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If We Eliminated Just This One Bad Habit

There’s a bad habit that the majority of us participate in everyday without realizing the negative impact on others and ourselves. It’s something I’ve been personally working on for a few years. The results were not what I expected.

I’m talking about gossip and the act of gossiping. That little conversation about someone else’s private affairs that takes place when they are not there. It’s idle talk about someone else for our own pleasure and often involves words you would never say in front of that person.

It’s a habit born out of a lack of self confidence and our our society’s acceptance and promotion of peering into and discussing other people’s lives and problems.

When we participate in this bad habit, we damage our fragile empathy muscle and become less trustworthy with those around us. It helps us escape the unease and dissatisfaction of life that is intrinsic to the human condition.

Gossiping is often characterized as casual conversation about others, the details of which are often not confirmed or true. But what if you know it is true? Is it gossip? Is it then OK to take part? I like to think about it this way, true or not: how much do I really know about what is going on in this other person’s life, in their head, and how they are feeling? And what’s my motivation to talk about their situation?

When I was younger, empathy and responsibility were these nebulous concepts. They didn’t fit in with my world view, nor my need to feel secure. I now see that gossip is a crutch in our world of insecurity. Gossiping makes people lacking confidence feel better in the same way a drink temporarily makes an alcoholic feel better.

Part of me wants to think that gossiping really isn’t that bad. What’s the harm really? However, I’ve come to realize in the last year that the thought pattern is even there in the first place simply because gossiping is so addictive.

Gossiping can be harmful in a few ways. I’ve seen how that it encourages people to make sweeping judgements about others with very little information. This is because when we don’t have all of the facts we fill them in ourselves to support our argument. The result is that the opinions of others surrounding the person being discussed can unjustifiably be negatively impacted. Secondly, the time spent gossiping could instead be used to focus on the people you are with, learning about them, filling in the gaps of the stories you hold about them. It’s the ultimate game of being present.

It’s worth asking yourself if your time could be better spent, not discussing the faults of others when they’re not even around, but examining your own faults in the presence of others.

What’s most important to consider is that the mind in which gossip originates, a negative energy pervades. That negative energy doesn’t stay locked in, it needs to get out and it becomes a form of self destruction.

Here’s what I’ve learned in the last year about gossip and its impact on me.

1. If the urge to talk about someone who is not present comes up, I ask myself “is it true, is it kind, and most importantly, is it necessary to discuss?”

2. There’s no value in speaking of someone else’s faults and mistakes. The result has been finding less faults in others and instead, becoming more empathetic.

3. My compassion has grown and it has permeated into all aspects of my life, whether dealing with a call centre operator in the Philippines or inside my household.

4. Less delusion. I find that in all parts of my life I’m creating less self delusion, helping me arrive at the facts quickly.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should never talk about other people. But we should consider the intention of our speech and its impact. Let us not speak of other’s faults, shortcomings, and personal troubles unless it’s with them and with the intention of helping them.

Just before I died I remembered my training

I distinctly remember the thought I had as we departed on the dinghy for our second dive of the day. I remember because it was a morbid thought. Looking up at the boat we were calling home for a week, ten or so people on the deck waving goodbye. I thought to myself, “it’s like they are waving goodbye forever.”

Prior to getting in the dinghy, at the dive briefing, the owner of the boat who was our dive master, told us this is the most challenging dive of the trip. It was a cave dive, but not really a cave because a cave only has one way to enter and exit. In this case the exit was different than the entrance, so more of a long swim through. He explained that there were three exits but only one we should use. He further explained there would be surge inside the cave, but if we all kept two metres apart we would surge in tandem. We expected the surge to move us about a metre or so at a time, so we should kick a little as it moved us backwards, ensuring we were continuing to move forward through the cave.

The cave was quite tall, about 40 feet, but skinny – only about 10 feet wide. As we entered we were to look for a large spotted marble ray that is often inside the cave and, if we were lucky, a few nurse sharks down one of the corridors – one that we were not to exit through.

We rolled into the water backwards off the dinghy, dropped down to 35 feet and entered the cave as planned. You could feel the surge right away. It was powered by the waves coming in, but because of the multiple exits on the other end there was a much more powerful force than just the waves. It was like a suction pulling you in and spitting you out.

The push and a pull was hard to fight, but that was OK because it was a straight line. I was second to enter after the dive master and right away needed my flashlight. I saw the large marble ray, which spotted me and circled back, heading deeper into the cave.

