Unlike most experts in her field, Erika Andersen has an approach to being strategic that’s sensible and accessible. With her, you feel capable of creating the business, career and life you want. Nancy Tellem, Chief Media Officer & Executive Chairwoman, Interlude

About Erika Andersen

erika Over the past 30 years, Erika has developed a reputation for creating approaches to learning and business-building that are custom tailored to her clients’ challenges, goals, and culture.

Visit Erika's Forbes.com Blog

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Archive for the ‘Thinking’ Category


Keep Being Bad First…

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to be a part of a really profound learning experience. I was one of eight attendees at an Elite Group Experience – a two-day advanced speaking skills course with Victoria Labalme.

Even though I’ve done a great deal of speaking in front of groups over the past thirty years, and believe I’m good at it (and have gotten feedback that supports that belief), I decided this year to take my skills to the next level. I intend to do everything in my power to become a world-class speaker.

Victoria is a wonderful teacher, and my classmates – entrepreneurs, authors, and business owners – were without exception smart, focused and supportive.  The coolest thing for me, though, was seeing how well the ANEW skills I propose as being key to new learning served me in this situation, even though I’m not a novice.  Here’s how it worked:

Aspiration –  Before I attended the course, I worked on  increasing my aspiration – making myself want to improve my speaking skills.  It’s challenging to raise your level of aspiration when you’re already good at something: it’s all too easy to think that you’re good enough, thank you very much.  So I thought about the benefits to me of becoming a better speaker. First, we at Proteus have more important things to share than ever – and I love being able to share it. Also, I’m particularly convinced that the ideas and skills in my new book, Be Bad First, will be helpful to people if I have a bigger platform for sharing them.  I can easily imagine a future where being a better speaker would make that possible.

Neutral Self-awareness – I spent some time before the class reflecting on my strengths and weaknesses as a speaker. Some of the pre-work Victoria had us do supported me in that effort. I wanted to be as accurate as possible going into the session, so that I could take full advantage of the learning being offered, and I found my “current state” insights very helpful. (If you’re curious, I decided that my strengths were clarity, authenticity, and connection with the audience, and that I needed to work on having more control over my pacing and volume, making better use of the stage, and exploring new options to three-dimensionalize my speaking – visuals, sound, online support, etc..)

Endless Curiosity – This one was the easiest; I didn’t really have to  do much to ramp up my curiosity.  Very fortunately for me, being curious is my natural state, and I found myself, during the session, continuously interested in understanding and mastering what Victoria was sharing with us. Over the two days of the class, I watched myself ask lots of Why?, How?, and I wonder? questions. And saw, yet again, how curiosity is jet fuel for learning. Every time I asked one of those questions of Victoria or one of my classmates, I found out something new or something more that would help me improve my skills.

Willingness To Be Bad First – This one was definitely the hardest…but the most rewarding. It’s difficult enough to convince yourself it’s OK to “be bad” when you’re actually new to something.  But when you’re quite good at doing something already, there’s a strong momentum toward considering yourself an expert.  I found the most valuable and realistic “acceptance of not-good” self-talk in this situation was, I still have a lot to learn, if I want to be a world class speaker. I need to be open to everything I  hear.  As a result, I was able to hear important feedback from Victoria and from my classmates that I might have otherwise dismissed.  For example, in one practice, my partner pointed out to me that I was skimming over the uncomfortable part of the story I was telling – and he noted that “without the lows, the highs don’t feel like highs.” Because I was really listening and taking it in, I realized he was exactly right…and that it was something I do habitually.  I was able to integrate the feedback, and it had a real impact.

My husband once asked me “Are people ever done being bad?”  And now I can definitely say: No, fortunately for us, we’re not.


Impressive Nature, Impressive Human

My husband and I recently took a little mini-vacation to Grand Canyon National Park.  I’m not quite sure why it took me so long to get there – it’s not as though I’ve never had an opportunity before now.  All that aside, though: it was astonishing.  If you’ve never visited, all I can say is that pictures absolutely do not do it justice; it’s much more vast and beautiful and other-worldly than you can imagine. It made us feel small, but in a completely positive way; a tiny part of an awe-inspiring whole.

