam and Velveeta cheese.

I wonder if mayonnaise would also be on that list.

I wonder if my marriage would be on that list . . . and I think it will, if we add the right ingredients.

 

What would you add to your marriage to make it last?

Don’t Miss the Obvious

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

Last week, the newspaper said that it would either be the greatest meteor shower ever, or it wouldn’t happen at all.

I’ve always been a fan of outer space, so anything that happens up there gets my attention. When Saturn is in the evening sky, I pull out my telescope to study its rings. The five moons of Jupiter always capture my interest. I’ve studied enough full moons that I could probably find my way around.

I never get tired of watching the International Space Station glide across the sky, even though I’ve see it happen hundreds of times.

Meteor showers are special. They don’t happen very often, so I’ve set my alarm for some time after midnight and stood in my yard a number of times. It’s often cold, and my neck hurts from staring straight up.

But it has never worked. All I get is a stiff neck and insomnia.

It’s probably because I live in Southern California, so there’s too much light. It’s tough to see many stars, much less a meteor shower.

But when my friend Will texted me about this one, I allowed myself to hope. There were two things that would be different about this one:

  1. Based on a mathematical formula, it had the potential to be the greatest meteor shower ever (or a complete dud).
  2. It would occur while I was above 6000 feet at a cabin in the mountains where there were no streetlights.

StarsSo at 12:30 AM, I bundled up and went outside the cabin. It was cold and crisp, and the loudness of the wind blowing through the forest was uncanny. Looking straight up, I could see the black silhouettes of the tree tops dancing against the star-crusted sky.

I stood there for about 10 minutes.

There were no meteors.

I thought, “OK, just one. If I can just see one meteor up here, I’ll be happy.”

That one never came.

Finally, I heard myself say aloud, “Well, that’s a disappointment.”

But immediately, I realized the irony of my statement.

I didn’t see any meteors, so I was disappointed. But that whole time I had been so focused on the meteors that I had overlooked the majesty.

Usually, the sky I see at home is black, with occasional stars perforating the blackness. But here, there seemed to be the opposite. There were so many stars that the night sky seemed to recede into the background.

I hadn’t seen that many stars since I was a kid, looking out the window as my parents drove through the Arizona desert in the middle of the night.

So here I am, focused on the most amazing scene possible and saying, “Well, that’s a disappointment.”

I bet I do that more often than I realize. I go through life looking for a unique event that’s exciting, but miss the everyday miracles while I’m doing it.

There’s majesty all around us – in nature, in our relationships, in our opportunities, in our faith, in our jobs, in our conversations, in our passion.

Meteors are great, but they’re so unpredictable.

Let’s enjoy them when they come, but not count on them.

Don’t miss the majesty.

10 Simple Ways to Make Today a Good Day

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

1. Go to bed 15 minutes earlier, or rise 15 minutes later. (Most of us need more sleep than we get.)

2. Send a text to a friend you don’t see often. (Say, “I thought of you today.”)

3. Eat an apple. (Your body will thank you.)

smiling coffee4. List 5 positive traits about a person who drives you crazy today. (Put it in writing.)

5. Download an old song you love and listen to it. (Do it for sheer enjoyment.)

6. Drive the speed limit. (You’ll enjoy the stress-free drive if you’re not in a hurry.)

7. Skip TV for this one day. (Reading is a dandy substitute.)

8. Pet an animal. (You might have to borrow one.)

9. Stare out the window for 5 minutes – twice. (Think through your blessings.)

10. Give someone you care about the gift of eye contact. (Listen carefully without distraction.)

 

Do it for just one day. See how it feels. Try it again next week.

Simple steps can make a significant difference.

Spending the Day in the Dark

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

It’s 12:18 in the afternoon in California. The flight map on the screen in front of me says we’re flying over Milwaukee, so it’ll be late afternoon when we land in New York. So basically, I will have spent the entire day in the air.

And in the dark.

I’m in Row 18. On the left side of the plane, every window in front of me has the shade pulled down on their window – all 17 rows. Same with the right side, except for Row 12.

Except for that one window, the entire plane is dark.

