The nonsense of following your passion exposed!

(Reading time 2 minutes)

“Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”.

This profound and simple statement by Confucius has been misunderstood. Or perhaps misinterpreted. In any case it has evolved into something meaning “When you find your passion you will find happiness”.

Yet when most people are confronted with making a decision about their passion they freeze. Everything screeches to an uncomfortable and alarmed stop. Cold sweat streams down their backs as fear paralyzes everything from their imagination to their vocal cords. The eyes go vacant and everything goes blurry. Panic sets in.

So then they pay someone to subject them to a plethora of third-eye-opening exercises that after intensive dissection of everything from childhood dreams of space -flight and ponies to James Bond adventures, gold-plated golf clubs and endless fishing, only to confirm their confusion.

What has happened? Why is it that you can’t find your passion? In painfully slow motion, everything unravels as the future of your dreams that seemed so certain a few weeks ago slips away into the fog of confusion, almost certainly for good.

While I think almost anyone who has tried to figure out what to do next in their life as experienced this, few ever ask themselves the right question.

The question is not “What is your true passion, your calling, your purpose in life?”.

The question always must be “Which one of my passions should I invest in at this time in my life?.”

In all my coaching work I have never met a one-passion person. I doubt that such a person even exists. What I have seen however is a great deal of confusion when people try to isolate one, for no other reason that decades of self-help gurus, books and seminars have set an expectation that the focus the focus should be on one, and in doing so removing all legitimacy from all else. Sadly, nothing could be worse. No wonder then that panic sets in, followed by paralysis that often lasts a lifetime. It breaks my heart.

Ever since I was a kid, my inspiration were people like Leonardo DaVinci, Ben Franklin, Buckminster Fuller, Ray Kurzweil, Albert Einstein, Isaac Asimov, Rabindranath Tagore. What I didn’t know at the time was that they are all considered Polymaths. I just thought they were cool, they knew stuff about a lot of stuff, and did a lot of cool stuff. They made music, wrote books, invented and discovered things, all in one. It was no one thing, but a wide range of interest that made these people shine.

And this is why I believe that trying to distill a single passion in your life is nonsense.

Your life may have an overarching theme. But that is rarely tangible, and often it is so obscure that many will never really know what it is. And better still, it does not matter.

What matters instead is to acknowledge that you have a rich, very unique and intimately personal palette of passions.

Instead of culling, invite them.

There will be many things that may take weeks and months to emerge, they are often so deeply buried in our psyche because we have had to suppress them for long periods of time, often since childhood. Delight in that richness and variety, it is the fingerprint of your soul. If you need to get practical about them, lay them all out, cluster them and look for those things that are relevant and accessible at this moment in time.

Your palette will change over time. Acknowledge that too. This way your decisions of what cluster you will focus on now, where you will create a project,  business venture or a creative career, will cease to imprison you in a cage of failure and regret, and instead can become a wonderful and fulfilling adventure.

Best of all, if you do fail, you will still have so many other wonderful places where you can start a new adventure…

Who Killed “Time Is Money” – part 4: Dinosaurs in the Sun.

Reading time 5 minutes

In 1980 Sharp launched the first solar-powered commercial device: a calculator. Like most, my imagination went wild as I envisaged a world where our gadgets never ran out of power. The future was promising to be an exciting place.

What happened? We are still plugging our gadgets in.

Instead, the most evident change has been the increased use of re-chargeable batteries, their reduced size, and their capacity to provide a lot more power. But overall our power sources and industry has changed little, and not until the early 2000;s when the increasing smog problems in large cities due to coal-power toxic gas and CO2 pollution did serious investment in solar and other clean energy sources begin to contest the dominance of fossil-fuels in a meaningful way. So far the argument for not burning fossil origin fuels has been centered on the emission problem, and to a lesser degree on the extraordinarily damaging extraction. There is however another strong argument for saving it for more important uses (such as inert recyclable plastics necessary for sterile medical applications), or the use of coal (in far more conservative quantities) for nano-technology, electronics and industrial composite materials which has not yet entered the mainstream awareness.

While the rethoric surrounding energy industries and their importance to economies worldwide drowns out the real issues, the reality is extraordinarily simple.

The earth does not have an energy shortage. The shortage, and the inaccessibility is caused entirely by a legacy supply and business model that emerged with the industrial revolution, and being entirely dependent on that technology, it is obsolete and incapable of evolving along with innovation.

What we lack today is not better technology, but transitional models.

As a result the process is showing up to become deeply disruptive, as new technologies that have developed far enough to become overwhelming better propositions have begun to simply wipe out its predecessors, sidestep their systems and rendering them obsolete.

