Archive for December, 2009|Monthly archive page

2010: The Space between the Notes

In 1 on December 31, 2009 at 8:57 am

Sitting and talking to Kelly, my partner in crime in the things I am working on now, he reminded me of the best metaphor for the space and stillness and silence that defines happiness for me.  It is the idea that real music, real life, is not defined by the notes we play, but by the space we leave in between.  I have followed this idea for years, first hearing it in my studies in sport psychology and like everybody else I credited a sport psychologist for the idea itself.  Hardly.

Once aware of this idea, I started seeing it is a universal found from Zen to Art and, of course, to music that I knew from my teen years.  In the VH1 show Classic Albums, it came up quite often.  From Face Value by Phil Collins were the words of his producer or engineer:

“You don’t feel at anytime that you’re making incredible records that will be remembered twenty years later, but both Phil and I both had this feeling of loving to listen to music that had space in it.  We tried very hard to not put too many instruments into the music.”

Or from Roger Waters talking about the making of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon:

“I find myself with instrumentalists over the years working with people very often as a producer having to say to people ‘No, leave a hole, just play for half a bar and leave a bar and a half free.’  And that’s how that song works.”

And David Fricke, Senior Editor Rolling Stone Magazine talking about Pink Floyd:

“The simplicity of the Floyd is very hard to talk about.  It was always about leaving space.”

And from Daniel Levitt who wrote the best-selling book Your Brain on Music:

“Miles Davis famously described his improvisational technique as parallel to the way Picasso described use of his canvas.  The most critical aspect of the work, both artists said, was not the objects themselves, but the space between objects.  In Mile’s case, he described the most important part of his solos as the empty space between notes, the “air” that he placed between one note and the next. Knowing precisely when to hit the next note, and allowing the listener the time to anticipate it, is a hallmark of Davis’s genius.”

And this defines the challenge I think we all face.  How do we live between the notes?

For those of you still afraid of the darkness of night, of being alone, of being judged when the music seems to stop, my hope for you is you will remember that space is what makes the song yours.  The voice, the con game, tries to steal the stillness, tries to fill the space with guilt, telling you to hurry the notes, to do more, to keep moving, to work harder.  The con game is musical chairs, each of us scared to be left without a chair when the music stops.

It is the space between the notes that presents the greatest opportunity for our own promise to rise up, to wonder what gifts lie inside us.  It is in the space that we turn those gifts of life into the skills for living.

That’s all it is.  Our promise.  Our gifts.  Our skills.  Nature’s promise to us fulfilled only by us.

Wonder, work, rinse, repeat.

Forgive and Remember.

From gifts into skills, from wonder to wellth.

Space, stillness, silence…and the skill to keep it free.

Breathe.  The ultimate human space.

And in fulfilling my promise, I will make this promise to you.  If you need a reminder to keep the space pure, if you need help remembering your gifts, I will be here going on my own journey.  My promise is in that way your promise.  That’s what I do.

Here we go.  Let’s play.  Everyone is invited.



In 1 on December 30, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Several of you have written to me and asked me about, well, me and my writings.  One thing I am very critical of is where I get data and information from so I think it right of people to want know about me.  I will write as concise a post as I can in the next day or so on the About page.

As far as my published writings, I don’t have that many I can send you to but amazon carries the best one about my work, though it is a bit dated.  It is called The Most Important Lesson No One Ever Taught Me.

I also have a book written with Jim Clawson from the Darden School of Business Administration at the University of Virginia.  I have been aninvited speaker for ten years in their Executive Education offering, Power and Leadership.  This book is called Powered by Feel and is also at Amazon.

I wrote a short book called The Little Book of Big Performance a while back and will post it as a PDF here on this blog.

Thanks for asking.

The Weightless Way

In 1 on December 30, 2009 at 7:32 am

Those are apricots, but I thought picture was funny given what I was writing.

One of the most challenging things I see in the coming year is something I share with many others. That is the question of diet and nutrition. I have asked a good friend who is a nutritionist at a well known food store to help me with this aspect of fulfilling my promise.

The latest data I’ve seen says that only 5-10% of people who diet lose the weight for any sustainable period of time. The numbers about dieting are atrocious.

