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Stress Mastery

No previous generation of people in history has experienced the variety and intensity of pressures, conflicts, and demands ours has. We live in an age of anxiety and if you are among the thousands of people struggling to maintain physical and mental health in the face of stress, you know something has to change.

When managed correctly, stress can positively impact productivity and performance. Here are three things you can do to make stress work for you:

  1. Recognize worry for what it is.Stress is a feeling, not a sign of dysfunction. When you start to worry, realize it’s an indication that you care about something, not a cause for panic.
  2. Focus on what you can control. Too many people feel bad about things they simply can’t change. Remember what you can affect and what you can’t.
  3. Create a supportive network. Knowing you have somebody to turn to can help a lot. Make meaningful connections with others so that you have people to rely on in times of stress.
Stress is unavoidable, but it doesn’t have to be damaging.

Could It Be?

When I was working at a hospital years ago, I used to go into morning staff meetings and see problems so clearly, when others could not. I didn’t think I had the right or the capabilities to speak up sometimes – whether it was a management challenge I had an opinion on or a patient care issue. I worried about being seen as too new, or too inexperienced, or too arrogant, or too whatever to offer a solution to the team.

But mostly, I worried about being… too wrong.

So, I kept quiet most of the time and learned to sit on my hands lest those hands rise up and betray me. I would rather keep my job by staying within the lines than say something and risk looking stupid.

That was nearly 20 years ago. Since then, I’ve consulted at high levels with organizations like Bank of America, Citibank, Exelon, Honeywell, Office Depot, The New York City Fire Department, Raytheon and Time-Warner. And I’ve learned one simple thing. As companies are figuring out their tough problems like which new markets to go into, how to to boost sales in a recession, or ways to increase employee engagement the thing that stops any of these good teams from being successful is not stupidity.

No, when an organization’s problems are tough (and really interesting problems are all tough) the issue is rarely stupid people. Rather, what limits success, growth, and winning is something more like blindness. Blindness, as in we don’t know the whole context, or see an issue in its full complexity. As in, we are blind in not knowing what we don’t know. Smart people know how to solve most problems and so when they are failing, it’s usually the fact that we can’t see what we can’t see because we are experts and we stopped looking at it fresh a long time ago. And perhaps you can identify how this happens where you work?

Perhaps you were attending a new strategy rollout and you “knew” big chunks of it wouldn’t work. Or the latest re-org focuses on optimizing the delivery of X, when you know the market is really looking for Y. Or your leader never seems to address the one thing that is stopping a bunch of other things from being successful.

Maybe you’ve heard the hallway chatter such as “don’t they get it?” and “will they ever deal with this?” The thinking goes like this… the plan seems crazy and the issue is Z, but since it’s plain to me, well they must see it too.

But tragically, their blindness can make us silent. We conclude that a topic is mysteriously “taboo.” We say to ourselves how busy we are, telling ourselves that the issue is theirs and not ours. If we do ponder what best explains the unmentioned elephant, we notice that one option obligates us to be a bearer of bad news to the powers that be. And what if we’re wrong? As Lincoln said, “better to keep silent and be thought a fool, than speak up and remove all doubt”. And so, in the end, 99 times out of 100, we choose silence. We don’t express our viewpoint and offer what we think could help.

And here’s the cost to our silence…when issues stay unaddressed, stagnant, broken…we all fail. We ship bad products, our brand suffers, and our company performance plummets. In general, things suck. Not just for “them” but for all of “us.” The cost of silence is total suck-ness.

When we are silent, we are hurting the outcome. You see, minority viewpoints have been proven to aid the quality of decision making in juries, by teams and for the purpose of innovation. Research proves then even when the different points of view are wrong, they cause people to think better, to create more solutions and to improve the creativity of problem solving.

And so here’s the opportunity to avoid suck-ness, and the thing I’ve learned along the way to speak your truth without losing your job. Rather than saying, “This is the problem” which can risk looking the fool and quite possibly pissing someone off, ask this:

“Could it be …that this is the problem?”

“Could it be” is a conversation starter, rather than an assertion. It is the way you put it out there without having to defend it.Could it be allows the issue to be a question for everyone. allows for a dialogue exchange rather than a yes/no argument.

The blind need you to see. The silence needs to be broken. And perhaps risking being the fool is necessary to move forward. Underlying all that is courage: courage to speak, courage to risk, courage to stand up and speak rather than sit down and listen. Courage to break the silence…and when you do, the blind will see, the different viewpoints will be heard, and we can reduce suck-ness where we work.

Could it be….you’re ready to speak up?

