Presume Positive Intent

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How many times during our lives do we assume that something is going wrong because of something somebody else said? That someone doesn’t like us? Our work is horrible. We’re ugly. Someone is out to get us!

Only to find, that we misinterpreted it? “Oh, you were licking a stamp. I thought you were sticking your tongue out at me.”

Listening to Tony Robbins this morning, he was interviewing the guys from Warby Parker about how the company was founded. The team explained that they made it a point to meet with each other regularly to ensure the mission was on course and they continued to share ideas. Out of these discussions came the simple mantra of “presume positive intent”. Being co-founders (emphasis on the “co” part), it was easy to step on toes or get feathers ruffled simply by misinterpretation. They all had vested interest in seeing the company succeed, but as people do, they approach it in different ways. So they all agreed that before passing judgement (on an email, an action, etc.) they would presume positive intent. There is no bogeyman.

Humans are subject to technical issues, so choosing best possible to download is a good bet. When the little gremlin inside of you head pops in there and says: “uh, hey. I hate to tell you this, but you’re not qualified to be doing what you are doing”, you need a safeguard against spiraling into a ball of “what if”. A mantra. A code. Something to break the spell cast by the self doubt and low vibration thinking many of us carry around, just waiting to hear that ONE THING we knew was out there.

“I’m going to give you a little advice. There’s a force in the universe that makes things happen. And all you have to do is get in touch with it, stop thinking, let things happen, and be the ball.” – Ty Webb

 

Marina Abramović

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I am WAY late to the game. I didn’t know who Marina Abramovic was until this morning. I watched an amazing video of her confronting an old lover after 20 years. By itself, the video is powerful, but it deserves a deeper dive into who she is and where she has been.

Her life as an artist is unconventional to say the least. Wikipedia does a good job laying the groundwork for her history (or even better, the Guggenheim), but what is shocking are some of the performance art displays she produced in which she was the subject. In “Rhythm 0“, produced in 1974, she provided 72 implements to audience members and allowed them to use them on her in whatever way they chose. There was a feather, a knife, oil, a whip… and even a gun with a single bullet. The audience could have, in fact, killed her. This went on for 6 hours and she remained motionless and even more jaw dropping, emotionless, during the entire time. In her own words:

“What I learned was that … if you leave it up to the audience, they can kill you. … I felt really violated: they cut up my clothes, stuck rose thorns in my stomach, one person aimed the gun at my head, and another took it away. It created an aggressive atmosphere. After exactly 6 hours, as planned, I stood up and started walking toward the audience. Everyone ran away, to escape an actual confrontation.”

From Rhythm 0 (and Rhythm 2, 4, 5) the excitement and oddities continue. She now even has a cult following of teenagers. In 2013 she produced an exhibit called “512 Hours” where people would wear a pair of headphones and listen and engage in nothing. Just silence. She noticed a 12-year old boy returning day after day. She asked: “Why are you coming here every day?” The little boy replied “you know, it’s really important. I used to be so bad at school, and now I go home at stand in the middle of my room and listen to silence and then…then I can do everything.” Re-reading this I get teary-eyed. THAT’S impact. THAT’S legacy.

But this is a love story and what provoked me to write. It’s the story of Marina and Ulay. Madly in love, they collaborated artistically for years. In their 1976 “Relation in Space”, they simply ran into each other for an hour. Peculiar. From 1976 to 1988 they were an inseparable couple until, like many relationships, it got to be just too much. The drama too rich. The enmeshment too deep. They chose to separate.

Marina Abramovic and Ulay

And this uber-couple of the art scene did not go quietly into the night! No! They decided to climatically end the relationship by walking from opposite ends of the Great Wall of China and meet in the middle, over 1,500 miles… each. The idea was conceived in a dream and symbolized the fact that like in life, walking alone is the human condition.

“Because in the end you are really alone, whatever you do.”