But seen through promise, I have a different goal, or better said no goal at all.

When I was in high school and college up until I was about 25, I had 5 percent body fat. Pretty sure that is not something I could achieve again. But what I felt then, what I have felt at times such as this summer, is a sense of weightlessness. That is when I fulfill my promise.

What I have learned, what we as a society have learned over the years, is that food effects everyone a bit differently. Here is what I know about me.

I like sugar, but sugar hates me. It causes inflammation and weight gain.

I like meats of all kinds– fish, chicken, turkey, beef, etc. But they hate me if I eat too much causing gout, which hurts like hell.

I hate processed food. I can see, feel, and taste processed food.

I like a good cup of coffee in the morning, but don’t need it.

I like to cook for myself and others.

I love good, fresh sushi and it seems to like me, but the overfishing in the world makes me realize this is a luxury I can live without.

So that gives you enough of a picture of me. How do I translate this knowledge into The Weightless Way?

By realizing that all of this goes out the window when my life is too full and my stomach seems too empty.

So the “diet” is really not about food. Better said it is about how full my life is. Let me be more specific. It is about when there is too much mass in my life and not enough matter.

The Weightless Way means protecting my “Nothing,” the space, stillness, and silence inside me. The Rinse is an essential part of The Weightless Way.

What is weightless? It means not feeling weighed down by life. It means food that feels good to me for what it is, not comfort food that makes my troubles go away for the moment, but stays stuck in then on my belly. It means truly understanding the medicinal value of the food I eat and finding ways to make it taste and feel the way I want it to. It means remembering that fast food is rarely convenient.

Maybe most of all, food is energy. Food is the fuel I need to do what matters. If I don’t know what matters, then I have no idea what I need to eat.

When I first met Dani, we had a good discussion about nutritional education. I stopped her and said I preferred informed energy instead of education. Education it seems to me tells me about the food, but informed energy requires me to understand food as it relates to me and fulfilling my promise. Informed energy is energy that knows and does what matters.

The con game is designed to sell us food for the sellers to make money. Period. Fast food places have spent billions of dollars telling us that somehow their food and their buildings should feel like an extension of home to us. Why? Because that turns their food into comfort food.  We eat without thinking.  We eat to quiet our feelings instead of taking the time to feel our food.  The labels on food such as Fat Free or Low Fat are defined not by common sense, but by what food companies have been able to lobby into legislation.

Dani and I really connected when she pointed out how eating at its best is intimate. I agree. But it seems to me we live in a world, we live lives, where intimacy is scary and greatly lacking. If you asked me what most people want, what they are desperate for, it is intimacy. As a result, too many of us seek intimacy from our food instead of with our food in the mistaken belief that the food won’t judge us, that we can control what we eat, when we eat, and why we eat no matter is happening in the rest of our lives.

I can say honestly that in any relationship, in anything I do, I want two things– friendship and intimacy. I was friends and intimate with basketball earlier in my life. I have been intimate with people close to me.  I am not the least bit afraid of intimacy.

I define “Moments” by this intimacy. As I have learned and grown, I am better at knowing what makes this intimacy happen. I know how to make a life that allows “moments” to happen. Like everything else, it is easy to lose sight of what that takes, easy to make other things seem more important.

The Weightless Way depends on these moments. My own experience of intimacy is it feels weightless. Moments transcend what doesn’t matter so noise gives way to silence, being “full” gives way to space, and “busy” slows down to stillness.

In everything I’ve learned from my experiences and my research, Nothing defines happiness for me– silence, space, and stillness.

To be happy, I need intimacy. I need energy that knows what to do. And food is energy we cannot live without. This year I will choose food for how weightless it makes me feel, for how intimate I want to be. I will eat food that fuels the doing of what matters.

On Bull….

In 1 on December 30, 2009 at 4:05 am

Over the past month I keep running into a “study” that claims that 84% of Americans are satisfied with their lives.  I find this hard to believe.  In fact, I think it is bull#$%$.  I choose this word carefully and hope I do not offend anybody with it.  I choose it because a Princeton Professor wrote a definitive book called “On Bullshit” and I want to quote from it.  Here is what Harry Frankfurt wrote:

“It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth.  Producing bull#$@! requires no such conviction.  A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is, to that extent, respectful of it…for the bull#@$%er, all these bets are off; he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false.  His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says.  He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly..  He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

So I call bull#$@! on this survey that says 84% of Americans are satisfied with their lives.  Now, first of all the headlines seem skewed when they claim people are happy when the study actually says satisfied.  Regardless, consider these numbers:

53% of Americans believed in March of 2009 that we were headed for a 30’s style depression.