Courtesy of Wikipedia

Hopi House; Courtesy of Wikipedia

While we were there, I kept noticing buildings that I really loved.  There was Hermit’s Rest, the Hopi House, and the Desert View Watchtower. As it turns out, they were all designed by a woman named Mary Elizabeth Jane Coulter, who worked for the Santa Fe Railroad in the first half of the 20th century as an architect and designer.  In the words of Wikipedia:

She was one of the very few female American architects in her day. She was the designer of many landmark buildings and spaces for the Fred Harvey Company and the Santa Fe Railroad, notably in Grand Canyon National Park. Her work had enormous influence as she helped to create a style, blending Spanish Colonial Revival and Mission Revival architecture with Native American motifs and Rustic elements, that became popular throughout the Southwest.

MJC ca 1893 by California Artist Arthur Mathews from the Program for Art on Film Web site

MJC ca 1893 by California Artist Arthur Mathews
from the Program for Art on Film Web site

I was so charmed by her buildings and intrigued by her story that I bought and read her biography. In 1902, Ms. Coulter began working for the Fred Harvey Company, which partnered with the Santa Fe Railroad to open the American Southwest to travel and tourism in the late 19th and early- to mid-20th centuries. Coulter was one of the only female employees of the Harvey Company at that time who was not a waitress – and the only woman with management responsibilities.

As I read about her, and looked at the buildings and interiors she designed – and the construction of which she oversaw and managed – I tried to imagine the combination of vision, strength of character and diplomacy required to be successful as a woman leader working with an all male group of colleagues and staff to establish a new kind of architectural style in a barely-civilized part of the US, at a time when any sort of woman professional was a rare creature indeed.

Talk about a high bar.

I’m inspired and humbled to find that she was able to do all of that, to leave us a legacy of wonderfully evocative buildings, structures that live at ease in the landscape of the desert southwest. Her designs are unpretentious and yet in harmony with the grandeur around them, while marrying indigenous Native American and Mexican styles with modern applications.

I suspect I’ll think of Mary Jane Coulter’s life and work from now on when I’m in what I believe is a difficult situation. I kind of feel as though my toughest challenges would seem like an easy day to her. It’s good to remind ourselves of those brave souls who have gone before us; it helps us find that pioneer inside.  It supports us to be bold in asking “Why Not…?” and in finding ways to do things that haven’t been done before.

Thank you, Mary…


New Ways to Get Better

I’m excited.  For the past four or five years, my partner Jeff and I have been  acknowledging to each other (and to anyone who cares to have the conversation with us) our need to have an online/mobile aspect of what we do available to our clients.  We recognized that if our core focus is, as we say, leader readiness, we needed to support leaders to be ready 24/7, not just when they’re with us in a coaching, training, or facilitated session.

We’ve been able to create some very good audio and video “nuggets” over the years, and we have lots of useful written material to offer (between this blog, my Forbes blog, other articles, and my books.)

But now….drum roll, please…we’re in the process of putting bite-size pieces of our existing audio, video and written content – plus a lot more great stuff that we’re now creating – into our new online/mobile learning resource, ProteusLeader.com.  It will be going live in October – so I’m giving you, dear reader, a heads-up now.  Partly because I just want to share it with you (as I said, I’m excited), but partly because I’d love your input if you’d care to weigh in. If you have suggestions for stuff you’d particularly like to see, or topics you’d like added, that would be hugely valuable for us.

Here’s how we’re envisioning it.  There will be 16 topic areas – the main areas we focus on in our work with leaders. Those topics are:

  • Accepted Leader
  • Be Bad First
  • Being Strategic
  • Coaching
  • Company Culture
  • Delegation
  • Giving Feedback
  • High Performance Team
  • Leading Change
  • Listening
  • Making Agreements
  • Managing People
  • Managing Your Career
  • Self-talk
  • Social Style
  • Tough Conversations

You can go straight to this list of topics from the home page (and then select one you’re interested in), or you can get to groups of related topics by selecting one of four “interest areas.” Under each of the 16 topics, we’ll have resources in three “buckets”:

  • See It/Hear It – video and audio nuggets focusing on that topic, offering models, tools, insights, or skill demonstrations.
  • Try It  – video, audio, and written activities to help you assess yourself, prepare for, and practice the skills in that topic.
  • Read About it – quick, practical articles about the topic that offer insight and recommendations.

So, what do you think? Anything you’d like that you don’t see listed? Any ideas for specific support in these topics?

