Recent Themes

Recent themes in coaching my clients… Personal engagement levels (are you INTO what you’re doing?)… Restoring and building energy naturally… Working toward something in the future… Selflessness of purpose (who is your project or vision built to serve outside of yourself – because that’s what’s going to pull you forward when it gets boring or difficult).

Engagement… That sense of being fascinated by what you’re doing. Drawn into it. On the edge of your talent build – that feeling that you’re built to do what you’re doing. In flow. Losing sense of time. Recently heard a psychologist on a podcast (Jordan Peterson, author of The 12 Rules for Life – which I highly recommend) state that he thinks this may be humanity’s highest state of mind. THAT, in and of itself, is a fascinating possibility. Use your engagement level as one of your dashboard indicators, like a compass, to tell you whether you’re on track and heading in the right direction or off course and in need of a course correction.

Restoring and building energy naturally… I have multiple clients right now who are so overwhelmed (or very close to overwhelmed) with the multitude of things they are committed to doing that they don’t have the energy to optimize HOW they’re doing anything. We’re not adding to WHAT they’re doing or HOW they’re doing it. We’re focusing on WHO they really are with regard to what fascinates them (right back up to engagement, above), what gives them energy (people, activities, things, places, and sense of why/purpose), and natural sources of energy (diet, rest, exercise, mental stimulation, and spiritual practices). But the cotter pin that holds all of those things together is the age old concept of BALANCE. Some people are working too hard. Some need to pick up the pace. Some need to make more time to relax. Some are working too forcefully. Some are being too passive and allowing it all to unfold (sometimes disastrously) around them. Get your power levels under control. Start with what you intuitively know you need to STOP doing. Cut the crap. Then get to what you KNOW you really need to do. You know. Just stop. Sit still for a minute or ten. Pay attention. Take some notes. Then, do what’s next.

Working toward something in the future… What are you trying to build – somewhere out there in the future – that is larger than yourself, and larger than what you currently have in place? If you’re working to make more of the same, it’s not going to be very compelling and you’re likely to begin to stagnate. When things get stale, it’s probably time to ramp up toward something bigger. Some kind of “bionic man” level project. When you think about your life or your business, what would you have to do to make it better than it has been? Better. Stronger. Faster – than it’s ever been before? We have the technology… (OK, I’ll stop there with that one.)

Selflessness of Purpose… I enjoy everything being put out by Jocko Willink in the last couple of years. He uses a catch phrase “Discipline Equals Freedom” to summarize his approach to life. It’s brilliant in its simplicity and he has the knowledge and experience to back it up (Extreme Ownership, Discipline Equals Freedom Field Manual, Way of the Warrior Kid). A recent interview guest on his podcast, Rob Jones (USMC, double-above-the-knee amputee, elite athlete, ran 31 marathons in 31 days to emphasize the point that being injured doesn’t mean being broken) made the point that “selflessness” is a foundational aspect to the discipline Jocko talks about. When running marathons started to get old after several days’ worth – like it would – Rob reminded himself who he was really running for. He was running for his brothers-in-arms and all the veterans out there who have been injured so they could see what was possible. And he was running for a much larger audience. He was running for everyone else to see that there is a whole world of possibility out there for veterans and for ANYONE who has been through trauma. Traumatic experiences (let’s face it, we all have them at some point) do not necessarily have to lead to PTSD. Sometimes they do. More often, and this gets almost no attention in news, media releases, movies, etc., trauma leads to growth rather than pathology. What a great message! We have choices about how we respond to the trauma in our lives. That may be the most important message in this post, actually… And Rob Jones knew it for himself, and he knew he was running and doing something extremely hard to bring attention to that for everyone else. It wasn’t for him. He already knew it. He was sharing that message for everyone else – the hard way.

What is engaging you right now? How are you restoring and building energy? What is your vision for the future? And, who are you doing it for?

The Most Important Discipline

Of the many “disciplines” I write about, there is one that I maintain is the most important of all. Wouldn’t it be nice if there was just one thing you had to do that would solve all the other puzzles? The answer is, yes, it would be. And, in a very real way, you get your wish.

Now, before I wrap this up in a bow, I have to point out that there are nine big pictures areas of mental discipline that I write about. I refer to these as The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth, or sometimes just the Nine Disciplines. I’ll skip their definitions here because they are easily found on my website or in my book (Grow on Purpose: The Nine Disciplines of Sustainable Growth), but they are the Disciplines of Living, Learning, Planning, Practicing, Restoring, Attracting, Loving, Creating, and Centering.