The person next to me has her reading light on, but she’s the only one. A few people are sleeping. Most are staring at a variety of things on their screen in the seat in front of them – movies, TV reruns, games.

It seems strange to spend the entire day in the dark. It’s not something I do at home. When I get up in the morning, I open the shades and windows to let the outside come inside.

I don’t remember flying always being like this. It seems like the planes used to be bright during the day, because people wanted to look out the window.

CloudsI know I do.

People pay a lot of money to fly, and they get a view they can’t get any other way. How often do you get to look at clouds from the top? How often can you look down and see the landscape below for miles at a time?

But they close the shades and endure the trip, trying to find ways to make the time go by more quickly. There’s something awesome right outside their window, and they miss the whole thing.

Often, when I have a window seat, I spend the whole trip enjoying that view. I picture my house being a tiny speck in that vast sea of houses, and it gives me perspective. There are a lot of houses out there, which means there are a lot of people in this world besides me.

It’s a good reminder that it’s not all about me.

I think it’s important to get perspective like that occasionally – to actually look out the window and see things as they really are.

Sit next to me on an airplane. I’ll be easy to find . . . just look for the window that’s open in the darkness.

Ready to fly?

The Kid Whisperer

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

We babysat our grandkids last night. It’s one of our favorite things to do, because we get to spend time with little people that we adore.

Usually it’s fun and games. But sometimes issues that come up requiring discipline.

And I’m always amazed that I rarely know what to do.

I’ve been a parent for 35 years, a spouse for 38 and a grandparent for almost 10. I’ve written three books on communication, and have two more on the way. I should have this figured out. But more often than not, I don’t have a clue.

It was a little thing last night. The youngest grabbed a paper that was important to the oldest. A tug-of-war started over it. I told him to let go. He didn’t and the paper ripped.

I thought, “OK, what do I do?” I helped the oldest tape the paper back together, but wasn’t sure in the moment how to handle the infraction from the youngest.

So I did nothing. He escaped without consequence, and I didn’t talk to the oldest about what she was feeling.

Not a huge issue in the scheme of things, but it got me thinking about “The Horse Whisperer,” “The Dog Whisperer,” and “Super Nanny.”

Redford horse“The Horse Whisperer” was a late ‘90’s movie where Robert Redford calmly and patiently won the trust of a wild horse and turned it into a strong but compliant animal. He started by simply sitting nearby and watching it for days at a time, connecting quietly until he built trust.

I remember thinking, “How could someone simply sit and stare at a horse for hours at a time?” (At the time, my wife suggested it was the same reason she could sit through a movie and stare at Robert Redford for hours at a time . . .)

“The Dog Whisperer” was a TV show where Cesar Millan would enter homes where undisciplined canines had destroyed any sense of order and serenity. The owners had given up. But he would walk through the door, looked the dog in the eyes, make a simple gesture with his hands and gain instant compliance.

“Super Nanny” was a British woman named Jo Frost who tamed kids who were totally out of control. She would come into a home when parents had given up hope, and provide logical, effective discipline that produced angels.

I’m not sure of the exact statistics, but I estimate that I have no idea what to do about 90% of the time. Even when I’m just having coffee with a friend and they tell me about some family situation they’re facing, I have nothing to tell them. I’d like to be profound, but I often draw a blank.

The thing that’s attractive about the three people mentioned above is that they always have answers. They’re confident. They write books about their techniques, suggesting that if we follow their advice, everything will be perfect.

They never say, “Wow . . . I’m stumped on this one. Good luck!”

Sometimes, that makes the rest of us feel like schmucks – especially when it comes to kids. We’re loving parents and grandparents, and would give our lives for these little people. In many ways, we do.

But in real life, scripted answers don’t always work. Kids are fluid. Just when we think we have them figured out and know what to do, they come up with another angle that catches us off guard.

I’m here to celebrate the majority.

We don’t have to be perfect parents. These kids don’t come home from the hospital with instructions and a warranty. We figure it out as we go, feeling inadequate and wondering if we’re ruining our kids.

Our kids won’t turn out perfect, no matter what we do. If we expect that, we’ll be disappointed.