I’ll keep you posted as we get closer to launch – but for now, I’d love to know what you’d find useful and interesting…

Thanks, as always, for being here.


Step Aside For The New

I was talking to a wonderful, wise woman today: I learned a lot from her, and I hope she also learned useful things from me.  She told me a great quote that she has made part of her email signature line:

                People who say it can’t be done shouldn’t interrupt those who are doing it.

When she said it to me, my first reaction was to laugh out loud, in that surprised way that happens when something strikes you as completely and unexpectedly true. I’ve seen that very thing happen in corporate life dozens, perhaps hundreds of times over the past few decades.  While some people are pontificating at length about why something isn’t possible, someone else is quietly going about doing it.  For instance, I just found out that, even as Wilbur and Orville Wright were preparing to complete their first successful trials of a manned, heavier-than-air flying machine, the New York Times published an article from which the following is an excerpt:

The flying machine which will really fly might be evolved by the combined and continuous efforts of mathematicians and mechanicians in from one million to ten million years—provided, of course, we can meanwhile eliminate such little drawbacks and embarrassments as the existing relation between weight and strength in inorganic materials.

— ‘Flying Machines Which Do Not Fly,’ published in theNew York Times, 9 October 1903.

It sounds really smart and well-reasoned (if somewhat smug and self-righteous), but it also turns out, as we all know, to have been complete and utter nonsense.

Fortunately, the Wright Brothers weren’t working for the New York Times, or any of the other thousands of people who were opining that what they were doing was impossible and foolish.  Where the quote above gets less funny, but even more true, is when the people doing the talking about what can’t be done are the bosses of the people who are able to do it.  That’s when innovation and creativity get torpedoed, and companies (if it gets bad enough and consistent enough) collapse.

For instance, I will bet you any amount of money that there were young people working for Barnes and Noble in 2005, who were trying to tell their bosses that e-readers were the wave of the future, and that they could build one of they just had the support, and those bosses rolled their eyes and dismissed the idea entirely, and blathered on about the strength of the B&N business model and how people will never give up the feel of a real book, or stop coming to bookstores, especially now that we have cafes and kids’ play areas and blah blah blah blah. And all the while Jeff Bezos and company were busy inventing the Kindle in a back room somewhere.

So the next time someone – especially someone who works for you – comes to you with an idea that you believe is just plain impossible, or impractical, or too expensive, or not how people want to do X….just shut up. Suspend your disbelief, and really listen.  Ask them to walk you through how they would do it, and what it would require.

Maybe, just maybe, you’ll start to see how it could be done, and why it should be done…

And that could change everything.


Award-Winning Beer: An Entrepreneur’s Handbook

I have to admit upfront that this post is primarily a thinly-veiled excuse to say wonderful things about my husband. However, be assured there is an important life/work lesson here as well. My husband Patrick is in the final stages of setting up his craft brewery, and it’s been fascinating watching him travel down five parallel business-building tracks for the past year. I’m realizing that any successful entrepreneur needs to walk down these same paths.  (He’s doing this much better than I did 25 years ago, when I started Proteus, but still I recognize the pathways from my start-up days.)  Here’s what they are:

Facilities/Physical:  From the moment he rented his brewery-space-to-be last May, Patrick has been focused on a wide variety of physical, object-related tasks, from revamping the space (cleaning, painting, putting in trench drains, having the plumbing and electrical upgraded); to speccing out and ordering the brewing system and deciding how to set it up in the space; to switching our main vehicle from a car to a truck for schlepping purposes. Almost any entrepreneurial venture – even something like a one-person Cloud-based enterprise that seems not physical at all – requires asking and answering questions about physical requirements and doing the associated tasks.  Where are you going to work? What equipment will you need? What work processes will require physical space and how will you set that up?

Relationships: Patrick won’t be hiring any employees during the brewery’s early days – but that doesn’t mean relationships aren’t important to his success. He’s spent more time with his landlord, his plumber and his electrician that with most other people he knows over the past few months.  And he’s working to build good relationships with a much wider group as well: his suppliers, the folks who built his brewing system, and other local brewers, just to name a few.  Even if you’re starting a single-person enterprise (or at least single-person to start with), don’t underestimate the necessity of having a web of people around you who want to do business with you and are supportive of your success.  If you don’t tend to those relationships, it’s really hard to accomplish almost anything.

