Have you ever looked at the other side of the coin? It’s as easy as 1–2–3!

goldmapleleaf

Sometimes in life, there comes a moment when circumstances for change are forced upon you. Events such as redundancy, divorce, illness or the death of a loved one will generally upset the delicate balance in your life and bring about changes that you may not be ready for. Some people manage to make the best out of it and actually benefit from the change; others wallow in despair, longing for what they have lost, and have great difficulty in getting back on their feet. Which category you fit into depends upon your attitude and perception of the situation.

One thing is certain: the trend today is that it’s never too late to reinvent yourself. In a blog post entitled “On Changing Careers”, Dick Bolles – whose best-selling book What Colour is your Parachute sold over ten million copies – points out that you’re never too old to change your career and rethink yourself anew. And why not – the conditions have probably never been better. The Internet has brought information and knowledge to our fingertips and connects us in ways that make some traditional networks obsolete. This provides new conditions and, therefore, new opportunities. The challenge is daring to explore them!

Many people are simply afraid to make the move; some may be forced to do so by their circumstances, whilst others may feel that it’s time for a change or may just be curious. Whatever your personal situation is, I’d like to share my 1–2–3 process with you, in the hope that it will help you in your decision-making. We’ll start with our coin because, as the saying goes: “there are two sides to every coin”, and it’s always worth looking at both sides.

The other side

The other side

1. The “other side”

Whether positive or negative, one side of the coin will be easier to see than the other, depending on the situation and your personality. After all, if you want to see the other side of a coin lying on the table, you will have to put in some effort by flipping it. Whether you see the advantages or disadvantages first is not relevant; the fact remains that you will have to put in some effort if you want to see the other side. So, whether you get carried away by the euphoria or depressed by the events, you should sit down and take the time to look at the other side.

Take a piece of paper and make a list of advantages on one side and disadvantages on the other. For some, this exercise might be difficult as they may be blinded by the situation. If this is the case, you can always enlist some family members or good friends to help you out; they may be impartial to your situation and see things you may have missed.

2. Who am I today?

Now that you have a more balanced picture of the situation, you should be ready for the next step: turning the situation to your advantage. The first step here is to develop a good picture of your own strengths and weaknesses in today’s context. Most people have been conditioned by years of traditional and institutional beliefs that attitudes and behaviours should be corrected and that people should be shoehorned into an idea of perfection. However, research has shown that it is much more productive to focus on developing people’s strengths and providing opportunities where they can thrive. For employees, this is much more positive and rewarding because it is easier for them. It also allows them to shine, which helps boost their self-confidence.

Regardless of your self-image, I find that the best way of developing a true picture of yourself is to start with the Johari Window.

Johari_Window

The Johari Window – named after its inventors, Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham – is a communication model used to improve understanding between individuals. It is often used in team-building sessions and in self-help groups. It is a structured way of mapping out your strengths and weaknesses. It also involves dialogue with others and an element of introspection – both of which are necessary in creating an honest picture. The key to success in this exercise is to treat feedback as a gift given to you. No matter if it’s negative or positive, feedback helps you paint your picture, and you are free to interpret it as you wish. There is almost always a kernel of truth behind every piece of feedback, even the most negative. It’s up to you to interpret it and pull the right conclusions from it. Besides, by taking this attitude, you won’t be so easily offended by the person giving you feedback.

3. Building the “big picture” puzzle

As the subtitle says, this is where you piece it all together. But before you jump into brainstorming and the elaboration of your opportunities, there is one more conditioning step you need to go through.

As we are constantly bombarded by messages, our brains handle information based on the filters we have developed around our beliefs and context. This causes us to process information without really thinking about it. How many of us have family members or friends who keep trying to “sell us” on the benefits of what they do, but we never consider it because we categorically believe it is not for us. The point here is not about that particular person or idea; it’s about the need to reset your compass and consider all options. I believe in the interaction of people and the notion that we each have a message to convey when we meet and interact. Our task is to find out what that message is. Could it be possible that you have unconsciously ignored certain messages recently? This is why it’s worth reflecting precisely about this point by making a list of potential messages you may have missed but which would be useful to consider.

Now you are armed and ready to put your picture puzzle together. You have analysed your situation, you have a good grasp of your strengths and weaknesses and you have raised your awareness of what the world around you has to offer. You now need to put the pieces together by making connections between the three elements and developing your hypotheses and options.