Besides having a considerable economic advantage (requiring little or no subsidies to be cost competitive) there is also the added benefit of speedy deployment, significantly reduced infrastructure, geographic independence, and a extraordinarily small environmental footprint. While this is often treated as an “externality” and not a factored cost within the industry, the overall economy still carries the burden of such damage in other sectors.

But that is today. What about the future?

First of all, I believe that the future will be primarily based on solar energy. Initially we will see this coupled with batteries, but in the long run we will see new technologies based on natural processes such as photosyntesis, organic substances and bacteria. processes, both for small-scale generation as well as storage. Some of the technologies currently in early stages of development include Sediment Microbial Fuel Cells (based on plants and soil) and a variety of bacteria-based systems that produce electricity while desalinating water or purifying wastewater. While these are currently still only a laboratory reality, it is easy to see the multiple benefits of such systems. Increased interest and investment and the prospect of commercially lucrative developments is certain to lead to some disruptive offering, and at the very least make a meaningful contribution to more specialised sectors of energy production.

Another aspect of solar that is non-visible light. Currently solar panels work predominantly with the visible light spectrum, but that is also changing. One of the side-plots to solar currently being developed in Canada is the use of light colours and electro-magentic radiation that is not visible to our human eyes, such as infra-red, ultraviolet and radio waves, which also hit the earth in abundance at night time. That means that while the output would not be the same as from direct sunlight, devices will still be able to generate some electricity at night.

Add to this photo-voltaic paints, films and flexible membranes. Houses, vehicles, and paved surfaces and gadgets would be painted with light sensitive paints (these already exist), or have surfaces covered with flexible transparent adhesive solar/radiation collecting films.

Combined with hyper-efficient batteries (think 100 x or more the current charge capacity) and wireless induction re-chargers, it is not hard to see that a power-points in your house will become obsolete. Most small devices will be nearly or totally energy-self sufficient. There will be no need to pay energy utilities for infrastructure costs – overland wiring will be obsolete and will at some point result in firms who will dismantle and reclaim tremendous amounts of increasingly scarce and precious copper for re-use elsewhere. No overland and streetside power-lines, and more importantly, an entire risk eliminated from the community: electrocution.

Not only will kids be able to safely fly a kite in the neighbourhood, your footpath trees will grow lush and full canopies. This may sound utopian, but only to those unaware of the critical tipping points being passed by the ongoing transformation of the energy industry world-wide. So far two countries have already achieved a 100% clean energy supply, and the number is only going to increase over the coming years, in particular in those places where there is no or only limited existing infrastructure now, such as large parts of India and Africa.

With a few exceptions (cooking, heating and refrigeration are unavoidably energy-intensive) the high voltage grid is history. The most dangerous electrical thing a child may stick his fingers in will be a usb socket, but even that will be a rarity. Most devices will simply have an induction contact plate for recharging.

Again, it is easy to see the profound disruptive capacity of emerging innovations on just two aspects of our every-day lives. It is hard to accept that this is probable, but the reality is that it is in fact almost inevitable. As these technologies get better, and the increasing cost of externalities and problems associated with an altered climate (due to our modification of the atmosphere’s delicate chemical balance) are drawn from the purses of entire countries’ economies, the impetus for transformation will only increase.

Paid electricity suppliers, and the entire networks upon which they operate will become a thing of the past.

Why? Because as we inevitably advance towards the de-coupling of income from labour, the provision of energy for the population becomes a necessary investment by governments in order to keep a country operational. On the upside, those costs will be considerably lower than they currently are, primarily because there will be little or no infrastructure build and to maintain.

As mentioned in my previous posts, all the propositions here are based on already known and existing trends and technologies, and because of that it is inherently conservative. To expect less would be naive, and any business that is intending to survive through this period of intense disruption needs to position itself to service a vastly different, but in my opinion much better world.

While I have not directly addressed the elephant in the room – social and economic models – I believe every one of us have a role to play in accelerating these changes rather than resisting them. There will be enough resistance from businesses and industries that are destined to be annihilated in the process, as well as inherently change-averse and conservative public institutions and governments. But there is also a tremendous momentum from the sheer scale, profitability and social good of these emerging opportunities. When these profound transformations are impeded and forced to slow down unnaturally, the greater the cost and damage to economies and individuals becomes, and the risk for social conflict, instability and humanitarian crises increases.

I invite you to imagine with me the day when a vast part of the population can invest their time into passion projects, the wellbeing of others, creative and artistic endeavors and stuff that no-one has imagined yet. A world where poverty is eliminated because nobody needs to work for money, and where healthy, nutritious food, water and basic are abundant and accessible in every corner of the planet. You and I will experience this world. And I look forward to be inspired and amazed by the innovations and inventions of tomorrow as I was as a kid when reading sci-fi novels and looking a books about the future.

Where will you be? What is your part of the dream?

