Provision #221: Establish your Boundaries

Laser Provision

What are you putting up with right now? Do people say or do things that drive you crazy? Then thisProvision is for you. Read on to learn how to turn that list of complaints into a list of boundaries, boundaries that you can establish effectively in order to have the life of your dreams.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I raised the issue of boundaries by reprinting my commentary on the subject, “Just Say No,” from May of 1999. It’s time to say more. In the two years since I wrote that issue, I have worked actively with more than 60 coaching clients and have spoken to hundreds of people in a wide variety of settings from all walks of life.

Based on this experience, it’s safe to say that the issue of boundaries ranks near the top of people’s concerns and agendas. Knowing how to set, establish, maintain, and police your personal and professional boundaries is a fundamental habit for success. No one can be successful in life and work until they master this ability.

Without clear and effective boundaries, the world will run you ragged and hold you hostage to its ever-changing agenda. With clear and effective boundaries, you will enter into a dynamic partnership with the world marked by trust, confidence, and genuine accomplishment. When boundaries are up and running well, life is good.

Remember the distinction between standards and boundaries. Standards are what you hold yourself to while boundaries are what you hold others to. If, on principle, you refuse to use illegal substances • that’s a standard. If, on principle, you refuse to be with people who are using illegal substances • that’s a boundary. The standard reflects your identity in positive ways; the boundary protects your identity from negative ways.

Do you have a clear set of boundaries? I would guess not. Most people don’t. They can usually identify the things that people say or do to them or around them that drive them crazy, but they have usually not established those things as boundaries • either in their own mind or in the minds of others. As a result, the violations continue at great expense. They compromise not only peace of mind but physical health and overall performance.

I like the process that Coach University has identified for establishing boundaries. It begins with making a list of the things that are driving you crazy. They may be little things • like someone asking you to do things at the last minute • or big things • like someone being physically or verbally abusive. Whatever they are, they are specific. That someone has a name. That violation has a date, time, and place. You know exactly what they are.

Once you have the list, you can begin the process of establishment, communication, and enforcement. Coach University has identified this as a sequential 4-step process: inform, request, demand, and leave. They derive this process from real property. If you have land and you want to protect your privacy, you inform people to stay off your property by erecting a fence and posting signs. If someone hops the fence, you ask them to leave. If they hop the fence again, you call the police and run them off. If it happens continually, with a steady stream of trespassers, you sell the property and buy something more remote.

So too with that list of things that are driving you crazy. Inform people of your new boundaries. Do this with a neutral emotional tone, not angry or hostile. Act as though your boundaries have never been violated. Post the signs. “You can no longer say or do this to me or around me.” If they violate them in the future, ask them to stop. If they do it again, demand that they stop. If they do it a third time, leave the situation quickly. Three strikes and you’re out, not three hundred and three.

The biggest challenge to implementing this process is our own fear. It takes courage to find your voice, set your boundaries, and hold people accountable. At first it may appear as though you risk losing the relationship entirely. The stakes are high when that relationship is a spouse or an employer. But better to lose the relationship than to suffer the stress of continual boundary violations. And guess what? Most of the time, people don’t lose the relationship. It simply gets better, with new ground rules in place.

That is my hope for you this week. That you identify your boundaries and that you communicate them to those who need to know. Communicate them with authority. They are, after all, your boundaries. You don’t have to justify, explain, or defend them. You just have to set, communicate, maintain, and police them. Whatever stress that may provoke in the short run will pale in comparison to the long term toleration of constant boundary violation. And in the end, you’ll have the relationships and the life of your dreams.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
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Provision #117: Just Say No

Laser Provision

It’s important, but not enough, to set standards for yourself. You also have to set boundaries for others. Boundaries are imaginary lines that protect your well being from the words and actions of others. Sometimes you have to just say no in order to be your very best in the world. This Provision will help you do that.

LifeTrek Provision

The revelation came to me while I was sitting in church. It doesn’t always happen that way, but this time it did. The pastor was reading from the book of Nehemiah • one of the great books in the Jewish / Christian scriptural tradition.

Nehemiah was a Jew living in Persia when he heard about the desolation of Jerusalem. Filled with compassion and community pride, he requests and receives a royal commission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. Nehemiah leaves Persia with a job to do. He has a plan and a strategy that fills him with energy and life.

As Nehemiah works on rebuilding Jerusalem, his work comes to the attention of three local governors. They are not happy about the prospect of restoring the capital of the Jewish community. They are not happy about dividing their meager pie into any smaller slices. This was the point, as I heard the story read aloud, at which the revelation came to me. Allow the scriptures, and Nehemiah, to speak for themselves:

“(One of the governors) sent me a message, ‘Come and meet us in the Valley of Ono.’ Now they intended some harm to me. So I sent messengers to them to say, •I am engaged in a great undertaking and so cannot come down. The work would come to a halt if I left it to come down to you.’ Four times they sent me the same invitation and four times I made them the same reply.” (Nehemiah 6:2-4).

