Monday, February 25, 2013

The Power of Bullshit!

This blog post isn't about being an imposter, lacking substance, or believing in farce. The post isn't about the act of bullshitting (which includes fronting, masquerading, and faking, among other things) either.

"Bullshit!", as an emphatic interjection, is often rhythmically chanted at sporting venues after an official makes a controversial ruling which majority of the attendees vehemently disagree with. It also happens to be a powerful word that I've successfully used to put a stop to making excuses.

Improving my state of fitness is one of my everyday goals which I am diligently pursuing. But I often feel indifferent towards engaging in a workout session after a taxing workday. When these thoughts of apathy and cravings for inertia kick in, I immediately call "Bullshit!" and make the trek to the gym. During the weekends, I sometimes find myself dragging ass and procrastinating even though I have learning or fitness goals to accomplish. When I start spending more time pondering what course of action to take next instead of taking action steps, I call "Bullshit!" Whenever I let the dishes pile up in my kitchen and find myself speculating the time it would take to get the dishes washed instead of acting upon them, I rely on the power of "Bullshit!" to get myself into action.

Learning how to say "Bullshit!" is a great way to put a stop to excuses and halt the train of thought which derails the pursuit of my strategic goals. It's amazing how much time I can waste on trying to decide on a course of action, and then feel paralyzed by over-analyzing. The power of "Bullshit!" stops the waffling in its tracks.

Without "Bullshit!" my excuses beget more excuses, which in turn begets even more excuses. The "I don't want to exercise after work because I need to study" is followed few hours later by "I don't want to study because I'm mentally tired." The avoidance proses begin writing their own chapters without "Bullshit!" and as a result, very little gets done. Without "Bullshit!" all of my excuses turn into self-limiting beliefs or even lies about my potential (such as "I can't ever establish a workout habit that sticks," or "I don't have the motivation or the skills to blog on a weekly basis."). I often call "Bullshit!" on my lazy thought processes (like "I need to be sitting in front of a computer to compose a proper blog post," to which I respond, "Bullshit!"--I wrote over 90 percent of this article while on the bus, with my mobile devices).

I recently encountered an interesting article about an empowering one-word concept. Author Jon Gordon, in his book, "One Word That Will Change Your Life," discusses the power of having a transformative one-word for motivating one towards her or his North Star. My one word is used for putting my excuses and pleas for inaction where the sun doesn't shine.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Chips On My Shoulders

A recent article in Fast Company (Why You Should Stop Wasting Time On Absurd Motivational Articles) stresses the importance of taking bitterness and using it as motivation. I agree that many recent career-enhancement articles are heavy on self-actualization and pursuit of passion. Although I appreciate the essence of these articles, I haven't come across many articles about using the words and actions of doubters, skeptics, and haters as motivational tools.

I am most inspired whenever I am in company of energizing friends who make things happen and are driven. These folks have built their awesome situations through believing in themselves and their goals--and have the skills and experience to back up their passions. But the doubters, skeptics, and haters all have their place, too.

The local PONY Baseball League, which I played in when I was 13 and 14, was a great example for learning about overcoming skeptics. The first summer was a complete bust, as I was a horrible fielder and a batter. Having inadequate prescription glasses was the main culprit, but I was also too complacent--I was just happy to be playing on the team. Not surprisingly, the coaches put me in corner outfield positions for only couple of innings each game, hoping that balls wouldn't be hit in my direction. We had a pretty good team, but I was clearly the worst player.

Thanks to improved glasses and being driven by a fear of not being selected to play for the team, the following season was a significant improvement. Being able to see the ball better helped my confidence--it was the only time in my youth baseball career that I hit over .350. Instead of making brief cameos at corner outfield spots, I played more frequently. I volunteered to play infield positions, which was a new experience at that level of organized ball. I also warmed up pitchers when I wasn't in the lineup, coached first base, and did other things. I went from being an unreliable locomotive to a Little Engine That Could. And our team won the state tournament that summer.

When I joined the football team during my junior and senior years of high school, I was the smallest player on the team. My pep band friends thought that I was just pulling a publicity stunt. My Dungeon & Dragons-playing friends were even more skeptical. The football team endured losing records both years, but I scored a touchdown on my last game of the senior year, in a game which we won.

The chips on my shoulders continue to provide motivation today. In my current work situation as a Field Technician, there is a lingering perception that I am less qualified than my peers to do technical work. Having been a group lead at the less technical Help Desk group for many years before joining the current team may have something to do with the perception. Fair or not, I learned that hard technical skills are valued more than important soft skills such as communication and relationship-building, organizational knowledge, and identifying process improvement opportunities.