Next week we return to our regular topics around Mindful Living. If you have enjoyed this series I’d love top hear from you. Please share your thoughts in the comments and be part of the conversation.

>>If you missed the previous parts of this series you can read them here [Part 1]  [Part 2]  and  [Part 3].

Who Killed “Time Is Money” – Part 3

Reading time 4 minutes

As we continue our journey into the future and look at what is happening in a decade or two from now, the time around 2025-2035. We are surrounded by people who are working on passion-projects and moving around in self-driving smart vehicles. Even smarter devices that make your iWatch look like a stone-axe are keeping you connected to the internet of things, enabling communication with with your home, your transport devices, collaborators and retailers, enabling making payments and other transactions.

But while robots and smart devices don’t take lunch breaks, we will.

The challenge we face today is that food production in its current form is not able to be increased at the same rate as the world’s population with our current agricultural methods.

One of the first things that we will be confronted with is a very significant decrease in meat consumption.

Meat is by far the most resource-intensive and ecologically “expensive” food to produce.
Combined with the fact that the current consumption levels in the western diet are actually causing an increased in colon cancer and other ailments, and being a contributor towards obesity epidemic. This is not as a result of the meat itself, but as a result of the habitual over-eating and unnaturally large servings of food that are common today.

The second – and far more sinister problem with meats is that the antibiotics required to maintain the health of industrially farmed animals cycle through the food chain, primarily via water. It means we are eating – and accumulating vast uncontrolled quantities of antibiotics that not only mess with our immunity, but cause resistant mutations in pathogens. To make matters worse, the livestock industry requires 6 kg of plant protein to produce 1 kg of meat protein and as a result consumes about seven times as much plant based food than what humans consume (based on US figures – these vary between countries depending on the region’s respective primary source of food).

It is highly likely that plant based foods will form the most significant part of our food intake.

But before you decide to jump the curve and become a vegetarian, it is important to aknowledge that a very similar problem exists with our current methods of industrial agriculture.

While antibiotics are the trojan horse of meat and dairy, pesticides are the equivalent problem in the plant-foods. Our current industrial agriculture methods for plant-based foods are as unsustainable as the ones for animal products. While GMO’s are contentious and are blamed for all sorts of ailments, the reality is that all food we eat today is GMO. The fashionable idea of Paleo diets (derived from “Paleolithic”, the period of very early human life from about 2.6 million years to approximately 10,000 years ago) ignore two important factors: none of the foods that have been agriculturally developed (through selective breeding and domestication, and blending of plant varieties) existed in the paleolithic. Secondly their diets varied greatly between regions and seasons. The early humans were hunter-gatherers, and significant agriculture did not emerge until the very end of the paleolithic. Today we do not (and would not) eat any of the foods they ate, most of those pre-agricultural varietes no longer exist.

One of the greatest indicators is a resurgence of lower-yield organic farming. And while these are producing smaller crop volumes, peripheral problems such as soil depletion and water-table problems are also significantly reduced. One of the most successful technological innovations of recent years is salt-water farming. This is industrial scale greenhouse farming for vegetables that is extraordinarily water-efficient. Already a commercial reality in arid countries including UAE and Australia, methods like these show tremendous promise for sustainable food production.

But besides organic grains, fruit and veggies, what will be on your plate?

Chances are that a significant part of your animal protein intake will come from farmed fish, seaweed, algae- and mushroom-derived “vege-meat” products, and “grown meat”. While still in early development, growing meat in the lab is a reality, and one that holds promise to provide meat proteins and nutrients without the enormous overhead of farming animals. But as mentioned earlier, it is likely that those will be a significantly smaller share of you overall food intake, which will be primarily plant-based, using moderate-yield organic methods. Given that a significant portion of the population will have a far greater availability of free time while robots do the boring, dangerous and repetitive work, it is not unimaginable that seasonal community and home gardens will make an important and sustainable contribution to the food mix.

Another area that will change profoundly is food-related waste, and food waste.

Disposable protective packaging will no longer be polluting – as Architect William McDonough proposed in 2002 in his book “Cradle to Cradle”, it will serve secondary purposes such as decompose an release nutrients or act as a composting enhancer. All food waste will be collected for composting either by local or by community level collection, and utilised to regenerate and enhance the soil for agriculture.

Overall food will simply become healthier again, by the simple necessity of an ecologically sustainable and sufficient supply.

This has a profound effect on health and leisure industries. Not only does healthier food mean generally less lifestyle illnesses such as diabetes, it means longer active lifespans, more energetic people with lots of free time eager to engage in meaningful experiences. The demand for experience-based entertainment will be a significant industry, that will in turn require salvaging, restoring and protecting many endangered natural ecosystems. And again, with that comes yet another industry: ecological regeneration and ecosystem restoration, this time driven by a strong economic motivator.

