Focus on making it happen

Life Lesson Of The Week
I went back to school and got my degree as a non-traditional student. I did it when I didn’t think I could!
-Linda M’s Life Lesson from Garden City, Kansas

Focus On It
Along with Linda, I am going “back to school” this month. As an avid politico, I found a class at the online school Coursera called “The Kennedy Half Century” taught by the well known and respected Larry J. Sabato, and I had to sign up.

It has been a long time since I have been in school, but I am excited. I’m excited to be in a structured learning environment, even if I’m not getting school credit for it. It’s about the learning and what may come of it.

No matter if you just graduated, never graduated, or graduated a decade ago, you can go back to school. Remember, learning never ends so you might as well embrace it!


FOCUS: Lifelong Learning!

Selected Life Lesson
I learned that grades aren’t the definition of my outcomes in eduction.
-Teresa E’s Life Lesson from Wichita, Kansas

Richard’s Thoughts…
Many of my subscribers are either students or work in the education field and it is “back to school” season! For someone like me who is no longer involved in “formal” education, my schooling never ends, and yours shouldn’t either.

In fact, this year, I’ve had some tough lessons including loosing a full-time job. What grade do I give the past eight months? I’ll say a B-. I’ve learned a lot and made some mistakes. But I also know, that despite the grade and the setbacks, I am going to keep reaching for the stars. There is no other option for my life – and there shouldn’t be other options for yours either.

Education is all about learning and I come from the belief that anything is possible! So as the school-year gets back underway for millions, remember to try to learn something new every single day. Don’t worry about the grades because you’re going to fail more than you succeed … the key is getting back up again, picking up the book and embracing the challenge.

FOCUS: Talk Love!

Selected Life Lesson
Willingness to try/learn something new can never be disappointing.
Unwillingness to do anything disappoints everyone.
-Linda L’s Life Lesson from St. Louis, Missouri

Richard’s Thoughts…
I have never made it a secret that I enjoy learning. I get it from a variety of paths including reading, talking and doing. I have recently become interested in the human brain (although it’s too bad I am not a neuroscientist because then it would be a lot more fun!).

But in reading my most recent book, Brain Rules by John Medina, I am left with a few sobering, yet life-affirming facts. For instance, at any given time, we can only use 2-percent of our brains otherwise it will overheat! (I had to read that information a few times myself!) Bilingual people don’t store their two languages in similar places in the brain. And while it is not a surprise, sleep is arguably the most important factor in learning and daily function.

So, why I am talking about the brain with this week’s life lesson? Simple: I’m not a neuroscientist but I am really interested in learning about how our brains operate. I may not understand all the science, but I am learning something completely new and it is exciting!

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Protect Your Brain

It’s why your mother always asked (or told) you to wear your bike helmet! Your brain is pretty important to your everyday life … and well … existence! I am currently reading two books on that very fact: Our brains are powerful and magical beyond our wildest dreams and imaginations.

I will go into detail about these books once I finish them and synthesize their information, but I didn’t want to hold in some of the key learnings for too long as they are too important to the work I do.

As a speaker, I use emotional stories to assist in making my points. Why? Because emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with greater accuracy than neutral memories.

  • In a study to determine if “sleeping on it” can actually help, students were given a series of math problems and prepped with a method to solve them. The students were not told there was also an easier “shortcut” way to solve the problems, potentially discoverable while doing the exercise itself. The question was: Can you get the students to put this other method on their radar screens? What the research showed was that by allowing the students 12 hours after the initial training and asking the students to do the exercise again produced a 20 percent discovery rate. But if in those 12 hours, you allowed the students eight hours of sleep, that rate triples to 60 percent. It just goes to show you how important and valuable sleep is.
  • It is estimated that stress causes companies to lose between $200 and $300 billion a year. A year!
  • Our body often leads the mind. In a test involving a two decks of cards – one pile was more positive the other more negative – within ten random draws, the participant’s electric responses knew which pile of cards was better; more positive. It would take another 30 draws for the mind to catch up to the body. So, while our brains are ridiculously smart, we also have to learn how to listen to our bodies.
  • Finally, George Eliot wrote it best in relation to why I am putting so much of my life behind bettering the lives of others, “to throw the whole force of one’s soul towards the achievement of some possible better.”

You can always change your life and your brain has a huge role in that.

If you could learn one thing about your brain, what would it be?

Newsletter: Keep Learning

This is part of my monthly newsletter (which is free, by the way)! Sign up here to get it delivered to your mailbox each month!

Did you know that up until ten years ago, the scientific community believed that our human brains had as much capacity for knowledge – neurons – when we were born that we would ever have.

But then in 2002, we found out differently. One rogue scientist found out that our brains can and do in fact continue to grow. We lose one neuron, we have the ability to grow two more. Four more. Eight more. We have the incredible ability to grow and add more neurons to our brains throughout our lives.

So, what are you doing with this ability?

I’m seriously asking you. What are you doing to keep learning? To keep challenging yourself? To keep pushing your own limits of knowledge.

We as people are always growing as people. Why shouldn’t our brains do the same thing?

There are a lot of opportunities out there to learn.

Start with blogs. There are dozens, even hundreds out there that are being written on a multitude of topics. Search them out and you will be surprised.

Register for a continuing education course. Is there something you want to learn that your local college or university offers as a one-time or a four-week class?

There is a website called, Skillshare that is worth looking into as well. There, you can sign up for a single evening class on a plethora of subjects.

