A Lesson From Tough Times

Think of someone who causes a sense of admiration when you recall the tough stuff they’ve been through and still managed to keep it together. How did they do it?

Lao Tzu said that the person who conquers others is strong while the person who conquers him/herself is mighty. How do you do that? Is there a formula?

It is precisely the extreme events of our life
that show us the essence of growth.

My personal experience of “intense” change includes moving unexpectedly at the age of 13 from Canada to a tiny Island of Portugal; losing quite a bit of weight (25 kg/55 lbs), and a career change.

More importantly, I’ve seen others go through much tougher events, such as an unjustly large jail sentence, the shaking news of a terminal illness, the untimely death of a son or the raw suicide of a sibling.

What does it take for us to change or overcome imposed change? In all these situations, I’ve noticed two defining forces that allow us to effect change or to overcome imposed change: pain and pleasure. I call them “The Curves of Change”.

The curves apply both to a desired change we wish to implement or an imposed change we wish to overcome.

Pleasure makes change desirable.

Pleasure is an attracting force: it pulls us to change. When faced with a situation to overcome, visualizing the pleasures that we will receive creates the desire to change.

For ex., when my family and I moved, the desire to make friends impelled me to quickly improve my Portuguese. When I lost weight, the idea of being slimmer made me want to exercise. When I changed career, the hope of more freedom fueled me to complete another master’s.

When we want to change, the first step is to visualize the pleasures that will be obtained as a result of changing. This provides the motivation to take action.

Pain makes change inevitable.

Pain is a repelling force: it pushes us to change. Pain is more effective than pleasure. Often there’s a taunting voice in our head: “It’s too hard. It’s not worth it. Not now.”

The efforts involved in changing can sway us to give up and settle for the way things are. The solution to reducing the pain involved in changing is to emphasize the pain involved in not changing!!

The solution to overcoming
great pain is a greater one. 

For ex., when we moved, feeling ridiculous when I talked helped me overcome the challenges of an unfamiliar language. As I lost weight, the idea of feeling tired again drove me to stick to months of strict dieting. When the uncertainties of a new career made me doubt, the thought of another month doing the same thing pushed me forward.

The second step is to reduce the pain involved in changing by emphasizing the pains of not changing. This eases the feeling of discomfort involved in changing and gives us the stamina to endure.

Have no doubt, the road of change turns to lessen pain and curves to enhance pleasure. Be sure to look at it from this perspective. To successfully effect any change, engage in increasing pleasure and getting rid of pain!

What roles to pain and pleasure play in the curves of your change?

How Do You Get What You Want?

Has it ever happened to you to ask a waiter for something, who says “Sure, no prob”, and then he or she shows up with something different and then runs off, disappearing?

My father in law, Miguel, has a funny comeback for these situations. He got it from one of his law professors in university when he’d get answers to questions he did not ask.

Miguel says he sometimes feels like saying: “Now that you’ve brought me whatever you felt like, could you please bring me what I asked for!” However, I’ve never heard him use this line. I’m guessing he’s too much of an experienced gentleman to answer this way.

Crucial to effective communication and team performance is mastering the art of requests. We practice this in my seminars. The goal is to know what we want, why we want it and how we’ll get it.

With the diagram above, notice differences between needs, wants and requests:


  1. Need = The Problem, Why: It’s a vital element to our wellbeing as humans. Thirst, tranquility and safety are examples. Notice that – physical, psychological or spiritual – we all tend to share similar needs. Here’s a list of common needs.
  1. Want = The Solution, What: It’s an answer to satisfying a particular need. If you’re thirsty you might want water; if you need some peace you could desire silence; if you need safety you might want a new door lock.
Our wants are the choices we make to respond to our needs.

Notice wants are one of many options. Instead of water you could want a soda; music instead of silence; a Rottweiler, not a lock. Unlike needs, wants are informed by our environment. For ex., the need for clothing can result in wanting the clothes informed by the fashion culture.

  1. Request = The Strategy, How: It’s the act of petitioning something from someone for the purpose of satisfying a want or a need. Ex: You could ask your partner for water, your colleague to turn down the music, or the landlord for a new lock.
Requests are strategies we use to satisfy our wants and needs.

