Why I Haven’t Liked You

I thought you should know the truth:

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I haven’t liked you for a while.

You may already know that.  In the past, you’ve posted things on Facebook about your life, your travel and your thoughts.  When I saw things I connected with, I would hit the “like” button so you would know.

I haven’t done that for a while.  I haven’t been spending much time on Facebook.

So when I haven’t responded to your posts, it’s nothing personal.  In most cases, I didn’t see it.

I still like you.  I just haven’t “liked” you.

Like

I haven’t spent as much time as usual on email, either.  Or LinkedIn or Twitter.  Or social media in general.

There’s a reason.  It’s the same reason you haven’t seen a blog post from me for a few months.

It’s called bandwidth.

Bandwidth means you can only do so many things effectively at one time.  The more you try to do, the more diluted everything gets.  You end up really busy, but never accomplish anything.

We all have 24 hours in a day, but about 100 hours worth of opportunities.  There are so many things we want to do, and they’re good things.  It’s tempting to try to cram as many things as possible into those 24 hours.

But we can’t.  At least not while keeping our sanity.

I read a book earlier this year called “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results” by Gary Keller.  A friend recommended it.  It’s exactly what I teach every day in different corporations, so I identified easily with it.  But seeing it through someone else’s eyes gave me a fresh look.

The author says that the less we do, the more effective we’ll become. He suggests that we should pick the one, single thing that is the most important to do over the next six months to a year – something that would have huge payoff if we accomplished it.  Then focus our energy entirely on that one thing.

Just one.

The biggest takeaway for me was thisOnce you decide what that one thing is, everything else is a distraction.

Distractions are “shiny objects.”  They come unexpectedly from every angle, and they look a lot more interesting than the important thing we’re working on.

But if we go after them, it takes us away from the one thing.

So here’s what it means for me:

What has my one thing been for the past six months?

A new book that I’m writing that’s due at the publisher in three weeks.

What are my shiniest distractions?

Facebook, email, social media, other articles I want to write, blog posts, cleaning my office, maintaining my yard . . .

They’re all good distractions – things that fit into the category of “really important.”  But they keep me from writing.

Good writing takes time.  Great writing takes undistracted time.

I want to do great writing.

So, my apologies for not “liking” you.  Or emailing you.  Or blogging, or having coffee with you or responding to your calls.  It’s not malicious, but it’s intentional.

I’ll tell you more about the book another time.  But I’m in the home stretch – enough that I feel OK letting you know through this post.

As I put a ribbon around the manuscript, I’ll start ramping up again on blogging regularly.  I’m exploring what that should look like, and might change the focus in the future (depending on what you value the most).  It’s a gift to me that you let me into your mind and your inbox occasionally, especially when it’s a 2-way conversation.

I don’t take that for granted.

In the meantime, thanks for your patience.

Having been mostly away from Facebook for a while, I’m wondering how much I want to go back.  Something to ponder.   But whether I push the “like” button or not, rest assured:

I really do like you. 

 

Driving From the Rear-View Mirror

I had a conversation with an Uber driver the other day who was taking me back to the airport in Newark, New Jersey.  He also worked as a limo driver, and was working on his radiology degree.  We talked about his journey from his native country of Italy, his marriage to his bride from El Salvador, and his fluency in four languages.  He shared some fascinating details about his life.

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“So, you’ve had a lot of life experiences so far,” I said.  “Where do you see yourself going with all this background?”

With all that he had accomplished, I was expecting to hear some carefully-crafted goals or a clear strategy for the future.  But his simply responded quietly with one word:

“Forward.”

I asked him to explain.

“I’ve never focused a lot on long-term goals.  But every day, my goal is to move forward, not backward.  I figure that if I move forward a little every day, I’ll end up in some pretty amazing places.”

I help people set and reach goals for a living.  So his response caught me off guard – especially since it seemed so simple, and had the scent of power in it.  I explored more.

“Too many people focus on not repeating mistakes from the past,” he said.  “But to me, focusing on the past keeps me from focusing on the future.”

