Friday, December 28, 2012

A Life of Resolve...


In what seems like the blink of an eye, the year 2012 has come to a conclusion.

Now is the time, that we forget about the year that was and focus our attention on the year that will soon be.

It’s about this time every year that we put together a mental list of goals, projects, and aspirations in which we loosely call "resolutions".

We make our list of resolutions because we acknowledge that we have some room in our lives to grow (or in the case of dieting... to shrink). We want to become a better person. We want to become the person we know that we can be.

Res-o-lu-tion - (rez-uh-loo-shun) - noun 
  1. Resolve or determination; to make a firm resolution to do something.
  2. The act of resolving or determining upon an action or course of action, method or procedure.
  3. The mental state or quality of being resolved or resolute; firmness of purpose.

As defined by Webster’s, a resolution is a firm decision to do something ... an absolute... an action... a firmness of purpose.

A resolution is a promise or oath to one’s self... to your family, friends and neighbors... to co-workers, acquaintances, and associates... to God and the world...

The New Year helps us to mark time... it gives us a starting point... a fresh beginning.

New Year’s resolutions typically found on our list might include one or more of the following items:
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking
  • Go to the gym more
  • Eat better
  • Read more
  • Start a savings account
  • Watch less TV
  • Go back to school
  • Get up / go to bed earlier
  • Learn a new skill
  • Be a better spouse / parent / student / worker / friend etc.
Many times, we find the exact same resolutions on our list... year after year...

Why is that?

The answer is simple... because changing one’s behavior is hard work!!

Saying that you’re going to change your life is tremendously easier than actually doing it.

Once the hard work starts... we simply choose to cast aside our list of resolutions and continue with the same bad behavior that we have already acknowledged that we want to change.

We begin the year as a dedicated and resolved individual - determined to change our life forever...

... and within a time span measured in hours not days or weeks... we abandon our new ideals and principles and revert back to the person we sought to change.

So how do we stop this cycle of resolution of make and break and actually find ways to create and keep lasting resolutions?

Over the years, I have found several techniques that have helped me to make and keep my resolutions to myself.

I didn’t necessarily create these ideas nor am I offering any guarantees as to their effectiveness.
 
Also, I am not so na├»ve as to believe that these practices will work for everyone (or even a majority)... however... if perhaps what you are currently doing isn’t working for you... maybe the time is right to try something new...

I just know that these techniques tend to work for me...

First Things First

We need to make a list... not a mental list but a written list. 

We need to write this list down... preferably in a place that is easy to refer back to from time to time (a notepad on your smart phone is a good place... especially if it’s backed up on your desktop or on the cloud).

Our list should contain BEHAVIORS we are determined to change in OURSELVES...

We can’t change physical things or situations... we can only change behaviors that might lead to change.

We can’t readily change our weight... we can only change, what we eat, how much we eat, and how much we work out. Weight loss/gain is a result... not a behavior.

Additionally, we cannot modify anyone else’s behavior. We cannot let our happiness / unhappiness be predicated on someone else’s behavior.

Creating our list will definitely take some self-awareness to recognize our deficiencies, weaknesses and areas of improvement. 

Our list should be a living document that can be added to, as necessary, throughout the year as we think of new and/or improved behaviors that we’d like to incorporate into our lives.

Too many balls in the air

I tend to work well under some pressure, juggling several balls at the same time... trying as I might to accomplish as much as possible in a given time.

However, when the tasks on my to-do list are too numerous, I start dropping balls and the equilibrium of my life spins wildly out of control.

Trying to do too many things at the same time makes it impossible to focus on anything at all.

Likewise, if our resolution list has grown too long, then we need to start prioritizing and focusing on one or two items that will make the biggest impact in our lives.

Perhaps we need to abandon the idea of doing too much on Jan 1st each year, but instead think of staggering our goals throughout the year, starting a new one every 3-6 months.

Measurement

Talk to any recovering alcoholic, and they will tell you in very specific terms, how long it’s been since they’ve last had a drink. To them, they measure sobriety in hours, days and/or years.

As we attempt to modify our lives, we need to keep an accurate measure of how we’re doing.

The measurement tool should be simple to use such as a small notebook (once again... I use a simple app on my iPhone to track certain behaviors). 

