Category Archives: Structures to Succeed

The Practice of Structure
Too often we blame failure on personal weakness. People say “I’m weak/undisciplined/disorganized/unambitious” etc. Yet failure is often due the structures around us, the environments – including the people – that surround us that call forth the behavior that result in failure.

These posts and articles are meant to help you identify where your devils lurk by developing new understanding and distinctions essential to creating structures that support you in achieving your goals.

Preparing for battle

Preparing for battle

About four minutes into Gladiator—my favorite Russel Crowe movie—the Roman General, Maximus Decimus Meridius (Crowe), introduces a ritual he would repeat several times in the film: just before battle begins he kneels on one knee, grabs a handful of earth, rubs it between his hands, and then deeply inhales as he cups his soiled hands to his face.

Only then does extreme negotiation begin. You can see the video below.

Just a power move you think? No, it’s much more. Maximus accomplishes two things with this ritual:

1) Clears his mind

Maximus was doing his version of hitting the clear key of your mind as a way to improve relationships, creativity, and productivity, or in his situation—kill and avoid being killed. Just as you clear a calculator’s clear key to make sure unwanted values don’t pollute the answer to your current problem, clearing your mind of distracting thoughts and emotions also facilitates better outcomes.

The trick is to remember to do this as you move from situation to situation, meeting to meeting in the course of your typical non-life-threatening day.

Before a big game, top athletes often take a few moments to mentally prepare; soldiers do the same before a military operation. Some use a prayer, some use a pep talk, some repeat a pledge or an oath of duty. For some, it’s all the above. Whatever it is, it should work for you.

Characteristics of a good clearing ritual

Whatever you design to hit your mind’s clear key it should bring your complete attention to the task at hand so that you are not preoccupied and can participate fully.

Maximus’ ritual may not work for you—although it would be fun to try—so invent something that does.

You can choose meditation, prayer, affirmation, movement (as Maximus does) or pep talk, but take care that it meets the following conditions:

It calms you.

Your ritual should bring your breathing and heart rate down. It must help center you and allow you to think of what’s important to focus on now. Think of Maximus’ deep inhale as he smells the earth of the battlefield.

Brings focus

Your ritual should help you leave other concerns ‘at the door’ where you can pick them up when you leave. This is not about suppression, but focus. You can resume thinking, even worrying about other things, just not for the next few minutes or hours.

Makes you mindful

Impending doom has a way of focusing the mind that most normal everyday situations—meetings, conversations, and work sessions—can’t, and so Maximus’ ritual had the advantage of never losing its power, but for us it’s important that our invented ritual never becomes rote and ineffective because we do it mindlessly out of habit.

Has meaning

With mindfulness comes meaning. I see many teams or community groups begin their meetings with a prayer, a national anthem, or repeating a pledge, but the ritual has no meaning other than it’s their tradition or practice. This is just what they do before a meeting. Always have the meaning of the ritual present when you carry out your ritual

Is short

The best part of Maximus’ ritual is that it took less than ten seconds, but what a powerful ten seconds. Kneeling or standing in prayer might work and it need not take a full minute and definitely not five or ten.

Is remembered

If you don’t do it you lose it, and because not doing it won’t imperil anyone it’s easy to forget. You’ll just notice that you continue to be stressed and less productive.

Journaling in the early morning can help you clear your mind of worries and declare an intention for the day (see below). This will, in turn, increase the odds that you’ll take a moment to hit your mind’s clear key as you move from meeting to meeting, or situation to situation during your day. You could also wear a rubber band around your wrist to remind you to do your ritual during the day.

What works for me

A Tai Chi movement is enough to bring me into the present, control my breathing.  It meets all the objectives except it doesn’t automatically remind me to do it.  As a clearing movement, I highly recommend it as a suitable ritual, and you don’t have to learn the complete form to benefit.  Here’s a video of the complete tai chi short form, and note you don’t have to go so low (bend your knees) to do the form correctly.  Also, just learning the first movement is enough for a clearing movement.