Four times Nehemiah just said no to meet the governor in the Valley of Ono. The alliteration certainly helped to make the point. Four times Nehemiah just said no to being distracted, pulled away, and sidetracked from his strategy and plan. Four times he just said no because he knew it would do him and the work harm. That was the revelation.

Coaches do a lot of work with their clients around the issues of standards and boundaries. Standards are behaviors to which you hold yourself because they reflect you in positive ways. Boundaries are behaviors to which you hold others because they impact you in negative ways. Nehemiah had standards and boundaries. Rebuilding Jerusalem grew out of his standards of compassion and community pride. Saying no grew out of his boundaries for the project and for himself.

Do you have clear standards and boundaries? They’re both equally important. Standards reflect who you are. They are not moral absolutes. They are personal attributes. For one person, it may be impeccable honesty. For another, it may be heartfelt compassion. For a third, it may be empowering organization. For a fourth, it may be good, clean living. There are many standards, and it’s OK to have more than one. The key is to know what they are and to live accordingly. The challenge is to raise them high without overextending or having to be hyper vigilant in the process.

Boundaries are critical to maintaining your standards. You can’t be who you are if you allow other people and things to constantly pull you away. That can be hard when you’re facing the crisis of the moment or responding to a request from your spouse or boss. Indeed, many people will compromise their strategies, standards, and even themselves if someone in authority over or relationship with them pushes the right button. But that is not the way of honor and peace. Just say no when you get asked to do something that takes you off course. Say it four times, if need be, but be sure to say it.

Set high standards and strong boundaries. Tell others about them. And see what a difference that makes.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
LifeTrek Coaching International
121 Will Scarlet Lane
Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
U.S.A.

Telephone: 757-345-3452
Fax: 772-382-3258

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Provision #219: Live Your Standards

Laser Provision

Coaches often make a distinction between standards and boundaries. We assist our clients to understand the distinction, to set their standards and boundaries, and to live accordingly. Being clear, firm, and yet flexible in this regard is a critical habit for success. Read on to make this habit come alive for you.

LifeTrek Provision

Last week I followed my Provision about learning from experience with a discussion about the value of affirming yourself daily. That was not accidental. Although humans have a large capacity for learning, we often fail to learn in deep, meaningful, and sustainable ways. At those moments, the practice of self-affirmation becomes all the more important.

That’s the beauty of being human! We can even learn from failing to learn. Or, as one friend used to say, “No one is a failure • one can always serve as a bad example.” When our learning is not as swift or as profound as we might hope, when our habits resist change in spite of our best efforts, view this as the perfect opportunity to enter into a coaching conversation with yourself and with others about how to set things right. That’s so much better than beating yourself up and bringing yourself down.

Two of the areas in which people have a lot to learn are in the area of standards and boundaries. We often work on these areas with our coaching clients. The distinction is simple: standards are things we hold ourselves to while boundaries are things we hold others to. For example, if we do not use illegal substances on principle • that’s a standard. If we do not allow others to use illegal substances in our home or in our presence • that’s a boundary.

Do you know your standards and boundaries? When was the last time you wrote them down? If it’s been more than a year, or if you’ve never committed them to writing, I suggest that you make that a part of your mornings for the next two weeks. This week, we’ll focus on standards. Next week, we’ll focus on boundaries. Take the time this week to write down at least two standards every morning. By this time next week, you should have a list of at least 14 standards that you live by, values that you adhere to, things that you do for your own well-being and the well-being of others.

One dynamic that lies behind the distinction between standards and boundaries is the dynamic of power and control. If standards are things we hold ourselves to and boundaries are things we hold others to, then standards are things over which we have more power and control • at least in theory • than boundaries. It behooves us to set and embody standards that make us healthy, wealthy, and wise • without destroying the earth and other living things in the process.

The need for standards and boundaries is seldom more apparent than in the modern workplace. These sink-or-swim pressure cookers can become an excuse for throwing standards and boundaries to the winds. Worse yet, they can become an environment where the so-called “bottom line” is the only standard and boundary that anyone recognizes or respects.

So what’s wrong with that? Isn’t capitalism all about making money? No. Capitalism has become the handmaiden of democracy because many view it as the best way to secure those cherished values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” When the workplace sacrifices those values to the bottom-line of company profitability, everyone stands to lose.

Right now I am enjoying Jennifer White’s latest and last book (she died an untimely death since the publication of the book), Drive your People Wild without Driving Them Crazy. Jennifer talks a lot about this dynamic with wonderfully concrete and edgy illustrations. For example: she argues that putting people before profit is the best way to achieve the profits we so often covet.