We need to accept our imperfections, admitting them while striving to grow. We need to “be there.” We need to love unconditionally. Our kids need to see how we negotiate life when it’s uncertain.

We need to give ourselves grace.

The Super Nanny was 33 years old when she started the show – and she’s never had kids of her own. I read today that nine years later, she’s thinking of starting a family.

Please, please make it a reality show where we get to see the real moments where her kids don’t know her reputation. We need to see how she handles the moments where she’s out of resources, low on energy, high on frustration and simply at her wit’s end. We need to see her handle a toddler who strips naked in the grocery store, asks “why?” for the hundredth time or washes his dad’s cell phone in the toilet.

If it’s true reality, she won’t be perfect – and we’ll be OK with that.

In fact, it might become our favorite show – because we’ll have a genuine look at what to do when life happens.

How about you . . . ever feel inadequate at your parenting skills?

Which are Better – Morning People or Night People?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

It’s 5:13 AM.  I’m sitting by an open window and it’s dark outside.  The air is cool; the coffee is hot.  In a few minutes, the horizon will hint at a sunrise.

It doesn’t get much better than this, I think.

I love mornings.  Even on the days I’m not working, I’m up early.  I don’t want to miss the stillness, and the “firsts” – the first sounds of birds waking, the first rays of light, the first movement in the streets. 

It feels like a fresh start.  No matter what happened yesterday, morning gives me hope.  It’s like a “do-over.” It has the potential to be a great day.

My daughter, Sara is also a morning person (though it’s tougher now that she has three little kids).  When she was growing up, we’d get up early every Saturday morning, sit on the couch before anyone else was up, and talk for hours.  It was our time. 

It was awesome. 

Not everyone shares my joy, however.

morning and nightMy son, Tim is a night person.  It’s tougher now, because he manages a restaurant and often has to be there between 5:00 and 6:00 AM to open the store.

When he was little, he would sleep in until we woke him, and would fight his early bedtime every night.  He absolutely loved nighttime – the later, the better.  I never understood the attraction.

One year, we took a family vacation to Hawaii when the kids were in their early teens.  Sara and I would get up to watch the sunrise and grab some juice or coffee. 

Tim wanted to sleep in.  We would wake him up, but he was pretty grumpy.  We’d go for an early breakfast, but he wouldn’t talk.  He barely ate his food, slumped over his meal and disengaged from conversation.

I thought it was because he was a teenager.  I was concerned about his attitude, and felt like he was just being rude and rebellious.  I was worried about our relationship.  I tried to connect, but nothing happened.

I tried to “fix” him.  It didn’t work.

He was perceptive enough to know what was happening.  One morning, he mustered up enough energy to form a few words.  He put his head up, looked me in the eye and said, “Just give me two hours.  Don’t talk for two hours.  We’ll be fine.”

And we were.

I would feel the same way if somebody tried to engage me in conversation late at night.  I didn’t understand, but I came to appreciate it.

A few years later, Tim gave me an unusual gift for Father’s Day.  He made a certificate that said he would take me to a midnight movie.

I said, “Hey!  I thought you were supposed to give gifts that people actually want!  A midnight movie?  I’ll fall asleep!”

“Take a nap,” he said.  “You’ll be fine.”

I really wasn’t looking forward to it, but he really wanted me to go.  So I took a nap.

It was an action movie, so I actually stayed awake through the whole thing.  We walked out of the theater about 2:15 AM.  There weren’t very many people in the theater, so we stood on the street by ourselves.

It was quiet. 

It was peaceful.

It was amazing.  I had the same feeling I do when I get up at dawn.

He stood quietly for a minute, staring into the dark quietness as if to just take it all in.

“This is my world,” he said.  “I wanted you to see it.”

I saw it.  I felt it.  And I loved him for sharing it with me.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a night person.  And I’ll always prefer mornings – like I’m doing right now. 

But I don’t debate which is better any more.  I don’t have to be right.

I’ve just learned the value of looking through someone else’s eyes.