So now we know how we are fed the humans (and started living longer, working less, travelling more, and repairing ecosystems), but what powers the machines, the internet of things?

Last week I promised you the food and the energy of the next two decades. I have decided however to keep things brief, and so I have split this episode into two. I will explore energy next week. This is another area that is overflowing with innovative changes and possibilities worthy of the best science fiction. Except that it is not sci-fi.

The purpose of these posts is to encourage you to imagine a different future.

It is to create a context for you, so that you may wake up tomorrow exited about the future, and eager to be a part of it instead of afraid of it, to contribute and help shape it rather than to be unexpectedly derailed by it.

It’s purpose is to fight the dark and distorted reality portrayed by mainstream media, and reveal one far more certain, and far more exciting: the future as is being created right under our noses, sometimes quietly and sometimes with great fanfare, by innovators, visionaries and entrepreneurs.

Here is a link to Saltwater Farming.

Cradle to Cradle Book, Amazon (no, I am not affiliated in any way – it is still a great book!)

Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of this series.

Please share your thoughts. Agree, add to, disagree or challenge. The share and comments links below are yours to use… I look forward to hearing from you.

Mindfulness is hip! How science, social media and the GFC triggered the mindful leadership revolution.

(Reading time 5 minutes)

Mindfulness is hip!

Mindfulness is trending in all channels of social media. In 2014 mindfulness was the new buzzword among celebrities from Katy Perry to Sir Richard Branson, from Will Smith’s kids to media magnate Arianna Huffington. And by all signs that was just the beginning. 2015 is the year that will see mindfulness practice become embedded as a fundamental leadership trait in the boardrooms of the early adopters.

So why has this esoteric practice formerly reserved to monastic lifestyles suddenly entered our collective consciousness and infiltrated the hard and serious world of big business?

Enter science, Social Media and the GFC.

While for centuries meditation was exclusively the domain of spiritual practice, often in faraway temples atop misty mountains, and of purple-crystal-worshipping-new-age-hippies, it was not until the last decade that medical imaging technology, in particular MRI’s, has made it possible to study meditation in a controlled scientific context. While the likes of Jon-Kabat Zinn have been promoting the virtues of mindfulness to professionals before then, there was no fully validated evidence that any of this was more than anecdotal. But a series of recent published and ongoing studies conducted in the likes of Harvard University Medical School have not only validated and reinforced the anecdotes of the mystics, but revealed a raft of other remarkable and highly beneficial phenomena.

So far the science has revealed this:

  • Meditation practice turns down the “inner voice” in our mind (a function of our language centre) and reduces self talk, which is overwhelmingly imaginary stuff constructed out of fragments of past experience. Why is this good? Because while pre-emptying dangerous situations is an evolutionary important trait, it has “overstepped” its bounds in our technologically and socially advanced world. By reducing this mental chatter we become more aware of the true context of an experience. Information is not pre-filtered by our emotions, and as a result of this clarity we are able to make better decisions.
  • Meditation increases creativity. This means that as we are able to see problems with more clarity, we are also able to imagine a wider range of possible solutions.
  • Meditation reduces stress. This happens both directly as a result of chemical activity in the brain, but also on a meta level: as we are better able to comprehend, evaluate and engage with a situation, we are also less emotional and more in control, which in turn increases our confidence and unleashes all kind of positive metabolic responses. Which leads to the next point: Health.
  • Meditation makes you healthier. As we become less inclined to emotional responses to stimuli for food, alcohol, drugs and toxic behavioural traits, we are less likely to succumb to those. But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation releases happy hormones in your body, which in turn invigorate your immune system making you less succeptible to illness, and more likely to recover quickly. Never mind the fact that feeling good will also benefit how you engage with others. And that brings us to the next benefit: Empathy.
  • Meditation increases your empathy and compassion. While this may sounds like a Buddhist quote, it is actually happens at a chemical neurological level. We become more connected to our sense of life and that of other beings. In simple terms it means you will have much better relationships with people because you will behave kindly towards them. You become more trustworthy and you will be more trustworthy.

While all this may once have sounded too good to be true, it is now understood on a neuro-scientific level to be true. And I have left our a lot, this iss really just the tip of the iceberg. Meditation re-wires and physically reshapes our brain for mindfulness, and physically alters not only how we perceive the world, but how we engage with it. It also alters (and improves) how our bodies function.

So far so good. So how does Social Media fit into the story?

