What I Learned from a Traffic Jam…

I have sat in some serious traffic jams in my time. I’m talking about those thankfully rare situations where all plans are scuppered, people are walking up and down the motorway and if it’s a hot day, some are even laying out their picnic, determined to make the most of the seemingly infinite delay. Then you have those traffic jams caused not so much by an accident but a sheer outbreak of extreme weather such as an unusually heavy downpour of snow. A former colleague of mine left the office on such an occasion at around 4.00 PM, hoping to get ahead of the game as soon as he realised how much snow was on the ground. He took some back roads, helped one or two people get their cars back on the road and by the time he got home it was 7.00 AM the following morning!

Snow traffic

Perhaps the most frustrating of all traffic jams are those – much more common in my experience – where there is a sizeable delay but no matter where you look as you pass through the so-called roadworks, you can’t spot any work actually being done. What are they about? Practise traffic jams for when the real work starts, which sometimes feels like never!

For the past couple of days in a row, I have sat at the beginning of what looked like a major delay but thankfully, I took the time to observe how long it actually took to get through the mile or two of traffic and guess what? Fifteen minutes from start to home, so a delay of just ten minutes. There is a sign on the side of the road at the beginning of where the traffic slows right down and it says something like this: Merge In Turn. I’m sure they put these signs out all the time but to be honest, I’ve never noticed this one before, and like I said, I’ve been in my fair share of traffic jams.

Merge-in-TurnNow I’m not saying that the traffic moved so much faster than expected simply because of a sign that perhaps most drivers are actually trying to adhere to but it did look like it was working and it got me thinking at least. Most of us will have experienced at some time in our lives, a delay of one sort or another. We all dislike delays of course, usually with some degree of intensity. They temporarily stop us from obtaining what we want. They force us to do something differently or stop us from doing anything at all sometimes. But what it the delay is dare I say it, a “divine device” – designed to help us think about what we are trying to do, or help us see a better way forward? What if somehow, the encouragement to Merge In Turn, or simply be happier than normal to let others go in front of us physically as well as psychologically, actually helped us to become more content with our own lives?

Why not monitor how long your next traffic delay takes and use the time to think about any other, far more important delays going on in your life and ask yourself the question, “In what ways is this delay serving me?” And then don’t forget to let the car in front go first!

 

 

 

Why Winning Does Matter

A couple of days ago, I read an article that said how the word “win” finds it roots in both joy and grace. I love that! But what does that really mean or more to the point, what does that even look like? For those of you for whom life is simply one seemingly endless triumphant display of winning, then you probably don’t need to read any further but may I suggest you store this piece of writing somewhere safe for that day when for whatever inexplicable reason, life is suddenly not going the way you planned anymore.

For the rest of us, let’s take a moment or two to ponder this possibility of truly ‘winning’ with joy and grace side by side. Forget the normal concept of winning in this world. I am not talking about what the social-media-mad world of ‘must haves’ would have us believe such as trophies of sport, property, cash or even for some, significantly younger spouses. No, despite the external and often temporary sense of satisfaction and pleasure such things in life can bring. I am talking about winning in life, in spite of the lack of those things at times, and sometimes the complete absence of them for an entire lifetime.

It has been said that the primary difference between joy and happiness is that the former is not dependant on the circumstances we may find ourselves in. And as I have studied it deeper, I have discovered for myself, that true joy comes from being thankful for all that you have and all that you may come across on a daily basis.

joy-1So, joy flows from being thankful and being thankful is a demonstration of your genuine appreciation of the gifts you both possess as well as those things that you now come to appreciate – however ugly they may have first appeared to be. Think of anything that is a factor in your life that if you are honest, you would rather be without. Then, when you get beyond that level and go into real gut level honesty, you can begin to see how even those things, those major inconveniences can be a gift.

And the gift is called grace. However you prefer to perceive the universe and the created world we live in, grace is all around us, if we will but stop, think, look and be thankful. As the line goes in the sublime U2 song, “Grace makes beauty out of ugly things.”

So this time, assuming you’ve spent some time since last week being thankful for the people in your life, why not spend just a few minutes being thankful for even the stuff that has been sent to test you to the absolute limit? You know the stuff I’m referring to but perhaps no one else does. It’s your life, your joy and grace that is stake. Together, they will help you to win, whatever the odds against you appear to be right now.