Why We Like Model Homes

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

Occasionally, my wife and I will walk through the model homes of a new housing development.  It gives us the chance to do something we don’t do in normal life – walk in the front door of somebody else’s house without knocking, and wander around from room to room.

I’m guessing that if we tried that in our neighborhood, we might also get to explore the back seat of a police cruiser.

I’ve noticed that while we’re walking through these homes, everybody whispers.  It’s like we’re trying not to disturb the occupants, even though we know there aren’t any.

Model homeThe houses are clean.  Music is playing softly in every room.  There’s no clutter.  The garage is empty and immaculate (that’s how I know it’s not real).  Storage space is everywhere.

There are no scratches on cupboard doors, no dust on top of the television, no smudges on the windows. 

There are no dirty dishes in the sink. There’s no mortgage.

They’re beautiful.

And they’re sterile. 

There’s no clutter of real life. There are no echoes in the walls of kids playing, no footprints of love on the carpet.

These houses aren’t lived in.  They’re for show.  We think, “Wow – if we had this house, our lives would be as peaceful as it feels here.”

But eventually those houses sell, and people move in.  The garage fills up; sticky fingerprints show up on appliances; crayons color the walls.

That’s what houses are for.  They’re not for display; they’re a container for real life and real relationships.  If they’re for real life, they have to be used.

It’s like the old children’s book about the Velveteen Rabbit – he had to be loved by a child and have his fur worn off before he became real.

Model homes are nice places to visit.  But our own homes are where life and love happens.  It’s easy to take them for granted.

Maybe today would be a good day to be grateful for our imperfect homes – and the people that make them imperfect.

 

How to Argue With an Extrovert

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

I wish I could think faster.

Sometimes I’ll be in a conversation with someone who just makes sense.  It doesn’t matter what we’re discussing; they just seem to instantly have the right thing to say.

I think of the right thing to say about 30 minutes after the conversation.

I was on a radio interview a few years ago about one of the books I had written.  For some reason, the host decided to attack a position I had taken.  I don’t remember what it was; I only remember how I felt. 

He peppered me with accusing questions, one after the other.  It was his style, and I didn’t know how to respond.  So to the average listener, I’m sure it sounded like his position was obviously correct, since I didn’t counter his arguments well.  After the interview, I had developed a perfect set of responses – but it was too late.

That was a tough day.  I had to eat cookies to recover.

dogsSince then, I’ve learned some things about introverts and extroverts.  They’re different in a lot of ways.  But one of the primary ones is the way they process information.

Extroverts think out loud.  They actually formulate their ideas by verbalizing them.  When they’re talking, it might be the first time an idea has ever entered their minds.  They figure out what they think by talking. 

Introverts process by themselves.  During a discussion, they really don’t know what they think yet.  They take in the information, then process it for a while to determine their position. 

Extroverts tend to think faster.  Introverts tend to think deeper.

It’s important for introverts to understand this, because it’s easy to get intimidated by the extrovert’s approach.  Extroverts figure that since an introvert doesn’t have a good response to what they’ve said, that they (the extrovert) must be right – and they won the argument.

Introverts simply need to realize that reality.  When an extrovert shoots out quick, forceful arguments, it doesn’t mean they’re correct.  It means they have a different style.

So here’s an idea:

When an extrovert is talking, introverts can say something like, “Wow.  You make some really good points.  Right off the top of my head, I’m not sure how to respond.  I need a little time to think it through – I really do.  Look – let me play with your ideas for a day or two, and I’ll get back with you.  Maybe I’ll shoot you an email with my reaction.  Then I’d love to hear what you think about my ideas.”

Writing and pondering gives introverts a chance to think first, then respond well.  That’s our strength, and we shouldn’t be embarrassed about.  The extrovert does what they do best, and we get to do what we do best.

It makes it a fair fight.

Voyeurism on Balboa Island

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

Sometimes, on a nice evening, my wife and I walk around Balboa Island.  It’s about a half-hour drive from our house, and is nestled just inside the bay off the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. It’s only about 4-5 blocks across in any direction, and accessible by driving over a short bridge.

BalboaThere’s a sidewalk that goes completely around the island, which takes about 30 minutes to walk around – 40 if we’re just strolling.  The water is on one side, and beautiful little homes are on the right. 

