(#326) Where Is Your Focus Space?

August 21, 2016

It seems I do some of my best thinking when I am not in my workspace.

In her book Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up Patricia Ryan Madson suggests that we pay attention to our “hot spots.” These places feel right for us and, for whatever reason, we have a clearer view of our world.  In these spaces, we have a better than average chance of pushing distractions aside and concentrating on the important stuff in our lives.

As Madson says, we “just show up.” We don’t over prepare. We step into the space and allow our creative juices to flow.

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“Most men pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it.”
Soren Kierkegaard

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I think of these hot spots as unfocused spaces that allow me to focus.  That is, when I am feeling stuck (on a project, for instance) rather than force a narrowly framed decision, I find these focus spaces allow me to see broader and more creative options. I don’t force my thoughts. I allow the options to flow to me and open up a pathway for ideas to take root and begin to bloom.

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

When I jotted down my creative spaces I had an “aha moment.”

  • Doing yard work.
  • Drinking a cup of coffee in a cafe.
  • Having talk-time with my bride.
  • Meditating
  • Relaxing in a hotel room.
  • Sitting in my seat during a flight.
  • Waiting on a flight in the airport.
  • Walking, sitting, or biking on the beach
  • Walking with my canine companion, Roxie
  • Working in my home office
  • Working out in the gym.

With the exception of “working in my home office,” the other ten spaces actually remove me from my day-to-day work locations and routine actions. It seems I do some of my best thinking when I am not in my workspaces.  I’m not forcing myself. When I don’t force myself to focus, I seem to focus better. This sweet spot helps me stay resilient.

Video recommendation of the week:

So, maybe, if you’re feeling stuck or you’re having difficulties stimulating the creative juices, pay a visit to your non-work focus spot. Make a list of the top places where things seem to happen for you—where ideas appear and conundrums appear to become clearer.

When was the last time you visited your focus space?

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#325) Don’t Let Anyone Steal Your Lunch Money

August 14, 2016

Don’t let anyone deny who you are.

I have often joked with friends not to let anyone take their lunch money. For me, it has been an off-handed reminder to them not to let anyone take advantage of their good nature.

These past few weeks those same words have taken on a more serious challenge as I have talked with colleagues and friends who have been confronting personal and professional dilemmas.

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

For me, “Don’t let anyone steal your lunch money” has come to take on various meanings of self-worth:

  • “Don’t let anyone deny your story.”
  • “Don’t let anyone deny who you are.”
  • “Don’t allow anyone to diminish your worth.”
  • “Don’t diminish your own worth.”
  • “Don’t settle for someone else’s version of who you are.”
  • “Don’t deny your own story.”

Or, stated in the positive:

  • “Do remind yourself of what you add to your community.”
  • “Do remember and draw strength from those times when your grit and resilience led to personal triumphs.”
  • “Do recognize that every failure and success (so-called or real) has made you the person you are today.”
  • “Do know that while you might not ‘be a fit’ for someone else’s plan, you have a huge hand in cobbling your own plan.”
  • “Do be true to yourself so that you can be true to others.

None of this gives license for delusional self-congratulation.  We all need to engage in a regular and thorough examination of ourselves. We remain fortunate when we have mentors in our corners to urge us on and challenge us to stretch.

In addition to the outside forces for good, draw on your inner strength and mentor yourself with reflection. Draw on what you believe to be faith and the Source to help you understand your talents.

That person looking back from the mirror has a powerful story to tell. Don’t ignore it. Don’t deny it. Grow with it.

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#324) What Motivates Your Reasoning?

August 7, 2016

It can be very easy to point out the window…
The challenge is to look into the mirror.

A quote attributed to Alan Alda reminds us that our “assumptions are the windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while or the light won’t come in.”

Assumptions. We all make them. They can help us make sense of our world and navigate our journey.  They can also create huge obstacles, narrow-minded thinking, and fear-based decision making.

Early in their book Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work Chip and Dan Heath outline four cognitive traps (they label them as “villains of decision making”) when it comes to decision making (and critical thinking). If we do not recognize and understand these pitfalls we undermine our abilities to make appropriate and right-minded decisions.

  1. Narrow Framing. This occurs when we look at a situation and only give ourselves limited choice options (usually just two).  Either A or B.  This one or that one. Black or white. Go or stand still.
    #My example. Listen to the political diatribes and the shrill voices of the 2016 presidential campaign. Lots of “either my way or no way.”  Not much choice other than either you are “with the team” or “against the team.”  This way is correct; that way wrong.
  2. Confirmation Bias. This happens when we lean toward or agree with only information that confirms already held personal beliefs. We tend to overlook or dismiss anything that may challenge or disprove our opinion.
    #My example. Perhaps you know folks who get their “news” from only one source or perspective. Anything else they consider suspect. Or a corporate manager or educational leader wants to move the company/college in a certain direction. She believes so strongly in the position, only evidence that supports that decision is given any real attention.

