Archive for the 'Changing Habits' Category

Viewing life as improvisation

I have yet to find anybody who finds their gift…. [I]t’s much better to think of something you want to attain and then get the help of teachers and parents to start you on the path of creating that. On that path, you may decide you want to go in a different direction. That’s fine. But you haven’t simply been waiting around for something that would allow you to instantaneously become good because that’s never happening. And I think the process of really seeing how you can improve is something that will transfer even if you try to improve in some other domain. —Cory Turner

Many young people, and older ones as well, are paralyzed by the belief that there is one true path in life that will fulfill their destiny.

As a result, they drift in a kind of limbo waiting for that path to reveal itself.

Another way to think about important life decisions, however, is to view them as a series of experiments or prototypes.

This improvisational perspective is one that resilient people often apply in their lives.

A New York Times article about a new book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans, addresses this issue:

“A common mistake that people make … is to assume that there’s only one right solution or optimal version of your life, and that if you choose wrong, you’ve blown it,” the article points out.

“Design thinking, as rendered in the book, is about treating life in a more improvisational way….

“Their method is experiential and accepts that failure is part of the process.

“Central to the philosophy is prototyping, a concept borrowed from how product designers work. Let’s say you’re thinking of changing careers. Interview someone who does the job you’re considering. Better yet, ask to shadow them for a day, or work in the field on weekends. If it feels right, take it a step further; if it doesn’t, move on.

“‘It’s a classic form of design,” Mr. Burnett said. ‘You build a lot of stuff, you try a lot of stuff. But it’s always less than the whole product.’”

There are many possible paths in life that can make use of our talents and interests, that will be alighted with our values, and that will be deeply satisfying..

Which means that finding our life’s purpose is to a large degree a process of well-designed experiments paired with an openness to follow emerging opportunities.

What has your life taught you about the role of experimentation and improvisation in creating a meaningful life?

The link between “deep thought” and solitude

Depth of thought matters in classrooms, in meetings for decision making, and in meaningful professional learning.

While depth requires time, a lack of time is not a sufficient excuse. There is always time to do what matters, and depth always trumps superficiality.

Depth requires:


Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, focus over multi-tasking, nuanced understanding over superficiality, and problem-solving over complaining;

Protocols that keep participants focused on paying attention to both the accomplishment of tasks and the quality of relationships; and

• Solitude.

Most of all, solitude.

Cal Newport offers 2 “lessons” about solitude:

“Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.

“When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.

“Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain.

“Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.”

What are the conditions in your personal and professional lives that enable depth of thought?

If ignorance is not the problem, what is?

[I]gnorance is rarely the problem. The challenge is that people don’t always care about what you care about. And the reason they don’t care isn’t that they don’t know what you know. The reason is that they don’t believe what you believe. The challenge, then, isn’t to inform them. It’s to engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs. – Seth Godin

It is common to blame ignorance for what we view as someone’s wrong-headed behavior.

Not knowing something important, of course, is sometimes the problem.

But more often than not when people argue about ideas or goals or strategies, especially with strong emotion, they are as likely arguing about underlying beliefs, which are often invisible to participants in the “conversation.”

Resilient people listen attentively for the beliefs that are often hidden beneath the surface of conversations, and they engage others in respectful conversations about their beliefs.

Such listening is challenging, of course, because of the emotions that may be attached to often invisible beliefs.

But unless we listen deeply and have dialogue about our beliefs we will continue to repeat the same frustrating conversations, conversations that not only diminish our influence but may damage important relationships.

What skills or processes enable you to “engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs”?

“Next action thinking” + “just do it”

I’ve noticed that people who have important things they want to accomplish in their lives (like the self-care practices I discussed in my previous post) often lose momentum either because the next step isn’t clear to them or because they defer taking an action assuming that it can be done just as easily tomorrow.

I’ve also noticed that people who work in both large and small bureaucracies, which inevitably have their own build-in forms of inertia tend to postpone action, often passing decisions about next actions to someone above them in the organizational hierarchy or to a committee “for further discussion.”

In those bureaucracies, having a meeting becomes a substitute for doing the work that the meeting is actually about. Or, put another way, organizations confuse the activity of a meeting with the doing of the tasks that actually lead to accomplishing the goal.

As a result, at both the individual and collective level, action is deferred and personal responsibility avoided.