Everything was going well, we were in our line, eight feet apart from each other, surging forward and then surging back, the submerged ceiling well above us and the sandy bottom just a few feet below us. As we approached a corridor on my right, I noted that was not where I was to go and I watched as the divemaster ahead of me started to make a slight left around a bend. At this exact moment the ray shoots past him and over me, moving extremely fast. The dive master disappears ahead of me and my dive buddy who was behind me shoots over me and gets sucked in around the corner following the dive master.

Let me say that again: a large ray shoots past me one way and my diving buddy shoots over me the other way. Now when I say ‘shoots’ I mean bullet speed. The forward surging pressure of the water inside the cave had gone from a gentle rocking back and forth to what felt like a tsunami. I was immediately sucked forward as were the other two divers behind me.

Let me say that again: a large ray shoots past me one way and my diving buddy shoots over me the other way. Now when I say ‘shoots’ I mean bullet speed. The forward surging pressure of the water inside the cave had gone from a gentle rocking back and forth to what felt like a tsunami. I was immediately sucked forward as were the other two divers behind me.

In total there were five of us and were now being tossed around like your laundry in a washing machine. For every surge in there was a counter surge out, but there was no passage out for us as we were in a cavern, there were only walls covered in sharp coral. We were moving so fast up and down, side to side, tanks smashing into each other, wet suits and flesh ripping as we were dragged first up and then down the cave walls. There was no ability to grasp one’s bearings or determine which direction I should try to go. All I saw were bubbles, divers upside down and walls of jagged coral. Even if I knew which way to go the power of the water wouldn’t allow me to choose my direction.

I was scared, the most scared I had ever been in my life. I was going to die. I was going to hit my head and be knocked unconscious. I was going to leave my five-year-old without a dad. I was trying to keep calm but I could feel myself hyperventilating. But then I remembered what to do, I remembered I’ve been training for this for 20 years.

In life we can be sedentary, exercise, or train. Sedentary is the art of being inactive and having little movement. Exercise is about maintenance, while training is about continual improvement in strength and endurance.

When you train you are moving up in levels of ability and strength. We often equate these terminologies with the physical, but we have the ability to choose sedentary, exercise, or train as it relates to far more than our body strength.

As my mind went from panic mode to a calmer response mode, my extensive training kicked in. My breathing slowed and I began to put one foot in front of the other (figuratively of course). I focused on protecting my source of air and located my second stage that was clipped to my vest. As I was about to smash into a wall again I turned so my feet, protected by my fins, would take the pressure of crashing into the wall. I started to look around in order to better understand what I was dealing with. My training told me that the slower I could breathe in crisis the better I could understand what was going on, allowing me to respond rather than react to the situation.

When we train, whether the body, the mind, or the spirit, we are growing and strengthening. This requires not just going through the motions – that’s exercise. Training requires progress. Probably most importantly, you know you are training when it’s uncomfortable. Hours in a classroom hurts, doing drills is monotonous, reading about under water gas mixtures is boring, but my mental muscle gets stronger.

As I continued to be tossed side to side, up and down, I spotted light and I knew based on my training, even if that was not the exit I was supposed to go to I was going to use it. As I kicked toward the surface it felt like the light stayed in one spot, I wasn’t making any progress on surfacing, so I kicked harder and I stayed calm. As I broke the surface I realized I was in the spot where we were NOT to exit, I was surrounded by rock and coral, I was in a pool of sorts. I managed to crawl across rock and coral all the while being bashed by cresting waves. As I got to the safety in the open water I realized I was alone. Luckily I had trained my mind and body for what was next.

Want to become a better problem solver? Start training for tomorrow. Take a coding course, learn a new language, or learn to paint in order to keep your mind growing and expanding. You’ll become a better problem solver in every area of your life.

Want to become a more confident person? Start training for tomorrow. Take a risk and talk to that guy you see in your elevator every day, ask for a big raise or a training budget from your boss, book a meditation retreat, all in order to strengthen your spirit. You’ll become a more confident and compassionate person.

Want to live to 100 with money to spare? Start training for tomorrow. Create a physical, mental, and spiritual training program that pushes you outside your comfort zone. Go into work later so you can go to a yoga or spin class, read everyday, eat cleaner than you ever have, ride your bike and walk more, all in order to trade body fat for lean muscle. You’ll live to 100.

