6 is 4

rothiemurchus biking
View from the trail on our mountain bike ride

It’s the end of my summer holiday, and I am in the Scottish Highlands on a fabulous off-road mountain bike ride with my daughter. The scenery is breathtaking – layers of grey mountains in the distance, the ground covered in purple heather and ancient ferns amidst pine groves, with not a soul as far as the eye can see.

We come to a fork in the road. The path to the left is the short route back to the bike rental shop. The path to the right takes the long way around, an additional 6 miles. My daughter has been quiet on the ride, she seems in good spirits, but I suspect her energy is flagging. At the same time, I’d love nothing more than to take the long way home and steal an extra hour in this magical place.

I’ve already checked in with her a few times to see how she is feeling, and whether she’d like to stop for lunch. She’s said she is “good” and not hungry, gives a flash of a smile, and we’ve pedaled on.

At the fork, after another non-committal “good,” I ask her, “on a scale of 1 to 10, how energetic are you feeling?”

“Um…six?” she said.

We stand there a bit longer and take another drink of water.

Then I look at her again and she says, “Well, actually, four.”

We walk up to the fork, put our bikes down, and plop down on the mossy ground under some pine trees. We eat the three sandwiches we have packed along with two apples. We relax, we talk, and, a half hour later, we head off on the short path home.

The gap between my daughter’s 6 and 4 response is just one representation of the distance that exists between what someone feels and what they tell us in order to please us.

Especially when we are in positions of authority, we consistently get rose-tinted responses to our questions. This means that not only do we have to ask for feedback, we also have to create relationships that nudge that feedback towards being as honest and open as possible. And, even when we get this all right, to get an accurate barometer of what’s really going on we must remember to discount the good and amplify critiques.

For years I fell into the trap of a self-serving story about “honesty” and “directness.” I tried to be honest and direct with the people around me, and I expected them to do the same. When, after the fact, I learned that someone hadn’t told me “the truth,” I pinned the blame on them—”they had the chance to speak up, and they should have,” I thought, self-righteously.

This mindset is willfully blind to what it means to be in a position of privilege and authority. To truly listen to those around us, whether colleagues or friends or beneficiaries of the programmatic work that we do, we must meet people on their terms, not ours, and understand how power dynamics and culture color all that we do and say.

If we’re lucky, and if we do our jobs well, the gap between what we’re told and reality will only be the distance between 6 and 4.  Better yet, the longer we listen and the more space we create, the more likely it is that someone will tell us that they’re actually feeling like a “4.”

Free Feet, Especially for Wide Feet

As summer winds down, consider this: part of what makes summer so great is the freedom of your feet.

I’m serious. Flip flops, going barefoot in the grass, the feel of wet sand under your feet. These are some of the defining feelings of summer.

We can replicate this feeling year-round with different, better shoes: shoes that give our feet space to breathe and that let our feet hit the ground naturally.

When you’re walking barefoot on the beach, or in the grass, your foot is open, it spreads out, and you use the muscles in your feet. This has a long list of benefits from decreasing migraines to reducing anxiety.  Plus, our feet determine how our legs hits the ground, which in turns impacts the well-being of our knees, hips and lower back. Think of it this way: humans evolved over millions of years to have feet that can do their job barefoot, so having our feet hit the ground as they would without shoes makes a lot of evolutionary sense.

I started noticing this ten years ago. I discovered that my nagging knee pain that had forced me to quit running for 9 years, went away when I switched to “barefoot” shoes: I put on a pair of Vibram 5-fingers and ran four miles with no knee pain at all.

As I did more research, I discovered that, for many people, a traditional running shoe, with its highly cushioned heel, causes the foot to tilt down, disrupting our gait. Running shoes today can have up to 35mm of heel cushion, and the drop from heel to toe can be 11% or more—like running down an 11 degree incline when we are on flat ground.

The other big issue with traditional shoes happens up front–for aesthetic, not functional, reasons, they get narrower. This makes no sense, and, at the extreme, can transform our feet:

Our toes’ job is to help us balance, and this is only possible if they have space to spread out. Just like an athletic stance—when we stand with knees bent and legs shoulder width, we have good balance—open, spread toes let our feet do the job they were designed to do and improve our balance.

Lately I’ve begun wearing more low/no-drop, foot-shaped shoes, both for work and exercise, and I’m getting addicted to it. I kind of want to throw out the rest of my shoes.

