Monthly Archives: March 2013

Mental Spring Cleaning

When I was pretty young, I pictured my brain as a big open space with lots of file cabinets and a little man on a wheeled chair keeping things in the proper order and retrieving the right information in an instant.  (I think it was a man because this was the 70s and my mom was into feminism, so this was a bit of reverse gender stereo-typing.)  Somewhere along the line my brain became technologically current and now works more like computer files.  Plus MS Visio flow charts – my mind really likes those.

mental springcleaning

We can fit 7 to 9 things in our short term memory waiting room and when something new comes along one of the things will either be moved to long term storage or go to the recycle bin.  Most people I know are always trying to shove 25 things into short term memory and then we can’t understand why we can’t retrieve anything.


Once information makes it into long term memory, how do we store it?  Visualizing the way that I sort, collate, and categorize the information helps me to actively link the new stuff to existing knowledge that is similar.  We are bombarded with information daily and it quickly gets overwhelming.  We all unconsciously run new information through a gantlet to sort, collate and categorize it.


Science has names for most of the twists and turns of the gantlet.  Naming something helps us to understand it and determine the appropriate level of influence it should have on us.  Here are just a couple that can have a direct effect on how we save information:

  • Instrumental beliefs are directly related to accomplishments – I need to understand math to manage my money.  I should retain this great new tip to help me with my computations.
  • Confirmation bias is our natural reaction to accept the truth of new information that confirms an existing belief.  Usually we are more likely to utilize confirmation bias to support a philosophical belief (a belief based more on emotion).


We have so many experiences and can come across so very much interesting and useful information and it is so frustrating to remember that you once knew something but not be able to retrieve that actual knowledge.  It would be fabulous to have an eidetic memory – like Dr. Reed on Criminal Minds – the ability to precisely recall something that you’ve read or experienced crisply and completely when needed again.

  • Are you clear on something that you want in one room and in a complete mist about it in the next room?  This is an event boundary – our mind is clearing its slate to be ready for possible issues once we walk through a doorway.


We can’t always remember what we want to remember when we want to remember it, but it’s good to think about how we are thinking once in a while.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations



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What is the Price of Fear?

While thinking about fear recently, l realized that I am susceptible to fear (because I’m human), but I am not prone to it.  I don’t test this by subjecting myself to scary entertainments because I do have a very vivid imagination, but that’s an entirely different post for another time.  In small doses and in certain circumstances fear can be a great motivator.  Taken too far or applied in the wrong circumstance fear can become paralyzing.  Fear can help us to make good decisions for instance by adding a note of caution.


In the workplace, fear can prevent us from taking the plunge into a better circumstance (i.e. job) either within the organization or somewhere else.  We can trap ourselves in the ‘what if’ maze that is rarely productive and not the same thing as the caution that I mentioned above.


I’m currently taking a very interesting class on Project Management concepts and one of the things that a PM must do when setting up a new project is review potential risks.  The list of possible issues, challenges, disasters, and other things that might prevent a project from completion could go on and on especially for someone stuck in the what if fear loop.  Most PM’s have a fairly high level of logic and are process oriented, and the job requires keeping this mindset in check for the PM as well as the stakeholder for the project.


The logical application that can counteract fear is that each risk noted in the project requires corresponding mitigation steps.  So if you put say, that Hurricane Sandy could happen during the timeline of the project, you have to put down how you will keep the project going in the aftermath.  That’s an awful lot of extra work for something that has a very low probability of occurring especially here in the Midwest.


Fear is illogical, after that prick of caution, determining the logic of the actual risk behind your fear is a reasonable response.  ‘If I put my hat in the ring for that new team, what is the worst that will happen?  What is the best?  What is the likelihood that the worst will happen if I talk to the person leading the team and find out more about what they are looking for and intend to accomplish before saying that I’m interested?’


My answer to the question that I pose in the title is that the price of fearfulness beyond caution can be terribly, sadly high.  What’s yours?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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I Knew That

How do you react when someone tells you something that you already know?  Do you pretend that you didn’t know it, launch into a detailed explanation that proves you know it better, graciously listen to what they are saying and ask pertinent questions?

I knew that

Part of your strategy in handling the situation is probably dependent upon the setting of the encounter, as well as the status of the person relating the information in comparison to you.  Who but the most tone deaf among us would think to jump in when the CEO of the company is putting forth an anecdote?


To me, this is one of the tests that help us to gauge our maturity.  Age gives us the wisdom to understand the best course of action.  Allowing for little hiccups along the way, like for me when the topic is really interesting.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Challenges of a Mom Working Outside the Home: I Don’t Get the ‘Mommy Wars’

mommy warsI can’t remember exactly when we started to hear about the mommy wars, maybe 30 or so years ago?  It was probably somewhere shortly after the feminist movement really took off in the 1970s and seems to fire up for a little while each decade or so.


We haven’t heard much about this issue until the rash of stories in the press about Malissa Mayer now of Yahoo and her new motherhood.  She only took two weeks of maternity leave; she has a nursery (and presumably a nanny or two) in the room next to her office so that she can work whatever hours strike her fancy, and so on.  Suddenly the mommy wars are raging once again.


I have spent some time in each trench, as it were.  I was blessed to be a stay-at-home mom while my boys were young and couldn’t have been happier.  I didn’t understand those mothers that would off-handedly say that they would be bored to tears without the mental stimulation of an outside job.  Maybe I was too dull witted.  Then circumstances required that I go to work full time.  I didn’t understand the remarks that working moms deliberately left their children in programs right up to the last minute because they were selfish.  Maybe I was too selfish.


