Follow Me on Twitter

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Boddhisatva or What? S. Covey's Habit #2, Continued

The ham was delicious. And huge. It weighed several pounds more than I was led to believe it would when I ordered it, and for a germaphobe vegetarian-at-heart like myself who has a touch-and-go relationship with meat, it presented a challenge. I did purchase it from a regionally famous butcher pre-cooked, cured, smoked, and shot through with some preservative that kept it looking pink. I probably could have gnawed on it in the back of the car.

Nevertheless, I was nervous about cooking it through. Or heating it through, to be precise. We were feeding a lot of people, including children, who were sleeping over. I didn't want any vomiting. So while everyone seemed to enjoy it, I really only fully appreciated it the morning after Christmas, when I woke up, and said my first words to the husband: "That ham was delicious, because nobody got sick." Happy Boxing Day.
Back to Effective slash Successful People's habits.
Still splashing around in Stephen Covey's Habit #2, Start with the End in Mind, I've avoided describing my funeral only to run smack into the instruction to write a mission statement for my life, so that I can direct myself towards those things that are in accord with my deepest principles.

Oy vey. Is that overwhelming or what? I decided to put off the task again.

So I took the dog for a walk, and decided to listen to a Zencast, which I hadn't done in a long time, on my brand new iPhone4S. Zencast was a talk by Jack Kornfield. Jack Kornfield was one of the first Americans to popularize Buddhism in the West starting in the 1970s. He's got a nasal voice, but he tells good stories. I like his talks, although he does repeat himself. Then again, so do I. Lo and behold, Jack started out talking about success. What it isn't: avoiding difficulties and suffering in life. As if experiencing these things is somehow shameful. Which is actually true. We do feel ashamed of our misfortunes, don't we?

And of course, he talked about meditation as a way to understand the nature of the suffering and misfortunes of life, as well as our reactions to them (avoidance), which often increase our suffering. But what he was really talking about was the purpose of meditation. First, to quiet the mind. To allow yourself to understand what's going on, in your own head, and in the world around you. To observe and understand that suffering and bad stuff happens as part of life, and so does plenty of good stuff.

Second, after understanding by observing your own mind, moving out into the world. That is, forming intentions. Am I in a funhouse or what? All these gurus keep telling me the same things. Anyway, he was speaking of intentions both micro and macro. Micro being taking a slight pause and observing your anger at your 4th grader for losing her purse with her cute panda wallet and fifty dollars, and also observing her quivering chin, before deciding how to respond. Macro being, you guessed it, understanding what's most important to you in life, your core values, your principles, so you can act in accordance to them.

Sound familiar?

And as he went along he mentioned that if you're meditating, you are on the path to enlightenment. Even if, I suppose, you're only doing it to lower your blood pressure and keep your stress at bay, you're at least on the path. And somewhere along the path, some people take the Boddhisatva vow, which is to strive for enlightenment for the purpose of helping other sentient beings become enlightened.

Which brings Jack, and me, and you, my tens of readers, right back into the stream of finding the purpose and motivating principles of our lives.  "Wherever you go, there you are," as Buckaroo Bonzai said.

Why does it seem so hard? That I listen to Zencast and read these books and take an interest in these questions of purpose and principles shows me something. A couple of things. One, I know I'm not so unique in these interests. There are lots of people like me who want to consider these deeper questions, at least on some level; but we're just as happy talking to Siri on our new iPhone4s or rushing to the outlets on December 26th with the MIL and the SIL for some major bargains.

Another thing I begin to see is that my reluctance isn't about some hangup in myself about facing my deeper values. It's about a sense I have that this is a shameful or embarrassing activity. That there's something silly or New Age or creepy clammy-handed about being interested in a greater purpose.  And if I think that, lots of other people do, too. So while we all might have this hankering for a deeper understanding, we also have this reluctance to say it out loud.

Why is it more embarrassing to say I'd like to cultivate my understanding, compassion, and wisdom so I can make choices that improve the world, starting with my nearest and dearest relations, through my good intentions, than to say that my iPhone4s makes me happy?  Which it certainly does.

Maybe you can answer that question, my tens of readers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

What's Success Got to Do With It?

Honestly, I’m far too scattered to share anything profound.  I'm thinking in lists, not paragraphs, in small units, not abstractions. Hanukkah, Christmas--Christhanakwanzika, as the DJs on 92.3 FM refer to the festivities that have engulfed me—have engulfed me. 

