Thursday, April 23, 2015

Cultivating Gratitude

I have a confession to make: if I meet you for the first time and I like you, I'm very likely trying to hack your habits.

As I work and work out, I constantly meet people who give me goosebumps. I'm amazed and inspired - by the work they do and by the people they are. I talk to them whenever I can, to learn about their life, their daily routines and their underlying attitudes.

So here's the secret - they're all strongly rooted in an attitude of gratitude. People have devoted their lives to the scientific study of gratitude and it's benefits - but this is what I figure.

Also - here's the good news. This special set of people didn't roll out at birth with a gratitude spoon in their mouth! An attitude of gratitude is a habit - and just like any other habit, all you need to do is practice it.

A daily practice that I've heard recommended most often is morning (and/or night) journaling. Writing down three things you're grateful for.

So, obviously, given that I know this, I've had a gratitude practice for years - right? Nope. Just started one last month. And here's why this took so long:
  • I tried to find the perfect platform: Buy this fancy journal? Or this app? Or...arghh!
  • I made the writing way too complicated

Finally (and we come to the point of this blog post) - this is what worked:
  • Pick the first note book that you find and make that your gratitude journal. If an app works better for you - do it. Personally, I find these few minutes of old fashioned, pen on paper action calming.
  • Keep the format simple: Here's what I write: "3 things I'm grateful for..." and "To win today, what do I need to do is..." (PS: Thanks Pat Flynn, for the questions)
  • Keep the journal out on your desk before you go to bed. I can't emphasize this enough. Make it the first thing you see in the am.

So that's it. Five minutes every morning and boom! - you're done. In that spirit of gratitude, thank YOU for spending time with me. Do you have a gratitude practice? We'd love to hear about it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Making Learning Stick

Image: (cc) John Lord

What wakes me up in the morning? Strong coffee and a love for learning design.

As I run my visual facilitation business and work with clients on workshop design - I see the messy and beautiful processes of ideation, insight generation, clarity and action. Or at least, an intention to act.

One of the big questions I’m always working to solve is: What creates lasting behavior change? How can I bottle these moments of inspiration and insight and give them back to people – to keep alive every single day. 

Consider the spectrum of learning: Objective Setting - Design and Delivery - Follow Up.
There is some great research out there on making learning stick during the design and delivery phase. Our focus today is on the follow up. Once a learning event is over, what makes it stick? 

Here are five ideas for you to consider, as a facilitator and a learner.

1. Design for Behavior Change

Create (visual) learning goals: While you’re still at the learning event, create very specific learning goals. Write them down – or better still – draw your goal. I love Patti Dobrowolski’s visual goal setting tool – the Big Picture Template. Listen to her TEDx talk to learn how to use it.

Focus on Tiny Habits:   Here’s a big secret – for change to stick, it needs to be easy! For the past few years, I’d try to re-design my habits with resolutions: “From tomorrow, I’ll wake up at 5 am, run 6 miles, eat a bowl of chia seed oatmeal and then read the Wall Street Journal”. Guess what – I woke up at 8 am and did nothing! Start with baby steps – or as one of my favorite researchers on behavior change BJ Fogg calls it, Tiny Habits. Tiny Habit = wake up 5 minutes earlier. Or read one new
article every day. Or….well… tell me J

Schedule learning around triggers: One of the biggest reasons people don’t follow through on learning is that they simply forget. One of the most effective ways to automate a habit is designing action around a trigger. A trigger can be external (a reminder on your calendar that pops up every morning and reminds you that 7 to 7:30 am is time for mindful reading) -  or - a trigger can be an existing habit (I brew my coffee every morning, and I’ll use the time it takes to drink a whole cup, to read)

2. Create Learning Artifacts

Visual posters: Pictures are effective low-tech tools to keep learning alive. As a graphic recorder, I work with groups to capture their conversations and insights visually in real time. After the event, my clients use the visuals to create books and posters – all designed to help participates remember the big ideas and commitments.

