The Perfection Trap

A few months ago, we bought a new Honda Pilot.  It was shiny new and right off the truck.  It had four miles when we first looked at it. Even though it was brand new, the carpet under the driver’s side seat was a little “worn” looking. There are little air vents for the people in the middle row that protrude through the carpet. For some reason, the carpet was cut a little uneven.  We didn’t notice this immediately.  When we did, we felt as though the car was not good enough.  We got over it after a few days and are really enjoying our new car.

Mark Twain

Mark Twain (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I realized our concept of “perfection” goes well beyond the cars we purchase.  As a writer, I know all too well the traps of perfectionism. The “perfect” blog post is still being worked on and will never be read, the childless parents are waiting for the “perfect” time well into their forties as nature slips away, and that “perfect” vacation is still only a brochure.  Confusing good enough with perfection is worse than its distant cousin: confusing bad,  with good enough.  At least the bad work gets shipped and gives the world something that it can fix.
 Perfection rarely gets shipped.  This isn’t because we don’t have talented people working among us.  It’s because we are people and people are not perfect.
Whatever it is that “perfection” has hostage, ship it today.  A 90% perfect blog post today is better than the idea of a 100% blog post tomorrow.  Write two  90% posts in the next two days and that’s 180% perfect.  Letting go of perfect gives you the real opportunity to transform your idea into something very real. Ideas are a lot like clogs in the shower drain.  A lot  of people have them, but they are only significant when they are in the shower.  Let go of perfection and grab on to action.

What perfect ideas are you holding on to?

Rocco

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How Spilling Ice Tea Taught Me To Live My Values

The other day I was bringing lunch to a customer of mine.  Usually I have it delivered, but on this day, they requested a local burger place that wasn’t set up for delivery.  As I loaded the lunch in my car, I realized the 6 fountain drinks were going to cause me trouble.  Top heavy and flimsy, the drinks looked almost “eager” to tip.  Corner after corner, I drove timidly and very deliberate.  I was already running late, but didn’t care.  My objective wasn’t customer focus, make the sale, or go above and beyond. My objective was to NOT spill the drinks.  As I was nearing their office, the driver of the car in front of me was spooked by a yellow light and slammed on his brakes.  Normally, it’s not a big deal to come to a quick stop, but today was different.  I was out of sorts and balancing something new.  The drinks went sliding

English: An artist's depiction of the rat race...

English: An artist’s depiction of the rat race in reference to the work and life balance. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rat_race Made with following images: http://www.openclipart.org/detail/75385 http://www.openclipart.org/detail/74137 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

across the floor of my car soaking my floor with Ice Tea.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what living a  balanced life looks like.  Not the “business book” balanced life of “work-life balance” where you somehow are happy because you don’t work too much, but the appropriate balancing of the stuff that matters.

I discovered, for me, that living intentionally also means living for purpose and doing the things that matter.

This means having a clear vision on what my values mean to me.  My values are clear and aligned to my living, rather than my living aligned to my values.  As part of “faith” we go to church, but we would have done that anyway.  Every week on our way to church, I have had  a gnawing sense that we could be doing more to incorporate faith into our lives.  Until recently, most of the time my values were “touched” in the way I lived my week, but that was mostly by chance.  Mediocrity, however, is the only result we can expect from living by chance.  Awesomeness comes from intentional living. Without clear direction, I was unbalanced in living my values, taking the “bumps” of life timidly and defensively trying not to stray too far.  While I’ve been busy living the ins and outs of life, checking a lot of boxes, I was not clear on how to LIVE my values.   I have discovered that to do this, I need clear specifics defining what those values look like in action.  Faith goes beyond “living a Catholic life”, and drills down to “praying nightly, prayer before meals, mass every Sunday” and much more.  With this I am able to intentionally pull specifics and plug into my weekly planning and measure my accomplishments against.  Instead of the careful balancing act of chance, I am able to aggressively incorporate the stuff that makes my values real and a part of the life i’m living intentionally.

How do you stay balanced and live an awesome value centered life?

