Am I Missing Something? …

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished;  that will be the beginning.”

Louis L’Amour


imageYes, I get my inspiration where I find it, even from popular fiction authors.

L’Amour was talking about the act and art of writing, but I think we can draw some wider learning from his words.  We first have to let go of the idea that we always know when we are finished.

We have all experienced the satisfaction of completing a project and being able to sit back and regard our work with a nice big smucky grin … and then noticing something. 

Maybe you have experienced one or more of these little epiphanies, while gazing proudly at your work.  I know I have encountered every blessed one at one time or another:

… something was left out?

… something does not work quite right?

… what you have done inspires you toward another project?

… we realize that we have created the wrong solution for the problem at hand?

… we realize that the problem we solved has morphed into something completely different?

You can almost imagine a lanky, sun-burnished old ranch hand leaning against a fence post and saying with a deep drawl, “Well, looks like you ain’t quite done yet, sonny

So what have YOU finished … that really isn’t?

Considering all my “finished” projects which need a little more tweaking or a whole new face in the Heartland ….




A Change Program in Just Three Words …

Cultivate“Cultivate only the habits that you are willing should master you.”

Elbert Hubbard


Today is a day of reflection on habits … and how easily we slip into them. 

While habits are hard to break, as this former smoker can attest, they are darned easy to form and solidify. 

Do you have a daily routine when you wake up and wind your way to work?   Lots of us do and I would bet money that we cannot remember when we first established any part of it.

Do you find yourself doing the same things over and over again every day, even when you have decided to act differently, during your rational and reflective moments?  Good intentions to change are fine and nothing happens without them.  However, not much may happen even with them, if you do not also have a specific and thought-out series of actions that you will do.

Breaking a habit” is an absolutely incorrect statement … we do not “break” habits … we replace habits …

If you are doing things a certain way and want to behave differently, you have to intentionally replace the old behavior with new behavior.

If you only try to stop doing what you want to stop doing, you will probably experience what we used to call “White Knuckling” back in my therapist days.   You may succeed for a time in not doing what you used to do, but you will be doing so by psychologically or even physically holding on so tight to resist the impulse to return to the old habit … that your knuckles lose blood and turn white.    This is also what you experience when visiting relatives whose politics, religion, or child-reading practices differ from yours.  You are a guest and so … just grit your teeth and tough it out. 


We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, therefore, is not an act, but a habit.”


I have seen a number of statements and posters lately that support this important concept.  I can’t remember all the nicely stated variations, but the gist tends to be this:  We are how we act.  Our lives are being lived right now. 

Repetition is the key … what do you repeatedly do?

I do not care if you do not mean to wind up in the same places, feeling the same emotions, or facing the same challenges.   I ask you only to think intently about what you repeatedly do.  Then figure out what is motivating you to keep doing that …

I have used Aristotle’s pithy summary in groups small and large, with people and organizations, in most of the situations I have found myself.  Value exists in consistently reminding me and others that what we do again and again trumps any thing we say or think.  In this case, behavior is more important than cognition or speeches.


“Habits both determine our behaviors and define us … so choose wisely when creating a habit.”


Here is the secret to positive change … do not not think of trying to stop a habit you wish to lose … think of choosing to create a habit you want to have.

Notice the emphasis on choosing?   This means you are consciously deciding what to do … a detail, but an important one.

Here’s a neat little video example of a master therapist helping someone put all this into practice.  You may have seen this one before, since it is quite popular in therapeutic circles – pure gold and solid advice in how to engage in effective change.  Use it to help you develop your own personal change program:


Trying real hard to hard-wire productive habits into my sometimes resistant brain in the Heartland ….


Strong Chains …

Chains“The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to break.”

 Samuel Johnson

 … and chains keep doors closed that keep us locked in or locked out.

So on this fresh new Saturday morning, take a few minutes, sip your coffee or tea, and consider my questions below.  Start with your personal life and relationships, then shift to your professional situation and business considerations. 

Be honest … you have nothing to lose by doing so and a great deal to potentially gain:

What chains of habit am I letting become stronger right now?

What am I being kept locked into or out of by these habits?

How would my life be different if I changed any specific habits?

What do I need to do TODAY to start breaking the chains of that specific habit?

No hurry … I’ll wait for your response quietly because I have MY coffee to sip and my own chains to ponder.

Taking my own advice while enjoying my morning coffee in the Heartland ….


Three Things About Those “First Impressions” …

Greeting“Love, friendship, and business opportunities all develop from good judgment, not just hastily formed opinions based on first impressions.”

