Tag Archives: positivity

The December 2012 End of the World IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE

lucy-dec3(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco CA. Used with permission.)

Hey everybody, remember last month when everyone was posting things they were thankful for in the twenty-odd days leading up to Thanksgiving? (They might still be doing it… I don’t know.) I thought that was a great idea. So I started doing something similar this month that I’ll tell you all about now!!

But as many of you know, the Mayan Calendar is coming to an end, and we’re moving into a new world of completely undetermined proportion. Some predict a doomsday scenario, which means it will be very easy to see what’s changed. Others predict a BIG NOTHING, a non-event kind of like Y2K (well… that one actually had some ripple effects for me. But that’s another story that I’ll post later. I diverge.)

A non-event means IT’S UP TO US TO CHANGE THINGS. So my challenge to all of you for December 2012 is: let’s get in the habit of improving a least ONE thing a day between now and the much hyped “end of the world”. If the world does end, it will end being just a little better than it was at the beginning of December. And if it doesn’t end, we might have 1) developed a new habit or mode of self-reflection that will serve us well moving ahead into 2013, and/or 2) built some very useful social capital that will enhance the resilience of our individual communities.

(Disappointed that you didn’t get to the party on December 1st? Don’t worry! Make your improvement for today to START IMPROVING ONE THING A DAY, starting NOW!)

I’ll toss out some ideas for your own DAILY IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE at the end of this post.

But in the meantime, let’s broadly consider what would happen to our sociotechnical systems (composed of people, products, processes, and projects) in the event of a massive shift or change (of any variety, “new age” or “old age”!) The products will change. The projects will change. The processes will be adapted to make projects to create the new products, and since we don’t know what the environment will be like, or what the new products we’ll need will be…

… the only STABLE element in this mix is the PEOPLE.

When the world disruptively changes around us without killing us, we’re still left behind. Which means our personal capabilities and our capabilities working together in groups and communities – our social capital – becomes increasingly more important.

My friend Daniel Aldrich, who’s been seriously researching this for several years, has determined that social capital is the number one thing that helps communities revitalize after disasters. So if you think there’s a possibility of a major change, you could prepare by stockpiling food and fuel, or you could just work on building your own self-reliance and the social capital within your community.

So I challenge you to DO ONE THING EVERY DAY between now and December 21, 2012 to accomplish one of the following improvement goals, all of which are related to increasing positive feelings:

  • improve how YOU feel
  • improve how someone ELSE feels
  • improve something about your ENVIRONMENT, as long as it make YOU or someone else feel good/better
  • do something courageous to improve your SELF-CONFIDENCE or self-image (or someone else’s!)
  • improve your AWARENESS of other peoples’ beliefs, situations, circumstances, or beliefs
  • improve your BURDEN by getting rid of a grudge or negative feelings… even if only for a day

Think about the many sources of waste, or maybe read about 5S, to get you started with ideas for where you might begin. Scott Rutherford (@srlean6) also recommends this post  as well as this one for some background on 5S.

(For example, yesterday, I decided to improve someone’s day! We went to a restaurant grand opening, and the place was packed like sardines. Our server was rushing around from table to table, sweating profusely but still maintaining an admirably positive vibe. When he got to our table, smiling with enthusiasm, and asked us what we wanted – I told him I wanted him to close his eyes for a minute, and take three DEEP breaths! He thought this was a bizarre request, but he did it. After all, I was the customer… right? After his third deep breath he said “Wow! I really do feel better. Just that minute of standing still is really going to help me get through this big grand opening night.” He was visibly more relaxed with everyone the rest of the evening. See how easy it can be?)

The world changes when we change. So let’s go!! Let’s start some improvement habits that will spread good feelings and inspire ourselves and others. Let’s use this time to learn how to make it a daily practice.

And post in the comments – tell us what you have chosen to improve from day to day!

Finding Your Passion and Your Purpose (When You Think You’re a Lost Cause)

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

What’s your purpose in life? What’s your passion?

Are you looking for it? Maybe you’ve been looking for it a long time. Yeah, I know how you feel. This is probably at least the thousandth page you’ve Googled to try and find an answer. You’re tired of looking. You may be on the verge of concluding that you don’t have a purpose, and certainly don’t have a passion (at least not one that counts).

That’s what I thought about myself too, but I was wrong.

Turns out I just wasn’t looking at the problem in the way I needed to so that the answer would be revealed.