What’s a nice Jewish girl to do? Drive two hours for a ham, what else?

And an hour for the 8th grader to spend some quality time with her bestest friend, which is what happens if your child goes to private school and not to the local public school.

And soak the glasses, mugs and cutlery in a vinegar-dishsoap-water mixture to remove the hard-water rime from them.

And go to CVS three times, each time forgetting the annual Toblerone for the husband’s stocking.

And hand-grate the potatoes for the latkes because the grater attachment for the Cuisinart is broken—which I forgot, since the only time I use that attachment is to make latkes, and the only time I make latkes is once a year.

Last year, I made so many latkes it was wondrous. And then, two weeks after Hanukkah, which must have been Christmas, I opened up the oven to put in something (the goose?) and discovered a full platter of gorgeously browned two week old latkes.

Reader, I ate them.

Okay, no, I didn’t. But it hurt to throw them out.

This is a week for scaling back the idea of success to small goals:
            Do a few minutes of yoga every morning so you don’t turn into a two week old latke that crumbles instead of bends.
            Remember the Toblerone.
            Remember the new Aerobed.
            Remember the needy (and I’m not speaking of myself here, my tens of readers)
            Drive the Prius to the ham and the bestest friend and use the time for some isometric abdominal exercises, since there is no time for the gym. 
            Walk the dog for some nice, fresh, suburban air and wonder, dispassionately, if this will be the year the tree falls over. It's listing to the left, just a little.

And let me pass on my accountant’s take on success, since she shared it with me and the husband yesterday: That success is doing what makes you happy.

What are your scaled back goals for the holiday season?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Guess What Stephen Covey Suggests?
Okay, I hate to beat a point home, but I've gotta take this one on. Last week, I wrote about visualizing your funeral, one of the first excercises to develop Stephen Covey's Habit #2 of Highly Effective People.

After you do that, he's got another "little" exercise -writing a mission statement for your life. For your life, people. Or for your corporation, if you're a honcho. Or for your family. A mission statement is something like a personal constitution, laying out your ground rules for a PC life. (Remember, that's principle-centered, not politically correct.) It's a bit challenging, to say the least, which is why I'm on page 144 of the book, and I've only gotten through two habits.

There's a lot of humdededumdee and howdydo in this chapter about proper principles and so on, and many examples of fine mission statements written by people who have a lot of time and ability to think deep thoughts. (This book came out in the mid-nineties, by the way, when we apparently were able to think a little more deeply and a little more linearly than we are now, in these multi-tasking days.)

I won't bore you with the mission statement details. At least not today. Because my attention was caught by this subsection: Visualization and Affirmation.

Yes, my tens of readers, affirmation and visualization.  As in using positive language and imagery to imagnine attaining your goals. Where have I read this before?  Where have I not read this in my exhaustive scan of the success literature?

Now, Mr. Covey is clear that there's a big difference between his use of affirmations and its use by  other self-helpers. They buy into the "Personality Ethic" of transformation, while he espouses the "Character Ethic."

Personality Ethic types are "outside in" believers, like Dale Carnegie.* You act like you wanna feel, and soon you get yourself into the habit.

Character Ethic types are--well, Mr. Covey puts himself into a different class than everyone else. Of course he does, because he's deeply invested in his point of view--and he has some books to sell and speeches to make for which he wants some compensation.  But anyhoo, his idea is to change yourself from the inside-out.  Working from your principles.

And here we run into our little overlap. So he suggests engaging your creativity in figuring out your deepest principles and how to put them into words.

And he suggests using affirmations. His are different--of course they are (!)  But they are still affirmations. A good affirmation contains 5 components: it's personal; it's positive; it's present tense; it's visual; and it's emotional.

So here's the thing. While Covey says that affirmations are a very strong and useful tool for transformation when used to "become more congruent with my deeper values in my daily life," and while he suggests than anyone who uses affirmations for the crude and valueless purpose of attaining riches is misusing them, he doesn't say it doesn't work to use affirmations and visualization to do so. He just suggests his readers would be above using positive visualization and affirmations to accrue said riches.
A nod to my former stompin' grounds via

And then I checked my Twitter feed and found this article from It's about research "testing the mettle of self-help platitudes." Apparently positive visualization can actually trick your brain into thinking you've succeeded, causing you to relax, and your ambition to abate.  Which is a bummer,  because it says right out that "the more pressing the need to succeed, the more deflating positive visualization becomes." Not only that, but it makes you less energetic, at a time when you need energy to fuel your ambition. You'd in fact be just as well off daydreaming.