64% of Americans are obese or overweight.  34% are considered obese.

70 percent of Americans live paycheck-to-paycheck.

If we added together the depression statistics, the unemployment statistics, the addiction statistics, the unhappy marriage and divorce rates and on and on and on, I simply find it hard to believe that only 16% of Americans are dissatisfied with their lives.

Anyone who spends anytime around me will hear one word over and over again.  That word is data.  Show me the data, the numbers.  Then let’s talk about where these numbers come from and how they were collected.  I’ve taught research classes and I can’t make heads or tails of most data we’re force fed.

But here’s why I truly don’t believe the happiness numbers.  I have spent years listening to people late at night when they tell me how unhappy they are despite how positive they sound during the day.  People answer surveys too often looking for approval or are scared to admit the truth for fear of being judged.  The pollsters do little to triangulate the answers, to test their veracity…and this was apparently done by Gallup.  While I believe in all of these people, I also suspect they would tell pollsters they are satisfied with their lives.

So how do I use this information?  I use it as a reality check for myself.  I use it to test how much I want something.  I also understand that everyday I will have moments that feel good, that satisfy me.  It is easy to tell myself “See life is good.”  And if I think that, I seem to reset myself and that carries over and glosses over when something is not good or right.  I might stop pursuing my promise because I have a false sense that somehow whatever made me feel satisfied tells me I am closer to fulfilling my promise.

As an athlete, I had a lot of wins and very few losses.  I never played on a losing team in my entire life.  I was Player of the Year in my area in high school and went to college on a full scholarship…so why I do I look back on it with little pride?

The answer is found in one of the oldest cliches in sport.  Things are not as good as they seem and things are not as bad as they seem.  I did not come close to fulfilling my promise.

Truth is I am as capable of bull%^#&ting myself as much as anybody which is why I now listen to data and I look for it wherever I can.  Remember what Frankfurt wrote:  “He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly..  He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”  I can do this with the best of them…and it needs to stop.

Unless I know all of the 16% of unhappy Americans, something smells bad about this survey. There is a difference between happiness and learned helplessness.  There is gulf between satisfied and happy.  And if 84% of Americans are happy or satisfied with where we are, we’re in trouble.

As a disclaimer let me add simply that if someone told me they are happy with their belief system, that they really have hope or believe if things were conducted a different way, things would be better, I’d say great.  Then stand up for those beliefs.  Test them in the real world and show me the data.  I plan on doing this for the coming year and will be glad to share that data with you.

I do believe “Life is Good” but not as a slogan.  Life itself is a miracle, but what we seem to do with it falls far short of its promise.

Forgive and Remember

In 1 on December 30, 2009 at 12:57 am

The holidays, especially New Year’s, is a great time for me to remind myself of the need to get my process right.  It is equally a good time to remind myself of the dangers of chasing projects in the belief they will get me where I want to go.  Process not projects.  Promise not resolutions.

So I am taking the next few days to revisit my process as you’ve seen in the recent posts.  Wonder, Work, Rinse, Repeat.

I started with Xmas, reminding myself of what it means to me.  Xmas is the birth of forgiveness, a time to remind myself that whether or not Christ is the Son of God, he died for my sins.  Why?  Because He knew carrying around that judgment, the search for approval, the shame we feel about ourselves too often implodes on people.  They look for escape in all the wrong places.  Too often, they also lead us to forget our own promise and make us less  likely to make promises to others that we will keep.  The punishment of Adam and Eve was not their knowledge of their nakedness, but the shame that came along with it.  No matter what the philosophical or religious message or intent, I believe he died for my sins and I honor that everyday by confronting them.

In his book about surgical residency, Charles Bosk proposed a ingenious process for forgiveness.  My preparation for the coming year reminded me of this brilliant book.  This simple process– Forgive and Remember.

