Why Most Don’t Win At The Game Called Life

And 8 Ways You Can

Regardless of how you define “winning” in life, there are some common denominators that keep people from it. A lot of people it seems. Even a brief look at selected key indicators related to personal well-being and flourishing, especially America, can get you in a melancholy mood if not out-right depressed.

Simple Doesn’t Mean Easy

The other news is that there’s a lot we have within our control that we can leverage to Win. While it’s pretty simple stuff, it’s usually not easy….and not for the reasons most think. Why so difficult? Mainly because we just aren’t self-aware of what commonly trips us up.

Before I go further I have to give credit where credit is due. The stimulus for this post came to mind after re-listening to one of Tony Robbin’s “Get The Edge” lectures when my car hi-jacked my iPhone and auto-played the content…..which broke the technology rules.   Seven of the points below come from Tony’s experience with the millions he has interacted with. The other one comes the experience of my great-grandmother who lived to be 106 yrs. old. My contribution is simply context and some elaboration.

Eight Reasons

These are eight big reasons why many people don’t win at the game called life and how you can instead:

  1. Don’t know the purpose of the game- how can you win if you haven’t defined what winning is? Decide what it is you really want. This takes time and ongoing reflection so schedule it; lather, rinse and repeat at least once a year.  Determining your purpose in a way that can expand and grow with you is part of it. The other part is pondering the questions of life’s origin, meaning, morality and destiny……even if answers don’t come right away or aren’t as clear as you like.
  2. Have too many rules- most of the rules you have for your boss, friends, spouse and yourself result in you “shoulding” way too much on yourself and others. The reality is that the majority of these can be jettisoned and all of us would be much better off. Rules are important and they can also be toxic, especially when you impose your rules on someone else.  If arguably the greatest person to ever walk the face of the earth said only two rules are paramount, how many more do we need?
  3. Refusing to work with people who have the “wrong” rules (i.e. their own)- with 7.125 billion people on a planet that is growing more connected all the time, this is going to be a problem for you if you can’t. Recognize they have as many messed up rules for themselves and others as you do and cut them some slack. Remind yourself that listening and being friends with them doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with them. It also gives you the freedom to do just that.
  4. Have rules in conflict- this is a natural result of items 2 & 3 above. The more rules you have the more mental and emotional dissonance you’re going to experience. Of course, we’re brilliant at working around conflicting rules and letting  ourselves off the hook with our own personal in-field fly rules. Even with our work-arounds, we still never quite get rid of the self-imposed residue of guilt. Losing 1/2 your rules now will go a long way in avoiding this one.
  5. Play by the rules and “lose”- sometimes your unrealistic expectations cause your disappointment. And sometimes, truly bad things do happen in life regardless of what you do. You get the trip to Iceland during winter instead of the one to Hawaii you had planned…..like, having a child with special needs instead of one born healthy. Recognize that there is meaning beyond the moment. Asking yourself self-defeating questions that have no answer, like “Why me?” will only cause a mental loop and keep you stuck. Instead, ask yourself empowering questions like “What can I learn from this pain to help myself and others?” and you may find a gift you never dreamed of. As Jim Rohn said, “never lose the good out of a bad experience.”
  6. Break the rules and win!- so, you violated what you hold sacred and your values….and you get a win! Well, maybe not so much. Now you now have to reconcile that short-term pleasure with your long-term interests and higher purpose. Remind yourself that ultimate pleasure isn’t what you get in life, it’s who you become and what you contribute in the process.
  7. Take life too seriously or not seriously enough-  I get that our life is no practice session.  I also know that life is filled with rhythms of all kinds and to live every situation out as if it were life-and-death is just as much a denial of reality as someone who is pollyanna all the time. The former is to live in fear and anxiety; the latter is to live with blinders on and ultimately disappointment.
  8. Take life on your terms instead of how it is- just because you feel or think something should be a certain way doesn’t mean it is, regardless of what color glassed you have on or how far down your head is in the sand.  Learn to reframe any situation and stay positive while being able to accept and handle the negative.

