The Gift of the Present Moment

People Tend to Live a Fantasy … They are Unable to Remain in the Present Moment

Most people tend to focus on things that aren’t happening right now. They get easily distracted. Through their bodies are present physically, their minds are elsewhere. They become easily absorbed in the past, get depressed, and compulsively pick over the past with the purpose of learning their lessons. Or else, they project themselves into a hypothetical future, get anxious, and worry about things that may never occur.

'Present Moment Wonderful Moment' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 1888375612) According to the renowned Vietnamese-French Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (b.1926), life can be found only in the present moment. In his Present Moment, Wonderful Moment, a persistently insightful discourse on the Zen-Buddhist philosophy of dwelling in the present moment and living a meaningful life, Hanh writes,

When we are driving, we tend to think of arriving, and we sacrifice the journey for the sake of the arrival. But life is to be found in the present moment, not in the future. In fact, we may suffer more after we arrive at our destination. If we have to talk of a destination, what about our final destination, the graveyard? We do not want to go in the direction of death; we want to go in the direction of life. But where is life? Life can be found only in the present moment. Therefore, each mile we drive, each step we take, has to bring us to the present moment. This is the practice of mindfulness.

When we see a red light or a stop sign, we can smile at it and thank it, because it is a bodhisattva helping us to return to the present moment. The red light is a bell of mindfulness. We may have thought of it as an enemy, preventing us from achieving our goal. But now we know the red light is our friend, helping resist rushing and calling us to return to the present moment where we can meet with life, joy and peace.

The prominence on living the present moment is perhaps the defining characteristic of the Zen philosophy. This attitude tries to get you to understand that life exists only in the present, or nowhere at all. There’s no purpose in getting anywhere, if, when you get there, all you do is think about yet another future moment.

The Gift of the Present Moment

Reclaim and Expand the Present Moment

'Calming Your Anxious Mind' by Jeffrey Brantley (ISBN 1572244879) Life is only available in the present moment. The past is just a memory and the future is merely a projection. The American psychiatrist Jeffery Brantley writes about the importance of awakening to the present moment by way of discipline and deliberate practice in Calming Your Anxious Mind:

Everything happens in the present moment. It is in the present moment, the now, that you live. All of experience, whether it occurs inside your skin or outside your skin, is happening in this moment. In order to live more fully, to meet the stressors and challenges of life (including fear, panic, and anxiety) more effectively, and to embrace the wonder and awe of life more completely, it is fundamental that each of us learns to connect with and dwell in the present moment.

To teach yourself the art of attention and presence is both a difficult and beautiful undertaking. The habits of inattention and absence are strong, yet the experience of life, moment by moment, is precious.

Bear in Mind, Your Present Life-span is Only One Moment Long. So Live It Now.

'Fear Essential Wisdom' by Thich Nhat Hanh (ISBN 0062004727) In Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that mindfulness lets us become “aware of what is going on in the present moment—in our bodies, in our feelings, in our perceptions, in the world.” Hanh advocates grounding ourselves in the present moment via mindfulness meditation:

When we are not fully present, we are not really living. We’re not really there, either for our loved ones or for ourselves. If we’re not there, then where are we? We are running, running, running, even during our sleep. We run because we’re trying to escape from our fear.

We cannot enjoy life if we spend our time and energy worrying about what happened yesterday and what will happen tomorrow. If we’re afraid all the time, we miss out on the wonderful fact that we’re alive and can be happy right now. In everyday life, we tend to think that happiness is only possible in the future. We’re always looking for “right” conditions that we don’t yet have to make us happy. We ignore what is happening right in front of us. We look for something that will make us feel more solid, more safe, more secure. But we’re afraid all the time of what the future will bring—afraid we’ll lose our jobs, our possessions, the people around us whom we love. So we wait and hope for that magical moment—always sometime in the future—when everything will be as we want it to be. We forget that life is available only in the present moment. The Buddha said, “It is possible to live happily in the present moment. It is the only moment we have.”

Establish Yourself in the Present Moment

Idea for Impact: Whatever adverse happened or whatever bad looms, don’t let it spoil the present moment.

Learn how to pay attention to the present moment rather than getting tied up in negative thinking about the past or the future.

When you establish yourself in the present moment, you can live life and make the most of those stimulating, refreshing, and nourishing elements of life that are always within you and around you.

Never Criticize Little, Trivial Faults

Lessons from the Renowned People Skills of Steel Tycoons Charles M Schwab and Andrew Carnegie

The American steel magnate Charles M Schwab (1862–1939,) was a protege of the steel baron-turned-philanthropist Andrew Carnegie (1835–1919.) During the course of a long and successful career, Schwab built his Bethlehem Steel Corporation into America’s second largest steel producer and one of the world’s most prominent businesses.

'Be hearty in approbation and lavish in your praise' - Lessons from the Renowned People Skills of Steel Tycoon Charles M Schwab

Don’t be “bothered with the finicky little things that trouble so many people.”

