The Upward Spiral, Karma, and the Science of Gratitude

April 14, 2017 • 3 minute read • by Saeed


Stop searching for life’s big kahuna burger to make you happy.  As I made the case in my previous post, success in life is measured in increments.

In Upward Spiral, UCLA neuroscientist Alex Korb writes about how happiness and depression aren’t as hardwired as you may think. Little things you do habitually can create an upward spiral of positive feelings in the brain.

There’s science to prove it.

The benefits of gratitude start with the dopamine system, because feeling grateful activates the brain stem region that produces dopamine.

Gratitude toward others increases activity in social dopamine circuits, which makes social interactions more enjoyable.

Everything is interconnected:

Gratitude improves sleep.

Sleep reduces pain.

Reduced pain improves your mood.

Improved mood reduces anxiety, which improves focus and planning.

Focus and planning help with decision making.

Decision making further reduces anxiety and improves enjoyment.

Enjoyment gives you more to be grateful for, which keeps that loop of the upward spiral going.

Enjoyment also makes it more likely you’ll exercise and be social, which, in turn, will make you happier.

To a Buddhist, Karma is the law of causation and is dependent on the interconnectedness of phenomena. Karma does not deal with any notion of justice. Karma states that all the actions a person undertakes have consequences.

If you recognize these simple truths, you will have uncovered the key secret to a good life backed by ancient wisdom and scientific research.

Start today. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude. It’s simple (though not always easy).

What do you have to lose?

What do you have to gain?

 

Life is a Game of Inches

C1VOvQvW8AA5vZUApril 11, 2017 • 10 minute read • by Saeed


“Little strokes fell great oaks.”Benjamin Franklin

Life (insert success, innovation, change etc.) is not a moon shot. There are no silver bullets, overnight success stories, lottery bonanzas, and sudden epiphanies that lead to big bang solutions. You can’t leap frog your way into the CEO chair. You can’t just quit the job you hate to be your own boss tomorrow.

Sorry.

Does it ever happen? Yes, of course it does. But those are the one-offs. The aberrations. The deviations from the norm. Look beyond the gloss and the hype and you’ll discover that most overnight success stories were years in the making. If you want to be an overnight success, you have to be an everyday hustler.

In “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell famously posited that it takes 10,000 hours of “deliberate practice” to become world-class in any field. That’s about 10 years to you and me. Deliberate practice, in turn, requires patience and above all self-discipline. It is not a lack of luck but a lack of self-discipline that makes success elusive for so many.

To make matters worse, stress and chronic dissatisfaction with jobs (insert relationships, finances, fitness etc.)  become the flames of urgency that stoke your false belief that everything has to happen right now. With no concrete goal or system in place to move the ball forward, you are left frustrated and unhappy.

I’ve obsessed over and studied the back stories of hundreds of successful people. Here’s the deeper insight into how they level up that almost no one talks about: success is about doing the work. It is about action and action is about  implementation, follow-through, and completion. You get there, not in one giant leap of faith, but in one small step at a time. That is the difference between winning and losing.

Success is about inches not yards

In the movie Any Given Sunday, a once-great (American) football team that is now plagued with injuries and internal dissension, is struggling to make the playoffs. The coach, played by Al Pacino, has to give a speech (must watch) to his players that will motivate them to put aside their differences and work together as a team.

Pacino starts with expressing that he is overwhelmed by the situation. At first, he appears a broken man similar to his players. Then, he changes gradually to a sage who offers words of profound wisdom and a solution for how to win in life and in the game.

“You know when you get old in life things get taken from you.

That’s, that’s part of life.

But, you only learn that when you start losing stuff.

You find out that life is just a game of inches.

So is football.

Because in either game life or football the margin for error is so small.

I mean one half step too late or to early you don’t quite make it.

One half second too slow or too fast and you don’t quite catch it.

The inches we need are everywhere around us.
They are in ever break of the game
every minute, every second.”

Winston Churchill said that a speech is poetry without form or rhyme. This is one of the greatest inspirational speeches ever captured on celluloid. It is regularly used in courses about public speaking, rhetoric, coaching, and teamwork. Even if you don’t like American football, you will love this speech because it’s really about life. It is about how you execute on a plan. How you reach a goal. It is about how life battles aren’t won with a huge step or a big achievement. It is about how you progress and continually improve “inch by inch” with small steps and tasks done with full effort.

Kaizen – Cultivating a mindset of discipline

One approach to continuous and incremental improvement originated in Japan and is called kaizen. The word translates to mean change (kai) for the good (zen). Kaizen is more philosophy than tool, more mindset than mechanism. It is responsible for the success of lean Japanese manufacturing but you can gain the benefits of kaisen at the personal, team, and organizational level. Much of the focus of kaisen is on reducing waste while increasing efficiency. The genius of kaizen is that it recognizes that improvement is not a destination, it is a process. It is a 4-step circular process usually executed in a systematic manner with some variation of these elements: assess, plan, implement and evaluate (another version is plan, do, check, act). 