My current collection of foot-shaped shoes is:

  • Atoms: I described these as my “cloud walking” shoes a while back, they’re now available to the public and you might want to get a pair. Not cheap, but I bet once you get them you’ll wear them four days a week.
  • Lems: I have the Primal 2 and they are a great everyday shoe from a small Colorado-based company. I’m thinking of getting some of their dress shoes.
  • Olukai: I’ve had a pair of their flip flops for years and they are sturdy, amazingly comfortable and look unchanged from the day I got them. Three weeks ago, I got a pair of their Nohea Moku shoes and they really do position your foot like it’s standing in wet sand. I just bought my son, who wears a size 13 wide, a pair and he is loving them.
  • Altra running shoes: zero drop shoes but with cushion, they are the best of both worlds—they are shaped like feet, don’t distort your stride, but they give you great impact protection. I’ve been wearing Altras for five years and they keep getting better. I love the Torins.
  • Harrow squash shoes: it just so happens that squash shoes are flat, and Harrow is one of the few brands that have a wide toe box. I’ve been wearing the Vortex for the past two years. They’d be great for volleyball, racquetball, table tennis and badminton.
My current collection of no-drop shoes from Altra, Lems, Olukai, and Atoms

Note that I have a wide foot so your mileage and fit may vary, but even if you don’t, you don’t need to subject yourself to squished toes any longer

A final note: shifting to zero-drop, open toebox shoes is a bit of an adjustment. Our feet, ankles and calves are weak because of the shoes we wear. So definitely start slowly, walking before you run, to avoid soreness and injury.

Bruce is Back

Not long ago, Bruce, the shark from the movie Jaws, was fully rebuilt: new jaw, new teeth, new paint, the works. He had lived at the Universal Studios lot from 1975 to 1990, and then ended up at a junkyard, where he survived for nearly 30 years, propped up on two big poles. Now, thanks to the work of Greg Nicotero from “The Walking Dead,’ Bruce is back to his former glory.

Bruce the “Jaws” Shark, before being refurbished. Photo: Michael Palma/Courtesy of AMPAS

After all this refurbishment, we could ask whether Bruce is really Bruce anymore. Most of the original Bruce is gone, replaced by new wood, new plaster and new paint.

But of course, he is Bruce. What makes him Bruce is that we see him and think “that’s the shark from Jaws!” The thread over the last 50 years is the idea of Bruce, and not a physical collection of wood and paint.

When we create new things, especially new products, we can lose sight of this essential fact. It’s easy to wait for some threshold of “realness” before we allow an idea to cross the threshold from concept to product.

For example, years ago, I was working with a team that needed to come up with a better fundraising pitch than, “we do great work, please support our organization.” We wanted to offer a product: a specific initiative, backed by a defined amount of capital, that would make a specific set of things happen. It would have a closed group of funders who would be an integral part of what we were trying to do.

I remember how I felt after we’d written all these ideas down and I went to a first meeting with a potential funder: like a total fraud.

This thing, I felt, wasn’t real yet. It was nothing more than a bunch of ideas on a piece of paper.  Until it wasn’t.

In that meeting, it came to life: through the shared agreement, between two people, that we were going to do this thing, and the commitment that implied on both sides.

That coming together transformed a collection of pieces—for us, not wood and paint in the shape of a shark, but a set of ideas on paper in the shape of an initiative—into something real. Through the act of developing and sharing this idea, we created what became a very true story and a very real, very successful, multi-million-dollar initiative.

This is the truth that any impresario knows: that her job is to create the central story that others can be part of; and then to take the steps that make this story true through enrollment of the right people.

The story isn’t the afterthought. Just like it’s the idea of Bruce that makes Bruce real, your new idea, product, promise, it’s also real. It doesn’t need any sort of blessing or formal baptism: take it into the world, and decide, together with others, to make it happen.

Through that decision, you bring it to life.

HT: @NPRCoreyTurner

Seth Godin and Tim Ferris: What’s Your Job?

“What I do for a living is notice things.”

That one sentence is the most remarkable statement in the wonderful two-hour conversation Seth Godin has with Tim Ferris in a recent episode of Tim’s podcast.

Seth Godin, the many-times best-selling author, entrepreneur, speaker, teacher, iconoclast, and blogger. His job, in his words, is “to notice things.”

We should all have such a distilled version of the job that we really do (at work, in our families, in our lives).

If you had to boil it all down, like Seth does (“I notice things”), what’s your job?

In addition to answering that question for yourself, you could ask each person in your company to answer, then share those answers and discuss. It would be a great conversation.

(Bonus points for three words or less, but definitely no more than 10.)