Organizational/Admin:  I now know that starting a brewery – even a small one – requires jumping through an astonishing variety of administrative hoops.  The federal permitting process was a daunting seven-month journey of frustration and bureaucratic nitpicking through the bowels of the TTB (Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau). Watching him go through it and listening to his very legitimate complaints, I was astonished that anyone who doesn’t have a fleet of lawyers and accountants to call upon ever ends up opening a brewery.  The two-month long state permitting process was, by comparison, a walk in the park. Then pile on all the local requirements (building codes, business license, city council OK, etc. etc.) and the internal functional questions to be answered (How will we bill customers? What accounting program will we use?). Any entrepreneur who assumes he or she can just start producing their cool thing and make a million is courting disaster.  I think for most people, this is the least fun part of starting a business – but if you don’t think through it in a pretty structured way (or work with someone who can help you to do that), and build the time and effort required into your start-up plan, your business will grind to a halt before it even starts.

Product:  I’ve been truly impressed with the fact that, as he’s been fully immersed in these first three aspects of starting his business, Patrick has also been devoting a lot of time to making sure his product is extraordinary.  He’s spent the whole year doing exhaustive recipe development and testing on each of his four standard beers and two seasonals. Now that his system has arrived, once he gets it set up he’ll be going through a whole new product loop of figuring out how to replicate the quality he’s achieved — at 20x the volume.  He’ll be going from 5 gallon homebrews to 3.5 barrel (108 gallon) production batches.  It’s all too easy as an entrepreneur to think “I’ve got a great thing – it will knock everyone’s socks off.”  And yet – will it?  It’s essential that you build rounds of testing, ramping up and improvement into your pre-sales start-up planning.

Marketing and Sales: And yet, just having a great product or service isn’t enough.  You have to think clearly and practically about who your customers are, how you’ll let them know that you have something they need, and how to communicate that in a compelling way. This is Patrick’s least favorite part, and so the one in which I’ve been involved most involved.  We’ve had many branding discussions: that is, what are we promising, and how do we want to convey that promise in words and images? Based on that, we’ve put lots of thought into naming and labelling for each beer. Since we’re now a couple of months away from having beer to sell, we’re focusing on all the decisions, large and small, needed to connect our product with a delighted customer base. For instance, we’re only selling to restaurants and bars, vs. retail, so we identified the criteria for the hospitality businesses that could be attracted to our product and price point, and then made a list of all those businesses within about a 45-minute drive of the brewery.  Now we’re figuring out how to support and inspire our future customers to let their patrons know they’re carrying our beers. And then how to make it easy for those patrons – once they’ve tasted and liked the beer – to become vocal fans and advocates.  In other words, even great products don’t sell themselves.  Before you have product to sell, think about who your target audience is, why they need your product, and how you’ll let them know it exists and can meet their needs.  And do your best to do some market-testing beforehand: it’s easy to think people will love your thing just because you do, but you need to get some independent confirmation of that love.

And, happily, Patrick just received some great independent confirmation:  he sent his four standard beers (1875 Milk Stout, 1829 IPA, 1758 Witbier, and 1855 Cream Ale) out to six national competitions a few months ago.  Just last week, he found out that he won awards in four of the six: 2 gold, 3 silver, and 3 bronze medals – and each of his four beers won at least once.

All of which goes to show – when you take care to walk down the right paths as an entrepreneur, wonderful things can happen along the way.


Getting Older and Better

I’m about to turn 63. Fortunately, age holds very little negative connotation for me, so I’m excited, as I am every year: I love birthdays. And I love how my husband celebrates my birthday with me.

It is fascinating being a good deal older than many of the people in my life. A number of my clients and a few of my colleagues at Proteus are young enough to be my children (and a few are younger than my actual children). For the most part, I don’t notice the difference in our ages making much of a difference in other ways. All the noise folks of my generation make about the Millenials is largely puzzling to me; I don’t see them as being that dissimilar to me, at heart. They want to create work and relationships that are meaningful to them, and to feel proud of what they’re accomplishing. They want love and respect, and they don’t like people who lie to them or take unfair advantage of them. Sounds right to me.

