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Archive for October, 2010

If you’ve ever navigated a lengthy project – in business, school or at home – you likely recall key “make it or break it” phases in which pressure and the stakes were high. The halfway point, or as some call it, the “point of no return,” is typically a watershed. If you successfully move beyond the point of no return, the next goal becomes the finish line.

I’d like to meditate on the final stages before the finish line with you today. In my experience, the last 10% of any project is the time when the devil, who apparently hides amongst the details, tends to rear his ugly head. The pressure that waxes and wanes through any creative process, rises once again in this final and critical stage, highlighting any areas of impurity, uncertainty and disparity. The wise person remains calm, cool and collected as he moves swiftly to handle any deficiencies so that the foundation is not compromised.

The oscillation between high pressure and low pressure in a creative process is largely predictable. I’ve outlined two points in just about every process that tend to have higher pressure than normal and as they say, forewarned is forearmed. If you know that pressure is likely to increase in the coming days in a project you are involved in, you can and should prepare yourself! This is a good time to make good on former resolutions to be a better person. A victory under high pressure is worth three in low!

While pressure changes are generally predictable, there are times when an unexpected shift can take you off-guard, as the weather often does the weatherman. When the weather is different than forecast, do you beat yourself up, get upset with others or throw your hands up in despair? I hope not! Just as I hope you would not do so when a surprise comes your way in an unfolding project.

The home stretch is the best time to put on your “A” game. Being consistently successful in this often tricky phase requires a heightened alertness that sits upon a substructure of deep inner peace. Tension never helps in this phase, for there is already sufficient pressure in the mix. Neither does worry, panic or regret. At this point, you’re committed and staying the course – provided it is the right course – is primary.

I would venture to say that a large majority of failures occur at this late stage in the process. Just getting to the final 10% of any project can sometimes requires a minor miracle, yet those who do get this far often lose it just before the finish line. The failures stem from either external factors, such as insufficient preparation, or internal factors, such as bad habits of reaction to mounting pressure.

Do yourself and those who depend on you a favor. Think about where you are in the various processes you are either responsible for or engaged in under the leadership of others and get yourself ready in advance for the waves of pressure. Surf the wave, don’t let yourself be unnecessarily crushed by it!

 

 

 

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One of the most exciting academic advances of our current era comes to us from the field of psychology. I was reading the monthly magazine published by the College of Literature, Science and the Arts of my alma mater, the University of Michigan, and I was surprised to see an article entitled “The Science of Meaning: A Closer Look at What Makes Life Worth Living” described the growing body of scientific research that confirms something I’ve suspected for most of my life.

The research comes to us via a new academic perspective called “positive psychology.” Rather than studying people who are troubled or disabled mentally, positive psychologists focus their inquisitive eyes and minds on people who are well and happy. This new approach is not designed to replace the former, for those who are ill require special attention, but much can be learned from those who are relatively psychologically healthy.

What they found astonished them. The initial studies aimed to define a set of universally held character values and traits common amongst happy and fulfilled people across the globe. Several years and nearly a half a million survey respondents from 200 countries later, these scientists identified a set of values that “contribute to fulfillment . . .[and are] robustly associated with life satisfaction.”

One common denominator was the conviction that other people matter. Much good can come from someone who holds the fundamental belief that other people are important and therefore worthy of respect, assistance and investment. The article outlined six virtues and their underlying character strengths that, according to positive psychology proponent and LSA Psychologist Chris Peterson, are universal and “enable human thriving.” Here’s the short list:

WISDOM – creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective

COURAGE – authenticity, bravery, persistence, zest

HUMANITY – kindness, love, social intelligence

JUSTICE – fairness, leadership, teamwork

TEMPERANCE – forgiveness, modesty, prudence, self-regulation

TRANSCENDENCE – appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humor

When you possess these values you are free. Free to enjoy and thrive in anything you might undertake. Free to live life without judgment of others. Free to celebrate the successes of others. Free from the shackles of a purposeless, meaningless, solitude and boredom.

As I have often cautioned, you must take care not to indulge in unbridled happiness. There is wisdom in the old injunction: “In joy not overjoyed, in sorrow not dejected.” Peterson refers to a lesson shared by the Dalai Lama about meeting a bear in the woods. There is a time for happiness and a time to run for your life!

While I find this budding field of research fascinating, I am even more intrigued by the scientists refusal to point out exactly how to live a better life. That part, they are quick to assert, is up to you. No one can tell you how to live, for you ultimately have the responsibility to make informed decisions about the approach you take in the living of your life. I agree wholeheartedly.

If you’re curious to see how many of these values and character strengths apply to you as you now are, please visit: www. authentichappiness.org.

Dare to be happy. Dare to live a life worth living. Dare to give expression to the values and qualities of character that now are scientifically proven to lead to happiness and fulfillment!