Get creative: When I walked into the office of consulting firm On Your Feet a few years ago, they had a life-size cutout of Mr Spock at the door. This was to remind their creative team to wear their left-brain analytical hats when needed! The OYF team works with Fortune 500 companies all over the world and I've seen them experiment with a number of creative artifacts or  pieces of “mental velcro”. Chocolate bars with learning challenges, journals, tee-shirts and these fabulous robots created by Gary Hirsch.

3. Enlist the Social Network

Find yourself an accountability buddy: Pair up with a colleague, mentor or friend and help each other stay on track. Get a latte (at the local coffee shop or virtually) once month. Share your progress, make notes, and challenge one another. If you can – hire a coach.

Leverage social media platforms: Facebook groups, LinkedIn networks, Yammer platforms – they work. As a solopreneur, I heavily rely on my professional learning networks – to learn from, ask questions – and most importantly, to feel like I’m part of a community.

4. Track the Journey

Download that App: Check out these apps for your smartphone to track progress towards your goals. Here’s my favorite.

Bring out that paper and sharpie: Again, low-teach is super effective. Slap on a piece of paper on the wall, and start tracking your daily progress. As per research, it’s most effective to use simple, vivid, visual trackers. It works for Jerry Seinfeld!

5. Celebrate Progress

Measure progress towards your milestones and celebrate hitting them. With a nice lunch. A new book. A morning of hiking through the forest trails. A glass of wine. Whatever makes your heart sing.

So how do you keep learning alive? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

6 Lessons I learnt from Improv

I’m delighted to have attended an improvisational theater (improv) class this quarter.

My relationship with improv has been one of huge admiration. I grew up watching “Whose Line Is It Anyway” with an expression of jaw-dropping awe as performers created delightful new stories and songs out of nothing.

I was introduced to improv professionally a few years ago. I had an opportunity to collaborate with the fabulous team at On Your Feet – a management consulting firm that uses improv as a methodology to spark collaboration and growth with the world’s leading corporations. 

As I watched them work, I noticed that great improvisers made great facilitators. Not just because they used a set of kick-ass tools. There was something different about how they showed up as people. An incredible sense of presence.

So here I am – signed up to learn improv with Daryl Olson and Shelley Darcy from Brainwaves. Very soon, I’d like to add improv to my facilitation toolkit. For now, I’m using this as a tool for personal growth. And fun.

So here's presenting...the top 6 lessons I learnt from improv:

1. Expand your palette:
Improv truly invites you (actually, forces you!) to explore your whole palette of physical and vocal expression. What does that mean? Well, it’s the way you stand. The way you move. The space that you occupy. The tone of your voice. Your volume. Your mental models. The character that you choose to play every day.

We started the class acting like screaming trees being chopped down – and that’s when I learnt that raising my voice, even for fun, causes a huge discomfort for me internally.

Most of us choose to limit ourselves to a very small range of colors. Exploring this whole palette of body-mind-voice expression is frightening and very liberating.

2. Be in the NOW: 
Improv also forces you to pay more attention. There are no lines to remember, no pre-determined characters to play. The best thing you can do as an improviser is be intensely focused in the now.

When I try to “game the system” by thinking of clever lines in advance, I stop paying attention to the present, and choke. When I choose to listen, breathe and accept – well – that’s when the magic happens. Total awareness leads to creative action.

3. Everything is an offer:  
One of my favorite insights from improv class is learning to use everything as on offer. In improv speak, this is the “Yes, and…” attitude.

Improvisers take every single suggestion thrown at them and find a way to embrace it and expand the story. I’m not talking about half-assed acceptance, but a whole-hearted embrace. What a great attitude to live life with every day.

4. Trust more:
Improv is the ultimate practical experience of trust. To be successful you HAVE to trust – your own brain and the the other players.  

Having this strong safety-net of support let’s you go out on a limb and take risks you never would have. Trust leads to magical collaboration.

5: Thank your limbic system: 
As a new improviser, I often get paid a visit from my old friend – the limbic system or the alligator brain. This is the portion of the brain that kicks into a “fight or flight” mode when something really scary gets thrown at you. My “thinking brain” shuts down and I’m working from a space of…well…panic!