Charles M Schwab started his career as a laborer in Andrew Carnegie’s Edgar Thomson Steel Works. Thanks to his exceptional ability to cozy up to people and facilitate congenial working relationships, Schwab rapidly rose up the ranks of the Carnegie steel empire.

By the age of 19, Schwab was assistant manager of the steel factory. When an accident killed the factory superintendent in 1887, Andrew Carnegie appointed the 25-year-old Schwab as the manager of the Thomson Works. At 35, Schwab became president of the Carnegie Steel Company at an annual compensation exceeding $1 million (worth $30 million today.)

In an essay titled “My 20,000 Partners” in the 19-Dec-1916 issue of The American Magazine, Schwab shared a management lesson he learned from his mentor Andrew Carnegie:

Mr. Carnegie’s personality would enthuse anybody who worked for him. He had the broad views of a really big man. He was not bothered with the finicky little things that trouble so many people. When he made me manager, Mr. Carnegie said, “Now, boy, you will see a good many things which you mustn’t notice. Don’t blame your men for little, trivial faults. If you do you will dishearten them.

When I want to find fault with my men I say nothing when I go through their departments. If I were satisfied I would praise them. My silence hurts them more than anything else in the world, and it doesn’t give offense. It makes them think and work harder. Many men fail because they do not see the importance of being kind and courteous to the men under them. Kindness to everybody always pays for itself. And, besides, it is a pleasure to be kind. I have seen men lose important positions, or their reputations—which are more important than any position—by little careless discourtesies to men whom they did not think it was worthwhile to be kind to.

'Don't blame your men for little, trivial faults' - Lessons from the Renowned People Skills of Steel Tycoon Andrew Carnegie

“Be hearty in approbation and lavish in your praise”

Schwab’s excellent people skills and management methods are extolled in How to Win Friends & Influence People, Dale Carnegie‘s masterful guidebook on people skills. Dale Carnegie quotes Schwab:

I consider my ability to arouse enthusiasm among my people, the greatest asset I possess, and the way to develop the best that is in a person is by appreciation and encouragement.

There is nothing else that so kills the ambitions of a person as criticisms from superiors.I never criticize any-one. I believe in giving a person incentive to work. So I am anxious to praise but loath to find fault. If I like anything, I am hearty in my approbation and lavish in my praise.

I have yet to find the person, however great or exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than he would ever do under a spirit of criticism.

Idea for Impact: People who cannot tolerate others’ shortcomings are at a marked disadvantage in life.

'How to Win Friends & Influence People' by Dale Carnegie (ISBN 0671027034) The older you’ll get, the more you’ll appreciate the wisdom of enduring the negative emotions— skepticism, disapproval, anger, contempt, and hostility—that stem from others’ behaviors.

One of the keys to effective interpersonal skills is to know when and how to give feedback. Commend whenever you can, criticize when you absolutely must.

Remember, criticism can swiftly erode away positive feelings. Don’t nit-pick. Don’t get caught up in trivial peculiarities.

People Cannot be Perfect

“Each person is an idiom… an apparent violation of the syntax of the species.”
Gordon Allport, American Psychologist, in Becoming

“People Are Like Apples”

People Are Like Apples - 'Root for their better angels' Some of the best advice I’ve ever received relates to managing people. Many years ago, as I was getting ready to hire my first employee, I prepared a long list of ideal competencies. My manager laughed at my list and remarked that I was looking for a perfect candidate, one that I wouldn’t be able to find. He told me a metaphor about how “people are like apples” and encouraged me to look for a good-enough employee instead.

When you buy apples in a market, don’t look for spotless apples, but rather for good-enough apples. Spotless “choice” apples are not only difficult to find, but may cost more. Instead, look for apples that are good enough and may have one or two bad spots. When you get an apple with a spot on it, you can either remove the spot with a knife (almost always, the spot is not very deep) or simply eat around the bad spot, thus enjoying the rest of the “near perfect” apple.

Employees, bosses, colleagues, friends, relatives, parents, kids, spouses, and all people are like apples. Use a metaphorical knife to work around their imperfections, flaws, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.

“Root for their better angels”

Last year, the ever-brilliant Ben Casnocha wrote a fascinating essay reflecting upon his “10,000 Hours with Reid Hoffman,” the founder of LinkedIn and a Silicon Valley investor. As Hoffman’s chief of staff, Casnocha worked on various strategic aspects of Hoffman’s professional and personal initiatives. He also co-authored two books, Start-up of You (on career management) and The Alliance (on talent management).

Casnocha’s “What I Learned” essay is full of helpful management and leadership insights. Here’s one on people-skills:

One of Reid’s underrated gifts … is that he maintains very complicated portraits of the people he knows. He appreciates the full spectrum of strengths and weaknesses of a particular person. He’ll comment on a friend’s character flaw—say, self-centeredness—but in the next breath note one of their unique strengths. Flaws that cause others to completely disengage are, for Reid, “navigable” (to use a Reid-ism) en route to their better side. … If you make a mistake (or three) or if a weakness of yours gets exposed—you’re not dead to him. It’s just another data point in a rich tapestry in a long-term relationship.