Grace

Learning to Laugh

I heard on the radio yesterday that children in Bangalore, India are having lessons on how to laugh. Due to the success of these classes, there are even plans to open the world’s first Laughter University. When Dr. Madan Kataria the founder of the now worldwide ‘Laughter Clubs’, opened his first one more than twenty years ago, only four people attended. Affectionately known as the ‘Guru of Giggling’ he is quite possibly the foremost advocate of laughter as a great antidote to stress. Whether or not you are into yoga – Dr. Kataria and his wife, Madhuri are both yoga practitioners and incorporate what they have learned about laughter to teach Yoga Laughter – it is pretty obvious to me that anything that makes you laugh for several minutes at a time has to be a good thing.

It has already been well documented that a good belly laugh every day produces a healthy amount of endorphins, which in turn, cause you to feel more positive and therefore less stressed. Depending on whose research you take more seriously (pun intended!) children appear to laugh more than adults, although other, even more serious research may suggest that when socially interacting with friends or even strangers, adults laugh much more than children do when interacting with their peers.

Laughing with good friends

Personally, I don’t think we really need serious or not so serious research to tell us what we already know – laughter is good. Provided it is not at someone else’s expense of course. And I don’t know about you but I suspect I still have some serious improvement to make when it comes to the frequency with which I laugh, especially in the ‘belly bursting’ sector of this beautifully free and powerful activity.

Some people report incredible results when they set aside five, ten or even fifteen minutes a day to simply laugh. They start off with what you might call a fake laugh. That is, a forced laugh for no other reason than to get themselves going. The human equivalent to using an old-fashioned crank handle to start up a stubborn car. And just like the car engine that roars into life, before they know it, they are roaring with full-blown, belly-aching laughter.

So what do we need to do if like me, you know you could improve your laughter levels? Try and watch at least one very funny You Tube video every day, listen to something that always make you laugh. Buy a joke book for yourself. Watch more stand-up comedians – either live or on TV. The possibilities are out there, and we all have wildly varying tastes. We simply need to choose to take life as well as ourselves, a little less seriously, and have a good, healthy laugh.

I’d love to read your funniest true story, joke or recent experience that made you genuinely laugh out loud. Email me with it and I will send you some funny stuff back.

I’ll leave the last word to a former Radio 4 newsreader and continuity announcer, Charlotte Green, who could not hold back her giggles anymore after a colleague whispered in her ear that the world’s oldest sound recording sounds like ‘a bee in a jar’. I actually remember hearing this live and howling with laughter and the best part was it was only ten past eight in the morning!

If this doesn’t make you laugh in the one minute and ten seconds it takes to listen, I think you better find your nearest Yoga Laughter instructor!

 

 

What’s in a Blue Sky?

One of the things I simply love about this time of the year is being able to sit outside under a beautiful blue sky, with enough sunshine to make me feel pleasantly warm and then to simply think.

The phrase “Blue Sky thinking” has been around for some time and has now made it into the Collins English dictionary with the following definition: creative ideas that are not limited by current thinking or beliefs.

Most people love a truly blue sky and there is a very good and pretty obvious reason for that. When we look up and see a blue sky, it immediately speaks to us of anything from “It’s going to be a sunny day” right through to “anything is possible today!” Why is this? I believe it is simply because when there are no clouds in the sky, no rain in the air, we cannot help but feel optimistic. As often as you possibly can – once every three months, even once a month if you can manage it – create some ‘Blue Sky time’.53749_102349429832459_712725_o

Set aside an entire morning or afternoon, and simply go somewhere without distractions and sit and think. Switch your phone off, put your laptop away. All you need is a journal or notebook and a pen. For the first hour or so, you may well be wondering if you can seriously justify this luxury at all. Then remind yourself that whilst it is a luxury in terms of the time you are setting aside, it is much more accurate to consider it an investment. An investment in yourself. By the time you are into hours three and four, some of the ideas you will be getting will be emerging as genuine gold dust.

You can invest in yourself like this and set out with no agenda whatsoever and see what happens, and that is completely fine. Or, you can take one or two subject matters that you already know require some serious, deep thinking, especially if you are in need of a solution, and I guarantee, by the end of your ‘Blue Sky time’ you will come away with a way forward that you would otherwise have struggled to find at all. Either way, if you carve out some ‘Blue Sky time’ on a regular basis, you will be all the richer for it in every respect of the word.

The majority of this blog was taken from an earlier piece I wrote at the beginning of the year. To read the full blog you can find it here:

Click here

Let the Expert Through!

Several years ago, when I was working as a salesman for a company that supplied food wrapping machinery, I found myself in a large produce processing factory with an engineer called Billy. I was there to see how their current stock of machines were doing and explore the possibility of selling them one or two new ones. Billy was there as our referral agent but also on that day, to urgently repair one of the older machines that had broken down.
A55 wrapperNow most people don’t get to see what it is like inside any kind of food processing factory but from experience, I can tell you they are extremely busy places. The sheer volume of product that comes down the highly automated lines is mesmerising in itself. So you can imagine, when a machine suddenly stops working, the line it was stationed on immediately becomes very clogged indeed with product that would normally be flowing at the rate of anything from 50-120 items a minute!

