Monthly Archives: June 2015

Information Gathering: too little or too much

Decision making can be challenging and overwhelming, depending on the enormity of the decision and the amount of information we have.

The big decisions:  buying a house, taking a job, health issues, choosing a spouse, having a child, choosing a school, facing retirement . . .

The not so big ones: redecorating, vacation, home repairs, an exercise program, entertaining. . .

How overwhelmed or frightened we feel by any decision, big or small, depends on our perspective, our personality, our resources, and a gazillion other things that tempt and distract us, including our own wishful thinking about how things ought to be.

The truth is we never have all the information we need to guarantee a right decision.  We ask questions, we search the internet, we check with our friends, in our attempts to clarify the pros and cons of our alternatives.

Sometimes information gathering becomes our excuse for not deciding.  There is always more to learn, more sources to discover, more reports to read, more feedback to check.  Even with all of that, there is much more information out there for us to discover.

And still there is no guarantee we will decide correctly.

We have a choice:  we can continue to gather data and delay the decision as long as possible, perhaps indefinitely, or we can set a deadline for ourselves (if someone or something has not already set it for us).

Once decision time arrives, we have to choose based on the information we have — knowing it is not complete, knowing there may be errors, knowing there may be things we’ve overlooked or didn’t know to ask about.

BOTTOM LINE: Do the best you can based on the information you have.  At this moment in time there is nothing more than your best. And knowing you are doing your best, you can make your decision and move forward.

Don’t look back.  Don’t second guess yourself.  Don’t “shoulda, coulda, didn’t.”

Remember, you did your best in that moment of decision. There was nothing more you could do.

As you implement your decision, there will be things you didn’t expect.  Some will be good, some not so good.  But that’s life.  No decision is perfect.  No decision goes exactly as you expected.  Some things turn out better than you thought.  Some things can be a set back.

You made your choice.  Continue implementing the best you can.

Adjust your decision if necessary, while not regretting the initial decision. It was your best.  Remember?

Until next Tuesday . . .








How’s Your Attitude?

My former boss often said, “Attitude is everything.”

He’d say it to individuals and to project teams.

On one memorable occasion, we were discussing new corporate plans and edicts in a department meeting.  He didn’t agree with the decisions and was open with us about his feelings.  He allowed us ten or fifteen minutes to vent our concerns.  Then he said, “Our job is not to make policy.  Our job is to implement.  So, we will implement these changes the best way we know how.”

With that, we turned the corner.

Our concerns had been heard and validated.  Then we got on the same page and worked our plan successfully.

We couldn’t change the corporate edict, but we had a choice:  we could either continue to grouse about the decisions, escalating our frustrations, or we could use the same energy to move forward, doing the work we needed to do.

Stuff happens.  Much of it is beyond our control.

Name your situation:  a lost job, an illness, aging parents, a broken leg, an unfair boss, medical restrictions, challenging children, rejected manuscript, disappointing public performance, failed project, a dysfunctional family.  We all have stuff that stops us in our tracks, that causes us to believe we’ve been dealt a bad hand of cards.

Given such happenings, I suggest the following process:

  • Assess the situation.  Identify what you can change in your circumstances and identify the things that are beyond your control.
  • Focus on what you can change or influence.  Let the rest go.
  • Check your attitude.  It’s often the only thing you can control. The circumstance may not change, but you’re in charge of how you deal with it.

Someone said, “If you believe you can or if you believe you can’t, you’re right.”  It’s the same with attitude.  “If you believe you’re a victim or if you believe you have power, you are right.”

Attitude has the power to change your behavior, change your thinking, and change your perspective.

Check your attitude.  Adjust as necessary.

Until next Tuesday . . .





What did you expect?

What did you expect . . .

  • when you first played a musical instrument?
  • when you tried playing tennis?
  • when you first made bread?
  • after your surgery?
  • when you had people over for dinner?
  • with the new girlfriend or boyfriend?
  • when you were first married or first single?
  • when you first left home?  Or when you returned home?
  • when you began your job?
  • when you left for vacation?

We all have expectations — for the big things as well as the small moments. We forge ahead, expecting the vacation to be perfect, the music playing to be error-free, the marriage to be without spats and disagreements, our athletic adventures to be competitive on the first try, or our new relationship to rescue us from our past life.

There’s nothing wrong with expectations.  Trouble comes when our expectations are unrealistic or unreasonable. We further complicate the situation by not acknowledging our expectations to ourselves or to others.

We set ourselves up for unpleasant outcomes because of our too-high standards. Then when life events don’t meet our expectations, we are disappointed or angry or frustrated or depressed.

FACT: Real life is not like the life we dream of.  It can’t be.  It won’t be.  It never has been.

Lest this feels too harsh, I want to suggest a different way of approaching our life occasions and events:

  1. Acknowledge your expectations.  Ponder them ahead of time, write them in your journal, compare them to the reality you know.
  2. Set your fantastical wishful thinking aside.  Acknowledge it for what it is.
  3. Set a realistic expectation for your event.
    • Playing a new piece of music perfectly after one week of practice is not reasonable; playing one page at a slow tempo might be possible.
    • Playing competitive tennis the first time on the court is not reasonable; hitting the ball occasionally is possible.
    • Expecting a  new relationship to fix our life is not reasonable. However, the relationship can bring joy and perspective in the midst of our circumstances.
    • Expecting the transition to a new job to be flawless is not reasonable; assessing the questions and uncertainties of the first days will increase your courage and comfort level.