 

Rocco De Leo

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Fuel your Awesomeness with Mental Energy

As a runner, I recognize that I only have a certain amount of energy to run a distance at a certain pace. By fueling my body with the right types of food and energy bars, I am able to incrementally increase my maximum output.  Running a marathon is a great example.  On a normal day, running 26.2 miles is outside my physical capacity.  But with some training and slow stepping up of my mileage, I am able to build my body’s energy capacity to that level.  Mental energy is no different.  Our ability to think, smile, create, walk and chew gum has a finite energy source. On a typical day, my mental energy level is at its highest around 7 am and at its lowest after dinner.  The importance of managing mental energy toward success doesn’t stop with knowing your mental time clock.  This is nothing new.  Perhaps more important is focusing your mental “spend” on  the things that matter.  The other day I as I was driving home from a week long meeting when I received a frustrating phone call regarding a returned check to my Chevron credit card.   After 45 minutes we realized the mistake and remedied it.  However, I was exhausted.  It took a large portion of my mental energy. Each and every day you and I both recharge our physical and mental batteries as we sleep. By focused training like reading, engaging conversations, audio programs, and meditation, you increase your mental capacity. If you’re doing this, keep doing it, if you’re not, you should. During a typical day, you also spend that energy on important things such as writing, talking with your kids, working on projects at work, and planning for the future.  Unfortunately, things like my Chevron credit card phone call interrupt the normal flow and “steal” some of that energy.

 

Awareness of the limits of your mental energy  gives you  a sense of urgency or a desire to protect the things you are doing.  Just like time management, mental management is a must have skill for a successful life.

 

Of course, interruptions do happen and sometimes are important to handle.  You can’t control that.  Here is a list of 3 things I recommend to keep mental energy at its best:

 

Wind Energy

Wind Energy (Photo credit: janie.hernandez55)

 

 

 

1.  Avoid Distractions: This is so obvious and immensely important.  So many times I’ve sat down to work on a mentally draining task (like writing a blog post), only to have my focus taken away in a moment of email distraction.  Even if the email doesn’t need my attention, the mere fact that I know I got an email takes a little slice of my mental energy. If you are intentional toward avoiding distractions, you will learn with time the things that take distract you and steal your mental energy.  I use squarespace notes app on my iPhone to send quick notes to my Evernote inbox.  When something distracts me and I don’t want to fix it then and there, I put a note in squarespace to fix it.  Then, I fix it.

 

2. Schedule your mental tasks at the appropriate times:  Different tasks take higher and lower levels of mental energy.  This is something you will learn with time.  Typically the more creative (writing, planning) and involved (things with complicated directions) take the most mental energy.  Creating enough space in your schedule and the best available time will vastly increase your mental energy and lessen the frustration.  Deciding to build the IKEA entertainment center and hour before church is a bad idea.  Mental energy tasks are not usually the “on a whim” things you want to do.  Be intentional and realistic and schedule this time.

 

3.  Know what you want to do:  This may be too “big picture” for a small blog post, but you need to know what your goals are.  If you have a vision, and idea of what you are trying to accomplish, you will be able to identify the things that are ‘right” to be doing.  If you don’t have a vision and a plan in place to achieve that vision, I am going to create one for you.  Your vision is to create a vision.  With a defined vision, you will have “stuff” to do.  We all have “stuff” we have to do such as laundry, dishes, feed the dog, etc.  Most people stop there.  That’s the mediocre life.  You are going to plug in your awesomeness and the “stuff” needed to be done to accomplish this awesome.  If what you are doing does’t fit into one of those two categories, stop doing it.

 

 

Remember that you own your mental energy.  It is yours to spend as you wish.  We all have responsibilities.  Better management of your mental energy will improve your results in all areas of life and leave room for you to do things that make you awesome.

