That old saying seems to gain new meaning with each discovery about the human mind and how it works. For years we’ve known that forcing someone to smile changes their mood, even if they don’t know that you forced them to smile. Today, I watched this TED Talk of Amy Cuddy where she reveals that it goes even deeper than that:
I came across a commentary in The Globe and Mail recently that provided one tip to help me run a better small business. That tip was: simplicity. The article tells an anecdote from Ken Segall’s book, Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success, that demonstrates how even Steve Jobs, the poster child for simplicity, sometimes got caught up in complexities.
As I read the article, I thought about how it really does apply to the slow transition I’ve been experiencing over the past couple of years. It’s one of those changes that sneaks up on you and is in full swing before you really take note. I have been making my life simpler in spite of all of the societal forces to complicate it. I first noticed it when we began preparing to move. Because we were going to smaller space, we had to get rid of some stuff. I felt a sense of relief with each possession I got rid of.
The simplifying continued once we moved downtown. I walk to many of the places I need to go. The walking has connected me more to my neighbors and community. The cycle is virtuous, and contagious. As I read Segall’s story of tossing paper wads at Steve Jobs, it hit me that my simplification plans have become conscious. I look for ways to make my life simpler and implement them.
Of course, I still have to deal with the societal conspiracy to complicate things. We moved our office to Castleton in January so I have to drive to work again, but, I stay home one day a week. I plan early morning and late afternoon meetings downtown so I can avoid any commuter traffic. I still walk to theaters and restaurants and the grocery store.
Simplicity isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort to create some in your life.
I started a low level rant a while back about us all being on the trip to Abilene. We hate the always-on nature of our lives yet none of us is willing to turn off for a little while. When I starting talking about this at the end of last year, I thought it was something that no one else had recognized. I’m beginning to think it was something that had slowly leaked into my conscious thoughts because a lot of people around me were hinting at it. I really hope the latter is true. As much as I see the need for us to change our evil ways, I just don’t think I have enough fight in me to help anybody but me on this one.
Chris Brogan sends me an email every Sunday. It’s not just to me. It’s his weekly post to his part of the known world. In his email, which is also available as a podcast and a blog post, he imparts some words of wisdom around a topic that has attracted his attention. This week he wrote about distraction. He actually titled his email, “Are You Feeling Overwhelmed?” Yes, I answered before even opening the email. As I read, I found myself nodding my head at several points. I even mumbled a few “uh huhs” as I went along. Then I came to the part where he said I was likely nodding along but I should do more. So I did. I wrote this post to continue the thoughts that I once thought were originally mine.
If you have that feeling that the world will run away if you don’t stay on top of everything, let it go for just a little while each day. I start my day with 20 minutes of meditation. I’m not the best at meditating but I commit to sit still for those 20 minutes and attempt to have an empty mind. I usually spend 20 minutes chasing away errant thoughts, but at least I just chase them away. I make no attempt to catch them or do anything with them. I check my email 3 (sometimes 4) times a day during the week, once on Saturday, and not at all on Sunday. I still find text messages by accident. And I’m every bit as effective as I was a year ago when I was sweating about all the stuff that I might be missing out on.
Just try it. Take 20 minutes today to do absolutely nothing.
Back in October I sat in a presentation by Holly Green. Her presentation was interesting, dealing with the way our brains work and the difficulty our always-on living presents to it. One item she noted during the presentation was that more than half of us had intentionally run a red line within the previous 30 days. I found that to be an alarmingly large number, so I set out to validate this thru observation. So now, almost six months later, I’m pretty sure she’s close. Most times that I approach a changing stoplight, someone charges right thru, often having to swerve around someone in front of them who is stopping for the light. WTF!
I’m pretty convinced that people are, for the most part, losing their minds. The constantly amazing piece of that is that we’re unconsciously choosing to live in an environment in which our brains can’t manage. As some of you know, I’ve chased that Zen center in myself for years now. I practiced Tai Chi regularly until my instructor left for China. I switched to mindfulness meditation and found that to help. I’m intentionally trying to slow down and give my brain a chance to catch up. All the while most of the people around me are trying to go faster. The amazing thing is that I don’t seem to be falling behind. Just like I tend to catch up with the red-light runners at the next red light.
So stop fooling yourself. You aren’t any better at multi-tasking than any of the people you see doing stupid things as they try to do many things at once. Slow down if you really want to speed up.