Winning in life requires we know what we want and are aware of the obstacles that often keep us from it.  Being aware of these 8 common pitfalls can maximize your opportunity to win

What’s working to get past one of these eight that’s showing up most often for you right now?

Please leave a comment, I’d love hear.

4 Questions That Can Make You Whole

Why Maturity Beats Growth Every Time

Growth. Bigger. More. Faster…..the list of what were being told we need and need to be doing could go on.  That message seems to be an incessant drum beat from the media and culture. What we don’t recognize is that the message for most continues to reverberate in our head and echo long after the noise outside stops.

Ask anyone who knows me and they will tell you that I’m all about growth and getting better. Early on that meant taking on more and saying yes. Later on I realized I needed to let go of some stuff and say “no” more. What I am finding out as the years have gone on is that a simple binary response to decision making doesn’t suffice. Life is not that simple. The good news is that it’s not that complicated either. The other news is that it still isn’t easy.

As I began thinking more about the person I ultimately want to become, a few things became very clear: there are some things I need to add, several I definitely need to take away, some I want to keep and others I realize that I’m just going to have to accept (and so is everyone else). My guess is that  this  probably resonates with you as well.

What Is Maturity?

Marshall Goldsmith beautifully lays out a model for maturity in his book Triggers and calls it the “Wheel of Change”.  It reminds me that growth alone isn’t the object; maximizing potential and effectiveness is. We’re kind of like fruit: best when mature. The closer we get to maturity the more able we are to operate effectively in our sweet spot and do so in a state of flow.

Maturity provides the context  for considering our strengths and acknowledging our limitations, which keeps unhealthy comparisons at bay.  Yes, its true: there are some things you and I just aren’t good at and never will be, even if we try to make ourselves feel better by calling them “challenges”.

The Wheel Of Change

Marshall Goldsmith’s “Wheel of Change” represents the interchange of two dimensions we need to sort out in order to become the person we want to be. On the positive side are the things that help, on the negative side are things that hold us back. The element that’s different in this model is that instead of always adding or taking away, there are things we intentionally decide to keep, or at least not try to change……even when we know they hold us back.

A 4-fold decision making framework:

Regarding what holds us back, ask-

  • What do I need to Eliminate?
    • While this  is probably the most liberating and freeing thing we can do, it’s also the hardest kind of decision to make. There are many reasons it’s hard, not the least of which is that losing something is always more painful than the pleasure we get from gaining something (known as loss aversion bias).  What we don’t realize is how much not doing this costs us.
  • What do I need to Accept?
    • This is probably the one we are most uncomfortable with and have the least amount of experience doing…intentionally, that is.  In fact, admitting the fact that some things just “are” can feel like defeat and giving in. However, it can be extremely valuable when we are truly powerless to make a difference in things, whether they be inherent to us or are external circumstances.  Make peace with it.

Regarding what helps us, ask-

  • What do I need to Create?
    • Most everyone loves this part and it’s almost always the easiest to do. Creating gives us a sense of self-direction and control. It’s important to not get faked-out with this one: are you creating what you really want or are you only reacting to external forces and pressure instead?
  • What do I need to Preserve?
    • It goes without saying that familiarity breeds contempt, and that can include our own accomplishments and what we’ve become. This choice isn’t as adrenaline charged as Creating and may even seem boring; after all, you’ve already been there/done that, right? The key is being self-aware enough to know what serves you well and then the discipline to stick to it, refine it and maximize it. New and shiny isn’t better….it’s just new and shiny.  I think it’s safe to say most of us don’t do enough preserving.

This model is a reminder that more is not better; better is better.

Which element of this model do you need to focus on most to get where you want to go?

Please leave a comment I’d love to hear.