 

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How the Book “Divergent” Taught Me Success Skills

I recently took my periodic “fiction” break.  I usually pick up a book to completely escape the crowded thoughts in my head and simply relax. As a fan of The Hunger Games, I was excited, albeit late to the game, to read Divergent.  I also was unable to shut down the create engine that can sometimes be exhausting.  Without giving away too much of the book for the 3 people left who haven’t read the book, the main character, Beatrice, has a special gift that classifies her has divergent.  The teens, who make up the characters, are put through a series of fear simulations to test how they react in a stressful environment.  In order to truly measure someones reaction to their greatest fears, they need to actually feel fear.  Written into the story, the majority of the characters are unaware that the simulations are actually “simulations”, thus feeling the full force of their fears.

Stray dog - asleep

Stray dog – asleep (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For some, however, they are aware of the “simulation” and are able to manipulate the outcomes based on this “awareness”.  These characters, Beatrice included, are “divergent”.

How does this relate to the us on our journey toward success or “awesomeness”? Most people are simply going through life one day at a time.  The days “happen” to them.  Unfortunately, they are unaware of the clock and the calendar speeding up.  They are unaware that they have the control to change their destination, to “manipulate” the outcome through intentional living. Fortunately, you are here, and you realize this.  Intentional living is the awareness that we control what we do.

There are no guarantees that we do the right things and get the perfect outcome, but without awareness, you have no chance.

You will be a puppet being manipulated by time.  We read stories of older people gaining this awareness and sharing regrets of things left undone.  Get intentional, stay intentional, and live with an awareness of your purpose.

Rocco
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The Voices In My Head Are Really Distracting: Find your Mute Button

Distractions are everywhere.  Usually we don’t see the distractions because we are too distracted to notice.  I recently read that the average person is bombarded with hundreds if not thousands of advertisements per day.  That’s astonishing.  I was trying to figure out why I couldn’t get my mind of toaster streusels the other day, I think I found my answer. A couple of weeks ago, I was leisurely laying in bed catching up on The Following on my DVR.  I don’t watch much TV, but I am hooked on The Following.  As Jamie began asking me a few questions from the other room, I realized that no matter how much I attempted, I could not focus on our conversation.  Unfortunately, the remote was on the other side of the room, so a quick “pause” was not an option.  Understanding, that much of this was happening subconsciously, I tried to “muscle through”, much to Jamie’s dismay.  It quickly became  obvious that I was not paying attention to her and she was rightfully upset.

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With all the noise being thrown at us, it is a wonder we can focus on anything.
Luckily, my life is not dictated by noise, and I am able to quiet the distractions.  I love podcasts, audiobooks, books, talk radio, and many other “consumption” media.  While these mediums don’t have as much advertisement as traditional media, they still contribute to the sound of a noisy world.  Turning off the sound on the drive home, or a run without my iPhone usually does the trick.  I clear my head and can get back to the work of thinking for myself.
As human beings, we were made to create.  The noise we consume is just the fuel to create.

The headline is that I am sometimes overwhelmed by the noise.  Sometimes the noise is  a loud radio, TV on, phone ringing, and kids fighting all at once.  Sometimes, it’s less subtle and builds up after a few days of content, commercials, billboards, and conversations.  I find myself unable to focus on a simple conversation with the most important person in the world to me. Does anyone believe that the growing noise in our world is going to begin to recede? Is there a chance that the world will realize that we are all reaching a saturation point?  Is there going to be a point were a quick run or an hour of mediation won’t quiet the noise.  I don’t think most of us are at risk of media induced schizophrenia, but I do sense Steven Pressefields infamous resistance finding new ways to attack the work the world needs from us.  Someday, the noise won’t stop.  It’s up to us to get ahead of that today.  As you seek your awesomeness, be intentional about the noise you let in.  The obvious stuff like TV is a starting point, but remember that the good stuff (this blog included), is noise when consumed  in abundance.  Don’t just be intentional about limiting the noise coming in, be intentional about welcoming the silence. Find the mute button on life and clear your head.  It has starting to work for me.  It will work for you.