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Nothing is more fatal to Health, than an over Care of it. ~ Benjamin Franklin

For whatever reason, many human beings tend toward obsessive-cumpulsive behavior. For example, being in the health care industry I find that I must take great care not to become imbalanced in my perspective about my own health, for fanaticism eventually consumes and destroys its possessor.

Many in my industry lead imbalanced lives, weighted at the center by an obsession with physical health. Rather than striking a balance, they become exercise junkies, diet aficionados and supplement addicts. As with an improperly balanced exercise regimen, certain muscles grow while others atrophy and strangely and they become blind to their own disfiguration.

To someone who is looking to achieve greater health, such a picture can be perplexing if not off-putting. Tragically, many a person who would make great strides toward wellness was stopped dead in his tracks by the fear of becoming even more imbalanced than he already is, given the all-too-frequent example of a health nut gone wrong.

The mother of a good childhood friend of mine was a well-intentioned health junkie. Breakfast for my friend consisted of equal parts food and pills. Vitamins, minerals, herbs and remedies of all types were stuffed down his throat and I remember taking note of his increasing distaste for anything related to “health.”

My company’s clients – doctors of all stripes – are in the business of helping their patients achieve their health and wellness goals. Each one of them works tirelessly to help other people discover a balanced approach to health and I have heard over and over again that one of the central keys to helping their patients lies in the ability to outline a course of action that meets the patient where they are.

Every patient that comes in is not ready to move gracefully with an aggressive treatment plan. There are those who respond favorably to a more vigorous approach, but most seem more likely to stick around for the long haul if the process is a gradual, albeit with notable milestones that confirm that progress is being made.

One of the downsides I’ve observed of taking the aggressive approach – even if the patient is ready for it – is that it tends to strengthen the conviction that an imbalanced, fanatical health regime works in the long run. In all things, balance. Now there may be the need in an acute situation for a strong approach, but generally speaking, with the chronic conditions that dominate today’s medical landscape, the gradual approach is more meritous.

The gradual approach begins with the establishment of a firm foundation. Most disease is the product of a faulty foundation. It is exacerbated by other elements, such as environmental toxins, poor diet, lack of exercise, etc., but without a foundation no amount of renovation above ground will be sustainable. If you’ve seen the show, “This Old House,” you known what I mean about the importance of having a solid foundation in place before you undertake anything else.

No matter how you approach your health, be sure that you do not become obsessive about it. What some call health, if obtained by incessant worry about food, supplements or exercise, can be more of a prison than a chronic disease. Take care, take control, but don’t obsess.

The trouble with always trying to preserve the health of the body is that it is so difficult to do without destroying the health of the mind. ~ G.K. Chesterton

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How often do you take the time to step back and look at the big picture? When a doctor looks at the big picture we use the term “holistic health.” When an economist looks at the big picture we call it “macroeconomics.” Any system can be broken down into its component parts, but without and understanding of the big picture, the larger view, it is very easy to lose the forest for the trees.

The division of labor is one of the key tenets of capitalism. Adam Smith, in his book Wealth of Nations argued that growth is rooted in he division of labor. Large tasks are broken down into small components and each worker becomes expert in isolated, increasingly specialized areas of production, thus increasing his efficiency.

Smith recognized the downsides to this approach, namely, that people given increasingly repetitive and narrowly focused tasks eventually become dissatisfied by the mundane and boring work. Despite the enormous gains in productivity and efficiency, it can be quite challenging to keep people happy under this regime.

For example, I was speaking with a podiatrist the other day and he mentioned that 90% of what he did was repetitive, primarily dealing with neuropathy in diabetics. He went on to say that he wished he had more variety in his job. The field of medicine is now composed largely of specialists, so much so that it can be challenging to find: (1) a happy doctor and (2) a doctor who thinks or who has received training in a holistic perspective.

Abraham Flexner ca. 1895, Image by Wikipedia

That said, your body is composed of many small parts that are organized into a complex whole. Groups of cells combine to form tissues, tissues arrange themselves into organs and organs work together in systems. The medical model that dominate Western thinking was largely shaped by the Flexner report published in 1910. The report called for the standardization of medical education in the United States and it catalyzed – intentionally or not – the movement toward specialization which now dominates the landscape of the medical system.

One of the challenges facing the authors of the future of medicine is to restore an appreciation for the holistic understanding of the body. So doing will require a depth of collaboration between specialists, not only within the field of allopathic doctors but in and between other systems of medicine, such as Traditional Chinese Medicine, Homeopathy and other alternative and complementary modalities.

I believe that a well-rounded program of education must include a healthy dose of the perspectives of both the specialist and the generalist. The ability to zoom into great detail must be balanced by the capacity for big picture thinking. Granted each person has natural proclivities toward one or the other, but where all are given an appreciation for both perspectives, the likelihood of collaboration and a shared understanding increases dramatically.