But even though I don’t feel that different, generally speaking, from people who are a generation or two younger than I am, I do notice some shifts happening in me as I move into the last third of my life. Some of these changes are positive and exciting; some are a pain. Some help me to live a better life; some get in the way. Here’s my personal list – your mileage may vary.

Great things about getting older:

  • I am more interested in other people than I’ve ever been. I’m just fascinated by people and how they see themselves and the world; the stories they tell themselves about their reality and the impact it has on them. I love to listen and do it much more than in years past.
  • My reactions to circumstances are much less black–and-white than they used to be. I can see more possibilities in a given situation, and am more willing to entertain alternatives.
  • I am less interested in getting credit and more interested in other people feeling motivated and excited.
  • It bothers me much less to be inept at things; I am more willing to take the time to understand and get better at new endeavors.
  • Patience, which has never been my strong suit, is much easier for me than before. I’m willing to take the time to do things that deserve my time.
  • Because I have more financial resource than I did as a young person, I have the opportunity to go new places and do new things. I love that.
  • I’m wiser: having had lots of experiences, I often have insights that I wouldn’t have had in earlier years – and those insights benefit me and others.
  • Having grandchildren.
  • Still being my kids’ mom, but also being friends and equals in a completely new and positive way. It’s a fantastic combination that can’t really happen until your kids are grown.
  • I don’t want to waste a single hour. I choose more consciously how and with whom to spend my time. I am much less likely to engage with negative people, in useless activities, or in thinking about unhelpful or unhealthy things.
  • I am much kinder to myself than I used to be. I’m more likely to acknowledge my good qualities, and much less likely to beat myself up for mistakes or perceived lacks.

Not-so-great things about getting older:

  • I can’t expend as much energy for as long as I used to without paying a price. Even ten years ago, I could work a 14-hour day, sleep 5 hours, and do it again – and again – without any discernible impact. These days, not so much. It’s partly that my body doesn’t put up with it in the same way, but – perhaps more important – I’m just not interested in doing it anymore.
  • I have aches and pains. Don’t get me wrong: my health is excellent, and I’m fit and flexible. But I do notice that I stiffen up if I sit in one position for a long time; my neck hurts if I’m not careful about how I hold my head while I’m working on the computer; I have to stretch my back when I first get out of bed in the morning.
  • Mortality is real: The time in front of me is less than the time behind me. That’s daunting; I love being alive, and I don’t want to die. I want to be around to see my grandchildren’s children grow up and get married; that’s highly unlikely. I want to have at least 50 more years with my husband; pretty certain that won’t happen.

As you can see, the “great” list is considerably longer than the “not-so-great” list. And that actually is my experience; for the most part, I like and appreciate getting older. In fact, I very much enjoy feeling like a tribal elder, knowing that there are many ways in which I can be a help and inspiration to those who are coming after me.

I’ve decided that I’m going to continue to age like a great wine or a Stradivarius violin: getting deeper, more complex, and more valuable; bringing a greater degree of subtlety, beauty and joy to the world.

How about you?


Present Happiness

Last week, in the Atlanta airport, I had enough time for a real meal (vs. something grabbed from the food court).  So I went into a TGIF and was greeted by the hostess.  As she led me to my table, she asked, “How are you today?”

I said, “I’m fantastically good (which was true).  How about you?”

She turned and smiled at me, completely genuine, and said, “If I were any happier, I’d have to be twins.” Then she gestured me to my table and told me that my waitress would be right with me, and walked away.

My first thought: What a great line – I’m stealing that; so happy, one body can barely contain it!  My second thought: How wonderful that she feels that way.

My third thought: Yet again, I’m reminded that happiness and contentment are independent of circumstances. And I decided to write something to you about that.

I believe that most people who are unhappy or discontented think that it’s because of their circumstances.  If I only had a better job, they say to themselves, I’d be happy. Or maybe it’s if I were only better looking, or younger, or richer, or more famous, or married.

In fact, I bet there are a lot of people working as hostesses at TGIFs around the country thinking to themselves, If it weren’t for this crappy job, I’d be happy.  And yet, here is this lovely woman in Atlanta, hostessing at a TGIF, so happy she shares her happiness with perfect strangers.