 

I will never forget the relative calm that Billy examined the machine and then looked inside his tool bag. I seem to remember that one of his bags was in fact, an old briefcase with a sealed compartment where he stored amassive variety of nuts and bolts and all kinds of fixings, gubbings and all the other technical terms for things that make bigger things work. Inside this compartment, there was literally a sea of stuff that was so deep, half his hand disappeared into them as he searched for an identical screw from the one that had worked itself loose from the machine in question.

DN7M5P Shine of coin ina sea of old screws

“I know it’s in ‘ere somewhere,” he muttered in his raw, “Lancashire,
God’s own county” accent. I had absolute confidence in his ability to
fix the machine amid the increasing clamour around for us for the
resurrection of the line but how on earth would he find that single
screw? A few seconds later, I was open-mouthed in amazement as he pulled the screw out of the sea of seeming infinity. A few minutes after that, the entire line was up and running and everyone was happy.

I don’t think we ever did sell them a new machine. The reason? The
sheer expertise and technical genius of Billy from Lancashire
to regularly resurrect their machines from the dead of course.

 

Then, just the other day, I needed some help from a client actually, to help me to retrieve a really important folder that had seemingly disappeared from my USB stick. We ended up talking on the phone as he was driving (hands free of course!) and the route he took me around the laptop to run some initial tests would have had me more lost than ever if I’d attempted to do this alone. The fact that he was doing this without even seeing the screen in front of him was impressing me with every minute that went by.

computer-engineer-e1428561170306
The time came to try and locate the folder in another part of the computer and then fully retrieve it to its original location and
there it was! A quick check in with one or two of the files that I had found earlier but were strangely empty and sure enough, the
content was restored. “Thank you Daniel, you’re a genius!” came the very relieved and grateful response down the line.

We all love it of course don’t we, when someone who really knows what
they’re doing is able to literally lift us out of our apparently helpless,
hopeless pit of frustration. That is true value in action right there.

So, when was the last time someone came along and did that for you?

Or more importantly, when was the last time you were able to do something for someone else?

What is your expertise, your natural ability that can always help another human being?

It may have nothing to do with your business or job – it’s just something you can do, whenever the need arises.

I was with someone this week who needs my help and guess what I’m going to do?

If it wasn’t for Daniel this week and his genius reminding me of that epic feat of mechanical resurrection performed by Billy from Lancashire, perhaps I may not have been so willing to get involved on an ongoing basis. As long as it doesn’t involve fixing any kind of machine or remotely trouble-shooting a computer, I’ll be fine!

Memories are Made of This…

Apparently, there are three significant things that begin occurring when you start getting old. You begin losing your memory; you begin losing your hair; and the third thing is…I’ve forgotten!
Just to be clear from the outset here, I do not feel like I am getting old, even though I am most certainly, albeit rather reluctantly in the middle-aged category, despite my youthful looks and energy!
I have always been fascinated by the things we somehow remember as opposed to the stuff we simply forget. I remember watching a documentary many, many years ago about first memories and the typical age from which you can recall certain things. Afterwards, I tried to recall my very first memory and it was this: I was sitting in a high chair and there were a few people in the room. Someone was approaching me with a cake that had a lit candle on it. I checked in with my Mum and assumed it must have been my second birthday (the documentary said the average earliest memory that can usually be recalled is around age two.) I asked her, “But I could only see one candle on the cake. Did you lose the other one?” She replied, “No, of course not! It was your first birthday!”
I was impressed to say the least. The fact that most days I may go upstairs to get or do something and by the time I arrive there, I have completely forgotten why I went in the first place, or worse, come back down without even realising I’ve forgotten all about the original reason I went upstairs in the first place does not of course negate this brilliant feat of memory recall.
Where I do still genuinely excel is in the category of photographic memory. Now I don’t claim to be able to memorise telephone directories or reel off twenty-five digit codes a la secret agents old and new but I do recall with consummate ease familiar car number plates to such a degree that I will recognise a friend’s car instantly and in the past for fun, have called that person to enquire why they are speeding or chopping lanes so randomly. And pre-mobile-phone-address books, I would know virtually every contact’s number I needed without consulting my hard copy address book or Filofax. Perhaps this is where my memory works well with repetition, I forget.

So I have a small challenge for you as you consider your memories and the hopefully happy collection of images, smells, names and numbers – both recent and distant.