A good way to round up the exercise is to map your ideas/options in the following matrix:

EffortRewardmatrix

 

This will help you choose the right options!

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 4 February 2013

Are you using a leadership mirror?

Courtesy  of Dreamwallsglass.com

Courtesy of Dreamwallsglass.com

I recently read a McKinsey Quarterly article on “Why leadership-development programs fail”. The article highlights several factors that, while appearing obvious on the surface, are often misunderstood: overlooking context, decoupling reflection from real work, underestimating mind-sets and failing to measure results.

Since I have personal experience of some of these pitfalls, I thought I could enhance the lessons from the McKinsey article by sharing some of my observations; thus, enabling you to make the right decisions when it comes to developing leaders within your own organisation.

Let’s start with the first pitfall: overlooking context. The article points out that a brilliant leader in one situation may not perform well in another. Although this is not unusual, it makes you wonder whether that person was a real leader to start with. Real leaders are able to anticipate and adapt to any situation because they carry more than one arrow in their quiver. Just because a formula worked in the past does not mean it will work forever. Different situations demand different approaches and tools. Versatility is an important trait of good leadership. People who stick to the tried and proven approach often do so because they are comfortable with it or, even worse, because they don’t know what else to do – not exactly a sign of strong leadership.

But I guess this also proves the point that a generic approach to leadership development – the one size fits all attitude – is not appropriate. Everyone is different; someone’s strength is someone else’s weakness. This almost guarantees that in a classroom setting someone will be bored. This may also help explain why the article points out that adults retain just ten per cent of what they learn in the classroom. Personally, instead of trying to fight against this phenomenon, I prefer to use it to our advantage by pairing up executives who display the opposite strengths and weaknesses. For example, someone with great personal skills could be matched with someone who has difficulties with people but who is brilliant at strategic thinking. This not only helps individuals, it strengthens the leadership team by reinforcing the bonds between senior leaders. This approach also helps bridge the second pitfall – decoupling reflection from real work – because it provides leaders with time to reflect and analyse their own performance in a non-threatening setting. It also encourages growth and development because it allows leaders to monitor their progress – thereby addressing the last pitfall of failing to measure results.

The remaining pitfall – underestimating mind-sets – is more difficult to deal with. In most organisations, there exists a huge gap between the top floor and the shop floor. Leaders are so far removed from the day-to-day activities of the organisation that they have often lost their sense of reality. This misunderstanding frequently leads to suboptimal policies and plays to internal politics and infighting. Without understanding the real organisational dynamic behind undesirable behaviours, it is unlikely that sustainable behavioural change can be achieved. As the article points out, people’s actions are often derived from entrenched beliefs, which regularly go unquestioned simply because they are so obvious. This is where consultants – who are not tainted by years of “business as usual” – can add considerable value. They can provide an unbiased view of reality and identify the drivers of undesirable behaviours. Consultants provide leaders with a unique opportunity to look at themselves in the mirror and map out the shortest way to get results.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 20 January 2014

How elastic is your ego?

Have a look in the mirror! Photo courtesy of IKEA: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40213759/#

Have a look in the mirror!
Photo courtesy of IKEA: http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/40213759/#

The other day my wife and I had a fight, and she called me an egotist. Although there are always at least two viewpoints to every argument – and I don’t want to get into too much personal detail here – the statement made me reflect. Although I did not agree with her point of view, in essence I had to agree that I have an egotistic streak in me. But isn’t that a good thing? How can you ever be confident and successful if you don’t like or respect yourself? Certainly a measure of egotism is healthy. But the question is how much is good and how do you know when to tone down or ramp up your egotism?

It’s clear that for any relationship to work, there needs to be some kind of balance from both sides – and I suspect there is no real recipe or formula. The equilibrium in each relationship will lie at a different point, probably between 40 and 60 per cent, depending on the individuals. Only the involved partners can define the point of equilibrium, as it is dictated by their own comfort levels. With equilibrium, love and respect can flourish and relationships can develop to the point where the “whole” is greater than the sum of its parts – well in theory at least.