How To Train Your Memory Like A Champ

It's Easier Than You Think

Could you use a photographic memory? I know I could and would love to have one.  The question is whether such a thing as a “photographic” memory even exists. While the phenomenon of eidetic imagery exists, what most people think of as a photographic memory has never been proven.

In 1993 I began preparing to become board certified in two physical therapy specialties and frankly, I wanted to become more effective in general. To me that meant I need to get a better grip on being able to retain facts and content. In other words, I needed to improve my memory.

Around that same time there were a number of educational and self-help programs being advertised on radio and TV. You know, the “….for just $19.95, you too can..…” kind and Kevin Trudeau’s “Mega Memory” program was one of them.  It look pretty good so I decided to give it a try. After all, the internet was still somewhat novel back then so I couldn’t just Google for something better.

The Ancient Art of Memory

The Mega Memory program turned out to be really, really good. And unlike his dubious weight loss cures (he ended up being sentenced to jail in 2014 for fraud), Trudeau didn’t invent the techniques and exercises included in his memory program

In fact, to this day I still use the memorization approach and techniques I learned in that course to memorize both short-term lists and more detailed content. Other names for it include “memory palace”, “journey method” and “method of loci”.  While it’s been around at least for over 2200 years,  Tony Buzan is commonly credited with bringing this ancient approach to the art and training of memory back into the limelight in modern times (along with Mind Mapping).

Modern day “mental athletes” are proof that this approach to maximizing memory and mental fitness really works.  Their competition includes 5 events, one of which is having to memorize the order of a shuffled deck of cards in 5 minutes; the others events may be even more difficult.  What’s revealing is that most mental athletes deny being any kind of savant. In fact most consider themselves to be of average memory and some deplore the notion of “photographic memory”, calling it a myth. So what’s their secret?

5 Key Elements

At the risk of oversimplification, there are 5 basic elements of this ancient art that appear to be key:

  1. Peg- This is something already familiar to you, like parts of your body (i.e. shoulders, ankles, knees and toes, etc.) or the rooms of your house.
  2. Anchor- This is the process used to associate what your trying to memorize with a peg that’s already familiar to you.
  3. Vivid- Visualizing what you’re trying to memorize even more vividly than real-life, which makes it “sticky” and easier to recall.
  4. Imagination- Another part of making something “sticky” and easy to recall; the more outlandish the better.
  5. Action- This is the “glue”  that makes what your trying to memorize actually “hold” and provides the energy for easy recall.

The process? For short-term things like grocery and to do lists, your own body usually provides a sufficient number of pegs to anchor the items your trying to memorize. Simply use your vivid imagination to turn them into something crazy, supply a little more imagination to make it stickier, and lot of motion to make ‘em hold and ready for recall.

For more detailed information and concepts you want to retain long-term, you need a bigger set of pegs that make up a coherent whole (hence the term “memory palace”) and add an additional element: string them into a story. The recall then becomes much easier as you push “play” and re-run the mental film that contains the motion picture you wrote, directed and produced.

As mentioned in an earlier post, focusing on memory and memorization has gotten a bad rap in modern education. The bad rap along with the fact that most people only know how to use a boring, rote repetition approach when memorizing content is probably why most people don’t do more if it. The good news is that  there is counter perspective as well as proven system that can help you improve your memory exponentially.

If you interested in learning more,  Moon Walking with Einstein by Joshua Foer is a great read.  It’s also inspirational: the author started out to simply do a news story and a year later ended up competing as a finalist the World Memory Championships!

As for me, I now have chapter 1 of the book of Hebrews memorized, am well into chapter 2 and I’m looking forward to having the entire book memorized by the end of the year.  And I’m getting it done by spending just 10 minutes in the morning and actually enjoying it.

If you’ve always wanted to build a better memory or memorize something big, the “memory palace” approach is one tool I know will help.  Regardless, even if you were able to simply double your current ability to memorize content with the same amount of effort (and have more fun while doing it), what would it do for you?