It’s not important that you share your measurement with anyone else (but you will... especially if you’re making progress toward your goals).

Be accurate and don’t cheat (you’re only cheating yourself as no one else will ever see your log).

While it is true that resolutions can make us a better person... the idea only works if we dedicate ourselves to actually doing them.

It takes self-awareness... it takes discipline... it takes focus... it takes time... and it takes a willingness to want to change.

Are you up for the challenges that lie ahead? 

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse as we wish you and yours happiness, health, joy, prosperity and peace in the New Year ahead...

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rewind, Replay, Repeat...


The purpose of our lives is to help others and be happy
~ The Dalai Lama



Play

It was now 10 minutes past the hour.

I sat in silence in the bustling cafe as a high school marching band paraded down Main Street outside.

Glancing at my cell phone, I wondered to myself, "did he get caught in the parade traffic or did he just change his mind about meeting me after so many years?"

Pause

I hadn’t seen my friend Jeff in more than 30 years. I had graduated high school with his sister Mandi but Jeff was two years my junior so we really didn’t keep in touch and we didn’t see each other at class reunions.

Although an age gap existed, during our years together in high school, we had become daily combatants on the mat during wrestling season.

Unlike other sports, wrestling matched participants solely according to weight, not by seniority, coach’s discretion, or grade level. Sharing a weight class meant that we typically worked out together during the six-month season.

As a senior, I had a few more years of practice and won most of the daily matches, but the younger Jeff was tough as nails and I knew that as he too became an upperclassman, he’d be at the top of the ladder.

Play

Soon the door opened and Jeff rushed in. I waived him to the table and he sat down.

He apologized for being late explaining that he had to park quite a distance away due to the Christmas parade.

The years had been good to my lost friend, looking exceptionally healthy, very trim, and retaining most of his hair... not bad for the half-century mark. I actually thought that he looked better in person than in the publicity shots I had seen.

We began with the normal small talk, but he quickly interrupted, "Jimmy... you told me you read my book... so you know what I’ve been up to these last several years... so why don’t you tell me your story so I know what you’ve been up to these last 30 years."

Immediately, I could tell that Jeff has perfected his interviewing... encouraging others to talk freely about themselves and their opinions, hopes, dreams and fears.

He is the consummate professional newsman.

Jeff Bell is a longtime veteran of radio and television news. He currently co-anchors afternoon drive-time radio at KCBS in San Francisco, one of the most successful all-news radio stations in America.

I spent 20 minutes reviewing the highlights of a 30 year gap in our lives from my perspective. We then swapped stories of relatives and mutual friends both past and present.

After about an hour of chit-chat, there was still the elephant in the room... the question that I needed to ask to satisfy my own curiosity...

"Jeff... how’s everything going with you?... are you surviving or are you thriving?"

Rewind

About a year ago, I found myself in Sacramento, CA.

I was visiting with my old high school wrestling coach, Don Wright. Don was not too much older than me and we had remained friends throughout the ages. Don was an all-American wrestler at San Francisco State wrestling the legendary Dan Gable on several occasions for the national collegiate championship.

Several years ago, Don left the San Francisco peninsula to take a teaching position 150 miles away in Sacramento.

Once there, he resurrected a youth wrestling program and turned it into a regional powerhouse. His programs typically center on tough kids from even tougher neighborhoods (I suppose that’s how we originally became affiliated).

He still talks with incredible enthusiasm about his kids. Through his program, at-risk kids have learned about goal-setting, self-determination, and succeeding through effort and hard work. So many of them have taken lessons learned and applied these principles in their own lives and have gone on to become successful professionals, entrepreneurs, and tradesmen.

Unfortunately, many parents of the kids in his programs have trouble affording the $65 insurance or the $50 for a pair of wrestling shoes.

Our solution was to start a charitable foundation to help these kids stay involved with the wrestling program by helping them with the financial aspects of participating.

As a part of trying to organize the charitable foundation, I decided to reach out to several of my former teammates, many of whom had gone on to become successful in their own right.

Fast - Forward

Jeff Bell, was on my "short-list" of ex-wrestlers, so I did what everyone does to locate an old classmate... I simply "Googled" him, sent him an e-mail and set up a time when we could both meet.

