Sunday, July 5, 2015

Remembering Independence

A Little History

Happy Fourth of July to everyone!  And if you’re not American, then you’ll note that we are celebrating the independence day of United States of America.

Those who enjoy history, may recall that the day that the continental congress representing thirteen colonies declared their independence from the British crown.  (And yes, it was also a blockbuster movie starring Will Smith.)

I happen to live in one of the thirteen colonies, North Carolina.  I’m visiting my parents just outside of Greensboro.  Greensboro was named after general Nathaneal Greene.  Greene was one of George Washington’s major generals, and drove Britain’s Lord Cornwallis out of Carolinas into Virginia [thanks Wikipedia].


“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

A Little Fresh Spirit in Life

The lesson that I can take away today is that there’s value in independent thinking, even though doing so may end up upsetting the powers.  You know from your experience that once you get used to something, you tend to go on an auto-pilot.  The technical term for this is sensory or neural adaptation.  Foreign things are foreign only the first time.  Once you start seeing something new again and again, or smell that smell every day, you get used to things.  

It’s a simple concept.  In a way, this biological reality is the cornerstone of forming habits.  As you know, habits can be good or bad.

When you get used to doing your work well, or you get used to getting something from others, you might be excited and grateful at first.  But, after a while, you begin to take things for granted.  Or perhaps you started a new role, and attacked problems with fresh eyes.  But, after losing yourself in the details for a while, you lose independence of thought.

You become part of the problem.

How can you keep your mind sharp and fresh?  Well, here are a few things to remember:
  • Change your setting - Something as simple as standing up or taking your papers to a different desk could stimulate new thoughts.
  • Take your vacations - I still can’t believe some people don’t take vacations.  Get away from your desk a while.  Your company will still be there when you get back.
  • Take a walk - One of my favorite techniques.  Whether it’s walking or using the opposite hand to write (try left handed doodling if you’re a right-hander).  The unusual act will stimulate new thoughts.  Even random thoughts are a positive.
  • Practice opposites - Like anything, you get good at being a contrarian by practicing it.  When you come up with a new idea, don’t stop there.  Play the devil’s advocate and try to come up with reasons why the idea is not a good one.
  • Empathize - If you’re working with a team, then pause to think about what your counterparts are thinking.  It will help you get out of your head, and enhance how you communicate.

Okay, so fresh thinking may not have stopped the War of Independence.  But, I suspect it will help you stay more focused and more energetic in your endeavors.

A Little Family Time

That said, as I was wrapping up my mundane finance work Friday afternoon, I saw how everyone seemed to file out early.  They were thinking about the family and friends they were going to see for this holiday.

If you’re like me, then I’m sure you’ve noticed that things “feel” different around holiday time.  You and others around you become more relaxed.  You take work a little less seriously and think about the fun trip you have planned, or look forward to the grill you’ll break out with family and friends.

And that’s the most important thing.  Why did our Founding Fathers declare their independence?  So, you can enjoy a cold beer and admire your green lawn with friends?  Damn right.

Of all the things that you could get used to and take for granted, remember not to take your family and friends for granted.  Take a fresh look at each time you see them and remember how important they are.

Happy July Fourth!


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