journalofnothing

Archive for February, 2010|Monthly archive page

Powerful: Power…with a Promise

In 1 on February 28, 2010 at 10:04 pm


Although people have defined power for hundreds of years as, “The ability to get others to do what you want them to do,”  I believe power is the ability to do work well… and how you define well is, well, up to you.

What makes someone powerful?  The ability to define and do their own work.

What makes someone powerless?  The inability to define and do their own work.

World-class performers and organizations take energy, the raw human force inside each of us and refine it into work done well, into power.  World-class performers seek out the people and environments that help them turn energy into power.

Positive energy moves something; negative energy is expended but results in no work being done.

The skill and ability to feel not only energized the people I interviewed, it took energy that had always existed in them and turned it into power — at first to do the work themselves, to do what they felt, then to help them discover, grow, sustain their own definition of work.  As they got better at music, business, caring for others, their power was increased because they helped others turn energy into power.

Ultimately, world-class performers do not approach power as something they own or possess.  Power is not something someone holds over them.  Power is something they create or tap into.

Powerful then is when our personal power, the gifts we were born with honed into skills, are used to fulfill the promise inside of us.

Working with heart surgeons provides me a great example of the ability to turn energy into power.  I have talked to dozens of surgeons and hundreds of medical students.  I’ve talked to many patients and I can say without hesitation the one thing these three all bring to the table is energy.  The surgeons being energetic about the tough cases, energy that can manifest as worry and sometimes fear.  The medical students who are often idealistic, energized by the chance to answer the calling they’ve known since childhood.  The patients who are afraid of the surgery, a fear energized by the clinical feel of the hospital and the confusing directions in buildings reconstructed into a maze over the years.

This energy all comes together in one place in the hospital as the patient waits, the surgeons prepare, and the students learn.  Lots of energy. However, the skillful surgeon, the educated patient, and the curious student working together can turn that energy into power in the place their missions overlap.

This is very different from the image of surgeons in decades past.  The surgeon was the only one with the power.  Yet the student had no less energy.  Neither did the patients.  Whether or not their energy was turned into power was seemingly irrelevant to the process.

Now we know better and the consequences of ignoring the energy, of leaving this energy unrefined, of believing and acquiescing to the idea that someone has power over us, is simply unsustainable.

In the case of patients, the power of a doctor can be limited to within the hospital, but powerful doctors know their real power is in their ability to turn the energy of their patients into the power to heal themselves, to thrive, not merely survive.  For me, nothing is more powerful than seeing a patient turn the energy of worry, fear, doubt into the power to heal themselves, to get back to the things and people they love, and to do the work of their lives.

I used the example of the patients for a specific reason.  They often consider themselves powerless in the process.  They often show up with their energy turned inside working against the healing process.  It eats them up, makes sleeping difficult, and keeps them from moving.

The surgeon might have the ability to repair the damage to their heart, but if that is all that occurs, the patient’s energy is rarely used to assist in the healing.  The patient remains scared and timid instead of using his or her energy to recover and thrive.

If this is true for heart patients, then it is also true for most employees, for most of us no matter our role.  We might believe our doctors, our bosses, our politicians have power over us, but the true source of power is within each of us.  Can we turn our own energy into power?  Can we use our own energy to do work well?

While some of the people I interviewed viewed power in the traditional way, it seemed to me that in my interviews they talked more about power in terms of using their own energy and information to do work.  They spend less time and energy worrying about the power someone else might have over them.  This specifically showed up in how they talked about failure.

Many of them explicitly,  “I am not afraid to fail.  I hate losing, but I am not afraid of it.”  They felt they could deal with losing or failing.  This liberated them, allowed them to use their energy to do work instead of allowing it to fester or turn into negative energy.  They sought out feedback and evaluation from people they trusted.  They understood that seeking or inviting judgment would simply energize them, but with no useful information — that energy trapped inside them with nowhere to go rendered them powerless.

Powerful people and organizations turn energy into power to fulfill the individual promise as well as the collective promise of a company.  Maybe it even fulfills the fundamental concept of capitalism, one I think too many of us have lost sight of.  Our power comes from our own labor, from who we are, and what we do with who we are.