One of the other things I found, other than the fact that he was a successful radio host, was that he had written a book called "Rewind... Replay... Repeat"... A Memoir of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder.

I wanted to prepare myself for our meeting, so I bought the book and starting reading it at once.

After reading the first few sections, I could hardly put the book down!


As it turns out, Jeff suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Much of what little I knew (or thought I knew) about OCD came from the TV show Monk starring Tony Shalhoub or the Academy Award nominated movie "As Good as it Gets".

One of the first misconceptions is that OCD is a psychological disorder, when in fact, it is more likely a physical or biological malfunction of the brain which can be regulated using low-dose medication.

The second major difference in fact versus preconceived opinion was that all OCD sufferers display the same symptoms... namely the fear of germs and a never-ending quest for order and symmetry.

Jeff’s self-reflective tell-all book describes a multitude of other symptoms including his own irrational fears, namely the fear of causing some kind of great harm to others.

In one example, Jeff tells the readers a tale of losing a hubcap on his rental car while vacationing in Hawaii. Throughout the entire 2-week vacation, he finds an irresistible urge to continue going back and forth along the highway trying to find the lost hubcap (just in case the hubcap is laying somewhere in middle of the highway... waiting to cause a catastrophic accident).

Although he was seemingly leading a perfect successful life as an on-air news anchor in a major metropolitan city, he was secretly fighting for control of his own life.

On a summer night in 1997, while lying in his backyard hammock, Jeff made a bargain with the stars. If you can help me to overcome, I’ll tell the world my story. 

The next day he began a year-long project chronicling his daily life on 3 x 5 cards... neatly stacked and categorized.

From these note cards, he found the secrets of overcoming his own affliction and used his experiences to draft his memoir, Rewind, Repeat, Replay...

Play

Back to the question at hand... "So Jeff... how’s everything going with you?... are you surviving or are you thriving?"

"Jimmy... each day is a new day... but overall... I’d say I’m thriving... and in the end... I’m trying to help myself by helping others."

Personally, I think that we could all help ourselves a bit by just finding ways to help others.

Before we left the cafe, I asked him about joining up with our new charitable foundation supporting wrestling programs for at-risk kids. He was extremely excited about the idea and helping where he could, but in the end, he explained that he too had created a foundation that helps people to overcome adversity.

Jeff explained to me that he has recently co-founded A2A Alliance (Adversity 2 Advocacy). His non-profit organization is charged with helping to bring awareness to OCD. It also serves as a platform for those with OCD to help themselves... by helping others.

Jeff and I again parted ways that morning, each committing to not allowing another 30 years to pass again before seeing each other again.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse where we are forever encouraged by stories like my friend Jeff and others like him.

Friday, December 14, 2012

The Perfect Gift...

Unless you’re Mayan, Christmas will soon be upon us... (if you do happen to be Mayan... pay no attention to this blog as the world, as you know it, will end a few days prior to Christmas).
 
Tis’ the season to spend time with friends and loved ones... time to decorate the house or apartment with evergreens, ribbons, lights, candy canes, bows, and candles... time to exchange gifts and tidings of joy...


At the office, we’re busy putting final touches on the year... filling last minute orders... and making big plans for the upcoming new year (or at least creating a budget for our big plans).

With our day-to-day business winding down, it gives us time for those "special projects" that we’ve been putting off the last few months. We work furiously on big projects... like that new smart-phone app, the new website launch, or that multi-media proposal for that big new client. 

We have the time to box up and store old files while making room for the new files of the upcoming year.   Time is now to upgrade our computer and/or phone systems...

Although I know that Christmas always falls on the same day each year, December 25th always seems to creep up on me... at first I think that there is plenty of time to get everything done... but then out of nowhere it’s December 13th... the twelve days of Christmas are here!!

The lights in the yard still need to be arranged... the stockings need to be hung on the fireplace... a tree needs to be purchased, trimmed and adorned... cookies and fudge need to be made...

Like Santa, we make a list of people we need to buy gifts for. Gifts for our family... gifts for our close friends... gifts for the folks at the office... and gifts for the people who work all year to make our lives a bit better... like our housekeeper, our children’s teachers, the newspaper boy and the gardener.

They all deserve a small token of our appreciation... just to show them that we care about them... so we need to buy them a meaningful and heartfelt gift.