He pointed to the rear-view mirror.

“It would be hard to drive this car if I spent all my time looking in this mirror at what’s behind me.  And I think there’s a reason why the windshield is so much bigger than the rear-view mirror.”

mirror2How awesome is that?

Move forward.  Not backward.

What would happen if we did that?

Sure, we need to learn from the past.  But it’s easy to get stuck there.  If we focus on the past, we might tend to repeat it.

What if we looked through the windshield more than the rear-view mirror?

What could we do if we focused on “forward” instead of “backward?”

I’ve been pondering that all week.

Thoughts?

Imperfect Gratefulness

When I arrive at a hotel in the morning, the meeting room is usually set up and ready to go.  Tables are in place and covered, audio-visual is set, chairs are arranged and coffee is brewing in the corner.  A crew has come early in the morning to make it all happen.

Flip chart

Then they disappear.

Those people are trained to be invisible – to work in the background.

That’s unfortunate, because they can make or break an event.  The amazing work they do means I don’t have to worry about that stuff.  If my seminar goes well, their fingerprints are all over it.

Once in a while I run into one of them, and make it a point to express my gratefulness.  We often speak different languages, but that’s OK.  We just make a human connection, and they know they’re appreciated.

A few weeks ago, it went the other way.  I got a message from the invisible.

When I arrived at the casino hotel where I was training their staff in Tucson, the room was set up perfectly.  But someone had written a message on a flip chart at the front of the room.  It simply said:

Well Come Guess

Flip chart

At first, I thought someone had forgotten to tear off that sheet from a previous session.  But after a few minutes, I realized that it was a message to me from one of those invisible workers.  He/she wanted to express their appreciation for my using their meeting room, and felt the need to simply say “Hi.”

It was a Native American casino, and provided some of the best customer service I’ve ever encountered.  This worker didn’t care that their message might not be in the best English.  They just felt the need to express their gratefulness and leave a greeting anyway.

I finally realized what the message was intended to say:

Welcome, Guest!

When I pointed it out to the manager of that team, she smiled and nodded.   “That’s typical,” she said.  “They’re so excited to serve people that sometimes, they just can’t help themselves.  They’re grateful you’ve given them the chance to serve, and it just leaks out.”

What a great reminder.  My tendency is to make sure that I do things perfectly, and express myself to someone with exactly the right words.  If I can’t do that, I just skip it. I figure it’s a little thing, and it really doesn’t matter that much.

It does.  To them.

But if I keep gratefulness inside, it never helps anybody.  I need to learn to put spoken gratefulness over perfection.

The most imperfect connection is better than the unspoken one every time.

Who can you express gratitude to today?

14 Top Tips for Your Best Year of Marriage Ever

One year from today, your marriage could be better than it is now.

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It’s not a matter of willpower, trying to “be a better spouse.”  It’s not avoiding tough conversations or trying to ignore the things that bug you.

It happens when you’re intentional about your relationship.

It’s kind of like investing. 

Some people buy stock that looks promising, but only check them once a year to see if they’ve made money.  Other people study the market consistently, analyze their investments, and make corrections to maximize their return.

Your marriage is the greatest investment you’ll ever make.  It’s not “day trading.”  It’s “buy and hold.”  The more you pay attention, the greater will be the return.

Awesome marriages happen by design, not by default.

So, what can you do in the next 365 days to get the greatest possible return?

1. Attend a marriage conference together. People pay for classes to improve their fitness, correct their golf swing or learn a hobby or skill. Why not invest in a solid seminar or coaching to learn how to improve your relationship or communication? My wife’s parents went to a marriage seminar at their church when they were in their 70’s. I love that.

2. Pause before responding. We’ve all said something hurtful during conflict that we regretted. Develop the habit of pausing during tough conversation and choosing your words carefully. Always ask yourself, “Is what I’m about to say really the response I should give?”

3. When things get tough, don’t quit. A good friend told me, “When you’re in the middle of a pile of manure, you feel like giving up and going back. But it’s the same distance to get out if you move forward.”

