What is a happy life?

Sagrada Familia
Sagrada Familia Cathedral: credit J Salmoral

I watched a TEDx video of Ted Leonsis, internet millionaire and author of the Business of Happiness. He spoke of the research into what leads to people living happy lives.

  1. Quality of relationships: Are you connected? Do you feel connected? Do you feel significant?
  2. Productivity of units of work: Do you get stuff done in a disciplined and habitual fashion? Are you creating a steadily growing Body of Work? (body of work; Noun. the total output of a writer or artist)
  3. Self-actualization: high levels of personal expression. Blog. Tell the world what you think. Be heard (I think the important aspect is feel heard. Do you feel heard? Who cares when you speak? Is that because you speak rubbish or because you haven’t earnt permission to be heard?)
  4. Impact on communities we serve: Get out of “I” and into “We”.
  5. Pursue a higher calling: Make money, but make it to build something important. What would you build if you had unlimited funds? How can you start building it with the limited funds you have now?

Ted offers a couple of actions that can help enrich life:

  1. Embrace reckonings:  Learn from the crap that happens to you. 
  2. Envision via life lists: Dream and make lists. If you don’t ask you don’t get. Same with Santa, same with life.  Law of attraction stuff.
  3. Human file server: Share opportunities with the people you care about. Look for ways to help them succeed.
  4. High levels of personal expression: Blog every day. Be heard. Do art. Sing. 
  5. Empathy: Learn to listen. 
  6. Get out of “I” and into “we”: Stop asking “what is in it for me?” and at least move to “what is in it for us?”…  even better might be “what does [important person in my life] need most from me right now?”
  7. Pursue a higher calling: Make money. Use it to build cathedrals, not bank accounts.
I am lucky to be in Dublin with my family for Christmas this year.  A lot of people have been affected by the severe weather in northern Europe and have not been able to be where they planned to be today.  I hope you enjoy your Christmas wherever you happen to be.  All the best from a well fed, couple of wine glasses and sitting by the fire Conor with my macbook while the kids play games for kids.

Writing to Reflect. Mindful Leadership.

Writing is among the greatest inventions in human history, perhaps the greatest invention, since it made history possible. Yet it is a skill most writers take for granted. As adults we seldom stop to think about the mental-cum-physical process that turns our thoughts into symbols on a piece of paper.” Andrew Robinson, The Story of Writing.

I talk regularly about Warren Buffett’s 3 most important criteria for success: Integrity, Energy and Intelligence.

I have blogged about how to have more energy.  This blog post is about improving intelligence.

How to improve your intelligence

If you want to improve your intelligence, write stuff down.  Full stop.  Write stuff down, and 6 months from now you have the accumulated intelligence of 6 months of notes, ideas, quotes.

More valuable perhaps than increased intelligence is the power of writing to reduce my feelings of stress or overwhelm when I confront uncertain or challenging decisions.

Reflective writing gives me three benefits

  1. Writing slows down time (Mindfulness)
  2. Writing orders my thought (practice improves clear thinking)
  3. Writing allows perspective (separation of subject and object, separation of reason and emotion)

Habits and Rituals to keep writing as a habit

In order to develop a habit of reflective writing I would suggest you start with 5 to 10 minute sessions where you dedicate full attention.  Set a timer and remove all sources of interruption.  Close the door, disconnect internet, put mobile on silent.

I use a pen and paper.  Others use computer.  Whatever you do, the key to getting the benefits is to separate the creative and edit processes.  Reflective writing is about capturing the flow of consciousness as you reflect on the decision, on an error, on a problematic relationship, on how to achieve a certain outcome – and not letting your inner editor get into the process until you have a draft of the ideas down on paper.

There are times when I have to tell my brain “I will keep writing until I have 500 words on this page and if I have to write the word ‘the’ 500 times then that is what I will do”.  Inspiration comes when I tell my procrastination-oriented lizard brain that I am going to go on writing until I reach my goal.

Some starting questions to use for reflection

  1. Tell the whole story from other perspectives – put yourself in someone elses shoes and tell the story the way you imagine they might see it.  Improves your imagination – humanity’s most important gift.
  2. What if? – take a fundamental assumption and imagine how things would change if it was not valid
  3. Rants, then reflect on underlying message – let the anger or frustration out and vent on the paper… then review what the source of the anger or frustration really is
  4. Practice conversations – script a difficult conversation
  5. Keep records – track what has happened today
  6. Reflect on your own performance (honestly)
  7. Note quotes, ideas, connections – write down words that impact you from newspapers, books, articles or that you hear from people that you speak to
  8. List good questions – “what other criteria are important to you in taking this decision?” (old post: How to ask the best questions)
  9. Draw diagrams – visually represent the problem, concept, flows
  10. 2×2 matrix – do what consultants do (I would welcome a post from any reader who is a consultant on 2×2 matrices…  :-)
  11. SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats
  12. Political maps – draw a network map, reflect on the true organisation power structure
  13. Write about emotion and what the situation looked like when angry, frustrated, dissapointed
  14. Persuade yourself – make the case to yourself
  15. Devil’s Advocate – be your own skeptic
  16. Clear up objectives (realistic, tangible) – what do you really want achieve?  what will it feel like when you achieve the objective?  why is it important to you?
  17. Identify other’s interests, options, BATNA – how can you help other’s achieve their goals?
  18. Re-frame messages – historically, politically, scale up or down, viewed from 5 years in the future
  19. Capture stories – the best way to begin to remember them (Doorman, Cathedral, Tracks in the Sand, Cemetery of Youth, Geronimo the Apache and Entrepreneurs)
  20. Action plans – what are you going to do?  what series of steps take you closer to your goal?  how to engage the people whose support you need?

And you?
What other tools, questions, methods do you have for using writing as a tool for reflection?  Do you write regularly?  Why?  or Why not?

I will finish with Socrates: “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  He was wise.  Although I might add that the over-examined life is a poor alternative – best to experience life than to think about experiencing life.  Reflection on experience is not a complete replacement for fully living today.

It takes courage to write simply.

I force students in my class to chose no more than 3 benefits when preparing a persuasive speech.  I am always happy to have my views reinforced…

Roger Parker did a great interview with Carmine Gallo, author of The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs a few days ago.

I loved Carmine’s clarity and he commented that it was a holdover from his journalism training and early professional experience.  He said that journalists learn 3 important things:

  1. Write to deadlines. 
  2. Answer the question: “Why should my viewers care?”.
  3. Experts and Writers want to tell everything. A journalist learns to focus on the 3 most important things.
Most books on communication are written by PhDs for PhDs. We need books written by good communicators for real people looking for practical tips.” Carmine Gallo
It takes courage to write simply.  Academics will say: “it is too simple.”

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