As we trudge off to the mall, we are kicking ourselves knowing full well that if we had not have waited so long, we could have done all of our shopping while seated comfortably at our office desk...

We could have avoided the crowded parking lots, the long lines, and the wrath and ire of frantic last-minute shoppers scurrying through the malls and super-stores.

Oh... but December 13th is much too late for that... we’ll need to go out and brave the crowds in order to find that perfect gift for everyone on our list...

If we only knew what everyone really truly wanted...

As we stroll up and down the endless aisles looking for divine gift inspiration... we think to ourselves that there needs to be a better method.

Then an incredible idea pops into our heads... and idea that will solve all of our gift giving problems... GIFT CARDS!!

With gift cards, the gift buying onus will be squarely placed upon the giftee not the gifter... they then can purchase whatever their heart truly desires...

With one stop to the gift card carousel and a packet of Christmas greeting cards, our problems are now solved!

Nothing says, "Merry Christmas"... like a gift card (with the exception of perhaps cash) in a generic greeting card.

Now perhaps we need to all take a deep breath and step back for a moment... and reconsider this gift buying thing...

Maybe I’m just getting old and cynical, but it seems to me that when we stoop to giving out gift cards, the idea of Christmas giving seems to be a bit tarnished...

Sorry... this is just how I feel about it.

Over the years, I have adopted somewhat of a different philosophy to Christmas gift giving. For me, Christmas is no longer relegated to simply one day out of the year.

Christmas for me is now a 365-day event (366 this year)...

By changing my paradigm, I no longer feel pressure to find the perfect gifts for my friends and family just so they can open them on December 25th.

Instead, I try to think of ways to spread joy to my friends and loved ones throughout the entire year... giving meaningful, generous, and thoughtful gifts... some that cost a fair amount of money... some that cost no money at all... but that are still very much appreciated... 
 
Some of the gifts I’ve given over the last year include: 
  • Tickets to sporting events, plays and/or concerts              
  • A great bottle of wine and/or tequila
  • Taking someone to lunch or dinner at their favorite restaurant
  • Bringing them fresh flowers to brighten their office or house 
  • Returning from San Francisco with several loaves of fresh sourdough bread
  • Ordering extra copies of a good book that I’ve recently read to give to others
  • Spending my Saturday to set up someone’s computer and wireless network
  • A ride to/from the airport - even if it’s early in the morning or late at night
  • An iPhone upgrade (they weren’t eligible... so I gave them my upgrade)
  • A donation to their favorite charity or cause (regardless if I personally believe in their cause or not)
  • Helping someone to move
  • Sitting for hours listening to a friend going through a hurtful break-up
  • Being a math/science tutor for a struggling child
  • Posting bail for a friend 
The list could go on for several pages but I think that you get the idea...

Most of these items can’t be purchased with a gift card... they are gifts of the heart... be it in December or June...

I believe that this is the true spirit of giving... giving of yourself... putting others first... and helping others when no one else will... 
 
... not to enrich department stores or help the economy by racking up debt.

Christmas is a time to share laughter surrounded by family and friends... it’s a time to appreciate what we have and remember all those who go without... it’s a time to celebrate the season be it religious or secular...

May your days be joyous and your nights be silent...

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse, where we wish you a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and peace to all the people of the world... each and every day of the year...

Friday, December 7, 2012

So Many Choices...


"So what's next on the list", I ask myself, "Soup...last item." 

I casually walk over to the soup aisle at our new "super-sized" supermarket knowing that this is my last item on my shopping list.  

This modern combination grocery, drug and mercantile store was a recent addition to our neighborhood.  Although it's been open now for several weeks, this was my first opportunity to check it out for myself.   

The first thing I noticed was that this store was a bit different than your typical grocery store.  

Although its physical size was about as large, the store did not model itself after a Sam's Club, Super-Wal-Mart, or Costco.  At those stores, the selection of products was severely limited (only one or two brands of tooth paste for instance), the package sizes were immense (six tubes to a package), and the "specialty items" were there for a limited time (so you better stock up now!). 

This new Super Store was all about selection not price. Its aim was to give consumers choices in which to fill their shopping needs. Way too many choices in some instances. 

As a turned the corner, I found myself in the soup aisle. 