2) Declares an intention

This is the second thing Maximus’ pre-battle ritual accomplishes. In the same opening scene, right after Maximus smelled the earth in has hands, he stood and said, “Strength and honor.” The men around him repeated these three declarative words that set the standard by which they could judge their integrity in the coming battle. Saying this intention out loud increases the chance that they would perform with strength and honor and not scream and run away Monty Python style.

As you move through your day, going from situation to situation, any clearing ritual you perform should end with an intention for the situation you are about to advance.

It’s clear that “Strength and honor” (said in Crowe baritone) came from a deeply held conviction of the Maximus character, a conviction he would live up to in every battle.

Ideally, your intention should come from your personal credo, or mission statement if you have one, but it can also come from the particular situation you’re about to enter.

For the meeting where participants typically don’t feel heard or valued, you could declare this intention before you go into the meeting “Everyone present leaves the meeting feeling heard and valued.”

For another meeting where no one typically agrees with the way forward, you could declare this intention, “Every participant feels their input was included in the chosen solution,” or “Everyone leaves this meeting feeling we moved closer to the solution today.”

Clearing your mind of irrelevant thoughts and emotions brings your full capacity to the upcoming task, and declaring an intention gives purpose and direction to your thoughts and actions. These two actions increase the chances that things will unfold the way you wish.  You’ll become not only a more effective and productive leader but also less stressed and more approachable as well.

Here’s the video of that opening scene from Gladiator—the ritual begins about 3:30 minutes in. Also a funny clip of the opposite of Maximus’ “Stength and Honor!” is below.  By the way, I always smile at my imagined conversation between Maximus’ parents when he was born, “You’re going to name him what?” asked his mom. “Don’t worry,” answered his Dad, “He’s going to be a General.”

How a calculator can help you solve for stress and low productivity

How a calculator can help you solve for stress and low productivity

How often do you apologize for being pre-occupied, reacting inappropriately, or being unnecessarily harsh with someone? How often do you notice yourself stressing? Would you prefer to be more peaceful and productive? Surprisingly, an ordinary everyday calculator provides a useful analogy for what’s causing your stress, as well as what you can do to solveContinue Reading

Trump’s success formula and what we can emulate

Trump’s success formula and what we can emulate

We all know the risk of being insensitive, rude and politically incorrect. We’ve felt the sting of crossing the line enough times to know it’s not socially acceptable. How then to explain Donald Trump, who attributes his success to crossing that line? What is the Trump winning formula and is there anything about him toContinue Reading

Admitting mistakes

Admitting mistakes

We live with a curious irony: everyone makes mistakes, but no one admits to making them.  OK, maybe you’re one of the few that admits theirs, but most people are as unwilling to admit their mistakes as they are to draw attention to the piece of lettuce stuck between their teeth. That’s curious isn’t it?Continue Reading

Faith 101

Faith 101

If you’re not a religious person you might think faith has no significant place in your life. I certainly did, but I’m coming home to this word that I once rejected, and I think everyone practices faith whether they realize it or not. My early experience with faith Growing up as a Roman catholic, I heardContinue Reading

Why working hard can get you nowhere

Why working hard can get you nowhere

We’ve been taught that hard work, not intelligence, is the key to success, but that couldn’t be true.  If it were then why are millions of very hard-working people experiencing stress, regret, disappointment and fear? Millions of people live in a perpetual cycle of (1) work hard, (2) worry and (3) repeat.   At theContinue Reading

Do you have integrity?

Do you have integrity?