These homes really are amazing.  Some are old, and have been completely restored.  Others are new, replacing the originals.  Most have no yards, but have pristine patio landscaping and design.  It’s a great place to get ideas for our own house. I’m not sure of the square footage, but most of them look pretty small (though they might go up 2-3 stories to make up for the small footprint).

And each one runs in the $4-6 million range.

At night, most residents leave their windows uncovered so you can see the opulent decorations inside.  It feels a little strange, but seems to be part of the culture.  They know people are peering, but they don’t mind.  I often wonder if it’s the same way baboons feel at the zoo when people stare into their enclosures all day.  (OK, that’s probably not the best example.)

It’s easy to think, “Wow!  Wouldn’t it be great to live in a place like that?  Those people must be so happy to have that kind of lifestyle.” 

I’m guessing it’s because the people on the outside are trying to make ends meet in their day-to-day existence.  They assume that the people on the inside don’t have the same problems, which means they’re always happy.

I have no idea what’s happening on the inside.  But the inside people are just as human as the outside people.  They have the same challenges and joys, negotiate the same types of relationships, and dream the same dreams.  Some have financial struggles, some don’t – just like the outside people.  It just looks different.

We peer in the windows and watch people sitting on their couches, watching TV, doing chores, eating dinner – exactly the things we do at our house.

They’re just like us.

They’re human.  We’re human.  We’re all in this life thing together.

It’s still fun to walk around Balboa Island.  We love beauty, creativity, well-manicured gardens and artistic design.  We love walking slowly, holding hands and seeing how other people live.

When we look in their windows, we’re really looking at two different things:

  • Their lives
  • Their lifestyles.

It’s important to not get them mixed up. 

If we mix them up, we’ll inaccurately start positioning ourselves above them or below them.

Maybe we just need to practice looking in other people’s windows and seeing ourselves.

What to Do in Case of a Moose

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

Most hotel rooms have printed instructions on how to handle natural disasters. 

In California, I’ve read what to do if there’s an earthquake.

In Oklahoma, I’ve seen instructions on responding to a tornado.

In eastern states, I’ve prepared for a hurricane.

But in Fairbanks, Alaska, I learned what to do in case of a moose.

MooseI was amused when I saw the sheet on the desk in the rustic-themed room at the lodge where I had come to train the hotel employees.  “Clever,” I thought.  “They wrote this up to sound like those other ones.”  I assumed it was just a joke, because a moose seems pretty harmless when the only one I’ve ever known was one on TV named Bullwinkle.

I walked the paper down to the front desk.

“What’s this about?” I asked.

The desk clerk looked at me as if I was from another planet.  “It’s about what to do if you meet a moose.  Just like it says.”

“So, do you get many of them around here?” I was expecting a chuckle or two as we shared the joke.”

“Every couple of days,” she replied without expression.

“Really?”

“Really.  They wander around the parking lot out here.  That’s why we have the low door frame here at the entrance.  Once in a while, they try to come inside.”

“Is it a problem if you run into one?” I asked.

“Could be.  If they decide they don’t like you, they can do some real damage to your body parts.”

“So what are you supposed to do if you meet one in the parking lot?”

After a brief condescending stare, she pointed back to the paper I was holding.  “Read that,” she said.  “That’s why we put it in the room.”

I was a little embarrassed, but now I was curious.  I looked down at the simple instructions:

If you encounter a moose, stand behind a tree.

“Are you serious?” I asked?

“Yep.  You don’t want to run away, because they’ll catch you.  But if you stand behind a tree, it’s hard for them to get around it with those big antlers.  Pretty soon they’ll get tired of trying and wander off.”

It didn’t seem very noble to imagine my obituary: “Killed by a moose.”  So I decided to follow her instructions.

I went for a long, frigid walk that day.  The scenery was great but it was hard to relax.  I was always looking for the nearest tree, just in case I caught the interest of something large and brown.  I didn’t want my obituary to read, “Man Who Ignored Instructions Killed by Moose.”