If you find yourself feeling disappointed, frustrated, depressed or angry, check your expectations:

  • Were your engaging in fantasy thinking?
  • Were your expectations unrealistic for the situation?
  • Did you expect another person to meet your expectations, yet you neglected to tell them what you needed or wanted?
  • Do you always want to excel, to be perfect — and anything less than that is cause for personal anguish?
  • Did you or others fail to meet your own “too-high” standards?

Acknowledgement is critical.  After that, you can implement course corrections.

When our expectations are unrealistic, we miss the joy and pleasure and progress of our work, our relationships, our hobbies, and our practices.

Until next Tuesday . . .






It looks too hard . . .

I finished two piano pieces I’ve been working on for some time.  Not that they’re perfect, but Dr. B has declared them ready to be added to my repertoire.  He offered a  sticker on the music for my achievement; I settled for a penciled check mark.

Finished music gets replaced with new music to learn.  I love new music! Dr. B played parts of several Chopin nocturnes so I could choose the one I want to learn.

After some thought he also picked a new Beethoven sonata for me. Beethoven and I have spent years together, but he continues to get more challenging. Dr. B played a few pages while I followed along. The pages were black with notes and the tempo was rapid; I could barely keep up.  While he was playing I was thinking he’s got to be crazy to think I can learn such music.   “Are you sure I can learn this?” I asked Dr. B.  “Of course,” he replied, “it’s not as hard as it looks.” I’ll take his word for it, though I don’t totally believe him.

My goal is to become a more accomplished pianist.  I want to improve my techniques.  That’s why I’m taking lessons. So, I’m going to trust his judgement of my abilities and the techniques required for new music.

Beethoven sat unopened on my piano for two days.  I was reluctant to begin.

All the pieces I’ve learned with Dr. B seemed impossible at the beginning.  The notes were difficult, the tempo was challenging, the practice was tedious.  But, with much persistence, I learned the music.

I’ve done this before.  I can do it again. But right now Dr. B has more confidence in my abilities that I do.

I will practice note by note, measure by measure.  I will show him some progress at my next lesson.

What about you?  What is it, in your life, that you are reluctant to begin — because it looks too hard?  Who has confidence in you?  Who believes you can accomplish the task?  Who’s judgement do you trust? Who will support you in your next steps?

The journey is not about instant perfection with the first attempt.  It’s about the persistence and accumulation of many small steps.

Beginnings are always hard.  So is continued effort. But accomplishment and completion are the pay off.

You can do it.  Just start.

Until next Tuesday . . .

Chipping Away

Life for most of us gets filled up — with work, friends, household tasks, family, hobbies, volunteer activities, sports, TV, music, fun stuff, obligations, etc., etc., etc.  You have a customized list of what fills your time.

And our living space gets crowded for many reasons:  we buy too much, we keep too much, we hold on to physical memories, we think we might need it one day, or we fear not having enough.

Our stuff and our activities often become obstacles to living our best life.  They keep us from the things we say are most important to us.

As I peruse the projects piled on the floor, boxes stacked in my garage, a pantry stuffed with miscellany, and a too-busy calendar, two things come to mind:

  1. “Chip away at what doesn’t belong” — a recent quote I scribbled on a scrap of paper.
  2. “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong” — forty-year-old words from Sesame Street that I learned with my kids.

Both quotes say the same thing:  Identify what doesn’t belong.

It’s our “unbelongings” that distract us from what we want to be about, from our core passions, from what energizes us and brings vitality to our life.  They drag us down, causing us to spend time and energy just managing our accumulations of things and activities.

This process of identifying what doesn’t belong is not about rearranging and reorganizing your time and your space — it’s about getting rid of what keeps you from yourself or gives you an excuse for not pursuing your passion.

What doesn’t belong — on your desk, on your calendar, in your attic, on your table, in your thoughts?

Start small.  Eliminate one thing that clutters your life because it consumes too much time or space or energy.  When this first thing is accomplished, try another.  Our lives get transformed by the accumulation of small steps.

I’m starting with a drawer that is filled with pencils, pens, and markers.  In my last three moves, I boxed them up, then put them back in the drawer in the new house. The truth is it will take me fifty years to use all of these! I can put that space to better use.

Last week I cleaned out one file drawer.  I could have bought another file cabinet because the current one was overflowing, but I have no space for such additions.  Once the unnecessary accumulations are gone, one drawer is sufficient.

I routinely say no to activities that are nice but not really important to me.  I can easily fill up my days with committee work, book clubs, lunches, and computer games but I choose to protect my writing and practicing time — the two activities I want to engage in every day. I also reserve time for close friends.

Chip away at what doesn’t belong in your life, like a sculptor chiseling away bits of marble, to reveal his work of art.

Chipping, chipping, one bit at a time.

Do you work.  Claim your life.

Until next Tuesday . . .