Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Jumping Out the Window

We often hear people say that when one door closes another opens.
If this were true wouldn't it be great?! If at every challenge in life a clear opportunity presented itself we wouldn't have any problems.
But things are seldom that easy...
I think a better analogy is that when a door closes there is usually a window. Opportunities may not always be staring you in the face like an open door but they are always there, although you may need to squeeze and contort to get through and in some cases force it open!
This 'window of opportunity' requires that you change your approach and use your strengths and nous to realise the opening provided. It's not easy, but it's doable.
The biggest challenge when presented with a failed or closed opportunity is to see the new opportunity and take the plunge and do the uncomfortable. Simply walking through the open door is seldom an option. But jumping through the window is...

This metaphor became plainly obvious to me sitting at my gate at Sydney Airport, about to fly to Auckland after a fantastic weekend of meetings. An opportunity that I had been involved with had fizzled out, and initially myself and my business partners were very despondent.
However in looking at the greater opportunities we realized that we could do things differently, more effectively, and although it would require more work and capital, the results would be much, MUCH greater both for our clients and to our eventual bottom line. It was a win-win that resulted from what we all thought was initially a great loss.  To get to the point of realization we simply had to stop focusing on the closed door and instead look through the window to what could be achieved...and then jump out of it!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

How to Deal With Criticism

Today I had a minor 'disgreement' with a guy I was sparring with at Jiu Jitsu.
He didn't like my sparring style (no one I've ever sparred with has had a problem with the way I roll) and told me in no uncertain terms, and in what I considered to be a very belittling and condescending, way what he thought of the point of 'asking' if I wanted to settle it 'upstairs' (there is a boxing/kickboxing gym upstairs from my Jiu Jitsu dojo) with a spot of boxing!...
Not sure if he knows that I've done a little glove work myself...
To be honest I was pretty pissed off, and I'm not someone who gets angered easily. So when I got home I figured that it was the perfect opportunity to put into practice the techniques that I have so often used over the years and that I teach my clients and patients.
Because let's face it, when we hold on to anger it is like letting someone live rent free inside our heads.
Release, release, release.

Whenever someone criticizes me or after any situation of  confrontation I always reflect on the situation.  This is like a 'personal audit' and has two major benefits: It allows us to learn and grow from the experience; and it allows us to let go of the situation (not continue to carry around anger, resentment and all those "I should have done this...and should have said that" internal monologues!)

Is it Justified?
The first question I ask myself always is: : "Is the criticism justified?"
There are times when there just isn't really any justification for what someone is saying. In these cases we are really just beating ourselves up if we continue to carry it around. Simply asking the question "Is it justified?" and answering "No" is enough for us to have some sort of resolution and be able to let it go instead of reliving it over and over.
However on many occasions people do have a valid point of criticism and sometimes the confrontation that they initiate is valid in it's basis (although more often than not the way people approach these confrontations is counterproductive, confrontational and in some cases violent.)

When we ask ourselves this simple we question we will often be able to pin-point a justification or rationale for the other parties actions. Realizing this justification for the other parties position (and for their anger) helps us to understand them, and understanding is the key to forgiveness.
If we are able to see where they may have a point we can then go a step further and think "Am I prepared to do something about it?"
Often there will be an opportunity for growth and change that we may not have realized, and so the confrontation or criticism has already served a valuable purpose. The growth and change can then stem from the ways that we decide to change our actions and outlook so that this doesn't occur again.
However this must be within our value set. Some things just aren't important to us and our world view, and if that is the case we need to recognize it, otherwise we may end up simply trying to change to meet someone else's expectations - not changing in order to live a life of greater passion and purpose.

I remember for example that someone I used to live with would often get frustrated by little things I would do. I wouldn't even notice them and to be honest they were things I didn't think were important. Some I wouldn't change anyway because they are either so inconsequential OR are part of my value set.
But when she would bring them up I would thank her and explain that I understood that it is an issue for her but that it simply wasn't for me, and could we come to some sort of accord - not just about the action that was frustrating her, but also about our differences in what we considered important. That understanding alone made everyone in the house more considerate of the others values, and therefor more forgiving.