One corollary of this standard: when you’re with someone, be with him or her. Make it a principle to not take phone calls, including cell phone calls, or to engage in side conversations until you have completed your conversation with that person. Interrupting a conversation to talk with someone or to do something else dishonors the person you are with and lets him or her know that they are not as important to you as someone or something else. It’s not a good habit for success. “Be present to what’s going on in the moment,” Jennifer writes, “and handle phone calls at another time.”

To set and embody this standard may require not only a new way of thinking about your home and work life, it may also require you to inform the people in your life that you are going to start living by this standard. Once people know what to expect, they will accept and respect your commitment. And they will look forward to talking with you all the more.

This process of breaking your standards down to the granular level is the only way to make them come alive. Broad sweeping statements of standards, like impeccable honesty, don’t mean much until they get translated into the nitty-gritty details of daily life. So once you come up with your two standards for the day, write out two applications. Answer this question about each one, “How would people notice that I live by this standard if I truly embodied this standard in all that I am and do?”

Let me know what you come up with!

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
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Provision #218: Affirm Yourself

Laser Provision

An early mentor in my life, deceased for many years, was fond of saying, “We accept people right where they are, just the way they are.” Guess what? The hardest person to accept is often our self. And yet self-affirmation • daily self-soothing • is a critical habit for success that we too often neglect.

LifeTrek Provision

Longtime subscribers to LifeTrek Provisions may remember the issue last year in which I shared my experience at the millennial Boston marathon. You can still read this issue in the Provision archive (Click). It was a challenging day, to say the least. I did not run comfortably and my finish time was not what I wanted. As the race went on and this eventuality became clear, I tried to shift the focus away from my performance and toward the sights and sounds of a truly historic and great event. My self-coaching proved to be only partially successful.

This became clear several weeks later, after I had published that issue of LifeTrek Provisions, when the proofs of the official race pictures arrived in the mail. Usually I am quite excited to review the proofs and to order an 8×10 print for my marathon photo album. But this time I looked at the photos with disappointment. “Why honor a lousy run with a picture,” I told myself, “get one the next time you run Boston • and do the job right.” So I threw the proofs away.

Talk about a poor attitude for a coach, or anyone else who wants to be successful in life! That explosion of pride ranks high on my list of embarrassing moments. To reduce any experience to a single number • 3:46:31 — is to miss the experience altogether and to court with continued failure. It is not a winning approach to life. I tried to coach myself through these feelings at the time, but I failed to act accordingly. The deadline for ordering the picture came and went, leaving me with nothing more than my pride.

Since that time, three things have happened. I have gotten older, slower, and wiser. Maybe some of those things have happened to you as well. Time has a way of humbling the proud. A 3:46 Boston marathon now sounds pretty good to me and my photo album seems conspicuously incomplete.

A few weeks ago, longing to correct the situation, I called up the photography company to see if they could recover the picture without a proof • more than a year after the deadline for ordering had passed. To my surprise and delight, the company was happy and able to oblige. When the picture finally arrived, it brought me great satisfaction to open the envelope and remember the moment. What once looked so bad now looks so very good indeed. Imagine that.

Have you ever had experiences like this? Times when you got so focused on a particular project or goal that nothing less than your idea of success would prove acceptable? When things don’t go your way, as they often don’t, have you ever treated yourself with contempt, thinking negative thoughts about yourself, your behavior, and your place in the world?

Somehow I got into this downward spiral in the days, weeks, and months following the Boston marathon. It ruined my enjoyment of the race and of the deserving afterglow that usually accompanies a race. It even shook my confidence as a runner. In some ways I’m still trying to recover. This Provision • an honest baring of the soul • is part of that process.

Successful people don’t do this to themselves. They don’t second guess and berate themselves for their efforts, regardless of the results. Instead, they accept themselves for what they are: perfect creations of One Spirit, rising and falling like an ocean wave. Does the ocean get upset because some waves are smaller than others? Hardly. They are all perfect, just the way they are. Nothing has to be added or taken away. The great waves and the smallest ripples combine to make a scene of exquisite beauty. The ocean would not be what it is, perfect, were it not for them all.

So let this be your habit for success this week. Affirm yourself. Think good thoughts and speak the words. In your best and worst moments, your brilliance and blunders, your triumph and tragedy, your successes and failures, your victories and defeats • affirm the One Spirit that comes through you. Let go of your idea of success. It doesn’t have to be that way in order to be perfect. Whatever happens, no matter how disappointing, receive it as a gift that can enhance your experience of life. But only if you recognize it as such.

The following quote was shared as a Zen saying during one of the sessions I attended at the ICF meeting: “Knowledge is learning something new every day. Wisdom is letting go of something every day.” The presenter used this idea to get us thinking about a problem or situation in our life right now. “Maybe you don’t have to learn something new in order to solve that problem or handle that situation,” the teacher observed. “Maybe you need to let go of something.”

That has been so true in my experience not only at the Boston marathon but in life. There are things we need to let go of in order to attract success. We may need to let go of our pride or our plans. The world will not end if we let them go! We may need to let go of our negative thinking and self-talk. They only make us upset and unattractive.

