leadership, leisure, personal

Fresh air and sunshine

Fresh air – being outdoors – is something many people might take for granted. Others, like those that live in big cities, may have forgotten how life-giving fresh air can be. I suppose I’m in the middle somewhere; but I definitely spend enough time inside to often find myself yearning for the outdoors.

 I think back to when I was a child, and before the large-scale adoption of video games. We spent every possible minute outside, from the moment we got out of school until the evening, and all day in the summers. Everything we did for recreation was physical, and most of it was outdoors. Being older the heat gets to me now but back then we went straight through the Vegas summers, morning to night.

Contrast to the current day. Last year during my annual physical, the doctor told me I was Vitamin D-deficient. He was essentially saying I wasn’t spending enough time in the sun. Ah, lost youth!!

SIDEBAR – I told this to a friend recently, and then reaffirmed what I told them was actually true: that vitamin D is sourced from exposure to the sun. My friend asked, reasonably I think, “How does the sun give you vitamins?” Turns out, it’s an interesting story, including that it’s reasonable to conclude that Vitamin D isn’t a vitamin at all. You can see the details here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vitamin_D

OK, if you skipped the sidebar, or not, the point is we all need Vitamin D, and we all need sunshine. So my physical results were a wake-up call for me that I really was working too much, and not getting enough outdoor time. Since then, I’ve been intentional about trying to get outside – my wife and I like to hike, so we mixed hikes into our workouts every so often instead of working out inside at the gym. I still don’t have enough time to golf, but I have made an effort to get to the driving range a bit more often. Sometimes it’s as simple as a walk in the afternoon on the weekend when we would otherwise be watching TV (inside of course).

Since then, I’ve been able to lower the dosage of Vitamin D supplements. And I just feel more positive and relaxed, because fresh air just feels good. Hopefully you too can break away from your indoor office, indoor apartment, and indoor everything else for a few minutes more than you do now, and get some healthy Vitamin D in your system. Consider walking meetings…something I’ve barely scratched the surface of: https://hbr.org/2015/08/how-to-do-walking-meetings-right

 

 

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personal, politics

Reading the Reagan Diaries

I bought the book, “The Reagan Diaries” (edited by Douglas Brinkley) on last year’s trip to the Utah Shakespeare festival, at the Main Street bookstore in Cedar City, Utah. It’s a bonus having a used bookstore on our annual trip. It’s connected to The Grind coffee shop which is our favorite morning stop while in Cedar City; so each year I sort through our existing collection, find a few we can exchange and go foraging for some new books.

The Reagan Diaries is a lengthy read for sure. Reagan took copious notes almost every day of his Presidency. The editor didn’t use all the material, and it is still nearly 800 pages long. But I was raised during this era, and still have the opinion that Reagan was the best President in my lifetime so far, and one of the greatest ever; so I appreciated the window into my iconic leader.

Here are some things I found interesting; most of which are interesting in context of it being 30 years later and a vastly different political and social climate:

  1. Reagan talked about trying to work in a bipartisan fashion, like all current politicians do. The difference is that bipartisanship still existed back then! Reagan cited the numbers of Democrats who voted for him and the Republicans who voted against him for each of his major pieces of legislation.
  2. Reagan didn’t like being in the White House without Nancy, he almost always expressed his loneliness when she was traveling.
  3. Reagan seemed obsessed with how he was treated by the media, complaining regularly about the way they characterized him, or the “slant” they put on their stories which didn’t jive with the way he wanted that issue portrayed. I feel like this makes him just like the last few Presidents we’ve had.
  4. Reagan was practical, and willing to negotiate, but he always wanted to negotiate from a position of strength. He talked about padding budget requests knowing Congress would cut whatever he sent them, or “giving them hell” when in a public issues discussion.
  5. There are several modern-day characters who are “exposed” for the first time in the diaries. My favorite is Colin Powell, who becomes a senior staffer in the National Security Council during Reagan’s second term, and Reagan doesn’t even use his name the first time, saying he is an outstanding black man with a future…no kidding! Other characters of similar nature include Ross Perot (Reagan called him a “loose cannon”) and Mitch McConnell.

Final comment – you can imagine how Reagan reacted to the coverage of the Iran-Contra affair (Ollie North, et al). Interesting to me was that at one point he has to go through the diaries I’ve been reading to provide info he might have known about the whole thing (he didn’t and maintained throughout that it was done without his knowledge). It made me wonder if in today’s partisan environment he would have had to produce the diaries, and also whether subsequent and future presidents would keep such detailed diaries.

 

personal

Surrender, acceptance and being nice to yourself

I recently saw a great post from Kristy Arnett (poker player, writer, commentator, coach):

instagram.com/p/Bi07qCGhwtT/…

Shortly after that, I saw this article from the New York Times, hitting on themes I have read about in many leadership articles and have written about, about being hard on yourself (I use the phrase negative self-talk):

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/22/smarter-living/why-you-should-stop-being-so-hard-on-yourself.html?smid=tw-nytimes&smtyp=cur

Both of these writings are related in my mind, as they deal with how we treat ourselves and how we react to hardships. Often our reaction to hardships includes some pretty strong self-criticism. Even the situation Kristy describes with the cancelled flight, which is clearly an external condition, I imagine some folks finding a way to place a piece of blame on themselves (“I knew I should have booked the earlier flight”).