 

The Flip from Gratitude to Taking it for Granted

Amazing, isn’t it, how when we pine for something, we feel a sense of longing and need so deeply.

Feeling the absence of some thing, we imagine what it would be like to have it. We picture all that we would do, and how grateful we would feel, if it came to pass…please!

And then it does.

How long does it take us to flip the switch? Once our mini-prayers are answered, how much time passes before we move on to the next thing? How long before we start taking that desperately-important-thing for granted?

Most of the time we move on too fast, falling into the trap of quickly switching off our gratitude.

Imagine if we stopped—really stopped—to notice.

We would be constantly overwhelmed with gratitude, not just for the new things that we discover are missing for us today, but for the wonder of this next breath, for the chance to see a sky this particular shade of blue, for the sight of a loved one’s smile and bright eyes.

Gratitude is one of our most important, foundational practices.

A simple, powerful meditation you can try is to sit, breathe and contemplate the things for which you feel grateful. Imagine and visualize your heart opening, and it does.

If don’t have a meditation practice, have no fear. Gratitude is there for you at any moment.

All you need to do is stop a bit more often to notice things around you, and then allow yourself to direct your conscious attention to your feelings of gratitude before they slip away.

We certainly don’t need big things to feel grateful.

But when even the big things we so desperately want don’t sustain our sense of gratitude, it’s time to pause, notice and reset.

Two Must-Do Steps to Improve Your Online Security

Let’s switch gears for a bit and deal with some housekeeping about your online security and safety.

I bet most of you haven’t done this and you’ll be happy you did.

These are the two most important things you can do, today, to improve online safety and protect your accounts from being hacked.

The first, easiest and most important is to set up two-factor authentication wherever you can. “Two factor authentication” is a terrible name that must have been made up by engineer.

Let’s call it “get-a-text-to-make-sure-you-are-you” instead.  Less scary, more accurate.

All “get-a-text-to-make-sure-you-are-you” means is that after entering your password (for your Gmail, for example) you get a code texted to your phone and you enter that too. You input this code only once per device, so it’s not a hassle.

Here are the steps for doing this in Gmail. Do this on your email client first, get comfortable with it, and then do it everywhere you can (especially online banking). The instructions for Gmail are (you can find this list, with pictures, here):

  1. Visit Google 2-Step Verification.
  2. Click ‘Get Started’, then click ‘Start Setup’
  3. Sign into your Gmail account.
  4. Click to turn on 2 step verification and enter a phone number under the “Voice or Text Message” option.
  5. Click ‘Send code’
  6. Enter the verification code sent from Google and click ‘Done’
  7. Check the ‘Trust this computer’ box if you’re on a trusted computer
  8. Click ‘Confirm’ to turn on 2-step Verification

Voila!

OK, you’re a two-step authentication wizard! This means that you’re ahead of the 90% of people who haven’t taken this step. Give yourself a hand! (the crowd roars!!)

Now, on to Step 2, because you are brave, and this is also easy.

It’s using a password manager. With a password manager, you remember one, and only one, uber-secure password. The password manager stores all your other passwords and logs you in automatically to every site, whether from your computer or your mobile phone.

I researched this in depth about a year ago, and then started using LastPass. I love it. Not only is it more secure, but the frustration of never remembering my login for websites I use infrequently (benefits logins for work, car rental, airline websites, hotel loyalty cards) is a thing of the past. No more old, worn piece of paper with passwords—or its electronic equivalent. And don’t pretend you don’t have one of those, because you do.

Here’s a 30 second intro video to LastPass.

Look at you, child of the 21st Century! You’re logging in in with your one uber-secure password–your “last password”–to access all your passwords from your laptop or cellphone. You’re an internet security superhero! Plus, on your phone you can use TouchID or FaceID to make this seamless.

(if you really want to pay it forward, sign up with this link and I get a month for free. But I just learned that when looking for useful links to add to this post…that’s not the point at all!)

In addition to being more convenient, because you no longer are scrounging for passwords, over time you’ll start using more secure passwords. And don’t even try to tell me you’re not using the same password for 52 different websites, because we both know you are.

I use the LastPast Premium plan which costs $36/year, but you can also start with the free version. Either way, once you start using LastPass you’ll wonder what took you so long. If you want the full details, check out Tech.co’s latest comparative review.

And, since you’re a human being and you’re about to click to the next thing and do this “later,” don’t. At least, at very very least, do two-factor authentication right now.

Do that instead of reading this NYTimes article—The Two Online Security Steps You Should Stop Putting Off—because it just reiterates everything I’m saying in this post.