My wish for you this week is simply this: accept yourself just the way you are, right where you are. Let go of how things ought to be and start paying attention to how things are. From that position, the world will beat a path to your door.

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
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Provision #217: Learn from Experience

Laser Provision

Experience, they say, is the best teacher. So why do so many people with so much experience do so many stupid things? They fail to take the time to reflect on experience and to observe the interaction of habits and impulses. Don’t make that mistake or you may never get beyond mediocrity in life.

LifeTrek Provision

In a world of constant and rapid change, perhaps the most important habit for success is to learn from experience • both our own experience and the experience of others. That, it has been said, is a defining characteristic of the human species: the ability to learn not only from our own but also from other people’s mistakes.

Unfortunately, too few people make this characteristic a lifelong habit. They end up with lots of experience, but they don’t continue to learn from that experience over time. Instead, they end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again. Or else they adopt a hit or miss strategy, striking out in new directions that usually end up missing more than they hit.

An upcoming article by a friend of mine at The Ohio State University, Cynthia Uline, offers some insight into this phenomenon of experience without learning through John Dewey’s 1922 description of impulses and habits. Impulses, according to Dewey, are unlearned and native while habits are learned and ordered. People who fail to learn from experience fail to enter into a conversation with the impulses and habits in their own lives and the lives of others.

Both impulses and habits have positive and negative dimensions. Impulses promote growth and free imagination, but they can also dissipate energy and hinder movement. Habits introduce continuity and intellectual efficiencies, but they can also codify behavior and mollify thinking. Why do we cut off the ends of the roast before putting it in the pan? Because we’ve always done it that way! There may be no good reason at all.

Uline observes that Dewey views active and consistent reflection on the interaction between impulses and habits as critical to human learning. Old habits combine with new impulses to produce choice and movement. Microsoft may have trademarked the question “Where do you want to go today?” but it’s the universal question of impulse. Reflection on that question, in light of our existing patterns of behavior, can produce both clarity and commitment.

Through reflection, Uline writes, we can mentally experiment with “various combinations of selected elements of habits and impulses, to see what the resultant action would be like if it were entered upon.” We can “rehearse each possibility without ever risking actual failure.” This process of reflection can lead to smarter action, which can lead to new reflection, which can lead to smarter action, until old habits are eclipsed by new ones.

Unfortunately, many people in our busy-busy world fail to make time for such reflection on their actions. As a result, one of two things happens. Either they continue to act according to existing patterns, even when those patterns have become dysfunctional (habit), or they randomly change their patterns of activity, with the hope that something will hit the mark (impulse). Such dumb actions come at a price: even when they work, people don’t know why and they find themselves unable to replicate and sustain their success.

People who continuously learn from experience do not make this mistake. They take the time to step back and think about their lives. They imaginatively listen to both their impulses and habits to discern what needs changing and to act accordingly. They examine their lives, to borrow a line from Plato, and by so doing they make their lives worth living.

This is not to say that you have to figure everything out ahead of time before you can take action. Au contraire! I frequently urge my coaching clients to take experimental actions that are based on tentative hypotheses, as long as such actions emerge from honest reflection and conversation. One can always make adjustments as long as one is engaged in a self-conscious process of personal and organizational development.

Such reflection needs to take place on a daily basis. We need to have what Tim Gallwey calls both short and long stops. Taking a half hour at the start of every day, immediately after you wake up, to observe the interactions between your impulses and habits can make a big difference in how the day goes. You may choose to handle a situation or to approach a problem in an entirely different way. You may also catch wind of something bigger than your plans. That’s the advantage of a significant morning stop. It can put you on an entirely different track.

Reflection does not always have to take so much time, however. Do not discount the importance of brief reflections throughout the day. Pausing to reflect before you eat is a proven strategy for enjoying your food and eating less. Pausing to reflect before you meet someone, even for 30 seconds at the door before you enter a room, can make all the difference in the world when it comes to your attitude, approach, and demeanor. This works at home as well as at the office.

Ironically, the best habit for success is to examine one’s habits and impulses on a regular basis. From there you may change your habits with a reasoned hope for success. An occasional big stop, on vacation or at a retreat center, may be required for really big changes. But the bread and butter of learning from experience come from the daily habit of looking at our lives.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #216: Take Stock

Laser Provision

Take stock of your life, of where you’ve been and where you’re going. It’s an important way to learn from experience. I took stock of my life this past week in order to discover the threads that weave their way through LifeTrek Provisions. In the process I came away more motivated than before to write my first book.

LifeTrek Provision

My vacation this past week took place at the Chautauqua Institution in western New York State. What a stimulating and yet relaxing environment. Most forms of electronic communication and motorized transportation are nowhere to be seen. It’s rather an opportunity to unwind and to focus on the things that are important.