In fact, I’m not sure that the answer has been revealed… but I know I HAVE it! (How’s that for a paradox?!)

Although I’ve always been an optimistic and upbeat person, most of the time, I’ve struggled with this big question. Nothing I’ve ever seemed to do has been significant enough. Sure, there are things I like to do, but nothing that I’d ever call a passion – or anything close to an activity which reliably consumes me or might well connect me with my personal purpose in life. What I’m ultimately here to contribute.

I always thought that identifying my singular passion would direct me to my PURPOSE in life – some kind of PRODUCT that I’m here to produce, to give, to contribute. I tried everything. I found great articles like “Finding Your Passion When You Don’t Know What You Want” – but nothing helped. I read books. (Lots. Of. Books.) I got depressed and despondent, and just felt like the world and all its purpose and passion had just left me behind. I must be a lost cause, I concluded. Everyone else has one but me.

That’s when I gave up trying to find it. I had no energy left! So imagine my surprise when the voice in my head got all smart about things and started chatting me up heavily. It revealed quite a bit to me! (Why couldn’t that have happened earlier!?!!) Here’s what the voice in my head started chattering about:

  • It does not have to be an all singing, all dancing, all burning passion! In fact, if FLASHING LIGHTS are what you’re expressly looking for, this might be the limiting belief that’s helping you overlook your personal secret sauce.
  • Your passion might be quiet and subtle. I always thought when I found my passion it would be like having a crush on a person or an idea and I’d just be jittery with glee and purpose all the time. But it’s not. It was there all along (like breathing, or regularly bathing, or anything else that’s so normal you don’t notice it).
  • It might keep changing. I thought that once I found my passion… that would be IT! It would be MY passion for-EV-er! Unchanging and solid and stable and I could set my watch by it! Nope, sometimes your passion involves things that change – to the point where they change so much that you think it’s not solid or “real” enough to be a passion.
  • It might be a combination of things – a cross-cutting theme. I studied meteorology in school and that was fun, but I was too interested in too many other things to stick with it. I wanted to learn about earthquakes and the ionosphere and solar storms. Then, when I found out that data was so fun to play with, I wanted to learn about anything that had data in it or on it or mixed inside it. Once I get to know the data, I want to move on and become acquainted with other data. Can’t settle down with data from just one topic or discipline.
  • It might be simple. For example, I really like looking up information, especially weird information. I love “odd news”. I enjoy pseudoscience because it stretches my brain, and I don’t need scientific proof of anything to appreciate the fabric and texture of an idea. I like pretty much all religions, traditional and unorthodox, because of what they reveal about people’s emotions and inner lives and fears and aspirations. I like psychology, abnormal psychology, and positive psychology. I don’t want to commit a whole lifetime to any one piece of information, I want to date around, and play the field, and get intimate with whatever notion I want whenever I want. The weirder the idea, the better. I’ll try it on for size or style for a while. In short, I just really LIKE learning new stuff, and I’ll explore things that are true and things that are just speculated. I don’t discriminate. I like intellectual diversity.
  • It might be something that you think is insignificant, or not important, or that no one else could possibly ever care about. It may even be something you think is a liability. (I obsessively check data: severe storms, earthquakes, solar flares, tweet frequencies… I’m a data junkie. I always thought this was a huge weakness, a distraction, and nothing but a drag on my time… but then I started considering that maybe if I looked at my weaknesses, I’d find my strengths enmeshed with them…)

In short, I came to one profound conclusion.

Your purpose might be a PROCESS, not a PRODUCT.

Your passion is made up of the things, and thoughts, and places, and ideas, and interests that you keep coming back to. I’ve always liked talking, explaining, writing. I really like playing with data. I like making things better, and more effective, and more efficient. I don’t like everything LOUDLY PASSIONATELY all the time or with the same degree of HELL YEAH. My tastes and immediate interests and latest curiosities change and shift from week to week and that’s OK.

The years I spent as a software development manager (and then a more senior-level manager) were particularly confusing. I wasn’t producing anything. I was helping other people produce stuff, but I didn’t feel like I was generating anything of value. I was blind to the value I was helping other people produce just by being me, and being around them, and contributing my me-ness to their awesome productivity.

 I’m not here to produce a product. My purpose is to BE A PROCESS, not necessarily to produce a product. I may produce products (like books) along the way, but that’s just a side effect.