Despite my repeated contributions to the team's technical knowledge, the stereotype lingers. I use the doubters and naysayers as motivational tools--while I spend most of my work hours engaged in important administrative tasks that no one else wants to do, I spend time outside work learning technical knowledge that are relevant to my work and my industry. I also build career capital at work and elsewhere by being a Subject Matter Expert for several process improvement projects, presenting at industry conferences, and making connections with people who recognize my value.

Overcoming the chips on my shoulders is an icing on the cake, not the dessert. As long as I keep in mind that I'm learning new skills and experience for the purpose of building career capital--and not for flipping the bird to doubters, skeptics, and haters--I know that I will be in better position to embrace new opportunities. Once I learn new technical skills as part of my personal career enhancement strategy, I know that my established soft skills and a passion for helping others will differentiate myself from many technical folks who are only concerned about learning hard skills. To remind myself that I can make things happen despite naysayers, I only need to look in my closet and look at the letter jacket--with a letter earned from varsity football.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Looking For Keystone Habits

The pursuit of establishing many sustained habits can be overwhelming. I have many things that I want to start doing differently, and although I know that lasting changes are best taken on little bit at a time, I don't know where to start. It's like being an eager beginning piano student--you have a book with ample Bach, Couperin, Rameau, Mozart, and Bartok pieces, but you know that it's best to focus and master few pieces at a time before moving on to learning other pieces. But which pieces do you start learning first?

I recently did a SWOT (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Weaknesses) analyses of few important long-term goals: improving fitness, making progress on career development goals, and blogging regularly In all cases, there were glaring commonalities under the Weakness quadrant. The same phrase--"lack of discipline"--populated the W quadrant. Is there something that I can do to address my lack of discipline?

I recently finished reading Charles Duhigg's insightful book, The Power of Habit. The author asserts that certain habits are catalysts for creating cascading changes, and act as foundation for establishing new habits. Duhigg calls them "keystone habits."

Perhaps finding which new habits I could designate as keystone habits is my first course of action. What are the habits that will address my proclivity for lax self-discipline? For fitness goals, I want to establish a modest routine of three workout sessions a week. For professional growth, I want to spend minimum of four hours a week learning new skills and engaging in career-propelling activities (such as networking, meeting with inspirational experts and mentors, and staying up to date in my fields of interest). And for maintaining blogging discipline, I want to post once a week. So far I have been able to prioritize these keystone habits.

I've discovered that participating in these keystone habits have the added benefit of feeding off each other. I spend my post-gym whirlpool time thinking about content and the structure for the week's blog posts and plan the week's career-propelling activities. Engaging in career-related activities also acts as a catalyst for future blog posts. Spending 60 minutes on cardiovascular exercise helps inculcate mental toughness needed to slosh through challenging study exercises.

The biggest question now is, "will these keystone habits stick?" That remains to be seen. As long as my important long-term goals remain the same, I feel confident that these keystone habits are built to last.

Monday, February 4, 2013

From DIY to GTD

For over two decades, one of the things that held me back from creating things was the misguided obsession with following the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) aesthetics. I contemplated creative ideas and endeavors in my head for awhile then focused on how to make them happen. Then I spent countless hours fixating on learning peripheral subjects that were somehow related to the things I wanted to make. I had a strong fixation with the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) aesthetics, and I felt that having complete control over means of production was the pinnacle of non-compromising creativity. I abhorred and mocked the "Have-It-Made" approach.

When writing songs, I spent numerous hours playing with the tools--the musical instruments and recording software--and spent even more time being a technical spec-head. I was more interested in knowing the potential of the new, shiny tool than I was in creating things. The aborted blogging attempts over a decade ago were derailed by being sidetracked by fixation on learning about running my own server, obtaining my own hardware, and learning the WYSIWYG design software.

Simply, my obsession with the DIY aesthetics meant nothing got done.

I've learned couple of important observations about not getting things done. Being obsessed with having and knowing all of the means of production involves significant time investment--something which I didn't have. Obtaining these means of production with insufficient time or aptitude to master them resulted in my stockpiling obsolete tools (decade-old software titles, computers from late 1990s, and a plethora of outdated recording gear) and half-assed creative output which faintly resembled the potency of the original ideas in my head. This was an expensive form of procrastination.

As much as I love jotting down prospective fragments of creative ideas in my Evernote app, Rhodia and Moleskine notebooks, and on random cocktail napkins, the harsh reality is that no one cares about creative endeavors in my head. It's high time that I take steps to GTD (Get Things Done).

Perhaps it's not surprising that my most productive musical efforts are my participation in bands--with other people. Adopting the mindset that I don't have to do it all is more conducive for my getting things done. Blogging is more productive when I'm not worrying about running and maintaining my own server hardware and software.

Maybe I had approached the DIY movement from a wrong perspective. Perhaps adopting an entrepreneurial mindset, with a focus on getting things done, is the path to creating successfully.