Where things go wrong is when one partner perceives a deviation from the equilibrium.  This is also where the dynamics get complex. As individuals, we all have our own view of what is tolerable and what isn’t: our filters. Then there is the individual temper or the fuse; some people have a short fuse with frequent eruptions, others have long fuses that don’t erupt often but produce much larger eruptions when they do. As people we are all just different, and it is our ego that guides us when we judge and react to our partners’ actions or words. It is also our ego that gives the elasticity to the equilibrium point. Some people would call this the “give and take” of a good functioning relationship. Are we willing to accept certain things, tolerate others, ignore the little things because we are focused on the whole? The problem with ignoring the small things is that sometimes they are like a tiny stone in your shoe; the moment you feel something you can decide to ignore it or take the time to remove it. Even if you decide to ignore it at first – the stone might not be painful, just annoying – sooner or later you will sit down, take off your shoe and try to remove the irritating object. It all comes down to tolerance, and it is your ego and personality that set these tolerances.

But just like an elastic band, your ego will lose its elasticity if it is always stretched. Through constant over-stretching, it loses its ability to contract back to its original form and becomes damaged. The good news is that by becoming more aware of your situation you can protect the elasticity of your ego. By clearing up perceptions and by removing the tiny stones in your shoe immediately, you won’t have to test the elasticity of your ego.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 30 November 2013

Does your organisation have a codex?

Pirate Codex for 8 year olds

Pirate Codex for 8 year olds

The other evening I sat down in front of the television with my eldest son. The first film in the Pirates of the Caribbean series was playing and, although I had seen the film on numerous occasions, I was just looking forward to us spending some time together. We were not disappointed and had a great evening. But what caught my attention was the part where the governor’s daughter invoked the right of “Parley” from the Pirate Code when she was captured by Captain Barbossa’s crew. Wow, even pirates have a code of conduct! Come to think of it, so do the Mafia and many other successful organisations nowadays.

As we have learned, a code of conduct can be a powerful motivator and engagement tool when used properly; in fact, it is the foundation of most religions – an example being the 10 Commandments, the ultimate code of conduct. So, what is it about them that makes them effective?

Clarity – Both the rules and the consequences of not following the rules are clear, and everyone knows and understands them. Knowing the boundaries of the framework in which we live and/or work promotes trust.

Common understanding  ­–­ Being able to trust that everyone else in the organisation will follow the same rules reinforces our sense of security.

Fairness – The rules are the same for all. A sense of justice is achieved by everyone living and working by the same guidelines, no matter what their position is in the organisation.

Nowadays, it’s not surprising that companies strive to establish common values and a distinct culture, as they have understood the power of codes of conduct. But beware – codes of conduct are like a double-edged sword: for all the positive energy that they can bring about, there is a lot of damage that they can do, as well. Only those prepared to follow all three points above can succeed.

If the rules are complicated and not clear, leaving room for interpretation, then people will invariably interpret situations differently, and this will ultimately undermine trust. If they can’t be sure that everyone is acting according to the rules, then people will become insecure and secretive. If the rules are not applied to everyone, then there will be no role models and no justice – sooner or later, this results in a “what can I get away with” attitude.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 31 October 2013

When did you last stop to smell the flowers?

Much has been said about the power of the moment. Books have been written telling us to focus on the most important time in our lives: not the past nor the future, but the present – the now. And, indeed, the present is where it’s at!
The present is where we make decisions and take action, and it is these actions that determine our future and create the memories that will, tomorrow, be our past. We process many of these decisions and corresponding actions almost unconsciously, but it is precisely this capability that is also our weakness, as it allows us to get distracted. In today’s world everyone demands our attention. Where the industrial revolution gave us more time by simplifying manual tasks (and in some circumstances removing them altogether), the information revolution is consuming more and more of our time. The difference is that now we have a choice: our devices have an off switch – and we should use these more often.

As I look back over the decades at the growth of consumerism, I can see that, as more and more things became available, companies vied for my money by promising me products with “effortlessness operation” and “lasting quality”. During the occasional visit to my aunt’s, I can remember marveling at her electric can-opener, thinking it was really cool. Fortunately, I never did buy one, as it would now be collecting dust up in the attic – along with the other marvels of health and productivity, like a juicer and an old vacuum cleaner. The industrial revolution brought about consumerism, the excesses of which are, unfortunately, visible not only in my attic, but also in the island of rubbish floating around the Pacific Ocean. But I guess this is the price we pay for what we have today.

