Category Archives: Habits

The Real Problem With E-mail

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

062017_EmailDespite what you may think, the real problem with e-mail has nothing to do with e-mail. The problem is not the volume of e-mail you receive. Nor is it that messages are poorly crafted, often lacking details and specific requests. The issue isn’t that subject lines are misleading and your peers don’t understand the difference between CC, BCC and TO fields. These are all annoying and unproductive aspects related to e-mail. However, “fixing”, even eliminating, these aspects won’t solve the main, mostly unspoken issue with e-mail.

The real problem with e-mail is we have forgotten there is a human being on the other side of the message. A human being seeking connection, making a request, asking for help or in some cases offering help. In our hurry to slam through our inbox and knock it off our “to do” list, the bid for human connection has become a casualty of the exchange.

E-mail has evolved into a powerful tactical and transactional tool, yet at the same time, it’s also the primary business communication tool. Which is why it makes sense that e-mail has become such a pain point — as the speed at which most people “attack” their inbox leaves plenty of missed opportunity to understand what is a transactional message and what is a bid for relationship building.

Hence the disconnect — we keep trying to solve our e-mail problems with productivity tips; when instead of color-coding, flagging or filing in folders a slew of half-way communicated messages, we could choose instead to craft a few carefully, intentionally worded communications with the purpose to connect and be of service to those on the receiving end. Sure, your inbox may be at zero, but was the information you wanted to share complete and more so, how did your message make the person/people on the other end feel?

When listening to people talk about their relationship with e-mail, many people hold a belief that e-mail isn’t part of “work”. How can it not be part of work? E-mail isn’t just something you do — it’s a chance each day, with each e-mail you write, to be the person you want to be. Each communication you craft is an opportunity to reflect what you really want to say and how you really want to show up and who you are.

What if instead of focusing on the next ten e-mails you have to “pound through”, you became fully present on the one in front of you? What if you imagined the face of the person or people on the other end of the communication looking to you for a response, guidance or acknowledgement? What if you slowed down your inbox time and really read the message and looked for the request for understanding, approval or connection?

With each e-mail you send, you have the power to make someone feel important, acknowledged, respected or heard. You also have the same power to make someone feel dismissed, disrespected or unimportant. The choice is yours for how to be in relationship with your e-mail, and with each message you send you get to make that choice again and again.

 

[Note: This post originally appeared in Thrive Global]

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Slowing Down

By Melisa Portela, Simple Intentions Lead Consultant: LATAM Region

Some years ago, I was in a coaching session, taking the role of the coachee, when my coach stopped me and said: “Let me interrupt you for a second. I want you to look at the speed of your speech. What does that say to you? What would happen if the rhythm was much slower?”

I was left speechless… and then I realized that, in my hurry, I was not allowing space for things to happen – both in the present coaching conversation and across my life.

I began to become aware that whenever I ran errands, the speed of my pace was incredibly fast. It was as if I thought someone was trying to catch me, and I had to prevent that from happening. I started taking an inventory of the speed in all areas of my life: work (not leaving even a minute to pause, because, I would say to myself, that is what they pay me for. To work!); gym (jumping, non-stop, from one exercise to the next); personal time (fragmented and inconsistent).

It was as if I was watching a movie of my life, with the same ending time and time again – one where I was racing to complete the “shoulds” in my life. I was so afraid of what could happen to me if I allowed space and put my guard down, that I suddenly was aware that I had become my own prisoner. That realization came as quite a shock, but, however uncomfortable, it was also a relief to understand. I knew the power was in me and the choice was mine to change my movie, to change my life.

I knew I needed a shift, so, little by little, I started to gain awareness on the choices I was making and how I was living my life, allowing space for things to flow, letting go of the need to control. It wasn’t easy at first, because old habits and conditioned behaviors always find a backdoor to let their way in, but, with enhanced awareness, you can catch them… and tell them they are not welcome anymore.

It is incredible all the things we can perceive when we slow down the pace. We notice other people´s expressions, recognize the feelings they are experiencing; witness a full range of colors previously unnoticed; become aware of the clouds reflecting on the glass buildings; hear the unspoken words; even hear the sound of our own breathing.

Now that I have slowed down, I am conscious of the camera recording my movie. I’ve finally slowed down enough to create the space to fully see myself and my actions. And I know that my movie is continuing to change as I become more aware, more connected with every slow, deliberate step I take.

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Enough

By Joanna Fuller, Friend of Simple Intentions

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In May 2014, after more than 20 years in the workforce, I decided my life was overdue for a change. And so, as any relatively sane, single person might do….naturally I ran away and joined the Peace Corps. I left my job, rented my house, packed two bags and boarded a plane for Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia.

Like the word Timbuktu, people often use Ulaanbaatar to mean the middle of nowhere, or a place so far away you actually have no idea where it is. But UB wasn’t my final destination – that was a twelve-hour bus ride west, in a small, provincial center called Bayankhongor, where I lived and worked for two years as a secondary school English teacher, helping prepare students for life outside the nomadic herding tradition of their parents and grandparents.