 

Living Your Values

“To thine own self be true.”

Core Values are at the heart of who we are and how we want to be known. This Hamlet quote takes an interesting twist when viewed through the lens of core values. When our values are being met, life is great. When they they are not…not so much.

What if you could orchestrate situations where your wants, expectations AND core values are fulfilled? The key is to pursue your personal core values in all your activities and relationships, and then support other people to do the same. But first, you must know your core values.

Know Your Core Values

The life changing events and major milestones from your life point directly to your core values. You can easily find your core values by noticing which values are touched upon or triggered when remembering the high and low experiences from your past.

  1. Consider times at work or in your personal life, where you were deeply satisfied and happy. Look for “peak experiences” and memories Levitra 10mg you cherish. What deep values were being met at the time? Write down each event along with the values fulfilled by the experience.
  2. Consider other times when you were deeply saddened, hurt or disappointed. These are the kinds of events that you may have promised, “I’ll never do that again!” What values were not being met, or possibly violated, that made it such a miserable experience for you? Write down each event along with the values missing from the experience.
  3. In both the high and low moments, look past the emotions, feelings, and thoughts you had at the time, to find the values. True “core” values are intrinsic and of vital importance to you.
  4. Go back through your lists of experience and pull the top 3-5 essential values that really light you up: the things you just must have to be happy and fulfilled. Which qualities would you consider central to your life and career?

Now, you can live your life, “to thine own core values be true.”

Disconnected: Loneliness & How to Combat It

The more I’ve learned about happiness over the last few years, the more I’ve come to realize just how terribly depleting and unfortunately common the state of loneliness is for many people.

Two months ago, after reading John Cacioppo’s book Loneliness, I talked about loneliness with some of my friends, family, colleagues and even a few clients. Several people mentioned that one question really occupies them as it relates to loneliness:

When I’m lonely, what do I do about it?

I recently finished another fascinating book, Lonely — a memoir by Emily White, about her own experiences and research into loneliness. White doesn’t attempt to give specific advice about how to combat loneliness, but from her book, I gleaned these strategies:

  1. Remember that although the distinction can be difficult to draw, loneliness and solitude are different. White observes, “It’s entirely reasonable to feel lonely yet still feel as though you need some time to yourself.” Loneliness feels draining, distracting, and upsetting; desired solitude feels peaceful, creative, restorative.
  2. Nurturing others — raising children, teaching, caring for animals — helps to alleviate loneliness.
  3. Keep in mind that to avoid loneliness, many people need both a social circle and an intimate attachment. Having one of these elements may still leave you feeling lonely.
  4. Work hard to get your sleep. One of the most common indicators of loneliness is broken sleep — taking a long time to fall asleep, waking frequently, and feeling sleepy during the day. Sleep deprivation, under any circumstances, brings down people’s moods, makes them more likely to get sick, and dampens their energy, so it’s important to tackle this issue.
  5. Try to figure out what’s missing from your life. White observes that making lots of plans with friends didn’t alleviate her loneliness. “What I wanted,” she writes, “was the quiet presence of another person.” She longed to have someone else just hanging around the house with her. The more clearly you see what’s lacking, the more clearly you’ll see possible solutions.
  6. Take steps to meaningfully connect with other people. Negative emotions like loneliness, envy, and guilt have an important role to play in a happy life; they’re big, flashing signs that something needs to change. The pain of loneliness can prod you to connect with other people. Unfortunately, loneliness itself can make people feel more negative, critical, and judgmental. If you recognize that your loneliness may be affecting you in that way, you can take steps to counter it.

Most people have suffered from loneliness at some point. Have you found any good strategies for making yourself less lonely? What worked — or didn’t work?

Being On Time

Feeling as though you’re always running twenty minutes behind schedule is an unhappy feeling. Having to rush, forgetting things in your haste, dealing with annoyed people when you arrive…it’s no fun.

If you’re chronically late, what steps can you take to be more prompt? That depends on why you’re late. The first step is to Identify the problem – then you can see more easily what you need to change.

There are many reasons you might be late, but some are particularly common. Are you late because…

  1. You sleep too late? If you’re so exhausted in the morning that you sleep until the last possible moment, it’s time to think about going to sleep earlier. Many people don’t get enough sleep, and sleep deprivation is a real drag on your happiness and health. I’ve become a sleep nut since I wrote my book. Getting enough sleep is really important.

     

  2. You try to get one last thing done? Apparently, this is a common cause of tardiness. If you always try to answer one more email or put away one more load of laundry before you leave, here’s a way to outwit yourself: take a task that you can do when you reach your destination, and leave early. Tell yourself that you need that ten minutes on the other end to read those brochures or check those figures.