Our reaction is always a choice, whether it be to a positive event or a negative event, an internally controlled situation or an external factor. Do we over-celebrate the good, and over-criticize the bad? Or do we see them as part of an overall kaleidoscope of our life? Some good things will happen to all of us, some bad things will happen to all of us. Sometimes we do things well, sometimes we do things poorly. How will we respond? With grace, and gratefulness, or with contempt and jealousy? With bemoaning over our poor performance or with a spirit of learning?

This goes to the concept of a balanced life. If we put too much of our worth onto any one piece of our life, we can set ourselves up for failure, but also too much success. Our roles – parent, employee, leader, friend, profession, fan of our team, etc. – should not define us. If it does, failure in that area will hurt disproportionately. But success may not be all it’s cracked up to be either. It can lead to hubris, to assuming you don’t have anything to learn, and to excess like addictions.

Know yourself, slow your reaction times, and think about yourself as a whole. Work to ensure you react to situations that you can’t control in a way that moves you forward in a productive way. Ensure you don’t beat yourself up for things you can’t control, and even when it’s all “on you” and you fail, pick yourself up and find learnings in the failure.

 

personal, sports

Back in time

Recently, I played golf at a course I hadn’t played in about 15 years. I used to play it a lot when I actually golfed regularly. It was a fun experience, for a few reasons.

First, I played OK. I think that may be because I was familiar with the course; I had played it so many times in the past that the day before I played I could “see” every hole in proper order in my head. I think that reference came in handy many times on the course, knowing where to go and not go, certain holes where it seems to play longer than the distance, and things like that.

Second, I really enjoyed the gentlemen I played with. They were from different walks of life and all had the right approach about golf, which I was lucky to learn myself a long time ago: it should be a fun time enjoying the outdoors. Nothing more, no expectations of amazing shots or a low round. Just have fun, and be grateful for the opportunity to enjoy the outdoors and meet new people.

Finally, I reminisced quite a bit about the time in my life when I played more golf, specifically at that course. It was during my time in public accounting, and a group of us bonded over golf. We played a weekly league at a par-3 course, we played on the weekends, we did golf vacations. I wonder where I got all the time to golf, as I know I worked a lot.

One thing I wish I had I known then is what I mentioned above, that golf should be fun. During those days I was still learning the game and focused too much on trying to get better at it, so I got frustrated a lot. That led to frustration and not enjoying the game as much as I could have. ON the plus side, I take pride in not having thrown a club or yelling in anger at missing a shot since those days. I am able to laugh and smile my way around the golf course now, in large part because I get to do it so infrequently, it is a real treat when I do play.

Maybe you golf, maybe you don’t. But I do know that hobbies are important and necessary for balance in life, but you have to be sure you enjoy them and take pleasure in them and feel grateful that you get to take part in them.

 

education, family, leadership, personal

Graduations

Two weeks ago, my niece Elizabeth graduated from college. It was awesome to see someone who I have known my entire life grow from an infant to an amazing young woman. She’s always been a great kid, and we have many memories together, and this graduation I’m sure will be just another step in a meaningful life.

She went to school for six years at Springfield College, earning a Doctor of Physical Therapy (DPT) degree. I am impressed with the dedication it takes these days for students, including my niece, to achieve their objectives. At the graduation, I met many wonderful young men and women who give me confidence in our future.

The commencement speech was given by an alum of Springfield College, Greg Toczydlowski, an insurance executive with The Travelers. He gave a great talk with practical advice for the graduates. Like, “just breath.” I like graduation speeches with practical advice, like when Admiral MCraven told the University of Texas graduating class to make their bed every day.

“Just breath” is advice many of us give and take quite a bit, because it’s so helpful in so many situations. Greg gave the group a breathing exercise to use when calm is needed, one of the breathing techniques that replicates some of the benefits of meditation. It was an inhale for four counts and an exhale for eight counts. These types of exercises are one of the methods I spoke of to combat negative self-talk, and in general can just help you manage your stress levels in the myriad of things that happen in life to throw us off. Those that stay the calmest do the best, so I was glad Greg gave me this tool for my arsenal.

Speaking of calm, my niece has always been a “rock” and a solid presence, and I could see it in her interactions with her peers during the weekend. I am one of countless proud uncles (and aunts, and dads, and moms, etc.) this graduation season, and I hope we all take a minute to reflect on their accomplishments. And we should also all re-listen to some commencement speeches to pick up tips that can help us be even better role models for the next generation.

leadership, personal

Combatting negative self-talk

In my last posts, I wrote about the sources of negative self-talk and the impacts of negative self-talk. In this final post of the series, we will look at some strategies for combatting negative self-talk.