After this fete, they did not see each other again. Until…

In 2010, Marina performed “The Artist is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art (take the 3 minutes to hear her speak in that video). In this performance she sat across from audience members, one by one, in silence. Again, motionless, emotionless. Thinking no one would show up (because who has time to sit in silence in the busiest city on earth?) a huge line formed. People lined up outside, waiting for hours. Emotions… tapped.

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Until there was one. Tne one person who could break through the art with the only thing that may be able to: love. It had been over 20 years.

Continue reading “Marina Abramović”

Eggs, over easy

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A crack in the egg

Last week I was in beautiful Boulder, CO for a business trip and visiting my cousin. There are dozens of high end eateries and restaurants, but each time I’m there I have always gone to the same greasy spoon joint for breakfast, the Walnut Cafe, which dubs itself “The Funkiest Place in Town”. I sit at the bar and I’m greeted with friendly faces and some kick-ass coffee (seriously, this place takes there coffee, well… seriously). I tend to order the same thing, with only slight variations (e.g. fruit vs. toast if I’m feeling too gluteny), except for my eggs. I order them “over easy”, which means they are fried on both sides, but the yolk is still runny so you can sop it up with your toast (wheat, of course).

As the eggs arrived last week, I realized that I’ve ordered them this way since I was a kid having them at the NCO club on the air base that my Dad would take my brother and I to. They always had lots of choices there and I usually started out with either pancakes or french toast with Donald Duck orange juice in a can. I still remember the smell of the place and the paltry decorations of the seating area. Dad always ordered his eggs over easy with bacon or sausage. I never understood what this meant at first and thought maybe they were just being gentler with the eggs than if you scrambled them… which in fact you are. OK, sometimes my assumptions are correct.

Sitting at the Walnut Cafe, looking at the eggs on my plate and going on a brief memory roller coaster, my mind wandered off and I began to consider if I even liked the eggs this way. Maybe I wanted them sunny side up! Maybe I want pancakes and not eggs! I was having an eggsistential crisis. (oh, come on! live a little)

I began to ponder what else I might be taking for granted because “I’ve always done it this way”. What else had I picked up from my parents that I just did because I assumed it was the right way? What things had I picked up from life, that I just do because I assumed it was the right way?

I began to see a crack in the egg.

Old Rules

This is no simple matter and I believe it is not an area that many people examine. We find something that works, replicate it with success, and fall asleep for the rest of our lives content with the outcome. Content, not happy.

What other mindless habits do we keep? Even those that serve us well? What are some rules that we live our life by that we’ve grown up with?

  • Milk builds strong bones
  • OJ has vitamin C so it is good for you
  • Say no to drugs
  • Nice guys finish last
  • The early bird gets the worm
  • Curiosity killed the cat
  • Don’t quit your day job

For each of these idioms, it’s easy to come up with an alternative that disproves the rule. And yet I’ve lived my life by most of them (and many more!). Enchanted by their simplicity, I’ve used these rules as guardrails making navigating life easier; with a feeling of more control. The rules help the world make sense and more navigable.

Q: Should I stick my hand into this dark hole in the tree?

A: Curiosity killed the cat

Question answered. Done. Go about your business.

Q: What do you think about me chasing my dream of being a _____________?

A: Don’t quit your day job.

Question answered. Done. Go about your business. WAIT! Not so fast. Because I have another question to ask:

Q: When does playing by the old rules limit your potential and keep you playing small?

A: 

The answer is left intentionally blank. It’s not so easy to answer this one. There are repercussions. You have responsibilities. Commitments. And there are multiple solutions to this question.

New Rules

Ultimately, we know the answer to the question but it is buried under a whole-hell-of-a-lot of “what ifs” and old rules. The opportunity that is being presented to us is to acknowledge the beliefs you have had up to this point and are continuing to receive, and asking yourself if they serve you or not. To be awake during your day instead of sleeping through a barrage of questions that have pre-programmed answers. What would the world look like if the list went something like this?:

  • Milk has a detrimental effect on your bones
  • There is more sugar in OJ than in soda
  • There are tremendous benefits to plant based medicine
  • Nice guys finish first
  • Getting up early has no bearing on what it takes to be successful
  • Curiosity is what life is all about
  • Quit your day job

Quite a difference, huh?

