What Happens When You Stop Learning?

(It's Worse Than You Think)

She didn’t fit the typical coffee shop crowd.

Usually, the place is filled with students with computers, business people with lattes and a few older folks scanning their iPads.

But not this woman.  She and her granddaughter sat across from each other a few feet down from me, and there was a small, open box between them.  Her silver hair was styled comfortably, making her look much younger than she actually was.  She also has a sense of fashion without being presumptuous.  She was stylin’.

When she spoke she was confident, but not in a pushy way.  “I can do this, you know.  That’s why I bought it.”

“Absolutely, Grandma.  You’ve never been afraid to try new stuff.”

“Maybe that’ll happen when I get old,” she said.

“So, how old are you now?”

“I’m only 94.  Now, show me what else this thing can do.”

The granddaughter, a woman in her early 40’s let her Grandma hold the watch herself and try things out while she talked her through the steps.

The box on the table had a familiar logo: Apple.

I was there to work on an article I’m writing and clean up some emails.  But this was too good to ignore.  A 94-year old woman just purchased an Apple watch and was committed to learning how to use it.

“Will it show my heart rate?”

“It sure will, Grandma. See?  It’s right here.”

“That’s important,” the woman said. “I’ll check it every morning.  If it shows I have a pulse, I’ll get up.”  They both laughed.

“Does it keep track of how many steps I take?”

“Yep. And it also shows exactly where you are, and I can see it on a map on my computer.”

“That’s good.  I’m supposed to walk 10,000 steps a day.  If I get lost, I’ll just keep walking until you come find me.”  They both laughed again.

This went on for another 30 minutes.  Grandma tried each instruction several times until she finally got it.  Granddaughter wasn’t irritated that it took multiple tries.  I felt like her patience was giving her grandma a gift of great respect.

Finally, it was time for them to go.  Grandma wrapped the watch around her wrist and snugged it up.

“Thanks, Honey,” she said to her granddaughter.  “Next time, can you show me how it connects with my iPhone?”

And they left. 

I watched them walk slowly away, and realized this wasn’t one of those older marathon runners that are in the peak of physical shape.  She was just an elderly woman who decided not to think elderly.

She had a young attitude because she decided to keep learning.

In the corporate work I’ve done over the years, I’ve met a lot of people who learned how to do their job really well – and then they simply stop learning.  The clock in, do their job routinely and clock out.

They feel stuck.  They feel like there’s nothing they can do about their circumstances, so they give up.  They feel like victims, so everything that happens reinforces that feeling.

If they believe that they’re a failure, they’ll see every mistake as evidence that it’s true.  When they do something well, they assume it was just a lucky break.

But they don’t have to do that.

Just because we believe something about ourselves doesn’t mean it’s true.

We can challenge those beliefs.

It’s not our IQ that holds us back; it’s our willingness to keep learning.

Albert Einstein said, “Once you stop learning, you start dying.”

Are you still learning?  Or do you find yourself pulling away from challenges?

This week, be aware of how you’re thinking about yourself.  Then, push the envelope just a little.  It doesn’t take massive change – just a little nudge.

If you always stay in your comfort zone, stick your toes just over the edge. For instance, I know how to write, but have always been overwhelmed by the process of “getting it out there.”  So I hired an expert who’s teaching me the ropes and managing the process.  She’s not demanding massive change all at once; she’s just making it “safe” to play in new territory. 

If you feel stagnant, pick one small thing you wish you knew how to do.  Google it, YouTube it or watch a video about it and then try it.  Pick something simple that you want to learn – how to make biscotti, write a blog, understand the stock market, forecast the weather, take great children’s photos, or play chess.

Get in the habit of learning little things all the time.

Maybe when you’re 94, you’re granddaughter will be teaching you the latest technology.

Or better yet – maybe you’ll be teaching her.

What’s one small step will you take to grow this week?  Share in the comments below.

Feel Like Your Relationships are Stuck?

A Simple Way to Move them Forward

When was the last time you stood on a scale?  And how did you feel afterward?

