How to give…and receive

Mastering the skill of giving and the art of receiving is a must for creating healthy, lasting and meaningful relationships. Giving freely and receiving wholeheartedly allow us to express our humanity and form deep connections with others. Knowing how to give and how to receive, and gracefully executing that knowledge, are essential to leading a rewarding life.

How to give

True giving is a conscious choice, not an obligation.  If you feel uneasy giving in a certain way to a certain person, then don’t. Find a way to respectfully and gently excuse yourself. Or find a way to transform what feels like a heavy burden into a deliberate decision to give.

Ask yourself if you’re giving the gift to manipulate a situation, force reciprocity, or create a tit-for-tat exchange. If you are, does this benefit you in the long run?  When you give out of sheer kindness, instead of to keep score, the long-term rewards are immeasurable.

Although reciprocity is a natural part of human relationships, expecting something in return and feeling resentful when you don’t get it is not true giving. Realize too that the person might be giving back to you, but not exactly in the manner or within the time frame that you’d like. Just because you gave last doesn’t mean you can’t be the first to give again.

Genuine giving is free from a sense of superiority, self-righteousness and sacrifice. If you’ve ever used phrases like, “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get,” or “I give so much and get nothing in return,” stop giving. Just stop.

If you give, you don’t control whether the receiver likes it or keeps it. It’s none of your business what they do with it or how well they take care of it. A sincere” thank you” is certainly appreciated when you give. But let go of your attachments to how your gift is received.

How to receive

There’s an old saying that it’s better to give than to receive. But the art of receiving is equally important as the skill of giving. It requires gratitude and appreciation — without the sense of entitlement, the burden of the reciprocity principle, and the uneasiness that might come from taking something from someone.

If you receive a gift that’s not really right for you, you don’t have to let the giver know. You can still appreciate the positive thought behind it. You can always donate it to charity or give it to a friend who would like or use it. The ecosystem will thank you.

Accept help from those you respect and from those who expect nothing in return. Otherwise, if you don’t want to feel indebted to a particular person, avoid asking them for any favors or taking any favors from them, no matter how desperate you might be.

When you accept a gift or a helping hand from someone, be sure to reciprocate. This doesn’t mean you give in to requests that aren’t right for you. But do what you can to return the kindness. You can also pay it forward to those who are more downtrodden than the original giver.

When you know how to receive wholeheartedly, you’ll be able to detect the difference between real gifts and subtle bribes. You can earnestly accept true gifts, regardless of their monetary value, practical use, or aesthetic elements. And you can politely say no to gifts that stem from ulterior motives — or accept them and give them away, without opening yourself up to manipulation.

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Giving freely, without expecting anything in return, isn’t easy. But it’s the kind that provides the most karmic gains. When your giving is tied up with manipulative strings, it will leave you disappointed when the person does not respond in the way you’d like.

Receiving wholeheartedly, without any sense of inferiority, guilt or obligation, is difficult, especially in our quid pro quo world. Nevertheless, it’s the kind that nourishes and enriches us the most. When you can’t receive without immediately thinking, “how will I pay this person back?”, you lose out on the benefits of true receptivity.

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Photo by: Aphrodite

Finishing what you start


Whether you’re writing a book or painting a room, it’s often harder to finish a project than to start it. When enthusiasm wanes, fears set in, energy drops or distractions mount, it can be difficult to follow through until you’re 100% done.

Finishing what you start is essential to accomplishing meaningful goals and turning your imagination into reality. If you want to move things out of a perpetual state of incompletion, here are some ways to do just that:

Decide what’s really important to you

Some things aren’t right for you and won’t ever work out, no matter how much effort you put into it. These include jobs, business ventures, and relationships. In such cases, it’s healthy to quit and move on.

Some things are experimental and okay to drop even before you really get into it. You might have started it to gain a different experience, explore new opportunities, satisfy your curiosity, or shake up your routine. Once the purpose is served, you can shift to other stuff despite not being quite done.

Some things you finish just because there’s little left to be done. Although a project might lose its value over time, if you’re 99% complete, it might be worth it to push through to the end.

Some things are true commitments. This is when exercising self-discipline and habitually finishing what you start are necessary.

Years ago, when I began taking piano lessons, I had no specific plans or clear goals. I just wanted to have fun and learn something new. I didn’t know if I’d play piano beyond a few weeks or months. But once my new hobby turned into a real commitment, I bought a piano and got sheet music for songs I wanted to learn. Although playing the piano is purely an avocation, I’m dedicated to it. I follow through and finish playing a piece even when I get bored or frustrated. I show up for my lessons even when I’d rather be going somewhere else.