Mr. Keating jumped and stood on one of the desks in his class and asked: “Why do I stand up here!?” One boy answered sarcastically: “to feel taller”. Mr. Keating replied “No! I stand upon my desk to remind myself that we must constantly look at things in a different way”.

Time to change the perspective.

Coffee, to go

My eggs are gone, only a little bit of the yellow runny yolk is left on the large white plate. I finish my coffee and without the blink of an eye, they give me a hot coffee to go at no additional charge (I really like this place). I walk out of the door into the crisp Colorado air and stare, mesmerized by the Flatirons that pierce the impossibly blue sky to the West. Adventure. Fear. Energy. There’s just something about this area.

The flavor of coffee in my mouth. A full, warm belly. The buzz of caffeine and thin air.

In the end I realize: I like my eggs over easy. Sure, I’ll eat them fried, or sunny side up, deviled, whatever. But when asked the question, the answer is simple and satisfying:

Q: How do you like your eggs?

A: Over easy.

Question answered. Done. I go about my business.

HELL YEAH or No!

hell-yeah-or-noI don’t know about you, but I get caught in a trap of people pleasing that leaves me drained and unfulfilled. I recently made a big decision to move in a certain direction of my life, which meant I had to give up something else that is one of the things on my bucket list: Ironman 70.3 Raleigh.

And you know what? I felt guilty about letting down my trainer. WTF?

The title above is something I heard a while back on a Tim Ferris podcast with Derek Sivers. Derek is one interesting dude and a lot of people want his attention. After saying yes to too many things (seminars, speaking engagement, consulting, travel, etc.), he finally made a stand. If he wasn’t completely thrilled with the idea of doing the thing that was being offered to him, he’d run a quick algorithm in his head: Is it Hell Yeah! or No.

I’ve tried to implement this in my life and it’s made decisions I’ve been faced with much easier. So what’s the key?

Make It Simple

To be able to make change, we need simplicity. Things that are easy to chew. Quick decisions. Which in actuality aren’t made by conscious decisions formed the pre-frontal cortex, but from the subconscious which is a supremely efficient source to work from. It’s lightning quick and aligns much better with our true nature.

A2 + B2 = C2

So how do we work from this area?

Make It Yours

To do this, you have to do some serious work. If I were to ask you if you knew who you really were, what would the answer be? A yes or no? A soliloquy about your life up to this point? What if I asked you, instead:

  • What defines you?
  • What are your attributes and gifts?
  • What are your values?
  • How would someone else describe you?

Not so easy. I get stuck. The denouement is that if you truly know yourself, the answer to the question “hell yeah or no” is effortless. We tend to allow ourselves to be defined by others not because of a weakness on our part, or malice on theirs, but because we have never cared enough to look deeply.

Ernest Nightingale bravely vivisected the mind/material connection by saying that since our minds are free, given to us at birth, we place little emphasis on them and place more value on things we buy. “The paradox is that exactly the reverse is true. Everything that’s really worthwhile in life came to us free and our minds, our souls, our bodies, our hopes, our dreams, our ambitions, our intelligence, our love of family and children and friends and country. All these priceless possessions are free.”

If you’re like me, I religiously get my oil changed in my car but only see a doctor when I’m sick.

Make It Stick

I love good content and I’m not afraid to use it. In an article just posted by Brian Mackenzie  on the virtues of living in alignment with your true self, he states:

“There is no such things as procrastination. There is only “I’m interested” or “I’m not interested enough.”

Simple. Memorable. Catchy.

A tool I implement daily is that I have a dry-erase marker in my bathroom drawer. I use it to scribble words that help me remember my values, dreams, inspirations. It’s so easy to fall back to sleep and I like having my ideas right in front of me, first thing. It gets my juices flowing. It realigns me and has the ability to course correct.