The term integrity is commonly used as a standard of moral uprightness. But whose morality: Taliban, Catholic, Jewish morality etc.,? Morality is society’s distinction between good and bad, right and wrong behaviour and these are not universally agreed. The right to murder, take more than one wife, or educate are all culturally defined, and whatContinue Reading

What to do when you’re misunderstood

What to do when you’re misunderstood

It feels terrible to be mis-understood; when something as clear and obvious as day is described as night by someone else.  When that person is a client or boss it’s even worse. Why is it that people don’t get your point-of-view and what can you do about it? Most common reasons people don’t agree withContinue Reading

Making practice sexy

Making practice sexy

Imagine how we could perform in art, sport and career if the idea of practicing was a turn on. Practice is the consistent engagement with actions and behaviours that confer “expert ease” at something.  Practice, at least deliberate practice, increases our capacities to perform at whatever we’re practicing for.  Yet most of us find itContinue Reading

Commit to the practice, not the objective

Commit to the practice, not the objective

There is nothing wrong with failing as long as it comes from a sincere effort to succeed and we learn from the experience so we don’t repeat the mistake on our next attempt. But for many failures—starting that business, writing that book, or losing that 20lbs—most of us don’t learn and we often repeat theContinue Reading

Are you a NO or a YES?

Are you a NO or a YES?

How many things are you a “NO” to?  A bad boss, gossiping colleagues, poor customer service, traffic, corrupt politicians, poverty, etc., etc. Do you notice that the things you’re against never seem to go away?  If you’re against jobs you hate, unhealthy relationships, being overweight, an uncertain future, why do you always seem to have themContinue Reading

The whole truth and nothing but

The whole truth and nothing but

Many of our people problems at home and at work come from the common mistake that we can know not only the truth, but the whole truth … and nothing but. We can’t—and that’s why I can’t imagine being selected for a jury. How could anyone take the oath “I solemnly swear to tell theContinue Reading

Be like water: Learn the soft skills

Be like water: Learn the soft skills

Employers today sift for soft-skilled employees like prospectors of old sifting for gold. They prospect because, like gold, self-motivated, empathic and responsible (soft-skilled) workers are rare and valuable to an organisation. What makes Soft Skills so valuable? Soft skills make salespeople effective, employees self-starters, give a doctor or nurse their bedside manner or make aContinue Reading

Why we hate to commit, and why we must

Why we hate to commit, and why we must

Most people hate to commit. No, it’s not just guys in relationship and marriage. The average person hates to be pinned down by a promise and that’s why the willingness to obligate to another person is THE differentiator of professionals. But what accounts for this unwillingness to commit? Why does making commitments seem as unappealingContinue Reading

What would you tell young you?

What would you tell young you?

The other day my girlfriend asked me what advice would I give young Peter if I could go back in time. Surprisingly, it was a hard question to answer. There is just so much advice I wish I had gotten or listened to.   Looking back, what would have made the most difference for me?Continue Reading

Six things we can learn from the faithful

Six things we can learn from the faithful

I’ve shut the door on many a Jehovah’s witness so it may seem odd to say that I admire them.  But I believe that devout people of faith can teach us a few things about living a passionate committed life. Here are six: 1. Choose your context The first is they have chosen a context forContinue Reading

Dictation makes a comeback

Dictation makes a comeback

Dictation and the technology that made it possible—short-hand—died because typing your own thoughts on a computer was far more efficient and cost-effective than dictating to a secretary—even a sexy one like Mad Men’s Christine Hendricks.  Dictation may make a comeback though; ironically due to the same technology that killed it in the first place: computers.Continue Reading

Your power to choose

Your power to choose

We couldn’t possibly remain conscious to every choice we have in any given minute, hour or day so we invent routines, rituals, traditions, standard practices and jobs to relieve us of the effort of continually making conscious choices. This is helpful but has one major drawback: namely, getting so used to our automatic-pilot default choices thatContinue Reading

Everybody wants to feel like they matter

Everybody wants to feel like they matter

Everybody wants to feel like they matter, that they are valued by other people.  Probably no other need is so overlooked as this. Hunger, shelter and sex call for attention in ways that are much easier to address.  These are probably the most instinctive human needs and knowing how to solve them seem also instinctive.Continue Reading

Icebergs, superstars and you

Icebergs, superstars and you

No doubt you already know that most of an iceberg’s mass lies beneath the surface.  If not, …you’re welcome. Recently the scale of this fact impressed me.   Imagine … for all the visible ice towering above the surface—sometimes 30 metres or more—there’s twice as much of it beneath the surface. What does this haveContinue Reading

What can you do?