    Image: stockimages/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

    Image: stockimages/
    FreeDigitalPhotos.net

  3. Short-term Emotion. Pressures and conflicts in the near term can cloud the long-term solution. If we make decisions based on an immediate and visceral response we may be missing the bigger picture.
    #My example. This really calls to question what we pay attention to. If we steep ourselves in nothing but fearful images (see #1) about a topic, issue, or group of people then our decision may be knee-jerk with little well-rounded information to support our position.  Would we want to make a business or financial investment or career move in this manner? (The Heath brothers present an intriguing statistic: In 2009, more than 60,000 tattoos were reversed. What was initially embraced with enthusiasm, wanes on further consideration after the fact. See page 5.)
  4. Over Confidence. Confidence and belief in self can be powerful. And it can create awful consequences if we do not step back and understand and question our assumptions about what we know and what we do not know.
    #My example. A strategy I used with my students encouraged them to move outside of their “I-know-all-about-this” mindset. I would write three columns on the board: “What I definitely know about this topic,” “What I think I know about this topic,” and “What I would like to know about this topic.”  Then we would start to support, debunk, and add to our knowledge base.  No shame in not knowing. I would think it would be more embarrassing to continually shout shrilly about a position, only to be dead wrong (see Confirmation Bias above).

When we make decisions we have to understand that cognitive traps will undermine us.  You need only look at political debates, corporate politics, community disagreements, or even your own self arguing with your own self!

Video recommendation of the week.  Julia Galef in this TEDx Talk explains the decision-making dilemma as “motivated reasoning” with an interesting metaphor.

As this week unfolds, it would do us all well to pause from time to time and analyze our decision making and critical thinking. It can be very easy to point out the window and say, “Geez, if only they knew how to critically think.”

The challenge is to look into the mirror and ask, “How am I doing with my critical thinking?

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.


(#323) Who Sets Your Agenda?

July 31, 2016

Why let someone else interrupt
my thought process and mindset
with what they see as something
I “need” to know “right now”
from the “world out there”?

Every cardio machine in our local gym has the ubiquitous television monitor attached to it. And every morning you will find members dutifully burning off calories, building stamina, and getting their daily agenda (in part or in full) set for them.

Maybe you know people for whom, after awakening each morning, the first exercise they get is to grab the remote and click on the morning “news.”  This assumes, of course, that they had not fallen asleep with the last thing they heard coming from the agenda of someone else’s mouth.  Perhaps they suffer from FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I don’t know.

A study from more than forty years ago found

In choosing and displaying news, editors, newsroom staff, and broadcasters play an important part in shaping political reality. Readers learn not only about a given issue, but also how much importance to attach to that issue from the amount of information in a news* story and its position….

Arvind Balaraman@FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Arvind Balaraman@FreeDigitalPhotos.net

[The above * added by me.  According to dictionary.com, “news” is defined as “the presentation of a report on recent or new events in a newspaper or other periodical or on radio or television.” Perhaps we should address whether the “news” is really “news.”  Other than a change in name or location, for instance, does the general presentation of the “news” change?  Look at most programming and you have some semblance of this order: “Breaking News Alert” followed by “story about death” followed by “story about destruction” followed by “story about weather catastrophe” followed by “story about crash during rush hour” followed by “story about economic calamity” followed by….

Doesn’t really sound “newsy” to me.]

It would be simplistic to state that the “news” tells us how to think.  It may not be much of a stretch, however, to say that the “news” does direct what we think about–if we allow it.  And it’s not just the network or cable news. If I were to wake up and immediately go to my social media feed, I stand the chance of my “friends” setting my agenda for the day.

The late Jim Rohn (speaker, author, trainer) said that you are the “average of the five people you spend most of your time with.” Who we hang with matters.  Matters in terms of good/poor physical health, optimistic/pessimistic outlook, hopeful/fearful about the future, and loving/hating others.  These people can, if we let them, set our agenda for the day.  They will “contribute” soon enough during the day. I make the argument to give yourself some time to think, reflect, set YOUR course, and then invite them onto YOUR agenda. Maybe create a JOMO movement (Joy Of Missing Out!).