I didn’t see any moose that day – which was a little disappointing, since I was so well-prepared. And I haven’t been able to use my new-found knowledge in Southern California.

I did learn three valuable lessons that day:

  1. I don’t know everything. 
  2. Assuming that I know everything can get me in trouble.
  3. It’s good to listen to people who know what I don’t.

Today, I’m going to listen to the people I encounter. I’ll listen to my wife – and my kids – and my grandkids – and my barista – and the person I’m sitting next to right now on a plane.

I just might learn something that I’ll need if I encounter a moose today.

What trouble could you avoid today by listening to someone with experience?

 

Are You Addicted to Technology?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

I love technology.  I’m not a techie, but I love all the cool things technology brings into our lives.  It makes our lives easier, and opens up the world to us in ways we never could have imagined 20 years ago.

Because technology is never-endingly cool, it’s exciting to spend more time with it.  Five more minutes surfing the web can bring us more coolness.

But it’s also easy to get trapped. 

Here’s the thing: Technology is supposed to be a tool. A tool helps us do something better than we can do it ourselves.  If we’re going to work and live in this world, we need to understand how to use it well.

Sometimes, it’s a tool for work.  Other times, it’s a tool for our personal lives.  It can also be a legitimate tool for entertainment and relaxation.

The problem comes when that tool gets in the way of other important things – like relationships.

We’ve all experienced it:

- Using phones or technology at the dinner table.

- Having more screen time than face time.

- Texting but never talking.

- Having to fight for someone’s attention, and they’re irritated that you’ve interrupted them.

- Being accessible to one’s employer 24/7.

- Keeping your phone next to your bed, and checking it when you’re awake for a couple of minutes in the night.

Phone sunsetSo, is it possible to become addicted to technology?

I don’t want to make technology the bad guy.  It can be a great guy.  But when it moves beyond being a tool, it’s time to evaluate.

If you want to see if you’re addicted, try turning your phone off during your lunch hour and see how you feel.  Try shutting it off when you come home at night for the whole evening and see what happens to your nerves.

A lot of people go through three stages with their technology:

1.   They use it a lot and it takes over their life.

2.   They realize it’s damaging their relationships, so they teach themselves to ignore it when other people are around. 

3.   Even though they’ve mastered #2, they turn to their technology anytime they’re alone and have a spare moment.

Sound familiar?  #3 is like a smoker who finds himself constantly reaching for a pack of cigarettes.  It becomes a default setting, where they do it without thinking.  They’re also doing it when no one is watching.

The solution? Well, that’s a tough one.  I don’t know if technology can be a full-fledged addiction.  But if it has those characteristics, it’s like any addiction.  It’s tough to just say, “OK, I won’t do it anymore.”

We’ll explore some options in the future.  But for now, here’s a goal to shoot for:

Our Goal is to always use technology as a conscious choice, not as a reflex.

Try being intentional today.  Every time you want to look at your technology, stop and ask yourself, “Why?” 

It’ll help you discover if you’re controlling your technology, or if your technology is controlling you.

A Case for Wrinkles

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

A young boy is watching his grandma at the bathroom sink, getting ready for the day.  “What’s that goop you’re putting on your face, Gramma?” he says.

“Wrinkle cream,” she replies.

“Wrinkle cream?”  He studies her face carefully in the mirror.  “Wow – that stuff really works.”

Probably not the perspective she was hoping for.  But it makes sense.  From a kid’s point of view, the only people they see using wrinkle cream are people with wrinkles.

As people age, their skin tends to . . . well, ‘relax.’  In a society that’s obsessed with looking young, that’s a problem.  Having wrinkles makes it obvious that we’re not as young as we used to be.  So people try to get rid of the wrinkles.

If we believe that people have less value as they get older, it makes sense to try to hang on to looking young.

But what if we saw those wrinkles accurately?  What if we focused on the truth about wrinkles?

Wrinkled dogWrinkles means someone has a lifetime of experience. 

It means they have stories to tell, if we’ll just listen. 

It means we could avoid a lot of pain by observing the path they’ve taken, the mistakes they’ve made and the wisdom they’ve gained.