P. J. O’Rourke wrote this in his book about Adam Smith’s classic On the Wealth of Nations:

“The property which every man has is his own labour, as it is the original foundation of all other property, it is the most sacred and inviolable.”  Property rights are not the invention of the rich to keep the poor people off their property.  Property rights are the deed we have to ownership of ourselves.”

Powerful is the power we have put to work to fulfill the promise inside of us.  Power…with a promise.

Advertisements

Want not, Waste not

In 1 on February 27, 2010 at 9:33 pm

David Brooks was on The Charlie Rose Show recently and he was talking about a book he was working on.  The subject is the brain, specifically the unconscious and all the discoveries scientists are making now.  His conclusion from what he has learned so far?  “We don’t know much.”  He did not mean the scientists don’t know much.  He meant us.  Everything I can read, everything I experience, tells me this is accurate, but probably incomplete.

As I posted in an earlier blog, the research suggests that our notion of knowing what we want is often misleading, a trick that nature plays on us.  Here is what Nettle said:

“The distinction between wanting and liking is of use here. Our minds are equipped with a dopamine-drunk wanting system that draws us to compete for a promotion or a higher salary: a larger house or more material goods; an attractive partner or 2.4 children. It draws us to these things, not because they will make us happy, not even because we like them, but because the ancestors who got the stone age equivalents of these things are our ancestors, and those who did not are biological dead ends. Although we implicitly feel that things we want in life will make us happy, this may be a particularly cruel trick played by our evolved mind to keep us competing. The things we want in life are the things the evolved mind tells us to want, and it doesn’t give a fig about our happiness. All the evidence suggests you would probably be happier not caring about your promotion and going and building boats or doing volunteer work instead.    Moreover, the more important people believe financial success is, the more dissatisfied with both work and family they are.”

Basically, he is telling us that while we might “want” things, we often want things we will not like when we actually get them.  Ever had this happen to you?  Even worse, did you ever go into debt or even change something drastic in your life because you wanted something only to find you did not like it when you got it?  Ever pursued a date or relationship with someone only to find the chase was better than actually going out with them?

So how do we trust our “want” radar?  I would argue we shouldn’t.  If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you will see me use the word “wonder.”  I trust wonder far more than I will ever trust what I want.  Why?  Because from my experience of myself and from working with people, our wonder is far more accurate than what we think we want.  In my interviews with world class performers, I heard this over and over again.  They were successful because they stumbled upon something they felt when they were doing it.  They liked how that felt and followed that where it took them.

The distinction is that they felt something while they were doing it.  The feeling they had was not one of wanting, but of actually experiencing something.  As they felt that way again, as they practiced longer, played more, did more work,  a field of play seemed to open up and they followed their wonder across the field, testing things out.  They wondered.  They played.  They did work.

In the interview, Brooks told about a classic experiment, one he said is a good predictor of people being successful in life.  A researcher placed a cookie in front of a child and told the child that if he or she could go a certain amount of time without eating the cookie, he or she would get two cookies.  Some of the children ate the cookie anyway.  Others went to great lengths to suppress their desire to eat the cookie.  One kid banged his head against the table to distract him from the cookie.  The children who did not eat the cookie displayed an important characteristic of successful people– delayed gratification.  They were willing to do what it took to gain more over time.

But what if the researcher had children doing something they loved doing, something they did for hours, that they improved at as they did it?  Would they have stopped doing it to get the cookie?  My experience suggests they would not.

In eastern religions, the key it seems to me is that suffering is caused by wanting.  I think this is right.  I think if people were in the right environments, they would not want stuff.  Western society is built on creating, producing, and marketing things we want enough to buy.  The easy access to credit made instant gratification seem less important or at least more difficult.  Television is designed to make us want things we do not have.

But in the end, too often we want what we will not like…and the cycle continues.