PDCA-white-board

Kaizen is about instilling discipline where previously there was none. It’s about showing up and doing the work in a systematic manner, one step, one hour, one task, and one improvement at a time. Like sunlight through a magnifying glass, laser focused discipline applied in a systematic manner towards an objective or a goal has magical power.

 

All achievement follows deliberate and disciplined action.

Kaizen strives to even out the uneven nature of improvement. It is an antidote to the adrenaline fueled panic that you get when you realize your life is passing you by, your business is failing, or your team is falling apart. It is the counterbalance to those moments where you decide that you are going to tackle xyz once and for all, forever and for good only to have your fiery ambition extinguished within a matter of days or at the first setback you experience.

Focusing on big goals far into the distant future may inspire awe and wonderment at first. It may even give you a boost of motivation. But inevitably it leads to stupefaction, paralysis and inaction. Motivation is easy to find but hard to maintain. You’ll soon start looking for shortcuts and excuses for why you can’t make it to the gym or start that new blog or fill in the blank. To find success, you have to find a permanent way to get off that rollercoaster. You have to embrace the philosophy of small, gradual, incremental, and disciplined continuous improvement. The path to change is through sustained action. By breaking down big, audacious goals into small, discrete tasks, kaizen encourages that action. Live for the small wins rather than the big windfalls.

As Pacino says:

“If I am going to have any life anymore, it is because I am still willing to fight and die for that inch. Because that’s  what LIVING is. The six inches in front of your face.”

The Wisdom of the Little Tramp

April 10, 2017 • 5 minute read • by Charlie Chaplin


In a career spanning more than 75 years, Charlie Chaplin is considered by many to be one of the greatest actors of all time. Beyond acting, Chaplin was a humanist who believed ardently in the power of laughter and tears as an antidote to hatred and terror. The iconic actor of the silent film era was also a deeply reflective man. Few people know just how insightful and intelligent the he really was was. Even though he passed away almost 50 years ago, he continues to inspire. His movies were great but one of his greatest works is as this poem he penned which offers his unique and perceptive understanding of life and self-love.

Charlie Chaplin – as I began to love myself

As I began to love myself I found that anguish and emotional suffering are only warning signs that I was living against my own truth. Today, I know, this is “AUTHENTICITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood how much it can offend somebody if I try to force my desires on this person, even though I knew the time was not right and the person was not ready for it, and even though this person was me. Today I call it “RESPECT”.

As I began to love myself I stopped craving for a different life, and I could see that everything that surrounded me was inviting me to grow. Today I call it “MATURITY”.

As I began to love myself I understood that at any circumstance, I am in the right place at the right time, and everything happens at the exactly right moment. So I could be calm. Today I call it “SELF-CONFIDENCE”.

As I began to love myself I quit stealing my own time, and I stopped designing huge projects for the future. Today, I only do what brings me joy and happiness, things I love to do and that make my heart cheer, and I do them in my own way and in my own rhythm. Today I call it “SIMPLICITY”.

As I began to love myself I freed myself of anything that is no good for my health – food, people, things, situations, and everything that drew me down and away from myself. At first I called this attitude a healthy egoism. Today I know it is “LOVE OF ONESELF”.

As I began to love myself I quit trying to always be right, and ever since I was wrong less of the time. Today I discovered that is “MODESTY”.

As I began to love myself I refused to go on living in the past and worrying about the future. Now, I only live for the moment, where everything is happening. Today I live each day, day by day, and I call it “FULFILLMENT”.

As I began to love myself I recognized that my mind can disturb me and it can make me sick. But as I connected it to my heart, my mind became a valuable ally. Today I call this connection “WISDOM OF THE HEART”.

We no longer need to fear arguments, confrontations or any kind of problems with ourselves or others. Even stars collide, and out of their crashing new worlds are born. Today I know “THAT IS LIFE”!

Charlie Chaplin

Happiness is the Wrong Pursuit!

 

March 29, 2017 • 9 minute read • by Saeed


“The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.” — Mark Twain

When you wake up in the morning, do you throw the covers off raring to go or do you pull them over your head and hide from the day as long as you can?

Are you engaged in your work and life?

You know What you do and you know How you do it but do you know Why?

In his famous TED talk and book titled Start with Why, Simon Sinek defines the Why really well.

Most leaders and companies focus on What.

But inspired leaders think, act, and communicate with Why.

The Why is your purpose, your cause, your reason to exist.

  • Why does your organization exist?
  • Why do you get out of bed in the morning?
  • Why should anyone care?

Sinek says: “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.”

To make his case, he points to Steve Jobs.

He says, “If Apple were like everyone else,” they would say,  “We make great computers, they’re beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. Want to buy one?”

But instead Apple says: “Everything we do, we believe in challenging the status quo. We believe in thinking differently. The way we challenge the status quo is by making our products beautifully designed, simple to use, and user friendly. We just happen to make great computers. Want to buy one?”

Jobs challenged the status quo. Jobs was a different kind of thinker. He also studied and was influenced by the principles of Zen aesthetics found in the art of the traditional Japanese garden and Japanese minimalism.

In Japanese, the term ikigai translates roughly to “a reason for being.”

Let’s break that down: iki, refers to life, and kai, roughly means “the realization of what one expects and hopes for.”