After sitting on the surface for five minutes two other divers surfaced, we could barely communicate but my training reminded me I needed to make sure they were OK. Four minutes later my buddy and the dive master surfaced. They had managed to wait out the storm and searched all the corridors for us before surfacing.

My buddy’s air hose was shredded and barely still functioning, my hands were bleeding and everyone was in shock, but we were alive because we trained, we continually pushed ourselves physically and mentally in many areas of our lives preparing for this day.

Turn the light switch on

You know that pain of a light being flicked on when you are in the complete dark? You know, like at 4am when you are getting up to make a 6am flight? Who’s idea was it to take a 6am flight anyways?

When that light goes on it’s really painful, it’s a unique type of pain. I hate that pain, it’s shocking to the system, it’s always so quiet when it happens. It’s a lonely pain. It’s a pain we fear before we go into the dark and when that light goes on it’s a shock.

It’s like when someone calls you out on something. It can be shocking, hurtful, embarrassing.

You don’t need to be such an ass about it!” that was the reply from an employee this week to an email I had sent her.

Or instead of embarrassing or hurtful it can be a chance for self reflection, one of an innocent misunderstanding, something that can be turned around, corrected and seen through, as if you were in a dark room and the light went on. Someone flipped the light on in your head.

No matter your level of self awareness you are living your experience 99% of the time, you can’t possibly interpret your impact or understand what is going on inside someone else’s mind. But you can be open to it 99% of the time.

It’s not a sin that we are in a dark room. It’s not a sin we don’t know where the light switch is. But it is a sin if you miss the opportunity when someone shows you where the light switch is.


What I learned from escorts in highschool

Since the age of 11 I’ve earned my own money. First a paper route, then working retail, and then by starting my own business when I was 15. I was paying rent to my mom by the age of 17. I learned that money bought me freedom, power, and friends. But what I failed to learn was that there’s no amount of money, power or freedom that could buy me confidence.

With every success I had my confidence actually shrank. With every accomplishment I found ways to look for imperfections instead of celebrating each win. I don’t think I’m alone in this aspect and I still find myself doing it, albeit far less.

My personal achievements deepened emotional scars instead of repairing them. In retrospect, it actually makes a lot of sense because my achievements were not recognized by the one person who counted the most, myself.

In high school my best friend’s brother ran an escort agency. On weekends one summer, after my mom went to bed, I would take her car and drive escorts to their appointments.

Just like the men who created the demand for the escorts, I continued to create the demand for attention by making more money from every available source. My self confidence was weak, but it never showed. I needed attention and I got it by making and flaunting my money.

We all judge people and we are all judged by others. Anyone who says they don’t judge people is lying to themselves. You are judging me right now because of this story. I can’t stop that and neither can you. You are going to be judged and labeled, the best thing to do is lean in.

The escorts I drove were mothers, students, artists and even a lawyer. They were all working as escorts and I judged them, but I learned my label didn’t fit most. I learned that I can’t stop myself from judging people but I can be more aware of the labels I place on people. None of them were what I thought they were.

The truth is that these women and I had a lot in common. Many of the woman I drove had other jobs making good money. Some were addicted to the power, but most were addicted to the money like I was. Self confidence is fragile when you rely on external sources to give it to you. I realize years later, that these women did not have any cheerleaders in their lives. We tend to surround ourselves with people who will support our self-limiting beliefs and weaknesses. It’s just easier that way.

Even though I had my own business I was there so that I could make more money, which I thought would bring me more cheerleaders. I was the awkward kid who made a lot of money. I liked what I thought the money was bringing me: more friends, popularity… cheerleaders.

Cheerleaders who are bought, are not true cheerleaders. They are attracted to the money and power and if that disappears, so will they. The key is to love yourself. If you love yourself, you’ll attract true cheerleaders who are genuinely driven by their love for you rather than money and perceived power.

“The only difference between the saint and the sinner is that every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.” Oscar Wilde



The five lessons I took away from my divorce and how I apply them to my business

“One minute you’re waiting for the sky to fall the next day you are dazzled by the beauty of it all.” – Bruce Cockburn

This past week, two years and a five days after my now ex-wife said, “I have a lawyer and you need a lawyer,” I am officially divorced. The first year was painful and often heart wrenching. A time full of anger, angst and resentment. I was scared and sad. Today, with it being official, I am relieved but still a bit sad. Relieved because I am released and there is closure. Not unlike how one feels when they get their final bankruptcy paperwork. It’s only a piece of paper, but it some how gives us permission to fully heal. Sad, because divorce is failure (more on that below).