Wonder , on the other hand, is a process that leads us to understand ourselves and the world around us at a deeper level.  In fact, one of the cornerstones of capitalism, probably the least talked about aspects of it, is curiosity.  We wonder about something.  Maybe the distinction between wonder and curiosity is that curiosity implies action.  Wonder did not kill the cat.  Curiosity did because it implies the cat did something about his wonder that might not have been so good.  I would argue that history shows that the greatest businesspeople, the greatest inventions happened because someone wondered and that wonder became active curiosity.  And work was done.  Truth was found.  And the more truth that was found, the more wonder happened because new questions arose.

Why am I saying all of this?  Because another one of the principles of any company I create, any activity I pursue, must be wonder, wonder that spurs curiosity into action.  I want people who wonder aloud, who take action on it, in my life.  I am not interested in people who want something like the greyhound who metaphorically catches the rabbit and can never race again.

My experience, my research, shows that to want something is a waste of time.  But to wonder, to be curious, leads us to worlds and places and people we could never imagine without it.

No cookies for me please.  I agree with Einstein:

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.

The CEO and Bob

In 1 on February 27, 2010 at 2:38 am

Once upon a time there was a very successful CEO who was brought in to turn a company around.  Most of the workers had been through several changes in management before and like all long time employees, they’d learned to be invisible.  They simply went to their job everyday, did what they were supposed to do, and collected their paycheck.  And like at many companies that were at one time successful, but were now losing money, the employees simply defended what they did by saying “We’ve always done it that way.”

So the CEO called a meeting of the staff.  Rumors flew before the meeting and the most senior folks there knew what was coming.  The cheerleading speech, the rah-rah, and the changes the CEO would implement for the same reasons the employees did what they did.  He would do what he’d done everywhere else.

The CEO walked into the meeting followed by a beautiful Golden Lab.  As the CEO started to talk, the lab sat patiently next to him.  The employees were stunned at the brevity of the meeting.

“I just want to say I am happy to be here and look forward to working with you.  I know you are aware of the financial difficulties we face, but we’ll figure it out..  And I want you to meet Bob.”  He pointed to the dog.

Bob raised one paw and waved.  The employees all laughed.

“So let’s get to work.”

Huh?  Really?  That’s it thought the staff.

The next morning, Bob was seen wandering through the halls.  Every now and then, Bob would go into an office and simply watch the employees.  It made some of them a bit nervous, like he was spying on them.  This went on for about a week.  The CEO  also walked the halls and said hi to people, but that was about all he did.

The employees now were distracted.  They were uncomfortable wondering why this new guy was hired…and what was with the dog?  The rumors continued to fly.  “He won’t last long.”  “What a waste of a huge salary.”  Eventually some of the employees tried to get information from the CEO.  Some sucked up to him.  Others looked him up on the internet.  All they could find was that he was considered an expert in turnarounds.  Despite his reputation, many of the employees refused to believe it.  This was their company and they knew what worked…despite the fact the company was close to bankruptcy.

But the CEO knew what he was doing.  It was not about the company, but the people.  And he had an unusual way of determining who would make the cut.

In the second week, Bob continued his office visits, but there was an added wrinkle.  Every once in a while, Bob would lift his leg and pee on the employee’s leg.

Most of them were outraged.  Pissed, in fact.  (excuse the pun).  Despite this clearly inappropriate behavior, none of them would say anything to the CEO.  But the talk flew around the office, and most of the employees began closing their door to keep Bob out.  They developed an elaborate system amongst themselves to warn each other when Bob was coming down the hall.

As he always did, the CEO just watched.  He still walked the halls and asked people how they were doing.  They all told him things were fine despite their outrage.

After another week of this the place was in a frenzy so the CEO called another meeting.

He walked in the room with Bob by his side and announced that he had formulated his plan for moving the company forward.  That plan was nothing more than promoting certain people within the organization.  As he announced the promotions, a buzz started.  How in the world was he making these decisions?

Each person promoted was asked to come forward and as they did, Bob walked up to them and rubbed against their legs.  They, in turn, leaned over to pet him.  The other employees simply did not understand.

Finally, one of the more senior folks couldn’t take it anymore, feeling he was a logical choice for promotion.  He’d been there for years and had put in his time.

