Author Salman Rushdie once quipped – “The only people who see the whole picture are the ones who step out of the frame.”
Our ability to step out of ourselves and observe ourselves from the wall or ceiling is core to our ability to be human. That ability to see ourselves from another point of view gives us instant perspective and the ability to separate stimulus from response.
The question, then, is how often do we step out of the frame in the course of a day or week? How often do we trigger reflection and perspective? For most of us, sleep, meditation, a walk in the outdoors, writing in a journal, taking deep breaths, running, among others, are ways to do so.
Doing most or all of these well over the course of a day aren’t an optional add on at the end of a work day. They result in step changes in productivity as perspective inspires a focus on what actually matters.
And, perhaps more important for our life and relationships, they enable us to be more in touch with our humanity.
A delicious custard cake – the kind that melts in your mouth – is wasted on someone who doesn’t take the time to appreciate it. So are beautiful beaches, good teammates, the smell of flowers, supportive partners, good health, and thoughtful managers.
Lacking appreciation, it turns out, makes getting more a leaky bucket problem. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into getting more – it won’t count for much.
We spend large swathes of our day working on skills (productivity, skills that make us better at our jobs) that are directed at helping us get more.
What if we siphoned off a portion of that effort to develop our appreciation skills instead?
“Hard choices. Easy life. Easy choices. Hard life.”
As weightlifter Jerzy Gregorek reminds us with this simple and powerful reminder, we often overthink decision making.
The big question, then – what will we choose today?
When we face bumps in the road, we can spend time on reactions – oh crap!,” “why does this happen to me?,” “what will they think?,” “is this really my fault?” – or responses – “what is the creative, constructive, corrective action to be taken here?.”
3 things to know about these modes –
(1) Human nature dictates that we have to spend time in reaction mode first. There is no getting away from it even if we know it is a complete waste of time. It doesn’t help that it feels good to be in this mode for the short term.
(2) Given we have to spend time in reaction mode, the choice we exercise is whether to spend a quick second or many hours (depending on the nature of the problem, we may even lose the ability to respond after some time). We have limited time to deal with any given problem – so, every second wasted in reaction takes away time from our response.
(3) Moving from reaction to response is governed by how quick we move to take responsibility (response-ability). The quicker we’re able to shoulder the responsibility for what happens to us, the more painless the transition. And, this response-ability is among the strongest indicators we have of the strength of a person’s character.
There’s a famous zen parable about the importance of dropping baggage and letting go.
Two monks were at the banks of a river with a strong current when a young woman asked if they could help her cross. Carrying her would be against their vows. But, without a word, the older monk carried the woman across the river and carried on with his journey.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what happened. A few hours passed before he blurted out – “How could you carry that woman on your shoulders?”
The older monk looked at him and replied, “Brother, I set her down on the other side of the river, why are you still carrying her?”
Simple reminders to reset, like this one, are powerful because we all accumulate baggage on our journeys. We develop preconceptions about some relationships, projects, and ways of approaching problems. These preconceptions erode our ability to approach things with a beginner’s mind and listen for learning. Most importantly, they make it impossible for us to simply “be” in the present moment. The baggage weighs us down and muddles our focus.
Take the time today to think about (or meditate upon) areas of your life that seem spew negativity in your day.
Perhaps it is time to let go and journey lighter.
“For the average business or professional writer, producing more literate memos and reports does not mean writing shorter sentences or choosing better words. Rather, it means formally separating the thinking process from the writing process, so that you can complete your thinking before you begin to write.” | Barbara Minto, The Pyramid Principle
I’ve decided to spend more time learning how to write better and thought “The Pyramid Principle” and “The Elements of Style” would be my go-to textbooks for the structure and style portions of this journey respectively. But, as Barbara Minto thoughtfully points out, we often confuse feedback in our ability to structure our writing as feedback to our style.
Structure is the first summit to conquer. To do so, I’ll need to do a better job separating the thinking process from the writing process.
Mentorship is a luxury. A great mentor relationship requires many favorable conditions – chemistry, good timing, and proximity among them. And, yes, when it works, it can have a magical effect on the learning curves of both the mentor and the mentee. But, so much of finding that great mentor relationship is outside our control that it is a reactive approach to learning at best, and lazy at worst.
Great influences, on the other hand, are all around us. We have more access to admirable folks than ever before. The life, work, and thought processes of luminaries like Albert Einstein, Leonardo da Vinci, and Marcus Aurelius are just a book away. That person you admire likely has a blog, a book, or an active twitter account. If we are the average of the five folks we spend our time with, it is easier than ever to be exceptional by simply letting ourselves being influenced by the wisest minds in human history.
The best part about great influences don’t have to be famous people. Your inspirational co-worker or parent can do the job as well.
We can, of course, wait for that great, uber successful, mentor to pick us and continue to let ourselves off the hook until they do.
Or, we can go seek great influences, learn from them, and keep plugging away.