Notice once again how a request is one of several strategies. You could have decided to get the water yourself, move to a quieter room, or change the lock on your own.

If we confuse the three, we end up requesting things we don’t want and wanting things we don’t need. We confuse problems (needs) with solutions (wants). We neglect the strategies (requests), forget the why (needs) and focus only on the solution (wants).

A tool for when we don’t get what we want: Ask yourself: What is the real problem (the need, why)? Are there other solutions (the wants, what) or better strategies (the requests, how)? Now adapt your wants and requests to meet your needs!

When a request is the best strategy, we want to trigger willingness from the receiver, not denial. We’ll discuss how to do this in following entries. Comments? Questions?

It’s Always My Fault!

On Tuesday, a client and I met to discuss a session we’re going to do on relationship management. One of the topics was how the corporation’s managers sometimes can’t stand some of the people they work with. They feel it’s useless and case closed.

I love this topic, especially when it comes up in my seminars. It’s always interesting to see the look on participants’ faces when I present the commitment ratio of the relationship building system I created: 80% you; 20% the other person. What?!

Yep, that’s the look on their faces. You do 80% of the work and the other person does 20%. “That’s not fair!” — some might say. Relationship management at work is not about fairness (that comes later), it’s about effectiveness.

The ultimate challenge is not
how you relate to others. It’s how you deal with YOU!

Relationships need to function for everyone to get their jobs done. An 80/20 ratio assures your commitment produces functioning results that guarantee performance. “But it doesn’t make sense: the other person is the problem, not me!” — others object.

This reminds me of a story back in my university days. One late night, as I was making my way home, I saw a man literally banging his head against a street post. I kind of recognized him, so I walked up to him.

After a long monologue, I came to learn his tragic story. His wife had left with another man and took the children. His partner was no longer a partner. His business was crumbling. He was drinking… I almost felt sorry for him. But then I didn’t.

It’s a tough lesson: either you take on the responsibility
of being in charge of the events of your life or… you don’t.

When he finally asked if I wasn’t going to say anything, I asked: “You expected people would behave in a certain way, right?” What?! — was the look on his face. Then silence. Then a smile.

“That’s right”, he said. “I’ve blamed everyone around me for everything that has happened to me. That puts the power to lead my life in their hands, not in mine. To be in charge, I need to accept it’s my fault.”

That day, that man began to understand that it will always be up to him  to take charge of how relationships affect his life and how he will proceed. He understood that the outcomes of our relationships start with us.

Today, that man leads a fulfilling life — lots of challenges no doubt, but fulfilling. Today, he is an 80/20 man, committed to producing functioning results that guarantee performance. His approach is: regardless of what happens, it’s always my responsibility.

Could this work for you? I’m eager to see how the managers will respond!

Chew Before You Swallow, she said

Young Artur could not have been much older than 10 when he was first sent to boarding school. This meant moving from Graciosa to Terceira, in the Azores Islands, Portugal.

Today, at almost 90, Artur or Cunha de Oliveira – he prefers his surname – is a renowned figure of the Azores. In him you’ll find demanding wisdom and generous compassion. He is a good friend and a mentor.

Standing on the pier that day before he boarded, his mother gave him a lifelong piece of advice:

“Son, remember to chew before you swallow”, she said.

“Mom, I’m not a baby. I know better than to swallow food without chewing”, he replied.

“Oh, I don’t mean the food, my dear!” And with a kiss and a smile, she bid him goodbye.

She was referring to the many things he would be taught and would learn. This principle has guided him on a journey that has been unique and fascinating (for instance, service as a Member of the European Parliament).

Sometimes, what is most evident goes shockingly unnoticed.

His mom’s advice is one of those cases – commonsense usually is. I often wonder how many things I accept to be true without pausing to ask: Is this really so?

Believing everything you think is not a freeway to freedom.

Trusting everything we are taught and told is no diploma of wisdom. Accepting things at face value proves to be a mask that conceals disillusion. Instead, to nurture the routine of pausing to test the strength of our truths is a practice of growth.