www.sodahead.com

Now we have the information revolution, with many companies vying for our time and attention: the new currency. Everything is compressed; the mobile device makes us more productive, yes, but it also makes us a slave to others without even realizing it. Being able to read our emails & finalise a presentation on our iPad, whilst on the beach, may enable us to rethink where we can live; however, it also means we don’t really switch off during our holiday. Let’s face it, some of the stuff we can do with our mobile device can be addictive. Have you ever seen a couple having dinner in a restaurant, each of them with a smart phone in their hands, and, rather than looking each other in the eyes, they are both checking their emails! A perfect example of this new trend is a company called Zinga, which makes some of the most popular social games on Facebook. Last year it generated over 1 billion dollars of revenue from its 250 million users. Many of these users are addicted to the games and spend hours playing them on their computer everyday.

As we continue down the “on demand” path, we have more and more choices available to us at the touch of a button. Our propensity to get distracted grows exponentially, obscuring our ability to enjoy the moment without some kind of electronic stimulation. Of course, it’s a choice and we are the ones that make the choice. But choices are often made subconsciously, like the reflex to check your email when you hear the ping of your portable device. I suggest you consciously turn off your devices for a certain amount of time each day – dinner being one of those times, when you can engage in real dialogue and maybe even practice your storytelling skills. Go for a walk and fill your senses with the beauty of nature: the grandeur of the oak tree, the rustling sound of a river or creek, the sweet smell of blossom in the spring or the relaxing feeling of walking barefoot on a beach. Whichever experience is available to you, spending time reconnecting with nature and people is sure to be time well spent.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 1 September 2013

Are You Seeing the Forest through the Trees?

Grand_Portage_Trail_Sign

Probably one of my favourite things about growing up in Canada was summer camp: one full month of outdoor activities and getting close to nature. The highlight of the adventure was the canoe expedition. The camp’s duration was dictated by the age of the participants: 2 days and 1 night for the 6-year-olds and up to 20 days for the 16-year-olds. First, we were put into pairs, then we were off: paddling in the different lakes, setting up camp – the next day, more paddling. The slowly changing landscape in various shades of green, mixed with the peace and tranquillity of the lake and the steady rhythm of the paddling, was sometimes hypnotic and provided many daydreams. But it was not all fun and games. The “portage” – from the French word porter meaning to carry – was a nightmare: we had to carry not only all our gear and backpacks, but also the stupid canoe. The woods were infested with mosquitos, and with the canoe on your shoulders you couldn’t even swat them away. It was enough to drive you mad – and a real test of character. But we went through it – and by the third day of not washing with soap the mosquitos had stopped bothering us.

ac632970_portage_1220

The trail was often poorly marked, but after making a few unnecessary detours in the mosquito-infested woods I learnt very quickly how to read a map and use a compass, always looking for the shortest possible way through the woods or the best way to pick up the supposed trail. The interesting thing about a map is that it provides a “bird’s eye” view of the terrain, giving you information about what lies ahead of you – things that you may not be able to see at that moment in time. It gave us a view of the forest. Although we may not have been able to see the other lake, we started our portage, confident that it lay about 800 m to the west, just beyond the hill. We took our bearings with the compass, picked a point in the distance and started walking. Once we had reached that point, we repeated the process until we had reached our destination – the other lake. It’s easy to see the parallels to classic management theory:

1)    Vision:            Reaching our camp site safe and sound

2)    Mission:          Getting there one hour before nightfall

3)    Milestones:

  1. Paddle across the lake to where the trail starts
  2. Portage through the mosquito-infested wood
  3. Paddle to camp site
  4. Set up camp

But, as you can imagine, management theory often differs from reality. So, what is the problem? The bloody canoe! You see, when you walk around wearing a canoe as a hat, you can’t see more than two metres in front of you. It makes it kind of hard to get your bearings and pick a point in the distance. In reality, as 12-year-olds, my partner and I were victims of our own size and youth. Only one person should carry the canoe; that way, you can tip it back and see where you are going. The two-man approach is just not a good option in the woods, but it seemed like our only option at the time – neither of us had the strength to carry the canoe alone. Needless to say, we struggled; we just could not see the forest through the trees. Although we had a map and we knew there was a lake a short walk away, our struggles with the canoe demanded all our attention and drained our energy.