Forgive yourself.  Forgive the people in your life, but remember what you learned.  If you hurt someone, try to understand why you did so.  If someone hurt you, remember why you allowed them to do so.  My experience is you will find one thing in common in all of these.  You lost sight of what really matters in life.  I know this is true for me.  In fact, I can attribute every petty thing I have ever done, every hurtful thing I have allowed to be done to me, to listening to the con game.

I’ve had some very good teachers in my life, but can honestly say that unless you’ve met them, you have not heard of them.  They are most often women with little in their lives.  A woman who watched my dogs for me, a woman who was there whenever I needed help, a woman who reminded me to smile, and a woman who showed me her promise and in doing so showed me mine.

It is not the little things in life that matter, just the simple things.  Elegance as described by Brian Greene– things as powerful as they are simple.

I am allowing the Xmas spirit to live for a few extra days this year.  I am forgiving the people in my life who have hurt me, but I am also understanding why I was in such a vulnerable place to allow it to happen.  I am forgiving myself for hurting others.  Where it is possible, I am reaching out to them and apologizing and asking what service I might be to them.  Where I can help, I do, but I do not do what they want, I do not make a promise unless it is in line with my own promise.  I won’t make promises I can’t keep.

Forgive and remember.  This is the Rinse part of my process.

Some quick thoughts for forgivcness.  Forgive yourself if you are alone.  Forgive yourself if you are broke.  Forgive yourself if you hurt someone close to you.  Forgive yourself if you have not taken good care of yourself.  Forgive yourself if you made a mistake.  Forgive yourself if you don’t know enough.  Forgive yourself if you are not good at something you were not meant to do.  Forgive yourself if you bought too much house.  Forgive yourself if you got scammed.  Forgive yourself if you cannot sleep.  Forgive yourself if you still hear the voice in your head.  Forgive yourself if you’ve lost sight of your promise.

In and of itself, though forgiveness is simply another project.  It must be part of a process which is why I am thankful New Year’s follows so closely to Xmas.  Forgive yourself, but remember the lessons.  New Year’s is the time to start the process, not with resolutions, but with your own promise.  New Year’s is more than a chance to have a Happy New Year.  If your processes didn’t work this year, they won’t work next year.  My own belief, what I hope to live is a powerful year, one in which I find and do what matters.

In the end, whatever that is, my hope is to stand naked and unashamed next to God.  It is not about covering our nakedness with clothing, with good works, with positive thinking.  It is trust that we have lived the best we knew how.  And when we fail, it is being able to forgive ourselves and others, to be held accountable, but never judged.

We must forgive and remember and pursue our promise.  My promise is your promise.  And I hope this helps each of you.

Wonder, Work, Rinse, Repeat.

Brett Favre

In 1 on December 29, 2009 at 5:47 pm

Another aha!  I am realizing again something I already have learned.  The con game is ubiquitous, well entrenched, and a worthy enemy.  Almost everyone I talk to knows about the game and yet still plays it, mostly out of fear for themselves and their children.  We might love our own Promise and the game we could play in fulfilling it, but we are more afraid of not playing the con game.

And this is the balance I am aware of I need to keep in mind everyday.  I have to actively confront the fear of not playing the con game at the same time I am getting better at the game that fulfills my promise.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once said something to the effect that peace is not merely the absence of tension but the presence of justice.  Fulfilling my promise needs to be approached the same way.  Seeing the con game for what it is is not enough.  There must be a search, a pursuit to know and fulfill my own promise.

Here’s what I know.  In the world in which I live, the con game is relentless, well funded, and omnipresent.  I have to look behind the curtain to see the damage it does because it is in the loneliness of night that I know exhausted people cannot fight it off.  Most of us hide behind the curtain at some point each day.

But equally I have to be able to see, no, to feel, the pursuit and fulfillment of the promise that is me.  The more I do that the easier it is to see behind the curtain and hopefully pull it back for good on the man from Oz.

Watching Brett Favre play last night reminded me of that.  It was clear the Vikings lost the game because the coach did not take advantage of Favre’s ability to play with promise when it mattered.  The play calling at the end of the game was a play not to lose mentality and Favre knew it.  Favre more than any recent quarterback feels the game and therefore, sees the field in front of him.  He knows what to do.  His disagreements with the coach have been well documented the last few weeks as the Vikings have sputtered a bit going into the playoffs.