My days at Chautauqua went something like this. Upon rising I either went running or biking. One day, while biking with a friend, I saw the orange sun rising over a misty cornfield surrounded by hills and valleys. The beauty was at once breathtaking and inspiring. “That,” I exclaimed, “is why we do these early morning rides.” To be surprised by the ordinary, as though we were seeing it for the very first time.

Upon my return I would clean up and go with my wife to a class on breathing and Yoga. The focus here was on breathwork more than postures, although the two can hardly be separated. A very accomplished and humble Yoga teacher taught the class. I look forward to sharing some of this with those LifeTrek clients who are interested.

After Yoga we would either go to a morning lecture or relax for some family time. My parents came up for several days, and it was good to all be together.

In the afternoon, I took two more classes • one on Publishing a Book and the other on Listening to Life. I learned a lot from both. The listening class confirmed two things: (1) My own series on listening, in LifeTrek Provisions, was not far from the mark, and (2) I still have a long way to go to be a good listener in all areas of life. In my desire to help, I can be too quick to speak. In my desire to succeed, I can be too quick to push. But I am better than I used to be even if I’m not where I want to be. It will come.

The course on Publishing a Book gave me an occasion to look back over my writing during the past several years. LifeTrek Provisions began in January of 1999 as a weekly coaching tip. It was sent out to about 50 family members and friends. Who would have guessed that more than 100 issues and 30 months later, our readership would have grown to more than 7,500 people in at least 37 countries? It is at once invigorating and humbling to write for such a growing, diverse, and engaged community.

My thought is to use Provisions as the basis for my first book. There’s plenty of material that will have to be edited and supplemented. The course became an occasion to think about how to do this and to learn about the publishing process. It was an opportunity to take stock of where I’ve been and where I’m going, which, it occurred to me, is an important habit for success. If we don’t take the time to review and learn from experience, we’re destined to be on the treadmill for life.

My review of 116 Provisions came up with 10 distinct series and one special topic. Given the challenge of scrolling through and making sense out of so many Provisions — all of which are archived on our Web site • I decided to reorganize the archive index by series instead of byProvision. Here’s the table of contents (from the latest to the earliest):

• Daily Habits for Lifelong Success
• Ten Keys to Better Listening
• The Road to Financial Independence: Making Money Work for You
• Optimizing your Experience at Work: Learning from Gallwey’s Inner Game
• Positive Attitudes for Positive Being: Setting your Mind on Solid Ground
• Ten Questions Worth Asking
• Ten Changes Worth Trying
• The Coach Approach to Healthy Living: Paying Attention to Flesh and Spirit
• Being and Becoming Happy: Living Well in the Here and Now
• Ten Keys to Personal Mastery: Setting up Systems of Support

In and around these series there has been one special topic that surfaces from time to time, without warning or advance planning. I label that topic:

• Running as a Metaphor for Life: Lessons from a Marathon Runner

Seeing the list, you may have new interest in reviewing some of the past issues of Provisions. Click on the series’ title to go there directly. You may also have some idea of where this book is headed. Let me know if you have any good leads or suggestions when it comes to agents or publishing houses. One thing I learned: it’s all about networking.

Let me know, too, if you take stock of your own life and want to strike up a conversation. Coaching, if it is anything, is the art of creative conversation. It can move you forward and set you free. It can even help you to end each day with something sweet • as anyone who’s ever been to the Chautauqua Institution knows.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #215: Make Decisions

Laser Provision

Many people struggle with disorganization and procrastination. They feel as though they just don’t have what it takes to stay on top of things. This Provision will assist you to reframe this struggle in terms of making decisions, thereby unleashing your energy for life.

LifeTrek Provision

We are in the midst of a series on habits for success and for the past two weeks I have written about ways to organize our time and space more efficiently. Given the volume and pace of things that come our way, it’s understandable when things pile up and become disorganized. But disorganization and procrastination are symptomatic of a far more important phenomenon: indecision.

Successful people have learned to make decisions and accelerate. Unsuccessful people have learned to postpone decisions and hesitate. Deferred decisions have a way of accumulating until they bog everything down. They paralyze rather than mobilize the resources of life.

The CEO of a sizable US corporation once told me that he was paid to make five decisions a year. The rest was icing on the cake. How he handled the rest was not critical to either the success of the company or to his success as the CEO of the company. But how he handled those five decisions could make or break the company. They were that important.

The key, he told me, was to recognize the decisions that have to be made (what’s important, what’s not), to know when to make them (timing is everything), and then to make the right decisions so that the company and its people prosper (the proof, as they say, is in the pudding).

Things are not much different when it comes to your own life. One of the exercises that I work on with my coaching clients is being the CEO of their lives. Some clients go so far as to assemble a real or imaginary board of directors, with quarterly policy and procedure meetings. This holds them accountable to the fundamental role of a CEO: to make decisions.