That doesn’t mean they’re always right, or that we need to do exactly what they say. It just means they’ve walked the same road we’re on, and are a little further ahead.  They know the potholes and hazards they encountered, and are usually willing to point them out. 

We won’t follow exactly in their footsteps, because we’re not them. 

But we can learn from their journey.

Who do you know that has wrinkles?  What could they bring into your life?

Pick someone.  Sit with them.  Look them in the eyes and listen to their heart.

And if you’re the one with wrinkles – congratulations.  You have the opportunity to leave a legacy.

 

 

11 Ways to Make Valentine’s Day Special For Your Kids

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

1. Look them in the eyes, and don’t rush to lose eye contact.

2. Hand them your phone and ask them to turn it completely off for the day.  Tell them, “You’ve got my full attention, and you’re more important than anybody who might call.”

3. Hug them for no reason.  Often.

4. Tell them stories about when they were little (even if they still are).  Go through photo albums and tell how you fell in love with them.

5. Number a page from 1 to 10 and put it on the fridge.  Tell them, “I’m going to think of 10 things today that I really, really like about you.  Whenever I do, I’m going to write it on the list.”

6. Go to a pet store and pet the puppies.

7. Leave notes for them where they’ll find them all day long.

8. When they want to read “just one more book,” read two.

9. Let them hear you complement them to someone else.

10. Ask them to draw you a picture, then put it in a frame and hang it where everyone can see it (instead of putting it on the fridge with a magnet).  Tell them that once a month, you want a new one.

11. Say it – often, and with conviction. “I love you – and you can’t change that, no matter what.

Your kids are older or grown-up?  The ideas still apply.

Valentine

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Boycott Valentine’s Day?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

I read the other day that for $10, you can have the Bronx Zoo name a cockroach after your loved one for Valentine’s Day.

(The scary thing is that I know about six guys who are reading this, thinking, “Finally – the perfect gift.”)

Here are a few other stats about the day:

  • Americans spend $1.6 billion on candy on Valentine’s Day.
  • The average amount spent on Valentine’s Day is about $131 per person (including dinner, gifts, etc.)
  • 62% of people gain 14 pounds after committing to a relationship.

ValentineMy wife is a huge fan of romance – but not a big fan of Valentine’s Day.  It just feels so commercial, she says . . . and companies make a ton of money forcing people to participate.

It makes sense. Wouldn’t it be more romantic to do the same thing you do on Valentine’s Day, but on a random day of the year – just because you wanted to?

On Valentine’s Day, it’s expected.  On a different day, it’s a surprise – and a celebration.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to celebrate the day.  But what if we made it more low-key, and saved the bigger celebration for a “just because” day?

Make it a date that’s about just being together:

- Go to a Hallmark store and select perfect cards for each other.  Don’t buy them – just show them to each other, kiss, and put them back.

- Skip the fancy restaurants – they’re crowded and noisy.  Dress up and go to your favorite fast-food place and sit in the corner and talk.

- Buy frozen yogurt and sit in your car to eat it while listening to your favorite songs.

- Download a sappy movie for a couple of bucks on Amazon, and watch it on your laptop.  Make it something a little romantic and a little corny so you can laugh together.

- Go to the mall and hold hands.  Don’t buy anything – just dream.

- Write the love note you want to receive, have them sign it and give it back to you.

Now, if you decide to try this, talk about it before Valentine’s Day.  If you try it and the other person is expecting the usual treatment, you probably won’t like the response.

But what’s the real purpose of Valentine’s Day? To be intentional about saying “I love you.”

You don’t have to boycott Valentine’s Day.  Just think beyond the routine and the expectations. 

Maybe you don’t have a valentine – or the one you have isn’t sensitive enough to do anything at all.  You’re just happy that there’s one day when they’re forced to remember romance.

That’s realistic. 

All the more reason to ignore the commercialism of the day, and be intentional about our real relationships. 

Love isn’t primarily something you feel; it’s something you do.

Let’s do it – whatever it looks like for you.

The Problem with Comparison

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

Most things of value take a lot of work.

First, we have to decide to do something.  Changing our mind takes a lot of work.