Ikigai is the singular force behind your life, and as seen in the image below, it combines four areas: 1) what you love, 2) what you’re good at, 3) what you can be paid for, and 4) what the world needs.

Ikigai

Your purpose is found in the space where these four elements meet. It is in this ‘sweet spot’ where you provide the most value to the world and where life gives the most meaning.

Though it can be illusive and hard to discover, everyone (and everything) has a purpose and “a reason for being.” But once you discover it, you can achieve the satisfaction and fulfillment that gives meaning to life. The pursuit of meaning, not happiness, is what makes life worth living.

Defining your ikigai does not have to be complicated but it is also not simply about following your passions. Getting there requires reflection, experimentation, and patience. Take a moment to contemplate it.

  • What do you love?
  • What are you great at doing?
  • What does the world need?
  • What can you make a living doing?

What is your ikigai? Why do you exist?

If you know the Why, you will figure out the What and the How.

Jobs used to say, “I’ve looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself if today were the last day of my life would I do what I am about to do today, and whenever the answer has been ‘No’ too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

The average person spends over 90,000 hours at work over their lifetime.

What are you doing today?

Why?

 Ikigai watercolor by the Paper Seahorse – for Creativity and Mindfulness. http://www.paperseahorse.com

I Crashed My Motorcycle and Learned 6 Profound Lessons About Work and Life

January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.”

– Albert Einstein – 

First, I am okay. Thanks for asking. The occasional bruise and bump comes with the territory when you are a motrocycle enthusiast. I expect that.

What I do not expect is to become more enlightened about work and life. On this particular occasion, the crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, the tow truck driver, the motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons about work and life.

Lesson #1: When you help others you help yourself.

I don’t like to be late so I left the house early. I had volunteered to help a local nonprofit that works on issues I care about. I did not know where it would all go. Maybe somewhere, maybe nowhere. What I absolutely did not expect was that I would end up volunteering to contribute not based on my knowledge but based on my passion. I can replicate what I plan to do for this organization for many other organizations struggling with similar issues. I can provide value based on my passion and I realized the truism that when you help others, you help yourself, is well…true.

Lesson #2: The universe is talking to you if you care to listen.

When we made the late afternoon appointment to meet, my counterpart was concerned that I would get caught in commuter traffic on the way home. I assured her that I would not since I would be riding my beloved Kawasaki W650 (pictured), which I polish daily with unicorn fur. This is my third motorcycle and I have owned this one for nearly three years. I consider myself a fairly experienced rider. I could sense her fear of motorcycles on the phone. She cautioned me to be cautious. She said: “Make sure you are wearing your helmet.” In California, it’s the law so I assured her that I would be but in a moment of misplaced bravado I also said that I probably wouldn’t be if it wasn’t the law. It was right after I left the meeting with her that I crashed the bike.

Thank you Deborah. Your concern was prescient.

Lesson #3: The human race isn’t defined by its worst elements.

None of the vehicles in the accident had made contact with each other. Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. The Kawasaki W650 is a beautiful machine but it does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes. So when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike to avoid hitting the car in front of me. In an instant, I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me. I have since lost count of the multitude of people who rushed to my aid. The motorcycle was lifted off of me before I knew it; someone else pushed it to the side of the road and everyone that passed by expressed kindness and concern. The best was an elderly gentleman and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay.

Thank you Tom. Your kindness was moving.

Lesson #3: Judge individuals by their merit, not by their rank.

The cops usually show up to accident scenes when there are injuries or when someone requests a police report for insurance purposes. Before long, one showed up and I thought, here we go, this is more hassle than I need right now. But he soon left after making sure everyone was alright and determining no reports were needed. So did everyone else. The scene was suddenly devoid of the earlier clamor and I was left alone with a bike that wouldn’t start and my calculations of how much this little bang-up was going to cost me. I called AAA and waited by the side of the road sending work-related emails on my phone. Suddenly, I saw the officer coming back. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about motorcycles and he told me about the one he owned that he had ridden to Mexico a few years back. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation. “Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?” “Sure,” he replied. “As an African-American police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?” The next few moments of conversation were the most enlightening I have had about race relations and community policing in the United States.

Thank you Mark. Your candor was refreshing.

Lesson #4: Optimism trumps adversity.

The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned that in 2001 he was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life and what his girlfriend does for a living. “She doesn’t work,” he said, “she is agoraphobic and can’t leave the house.” I imagined a life of burden but I was wrong. “We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland,” he added. “Why Iceland,” I asked. “Because of global warming and because there was only one murder there in 2104 and also because my girlfriend has family there,” he replied. Of course, I wondered how they would survive. “What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver. Wherever there are cars in the world, I can get a job.” After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration: “You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.

Thank you Bobby. Your resilience and optimism was inspiring.

Lesson #5: Do what you love, love what you do.

My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love this shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy – turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.

The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection. “I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought. After a quick inspection and reassurance, we got into a conversation. He had come over as a refugee from Vietnam spending the initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on the bikes himself. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. It wasn’t exactly retirement though. He told me that after the 2008 global economic crisis, the dealership was facing layoffs. With the support of his wife and children they decided to risk everything and put all their hard earned savings into buying the motorcycle repair shop. He was 53 at the time but he has never looked back. “We are not rich,” he said, “but we are happy.”