Decide on Actions
If you've decided that there is some justification in the criticism and you are prepared to do something, you simply need to think of what that thing, or things are!
A few simple action steps can completely change interpersonal dynamics, and simply having a greater awareness of how we have acted in ways that aren't congruent with our highest values and purpose can give us the awareness to not allow it to happen (or at least as much) in future. In doing so we can begin to change our patterns of action and come closer to that 'perfect' life of purpose we desire.

Say "Thank You!"
Our greatest teachers are often the most frustrating people, and those that we have conflict with.....IF we use the confrontations as an opportunity for self reflection and growth.
As the conduit for our continued growth the other person should be thanked!
They brought to a head a circumstance that allowed us to become better, and hey perhaps we brought that element into our lives, because it simply had to be.

[I did thank the guy that I had the disagreement with today...but he was more intent on challenging me to a fist fight than coming to an accord!]

Never make it personal & never make it about something else...
This is THE key to communicating with others in confrontational situations.
Asking the question "Is it justified?" in response to someone's criticism is in itself a great way to subvert the temptation to make it personal (like replying: "Well you're ugly!) or about something else:
"You didn't put the dishes away!"
"Well you never clean the bathroom!"
It is always better to not attack the person - you don't mean to anyway, it is simply the heat of the moment, and any mature communication based around non-judging compassion and love precludes this.
Personal attacks only make future relationships with that person more challenging.
Changing the subject to another issue is also counter-productive. It is a form of personal attack, and it is simply a diversion. It is better to defuse the situation at hand and to learn and grow when necessary and where able. If there is another issue that needs addressing, do it separately, preferably at a later time and outside of a heated or confrontational situation.

Breathe deeply, relax, sit in silence, smile...
Exude love and compassion to your adversary and RELEASE!

I will be hosting conscious, compassionate communication and meditation classes starting in the Spring. Email or DM me if you would like more information, and stay tuned for details!

~ Cliff


Monday, September 12, 2011

Headaches - Are You Repressing Anger?

Often one of the first things that is asked in a mind-body clinical setting regarding head aches and head tension is about repressed anger.
Physiologically this makes a lot of sense as the emotion of anger creates a lot of physical tension as a result of the contractile nature of the stress hormones (such as epinephrine, norepinephrine) and the 'posturing' that we take on as a result of the physical readiness we take on to respond to threats.
A great question to ask yourself when you get a tension headache is; "Is there anger?" and if so "What is the anger?" (Who, what, why etc) and also "Where is the anger?" (Often there will be a place or places within the body that you feel or experience the anger/tension.)
You can then work to release anger by many means. Some of these may include a physical release, such as hitting a boxing bag or having a hard work out.
You may also find value in mindfulness meditation. These can help to gain some perspective and rationality around the anger and allow it to be released and to break the cycle of thinking and worrying about the anger and instead simply allowing it to 'be', and subsequently be released.
Recognising the areas of the body that you feel the tension or anger can also help in the releasing process.
'Breathe into', these areas and on the out breath imagine actively releasing any and all tension in the area.
By releasing physical tension we may inversely release psycho-emotional tension.

Basic mindfulness and meditation techniques can be found in both Choosing You! and Time Rich Cash Optional. 
Available at and direct from the publisher at


Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Toss Productivity Out ~ by Leo Babauta

Post written by Leo Babauta of Zen Habits.

For at least a couple of years, Zen Habits was one of the top productivity blogs, dispensing productivity crack for a nominal fee (your reading time).
I’d like to think I helped people move closer to their dreams, but today I have different advice:

Toss productivity advice out the window.

Most of it is well-meaning, but the advice is wrong for a simple reason: it’s meant to squeeze the most productivity out of every day, instead of making your days better.

Imagine instead of cranking out a lot of widgets, you made space for what’s important. Imagine that you worked slower instead of faster, and enjoyed your work. Imagine a world where people matter more than profits.

If any of that appeals to you, let’s look at some traditional productivity advice, and see why we should just toss them out.

1. Get Organized.
Sounds good, but getting organized is just rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. It does nothing to stop the ship from sinking. Instead, simplify. If you have a desk with 5 things in it, you don’t need to organize. If you have a closet with only a handful of clothes, it doesn’t need a closet organizer. If your day has only one or two appointments, there’s no need for a detailed schedule organizer. Simplifying means making important choices about what’s important, rather than ignoring that question and just trying to cram everything into your day (and space) in a logical way.