In the end, it is about you honoring you and practicing non-attachment to the thoughts and feelings of others. To excel at non-judgement. This is not to say that you should be entitled, angry, rude, exclusionary, or whatever negative terms come to mind when I tell you should in fact be selfish. If you have truly audited yourself for your values, you’ll know the right answer. There’s hierarchy. There is nuance. And the answer is no further away than looking in the mirror and asking yourself a simple question: Hell yeah! or No?

Stealing Fire

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“There’s been an awakening…have you felt it?” – Snoke

When I listen, I hear the voices everywhere. They are the voices of my parents, my family, my colleagues, my friends and neighbors. There is a constant soundtrack playing with overlapping and contradictory patterns. The voices have different agendas and are often competing.

But sometimes I hear a more subtle voice. Not the voices of a lunatic (well…maybe), but voices that are in tune with the underlying patterns I align with but have been buried under layer after layer of programming. Voices that are so delicate that they are only whispers, easily drowned out by the sound of opinions and fears. Have you ever noticed that, in a crowded room or a noisy restaurant, you become immediately aware when someone calls your name? Why? Because what the mind pays attention to what if focuses on. That is, what it has been trained to concentrate on. It has known my name for a long time after years of repetition. It knows I like certain things, such as drinking Perrier on ice with lime. So it picks up on them quite easily and subconsciously, seeks them out.

As I grow, the question I have for myself now is: what if I tuned into the things I wanted most and turned down the volume on the other (outside) voices: the noise? What could I pick up on then?

“If you are interested in something, you will focus on it, and if you focus attention on anything, it is likely that you will become interested in it. Many of the things we find interesting are not so by nature, but because we took the trouble of paying attention to them.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

And this guy should know since he essentially started this whole idea of going with the flow. The term “flow” is getting drawing a lot of interest lately and authors are cashing in not only monetarily, but consciously (and subconsciously) due to the fact that this flow is accessible to everyone and many of us are seeking it, whether we know it or not. And even better, it can be taught.

Flow is a term first coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian psychologist and former head of the department of psychology at the University of Chicago, in his aptly named 1990 book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. After World War II encroached into Hungary, Mihaly’s family was torn apart and displaced by the war machine. This turmoil galvanized his interest in human attitude as he began to look deeper into the human consciousness to better understand what made some people survive, and in fact thrive, and some crumble to the enormity of the unwanted actions pushed upon them. Mihaly describes “flow” as:

“…being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Since the 1990s, flow has probably been best associated with extreme sports such as surfing, mountain climbing, the X-Games or pretty much anything Red Bull produces. It is much more subtle than this, however, as flow is being sought after by weekend warriors and soccer moms via meditation, yoga, caffeinated beverages, and the nightly glass of wine. There is something, somewhere out there, that we seem are looking for. Something outside of ourselves. Ecstasis.

And even though success in society is usually defined by the amount of money you make, that ain’t it.

The results of study after study comparing income to happiness conclude that there is no relation to additional income to happiness after certain level. Once the foundation of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (below) is met, we’re pretty stoked. More things don’t make us happy. In fact, they make us less happy. The Beatles said it best with “Money can’t buy me love“. We KNOW this. Right? And yet (thoughtful pause). And yet we still fight and scrape for that damn brass ring. Which will probably be gold or platinum by the time you reach it, so you will still have further to go.

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The place I want to play more and experience more fully is further to the top of the pyramid. In this area, there is a higher vibration of learning and living that is described in Steven Kotler’s book “Stealing Fire”. That area that is outside of ourselves. The space that’s transcendent.

On a side note, I was listening to a Rich Roll podcast yesterday with Jessica Lahey and they were discussing college students and how the education has so battered the creativity out of them, that they were, as Julie Lythcott-Haims puts it: “existentially impotent”. Ouch!

The repression these kids faced in grade school and college will follow them into the workplace as well, dooming them to live a life in such a state of fear, all they become are workers. Good for business but not good for creativity, art, love, life. Drones to the Machine.

“Repression is not the way to virtue. When people restrain themselves out of fear, their lives are by necessity diminished. Only through freely chosen discipline can life be enjoyed and still kept within the bounds of reason.” – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

 I should know. I am one of them.

K