Share how you quiet the noise.  I’m particularly interested in how busy commuters, and family people find time without sacrificing valuable family togetherness.
Rocco
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How Hating People Helped Me Change My Narrative

Recently my narrative, that little voice driving my view of the world, has had me thinking about people. Not in ways I’m proud of.  The narrative has become negative and aggressive.  Frankly, I’m starting to feel like I don’t like people.  This, of course is ridiculous, and completely detrimental to my mission.  This reminds me of  the resistance Steven Pressfield writes of.  In a nutshell, the resistance is the militant arm of mediocrity.  It is the distractions and self doubt that stop you and I from climbing out of the average. This is a new  and very affective attack from the resistance.

Attack on Hindenburg line

Attack on Hindenburg line (Photo credit: National Library of Scotland)

While out on a run yesterday, I decided to unplug and face this resistance head on.  Seth Godin writes that as the resistance gets more intense, we should celebrate.  I decided to leave the party hat behind and stick with my Brooks running cap.  I ran with a smile as I realized that my work and my art is getting better.  The resistance is threatened now more than ever.  This is evidenced by the hardened strike force of subtly (the slow increase of my negative narrative) rather than simple distractions is used to see.
The break in the armor of the resistance is found in facing it head on.  After all, the resistance uses elements of truth to strike at the core of our creative spirit.
 I realized it is not people who I hate. I hate what I see so many of them doing and not doing, and of course I see a reflection of this in myself. These “people” are fake, wasting time, and are bored and boring. They are awkward, uncomfortable in silence and never present.  They are all busy doing things, but busy doing the wrong things.  These are all things I see creeping up in myself.  If I am to succeed in my mission of helping people achieve awesomeness, I must be aware of my vulnerability to these attacks.  In fact, these “things” are all the things  this site is all about changing.
 Intentional living is not easy, but it is the way only way to succeed.  Success doe not happen by chance.
The resistance is much more savvy with me than simple Facebook pings or email interruptions.  I’ve built effective defenses to these and have created better work with the gained focus. This is a good thing.
I share this because we are all in this together.  I’m excited that my art is worth attacking.  My narrative is not that difficult to change.  The simple process of knowing my mission and being aware that I am in fact living and creating my own narrative on a daily basis gave me the wisdom to re write the current and dangerous direction it was going.
What is your narrative telling you that is pulling you toward mediocrity?  How are you fighting back?
Rocco
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How Doing Laundry Helps Me Write More

The other day I was at home trying to catch up on some chores.  One of my least favorite household chores is laundry.  Laundry is inherently never-ending and tedious.  In a household of 7 people, falling behind on laundry is disastrous.  Putting on my “productivity hat”, I realized one of the simplest and important skills I use professionally comes  from my love/hate relationship with laundry.   I sort my clothes by darks, whites, and baby clothes.  Whites are simply my undershirts for work and are very easy to fold and put away.  Baby clothes are small and tedious and take the most effort.  I love my baby girl but her laundry drives me bonkers. My darks, on the other hand are relatively easy to fold and put away, but take a lot of room and build up fast.  Not only do I sort my loads (I can hear the resounding “duh”), I batch the types of loads.  I typically was 3 loads of colors per week, 1 whites and 2 baby clothes. By batching them, I get in the zone all at once and get them done much faster.  Rather than doing 1 load every other day or back and forth with load types, I only have to start once and maintain the specifically needed focus without the energy of restarting.  What does this mean toward success in life? Why should you care about my laundry?

Laundry Room

Laundry Room (Photo credit: Gene Wilburn)

Think about the things you do in a given day or week.  A lot of what you are doing are similar in mental focus, tools, physical needs, and location, AKA “context”.  Just like an airplane taking off, the hardest part of the journey is simply getting off the ground.  As I sit here at Panera writing this post, I am batching multiple posts.  It took me ten minutes just to clear  the creative cob webs in my mind.  I get better at writing as I settle in.  I get in the “zone”.  Rather than start and stop multiple times, I’d rather take advantage of the energy to get started once and write multiple posts.  It makes sense.

Batching not only helps get more work done, it helps the work where quality matters.