Social media plays two key roles in the mindfulness revolution: The more obvious one is the dispersion of information. As twitter and other platforms shifted from text to images, tiles with happy quotes proliferated and got shared. The second one is curated feeds. Stuff that got shared got seen, the rest of the stuff disappeared from our collective consciousness. Two things got shared frequently: the happy quote and the videos of dramatic incidents (from rescues to beheadings, from extraordinary feats to epic fails). People’s lunch postings faded from view, making many social media channels less personal and more about entretainment. While many demographics have swarmed to new apps that look to overcome that, the general sense of loneliness, meaninglessness and alienation has hit hard across right the connected generations.

Add to this the GFC.

While the glitter of the virtual world of imaginary stardom faded (and still continues to fade) slowly, the discontent, distrust in “the system”, fear and sense of personal failure brought about by the global financial crisis that began in late 2008 was somewhat more sudden, less visible and far more personal. It affected people from all social strata, and continues to do so as its effects are slowly displaced by tectonic shifts in industry and the exponential increase in labour automation.

These three factors were catalysts that made it acceptable for the profound social discontent to become a public conversation.

The secret reality of the 90-plus hour work week and the stratospheric career ladders as being inwardly un-fulfilling is no longer a secret.

The overarching question has now shifted from “How can I get to the top of the career ladder” to “How can I get to the top of my personal fulfillment ladder?” (or in most cases – “Which one is my ladder?”)

Social media has aided the spread of this idea, combined with some timely “seeds” like books such as Tim Ferriss’ disruptively titled “4-hour Work Week”, more recently Arianna Huffington’s “Thrive” written following her sudden and personal crash from corporate life burnout, or one of the most read blogs in the world, Leo Babuta’s “Zen habits”. A plethora of “off-line” and “minimalist living” movements have spawned further legitimising the mindful lifestyle as the logical progression from a high consumption, high demand and high delusion life.

Most principles around mindfulness and meditation are simple. The “practice” in the form of meditation does the “hard rewiring” and makes the process of implementing constructive habits much easier, there is still an perception amongst business leaders and self-declared high performers that sitting still is bad for business, science has now joined the chorus and thoroughly validated the once esoteric claims of meditation and mindful living. Like all things, mindfulness and meditation takes practice and a willingness to learn a few new things.

The innovators have been mindful for a long time. Now the early adopters are jumping on board. There is no question that business leadership is facing a structural transformation. Coupled with the deep shifts underway in global work-culture, automation and mechanisation of tasks, leadership is becoming centered on meaning, on significance, on experience and on adherence to its altruistic foundational values. Mindful Leadership is not a fad, it is the next step in the evolution of leadership. Soon mindless leaders will become irrelevant, and eventually become extinct together with the business they once lead.

Mindfulness has been around for centuries, with the help of science and inevitable social tipping points is now becoming mainstream.

Mindfulness is hip.  But don’t mistake it for a fad.

The future of leadership is mindful, founded on bettering the human condition, including that of the leaders themselves.

Who killed “Time is Money?”

“Time is money.”

This declaration attributed to a letter written by Ben Franklin has become one of the philosophical foundations of our modern lifestyle, where the vast population willingly trades one for the other.

The quote however has been taken out of context.

The problem is this:
Money is a renewable resource. Time is not.

Today you have 24 hours. 1440 minutes. 86,400 seconds. Yes that looks like a big number, but its exactly the same number of seconds as everyone else. And at midnight tonight you will have spent everyone of those 86,400 seconds. You can’t save it, stash it, or store it away. You don’t get to choose when you use it, you only get to chose WHAT you use it for.
So for centuries we have been primed to do this strange trade deal where we use our time to service someone with something of greater value that the money we accept in return. We call it a business transaction, and it is expected of anyone in order earn money. It comes in a variety of different formats, but even passive money takes some form of work to set up.

But the time for money paradigm is under threat by its own extraordinary success: a century of rapid technological advances have materialised technologies that are accelerating exponentially making human workers in vast areas of industry obsolete.

So should you panic?

Not yet. I believe it is a good thing.

First of all, the very purpose of industrialisation was to free people from chores, and to create machines that would be at our service. Somehow we have lost focus on the way there and the whole process has become oddly distorted, but ultimately we are succeeding extraordinarily well in creating complex systems that can serve us, and they are only going to get better, more capable, more accessible and more successful.

But you are a human. Should you panic?

Right now the big panic is setting in at the level of global economists, as they begin to understand the dilemma. The writing is already on the wall (and has been for some time) that time can no longer be money.

In a very near future, time will no longer be money. At least not in the conventional way that we have grown up to understand it. The dilemma facing economists – and governments (if and when they wake up to the opportunity) is the decoupling of money from labour, and there are a range of possible an viable solutions already known. In the very near future we will see a transition from our current model to one where the mechanisms of national trade and revenue are underpinned by a largely automated industry – which is also entering a state of flux and profound transformation made possible by the internet of things, “intelligent” data, 3-d printing, microbots and lots of other cool stuff that was once sci-fi.