If you keep putting off a task, ask yourself what’s stopping you and whether you really need to finish it. Do you enjoy it? Is it consistent with your values? Will it move you toward your big goals?

Decide whether to take it off your to-do list completely or move it to your some-day list temporarily. Choosing deliberately allows you to finish vital projects and create space, energy and time for new opportunities. Finish your most important, active projects before you transition to a new set of projects

Break down vague goals into small, actionable steps

Instead of having “write the damn book” or “paint the freaking room” on your to-do list, break down the project into small, actionable steps that lead to the desired outcome. Completing a book involves drafting an outline, churning out content, and revising, editing and finessing your words. Painting a room includes preparing the room, getting the paint and tools, and starting with the ceiling, moving on to the walls, and finishing with the trim.

Visualize not just the desired outcome, but all the steps it will take for you to achieve it. Picture yourself doing the thing you need to get done, then do it. Imagine how you will feel when you’ve completed the project. Bring that feeling into the present, as you take each step to finishing.

Keep a precise schedule or set routines 

Carve out time and mark it on your calendar to perform tasks that will get the job done. Whether you have 15, 30, 60 or 90 minutes, set precise times for when you will start and finish. This strengthens your habit of finishing things you start rather than give up halfway.

Develop a routine of doing the tasks at certain times of the day, when you have more control over what you do. To finish this post, I chipped away at it first thing in the morning until my toddler woke up, for a few days.

If you want to finish writing a book, commit to putting your fingers on the keyboard and start typing when you wake up every morning. Write 1000 words every day until you’re done.

Once you begin a task and build momentum into a project, you get closer to the finish line. Set realistic deadlines — and tie them with rewards — to complete each step in the project. This will help you prioritize, avoid stalling, and keep you moving toward completion.

Despite your daily responsibilities, you can carve out non-negotiable time for your commitments. If you spend just 1 hour every day on the project, you would have dedicated 365 hours to it in one year. That’s way more time than you need for most projects.

Find your natural rhythm

When you’re in the zone, it’s easier to push through, even when you’re working long hours. But lack of rest and breaks can lead to excessive stress and burnout.  And without sufficient sleep and enough exercise, you won’t function at your peak.

Being self-employed enables me to find my natural rhythm and use it to my advantage. Rather than stick with a regular (e.g. 9-to-5) schedule with lunch in between, I incorporate more fluidity into my day.

On a typical (ideal) work day, I get up early, engage in my morning ritual, and focus on my highest priorities – before my family wakes up. During the day, I answer/send emails, make telephone calls, brainstorm ideas, make notes, read and research, listen to educational podcasts, have lunch, and play with my daughter. My evening routine includes spending time with my family, working, preparing for the next day, and winding down. I shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep, but usually do well with 6. I find that the quality of my work, and the satisfaction I get from it, are way higher when I sync it with my natural rhythm.

I now work in shorter time blocks, but my output — at least on the things that really matter — has stayed consistent and increased in many areas. Personally, I get more done early in the morning or late in the evening, when I’m naturally focused and creative.

For those of you who work in an office or are tied to a traditional schedule, make sure to regularly get up from your workstation, stretch, and walk around. Energy management experts suggest unplugging for 10 to 20 minutes after every 90 minutes of work.

Focus

If you’re super busy but can’t finish things, you might simply be doing too much at once. Multitasking is often listed as a desired skill for many jobs. But the fact is, multitasking is a myth. You can “switch task” (switch back and forth between two or more tasks) and “background task” (do two or more mundane tasks like watch TV while you eat or listen to music while you exercise), but doing two things at once doesn’t really work.

By focusing on one task, before moving on to the next, you not only can boost your productivity, but also finish and accomplish things with less busyness. When you need to finish something, avoid interruptions and temptations that make you feel productive, but keep you from getting critical work done. Declutter your desk. Turn off the alerts on your telephone and computer. Tell others when you need to quiet time.

Let go of perfectionism 

Sometimes things go unfinished due to fear of failure, disappointment, and criticism. We can avoid all of that if we keep the project unfinished. You edit, revise and overhaul so you can refer to your work as a work-in-progress, instead of a work product.

Doing things perfectly carries a high cost. It can intensify your stress level, cause you to miss deadlines, affect the quality of your relationships, and interfere with meaningful pursuits. Have a cut-off time for when you will stop making tweaks that no one will really notice and makes no true difference.