“How did you decide who to promote?” he asked.

“I didn’t decide.  Bob did,” said the CEO.

“How can a dog decide who deserved a promotion?” one employee asked.

“Raise your hand if Bob paid you a visit in the last couple of weeks,” said the CEO.  Most of them raised their hands, including those who had been promoted.

“Raise your hand if Bob peed on your leg.”  Again most of them did, especially the more senior folks.

The CEO pointed to the man who had challenged the promotions and asked him a simple question.

“What did you do when Bob peed on your leg?”

“I got mad and hit him on the head.  The I kicked him out and closed my door so he didn’t come back.”

The CEO pointed to one of the women he’d promoted and asked the same set of questions.

“Well, I wasn’t happy about it, but I figured there wasn’t anything I could do about it.  The next day when he came back into my office, I took him for a walk outside and he peed.  He’s come back everyday since.”

The people the CEO had promoted nodded.  They had done the same thing.  They figured it out.  They liked Bob visiting them.

“None of you came and talked to me about it.  If you’d asked me, I would have stated the obvious.  Bob needed to go out.  Most of you, though, were so scared of losing your job, of me, that you let the fear dictate how you responded.  That’s not leadership.

“Furthermore, you did not take the time to figure out what was happening.  These people did.  If we are going to get things going in the right direction here, we need to start over, to figure out what works.  We’ll start with these folks.  Thanks for coming.”

And he grabbed Bob and took him outside for a walk….

Value and Values

In 1 on February 26, 2010 at 4:50 pm

I want to add another principle to my list.  It might seem a bit odd, but this is at the core of my experience over the last twenty years.

It seems to me that life for so many people is often a conflict between what we value and getting value from the things, the world around us.  I must admit for me, what I value becomes more and more clear for me everyday.  Sadly, the more clear I become on what I value, the more difficult relationships can become.  These difficulties do not arise because I expect people to value the same things I do.  They arise because I can so clearly see the conflict in others and am too often recruited into that battle, to be okay with the conflict others experience.  People tell me they value one thing, but their actions suggest otherwise.  And they want me to ignore what I see.  I simply cannot do that.  It is the resolution of this conflict, my ability to help others resolve this conflict, that makes me able to help them get where they want to go.

Let me be clear.  To borrow from Robert Pirsig (Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance), value in my world is not a noun, but a verb.  Values is a noun, a noun defined not by what one thinks, but by what one does.  To value something means that one does what matters most and I believe we prove that by doing it when it matters the most, even when it might cost us everything.

That is how I define the verb value.

So one of the principles of whatever it is I am creating for myself has to be defined by doing what matters.  This also requires knowing what matters or trusting a belief enough to test it in real life knowing it will probably cost something.

In his book The Science Behind Your Smile, Daniel Nettle explains the difficulty in doing what we value.  We are at war inside of ourselves.  Here is what Nettle says the science shows:

“The distinction between wanting and liking is of use here. Our minds are equipped with a dopamine-drunk wanting system that draws us to compete for a promotion or a higher salary: a larger house or more material goods; an attractive partner or 2.4 children. It draws us to these things, not because they will make us happy, not even because we like them, but because the ancestors who got the stone age equivalents of these things are our ancestors, and those who did not are biological dead ends. Although we implicitly feel that things we want in life will make us happy, this may be a particularly cruel trick played by our evolved mind to keep us competing. The things we want in life are the things the evolved mind tells us to want, and it doesn’t give a fig about our happiness. All the evidence suggests you would probably be happier not caring about your promotion and going and building boats or doing volunteer work instead.    Moreover, the more important people believe financial success is, the more dissatisfied with both work and family they are.”

And this is the heart of the dilemma for me, one I believe that I’ve solved in theory, but in practice struggle with when working with others.  My own research shows that people who choose to go build the boat CAN have the best of both worlds.  This can solve the inner conflict, can quiet the voice in our heads.  The person who loves building the boat will probably do it better.  They will likely build boats they can sell if they choose to do so.