Sometimes this whole big list of important subjects can seem to be intimidating. It doesn’t need to be a huge challenge to make sense of it all, but sometimes it helps to have a place to get started before digging into everything else.

So… Where to begin? What’s the most important thing on that list?

I’ll spare you the game of cat and mouse and skip the many reasons I could say that each of the Nine Disciplines is the most important. They’re all important in my view or I wouldn’t include them in the model at all. They all do something I think is vital to long term sustainable growth.

But the single most important of all Disciplines is the Discipline of Practicing. Why…? Because it provides a real starting point. It lets you dig into whatever you’re interested in or whatever your role is without feeling like you have to satisfy a bunch of other external requirements. If you just get started at doing what you’re passionate about in whatever way you’re able to, you’ll learn along the way and discover all the various puzzles you could encounter – AND, you’ll probably find solutions to those puzzles.

If a person got started in a profession with almost no preparatory training and sincerely intended to improve along the way, I believe he or she would probably discover all of the other disciplines along the way and figure out how to manage them. It might take longer than having these things spelled out early in the game. But puzzles would present themselves and a resourceful human being would seek out or develop solutions to those puzzles. It’s what we do.

But there is no substitute for getting started. You can make a lot of other mistakes and not scuttle your entire opportunity to succeed in a given role. But if you don’t get started and get busy with your craft, you’ll go nowhere. Time will pass and you’ll still be wondering how things might have worked out for you if only you would have… tried. Put in the effort. Given it a shot. Taken the risk. If only you had faced the task of beginning and then stayed with it.

I’ll give you one aspect of the Discipline of Practicing to add to this most basic and most important of all concepts. Here it is… Ready? Make consistent daily effort. Do something every day to chip away at your practice. If you believe it’s important, be all about it. If you want to be stronger, hit the weights, every day. Rest days are overrated. You can always vary your intensity and your routines. But until your practice is highly refined, you don’t need days off. You need practice.

Do you want to learn to play a musical instrument? Piano, maybe? Practice. Every single day. Open up the music book and put your fingers on the keys. Play a scale. Do it again. And, again. And, again. Until it’s easy. And, then practice more.

I’ve heard it said that amateurs practice until they can do it right. Professionals practice until they can’t do it wrong. I might take it a step further and say that virtuosos practice until they are beyond right or wrong, and whatever they’re doing is beautiful in its own way. How good do you want to be?

Do you want to make more sales? Talk to someone today. Do it again tomorrow. Take no days off. OK, maybe you feel like one day per week should be a family day. Fine. Give yourself ten minutes that day to review your product or service information to refresh your memory. Role play an interaction in your head. Touch that role every day.

Brain wiring is formed by frequency of repetition over time and emotional significance. If it matters to you, the brain wiring will be stronger. If you touch it daily, you’ll keep those perishable skills from falling away. Take days off and watch how hard it is to pick it back up again after a break. You’ll need a hammer and chisel to chip off the rust and then the rationalization and excuse making will kick in. It’s harder to start up again than it is to just keep doing the important thing every day. Don’t let society fool you into thinking you’re weak and that you’ll burn out. Just change your intensity or adjust your program here and there for variety’s sake, but touch this activity Every – Single – Day.

Just practice. Just train. Less talk. More action. Get after it.

Go.

On Learning Styles

While teaching a new student in a Tai Chi class recently, I noticed that he followed the movements of his hands with his eyes, especially when his hands were in a new or unusual position. While he was learning the movements we were working on, he almost HAD TO track his hands with his eyes. This is interesting and important given that the nature of Tai Chi and qigong breathing exercises is to pay attention to the internal aspects of the movements – the feeling of the movements, themselves – more than the appearance of the movements.

Natural Learning Style vs Developmental Goals of Training

What was happening for him was that his natural and preferred learning style was engaging, and that has to be recognized along the way. In the long run, in the practice of Tai Chi and qigong, the student is going to have to adjust away from looking at the positioning of the hands and move in the direction of feeling the overall position of the body, which is ultimately a key purpose of this kind of training. It’s a simple change – but not an easy one.

Others have different learning styles. Students with an auditory learning style may prefer to hear descriptions of the movements we’re doing in the class so they can process through what they hear and follow those verbal/auditory cues. Others may feel compelled to talk through the movements and describe what they’re doing. These two styles are similar, but they work in different directions. One prefers to hear what they’re supposed to do while the other is compelled to speak and express their understanding of what they’re supposed to do.