Malcolm Gladwell once wrote that the physical genius sees the field.  He sees what’s possible. In seeing that, he believes in what he sees enough to trust himself to test if he is right, to risk that might he be wrong or that his skills might not be up to the challenge.  This is the trust that leads to being able to fully execute the task at hand.  This never happens in the con game because the consequences of failing, the loss of approval is too scary.  The fragility of confidence replaces the rock solid nature of trust.

What the physical genius is not afraid of because he sees things so clearly, is the judgment of others, the disapproval that comes with failure.  He sees “the thing.”  He is not distracted.  He commits to it and tries to make it happen.  If he fails, he wonders instead of worries.  How do I do it better?  He learns and grows.

This is the daily struggle of seeing the con game for what it is– a distraction.  So I wonder ever day how does approval make me better?  How does the personal criticism help me learn?  If it does not, there is no need for it.  It is the con game, a game that does not keep its promises.

Brett Favre “plays” better than any athlete I have ever seen.  Play keeps wonder alive and therefore moves the ball down the field in the fulfillment of promise.  And to quote Gladwell, at the core, at the heart of the physical genius, is that they “found something that, on some profound, aesthetic level, made them happy.”


In 1 on December 29, 2009 at 1:26 am

So here it is, how I see it.  This is what I will try to live in the New Year.

Wonder, Work, Rinse, Repeat.


In 1 on December 28, 2009 at 7:40 pm

I wanted to follow up on the Con Game post with Nothing.

Here’s my experience, my take, and my difficulty.  What if the opposite of the con game is nothing?  Nothing in the form of space, stillness, and silence inside each of us.

Over the years as an athlete, I heard that the best performances occurred when there was no voice…and yet so much of what was offered in the name of preparation involved talking, listening to others, talk, or self-talk whatever that actually comes from.

What if true happiness is nothing, the silence, space, and stillness inside of us…a place we can create from and in.

And this is what I believe.  True happiness for me requires this space, this nothing.  Why?  So I can truly experience what is around me.  And this goes back to Joyce’s explanation of aesthetics-the ability to see beauty without the need to possess it.

So fulfilling my own promise seems to me to be simple but not easy.  Begin with nothing, allow wonder to roam free, experience life without needing to own anything (in the egotistical sense), build a library of experiences inside me…Rinse (return to nothing). Repeat.

If you asked me what I’ve learned about my life from my own experiences and from my work, it all comes down to that.  The difficulty, the challenge is staying true to that in an environment, in a society, based on exactly the opposite…..

And it is time to put that to work, to do what matters most.  I wonder what that is…..

Life is a Swimming Pool

In 1 on December 25, 2009 at 9:50 pm

One of the things I struggle most with is finding people to do playful things with.  I’ve been reminded of my own need to play a lot lately.  But here’s the thing for me.  Life is play.  We’re designed to do it.

But we’re also designed to protect ourselves.  We just don’t stay open enough to try new things and are too willing to take someone else’s word for what we should be afraid of.  In the movie Despereaux,  One of the elders tells Despereaux “There are so many wonderful things in life to be afraid of if you’d just learn how scary they are.”

But I now see life as a swimming pool.  We have baby pools so we can safely play in the water.  We have the shallow end so we can play and sink only so far if we get tired.  But life it seems to me happens in the deep end.

Let’s go for a swim….

With everything I’ve been through and witnessed lately, I guess I have concluded we do not need the baby pool or the shallow end.  Ever.  The lessons we learn there are not real and the safety they offer is a false one.  Too often it teaches us how scary the deep end is if looked at from the shallow end.  And we never experience it for ourselves.

I choose to swim and to learn in the deep end.  I choose to develop my skills there from now on where I will meet real fear instead of worry.  And in doing so will find true freedom from the “wonderful things” I am supposed to be afraid of.

Clint Eastwood

In 1 on December 25, 2009 at 5:00 am

“If a person is confident enough in the way they feel, whether it’s an art form or whether it’s just in life, it comes off-you don’t have anything to prove; you can just be what you are.”