The difficulty is so few people ever learn this, ever experience this love long enough to make it work.  In medicine, in sport, in education and even in business, I have witnessed people who love “boat building” lose their love for it when they are faced with “the game,” with politics, with deadlines.

And this takes me back to the distinction between magic and the magician.

How many people, laypeople, know that the pressure to make numbers in business, in the financial world has caused problems because everything is reported and judged on a quarterly basis instead of over the long term?  How many of us know that the focus on SAT scores and grades has hurt the education of our children?  How many of us know that the music business has been ruined by the creation of pre-fab bands created simply to make more money?  How many of us know that free agency has hurt baseball because the rich can simply buy the best players (even though it does not necessarily lead to championships)?

I was watching a Behind the Music episode about Pink yesterday and it told the story of her second album.  She wrote the songs from her heart.  It was painful, many of the songs seem sad.  When she pitched it to her producer, he told her it was a bad idea, it would never sell.

She challenged him.  She told him he lived out of fear and she lived out of love.  She convinced him to take the risk.  The album sold millions of copies and announced Pink to the world.  “I was wrong,” he said because she was right.  He lived out of fear.  She valued love and took the risk.

The difference between magic and the magician is inherent in all of these examples.  Magicians want to sell you something disguised as something that matters.  Magic itself is not a “thing.”  Magic is the process.  Magic is real.  And if you value it, if you practice it long enough, the mystery disappears.  Magic happens when you value something long enough to let it work.  Magic is the human mind and heart coming together to do what matters.  Magic takes time.  The magician fears time because it allows one to look long enough to see behind the curtain.  I have seen behind enough curtains to know the world is too full of magicians and too short on magic.

So add “Value is a verb” to my list of principles.  As I move forward, I am reminded of this passage about values by David Bruce Ingram, Ph.D. professor of philosophy at Loyola University in Chicago:

To the extent that you don’t examine your life, you don’t ‘own’ it. It’s not yours, but someone else’s. It means that you do something because that’s what everyone else does, because you’ve always done it that way, or because Joe Schmoe the big expert tells you to. But doing something for these reasons is not taking responsibility for your own life.

You heard me right. Being morally responsible means you think deeply about the meaning of your values and the norms you hold dear. If you don’t do that, you’re not being adult. Being adult means that you freely- voluntarily and with forethought- take control over the values that otherwise stay hidden. So dig ‘em up and examine ‘em.

Figure it out. Be Magic.

In 1 on February 25, 2010 at 2:34 am

So I left my job in Colorado with no real idea what is next for me.  Over the past two weeks, I’ve had lots of time to reflect, to consider what I could have done differently, and observe.

I have lots to write about, maybe to dump about…who knows?  I am reminded, however, about a very successful person I interviewed about ten years ago.  At the time he was President of one of the leading internet companies and he told me the story of how he got there.

He told me about a roommate of his who happened to be very high up in a company, CEO even.  Everyday this friend would come home and complain about how much he hated his job.  My friend said to him if you hate it so much and you’re the CEO, imagine how the rest of the people feel.  He told his roommate that he either needed to quit his job or get a new roommate.

He quit his job the following day.  Together they sat down and designed a new company.  They agreed they would not decide on what the company was to do until they came up with a list of principles that defined how the company would operate.  They would design a company people actually wanted to not only work for, but to be a real part of.

They came up with a list of nine principles.  That company was one of the first in the internet maelstrom and was eventually bought by a larger company which my friend became President of.  I won’t divulge which company it was, but suffice it to say most of you have heard of it.

So I find myself in this same place.  My integrity demanded that I leave my job.  Why?  Because what I have the spent the last twenty years of my life developing was being treated as if it were a card trick.

I can say without hesitation that what we did was magic.  We performed and achieved by the time I left to an unprecedented level.  This was not my word, but the CEO’s.  Unprecedented.

So this is where I begin my list of principles for whatever I do next.  How do I want to feel at work?  I begin with magic.  I can make magic.  I know how to do it.  I know what it feels like.

But here’s the thing.  We all do.  You do too.

The problem is that too many of us are raised and programmed to be magicians, to perform tricks, to deceive.

