Saturday, January 31, 2009


As part of my strengths project, I’m working on helping people get things done. So you wanna get something done? Set the goal, and make it SMART, as in:

Time-bound, trackable

Okay, I’ll admit I’ve talked about goals before in this very blog. This is a different twist.

Maybe you’re trying to start a mindfulness meditation practice (and please see Kabat-Zinn for wonderful ideas on the nature of such a practice). So you tell yourself on Saturday you’ll practice meditating daily. Of course, you meditate on Saturday, and maybe Sunday. By the following Saturday (I like weeks for tracking progress, but it’s entirely up to you) you barely even remember you set the goal of starting your practice, much less know how much you accomplished, what’s left to do, etc. With SMART goals, you can assess progress, and more.

For starters, be specific. I’m going to start a mindfulness meditation practice by meditating daily. Okay. Nice and clear. If I wanted to be a little more specific I could say I’m going to meditate every morning at 5:45AM for 15 minutes. Now that would be quite clear and specific. Generally speaking, experts prefer goals stated as positives (I’m going to…) versus negatives (I’m not going to…). It feels better.

Next, I’m going to measure my progress. Either I meditated daily or not, right? Quite right and often motivating in and of itself. It’s very nice to be able to say that you’ve done something two days in a row, three days, etc.

Attainable and realistic are similar. I like to think of attainable as reflecting the notion that I can actually do it. I can meditate daily. Attainable goals are usually performance goals (e.g., doing it daily), not outcome goals (e.g., in a week I’ll feel more relaxed as a result of meditating).

Realistic is an answer to the question: am I really going to do it? Really? Maybe I’d decide that I’m only going to meditate on the days I don’t run, just to be realistic.

Finally, time-bound. Can I track my progress in time. Of course, daily, specific, measurable goals are usually trackable. Tracking give the thing an urgency. I’m going to see how many days out of the next seven I can do this. It also makes it tangible. You can see your progress by tracking it in your planner, on or in some other concrete manner. In other words, I highly recommend writing it down. The progress makes you feel good.

So go for it and make it SMART. And Namaste.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Strengths Revisited

I’ve been doing some work on strengths. Even though I’ve written about strengths before here and in my newsletter, there’s always something that strikes me as useful in the revisiting.

Take the VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire if you haven’t. You can also identify your strengths by considering the things you’re good at; then ask what strengths enable you to perform well. For example, are you someone who mixes easily at cocktail parties? Is it because you love people, are curious about what they have to say or like to learn things from new people? Is it something else?

Once you’ve identified your strengths, or some of them, consider how you use them across situations. Perhaps you’re a spiritual person who sees beauty in all things and can point this out to others, can bring beauty into the lives of others and can impart peace by your mere presence.

Once you’ve considered how you use your strengths, consider how you might use them differently. It’s well known that people who use strengths in new ways feel happier, more fulfilled and more vital. Say you have zest as a strength. It’s more common among youth, so it’s pretty cool to have it as an adult. Can you bring your enthusiasm for life to someone and pump them up? Can you bring that zest to a situation that sometimes feels a little stale or tedious (perhaps to a board meeting or a road trip)?

Maybe you’ll be surprised at how you can use your strengths in ways you’ve not previously considered. Like many things, improvement comes with exercise and use. And, of course, age.
Look well into thyself; there is a source of strength which will always spring up if thou wilt always look there. Marcus Aurelius Antoninus

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Holiday Recovery

A number of people have mentioned to me that they have to recover from the holidays. It struck me as odd. The appropriate Wikipedia entry for this meaning of holiday is: A period of one or more days taken off work by an employee for leisure. Then if we look at leisure we find: Freedom provided by the cessation of activities.

What’s wrong with this picture? I’m thinking freedom provided by not working is not something we ought to have to recover from. So how does this happen?

I know that we may overdo things, trying to pack too many activities into the time. It’s not that you can have too much fun. But if we are constantly on the run, trying to fit everything in, we lose one of the great pleasures of holiday time: relaxing. We make the holiday into work by trying to to see everyone, get the cards out, get the perfect gifts delivered, be certain that everyone around us is having a good time, and so on.

What if we just tried to relax and have fun? It might look different than the usual holiday. Perhaps you would only send cards to the important people, give gifts that reflect what you feel instead of trying to figure out what others want (it takes a lot less time to express your feelings than to attempt to intuit others’ needs), see only those people you really want to see and do only those things you really want to do. I don’t mean in a selfish way. Of course you do things to please others at times. Emphasis on “at times.” In other words, not all the time.

And when you think about what you want to do, ask yourself if you really want to, or if there’s a hidden “should” in there. For example, I should go to the new exhibit at the museum because… This is quite different from, I’m going to the new exhibit because I’m really interested in seeing the Chinese terracotta soldiers.

So I’m picturing a holiday that’s actually a holiday for you, not for everyone else. Maybe next time?