Work around Others' Faults

Idea for Impact: Work around Others’ Faults

A Chinese Proverb reminds, “Gold cannot be pure, and people cannot be perfect.” People differ greatly in their capacities: some are stronger than others, some are better looking, some are better at science, some draw and paint better, and some are better athletes. Some make decisions through logic; others rely on intuition. Intelligent people are sometimes not physically very agile and are frequently socially awkward. Great artists sometimes cannot do enough math even to balance their checkbooks. Most people are smart in their specific spheres of competence, but are clueless in many other areas of human endeavor.

When working with people, work around their idiosyncrasies. Overlook and compensate for their imperfections, or coach them and help them work on their weaknesses. Being skilled at working with people in all aspects of life involves being able to fortify their strengths and making their weaknesses irrelevant.

When Getting a Great Deal Might Not Be Worth Your Time

Life Spent Searching for Deals

Most consumers love a deal. Some spend untold time searching for the best possible bargains.

If you’re one of these obsessive bargain-hunters, unless you derive some hedonistic pleasure in snatching deals, you may not have considered the possibility that you’re putting too low a value on your time.

Perhaps you could benefit from some perspective: the time you spend hunting for deals and trying to save that last penny may not be worth it. While you can quantify how much money you save by shopping around, you may not realize the opportunity costs of deal-hunting: it often comes at the cost of your time.

You may have a vague sense of the fact that “time is money,” but this might not be telling enough. You can find the approximate value of an hour of your time by dividing your annual income by 2,000 (or, more easily, by disregarding the last three digits of your annual income and dividing the result by 2.)

Obsessive Bargain-Hunters, Coupon Craziness Based on your “hour’s worth of money” or some fraction thereof, set a cost threshold, say $15, for the cost per hour you could spend bargain-hunting. Unless you’re saving as much as this cost threshold, deal-hunting is quite simply a waste of your time and money. So, don’t poke around the internet for a better deal or follow an auction on eBay if you’re saving less than $15 per hour spent deal-hunting. Similarly, don’t run to the Costco at the other end of town just to save a dime a gallon on 20 gallons of gas.

I’ve written previously that life is all about values and the priorities you assign to those values. Therefore, decide which choices in your life really matter and focus your time and energy there. Let numerous other opportunities pass you by.

Another part of leading a wise and meaningful life is not always seeking the best but instead making good-enough choices about the things that matter and not concerning yourself too much about the things that don’t.

Idea for Impact: Don’t spend more time on a task unless it really warrants this in terms of “time-is-money.” As the American Philosopher Henry David Thoreau said, “The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it.”

Two-Minute Mentor #5: Present Perfect

Present Perfect

In “Awakening of the Heart” Vietnamese-French Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh offers a translation of the Bhaddekaratta Sutta:

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.

Looking deeply at life as it
is in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom.

We must be diligent today.
To wait until tomorrow is too late.
Death comes unexpectedly.
How can we bargain with it?

The quality of your life depends on how you live at this moment. Within the span of a few minutes, you may experience the darkest part of your life or the brightest. In one instant, you may suffer the painful pinpricks of stress; in the next, you may revel in the fullness and mystery of life.

By meditating on these experiences, you will realize that your memories and daydreams are actually illusory. They are not happening now; they are simply mental images flickering in the mind. Most of the strands of your mind’s apprehensions are fleeting and ultimately unimportant.

The first step towards achieving harmony, joy, happiness, and well-being is to recognize that your upheavals are nothing but your own mind’s projections. You are in control and can prevent yourself from being overwhelmed by them.

Mindfulness comes from paying attention to what you are doing right now and letting go of regrets, worries, and fears. Far greater joy is in the living process than in the outcome. Be in the moment.

Idea for Impact: Your past has created the present; create your future by focusing on the present.

Two-Minute Mentor #4: Is a task worth doing worth doing poorly?

Don't have to give 110% or even 100% to everything you do

You’ve likely encountered career books or motivational speakers who urge you to work hard and give ‘it’ everything you can. While throwing yourself into work on every project and shooting for perfection is admirable, there are several downsides. Before long, you may find yourself forfeiting time with family, friends, or on hobbies as you feel increasingly pressed for time.

In actuality, you don’t have to give 110% or even 100% to everything you do.

Successful people are very selective about when they push themselves to the max—they do so only when the stakes are big enough and when it’s entirely justified.

Not everything you produce has to be perfect. Many of the results that matter can be less imperfect than allowable, but relevant enough.

Imperfection is often a satisfactory outcome. A 110% effort might not move you any closer to your goals than an 80% or a 90% effort.

Your time, energy, and other resources are in short supply. Constantly weigh your efforts against the expected benefits. Consider output-to-input efficiency. Be aware of the point of diminishing returns and don’t contribute more effort than is necessary. Make prudent compromises between reasonable effort and perfection.