What can you do?

What a confronting question. “How can you help other people?” is perhaps a more polite variation of this question, or “What skills do you have?” but for impact I like “What can you do?” It forces you to think in terms of your responsibility to produce an outcome. If we begin telling hight school/secondary schoolContinue Reading

Brutality Cascades

Why is it that every government in Trinidad disappoints?  While the players change the complaints and themes of corruption and ineptitude remain the same. There will always be some level of ineptitude and incompetence in any new government and we expect people to grow or be replaced so I’m not talking about that here.  What’s moreContinue Reading

A Teacher’s Ultimate Responsibility

A Teacher’s Ultimate Responsibility

As a child I liked many of my teachers. There were those that were funny, autocratic, confused, empathetic etc. I remember them primarily for the funny stories that happened in their classrooms, and whether or not we thought they were cool. As I think back on them I realize that every one of them wasContinue Reading

Micromanagement and Microperformance

I constantly hear of workplace horror stories, where employees complain about being “watched” or policed.  Management tells them how they should dress, what time they should be at work, what sites they can visit, when and for how long they can take a break etc. Positively Gestapo like. From the manager’s perspective they think thatContinue Reading

“That’s not what I asked you to do.”

Have you ever been on the receiving end of that one? No? How about “That’s not what we agreed.” Well it’s no fun to be the one transmitting the same message either, especially to your web designer, mechanic, or plastic surgeon. There’s no simple or single answer to why these breakdowns in people’s promises andContinue Reading

Are you Cancerous?

Are you Cancerous?

If you take a telescope and look upwards and outwards, you’ll soon gain a healthy perspective on how small, how insignificant we and our planet are in the grand scale of our galaxy and the universe. You’ll be similarly amazed if you take a microscope and look inwards; there’s an entire universe of cells, atomicContinue Reading

The Hubris of Free Will

One of the things we often hear about what makes human beings special and perhaps unique on the planet is that we have free will.  But what does that mean exactly? Is it that we are self-directed and autonomous in a way that no other animal is?  I think that’s what we mean when weContinue Reading

Routine – The Dance

Oh Routine.  What am I going to do with you?  You make things so mundane, so ordinary, so repetitive and well … so routine.  You are the enemy of passion and fun. You are the oppressor of joy. Oh how rote you are routine? How repetitive, how boring, how dull? Where is your spice?  YourContinue Reading

For 2009 be resolute also about your surroundings

An old coach of mine, Paul Dominguez, once taught me to pay attention to my environment; that my environment actually “calls forth” certain behavior.  You might notice this clearly in a living room that’s organized around the TV.  With the chairs, table and sofa all arranged around the TV you’ll find it perfectly natural toContinue Reading

Segments

In their Law of Attraction books, Esther and Jerry Hicks talk about segmenting. The idea is you break your day into discrete portions of time or “segments” as a means to focus your attention during that time on something that you want done. This is a brilliant concept.  Why?  Because my biggest challenge is managingContinue Reading

Amazing how many things we do for no good reason

So I’m writing a book, and after explaining what the book is about to a good friend, he asks me why am I writing it?  I gave the obvious answer of course, “Because I’ve always wanted to write a book.”  And then comes the predictable question, “Why?” And then my mind produces a deluge ofContinue Reading

Context for the “Space”

I posted before about our ability to create a space between stimulus and response. This is of course not Nobel Prize submission material, yet it’s one of those truisms that is so often taken for granted. What I want to say here is that a practice of creating that Space will be a difficult oneContinue Reading

Creating the space between stimulus and response

What’s a uniquely human ability? We are very likely the only animals on the planet that can create a space between stimulus and response. Actually I don’t know if this can be proven, but it most certainly is a major aspect of being human. Human beings have the ability to choose what their response willContinue Reading