2. Keep an Idea List
The idea is that whenever you have an idea, you should write it down. Then you’ll never lose an idea, and you’ll always have a list of ideas that you can come back to. Sounds great, right? Except in practice, the idea list is never filled with your best ideas. That’s because when you have a really great idea, you get so excited about it you jump up and want to work on it immediately. Your best ideas are ones that you can’t put off until tomorrow. That’s how you know it’s a great idea. The ideas that go on the Idea List are not your best.

3. Set a Lot of Goals. 
Only five years ago, I had a long list of goals for each year, and I was pretty decent at getting them done (better than 50% at least). Then I experimented with three goals a year, and I was even more focused. Then I did One Goal, and that was amazing, because it really helped me focus everything I did. Now I do No Goals, and it’s best of all. I let go of future-focused thinking, and focus on what inspires and excites me now. I get even more accomplished, but let go of all the time I used to spend on goal administration (it’s more than you might think) and all my mental energy is freed to do what I want to do right now. You might not want to do No Goals, but try One Goal or three goals.

[Cliff's note: This minimalist goal setting strategy is similar to what I recommend in Time Rich Cash Optional]

4. Track Everything. 
If you want to change it, you have to measure it, right? If you want fast results, you need to track it. Except that’s complete crap. Why do you need such fast results in the first place? And who says you need to track something to change it? I’ve found more meaningful, lasting results when I don’t track, but focus on enjoyment of the activity. For example, if I focus on enjoying running, that makes me want to run more often, and that’s a habit that lasts much longer. If I focus on tracking the running (mileage, speed, VO2 max, intervals, etc), that takes the enjoyment away from the activity (running) and focuses on the results. If you are so focused on the results, the activity becomes only a means to an end. That makes the activity less enjoyable, and therefore less sustainable over the long run. I’ve become fitter than ever by not tracking, but instead enjoying being active. I’ve grown my site more now that I don’t track stats, but instead enjoy the writing. Over the long run, not tracking is better.

5. Be Productive. 
When You’re Waiting. Lots of people do this — you bring a laptop or mobile device or some papers to do some work while you’re waiting at a doctor’s office or at DMV or on the train or in traffic. There’s nothing wrong with this, really, except in the philosophy behind it: that every second should be filled with work, or it’s wasted. I object to this. Sitting in a waiting room, doing nothing but sitting in silence or watching other people, is a beautiful way to spend your time. Reading a novel on a train, or taking a nap, is also wonderful. Waiting in line at DMV or the post office and eavesdropping on other human beings, or making conversation with someone, or just soaking in the sounds of humanity, is arguably more important than doing more work or reading work-related documents. Life isn’t only about work, and productivity isn’t everything. Try some unproductivity instead.

6. Keep Detailed, Context To-Do Lists. 
In the early days of Zen Habits, back in 2007, I did exactly this — I kept a series of contextual to-do lists for home, work, phone calls, errands, someday, and so on. This became too much work for me, and so instead of organizing, I simplified. I now focus on one or two things to do each day, and if when I get them done, my day is golden. Everything else I do that day is gravy. And the to-do lists gather dust, which turns out to be a very productive thing for them to do.

7. Work Hard in Bursts, with Frequent Breaks
Work hard for 10 minutes and take a break for 5! Or maybe 12 and 3? Maybe 30 minutes of hard work and 10 minutes of break? The exact numbers really depend on your flavor of productivity, but at their heart they miss the point: you shouldn’t be forcing yourself to work hard on something you dread doing, and then take a break to reward or relieve yourself from that dreaded work. You should work on stuff you love, so that you can’t wait to do it, and taking a break is just a matter of enjoying something else (maybe a nice walk, a nice book, a nice conversation with a friend). Life where you work hard in bursts, with some breaks, is dreadful. Life where you’re always doing something you love is art.

I've always enjoyed Leo's blog (in fact it's recommended reading in Time Rich Cash Optional. While I don't agree with everything I definitely agree that we can paralyse ourselves and end up being productive and 'efficient' for the sake of being efficient...and in the process waste time that could otherwise be spent doing things we love. KNOWING what we REALLY want is crucial to being able to live the life of our dreams, not simply doing things in the supposed best way. For more tips on lifestyle design check out Leo's blog and books, Time Ferriss' 4 Hour Work Week and my own Time Rich Cash Optional. 
~ Cliff

All the books listed can be found at