Thank you Adam. You are an example that perseverance pays off. You are also my new motorcycle mechanic.

Lesson #6: Strive to be of value.

I left the motorcycle shop with the intention to Uber my way home. No chance. First, I couldn’t use the damn app and second, when I did figure it out, the fare turned out to be three times the normal rate because it was rush hour. So much for new technology. I thought about calling friends but decided to take the bus instead. On the bus, I thought I’d make a few calls to pass the time but by now, my cell phone battery was drained. I was staring out the window thinking about my day when we came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, the restless journalist in me reared its inquisitive head. I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.

I have been in the nonprofit sector for 20 years. I know the landscape well. I began to coach Anton on the community resources available that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. By the end of the journey, Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.” He took my name and number and I disembarked the bus with a feeling of fulfillment.

Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.

It may be a cliché but life is mysterious and wonderful. Something that may seem like a catastrophe at first, could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Today was a beautiful day. I met people that inspired me and I walked away from a motorcycle accident with my faith in humanity (and my body) intact. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now.

For the most part, I like many other people, am too busy with life, always rushing to get someplace, minding my own business along the way. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, look up, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.

Good luck.

I Crashed My Motorcycle and Learned 5 Profound Life Lessons

January 28, 2015 • 5 minute read • by Saeed


“Every crisis offers you extra desired power.” ~ Unknown.

First off, I am okay. Thanks for asking. Every motorcycle rider expects to crash. What I don’t expect is to have my faith in humanity restored as a result of it.

Here is how it happened.

My crash set off a series of encounters with bystanders, the police, a tow truck driver, a motorcycle mechanic and the young father I met on the bus ride home that would each reinforce valuable and profound lessons.

My Kawasaki W650 (affectionately named Wilma by my son) is a rare and beautiful machine. You can see that in the picture above. I polish mine daily with unicorn fur. I was headed back from a business meeting volunteering for a nonprofit whose work I liked when the accident happened.

Three car lengths ahead someone slammed on their brakes causing a chain reaction to the rear. Because the W650 does not come equipped with anti-lock brakes, when I slammed on mine, I locked up the front wheel and laid down the bike. It helped me avoid hitting the car directly in front but I sacrificed my bike in the process. None of the vehicles in the accident made contact with each other but in an instant I was on the ground with a heap of metal on top of me.

Lesson #1: People are basically good…

I don’t know how many people rushed to my aid but it was many. Someone lifted the bike off of me and someone else pushed it to the side of the road. Everyone asked if I was okay. The best was an elderly man (Tom) and his wife who were in the car behind me when the accident happened. They pulled over to offer me a ride to the hospital and would not leave until they were 100% sure I was okay. I was basically okay. Road rash and limp but basically okay.

Thanks Tom. You and your wife are two of the kindest souls I’ve ever met.

Lesson #2: Judge people by their inside, not their outside…

Eventually a cop showed up as they often do to accident scenes where injuries are involved. I am weary of cops. Maybe it’s the cause-less rebel in me but I am. He talked to the lady driving the car in the front who slammed on her brakes. He found out she was on meds. What could I do? He eventually left and I was glad he did. I called AAA and waited feeling sullen about my beautiful machine that was now a mangled mess of metal. The scene started to clear out of other people too when I spotted the cop coming back. I thought, here we go. He’s going to hassle me. It turns out he was a motorcycle enthusiast and he just wanted to keep me company while I waited for my tow. We started talking about bikes and he told me about the Harley he rode to Mexico in his younger days. I loved his stories. The journalist trapped inside of me suddenly shifted the conversation.

“Officer,” I said, “may I ask you something?”

“Sure,” he replied.

“As a police officer, how do you feel about the police shootings and protests that have dominated the headlines this year?”

In the next few moments of conversation, Mark, an African American cop born and raised in Oakland, opened my eyes to race relations and the reality of community policing in the United States in a way I could not have imagined. It’s not a black and white issue.

Thank you Mark. Much respect to you and your profession.

Lesson #3: Optimism trumps adversity…

The tow truck driver was a surly and easy going man in his 30s but he looked much older. Another motorcycle enthusiast, at first he tried to fix my bike. Having failed, he mounted it on the truck with the help of the police officer. On the ride to the only mechanic shop I could find open, I learned he had been diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told he had three months to live. Nearly 15 years later, he is healthy and vibrant. In asking what got him through the ordeal, he replied: “I’ve always had a positive outlook on life.” I asked about his personal life (journalist again). He told me about his agoraphobic girlfriend. I imagined adversity but I was wrong.

“We are very happy together,” he said. “We plan to move to Iceland.” That took me by surprise.

“Why Iceland,” I asked.

“Because there was only one murder there last year,” he replied.

“What will you do for a living?” I asked, to which he confidently replied: “I am a tow truck driver — cars are everywhere. Wherever I go, I can get a job.”

After dropping me off at the motorcycle shop he offered to wait to take me home but I declined out of consideration for his time. I reached into my pocket and took out what cash I had left to offer him a tip and he declined out of consideration for my loss.