 As leaders, we are often expected to make quick and accurate decisions, right?

Our world demands fast action and razor-sharp responses.   Leadership, sales, networking, and business in general have scads of pithy sayings which focus on the idea that you only have one shot to convince someone else to trust you.

I have often been told that my upcoming meeting with a Very Important Person was critical and they will decide whether I am worth spending any time or money on in an extremely short period of time which starts as soon as I show up … which does not leave me relaxed, confident, or at my best.

Hmmm …

… Have you ever thought someone was just beautiful, fun, neat, or some other type of “Cool” when you first met them, but later decided they were not quite all that?

In critical thinking, one of the things we talk about is the ability to separate the person from the idea.  This is like that, except you are not separating, but allowing your impression to go deeper and be formed by more than that first few seconds or minutes in that particular context when you were in that exact mood.


Do first impressions count?

Sure … sometimes a first impression is all the chance you have to set up a relationship with another person.

Are first impressions always correct?

Nope … sometimes they are completely inaccurate for any number of reasons.


As a matter of fact, I can name several women who have lived their lives with a fairly negative view of me, based on my first perception that they were beautiful and I was not worthy.  This translated into boorish behavior fueled by an extraordinary amount of alcohol.   Not a good combination … and it created a first impression of me that was impossible to alter. 

In business, we talk much of the time about business relationships, but then we tout the old and inaccurate sayings about first impressions. 

Here’s a few guidelines for creating perceptions based on good judgment, and not just first impressions:

Give It a Chance …

If time really is money, invest it with the same care and long-term view that you should be using with real money.  Time is a valuable resource and investing time in a relationship outweighs snap decisions with a limited amount of information to guide you. 

If you see consistent behavior over time, you have confirmed your initial thoughts.   If you are surprised by varied degrees of behavior, you have just been reminded that most of us are multi-dimensional.

Be slow to judge, rather than quick … what’s the rush?

Consider the Context … 

Think of behavior within a spectrum and not as a finite point or event.

Base your eventual perceptions on established behavior over time.  Look for the average and consider it in the context of the standard deviations.  In other words, pay attention to how the person acts most of the time and how far and how often they stray from their behavioral center.

For example, I am seldom at my peak performance from 1 PM to 3 PM each day … catch me early or catch me later and I will astound you.  Between 1 and 3, I resemble a Zombie.

After all, none of us are on our best game all the time.

Be Humble …

If you accept that none of us are perfect, this third aspect is easier to handle.   If you do believe in perfection, I have a very nice bridge on special for a cash offer …

Part of this is perspective … you are not the only participant in this dance.  After all, the other person is forming THEIR FIRST IMPRESSION OF YOU now as well.  Maybe judging everything in terms of “me” is not the ideal way to do.  The old “Do Unto Others As …” idea comes into play here. 

Remember, you are just two human beings trying to get through life and a rushed decision based on first impressions may just be the worst decision you ever make.

Trying to remember to give the other guy a reasonable chance in the Heartland ….



Doing It Again and Again …

Experience is terrific.  It allows us to make our mistakes with far more finesse the next time around.”

Anonymous, who is one smart cookie


You know the other saying about mistakes, right?   “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.”

There is something in all this about making mistakes. 

Not WHY we make them, but HOW we make them.

When we make a mistake, we should learn from that mistake and do better next time.   No real surprise there … solid learning theory.

I think Anonymous is onto something with this idea about finesse.   We tend to approach our “learning experiences”, as I like to call my mistakes, with the idea that we will never be that dumb again.  We set our bar rather high.  We think we need to do things perfectly, once we have done them imperfectly.

However, real learning does not work like that. 

Learning tends to come in increments, with often small changes in our behavior as we slowly adjust to more effective ways of doing things, rather than the “Bad to Good” easy one-step change we envision.

This often works better in the long run, because you are doing two things:

1)  Avoiding that crash when your one-step total change doesn’t work out.

2)  Building a solid base for continual change and improvement.

Now, apply this to how you help those for whom you are responsible change.  Small, steady steps forward and upward, until they have learned and embraced the habit of continual small improvements.   You have then created a learning machine and a valuable employee.

Once you accept the idea that change is incremental, you have freed yourself to take small steps to change.  This takes some pressure off … you can do a little change every day easier than one big change.

After all, we do not try to reach the top of the stairs in one step, do we?

Thinking about teeny-weeny improvements in my own backyard in the Heartland ….



Image:  Milad Mosapoor