I remember when it began, people told me it can take two to four years to really get through divorce. I didn’t believe it, after all, my marriage was only one week short of three years, how could it take longer to recover than the actual marriage? But they were right. When disaster strikes the smoke clears in many stages and over a long period of time.

So, I am divorced, it’s official. On this day I juggle the duality of being sad while seeing the beauty in it all. I am left with five lessons which I can also apply to my business.

1. You’ve got to love your kids more than you hate your ex. That is what a parenting counsellor said to us during our first meeting. Hate is a very strong word and I do not hate my ex, but for anyone who has been through the battle of divorce there are times you have extreme negative feelings toward the other side. But in the end, your love for your child must overpower and smother the negativity you have toward your ex. When you focus on your kids, and love your kids with all of your heart it melts just enough of that hate away that you can be productive in moving forward. When you spend your energy on negativity you will create more negativity and this vicious cycle will only hurt your kids.

In business, competitors are going to come after you, sometimes in aggressive and unethical ways. At some point an employee is going to let you down, steal from you, even stab you in the back. An investor is going to pull out and leave you high and dry. It’s easy to let the negative emotions take over but your employees are your kids and you need to love them more than you hate the people who have hurt you. When you spend your energy on negativity you will create more negativity and this vicious cycle will only hurt your employees.

2. Little girls learn how to respect themselves by watching how their father treats their mother. The most important thing a father can do for his daughter is treat her mother with respect. Kids are super perceptive, you can’t trick them here. They pick up on the stated and unstated emotions.

In business, future managers and leaders watch the entrepreneur, the CEO, for cues on how to lead. This happens, in most cases subconsciously. The most important thing an entrepreneur can do is treat his or her employees with respect. Future leaders pick up on the subtle cues the entrepreneur gives such as time, attention, empathy and respectful feedback.

3. You can’t find the lesson when you’re still in crisis. Many people asked me while I was still in the heat of the battle ‘what have I learned?’ But when I was struggling to get out of bed each day I wasn’t in a place to find a lesson. When you are in crisis mode you must put all your effort into getting out of crisis, not looking for lessons. The lessons appear when they are ready to appear, not when you look for them.

In business, crisis strikes when you least expect it. Major deals fall apart, partnerships falter, investors disappear, competitors sue you, employees sue you, vendors sue you. When crisis strikes focus completely on getting out of crisis, not being esoteric and trying to find the lesson because once you get past all the rhetoric about failure being good and at the centre of failure is a lesson, it’s still sad and with failure comes shame. You can’t get out of crisis mode when you feel shame.

4. Negotiating with someone who doesn’t trust you is futile. Trust takes a long time to build but only minutes to be destroyed, then years to rebuild again. No matter how honest you are trying to be, no matter your intention and authenticity, if trust is not there negotiating even the smallest detail is a massive undertaking during a divorce.

In business, trust sometimes disappears. We let a customer down in a huge way, we don’t deliver on a promise to an employee, we completely blow the projections we promised investors. The reality is we believe half of what people say and everything of what they do, so when trust is blown focus on actions not words. Even if you have lost trust at no fault of your own, you need to regroup and rebuild based on actions, not words, while expecting for it to be a slow process.

5. You can replace money but you can’t replace time. Divorce can be expensive but when it is all said and done you can make more money but you can’t get your time back. Forgiveness is the quickest way to create time. The more you forgive, including yourself, the faster the process.

It can be lonely running a business. What makes it really lonely is when people let you down, hurt you or take actions you can’t comprehend. You need to focus on the precious non-renewable resource of time. Make space for forgiveness and move on.

Love more than you hate. Be mindful of who is watching your actions, they will model your behaviour. Don’t look for the lesson, the lesson will come to you. When trust is lost, focus on your actions not your words. You can’t replace time but you can replace money.


Emotion is your enemy

Last week, I was riding my bike to work with a much needed pit stop at the Apple Store to try and save an old hard drive. It was a way overdue task and I was anxious. About 10 blocks from my destination I came across a truck blocking the right lane and a street car was stopped in the left lane, traffic was stopped. I rode up on the sidewalk bypassing the traffic jam. A few blocks later, I was stopped at a red light when another cyclist pulled up next to me, “Bikes are not allowed on the sidewalk!” he squawked at me.