Variations

There are variations on these styles that can be based on other skills or talents a student may possess. A visual learner who has a strong background in drawing or sketching might benefit from drawing pictures of the movements or postures they’re learning. A verbal processor may benefit from writing in a journal about what is being taught. Some who feel compelled to verbally express what they’re doing need to also hear where they are accurate or inaccurate in what they have expressed; they need feedback. Another variation of the verbal processing style is that the student isn’t really interested in hearing where they’re on track or off; the point for this student is that they just need to talk while they move.

Some learn best while doing movements in coordination with others. This is a collaborative learning style. Others don’t need that as much and prefer to learn something (through whatever their learning style may be) and then work off to the side on their own without further collaboration.

There is also a kinesthetic learning style that simply prefers to move and be physically involved in learning. Not surprisingly, this style lends itself very well to learning martial arts, dance, and other sports. Any movement oriented activity is likely to land well with this individual. This learning style is an advantage at first, and it is a very natural style in a quiet practice like training in any type of kung fu, but all the learning styles can be put to good use over time.

Introversion vs Extroversion

But then there is still another aspect of how a person prefers to learn. It’s the orientation of whether the student’s preferred focus is internal or external. To put it in the language used by personality typing systems, it’s the question of whether the student is introverted or extroverted.

The introverted student is more likely to stay in his or her own mind and body while also using whichever learning style works best for him or her. The extroverted learner is likely to talk more or watch and/or interact with others more. To confuse this even further, there are some students who are what I would call social introverts, meaning that while they do prefer to focus inwardly, they also thrive on having some time to talk things through with other people. Learning styles are not always simple.

The Essential Nature of Tai Chi and Qigong

As it turns out, Tai Chi and Qigong are internal kinesthetic practices. That suggests that the introvert who is also kinesthetic in his or her learning style is most likely to go immediately into the aspects of the practice that are naturally emphasized. But all of the learning styles can be used along the way and it is very common for students to engage their preferred learning style when working with something new, but then go deeper into the internal practice as they become physically and mentally comfortable with what they’re doing. Once the movements have been memorized, it becomes easier for the visual learner, for example, to stop watching his or her own hands moving in the air. Then they can engage their physical senses to find the feeling of where they are in space. At that point, the practice is becoming more internal and less external, which is one of the main goals of the practice.

All of the learning styles are valid, especially in processing new information. The farther a student goes in this form of training, the more they are likely to develop a sense of connection with their bodies. But their original learning style is unlikely to change. The person doesn’t necessarily change. But they do develop a new ability to quickly sense where they are in space and understand what they’re doing physically.

In the long run, what matters most is the practice itself and how that triggers the evolution of the individual over time.

Phases of Training and When to Engage Different Learning Styles

All of this knowledge about learning styles suggests that there are some distinctions that need to be made in the various phases of training:

  1. Learning: absorbing NEW knowledge, movements, skills, techniques, etc. Of course, all of these phases involve “learning” but in the discussion of learning styles in the context of practicing something that inherently funnels a student into a practice mode that is different from his or her preferred learning style, it’s important to point out the differences and the right time to change methods. Consider making allowances for the student’s preferred learning style when teaching content that is new to the student.
  2. Practice: the ongoing repetition of something that has been “learned” in the past. The movements may not be new, but they have not been fully absorbed or internalized. Nor should a student ever assume the mindset or belief that they are done learning, regardless of experience level. During the practice phase, the student should attempt to emulate the internal method of focusing attention in an introverted manner and paying close attention to the kinesthetic feeling of the movements being performed. This will develop new brain wiring more effectively and help the student gain insights into the movements at the same time.
  3. Study: the student who is trying to deepen his or her understanding of a movement or combination of movements may isolate those movements and perform a large number of repetitions in order to focus on just those movements for a period of time. This might be done during a single practice session or over the course of a series of sessions to leverage the effect of that focus. The student’s preferred learning style should be employed during this phase when possible. For example, even though the practice of Tai Chi is generally carried out in silence to enable the internal focus, a collaborative learner with a preference for verbal learning would benefit from working with a partner or small group to repeat the movements while talking or take frequent breaks to discuss what is being practiced. The challenge in this idea is keeping a balance between moving and talking. It is easy for the talking to take over and the movement to take a backseat, which is not fully constructive, either. Balance is the key. It may also be very difficult for students with polar opposite learning styles to work together in this regard unless one or both of them is willing and able to flex into a different style for a period of time.
  4. Teaching: using discernment to determine which method to allow or encourage at any given time, depending on the students involved.