So often in business, we see a similar picture. We all have some kind of canoe to deal with, something that impedes us from seeing the bigger picture by sucking up all of our attention, and, because we get distracted, we lose sight of the objective and the task at hand. In our example, the problem was obvious: the canoe. Although it took us a few frustrating trials, we did figure out a way to make the task easier for ourselves, in the end.

In a business situation, becoming aware of the issues and forces that are obstructing your view of the forest should be your top priority – only then can you deal with them. (That is, of course, if you have already defined where you want to go and what your objectives are.) In most companies, the real boss – the CEO – sits just too far from where the value is created. As commander in chief of the organisation, his role is – like it or not – to give purpose to the jobs of the employees. Failure to do so results in an uncommitted workforce – people just putting in their time for their pay cheque, without much concern for waste, quality or efficiency. Sure, you can invest in quality systems, define standards and measure against them – in an attempt to maintain a high standard of work – but if you can’t get your people committed to their work, you will never make it to the top. You give purpose to people’s jobs by, first of all, sharing a set of values and mores; after all, knowing what to expect from each other gives everyone a sense of security. Therefore, describe the conditions under which the company is operating; talk about the competitive landscape, the strategy and how everyone plays their part in its execution, but, more importantly, break down the task into small enough chunks so that progress can be measured. After all, it is in the day-to-day activities along the value chain where the vision gets realised. If you are not aware of what is obstructing you, then you have little chance of success.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 18 August 2013

Taking Control Of Your Own Destiny

Being an only child, like everything else in life, has both positive and negative aspects, the importance of which often depends on how you look at things. I have never longed for a sibling, nor have I spent much time thinking about what life would have been like had I had one. My parents never forced me to leave home and attend boarding school; they just presented the facts (well, I suppose I may have been given some hints) and I simply opted for, what seemed to me, the most adventurous option. So, in the winter of 1973, when I was just 9 years old, my mother raised the topic of my schooling one night over dinner. I later discovered that, at that time, the provincial government had been experimenting with new teaching methods, and she did not want me to be part of their experiment. In any case, she asked me if I would be willing to go to school in Switzerland; she had done her research and learned that they had the best boarding schools in the world. My mother explained that, as Switzerland was on the other side of the world from Canada (where we lived), it would only be possible for me to see my parents every three months. She then went on to explain that there would be lots of other kids there – and I could ski every day. Well, skiing every day, are you kidding me? It was an easy sale. Not only was I already skiing at the time, I knew where Switzerland was: I had seen some World Cup downhill races on TV, and those skiers were my heroes. Not seeing my parents for three months did not seem like such a bad thing – after all, I was already at camp for a month during the summer. The next autumn I would be off to boarding school – in Switzerland!

I have to say, my birthplace, Shawinigan, is not particularly nice. It’s an industrial town. Its location on the St-Maurice River made it an ideal place for electricity generation and a paper mill. It went on to attract other electricity-hungry industries, most of which stank!  Organised labour and the political climate, as well as a bunch of other factors, finally choked profits and investment. The town then went through a long recession before emerging as the gateway to the Parc National de la Mauricie – 536 km2 of protected wilderness. With its 155 lakes, it is a paradise for anyone who loves canoeing – and mosquitos! To ensure you sleep well at night, in your flimsy tent, you are given strict instructions by the forest ranger as you enter the park: under no circumstances should you keep food in your tent. Doing so would attract the bears, which is not too good for the park’s health and safety reputation. So much for midnight snacks! You are also told that, at night, you should hoist a backpack containing all your food 4 m high into a tree – at least 50 m from your campsite. Now that’s what I call adventure: uncomfortable in a tent and in danger of being eaten by a bear. The Europeans love it; they come in their droves, and the town’s prosperity has now been guaranteed. However, back in the days when I was a 9-year-old, the prospect of going to school there was not all that appealing. Switzerland – and skiing – was much more attractive.

Finally, the day came when I was ready to go off to school. It had been a long time since that dinner conversation the previous winter. My anticipation was prolonged due to the fact that in Switzerland school didn’t start until the 1st of October. During the summer, my restlessness had been tamed by being around all the other kids at camp. In September, once they’d all gone back to school following Labour Day, my excitement grew stronger. You can imagine my delight the day we finally made it to school. Up in the Swiss mountains, at an altitude of 1500 m, there was already 40 cm of snow. Well be skiing soon I thought. Well, I thought wrong; this was just a freak snowstorm and, as it turned out, “skiing every day” was only for the winter months, between Christmas and Easter. So, after all this anticipation, you can imagine my deception; I cried that night, alone in my bed. The room was so dark I could not see my hand 5 cm in front of my face. Back at home we’d always had the city lights reflecting inside my room, so I’d never experienced such darkness. I would just have to be more patient. I reasoned that, if I’d been able to wait eight months to get here, I could wait another three before finally skiing in the Alps.