And your network. What can you learn from them? Who can challenge you?

Expect the Unexpected

I’m not going to be coding any million-dollar iPhone apps anytime soon. Why? Because it is not a passion of mine. But that is not to say that I am not in the market for great ideas and great teams.

I am currently in the process of developing the framework for a Mastermind Group here in New York City. It will be comprised of people, like myself, but also with developers, tech people and even a wine enthusiast.

The goal is to learn from each other, challenge each other and push each other to keep learning and to going after our dreams.

Never quit learning. What’s one more neuron, anyway?

If You Explain, People Listen

In my experience working in politics, social media and non-profits, I have had my fair share of customer and client experiences. I am happy to say that most every interaction is marked as positive. But not all. In each situation, there have been negative moments, experiences and learnings. That is simply a part of life and a part of working in the “professional” world.

We see it a lot during campaigns since the Bush/Cheney ticket made it famous in 2004: You’re a flip-flopper. While I loved it then and it worked and was true, there was a deeper moment that was missed by the John Kerry campaign and something that we can all learn from. *foreshadowing to the lesson*

I recently heard a comment, “It’s just not something the clients are going to understand, ever.” I had to laugh at that and asked myself, “Why the hell not?”

In business, if you have a reason, especially something outside of your control, explain it. That is what you are paid to do. Explain what happened, why it is happening and what you are doing about it. But just because something is happening that is negative does not mean you or your company should hide from the truth. My friend Matt Cheuvront just wrote about this very topic.

It is also happening now with the Republican field for president. And it is sad that grown men and women can’t seem to admit their views have changed and evolved. As much as I criticize President Obama, on the issue of marriage equality, he has been clear that his position continues to evolve.

For instance, if ten years ago you supported something and in the ten years since, you have evolved, changed and grown as a person and how you view the world; explain it. Don’t let someone else tell your story. Don’t let a little negativity frame the story. It is just one chapter. Keep writing.

(flickr image via Mike Mertz)

FOCUS: Get Hurt & Get Back Up!

Selected Life Lesson
Don’t ride your bike on the ice.
-Mary M’s Life Lesson from Vinton, Iowa

Richard’s Thoughts…
Winter is starting to arrive in a lot of places around the United States; even if you don’t have snow yet, it is probably getting colder. In case any of you did not know: I am accident prone. In fact, a few weeks ago, I was cleaning my kitchen – as I have numerous times before – but out of the clear blue, I smacked my head against the cabinet. (And yes, it left a mark!)

But we learn by our mistakes. You learn that riding (and running for that matter!) on the ice can lead to an accident. And after that, you don’t do it again. The same goes for your life experiences.

We all learn by doing. You learn how to add by adding 1 and 1 together. You learn science by making something amazing happen in chemistry. You learn life by living. There is no other way to it. Live and learn!

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FOCUS: Open Minds! (v4n21)

Selected Life Lesson
Keep an open mind & let others share their ideas.
Pam B’s Life Lesson from Des Moines, Iowa

Richard’s Thoughts…
As the political debate continues to heat up – even though we’re still more than a whole year away from the next national elections – our conversation are inevitably becoming more and more about the candidates running for our state and national offices.

What is great is being able to have honest conversations with people about the issues. The fact is that we all want the best for our kids, our families, our friends, our country and the world. We all have different ways of making it happen, but we can all agree on making the world a better place.

So let’s begin there. This is a starting point. In the past few weeks I have had three separate dinners with three very different people – one person agrees with me on 90 percent of issues, the other 70 percent and the other 30 percent – and they were all wonderful conversations. I love being challenged in an environment where neither person gets hurt. That’s what keeping an open mind is all about. It is safe and welcoming and at the end, we shake hands. And that’s how we can work together and make our world a better place.

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Use Evernote to Simplify Your Life

Perhaps you buy into Tim Ferris’ Four-Hour Work Week. Perhaps you believe in the 60-hour work week. Or perhaps you’re someone who falls in between. No matter where you fall, there is something to be said about working smarter rather than harder.

I have slowly been evolving from someone who keeps everything to someone who only keeps a few things, important mementos and reminders. Now, my desk would say different to you as I do have a stack of notes and magazine pages to type up, scan and recycle.

Flickr photo via http://flickr.com/photos/socialeurope/

I have spent a lot of time over the past two years learning about lifestyles and how we can all get out of our way and find clarity. Because at the end of the day, or week, or month, or year, or at the end of our lives, it is going to be about two things:

Did you love?
Did you live?

It is time for us to come alive!

One tool I recommend is Evernote. It is free for the rest of your life (but there is a paid version which pays for all the free accounts!). Seriously … you need to check it out!

As a writer, I use it manage notes on anything from ideas to research to meeting notes. They are searchable and you can add tags to any note you make. Even more powerful is the fact that with the paid version, you can add images! So that whiteboard where you ideated – yup – you can save it!

One of the coolest things about Evernote – aside from the fact that it lives in the cloud – is that it also lives on you desktop if you download the application! It is amazing to use and I have sometimes left it open all day! And even if I can not connect to the Internet, I am able to search all my notes since my last sync.

I use Evernote for a lot of purposes:

  • Quotes
  • Stock Information
  • Statistics
  • Book Notes
  • Blog Post Ideas
  • Book Club

I am all about simplifying life.

We all should be able to work smarter and apps like Evernote can do that for you.

How can you simplify by using technology?