My purpose – my process – is to be a filter for words, thoughts, and ideas. I take ideas in, I mix them with other ideas, and I color them with my past experiences – and who I am – and my perspectives. Sometimes I shake the ideas up like a carbonated drink, just so I can see the impact of the thoughts bursting forth when I let them out. I share my ideas with other people, sometimes in person, and sometimes in writing. The ideas don’t have to be good, or totally correct, or even interesting. Their “purpose in the universe” might just be to get someone else to start thinking about something! I am a stimulant and a catalyst. I am here to infect people with my enthusiasm about the things I think are cool and awesome.

I’m here to show other people that it’s OK to try on crazy ideas for size and style, to just be “mature enough” without having to give up fun, and to be a good citizen and be caring and compassionate to those around you. I’m here to be an example of how you can be responsible without ever having to grow up or get serious about committing to ONE THING. I’m here to show people how to play with ideas.

Just by being ME I am LIVING MY PURPOSE. My problem, previously, is that I just didn’t think this was important enough. I wanted to see the product, the evidence, the outcome of having found a passion and a purpose. (But then again, so many famous and recognized authors and poets only achieved their recognition posthumously, so was it really worth trying to KNOW it for them? I wonder how many of them struggled to find their purpose. They never knew it, and yet their legacies are remarkable.)

Finding my passion just means noticing what stuff I routinely and consistently gravitate towards, stuff I don’t mind doing, stuff that feels easy and calm… not what stuff gets me super-flashing-lights-excited all the time.

Once I stopped looking for my passion and my purpose, I found both.

I can’t tell you what either of them are, but I feel them, and I think all I need to do to live my purpose is NOTHING. (Just keep being a filter. Which I can’t stop being, because it’s like a reflex. It just happens without me doing anything. I even filter ideas in my sleep.)

That’s a pretty big and liberating thought.

Is your purpose to be a process too?

The Positivity Trap

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http:/hyperactive.to)

Positivity (pioneered by researcher Barbara Fredrickson) can help you become more productive, more fulfilled, and more creative and innovative — by expanding your ability to see and perceive opportunities. So of course, as a quality professional, I want to get it, and be it.

A few weeks ago, I was on a road trip with one of my best friends in the world. We were talking about continuous improvement and self-improvement when he suggested that I take Fredrickson’s little quiz to see where my positivity ratio was. According to her research, a ratio greater than 3:1 indicates that your psyche is in a regime to flourish.

I have always been an optimistic and highly positive person, but I’ve also been plagued by depression, limiting thoughts, and self-defeating behavior. But! I’d also just had one of the most wonderful days of my life (ever EVER in the history of history) so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how HIGH my positivity ratio could be. Woohoo! Slam dunk!

I took the positivity test by answering the following 20 questions. It only takes a couple minutes. It’s at:


Imagine my shock when, after one of the most positive and fulfilling days of my life – one imbued with joy, hope, potential, and the wild excitement of being totally aligned with who I am and connected to what I am becoming — that my positivity ratio was a miserable 1.67!!

How could this be?? I looked more at the 20 questions, and realized that I had some pretty mean negative emotions getting in my way. Contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful? Check. Disgust, distaste, revulsion? Check… jealousy will do that, and I have issues with jealousy. Hate, distrust, or suspicion? Yeah, unfortunately. Scared, fearful, and afraid? Yep… any time you have a situation in life that you’re not quite totally accepting, it can lead to anxiety.

My positivity test was really depressing. But, as a belligerent optimist by nature, I asked myself what useful opportunity for improvement might this provide? The answer: don’t worry about getting more positive… see what you can do to manage — and eliminate — some of those negative, yucky feelings. Apparently they are more poisonous than I’d been aware of.

Fast forward to a month or so later, and I decided to take the positivity test again. I’ve been consciously managing my jealousy issues (haven’t succeeded yet, but I’m making the effort) — so the negative emotions associated with jealousy are saturating my life a little less. However, I am definitely nowhere near as fun-loving, amazed, hopeful, optimistic, inspired, serene, content, or in the zone of complete awesomeness and loving life as I was last time I took the test. I would suspect that my positivity ratio would be around the same as it was last time. But not so!!

The result? 2.67. Still not in the zone of flourishing, but enough point evidence for me that my strategy of managing negative emotions (and not working so much on trying to be fluffy and fun-loving) is paying off.

I had thought that positivity was all about being more positive. Now I realize the trap: it’s just as much about not being as negative, and not letting the negatives burn their cancer as deeply into your body.