If the number was better than you expected, you probably felt good.

If the number was worse than you expected, you probably felt bad.  Then you told yourself, “OK, it’ll be different tomorrow.  I’ll make sure of that.”  But it didn’t change.

Sound familiar?

When people are trying to lose weight, the most common thing they measure progress (or lack of) is to stand on a scale.  Yet most experts say you need to avoid the scale during that time.  Why?

Because once you see what it says, it’s too late.  There’s nothing you can do about it.

In corporate-speak, it’s called a lag measure – meaning it measures what has already been done, and tells you if you’ve reached your goal.  In a sense, you’re measuring the past.

There’s a more effective measurement called a lead measure.  It measures how likely you are to achieve your goal.

A lag measure is counting calories, then reviewing the results at the end of the day.  It looks backward, not forwards.  Not a bad thing, but it can’t be the only thing.

A lead measure is deciding to take a brisk walk through the neighborhood for 30 minutes a day or eating two extra servings of veggies each day.  It’s looking forward, not backward.  It’s in the future, so you can do something about it.

If you walk 30 minutes a day and eat your veggies, it’s predicting that the weight on the scale will drop.

Make sense?

It applies to our relationships, too.

We use lag measures to evaluate what’s happening between us and others:

  • A friend is irritated with you.
  • Your teenager ignores you.
  • Your boss doesn’t acknowledge your work.
  • Your spouse is frustrated with you.

We’re measuring our relationships based on the reactions we see in others.  Just like the scale, we see how things are – and if they’re bad, we “hope” they get better tomorrow.

Instead of measuring our relationships by looking at how things appear, it’s better to use lead measures – actions we can take that we predict will improve our relationships with our spouse, family, friends, and co-workers.

Here are 7 proven lead measures for relationships

  • Listening for understanding
  • Making undistracted eye contact
  • Taking the initiative to genuinely ask about something they’re involved in
  • Being patient when they don’t change as quickly as you would like
  • Treating the other person with deep kindness
  • Showing respect when you disagree
  • Using their “love language” (Check out Gary Chapman’s book The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love that Lasts for simple strategies.)

If we do those things, they “predict” that our relationships will get stronger.  If we do them, we nudge those relationships forward.  If we don’t, they’ll slowly deteriorate.

The problem with lag measures alone is that the don’t provide a way to make things better.  If we’re only “measuring” but not “moving,” things won’t change.  We’ll always be hoping things will improve, but feeling guilty when they don’t.  

Relationships don’t get better by observation; they get better by intention.

This week, pick one thing from the list above that you want to commit to doing.  Don’t worry about results; just worry about consistency.  Ask yourself, “What one thing could I do this week that would be an investment in this relationship?

Stay off the “relationship scale” this week, and put on your walking shoes.

Which of the “lead measures” listed above will you try with an important relationship this week?  Tell us about it in the comments below.

Faking Character

Character Counts

When I was growing up in Phoenix, most people had Bermuda grass lawns. Anywhere else, Bermuda grass would be considered a weed, and we’d fight to get rid of it. It takes very little water and grows in just about any type of soil. That makes it an ideal groundcover for the intense summer heat.

In the winter, Bermuda grass goes dormant. It turns completely dry and crunchy and brown. For all purposes, it looks dead. Once spring comes, all it takes is a little water and the lifeless turf begins to turn green again.

Some people just accept the brown grass. But others want a green lawn year-round. There are two common solutions:

  1. They can over-seed the dormant lawn with ryegrass, which grows well in the winter and dies off just as the Bermuda begins to come back.
  2. They can paint their dormant lawn green.

Most homeowners choose the ryegrass. But shopping centers and commercial buildings often choose the paint.

As a kid, I remember going to the old Chris-Town Mall in Phoenix in winter.  I saw the landscapers applying paint with their tanks and sprayers, and the lawns would magically transform into lush, green lawns as they walked along.

But when I stepped on the grass, I was always startled to hear it crunch under my feet.