As a volunteer, life was stripped down. I lived with a host family and while I had my own small room—equipped with the luxuries of a twin bed, a small sink with cold running water, a single electrical outlet, a stove and refrigerator—I lacked both an indoor toilet and a shower. I washed clothes by hand and had heat from October through April, though it regularly snowed September through May. A big adjustment from life in America.

It’s funny, though, how adaptable we humans are. Soon, my tiny room became cozy and comfortable. Walking to work (we weren’t allowed to drive) became daily meditation. Cooking simple meals with the ingredients available became a creative endeavor, best enjoyed family-style, with my site-mates and our Mongolian friends.

I thrived in the simplicity: On the one hand, I did tire of wearing the same clothes every week; on the other, I stopped thinking about what to wear because with limited options, the decisions were few. Cleaning my home took ninety minutes or less, including time to hand-wash my clothes. And with nothing much besides food and school supplies to buy, there was little time spent shopping or tending to things.

I’d never before realized just how much of my daily life in America had been consumed with processing decisions about what and how much to buy. Being free of that demand was nothing less than a giant Hallelujah. So, when I came home this past August, I figured I was permanently enlightened. That, having seen the image in the Magic Eye poster I’d never again be able to un-see it and would easily fulfill my intent to bring this simplified life to America.

Nope.

Returning to America after two years was like booking a week at the swankiest, most decadent spa resort in the world. I could have whatever food I wanted, any time I wanted it. I could get in my car and drive (on paved roads!) to places where I could buy anything I desired. I could swim around in a queen-sized bed, throw my laundry into the washer and walk away, turn the heat in my house to the exact setting of perfect comfort. It was so good.

But it wasn’t long before I grew accustomed to those things, and needed more and more input to get the same rush as in the first few weeks of my return. Suddenly all the things I’d been able to live without in Mongolia became things I had to have, now that I could, in America.

I determined I needed new clothes for interviews and eventual work. I started going out to eat with friends—a lot. I decided it was time to replace my fourteen year-old car. I looked around my twenty-year old home that had seen better days, and it was “clear” that new carpets were in order, not to mention a full interior paint.

But after weeks of adding to my to-buy list, in one particularly anxiety-ridden moment, I simply stopped. I took a deep breath and reminded myself: You haven’t spent this money yet. And even better, you do not have to.

Maybe that seems obvious. Maybe it seems ridiculous that I even got that worked up, and maybe I just have a problem that no one else has. But I don’t think so. I think consumption is the air we breathe in America. I think I was simply sliding back into old habits and a culture I was used to: responding to advertising and the availability of goods and services (and free financing!) all around me, not to mention the way so many others around me were living. In some ways, wasn’t I just fitting in?

But I knew I didn’t want to live that way. I’ve come to believe that the question I’m answering almost every time I buy something new is not, “Do I have enough?” but, “Am I enough?”

  • Am I enough if my house doesn’t look like it belongs on HGTV?
  • Am I enough if my closet isn’t “fashion-forward,” or if I don’t look as hip as my friends and co-workers?
  • Am I enough if I can’t—or don’t want to—afford to meet friends at expensive restaurants?

The answer every time should be yes. But the culture here is strong, and the truth is, when I feel different from the people around me, I can also start to feel less than.

So that’s the work I need to do if I want to enjoy the peace and freedom I experienced in Mongolia.

But equally, I don’t want to lose the ability to enjoy the wonderful luxuries we have here in the States. New carpet and new paint in my home aren’t just indulgences, they’re also good stewardship, and part of my desire to have a home I enjoy and that’s a welcoming place for friends and family. A small, professional capsule wardrobe makes sense and can be invested in wisely. An occasional meal out can be a fun and relaxing way to connect with friends.

There’s an art, I’ve come to believe, in allowing myself to indulge often enough that it brings joy, but not so often that I become desensitized to the experience.

So of late, I’ve adopted a quick, two-part framework for guiding how and when I make purchases:

  1. The UB rule: In Bayankhongor, shopping was so limited that most purchases had to wait for the twelve-hour bus ride to the capital, which only happened every few months. If I ran out of peanut butter or popcorn, I did without until the next trip. So the UB rule is: With the exception of groceries, I can only make purchases after observing a waiting period of at least a month. Very often, I find I’m OK without. If I do go ahead and buy it, I usually treasure and enjoy it all the more because of the wait.
  2. The “What is it, really?” rule: If I’m tempted to break the UB rule, and to make a purchase in the heat of the moment, that’s usually an indication I’m trying to fill an emotional need, something another purchase won’t actually resolve. If there’s something I feel I absolutely have to have, right now, I ask myself what I’m really trying to buy, versus what I need. They’re not usually the same. Am I feeling lonely? Downloading and binge-watching a full season of Girls isn’t the answer. I need to reach out to my real-life friends. Feeling down about myself? New clothes might be a temporary salve, but more self-care is probably in order: I can cook a flavorful, healthy meal (even better with friends) or go to the Y for a swim. Usually the things I truly need don’t cost much money at all.