Planning as a practice

What is it about last minute that focuses the mind? I recently had the experience of planning for a move and I gave myself sufficient time. However, two weeks before the move it dawns on me that for a whole host of reasons a later moving date would be preferable to the one I chose.Continue Reading

Two kinds of distractions

One is stressful, the other is numbing. The latter type of distraction serves to numb you to the pain of the former. The best example of a numbing distraction is TV. You turn it on and it effectively distracts you (numbs) from all your concerns in the world. It turns your mind off. Other goodContinue Reading

Your Physical Space and You

Here’s something that I’ve noticed recently. I don’t say my prayers the way I used to. Yes I say my prayers. My mother will be very happy to know that. You see I recently moved and this ritual fell out at exactly the time I changed location. It occurs to me that in my oldContinue Reading

Simplexity

Damn! What a great word. Wished I had coined it. Kudos to Jeffrey Luger though. He’s the mastermind behind the book of the same name. Luger’s point is that the world around us filled with examples of things that appear simple and are enormously complex in their operation and vice versa. He cites a commonContinue Reading

Routines and measures

Working for yourself presents unexpected challenges. Being on my own has taught me the value of routines in my daily life. Without the imposed routines that come from a corporate job that starts at 8 or 9am every day, you find yourself pondering when to take showers, exercise, meditation etc., in addition to whatever workContinue Reading

Breakdowns

Don’t they make life interesting? I’m tending to quite a few at the moment, and I am finding it interesting to notice where I make life more difficult than it needs to me. My biggest breakdowns are in the area of technology. I was advised that a complete reinstallation of my operating system on aContinue Reading

The importance of visualization

The other morning,as I looked at my rather round belly, which has gotten noticeably bigger over the last 3 weeks, I was reminded that I’ve been ineffective in causing the flat six-pack stomach that I dream of. My exercise practice has been ineffective. Similarly as I was doing some Yoga poses I was also remindedContinue Reading

The Practice of Planning

What’s your experience of plans, and well … planning? Mine has not been so good. In fact, on closer inspection I find that it’s not so much that I don’t follow plans or that they fall apart – I’ve certainly had my fair share of those – it’s that I didn’t plan. As I writeContinue Reading

Systems do you have any?

From a business perspective most people get the importance of systems, standard operating procedures, and process in general. Carefully set up to meet a purpose, systems are enormously helpful in reducing the energy it takes to get something done. When do you set up a system? Well some systems are set up so that somethingContinue Reading

Distractions and you

Distraction, not religion, is the opium of the masses. Distraction is the enemy of living my life as a practice. Distraction serves as the band-aid to the worry and anxiety I feel when I’m not effectively taking care of my concerns in life. I know I’m heading off a cliff and it’s easier to goContinue Reading

Clutter

So with my “Getting things done (not)” as the background, I write about how “clutter” affects me. Like our hero in this April 17th 2008 post, in the process of doing one task I find myself distracted by another. Does this happen to you? On the way to look for a folder or file, IContinue Reading

Getting things done (not)

I’ll be musing about clutter, distractions and the importance of systems and routines in living your life as a practice, and I thought this cute story below would be a great set-up. I have no idea who wrote it. Enjoy. Recently, I was diagnosed with Age Activated Attention Deficit Disorder (A.A.A.D.D.). This is how itContinue Reading

But I don’t feel like ……

How do you generate yourself to do what you know you ought to? How can you generate yourself to take the actions that are consistent with your declarations of who you say you are or what you say you are committed to? You know how it works. I just don’t feel like going to theContinue Reading

The Role of Routine

What routines do you have in your life? And what are they for? Seems an odd questions but think about it? First think about what a routine is. A routine is defined as: a customary or regular course of procedure commonplace tasks, chores, or duties as must be done regularly or at specified intervals; typicalContinue Reading

Can you coach me in living my life as a practice?

This was a question from a very good friend of mine.    My initial reaction was, “Noooo???!” “It’s your life. The whole idea is that you get to invent what your practice looks like.” I didn’t in fact say this, it was what was going on in my head, and in my head I playedContinue Reading