What is your favourite ever memory?
When was the last time you created a memory to even begin rivalling that favourite?
What memories have you yet to make?
How long will you give yourself before you forget your desire for those yet-to-be-made memories?
Making Memories

“Mindfulness” is all the rage right now and no doubt some are becoming increasingly cynical about the pressure to be so focussed on “being in the present moment” that it is very easy to miss the point altogether. What if we ditched that term and simply called it “Memory Making”?

How the Words of a Dying Man Could Save You

Today I listened for more than an hour to someone who was recently diagnosed with an inoperable, terminal illness and has been given only weeks to live. To be honest, I had never heard of him before one of the marketing experts I follow sent me an email about his situation. Persuaded by a close friend to deliver one last webinar, (an online seminar in case you’re unfamiliar) I listened to it live just this afternoon and was taken aback not so much by his material, because as both he and his friend made clear from the introduction, “What you will hear is not new but coming from this unique perspective, allow what you hear to be thought of in a new way.” No, I was taken aback by his willingness to make himself so utterly vulnerable, with emotions exacerbated by morphine and yet, still able to offer great wisdom in a way that truly resonated with me partly because of his use of a journey as a metaphor for life, which I love to ponder a lot.

He was extremely honest about the mistakes he had made and the things he is thankful for. In honour of his courage and genuine commitment to helping others, even during his literal dying days, the only other things I will post here today are the questions he posed for us all to consider and a link to the webinar itself, should you wish to listen to the recording.

His name is Mike Seddon and his friend helping him to deliver the webinar is Dov Gordon. If I didn’t think it was worth your time, I would not of course, have written this blog today. At the very least, I highly recommend you take time out to reflect on the five questions he got us to seriously consider:

1. “What’s My Why?” & “Am I Living It?”

Mike_and_Dov2. “What Does Success Look Like?”

3. “Am I Enjoying the Journey?”

4. “Am I Hanging Out With the Right People?”

5. “What Would Happen to My Loved Ones if I was No Longer Around?”

http://internetjetstream.com/the-last-webinar/

 

Safe is Risky

So Wimbledon is upon us once again. One of my favourite times of the year. Also, undoubtedly one of my least productive times! As I look back over the years I have watched this wonderful tournament, it has got me thinking about some of the greatest showmen in this beautiful sport. 

My favourite player ever was the super cool Swede, Bjorn Borg, who won the Men’s Singles title five times in a row in the late seventies. Of all the players of that era, Borg arguably solicited more cries of “Oh I say!” from the equally legendary commentator Dan Maskell than any other. I was almost in tears when he finally lost in the 1981 final to John McEnroe. 

Bjorn-Borg-Trophy

Borg was a completely unique player. I can barely recall ever hearing him speak (he must have done press conferences I guess but perhaps I wasn’t interested in what he had to say as a kid) but the focus was always on his amazing ability to buck the serve and volley trend which was still dominant back then. He had a mystique about him that was almost mythical and his utter brilliance on the court and relative silence under pressure was his show if you like. I remember he had a tradition that from the first day of Wimbledon every year, he stopped shaving and so by the time, he lifted the trophy year in, year out, he would sport a classic blond beard alongside his long, rock star-like hair. It was a long time before anyone captured my heartfelt support again, until finally, the ultimate showman from Las Vegas itself, Andre Agassi blazed his way onto the scene.

Andre Agassi

So what is it about the showman? They say the public loves an underdog and yes, I guess we do. But we also adore a showman who displays scintillating skills – however inconsistently – that mesmerise us. In short, they are the sporting equivalent of our favourite TV and movie heroes who take us away to a world where anything is possible. Most of all, we love a showman who has learnt how to be consistent in the midst of their almost supernatural brilliance, because they provide us with even more occasions to celebrate than we imagined possible. People like Ronnie O’Sullivan in snooker, Andre Agassi, Rafa Nadal. Contrast these guys with others who won even more trophies but who somehow, relatively soon after their initial burst on to the scene, appeared to win repeatedly with almost robotic precision. So much so, that for many of us, there was very little to love. People like Steve Davis and Pete Sampras, or Michael Schumacher from Formula 1 racing.

The best tennis players in the world almost invariably practise what is known as “percentage tennis”. That is, a wide variety of shots that they know will serve them well overall, so long as they play their normal game. The very best players of today’s game like Nadal, Federer, Djokovic and Murray aka The Big Four consistently play their percentage tennis but are good enough to take it up a level if they are losing or in a very close struggle against each other, and they can do so with some extraordinary shot-making and still win the crucial points they need to clinch victory.