Should you panic?

No, no you should not panic. But I believe you need to begin thinking what it is that you really, really want to be doing.

Not just as an interest, but at the level of obsession, of passion. You no longer have the luxury of a half-fulfilled life, because almost certainly within your lifetime, and definitely in your kids lifetime, work will be a thing of the past, and a matter of choice, not money. As we are increasingly displaced from our “jobs” by automation – we will finally begin to reap the rewards of a century of rapid technological development. And that is a huge opportunity, but we need to begin to reawaken the dreamer within in order for us to continue our journey. In some places the process will hurt, but overall I believe that it will be a rapid transition, (“creative destruction” for those familiar with the concept) simply because once the death of time is money becomes an inescapable economic reality, it will force the hand of decision-makers to act fast.

Today you have what is left of your 86,400 seconds ahead of you. Some of that time you have already pre-committed. Some of that time will be devoted to biological demands of your body – eating, sleeping, reading FB posts on your smartphone while visiting the outhouse. The balance of that time is at your disposal. Take the batteries out of the TV remote, give a few of those precious seconds over to yourself, some quiet time to imagine stuff, and to reinvent your dreams.

Don’t panic. Dream.

Dream, and let those dreams become blueprints for the life you want.

Over the next few weeks my posts will be about dream and future stuff, the world the way I imagine it, things I expect to happen, things I expect to become possible. Mix those up with your own dreams. and you will discover and imagine new possibilities, and you will want to travel along that path towards them. and you will look forward to the day when you are no longer required at your “job”.

Please share this, and post your thoughts in the comments – I’d love to hear your views and ideas on this.

Who is Winning the Battle for Your Mind?

Mindfulness.

Like many others before it, it has become the new buzzword in success circles.
It’s use has progressively surged in the last 5 years, so much in fact that in the last six years it’s Google interest rating has constantly risen from 40 (out of 100) to 92!.
In 2013 it exploded onto the mass media with posts and articles in all major news channels, and celebrities and CEO’s all loudly proclaiming their newly dicovered joy of mindfulness.

Given that the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years (yes that’s not a mistake!), why is it suddenly becoming fashionable? And why should you care?

The first question is answered by two fairly recent changes in our global culture.

One, that more than ever we are seduced into mindlessness, which that is increasingly wreaking havoc with our lives. People are are hurting as a result, and are beginning to notice.
And two, that we have had a greater exposure to this concept through the very same channels that have fostered that mindlessness.
I am talking about our obsession with being “connected” via the web and social media, and our capacity to access information at a whim. We are inadvertently shifting our focus away from what is actually happening around us, while preoccupying ourselves with highly edited and pre-selected information that in reality is of no consequence to our life. We are more disconnected than ever before, and our experience of life is becoming drastically empoverished as a result.

And now, why should You care?

This will take more time to answer, and over the next three weeks I will address each of the following topics in detail, each building on the one before. These are:
  • What mindfulness IS, and what it IS NOT: how to spot a fake.
  • What actually happens in the mindful brain – and why it matters more than you think!
  • How to win the battle for mindfulness: simple practices that will make your every day more awesome.
My goal with these is not to transform you into a remote cave-dwelling enlightend nun or monk in perpetual meditation, but to help you experience a refreshed and deeply satisfying engagement in your life that you have most likely not felt for a long time, or in most cases never before.
Enjoy, and please share if you found this valuable. I look forward to some great conversations in four weeks…
Have a wonderful day.

How to cross the chasm (and live to tell the tale)

The other side…

The world that we imagine, wish for, fantasize. If we could escape, that’s where we’d go.

  • It may be the sound of the sea, the splashing of the surf, a fluttering sail, the whirr of a fishing line.
  • It may be the smell of grass, the whack of the club on the ball and following its arc high across to the eighteenth hole.
  • It may be the crunch of snow beneath your skis.
  • It may be the voices and laughter of family and kids at a playground.
  • It may be the boarding call to your next destination.
  • It may be the completion of a humanitarian project.

You know there is “the other side”. You can see it from here. Others actually are there. You even know some of these “others”. The problem is you are not one of the “others”.

You are YOU.

The moment that we draw a comparison between ourselves and those who we believe to be on the other side, we assign a side to ourselves.

And inevitably it is the side we are on, not the other side. Its the side with the challenges, the side with the limitations, the side with the cash-flow problem, the side with the 9-to-5.

Drawing that comparison opens up a huge chasm.

This chasm is so wide, crossing it requires resources we do not have. And that is absolutely true!

This chasm is so deep, we can barely discern the fog down there that conceals unimaginable threats in its shadows (should we survive a fall).

This chasm is so overwhelming, that crossing it is lethal, a venture reserved exclusively for hero-like bravado, for the luckiest ones, the others.