4. Give your spouse more attention this year. Count up (seriously) how many hours you spend watching TV or working on your hobbies, and how much time you spend eyeball-to-eyeball with your spouse. Do a little bit less of the first ones, and a little bit more of the last one.

5. Treat your spouse better than anyone else in your life. “Familiarity breeds contempt.” It’s a cliché, but tends to be true. It’s easy to take each other for granted over time. Keep pursuing your spouse the way you did when you were first dating, and never lose the sense of wonder.

6. Don’t compare your spouse with others. Your neighbor’s grass always looks greener when you’re viewing it from your own yard, because you only see the green tips of the blades. All you see looking down on your own lawn are the bare spots and the weeds. There are a lot of nice lawns out there, but there’s only one that belongs to you. Take care of it, and it will flourish.

7. Don’t insist on being right. There are a lot of battles that aren’t worth fighting, because they take energy away from the ones that need our attention. Learn to disagree without disrespect.

8. Give each other a 15-second kiss daily. I read about this a few months ago, and found it valuable. You can’t rush through it, and it reminds you to slow down and reconnect.

9. Set financial goals together. Money is often the biggest source of conflict between couples. When emotions rise because of money issues, use them as a trigger to get help. Determine to face finances as a team, rather than letting it divide you. Go through a good book or course together, with the goal of unity.

10. Pay attention to their day. Develop the habit of curiosity, wondering what their day was like. Don’t just say, “How was your day?” Take the time to explore the journey they’ve been on while you’ve been apart.

11. Surprise them occasionally. Do something unexpected for no reason or holiday. Drive out before they’re awake and bring home their favorite mocha so they have a treat when they wake up – or wash their car when they’re not looking.

12. Don’t complain to friends about your spouse. That’s sacred territory, and needs to be kept between the two of you. Talk with your spouse, not about your spouse (except when it’s positive).

13. Hang out with people you admire – together and separately. It’s true that we become like the people we spend the most time with. Find a couple that you want your marriage to be like, and simply do life with them occasionally. Do the same with your individual friends.

14. Value the differences. That’s what attracted you in the first place, and what brings the richness into your relationship. If you both felt exactly the same way about everything, one of you would be unnecessary.

Having the best year of marriage ever won’t happen by accident.

It happens by intention.

Whether your marriage is solid or shaky, make the investment.  You can’t always guarantee what the return on that investment will be.  But there’s one thing you can be sure of:

If you don’t invest, there will be no return.

Start investing intentionally.

Start today.

It’s your best chance for the best year of marriage ever!

A Better Approach to Relationship “Issues”

Dog & Cat

My wife and I had a disagreement last week.

It was about money. (It usually is, right?)

It started a week earlier, and we shared our feelings about the issue.  But we couldn’t find a resolution, so we put it on the back burner for a while.  Then we got busy and didn’t talk about it, even though it was smoldering in the background for both of us.

Until Sunday, when it resurfaced.

People don’t usually argue about things they have in abundance.  Diane and I have never had strong emotions about air.  There seems to be enough to go around, so we’ve never argued about it.

But when something we need becomes scarce, it gets our attention – and our emotion.  If we were trapped underwater, air would be the only thing we would think about.

We need money.  Not tons, but enough to do what needs to be done.  When it’s limited, it gets our attention.

When those strong emotions come up in any relationship, it’s easy to let it become a wedge between two people.  The issue comes between us and pushes us apart.  People begin fighting about it, trying to determine who’s right and who’s wrong.

The issue divides us.

But there’s a better way:

We need to put the issue on the outside, so it pushes us together – not between us, where it pushes us apart.

The issue always shows up between people – right smack in the middle.  When that happens, the other person becomes the enemy – the problem to be solved.  So two people that care about each other start fighting each other instead of fighting the issue.

We need to fight the issue.

Issues come up in every relationship, so we can’t wish them away.  So what should we do when they show up?

  1. Remind each other that the relationship is important.
  2. Point out that the issue is the problem, and that we need to attack it together.
  3. Express emotions genuinely, without attacking the other person. Stick with “I’m feeling this” instead of “You did that.”
  4. Realize that the issue might not be resolved quickly. But commit to working on it together.

