Every Day Matters

January 30, 2016

There is a saying that has been kicked around for years: “It is the Super Bowl every day.” So many people have used it, I cannot trace who said it first.

There is even a Twitter hash tag that uses the phrase as a portal. One author added the concept that in life there are no time outs. In this chapter, I wanted to expand on these concepts and look inside the locker room of life.

The concept of each day being the Super Bowl simply refers to the importance of living every day as if it is the most important day we have. Intellectually, we realize that some days are more important than others.

I may kick back for a day and do absolutely nothing productive or important all day (and sometimes getting needed rest is the most productive thing to do), yet to waste a day, or even an hour, is to squander our most important resource in life.

The two things that make something precious are inherent value and scarcity. By those two factors “time” is incredibly valuable because 1) it is all we have, and 2) nobody can get more than 24/7.

That condition is like the Super Bowl. It has a start time and an end time, but in the case of life, there are no reruns and no time outs. The game proceeds only forward and has a finite end.

Of what value is thinking in these dimensions? We often forget the fleeting nature of life, because most of us think we have decades yet to live. That is enough time to achieve numerous accomplishments and build lasting relationships.

Each day, each increment of time, seems insignificant, like a drop in the ocean. It is a mistake to think that way, because once a day is spent, it is gone forever. It is like another grain of sand dropping to the bottom of the hourglass of our life.

But life is not just about doing things. It is about enjoying what we do and building relationships that matter. It is the emotional connection we have with loved ones, not the things we have accomplished or acquired, that occupy our final thoughts as we prepare to leave this world.

I think the analogy of the Super Bowl works here as well. We do not play the game of life alone. We are on a team, surrounded by people we love, who help us play our best game possible.

We have coaches and support people who fix us up when we fall and help us rise to be our best in the game of life. It is how we treat others that determines how well the team plays together. If trust, respect, and love are carried in our hearts, the team will be a strong winning group.

One thing that every human on the planet shares is the knowledge that one day he or she is going to die. If you remember the movie, “Dead Poets Society,” that concept is what Mr. Keating (played by Robin Williams), was trying to instill in the freshmen at the Helton Prep School. It was the notion of “Carpe Diem,” or “seize the day.”

You may recall the riveting scene where Keating had the students line up and look in the trophy case at the pictures of former athletes who were dead and gone: their Super Bowl over.

He pointed out that the only difference between the boys he was addressing and the deceased athletes in the pictures was that the boys were alive that day. What a powerful scene!

See Video story about how the “Carpe Diem” scene saved a strategy meeting

I bring up the concept of carpe diem at the end of every leadership class I teach. I believe it is the responsibility of each of us to approach each day as if it was Super Bowl Sunday, and we are in the game.

Sure, there is time for rest and recuperation, just as winded athletes can sit out a few plays, but even as we rest, the game is still going on.

The good news is that there really is time for most of us to improve our game plan. It takes work, but it is rewarding to modify the future plays to obtain a more successful outcome. We can always foster better relations with the people we love and have more fun.

Every day is the start of a new game. Trust yourself, trust your “team,” and trust that life is playing out in a way that will eventually lead you to reach the goals you have set. The choice is up to each one of us every day. Make the right choice.

Key Concepts for this article
1. Today is the most important day you have.
2. The game always moves forward.
3. There are no time outs—the clock is always ticking.

Exercises For today
1. Intentionally break into your stream of consciousness at least once a day and ask yourself where you are right now. Are you sitting on the bench or are you playing in the game?
2. Are you happy with the job you did on the last play?
3. Do you have a good plan for your next play?
4. How are you treating your teammates who are helping you play the game?
5. Right now, are you playing offense or defense?
6. You have a general idea how much time is on the clock, but what if a fatal blow takes you out of the game early?
7. Have you made the most of the opportunities you have had along the way?
8. What will the spectators and your teammates remember about you and your life when it is over?
9. Visualize a time when you performed at an awesome level. Try to identify what forces enabled that level of performance. This is your personal prescription for greater zest in life.


Use Your RAS

April 4, 2015

X-ray brain pathologyThe human brain is a remarkable organ. It has many fascinating properties that can give us insights on how to live a better and more effective life. One of these phenomena occurs at the base of the brain: the Reticular Activating System (RAS).

RAS is an incredible filtering system that allows human beings to sort out and pay attention to things that are important to us while disregarding the bombardment of other things that are not critical. It is the mechanism that allows us to focus attention on the vital few and ignore the trivial many.

I will leave how the RAS works to the brain experts, but the impact of it is a wonder to behold. In this article, I want to explore RAS along with how you can use it to improve your life.

The best way to appreciate the power of RAS is through examples.

Imagine you are in a theater during intermission. The crowded lobby is abuzz with the cacophony of voices, and it is impossible to hear any conversation except the one closest to you. In the crowd, within earshot, someone mentions your name.

All of a sudden you are able to laser focus on that conversation, ignoring all the rest, and actually hear what that person is saying about you. If the person had not uttered your name, there would be no way you would hear what she was saying. That is RAS in action.

Let’s look at another typical example. You just came out of a car dealership after having ordered a red Ford truck. On the way home, you start to notice red Ford trucks everywhere. Driving into the dealership, you paid no attention and did not notice any trucks at all.

Once the RAS is activated, it allows all kinds of miraculous things to happen. RAS is a very powerful tool, but we need to be continuously aware of that power if we are to harness it for use in our lives.