While trying to figure out how to get around that panic, I realized that I’ve never really thanked my limbic system. It’s always fighting SO hard to protect me – against hypothetical attacking lions, against threatening situations that make me look silly, against taking high risks.

So here’s what I do now, when panic begins to set in – I take a moment to thank my limbic system. This is how our conversation normally runs:

Nitya: “Thank you, limbic system, for trying to protect me right now. I’m full of gratitude! There’s absolutely no need to worry though. This is very new, but I’m having tons of fun. You can take a break and go nap for a while”
Limbic system: “Really? Gee, thanks Nitya.”

(PS: So if you see me talking to myself on the street, this is what I’m doing!)

6. Take a break from your goals:
One unexpected learning for me from the class was re-discovering how valuable it is to not be goal oriented all the time!

Most aspects of our lives – work and even working out – have become intensely goal focused - and for a good reason. But giving myself permission to play without expectation, to learn something new and to crash and burn has been so liberating and SO much fun.

I’m excited about exploring this form of art further – and by learning improv – happy to be learning more about myself.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Every day.

Losing weight. Running a marathon. Leaving behind a body of work that matters. Being the best you can be. Big goals, that you can achieve only if you take small steps every day. Not every other day. Not when the weather is good. Not when you finally get the time. Every day. No matter what.

And I realized that it takes the same tenacity to write. To get a blog going. Just write. Every day. No matter what.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Red Velvet Rope

As an entrepreneur running a visual-thinking company, I meet other "creative types" who often whine to each other and say, "I'm just not into marketing. I want to do what I love. I wasn't put on planet earth to be a salesperson" (And yes, in the spirit of full disclosure, I must admit that I also find myself whining about this once in a while!)

My advice to myself is,"Suck it up wussy!" When you sign up to be an entrepreneur, you sign up to be a salesperson. Not the sleazy kind who arrives at your doorstep unannounced and insists that you need a new carpet shampoo or a new night cream or a new religion. I'm talking about a salesperson who is a master at understanding needs and demonstrating real value.

Anyhow, as a first step in my journey towards becoming a master value-demonstrator, I'm working with Michael Port's best-selling book, "Book Yourself Solid." When I set up my business, I had a fuzzy idea of where I wanted to go. My strategy was to take small steps in the general direction of my goal. And with each step, I get more confident and more clear. Clear about what I love doing and clear about clients I love working with. 

Here's a small visual summary from the first chapter of Michael's book where he talks about the importance of having a Red Velvet Rope Policy when you choose your clients.  

The first step in implementing the Red Velvet Rope policy for your business is envisioning your ideal client. What are the filters you want to run your ideal client through? I looked at my client list to determine the characteristics and values of the clients that really made my eyes shine - and developed my own set of filters.

Just having this filter well defined helps me move past the uncertainty that often comes with decision making in the a new business. I've been very fortunate so far to have collaborated with clients that constantly energize and inspire me with their work. Here's to them, and to many more!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Hello you!

Hello World, (yes, I am conscious that at this point in time, "world" is just me!) and welcome to my first blog post. 

Right now, I have "Thinkertoys", one of my favorite books on creative-thinking techniques open on my desk. As I read, I imagine author Michael Michalko sitting across me sipping on a cup of green tea and saying, "Your business attitude determines your potential for innovation, creativity, even genius, and success in your field. There are two basic attitudes, which I call the "kitten" and the "monkey", because of how each animal deals with stress and change"

"If a small kitten is confused or in danger, it will do nothing but mew until its mother comes and carries it to safety. By contrast, a baby monkey will run to its mother and jump safely on her back at the first sign of trouble. The baby monkey then rides to safety, hanging on for itself. Thinkertoys is designed for the "monkeys", who are willing to work on themselves, work to develop their business creativity, and work on coming up with innovative ideas"

This blog is an ode to the "monkey" in me! It's a space for me to learn, think, experiment, share and grow. Also, because I'm a passionate visual thinker, this blog is a space for me to push my boundaries and experiment with new visual techniques to make learning more sticky. So here's to my sandbox - and if you're interested, this is my little desk from which I'll be playing!