The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness


Go With Your Gut

Malcolm Gladwell drew me into his recent besteller about intuition, Blink, by opening with a story of art forgery.  In 1983, he wrote, a man approached the Getty Museum with a marble statue dating from the sixth century BC, a piece he was willing to part with for $10 million.

Greek Statue

What a phony!

Naturally the museum did its homework, and recruited a renowned geologist to scrutinize the statue with electron microscopes and X-rays.  Everything, including the paperwork, seemed to check out.  The excitement at the Getty, however, faded quickly.

One by one, experts of Greek sculpture cried, 'fake.'  Nervous museum lawyers began to dig deeper, and slowly uncovered evidence of a skillful forgery.  The investigation was inconclusive despite the experts' unanimity: the Getty bought a fake.

In almost every case, the observers made up their minds seconds after laying eyes on the piece.  Their reason for doubt? "Intuitive Repulsion."  The naked Greek looked too... 'fresh'.  Gladwell argues that everyone is born with this 'sixth sense:' the ability to 'know' something without rational thinking.

Intuition (is) perception via the unconscious
- Carl Jung

I'm inspired by the idea that our capacity for decision making--and for understanding the world around us--is much larger than we're often told.  Do we each possess an enormous, untapped potential?

Sarah Palin
Intuition... not just for crackpots anymore

In a world more comfortable with logic and the scientific method, the idea of "going with your gut" suffers a minor image problem.  Blink has been thoroughly criticized.

Intuition is often portrayed as mysterious and mystical--the domain of prophets and crackpots.  But neuroscience has repeatedly challenged that view, and those who swear by intuition can now cite scientific evidence.  I'll let you intuit my stance.

Whatever your position, you probably know what intuition feels like.  You may have said, "Something is wrong," or, "it just felt right, joining the circus."  It may have helped you to nix a toxic friendship, or to make a smart financial move.

Successful entrepreneurs often cite intuition as their most powerful tool.

Many know that some of the best decisions they make are the deals they pass on.  After traveling across India, Steve Jobs remarked that, “The main thing I’ve learned is intuition."

Steve Jobs
This is actually Steve's meditation pose

Why does intuition make good leaders?  In part, because they use it to make good decisions quickly.  They know what needs to be done without a paralyzing study or long scientific analysis.

If, like me, you weren't born with strong intuition, you probably want to know if it can be nurtured.  Studies says, yes, probably.  Past knowledge and experience boosts intuition.  A Greek art expert can intuitively spot a fake only because she's looked at more than a few statues.  It follows that intuition can grow over time.  But how?

With all skills, practice helps.  Our intuition is strongest when our minds are free of clutter and we're relaxed.  Meditation, day dreaming, walking, music; all of these help us hear that inner voice.  Practice mental de-cluttering.  And trust your intuition.  It may not always be right, but often is, and it will develop over time.

As it does, you'll gain a skill that will help you get more out of this beautiful life.

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The Momentum Principle

"An object in motion stays in motion" - Sir Isaac Newton (paraphrased... badly)

The other day I had a welcomed realization: this has been a strangely productive week.  Monday through Friday I made it to the gym, wrote thousands of words, made some great connections; even squeezed in a few guitar practice sessions.  If only I could make this a habit.

Pool balls in motion

Let's just ignore friction for now.

Well, why couldn't I?  From whence comes such efficiency?  Good sleep? Hard work? Luck?

I'm sure it was a combination of things, but I give most of the credit to the momentum principle:  I got myself moving Monday morning, and never stopped.

Like a ship or a train, once something's in motion, it's easier to keep going.  Effective humans seem always to be moving.  For them, one success leads to another.

"What saves a man is to take a step.  Then another step."  - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The opposite is also true.  If I step out of my positive routine even for a few days, I have a very hard time getting back in motion.

Losing momentum is discouraging.  My focus fades and I become unsure how to move toward my goals.  Sometimes I want to wash my hands of them entirely.  But there is a cure: to take a step, even when you don't feel like it.

What about Bob?

Baby steps onto the elevator...

Do anything healthy. Go outside, have a walk, call a friend, cook.  Then take another step.  It's amazing how easily something small can break the spell.

I was in a momentumless rut this morning.  But I took a step by going to the gym.  It did the trick, and I managed to salvage my day.

Sometimes the only cure for lack of motivation is rest.  Rest is important!  But there's a difference between relaxing after a hard day, and running out of momentum.  You should be able to feel the difference, but if you can't, ask yourself:

"Did I do something that brought me closer to my goals today?"  If you can answer yes, you're already generating momentum.

Build on it.

Filed under: Self-discipline 1 Comment

Do the Right Thing?

Do you always do the right thing, even when nobody's looking?

Don't feel bad, I don't either.

But I try really hard to.  It's not easy to live up to such a lofty goal, but I've learned that living with integrity will bring you joy.

I have this vivid memory from when I was 7 or 8 of coming home late from the park.  My dad was sitting in the bath tub grilling me about where I'd been.  I wasn't supposed to be out after dark.  I concocted the best lie I could with a 7 year old's brain, but it quickly crumbled under questioning.

"I'll be more upset with you for lying than for anything else you may have done," he said.

Need money for alcohol research

Thanks for your honesty, have a beer...

I came clean.  It was a powerful experience that stuck with me.  For a long time I was honest to a fault.  I couldn't even cheat at Monopoly!

Later in life the stakes became higher, and the tests more challenging.  In small ways, I sacrificed my principles.  I omitted the truth, bent it, ignored it, buried it.  I did mental gymnastics to be able to live with myself.  It was easier than starting a fight, saying sorry, or hurting someone because I had done something that I regret.

This didn't happen a lot, but those few transgressions were killing me inside.  I finally learned my lesson and I'm a lot happier now.

Unless you're a sociopath, you have a conscience; an understanding of morality.  When your actions are in conflict with your morals, you will have a constant thorn in your subconscious.  If the conflict is large, it may manifest in your external world.  You may have trouble sleeping or eating; you may start to hate yourself.  But when actions and morals are in sync, you give yourself a great gift: integrity.

Integrity means "to be whole."  Integrity is being true to your ideals and principles even when that's difficult, even in the face of reprisal.  Even when nobody is looking.  Honesty is just one facet of integrity.

Would you rather be whole, or a fraction of a human being?


Keep it together, man

"That's naive; the world doesn't work that way; you'll get fired!"  I've heard all the doubts.  I've HAD those doubts.  My resolve is tested often, but when I act with integrity, it feels really good.

Yes, it's easier to be part of the status quo.  But just the feeling of being whole is worth any kind of temporary hardship.  More tangibly, you're often rewarded for doing the right thing in the long-run.  It may lead to a better job or a healthier friendship.

Sometimes it's hard to know what is "the right thing to do."  We will all continue to get it wrong at times, but it's your intention that matters.  Strive for integrity, and you will find greater happiness.

That's the truth.

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