When it comes to addressing or managing negative self-talk, there are offensive moves and defensive moves. Shutting out negative self-talk, or ignoring it are defensive methods, and may work when negative self-talk is only present occasionally. The more negative self-talk you have, the more you need to go on the offensive, with tactics that help push aside the negative self-talk or replace it with positive self-talk.

On the defensive side, distractions are a great tool. You can look internally or externally. For example, meditation and breathing exercises are used for many purposes like relaxation and focus and recharging; but they can also be used to turn your attention away from negative self-talk.

External distractions could include going to the movies and losing yourself in the story, even a binge-watched TV series, anything where the story takes over your inner workings of the brain. I actually love to simply sit quietly and listen to music or read a book. It can depend on your personality and patience level.

Your favorite hobbies should always be on your list of activities to initiate if you are sensing negative self-talk creep in; these hobbies will usually occupy your mind well, things like a game of tennis, or a session of knitting, anything to focus the mind on something other than your negative self-talk.

Other people can be an amazing distraction from negative self-talk; of course, only if they are the right people, especially friends who can provide some positive affirmations during your time together. But even just being around others can provide a distraction, like going to a sports bar to watch your favorite team play.

As we move towards more aggressive and dynamic means of combatting negative self-talk, we arrive at the act of replacing negative self-talk with positive self-talk. As I’ve written about, I use daily affirmations to help focus me on actions, thoughts, behaviors that will help me in my life. Daily affirmations for me are a form of positive self-talk to combat my own negative self-talk. As I have built the daily affirmations into a routine, the habit has grown stronger, and I am more aware of my negative self-talk and quicker to “jump in” when it starts and fight back by reciting my affirmation (don’t worry, I use my inside voice so I don’t freak out anyone around me).

If you want to see examples of my affirmations, you can check them out on twitter (@realrickarpin) or on WordPress.com. There are plenty of others who use similar tactics, and a host of articles and posts on the power of positive thinking and positive self-talk that you can find online.

Just being self-aware about the talk going on inside your head can make a big difference. Take time to pay attention to your self-talk and see if you can find the source of any negativity, and develop appropriate strategies to minimize the impact of negative self-talk. I believe this work will help you be a better person, spouse, friend, parent and leader.

leadership, personal

The impact of negative self-talk – Part 2

In my last post, I wrote about the impacts of negative self-talk on your personal life. In this post, I will cover the impacts negative self-talk can have on your professional life.

I promise this will be the last “depressing” post in this series on negative self-talk, in the final post of the series I will demonstrate ways to overcome negative self-talk and that will cheer us all up!

I have found a few key impacts of negative self-talk in the professional world:

We become defensive. If you have internalized phrases like, “I’m no good at this” or “I will never make my boss happy,” then feedback is going to be tough to hear. You might be able to muddle through it from peers or mentors, but hearing it from a more direct source like your boss or the people that work directly for you will be tough. You will usually shut down pretty quickly, and replace the actual words you are hearing with some sort of Peanuts professor voice. Your internal talk will take over and fill in the rest of the sentences.

The ironic thing is positive feedback also becomes tougher to accept. Our confidence is low, so we might do the old, “No, really it’s nothing, I could have done better, it was really Sally and Jim that did all the work” instead of saying proudly, “Thank you!”

The next impact is that we may become protective, of ourselves and our jobs. We want to ensure we “look good” which causes many bad decisions. Sometimes it stops us from making decisions altogether and we hope the status quo just keeps working, when in reality the world of business changes so fast that we are setting ourselves, our teams and our companies up for failure. We may miss good opportunities that require calculated risks. IN extreme cases, it can cause folks to do bad things like hiding mistakes, or deferring problems, hoping no one will notice. None of these are productive, but they can satisfy our internal talk in that moment.

Similar to the personal impacts, relationships can be harmed. For example, you might “hear” tone in emails that isn’t there, start losing the presumption of good intent, and shut down when dealing with the other party. You may be physically separate from your team in a remote situation, and not be willing to interact with them since you have been filling in the blanks for them while separate – your internal voice may say things like, “they screwed up that report on purpose to make me look bad.”

As a leader, internalizing things is part of our job. We often have to act as a buffer between our management and our teams. We have to show up calm and collected even when things aren’t so good. This is easier of you manage negative self-talk well. You can be prepared and make sure the right balance is struck between transparency and protecting the team. But with negative self-talk swirling uncontrolled, a couple of things can happen; you might miss the balance and worry your team needlessly by over-exposing, or you might not prepare them for bad news by portraying the scenario as too rosy. The worse outcome is a blow-up; i Internalizing stress can lead to “eruptions” of that stress, in many forms (anger, frustration, pettiness, over-emotional displays, etc.).

I think you can see that as a leader, managing negative self-talk is even more important.

Well that was two decently long posts, illustrating that there are certainly many problems and detrimental impacts arising from negative self-talk in your personal and professional lives. But not all is lost, as there are ways to manage negative self-talk. As I mentioned at the start, in the next post I will empower you to beat negative self-talk, with tools and techniques to help you win this fight!