Try this little exercise. Try to identify 5-10 times in each day where you are applying the understanding of RAS to improve how you manage your life.

For example, you might be sitting in a cafeteria with hundreds of people. In the distance, you spot an old friend you had been thinking about recently and realize you have not spoken to him in over a year.

You resolve to call him that afternoon. Immediately you recognize that RAS helped you find that person and renew the acquaintance. That counts as one of the 10 opportunities to use RAS.

That evening, while scanning a magazine, out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of an ad for a boat and immediately remember that you had intended to buy a new fishing reel this week.

The association was made possible by RAS. That would be number two example. Try to find 5-10 examples a day.

By focusing your energy on understanding how you can use RAS to filter your thinking as opposed to following random thoughts, you will actually be doing a kind of “meta RAS” where the technique is helping you identify opportunities to use its power for you daily. It sounds complex, but it is really pretty basic.

Do not overlook the power of RAS to improve your life. The more you practice identifying the phenomenon within you and using it, the more creative ways you will find of having it guide you to a better life.


New Eyeballs

October 8, 2011

The human brain is a remarkable organ. It has many fascinating properties that can give us insights on how to live a better and more effective life. One of these phenomena occurs at the base of the brain: the Reticular Activating System (RAS). RAS is an incredible filtering system that allows human beings to sort out and pay attention to things that are important to us while disregarding the bombardment of other things that are not critical. It is the mechanism that allows us to focus attention on the vital few and ignore the trivial many.

I will leave how the RAS works to the brain experts, but the impact of it is a wonder to behold. In this article, I want to explore RAS along with some implications it can have in our professional and personal lives. The best way to appreciate the power of RAS is through examples.

Imagine you are in a theater during intermission. The crowded lobby is abuzz with the cacophony of voices, and it is impossible to hear any conversation except the one closest to you.  In the crowd, within earshot, someone mentions your name. All of a sudden you are able to laser focus on that conversation, ignoring all the rest, and actually hear what that person is saying about you. If the person had not uttered your name, there would be no way you would hear what she was saying. That is RAS in action. 

Let’s look at another typical example. You just came out of a car dealership after having ordered a red Ford truck. On the way home, you start to notice red Ford trucks everywhere. Driving into the dealership, you paid no attention and did not notice any trucks at all. Once the RAS is activated, it allows all kinds of miraculous things to happen. Let’s explore how RAS can be useful in helping you be more successful at work.

Marcus Buckingham wrote a famous book entitled Now, Discover Your Strengths: How to Develop Your Talents and Those of the People You Manage. His thesis was that we can make much faster progress at self improvement if we focus energy on our areas of strength rather than trying to improve our weaknesses.  If you doubt that conclusion, pick up a copy of his book. It gives a mountain of data to support the conclusion. The book also contains a link to an online survey you can take to determine your own strength areas.

After reading the book and doing the assessment, I found two dominant strengths I had that were not evident to me before. I found out that I am a “Maximizer” (one who tries to achieve excellence) and that I am particularly strong in “WOO,” (which stands for Winning Others Over). Being a Maximizer allows me to accomplish more in one day than most other people, and WOO allows me to have significant influence when it is important.  Let’s now explore how this knowledge, coupled with RAS, has made the ideas useful to me.

I am a visual communicator and tend to think in terms of images. I have the image of walking around all day with imaginary “arrows of opportunity” flying in the air, just over my head. The arrows represent a constant stream of opportunities to interface with people or do things that help me be more effective. I just need to pick the correct arrows and reach up and grab the right ones as they fly by. The difficult part used to be that there were so many arrows, how was I to select the ones that could help me the most?  Enter RAS.

Now that I know my two greatest strengths, when I view the arrows in my mind, a few of them are in vibrant color. These are the ones that represent a chance to use my skills at Maximizing and WOO.  The rest of the arrows are black.  Using this filtering technique, I am able to “see” the most important opportunities coming at me (even when they are far off) and grab them to flex the strengths within me much more frequently. Voila! My performance improves simply based on the application of my strongest traits.

RAS is a very powerful tool, but we need to be continuously aware of that power if we are to harness it for use in our lives.  Try this little exercise. Try to identify 5-10 times in each day where you are applying the understanding of RAS to improve how you manage your life.  For example, you might be sitting in a cafeteria with hundreds of people. In the distance, you spot an old friend you had been thinking about recently and realize you have not spoken to him in over a year. You resolve to call him that afternoon. Immediately you recognize that RAS helped you find that person and renew the acquaintance. That counts as one of the 10 opportunities to use RAS.

That evening, while scanning the newspaper, out of the corner of your eye you catch a glimpse of an ad for a boat and immediately remember that you had intended to buy a new fishing reel this week. The association was made possible by RAS. That would be number two example. Try to find 5-10 examples a day.

By focusing your energy on understanding how you can use RAS to filter your thinking as opposed to following random thoughts, you will actually be doing a kind of “meta RAS” where the technique is helping you identify opportunities to use its power for you daily.  It sounds complex, but it is really pretty basic.

Do not overlook the power of RAS to improve your life. The more you practice identifying the phenomenon within you and using it, the more creative ways you will find of having it guide you to a better life.

Robert Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust.  He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for ProfessionalsUnderstanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.  To bring Bob in to speak at your next event, contact him at www.Leadergrow.com, bwhipple@leadergrow.com or 585.392.7763.