As you approach your short term planning (I do mine weekly), think about where you will be and your time constraints.  Find opportunities to batch similar tasks.  Do the laundry and clean the showers together. Mow the lawn and clean the shed.  Of course, drink a beer and eat a burger together when you’re done.
Share  some batching successes.  Can you overdue batching?  I want to hear the hilarious overdone attempts at batching where too much of a good thing makes for great instagram pictures.
Rocco
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Driving, Smoking and Cell Phones: A guide to distracted living

Dropping off my Highschooler today, I saw something interesting.  I am not referring to the “you smell like fart” t-shirt, although that may be fodder for another post. Turning in toward the parking lot, as I was leaving, I saw a lady driving, perhaps by tele kinetics.  She has a lit cigarette and a cell phone in one hand and was driving with the other.  She seemed deep in conversation with anyone except those in car with her. This isn’t a rant about her, though.  I don’t know the specifics.  She could be getting biopsy results (in which case, talk away), or she could be discussing the Full House reunion commercial (can this wait?).  This also is not a post about distracted driving.  This is a post about distracted living.  We are all guilty.  Jeff Goins does a great job addressing this in his recent book “The In-between”, but he didn’t invent the concept of “smelling the roses”.  Seeing this lady talking away while her teenage passenger stared into space reminds me of the many times I was checking e-mail while my daughter discussed the intricacies of her 4th grade tether ball tournament, or my boy giving me play by painful play of jumping his scooter off the curb.  I’m reminded of “helping” along stories my kids have shared with a “yes, yes…and…and”.

lonely kid on a beach ... standing

lonely kid on a beach … standing (Photo credit: Pierre Metivier)

We are busy, and that’s ok.  Somehow, in my impossible attempt at becoming the perfect parent, I have discovered something way better than perfection: Presence.

The idea of being present doesn’t end with our kids.  Although I’d argue that this is the most important and most neglected opportunity. Being present takes intentionality.  Ultimately intentionality as a lifestyle makes this easier.  When I am in control of my goals, projects, and tasks, I am much less distracted by the “stuff” of life.  Intentionality toward being present is also key, and a great opportunity to develop much deeper relationships. The ability to hold a cell phone to your ear in the same hand as a lit cigarette without igniting your hair is a great skill, perhaps that energy and focus could be used toward awesome intentional living.  I challenge you to find 2 people in your life (child, spouse, co-worker, etc.) who you let the rules of presence slip.  You may have slipped into distracted habits or finishing sentences to “move on”.  Be fully present to them today.  Turn off the cell phone, the TV, or whatever has your mind.

Share the “relationship changing” results.
Rocco
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Reading is a Waste Of Time

Running circles

Running circles (Photo credit: Dave-a-roni (Dark Spot Photography))

I love to read a good book.  In fact, I love to read a bad book.  That’s my problem.  While reading is a key element to finding success, done without purpose it can waste your time and kill your dream.  In fact, doing anything unintentionally has that danger. Living an intentional life toward success involves purposeful actions.  It also involves creating.  This is what Seth Godin calls “shipping”. It may be written content or it may be widgets.  What your shipping doesn’t matter, ship something.  When I discovered that I have something awesome to ship, I was shocked to realize how much time I was wasting consuming.  When we are consuming, we are providing for someone else’s dream.  Certainly some consumption is necessary for survival, and some is directly relevant for our own dreams (i.e., motivation, inspiration, facts, and ideas).  We are all provided, free of charge, an allotment of 24 hours each day.  I heard once that Alaska gets 24.5 but I cannot verify that. When we consume too much,  as in my case, reading, we are wasting time we could be using to create (our ultimate purpose).  My high school economics teacher called that the “opportunity cost”.  For me reading is relaxing and fulfilling.  It is also a distraction.  Remember Steven Pressfeld’s resistance.  Reading has become “covert resistance”. The resistance has taken over something that is clearly an element of my personal growth and turned it into a distraction.  My goal is not a goal to read, reading is a tool to achieve my goal of being the best person I can be. As covert resistance,  It is a distraction taking away from the real work. I am currently reading Tim Feriss’s hit book The Four Hour Work Week.  He shares insights on information overload and reads only fiction before bed to relax him.  I chooses to be very specific with what he puts in his head. That’s not for me.  What I did learn from him is that we need to be purposeful about the things we are doing.