Diane and I sat in the car and talked through our emotions and how we perceived the issue.  But we reaffirmed our care for each other and our relationship.  We realized it wasn’t a matter of who was right or wrong; it was a matter of staying connected so we could attack the issue together.

We still haven’t resolved it.  But we still like each other.  We’re in this together.

Issues are sneaky and deceptive.  They always try to convince us that they’re not the problem.

They’re lying.

Always make the issue the problem, not the person.

Relationships are a team sport.

Move the issue where it belongs, and you can work as a team.

It’s the healthy way to deal with issues.

Dog & Cat

Reviewing Your Family on Yelp

1“I’ve been a regular for a number of years with John. In those early years, he met all my expectations of a husband.  But my recent experiences have caused me to lower my ratings, because his customer service seems to have disappeared.  I married him because he was the strong, silent type; now, he never talks to me.  I admired his strong convictions about the things that bugged him in society; now he just complains about the things that bug him about me.  Unfortunately, I can no longer recommend him as a husband.”

2“You would think that after 3 years, a person would learn from their mistakes and correct them. But Tommy still seems more committed to his own interests than the happiness of others.  His performance as a toddler is consistently declining, his social skills have become self-centered, and he has little commitment to our family structure.  It’s sad to watch 5-star potential disintegrate to a 2-star review.  We’ll keep him for now, but we’re disappointed.”

3“Uncle Joe? He’s crazy. But we made it through the last holiday without him causing a scene.  That’s a miracle – and it might have been a fluke – but it’s enough to add a couple of stars to his rating.”

People go to Yelp to see what other people think about restaurants and services. If the reviews are good, they might consider using that service.  If the reviews are bad, they avoid it.

We all have our “default” restaurant – the one we keep going to when we can’t decide where else to go. It’s familiar, it’s comfortable, and it’s safe.  Maybe it’s not the greatest food in the world, but it’s pretty consistent.

Some days the food might be a little off or the service a little shaky. But we know the place well enough to realize that it’s just a bad day for them, and it’ll be better next time.

But if someone makes a first-time visit on that bad day, they’re incensed. They demand free food, won’t pay the bill and write a scathing review on Yelp as soon as they get to their car.  They want to punish the restaurant and protect others from the same fate.

Yelp familyWhat if there was a “people” category on Yelp, where we could critique our family and friends?

What would we write?

Would it reflect the realities of long-term commitment?

Or would it be an impulsive reaction to a frustrating conversation?

When we talk to others about our spouse, kids or relatives, it’s like a Yelp review. What we say shapes their opinion of that person.

It’s easy to share our family frustrations with others, hoping they’ll reinforce our position. But it’s not fair to the family member, because it only gives our perspective.

I’m wondering if there’s a guiding principle that applies here, whether it’s a restaurant or a relative:

  • If our review is positive, we should tell the person (so they get the encouragement) – and also tell others.
  • If our review is negative, we should talk to the person about it – and nobody else.

Thoughts?

 

 

Why We Need to Clarify Expectations

Years ago (back in the 70’s ), I picked up four boxes of old magazines that someone was getting rid of. By “old,” I mean from the ‘60’s.  There were travel magazines, food magazines, business journals and a few random topics thrown in.

pool soap

I was just starting to write professionally, and thought it might be a good source of ideas. I figured that I could just look at the table of contents to see what had been written, and get ideas that might be interesting to pursue.  I wasn’t going to copy anything – in fact, I wasn’t even going to read the articles.  I just thought I’d use the article titles for inspiration.

There were probably 100 magazines in each box, so I had about 400 total.

Those boxes sat in my garage for years.

I had great intentions, but never opened the boxes.

My wife said, “Why don’t you throw those away? They’re just taking up space.”

“No,” I said. “I’m going to get to them someday. I just haven’t had time.”

A couple of years later, we moved to Arizona. The magazines moved with us.