These concepts relating to learning styles are all being addressed in the context of studying Tai Chi and Qigong. But most of this material would transfer into other activities, as well, with the main differences being found in the essential nature of whatever the other activity might be.

What are you learning? And what’s your preferred style?

Pain is Temporary: On Mental Toughness and Focus

There is a story in today’s Washington Post that beautifully illuminates the role that can be played by mental discipline and focus. If it’s important to you to work or play at the highest levels, there will be times when it is necessary to keep moving through a tough stretch.

Here are the basics of the story…

Bill Hurley III just won the Quicken Loans National golf tournament at the Congressional Country Club, yesterday. This wasn’t just any old golf win. This was a story of composure and finesse under pressure throughout stresses that are much bigger than the game of golf.

Bill Hurley just won his first major golf tournament. He’s not a big name in golf. By appearances, he should have been elated at the victory. He should have been jumping for joy. But his story goes much farther…

He’s a former Navy Surface Warfare Officer who has been recognized at least twice for his ability to drive a 10,000 ton ship under challenging circumstances. He has also just gone through some major family stress. His father, a former police officer, had gone missing for nine days, last July. Hurley had done a press conference prior to the tournament to help get the word out to his father to please come home in case there was a chance his dad checked out the golf websites and happened to see the message. They made contact, but a few weeks later his father was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. This is a story about enduring a sadness that has never left the family throughout the last year as they try to understand an event that seemed so out of character for who they knew their father and grandfather to be.

Yesterday, on a golf course in Bethesda, Maryland, Bill Hurley III lived his values as a mentally disciplined, highly focused professional who is capable of staying on his game throughout a period of withering diversity.

He was partnered for that round with Ernie Els, a top player who is well regarded in the sport. It may have helped that Els is a class act who was encouraging and supportive throughout the day, but something tells me Hurley was rising to the occasion no matter how the game would have been played that day. Hurley also beat out Vijay Singh for the day, defeating another top name.

I looked it up. Ernie Els is ranked 238th in the world. Vijay Singh? Vijay lands at 119th. Bill Hurley…? His win yesterday moved him up in the rankings from 607th to 169th. Hurley credits his experiences as a Navy Officer with having helped him develop the mental toughness and focus that carried him through this period of his life and, ultimately, this victory on the golf course.

My bottom line on this story: There were literally hundreds of golfers on the PGA tour (at least 606 of them) who were ranked better than Bill Hurley III going into this tournament. There were at least a couple of guys there who were widely recognized “household names” in golf who didn’t play as well as Hurley, and many top names who didn’t show up to play that day. But the guy who won showed up with everything he had and kept his head in the game, regardless of whatever thoughts may have been chirping around in the back of his mind.

Well played, sir. I offer my condolences on your family’s loss; my congratulations on this win, and may there be many more to follow. May the pain of your family’s loss be temporary. May your pride in this accomplishment last forever…

(For the full article on Hurley’s win: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/golf/hurley-wins-quicken-loans-national-the-way-only-an-officer-and-a-gentleman-can/2016/06/26/d4d2dcae-3bae-11e6-80bc-d06711fd2125_story.html#comments )

Send The Memo

We live in interesting times. Election moments are crazy. Policy issues are being debated that can decide the fate of many nations. Great Britain just voted itself out of the EU…

If you’re an advisor of any kind (whether financial advisor, coach, consultant, analyst, etc.,) right now is a great time to, you know… advise people. Reach out. Send an email or a short standard letter if your clients would appreciate that approach. Do you have an email contact list of people who receive newsletters from you? Take a minute when BIG things happen that make people wonder “what’s going to happen next” and write out your thoughts. Combine the insights you pull from your own wisdom and experience with the views of your favorite research and analytical professionals and get the word out.

This is the time when your clients would love to be able to literally read your mind. Be a communicator.

Send the memo.

On Showing Up

I consider myself a craftsman. Most people think of crafts like building, sculpting, painting, engraving, etc. The work that I do as an executive coach and as a kung fu teacher is all designed to build stronger people and stronger organizations. That’s the nature of my craft.

I’m writing this after finishing one of my kung fu classes. In an unusual turn of events, there was only one student who showed up for a group class. This happened to be one of the students who has been training with me the longest. I opened my kung fu school in 2010 and this is a student who has been training with me longer than five years. Not coincidentally, he has progressed to a level that has him preparing for his test for the black sash rank.