Unfortunately, many people fail to grasp this role and its importance for their lives. They postpone decisions until either it’s too late or it’s almost too late. When it’s almost too late, people end up in a mad dash to the finish line. They overwork and overstress themselves to get everything done. When it’s really too late, the opportunity is simply squandered forever.

One way to look at all the items on your to-do list, and all the clutter in your life, is in terms of the decisions that have to be made. Go through the to-do list, the files, and the e-mails with a simple question: what decisions have to be made here? What decisions am I postponing? Why am I postponing those decisions? Is it time to make a decision and move on?

Thinking this way is to think like a CEO. Allowing things to pile up is to think like a drone. No wonder life becomes either boring or overwhelming! The work, the paper, and the messages just pile higher and higher. Successful people are not afraid to make the decisions that enable them to stay on top of things — day to day, week to week, month to month, quarter to quarter, and year to year.

In her book Organizing from the Inside Out (Click), Julie Morgenstern observes that many people find this shift, from organizer to decision maker, to be the key to whittling down to size their to-do list and clutter. A day to get things organized does not sound like much fun to anyone other than a professional organizer. A day to make decisions • to act like a CEO • can be liberating and empowering. Bring in someone to help with the project, someone to announce your decisions to and to assist with their implementation, and you may have the formula for total success.

If don’t have the funds to hire a personal assistant you can arrange to swap roles with a friend or coworker. Assisting someone to make and implement decisions, when you know they will be doing the same thing for you, can be an enjoyable and rewarding activity. It may even be something you want to do on a regular basis, in order to cultivate the habit of staying on top of things • of making decisions • as they come along.

Whether you use an assistant or not, the point is to reframe the challenge of staying organized and effective in terms of making decisions. Seeing the challenge in this way will lessen the chore and lighten the load of everyday tasks which, in turn, will better position you to recognize and make those five big decisions every year that have the ability to make or break your life.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
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Provision #214: Touch It Once

Laser Provision

Are you overwhelmed by the paper and e-mail that come your way every day? If so, you’re not alone. But there are systems that can make this easier. Learn to touch things once • or at most twice. Toss, refer, act, or file. That’s all you can ever do with paper and e-mail; this Provision will help you do them better.

LifeTrek Provision

If your home is anything like mine, it’s seen a series of pets. Not infrequently those pets have come after the usual fervent vows by children that they would walk it, clean the cage, feed it, and do whatever else might be required to care for it. When it comes to asking for permission, the promises flow liberally.

That’s how Danny the hamster came to be in one home. As was often the case, within months after the promises were made, Mom found herself doing all the work. That was not the deal, however, and this time • with a good sense of her own boundaries • Mom located a prospective new home for Danny.

When she told the children the news of Danny’s imminent departure they took the news quite well, which somewhat surprised her, though they did offer some comments. One of the children said, “I’ll miss him, he’s been around here a long time.” Mom agreed, saying, “Yes, but he’s too much work for one person, and I’m not getting any help, so he needs to go.” Another child suggested that he might be able to stay if he ate less and wasn’t so messy.

But Mom was firm. “It’s time to take Danny to his new home now,” she insisted. “Go and get his cage.” Then with one voice and in tearful outrage the children shouted, “Danny? We thought you said, Daddy!”

That story would be nothing but funny if it weren’t so true. In most families, and in most work environments, there are two kinds of people: those who mess up and those who clean up. Ironically enough, in the workplace those who mess up tend to be paid more, a lot more, than those who clean up. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Apart from artistic creative geniuses who often seem to thrive on clutter (Beethoven would simply move when his apartment got too messy), successful people develop automatic sprinkler systems for putting out the fires and staying on top of things. In the spirit of last week’s Provision, “Get Things Done,” they manage to touch paperwork once • or at most twice • in a lifestyle of effortless simplicity.

Paperwork has long presented a special challenge and it only seems to get worse. In an era of the so-called paperless office, we are drowning in a sea of mail, memos, and messages. Similar to the rise in telemarketers, there has been a comparable rise in paper marketers. The growth of the Internet has not eliminated this time-tested tool for getting your attention; it has simply added another layer with e-mail. Then there’s all the important stuff that comes your way! What’s a person to do?

Although I find it a challenge to put into practice consistently, I like the TRAF technique advocated by Stephanie Wilson in her book, The Organized Executive. Why TRAF? Because it makes you think of “traffic” and that’s exactly what Wilson argues every piece of paper should yield: an action that’s 100% complete. You never have to think about it again.

1. TOSS. Wilson reminds us of the Business Week quote that aside from the dog, a person’s best friend is the wastebasket. How many times have papers sat around for days, weeks, or months only to be thrown away because they had gotten hopelessly stale and irrelevant? Wilson encourages us to aggressively challenge the right of every piece of paper and every e-mail to exist. Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen if I threw this out? Would someone call me on it later? If so, are duplicates available?” When in doubt, throw it out! Into the recycling bin, of course. You may be amazed at how well the world goes on without that “important” piece of paper or e-mail. Dump it before it dumps you.

