Why worry about the meaning of what we say? How much is our perception of time affected by this meaning?

How about we end this month with some semantics?  Right, let’s briefly talk about the study of word definitions.  Let’s explore the way that we use some common terms or phrases concerning time.  I know it sounds boring but how can we spend another year talking about time if we do not agree on some basic terms?  For instance, we talk about being on time, being ahead of the times and being behind the times. We use these phrases so often that they become “unconscious” and we seldom reflect on what they mean or whether they really mean what we want them to mean.  We all think we know what they mean but do we really agree with what they mean?  Are we using them “correctly?”   Can you really be ahead of or behind the times? 
We sometimes say that someone is “stuck” in the past.  We may know someone who seems to fondly remember their best days as when they were the high school quarterback or when they were in college or when they lived someplace else or some other time that was happier or more pleasant for them.  We joke that they are “stuck” in the past and cannot seem to move forward.  However, are they really stuck in the past?  What does it mean to be stuck in the past?  Can they be partially stuck or only stuck sometimes?  If so, how can they get “unstuck?”  Are we all stuck in the past at least sometimes? 
There are many other phrases that we use concerning time that have become so habitual with us that we take them for granted. We assume that we know what they mean when we hear them.  We apply them to our lives and to those around us without thinking about how we use them or what their use implies. The novel “Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll is so powerful because the meaning of words and the way they are used in the Alice story forces us to rethink how we use words.  For instance, who ever heard of an “un-birthday” party?  Well, it is a wonderful twist on an expectation that you can only have a party on your birthday.  You can have an “unbirthday party” 364 days a year.  One of my favorite exchanges in the story takes place between Alice and Humpty Dumpty:
Humpty Dumpty: When I use a word, it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.
Alice: The question is, whether you can make words mean so many different things.
Humpty Dumpty: The question is: who is to be master – that’s all.
The phrases that we use concerning time can have many different meanings. We each choose the meaning that we desire or that we learned as a child. Other people may have different meanings or different associations.  For instance, what does it mean to be late? What does it mean to be on-time? Who decides what is late and who decides what is on-time is?  How late is late?  What does it take to be on time?  Who decides?  Well of course, you and I do, right?  If so, then how come so much of the world seems to thwart our best efforts to be on time?  Maybe we are all dancing to a different beat. 
Is it worth the effort to get everybody in sync with their definitions of time?  Does everyone you know agree with your definitions of time?  Do you belief that your definitions are right and everyone else is wrong?  What if your definitions of time were more flexible? What difference would this make for your family and friends?  Are you too flexible already?  What if you were less flexible? Would your life be smoother and happier?  How far can we go with no common definitions for time? Who decides?  Maybe February 30 would be a good day to decide?
Finally, here is a plug for a reader of my blog who has a new article out called 10 Reasons I Don’t Want to Look at My Work Email
I think you will agree that most of these reasons have to do with the time that email now captures or destroys in our lives.  I for one am often “afraid” to open or even look at my email. 

Is there a formula for creativity? Try this one.

Have you ever tried to be creative in a hurry? It is probably not going to happen. Some of the greatest ideas in history have come at spontaneous random times.  Indeed, many great ideas have come in dreams or during periods of sleep or relaxation. You cannot be creative on a schedule.  Conversely, creativity is a process like any other activity and requires a systematic use and application of time tested principles. The creative process proceeds through steps.  One of the earliest models of the creative process is attributed to Graham Wallas (The Art of Thought, New York: Harcourt Brace, 1926) who proposed that creative thinking proceeds through the following four phases:

The Wallas Model for the Process of Creativity

Preparation (definition of issue, observation, and study)
Incubation (laying the issue aside for a time)
Illumination (the moment when a new idea finally emerges)
Verification (checking it out)

Of course, not all experts agree with the idea of steps or stages for creativity:

For example, Vinacke (1953) is adamant that creative thinking in the arts does not follow a model. In a similar vein, Gestalt philosophers like Wertheimer (1945) assert that the process of creative thinking is an integrated line of thought that does not lend itself to the segmentation implied by the steps of a model. But while such views are strongly held, they are in the minority. (Working Paper: Models for the Creative Processby Paul E. Plsek, 1996) http://www.directedcreativity.com
Which ever way you look at it, time plays a key role in the creative process. If creativity does require preparation, incubation, illumination and verification, then each of these tasks takes time.  I would also add some time for stimulation to the process. Something must be sufficient to stimulate and motivate me to want to solve a problem or be creative. If not, I will not put the time and energy into looking for a solution. Each of the phases noted above takes time. 
Many people believe that it takes a great deal of imagination to be creative. Some of us might feel wanting in this area. It is true that some people are more imaginative then others.  However, I would argue that if we apply time to our problems in a systematic fashion than we can all be creative. If you think you can solve your problems overnight, you are going to be disappointed.  If you realize that it will take time and you are willing to apply a systematic process to your problems then almost any problem is solvable. 
What problems have you been ignoring that a systematic use of time and effort might help you to solve?  How could you start working on those problems?  What changes in your life might occur if you could solve these problems? Have you labeled yourself as unimaginative and uncreative? Who could help you with these problems?  A little help with any issue can provide new insights and illumination. 

Act fast or think things through? Which is the best path?

Haste makes waste! He who hesitates is lost? These are two very popular sayings but they express two very different ideas and concepts about time. You well might ask which is true. Should I take my time, think things through, get a second opinion and then make a decision to act? Or is such carefulness a vice? In this day of rapid change, perhaps hesitating is to lose great opportunities. Should I act quickly and seize the moment? What do to? Act fast or think things over? Oh, why isn’t life simple? 

Alas, the world is full of information which contradicts itself. Perhaps, the contradictions arise from the simple fact that there is no ultimate truth. Sometimes it pays to act fast and sometime it pays to hesitate. On the other hand, perhaps it is the complexity of life that makes it so much more interesting. You have heard it said “All things in moderation.” This is good advice, however sometimes moderation can lack passion and commitment. To be too moderate, is to be very bland. It is to be in the middle. Non-assuming, vanilla and non-offensive.  It may be a foolish attempt to try to please everyone. 

There are times when you must take a stand on something. This means you might offend a few or even many people. Moderation is not always a panacea. In life, there will be times when you must rush and times when you cannot afford to rush. There may also be times when it pays to go down the middle road and there will be times when for your own integrity, you must take a stand. It was simple for Robert Frost since he had only two choices. He had a high road and a low road. Now we have many more roads to face. Today, most of us face multiple choices. The road now forks in ten or more directions.

Which path do you go down today? What kind of a day will this be for you? Will it be a day to be careful and deliberate or will it be a day for speed and uncertainty? Will you take a road of moderation or will you take a road of passion and commitment? How will you decide? At the end of this day, ask yourself if you found the right balance between haste and hesitancy and between passion and moderation.  Did you? What will tomorrow bring?

Are you forever waiting? What are you waiting for?

Time and tide wait for no man or woman; an old saying that has been around forever. Despite this good advice, there are people who are forever waiting. In fact, some might argue that the world is composed of two types of people; the wait-ers and the do-ers. Wait-ers are people who hope that good things will come to them and do-ers are people that make the good things come to them. Wait-ers hope to win the lottery so they can buy the things they want. Do-ers go out and make the money to buy what they want. We all have friends who fall into these categories or habits. Friends who are waiting to take a holiday to another country, friends who are waiting for Mr.or Ms right, friends who are waiting for their ship to arrive. We eventually come to realize that they will be dead and buried before any of these things happen. One of the reasons why Nike’s motto “Just do it” is so powerful is the way it resonates with most of us at a primal level. We all want to be doers but many of us fall into the category of wait-ers.
Why do we wait is a good question? Why do we wait and wait and wait and wait? What fears stop us (because the answer to the first question is FEAR) from becoming doers? What can we do to overcome these fears? Psychologists would say that the first step is to overcome the excuses and denial and to admit our fears. Be honest with ourselves and make an inventory of our fears.  Put them down on paper.

Once we admit our fears, we can take the second step. The second step is to decide to do something about our fears. I was afraid of heights. For years, I admitted it but could not decide what to do about it. Finally, I decided to do a solo parachute jump. It took me nearly ten years but I finally did it on my 55th birthday. Since then, I am much less intimated by being up high. This is the decision step.  Identify and then decide to take action.

