Jul 2011: Keeping Score

by Brad on July 1, 2011

“Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth.”   —– Albert Einstein 

How’s your life going? To respond by saying “fine” isn’t what I’m up to here. I’m suggesting you inquire deeply into what matters most in your life, and ask how the way you live is making that a reality. This inquiry is crucial to living a life you love. In addition to the ‘what matters most’ question so often a subject of these newsletters, there’s a ‘how am I doing at it’ question just below the surface. This month, I want to examine that question in more detail.

No matter what we do, we also want to know how we’re doing at it. This is perhaps most obvious in the workplace, where we endlessly create measurement systems, all aimed at knowing how things are going. I’m not a fan of such measurements. They not only fail to offer a valid assessment of what’s really happening, but lead us to believe they do. As a result, we create behaviors to make the measures work, not the organization. Perhaps next month I’ll write about effective measurement in the workplace, but for now, let’s examine the same topic at the individual level.

When I ask clients what criteria help them assess the quality of their lives, they often use words like freedom, peace, meaning, love and satisfaction. Yet when they look at measurements they really use, they more often discover money, possessions, achievement and the opinions of others as the things that drive their behavior. Underneath this dichotomy is lack of conscious awareness: we don’t know we’re using such measures, and we don’t know we modify behavior so as to satisfy them. Examples: (1) we say we want meaningful work, yet stay in dead-end jobs because of the money; (2) we say personal happiness and peace matter, but we do more to make other people’s lives happy than our own. I’m not suggesting what criteria you use to measure the quality of your life, but I am suggesting that you know what they are, choose them consciously, and align them with what matters most to you.  If you’ve worked to gain personal clarity of what matters most to you (as suggested in previous newsletters), this process will be far more powerful. Exercises below help you begin the journey. Continued commitment to your own well-being sustains the journey. Making this shift is really quite simple, although like many simple things, unconscious beliefs will tell you to keep struggling with what you’ve been used to doing. As you move forward, listen for those naysayer voices.

Exercise #1: Grow awareness: Stop what you’re doing several times a day. During these moments of quiet reflection, replay in your mind thoughts you’ve had since the last time you stopped, as if a movie with you as audience. Listen to what they tell you. Don’t try to change anything. Just notice. Then, for each thought you identify, ask yourself if the thought makes you feel more alive or less alive, more in tune with the person/life you want, or less in tune. No need to judge the answer; the act of noticing is a loving act. Over time, you’ll find yourself naturally choosing thoughts, situations and relationships that serve you … all without “trying.” 

Exercise #2: Choose principles: Personal principles are standards and criteria you set for yourself as guides to becoming the person you want to be. This is not about creating impossible expectations so you can beat yourself up, but about creating powerful images that evoke your own greatest potential. One of mine, for example: I remain connected with my own deepest truth and with the unity of all life through a practice of an hour of silence in nature each day. A suggested practice: for the next month, take 15-20 minutes each day and quietly inquire into your own ways of making your life work. Write down what you discover. You may encounter old beliefs that no longer serve you (such as “money buys happiness.”) You may find surprises about differences between what you think you want and what you actually do. Get to know what you know, what you believe, and what you think. Get to know how you know what you know. Then design some criteria you’d like to use to know how your life is going. If freedom matters, for example, define what freedom means to you. The process of awareness leads you to clarity; clarity creates its own change, no trying needed. After doing this daily for a month, move to a monthly review of your personal principles. Listen to what your everyday life tells you about how you’re doing; then revise the principles as necessary, throughout life. 

A River Runs Through It  [Life lessons offered by nature]

I’ve written before about feedback systems in nature. Feedback is an information flow inherent in all living systems. Information is a natural output from every one of nature’s processes, and it’s also a natural input to every one of nature’s processes. This is how nature knows what to do next; she “listens” to feedback. Feedback works in much the same way as do the questions in exercise #1. When something in nature “works,” she does more of it. When something doesn’t work, she does less, or perhaps something altogether different. Something about mosquitoes make them “work,” so nature keeps creating more of them. Something about wooly mammoths worked for a while, but when the conditions conducive to mammoth-ness ceased to exist, so did the mammoth. No judgment, no agenda or plan, no summit meeting. The natural information flow within the system “tells” nature what to do next. It’s process that has guided life on this planet for billions of years. 

If we could, as does nature, know what matters, listen to natural feedback to know how we’re doing, and then take action based on the feedback, we could sustain lives of meaning, peace, satisfaction and freedom, all with dramatically less effort and stress than we use to keep our daily struggle alive. 

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