This chasm is in your imagination.

You created it when you created “the others”.

The others on the other side did not see a chasm, they did not have a chasm, they simply walked. They did not consider themselves to be the others, they are who they are.

Closing that chasm requires a zen-like thinking: the dissolution of duality.

In order to dissolve it me must first recognise it.

When you acknowledge that you consider yourself as separate, you can deliberately cease to categorise yourself as separate. Of course you are special. But what differentiates all of us from another is our starting point. We all have this in common: From wherever it is that you are right now, whatever the circumstances, your resources, your time, you can go anywhere else. But in order to do that, you must close the chasm.
    Use the force, Luke.
        Un-imagine it.
            Whatever it takes. 

When there is no duality, there is no chasm. When there is no chasm, there is no fear. When there is no fear we can walk freely to wherever it is we wanted to go. And when you go wherever it is you want to go while being yourself, some will see you as the others. And from wherever it is you are looking, you will laugh and think “It’s just me, and if could do it, so can you”.

Of course this is easier said than done, but ultimately it is fear, not capability that keeps the chasm open. Only you can close it, and only you know if that what is on the other side is worth your effort.

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Timecounting 101: The True Price of Waiting.

15,000 Days.

That is the number of days most people spend in “working life” till retirement (assuming that you start a career in your early 20’s and retire in your early 60’s). Yes, that is not a typo: fifteen-thousand days. That’s it.

If you are not are reading this on your mobile device, go pick it up now, open the calculator app and type in your age. Multiply by 365. Read the result out aloud.
That’s roughly how many days you have already lived. 

When I did this a few years ago I found this exercise very unsettling.

  • The average life budget is somewhere around 27,000 days. Compare that to your number.
  • If you make it to 30,00 you are in very a small minority.
  • If you make it beyond that it won’t be by far, and you are an exception.

The problem with life is that we are not given a budget at birth. So, with a credit-card mentality, we spend liberally the most precious thing we have, as if there was time to do the meaningful stuff “later”. For a great part of the world’s people the precious available “now” is spent on totally worthless consumables: TV and “pulp” entertainment. Life is spent watching other people’s stories. Or it is spent in careers that fulfil other people’s expectations, not our own.

The problem is that “later” has a frightening price-tag. If your life right now is not the way you had intended, then the absolute worst thing you can do is stay on that track for another second!. It is quite simply put, your most expensive option, by far.

Why?

  1. It costs your time: You have one wallet, with an undisclosed limited amount of time in it. It is always less than you think. You must spend it, and can only spend it once.
  2. It costs you opportunities: while you wait to decide, someone else is taking the chance that you may have wished for.
  3. It costs you health: discontent and frustration deteriorate your health. The worse it gets the harder it is to recover and repair. Bad health also charges a hefty interest to your days credit, reducing the time you get.
  4. It costs you relationships: unhappy people propagate unhappiness, and the social cost of this is staggering. Time spent with bad company and mindless activities reduces the time available to spend with the people you care about most.
  5. It costs you money: For most, every dollar you earn is generated by “spending” your minutes. But while you can always multiply the dollars, you can NEVER multiply your minutes. It is a “spend once” commodity. There is no re-draw facility, no ATM where you can withdraw another 1000 days, no bank that can extend your limit. Real fulfilling success can not happen in this space.

I excel at procrastinating.

Most of us do, we are masters at it.

From small insignificant activities to big changes, we postpone with refined skill. We excuse ourselves with great eloquence: “just need to get a few things sorted, and then I will…”, or “now is not a good time…”.

But we know that later is always a WORSE time, as it is already reserved for a future activity, and we know those things will never get sorted UNTIL we make that change. It is easy to mask our lack of courage with justifications, but it does not stop the clock!.

Fortunately, we do not have to excuse ourselves, because we don’t have to embark on that daunting journey alone.  Most paths in life have been walked by someone before you, they are always willing to help, and have the tools you need.

Fortunately, no matter how many days you have used up, you can live amazingly, irrespective of how much is left in your time-wallet.

The important thing is not to postpone the decision to do so. Anyone can avoid paying the five great expenses of waiting.

One day – sooner than you think – you will draw your last time-penny out of your time wallet. Will you gasp with a knot in your throat and say “Wait…now is not the right time!” or will you look back, smile and say “Wow – what an awesome life I’ve had!”?

Today will be charged to your time credit. Spend it on “wait!” and it is wasted, spend it on “Awesome!” and you create a memorable legacy!.

[I enjoyed reading a book published early this year “20,00 Days and counting” by Robert D. Smith, which explores this subject in depth and is worthwhile and inspiring reading. I am however in no way affiliated with the author, there are many other books on this subject.] 

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“Stop, Look, Listen…” – for adults.