Years ago, I decided that I would take more control of setting my daily agenda. Not just the to-do list but my mindset as well.  I don’t wish to start my day with someone squawking at me from the TV or screaming through my earbuds.  I seldom read the newspaper with my morning coffee. There will be time enough to get to my email. I am fortunate to live in a loving relationship (rather than a conflict-habituated one) that starts the day with pleasantries rather than an argument.

I still get my “news”—but remain discerning (and hopefully critical) about my sources (looking for various views).

I have eliminated just about all “news” alerts on my devices. Among the few exceptions: baseball, local weather and airline texts when I travel.  Why let someone else interrupt my thought process and mindset with what they see as something I “need” to know “right now” from the “world out there”?

Video recommendation of the week. And since it’s “news” I think I already know the categories of the most recent “Breaking News Alert!”

Yes, of course, if there is an emergency situation, I can tune it.  But if every moment of every day is an “emergency” then we might need to redefine emergency.

Even if your start time is only fifteen or thirty minutes (or five or ten) before the world starts calling you, why not take control of that little time to set your intentions for the day? Their intentions will come calling soon enough.

“Breaking News Alert!”- Start your day intentionally and make it a great one.

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

 

 


(#322) Excellence And The Ordinary

July 24, 2016

Those striving for and maintaining excellence constantly
want to know more—get to the next level.

Early in her book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance, Angela Duckworth referenced a 1980s sociological study titled “The Mundanity of Excellence.” Intrigued by the title, I followed the citation and read the study by Dan Chambliss.

Chambliss, after having studied competitive swimmers, concluded that “Excellence is mundane. Superlative performance is really a confluences of dozens of small skills and activities…and each of those tasks seems small…that have been learned and consistently practiced…So, the ‘little things’ really do count” (p. 81).

He found that excellence goes beyond talent to the triumvirate of technique, discipline, and attitude. The “winners don’t choke” because they consistently practice like it’s the real thing.” And they do one more thing: They go beyond sheer numbers of hours of practice to the quality of that practice.

Yes, hard work is necessary but excellence is not just about doing more [quantitative improvement]. There is a need for “qualitative improvements which produce significant changes in the level of achievement” (p. 83).

So excellence is about continually striving to do better by doing the little things over and over and over again. Then moving to something a little bit tougher.  And doing it over and over and over again.

Hence the mundanity of excellence. Ordinary tasks taken to extraordinary levels.

Video recommendation of the week. “Ode to Excellence” from Your World Within

Duckworth writes about being “distracted by talent” (p. 15). Chambliss presents his evidence as to “why talent does not led to excellence” (p. 78).  They both found with their research that it can become easy (an excuse) to simply say that some people are just naturally gifted (talented) and that is why they perform at a top level. There is more to the equation.

Example. My good friend Billy Bowers has a natural talent for music. What he added to my two CDs with his lead guitar riffs, rhythm colorizations, and bass bottom reflects a gifted musician. No question. But to chalk it up to simply, “Oh, he has talent” would be a gross injustice.  Billy has honed and raised his craft and talent to new levels for decades.  He plays a gig for four hours and then comes home and practices. And he does it over and over.  The whole package makes for excellence. (NOTE: When I called Billy to make sure my characterization above was accurate, what was he doing? Reading about guitars.  He is an habitual learner by reading, watching, listening, doing—and repeating.)

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

Photo by Steve Piscitelli

And I think the excellent ones around us stay in the student mode.  The late architect Frank Lloyd Wright reportedly said that “An expert is someone who has stopped learning because ‘he knows’.”  Those striving for and maintaining excellence constantly want to know more—get to the next level. Or as Chambliss said, they make quantitative and qualitative leaps.

Think of excellence as embodying effort, focus, tweaks, caring, focus, and action.

Over and over and over.

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

 


(#321) The Nudge: Everything Sends A Message

July 17, 2016

We take chances, we fail, we learn, we grow,
and we move forward.

 Listening to a TED Radio Hour (June 24, 2016 show) piece reminded me of the power of words and self-talk.  The theme of the show was that to change habits or make changes sometimes all we need is a gentle nudge in the correct direction.  The form of that nudge is critical.  More specifically, how the nudge is presented will have an impact on results.

One of the interview guests, Carol Dweck, noted researcher and Stanford University psychologist, pointed to her research on mindsets.  She emphasized that when we want to encourage (nudge) people to improve and continue to grow we need to pay attention to our words and actions. Sounds simple but the subtleties are immense. Leaders, parents, and teachers would do well to remember that everything we say and do sends a message.