The third step is the action step. My action was a skydive.  There are often many remedies, but which is the right solution for you. For me, it was to find a sky diving club, join them and take a class in sky-diving. Once I decided to take the sky-diving training and jump, I had to actually attend the training and then go to the school. I had to make several trips to the airport before I could jump because on two consecutive occasions the airport was closed for jumping due to bad weather. I almost gave up the idea but the third time was a charm. I was able to jump by myself out of the plane at about 5000 feet. Believe me when I say, I was scared to death. However as I floated down, I realized the beauty and unreality of the entire event. I actually relaxed enough to start enjoying it once my chute opened. Had I not taken action, the first two steps would be worthless.

Which are you, a wait-er or a do-er? We all are wait-ers in some areas of our lives. We all have fears that cause us to avoid or put off doing certain things. What are the events and activities that you put off? What are the fears you have to overcome? Can you practice these three steps or just take one of them this next year? What do you think would happen if you did? How do you think your life would be different? Life is waiting for you to start.

Do you have a plan to make friends and keep them?

I am getting up very early Wednesday to leave on a trip to Florida for an evaluation visit.  Thus, I am posting my Wednesday blog early.  So if this says Tuesday, it is really Wednesday. 🙂  However, here is the last of my five plans for a healthy and happy life. 
My fifth and final plan deals with the quality of the relationships that we have in our lives; as the Beatle song said: “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  We need other people in our lives.  None of us can have too many friends or too much family.  However, there are times when we are dissatisfied with both.  Therefore I recommend a plan that will help you to achieve your emotional and relationship goals or at least improve the quality of these goals.  In a balanced life, we must manage our friendships and relationships with people who can sustain and nurture us. This takes time. Your time is precious and will quickly slip away if not budgeted and planned.  Many people laugh at the various social networking tools like Facebook and LinkedIn as simply time wasters.  True, they can be time wasters but tools like these can also help you to develop and strengthen your friendships with family and others.  I spend maybe five minutes a day on Facebook and it has helped me to remember birthdays and many other events going on in the lives of my friends and relatives.  I do not regard such an investment of time as wasted.
Even if you are already in a close relationship, you must spend time on your relationship or it will wither and die.  My spouse Karen and I have set aside Tuesday night as talk night and family time.  With no children home, we still find that problems and issues arise that need to be discussed. When we skip our planned talk days, eventually something breaks down and we realize that skipping these days is not a good idea. In addition, we set aside time to be by ourselves and to do things alone and we set aside time to spend with our friends, our children and our grandchildren. 
The emphasis on my planning is to try to keep a happy balance.  When we are feeling dissatisfied with life it is a good indication that we are not spending enough time on some aspects of our relationships.  You do not need a very formal system to create a relationship plan.  Karen and I simply discuss it from time to time and have our own rough guidelines for spending time with family and friends. I regard appointments and times with friends as important enough to mark on my calendar and I seldom cancel dates that I have set unless something really important comes up.  I have all of my friends in my address book and many on email.  For a while, I was using a group email list to regularly visit with friends and relatives each month, but I drifted away from this method. It certainly has pro’s and con’s. 
I recommend you start your relationship plan by listing the most important people in your life.  Prioritize how much time you want to spend with these people.  Brainstorm ways you can keep in touch with them.  For example, Facebook, LinkedIn, list-serves, email groups, a weekly or monthly potluck, a list of five key contacts you want to make each month, a birthday list or a holiday card list can all be easy ways to keep in touch.  You might also identify for each of your key friends and relatives, something that you can do for them or send them.  I have friends that are interested in politics so I send them updates on the elections whenever I come across them.  I have other friends whom I routinely correspond with via Skype.  The new social tools on the web can help you stay in touch in many ways other than physically spending time with people. 
How much time do you spend trying to maintain or improve your relationships?  Do you think this is enough time?  Do you wish you had more friends or closer relationships with your spouse or family? When can you set aside the time to help achieve these goals? Begin your plan by setting aside time to talk to some of these people either weekly or monthly about the important things in your relationships.  Mark down some general overall goals for who you want to spend time with and how often you think you need to.  Put these on a calendar and review and revise whenever needed. People and sometimes friendships evolve and change and so will your relationship plan.

Do you have a plan for heaven or hell?

Okay, so now you have plans to become healthy, wealthy and wise. But what about your immortal soul? “What doth it profit a man if he gain the whole world and suffers the loss of his own soul” (Matthew). Many of us worry about time and money. We worry about how we look and what people think of us. We worry about holidays, vacations, buying things, having the right image and having the right toys. What gets lost in our mad material rush for things and image is our immortal soul. We remember to put out the garbage but we forget our souls. Our souls will go on long after our body has aged and withered away. What is more important, how you look or how your soul looks? The fourth plan we all need concerns our spiritual development.