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Finishing what you start is essential to being truly productive, rather than just super busy. Having the discipline to follow through and complete important projects paves the way for real accomplishment.

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Photo by: Tim Geers

How to deal with mistakes

mistakesMistakes are unintentional, but can lead to serious consequences. Mistakes can keep us from achieving desired outcomes, small wins and big goals. Mistakes suck. They sometimes feel like colossal failures.

Mistakes will occur over and over again because they are a core part of the human experience. Because you can’t completely avoid making mistakes, you need to know how to deal with them when they do arise.

1. Know the difference between a mistake and a bad choice

Mistakes are not done on purpose. They are fueled by cognitive biases in our thought process. They usually result from things beyond your control, such as inexperience, lack of knowledge, external pressures, complex problems, and unstable conditions. A bad decision, on the other hand, is made deliberately, often with knowledge of the risks and consequences involved.

Running a stop sign when you didn’t see it, because you were zoning out, is a mistake. Running a stop sign even after you saw it, because you were in a rush, is a bad choice.

Disclosing information you didn’t realize was confidential is a mistake. Giving away private information, when you were told to keep it a secret, is a bad choice.

Incorrectly applying a client payment to the wrong client is a mistake. Embezzling money from your client is a bad choice.

When you refer to your action as a mistake, make sure you’re not just failing to take responsibility for a bad choice.

2. Own up to your mistake 

Compared to bad decisions, mistakes are easier to accept. But admitting to them still requires self-knowledge, courage, and a willingness to manage or conquer blind spots.

Through deliberate reflection, you become more aware of the tendencies, motives, biases, personal circumstances, and external factors underlying your mistakes. Are you driven by immediate rewards, instead of long-term payoffs? Do you dismiss red flags when starting a relationship? Are you a procrastinator who doesn’t thrive well under pressure? Do you need to get new prescription eyeglasses?

It’s natural to feel bummed out about a mistake. But dwelling on it doesn’t do you much good. Owning up to your mistakes means recognizing your flaws and fallibility, and stopping short of beating yourself up over them.

This skill allows you to save time and energy you would otherwise spend covering up or ignoring mistakes. When you drop the ball on a project, you need to communicate with your client, offer a sincere apology, and discuss an actionable solution to make up for the mistake.

The purpose of owning up to your mistake is not to get the people affected off your back or to reduce your sense of guilt. Rather, to really work, it needs to come from a place of sincere regret and a true desire to make progress (even it this includes making more inevitable mistakes).

3. Reframe the mistake as a learning opportunity

Mistakes give you practical experience to grow, hone a sharper and deeper perspective, and gain wisdom. Trial and error has led to human innovations and inventions such as penicillin, silly putty, chocolate-chip cookies, x-ray images, and the microwave oven.

Just like a toddler learns to walk by falling and standing again, you also have to get back up again when you take a tumble. Staying stuck when there’s a way out is not an ideal way to live.

You will not get things right every single time you take action, venture into new territory, tackle a problem, provide a service or make a product. Use the mistake to help you discover unhealthy patterns and habits and to decide what you will do differently next time. Capitalize on your mistakes to build your expertise and refine your ability to recover from setbacks.

Mistakes are a pathway to creating an enriched and meaningful life with fewer regrets. When you’re not making mistakes, you’re not growing, pushing your limits, and moving out of your comfort zone. In turn, life gets stagnant and monotonous and you feel stuck and uninspired.

Cherishing your mistakes empowers you to take worthwhile risks, develop your strengths and capabilities, move through fear, and contribute to a healthier community.

4. Share your mistakes with others

Discuss the mistakes you’ve made and the lessons you learned with your peers and colleagues, your organization, and your community at large. If this is too daunting for you, choose a best buddy, a thoughtful mentor or a trusted confidante to talk about your mistakes.

Sharing your mistakes encourages others to talk about theirs as well. It enables you to see you are not alone. We all make mistakes.

Sharing your mistakes creates a culture of learning and helps others avoid the same mistakes. Leaders who admit they make mistakes are more likely to earn respect, encourage trust, and build a stronger team, which contribute to better results.

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Embracing mistakes is not about taking on a cavalier attitude toward important matters, acting irresponsibly, and engaging in trial and error when there’s a more systematic method to create solutions. But some mistakes are inevitable — no matter how much proofreading, planning and preparing you do. The most you can do is deal with them so they contribute to your progress and success instead of keep you down and defeated.

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Photo by: Kristy Johnson