My job isn’t necessarily to share new stuff, my job is to help you do important things.

So prove me right and go do it.

 

Want New Habits? Set Up More Reminders.

Change is only possible through the cultivation of new habits. Most of the time these habits grow or fade thanks to tiny, daily reminders.

We are, after all, trying to replace old habits with new ones, and we’re entitled to some help.

Reminders can be people or places, words, smells or feelings. They are formed through promises we make to others and intentions we set for ourselves.

Reminders nudge us to do the things we said we want to do—they push us forward when we feel like ignoring our best-laid plans, and, on the days we forget those plans entirely, reminders put them in front of us, in plain sight, where they’re impossible to ignore.

The reminder distracts us from the delusion that the choice of whether to do this new thing, today, is a big decision. It’s not. We already said this was important to us, and that decision won’t improve if we revisit it. Our job, today, is to start. Once we start, we tend to continue.

So whether it’s making a plan to meet someone for an early morning walk, chopping up the raw vegetables we want to eat instead of chips, a colleague giving us a supportive nod right before we walk on stage, or just whispering our intention to ourselves before a difficult conversation, one of our jobs is to set up reminders everywhere.

They help us turn our plans into habits, our habits into practices, and our practices into the new person we aim to become.

Commitments are a series of choices that we make again and again.

Reminders help make each of those choices a little more straightforward.

One Person

I remind myself that if this post can create a change for just one person, then it’s a good post and a good day.

One person, not hundreds or thousands or millions.

An individual who experiences a small shift and does something different because of it. Someone, somewhere, who takes words and ideas and turns them into positive action.

That shift doesn’t appear in the stats, the likes or the shares.

Those numbers measure something else, and maybe that something matters a bit, but it is poorly correlated with the thing I’d really like to measure: the number of people who are more hopeful today, more committed, more empowered to make a change they seek to make. The number of people who take one more step towards their mission to create positive change.

The measure of success is you and what you do.

Ain’t no stat for that, so why do I keep on checking the numbers?

And why do you?

Lightning (Almost) Never Strikes

New York Lotto Poker Scratch OffI’m sitting outside on a beautiful, sunny, early summer day eating my lunch on a bench in New York City.

Across from me, a guy is frantically scratching off Lotto cards: he buys four, tears the perforation, stacks the cards, and, one by one, scratches them off.

He loses.

He gets up, walks back to the newsstand, buys and scratches off another four.

He loses.

He gets up a third time, buys and scratches off another four. He gets up, walks back to the stand with one of the cards, and trades it for a new one—he won a new card.

He scratches that one off.

He loses.

To watch his intensity in scratching off these cards is to see the story he’s telling himself: each time, there’s a chance (however small) that he’ll hit it big.

That is true.

What’s also true is what happens in practice: he spends money, he scratches, he loses. He spends money, he scratches, he loses.

This behavior leads to that result.

Scratching off Lotto cards is yet another form of hoping that lightning strikes us.

It also comes in the many ways we play small, keep our heads down, and hope that someone will notice us or pick us:

When we don’t invest in relationships because we’d prefer to “just do our work” and hope to be seen.

When we define our role in terms of the tasks we’ve mastered, without expanding our own orbit.

When we’re unwilling to make any tough decisions that put us on the hook.

When we give ourselves lots of emotional outs, so that we never care enough to say “I made this, I’m proud of it, I hope you are too.”

Yes, it is mathematically possible that continuing to do the old things will lead to a spectacular, positive, different outcome.

But if this behavior has, so far, led to that (disappointing) outcome over and over and over again, it might be time to take a step back and consider: how much of how I’m showing up is a form of wishing that lighting will strike one day?

Want to Change? Then Commit 4 Days a Week

Four days a week is what we need to commit to something if we really want to grow.

Twice a week is enough for maintenance.

Three days a week is enough for improvement.

But four days a week creates transformative change.

It doesn’t matter what sort growth you’re working on–you might want to improve your sales, singing, soccer, swimming, saxophone or salsa dancing. Perhaps you’re working on tambourine, thoughtfulness, tact, tenacity, tap dancing or Telugu.

Give it four days a week and change will happen.

Also, while it goes without saying that 0 times a week gets you nowhere, be especially wary of once a week—it may be the most dangerous cadence of all if we care about improvement. At once a week, we feel like we’re doing something regularly, but we never change. It’s perfect fodder for the “I’ll never be good at this” story we like to tell ourselves.

We will be good at this, one day.

And 4 is the magic number to get us there.