It is in our nature to make comparisons between our choices and those of the people around us in similar circumstances or life stages.  Illusory superiority, or the belief that we each better than average, is perhaps one underlying explanation for the mommy wars – we must believe that we made the best choice.  The flip side of illusory superiority is that nagging fear that we don’t measure up in some elemental way.


Why do we tear ourselves and each other up about this when we could learn so much from each other instead?  Is this the female version of males’ ‘mine is bigger than yours’?  Or is this the media making much ado about a non-issue?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Think, Thunk, Thought

thinkThinking, meditating, planning – whatever we call it, we should each spend some time doing it consciously and regularly.  We don’t have to imitate Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ in pose, just in attitude.  Writers know that the mind needs time and space to quietly roam through new thoughts, culling out and nurturing the most fulsome ones.  Whether you want to write or not, if you make a habit of setting aside time to ponder, you will discover some type of benefit.


Did you ever notice how your mind wanders over, around and through all sorts of thoughts when you are engaged in rote tasks or in a relaxed state?  Taking a shower, driving, slowly waking up without having to run off somewhere – these are times to start to be aware of the things that your mind latches onto.  I’ll bet that you’ve had a eureka moment right after one of these tasks, or one similar, where you suddenly resolved a puzzle, remembered where something was or how to do something – in some way completing something that has been nagging at you.  Of course, you must set aside your smartphone, tablet, computer and stay away from the TV.


Both the word ruminate and the act of ruminating seem to have fallen out of favor, being replaced with constant connectivity through these electronic devices.  Join me in bringing it back and reap the potential for increased creativity, deeper understanding, and if your rote task happens to be walking in a natural space add better health too.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Do Something Unexpected, But in Character

Complacency is dangerous to each of us, in some part because it is so seductive.  Part of complacency is the see-saw that most of us enact as we try to fit in but be seen as an individual in our own right at the same time.  This brings to mind the Push me-Pull you from the original Dr. Doolittle movie.  It’s quite a challenge to be two disparate things at the same time.

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie.

Pushme-Pullyou from the original Dr Doolittle movie.


There are times when it is a good idea to be part of the crowd and it is always important to keep a strong hold on your sense of self.  Your self-expression feeds off of your perception of position within this balance.


I am known to like Hello Kitty – I was considered too old for her when she first came into popularity years ago and disregarded that stricture on her more recent second turn in the popular eye.  I was given a Hello Kitty lunch box as a gift a few years ago, perhaps a gag gift.  I happened to need a new means to transport my lunch to the office and not being one to waste and also being secure in my own idiosyncrasies I started to carry my Hello Kitty lunch box to work every day and store it in the communal refrigerator.  I received a variety of reactions from my co-workers from outright amusement through to those who tried to shame me for such a ‘childish’ act.  Hello Kitty brought a smile to my face that boosted my mid-day; therefore I made it clear that I was immune to any negativity.  I proved my ability to act professionally in many ways through the way that I completed tasks; Hello Kitty gave me an outlet of a different kind of self-expression.  Eventually she wore out and I started to carry a less noticeable bag that still had personality.


I don’t recommend such an extreme for most, if any of my readers.  I have a background in Theater that peeks out in splashy ways sometimes.  But there are so many ways to create something tangible that represents encouragement to your uniqueness: perhaps some small talisman in your pocket that reinforces your resolve or puts a smile on your face, perhaps a ritual phrase, word or action.  Anything that helps to remind us of our best self.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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The Deals that We Make

understandingWhen you want something as a kid, you are willing to agree to anything (almost) in order to get that thing.  “I PROMISE”, you say emphatically.  And “I won’t forget”.  But once you had the item, did you do what you promised, did you forget?  You got what you wanted and if it was a candy bar or other sweet it was likely long gone by the time that you were supposed to fill your end of the bargain.  Where was the incentive for you to take action?  Gone, forgotten.


Now that you are an adult, you always fulfill these promises, right?  No part of you reverts to the childish ‘make me’ thoughts that went through your head and possibly came out of your mouth when you were encouraged to complete your end of those childhood bargains.


I remember, back in the days before computers made writing up school papers such a breeze, one late night when my brother told my mom that he would wash her kitchen floor for the rest of his life if she would finish typing his paper due the next day.  Even if he would move far away she asked, yes even then he answered.  As a mother, she knew it wasn’t in her best interest to agree, but after getting him to type up the first couple of pages (correction tape, you have no idea the hassles…) she conceded she would complete the paper.  She had received awards for typing speed (on a manual typewriter, not even electric) in her school days and was done with my brother’s paper in record time even though it was a science paper and therefore full of formulas and other nasty things to have to type up.  (Footnotes were torture on a typewriter.)


I don’t recall how many times my brother actually scrubbed the floor, but it became part of family legend when negotiations came up.  I think that mom’s bargain was a win-win though because she got a lot of mileage out of it, my brother’s reward in this case was short lived.  And it didn’t cost her that much in effort since typing was a skill that she had mastered.  Plus she had a grateful teenage son for a couple of days which is priceless.  I had plenty of bargains gone bad of my own with mom, none so memorable, that all came back to haunt me as my children started to strike bargains.  (Oh, the pull of wanting a happy child.)


We make deals all the time that we might believe we will readily fulfill in the heat of the moment.  But human nature is such that once the incentive to act is lessened or gone; the pull to ignore this responsibility can be great.  What did we learn in the aftermath of our childhood negotiations, were we required to uphold our end?  What is our relationship with the current deal holder & will we have any need to do business with them in the future?


The most important consideration is the covenant that we have with ourselves.  This becomes the incentive which can drive us to fulfill our agreement regardless if we’ve already received what we originally wanted or needed.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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