The highest level of development is considered by many wise people to be spiritual. Without spiritual development, we wither and rot on the vine. We are hollow and shallow people without a soul. We can plan a budget and plan time for going to school, friends, family and exercise, but what will it all be for if we cannot put aside time to develop our soul? Thus, a plan to develop your soul might just be the longest reaching and most important plan you can have. Without such a plan how can you grow wiser and kinder and more just? My spiritual plan is very simple. For others, it may be going regularly to church, mosque or synagogue. The core of my spiritual exercises is my daily spiritual prayer. Each day before I begin my activities, I recite a spiritual prayer and take five minutes to do a spiritual reading. This practice constitutes a sort of daily spiritual exercise for me. Every year, I attend a silent retreat at a Jesuit Retreat house called Demontreville. It is three days of spiritual reflection and prayer. The silence for three days helps me to get in touch with my inner being and to really reflect on where my life and my goals are. I have now attended over 25 of these yearly retreats. These retreats have helped me to develop spiritually, morally and ethically. Every year, I look forward to my annual retreat as an important time for spiritual renewal and reflection. Karen and I also attend a Sunday night bible studies group. We meet weekly with other folks to discuss various aspects of the Christian faith. I am sure there are groups for all religious faiths.

There are many spiritual exercises in the different religious traditions that can help you to develop spiritually. They all offer you more joy and happiness if you take the time to practice them. Are you satisfied with your spiritual and moral development? Are you doing something to help develop in these areas? Have you set aside time for your spiritual development? Do you have a concrete set of exercises and activities to help you grow spiritually? If not, when will you begin? Can you start by taking five minutes today for a spiritual reading from the Bible, Koran, Hindu Scriptures, Buddhist readings or the Torah? If not, can you simply read a good selection from a book on moral and ethical development? Five minutes each day that might change your immortal soul!

Here is my plan to be Wise

The first of my plans dealt with being healthy and wealthy. The third plan that I have found essential is for mental and cognitive development. This is a plan for being wise. Yes, I mean a plan to expand your brainpower or at least your knowledge base. It has been said that the only real job security we have is between our ears. In this day of rapid obsolescence, the knowledge and skills that one has can become outdated very quickly.

We need to think of learning as a lifelong endeavor and not just as a series of degrees or diplomas. To do that, each of us needs some type of learning or self-development plan. This is too important to trust to employers or others with the hope that they will provide us with the training and education we need to stay current. We need to develop our own lifelong training program. This plan will be different for each of us. It will depend on your knowledge, skills and abilities and your personal interests and aspirations. The goal of this plan is to stay viable and valuable to yourself and to others.

I try to develop a plan each year to insure that I am keeping up with technology and the key insights in my chosen career field. I am now able to use the Internet to help me do this. The use of RSS feeds (Really Simple Syndication), Google alerts, Blog notices, Facebook and LinkedIn, webinars, Ezines and other automatic downloads helps me to keep abreast of what is happening in the workplace. I also try to subscribe to current magazines that will help me to keep abreast of events in my field.

If you cannot afford new magazines and books, you can make a weekly trip to the library and simply scan the newest magazines for insights. Belonging to professional associations can be somewhat expensive but may be well worthwhile if you can use the time effectively for growth and development. Professional associations give you the opportunity to meet and network with leaders and experts in your field. These contacts can be invaluable. The website LinkedIn allows you to participate in a wide range of professional associations on-line. The networking and knowledge that you can learn from these “virtual” organizations on LinkedIn can be almost as valuable as attending a “real” organization and at little or no cost.

Finally, do you look for opportunities to attend workshops and conferences that will give you new learning and insights? There are many free podcasts, webinars, video-conferences, teleconferences, papers and articles on the web that are wonderful resources and they do not cost a cent.

If you do not have a plan or as you start to develop your plan, here are some key questions to think about:

• How will you ensure that you remain knowledgeable and informed?
• What could you do now to be better informed about your world and what’s happening
in it?
• Can you read a book, take a class or attend a lecture each month?
• Are you taking advantage of the free opportunities for education and training on
the Internet?
• Make a schedule of activities that will keep your mind healthy and flexible and
see if you can stick to it for the next year.

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