The next day we were woken up by the noise of the shutters being raised. The sun’s rays flooded the room, and we were told to get ready for breakfast. When I arrived at breakfast and saw the panoramic view from the corner window, I witnessed, for the first time, the majesty of the Alps. Besides, there was a cute Italian girl that kept looking at me, so I knew I had made the right decision in coming to Switzerland. At that time, I spoke only Canadian French, so I said, “Bonjour.” She answered, “Buongiorno, mi chiamo Marina. Tu, come ti chiami?” Needless to say, I had soon forgotten all about skiing as I was busy learning Italian; even though I had just learned a hard lesson about patience, my encounter with Marina had taught me even more, as it had opened my eyes to another culture.

As it turned out, I learned that patience is good for your character: it makes you appreciate things more; it spices things up: it raises the expectations. Naturally, of course, there may be some disappointments along the way, but that is all part of our learning experience: we calibrate our ambitions with reality and potential, in order to find a way to reach our goal. It took me a while to understand that, but finally it sank in. This is what is meant by taking control of your own destiny. Sure, you can say that I was perhaps one in a million (Canadians) who was offered the opportunity to attend school in Switzerland. I can’t help that; I can only say that I seized the opportunity.

 

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 4 August 2013

Are you avoiding the traps and pitfalls of life?

Thanks to:  Teaching Stuff | Gaijin Chameleon supershy.wordpress.com

Picture from:
Teaching Stuff | Gaijin Chameleon
supershy.wordpress.com

I remember playing snakes and ladders as a kid with my grandmother. For those of you who may not be familiar with the game, it’s a board game played with a die. The aim of the game is to get to the top of the board by following a road. Each roll of the die determines how many steps you make. Scattered along the road are snakes and ladders: ladders are short cuts that take you further up the board quicker and snakes make you slide back to a lower position. I would get really excited whenever I landed on a ladder and would delight in seeing my grandma slide backwards down a snake – especially since she played along and made funny faces whenever it happened.

Life is a lot like this game. We all follow a road that is strewn with setbacks and successes. Each day, we roll the die by the way in which we use our time. In life, unlike the game,  there are much fewer ladders and many more snakes, and, to make matters worst, they are all hidden. Our ability to read and understand them determines our fate and the fate of others.

As humans, we have evolved from prairie-roaming mammals to what we are today; we learned to walk on two legs in order to see danger approaching. Our success has been our ability to control the elements around us. First, we learned to make tools out of stone; then, we mastered fire, metal, electricity, etc. We have always lived in a society where humans have fought for and controlled each other: the elders, the church, the kings, the emperors, the dictators and the warlords. Today, the players are the CEOs and politicians, but it’s the same game; it’s all about control. The difference is that the game is now a lot more sophisticated and people are being taken advantage of.

Developing the skills and intuition to read the road in front of you is a lifelong process. However, I believe that by following five principles you can hedge your chances of success:

1) Do something you like doing. If you can’t get passionate about your work, you limit your chance of success. Try the motto: “If you can’t get into it then forget it”.

2) Stand up for what you believe in. It’s okay to change your mind along the way as you mature, but never sell out. Selling out might seem like an easy ticket but, ultimately, there is no satisfaction in it, only an empty life.

3) The future is so bright you have to wear shades. Every day, we are being bombarded with more and more information. Filtering this information properly is a daunting task. Not only is everyone seeking our attention, but also we are being brainwashed, programmed to think crap like “shopping saves you money”. (Ever noticed that often the “total spent” on your bill is hard to find as it’s in small print, whilst the “amount SAVED” is in large bold font?) There are dozens of other examples. The challenge is to build awareness so that you can see through the scams and bullshit – and avoid them.

4) Don’t live beyond your means; credit is bad. Only use credit in situations where you are certain about your return on investment. And only in rare circumstances is a car an investment. Cars depreciate; they cost money to operate and to maintain. Don’t buy a car on credit unless it’s a truly great 0% finance deal. You should aim to make your money work for you rather than you working for your money.