I am not saying you are taught to lie.  What I am saying is that by settling for the magician’s trick instead of our own magic, we are deceiving ourselves…and those around us.  Want to know why so many things seem to be going wrong these days.  We are out of tricks.  The magicians have had the curtain pulled back on them.  The best example I can think of is Alan Greenspan.  I was a devotee until he said those infamous words– “It never occurred to me that companies would not act in their own best interest.”  Where was he living?

And the most dangerous thing of all is when we do the trick and someone tells us how great we are, how we fooled them.  We start to believe in the magician more than the magic, the true magic inside us.  No one really cares how the trick was done, they like being “WOWed.”  And we like being told how great we are in that moment.

The problem is new tricks come and the old ones only go so far.

So my list of principles for myself and anyone else who wants to join me begins with this.

1.  Be magic.  Make magic.  Do magic.

How do we do that? Principle #2

2.  We see, we hear, we feel, we process.

By process I mean that thoughts and emotions work together.  By feel, I mean we sense what is real.  By see and hear I mean exactly that.  We see instead of watch.  We hear instead of listen.  Watching and listening narrows what we can perceive because we watch and listen for certain things, things we’ve heard before and we miss what really matters.

3.  Figure it out.

I heard an interview with Connecticut Women’s bball coach Gino Auriemma a couple of days ago.  Gino was an assistant at UVa when I played there.  Who knew he would go on to do what he has done.  But it was clear to me that he had his act together then.  I had no idea of his upbringing in Italy, a small house with no water or electricity.  His upbringing he said forced him to figure out how to do things, how to make things work.  And when he gets on his players, that is exactly what he tells them  “Figure it out.”  Not “Try harder.”  Not “Deal with it.”  Figure it out.  The gap between “deal with it” and “figure it out” is vast.  I cannot tell you how many times someone has said something stupid, something demeaning followed by “Deal with it.”  And why do people have to listen to this?  Because they need their jobs.

So I will end on that note for now.  More to come.  I have to figure it out.  Feel free to add to my list of principles of the company you would want to work for.  Feel free to share how you make magic.  Feel the magic… or whatever it is you call it.  Feel it outloud so we can all feel it.

Have You Seen Me Lately?

In 1 on February 11, 2010 at 7:53 am

This post is free form, stream of consciousness.

Have You Seen Me Lately? is one of my favorite songs by The Counting Crows.  Adam Duritz tells the story behind the song in the Storytellers version of it…how he felt like he was losing the little pieces of himself out on the road:

You begin to pile up really big experiences, but I think sometimes you don’t get to keep any of the little ones that are really important, like in the song the person says

“And all the little things that make up a memory
Like she said she loved to watch me sleep
Like she said:
Its the breathing, its the breathing in and out and in”

I realized that I wasn’t getting to keep all the little memories.  It maybe an angry song, but its also a really sad song about the little things you lose track of.

I am leaving my job and leaving Colorado partly to get myself back.  I came across this song and several others as I am packing and preparing for what’s next.  How do you pack for what’s next if you don’t know what that is?  But maybe the answer is you don’t…maybe you unpack–the little memories, the moments that got stuffed deep inside the more you got lost….and that idea of unpacking made me wonder until that wonder found a moment inside me, and then another and another…and made me smile….

Several lines in the song really hit me…hard.  The obvious ones are :

get away from me
this isn’t gonna be easy
but i don’t need you
believe me
yeah, you got a piece of me
but it’s just a little piece of me

I guess anytime I do something for pay, when my work gets lost in a job, and someone thinks they own me or my time or whatever units we use to measure life, I know they are buying or renting only a piece of me…but too often it seems they feel entitled to all of me, that what matters to them must matter to me.  And it simply ain’t so…as I leave this place and take back my space,  another line hits me:

Could you tell me one thing you remember about me?

And it made me think that’s a cool facebook or twitter post.  Could you tell me one thing you remember about me?

And then the last line, the one that hits hardest:

I guess I thought somebody would say something if I was missing.