If a certain task you are doing do not specially fulfill an objective or goals of yours,  STOP!

As a solution, I’ve decided to get more intentional toward my reading.  Instead of a blanket goal of reading 30 books in 2014, I am going to specify that these books are motivating me to create, inspiring me to be a better person, teaching a specific skill I need and want, or are entertaining fiction for my periodic fiction break. I’m also going to stop reading each books once it provides me with enough value.  You may be seeing the resistance put a sneak attack on you.  Over focus on running, writing too many blogs and not working on your book, over booking appointments, are examples.  Be aware and remain intentional.

What are you doing to be more intentional doing the things you love?
Rocco
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Passive Narrative vs. Intentional Narrative: Who’s writing your story?

The world you live in is different from mine.  That’s not code for socioeconomic status, marital status, or any other situational “thing”.

Your world is seen through a filter guided by a narrative you are creating.

We all tell ourselves stories about the world.  I wrote an article last year about a marketing tactic that made me angry.  The local grocery store printed an unusually low price with a large font price printed for its wine. Below the price in a barely legible font size, are the words “when you buy 4”.  Just below, printed in the same font is the price for 1 bottle; much higher.  The same store has added 12 packs of premium beer to this tactic.  I see this and immediately lose trust.  I see the store trying to “trick” me.  My internal voice starts to update my “narrative”.  It’s like Jimminy Cricket teaching me the ways of life.  Mr. Cricket tells me that customers are so savvy these days.  Costco, Bevmo, and even Amazon are all undercutting local grocers and each other.  Wine still costs to produce, ship, and market.  The stores MUST find ways to get savvy customers to pay more for wine.  This tactic must work since they keep doing it.  My lovely wife, Jamie,  sees this exact situation but has a completely different conclusion.  Her narrative, her “Jamie-ney Cricket”, tells her a story of kindness and opportunity.  She sees the store working hard to find opportunities for the customer to save money.  “Unfortunately they can’t pass savings on for just 1 bottle, but who needs just 1 bottle of a good wine anyway?”

Writing

Writing (Photo credit: jjpacres)

Your narrative forms your outlook on life.  It passively changes through experience over time.  Someone blessed with opportunity and seemingly constant fortune and good luck will most likely have a much more positive narrative than the hardened, out of work, disabled war veteran.
This blog and your life are not about living “passive lives”.  Your success, your “awesome” comes from “intentional living”.  You can change your narrative, thus changing  your attitude.  I have decided to make 2014 the year I get intentional about changing my narrative.  Here is a list of 3 things I am doing to re-write my story:
  1. Loose the victim status. Read my article on characters to learn more.  I simply change the subject internally as the victim starts to show up.  While this is not always easy, it has already started to change my view on things.
  2. I am re-writing stories about people/companies I had negative thoughts about.  Being angry at the grocer over wine prices is a waste of time and energy.  It is reasonable that Jamie’s point of view is actually legitimate.  It is certainly a better story than mine.  Anyhow, what’s really the worse that can happen?  I pay 3 bucks more for a 12 pack of beer.  It’s still great beer.
  3. Re evaluate my influences.  I’ve hear it said that we are the average of the 5 people we spend the most time with.  Often times I get negative or gossipy and realize that I am the instigator.  Sometimes its the other person.  Usually a re direction of the conversation changes the mood.  It really works the same with other people as it does in your own narrative.
You tell yourself multiple stories everyday.  As you seek to achieve the awesomeness we both know you were meant to, you must be in control of the “pen”.  Your story must be one in which you win, learn from mistakes, and are worthy of the task at hand.  Start with a positive story about the world around you.  A positive “you” will attract more positive people.  We know from experience (and this post) that it’s much harder to be positive than negative.  This means that positive people are working hard, living intentionally, and can bring that “average of 5” up a bit.
Think about 2 things in your world that you believe to be true because that’s your story.  Shake it up a little and question the characters in that narrative.  Start simple (like Target is better than Walmart).  Dig a little deeper as things become more clear to you.  Share your thoughts.
Rocco
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