I’m no longer under the illusion that living simply is simple in America. But as I work through the complicating factors of culture and my own ego, I’m more convinced than ever that with commitment, community, and mindfulness, it’s more than possible.

By making a commitment to live with what I have, I’m finding time and space to enjoy my life at home more than ever before. As in Mongolia, my home is becoming cozy and comfortable as it is. I’m taking more time to enjoy simple meals with friends and family. My daily walks and bus rides to work have become cherished time for reflection and for just enjoying the beautiful scenery.

As Mary Poppins said, “Enough is as good as a feast.” And I have—and am—enough.

 

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Habits Need Your Belief To Stick

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

meditationWe’ve been talking a lot about habits lately at Simple Intentions. And not just because a new year is upon us and with it impending resolutions. Habits are also top of mind because our colleague, Sameer Bhangar, has been preparing to lead a Stop & See client workshop, and creating intentional habits is a core concept participants learn in that workshop.

During a practice run, Sameer challenged me to address a habit I’ve been struggling to keep for years: daily meditation. I’ve long understood the many benefits of meditation, and certainly experienced them during previous attempts at daily meditation. But for some reason, I can’t seem to sustain the habit. Intellectually, I know it’s good for me. But somewhere between my intellect and my actual behavior, breakdown occurs.

In practicing Stop & See with Sameer, I was reminded of the Habit Loop, popularized in The Power of Habit, which consists of a cue, a routine and a reward. In fact, I’ve considered this loop in the past, with attempts to attach meditation to existing routines such as immediately upon waking or after working out. Alas, I like to sleep, and I like to exercise, and my preference for sleeping a little longer or running another mile gradually squeezed out time for meditating.

This time, I realized I’d missed an essential element of habit forming. In focusing so much on the common pieces of the Habit Loop – cue, routine, reward – I overlooked an adjacent and critical element: Believing it’s possible for me to meditate every day.

The question came from Sameer: “Do you believe you can meditate every day?” Without skipping a beat, I heard my heart say no. No, I can’t meditate every day. The reality is, at this point in my life, I have a million things going on, and there’s no possible way I can sustain the effort of sitting down and meditating every day.

That’s not to say I’m giving up. I know meditation is too powerful to entirely surrender. With Sameer’s coaching, I came to a habit I do believe is possible for me: I can sit down and mediate once a week, every Monday morning before heading to work. Just the idea of starting small – one day rather than every day – brought on a relief that opened wide the possibility – and belief – that I could maintain a meditation practice.

And what better reward is there, post-meditation, than having a clear head and peaceful attitude for my Monday-morning commute to work.

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Change Starts with Ourselves

By Sameer Bhangar, Simple Intentions Consultant

mobile deviceAs a parent, I try to limit how much time my 6- and a 3-year-old kids spend in front of a screen. I read articles by folks like Sheryl Turkle, who speaks passionately on the topic of lost conversation in a digital age. My wife and I discuss strategies like setting specific “iPad time” each day. I mask my frustration by turning a blind eye, pretending it’s not an issue, that I’m not really bothered by my kids staring blankly at a screen.

And then it struck me: the gap between my desires and actions. I’ve become painfully aware of the amount of time I spend on my own mobile device. At work, certainly, but especially at home around the kids. While walking to grab a glass of water I’ll peek to see if any new emails have come in; in between playtime I’ll check if I have any new Facebook notifications, and on and on.

We’ve all heard and likely repeated the relevant clichés: “Change starts with oneself.” “Be the change you want to see.” “Lead by example.” We know it’s hard to change a habit, especially when it provides a real and immediate reward, like the mini dopamine rush we receive each time we see a Facebook Like or a retweet of an article we just posted.

We tend to look externally for strategies and solutions to changing habits. Yet, the clichés are true: We must first look internally and become aware of where our actions misalign with our desires. For me, it’s being aware each time I pick up my mobile phone while I’m playing with my kids.

We can extend this to the workplace, to a broader team context. As a manager and leader, what are some behavior shifts you seek for your team, and how are you going about shaping the changes? Do you start with creating strategies and communicating “the plan,” or do you start by trying to model the behavior change yourself? If you want your team to take more risks, what is the risk you took this week that felt a bit scary? If you want your team to collaborate better, what are you doing to reach out and cultivate stronger relationships yourself?

As you work on shifting your own behavior, are you sharing your stories and including the team in this conversation, thereby creating permission for them to learn from each other as well? I’m not likely to sit down with my toddler and have a conversation about my struggle with setting and enforcing electronic boundaries, but you have the choice to do that with your team. And it starts with an authentic conversation with yourself.

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