I guess that is what friends are for and thank goodness for the true friends who help me with this….I don’t think of this as an angry or sad song, but a beautiful one because it reminds me of those little things in my life, reminds me of the memories I had here, the lessons I learned.  And while there are those I want to get away from, who I want to forget, the song reminds me of friends past who know those pieces of me, pieces no one took, but that I shared, not given away.

And it makes me a smile, a smile defined as when wonder meets a moment….

How do you fix what you don’t know?

In 1 on February 10, 2010 at 4:10 am

I was watching CNN tonight when they were showing a piece about the Toyota fiasco.  They had an engineer on who said that the fix Toyota was offering did not seem to be consistent with the actual problem.  On the bottom of the screen was the question “How do you fix what you don’t know?”

Brilliant.  This question has been at the heart of my work for the last twenty years.  Every year I feel like I have learned a little bit more of how to answer that question.  And as always it comes back to one word– wonder.

I’ve been involved in a lot of different situations from sports to business to medicine to education and on and on.  In my work, I have come to a couple of conclusions about human behavior.

1.  People often simply don’t see that something is wrong despite all evidence being to the contrary.  I have been in several jobs where I’ve been brought in to change a culture…and too often the culture thinks things are fine despite mounting financial losses.  So why would they wonder how to fix what is wrong?  The answer is they just see no need to.  Needless to say I failed in any attempt to help in those situations.

2.  People often refuse to admit something is wrong.  Why?  Because that might mean they’ve done something wrong and admitting that shows weakness.  I am more successful with this population because they will eventually see the evidence if they feel safe to wonder instead of worry.  This takes trust and trust takes time.

3.  People do not want to pay the cost to fix something that is wrong so they don’t want to look for it.  Think flashing “check engine” light when you have $100 in the bank.

4.  Most often, I think people do not take the proper look because they feel pressure to perform, to do something, anything, to even look busy because being busy means they are trying hard. Somehow that’s good enough.

5.  Same thing, but the pressure comes from time and money.  Money is lost as time ticks by.

You get the point.  There are a lot of times when we simply do not look for the right thing to fix when we perceive something is broken.  And by doing so we admit, we acknowledge, we accept something being wrong.  Consider the financial crisis.  Consider the educational system.  Most of all, consider yourself.  I try to do this everyday.  And what I have found about myself, in my life, surprises me.  I want to know, above all else, I want to know, but that desire puts me at odds with people who fit into those above categories.  And I can be a lot better myself at knowing what’s wrong…with me, with my style, with my life, and I am trying.  And, of course, knowing what’s wrong doesn’t mean you know how to fix something, and maybe that’s the biggest reason of all for not wanting to look…the possibility of failure, of inadequacy, of not being good enough.

Which brings me back to the root of so much of what I see in people who won’t look (this describes me at an earlier age).  Because somewhere along the line, we are taught to stop wondering, to stop looking for what’s right so we have less to fix, and maybe as a result, less to know.  We take tests, get grades, jobs, promotions, raises, etc.  And for the most part, we spend our lives worrying and then avoiding what’s wrong…because we’ve forgotten or lost our promise, what’s right about us.  We stop seeing what works and then lose sight of it all together.  I see this everyday.

Positive thinking (what we tell ourselves that we might not truly believe) replaces positive energy (energy that does what matters), and we wake up one day and we no longer can see what is real.

And when someone comes along and asks “What’s wrong?” we have no idea how to answer because we don’t know.  So we say just say “Nothing.”

How do you fix what you don’t know?

Personal training? Really?

In 1 on February 6, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I’ve spent the last year working to develop a retention program for members at the Boulder YMCA.  Interesting stuff, but here’s the thing.  What is interesting to me is I have learned that what I already believed, what I already knew really works.  I’ve learned that what I knew, what a lot of us knew as kids was true.  I don’t mean the stuff our parents told us, but the stuff we knew for ourselves, the things we discovered often by ourselves or with friends.

We knew magic.  I didn’t really know it was magic.  This passage from Boy’s Life by Robert Macammon made me realize it was magic.