Then, we have to start.  Overcoming inertia takes a lot of work.

Then, we’re motivated. We’re starting to see some progress, and it’s exciting.

But then it gets hard.  And boring.  And we don’t see as many results as we did in the beginning.  All we see is how much work it is, and how much further away the goal seems.

So we try to hang in there with willpower.  But it gets harder and harder.

When it gets hard, we look around to see if other people are having a hard time. 

But all we see is their results.  They’re doing better than us. They’re getting the results we want.

We get discouraged.  We feel like we’ll never get to our goal.

We want to give up.  It’s not fair that we have to work so hard, and other people are already where we want to be.

So we spiral downward.  And we give up.

Again.

Here’s the problem:

goldfishWe’re comparing our journey with their results.

We’re comparing our middle with their end.

We overlook the tough journey they went through to get those results. 

We’re comparing the back of the stage with the front of the stage.  We forget that when we’re watching an amazing stage production, there’s a lot of chaos going on behind the curtain.

Comparison is deadly – usually because we’re comparing the wrong things.

Are you feeling discouraged in your progress?  Does it feel like you’ll never reach your goal?  Is the journey just getting too hard?

Don’t compare the middle of your journey with the end of somebody else’s journey. 

They were exactly where you are while they worked toward their goal.  They felt the pain, the discouragement, the frustration.  They wanted to give up.

But they didn’t give up.  That’s why they reached their goal.

Don’t give up. 

Don’t compare.

Hang in there.

You’ll get there if you keep moving.  And when you do, you’ll be able to compare success with others – because you both remember the journey.

 

So, what’s the next small step that will move you ahead in your journey today?

 

The Value of Looking Further Ahead

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

A friend told me about teaching his teenage son to drive.  He said, “For some reason, he had trouble staying in the middle of the lane.  He was always veering over to the right.  Even when we reminded him, it’s like he just couldn’t figure it out.”

“What did you do?” I asked.

“Well, I was talking to a friend who had experience as a driving instructor. He said that it’s a common problem with kids when they’re first learning.  They’re not looking far enough ahead.  When they’re barely looking past the hood, they’re trying to stay in the center of the lane – but they’re too focused on that close-up view.”

“Try telling him to look further ahead, so he’s focusing on where he’s heading, not where he is.”

It worked. Once his son got the long-term view, it automatically took care of the present problem.

Kind of like life.

Weaving carIt’s easy to get overwhelmed with everything that’s going on directly in front of us.  Our to-do list is pages long, our family has last minute needs and our work goes from crisis to crisis. But it can cause us to drift off course without even realizing it.

We need good tools and techniques to manage all the urgent things in our lives. 

But we can’t forget to look ahead.  Regularly.

If we lose sight of where we’re headed, we’ll constantly get distracted from getting there.

And we’ll end up somewhere else – wondering why we’re spinning our wheels and never making any real progress.

Know where you’re going.

Remind yourself where you’re going.

Focus on where you’re going.

Then step on the gas, and move forward.

You’ll find yourself in the center of your lane – and making progress toward your destination.

 

How long has it been since you looked ahead?

FYI – “Crazy People” E-book $1.99 this week only

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Author of "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys"

People Can't Drive You CrazyGood morning!

Just wanted you to know that Amazon and Barnes & Noble are offering “People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys” for $1.99 from now through Saturday, February 8.  If you haven’t picked it up yet, or know someone you think could find it helpful, here’s your chance.  You could also send this to the crazy person in your life, hoping they’ll get the hint.  (But if you receive the same from them, you’ll know who their crazy person is . . . )

Bottom line: It’s about how to keep from being a victim of other people who are hijacking your emotions and driving you crazy. It’s possible — and this book provides the blueprint for getting back in control, no matter what others do.

 

To order from Amazon, click here.

To order from Barnes & Noble, click here.

It’s nice when these offers come along, which is why I want to make sure you know when they happen.  Enjoy!

Mike

(BTW – A number of people have been asking if it’s available as an audio book.  It’s not part of this discount, but you can find it on Amazon or Barnes & Noble – if you’d prefer to have me talk your ear off instead of reading it.)