There are two parts to a lawn: what’s above ground (the part we see), and what’s below ground (the part we don’t see).

What happens below ground determines what happens above ground. If we see wilted grass, we know the roots need more water. If the tips of the blades turn brown, it might mean they’re getting too much water. If the grass looks dead, it might just be dormant.

The key to a healthy lawn is to take care of what happens below ground.

That’s true with people as well. What happens below the surface determines what people see in our lives. We want people to think highly of us, seeing us as people of high character and integrity. We want to be seen as people who really care.

There are two ways to do that:

  1. We can do the things high-character, caring people do—hoping that people will think we actually have high character. (That’s like painting the lawn.)
  2. We can work on our character underground and in the dark, where nobody sees. We can become people of true character on the inside. Over time, that character will begin to grow and flourish on the outside.

We can’t fake character.

If we’re unhealthy on the inside, it’ll begin to show on the outside over time. Plus, faking it is a lot of work.

Real character is an inside job. If we develop it, people will see it on the outside.

It means living from the inside-out.  When the inside is right, the outside will take care of itself.

Will Rogers said, “Live your life in such a way that you wouldn’t be afraid to sell your pet parrot to the town gossip.”

Want to simplify your life and strengthen your relationships?  Don’t try to fake character.

Be real. It’s the place where world-class relationships begin.

A Day Without Lying

Character Counts

I thought it would be easy.

It was a simple challenge to a small group I’m part of: “Can you go a whole day without lying?”

Piece of cake, I thought.  I’m sure I don’t lie.  Once I’ve made it through the day, I can give a good report to the group and they’ll think well of me.

The next morning, I was on the phone with a client who was concerned about a particular issue.  I wanted my company to deal with that issue, so I reported it: “I’ve had several clients who’ve been concerned about this issue.”

It wasn’t several clients.  It was one.

But if I said “several,” the chances of my company responding would be higher.

Technically, I didn’t lie.  I exaggerated.  But still, I purposefully tweaked the truth, and I knew it.  I misrepresented reality in order to manipulate the outcome.

That was eye-opening.  But it got worse:

I caught myself ready to exaggerate six more times that day.  Exaggerating had become my default setting, and I didn’t even know it.  Telling the exact truth took intentional effort.

Sound familiar?

  • Have you ever told someone you appreciated their input, but you really didn’t?
  • Have you ever told someone you couldn’t meet with them because you already had something planned – but you just didn’t feel like meeting with them?
  • Have you forgotten your spouse’s birthday, but told them you were planning to surprise them with dinner tonight? (But you just made it up)
  • Have you told someone most of the truth, but omitted a key point or two that might make you look bad?
  • Have you ever lied to yourself? (“I’m not addicted – I can stop anytime.”)

Exaggeration had become such a default setting for me that I didn’t even recognize it.

I wondered how long it had been going on, and I thought back to the beginning of my seminar career 30+ years ago.  I’ve always told a ton of stories in my sessions because people identify with stories.

After a few years, I noticed that the more times I had been telling the same story, the better it got over time.  I’d see how an audience responded, and begin tweaking the details slightly to get a better response.  Suddenly, my stories had grown into something so much better than the original that they were no longer true.

But I actually came to believe that the new versions were true.  I had deceived myself.

At that point, I went back and cleaned up my stories.  I knew that if I wasn’t teaching with integrity, I was heading into dangerous life territory.

In the movie, Something’s Gotta Give, Diane Keaton’s character storms out of a restaurant after finding her man (played by Jack Nicholson) having dinner with another woman.  He chases after her to explain, and a heated argument follows.  At one point he says, “I have never lied to you. I have always told you some version of the truth.”

Keaton responds: “The truth doesn’t have versions, OK?”

Here’s the point: Integrity is the foundation of every healthy relationship.

If it’s missing, it doesn’t matter how many books we read or what advice we follow or what seminars we attend.  It doesn’t matter if we buy flowers or chocolate or say all the right things.  If our integrity suffers, the relationship will never thrive long-term.  It will decay like termite-infested lumber – looking great on the outside but becoming more and more at risk on the inside.

