Zen and the Art of Dementia

September 25, 2014


Scan 2014-8-21 0019-1


There are many horrible things about dementia and my mother’s mental and physical decline.  She can’t walk any more.  She sleeps most of the day.  She can’t remember things.  She still remembers me and my brothers, but can’t remember details of her life and the other people in it.  She can’t carry on detailed conversations any more.   That is the downside of dementia.

But there is something else that we are experiencing with this decline.  With dementia comes a send of mindfulness.  Mom is totally in the moment.  She is not worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.  Each week, my brothers and I meet for brunch, then stop by Quick Trip to buy Mom an ice cream.  When we arrive, she is so happy to see us.  Genuinely happy.  In the moment.   There are still glimpses of the mother I grew up with, and those glimpses are always “in the moment” moments.

She still can be very funny, cracking jokes here and there, playing off something that we said.  Mom and Dad were always having fun.  Check out the picture to the left.  When she eats her ice cream, she is totally focused on it, telling us how good it is and savoring every bite.  She eats it like a child with simplicity and full engagement.

But the most astounding in the moment moment is when there is music in the air.  There is a church group that comes once a month to her assisted living place, and they always start with several hymns.  When they try to hand Mom a hymn book, we tell them that she doesn’t need it.  She knows every word to every verse to every hymn they sing.  Of course, she grew up in the church and played piano for years.  And that part of her brain is completely intact.  When the music starts, she is completely in the moment, singing not only the words, but the harmony.  Wow!

I could dwell on the loss of Mom’s memory and her physical decline or I could be in the moment with her and cherish those “in the moment” moments.  It’s a decision.  And this not only goes for my time with her.  This goes for all of the folks I come into contact with every single day.  Are you in the moment, fully engaged, fully present with the people you come into contact with?  Or are you checking your phone, your texts, Facebook, email, or some other technology that only pulls you away from the present?  The choice is definitely yours.

Never Underestimate the Impact You Have On Others Part 2

September 18, 2014

sad man


I heard the news this week that a friend of mine from high school had died.  His name was Terry Bryson.  In high school, Terry was teased a lot.  He looked like Barney Rubble from the Flintstones, so everyone called him Barney Bryson.  He hated that.  He would get angry.  He would lash out.  He started drinking heavily in high school.  I saw him drunk at parties on more than one occasion.  That’s what killed him.  At the end of his life, he was homeless and living under a lifeguard stand on a beach in Florida.  The authorities said that is was death by alcohol.  Although I wasn’t close to him, I was deeply saddened.

It made me think.  I felt ashamed that I had teased him along with the others.  I don’t blame myself for his death.  Everyone has choices.  But I keep wondering if someone had showed him some kindness, if someone had made a connection with him, if someone had taken some interest in him, would his life have turned out differently?  Simple phrases like “You’re not good at math.” or “You’re not very pretty.” or “You’ll always have big hips.” can shape how we think about ourselves and how we interact with the world.  So again, I ask you the question, “What impact are you making on the people you encounter every day?”  Do you lift them up, encourage them, help them move on from a difficult time?  Or do you criticize? Make fun?  Show them anger?

This is one of those things that is simple, but not easy.  We all have bad days and we all have our stuff and we all get off track and trample our fellow man at times.  But you can get back on track.  You can turn this around.  You can create impacts that have ripple effects far beyond what you can ever imagine.  And all it takes is one positive encounter with another human being.  Go forth and find that person today.


Experience Versus Transaction: Use the Latest Neuroscience to Be Wildly Successful

September 11, 2014

positive emotional experience


One of the mantras in our leadership courses and companies where we work is “experience versus transaction”.  What we mean by that is defined by this question.  Are you providing to your clients a positive, rich emotional experience?  Or are your interactions transactional, stuffy, and all business?  If you lean more toward transactional, you may be in trouble.

Since most buying decisions are based on emotions and memory (see the books Thinking: Fast and Slow/Kahneman and Habit/Martin), it is vital that you create positive emotional experiences and memories on your projects and with all interactions with your clients and other project stakeholders.