One question you might want to keep in your back pocket for unexpected situations is: “Why not?” For, now and then life might kick us in the buttocks. And with a righteous claim in our voices, we’ll jump up to object: “But why? Why me?!”

I’m quite sure there won’t be an answer. This might be life’s way of asking “Why not? Or have you swallowed something without chewing?”

Who do you know who’d enjoy Artur’s mom’s advice? Share it!

39 Days, 11 Hours And 30 Minutes Of Bandage

On June 29th at 10:30 pm, while I was out enjoying an evening jog, I tripped and broke the 5th metatarsus (the main bone of the pinky) of my right foot. On August 8th at 10:00 am the cast was removed.

That’s a photo of my nephews painting my cast.

The following are some of the things I learnt during those 39 days, 11 hours and 30 minutes.

 1. Not getting in the way already great help

Performing everyday activities took a little longer and was a bit more complex to carry out.  In practice, this often meant it was harder for those around me to go about performing their own everyday activities.

Using a cast helped me learn to consider beforehand whether I would be of greater help staying out of the way instead of getting in the middle and making things messier. Often, the best way to help was just not getting in the way.

I extend this to other areas of life. Though I may want to lend a helping hand with my advice or expertise, it is wise to first ask whether this will actually make things better. At times, staying still or silent is the best option. 

2. Accepting dependence is tough

I also got used to the idea that some things I would just not be able to do on my own. For ex., I could not walk around with our daughter, Irene. For five weeks, I was a “sitting daddy” and relied on others to attend to many of Irene’s needs.

Life is a circle of interdependence: though autonomous, we rely on others and the services they provide for large amounts of our happiness.

3. Accepting restriction is also tough

Not being able to take a walk, run, swim or shower normally were tough for me. I even had dreams where I’d be walking and then noticed in shock that I still had the cast and shouldn’t be putting my foot on the ground.

One the principles we use in my conflict resolution seminars is that a conflict with no solution is a solved conflict. Accepting my limitations proved to be a challenge. Once accomplished, it’s also a blessing.

4. Non-empathetic remarks are scary

It wasn’t on purpose. In fact, they were not even aware of it. But the truth is that, in an attempt to be sympathetic, some people would tell me their own stories of broken bones. And they didn’t spare the dramatic details:

“My cousin broke his foot and had a cast for THREE months!!”, “I also broke my foot and it never really healed. It gets sore when I run and hurts on rainy days.”, “Be careful with the doc’s advice. Sometimes it makes things worse!”

My experience tells me it is not empathetic to share your ”horror” story with someone who is going through one of their own. They don’t need to hear the ups and downs of your experience. It doesn’t help cope.

5. Vulnerability introduced me to nice people

On the other hand, people were very kind. Just an example, when my wife, Claudia, Irene and I travelled on vacation, we anticipated a stressful and rough ride. Not true.

The services for passengers with mobility constraints were great. At every airport, we were assisted with great effectiveness and extreme kindness, at no extra cost. I take this opportunity to express our gratitude to all those who helped us.

A cast taught me that vulnerability can bring out the best in those around us.

6. Love makes loved ones endure

Another aspect was that my wife had extra work on her hands.  As the days went by, I could see the fatigue growing, and an increasing effort was required to endure. But she endured. And then she endured some more. My love for her has grown.

I am fortunate to have seen that love fuels faith and strength in tough times.

 7. Life withers and dies when trapped

 Finally, the day I had the cast removed I noticed that my right leg was very thin. Even some of the hair on my leg had died (of asphyxiation?) and fallen off.

This made me think about how we, as humans, are not built to be trapped. Whether a relationship, the past, a job or even a dream, whatever imprisons us, weaken us and eventually kills the life in us. 

My foot is almost fully functional and the vacation will soon be over. So expect to hear more from me from now on. 🙂

Break Free From Frustration

Life isn’t going to be perfect and there’ll always be a good reason to feel disappointed. So what do we do? We sometimes complain. Now, this may seem appropriate, but in fact it’s not. To complain leads to disaster and I’ll explain why.

Most of our complaining is senseless,
and has a disastrous effect: it fuels our frustration.