That’s where we’re headed over the next few weeks.  Instead of just covering tips and techniques for making our relationships better, let’s explore those relationships from the inside-out . . . which means we start with integrity.

Do you think you could go a whole day without lying?

Before next week’s post, pick a day and try it.  Don’t avoid lying – just notice how often you’re tempted — to lie, exaggerate, omit information or tweak the truth.  Whatever you discover, share in the comments below.

Next week, we’ll talk about what to do with those observations.

In the old Dallas TV series, the unscrupulous J.R. Ewing was asked how to be successful.  He responded, “Just give up your integrity.  Then the rest is easy.”

There’s gotta be a better way.  Want to explore it together?

What to Do in Case of an Extrovert

My son-in-law, Brian is an extrovert.

He’s energized by lots of people and big events.  The bigger the event, the more he wants to attend – and the longer he wants to stay.

A new action movie hits the big screen? He wants to be there on opening night to feel the energy of the crowd.  If he misses that first showing, he feels cheated.

When a new Star Wars film came out a few years ago, he took a day off work, dressed up like one of the characters and drove to Hollywood for the premier – just to be part of the event.

My wife and I, on the other hand, are introverts.  We love to go to the theater on the last day that a movie is playing.  Once we actually had the entire theater to ourselves and thought, “This is awesome.”

A few minutes later two people walked in.  We muttered, “Oh, great – a crowd.”

Brian and I don’t go to a lot of movies together.

It seems like there are a lot of extroverts in society.  But that’s because we hear from them the most.  By nature, extroverts are the ones that are the most vocal, while introverts are more thoughtful.  Introverts process before speaking, while extroverts process by speaking.

But a big part of it is about energy.

Extroverts gain energy from being around lots of people.  “They’re like solar panels,” says author Marti Olsen Laney.  “The longer the party lasts, the more they’re energized.”

It’s not unusual for an extrovert to leave a party, then call a couple of friends to go out for coffee.

That’s the opposite of introverts, who find their energy drains the longer the party lasts.  “They’re like rechargeable batteries,” Laney says.  “They function well at a social event, but eventually run out of fuel.  They need time alone to recharge, then they’re ready to socialize again.”

What do we need to know about extroverts?

  • They reach outward to get their energy. If their car stereo and air conditioning both break, they’ll get the stereo fixed first so they don’t have to drive in silence.
  • The bigger the group, the better they function. If someone invites them out for coffee, they’ll ask if they can bring two others.
  • They think out loud. They think by talking, and have trouble processing their thoughts unless they can have a conversation about them.
  • The more friends they have, the better. They might have a few close friendships, but enjoy interacting with as many people as possible.
  • They can work alone, but feel drained after a few hours. So they instinctively seek out conversation in order to refuel.
  • They prefer talking to writing. The phone is their friend.  Email is tough because they have to compose their thoughts before talking to others about them.

Are you an extrovert? Celebrate it, because you provide the energy that keeps society moving.  Just recognize two things:

  • You’re fueled by being with others, and that gives you the energy to spend time alone.
  • Others are fueled by being alone, and it gives them the energy to enjoy being with you.

Are you an introvert? Do life with others, because it adds richness to your journey.  Just keep an eye on your fuel gauge, and pull back to recharge when needed.

Bottom line: Life gets better when we build on who we are instead of trying to become who we aren’t.

Robert Heinlein said, “Never attempt to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

Be yourself.  Everyone else is already taken. (Oscar Wilde)

Morning people. Night people. Introverts. Extroverts.

We could probably spend a year just talking about how to relate to people who are different than we are.

Here’s a better way: If you haven’t already done it, invest in a copy of my book People Can’t Drive You Crazy If You Don’t Give Them the Keys. You’ll learn how to thrive instead of survive when others don’t seem to be as committed to your happiness as you are.

Already have a copy? Order one for a friend who’s trying to negotiate tough relationships.  It’s a small investment to help them get some traction.