When others are “too busy” or “too tired,” the one who shows up is the one who is going to continue to advance.

This is true no matter what pursuit or craft we’re talking about. It doesn’t matter whether you’re building a financial services practice, running any kind of business, or trying to improve in a martial art or a sport of some kind. We all have to identify the fundamentals of whatever game we’re playing in the world and be about the business of showing up and doing those things. Some days it’s fun. Some days it’s not. Some days it feels good. Some days it’s tiring and painful. Other than to avoid damage or recover from injury, none of that really matters.

If you want to improve; if you want to advance; if you want to learn more, be more, or get more – you have to show up.

My hat is off to those who continue to show up for whatever it is they do, day in, day out. There is a certain kind of flow that comes from consistent effort and only those who show up every day to put in the effort will ever find it.

Post-busy season check-up

Congratulations! You have made it through another beast of a busy season. You have cajoled clients and staff, put in long hours, and are beginning to forget what your family and friends look like. You are probably feeling that you deserve a nice long vacation on a sunny beach, preferably sipping (or gulping) something bracingly alcoholic, not a 1099 or a tax code reference in sight for miles.

Before you book that trip to Aruba, there is one thing I want you to do, and that is to take brief stock of what just happened. Why now, you might ask? Because Aruba may well dull the pain that you have felt for the past 6-8 weeks, fooling you into thinking that this was not so bad, after all, and that kind of thinking is a ticket to another beast of a busy season next year. Continue reading

3 things that hold you back from growing your practice

Doug and I have just returned from exhibiting at the AICPA Advanced Personal Financial Planning conference in Las Vegas. Some of the conversations we had with fellow exhibitors and attendees were simply too good to leave them in Vegas. Over and over, we were asked: “How do you grow your practice in the midst of the busy season?” Continue reading

Final push to the deadline: Get more done!

May I ask you a personal question? Do you feel like your job description is “last-minute issue tackler”? You are not alone. As the filing deadline is fast approaching, more and more tax preparers feel that there are not enough hours in the day to get it all done. Throw in the interruptions – a phone call from a client, a question from a staff member, a jammed photocopier– and you’ve got an already busy day spinning out of control. Continue reading

Just train

Ten years is a great equalizer.

I find that students who are new to training in kung fu (read: people who are approaching something new and are unfamiliar with its process) are often caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they are excited to learn and grow in this new activity. On another hand, they quickly discover that it is harder than it looks in one way or another and are unsure if they’ll be able to “get it.”  What they don’t realize is that everyone who has gotten anywhere in a challenging pursuit has faced this concern.  Discovering difficulty on the way to distinction is as common as discovering sand on the earth. Whether one looks in a desert or at the bottom of the sea, this is one sandy planet.  On the other hand, it’s a fairly lush planet overall, too.

Advancement in kung fu (translation: developing any skill that comes from consistent hard work) comes not overnight, but rather over the course of months, weeks, and years. In fact a short term view in martial arts is a rather inadequate means of measuring time.  Now and then, a new student or someone visiting the school will ask the question, “How long does it take to make it to Black Belt?” The answer is always the same. “That depends on how much you’re willing to work.”  The first small changes seem to appear after a hundred days; the first significant changes after a thousand.

Some students start with more aptitude than others; some with less. Some have more patience; some less. Some have more flexibility; some less.  Some are stronger. Some are larger. Some have a longer reach. Some have a lower center of gravity.  Some have a compelling desire or a great need to learn to defend themselves while some have no idea why their parents have placed them in the class or why they are training in the first place.  But this only seems to matter most at the beginning.  Over time, these apparent differences become less problematic and more opportunistic.

Impatience can pay off as a beginner’s tool that drives a student to learn and look for more – and the rough edges will be worn off over time. The stiff body type will gain some flexibility and has the potential to become practically immoveable once it has developed true strength and not just inflexible muscle.  The so-called weaker or smaller individual will, by necessity, develop greater speed, attention to detail, and more accurate technique than his or her stronger and larger training partners.  And, the ones who seemed to struggle the most when learning something new also seem to be the ones who tend to keep what they learn because they value it so highly.  After a decade of training, they will all find that their own unique strengths and talents have been honed to much higher degrees than they originally thought possible and their weaker areas have been strengthened significantly.  They only need to wait and see.

Decades will show greater changes than years and far more than mere months of training.  It may be best to consider that time is most accurately measured in kung fu over the course of lifetimes.  Just train.