I moved downtown last April so I could walk to work. The lifestyle transformation was instantaneous and complete. I became an urbanite. I started walking everywhere. I got to know my neighbors. I even considered hugging a tree or two. Eight months into this blissful new lifestyle, we moved our offices to Castleton and I went back to being a commuter. People told me that I should rejoice in the fact that I’m a reverse commuter. I can’t say that’s much solace for the loss of the walking commute to which I had become accustomed.
Determined to avoid the commuter life again I began to investigate other options. I can’t ride my bike to work because our new office space doesn’t have shower facilities. Carpooling won’t work because none of my coworkers lives near me and my neighbors, like me before, revel in their downtown living and working.
Today, I decided to try public transit. Now Indianapolis is definitely not known for its mass transit system. In fact we might be better known for studying how to improve it while all the while it continues to decline. Well I happen to have lucked into having my house and my office be within a couple of blocks of the same bus route. Every city bus has a bike rack so I grabbed my bike and 7 quarters and headed for the bus stop. I figure I can bus to work and bike home.
The bus ride takes half again as long as the drive, but I don’t have to pay attention to traffic. The ride’s a little bumpier too. In fact, too bumpy to try typing while riding. I broke the food and drink rule because I assumed I’d be able to down my coffee and banana while riding. No one complained but I felt a tinge of guilt when I saw the big sign at the front of the bus.
I arrived at work no worse for wear. The trip was not unpleasant. I don’t think I’ll be a regular on the bus, but this will not have been my last time commuting that way.
So, what have you tried lately that’s different but not life threatening?
I had a telephone conversation with one of my long time computer outsourcing clients this morning. In it, he said to me that he wasn’t feeling loved any more. I felt terrible about it because I really had thought I was respecting a boundary that had been placed on me by his staff. You see, they had issued an RFP to select a new Indianapolis computer support company recently. When we submitted our response, I asked his contact if she needed anything else from me. Her response was something to the effect of, “We’ve got what we need and we’ll get back to you.”
I had wrestled with the idea of calling him, but I didn’t want her to think I was going around her to seal the deal. Now it looks like I might have been sealing the deal in the wrong direction because I made an assumption about their process. It’s amazing that in this time of instant communication we still manage to get it wrong quite often.
Luckily for me, he sent me a note asking me to call him. When we talked, it became clear that I should have at least continued to connect in the same way we had become accustomed to over the years, if not a bit more. The funny thing is that this is truly one of my favorite outsourced IT client in Indianapolis. I work in a lot of organizations. Most of them I really like, but few of them do I feel as if I could be a full time employee for. This organization is one of the exceptions. Their management fits me extremely well and I often model my decisions after those I’ve seen them make.
So how did I come to the brink of losing their business? I misread the message that I got from them and never bothered to ask for clarification. I hope that our conversation today cleared things up. I really hope that we get to continue providing computer help to this organization. I’ve certainly re-learned that communication is key to good relationships.
Over the Labor Day weekend I received telephone calls from 4 of my clients. None of them subscribe to the after-hours service that my company offers, but they felt that it was OK to call me on a holiday to help them with a problem. Now I’m a big fan of good customer service and I preach the same to my organization all the time, but Labor Day weekend of all times!
None of these callers had an urgent deadline they were trying to meet. In fact, every one of them had a work-around for the problem they were encountering. Each one of them practically tore my head off when I pointed out to them that they could continue to work with minimal inconvenience until Tuesday morning when our offices reopened. I abandoned my holiday plans with friends and family to help out. My partner even joined me on one of these excursions, leaving his friends and family to celebrate without him.
We fixed all of the problems. Everyone was able to work during their holiday. Not a single one of them gave a word of thanks. In fact, one of them complained about having received a bill for the holiday work, even tho I charged it at normal rates – no overtime, no weekend, no holiday, no emergency multipliers. I didn’t even charge for my time since Rob was doing most of the work while we were there together.
I used to love working with all of my clients. They appreciated what we did for them, and we got huge pleasure from helping them to succeed. The technology that we help to put to good use has started to make us forget about being good human beings. None of my clients from Labor Day weekend are particularly bad people. They have just forgotten that they are good people, like so many of us have.
I write this as we approach Christmas because I just finished reading “You Are Not a Gadget” by Jaron Lanier. It wasn’t one of the best books I’ve read this year, but the principal premise of his manifesto made me think of the many horrid interactions I’ve had recently, especially that Labor Day weekend. It’s time we all started thinking more about being people. We still have the brains that our ancestors from 10,000 years ago used to survive as hunter-gatherers. Technology has placed those brains in an environment that is unusually hostile without looking obviously so.
Tomorrow, be nice to someone for no good reason other than you can. Remember to be a human being.