We all start out knowing magic. We are born with whirlwinds, forest fires, and comets inside of us. We are all born able to sing to birds and read the educated right out of our souls. We get it churched out, spanked out washed out, and combed out. We get put on the straight and narrow and told to be responsible. Told to act our age. Told to grow up for God’s sake. And you know why we were told that. Because the people doing the telling are afraid of our youth and because the magic we knew made them ashamed and sad about what they had allowed to whither in themselves.


After you go so far away from it though, you can’t really get it back, just seconds of knowing and remembering. When people get weepy at movies it’s because in that dark theatre the golden pool of magic is touched just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and they don’t know why.  When a song stirs a memory, when motes of dust turning in a shaft of light takes your attention from the world, when you listen to a train passing on a track at night in the distance and wonder where it might be going, you step beyond who you are and where you are.  For the briefest of instants, you have stepped into the magic realm.

That’s what I believe.


The truth of life is that each year we get a little further from the essence that is born with us. We get shouldered with burdens, some of them good, some of them not so good. Things happen to us.  Life itself does its best to take that memory of magic away from us. You don’t know it’s happening until one day you feel like you’ve lost something-and you’re not sure what it is. It’s like smiling at a pretty girl and she calls you “sir” – it just happens.

What’s that got to do with personal training and member retention at the Y?

Everything.

What if it turns out that most of what we are offered or even taught as adults is wrong?  Or misses the point, muting the magic?

So let me make some distinctions, distinctions I have had to understand to fulfill my own promise, distinctions I ignored the last fifteen years in sharing my work with people who sought to use it or teach it without using it themselves.

Don’t misunderstand what I just said.  I am very good at helping people one on one use my work.  But I have been bombarded by people who want to use my work to help others, to teach it, without understanding it, without doing it themselves.

Unfortunately we live in a world of “experts,” often people with little or no expertise.  And they have become the people who tell us to be responsible, to do what they tell us to do, not because it is the good or right thing to do, but because they know better than we do.  In the physical fitness world, these people often get certified by taking an online test that takes a few hours.  Then they are qualified to put together a “personal training” program based on what they know, what the test says they know.  Too often, they simply want to make money or make a living.

This is not personal training.  It is “expert” training, the label of expert defined by this test.  Maybe they teach you what they know or help define your program for you based on this test working one on one with you.  That turns it into “private training,” not personal training.

What we have developed based on twenty years of experience and research is simple and easy to do if someone can get past needing an expert because they doubt what’s inside themselves.

I am not bragging here or promoting my work.  What I am doing is reminding myself and others that the magic is inside each of us.  We are born with magic in us and fulfilling the promise means becoming magical, someone who makes magic happen by allowing the magic inside us to live outside us.

I am also forced to make these distinctions because I watch and am impacted everyday by these “expert, personal trainers.”  People who take a program and simply get everyone they work with to adhere to the program.  No magic, but lots of judgment, and inevitably, a very low compliance rate.

Here is what I believe.

We are born with magic inside us, but before we learn how to use it, too many forces around us try to steal it, to make us doubt it, to reject what we believe.  We question ourselves and worry instead of asking questions and wondering.

Wonder is the lifeblood of the magic we are born with.  Without wonder, we will never become magical, someone able to make magic.

Private, expert training is about what someone else knows that they share with you one on one.  It is not personal because it is rarely about you.  If your personal trainer tells you more than they ask you, then what they are doing is not personal because it is not about you.  Sadly, it is not magic.

Personal training begins and ends with wonder because it is about the magic inside you.  I have no idea what magic is inside you and if you come to me for help, I doubt you know your own magic.  But I do wonder what’s there, how you can touch it and use it.

What personal training is not is someone taking my work and using it to “help” others when they do not believe in magic.  Too many people have used my work to become experts who do private training.  They write books and give lectures, even doing research.  But they never touch, they never believe in the magic.  They just want to be seen as experts.

Personal training is about using the wonder you’re born with to become wonderful.  It is about knowing the magic inside you well enough to know how to make it dance and play and sing, to do your work.

Personal training is about helping you touch and know your magic well enough, long enough, to become magical.