Eleven years later, we moved back to California. The magazines moved with us.

Ten years after that, we had a yard sale. Diane said, “Why don’t you sell your magazines?”  I started the same excuse I had given for over 20 years.

But she continued: “Put a price on them that you’d be comfortable with. If they sell, you have the money.  If they don’t, you still have the magazines.”

It made sense, though it was hard to part with them. I felt like there might be buried treasure in those magazines, and I hadn’t captured it yet.  But I agreed to the plan.

I took the four boxes out to the driveway, opened them and marked “25 cents” on the box. I figured that if I sold 400 magazines for 25 cents each, I’d make $100.

I went in the house for about 20 minutes. When I returned, Diane said, “I sold your magazines.”

“All of them?”

“All of them,” she said. “Somebody bought all four boxes.”

“How much did you get?” I asked

She handed me a dollar bill.

I had written “25 cents” on each box, meaning that it was the price of each magazine. She thought it was the price of each box.

So I was a dollar richer, and had space in my garage. She had done exactly what I asked her to do when I put that price on the box.  But I assumed she understood what I meant.

pool soapWhen anyone tells us something, it’s easy to take their words at face value. But that can lead to misunderstanding and disappointment later.  I’ve learned that it’s always healthy to ask for clarification instead of assuming I understand.

Here’s a simple approach:

  • Someone tells us what they want.
  • We respond like this:
    • “OK – when you say __________ , what do you mean?”
    • “Can you tell me more about that?”
    • “What, exactly, are you thinking?”
  • We summarize back what we heard: “So let me make sure I have this right. What you’re really asking is _______________; is that correct?”

That gives them a chance to clarify to make sure you’re on the same page. It also shows them that you were listening.

Try it with someone at dinner tonight. See how it goes (and let us know).

If I had done that a few years ago, I might be $99 richer.

 

 

Getting Unstuck (How to Make the Right Decision)

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Several years ago, my son and I had dinner at the Cheesecake Factory restaurant in San Diego. It’s a great restaurant, but it takes me forever to decide on a meal because it has a 20-page menu – and everything is good.

This particular night, Tim picked up the menu, glanced at the first page for about ten seconds, and put it back on the table.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“Nothing. I’ve already decided what I want.”

“But you’ve only looked at one page,” I countered.

“Right. I’ve learned to just read through the menu from the beginning until I find something that looks good, and that’s what I get. The next time we come here, I’ll start from that place in the menu and move forward and do it again.”

I think that’s a healthy way to live.

Have you ever been “stuck” in a tough decision, and you couldn’t figure out what to do? It could be anything from selecting a project team, to considering a new job, to buying a new car to moving to a new house.

Or it could be as simple as deciding what to order for dinner.

  • There’s more than one option, and there are advantages and disadvantages to each one.
  • You’re afraid that if you make the wrong choice, you’ll regret it later.
  • You’ve asked others for advice, and everyone tells you something different.
  • You’re worried what others will think if you make either choice.

Somebody called it “paralysis by analysis.” It’s when you don’t want to make a mistake, so you don’t make a decision.

The fear of regret keeps you from moving forward, so you get stuck in neutral.

If one choice has an outcome that’s obviously better than the other, it’s a no-brainer. But what should you do when both options would be OK?

  • You study both sides.
  • You consider what you’ll gain from making either choice.
  • You consider what you’ll lose from making either choice.
  • You take a walk to clear your head.
  • If the options are still about equal, you follow a simple principle:

Don’t worry about making the right decision.

Make a decision, then make it right.

Once you make the choice, don’t look back.

Sure, you’ll miss the benefits of the other choice. But once the decision is final, it frees you to put 100% of your energy into making that decision the best choice.

It’s time to put down the menu and enjoy the meal.

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

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

Stressed writer

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?”

“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?”

Drinking fountain

“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

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.

images

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

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

Stars

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

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

smiling coffee

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

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.

Clouds

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

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.

Redford horse

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?

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.

morning and night

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

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.

Model home

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

I wish I could think faster.

dogs

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

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.

Balboa

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.