While there are many reasons important work doesn’t get done, two of the biggest ones are:

• a lack of clarity about the specific next action that must be taken, and

• the lack of a “just do it” attitude that breaks through individual and organizational inertia.

“Next action thinking” requires that we know the specific and concrete next step in accomplishing our goals.

For example, if it is essential that we talk to a supervisor, we may think that the next step is having the conversation. But the meeting is likely dependent on scheduling an appointment for it, on preparing for the conversation, and so on.

“Just do it” speaks for itself, and although it seems obvious, individuals too often wait for someone else to initiate action.

In your experience, what are the major barriers between the highest aspirations of individuals and organizations and the realization of those aspirations?

The importance of self-care 

For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma, known as vicarious trauma, is a big risk. —Emelina Minero

Self care is an important topic at this time of year as people make New Year’s Resolutions or set annual goals.

Emelina Minero underscores the importance of self care in “When Students Are Traumatized, Teachers Are Too.”

Minero explains the link between student trauma and teacher stress this way:

“Data shows that more than half of all U.S. children have experienced some kind of trauma in the form of abuse, neglect, violence, or challenging household circumstances—and 35 percent of children have experienced more than one type of traumatic event, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can have impacts that extend far beyond childhood, including higher risks for alcoholism, liver disease, suicide, and other health problems later in life….

“For teachers, who are directly exposed to a large number of young people with trauma in their work, a secondary type of trauma, known as vicarious trauma, is a big risk. Sometimes called the “cost of caring,” vicarious trauma can result from “hearing [people’s] trauma stories and becom[ing] witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured,” according to the American Counseling Association.”

Minero offers several strategies teachers and administrators can use to address vicarious trauma:

Talking it out with colleagues, a life partner, therapists, and/or colleagues.

Building coping strategies to manage emotions (visualizing a calming place) and to identify and deal with more stressful times of the day.

Establishing coming home rituals such as turning off work phones or creating a to-do list for the next day before leaving work that provide clear boundaries between work and home life.

Minero’s suggestions promote self-care, an essential but often overlooked aspect of both physical and emotional well-being.

Three thoughts about self-care:

1. Self-care is not selfish. We cannot offer care to others if we don’t first care for ourselves.

2. Unless self-care is a routine and habitual part of our days it will quickly recede into the background when it is most needed.

3. To establish such routines and habits, it is helpful to view self-care as a promise to ourselves that assumes the same importance as promises we make to others.

What forms of self-care are most important to you, and how do you ensure that you engage in those practices on a regular basis?

Do you believe in epiphanies?


noun: a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

Do you believe in epiphanies?

I do.

I’ve had them while doing things as diverse as walking or driving, reading or staring out the window, having a conversation, or even while listening to keynote speakers at conferences.

Sometimes someone said just the right thing to me at the right time.

But epiphanies are not a change strategy that I would count on for me, for others, or for organizations.

Few epiphanies alter what we think and how we behave on a daily basis.

While guidance and inspiration can be drawn from epiphanies, they are seldom sufficient to produce meaningful and lasting changes in beliefs, understandings, and behavior.

Such changes almost always require sustained learning about complex subjects that includes deep and often courageous conversations within a strong team or other community about the implications of the new ideas and practices and how to solve the inevitable problems that arise in their implementation.

Anything less is simply insufficient.

Nothing I am saying here is new. In fact, it is decades or even centuries old.

But, inexplicably, it is far from common knowledge, yet alone common practice, except, perhaps, by resilient people.

Two questions:

What epiphanies, if any, have made a lasting difference in what you think and do?

In your experience, what structures (like teams or learning communities and dedicated time for them to meet) enable epiphanies to become standard practice?

Happy Holidays and best wishes for a wonderful 2018….

Habits of resilient people

The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works. But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do. —Seth Godin

Learning about something is only the first step.

Understanding an idea or practice deeply requires more of us.

Learning to do something correctly is harder still.

Learning to do it consistently until it becomes a habit is even harder. Such learning is founded on discipline and practice.

Here are a few habits we are likely to see in resilient people:

• Seeking clarity in the midst of confusion regarding purposes, values, goals, and next actions.

• Acting with integrity, particularly in speaking their truth and keeping their promises.

• Accepting responsibility for their actions.

• Taking calculated risks that move them out of their comfort zones.

• Learning from their mistakes.

• Using their strengths.

• Having empathy for the experiences and perspective of others.

What would you add to this list?

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