What kind of emotional experiences and memories are you creating in your offices and on your present projects?  Are your interactions filled with animosity, conflict, and anger?  Are they filled with the stuffiness of just getting the business done?  If the answer is yes to either of these questions, then you can bet that you will not be highly considered for the next project.  Picture these two actual scenarios from my experiences with two contractors:

Scenario 1.  I walk into a contractor’s office.  The receptionist doesn’t look up.  The walls are bare.  The furniture sparse.  Finally she looks up and says in an exasperated way, “What do you want?”.  I cheerfully say, “I’m here to see John.”  She says nothing and calls John.  I sit back down and wait in a shabby chair with a stained coffee table in front of it.  Finally, after ten minutes, John enters and takes me down the hall to a conference room.  The halls have grey walls with no color.  There is no sound.  No music.  Nothing.  It’s dead.  As we pass employees, they don’t look up, don’t say hello, don’t acknowledge my existence.  We arrive at the windowless conference room. It has grey walls and horrible furniture.  The walls are adorned with Successories posters that say things like “There is no I in Team”.  “Do you want some coffee?”, John asks.  “Sure.” I say.  “Kitchen’s down the hall.”  So I walk down the hall and pour a cup of coffee into a Styrofoam cup, pick up one of the two cardboard canisters (sugar and “cream”) and pour the powdered “cream” into the coffee.  The coffee is cold and the “cream” clumps in the cup.  I pour the coffee down the sink and return to the conference room.  We immediately start the meeting.

Scenario 2.  I walk into a contractor’s office.  The receptionist looks up, walks from behind the desk, puts out her hand and says, “You must be Mr. Darnell.  We’ve been expecting you.  Welcome!  Please have a seat and John will be here in a minute.”  I sit in a beautifully appointed lobby in a wonderful chair.  In front of me on a coffee table is a book of this company’s projects.  I leaf through it.  On the walls in the lobby and in the halls are paintings from local artists.  John enters after a very short time and welcomes me.  We walk down the hall.  There is beautiful music playing softly in the background.  Everyone we come into contact with looks me in the eye,  greets me and welcomes me.  We walk into a beautiful conference room full of windows and light.  It has artwork on the walls as well.  I sit down on an Aeron chair.  In walks two assistants with silver trays. One tray has a silver coffee pot with a silver creamer and silver sugar bowl.  “Coffee?” John asks.  “Yes, thanks.”  He pours me cup and I put real cream into my piping hot, rich, black coffee.  The second tray is filled with cakes, cookies, and petit fours.  After some coffee and cakes, we spend a few minutes talking about my travel, accommodations, and how I was enjoying their beautiful city.  Then, we start the meeting.

Which company would you rather do business with?

For these interactions to be successful, you have to make sure that your people have high levels of emotional intelligence, especially in the interpersonal skills.  They have to relate to people in a positive way.  That is what we teach.  It is a teachable, learnable skill.  So why aren’t you focusing on your people, their emotional intelligence and creating positive emotional experiences?

Of course, this not only applies to business.  What if you lived a life that took every opportunity to create a positive emotional experience for everyone you come into contact with?  What would that world look like?



You Are What You Experience: Things That Surround Us Shape Who We Are

September 4, 2014

best in childrens books


I recently came across a series of books at a used book store called Best In Children’s Books.  As a kid, I remember receiving these books each month and devouring them in a matter of hours.  I bought the entire series and started looking through them again almost 50 years later.  When I started going through these books, something clicked inside me.  All of the things that I love, that I spend time with, that I work on for hours, that bring me great joy are all in these books.  I am a mechanical engineer and environmentalist, a published writer, a published poet, a musician, and an avid reader.  I love animals, I love history, I love to travel to other places, and I love to experience new things.

When I took a looked at the contents of these books (see the table of contents to the left), I noticed that they always had some great fiction (Alice in Wonderland), some poetry (Three Little Kittens), an article on science and technical things (The Sun Keeps Us Warm), an article on animals (America’s Lake and River Fish), something historical (Val Rides the Oregon Trail), something environmental (Plink Plink, which is about water conservation), and at the end of each book, something about other countries (Let’s Visit Brazil).  Some of the other books had articles on music and biographies of historical figures.  Wow!  Every single volume was filled with all of the things that are a part of my life today.

It made me realize that my young sponge of a brain was soaking up all of these images, words, facts, and photos that later influenced my life and work.  So what are we exposing our young kids’ minds to these days?  You will have to answer that one for yourself.  But know that whatever it is, it will likely shape who they become.

This wasn’t a scientific experiment.  It was just an observation.  What we dwell on, what we inundate ourselves with, what we spend our time doing each day really does make a difference on who we are and who we become.  That’s true for anyone at any age.  So what do you spend your time doing?  Do you watch a lot of television?  Do you work too much?  Do you spend your time in a negative state of mind?  Whatever you are doing, you are creating your future, so choose wisely!