What if happiness is not primarily a function of creating some magical set of circumstances (right home, car, job, spouse, weight, shoes, etc…) that “makes you happy,” but is rather largely independent of circumstances?  If that’s true, it’s actually very liberating.  It means you can be happy by virtue of managing your internal mental and emotional landscape – over which you have almost total control.  In the beautifully simple words of Abraham Lincoln:

“Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

Easier said than done, you might be thinking.  If I’m not happy, how can I just “make up my mind to be happy”?  As it turns out, there are a couple of simple, practical, things you can do to get happier. And one of them you can start doing right this minute.

Folks who study the sources of happiness have done a great deal of research over the past decade or so that points to the conclusion that people who are grateful are happy.  That’s right, gratitude pretty much equals happiness. So, how do you feel more grateful?

Start by thinking of something – a person, a possession, a capability, a situation – that you feel thankful for having in your life.  Think about why you’re glad you have that thing in your life.  For example, maybe you’re grateful for you best friend because she’s such a good listener.  Or maybe you’re glad that your apartment is in a quiet building.  Or you’re thankful that your health is good.  Now, one at a time, think of four other things you’re grateful for. Reflect on each one for a few moments: think about what it brings to your life. Let yourself feel thankful for it.

Feel happier?

When people do this kind of ‘gratitude training,’ researchers often have them fill out questionnaires, before and after the training, designed to measure their overall levels of happiness and contentment.  They don’t tell the subjects that the gratitude training is supposed to make them more happy.  And yet, almost without exception, the test subjects report that they are happier after completing the training than before – independent of whether any of the circumstances in their lives have changed.

I love the idea that we are the masters of our own happiness; I’ve experienced it largely to be true.  And I’ve also seen that being happy is the best place to begin, no matter what you’re trying to accomplish in your life.  If you’re happy, you’ll be clearer, more hopeful, more resilient, more collaborative, and more focused.

So, rather than assuming you’ll be happy if you get that bigger job, or house, or paycheck – be happy now, and you’ll be better able to accomplish whatever is truly important to you.


If Change Is a Wave, Here’s a Surfboard

All aspects of our lives are now changing faster than at any previous time in history.  I doubt that statement is surprising to you, and unlike most similarly definitive and sweeping statements, it’s true. How we live and work; how organizations are structured and how they make money; the objects available to us and the ways we use them to learn, interact and consume…

And much of the change that surrounds and impacts us is disruptive and revolutionary, vs. gentle and evolutionary.  Who would have guessed, 15 years ago, how smartphones would transform most everyone’s daily routine?  Or the ways in which web-based commerce would alter our habits and expectations about buying and selling? Or the extent to which we’d interact regularly with people we may not have seen for years – or ever?

So what does a leader need in order to succeed in these wild times? Fortunately, some of the most necessary skills and capabilities are the same as they’ve always been: what it means to be a good leader, for instance, and the importance of clear, honest, open communication. But there are also some brand new skills and ways of thinking that will help you “surf” this continuing wave of change.

I’m excited to let you know about a session being put on by two colleagues of mine, David Nour and Jennifer Bridges, that will offer attendees support in both these areas: timeless core skills and new tools for your toolkit.  It’s called the #New NormSummit, and it’s being held in Atlanta on January 9th.

The Summit website has a lot more information about each of the day’s 4 sessions – but here’s the thumbnail version: David Nour will talk about how to keep your company’s business model relevant through adaptive innovation; Seth Kahan will focus on how to engage people in creating change rather than imposing it on them; Roger Young will share the power of Design Thinking, a human-centered approach to problem-solving; I’ll share our model for becoming the kind of leader that people will follow – no matter what changes arise.

I think it’s going to be fun, thought-provoking, and useful – my favorite combo.  I’d love to see you there…

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Can You Make Yourself Want Something?

I’ve been thinking lately about how we come to do things.  It’s been especially top-of-mind for me as I’m writing a chapter of my new book that focuses on “Aspiration” – wanting things (specifically, in the case of the book, wanting to learn new skills or capabilities).

My focus hasn’t been on why we do things – lots of very smart people have been focusing on that over the past few years.  Most recently, Dan Pink made a huge wave with “Drive,” his book that brought Self-Determination Theory to a wider audience.  In SDT (as translated by Pink), what most motivates people is mastery, autonomy, and purpose. That is, we’re motivated to do things that we believe will bring us an opportunity to make choices (autonomy) to get good at something (mastery) that’s meaningful to us (purpose).