5) Things don’t make you happy; it’s what you do with them that counts. You might think it’s cool to own a Jimi Hendrix guitar, but if you can’t play it it’s useless. And even if you can play guitar, you will never get the same sound Jimi got out of it. That’s because a guitar is just an instrument that musicians use to express themselves; it’s the person that counts, not the guitar.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 18 July 2013

Are you wearing the right glasses ?

I can remember having a heated discussion with my wife about our eldest son. He was barely walking – about 18 months old – and, like all babies of that age, he wanted to touch everything. That was fine for 90% of the things in the house, but not for items such as the iron, the stove, the oven, etc. Already at that age he was drawn to the things which were out of bounds and he was constantly trying to get his hands on the forbidden 10%. His favourite was the stove. I guess he must have seen us cooking and just wanted to get in on the action. My wife managed to save him from burning himself on several occasions but, already at that age, he thought he knew better. However, when my wife told me about the problem, heated discussions were to follow. When I suggested that we should run a controlled experiment (i.e. let him burn his fingers) I got more than an earful. How could I even think of something like this? What kind of father was I?

I quickly explained that by controlling the experiment we could make sure he only burnt his fingers a little bit. More importantly, this way he would learn from his own experience, and she would not have to worry anymore about him really hurting himself.  So I set up the trap. I turned on the oven to about 100° C and waited for it to warm up. When it was up to temperature, I opened the oven door and stepped out of the kitchen for a moment. Sure enough, no more than 3 seconds had passed when, with my back turned, I heard the crying. He came running to me with his hand up in the air. I quickly plunged it into cold water and, after about a minute, he stopped crying. That was the last time we saw him hanging around the stove; he had learnt his lesson.

So what does this have to do with glasses, you ask? It is really quite simple: just as glasses help you see things better by filtering what you see, all your experiences are, in effect, filters that help you process information. In my son’s case, he needed to experience the heat from the oven to learn that ovens are hot and that he should keep his hands away from them. In other words, your experiences ultimately define your view of the world.

So you have a choice: you can just go along with life and not worry about this, dealing with everything that comes your way as it comes up, or you can try to create experiences that will enrich you and help you see the world in a different light. Therefore, if you are lacking in confidence (most likely you have experienced failure in the past and are cautious about trying anything new) you need a series of small victories to counterbalance your negative experience and build up your confidence. If you have difficulty making friends (you have most likely been betrayed in the past and are reluctant to trust people) try approaching new relationship without any expectations; let others demonstrate to you that they are trustworthy.

Of course, the older you are the more experience you will have gathered and the more imbedded your filters will be. This is why we hear the phrase “moulding a child when the slate is still relatively clean”. This does not mean you can’t change; it simply means that you will need more time and experiences to overcome the effects of your filters – so you’d better start working on it!

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 8 July 2013

What do you think is the most important thing in life?

I bet that many of you will be surprised by my answer. If you are thinking water, honour, love or maybe money, you are wrong. I’m not saying that those are not important; they are just not the most important. The most important thing in life is breathing. Stop laughing – I know what you are thinking, breathing is just too obvious. But there is breathing and there is “breathing”; let me explain.

The kind of breathing you are thinking of is the instinct we have to breathe in air and stay alive; whereas the kind of breathing I’m referring to is conscious breathing – or simply put, breathing exercises. The ability to control your breathing has not only physical but also psychological benefits. By controlling your breathing you are able to stay in control of a situation that may otherwise get out-of-hand. Being able to control your breathing means that you can better control your emotions by raising your awareness of the situation.

You may remember that in my blog entitled “The Duality of Individuality” I wrote about the constant struggle we have in our mind between our two brains – the rational and the emotional. I compared this struggle to a rider (the rational) trying to ride an elephant (the emotional). By controlling the act of breathing, the rider maintains control of the elephant.

I believe the real value you get out of breathing properly is a raised awareness. Because you’re mindful of your breathing, each time you take a breath, you consciously correct your breathing technique and, as a result, you raise your general awareness and consciousness. Put it this way, to tame an elephant you require lots of practice and patience. Every opportunity you get to exercise your will over the elephant, and get away with it, you take a step forward. Good breathing habits are just a positive side effect.

Francis Lambert – Zabok, 23 June 2013