Cans of soup stretched out before me further than I could see. 

I discovered that the typical market leaders, Campbell's and Progresso were indeed present but what fascinated me was the sheer breadth of their offerings.  At a typical grocer, I might see 40 or so facings of Campbell's soups including the various versions of chicken noodle, vegetable, and creamed soups. 

Here before me, were varieties of soup that I had no idea that Campbell's even made. Obscure names like Chicken Won Ton, Cream of Asparagus, Cream of Shrimp, Oyster Stew, Cream of Onion and Beefy Mushroom lined the shelves under the Campbell's banner. Additionally there were several non-fat, low-fat, and less salt versions of the old standbys. 

As I continued down the aisle, I was amazed with the number of soup brands that I had never even heard of. I silently wondered who these companies were and how did they go to market beyond an outlet such as this super-store. 

I figured that more than likely these brands were sold through smaller co-ops, health food stores, and importers. Since I rarely make an appearance at these stores, I was overwhelmed with the sheer variety of these obscure "off-brands" before me. 

I also noticed that the prices of these specialty items were much higher than those of the garden varieties that I was used to seeing. 

I quickly filled my cart with several cans and boxes of new soups to sample (yes... soup now comes in boxes as well... I wonder is Andy Warhol is spinning in his grave) and I head to the checkout. 

As I'm placing the items onto the conveyor belt, I wonder to myself, that if I actually end up liking any of these "experimental" soups, would I ever be able to locate them again... or would I be doomed to roaming the earth in a quest of some semi-liquid substance that no longer exists. 

The experience that afternoon jars loose a faint memory of a short clip that I had seen several years ago. The video clip was that of Malcolm Gladwell speaking, at a past TED conference, about the abundance of choices that we all now have before us.

In the video, Mr. Gladwell (author of the best sellers, Blink, The Tipping Point, and Outliers) argues that the choice phenomenon was a recent discovery in the food industry. Prior to that, food companies produced only a few different varieties perhaps in only a couple of different sizes.

This concept was revolutionary... well within the food industry perhaps.  

We've seen this revolution happen over and over again in industry after industry. 

  • The beer industry went from 4-5 industry leaders to thousands of small micro-breweries.
  • TV stations were limited in most markets to 4 network providers (ABC, NBC, CBS, & PBS) plus a few local independents now to 1000's of cable stations. (and shortly 1000's more as Net Flicks, Google, and Microsoft enter the streaming video space).
  • Authors were limited to only a handful of publishers and recording artists to a handful of record labels.  Today it is easier than ever to self-publish or distribute your music.  
The advent of the Internet has opened the doors to manufacturers, wholesale distributors and retailers creating a direct conduit from the product providers to the end-users. The era of gatekeepers is effectively over. 

There are three significant ways in which the Internet has helped to open markets and increase consumer choices:
  1. The Internet has created a communication link between all sellers and all buyers. Sellers of niche products can now reach buyers of niche products. Time differences, geography, and language barriers that once created walls between suppliers and customer have now been razed. Anyone can buy anything at any time and have it delivered to anywhere.                                        
  2. E-tailers can now centralize inventory allowing them to stock a greater variety of products in the same space.  Instead of Barnes and Noble stocking five copies of Malcom Gladwell's book "Blink" at each of their 1500 retail stores, Amazon can stock 100 copies at their regional distribution center allowing them to stock 7,400 other titles in the same space.                                                                            
  3. The Internet has become a high-speed pipeline to deliver digital format products in real time. No longer do we need to physically go to the record store to purchase that new song or to the video store to rent a movie.
The time of limited choices has come to an abrupt end.  

With all of the choices, one would tend to think that products and services would tend to be commoditized with margins being severely compromised.  

However, just as it was in the soup aisle at the supermarket, prices for unique items are typically higher than those that are readily available from multiple outlets. 

The key word here is "unique". 

If we just try to deliver the same product or service to our customers as everyone else, then we have done nothing to differentiate ourselves from the hundreds (thousands / millions) of other people and companies trying to do the same thing.   

We need to think "different". 

A wise man once said that if you can create something different, the world will beat a path to your door. Today the path is already there... now you need to give someone a reason come knocking... 

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse, where we always try to create unique buying experience for our current and future customers.