But fear not, my tens of readers! There is a plus side here. Positive visualization works wonders for relaxing you and calming you down. So you don't have to feel so sucky about your failures.

There is also a caveat. Yes, really! The researchers says that "critical evaluation" may do the trick. Instead of visualizing the moment you win the Noble Prize, for example, visualize problems you may encounter along the way and visualize overcoming them.

And now I have to admit that that is exactly (okay, not exactly, but similar to) what Mr. Covey says. Use your affirmation, which you've crafted with care, and then visualize situations where you might need help. Like dealing with a difficult child. Or a troubling situation at work.

Or turning down those vats of money that you ordered up in your previous, poorly-chosen affirmations.

* See, now Buddha was a bit of an "outside in" kind of guy. He suggested that if you're feeling blue, try smiling, because the act of moving your muscles into the smile will remind your brain about those happier emotions connected with smiling. And research has born this out. And anyway, who is going to impugn Buddha? He knew a thing or two.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Why Habit #2 Might Kill You; But if it Doesn't, You'll Be Stronger
You're at a funeral. You're looking at a satin-lined box. It's open, or it's closed. Inside is a body made up to look like a facsimile of the living person it once was. Or maybe you're looking at an urn, or some kind of black box, filled with cremated remains. 

The funeral home is filled. The service hasn't begun. You listen in on conversations. Vague murmurs begin to disturb you. You hear a familiar name. An organ begins to play. Family files in. You know these people. The minister or rabbi or imam or funeral home presider assumes position. You have a strange, disembodied feeling, and then you understand. 

It's your funeral. 

Yep, that's right. Stephen Covey wants you to imagine your own funeral.

Habit #2 of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is Begin with the End in Mind.

Your end.

Macabre? Perhaps. Oddly satisfying? Maybe. Disquieting? Uh-huh, sure.

But to achieve Habit #2, you gotta.

He wants you to not only picture your funeral, but also to imagine each speaker.

Pick a family member, a friend, someone from work, and someone from a religious or community organization with which you're involved and imagine the things each of these people say about you.

Write your own freakin' eulogy, even.

Now, I'm not going to tell you about my funeral. Not that I'm shy, exactly. Not even that I'm aware it would be extremely boring to read. But because shades of my junior year abroad at Oxford waft over me. I actually did imagine my funeral. Or close to it--my death bed, with all my bestest buddies and some family ranged around me, all telling me they loved me and being generally devasted by my demise.

Just a little depressive, okay possibly suicidal, reaction to leaving my familiar terrain, all my friends, and a boyfriend so that I could live in a basement room and write essays about English Lit.

Actually, the year was great overall. That first term, though. Ugh.

Why do this? 

Well, my tens of readers, the reason is that by so doing, by engaging your imagination and your conscience in this exercise, you will uncover the values and principles that matter most to you.

And also because Stephen Covey says that if you do this, you will have defined success. He says it right on p. 98. "If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success."

I am telling you, I may not get through this step. I mean, shouldn't I just look for a job?

But wait. If I do this exercise, I will get something much better than a job. I will get a PC life.

That's right. A PC life. PC as in "principle-centered," not as in "politically correct." And a PC life is much better than your basic money-seeking, self-centered life.

According to Stephen Covey.

And here may be the root of my problem. I suspect that I don't have any values or principles.

Also, I have a certain skepticism about what people say at funerals being the unvarnished truth about the deceased. I mean, it's usually pretty varnished. I mean, think of Tom Sawyer and how he got talked about at his faux funeral. Everyone in town suddenly weeping all over themselves when just days before all they wanted was to hide and tan a little piece of that rapscallion. How could I trust my imaginary funeral-goers to tell the truth? Wouldn't they be varnishing me? And since it is all in my mind anyway, wouldn't I be varnishing myself?

Um. Yes, I do see my flawed logic.

Okay, look, having spoken to various professionals at various times in my life, I am aware that I am avoiding something here that might actually be fruitful.

So if you'll do it, I'll do it. At any rate, I'll keep on trucking through Covey's book. Because, gosh darn it, I want to be "effective."