     

  3. You underestimate the commute time? You may tell yourself it takes twenty minutes to get to work, but if it actually takes forty minutes, you’re going to be chronically late. Have you exactly identified the time by which you need to leave? That’s what worked for me for getting my kids to school on time. We have a precise time that we’re supposed to leave, so I know if we’re running late, and by how much. Before I identified that exact time, I had only a vague sense of how the morning was running, and I usually thought we had more time than we actually did. My son goes into near-hysterics if we’re late, so that motivated me to get very clear on this issue.

     

  4. You can’t find your keys/wallet/phone/sunglasses? Nothing is more annoying than searching for lost objects when you’re running late. Designate a place in your house for your key items, and put those things in that spot, every time. I keep everything important in a “valet” atop our bedroom dresser, and Viagra my wife keeps her key items on a barstool near the kitchen.

     

  5. Other people in your house are disorganized? Your wife can’t find her phone, your son can’t find his Spanish book, so you’re late. As hard as it is to get yourself organized, it’s even harder to help other people get organized. Try setting up the “key things” place in your house. Prod your children to get their school stuff organized the night before—and coax the outfit-changing types to pick their outfits the night before, too. Get lunches ready, etc.

     

  6. You hate your destination so much you want to postpone showing up for as long as possible? If you dread going to work that much, or you hate school so deeply (or wherever your destination might be) you’re giving yourself a clear signal that you need to think about making a big change in your life.

     

  7. Your co-workers won’t end meetings on time? This is an exasperating problem. You’re supposed to be someplace else, but you’re trapped in a meeting that’s going long. Sometimes, this is inevitable, but if you find it happening over and over, identify the problem. Is too little time allotted to meetings that deserve more time? Is the weekly staff meeting twenty minutes of work crammed into sixty minutes? Does one person hold things up? If you face this issue repeatedly, there’s probably an identifiable problem – and once you identify it, you can develop strategies to solve it — e.g., sticking to an agenda; circulating information by email; not permitting discussions about contentious philosophical questions not relevant to the tasks at hand, etc. (This last problem is surprisingly widespread, in my experience.)

Late or not, if you find yourself rushing around every morning, consider waking up earlier (see #1 above). Yes, it’s tough to give up those last precious moments of sleep, and it’s even tougher to go to bed earlier and cut into what, for many people, is their leisure time. But it helps.

I’ve started getting up at 5:00 a.m. so I have an hour to myself before I have to rassle everyone out of bed. This has made a huge improvement in our mornings. Because I’m organized and ready by 7:00 a.m., I can be focused on getting all of us out the door.

If you’ve conquered chronic lateness, what are some strategies that worked for you?

Something Has to Change

I recently visited a large company to give a talk about the guiding principles in my book. From all appearances, it was a well-run company doing good things.

Many of the employees came up to me afterwards to chat, and I asked each of them, “How are things at __________?” Most of them said that things were good, and I had no reason to doubt them.

Others had a different response, and either from what they said or how they acted, it was obvious that they weren’t happy. Several of them talked with me confidentially and said variations of the following:

“It’s not a bad job, Dave, but my creativity is very limited”.
“I find myself constantly daydreaming of [something else]“.
“I liked it here at first, but now I feel stifled”.

These statements were invariably followed by something like: “I shouldn’t complain, because everyone tells me how good I have it. Lots of other people have been laid off or can’t find a job in the first place. Besides, I have good benefits here.”

Hmmm. Yes, it’s good to be grateful for what you have. Lots of people do have it hard these days, and that’s unfortunate. But here’s the thing: it can be a good job at a good company, but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, if Buy Ativan you’re constantly daydreaming of something else, having a good job can be dangerous. A good job can keep you from a big life.

Sometimes what makes sense during one season doesn’t make sense in another; a commitment that was fulfilling at one time loses its allure. In these situations, pretending all is well is usually the wrong answer. If you’re discontented, it’s up to you to make a change. And if it really is a good company or organization that has treated you well, you’re not serving it well in return by giving it less than your best.

Aside from remaining stagnant and trudging along, when you find yourself in a good job that no longer meets your needs, there are only two options:

1) Find a way to bring the joy back to the good job.
2) Find a way to say goodbye to the good job.

You might think that leaving is hard. Of course it’s hard — it would be much easier if it were a bad job. Then the situation would become urgent and you’d do everything you could to get out as soon as possible. But because it’s good enough, you stick around.

That’s why, one way or another, something has to change.

Question: Have you ever found yourself discontented in a good job? What did you do?