For instance, she cautions that we need to praise the effort not the intellect of a student or employee.  Praising the intellect can (according to her research) cause a person to avoid risks. Why? Because if I fail then what does that say about my intellect that I’ve been praised for? So, I take the less vulnerable route and listen to that little voice on my shoulder that advises me to remain perfect and not bring question to my intellect.  This, Dweck says, is the stuff of “fixed mindsets.”

Image: amenic181 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image: amenic181 @ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

She found that when we praise the process (the strategy, the grit, or the progress) that nurtures growth mindsets. We take chances, we fail, we learn, we grow, and we move forward.

Early this week I was speaking to a community activist who shared her dismay with the obsession in Florida with testing school children.  Everything is about the test and getting the right answers to the test.  Either your right or your wrong—and the consequences can be immense for our children.

Rather than marking something “wrong,” Dweck suggested using the words “Not Yet.”  It does not excuse the error. It actually points out the error—but with hope for a better future the next time the problem or task is attempted. Positive and powerful rather than demoralizing and demeaning.

Think of the impact on leaders and employees when we focus on a “Not Yet” as opposed to a dismissive response to an error. Such a mindful approach helps our capabilities to grow.  This is not fuzzy talk saying we have unlimited capabilities. Rather, this approach helps us to better know our capabilities.

Video recommendation of the week.  In this short clip, Professor and Author, Richard Thaler, connect the notion of the nudge with being a “choice architect.”

Don’t forget the power of words—to others and to yourself.  Everything sends a message. What message do we send ourselves….and what messages do we accept from others? How can you be a choice architect in your life and the lives of others?

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

 


(#320) No Need To Be An Island

July 10, 2016

Regardless of your calling or situation, collaboration and communication
are powerful forces. There is no need to be an island.*

One aspect of teaching that I enjoyed was that each time I entered the room with my students, I could close the door and “do my thing!”

One of the greatest challenges of teaching was that each time I entered the room with my students, I could close the door and “do my thing!”

You see, the freedom to “do our thing” and be creative and “spin our magic” can come with a price. If we do not remain mindful we can, over time, become isolated.  We can easily get lulled into the mindset that we are an island, separate from our colleagues.  And we can lose the power and strength of what a united teaching and learning community can bring to us.

When Tony Hsieh moved the Zappos headquarter to Las Vegas, he limited the number of entrances and exists for the building. This, he believed, would better orchestrate a flow that encourages “collisions,” serendipity and progress between and amongst employees.

Photo by Steve Piscitelli (c)

Photo by Steve Piscitelli (c)

We lose that serendipity in our calling when we choose to wall ourselves off from our colleagues. This self-imposed isolation could have untold negative repercussions on our teaching, student learning, and on our personal and collegial resilience.  And the same can hold for any other calling or life endeavor.

You have a great deal to share with your colleagues. And they have a great deal to share with you.  Basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (Coach ‘K’) of Duke said successful teams play like a fist. The individual fingers represent communication, trust, collective responsibility, care and pride.

One of the principles of student success calls for students to learn about and use appropriate resources for their growth and development.  In isolation, they may well flounder. With collaboration, they have a better chance to succeed.

A couple may have difficulties figuring out why they have “lost the spark.” Without outside assistance they may struggle to find the real issues challenging their relationship.

I purchased a new camera this week. As the cliché goes, I don’t know what I don’t know about cameras. So, part of my research included me reaching out to friends with photographic experience.

At my former college, I was fortunate to have the opportunity (along with a colleague who was a counselor with student services) to develop and deliver a workshop series that looked at student challenges.  We brought faculty and advisors together to share insights and strategies.

I find it interesting that so many people willingly share intimate experiences and tribulations with their “friends” in the social media public space but will not walk to the office next to them to seek feedback from colleagues sharing the same workspace challenges.

Regardless of your calling or situation, collaboration and communication are powerful forces.

There is no need to be an island.

Video recommendation of the week. Clay Shirky and his view of collaboration.

[*NOTE: This post draws excerpts from my forthcoming book to promote collegial conversations and resilience.  Stay tuned for more information in the months to come.]

Make it an inspiring week and H.T.R.B. as needed.

You can subscribe to my newsletter by clicking here.

Check out my latest podcast (about ex-offenders and resilience).  You can find my podcast series at The Growth and Resilience Network (http://stevepiscitelli.com/video-media/podcasts).

Check out my website  (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/programs.html) for programming information as well as details about upcoming webinars (http://www.stevepiscitelli.com/webinars).

My books Choices for College Success (3rd edition) and Study Skills: Do I Really Need This Stuff?  (3rd edition) are published by Pearson Education.

(c) 2016. Steve Piscitelli. All rights reserved.

 


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