The One Thing That Connects Us All

August 28, 2014

empathyI’ve taught emotional intelligence for 14 years now.  One of the most common emotional competencies we teach is empathy.  Empathy is perhaps one of our most misunderstood emotional competencies.  Most of our folks confuse empathy with sympathy.  They think that they are to be sympathetic to the other person on give in no matter what.  What we teach them is that empathy is simply being able to put yourself in the other person’s shoes.  To see what they see, to hear what they hear, to feel what they feel.

And when you can do that, you can make connections that are most profound.  And it is through these connections that you learn to find solutions that didn’t exist when you didn’t practice your empathy.  There is a great video from the Cleveland Clinic that illustrates this point well.   Watch it and see if you don’t gain perspective from the video.


I think the death of Robin Williams illustrates this point very well.  This man was funny, kind, smart, and very successful.  He had no money worries.  And yet, he suffered from severe depression.  The following quote has been attributed to many people:  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”  So true.  So if we are all fighting these battles, empathy connects us all in a very profound way.  So today, take the time to truly listen and understand.  And if you don’t understand, ask questions, or just use the magic phrase, “tell me more about that”.

And if you want more methodology around your empathy, check out this Empathy Map:


It gives you some guidelines to follow to help you to work on your empathy skills.  Good luck!


Never Underestimate the Impact That You Have on Others

August 21, 2014


Recently I received the following in a Linked In message:  “Just wondering what you are up to these days. It’s over 11 years since our session in Callaway Gardens, which I still remember as fundamentally life-changing. Since then, I have faced many challenges, and I fall back on those lessons-learned fairly often (perhaps too often!)  Regards,  John”  The name has been changed to protect the person’s identity.

Wow!  That was 11 years ago and this person is still deriving value from our few days together in a program.  Those small life lessons, those kind words, those insights have stuck with him, and changed his outlook and responses to life’s ever-changing landscape.

The opposite is also true.  My wife, Andrea, was told by one of her teachers that she “wasn’t a science person”.  That stuck with her.  She never thought she was good at science and became a counselor.  Years later, she went to Life Chiropractic and became a chiropractor, and has been practicing for over 30 years. She is an amazing chiropractor and heads up the part of our leadership programs that focus on physical well-being and performance.  Chiropractic is highly technical and you have to remember minute details of human anatomy and physiology.  And she did it despite her teacher’s ludicrous proclamation.  Imagine if he had told her that with some hard work and effort, she could be amazing at science and that she could be anything that she desired to be?  What would the outcome have been?  Andrea overcame that assessment of her and has done very well.  But what about all of those people out there that have been beaten down by authority figures, parents, and teachers?  What untapped potential are we destroying with our words?

Words are very powerful.  Choose them carefully.  You can either build people up and set the foundation for a future that is full of possibilities or you can tear people down and set the tone for their life that diminishes their potential and who they are as human beings.  So, make up your mind today to take every opportunity to build people up and increase their potential.  Together, we can create a world where everyone is valued for their unique talents.  Together, we can help to unlock the limitless potential that is in every human being.

Struggling Sucks . . . or Does it?

August 14, 2014


There is a Twilight Zone episode where a low life gambler dies and goes to another place.  In this place, he has beautiful women, the finest of clothes, and lots of money.  He wins every hand of poker, he wins every round of roulette, he hits the cue ball to break for pool and every ball goes into the pockets.  He loves it at first.  Then he became bored.  He gets tired of not having to struggle and never being able to lose.  He finally yells at his host and tells him that he didn’t think heaven would be like this.  The host answers, “What makes you think you’re in heaven?”

I know in the midst of struggling, it truly does suck.  It is hard.  It is inconvenient.  You are struggling.  You are exhausted.  You are worried about health issues, about finances, about your job, about your loved ones.  I certainly understand those dynamics and struggle right along with you.  But when you move past those struggles, there is a sense of relief and happiness.  It’s as if you are forged in a furnace of struggles, and you emerge honed, annealed, stronger, more resilient.

There is a great TED talk by Kelly McGonigal on stress.  In that video, Kelly tells us that the FEAR of stress is what kills us.  In a study they did, the people who thought stress was bad for them had higher death rates than the group under a lot of stress that framed stress in a different way.  So now she teaches people to reframe their stress and struggles.  Look upon those as motivators, as blessings, as a way to learn new things and be different in the future.  It isn’t the struggles that are killing us, it’s how we react to those struggles.

Now this is not easy.  I understand that.  But try writing down all of your struggles you are presently dealing with, then writing down the positive aspects.  For instance.

Struggling with paying bills. Living paycheck to paycheck.   The positive thing is that this is forcing me to create a budget and stick to it.  When I do start making more money and getting these bills paid off, I will have the knowledge and skills to be able to really save and be okay financially.

Take care and let me know if you have any stories related to this.


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