“You’ll need it for the ride home,” he said.

Thanks Bobby. Your resilience and optimism still inspire me. I wonder where you are now.

Lesson #4: Do what you love, love what you do…

My regular mechanic shop was closed. I love my shop and I refuse to take my bike anywhere else. The X factor with the two gentlemen who own the shop is that one of them is a former economist and the other a physicist. They’re both PhDs.They traded their life in academia for doing what they love and for what makes them happy — turning wrenches on bikes. I’ve been taking my bike there for years and never thought I’d go anywhere else. But today, the only shop I could find open was in the middle of the crack infested neighborhood in San Francisco called the Tenderloin.

The shop owner greeted me when we arrived and he immediately recognized my bike with a sense of affection.

“I have two of these myself,” he said. I was delighted. He knows how to work on my bike, I thought.

After a quick inspection, we got into a conversation. He was a refugee from Vietnam. He spent his initial years in a refugee camp in the Philippines separated from his family. When he finally made it to the US, he started life as a janitor in a motorcycle dealership before learning how to work on bikes. He saved money, was reunited with his family and after 30 years of hard work, he retired as the head mechanic of the dealership. In 2008, when the global economy melted down, he was laid off. He decided to risk everything and put all his savings into the motorcycle repair shop.

“I am not rich,” he said, “but I am happy.”

Eventually, Adam fixed my bike with a part off his own bike because the part was too rare to find even online.

Thank you Adam. You are the best mechanic ever. And you don’t even have a PhD.

Lesson #5: Help others and you will help yourself…

I left the shop with the intention to Uber my way home but decided to take the bus instead because surge pricing was in effect.

My cell battery was drained by now from use so there was nothing to distract me except the view out the window. We came to the next station and the doors swung open. A young man and woman pushing a baby stroller boarded and sat next to me. Once again, my inner journalist emerged.

I discovered that Anton and his girlfriend were not married. Their daughter was ten months old and he had a two year old son from another relationship. His ex girlfriend would not let him see his son. Anton told me that he never saw his own father and he did not want this to happen to his son.

I told Anton about community resources available through nonprofits I had volunteered for that could give him support and put him on the track to re-establishing a relationship with his son. I gave him the names and numbers of a couple of attorneys I knew who did pro bono work for the community. I got to my station and before hopping off Anton said to me: “I know there is a reason why God put me on the bus with you today.”

I got off the bus feeling a sense of renewed purpose and fulfillment for having been able to help another human being, albeit in a small way.

Thank you Anton. I think there is a reason why we met too.

A final Word…

It may sound mushy but my day left me feeling that life is mysterious and wonderful. I was aghast at how my disaster could become so inspiring. It was a beautiful day. That I walked away from a motorcycle accident is something in and of itself. That my faith in humanity was restored as a result, feels like a small miracle. I am sure that these encounters have a deeper meaning than I even realize now. There are angels everywhere if you care to see them. It is good to be reminded that sometimes you need to slow down, embrace the kindness of strangers, suspend assumptions and judgments, do the work you love, and open your mind, heart and eyes to the everyday magic that is all around you.

Good luck.

Wait! Before you go…

I really appreciate that you are reading my post.

If you found the article helpful or if it helped you think a little more deeply about this topic, I invite you to follow me on LinkedIn or on Medium or to subscribe to read exclusive content on my Blog.

Why would you follow me?

I write personal, professional, and organizational development articles to help readers be the most effective human being they can be; in short, to help you find your inner awesomeness. By following, liking, commenting, and sharing, you are providing a direct feedback loop that tells me that what I am offering is of value.

I also just love connecting with new people and seeing what others are up to in the world.

Best,

Saeed

©2017 — All Content and Photography by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

5 Ways To Reboot Your Motivation

December 19, 2014 • 8 minute read • by Saeed


“Use only that which works, and take it from any place you can find it.”

– Bruce Lee –

Your manager’s job is not to motivate you. If anything, your manager’s job is to maintain the motivation you started with.

Remember? You, like everyone else who starts a new job, came on board with excitement and enthusiasm. You grinned from ear to ear when you met your new colleagues. You liked the view outside of your window. You liked your new desk. Your cubicle. You liked it all.

But along the way, your managers slowly sucked the motivation out of you. Dysfunctional systems, lack of clarity, kooky policies, late nights, wacky performance reviews and, well you know the rest. That’s why people don’t quit their jobs, they quit their managers.

Even if your manager’s job was to motivate you, they wouldn’t know how. To be fair, some do. But most don’t. If they did, a recent Gallup Poll would not have found that worldwide, only 13% of employees are engaged at work! Listen carefully. These extrinsic factors can be demotivating, but research shows that even if managed brilliantly, fixing these factors won’t motivate you to work harder or smarter.

Most managers are still stuck on the carrot-and-stick approach of the industrial age. The secret to high performance isn’t reward and punishment. Far from it. True motivation is intrinsic. It is the drive to do something because it is meaningful and fulfilling. Most managers think you are motivated by money. But you and I know that you are not. Countless surveys on employee motivation have shown that money is much farther down the list for you.

