Sunday, April 25, 2010

Failing to Succeed

The most effective way to learn new stuff is to do it to the point that you are lousy at it, and then keep practicing.  This is call working at the edge of your ability, and its a really uncomfortable place to hang out because it requires focus, challenging our negative self talk and the willingness to fail.

A good part of the population is extremely allergic to the idea of failure.  Over the years, centuries maybe, failing has gotten a bad rep.  Its gotten all tangled up and equated with mistakes, which are completely different.  Working to the point of failure is intentional and gives information about what requires strengthening.  Mistakes, by definition, are not intentional and presuppose that the person making the error is adept at the exercise and could have done better.  Although mistakes are not necessarily a bad thing either.  By examining the mistake, without negative self talk, a lot of useful information can be had.  Failing while working at threshold is a little like lifting weights, when you get to the point that you can't do one more rep you don't say, "I've made a mistake". Most people recognize that this is the point where the muscle is being tasked and that will allow for growth and better performance.  There is very little gains made while working in the comfort zone.

Ah, the comfort zone.  This is easy, feels good and can be performed with very little thought.  Beautifully defined by the saying, "I could do it in my sleep."  What's missing?  Focus!!  Engaging the mind, turning on the learning regions of the brain.  If you haven't intentionally focused in a while, its going to feel like a muscle that hasn't been worked for some time, wimpy, hard to do and not very, uh, comfortable.  But this also gets easier with practice.  One of the best ways to work out your focusing ability is through meditation.  Start small if its been a while, maybe just a few minutes a day, and eventually those focusing skills get stronger.  When you've been working at "the edge" your comfort zone is a great place to visit to get some R &R, but its not a good place to live.  Seriously, it gets boring and nothing new is happening.

And that leads us to what do you remember about the last time you started something new?  Was it, wow this is really hard, I'll never be able to finish this, other people can and are doing this better than me, I'm too old?  (Add your very own limiting thought here.)  Negative self talk is the most effective way to shut down any forward movement.  Here's a plan to tackle your next encounter with negativity. 

1)  What is the feeling that comes up when you think about or start something new?
2)  What is the thought that is causing that feeling?  (There is always a thought!)
3)  Imagine what it would be like if that thought wasn't true?
4)  What would be a little better feeling thought?
5)  What small step would you now take toward your new project?  (Like just looking up stuff on the Internet, making a list, picking out some fun colored files, etc.)
6)  Congratulate yourself on taking that action!
7)  Repeat as needed.

As a society, we've learned to play it safe and have gotten too cozy with comfort.  The baby boomers are aging, and the best way to keep your mind and body healthy is to learn new challenging things.  Daniel Seigel states in his book, MindSight, that the real reason our brain starts to decline at mid life is not the result of our aging bodies, its simply because we have reached the pinnacle of our careers and stopped challenging ourselves.  If you don't use it, you lose it.  What are you going to fail at today? Keep in mind, if you always succeed you are making a big mistake.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Just in Time Life

Last night I was preparing home made cat food when a friend called and I mentioned that when I adopted my current kitties, P.J. came with very specific feeding instructions.  Which I laughed at and proceeded to "train" the kitty to eat his dry food, well, dry.  The instructions included wetting the food with water and microwaving for several seconds.  Flash forward to last night as I'm finding myself sauteeing garlic and chicken and cooking brown rice.  What changed?  Need.  My female cat, Beatrix, has digestion issues and I have racked up $1000's of dollars in vet bills and cleaned up untold amounts of, well, you don't want to hear the gory details, I'm sure.  The point is, it became necessary to make the aforementioned meal because I ran out of money and cleaning supplies. 

So I started thinking about other parts of my life and the processes I've developed.  And what I've noticed is that with some tasks, laundry, paying bills, cleaning the litter box, I do just what is necessary to keep things in order, I do them just in time.   And then there are other things, like reading, taking classes and shopping that I do with abandon and much more elaborately and without a nod to need.  That got me thinking about all the habits in my life.  Are there some things I don't love to do, but spend more time than necessary performing.  What activities do I love but am denying for lack of time or because they aren't necessary?  I'm taking an inventory this week to ensure my life is lining up with my priorities because really I don't care if I have a meticulous garden or a perfectly detailed car.  As long as the plants are still alive and I can indentify the color of my car, I'm good.  I'll spend "just enough time" on these activities so I can have more time for the really fun things.