I agree.  The question is, can we make ourselves want to do something that we don’t now want to do?  We all spend a lot of time thinking about doing things and then not doing them: exercise more, be kinder to our spouses, save money, go back to school, find a better job… the list goes on and on. The reason we don’t do those things is – I believe – pretty simple.  Even though we say we want to do them, we don’t do them because we want the alternatives more.  We say we want to exercise –  but we want to sit and watch TV more. We say we want to save money – but we want to spend it more. In order to do something, you have to want to do it more than the available alternatives.

So the important question is: can we make ourselves want to do something enough to actually do it? Fortunately, I believe the answer is yes.  The secret is to discover how the thing that you’re not doing will provide you with benefits that are important to you – with mastery, autonomy and purpose – and to fully envision a future where you’re attaining those benefits as a result of having done the thing.

For example, let’s say that someone – let’s call her Alex –  has been saying for years that she wants to exercise – but she continues not to exercise on any regular basis. I’m convinced it’s because she isn’t recognizing the benefits of exercise – not the theoretical, everybody-knows-them benefits, but the actual, personal benefits to her. She tries to “should” herself into exercising (I’m so lazy, I’ll just keep getting fat, I ought to be able to do this), but that doesn’t work.  She reads articles about how good exercise is for your health, but that doesn’t work either.

Then, finally, one day Alex talks to a friend of hers who just started working out and is loving it, and one thing the friend says really resonates: “You know, I just needed to find the kind of exercise that works for me.” And Alex starts to think, Hmmm…I wonder what kind of exercise I’d like? Maybe something dance-based, like Zumba.  I’ve always loved to dance.  And then she thinks, If I did that, I bet I could get pretty good at it.  And I would really love to feel strong and good in my body. 

Voila: real, personal benefits. Autonomy (her own choice), mastery (getting good at it), purpose (feeling strong and good in her body) – and she’s envisioning the future where those benefits are true.

I suspect that Alex will now suddenly be much more likely to start exercising.

What aren’t you doing that you say you want to do?  Think about how doing that thing might provide you with mastery, autonomy and purpose, and then imagine a future in which you’re getting those benefits.  See what happens….


Staying Amazed

Tomorrow my husband and I are flying to Hong Kong.  I have client work to do there, and he was able to take the time off (since he’s now his own boss) to join me.  We were talking this morning about what a pain it’s going to be, having to be stuck on an airplane for 16 hours. But at least, we noted, we’re traveling in business, and so will be able to get some sleep.

Then I started thinking about my dad’s dad’s parents, two young immigrants from Denmark, Nils Andersen and Mina Jenson, who met working on a farm in upstate New York. They married, saved their money, bought a wagon, and traveled to Nebraska to start a new life on a farm of their own – taking advantage of the Homestead Act that offered free land to anyone who filed a claim and lived there for five years. It took them – and this is the point of the story – just over 2 months to make the journey.

So, only 125 years ago, my great-grandparents spent 2 months jolting along in an open wagon in the broiling sun, fending off hunger, thirst, wild animals and god knows what else, in order to get to their destination just 1,200 miles away.  And I’m bitching about being pampered in a luxurious, entertainment-equipped, fully-climate-controlled environment for 16 hours while I travel 8,000 miles.

There are so many aspects of this journey about which I should be absolutely amazed, vs. whiny and jaded. It’s actually amazing to me that airplanes even work, just to begin with, let alone what’s evolved out of that unbelievable reality over the past century.

I noticed that as soon as I shifted my focus from “I hate long flights” to “It’s amazing that this is possible” – my entire emotional state about the trip started to change. Now I’m feeling kind of excited, not only about being in Hong Kong (the first time for me) – but also about the flight itself.  It’s like being in a high-end hotel for 16 hours, moving at unimaginable speeds…that’s pretty fascinating.  I suspect I’ll now experience that 16 hours differently than I would have otherwise; that I may enjoy it a good deal more, and that I may find other useful or interesting understanding or ideas arise from the experience.

So much of what surrounds us these days is simply astonishing, and is unlike anything that’s ever existed in human history. It’s easy to forget that, to get ho-hum and complacent.  But I find that when I step back and allow myself to be astonished, good things happen. It opens up my brain and my heart, and I can see situations, events and possibilities in new ways.

Note to self: stay amazed.