In his book, Drive, former Al Gore speech writer Daniel Pink says true motivation boils down to three elements: Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters to us, and purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves.

Motivation that is sustained is based on meaningful work, challenge, learning, growth, increasing responsibility and feeling good about what you do. You may or may not be able to attain this on your current job. You may have to find another one or even switch careers. You may have to stop doing meaningless work and finally go after that thing that has always stirred your passion. You may have to start mainlining frappuccinos.

But in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to reboot your motivation where you are now. At least, you owe it to yourself to try.

1. Take responsibility for your own motivation

What if you were in control of your own outcomes and learning objectives at work? Talk to your manager. They may have assigned you a goal but they probably did not assign how you are supposed to reach that goal. Trust in your abilities. If you lack skills, learn new ones by taking a class. Talk to your colleagues and ask for help. There is no shame in that. Learn to take initiative and be proactive on a daily basis. Become more self-directed. Take responsibility for your own growth.

2. Get inspired

Inspiration is one of the best motivators around and your best source for inspiration is your own sense of creativity. Do you like photography? Take a class. Do you like to write? Start a blog. Do you like art? Go to a museum. Are you inspired by ideas? Listen to a TED talk. Think back to your childhood. What did you love to do? When did you feel so lost in an activity that you lost track of time? Do more of that. Join a community of people who are doing more of that. Meetup is a great source for this. Reach in – reach out. Don’t be afraid. It’s medicine for your soul.

3. Find your purpose

It may be stating the obvious, but your purpose is entirely unique to you. To find your purpose, you need perspective. You have to see the dance floor from the balcony view. Ask yourself: what am I really good at doing? What do I love to do? How would either of those things add value to the world? What would I be happy to do even if I wasn’t paid for doing it? If you are not sure yet, volunteer your skills at a non-profit or a community group. Giving to others selflessly, will help you feel fulfilled and purposeful. The greatest untapped source of motivation is a sense of service to others (hint: that includes your teammates and your boss). Finally, try this: imagine yourself on your deathbed looking back at your life. What kind of life would you have had to lead in order to feel it was a life filled with purpose? Write the answer down. This is your manifesto from now on.

4. Write stuff down

Your deepest thoughts in a leather bound journal is great. But even for mundane daily things, write stuff down. When you make your own schedule and write your own to-do list, you will recognize what needs to be done and the best way to do it. You’ll become more efficient, focused and more effective at your daily life. You’ll feel more empowered and in control. You’ll get more stuff done. You’ll feel better and more motivated. Writing is also cathartic. We move so quickly from day to day that we barely have time to process what happened to us on Monday before it’s Friday again. Journaling, even for a few minutes a day, will help you understand your own feelings and motivations. Then, you can strengthen the things that motivate you and abandon those that don’t. Try it, it works.

5. Get a coach (or at least a cheerleader)

This may be one of the more expensive ways to motivate yourself, but the investment is worthwhile. We can all use a thought partner in the journey of life. That person is not always our relationship partner. A professional coach will work with you in a structured framework with the aim of achieving tangible results. Professional coaches know about motivation. If you struggle with communication, they can help you be more assertive. If you struggle with stress, they can help you combat it. If you struggle with your boss, they can help you find ways to manage up. They can help you face your fear of success or your fear of failure.

I know a lot of this is easier said than done. But give it time, be patient. Results won’t come overnight but they will come. Work towards creating new habits and abandoning old ones that no longer serve you. Monitor your thoughts to keep them positive. If you hear negative thoughts, stop them. If you are unable to achieve your goals, it may only be because they are too big not because you are incapable. So break them down and create mini goals. Take smaller bites off the apple and take responsibility for your own success. Ultimately, you may even shape the organization you are in and have a positive impact and legacy. You may even begin to like your job again.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Images and Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

The Gift of Failure

December 17, 2014 • 10 minute read • by Saeed


“The moral flabbiness born of the exclusive worship of the bitch-goddess SUCCESS. That – with the squalid cash interpretation put on the word ‘success’ – is our national disease.”

– William James –

He did not speak a word until he was 4 years old. When he did speak, he muttered incomprehensibly to himself causing his parents great alarm. He was visual. He tended to think in pictures rather than words. He had great difficulty memorizing words, texts and names. Compounding his poor performance in school, he routinely showed his disdain for authority. He was eventually expelled and told he would never amount to much. He flunked his college entrance exam. When he did finally get in, he skipped classes that didn’t interest him and he antagonized his teachers. By today’s standards, he would have been said to have had observable learning disabilities. He would have been labeled dyslexic, autistic or suffering from a personality disorder. Socially, he was inept. He was awkward, aloof, self-isolating and emotionally detached. His hair was long and unkempt and his clothes were old and drabby. He didn’t like public speaking or socializing. He was a philanderer, who had multiple affairs and a child out of wedlock.

By all measures, he would have been considered a failure before it was discovered he was a genius and before he radically changed our understanding of the universe. His name was Albert Einstein. And he is but one example out of many social outcasts and underperformers, who were considered failures but ended up achieving greatness.