2. REFER. What you can’t dump • and don’t be surprised if the recycling bin gets the biggest pile on a daily basis • has to be delegated or dealt with directly. The paperwork and e-mails that you can refer to others may represent the next biggest chunk, once you have gotten the hang of streamlining your home or office. Is there someone who can better handle this? Is there someone whose job it is to handle this? Is there someone who would enjoy handling this? Keeping too many things on our plate • and in our in basket • leads to both overwhelm and reduced productivity.

For those papers or e-mails that can’t be acted on and can’t be handed off to someone immediately, Wilson suggests an alphabetized filing system with the names of people, standing meetings, and customers. Drop that piece of paper or draft e-mail into the appropriate folder. Once a week, go through each folder and take action. Get progress reports. Develop agendas. Toss the junk.

3. ACT. This stuff belongs uniquely to you. Decisions have to be made. Bills have to be paid. Letters have to be written. A separate action box or folder can be created to hold the stuff that needs to be dealt with in the next day or two. This should be high-priority stuff. Set aside time, each and every day, to deal with this box and take action. Mark that time out on your calendar. Don’t let it grow from day to day and week to week or you’ll end up getting hopelessly behind. Create a separate box or shelf space for anything that needs to be read later, such as lengthy reports, trade journals, or publications. Don’t get distracted or bogged down by such items. Keep moving.

4. FILE. Whatever can’t be dumped, delegated, or done has to be filed. Keep your active files handy. If you know exactly where something goes, drop it in. Otherwise, set up two all-purpose boxes: one for stuff that goes in your active files and the other for stuff that goes in your archival files. Remember, any paper that requires a decision belongs in the action box, not the filing box. Only inert stuff gets to be filed.

This is one area where a personal assistant, in the home or office, can be a really good investment. The personal assistant stays on top of the stuff you set aside for filing, clearing your brain of having to figure out and maintain a filing system. If you do your own filing, follow the program and develop a pattern of attending to this task regularly rather than whenever.

Coaches work with people to develop systems like this that can make life easier. Instead of taking time, these systems make time. Let us know if this sounds like a project for you (Click). Most people can develop new habits in a matter of months.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #213: Get Things Done

Laser Provision

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” The point of this Provision is not to encourage you to do sloppy work but to get things done. Finish things and move on, even if they’re not perfect. In the scope of your life, and the history of the world, you’ll be glad you did.

LifeTrek Provision

With the selection of a host city for the 2008 Summer Olympics and the joyous celebrations on the streets of Beijing, I was reminded of what a unique symbol and incomparable venue the Olympics have become for rewarding athletic excellence. Nothing else comes close as a truly global cultural phenomenon. I treasure the Olympics and all they represent, notwithstanding the politics and the scandals.

Some of you may remember the sight of Derek Redmond, a sprinter from Britain, during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. If so, you remember him not for finishing first but for finishing last. Redmond was running in the men’s 400-meter semifinals when his hamstring popped and he fell to the ground in pain. After all that training, his bid to win Olympic Gold was over in an instant.

But Redmond didn’t stay on the ground. He got up and began hopping toward the finish line. Before long a man came out to join him offering consolation and support. The man was Redmond’s father, who had sacrificed much to get his son to the games.  Together, father and son walked across the finish line five minutes later with sixty thousand people giving them a standing ovation. Later, when asked about his decision to hop on, Redmond commented, “I wasn’t going to let an injury keep me from finishing.”

There’s a lesson there, expressed equally well by the philosopher Albert Camus when he wrote, “I shall tell you a great secret, my friend. Do not wait for the last judgment. It takes place every day.”

Successful people get things done. They finish what they start, either by doing it themselves or by delegating it to others. They don’t just let things hang around on a perpetual “to do” list. They appreciate the wisdom in the curious sounding maxim: “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” Redmond understood this wisdom as he hobbled across the finish line. Do you?

I can hear the perfectionists objecting, “No, no, no. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doingwell.” Unfortunately, in the name of “doing things well” a lot of things never get done at all • making procrastination one of the top coaching projects.

People call LifeTrek to get a handle on the overwhelming demands of life and work. Often there is a specific project that’s not getting done. We call that a “toleration.” Tolerations represent an enormous energy drain. They sap our creativity as well as our power to move forward.  Until they get handled, tolerations bring us down. They certainly leave no room for going places.

Our coaches work with people on the 3 D’s: Do It, Delegate It, or Dump It. We assist people to do this quickly and effectively. Here are a few simple strategies:

1. Develop a List of What Needs Doing. Many people have a “to do” list that they keep only in their minds. Writing things down is a way of clearing that mental space and making the list manageable.

2. Prioritize the List. Don’t just focus on the urgent. This can keep you in the state of overwhelm. Instead, focus on the following question: “Which of these projects • once complete • will produce the greatest positive good in my life?” This question brings out your values, central concerns, and life trajectory. It can make a huge difference in getting things done.