What is fascinating however, is when a showman (let’s call them a “showplayer”) finds himself playing against one of the The Big Four for example. The only way they can have a chance of winning is if they play to their strengths. That is, non-percentage tennis. Shots that most players wouldn’t dream of attempting, unless forced to do so. This of course, is the complete opposite strategy to the top player. The French currently have these showplayers in spades and have always had one or two around at the same time. Henri Leconte was a fabulous example in the eighties. Yannick Noah was another, and the last Frenchman to win the French Open in 1983. Today they have Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Gael Monfils. They are like musketeers with a tennis racket and on their day, can beat anyone in the world. But this is where sadly, they fall down. Their brilliance is exquisite to watch but their inconsistency forbids them from achieving what their potential promised when they began their careers.

Jo-Wilfried-Tsonga-007In a match last month at the French Open, Andy Murray found himself up against yet another flamboyant Frenchman, Jeremy Chardy. The commentator, a former champion himself, Jim Courier, began to explain the dynamics of what this is all about, “Murray is the house and Chardy is the gambler. Chardy has to throw the dice because that is the only way he can win. They don’t keep building casinos because they think the gamblers are going to come out on top, but some of them do get the roll of the dice.”

So what of the Samprases and Davises of the sporting world? They knew how to focus on their work and perhaps that was the crucial difference when it came to total achievement by the time they retired from their chosen field. They saw it as their work, not merely a fun way to earn tons of cash and lap up the adulations of endless females. Sure they were not as entertaining as the other guys. But then they were not there to entertain primarily. They were there to win. And win they did. A lot. So much so that you could argue it even became a bit boring. This was one of the reasons why Steve Davis earned the nickname Steve “Interesting” Davis. During the nineties, when Pete Sampras dominated for much of that decade, I actually got bored of watching him win yet another consecutive Wimbledon Men’s Singles title. Three stroke rallies or less with the same guy lifting the trophy was not my idea of good sport, let alone entertainment.

For us mere mortals who have to carve out other, less glamorous, yet equally creative ways of earning a living, being entertained (when we’re not watching our afore-mentioned heroes!) and simply making a life for ourselves, we have to make a decision. Do we choose style or substance? Safe or risky? To win or to simply enjoy? Can we not have both? I think we can, if we choose wisely. As one of my favourite authors Seth Godin says, “Safe is risky.” Just ask or rather, watch the showplayers at Wimbledon.

You’ve Got Talent Part 2

A few years ago, I heard a fantastic speaker at a conference I was attending. The kind of speaker who one minute has you in fits of almost uncontrollable laughter, and the very next minute, pauses the way that a true professional (or total natural) instinctively knows how to. One of the many things he talked about that I have never forgotten is how he had no weaknesses. It sounded outrageously arrogant of course until he broke the pause with “but I have plenty of ‘non-strengths'”.

Subtle but I believe extremely significant shift in emphasis.

We all have talent right? But we can’t all sing. I for one, cannot sing like Susan Boyle, or anyone half decent for that matter. At age eleven or twelve, I was politely asked to leave the after school singing group in front of the entire class. The teacher, a very strict disciplinarian, was moving around the sound-proof music room, hunting down what she clinically described as the “howler in the room”. She inclined her ear down to my shoulder and the game was up. The truth is, I was only really interested in the girls in the group, not the music or singing. My lack of authenticity was bluntly and categorically exposed on the spot.

After the years of counselling following that traumatic expose (I’m joking of course; thankfully, children of the 70s were made of harder stuff!) did I ever sing again? Of course I did. Usually, only in front of an audience of one, and that was not always a human. I don’t consider my singing a weakness. But it is certainly a non-strength.

What is the lesson here then? If you want to unearth your true talent, you simply have to ask yourself one or two questions like, “What do I love doing?” Or “What am I actually really good at?” “What do other people tell me I’m good at?”

If for some reason, even those questions fail to unearth the thing that has thus far eluded you then ask yourself this. “What would I absolutely love to do?”

WhatMakesYouComeAlive

Acknowledge your non-strengths and from now on, call them precisely that. We all have weaknesses of course but for some of us, it helps to address them differently, especially if when you think about it, you could reel off a rather long list of them!

None of this necessarily has to do with your job or business but it could be. Who knows? Focus on your strengths and find a way to fill your life with those things, or that one single thing that makes you come alive. It is incumbent upon all of us to make the effort to find out what it is that we love to do. More often than not, that one thing will be something that after some initial practise and honing (depending on what it is will determine how long it will take to get really good at it) you not only love doing but you do it with the sort of consummate ease that almost makes you feel guilty. Some people call this operating in the ‘Grace Zone” – that place where you know that you know, this is part of your core being and that is why it comes so easily.