Aristotle said that “Anyone can become angry – that is easy. But to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.” The same goes for complaining:
To complain to the right person at the right time for the right purpose in the right way is not easy! The opposite is easy: to my friends I’ll complain about my partner, to my partner about my boss, to my boss about my colleagues, to my colleagues about the government and the weather…

Every time we express our discontent – including when we silently complain to ourselves – we’re telling the mind that something is wrong. This feeds our frustration. Then, there’s really not much we can do to stop the Hulk in us from coming out.

In other words, complaining leads to frustration, and frustration to anger and grumpiness – a recipe for disaster. To avoid complaining, even to myself, I follow two guidelines in both my personal and professional life:

1) Do not allow yourself to complain about things you cannot or are unwilling to change – it’s a waste of time. Change the subject.

2) Do not allow yourself to complain without suggesting a better realistic alternative. Until you think of something better, keep quiet. 

By breaking free from the habit of complaining, we increase our tolerance to frustration. I’m not going to begin to tell you how rewarding and refreshing that is. Instead, I’ll challenge you to try it for just one week. Then, please tell me how you feel!

Remember: There’s always going to be a good reason to complain. Be nice, and let someone else use it. 🙂

The Pyramid Of Fulfillment

What are the first six words that pop into to your head when you hear the words fulfillment, success or happiness? Before I tell you why, please write them down.

The other day, my friend and fellow coach at IESE Business School, Tony Anagor — Cofounder of LifestyleDMC and Lifestyle Barcelona, companies that specialize in organizing unique events and experiences — was invited to give a talk to MBA students from around the world who were in Barcelona as a part of the University of Manchester’s European Summer Study Programme.

When Tony asked me if I’d like to share the stage with him, I immediately jumped on board: for me students mean the future, and I like being in touch with the future.

During my presentation, I asked the students this same question and shared with them my six words. They describe the decisive pieces to living a fulfilling life. I call it “The Pyramid Of Fulfillment”. Let’s have a look:

 

 

Resources: This includes money, but not predominantly. Seth Godin gets it well in a blogpost:

“Don’t get caught confusing money with security. There are lots of ways to build a life that’s more secure, starting with the stories you tell yourself, the people you surround yourself with and the cost of living you embrace.”

 

Time: Plenty of resources and no time to use them is not worth much. So, how much time do you have for you? Not for personal obligations apart from work, but time for your thing? I find that sometimes even my free time is booked.

Autonomy: Resources and time are useless if you’re not free to do with them what you desire. In the end, the goal is to live and work like you’re your own boss. Self-determination is a key factor for lasting motivation.

Balance: Juggling the different areas of your life is an art. It can also be your dismay. A fulfilling life is like an orchestra. It’s not enough to play one instrument well. You want all of them to do well and to do it together.

Meaning: With the resources, time and opportunity to live life on your terms and balance in doing so, you’re also going to need meaning. Life needs to make sense. What good is a wonderful orchestra isolated in a soundproof room where no one can hear it?

 

A life that does not contribute

 

to something bigger than itself lacks purpose.

 

Suspense: This is one of my favorites. I wrote about it in a previous post. Fulfillment is not about reaching the finish line. It’s about learning the game, keeping it going and ultimately becoming a game changer! This ongoing process requires excitement and energy. And without suspense, that’s really not possible.

What does your pyramid look like? I’m sure there are other significant pieces we could add. Love to hear about it.

 

Shadows of Creativity

We tend to feel low when shadows get in the way of the path we believe leads to happiness. We want the sunshine, not the cloudy skies. And that’s all right.

Nonetheless, shadows sometimes get in the way of our projects, expectations and dreams. Therefore, it does us good to remember that if there are shadows it is because there is light. This means that the shadows in our life ARE light, just not where we expect it to be.

This is where our creativity can kick in. We might want to actively wait for the shadows to pass; we might want to step around the shadows and into the light somewhere new; we might consider the idea of appreciating the dark features of the shadows in order to boost our contentment of the light; we might seek new, inner light — it’s up to you!

Because shadows are the tangible evidence of light somewhere, they’re a fantastic incentive for a creative use of our potential everywhere.