3. Group Together Related Activities. There’s no point trying to get the ceiling painted and your book written at the same time. But you may well want to work on the ceiling and the garage roof at the same time. Grouping together related activities not only saves time, it creates time.

4. Divide Big Tasks into Smaller Steps. Breaking down big tasks into smaller steps is the essence of project management. There’s no way to eat an elephant other than one bite at a time. Most big tasks can be broken down into smaller steps. Once you have the components, you will have increased your ability to get things done.

5. Do One Thing at a Time. Distraction and procrastination go hand in hand. We sit down to do one thing and before we know it we’re doing something else. Jumping from one unfinished task to another unfinished task is asking for trouble.

6. Finish Things Fully. Too often people take projects to 95% completion. That’s how the “to do” lists got so overwhelming in the first place. We never really finish anything. We just keep adding to the list. “Do It, Delegate It, or Dump It” assumes 100% completion. Better to finish one thing than to start several things.

“If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing poorly.” I’m not encouraging you to do sloppy work but to get things done. Finish things and move on, even if they’re not perfect. In the scope of your life, and the history of the world, you’ll be glad you did.

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services

Provision #212: Respect the Morning

Laser Provision

The second habit for success stems from the recognition that the early morning, immediately after we wake up, presents us with a special opportunity to go deeper, be creative, and connect with the source of life itself. Successful people use that opportunity to their advantage. Successful people respect the morning.

LifeTrek Provision


Respect the heat. That’s a lesson many runners learn the hard way. They head out to a race or a training run with certain expectations. Those expectations may come from prior race results or a training schedule. But they may not always be appropriate.

This morning my schedule called for 14 miles in 140 minutes • a long, slow run at a 10-minute pace. I had no reason to think that it would be anything other than a breeze. I’ve been running well in recent days. Why should today be any different? I stretched in my air-conditioned home and got mentally ready for the run. Everything was on track until I opened the front door, to face a heat index of more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat and humidity were insufferable.

To respect the heat, I immediately turned around, changed my shirt, and revised my plans. This was not going to be a day for even 10-minute miles. I made sure to take along plenty of water and to map out a course with two water fountains. 2• hours later I gave it up • drenched and happy to get out of the steam bath — having not even traversed the entire 14 miles.

Runners who fail to respect the heat, stubbornly refusing to adjust their expectations and behavior, risk disappointment as well as injury. Dehydration takes a tremendous and occasionally permanent toll on the body. Missing the pace can force an early end to the run and make one glum for days after. Success requires more than the ability to accept the things we cannot change. It requires the ability to work creatively with the situations and opportunities of life.

One opportunity that comes along every day is the morning itself. Successful people have morning habits that connect them with the vitality of life. Last week I talked about the habit of reviewing your values. That’s a good morning habit. But there are many other morning habits that can make or break the day. To jump out of bed and immediately get busy is like a runner who refuses to respect the heat. Successful people respect the morning. They take advantage of that time to bring themselves gradually back to life, with breathwork, meditation, writing, drawing, exercise, or other creative activities.

It may seem strange to think of the morning as an opportunity that needs to be respected, but successful people know the truth I am writing about. My favorite poet, David Whyte, has a powerful poem that expresses this wisdom better than any words I have been able to find.

What To Remember When Waking
By David Whyte

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,
coming back to this life from the other
more secret, moveable and frighteningly honest world
where everything began,
there is a small opening into the new day
which closes the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.
What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough
for the vitality hidden in your sleep.

To be human is to become visible
while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.
To remember the other world in this world
is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,
you are not an accident amidst other accidents
you were invited from another and greater night
than the one from which you have just emerged.

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window
toward the mountain presence of everything that can be
what urgency calls you to your one love?
What shape waits in the seed of you
to grow and spread its branches
against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea?
In the trees beyond the house?
In the life you can imagine for yourself?
In the open and lovely white page on the waiting desk?

I have memorized this poem and recite portions of it to myself as I go to sleep at night and as I wake up in the morning. It is proving to be the inspiration I need to not go immediately from the bed to the newspaper or the computer. The email on the waiting monitor may be lovely, but once I start reading email my opening into the new day closes and I am about the business of my plans — those very plans that are too small for me to live.

What closes that opening into the new day for you? Perhaps it’s time to root out those distractions from your morning routine. Successful people take regular advantage of the opening that the new day presents. They respect the morning, knowing that it presents them with a special opportunity to go deeper, be creative, and connect with the source of life itself. Squander that opportunity and you can never get it back • at least not until tomorrow morning. Carpe mane!

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
Phone: (757) 345-3452 • Fax: (772) 382-3258
Skype: LifeTrek • Twitter: @LifeTrekBob
Mobile: www.LifeTrekMobile.com
Subscribe/Unsubscribe: Subscriber Services