As we looked at recently, we need one another. No one person holds all the cards and progress is born through our ability to effectively complement one another. Specialization tends to go awry when specialists establish pecking orders amongst other types of specialists. The idea that “my speciality is more important or prestigious than your speciality” can quickly erode the value inherent in the division of labor that made the system possible in the first place.

We are poised to make a quantum leap in our understanding of how to keep people healthy in an increasingly toxic world, but we must first release the limiting assumptions that have kept the knowledge, information and understanding flowing between the increasingly isolated actors.

Specialists, like islands, are connected to one another if you go down deep enough. It is high time that we remember how important it is to understand the “space between” – the points of connection, the highly complex interrelationships – that have been ignored in the mad push for specialization by those who have prized – for better of for worse – the division of labor into increasingly small and disjointed parts.

By the way, the same thinking applies in virtually every other field of human activity. If we lose sight of the big picture we as a race will eventually miss the point entirely.

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Alone, by Maya Angelou

Lying, thinking
Last night
How to find my soul a home
Where water is not thirsty
And bread loaf is not stone
I came up with one thing
And I don’t believe I’m wrong
That nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

There are some millionaires
With money they can’t use
Their wives run round like banshees
Their children sing the blues
They’ve got expensive doctors
To cure their hearts of stone.
But nobody
No, nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Now if you listen closely
I’ll tell you what I know
Storm clouds are gathering
The wind is gonna blow
The race of man is suffering
And I can hear the moan,
‘Cause nobody,
But nobody
Can make it out here alone.

Alone, all alone
Nobody, but nobody
Can make it out here alone.

No matter how you cut it, we need one another. This is not a new phenomenon, neither is the need likely to become extinct with the passage of time. The need for collaboration, for complementation, is here to stay.

This need is present at every level of society and in every level of organization. No matter if rich or poor, family or nation, young or old, complementation allows for the best use of resources as it unlocks resources that would be otherwise withheld in an untrusting, dog-eat-dog, isolationist and protectionist world. No one can deny the many advances that have come at the hand of the actors in a competitive environment, but even more impressive is the revelation of what is possible when otherwise competitive actors collaborate.

Take the rescue of the Chilean miners, for example. Were it not for the competitive forces of a relatively free market, the drill bit that was loaned to the Chileans by the American private company that developed it might not have been available. Without the recognition of the need to put competition aside for a moment and share technology, the available technology might not have made its way into the right hands. I suppose the challenge is in developing the sensitivity to know when competition is best and when collaboration is most fitting.

My company is one actor among many in the health care industry. Making the world a better and healthier place is our primary goal, and more often than not we find ourselves sharing and contributing in ways that are perhaps better described as collaboration than competition. We value transparency, synergistic relationships, the sharing of ideas and experience and our emphasis in all matters is to add value.

Early in my professional career I worked in the financial services industry and I recall how shocking it was to see co-workers undermine one another in the spirit of competition. It was an unhealthy environment and those who participated were clearly suffering and I could hear the moan. That personal experience gave me an item for my “To Not Do” list, one that has remained in the top ten ever since.

Competition, the drive to give your best, is healthy. When integrity is compromised, however, competition quickly turns ugly. Look at any race for political office, the shady business of bringing new pharmaceutical drugs to market or the shocking things young actors and musicians are forced to do to promote themselves and generate sales.

One of my great hopes is that we can find the ways to rebuild a foundation of integrity in the body of humanity in a way that competition can once again be healthy. The recognition that no man, family or nation is complete unto itself is a starting point, but we must look to foster the spirit of collaboration in every sphere of human activity if we are to disperse the storm clouds described by Ms. Angelou.

Together, all together
All, yes all
Can make it out here together.

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A conscious mind correctly functioning is a guardian for the heart. A weak and permeable conscious mind makes no distinction between that which should or should not be allowed into the heart, much like a border crossing guard asleep at his post.

The world is full of dubious and nefarious agents. Anyone who interfaces with the world as it now is without caution and thoughtful consideration is putting him or herself at risk. Conversely, there are many hidden gems at large in the world. Err too far on the side of caution or suspicion and you risk overlooking that which is worthy of note.

One of the challenges anyone involved in education or public speaking faces is that of overcoming doubt, pre-judgments and aloofness. I don’t think I’ve ever looked out over a crowd of listeners where no one had arms crossed in the beginning. Arms, as you know, serve many purposes. From the standpoint of body language, arms provide a physical shield for the body and a symbolic shield for the mind.

A shield protects its bearer from people and memes. When the shield is up, the message is “I’m not ready to trust you.” It may also say “I’m not willing to make myself vulnerable in this setting.” Part of any speaker’s responsibility early in any presentation, then, is to create a safe, inclusive and inviting atmosphere.