In our modern culture, we stigmatize and try to avoid failure (and people we consider to be failures) at all costs. We worship at the altar of success. New York Times columnist David Brooks sees the American fixation on productivity and professional success as an epidemic that is contributing to our cultural demise. This is more or less the same sentiment expressed in the quote above by William James– one of the most influential philosophers the United States has ever produced – more than a century ago.

So what is the opportunity cost for our societal obsession and hunger for success and what is the price we pay for our fear of failure?

Failure builds strength

While Wikipedia and Webster would like you to believe differently, success and failure are not polar opposites. “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor,” said Truman Capote. You often need to endure heart wrenching failure before you achieve success. Entrepreneurs have always understood this. Risk and failure are inherent to the process of innovation and success. The learning organization is not only the one that learns from its successes, but the one that is most willing to speak openly about its failures. But organizational egos get in the way. I noticed this first hand in my own work in philanthropy. Funders go out of their way to demonstrate that a project they have invested in is working. They never produce reports that demonstrate why a project failed – and they never admit their own role in the failure. Instead, they abandon grantees and move on to new projects rather than address the challenges within the existing ones. Of course, we should not throw additional resources at a losing proposition. But without a post mortem of our failures, we bury our heads in the proverbial sand and limit our chances for learning and innovation. We lose the opportunity to strengthen our knowledge base.

Failure builds knowledge

We fear failure. We fear jeopardizing our jobs and our careers if something fails on our watch. The reality is that in organizational life, failure, if managed well, can be enormously beneficial. Companies need to learn how to manage failure and mine the wisdom contained within it. Of course, blindly stumbling from one failure to another is fool-hearted. But a culture of continuous innovation requires organizational leaders to build psychologically safe environments so that the lessons of failure can be reaped without shame or blame. Leaders should provide the organizational structures that allow people to fail and to capitalize on the lessons learned and opportunities gained for improvement. Leaders need to create organizational environments where thoughtful experimentation, or what Duke University professor of management Sim Sitkin calls intelligent failures, are considered the norm and are used to advance knowledge and develop organizational resilience.

Failure builds resilience

“Through failure we learn how to cope,” says child psychologist David Elkind, professor at Tufts University. Experimentation is the true mother of innovation (and success). It also naturally spawns failure. But today’s parents go to great lengths to remove failure from the equation in a misguided effort to sanitize childhood. In our education system, we give primacy to testing over learning. As Elkind puts it, “Parents and schools are no longer geared toward child development, they’re geared to academic achievement.” What we learn in childhood about failure is the lesson of shame and blame. Even without meaning to, we carry the guilt, shame, disappointment, and pain we associate with failure from our childhood into our adulthood and into our professional lives. This hyper-vigilance and over-protectiveness in childhood has the net effect of making us more fragile and less resilient in adulthood. It means that we never develop the fortitude and strength of character to bounce back from difficult experiences – to get up after a fall and go at it again. We never learn, for example, to master stress effectively. One of the most significant findings in psychology in the last twenty years is that resilient people choose the way they think. Resilience is born out of repeated experience, that may in many instances, be perceived as negative. Resilient organizations need resilient people.

Failure builds experience

It never ceases to amaze me how closed minded some people can be. I recently spoke to an entrepreneur who was trying to get back into the workforce after she had been away for nearly 5 years. She had rolled her sleeves up to her elbows and had dug knee deep in her own startup venture. Like many first time entrepreneurs, she had experienced initial success but had ultimately been crushed by the competition. Trying to get back into the workforce, she described to me her experience of reluctant hiring managers who were denying her re-entry as if she had neglected to get her hand stamped when she had walked out of that club. Personally, I would favor hiring an entrepreneur who had risked but failed than a “lifer” who has never stepped outside of their comfort zone. Her experience, fortitude and persistence would be a major asset to any organization. Indeed, many venture capitalists won’t invest in a new enterprise if the founder has never undergone failure. Such experience not only builds character but it also feeds our emotional intelligence.

Failure builds intuition

A 2004 Nobel Prize winning discovery of how we recognize the smell of an orange suggests that intuition is a form of highly developed pattern recognition. In other words, it is an algorithm used by the nervous system to extract information and experience from the vast database of the mind. That database requires data entry. If you have never faced a negative outcome you have a critical gap in the body of experience that intuition is based on. Unfortunately, the demand for creating an organizational culture that can effectively capitalize on failure is in short supply in most companies. Fear, embarrassment, intolerance, lack of commitment to learning and a culture where experimentation and learning from failure is not supported, exacerbates the problem. Organizational hierarchies stifle the conversation about failure and with it, our potential for flexing our intuitive muscles. The main alternative to the intuition-based approach is rational thinking. Yet, we have all faced business situations where the rational decision making process becomes impractical. Throughout my own personal and professional life, intuition has been an invaluable tool when decision making and rapid response have been required. Howard Raiffa, professor of managerial economics and a pioneer in the field of decision analysis says that formal techniques and procedures used in today’s business environment actually inhibit our intuitive capacity from operating effectively. To use only logic and quantitative analysis in business, is to deny our own emotional intelligence – one of the most important traits of leadership.