Last week we briefly explored how our brain prioritses through the reticular activating system, the importance of repetition, affirmation and the whole “Rah-rah”.

But that is only half the story, we need to know how to re-program it on the fly so that we can get a deliberate results instead of an accidental one.

What is your obsession?

Pause for a moment and think about this. What theme dominates your thinking?

  • Are you worried about not meeting a deadline?
  • Are you revisiting a proposal because perhaps it is not enough to secure the next client?
  • Are you anxiously expecting a bad phone call because your teenager is prone to cause trouble?
  • Do you anticipate a frosty arrival at home because you have been getting home so late your partner is already asleep – two months in a row?

This is where the fine line between success and default is drawn. Your reticular activator is scanning the environment for cues that provide validation to your process.

So then, what does “favourable” programming sound like?

Here are some examples of how to shortcut the process, and re-align our obsession:

  • You decide you will make that deadline – and begin pruning priorities in order to achieve that. Get the low hanging fruit into the basket fast.
  • You stop and evaluate your proposal from the clients perspective, and word it differently. Nothing else needs to change but the focus is on their real benefit.
  • You call your teenager, or leave a kind word on their snapchat feed without asking anything in return. Show you care, and mean it.
  • Think about your partner, and focus on the gratitude for the dinner waiting on the table needing no more than 2 minutes in the microwave. Leave a thank you note for the morning. Never take others for granted.

The circumstances in these situations have not changed. But our focus has, and it makes all the difference. It is easy to see how these absurdly simple shifts in our focus will have a very significant impact on our life.

We teach our kids: Stop, look and listen. And as adults we forget to do this ourselves!

Stop where we are going, just for a moment. Motion is there to take us towards our goal. If it does not, then stop.

Look at how you are perceiving the situation. Look for possible advantages you can tap into.

Listen to the validations that you are receiving. Are they helping you achieve your goal or are they signposts on the way to a disaster?

This simple mind process is often referred to as The Law of Attraction, only that we are not actually attracting anything. It should be called the Law of Focus, because we build our context based on the things that we deem important to our cause.  The “stuff” was always there. If that focus is on avoiding falling off a cliff, we are likely to forever hover along the edge. If however we are focused on getting to the top of the mountain, then at the very least we will end up on higher ground.
 

You go where your obsessions take you, so obsess about where you want to be taken.

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Practice makes you… Worse?!

Shakuhachi and Japanese Sheet Music
Shakuhachi and Japanese Sheet Music

We have all heard it – “practice makes perfect”. But does it?

A few years ago I decided to start playing a wonderful musical instrument called Shakuhachi – often also called Japanese Bamboo or Zen Flute. I found a teacher and started an amazing journey of learning far beyond what I had imagined. Since then I have learned so much more than just playing this beautiful instrument, I have learned about non-western composition, reading music in a completely foreign language and format, improved my pitch recognition, learned more about Zen, and refined my practice skills.

The most important factor enabling me to progress quickly was rigurous practice guided by a master. You are probably thinking that I stood barefoot in the snow for an hour every day for six years practicing just one single note, but I can not claim anything remotely this epic. By rigurous practice I mean that in spite of my clumsiness, my teacher always made sure that I was conscious of practicing the technique correctly. This was, is, and will always be challenging.

For everything we do there is a way of doing it that is easier, or comes more natural. We automatically tend to do this. So if we are not attentive, informed and willing to do it the right instead of the obvious way, we will simply become masters at doing things wrong.

So it is with everything that we do, the way we practice our life and business. We are all blessed with some of the worlds greatest instructors: from spiritual scriptures to more recent books from the likes of Emmerson, Napoleon Hill (one of my personal favourites), Lao-Tsu and Eckhart Tolle. The list is almost endless, but the lessons are remarkably consistent and simple. And it is not surprising that the people who put such advice to practice consistently out-succeed those who don’t.

Unless you can truthfully look yourself in the eyes (tip – use a mirror!) and can claim that without a shadow of doubt you have attained all the success that you have always aspired and imagined, then you must instead ask yourself what are you practicing? Have you become very good at doing the in-effective, the average or the easy? Have you refined skills of techniques that are known to yield poor results? Who is guiding you?

For the majority of the time, our practice makes us worse, and we all have been busy perfecting our mistakes. On top of this, history shows us that without some form of external accountability buddy, mentor or coach, we will continue to do so!.

To prevent this from happening, do these two things right now:

  • Review your practice of all activities that are not yielding the results you expected. Get ruthlessly honest with yourself. You can start this in your head – nobody else needs to know! But I recommend that you write a reminder note somewhere that you will see again.
  • Have the courage to ask for guidance. Find a trustworthy and credible teacher or master. Make a commitment to them so that they can help you.

Only the right practice can ever make you “perfect”.


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