“I know” I replied.

“Then why are you going on the side walk?” he responded.

The light turned green and I carried on choosing to check my emotions and not to react. After another kilometre or so, I crossed the street and jumped up onto the sidewalk in order to get to the bike rack in front of the Apple Store. I admit, I got up on the sidewalk a little early, probably half a block from the bike rack. That’s when I saw the same guy in front of me again, he had crossed the street as well and positioned his bike across the sidewalk blocking me, yelling, “What didn’t you understand? Why do you think the rules don’t apply to you?”

That’s when I let my emotions get the best of me. I lost my cool and decided to speed up instead of slowing down. I rode right into him, knocking him to the sidewalk while yelling, “Are you a cop? Are you going to give me a ticket? I am locking my bike right there.” I am sure some other more aggressive words came out of my mouth as well. A spark had been lit, I had been poked and I exploded. I let my emotions affect my judgement.

“Intensity makes you stronger. Emotionalism makes you weaker.” – John Wooden

When I find myself in a state of intensity, I produce my best work. I feel strong and most importantly, I feel confident. The people around me feel a degree of love that is inspirational. That day I did not produce great work and I actually felt weak.

When I allow my emotions, whether positive or negative to take over, my judgement is clouded, my decisions are not made using proper logic, the quality of my work goes down and I don’t inspire great work from those around me.

Emotionalism destroys consistency. Any leader who is ruled by emotions produces a team whose performance is all about ups and downs with a high degree of unpredictability.

When I allow my behaviour to get the better of me, I am inviting it from others. When you let your emotions take over, you will always be out manoeuvred, outplayed and eventually lose.

Intensity is something to value in yourself and those that surround you.

Seek to perform from a high degree of intensity with great emotional discipline. It’s the winning formula.

The trend of saying no and four ways to break through

There’s a current trend of saying “no” as a way to become more productive and happy. Everyone is writing about it: here, here and here.

But what do you do if you are on the other end of “no”?

How do you take the next step when someone is not responding to your requests for a meeting because they are saying no and focusing on things that are more important to them?

What’s the best way to break through someone else’s perception that you are less valuable to them right now than something else on their plate?

Being desirable isn’t just convincing people you are valuable, it’s convincing them that they want you to be valuable.

It’s true, people are more accessible than ever before. You can send a tweet to almost anyone and they will see it. You can get a LinkedIn invite to someone’s inbox in seconds. You can comment on their blog, you can send them a note card or mail them a pen with their name on it. But you are not standing out, you are just making more noise and it might be doing more damage rather than clearing a path to your desired goal.

Being honest at every level is the most important trait of building a strong network. But you need to start by being honest with yourself. Whether it is a potential prospect or a potential mentor you are seeking out, being honest with yourself is the first step at getting past the no. I’ve caught myself in the past being dishonest with myself about why I needed to talk to someone or have their acknowledgement. Including potential customers. And I set myself up for failure because the other side senses this.

Here’s four ways to break through “no”.

1. “To thine own self be true” is Polonius’ last piece of advice to his son Laertes in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. If you are not being true to yourself you are pursuing things that are false. He suggests avoiding activities that are detrimental to your image and by true he means loyal to your own best interests. In order to be desirable to others you have to first take care of yourself and create a strong image. Polonius suggests taking care of yourself first and that way you will be in a position to take care of others.

2. Take care of others. What is the value you are creating? You can’t get past the “no” unless you are creating value for someone other than yourself. Before you can even get to the point where someone could say “no” you have to create enormous value. Value starts with understanding who the other side is and what their challenges are. In today’s world you don’t need to talk directly to the person to find out what might create value to them. But as I suggested above a tweet or a LinkedIn invite might not do it.

3. Understand someone else’s “no” is a tool they are using to protect themselves. They have limited time and energy and they want to focus on what’s most important and has the greatest return on investment to them now. Their “no” has nothing to do with you and everything to do with them. Often a “no” simply means ‘not now’. Try the question, “under what circumstances would you say yes?”

4. When you do receive a “no,” recognize that you have not created enough value or your value is not understood. Rethink your strategy, rework your communication and start over.

You almost always have enough rope to create a lasso or a noose. The great thing is you have a choice of how to use the rope.