Leave a comment about what’s on your mind with this topic, I’d love to know.



Why Memorizing Matters More Than You Think

And What You Miss When You Don't

Nearly all those who’ve gone through our education system have heard the same message in one form or another: memorizing isn’t important, learning how to think is what really matters. At best the role of memorization has been relegated to the non-important and at worst, denigrated.

One of my goals this year is to memorize the book of Hebrews in the bible. It was overwhelming when I first considered doing it and frankly, I still find it daunting.  I think one of the main reasons I finally made the commitment is because a good friend of mine joined me.  And what I’ve experienced over the last couple of weeks while working on this goal has been surprising: it’s how much my neglect of memory discipline has impacted my thinking ability.

Critical Thinking Skills

Now I totally agree that the ability to think critically is….well…..critical, and that critical thinking skills are to be emphasized.  Couple that with the mind-bending technology we have at our fingertips that gives us access to just about anything you can type into Google, it would indeed seem that memorization of rote facts and content is now passée. Or is it?

Since our modern methods of data capture allow us to archive just about every sound, image or thought we care to record, we have it covered when it comes to archiving information.  That gives us comfort knowing that future generations will have what they need to keep moving forward. After all, civilization is nothing more than the externalization of our thoughts and memories.  Our technology also empowers us with the ability to retrieve just about any information we need in a split second and at the touch of a keystroke. So what could be missing and what else could we want? As it turns out, plenty.

Why Memorization Matters

Any benefit or gain usually involves a trade-off of some sort and it’s no different when it comes to modern methods of recording and storing information. So much so that many of us rely solely on our notebooks or devices to be our brain.  Here are some the “greater” benefits you lose when you let memory discipline go out the window:

  • Greater creativity.
  • Greater mental agility, stamina and overall “mental fitness”.
  • Greater neural synapse growth, number, and strength.
  • Greater ability to integrate information into new concepts and ideas.
  • Greater recall and integration of  important ideas, facts and details during discussion.
  • Greater ability to build longer-lasting memories faster and less painfully.
  • Great brain health and less age related decline.

While this is simply a a short-list and by no means exhaustive, it’s certainly attractive in a day and age marked by the early mental decline of so many.

What The Ancients Achieved

Prior to the printing press, most people had to rely almost exclusively on memory to communicate what was important to each other. And while writing seems to have been around as long as man has,  the tools needed to do it weren’t convenient(think chisel, stone, papyrus, quill,  etc.) and belong only to the learned and wealthy.  Writing back then was primarily used to record and transmit all that was important from generation to generation, not to serve as an external brain like it usually is today. But that’s not all.

Memory way-back-when was considered to be ars memorativa, or the “art of memory”. It was also considered to be the foundation of character, virtue and learning.  It was how:

  • Roman Senators delivered long speeches.
  • Limited copies of books were disseminated and shared via recitation with those who would never see a copy or couldn’t read.
  • Laws were understood by an uneducated populace.
  • Technical skills that often required lengthly processes were mastered and applied.

To deny the remarkable achievements of the ancients is simply chronological snobbery.

Lessons For Today

I agree with David Allen of GTD fame that our brains are made for thinking and not placeholders of information. That’s only if the term “placeholders” means transitory to-do lists, trivia and other stress-producing factoids that can be classified as minutia.  On the other hand, if it’s rich information, content and thoughts that have been refined by the minds of many over the millennia then I passionately disagree; let’s not confuse the two. In fact, its the latter that gives us the foundation and fodder we need to think critically and creatively in the first place.

Current brain science and the achievements of the ancients send us a strong message that the process, discipline and content of memorization are important.  Are we listening?

The real issue is how people of yester-year developed their mental fitness, memory capacity and integrated it into their critical and creative thinking. What was their secret?  As it turns out, there is one so stay tuned!

How much meaningful memorization have you done lately? It matters more than you think.

Please leave a comment, I’d love to hear your thoughts.