One of the challenges we face as a company in the field of integrative medicine is to create environments where people can be themselves, without pretense or heightened self-consciousness. Most people are understandably nervous in a new and unfamiliar crowd and the typical crowd arranges into two camps: peacocks and ostriches.

Both are strategies that obfuscate the reality of the individual. My team works very hard to appreciate the value inherent in each participant. As I’ve written many times before, we need one another and no single person is complete in and of himself. Hence the need for collaboration.

Professional titles are rarely an indicator of value. Neither are looks, educational degrees, relative wealth or the “right” connections. One of the great challenges in working with people is to help them look beyond appearances, for appearances as we know, are often deceiving.

The wise person looks first upon the heart of those he meets. The rest is just details. To look upon the heart of others you must first be open-hearted yourself, for prejudice, closed-mindedness and professional hubris distort the perceptive capacities of even the sharpest minds.

While I certainly wouldn’t advocate entering into every new situation with arms wide open, I do feel that it is important to approach life with an open and welcoming heart. Both can coexist, and it may be useful to approach a new situation with honest skepticism and respectful caution.

It never hurts to let people earn your respect. You needn’t judge them, for people prove themselves out over time. One of my favorite aspects of my present job is watching people come out of their limited, protective and isolationist shells. To do so takes courage, trust, a desire to contribute and an uncommon dynamic.

That dynamic is catalyzed in the presence of collaboration. If people who merit respect collaborate, the masses will listen. If, instead, they feud without regard for commonalities, disparage rather than uplift, then the opportunity for a generative outcome is greatly reduced if not lost altogether.

Remember this the next time you attend a class or teach one: arms crossed, no matter how tight, can be relaxed to reveal an open and generous heart. Whether the arms are yours or those shielding the body and mind of another, do your best to see that they come to rest.

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Shallow men believe in luck. Strong men believe in cause and effect. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

One of the presenters I was privileged to watch this weekend at our annual Energetix Lyceum described the methylation pathways of our body. Methylation acts as an on/off switch that allows the body to learn how to deal with the environment and it controls the body’s ability to detoxify.

With the industrial revolution came explosive growth in the production of new substances that have proven over time to be toxic to all living creatures on earth, including you and me. Plastics, preservatives, food colorings, synthetic fabrics, personal electronic devices and so on have made the achievement and maintenance health an increasingly difficult proposition.

I am certain that in all things there is causality. Cause and effect governs the movement from past to present and conditions the movement from present to future. What people call “luck,” as in “I had a lucky day” or “I stumbled upon the solution by dumb luck” is really another way to say “I am not too clear about the cause of this effect, but I am pleased by its occurrence.”

Similarly, the idea of “bad luck” is nothing more than an admission of the same, followed by displeasure with the outcome. In my view, professing to have good luck or bad luck is a convenient and generally acceptable way to shirk responsibility in and or for any given matter.

Those who profess to have good luck are either unwilling to accept responsibility for the investments they’ve made that have constrained to a positive outcome or they are unwilling to recognize and thank others for the seeds they’ve planted that resulted in a desirable harvest beyond themselves.

Likewise, those who claim to be the victims of bad luck are frequently avoiding the fact that they didn’t do the work required to tip the scales toward a positive outcome or they have failed to see the fact that the human race is deeply interconnected and that they more often than not are forced by the objective flow of cause and effect to harvest the less-than-perfect actions of their fellow human beings.

Luck – both good and bad – is not a random process. Like the methylation pathways in our bodies, luck is nothing more than the expression of cause and effect. Luck can appear to be random as cause and effect can be incredibly complex, with multiple agents affecting multiple processes that can link seemingly unrelated events and people.

We are all related in one way or another. Whether you read this blog in a Yurt in Costa Rica, the Presidential Suite at the Plaza Hotel in New York or a dorm room at university, your thoughts, words and actions eventually end up impacting people and events that would appear on the surface to have nothing to do with one another.

Health is also the product of cause and effect. You can no longer bank on having health throughout your life by virtue of having “good” genes. Even those with the strongest constitutions are finding themselves challenges by the mounting toxicity in our world. The point is that if you are concerned to have better luck, you must pay closer attention to causation.

The wise man handles both the good in life as well as the bad with equanimity. After a string of “good luck” he doesn’t take the good things in life for granted, rest on his laurels or forget to continue to plant seeds of inspiration, encouragement and refinement. Similarly, after a bad day or worse a bad week he doesn’t resign himself to blame, complaint or dismay.

The understanding of cause and effect is the basis for a generative life. Without this foundation it is easy to fall prey to the many substandard explanations for why life is the way it is at any given point in time.

The decisions you make in your life affect more than you could ever imagine. Think big when you think. Think of others when you think. And most importantly, think when you’re supposed to think, for luck never made a man wise.

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