Rather than surfacing the lessons that come from our failures, we drive our potential for innovation underground. It cannot be disputed that within our personal and professional failures is a gold mine of wisdom waiting to be tapped. But to access that wisdom, we have to work towards a collective consciousness that is free of blame and free of the stigma associated with failure. We must also learn to fail with intelligence and know when to declare defeat. Obviously, not all failures are useful, and even some that we could learn from we should avoid. We must recognize that the failures that harm us the most are only the ones we repeat. We must be-friend failure and stop fetishizing success. We must fail often but we must fail forward in order to build resilience in the face of failure. As one of my favorite Japanese proverbs says: we must fall seven times but stand up eight.

Good luck.

©2014 – All Content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

You Can Change The World. If You Think You Can’t, Then You Won’t.

December 10, 2014 • 6 minute read • by Saeed


“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”

– Mark Twain –

Thought to self: if you think you can’t, then you won’t.

It was July 1989 and this was the thought that came into my head as I was cycling up National Highway 1D, also known as the Srinagar-Leh Highway, in the state of Jammu & Kashmir in Northern India. This 262 mile (422 km) stretch of road connects Srinigar, the capital city of Kashmir (locally regarded as the Switzerland of India), to Leh, the capital city of Ladakh (“land of high passes”), where the people are predominantly Tibetan and where, except in prayer, they do not have the concept of the wheel in their lives (evidence of wheeled vehicles appears from the second half of the 4th millennium BC).

The Srinagar-Leh Highway is one of only two roads that connect the highly remote and forbidding region of Ladakh with the rest of India. The highest pass on the road is at 13,478 ft (4,108 m) elevation, which is approximately half the height of Earth’s tallest mountain, at 29,029 ft (8,848 m) elevation. The road generally remains open for traffic from early June to mid-November but heavy snowfall blocks traffic, cutting the region off from the rest of the world for some six months each year.

I was young and inexperienced. My cycling shoes were a pair of flip flops purchased in a New Delhi night market (BTW: best pair of footwear I have ever owned – seriously). My panniers were filled, not with rations for survival, but with philosophy and anthropology books, a Sony Walkman and music cassette tapes (Steve Jobs: where were you then?).

My fuel was an unreasonably large-sized bag of dried apricots (they have been cultivated in Central Asia since antiquity and the dried ones were an important commodity on the Silk Road). I had purchased them in the town of Kargil, an important transit hub, which sits at about the half-way point (and when you’re there please try the restaurant on the third floor of the building in the main street near the mosque, which offers pleasant and inexpensive Tibetan dishes – and tell Lobsang I said hello!).

The day I set off from Kargil, was the day I planned to cycle to the highest pass on the road.

That day was all climb. And as I did, I naturally began to wonder what in the world had possessed me to torture myself in this cruel way. The more negatively I thought, the more I felt my brain, not my body, giving up. There were certainly plenty of physiological considerations. The air was thin, but I had acclimated. Physical conditioning was required, but I had been on the road for more than six months. My body sponged up water, but I was hydrated and my gut was full of; well dried apricots (one serving cup delivers 81 grams of total carbohydrate).

It was not my body but my brain that was telling me that I can’t do it.

You may have heard the old adage that sport is 10% physical and 90% mental. Psychologists began studying sports in the nineteen thirties and forties. Research conducted in the 60’s and 70’s concluded that mental practice facilitated motor performance in about fifty percent of the studies. More recent control group studies of performance athletes have validated the earlier findings and gone further concluding that the brain gives up and subsequently sends signals to the body to also cease, even though the body is not showing physical signs of complete exhaustion. Not only do the new studies emphasize the idea of mind over matter, but they also demonstrate that the brain can be trained to allow the body to physically handle more. It is the brain that holds us back from pushing past a certain point and allows or limits our endurance performance rather than the body. But we often confuse mental fatigue with physical fatigue.

So, brain is boss and by that logic we must manage up.

The brain comes conveniently equipped with a control mechanism to make sure that the marathon runner reaches the finishing line not in a completely shattered state. There is always a little reserve. You may be the next Usain Bolt or you may be a nonprofit program manager or a social entrepreneur in the process of pursuing a new innovative solution to solve a vexing social problem. Whatever your goal, be it conquering a hill or a mountain or changing the world, you will have to be persistent in the face of challenges, adversities and failures in order to ultimately succeed.

When your brain throws un-motivating messages at you, it may just be that same control mechanism that exerts its influence over athletes, holding you back from pushing past a certain point. As with athletes, the secret to success comes with structure, discipline and focus.

Most of the time, success does not happen overnight or on the first try. There will be times when you will want to give up and when you will feel you have nothing left. You will ponder the challenges and you will wonder what possessed you to do this in the first place. You will run out of money, fans and friends. There will be times when you will simply think you can’t. The same way you train your body for endurance, you must also train (or trick) your mind for perseverance. It is your mind that will push you that final step, or hold you back from realizing your dream. If you succumb to the trickery of your mind and think you can’t, then you won’t.

I made it that day and I can tell you unequivocally, it wasn’t the apricots.

©2014 – All images and content by Saeed H. Mirfattah, M.A.

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